I’ve just finished a fabulous 12-night round-trip cruise from Barcelona on one of Royal Caribbean’s smaller ships, the Vision of the Seas.
I say smaller because it has a mere 2,700 fellow passengers. The newest one they’re building, Harmony of the Seas, will be the biggest ship ever built (to date) and carry nearly 5,500 passengers. That’s more than the population of some New Zealand towns docking at the local port and pouring excited tourists into the city!
I’m a big fan of cruising, this is my 10th I think, so here are some tips for first-timers (or tenth-timers who want to hit the decks running!):
Fly in to your departure city a couple of days before to relax, de-stress from the packing, parking kids out and winding down from work, explore the new city in your own time, at your own pace… Or, alternatively, add a couple of days on at the end. A couple of nights to explore a new place at a slower pace will be what you’ll be in the mood for after a hectic day in each port.
Board your ship any time from mid-day until late afternoon, find your cabin and unpack. I mean fully unpack. Empty your suitcase into the drawers and closet and zip it up and stow it under your bed, in the closet, on top of the closet – wherever there is room. Now you’re in.
Grab your shore excursion info leaflets and head for a deck chair or one of bars to finally (now that you have the chance) go over every day again – with a cocktail, of course. You’ll need to act quickly to book any ship excursions if you haven’t already done that online from home as they fill up fast. But don’t panic about needing to do an organised tour each day. In some of the ports (like Cannes, Santorini and Ephesus) we did our own thing and I’d do it that way again.
Look at when the sea days are and book a spa treatment, hair do or anything you want before everyone else does. These fill up licketty split, we managed a 6pm one just before dinner.
Eating and drinking on the Vision of the Seas:
On our ship there were two meal seatings in the main (and fancy) dining room. 6pm and 8pm. We were down for 6pm which we never made! Depending upon your daily activities, you’re barely likely to be back onboard after romping around Rome (in a day – see my Rome post here) before then. But if you’re like us and find 8pm a little late, the other solution is to just head up to the buffet deck.
We also had the chance to buy a drinks plan for a flat rate, or you can order by the glass. We decided against the drinks plan as it was US$22 per person per day, and I believe both of us needed to have signed up, so for the equivalent of NZ$66 per day, we decided on just ordering by the glass/bottle. However, this plan did include cocktails and spirits which individually are priced at around US$15, and a glass of wine $9 or $10, so if you like a drink with an umbrella in it of an afternoon, a glass of wine with dinner and finish your meal with a port or a whisky, this package would be worth it. Plus unlimited soft drinks.
Vision of the Seas has three specialty restaurants. We signed up for the deal of US$75 each which gave us a meal in each of them: Chops Grille for a big fat, juicy steak; Giovanni for freshly made pasta and delicious antipasto; Izumi for fresh sushi, sashimi and tempura arranged like art on our plates.
Things to do onboard Vision of the Seas:
On our ship (as with all cruise ships) there are literally dozens of daily activities. So many you couldn’t possibly do them all, but enough to find something to please everyone.
Cooking classes: I went along to the sushi class at our Japanese restaurant Izumi. I loved it because the chefs had done all the prep work and all I had to do was add my favourite ingredients and roll! Actually I learned some tips about using gloves with a dash of oil to work the rice and covering the bamboo mat with Glad Wrap (ok that’s a NZ brand and I’m not sure what you might call it. The clear plastic wrap). That way nothing ever sticks. So easy!
Demo classes: This was listed as an Indian cooking class, but the nice surprise for me was that not only had the chefs done the prep, but they had set up their cooking station in one of the restaurants and did all the cooking themselves, showing us how to do it and providing us with the recipes. Then we ate it!
Galley tour: this included lunch after we had filed through the (very clean and tidy) galley kitchen, met some of the chefs, bakers and waiters and seen how they work to churn out 900 meals in a single sitting. A fascinating little tour of how the inner workings work.
Flash mob lessons: Ah no, I did not join the flash mob lessons, but many did and at various times and places throughout our 12 days they would appear and pull out some dance moves.
Evening shows: Twice a night there was a (free) performance in the theatre to correspond with the main meal sittings. These range from Broadway shows (Harmony of the Seas has announced they will be hosting Grease onboard) to soloists, comedians and dancers.
Spa treatment: Well it would have been rude to know there was a delightful Kiwi girl working here and not pop in for visit, right?! Meredith Wotherspoon is from Dannevirke (I knowww!) and as that is only a hop, skip and a jump from Hastings where I grew up, yes you guessed it, we knew lots of the same people 🙂 We booked a couple’s treatment on one of the sea days and wallowed in a decadent massage with this incredible view.
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Shipping only in NZ, sorry!
Things to know before you cruise:
Every ship is different, just like every hotel is different. One of the thing to do before you book your cruise is find out what the actual ship is like. Go online to the cruise company website, look up the name of your vessel and look at photos (remember they’ll only show the best and most flattering). So another tip is to Google some blogs from people who have cruised on that specific ship and will have written a review and no doubt posted photos. Also look at Tripadvisor and type in the name of the ship where you’ll find completely honest, warts and all reviews.
Laundry facilities are becoming a thing of the past as apparently they are fire hazards for passengers to use, so ships are taking them out and instead you need to send a bag via your cabin steward. We paid US$30 per load (and squeezed as much as we possibly could in without bursting the bag!)
Dress code, even though not compulsory, was still pretty smart for dinner. Collared shirts for the men in the main dining room was the norm and women were slung in jewellery and teetering on their best heels. There was also a formal night where suits and bow ties accompany pearls and cardigans. That’s up to you though. We slunk through in our smartest, but no tuxedo 🙂
Scroll through some of my favourite photos for a look around the Vision of the Seas:
I was thrilled to be hosted by Royal Caribbean Cruise Line on Vision of the Seas. We had an absolute blast and I can thoroughly recommend you check out their cruise itineraries and go!
A huge thank you too, to Emirates who flew me to Barcelona direct from Dubai and out of London back home. A really great airline with loads of space (in both economy and business class). Have a look at their fares here as they fly pretty much everywhere!