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Kelly Knowles

Age: 28

Occupation:Professional

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Vision of the Seas

Sailing Date: November 23rd, 2003

Itinerary: Mexican Riviera

Background:
Before I begin, I’d like to provide a bit of background on my partner and I as it will help you determine how much of the below you may relate to. I am in my upper 20’s and Clive is in his mid-30’s. We’re both laid-back and friendly, generally preferring a glass of wine and live jazz to the nightclub scene. This was our first cruise and quite a deviation from our typical vacation style. Usually, we gravitate to the national park, camping/hiking type of trip. This time around however, we wanted something focused on relaxation but still providing the opportunity to experience new places. After much discussion, we finally settled on a cruise. We relied heavily on the many reviews we read both in selecting our cruise and preparing for it so thought it only fair to repay in kind. I am one for details so while this is lengthy, I’ve tried to organize it so that if you’re looking for specific information, you can hopefully find it without having to read every last bit.

Embarkation:
From what we had read in other reviews, we had prepared ourselves for a long and tedious embarkation process. Perhaps because we had that expectation, we actually found it to be a fairly smooth process, taking less than an hour from the time we arrived at the curb with our luggage to entering our stateroom. The most hectic part was simply snagging an available porter to take our bags. After a time of trying to patiently wait our turn - and realizing we were one of very few doing so - we were able to add our bags to those of a group a porter had already collected. I suspect if there were more than 2 of us with just four bags, we would have waited much longer. From that point on, the check-in process went quickly and there were plenty of staff around to direct us.

Stateroom/Stateroom Attendant:
We had an interior stateroom which was about as small as rumors suggest but otherwise quite cozy. We weren’t expecting much drawer space so had brought extra hangers (there were already quite a few provided in the relatively ample closet) and thanks to that, had plenty of space for all our clothes. There was a nice little vanity w/ good lighting that was perfect for doing my hair and make-up before dinner. I also appreciated the full-length wall mirror. We were surprised to see that the TV had hook-ups allowing you to plug in a digital camera to view pictures on screen. Unfortunately, we didn’t bring our connector. There were a couple TV stations that were music only but the options were only classical and oldies. No complaints with that but I was glad we brought a small CD player along. I simply must have music while I’m getting ready. A small safe and hairdryer were also provided. The only electrical outlet was by the vanity and there were no outlets in the bathroom. The shower was a bit small but Clive, who stands 6’2, said it was manageable.

We had no complaints about our stateroom attendant, Fernando. Shortly after we got to our cabin, he stopped by to introduce himself, help acquaint us with the room, his schedule and what we could expect from him. It took a little longer for our luggage to be delivered than he told us, but I doubt it was his fault and was no inconvenience. The couple times we had questions, we had no trouble finding him. He came by each morning to make up the room and then to turn down the bed in the evening. I looked forward to his towel buddy creations every night.

The Ship: Our first order of business after familiarizing ourselves with our room was to explore the ship top to bottom. We headed up to deck 10 and began a systematic exploration of each deck. We were impressed. Everything appeared modern and well kept. The Centrum area was simply beautiful and each deck had something to offer. For the sake of organization, I’ve broken things out a bit below:

Pools/Sun Decks - There were two pools on the ship and 6 hot tubs (4 at the main outdoor pool and 2 by the indoor Solarium pool). The pool temperatures were very nice – the indoor pool naturally being a bit colder than the one in the sun. The water in the hot tubs could have been hotter. As it was, we could easily spend 30 minutes in one without a bother. The main pool on deck 9 was not as large as I expected considering a ship of 2000+, but it was nicely designed. The biggest downside was that it was dominated by kids. A few nice touches were the approximately 3 foot wide edges surrounding the pool that had just a few inches of water as well as a bench in the pool itself allowing you to sit in the water while reading. I took advantage of this a couple of port days when the pool wasn’t as crowded. Otherwise, there were simply too many people and kids around in both the pool and hot tubs to be able to relax.

