Vision of the Seas - 4 Night Short Break Cruise
While on Boudicca in June 2008 with Pam, we bumped into Gary Boles and his friend Allan.  Gary told us Vision of the Seas was coming to Europe in 2009.  This was exciting music to my ears as I fell in love with that ship three months earlier when I did the Mexican Riviera cruise from Los Angeles with Amy.  When I got home I looked at the Royal Caribbean site.  Last I'd heard she was doing year-round cruises from Santo Domingo in 2009 after leaving LA.  The repositioning in April 2009 was to Harwich, which was rather disappointing.  It would have been nice for her to have called into Southampton on her birthday, the port she left on her maiden voyage in 1998.  The majority of northern European cruises were four nights but they were worth considering.  Then the prices became silly.  The Harwich to Oslo, with an overnight in Amsterdam from the 3rd-7th May started from £113 for a guarantee inside in January, coming down to £98 a month later.  Of course, typically for a US company, these didn't include taxes which you only discovered near the booking completion.  On the 16th February, my then boyfriend, Patrick Patton, surprised me by telling me to book.  He was on Queen Victoria so I had to take care of everything, though he said he'd reimburse me when he saw me.  I'd had a rotten morning with the news Celebrity Equinox was going to be early and we were unable to move so this cheered me up. I found a really cheap flight on the BA site from Oslo, which Patrick also told me to book for us both.  Meanwhile I arranged the Premier Inn for the night before the cruise while he did the Travelodge at Terminal 5 on our return. The cruise was paid on the 20th.  We were given Large Interior Stateroom L-3519 on the 5th March.  However on the 17th March - ironically St Patrick's Day, he dropped the bombshell he'd accepted a job starting the 4th May on Jewel of the Seas so would be flying to Miami on the 3rd!  He never even told them he was already booked as a passenger on one of their own ships that week and asked for a compromise.  He kept promising to make it up to me by getting me on Jewel.  I'd contacted the UK office of Royal Caribbean by email because I knew I'd get upset explaining but they never replied after three attempts in three weeks.  In the end on the 6th April I was forced to phone since they were frankly useless.  I had tried already on the 3rd but was put through to the person who answers emails for some reason who then put me through to Miami.  I spoke to Patrick's boss, Rob Waterfield, who was willing to compromise but his agent Gary Parkes, wouldn't.  Perhaps it had something to do with him not knowing Patrick's medical certificate expired on the 21st April while I did, meaning he had accepted a job knowing he could fail to get another. With these delays it left me and Rowan, who had said she would go instead, in limbo.  Patrick assumed it was a simple matter of cancelling a cruise.  I told him they'd want to know why and they did.  As he was unable to provide a letter stating why he could no longer go, we were hit with various charges.  It ended up costing more to clear up the mess he caused.

So with Patrick behind me, we focused on the cruise.  Rowan had never done a Royal Caribbean before so it was a whole new experience.  Would she like
Vision?  Would she like their cruise experience?  I'd had to book a new room at the Premier Inn in Harwich since Patrick wasn't going and we arranged to meet at Victoria on the 2nd May, with her taking a taxi from Paddington.  My old friend Robin Prichard drove all the way from Romford to pick us up and take us to the hotel.
After a bite to eat at McDonalds en route, we arrived at the Premier Inn and took our stuff up to the room.  Unfortunately, with it being a family room (their version of a twin), we didn't have a view of the port.  Celebrity Constellation was in, their first ship of the season and her last season from the UK.  Robin drove us to the Harwich Foot Ferry for the 5pm departure, which took an age to find since there were bugger all signs for anything in that town.
After Robin left at 10.30pm, we decided to have an early night.  Originally I'd intended to go and see Funchal arrive for 8am in the morning.  But as the Harwich Foot Ferry was so bloody far away and there really wasn't any good nearer viewing areas, I changed my mind and hoped to see her from Vision.  It wasn't to be though since after disembarking passengers she left while we were still at the hotel.  It was a lovely day on the 3rd, bit nippy but sunny, and we saw her from the car park.
We'd booked a taxi for noon but some bitch nicked it!  It was in my name so that was naughty of her.  Another turned up quarter of an hour later.  He was just about to leave when I went to reception and told the girl about mine.  She rushed after him.  He took us to the ship and was funny.  Glad we had him in the end.
Check in was so fast due to no queue, through security and on.  There weren't many people about at all for that time of day.  Rowan fell in love with Vision as soon as she walked into the Centrum.
