Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Vision of the Seas
Sailing Date: November 25th, 2007
Itinerary: Mexican Riviera
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line
Vision of the Seas Cruise Review
We were a group of six,
three of us in our forties and the other half seniors. My husband and I were the
only ones who had cruised previously - twice on Carnival and once on Norwegian.
We chose this cruise based on price and itinerary. Since we are from western
Canada, cruising out of LA is the easiest, and we got a good deal on the
Overall, we all had a great time. Ever since our first trip in 1998, we have been telling everyone that they should cruise at least once. It's a unique experience that you can only appreciate by being there. Seeing photos and watching videos and hearing about other people's cruises just doesn't cut it. So if you're considering a cruise and just aren't sure if you'll like it, I would highly recommend that you go. Unless something totally unexpected happens (and who wants to live life being afraid of something "totally unexpected"?) it'll be the experience of a lifetime. I can say with confidence that the four first time cruisers in our group were extremely satisfied with their vacation and would go again in a heartbeat.
Choosing one cruise line over another is probably a non-issue if it's your first cruise. As a cruiser with some experience, my husband and I prefer our Carnival experiences, but RCI is quite similar. With nothing to compare to, the others in our party were quite impressed with RCI.
The smoothest ever for the two of us who had cruised previously. Our incoming flight was late, so we boarded ship at about 3:00 pm, at which time, there was no waiting at all once we arrived at the cruise terminal in San Pedro. (We had completed the online check-in via RCI's website back home, however, which apparently saves time.) It's about a twenty minute shuttle bus ride from LAX out to San Pedro. Since we had an air/cruise package, our transfers were covered.
One week later, we were assigned colored tags for our baggage and left ship according to those colors being called out. We weren't in a hurry since our flight out was much later in the afternoon, but it all proceeded rather quickly and we had no problems locating our luggage. (I would suggest bringing locks for your suitcases, since they'll be out there in the hallway during the last evening of your cruise.)
The Vision of the Seas is showing a bit of its age, but that's to be expected in the cruise ship world. Anything that's been around for about ten years is considered old. However, there are still some spectacular features such as the soaring atrium. Take the glass elevators at least once to get a great view all the way up or down; it's worth the wait for the right elevator. The bars and lounges are also quite nice, with plenty of ambiance. There are also several cozy places for people to sit and just gaze out at the ocean.
Certain other "more used" areas of the ship, however, are in need of some attention. The public washrooms on deck nine could use some air freshener or a good sanitizing. In my cabin, the bottom part of my night stand was broken. Since I had to slip a piece of paper under the lower drawer every day to keep it from opening by itself, the stateroom attendant obviously knew about it (since she removed that same piece of paper every day). And while the stateroom attendants keep vigil outside your rooms and pop in to do their thing VERY quickly, the overall
cleaning job is not as great as you might expect. When we arrived, we found hair on the windowsills and the inside of the drawers really needed to be wiped down. However, given that there is only a two hour window for staff to clean the ship between cruises, I really don't know how thorough cleanings can ever take place.
I had heard comments about a sewage smell. On boarding the ship on deck four and heading down to our rooms, we could definitely smell it, but fortunately, by the time we got to our cabins, the smell was gone. On the few occasions when we used the center stairs later during the cruise, there wasn't any odor, so perhaps it was merely a problem while docked.
We had ocean view cabins on deck two, port side. Our window was actually two side by side rectangular windows rather than the one big picture window that rooms on the upper decks have. (Not terribly important, but I thought it should have been mentioned somewhere.) Beds are comfortable. We all thought that the interior of the room looked bigger with the beds set apart, though, rather than pushed together. But given that not many people spend much time in their cabins, they're probably big enough. (Word of warning though - the showers are small. Quite frankly, I don't know how the heftier folks out there managed to clean themselves. I was banging my elbows here and there and I'm five-five and less than a hundred and ten pounds.) There's decent storage space for all of your things in various cabinets and in the bathroom vanity. I'd recommend bringing suitcases that can be stored inside one another, however, as there isn't much space for those, particularly if you like to use the big ones.
Pack a nightlight with you if possible. You haven't seen darkness unless you've been in a cruise ship cabin at night - even one with a window. We had to keep the light on in the bathroom every night to ensure that we could get up safely if needed.
