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Nancy Norris

Age: n/a

Occupation:Travel professional

Number of Cruises: 25+

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Vision of the Seas

Sailing Date: February 1st, 2004

Itinerary: Mexican Riviera

Introduction:
After suffering through one of the coldest Januarys on record in Cleveland, Ohio, I was definitely looking forward to a respite from the snow and freezing temperatures. Anticipating a week cruising the Mexican Riviera was what sustained my spirit as I shoveled snow and protected myself from frostbite. I had a lot of unfinished business to take care of before I could depart, so I planned to fly to Los Angles on the morning of the cruise. What was I thinking!!! One of my most valuable suggestions is to fly to the cruise port at least a day early whenever possible. Hmmm, winter weather, a flight that goes through Chicago (where I am frequently delayed) and I was leaving the morning of the cruise?!? Well, rethinking my original plan, I worked hard to complete my work load and was able to rebook my flight to arrive in sunny California a day early. I arrived at John Wayne, Orange County Airport about 11:00 am. Okay, for Cruise Tip #1: Whenever you have the option, choose to fly into this airport, rather than Los Angeles (LAX) in order to avoid crowds, confusion and chaos. I was able to check into my hotel, Wyndham Orange County Airport, early and by noon I was window shopping at the marvelous, upscale South Coast Plaza shopping mall. Outstanding restaurants, an excellent Performing Arts Center and a beautiful setting make this an excellent location for a pre-cruise stay. I can also highly recommend the hotel. Not only is it in an excellent location, but rooms are large, attractive and comfortable. The staff is friendly and both pool and exercise facilities are exceptionally nice. The morning sun woke me early, but was a welcome sight to this sun deprived Ohio girl, and I enjoyed a refreshing power walk while waiting for one of my California traveling companions to pick me up on his way to the port. We were just two of the 29 travel professionals that were going to share a week on The Vision of the Seas at a Seminar at Sea. Once again, Miss Pat, who has become my trusted cabin mate, would be meeting me onboard to share the experience.

Embarkation:
Once my friend arrived, we were at the San Pedro Pier in less than a half hour. With only one ship in port, we were able to drop off our luggage with ease, before parking the car. While I waited with the luggage, my friend transported the car to the parking lot. The lot is within walking distance, although they do provide a shuttle. As for the embarkation process itself, I was quite pleased how smoothly and efficiently it was handled. Although I had to pick up my cruise documents at the pier (which can sometimes be a major hassle), I was onboard and checking out my cabin on this beautiful vessel within 20 minutes. Cruise Tip #2: Before your cruise, complete your registration online at Royal Caribbean’s website (or have your travel agent do it) to aid in the check-in process.


Inside Cabin on the Vision of the Seas

My Cabin:
Now, on my last trip aboard this vessel, I was fortunate enough to occupy a deluxe balcony cabin. On this voyage, however, our group was assigned inside cabins on deck 3 thus; I entered my cabin with a bit of trepidation. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised, as it was larger than I had anticipated, partly, I am sure due to the mirrors on the back wall. Decorated in turquoise and mauve, my room was cozy, but sufficient to accommodate the two of us. There were two twin beds, which can be reconfigured to a queen, and a sleeper sofa. A round glass top table in front of the sofa and a desk chair at the vanity complete the inventory of furniture. There were privacy drapes that could be used to separate the beds from the sofa. The closet was divided in half, with one half offering full length hanging space and the other had 2 bars for shorter garments. Drawer space was at a greater premium. There were 3 small drawers below the vanity on the left side and 3 larger drawers on the other, with one desk drawer in the middle. There was extra storage behind the two side mirrors of the well-lit vanity. The beds were high enough to store luggage underneath. There was a 110volt double outlet on the vanity as well as a double 220 volt outlet. An extension cord is a great extra to bring from home, particularly if there is more than one female sharing the room. A good portable hair dryer with ample power was provided. There was a safe in the enclosed shelf above the TV. You entered your own 4-digit code to activate it. The TV was not interactive, so you were unable to book shore excursions, or check the status of your charges, but it offered a variety of channels including CNN, a music channel, a national broadcast channel and several movie channels in different languages. RCI also provided its own in-house port and shop talk, bridge cam, shore excursion, and Vision voyage channels. One nice touch was the channel that displayed the day’s menus. It was wonderful when deciding on our dining choices. I have also included a picture of an ocean view cabin across the hall from ours.


