Janet and Ray Zegarski
Number of Cruises: n/a
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Vision of the Seas
Sailing Date: September 18th, 2004
We are a couple of New Englanders, who love the beautiful environs of New Hampshire, but still long to explore different areas of this globe. Janet is a retired RN and Ray is a recently retired (maybe) Human Resources Manager. Between us we have taken 30+ cruises, on ten different cruise lines, comprised of well over 200 days on board. This was a cruise that took a long time to rise to the top of our "to do" list. Janet had been to Hawaii, not via cruise ship, earlier and tried to convince Ray to give it a try. Ray does not like long air flights, and the five days in the islands that round-trip cruises offered, did not seem worth the effort, thus he held out. Finally, we found a solution. RCCL was offering the opportunity for a twelve day cruise from Vancouver to Honolulu, with seven of the days on various Hawaiian Islands. This could be linked, as a back-to-back with a ten day cruise from Honolulu to Ensenada, with an additional six days on Hawaiian Islands. Once we added two days pre-cruise in Vancouver and two days post-cruise in San Diego, Ray was sold. Below, you will find some of the details and our impressions, with an overall recap at the end. We apologize in advance for the length of this review. We hope to have some of the 500+ photos loaded to a public website in the near future.
Pre-Cruise Wednesday, September 15, 2004: Per our usual routine, we set up our own air transportation. For this trip we were using Continental frequent flier miles. When Ray called to set up the flights, the Continental rep said that they had a special deal available, if we were willing to fly on ‘partner airlines’, we could fly first class instead of coach. It didn’t require any arm twisting for us to snatch that deal while it was still available. We had arranged for limo service to Manchester Airport for our first leg to Detroit - uneventful flight. On final leg (Detroit to Vancouver) the flight was delayed while some hydraulic problems were checked out; once on board, we were delayed further. Apparently, a passenger did not have proper ID so could not board; we had to wait until his luggage was found and removed from the flight. This resulted in about a 45 minute delay. Once in Vancouver, we encountered another delay; this time at Canadian Immigration. We later found out that the Immigration officers were involved in a labor action whereby they were following ALL regulations to the complete and exact letter of the law. It took about 45 minutes to clear immigration; this is the longest wait we have ever encountered in any country. After a quick taxi ride to the Sutton Place Hotel, we were shown directly to our room. Even with the delays we were in our room by noon, local time.
With a partly sunny day, we decided to spend some time exploring the area. The Sutton Place is conveniently located right off of Robson Street and a few blocks from Canada Place. We walked to Canada Place to view the Oosterdam which was in port, and then on to Gastown. The weather had been gradually deteriorating and intermittent showers replaced the partly sunny day. We returned to the hotel for a quick nap. At about 1630 hours, the sun returned; we strolled along Robson Street and then telephoned a friend of ours who lives outside Vancouver, to confirm next day plans. Phil had offered to play tour guide on the next day. After a quick dinner at the Bellagio restaurant, we returned to the hotel for a little TV and an early (according to Vancouver time) bed time.
Pre-Cruise Thursday, September 16, 2004: We walked back to the Bellagio for breakfast. The Bellagio is a restaurant we came across while exploring the area. The food is excellent , the menu is priced to make this a good value; the atmosphere would probably not rate this as a ‘destination’, but is warm and welcoming; the service is a few cuts above average. After breakfast, we met up with our tour guides for the day. Phil had been a bus driver in Vancouver for 18 years, so he really knows his way around, and is very knowledgeable concerning the local history. Having Phil as our guide was especially important since the weather decided to make things challenging with frequent periods of rain, sometimes rather heavy. Phil was quick to adjust our itinerary to allow maximum exposure to the sights and minimum exposure to the ‘liquid sunshine’.
Some of the many sights we did manage to explore were (in no particular order): Vancouver Place; Ballantyne Pier, where our ship would dock; the British Properties; Lion’s Gate Bridge; Stanley Park; the Aquarium; the Nine o’clock Gun, and other points of interest along the Seawall; Storyeum, a fairly new, interesting, educational and entertaining ‘magical history’ experience, which according to our guides is still evolving; Capilano Fish Hatchery, decided to forego the suspension bridge due to heavy rains at that time; Granville Island Market (don’t miss) and a very enjoyable lunch overlooking the marina and bridge; Cypress Point Overlook for spectacular views of the inside of the clouds – so magnificent that we returned twice more for another look. We did walk most of the Lynn Canyon suspension bridge (smaller than Capilano, but free); we also spent some time in the small, yet interesting Nature Center at Lynn Canyon. The day was capped off with the opportunity to unwind and enjoy a wonderful dinner with our most gracious tour guides, reminiscing over the enjoyable day and wonderful insights we gained of this fantastic city. We are looking forward to our next visit to Vancouver.
