On to Alaska with RCI! Last year we had booked an Alaskan cruise, but had to cancel for health reasons, so we were geared up for this long delayed trip. We were not disappointed! You may quote us:
"Alaska is beautiful beyond words and the best way to see it is from the deck, or your balcony aboard the beautiful ship, Vision of the Seas."
The wonderful sensation of the cool arctic air, and even the rain only enhanced the total experience of cruising through bays with blue icebergs in the water and Hubbard glacier's white/blue cliffs of ice rising out of the mist in front of you (It's the largest tidewater glacier in North America). As the ship Captain Nikolaos Antalis said, It is the only way to go, and he is right.
The temperatures ranged from the upper 40s to the low 60s, what we call "sweater weather." The pristine Alaskan coast, with its natural wonders of fjords and miles and miles of cruising through the Inside Passage with no hint of civilization in sight, is worth preserving: The Hubbard glacier, the Misty Fjords, the immense landscape of snow capped mountain peaks, rain forests, valleys and torrents visible from our veranda, and the 16 to 18 hours of daylight all combined to make this trip memorable.
This was our eighth cruise aboard RCI and our ninth will be the end of this month, on the Grandeur of the Seas, in the Mediterranean traveling from Italy to Turkey and Greece (Captain Antalis' homeland). Altogether we have cruised 18 times in the past 5 years, in addition to some transatlantic crossings on luxury liners in the 50's and 60's; we hope to keep on cruising since for us it is "like no vacation on earth."
EmbarkationWe flew from Ft. Lauderdale to Vancouver, B.C. the day before sailing and TWA allowed the companion wheelchair on board, so transfer in St. Louis was simple. We stayed at the Best Western Downtown and Sunday morning we toured the city on the Vancouver Trolley Company (ancient looking red cars) and saw Stanley Park, Gas Town and China Town. Vancouver was in bloom with rhododendrons, tulips and roses. It's just a short taxi ride to the port where boarding was simple. We dropped off our luggage curbside and a crew member pushed the wheelchair to a special counter, where we were checked in at noon and in our suite in about ten minutes. Boarding was simple and pleasant.
The ShipThe Vision of the Seas has the sleek shape of the Royal Caribbean Vision-Class ships with the traditional aqua windows on top and glass everywhere which gives cruisers a constant view of the ocean, even while dining. She was built at Chantiers de L'Atlantique, St. Nazaire, France and launched April 16, 1998; she is 78,000 tons; 915 ft. long, 106 ft. wide, with a draft of 25 ft. and cruising speed is 22 knots. She carries 2,400 passengers and has a crew of 778. Of her 1,000 staterooms, 14 are wheelchair accessible and 539 have ocean views.
Her condition is incredibly good, considering the number of cruisers who travel aboard the ship every week. Among her memorable features are the Viking Crown Lounge (Deck 11), characteristic of RCI ships, with its 360 degrees surround view of the ocean and the upper structures of the ship, and the Centrum, which is six decks tall, lovely, and enhanced by a huge suspended chrome helix sculpture with hints of aquatic life in its design. The over all color scheme of white/platinum silver, pale aqua and lavender is refreshing. The two deck Aquarius Dining Room is a study in white with a tapestry on the far wall depicting an astrological theme and, at the opposite end, an intaglio in a marble wall with lighted stars in a figure representing the Constellation Aquarius, very nice indeed!
The Solarium Pool (with two adjacent jacuzzi tubs) is circled by white columns; the entrances are flanked with interesting Aztec inspired block sculptures of terracotta-colored travertine by Helaine Blumenfeld. These are quite wonderful as are the glass sculptures by Gianni Aricoó outside the Masquerade Theater, the bronze sculptures near the Centrum by Fritz Roel of the "Italian Circus Dog," and the figure of a woman entitled "Carnevale in Venice." The Library has a 6 ft. tall wooden Pinocchio staring out to sea.
