When Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas launched in 1998, it was the last in a class of vessels whose design represented the freshest and most innovative at that point in the company's history (it followed Legend, Enchantment, Grandeur, Rhapsody and Splendour of the Seas). The key? Each of the ships, albeit in the mid-size range, also offered big-ship touches.
Vision of the Seas has many of the expected Royal Caribbean features. Among them? The seven-deck-high atrium, which here of course is called the Centrum. There's a funnel-side rock-climbing wall and a solarium with sliding glass roof, indoor pool, whirlpool and cafe bar. The ship, natch, also has Royal Caribbean's signature circular Viking Crown lounge.
But what makes Vision of the Seas so appealing is the design strategy applied here (and even through the Radiance class of ships that came later) that uses lots of glass walls in public areas to bring the views of the outside in. In fact, more than two acres of glass was used in the ship's construction to make the sun, sea and sky part of the ship's interior as much as possible.
The upshot is that huge windows, transparent lifts and glass roofs make Vision of the Seas one of the best ships afloat for viewing the scenic wonders and spectacular wildlife of Alaska, a region to which she returns year after year.
One qualifier, though: While Enchantment of the Seas was the first ship in this class to be significantly renovated (the ship was literally cut apart and a new mid-section was added, giving it plenty of room for more sun deck space and an alternative restaurant), Vision of the Seas has not yet gotten a major overhaul and is not on the schedule for such a project at this point. As such, it still will feel a little bit anachronistic, lacking more contemporary features such as an alternative restaurant.
Vision of the Seas offers traditional main dining room meals in The Aquarius, a two-tier dining room on Deck 4 made elegant by huge windows and a grand staircase (though the effect is rather marred by a vast and gaudy tapestry depicting the signs of the Zodiac). For dinner, passengers can choose between assigned early (6 p.m.) or late (8:30 p.m.) dining, or opt for RCI's My Time Dining, in which you pick a preferred mealtime (anytime between 6 and 9:30 p.m.), but can change your reservations on a daily basis or simply walk in when you're hungry. (Note: Those opting for My Time Dining will need to pre-pay gratuities.) The restaurant is open seating for everyone at breakfast and lunch every day. While the quality of onboard meals has never been a prime reason for taking a cruise on Royal Caribbean, the line has definitely sharpened up its culinary act in recent years, though quality can be patchy. For example, we found the food in the Aquarius Dining Room much improved, with nicely designed menus featuring well-cooked, always-available basics like steak and chicken alongside more imaginative stuff like Alaskan Scrod Tempura and cold berry soup (I prefer the hot onion variety myself, but it's good to see them try).
While the salads could have done with being a mite crisper, the freshly baked bread was excellent, the coffee perfectly drinkable, and puddings varied and interesting.
Buffet meals are served in the pretty, large-windowed Windjammer Cafe up on Deck 9. I will say, though, that the Windjammer -- while fairly well-designed with separate food islands to minimize queuing -- has an unnecessarily complicated "cakes and pastries" raised section set apart from the main buffet. It gets crowded and having only one entrance rather impedes the flow. There are efficient service stations for hot toast, bagels and muffins at breakfast time, but it would also be good to see a couple of cooks preparing freshly cooked eggs and omelets.
Burgers, pizza and hot dogs are available until late in the evening at the Solarium cafe, also on Deck 9. Alas, those in search of a casual snack from the Solarium Cafe all too often face long queues, slow service and -- sin of sins -- cold fries.
There are free tea, coffee, cold drink and ice cream stations outside the Windjammer. Vision of the Seas has a Ben & Jerry's ice cream outlet onboard serving everything from milkshakes to sundaes, for a fee.
The wine list -- though dominated by Californian products -- was fairly affordable, starting at $20 for a Californian Chardonnay or Merlot, with a far more palatable (to British tastes) Pouilly Fume or Chilean Merlot priced at $39. There is also a rather complicated "Wine & Dine" package available whereby guests can save by buying bottles in advance. Gold packages range in price from $113 for five bottles of Californian or Chilean wine to $273 for 12 bottles. One up is the Platinum (from $125 to $299 for a selection of Californian, European and South Africa wines), while the Diamond Package at the top of the range costs from $137 to $329 for a slightly wider choice.
Royal Caribbean's room service options are available around the clock via 24-hour menus that offer a range of snacks and sandwiches. At breakfast, continental dishes, along with a handful of egg entrees, are available both in cabins and suites. Items off the main dining room menu can be ordered at dinner. There is no charge for room service between 5 a.m. and midnight (though a buck or two gratuity is recommended); late-night orders incur a $3.95 fee.
But all of that said, Vision of the Seas (and indeed, Royal Caribbean as a whole) wins huge brownie points from me for serving cartons of creamy fresh milk, rather than that foul-tasting, utterly repulsive long-life stuff passengers have to endure on so many cruise ships these days.
Vision of the Seas' signature Viking Crown Lounge sits atop the ship. Its curves, tiered separate seating areas and huge, outward-sloping windows provide a perfect retreat from which to view not only the passing scenery, but also the ship's main decks, which look particularly glamorous at dusk with their gleaming globe lights and sea-inspired color scheme of turquoise and white.