Ocean View Cabin

The bathroom had a small counter space, with 3 shelves in the medicine cabinet. Again, the lighting was very good. The shower pressure was very good. The circular shower stall is small and the cloth shower curtain had a tendency to not stay put, however, so a few clothespins clipped to the bottom can make a world of difference. There is no ventilation, or fan in the bathroom, so the mirrors fog easily. I appreciated the RCI bathrobes we were provided. It is always nice to have one less thing to pack. (These are one of the additional amenities offered to Diamond and Platinum members of the Crown and Anchor Society)


The Vision of the Seas

The Ship:
The Vision of the Seas is a beautiful ship with lots of polished brass, glass, and a feeling of openness.


The Centrum from the Top

Entering the ship on deck 4 the six story Centrum provides a very pleasant first impression. Sofas and conversational areas surround it on three levels, giving a sense of spaciousness. There are many small nooks to sit and enjoy the view. The champagne bar is located on deck 4 and has a small dance floor adjacent. This space exuded a subdued and tranquil ambiance perfect for a pre-dinner cocktail or late night conversation. Entertainment was provided at the Champagne Terrace each afternoon and evening. I will share more about the entertainment later, but the female vocalist in the Sheri Cafaro Trio that performed here during pre-dinner cocktail hours was incredible. Deck 4, also has a covered promenade, which many of us used for walking, but, unfortunately, it does not go all the way around the ship, so you need to backtrack to do a mile. The main floor of Aquarius, the one dining room on board, is on this deck. It is a two level dining area, with a great amount of window seating, and many tables for 4. There are small banquettes, which encompass larger tables. It is overall very appealing, and tastefully decorated.


The Purser's Desk

In addition to the upper level of the dining room, Deck 5 was the location of the purser’s desk and the casino.


The Casino

The casino was not huge, but adequate. There were at least 5 blackjack tables, a roulette wheel, a craps table and hundreds of slot machines. Apparently the slots were pretty liberal, as many of my traveling companions did well.


Masquerade Theater

Access to the Masquerade Theater was through the casino,


Central Shops Walkway

or via the walkway through the Centrum shops on deck 6. The two level theater had a good sound system and the site line from most seats was good. There were poles that did obstruct the view from some seats, but otherwise this was a beautiful theater with comfortable seating.


Shopping on the Vision of the Seas

From the upper level of the Masquerade Theater, there was a walkway leading to the Centrum shops on Deck 6. They offered a nice variety and selection of jewelry, logo and resort wear, liquor, cigarettes, souvenirs and sundries.


The Photo Gallery

The photo gallery was also located on Deck 6. It was one of the few places on board that I felt claustrophobic, as at peak times it was impossible to move, let alone view the pictures.


The Schooner Bar

The nautical themed Schooner Bar, also on deck 6, had some good “happy hour” specials, and was the location of an excellent piano bar. On this cruise it became one of my favorite spots


The Showboat Lounge

Opposite the Schooner Bar is the Showboat lounge. It appears to have become the annex to the conference room, however, as it was seldom used for anything other than group meetings, or a place to sit quietly away from the rest of the passengers.


The Some Enchanted Evening Lounge

At the very end of the deck was the Some Enchanted Evening lounge. The central focus of this lounge was a small stage and nice size dance floor. This lounge was the second major entertainment venue and location of various activities, such as bingo and other games during the day.


Crown and Anchor Study Card Room Library Internet Cafe

Decks 2, 3, 7 and 8 are dedicated to staterooms with the exceptions of the library and card room on opposite sides of the Centrum on deck 7 and directly above them on Deck 8, the Crown and Anchor Study and the Internet Café. However, at an internet cost of 50 cents a minute, it could easily become very costly to stay connected. And speaking of staying connected, the fact that internet connections were lost regularly on this cruise, not to mention the sluggish speed, dramatically escalated the cost of communicating via e-mail. A flat rate for the length of the cruise, as some ships offer, would have been a nice alternative. We did discover, however, that one of the terminals had a defective scanner, so if you were lucky enough to get that terminal, your session was free. That didn’t happen very often, however, as there was one gentleman who seemed to be there all day. I even saw his wife bring him a cup of coffee and danish while he remained on the computer. I wonder if he slept there too?