Embarkation Day, Friday, September 17, 2004: We awoke to a partly cloudy/sunny morning. We had planned to meet and have breakfast with two other friends of ours who live in California and were going to be in Vancouver that weekend. After meeting at our hotel, it was back to the Bellagio (get the impression that we like this place?). We had a wonderful get together, catching up on cruise/family news, etc.; after breakfast, we strolled around the downtown area before returning to our hotel for sad good-byes. Now, it was time to get ready for our trip to the ship.
This was only the second time we had used RCCL’s pre-cruise hotel package, which includes transfers to the pier. Ballantyne Pier is located in a somewhat remote location, in relation to most of the tourist areas of Vancouver, and the transfer worked well. Also, once we left our luggage for the bellman, we did not have to handle it again until we were in our stateroom on the ship. The Sutton Place Hotel is an excellent property, with a central location and a superb staff, all with a price that is valued fairly.
Ballantyne Pier is about a 10-20 minute ride from the hotel, depending upon traffic conditions. Once off the bus, it was less than fifteen minutes until we were in our cabin. Since we had sailed on the Vision OTS before it was easy for us to locate our cabin. However, we still prefer the nice touch of being escorted to our cabin, as is the norm on some other cruise lines we have sailed with. The Muster Drill was efficiently handled and mercifully short. Luggage was all in our stateroom and unpacked prior to dinner. Dining Room table was for eight, at late seating, as requested. As it turned out there were only seven of us at the table; one of our table mates was to be joined by his mother who was unable to make the cruise due to health considerations. As is seeming to become our norm, we missed the Welcome Aboard Show.
Cabin #2560 (Cat. I, Deck 2, Oceanview): This stateroom location is situated on one of the lower passenger decks, at about midship. This location proved to be quite advantageous due to the weather conditions we encountered during the early part (two plus days) of this cruise. The beds were configured as a queen-sized bed (as requested) and located beneath the picture window. This does present some difficulty if one wishes to look out the window. The bathroom was functional and cruise ship sized, meaning it is difficult for two people to be in the bathroom at the same time, unless one is in the shower. Storage space consisted of: a dresser with three large drawers (26x7x15 inches) and three smaller drawers (12x7x15 inches); two night tables with two drawers each (15x6x12 inches); a storage cabinet above the TV with three shelves, one mostly taken by the safe, (18x10x15 inches) and one open shelf (18x8x15 inches); there is also a double sized closet (60 inches wide) one half is full length and the other can be used full length or two half length (shirt/blouse length) by use of an optional swing-down bar. There are also four triangular shelves, of varying heights along either side of the make-up mirror over the desk, and three shelves behind the mirror in the bathroom. The cabin also has a hair dryer (1600 watts), much more power than needed by Ray and, according to Janet, more than sufficient for her needs. Overall, this provided an abundance of storage for us, not normally considered ‘light packers’, even with the extras we brought along due to the length of this trip. Suitcases easily fit under the beds. This cabin also had a love seat and small circular table, as well as a chair for the desk/make-up table. The numerous mirrors give the impression of even more spaciousness.
Once we were under way, the winds increased and the sea took on a noticeable chop.
Saturday, September 18, 2004 (At Sea): During the overnight from the previous day, the weather conditions continued to deteriorate. We awoke to a partly cloudy morning which later gave way to occasional rain showers. The winds were in the 20-40 mph range and the seas were running at about 11-15 feet. Due to the sea/wind conditions, many passengers kept to their cabins; we went out on deck to watch the sunrise and then headed for the Windjammer Cafe for breakfast. The location of the Windjammer (forward and upper deck), and the wind/sea conditions, made for interesting navigational circumstances for many passengers that did venture out of their cabins, and were now attempting to carry platters of food/beverages. The outside decks were sparsely inhabited; pools were drained as a safety consideration. We did get to observe a full rainbow (horizon to horizon) which was also reflected on the ocean surface. We moved to the Viking Crown Lounge and watched the rainbow until it dissipated as rain storms approached and eventually engulfed the ship. After the initial storms, showers continued off and on throughout the rest of the day. On sea days there were enrichment seminars on the history and culture of Hawaii each morning and in the afternoons there was a movie presentation in the Masquerade Lounge (Main showroom). Alas! No popcorn available for the movies. There were also movies, news shows and some satellite programming and RCCL presentations available throughout the day/night on cabin TVs (satellite reception was not always available). Of course, there were also Art Auctions and Bingo available daily, sometimes more often. Shopping was available at the On Board Boutiques, usually with the recently completed Alaska season’s merchandise "at sale prices". This was the first formal dinner and the Captain’s Welcome Reception and Cocktail Party. It seemed to our casual (far from scientific) observations that there was a slight majority (maybe 60%) of men in tuxedos. Of course, all the women looked glamoro
Sunday, September 19, 2004 (At Sea): Sea conditions continued to be a problem, but for a lesser number of passengers. The winds lessened to the 10-15 mph range and wave heights were only 8-13 feet, with promises for continued improvement; skies were partly cloudy, with no rain. In addition to the regular ‘at sea’ daily activities, the Captain hosted an informal ‘Nautical Notes’ presentation. This started with a film showing the construction of the Vision OTS and also a video tour of some of the mechanical (propulsion, waste treatment, potable water systems) areas of the ship that are now "off limits" to actual tours, due to security concerns. There was a similar video tour of the Bridge and navigational equipment/capabilities. Afterwards, the Captain spent about an hour answering questions on a wide variety of topics. He also informed us that the passengers on this voyage represented 25 different countries and that the crew represented over 60 countries. A very interesting 90 minutes.