Because neither of us were hungry enough for lunch in the Windjammer, we went for a wander as I showed Rowan around this beautiful ship.  We stopped briefly for a drink and cake before continuing the tour.
We went to find our cabin and I spotted a crew door open along our deck so took a quick photo.  We walked foward, trying to find the cabin.  The layout reminded me of Aurora.  The cabin itself was better than expected despite no window.  Lots of storage space, a reasonably sized bathroom.  The beds were together instead of apart.  When Rowan's name was added, I changed the configuration but that clearly hadn't got through to housekeeping.  We tried to find our steward, which was difficult since there wasn't even a name plate in the cabin.  Normally they come and introduce themselves but ours was the invisible man!  We spoke to another who said she'd pass the message onto him then we went for another wander.
At Club Ocean, one of the children's areas, we got talking to Marycarmen de la Pena from Mexico, which was the shortened version of her name.  She was really nice and we couldn't believe how people's attitudes changed towards her due to the swine flu purely because of where she's from.  When I told her about Patrick getting the job on Jewel, she told me about the friends and family scheme and how he may not be able to get me on with it being his first contract, although being entertainment rather than crew it may be different.  She herself was planning to spend time with her boyfriend who worked on Voyager.  She was doing the following cruise before flying to Heathrow on the 11th, spending a couple of days in London with a friend before travelling down to Southampton to join the ship.  She had so many worries and questions about the travel and we helped as much as we could, Rowan even phoning her husband to find out the train fare.  We hope she managed to arrive in Southampton okay.
We walked back to the cabin before muster and I took a photo of the end of our corridor.  Our cabin is to left of that black suitcase.  This is where we finally met our steward Danilo Palandangan, who was correcting the bed arrangement.  Rowan asked for extra pillows and a Cruise Compass each and he was happy to oblige.
Muster was 4.30pm and our lifeboat was number three.  When we did the roll call, the woman took one look at Rowan and said she could wait in the cabin.  She thought that was nice - any accidents and the blind/nearly blind can go down with the ship!  She insisted on staying since this was her first and she thought it better than going to a muster station not wearing your lifejacket as with Cunard and P&O.  She really enjoyed it and I have to admit, it isn't as tedious this way.  As last year, it was over pretty fast and didn't drone on like Cunard and P&O.  We dropped the lifejackets back in the cabin and now the beds were separated there really was far more room.  We grabbed our coats and went on deck for sailaway.  It was pretty cold.  There was a Scottish pipe band on the quayside who played some songs live while others had a backing track coming from a speaker somewhere.  Surprisingly for a sailaway it wasn't very crowded on deck.  I'd forgotten my phone so borrow's Rowan's spare while she called Glen to let him hear the band.
We gave some parps but then nothing until finally casting off nearly fifteen minutes late and edged away from the dock to another, longer parp.  We moved forward, which was pretty crowded but again, not a patch on last year.  I had the impression I'd shrunk since I was struggling to reach over the top of the wind screen!  Perhaps I was just at a different angle.
The show in the Masquerade Theatre was Boogie Wonderland, as it had been a year before.  This time I saw it from a different angle!  It was just as good and I knew Rowan would enjoy it.  Because we were on late sitting (which was now 8.45pm instead of 8.30pm), the show was at 7pm then went out for a stroll around the deck before dinner.  We'd also been to the photo shop and Olga told me she thought Patrick couldn't get me on Jewel under friends and family with it being his first contract, although maybe after five months he could.  Our table number in Aquarius was 148, but after being led all around the restaurant, we were finally taken to a table for six in the middle right next to the captain's table.  I couldn't believe I was so close AGAIN with no invitation!  Also my table from the year before had turned into an eight-seater oval so no one hit the pillar.  The waiting staff had completely changed.
After an early night because of a long couple of days, we were up in the morning fairly early due to having arranged to meet Ben in Rotterdam.  There were all sorts of noises and at times like this you really missed the window to see where you were.  It didn't help they'd removed the webcam from the TV as well.  We were due to arrive in Amsterdam at 7am but were late.  Captain Ingar Neerland kept us updated through the announcements channel and told us due to traffic, we were delayed.  I got dressed and went on deck to see where we were and got us as we were nearing the dock.  We docked at 8.30am, which was really cutting it fine to get to Rotterdam in plenty of time for Queen Victoria's noon arrival.  Yes it's an ugly cursed beast but a ship's a ship to a nut.