The Main Pool Area

Deck 9 was the location of the main pool, which was surrounded by 4 hot tubs. I liked the canopies over the hot tubs, which provided some shelter from inclement weather. The pool and hot tubs were kept at perfect temperatures throughout the cruise. Focus, a great calypso band, performed poolside in the afternoon.


The Windjammer Cafe

The Windjammer Café was forward, with a great feeling of space. Floor to ceiling windows surround the café and made it a very pleasant place to dine.


The Solarium

On Deck 9, aft, was the Solarium. This was another beautiful area of the ship. There was a very nice pool, and two more hot tubs. The architecture and design is impressive.


The Shipshape Spa

Just past the Solarium was the shipshape spa. Some of our group splurged on facials, and full body massages and found the experience to be well worth the money. In fact, as a group the spa received high marks for its stellar service without the hard sell pressure to purchase products. I have included a Menu of Spa Services to give you an idea of your options and costs. The spa had a meditation area that was one of the most serene spots I have encountered on a cruise.


The Shipshape Center

Directly above the spa, on deck 10, was the shipshape center. There was a small area designed for aerobic and fitness exercise. There were a variety of standard exercise machines and free weights, but nothing exceptional. The nice size sauna and steam room were both quite pleasant. The jogging track was on deck 10 and proved to be a popular spot for all of us trying desperately to maintain some semblance of an exercise regime, as well as burning off the excess calories we were consuming. Yoga, aerobics, spinning classes and aqua dynamics were other calorie burning options. (Note that spinning classes and yoga incurred a $10 fee).


The Viking Crown Lounge

The observatory and signature Viking Crown lounge were on the top decks. At night the Viking Crown lounge became the ship’s disco.


The Optix Teen Center

The teen center, video arcade,


The Kid's Adventure Ocean Center

and children’s playroom were also located here. There were very few children on board this particular cruise, but those I did see, appeared to be having a wonderful time. A sample of the Children’s Program has been included for each of the five age groups that Royal Caribbean entertains on every cruise. Click on the age group you are interested in. 3 to 5 6 to 8 9 to 11 12 to 14 and 15 to 17.


Royal Caribbean's Popular Rock Climbing Wall

The popular rock climbing wall has already been added to the Vision of the Seas, as Royal Caribbean plans to do fleet wide.


A Typical Acquarius Restaurant Table Setting

Food/Dining Experience:
On this ship there were still two scheduled seating assignments in the main dining room for dinner. Lunch and breakfast in the Aquarius Dining Room were both open seating. The Windjammer Café served a buffet breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as afternoon tea and snacks. Pizza, hot dogs, burgers and fries were served in the Solarium from 10:00 am until 6:30 pm, and again from 11:00 pm until 3:00 am. There was a unique pizza special served each day, as well as traditional toppings. This was quite good, as were the burgers. There was no other alternative dining room, as there is on many ships today. Room service was operative 24 hours, with full breakfast service and a more limited menu during the day and for late night snacks.

I formed an amalgam of thoughts and impressions on the food and dining experience on this cruise that I will share. Coffee in the Windjammer Café in the morning was excellent, but a coffee shop or place to get a good Café Latte would have been even better. Food was served at a variety of stations throughout the Windjammer café, so there never seemed to be a long line, and congestion was kept to a minimum. The omelets prepared to order were very good, but I found the scrambled eggs on the buffet line less than appealing. The food in the dining room was a mixture of excellent, to mediocre. Appetizers and soups were exceptionally good. There were a nice variety of main dishes, and different pasta was served each evening. Each evening there was a beef, fowl, seafood, vegetarian, and healthy choice option on the menu. The seafood dishes were superb, but the beef choices were inconsistent in quality. My filet and prime rib were both tender and flavorful, but the ranch steak was on the other end of the taste spectrum. The portions were quite generous, and the dining staff was more than eager to bring seconds. On my one breakfast in the dining room, I enjoyed eggs benedict cooked to perfection. If any Royal Caribbean representatives happen to be reading this review, I would like to offer a suggestion: A makeshift bar was set up in the solarium, next to the pizza/burger spot, but iced tea and lemonade were only available on the other side of the ship in the Windjammer. A beverage station located in the solarium would have been much more convenient for those of us dining there.

