Vision of the Seas - 13 Night Ocean Voyage to the Caribbean
My fabulous Vision of the Seas was undergoing refit after her cruise ended in Southampton on the 24th September 2013, adding what they termed, The Royal Advantage, which is adding aspects from Oasis onto their older ships, thus removing some of the fabulous space they once had.  One of the main problems with this is old isn't new and as they found on Celebrity Constellation with the 'Solsticizing', the speciality restaurants ended up begging people to go there.  Well, they were very slow adding cruises at all and a transatlantic from Lisbon to Miami appeared a week after my 2012 repositioning from Copenhagen to Southampton.  It was a shame there was no post-refit Southampton cruise, only Lisbon to Miami with just three ports (St Maarten, St Kitts and St Croix) from the 28th October to 10th November 2013.  I decided to wait and see what others they's be offering but since even balconies were in my price range, my lack of willpower won - again!  I found my first cabin was available - D1-7152 - and for under my budget but the online booking hates singles so never gets past "Guests" unless there is more than one person selected.  How discriminatory!  Even NCL changed theirs to adore the ever growing number of singles in 2011.  Yet oddly enough, sister line Celebrity loves us.  Anyway, as a result, I had to phone because I wanted that cabin.  Thank goodness they're open seven days a week now so, being a Saturday, they didn't open until 9am.  Krystal answered the phone and I booked at a fab price including flights to Lisbon and from Miami.  It was paid off on the 6th August and e-docs arrived 13th September - an excellent Friday!  They also contained the new 'Ocean Voyage' name for a transatlantic.  An email arrived on the 26th september informing people the terminal was changed to Terminal Cruzeiros Rocha de Conde de Obidos (which is behind Terminal de Cruzeiros de Alcântara, the one next to the 25 de Abril bridge) instead of the new one at Santa Apolonia.  She left Cadiz by 7am on the 25th April, arriving in Lisbon for 7am on the 26th.  She initially docked at Alcântara before moving to Rocha at 5pm.

The 28th arrived and I was ready for my flight to Lisboa!  Now while undoubtedly cruising from the UK, particularly Southampton, is more convenient, it's always nice to try new ports even though I hate airports and the hassle.  To date I have sailed from Los Angeles, Rotterdam, Barcelona, Fort Lauderdale, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Fremantle.  Not many compared to some but a lot for me.  Rather worryingly, the UK was slap bang in the middle of a storm, with its peak around 6am and my flight was 6.55am.  British Airways announced flight cancellations which thankfully were from Terminal 5.  I was collected at 3.40am and made it to Heathrow just after 5am, dodging things along the motorway and even what looked like a tumbleweed.  I have flown from T3 several times for cruising but this was the first time it was a bad experience.  They now made you use the self check-in machines, which would print off your label if you chose to.  Otherwise you would get it put on when you dropped the bag off.  Now as people must drop the bags and talk to a human being, why not still check-in at the same time?  That also was the case in January from Terminal 5.  That wasn't the worst bit.  Lisbon and at least one other flight were in the same queue.  It was completely disorganised but we did eventually manage to queue jump with no explanation.  Really not what I expected from BA.  I'd only ever experienced one check-in for all flights by using Flybe.  Gate 24 was announced after 6am and then we were meant to board the bus at 6.20am only waited an hour due to a 70mph squall going through as they were loading the luggage.  I got chatting to Paul and Janet, who it turned out were on my deck.  It was still pretty windy once we eventually went up those wet steps but it was good to be actually on the plane.  We left at 7.55am, an hour late which could have been worse.  Despite the weather, the take-off from Heathrow was better than the hellish approach and landing at Lisbon.