Monday, September 20, 2004 (At Sea): True to the Captain’s prediction, the weather continued to improve; Partly/mostly sunny, temperature about 73 degrees, winds at about 10 mph, most importantly, seas at about 4-8 feet. Many more passengers seen moving about the ship; pools reopened and were being used; more lounge chairs pool side being used, without passengers being bundled in towels. In the Windjammer, passengers could be seen moving about with little difficulty, even with heaping platters of food. If anyone did have difficulty, there was usually a willing crew member eager to assist them. Even the Casino showed signs of increased activity; it was difficult to gauge if the smiles were due passengers winning, or just relief to be up and about. This evening, a number of the ship’s show band, and one alumnus who was sailing on this cruise, presented an evening (10:30 to midnight) of Blue Note Jazz. An excellent show, which was well received; the musicians promised to make another appearance later in the cruise. Second Seating Dinner had a pre-dinner show, hence the band’s availability.
Tuesday, September 21, 2004 (At Sea): Weather continues to improve. Seas remain light to moderate (5-9 feet) and winds at about 10-12 mph. Temperature high is around 77 degrees, despite a few clouds. Maybe we really are heading South. One interesting aspect of this cruise that we noticed was that no matter what the weather conditions, the reported pool temperatures, both inside and outside pools, was always 86 degrees. We were in the outside pool and think perhaps that thermometer needs calibration. Second Seating Dinner guests again had a pre-dinner show (more on this later in Entertainment recap).
Wednesday, September 22, 2004 (At Sea): Another mostly sunny day (80 degrees high temperature); winds a bit stronger (25-35 mph); seas remain relatively calm (4-8 feet). Another pre-dinner show, with a "special" bingo game ($500 guarantee) squeezed in between shows. Passengers from Early Seating started to stream in before the first show passengers were able to leave, causing great congestion. To make things even worse, the cruise staff set up tables and terminals to sell bingo cards right in the Entrance/Exit doorways. A number of very unhappy campers, both entering and leaving.
Thursday, September 23, 2004 (Hilo, Hawaii): Our first port of call on this cruise, and of course it rained! Fortunately it was only a brief downpour that was over within an hour. The rest of the day was mostly cloudy with some showers, depending just where you were. Since we were going to be in each of the ports twice on ‘our adventure’, we did not book many excursions in advance. We decided we would just do things on our own. On this particular day we stopped at the information office on the pier and were informed about the county bus line. Even though this is a regular bus route, the driver treated everyone on board as tourists, which we all were. The fare was $1.00/pp no matter where you got on bus. There were several stops built into the circuit, but the driver stated that he was willing to let folks off at other places, if they desired. The ‘stops’ were: the Candy Factory; Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Plantation/Factory/Store; the Zoo; the Botanical Gardens; return to pier. The stops were not overly long, just long enough to get a taste (literally and figuratively) of the place. The ‘stops’ at the Zoo and the Botanical Gardens were just to allow passengers off; they could then get another bus to continue the circuit. There is a bus every hour, and the entire loop took about two hours. All along the route, our driver kept up a running commentary on the history (factual or anecdotal, not sure which, but interesting, in either event) of the various points we were passing; he even took us through Banyan Drive, and pointed out some of the more famous trees. He also offered to drop off anyone who was interested at the large mall at Prince Kuhio Plaza. There is also another bus route (also $1.00/pp) that goes from the pier into the downtown area. Unfortunately, this route unexplainably stopped service, without notice, in the early afternoon, causing some passengers to have to take taxis back to the pier. Hilo Hattie (stores in all the ‘tourist’ towns) and the Mall also provided complimentary shuttle
service from their stores to/from the pier all day long. Security when returning to the ship was very thorough. We had to go through three ID checks, 2 bag searches, and two metal detectors to reboard the ship.
Friday, September 24, 2004 (Kailua Kona, Hawaii): This was our first tender port. Tendering did not prove to be one of RCCL’s strong points. Tenders (ship’s lifeboats) were held in place until all seats were filled, despite that some passengers were crammed into seats for waits up to as long as fifteen minutes with temperatures at ninety degrees and humidity almost the same. All this for a five minute ride to the pier. They started with three tenders and later added a fourth. The return to the ship was just as bad, perhaps even worse since the tender queue was preceded by another one for the security checks. We did take the ship’s excursion of the Historical Walking Tour (a bit over two hours). We found this to be done very well and quite interesting. The actual tour ended at the Hulihe’s Summer Palace, admission price included with tour. This would be someplace to visit on one’s own; it is only a short walk from the tender pier, along the starting route of the annual Ironman Triathlon Competition. After the tour, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch at an waterfront restaurant and continued to explore some additional historical sites and some of the many shops. There were also complimentary shuttles to/from: Hilo Hattie; Walmart; K Mart. We found it amazing that so many passengers could not wait to hop the shuttles to Walmart and/or K Mart.