Entertainment:
Although I mention specific entertainers and entertainment venues throughout the review, let me offer a capsule overview. On the whole, this ship had an excellent troupe of entertainers. Each of the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers was vivacious, energetic and talented. As an ensemble they complimented each other and offered a versatile array of expertise. Both major production shows were tight, well-choreographed performances that capitalized on the strengths of this talented cast. Anselmo Boles, the piano-bar entertainer, and Sheri Cafaro of the Sheri Cafaro Trio were both stellar. Focus, the Calypso band, was fun and offered a great sound poolside. I have included a sample Compass (the daily planner) for both a day at sea and one in port to give you an idea of the myriad of activities you can enjoy in addition to the major entertainment venues.

Day 1 (Los Angeles):
Arriving on board about 1:00 pm, we headed straight for the Windjammer Café to enjoy a light lunch at the Welcome Aboard Buffet (served from 11:30 – 3:30). My roommate, Pat, along with two other dear California friends joined us soon after and we enjoyed our requisite Welcome Aboard cocktail. By the time we had brought each other up to speed as to what was happening in our respective personal lives and discussed our plans for the evening, it was time for the dreaded Muster Drill. Yech! I know, I complain in every review, but there was so little to complain about on this cruise that this minor complaint is warranted, if but for nothing else than to provide a balanced review. Upon completion of the muster drill, Pat and I made our way back to our cabin to discover that our luggage had already been delivered. We divvied up the space and tackled the task of unpacking. Now one of the reasons that Pat and I are such compatible roommates is our use of space. She puts almost everything in drawers and I prefer to hang most of my clothes. Once that chore was out of the way, we could really begin to enjoy the cruise.

A private cocktail reception was scheduled for our travel group at 7:30 pm in the Viking Crown Lounge. As we are both avid football fans, however, we had hoped to catch a bit of the Super Bowl Pre-game Party at 7:00 pm in the Masquerade Theater. Now, let me digress for a minute. I know I said there was very little to complain about, but this happened to be one of them. The Super Bowl had actually begun about 3 hours previously, but was not being televised on the ship. Since the actual live broadcast would interfere with onboard activities, such as the muster drill and Sail Away Party, it was being taped and shown as the evening entertainment at 8:00 pm. Well, the flaw in that plan was that it conflicted with our scheduled late seating dining at 8:30. Not to mention our group’s private reception. Oh well, we thought we could at least check out the pre-show party. Wrong! The program was taped on an international feed and therefore the pre-game was not in English. So, it was off to our cocktail party. What a treat it was to meet the rest of the people in our group. It was obvious that this was to be a great week for professional growth and personal enrichment.

Our group entered the Aquarius Dining Room together and found we were assigned 3 large tables for 10 in the rear of the dining room. We found ourselves blessed with an exceptional waiter. Robert was outstanding! He was exceedingly competent and efficient. He was friendly, but not “gushy” and he had a unique sense of humor that was refreshing. By the way, he wasn’t bad to look at either! Hmmm, I am sensing a common thread in my reviews, I DO like my waiters. But, on the other hand, what’s not to like. A pleasant meal and pleasant conversation ensued. After dinner everyone in the group went their separate ways. Some to catch the end of the football game, some to karaoke, others to the disco or piano bar, and even a few that retired for the evening. I did watch the very end of the game and then headed for bed. (It wasn’t until I got back home that I found out I had missed a rather controversial half-time show).

Day 2 (At Sea):
I knew from previous Mexican Riviera cruises that the weather was very unpredictable at this time of year along the west coast, so it was with great pleasure that I awoke to discover the sun shining and relatively warm temperatures (at least for this Ohio girl). But, before I could enjoy this bonus day, the first of our seminars at sea was scheduled from 9-noon in the Conference Center. After we spent some time getting to know each other it was evident that there were a number of attendees new to the travel profession, so our seminar leader changed the agenda a bit to accommodate their needs and provide them with the needed resources and knowledge needed to garner value from the rest of the seminars. Consequently, no longer being a novice, I was treated to the prospect of finding a spot in the sun a little earlier than anticipated.


