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Cruise Ship Review

Vision of the Seas - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

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.

Dining

Vision of the Seas offers formal meals in two sittings 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). Passengers are assigned to dining times, tables and tablemates.

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.

Public Rooms

Vision of the Seas' signature Viking Crown Lounge really comes into its own on Alaska runs. Its gentle curves, tiered separate seating areas, and huge, outward-sloping windows provide a perfect retreat from which to view not only the glaciers, 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.

Cabins

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.

Entertainment

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.

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) for $79.

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.

Family

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" operates from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m. and costs $5 per hour, per child.

Fellow Passengers

Vision of the Seas attracts a broad range of ages -- though many families will opt for its even newer ships with bigger family facilities.

Dress Code

Casual with a leaning toward outdoor sporty (lots of fleeces) is the order of the day on Alaska cruises as well as Caribbean runs. 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...).

Gratuity

Royal Caribbean recommends $3.50 per person, per day to the dining room waiter; $3.50 per person, per day to the cabin steward; $2 per person, per day to the assistant waiter. Royal Caribbean also recommends $0.75 per person, per day to the headwaiter, but we don't necessarily unless the service was special. And as on most of the big ships now, a compulsory 15 percent service charge is added to every drinks bill.

--by Maria Harding. Harding, Cruise Critic's England-based correspondent, also writes for "The Times of London" and "The Daily Telegraph."

Dining

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.

Gratuity

Royal Caribbean recommends $3.50 per person, per day to the dining room waiter; $3.50 per person, per day to the cabin steward; and $2 per person, per day to the assistant waiter. Envelopes are provided for tipping in cash, but passengers can also prepay their gratuities at the time of booking or have the amounts added to their shipboard (SeaPass) accounts. (If you opt for the flex dining option, you're required to pre-pay gratuities.) A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs; tipping for spa services is at passengers' discretion.

--by Maria Harding. Harding, Cruise Critic's England-based correspondent, also writes for "The Times of London" and "The Daily Telegraph."

Dining

Vision of the Seas offers formal meals in two sittings 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). Passengers are assigned to dining times, tables and tablemates.

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.

Gratuity

Royal Caribbean recommends $3.50 per person, per day to the dining room waiter; $3.50 per person, per day to the cabin steward; $2 per person, per day to the assistant waiter. Royal Caribbean also recommends $0.75 per person, per day to the headwaiter, but we don't necessarily unless the service was special. And as on most of the big ships now, a compulsory 15 percent service charge is added to every drinks bill.

--by Maria Harding. Harding, Cruise Critic's England-based correspondent, also writes for "The Times of London" and "The Daily Telegraph." 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.

Dining

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.

Public Rooms

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.

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.

Family

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.

Dress Code

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...).

Gratuity

Royal Caribbean recommends $3.75 per person, per day to the dining room waiter; $5 per person, per day to the cabin steward (or $7.25 if you're in a suite); $0.75 per person, per day to the headwaiter; and $2.15 per person, per day to the assistant waiter. This totals $11.65 for those in standard cabins and $13.90 for those in suites. Gratuities can be pre-paid in advance (and must be if you opt for flexible dining), added to your onboard bill or paid in cash at the end of the cruise. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.

Gratuity

Royal Caribbean recommends $3.75 per person, per day to the dining room waiter; $5 per person, per day to the cabin steward (or $7.25 if you're in a suite); $0.75 per person, per day to the headwaiter; and $2.15 per person, per day to the assistant waiter. This totals $11.65 for those in standard cabins and $13.90 for those in suites. Gratuities can be pre-paid in advance (and must be if you opt for flexible dining), added to your onboard bill or paid in cash at the end of the cruise. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.

Effective March 1, Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $12 per person, per day ($14.25 for suite guests). Gratuities can be pre-paid in advance or will be added on a daily basis to passengers' SeaPass accounts during the cruise. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.

Gratuity

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.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.