Amenities inside your room? Shampoo and conditioner in a dispenser inside the shower and bars of soap. A pen. There's a hair dryer in a drawer. You can use their beach towels while you're in port - there are two on the shelf under the bathroom sink in each cabin. Nothing
else, so bring whatever you need unless you want to buy it onboard. In your stateroom, you're charged $1.75 for each can of pop/soda and $1.99 for each (small) bottle of water, which seems rather outrageous. Wait until your first port of call if you want to get cheaper stuff.
If you're into watching TV, there's actually a good choice of channels. Movies run all day, in various languages; news and sports for those
who want to keep up with the outside world. Oh, and if you want news from home, look for a stand of "newsletters" from various countries just off to the right of the purser's desk on deck 5. (We found these quite by accident on Monday night and discovered only then that Saskatchewan had won the Grey Cup the night before.)
By the way, the life preservers are stored on TOP of the closet. We couldn't find ours at first, since they were pushed out of sight. Good to know if you're rushed to get to your "muster-ing" exercise at 4:30 on the first day.
TOURS & EXCURSIONS
We did not do the excursion thing, so cannot speak about any of them. I do know that shore excursions arranged by the ship are typically very expensive. They try to promote them by saying that they are your only guarantee that you'll get back on time, but the other operators are quite familiar with all of the ship schedules (the Vision of the Seas was one of three ships traveling that same Mexican Riviera
If you're looking for a simple city tour or some other thing that only takes three hours or so, I'd suggest that you wait until you're off ship, especially on the Mazatlan and PV days when you're docked for most of the day. Just make sure to avoid the "free" tours that you can get with timeshare presentations. (Nothing is free, and a timeshare experience can end up taking up most of your day.)
If you have time now before your cruise, go surfing on the net for excursions that you can book yourself. When we did our Alaskan cruise five years ago, we booked a fishing trip over the internet and had a great time with no crowds.
CABO SAN LUCAS
After a day of sailing, we were anchored in Cabo San Lucas by mid-morning. (Position yourself on deck 10 to take some pictures of the approach - it's quite a view.) Cabo is the only port where tenders are required to get passengers to shore. It's a short stay, so if you want to depart early, line up early at the atrium on 4th to get your tender tickets. On our cruise, they called numbers 1 through 8 fairly
quickly, but then we seemed to wait for an eternity before the next set of numbers were called (we had #13). You can get tickets for others, so perhaps nominate someone in your group to go down to deck 4 a little bit prior to 9:00 am.
Stuff in Cabo is slightly more expensive than in Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta, so if you're souvenir shopping, you may want to take that into consideration. That said, if it's something that you desperately like, buy it. Like they say onboard, they aren't going to turn the boat around and go back for you.
Cabo has a great beach if you want to enjoy the water. And of the three ports, it's the only one where you can effectively take off on foot and not have to arrange alternate transportation to see the sights.
When we cruised this same itinerary in 1998, my other half and I decided to explore the "local" parts of Mazatlan by ourselves. We ended up seeing a slice of life that most tourists would never get to see, but in retrospect, some of the areas that we hiked through were probably not the safest of places. So with seniors in tow on this trip, we decided to do the "tourist thing".
The port is located quite a distance from the so-called Golden Zone, which means that you have to hire a taxi. We got a van and were charged $3 per person for the ride; it's approximately 20 minutes, depending on where you're dropped off.
Shopping here is more than reasonable; if you need t-shirts, your best price is four for $10 USD. (The current rate of exchange is about ten and a half pesos per dollar. Bring a calculator with you to make it easier to convert large totals.)
Plan to spend some time on the beach in Mazatlan - the sand is better here than it'll be in PV. Water is warm. You may want to bring an umbrella for some respite from the sun.
Mazatlan is known for its shrimp so it would be remiss to pass up a chance to eat fresh shrimp. We received a coupon for the Shrimp Factory that offered a free margarita; it turned out that it could be used for a free drink for everyone at the table. We recommend the steamed shrimp. (It comes in a variety of plate sizes; we had the large one for about $36; it'll feed four quite well.)
We rode back to the cruise ship terminal after our shrimp lunch. Same charge per person as the ride out, but a lot cooler in the open air.
PV has grown quite a bit in the past ten years, during which we've visited four times. Prices are now higher. Growth is inevitable, but I miss what PV used to be. Too many condo developments on the horizon now.
If you want to do an excursion in Vallarta, consider one that will take you into the jungle, or away from the normal tourist traps. During a visit in 2005, my hubby and I took an ATV tour and we highly recommend doing something like that.