Another peaceful haven is the ship's library, set opposite the Card Room on Deck 7. This is a lovely room, with highly polished, inlaid wood walls, deep leather sofas, nautical memorabilia and -- as a quirky touch -- a life-size figure of Pinocchio, carved (of course) from cherry wood.
You'll find more nautical touches (and more comfy leather seating) in Vision of the Seas' Schooner Bar, another signature Royal Caribbean facility, which is particularly pretty on this ship with latticed wood dividers, brass lamps, big sea-view windows and a large wooden sculpture of a lighthouse leading into the Some Enchanted Evening show lounge.
Glorious sea views are also to be had in the glittering seven-deck atrium. Indeed, the only place you won't find sea views on this ship is in the Boutiques of Centrum shopping area on Deck 5. Here, guests are clearly encouraged to feast their eyes instead on a wide range of fashion and logo goods, jewelry, perfume, and chinaware -- actually at quite reasonable prices.
In all, there are 17 grades of accommodation, ranging from three- and four-berth family cabins to twin insides, sea-view outsides (with picture windows), balconied staterooms and suites.
Standard cabin facilities include TV, telephone, private bath/shower room, safe and hairdryer. Higher-grade cabins and suites also have minibars, and bathtubs as well as showers.
I stayed in cabin 8084, a high enough category to come with a full-size bathtub as well as a shower, and its own private glacier viewing station in the shape of a balcony just large enough to hold two sit-up chairs and a small coffee table. I appreciated its glass frontage, which maximized sightlines. The cabin itself was smart and welcoming, with gold, red and cream decor; two deep armchairs; a sofa bed; and plenty of storage space (including a triple wardrobe and two hollow pouffe stools).
Worth noting is that Royal Caribbean subscribes to some good satellite TV stations including drama channel TNT and classic movie channel TCM.
Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $12 per person, per day ($14.25 for suite guests). Gratuities can be prepaid or will be added on a daily basis to passengers' SeaPass accounts during the cruise. Passengers can modify or remove gratuities by visiting the guest services desk while onboard. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.
|Fitness and Recreation|
The main pool is large and surrounded by four hot tubs.
Facilities surround the ship's Solarium, which has an all-weather sliding glass roof, a substantial pool, a cafe, and the ShipShape Fitness Centre and Spa to the rear. On Vision, the Solarium has been given a Mayan theme, with jewel-bright tiled canopies above its whirlpools, and a cream, brown and white color scheme enlivened by terracotta statues.
The Mexican theme continues into the spa, which has a gently trickling "wall of water" feature in its relaxation room, designed by artist Neil Dawson Baker and called Chalchiuhtcu after the Mayan water goddess.
For those in search of a goddess-like physique, the spa has a large, well-equipped gym and a separate dance studio offering a mix of free aerobic/general fitness classes and $10 sessions in Yoga, kickboxing and Pilates.
Spa treatments are what you might expect from Steiner: professionally delivered, but pricey. Those prepared to stay aboard on port days could take advantage of cut-price "sampler" deals combining two 25-minute treatments (massage, mini-facial, reflexology or Lime & Ginger Scrub).
Most eye-wateringly expensive item on the spa menu is a couple's massage at $247 for 50 minutes (though you do get some free massage oil). The best value is probably the Gentle Touch tooth whitening treatment, which seemed reasonable at $199 since these treatments are at least twice the price in the U.K. On the other hand, 200 bucks buys a heck of a lot of toothpaste....
For those who prefer fresh air and exercise to pampering, Vision of the Seas also has a ball court and Royal Caribbean's signature rock-climbing wall.
As on all the Vision-class ships, children's facilities are imaginative and well-run, with age-specific activities designed for Aquanauts (3 - 5, Explorers (6 - 8); Voyagers (9 - 11), Navigators (12 - 14) and teens (who get their own common room/disco). The underwater-themed Adventure Ocean complex is located on Deck 10; typical activities include a carnival night, treasure hunts, talent shows, dance lessons and PlayDoh sculpture sessions.
Programs operate from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m., with breaks for lunch, tea and dinner; a "Late Night Party Zone" (babysitting of sorts) operates from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. and costs $5 per hour, per child.
Vision of the Seas attracts a broad range of ages -- though many families will opt for its even newer ships with bigger family facilities.
Overall, the vibe is quite casual during the day. Evenings see smarter outfits, especially at gala dinners, but there's no need to tote a tux unless you enjoy putting on the style (as many do...).
In the evenings, the ship's Masquerade Theatre with its plush velvet seats provides the usual snazzy, fishnet-and-feathers production shows interspersed with cabaret slots by comedians, singers, magicians and impressionists.
Live or taped music for dancing is provided nightly in the Some Enchanted Evening and Viking Crown lounges, while a pianist performs in the Schooner Bar. Piano and classical music is also provided in the Centrum and on the Champagne Terrace, which lies between the Champagne Bar and the Aquarius Restaurant on Deck 4.
By day there are quizzes and deck or pool games, treasure hunts, port lectures, and beauty demonstrations to keep passengers busy, though on Alaska sailings most seem contented enough to while away sea days simply watching the fabulous scenery roll by.
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