It was only now cruise director Matt announced we'd need to take our passports.  Now since Royal Caribbean isn't exactly a stranger to the port, you'd think they'd know that.  After a lovely breakfast courtesy of room service (and Rowan particularly liked the fruit platter), we headed off the ship at 9am, had our passports checked and took a taxi to Centraal Station since it would take too long to walk when we had to catch the train.  I hadn't been on a Dutch train since 1995 when I went to Groningen and then it was all done for me by Peter Bosgraaf.  This time I was on my own.  We asked at information if there was a ticket office, since all we could see were machines.  We were pointed in the direction of an unsighposted corner and then the bloke winked at me!  Cheeky git.  There were two lots of kiosks and we were directed to the one on the right when we told the bloke we wanted to go to Rotterdam.  Instead of the 24.80 euros each, we had an offer and got first class for 39.50 for the two of us. So we went to platform 14 and waited.  There was already a train there but it didn't say its desination and neither did the tannoy.  The board was confusing, with Rotterdam underneath the other destinations. Turned out that was the train!  I asked someone after the Schiphol train subsequently left if the next was Rotterdam and was told yes, and it was the fast one so would take about an hour.  When it arrived just before 10am, I asked someone else who said yes.  We got on in the second class part and asked some German tourists who said they hoped it was the right one!  So we set off and were told absolutely nothing en route about stops.  Anything was said at all was at a station and generally in Dutch.  I texted Ben who said to let him know when we arrived in Berlin.  Similar from Pam but Paris.  As soon as we stopped at Leiden, he told me we were on the right train.  What a relief!
We arrived just after 11am so weren't that late.  Surprisingly no ticket inspectors on the train or at the station.  You can just walk on a train and off the other end without paying!  Very trusting people and such a refreshing change.  Ben met us and we caught the tram to the port.  He'd bought day passes for us so we wouldn't have to waste time there.  As we neared we saw QV well on her way to docking. Ben told us the crew of Westerdam knew about her problems as well.  Such a shame so many cynics can't tell a crack from marker pen out of jealousy because they didn't find out about it.  Anyway with Mary's and now Westerdam's crews knowing QV is a joke, it's vindication!  Not that any of them will apologise for insinuating Patrick and thus me are liars when he was there and they were sat on their fat backsides at home slating facts.  Anyway, out of sympathy with the former QE2 crew, I wore my T-shirt, since she did turn 40 on the 2nd May.  There were a few people around us and so that went down well.  I just hope Captain McNaught saw it from the bridge!
After lunch in the Hotel New York, we went on the Spido harbour tour so we could get up close to the beautiful Rotterdam (V) - the only real ship in the city that day!  I'd arranged to see her anyway with Ben but the bendy one was a sort of bonus, depending on how you look at it.  Rowan had never seen QV before and hated it on sight, whereas she liked the old HAL liner.  Some Americans tried to queue-jump, claiming their friend was crippled.  Turned out he was just obese with a bit of a hip problem and bugger all trouble walking apart from that so didn't get very far.  Our boat was Marco Polo, the same name as the current Transocean Tours ship.  I spotted a couple of other familiar ship names as we went around the harbour.
The 4th May is Remembrance Day in the Netherlands so all flags are flown at half-mast.  The following day is Liberation Day.
Ben led us to the subway to catch the train to the station then helped us to the right one back to Amsterdam.  We went first class this time and he mucked about, pretending to be devastated we were leaving.
It was a beautiful late afternoon in Amsterdam so we strolled back from Centraal Station to the ship.  We'd had such a fun day-long adventure!
At dinner, John and Lesley had invited their friends to join us instead of Steve and Andy.  John had ordered steak and as a result, everyone had to wait for their main course while other tables were on dessert or finished.  He was not happy.  After we finally got our food, the Canadian chef came out with a rather hostile attitude.  "I understand someone wanted to speak to me."  He blamed the delay on demographics, claiming they hadn't done this menu before.  I pointed out the same thing happened when I was on the year before but he ignored that.  Then our head waiter came along to apologise, saying the waiters get it in the neck and yet again blamed demographics!  I told him the same thing.  He promised first class service the following night then proceeded to get us away from the subject by telling jokes.
As we left after dessert, I decided to take a photo of my old table since it was untouched.  If only it had been like that last year then there wouldn't have been a race to NOT have the chair by the pillar!
Later on we decided to go for a stroll around the deck.  It also gave Rowan a clear signal with which to phone Glen.  I wandered around taking photos.
 


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© Patricia Dempsey 2nd, 3rd-7th 2009
Not to be reproduced without permission