The Windjammer Cafe

I enjoyed a bit of lunch in the Windjammer and spent the rest of the afternoon lounging in the sun and relaxing in the hot tub. Tonight was the first of our formal nights and a few of us planned to meet at the Champagne Bar before attending the Captains Welcome Aboard Reception in the Some Enchanted Lounge. The room filled quickly and I would suggest you arrive early if you wish to find a seat. Another tip: There is a bartender on duty and if you sit at the bar, rather than at one of the tables, you are served quickly. You can also order anything you want as opposed to the limited selections of drinks offered by the waiters that work the room.


Our Dining Group

Dinner was exceptional this evening. I beef I had chosen was prepared perfectly and once again service was impeccable. After dinner, the first of the two production shows, Rhythm Nation was scheduled. The exceptionally talented and gifted dancers and singers in this cast make this show a “must see”. I have seen this show in the past and was less than impressed, but the group onboard the Vision brought this production to new heights. While most of our group retired, Pat, Janet (another of my California friends) and I ventured to the Schooner Bar and were treated to an entertainment bonus. Anselmo Boles, one of the best piano bar entertainers I have heard on a cruise ship was performing. If that was not enough of a treat, a number of the cast members from the Royal Caribbean Singers & Dancers production team stopped by and accompanied the pianist with impromptu performances. Excellent is an understatement! This entertainment venue reenergized us for a final nightcap at the Viking Crown Lounge. We danced a bit, finished our drinks and called it a night. All in all it was a very pleasant day at sea.

Day 3 (Cabo San Lucas):
We were not scheduled to arrive in Cabo until 10:00 am, which gave me plenty of time to take an early morning power walk and enjoy breakfast before we were to depart. At this point, let me interject special recognition to Marian Dado, one of the wait staff in the Windjammer. The line for omelets was exceptionally long, so I opted for scrambled eggs from the buffet, which was a definite mistake. Inquiring about my meal while passing by, Marian was quick to come to my aid and insisted he procure me an omelet that would be more to my liking. His eagerness to please, as well as prompt and exceptionally pleasant service, was well above any expectations. It is this kind of genuine attention to guests that makes or breaks a cruise and Royal Caribbean should be proud to have him on staff.


Cabo's Tender Wharf

Cabo is a tender port and having visited here just a short while ago, we planned to wait for open tenders, rather than rush off the ship. When we woke, the day looked less than stellar as thick clouds blanketed the sky. The eternal optimist that I am, however, I assured everyone that the weather would improve and it would be a great day. Well, by the time we managed to gather everyone together and make it off the ship my prophecy proved true and it was a glorious day in Cabo.


El Mendano Beach and The Office

This was planned as a beach day, so we hailed a taxi and headed directly to El Mendano Beach, more specifically to The Office. We actually ended up settling in at Billigan’s, the bar/restaurant on the beach right next door to The Office. I had hoped to grab one of the water taxis to explore Honeymoon Beach on the other side of the Arch, but a bit of a late start altered my original plan. Well, maybe on my next trip, I’ll get the chance! As I took a walk on the beach, one of my most favorite things to do, a sense of euphoria filled me and I realized once again how very lucky I am to have such a wonderful life. After a full day of lounging on the beach, I chose to make my way back to the marina by a pleasant walk through town. Once on board, I was faced with a decision, take a nap (By the way, one of the best aspects of an inside cabin) or take a quick soak in the hot tub. Well, if you have followed any of my cruise journeys, you know which I chose. If you guessed hot tub, you’re right!

Now, if you are not a beach person, an excellent alternative at this port is whale-watching (at least at this time of year). Various members of our group chose the ship’s whale watching excursion and others opted to go with private tour companies on their own and both were highly recommended. Those who took the ship’s shore excursion for $60 found it to be a good value. There were about 40-50 passengers on a two-deck boat. They were quite impressed with the bilingual guide onboard who was informative and quite knowledgeable.