During Vision of the Seas' dry dock in fall 2013, this concept was taken even further; the ship received its Oasis-class makeover, which included six new dining options (Chops Grille, Giovanni's Table, Izumi, Park Cafe, Chef's Table and a menu of small bites at the already existing Viking Crown Lounge and Nightclub), R Bar, the Centrum Experience (an aerial-aerobatics performance), club members' lounges, Royal Babies and Tots Nursery, an outdoor movie screen, bow-to-stern Wi-Fi, digital signage and cabins updated with new bathrooms, flat-screen LED TVs, carpeting and furnishings. Vision of the Seas' cabins, albeit slightly smaller than some on its sister ships, evoke a modern yet cozy feel that's just right for the ship's size.

The heart of the ship is the Centrum, a six-deck atrium. There's always something going on, whether it's a cooking class, family games, a live band, an art auction or, at nighttime, a jaw-dropping aerial performance. Since you have to cross the Centrum to get just about anywhere on the ship, it's easy to get sucked in -- or at least stop to enjoy the view -- on your way to some place else.

Another appealing aspect of Vision of the Seas is the use of 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.

If you're a mega-ship junkie looking to test out a smaller size or want big-ship amenities without the crowds, Vision of the Seas would be a good place to start.

Dining

Vision of the Seas offers traditional main dining room meals in The Aquarius, a two-tier venue spanning Decks 4 and 5, made elegant by huge windows and a grand staircase. During a refurb, it received new carpeting, minor decorative touches and the crown jewel: Chef's Table. Passengers can book this intimate space for $95 per person and enjoy a wine-paired dinner hosted by the executive chef and sommelier. Nestled toward the back of the dining room, the Chef's Table is accented with dark wooden paneling, warm lighting, large portholes and brass silverware chandeliers (read: chandeliers made of silverware, a whimsical touch).

Aquarius Dining Room offers two assigned dining times: early (6 p.m.) or late (8:30 p.m.). Or, passengers can opt for My Time Dining, in which they pick a preferred mealtime (anytime between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.) but can change reservations on a daily basis or simply walk in when they're hungry. (Note: Those opting for My Time Dining will need to prepay gratuities.) The restaurant is also open seating for everyone at breakfast and lunch every day.

At dinner, the menu offers choices of starters, mains and desserts. Always-available entrees include pasta, chicken breast, steak and a Chef's Signature Entree depending on the sailing. There is also a variety of vegetarian items, as well as a few gluten- and lactose-free options. Lower-calorie "Vitality" menu items are also marked.

Three for-fee restaurants that debuted on Oasis of the Seas now appear on Vision: Chops Grille, Giovanni's Table and Izumi. They're open between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. (Kids ages 3 to 13 can only dine until 7 p.m.)

Chops Grille ($30) is Royal Caribbean's signature steakhouse, serving beef connoisseurs anything from New York strip and filet mignon to 18 ounces of Porterhouse. The decor is sleek and modern, with subtle Art Nouveau touches. As with many spaces throughout the ship, an abundance of windows frames the outside views as sunlight pours in.

Giovanni's Table is an Italian restaurant serving family-style dishes at lunch ($15) from noon to 1:30 p.m. and dinner ($20). We particularly enjoyed a variety of cheeses and meats (including mouth-watering prosciutto), courtesy of an antique meat slicer toward the front of the restaurant; the spinach crepes; and lamb chops. It's pretty easy to go overboard on the family-style dishes, but if you order carefully, you'll have room for dessert.

Izumi, the pan-Asian restaurant and sushi bar, is nestled above the Viking Crown Lounge and Nightclub. In addition to dinner, lunch is served from noon to 1:30 p.m. Diners pay a cover charge ($3 for lunch, $5 for dinner) in addition to a la carte prices for each menu item. Passengers can choose from sushi and sashimi (combo platters from $6.50 to $12), hot-rock grilling ($6.50 to $10), hot pot dishes ($6 to $12) and appetizers like vegetable tempura and tuna carpaccio ($4 to $6.50).

One flight down, the Viking Crown Lounge and Nightclub now serves small tapas-style bites, ranging from Caesar salad and kobe beef sliders to flatbreads and red velvet cake. Tapas cost between $3.50 and $8.75.