On this trip, our group took a cab ride ($3 per person again) into "El Centro" - the seawall (malecon) area. Did the usual picture-taking thing in front of the church. From there, we crossed over to the little island to do some browsing in the Rio Cuale marketplace, and then later hit the big two-storey flea market. (If you need to take a restroom break around here, it'll cost you fifty cents; the best place to do so is in the Rio Cuale marketplace.)
As it was really hot, we stopped in a restaurant for a late lunch break - used the washrooms - before returning to the ship. Cabs are available all the time along the street lining the malecon, so finding your way back is not an issue. It's about a fifteen minute ride depending on traffic.
There is some beach access from the malecon, but it's a far cry from the big expanse of beach that you'll get in Cabo or Mazatlan. If you want to sun and shop, maybe do your sunning in the first two ports and save your shopping for Puerto Vallarta.
I heard some travelers complain about the three port days in a row. I agree that it does get tiring, regardless of whether you're 40-something or 70-something. But that's the itinerary, so pick another cruise if that's what you want to complain about. These places are simply that close to one another. Mom said that the "next time" (rather encouraging words from a first-time cruiser) she'll simply stay on board rather than go into port.
Here's the thing: our virgin cruisers thought the food and general availability of it was very good overall. My husband and I think that
our Carnival experiences were better in this regard. (Our Norwegian trip is at the bottom of the list.) Although we don't know if Carnival still offers this, we miss the free sushi bar and the 24-hour calzone and Caesar salad station.
The Windjammer breakfast buffet turned me off the first morning. The bacon was fatty and greasy (and did not improve throughout the whole trip - I kept asking the rest of my party why they kept putting bacon on their plates when it looked like the same hideous stuff day after day) and the scrambled eggs were just barely warm. Apart from grabbing some fruit, you're better off passing by the main station at the two front doors and going directly to the middle of the dining area to get pancakes, waffles, omelets (not made to order, unfortunately), oatmeal, etc. I ended up taking a bowl of fruit, a container of yogurt, a bran muffin, and an English muffin with cream cheese as my morning ritual.
The Solarium (at the other end of deck 9) serves burgers and fries and pizza. You can also get whole fruit (as opposed to cut up fruit at the buffet) and cookies. If you're a "fry fan", you have to try their fries - best I've ever tasted.
We never really had lunch in the Windjammer, so I couldn't tell you what sort of food they may have served. We saw snacks put out that consisted of basic burgers, tacos, hot dogs, sandwiches, chicken wings, chili. We did one evening dinner in the Windjammer and established that it more or less serves the same food as the dining room that night - just not as hot and you have to carry your own plate. Our one lunch in the dining room was good overall: members of our group ordered buffalo chicken sandwiches and steak sandwiches.
Our evening dinners in the dining room were mostly good. We had items that we would rave about - such as the scallop risotto, escargots, lobster bisque, clam chowder, shrimp and lobster (on Friday, the second formal night) - and then items that made us wonder, such as pork chops (hardly typical dining room fare) and tilapia (arguably one of the worst of all cheap fish). Serving sizes were inconsistent and therefore difficult to estimate. It's usually cruise ship practice to have smaller serving sizes so people can try several items, but some of the meat entrees were simply huge. We hate to see food go to waste but when you're looking at eight ounces of meat after having an
appetizer and dessert's still coming, you're stuffing yourself unnecessarily. If you're a light eater but still want to have appetizers and dessert (because some of them are quite good), maybe ask the waiter how big your chosen entree is.
Oh, and save room for the self-serve frozen yogurt outside the Windjammer. It's available from noon to six everyday.
And by the way, You can make up for all this food consumption by taking the stairs. You won't find easier stairs to take than on a cruise ship.
ENTERTAINMENT & ACTIVITIES
The seniors in our group enjoyed the "Broadway style" production shows. The younger ones appreciated the comedy/magic shows (although in this case, the magic was more card tricks than illusions). Steve Smith's set was especially hilarious. The Masquerade theatre used for these performances is also used to show movies sometimes - they ran Spiderman 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 3 and Transformers during our cruise.
The casino was also popular among our group. One of us managed to win over $1,200 playing three card poker one day, but over the course of the cruise, generously gave it all back. (Yes, it can go as fast as it comes.) We also played bingo for an upgrade to the Royal Suite but didn't come close. It did ultimately require a tie-breaker to determine the winner, so in a way, I'm glad it wasn't close for us. The second
place person must feel pretty ripped off with nothing to show for coming so close.