This evenings main entertainment was comedy, vocalist, impressionist Roger Behr. Unfortunately, it was scheduled as a pre-dinner show at 7:15 pm, so I did not attend. The theme for the evening was Country-Western. The theme was even carried out in the Southwestern dinner menu. Well, here I personally think Royal Caribbean missed the mark. My idea of an elegant five course meal does not include ranch steak and cowboy beans. After dinner, the Love and Marriage Game was taking place in the Masquerade Theatre. With the realization that this would be broadcast repeatedly on the TV, we chose to listen to the Blue Note Jazz in the Schooner Bar. The major dance venue was a Country & Western Hoe Down in the Some Enchanted Evening Lounge. This is most definitely not “my cup of tea”, besides the last two late nights were taking their toll (and remember I had foregone my afternoon nap), so I chose to retire early (relatively speaking that is).

Day 4 (Mazatlan):
The morning began with room service delivered right on time. On the Vision a complete breakfast menu is offered and to assure prompt delivery you are requested to place your order on your door handle by 3:00 am. Of course, you can also call in the morning, if you prefer. Once again the early morning began with cool temperatures and clouds, but by the time we were ready to leave for the ship for a Mazatlan adventure, the weather was perfect. Since the cruise ship docked at the commercial cargo dock, a complimentary shuttle transported us from the gangway to the main terminal.


Downtown Mazatlan and the Malecom

From there a group of us decided it would be fun to walk the Malecon into the center of town. Since this is quite a hike, we had Pat use her wheelchair and headed out. The area around the industrial port where the ship docks is not exactly picturesque and it is not recommended that you walk around this part of Old Town by yourself. However, since we were in a group and knew where we were going, we felt totally safe. From the incredulous looks we received from the barrage of taxi drivers we encountered on our initial route, I am sure most of the locals thought we were “Crazy Gringos”. As an aside, let me share that Mazatlan is definitely not wheelchair friendly, so negotiating our way through town was not an easy task. Hmmm, maybe the looks we received from cab drivers were warranted. With that said, the scenic Malecon walk was well worth the effort. We stopped at a local restaurant/bar along the Malecon for some libation and then commandeered a taxi for the rest of our trek to the Golden Zone.


Mazatlan's Famous Shrimp Bucket

Now, I might mention that a great spot along this route to stop for a snack break and liquid refreshment is the renowned Shrimp Bucket. Somehow, we were inattentive and our personal tour guide let us pass right by this establishment. Don’t miss an opportunity to stop there if you should happen to walk the Malecon.


Mazatlan's Golden Zone Beaches

We had planned to access the public beach in front of the Hotel Playa Mazatlan for a bit of sun and sand. Lounge chairs and lanais were reserved for hotel guests, but a nice spot on the sand was all I needed. While I enjoyed the beach scene, my traveling companions found a spot at the outdoor restaurant for a bit of lunch accompanied by strawberry margaritas and cervezas (we were in Mexico, after all). We had to be back on board by 5:00 pm, so we cut our beach visit short in order to make the requisite stop at Senor Frogs. Our visit to Mazatlan ended with an unexpected treat. Carnival in Mazatlan was just around the corner and, on our return to the ship we spotted an open warehouse at the commercial port where the floats were being constructed. The workers were gracious enough to allow us a closer look.


Mazatlan's Old Cathedral

At this port, some of our travel group chose to book the ship’s Walking Tour of Old Mazatlan and found the guide to be exceptional and the tour quite interesting. If this is your first visit to Mazatlan, I highly recommend it. Another highly recommended shore excursion for the fishing enthusiast is the ship’s Deep-Sea Fishing Trip. For $135 a 7 hour outing on a 42 ft. boat with a maximum of 4 passengers made this an outstanding experience. This one activity that I can strongly suggest is done directly through the cruise line. With activities of this nature and length, there are many variables and opportunities for some unexpected events that may cause a delay in your return to the ship on time. If booked through their shore trips, the cruise line will take responsibility to get you back on board. If, however, you choose to venture on your own and something happens, it becomes your responsibility, at your own expense to rejoin the ship.

Back on board and creature of habit that I am, an afternoon hot tub session was in order. I believe hot tubs are great places to meet new people and this afternoon’s session justified my belief. In fact, today there was such an interesting mix of people that I found it difficult to tear myself away to clean-up and prepare for the evening ahead. The Happenings were the celebrity vocalists performing this evening, but again, it was a pre-dinner show at 7:15, which I missed. Others of our travel professional group did attend, however, and found it quite entertaining.