The indoor pool in the Solarium is designated for adults only (which they define as 16 years and older) but this was disregarded for the first couple days until there were some complaints and the crew began enforcing the rule. Still, I prefer to be outdoors in the sun so we didn’t spend too much time there. One charming aspect of the Solarium pool was that it was very sensitive to the movements of the ship. The seas on our journey were quite calm but water in the pool would frequently rush end to end with just a bit of rocking. It made for a charming wave sound although I can only imagine what it would be like if rough water was encountered!

There were plenty of chairs on decks 9 & 10 to lounge in. We favored the bow area as it was a bit quieter. The weather was absolutely wonderful for all but the last day of the trip when it got a bit windy and chilly. We underestimated the sun on the first day and got a little pinker than expected but nothing detrimental. Our most treasured find was actually deck 5. There were a number of lounge chairs and hardly anyone out there. There was plenty of shade and sun to choose from and at most, we maybe shared the deck with 2 - 3 other people at most! And it had the absolute best view of the horizon.

Bars/Nightlife -
There were several bars to choose from on the ship. The servers at the pool bar were entertaining and quickly learned guests names and drink preferences. I found the Viking Crown the most enchanting with its dimmed lights and view overlooking the entire ship. After dinner, it became the ship ‘disco’. We didn’t check that out but it got rave reviews from some of our dinner companions. Unfortunately, the Solarium bar had only one bartender so there was almost always a wait to get a drink. It became quicker just to run out to the pool bar instead. The Schooner Bar offered some decent jazz and piano entertainment from time to time. The Champagne Bar on deck 4 had a much wider selection of wines than the other bars, albeit, prices to match. The other bars only had a couple of basic wines to choose from which I was not overly impressed with. Beer selection at all the bars was of the Bud/Heineken/Amstel/Corona mix. I believe they had Guinness, as well. On the first night, they offered a wine package that provided a bottle of wine/champagne of our choice each night at dinner. The wine selection was fairly decent and the cost reasonable if you know you’re likely to drink that much. We didn’t drink a bottle one night and were therefore able to take an extra bottle home with us at the end of the trip.

Entertainment - Although we had full intentions of checking out many of the shows and other ship events, we found that we mostly wanted to lay out, relax and read. Therefore, we only caught a couple shows – part of the Platters and a Beatles tribute group. Both were quite enjoyable. Other shows included a song/dance troupe, magicians and comedian. We enjoyed the live music offered such as the strings and piano in the Centrum and the calypso band by the pool in the afternoons. There was a small dance floor in the Centrum and I enjoyed watching the couples expertly waltzing to the music. There was a large dance floor in the ‘Some Enchanted Evening Lounge’ but there was usually Karaoke or another event occurring there rather than dancing. Daytime activities included art auctions, pool games for the grown-ups, trivia and bingo ($25 buy-in for those who are curious).

Food/Dining – The main dining room had two levels and tables of various size including several for two. We had a table for six and shared dinners with two lovely couples. Our main server was from Turkey and although she had a very thick accent, she always had a smile on her face and ensured we had everything we needed. The same went for our assistant waiter who was always nearby and provided fast and friendly service. The food was good if not always great and all of our best meals were definitely in the main dining room. They had some great soups and I had a couple very good fish dishes. It was a Thanksgiving cruise and a traditional turkey dinner was offered on Thursday. It wasn’t as good as my mother’s but not bad either. Their cuisine was fairly European in nature which meant that desserts often weren’t as sweet as Americans are used to – not that that is necessarily a bad thing. They also had a very good selection of low-fat, sugar-free and vegetarian options.

The food quality at the Windjammer buffet was on par with most buffet fair with the occasional stand-out dish. Breakfast was the same daily and there were a number of standard lunch dishes. Dinners generally mirrored the main dining room.