Saturday, September 25, 2004 (Nawiliwili, Kauai): We were able to dock today, rather than tender ashore (Thank you , very much!). This was one port where did pre-plan our excursion. We pre-booked a helicopter flightseeing tour for our first week’s visit, in case weather conditions precluded flying this visit, we could possibly make it up the next week. As it turned out, the weather was terrific; we did encounter some rain, when we flew in the area of the rainforest. Of course this gave us the opportunity of viewing another spectacular rainbow. Overall, this helicopter tour was extremely interesting and worthwhile. As usual, there were complimentary shuttles to Hilo Hattie, Walmart, K mart, two small shopping malls, and a beach. The office for the helicopter tour service was located in one of the small shopping malls. This is where we received our safety instructions prior to our flight, and ride to the airport; after the flightseeing, we were given the option of returning to the mall, or going back to the ship. We opted to check out the mall and do a bit of shopping, before taking the complimentary shuttle back to the ship for lunch. After lunch, we headed for the nearby beach, via free shuttle. The beach is a public beach that also runs across the front of the Kauai Marriott hotel complex. After an hour or so, enjoying the sunny warm weather at this very nice beach, we headed back to the ship to spend some time around the less crowded pool. This evening was the second chance for the orchestra members to exhibit their jazz virtuosity. A very nice end to a wonderful day.
Sunday, September 26, 2004 (Lahaina, Maui): This was our second tender port; operationally, things were not much improved. The Cruise Staff continually would have 2 or 3 tours meet in the Masquerade Theater and send them all to the tenders as a group. Unfortunately, they were also calling out numbers for general passenger tendering, at the same time, which caused congestion at the tender platforms. Once ashore, passengers had to hunt for someone who knew which tour bus was going where. We had booked the "Adventure to Hana" excursion, and quite an adventure it turned out to be. We wanted to travel ‘the Road to Hana’ (officially, Route 38); it is about 50 miles long and contains 617 curves (some very sharp) and many one lane bridges. It also passes some of the most beautiful vistas and waterfalls to be seen on the island. It had been recommended that we not rent a car to do it on our own, since the driver would need to miss much of the scenery whilst concentrating on staying on the road and avoiding the severe drop off. In general, we believe this works out to be good advice. We were on a 25 passenger bus and were two of the last four passengers to board, although the four of us did get to share the extra seat across the back of the bus. Unfortunately, the air conditioning from the front of the bus does not make it all the way to the rear, and the air conditioning unit above the rear seat directs all it’s air flow forward. The only thing we got from the rear unit was dripping condensation, fortunately this was only intermittent, but still annoying. The scenery along this road is indeed spectacular and worth the trip. We made a number of ‘photo stops’ and a few others where we had time to wander and explore areas. The tour included lunch at the Hana Ranch Restaurant, which eventually turned out to be excellent. Since this was a Sunday, the restaurant had more patrons than they had been expecting, and many chose to linger over their meals. Hence, when we arrived (four busses) they did not have room for us immediately. After about a 20-30 minute wait in the open sun, we were taken into the restaurant and eventually seated. On the way back to the ship we traversed the "forbidden" 10 miles portion of the highway; so called because rental car contracts are violated if renters venture over this non maintained section of the highway, and the insurance portion of the contract is voided, making the driver totally responsible for any damage. It was on this stretch where our driver told us, "we don’t have any roller coasters here in Hawaii, but this is the next best thing". He then floored the accelerator and bounced the bus over the rough twisting road, fishtailing more than once. This is in an area where the road drops off about 200-300 feet, with only a small guardrail. One passenger screamed "Stop this!" before order was restored, and a more responsible manner of driving returned. Upon returning to the ship, Ray wrote a note to the Shore Excursion Manager outlining the antics of the driver and our disappointment that RCCL would pack the busses in an effort to maximize profit, and not deliver the type tour that was advertised. The next day we received a "Thank you" note apologizing and stating that our comments were forwarded to the tour operator, who they reminded us was not RCCL. They also agreed to refund half the cost of the excursion. We considered this acceptable. Since we were to stay over night in this port we returned to the ship, freshened up and returned into town. Many passengers chose to take the excursion to the Hawaiian Luau this evening. Reports were that the Luau was fine but there were many very short fuses whilst waiting in the tender lines to return to the ship. Story is that there were over 400 passengers returning, and only two tenders running. Two additional tenders were eventually placed into service, but some folks waited two hours to get back to ship. Glad we opted not to attend this Luau.