Our group had pre-paid their gratuities, so we were given the opportunity to rearrange ourselves within our 3 assigned tables each night. I was enjoying the “round robin” dining experience and looked forward to the networking and establishing a connection with new people. Food, service and conversation were once again exemplary. In fact, we had planned to participate in Vision Quest, the adult scavenger hunt, but as was becoming a habit, didn’t vacate the dining room in time. Do make a point of attending this event, if at all possible, however, as it is great fun and guaranteed to bring laughs. A “Rockin Through the Ages Party” in the Some Enchanted Evening Lounge was how many of the group chose to end the evening, while some spent the waning hours in the Piano Bar, once again listening to Anselmo Boles.


The View From Don Pedro's in Sayulita

Day 5 (Puerto Vallarta):
The morning began with clouds and the promise of questionable weather, but life is good and once again a beautiful day was in store. We had planned to get an early start to explore the outlying areas of Puerto Vallarta. A group of us rented a car at the pier ($50 for the day) and headed north to Sayulita, a remote fishing village that has been discovered by surfers. Well, discovered is an understatement! We had expected this sleepy little village with authentic Mexican flavor, but were greeted by hoards of people, cars everywhere and any hint of sleepy little village was lost in translation. Unbeknownst to us, the Mexican National Surfing Competition was being held in Sayulita the very day we chose to visit. Even though there was absolutely no surf on this day, for me, the competition was interesting. Ohio girls seldom have such an opportunity. But, the experience was definitely not what we had in mind when we began our road trip. We ate at a great beachside restaurant and slowly made our way back to Puerto Vallarta.


Typical Puerto Vallarta Beach

While we were off exploring the environs of Puerto Vallarta, others in our group chose to do another whale watching excursion via zodiac. This proved to be another excellent adventure and was highly recommended by those who participated. Hiring a cab for a city tour was also another recommended activity at this port. Puerto Vallarta is a beautiful city that offers valuable sight-seeing opportunities.

We returned the car and still had a few hours to explore Puerto Vallarta. For our dining pleasure, the car rental agent recommended Roberto’s, near the river just on the other side of the tourist zone. It was an absolutely fabulous restaurant that served outstanding lobster and shrimp. It was one of the best meals of the cruise and a perfect way to end our visit to this enticing city. By the time we returned to the ship, we had missed dancing under the stars poolside, but Pat and I were not quite ready to call it a night and ventured to the Schooner Bar for a bit of dancing and piano bar entertainment. Another beautiful end to a beautiful day!

Day 6 (At Sea):
This morning I looked forward to a day of leisurely relaxing in the sun. First, however, was the pleasure of a morning power walk followed by an enjoyable breakfast in the dining room (I hadn’t had my cruise requisite eggs benedict yet). There weren’t a lot of us on deck today. Although it was windy (the captain had issued warnings about being on deck), the pool area was sheltered and the sun provided ample warmth. For the few of us that were determined to get our necessary sun consumption for the day, it was quite pleasant. The men’s belly flop competition went on as scheduled, followed by poolside horse racing.

A full day of sunning, a late afternoon “hot tub session” and before I knew it, it was time to clean-up and prepare for evening activities as tonight was the second of our two formal nights. The Crown and Anchor Society cocktail reception for repeat passengers was scheduled before dinner, as was the group photo for our travel professionals group. Following these activities we imbibed in another delicious meal with delightful company. The Royal Caribbean Dancers and Singers performed “Boogie Wonderland” after dinner and should not be missed. This totally high energy program showcased the strengths of this exceptionally talented cast. A 70’s disco night in the Viking Crown Lounge and the delightful Anselmo Boles along with Royal Caribbean cast members at the piano bar entertained us all. Another full day and I was looking forward to blissfully retiring in preparation for my final day on the cruise.

Day 7 (At Sea):
We ordered room service for breakfast again this morning, and once again they were prompt and food was prepared as ordered and HOT! The morning began with a final seminar at sea which, for me, proved quite fruitful. We discussed our individual cruise experiences and reviewed the various port activities in which members of the group chose to participate. See my random thoughts at the end of this review for a compilation of our impressions. I had to leave the seminar a bit early as the Captain’s Reception for Diamond and Platinum Crown & Anchor members was scheduled for 11:15. The reception was held in the Viking Crown Lounge and an impressive array of hors d’oeuvres as well as beverages of our choice was provided.