Buffet meals are served in the pretty, large-windowed Windjammer Cafe up on Deck 9. Unlike other cruise ship buffets, this one is not open 24 hours. It serves breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

At breakfast, you can choose to wait in the made-to-order omelet line or grab the steam-table versions of scrambled eggs, pancakes, French toast, breakfast meats, etc. in the center raised section of the venue. Along the sides, cold items like fruit, cereal and pastries are on display. At lunch, passengers can find more traditional options like burgers and pizza, while dinner serves up buffet versions of the items on the main dining room menu.

Lighter options, such as soups, salads and Panini sandwiches, can be enjoyed at Park Cafe (a popular choice in the Central Park area of Oasis-class ships) in the adults-only Solarium pool area. It serves breakfast from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., lunch and pastries from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and late-night snacks from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Latte-tudes (6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.) is the all-in-one coffee shop, snack stop and Ben & Jerry's ice cream counter (which doesn't open until 11 a.m.). Specialty coffees, teas and ice cream cost extra, but cookies and pastries are free.

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 in both 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 dollar or two gratuity is recommended); late-night orders incur a $3.95 fee.

Public Rooms

Glorious sea views can be had in the glittering seven-deck atrium, the hub of the ship. Indeed, the only place you won't find sea views on this ship is in the Boutiques of Centrum shopping area on Deck 6. There, passengers 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. Also on Deck 6 are the art gallery (adjacent to Latte-tudes) and the photo gallery. Just below, on Deck 5, you will find the reception area and shore excursion desk.

Vision of the Seas is equipped with bow-to-stern Wi-Fi, although some service in some areas might be spotty. Internet can be found in the Royal Caribbean Online lounge (Deck 8), which offers access to the Web 24/7. You can pay as you go for 65 cents per minute or purchase one of the available packages: $35 for 60 minutes, $55 for 100 minutes, $75 for 150 minutes, $100 for 250 minutes or $150 for 500 minutes.

A peaceful haven is the ship's library, set opposite the Card Room on Deck 7. It's 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. Conference rooms are located on Deck 4, and the medical facility can be found on Deck 1. Self-service laundry is not available.

Added during the refurb, the Concierge Club and Diamond Club are exclusive hangouts for top-tier loyalty program members. The Concierge Club (reserved for Diamond Plus and Pinnacle Crown and Anchor Society members, as well as select suite passengers) is accessible via the Viking Crown Lounge and Nightclub. Although spacious and surrounded by windows bringing the views in, the decor is not as impressive as that found in the new Diamond Club, located off the Some Enchanted Evening Lounge on Deck 6, exclusively for Diamond members (and higher).

Considering the ship's smaller size, Royal Caribbean really took advantage of the Diamond Club space. It's sleek, sophisticated and easy to move around. The decor is neutral -- from light woods and beige chairs to mahogany leather booths -- with pops of turquoise that complement the ocean. It's located just steps away from Giovanni's Table and the line's signature steakhouse, Chops Grill.

Cabins

There are 13 cabin categories, and all were recently outfitted with new bathrooms, carpeting, furnishings, decor and flat-screen LED TVs. The color scheme, for the most part, consists of light neutrals with pops of darker sea-foam green; abstract artwork adorns the walls. The Royal Suite has its own look -- mostly neutral, with pops of color bursting from a large, panoramic, Realism-style portrait that's visible upon entering.

All standard cabins feature twin beds that can convert into kings (measuring 72.5 inches wide by 82 inches long), a vanity area and private bathroom (with a shower, no tub). The three inside cabin categories range from 132 square feet to 164 square feet, Large Oceanview cabins measure 151 square feet, and Family Oceanview cabins measure 233 square feet. Both types of outsides offer sitting areas with sofa beds; the Family Oceanview cabin also offers bunk beds in a separate room.

Two new categories were added during the 2013 refurb: a larger Family Oceanview and Panoramic Oceanview. The new Family Oceanview cabin -- just one cabin on Deck 8 -- spans 470 square feet (slightly more than double the space of the regular Family Oceanview stateroom) and sleeps up to six. There is a separate bedroom with two twin beds, living area with double sofa bed and lower twin beds that convert to a king, but just one bathroom. (The name is the same, whether you're booking the one 470-square-foot version or its 233-square-foot counterparts, so be vigilant when requesting a specific cabin.) The Panoramic Oceanview offers a floor-to-ceiling window, ideal for those who prefer a greater view than the standard picture window but want to save a few bucks off the price of a balcony cabin. At 193 square feet, it's slightly smaller than most Panoramic Oceanview cabins on other Vision-class ships.