Monday, September 27, 2004 (Lahaina, Maui): Since we had stayed overnight, tender tickets were not needed after the early tours left yesterday. For some reason, the Cruise Staff decided to start issuing tender tickets again this morning, after 8:00 AM. We opted to spend time with a leisurely breakfast and head ashore after tender tickets were again not needed, about 10:00AM. We decided to do a self guided walking tour, using a map picked up at the local tourist information center; shopping could wait (for the most part) until we returned here next week. After the tour, we headed for the local bus ($1.00 pp.) to Whalers Village Shopping Center, about three miles from the tender pier. This is the same area of Kaanapali Beach where many of the upscale hotels are located. The shopping center is located beachside and there is easy access to the beach proper. We looked at a few of the shops and the Whaling Museum, located in the mall, and then had lunch at one of the beachfront restaurants. After spending some additional time at the beach, we headed back to the ship. Getting a bus back to the tender pier was not as easy as getting to Whalers Village. When the busses arrived at this point, they were already very crowded, and not many folks getting off here during later afternoon. After seeing this repeated with a few busses, we opted to get a taxi back; the cost was about $10.00, up to four passengers in a taxi.
Tuesday, September 28, 2004 (Honolulu, Oahu): This is another overnight stay. We opted to use this day for our trip to visit the Arizona Memorial. We had heard many conflicting views on the best way to handle this visit (Ship’s tour; On our own; Private tour guide). We opted for the ship’s tour, which combined the visit to the Arizona Memorial with a city tour. This worked well for us. To go out to the Arizona Memorial everyone needs to line up for a ticket (these are free, but only one to a person). The ticket states a time for you to view an introductory film and board the launch out to the memorial. Even though we had been in the United States since our first port stop, the ship had to be cleared in each port, before passengers were allowed to go ashore. This meant that we could not get a super early start to get our tickets for the Arizona Memorial. Our bus picked us up at the ship and drove to the parking area for the Arizona Memorial. Each passenger had to stand on line, benches are available for those who might need them, and get their own ticket. In our case the wait on line was about 15-20 minutes, fortunately it was not yet very hot. Once we received our tickets (our guide made sure we all had the same time), we had almost a three hour wait for our admission time. While we were waiting to claim our tickets, the line behind us had more than doubled in length; getting there as early as you can is still good advice. Since we had a large amount of time to fill, we reboarded our bus and did the city tour portion, and returned with just enough time to do some souvenir shopping before our visit to the memorial proper. Once your tour time is called, you enter an auditorium to view a short historical film view of the events leading up to, and of the attack of December 7, 1941. Then you are escorted out to a navy launch for the short boat ride out to the remains of the battleship Arizona. Aboard the platforms comprising the main part of the memorial, there are exhibits explaining what is visible and what is still beneath the water. The rear wall contains marble slabs with the names of all those lost during the attack; many of them still entombed in the sunken hull of the ship. It is quite a moving experience, at least it was for us. After the tour of the memorial, the bus returned us to the ship. We reboarded, freshen up , had some late lunch before walking back along the waterfront to the Aloha Tower Complex, for some sightseeing and shopping. Tonight was another pre-dinner show for those with second seating.
Wednesday, September 29, 2004 (Honolulu, Oahu): This started out as a sad day; we had to say farewell to a number of new friends we had made as they disembarked this morning. The realization that we still had ten more days aboard ship did not totally replace the sadness. The transition for those doing back-to-back cruises was handled rather efficiently, as will be detailed later. If we chose not to leave the ship, we did not need to do anything. If we chose to leave the ship, any time after passengers started to disembark, we would have to submit a form to the Customs stop. We merely took the shuttle to Hilo Hattie and briefly looked around. The main purpose was to use the shuttle as transportation to explore the old town of Lihue. Unfortunately, the old Lihue Sugar Mill is now closed (no visitors). In the same area, one can find the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall, the Kauai Regional Library, the Post Office, the Lihue Shopping Center, the County Government Offices, and the interesting Kauai Museum. There are also a number of small local shops and eateries. After exploring this area, we returned to Hilo Hattie to catch the shuttle back to the ship. There is the very nice Nawiliwili Beach Park, not too far from where the ship docks.
Friday, October 1, 2004 (Lahaina, Maui): We again were in a tender port, however, the ship’s crew are now getting to know these harbors and tendering goes much smoother. This time we chose to take a ship’s excursion that goes to the northern part of the island, the Iao Valley State Park and the Iao Needle, a towering volcanic cinder cone in the middle of the valley. The park also has a horticultural area with walkways and an anthropological setting of various housing models. The second part of the tour was a stop at the Maui Ocean Center, one of Maui’s newest attractions. The Maui Ocean Center could well be a tourist destination in and of itself. While we were not rushed to see just about all of it in the two hours we were there, we could easily have enjoyed a longer stay. Having said that, one of our tour members stated " Just another aquarium." In my opinion, that is like saying the Mona Lisa in "just another painting". Upon arriving back at the tender pier, we opted to walk around town for a while and ‘people watch’ near the Banyan Tree, also the site of a local craft market, before returning to the ship. The crew really enjoy this stop, many of them have free time to go ashore and party in the evening/night since this is an overnight stop. You can find them at Moose McGillicutty’s.