This would prove to be a bonus weather day! Usually, at this point, the weather turns a bit chilly and often quite windy. We were blessed with another day of warm sun, and although a bit windy, the sheltered pool area offered a perfect location for one final day of basking in the rays. Some of our group members were entertained by the afternoon talent show but, as you have probably suspected by now, my afternoon ended with a final hot tub session. Once I was able to tear myself away from “hot tub socializing” with a variety of interesting people, I wandered back to my cabin to pack and prepare for the evening’s activities.

The evening began with a final cocktail gathering of our travel professional group at 7:30 pm. It was obvious that the group had formed many strong bonds, both personally and professionally. I, for one, was quite impressed with the group dynamics and count many of these individuals as new friends. We wandered off to dinner as a group to enjoy one last tantalizing meal and the impeccable service from our wait staff. The entertainment offerings for our last night aboard ranged from a Farewell Spectacular starring the magic and comedy of Chad Chesmack (pre-dinner show), a late night adult comedy show with comedian Ed Regine, karaoke, fun at the piano bar, to a Farewell Dance Party in the disco. Members of our group scattered to various venues, and some even retired to their cabins to finish packing and retire early in preparation of tomorrow’s travel.

Debarkation:
Once again there was an advantage to being a frequent cruiser aboard Royal Caribbean as I received early embarkation tags and had a private lounge area to wait for de-boarding. We were requested to be out of our cabins by 8:00 am. The dining room served breakfast from 6 – 8 am and a buffet breakfast was offered until 8:30 am. I was actually off the ship and on my way to the airport shortly after 9:00 am. With only one ship in port, disembarkation was smooth and uneventful. Even the frequent congestion often experienced at the parking garage was not an issue on this morning. What a great stress-free way to conclude my journey.

Random Thoughts/Suggestions (A Group Effort):
--If you need cash, there was an ATM machine on board, but, if you don’t wish to pay the service fee, just use your “sail and sign” card to get a cash advance at the casino.
--Catholic mass was offered every day of this cruise.
--Some in the group found the jewelry sales flyers (specifically the watch sales) to be deceiving and a misrepresentation of the sale. When questioned, the store manager was less than cooperative and actually rude and condescending. This was certainly not in keeping with the tone and attitude of the rest of the ship’s staff.
--The Captain kept people informed and apprised of trip details, something which does not always occur.
--Inside cabins nice size, but more difficult to orient oneself to the ship. (Not being able to see the direction the ship was moving affected our ability to discern between forward and aft).
--The configuration of the stairwells also caused confusion when determining port and starboard on the ship as each set of stairs was aligned differently.
--Make sure to bring an alarm clock, particularly if occupying an inside cabin.
--There is no self-service laundry on board, so bring a spray on wrinkle release product (especially for formal nights). Also, a sample size laundry detergent is nice to have for laundering socks, bathing suits, underwear, etc. in your cabin. Of course, a laundry/dry cleaning service is also available for a nominal fee.
--There were 2 formal nights, 1semi-formal and 4 casual nights on this cruise. Three of the casual nights were optional theme wear (Country-Western, Rock and Roll and Island Casual).
--The group rated this cruise on a scale of 1-10 and ratings ranged from 7-9 with an 8 being the most frequent.

Overall impression:
The Vision of the Seas is a beautiful ship. Described as light and airy, the Vision is a gossamer lady that offers a delightful cruise experience. The ship’s layout offers easy egress from one end of the ship to the other and as noted by passengers on board this particular cruise, is exceptionally well designed for wheelchair accessibility. As an added side-note, attention to the needs of the physically challenged is a strength of most of the Royal Caribbean fleet, but more specifically the staff and design of the Vision. Captain George Paraskevopoulos and his senior officers were visible and supportive of their staff, which set a positive tone that was emulated by all staff and crew. Staff throughout ship was stellar in attitude, friendliness, and service. With only one glaring exception, they went out of their way to accommodate our wishes and needs. An interesting itinerary, an efficiently run ship, a positive and pleasant passenger load, and great weather combined to make this an exceptional cruise.

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