Our only complaint with the dining options was the hours. We prefer to sleep in and have a late breakfast which leads to a late lunch and dinner. However, by 10:30am, the dining room was closed and only a very limited buffet was offered. If we didn’t eat lunch by 2:30pm, our only other option was the Solarium Café which offered fairly poor quality hamburgers, hotdogs and pizza. And although it may sound silly, we often found ourselves craving ice cream which was fairly hard to come by if we weren’t in the main dining room. They had an ice milk machine available from 3-5pm each afternoon by the pool but that was it – and the kids usually created a 20 minute line to get near it.

Misc. - Other ship features included a card/game room, library with a decent selection all things considered, special areas for kids only, internet 'cafe' ($.50/minute to log-on), and a handful of shops.

Ports of Call/Shore Excursions:


Cabo San Lucas - This was by far our favorite port. Rather than docking, the ship dropped anchor and tendered passengers to shore. Tickets had to be picked up and groups were shuttled in order of their ticket numbers. This resulted in a bit of a wait. Had we realized this in advance, we would have gone early to get tickets. As it was, we didn’t get off the boat until close to noon. We had a couple hours to explore and shop before our excursion. As to be expected in a Mexican port, there was an endless supply of street vendors constantly approaching us with wares. We began to sound like recordings of “no, gracias”. They began to disperse later in the afternoon – perhaps it was siesta time! We then met up with our excursion group for the Sea Kayaking trip. It was a wonderful experience. We were provided a 2 person, sit-on-top kayak, paddles, life vests and snorkel gear. It was about a 30 minute paddle to Land’s End where we saw some sea lions and put in at a beach for 45 minutes of swimming and snorkeling. Cabo definitely had the best snorkeling. While we didn’t see anything amazing, there were plenty of fish to watch and the water was warm and crystal blue. We’re experienced kayakers so found the paddle itself to be fairly easy. Still, it would make for a great first-time kayak experience for someone in decent shape. If you are comfortable kayaking on your own, you may want to consider not booking the excursion and just renting the gear for yourself. You can see the kayaks laid out on the beach from where the boat anchors and it appears to be a short walk (perhaps a mile?) from the dock - or you could hire a water taxi. We figured we could have saved about $40 if we had done it on our own. If you opt for that though, please make sure to find out any areas to avoid. On the Pacific side of Land’s End, there was a lovely and innocent looking beach area which we were told to avoid due to dangerous rip currents.

Mazatlan – I had read that Mazatlan had the best shopping. I’m not sure about that but they definitely had the most persistent vendors. Within seconds of exiting the ship, we were barraged with salespeople, taxi drivers and others. It was a bit of a turn off and after taking a walk through the downtown area, we returned to the ship to enjoy the pool and hot tubs which were mostly unoccupied due to everyone being in port.

Puerto Vallarta – We also enjoyed this port although it’s hard to feel completely away from it all when one of the first sights from the ship is Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club! We opted for a hiking excursion which started with a bus ride out of the tourist areas and into a bit more of the “real Mexico”. It was a great hike which seemed a bit less than the 5 miles that was advertised. There’s a good bit of uphill involved and the weather was quite warm. Although the brochure mentioned strenuous activity, there were a couple people in our group who seemed unprepared for it and struggled to keep up. We frequently had to stop to let them catch up, but as we were on vacation, there was no rush and it gave us a chance to take in the beautiful green jungle and river in the valley below. Upon conclusion of the hike, we were taken back to the 'Hacienda' where we had the absolute best tacos ever!

Disembarkation:
Similar to the embarkation, this was not nearly as bad as we had feared it would be. Although we had an assigned lounge to wait in until our deck was called, we were allowed to wait outside on the pool deck instead. They began disembarking around 8:30am and we were off the ship, had our bags and to our car shortly after 10:00am.

Overall:
This was a vacation to remember and we are looking forward to cruise number 2. Although we are interested in trying other cruise lines and ships, we wouldn’t hesitate to take another trip with Royal Caribbean and the Vision of the Seas and definitely recommend it to others. Enjoy!

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