There is one standard balcony category before you reach the suites. At 195 square feet, the Superior Oceanview cabin with a balcony has similar amenities to regular outside cabins. Balconies are each furnished with two chairs and a small table.

Royal Caribbean has made great use of the storage spaces on this ship. The majority of cabins have aesthetically pleasing cabinets with little shelves adjacent to each vanity area. The cabinets are easy to open, too -- no knobs or handles, just large carved openings for on-the-go access. However, coffee tables in the cabins are very small, like little stools. We had no use for ours, and it acted more like an obstacle than a place to put anything down.

The bathroom door has four hooks for hanging items, and the shower, with its adjustable showerhead, has great water pressure. The toilets are well-placed, and bathroom storage space is also abundant. Counter space is minimal, but the cabinet and vanity space make up for it. The amenities are nothing special -- just your average soap bars, shampoo and conditioner.

Additional cabin extras include a phone, safe and hair dryer. We also enjoyed the outlets located in the vanity area and right next to the bed.

In addition to the standard categories, five types of suites are available. Both the Junior Suite (243 square feet) and Grand Suite (353 square feet) offer private balconies, sitting areas with sofa beds, private bathrooms with bathtubs and minibars. The Royal Family Suite includes two bedrooms, each with two twin beds that convert to kings. It also has two bathrooms (one with a shower and one with a bathtub), a living area with double sofa bed, a private balcony and a minibar. The Owners Suite (515 square feet) has a queen-size bed, private balcony, separate living area with a full-size sofa bed, minibar and a private bathroom with a bathtub. At more than double the square footage of the Owner's Suite, the 1,176-square-foot Royal Suite with balcony provides a separate bedroom with a king-size bed, long private balcony, a whirlpool tub in the bathroom, living room with a full-size sofa bed, baby grand piano, gorgeous eating area and substantial bar.

All suites include iPads that can be used throughout the ship to access daily schedules and onboard accounts, surf the Web, watch movies, make dining reservations and place an order for room service. (Just be careful; lost or damaged iPads can rack up hundreds of dollars in fees.)

Select suite passengers also enjoy access to the Concierge Club, priority check-in and tendering, luggage valet service, access to dining room menus for room service, complimentary clothes-pressing on formal night and priority debarkation.

Entertainment

The Centrum, which is only located on Vision-class ships, is a mecca for entertainment options. Its central location is ideal for the activities that abound day and night. The two most notable upgrades made during the refurb are the addition of the R Bar (Deck 4) and Centrum Experience -- an aerial aerobatics, light and sound show. During the day, passengers head to the Centrum for enrichment activities, live music, art auctions and more. At night, the R Bar is the place to grab a drink, enjoy the vertical theatrics and boogie to a live band or DJ.

The Some Enchanted Evening Lounge on Deck 6 and the R Bar are great to meet and mingle with friends over drinks before heading up to the Viking Crown Lounge and Nightclub on Deck 11, where the DJ gets dancers to stay till dawn. (If you prefer more of a relaxed ambience while dancing, stick to Some Enchanted Evening Lounge.) The updated Viking Crown -- with its curved, tiered seating areas and huge, outward-sloping windows -- also provides the perfect location all day for viewing the passing scenery and the ship's main decks, which look particularly glamorous at dusk.

Other entertainment, such as piano performances and trivia games, can be enjoyed in the Schooner Bar, which offers a more relaxing atmosphere on Deck 6, outside the Some Enchanted Evening Lounge. You'll find nautical touches (brass lamps and a large wooden sculpture of a lighthouse), comfy leather seating and big sea-view windows.

Casino Royale is filled with slot machines and all the usual card tables (poker, blackjack, craps), and it became quite the hopping spot at night. Another evening highlight is performances at the ship's Masquerade Theatre; the usual snazzy, fishnet-and-feathers production shows are interspersed with cabaret slots by comedians, singers, magicians and impressionists.

By day, there are quizzes and deck or pool games, treasure hunts, port lectures and beauty demonstrations to keep passengers busy.