Saturday, October 2, 2004 (Lahaina, Maui): The weather has been unbelievable for the last six days, with plenty of sun and temperatures at, or near 90 each day. While "Lahaina" means "merciless sun" we found it quite agreeable. We chose to take an excursion to view the Haleakala Volcano Crater, the largest dormant volcano in the world. The crater would hold the entire island of Manhattan, with room to spare, and stacking the Empire State Building four times on top of itself would not reach the top. Speaking of the top, which is at over 10,00 feet, take along a jacket or sweater since it will be cooler there. We were fortunate to have very clear viewing conditions, which unfortunately, is not always the case. All in all, this was a worthwhile excursion, beautiful scenery, and quite an interesting and informative narration by our guide.
Sunday, October 3, 2004 (Hilo, Hawaii): This was our day to venture to Volcanoes National Park. Our first stop was the Jagger Museum for an overview of the volcanoes, and some history of the area. Then after viewing the craters, we traveled the Crater Rim Drive, with all its various types of lava flows, sulphur banks, and desert areas. Finally, an opportunity to walk through the famous Thurston Lava Tube, truly amazing. This excursion does not include any views of molten lava. The excursions that do view the still molten lava require fairly long treks over very hazardous terrain, and require participants to sign liability waivers. Even at that, lava viewing is not guaranteed, due to possible unsafe conditions. Having done other touring on our previous visit to Hilo, we returned to the ship for the afternoon.
Monday, October 4, 2004 (Kailua Kona, Hawaii): This is again a port requiring the use of tenders. Since tonight’s theme for the evening is Country and Western, we decided a tour of the Parker ranch might be appropriate. The ranch comprising about 250,000 acres is the largest privately owned cattle ranch in the United States; its origins can be traced back to 1809, after John Palmer Parker, arrived from Massachusetts, befriended King Kamehameha, and married a Hawaiian princess. There is a Ranch Museum and Visitor center at the town of Waimea. The town itself owes much of its history to the Parker Ranch, indeed much of the town’s infrastructure (schools, hospital, library, police and fire headquarters) has been heavily endowed over the years by the Parker Ranch Foundation. Most of the beef from the herd of about 30,000 to 35,000 head is sold on the mainland, very little in the islands of Hawaii. After our tour, which also covered a good portion of the cycling route used for the Iron Man Triathlon, we opted to again have a seaside lunch before our last tendering experience, for this cruise, back to the ship.
Tuesday through Friday, October 5 through 8, 2004 (At sea): Once out in the open seas again, the winds picked up, usually in the 20 to 30 knots range, not exactly ideal for laying out on open decks, even though the skies were mostly sunny to partly cloudy. This also contributed to seas with wave heights of 5 to 9 feet, just enough to remind one they are on a ship. The Cruise Staff had a full agenda of activities each day that one could pick from. Each of these evenings, the showtimes were pre-dinner for Second Seating guests and post-dinner for Early Seating guests. Formal night was Thursday.
Saturday, October 9, 2004 (Ensenada, Mexico) Disembarkation Day: We had received conflicting reports on availability and/or advisability of independent transfers from the port in Ensenada to San Diego. Therefore, we decided to book our transfer through RCCL. Since we were booked to stay two additional nights in San Diego, our disembarkation color was among the later ones called. This meant that we had plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast and wait by the pool (plenty of lounges available on this morning). We then had to report to a lounge where our names were checked off on a list and we were escorted to our bus for the "three hour ride" to San Diego. The ride from Ensenada to the Mexico/US border was uneventful, and somewhat uninspiring. At the border we pulled into the bus line and sat, and sat, and sat. Finally, a representative arrived to tell us that an earlier bus was broken down in the bus lane and we would have to wait until they were able to remove it. After watching the coming and going on many tourists/locals, and the efforts of local vendors for about 45 minutes, I saw two men pushing a hand truck with a piece of machinery on it; turns out this was a replacement starter for the disabled bus. After about another 25 minute wait our bus pulled forward slowly, at intermittent intervals, until we were about 50 yards from the border. At this point, everyone had to exit the bus with their carry-ons and proceed through Immigration, and reboard the bus on the other side of the building. Once back on the bus we continued to our hotel, after stopping at the airport to allow some passengers to depart, for their flights. At the hotel, we arrived to find our room ready and available. After dropping off our luggage, we set off to reacquaint ourselves with this fascinating city.
Saturday, October 9, 2004 and Sunday, October 10, 2004 (San Diego, California): Besides our normal "tourist stuff": Gaslight Quarter; Seaport Village; various stops on the Old Town Trolley route, we had made plans to get together with friends, who live just north of the city, whom we had met on a previous cruise. Dennis, who is an excellent CIA (Culinary Institute of America, not the ‘other’ CIA) trained chef, and his wife Tina, who runs her own bakery, invited us to join them for dinner at their house since we had been ‘eating out’ for the past three plus weeks. We jumped at the opportunity, and had a wonderful time, made even better when Tina’s parents, also cruise nuts, stopped by to visit. We had dinner and sat around discussing cruising, and other topics, until after midnight. In retrospect, it would have been nice if we had scheduled more time for San Diego, but alas, we did not, leaving open an excuse for another return visit.