On deck 8, adjacent to the Centrum, on the starboard is the Crown & Anchor Study and on port side is the Explorers Club, an Internet Lounge with plenty of stations where cruisers could check their e-mail and surf the web at 50 cents per minute. Among the newer ships we found the Vision to be one of the more tastefully decorated with fine art works, although not as abundant as the amazing CostaAtlantica (a floating art museum), yet many cruisers commented on her beauty and we agree.
For the athletic minded cruisers on deck 10 there is a jogging track and the Shipshape Center fully equipped with aerobic and weight equipment. Health Spa and Beauty Salon are on deck 9. The nightly entertainment performances were in the two-tiered Masquerade Theater (decks 5 and 6). The Captain's receptions and the Bingo games were in the Some Enchanted Evening Lounge (deck 6). The Casino Royale (deck 5) was busy whenever we passed through to donate.
The CabinOur wheelchair accessible Category C Suite #8550 is a spacious stateroom (approx. 280 sq. ft.) with a veranda (approx. 80 sq. ft.) and a wooden deck foyer. When entering on the right there is a large bathroom/shower, rails all around, single sink with two medicine cabinets (unfortunately no towel rack near the sink, but only across the room on the far wall). In the cabin itself, there is a console with TV, refrigerator, personal safe, and six shelves and three drawers. There is also a sofa, upholstered chair and small glass coffee table, too small for breakfast in the cabin (as on most ships). The one thing that would improve the comfort of this wheelchair cabin would be to make the furniture a bit higher (4 or 5 inches to match the height of the wheelchair), especially the bed and sofa which are a tad too low for the physically challenged (as on most ships). Entering on the left is a double armoire, lighted desk vanity with six drawers, a queen size bed with two night stands (two drawers each) and another bureau with two huge drawers, Needless to say, there is enough storage space for 4 people even on a two week cruise. The color scheme is pastel gray, aqua and lavender with white painted wood and two large watercolors by Andrea Hansen Hobby. It is a spacious and airy stateroom.
The FoodThe food was generally good with flashes of wonderful. We ate at the welcome aboard buffet in the Windjammer Café on Sunday, and it was the usual buffet: good cafeteria food. We did not return there because we had excellent breakfasts served in our stateroom (full American, omelets w/cheese, ham, bacon, croissants, Danish, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, juices, fresh fruits and cereals). We mostly lunched in the main dining room and there was a nice selection in both the Ship Shape menu and the Chef's recommendations. Soups were especially good, black bean and lobster bisque excellent. Twice, Vincent went for snacks at the Solarium Grill (Deck 9), where good pizza, hot-dogs, hamburgers and fries were available most of the time (10:30am - 6:30pm and 11:00pm - 6:00am).
Evenings we always dined in the Aquarius Dining Room where the service under the Maitre d' Clive Page was "Class A." The food was hot even though our table was the most distant from the galley! It was also plentiful. We heard from other cruisers that they would like the choice of half portions. Our waiter Yalcin was courteous, the assistant waiter Suzette was always smiling and the head waiter Veli Azari was always around to see that service ran smoothly. All were extremely pleasant and competent and made our dining a pleasure. At dinner the food was all good and some dishes were exceptional, such as the halibut, lobster tails, paté, and seafood appetizer. The desserts were great and not overly sweet. As for the pastas, Vincent had two hits and a miss: The Bolognese sauce was great, the seafood pasta with cream sauce was also good, but the third pasta dish with tomato sauce was better forgotten. Two out of three is not bad for a pasta aficionado; however, if cruise lines want to offer Italian specialties, in our opinion, an Italian chef, with a discriminating Italian palate, is a must. Somehow, the quasi Italian taste of some dishes did not meet our expectations.
We had a wonderful meal at Captain Antalis' table on Monday - Gala Night. He is from Greece and was gallant, kind and humorous throughout the meal, more later on the Captain. The menu included Shrimp Cocktail, Terrine, Lobster Bisque, Caesar Salad, Alaskan Salmon and Halibut, Duck á l'Orange and Filet Mignon, accompanied with fine red and white wines. This was a delicious dinner and a memorable night mostly due to the wonderful company of the Captain and the other invited guests. Thank you, Captain!