Fitness and Recreation

The main pool deck can be found on Deck 9. The pool starts off shallow and gradually gets deeper as you make your way in. Four shaded hot tubs surround the pool, and each offers a view of the ship's outdoor movie screen. While Royal Caribbean was not the first to offer poolside movies, the outdoor screen has already proven to be a big hit. It broadcasts popular sporting events throughout the week and is also used for movies and other special shows.

The adults-only Solarium, adjacent to the main pool area, features an all-weather sliding-glass roof, a substantial pool, the new Park Cafe and the two-deck Vitality Sea Spa and Fitness Center (which overflows onto Deck 10). The pool area 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.

A well-equipped gym and separate dance studio in the spa's fitness center offer a mix of free aerobics and general fitness classes, as well as yoga, kickboxing and Pilates at a cost of $10 per class.

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 that combine two 25-minute treatments (such as your choice of a massage, mini-facial, reflexology or Lime & Ginger Scrub). A la carte services range from collagen-boosting facials and hot stone massages to detoxifying body wraps and teeth whitening. There is also a hair and nail salon and special packages for both men and teens.

For those who prefer fresh air and exercise to pampering, Vision of the Seas also has a sports court, jogging track and Royal Caribbean's signature rock-climbing wall, all on Deck 10.

Family

As on all the Vision-class ships, children's facilities are imaginative and well-run, with age-specific activities designed for all children younger than 18. The minimum age to sail is 6 months, unless the cruise includes three consecutive sea days, in which case it's 12 months.

All kid-specific facilities can be found on Deck 10, forward. The new Royal Babies and Tots Nursery, for little ones aged 6 to 36 months, offers Fisher-Price toys; soft climbing structures; a flat-screen TV playing Sesame Street, the Wiggles and Thomas the Tank Engine around the clock; Crayola art supplies; and a separate sleeping area with cribs. It's open from 8 a.m. on port days and 9:30 a.m. on sea days through midnight. Parents can play with their youngsters for free during the day, but the drop-off program costs $6 per hour, per child, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and $8 per hour, per child, from 5 p.m. until midnight.

The underwater-themed Adventure Ocean complex accommodates kids of ages 3 to 17. Activities vary by age group and include finger painting and building blocks for Aquanauts (3 to 5); pajama night, carnival games and a talent show for Explorers (6 to 8); karaoke, sports tournaments and scavenger hunts for Voyagers (9 to 11); pool parties, themed dance parties and video games for tweens (12 to 14); and DJ training, casino night and movies for teens (15 to 17).

Teens in the oldest age group also have exclusive access to the disco, adjacent to the Adventure Ocean complex on Deck 10. There, teens can enjoy dancing and mocktails from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m.

Complimentary programs operate from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m., with breaks for lunch, tea and dinner. The "Late Night Party Zone" (essentially group baby-sitting) operates from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. and costs $7 per hour, per child. In-cabin baby-sitting is also available from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. but comes with a $19-per-hour charge for up to three children within the same family. Parents must book this service 24 hours in advance.

Fellow Passengers

Vision of the Seas attracts a broad range of ages, made up of couples, singles and families looking for a more intimate version of Royal Caribbean's typically active, innovative and affordable cruising experience. However, families might prefer Royal Caribbean's bigger ships with more activities and larger family facilities.

The ship also homeports in Panama on select Caribbean itineraries. On these sailings, passengers will notice a slight alteration to dining menus and activities to accommodate the greater number of Latin Americans onboard.

Dress Code

Overall, the vibe is quite casual during the day. Evenings see smarter outfits, especially at gala dinners, but there's no need to go all-out unless you enjoy putting on the style (as many do). Depending on the length of the cruise, there are three distinct types of evenings onboard. Casual nights (the most common) suggest shirts and slacks for men and sundresses or dress pants for women. Smart casual sees men with jackets and ties and women in dresses or pantsuits. Formal nights offer a chance for passengers to flash fancy outfits, hairdos and accessories. Suits and ties or tuxes for men and cocktail dresses for women are the recommended attire.

Gratuity

Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $12 per person, per day ($14.25 for suite passengers). 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.

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