Monday, October 11, 2004 (travel from San Diego to Home in New Hampshire): One last fabulous breakfast at the Sheraton and then a quick taxi ride to the airport for our morning flight home. The flight to Boston, via Atlanta, went smoothly with us, and our luggage, arriving at 8:00 PM; the livery service we use, had a car/driver waiting for us and we were back home before 10:00 PM (7:00 PM San Diego time).
The did for an earlier cruise on the Vision of the Seas, with a few updates. It still reflects our observations of this ship.
"In a word, Very Lovely (OK, that is two words, in all justice, we had to add the "very"). This is a ship larger than we would normally prefer, but doesn’t really seem too big, until you see the sign stating "three laps equal one mile". Atriums are not a "must" for us, but the design of this one while tasteful, does not seem amenable to much use as a gathering place. Only the lowest level has a bar/lounge area adjacent to it; the top two levels have areas more conducive to "quiet space" (Library, Card Room, Explorer’s Club [Internet], Crown & Anchor Study) than gathering. One flaw we find with the ship’s layout is that there is but one real public area where you can "cozy down" after dinner/show and enjoy a couple of drinks and perhaps quiet conversation as a couple , or with a few friends. As an example, the Wheelhouse Bar on Princess, or the Crow’s Nest on HAL. The Vision does have the Champagne Bar, but it is very small and crowds easily; the Viking Crown Lounge would be perfect, except it is the Disco (forget conversation). The Schooner Bar is a close to that description, but with the major passage way through the middle of it, something is lost; it is also the piano bar and can get rowdy, depending on the clientele on any particular evening. Of course, that can happen with any bar.
design aspect is the Windjammer Cafe (buffet area) the four possible serving
lines allow for moving a large number of folks in a convenient flow. The
separate salad, soup and dessert areas help eliminate congestion. We always saw
empty tables, whenever we were in the area. Despite the size of the ship and
2400 passengers, this was a pleasant surprise. This area, as well as the rest of
the ship was always immaculately clean, any spills and unused tables immediately
attended to. Another nice touch was the carpeting in the elevators letting all
recall what day of the week it is. Gimmicky? Maybe, but nice just the same."
Now, back to original/current opinions and observations.
Food, Dining Room and "other" venues: This is one area of the cruise experience where we saw an improvement over our previous experience on the Vision OTS. We ate all our dinners in the Dining Room, and some breakfasts, along with a few lunches. We have always seemed to find the food on RCCL somewhat lacking in comparison to lines like Carnival, Holland America Line, Celebrity, and Princess. This is still the case, but the gap seems to have narrowed. It may be that the others are "catching down" to RCCL in their efforts to keep cruise prices competitively lower. In any event, the food quality is not bad, just less than what is normally available on some other lines. The seafood dishes seemed a cut above other entrees, and the pasta dishes were very good. As an aside, do others remember being able to get appetizer sized portions of pasta entrees? Today, it seems that this is only possible through intervention by the Head Waiter; it is usually easier to just order the ‘extra’ entree and "waste" half of the serving. We have mentioned this on comment cards, to no avail. There is a steak available every evening as an alternative to the entrees of the particular night. According to our tablemates these were always either tough, or ‘stringy’, or both. The alternative grilled salmon was conversely pronounced quite nice. Desserts are still a weak point of the menu; Ray frequently just ordered the cheese plate, which came with a few grapes and a couple of packages of Saltine crackers, instead of water crackers
The breakfast and lunch buffets in the Windjammer were well stocked and quickly replenished; a bit more variety on the lunch buffets would have been appreciated. The layout of the food service was well planned, and allowed for easy movement without a lot of congestion. We did not avail ourselves of room service on these cruises.
Service: For us, this is one of the critical components of a successful cruise. Here again, we were more favorably impressed with the level of service on this cruise compared to our previous cruise on the Vision OTS. Our cabin steward was very efficient and pleasant, and seemed pleased to hear that we would staying on for the return cruise (Maybe the thought of one less cabin to turn around in Honolulu?). He readily supplied us with additional hangars when we requested them, and kept the room in perfect order. Whenever we saw him in the hallway, he would pleasantly greet us and inquire as to how our day was progressing.