The onboard internet service is extremely slow. At fifty cents a minute, you'll barely have time to open your email before you're already two bucks in the hole. However, the upside is that a computer will likely be available when you want it; most people these days bring their own laptops and use the wireless connections. Bundled minutes are available for a lower rate, but my cousin and I had a difficult time getting an account set up for such a package. In fact, she was locked out of her stateroom for a time due to some quirk in the system when she tried to set up an internet account (since the system uses the same Set Sail card that also operates as a stateroom key). By the way, before we arrived, we thought that we'd have wireless access in our rooms based on what we'd read in our cruise documents. This was, however, not case on the Vision of the Seas.
There are various seminars and presentations that you can attend, as well as those infamous art auctions. (Why people feel persuaded to bid on ugly art in the middle of the ocean is beyond me.) We watched a demonstration of "towel animal making" and received a set of printed instructions afterwards. The next time we have house guests, we're gonna wow 'em with our creations!
Service on every cruise ship we've been on is top-notch. The service people working on ships come from relatively poor countries and by nature, they are very happy to ensure that you're happy. I only wish that they'd pay them more so we don't have to be bothered with the while "tipping" thing.
ON BOARD SHOPPING & STUFF
I found the shopping guide (a guy named Kash - he of the "tell them Kash sent you") a bit nauseating to listen to and unfortunately basically all he talked about was buying jewelry. So if you're considering attending the heavily hyped shopping talk on Monday morning, don't bother unless you're seriously wanting jewelry from the ship's "recommended shops". (Does "recommended shops" sound like "more expensive" to you? Does it sound like Mr. Kash gets a commission every time you say "Kash sent me"? Why don't you try an experiment at those stores if you're going to be buying jewelry. You and your other half can pretend not to know each other and be interested in the same piece. One of you negotiates a best deal and one of you can do the "Kash sent me" thing. Let me know how it turns out.)
Oh, and if you're only hanging around for that "free gift" for attending Mr. Kash's heavily hyped talk, skip it. Here's my FREE GIFT to you for reading this review: Kash's "free gift" is a COUPON for a charm bracelet from Diamonds International. While it's a nice stocking stuffer for your average six year old, you can get one without the punishment of attending the long talk by taking one of the maps that will be thrust at you as you leave ship at each of the ports. There's a coupon on the back of the map for the same bracelet. If you REALLY like it, you can get one in Cabo, Mazatlan AND Puerto Vallarta and stuff THREE stockings this Christmas.
By the way, shopping on board is not bad at all. On our cruise - and I can't imagine it being much different for any Mexican Riviera cruise this year - they had specials every day. There's a nifty Bijoux Terner shop that sells interesting items for $10 apiece. On the last day of the cruise, they sold watch sets (consisting of a watch plus accessories like a bracelet, a wallet, a pen, flashlight, calculator, etc.) for 2 for $50. Over in the liquor shop, large bottles of Crown Royal were going for the unheard of price of 2 for $36.
Photos taken by the onboard photographers are not cheap. An 8x10 taken on a formal night (Monday and Friday) is going to cost you about
twenty bucks. At each of the ports, they generally snap your photo as you arrive. Those are usually more affordable at seven or eight dollars apiece.
Those of you interested in spa services can get good deals on "in port" days.
Those weighing their dining options (for early or late seating) should be aware that several time changes take place during this cruise. That is to say, the ship does not stay on any standard "ship time"; it adopts the time of the port location. You start out on Pacific Time in LA, but in Cabo and Mazatlan, you're on Mountain Time and then in PV, you're on Central Time. So if - like us - you're not originally from the west coast and are considering the late seating option, you only have two meals to worry about that are somewhat "late". The switch back to Pacific Time takes place on the Sunday morning returning to LA, at which point, there are no more scheduled meals to worry about.
RECOMMEND: YES OR NO
All of us in our traveling group would recommend this cruise to any first-time cruiser living relatively close to LA. It's an easy cruise to do and the ports are fun and sunny. The price was right. (The only real beef I had was with the air portion of our package, and I will be getting in touch with my travel agent to find out who should get THAT earful.) Overall - despite an extremely rocky trip back to LA on Saturday during which we experienced waves up to 13 feet high and they put out barf bags on the stairwells (!) - we had a grand time. I'm going to start looking for our next cruise soon.