Viking Crown Lounge
The ServiceWe truly believe that RCI knows how to select their captains, officers and crew. We are happy to say RCI has excellent service on the Vision of the Seas. The staff was smiling and most accommodating for the entire week. Captain Antalis has a love for the sea and nature which he displayed by his enthusiastic approach to this itinerary. He spoke of how a ship should be handled in iceberg waters (always slowly forward so as to avoid any damage to the propellers). He graduated from the Merchant Marine Academy of Greece and has extensive experience in the cargo and cruise ship industries. He is active in the ongoing continual education and training of his junior officers. As former teachers, we were interested to know that he requires his men to continue the learning of traditional navigational instruments, such as the sextant and compass, for historical purposes and for a better understanding of navigational principles, even though these appear unnecessary with the computerized hi-tech system of modern liners. This combination of both theory and practice can only make his men the ultimate sailors. Captain Antalis exhibits a great sense of responsibility for the safety and happiness of his passengers: A great Master and a Gentleman!
We also dined with Hotel Director Bjorn Erik Julseth, Chief Purser Doug MacLennan, Social Hostess Susanne Hanson, and International Ambassador Federica Pernechele. Bjorn runs a tight ship, his priority is passenger contentment and he achieves it. Doug is cordial and busy, busy. Susie is everywhere and her personality can only be described as dazzling (bright, smiling and a touch of elegance). Federica's fluency with many foreign languages was impressive and finally Jeffrey Jack, Guest Relations Manager, was very pleasant and informative. These people, our new friends, made this cruise memorable and gave us the desire to return to the Vision soon.
The EntertainmentThere were three musical revues and all were very good , "Make Mine Broadway" and "Rhythm Nation" were excellent; the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers were bouncy and pert and deserved the hearty applause. Unfortunately, we did not see Susan Anton, but have it on good authority from many cruisers (whom we made a point to ask) that both she and her show were beautiful and that she did some Bette Midler songs with flair; however, some complained that the show was a bit too loud.
The hit of the week was the virtuoso violinist Maria Neglia, billed as "Fireworks on Four Strings"; she received three standing ovations. Accompanied by the Vision of the Seas orchestra, she mesmerized the audience. People were talking about her for the rest of the cruise. She comes from a long line of musicians and it shows! Maria appeared in the 50's and 60's on many Ed Sullivan and other TV shows. We saw her later at the Vancouver Airport with her sixteenth century Amati (Cremona, Italy) violin strapped to her back. She was a pleasure to hear, unforgettable. Finally the Cruise Director Tim Seivert (Minnesota) was sociable, approachable and a master of witty repartee. He had the audience in stitches whenever he was on stage.
Ports of Call
What we admired around the ports of call and from the ship are mostly natural wonders. There are a few totem poles and some interesting log buildings scattered around, and a daring mountain climbing railway (the White Pass Scenic Railroad) and a few other artifacts, but what amazed us most of all were the breathtaking views of the wild unspoiled nature, the calm and icy waters of the fjords and bays, the floating blue colored icebergs and the still quietness in the misty coastal air which touched our hearts and minds. There are very few signs of human encroachment, but rather a lot of natural beauty. No oil derricks here yet! Let's keep it that way for posterity!
DebarkationWe were given white tags for priority debarkation and told to wait on deck 5 at 7:45am for wheelchair assistance. When our color was called, we were escorted through customs to the luggage area and then to the taxi stand. In ten minutes we were on our way to the airport. It was all very simple and expeditious and we never lifted a bag.
These suggestions are minor things in light of such a magnificent cruise. RCI has done it again! It gave us one of our most pleasurable cruising experiences. Thank you RCI and Arrivederci on the Grandeur of the Seas June 30, 2001 for our first cruise from Civitavecchia (Italy) to Greece and Turkey!
Happy Cruising to all!
Vincent & Mary Finelli have written many reviews for the SeaLetter. This is their second review of a Royal Caribbean ship in the past two months. Vincent & Mary may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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