Our waiter in the Dining Room, and his assistant, were one of the best teams we have encountered in our many cruises. About 2/3 of the way through the first twelve days, we inquired of our Head Waiter if he could arrange for us to remain at this same table for the next cruise; he said he would arrange it with the Maitre ‘d. The next day, the Head waiter told us he had confirmed our seating assignment for the next cruise. When we mentioned this to Savio, our waiter, he told us that he would be at a different station on the next cruise. We immediately told the Head waiter that we probably did not make our request clear, and that we wished to be seated in the area that Savio would be serving. The Head Waiter said he would inquire about that. When we received our new SeaPass Cards and went to the table on the first night of the second cruise, we discovered that Savio was not at that station. I scouted out our Head waiter from the previous cruise and he in formed us that Savio’s station on this cruise was comprised of a large family group (three full tables). He offered to move us to another table the following evening; we declined and stayed at our assigned table with four wonderful table mates. Savio would still stop by our table to say "Hello" and/or offer dinner suggestions. During the first cruise, Savio had been introducing Ray (a confirmed meat-eater) to a number of wonderful vegetarian dishes, and kept it up despite being assigned in a different area of the Dining Room. We missed having Savio there each night but his assistant from the first cruise was at our station, which provided a welcome measure of continuity. This turned out to be important since we had five different waiters for the first part of the cruise, a separate saga unto itself.
We mentioned earlier that we had difficulty in finding "that special place" to hang out pre/post dinner. We eventually adopted the Champagne Bar. There were two other couples, not sailing together, who were there very often and we sort of drifted toward each other, and then realized that we would all be staying on for the following cruise. With that we laid claim to one alcove of the Champagne Bar and would meet most evenings, often times bringing other passengers one of us had met that day/evening. The bartenders (a different one each cruise) were both from Jamaica and took extremely good care of us, often bringing our drinks to our tables themselves. They also made sure that pre-dinner hors d’oeuvres, and late night snacks (often chocolate dipped strawberries) were available for us. This had been another "area for improvement" on our earlier Vision OTS cruise.
The only misstep that we saw in the area of service was one of the crew members assigned to the Purser’s Desk. We were doing these two cruises as a Back-to-Back and received a request for us to stop by the Purser’s Desk to ensure all the forms were completed. We stopped by, on our way to/from someplace and presented our cruise contract (Ticket) and the letter we had received, and also a printed copy of the Immigration Form that we had completed on-line prior to sailing. The woman at the Purser’s deck insisted that we would have to redo the immigration information on a different form that she attempted to give us. We tried to explain that all the information was already submitted to RCCL and in the computer. She informed us that SHE had to input the information herself. Not having the time to debate this point, and to keep Ray from exploding, we told her we would return later. When we returned the next day, a different person told us that every thing we had was "perfect" and even thanked us for inputting the information before we left home. She told us we could pick up our new SeaPass Cards on the day before disembarkation for those passengers not continuing on the next cruise. So, other than the misunderstanding between us and the first Purser’s representative, the transition was very smooth.
Entertainment: This is not a primary concern for us in cruising. We found the entertainment that we did attend was enjoyable and worth the time spent. Since we were doing back-to-back cruises, most of the shows were repeats, although there were some different performers that embarked in Hawaii. The production shows, while entertaining, did not warrant repeat attendance. We probably attended fewer shows than is our norm. The main reason for this was the preponderance of pre-dinner shows for those of us on second seating for dinner. One of the primary reasons that we request second seating is not to have to rush at the end of the afternoon to get ready for dinner. Pre-dinner shows negate that advantage. The reason for the plethora of shows prior to dinner was to accommodate things like: the "Welcome Aboard Party"; "The Quest"; the "Karaoke Idol" competition; the "Rock and Roll Sock Hop"; "Love and Marriage" game show; "Country Western Hoe Down"; "Dancing Under the Stars Party"; "Battle of the Sexes" game show; "Big Band Bash"; Volcano viewing. Hence, we missed most of the pre-dinner scheduled performances, since that is our usual time to gather with friends for a cocktail and review of the day’s events. One bonus that derived from the pre-dinner shows was that the orchestra was not required for all the "special" entertainment events, and that allowed for some of them to present some evenings of "Blue Note Jazz". We did not miss any of these sets, and were rewarded with some outstanding jazz renditions.
Final Thoughts and Recap: As mentioned earlier, this was our second cruise on the Vision OTS. We were much more favorably impressed this time around, due to noted improvement in food quality/variety, and in overall service. Gone were the "disappointments" of our first Vision OTS experience (which was also our first RCCL experience). This does not mean there is not room for further improvements, and we will continue to make our opinions known to RCCL, via the On-Board Opinion Surveys. The more often we cruise, the more convinced we become as to the overall impact the captain can have on one’s shipboard experience. We were indeed fortunate to experience a crew headed by Captain Michael Roy. Captain Michael’s warm personal manner seemed to permeate the entire crew, with the areas most contacted by passengers being ably headed by Hotel Director Tony O’Prey, and Cruise Director Dan Whitney.
All in all, it was a great vacation with: a large number of sea days; four Hawaiian Islands (twice); short stays in Vancouver and San Diego; no overly long air flights. What was not to like? It was a wonderful opportunity to experience some of what each island had to offer, and provided us with ideas for future vacations. We love sea days with the opportunity to relax, feel the gentle roll of the ship and stare out over the waves to the seemingly endless horizon, or partake of some of the many ship board activities. Add in the opportunity to make many additional cruise acquaintances, and you have all the makings of a ‘Dream Vacation’ indeed.
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