Lisbon airport was amazing!  Floor a little over polished so be careful but so bright and airy.  Unlike normal transfers when you have one or two reps, gather together then are led to the bus, they had many staff taking everyone to the buses as they arrived.  There were 17 of us in the minibus including two Americans and a German.  It was good not being the only Brit on my plane like in September.  I was meeting Óscar Moura of Portuscale Cruises to visit the classic liner, Funchal.  One of their other ships, Lisboa (former Princess Danae) was in the dry dock having a hull inspection).  But first I went to check-in.  More chaos in the day!  No Crown & Anchor check-in and both people I asked had no idea what I was talking about, yet suites had one.  There were two queues initially - Americans and those with an ESTA.  You had to show you had an ESTA then a green sticker was put on your passport.  The check-in queue wasn't so bad but it was pretty crowded.  I ended up in a corner squashed in by a wheelchair behind me.  Once I got my SeaPass card, I asked a lady when the all aboard time was.  She said we were sailing at 5pm when it was 6pm so went to check.  She came back and told me everyone had to be on by 4.30pm.  I thanked her, saying I can visit Funchal.  She replied patronisingly as though I were a simpleton, "No, dear. This isn’t Funchal, it’s Lisbon."  Despite explaining I got the feeling she didn't believe a word.  Porto and Oriana were also there, Porto waiting for a charter and Oriana just calling.  It rained on and off and after visiting, I was returned to Vision to board.  It was still raining but at least we could queue under shelter on the dockside.  We boarded on deck 2 then it was straight up to my cabin to freshen up then grab a bite to eat.  Having been there in 2008, it was one cabin I definitely knew the way to.  I was glad not to be upgraded but have only had one, and that was Navigator in 2007.  Zilch since giving them more of my money, especially as a solo.  And since solos will be now getting double Crown & Anchor points each cruise and have to pay double occupancy again thanks to couples booking solo at reduced fares to get the double points, we genuinely solo 'Loyal To Royal' passengers deserve more perks such as upgrades.  i love Royal Caribbean as they fit solo cruising well, but they are pricing us out of their market.  I saw my case by the stairs so assumed I would get it soon.  I'd forgotten how huge the cabin was, the corners being the largest.  I had thought my oceanview on Queen Mary 2 was the biggest I'd had (same size as sheltered including the balcony on decks 4, 5 and 6) but this pipped it before adding the balcony.  There had been a few changes since March 2008, most notably the bathroom.  The tap is too short if you just want to wash your hands because you hit the side of the basin.  New sparkling shower but the showerhead is difficult to grip with wet hands and had an annoying habit of spurting water onto the floor regardless of the angle it's hanging at.  There was now a soap dish.  I didn't take a photo of the bathroom in 2008 so can't remember if the toilet roll was under the sink.  In the cabin itself, the old cathode ray TV had finally been replaced with a flat screen, the curtains over the balcony doors had been changed and the one between bed and sofa removed.  I was glad about that one.  I never saw the point of it when it didn't close right across the room.  The sofa was new as was the chair and table, plus balcony furniture.  No idea when it was all changed though but do know they stripped the cabins after the previous cruise in September.
I went to get some lunch then waited back in the cabin for muster, which was scheduled to be 5.30pm but brought forward fifteen minutes.  Two of the crew, Frode in the Windjammer and Sanjay from the pool bar, remembered I'd said I would be back to see the changes.  Meanwhile, despite being onboard since just after 2pm, my case finally turned up after 4pm.  I went to my very first muster station and it was in about five languages, which was a new one for me on Royal Caribbean.  Afterwards, Captain Srecko Ban came on, mumbling something or other but I did catch we would be sailing at 6.30pm due to waiting for passengers.  As I sat on the steps between Viking Crown Lounge and deck, I noticed several people discovered the door to the lounge was now firmly shut.  That really was a shame.  Oriana blasted before 6pm, just missing the fab colours of the sunset as she sailed under the 25 de Abril bridge.  Not even a toot of sympathy from a ship also disfigured by a ducktail as she passed - bitch!  We moved off so silently around 6.40pm it was hard to tell we were off.  Her very last sailing from Europe unless the Royal Caribbean bean counters change their mind.  There will be no Vision class ships in Europe during 2014, and I don't count Legend and Splendour as they're a completely different design.  It was a sad day. I'd been on her first post-Los Angeles European cruise on the 3rd May 2009 and here I was on her last.  once we'd passed under the bridge, I went back to the cabin.  Dinner was at 8.30pm and after such a long day I decided to just rest and skip the Welcome Aboard show.  I was on table 66 with waiters Emil and Dragan plus head waiter José.  My table companions were mainly nice and all American.  Emmett and Sarah had been married 63 years while Signe was retired from the US Air Force and such a fun, chatty lady.  We also had Debra who was from New York, over 60, reminded me of Morticia Addams and liked to monopolise the conversation by boasting.  "This is my forty-second cruise..." she'd say like it made her important and superior to the rest of us.  This was my fifty-fourth but I don't boast.  She announced how she wanted to go on Titanic II ("first class, obviously" but despite proclaiming to know all about it, was a year out with entering service (2016 allegedly, not 2015 as she said) and didn't like it when I questioned her about the contract being signed yet and mentioned Southampton port know as much as the rest of us about it.  I tried to sign up to the internet.  Still it only appears to be RCCL brands of all the cruise lines I've sailed on, which require you to swipe your card rather than sign up anywhere on your laptop or device.  It said I needed a valid folio so reported it and told there was a technical problem they were working on.  Since I'd had just two hours sleep so been awake since 9pm the previous night, I went to bed and noticed a few precautions for our predicted rough sea.  Let's hope it would be worth it!
A lovely lazy day catching up with sleep.  It had indeed be bouncy during the night but calmed - boo!  I noticed my phone hadn't automatically switched to Cellular At Sea.  I went to get some food from the Windjammer.  I'd been told during the pre-refit cruise the whole place was being gutted and redesigned to make it flow better but it looked almost the same to me.  Breakfast was served on one side and lunch the other so I had a bit of both.  One thing I'll say about Royal Caribbean is I can always find something (and on Celebrity and NCL) whereas I struggle on the likes of Cunard due to lack of choice, especially with cruise lines shoving bell peppers into so many things, even when it shouldn't have them.  It was truly great to be back at sea on my favourite Royal Caribbean girly.  As I went back to the cabin, Francisco, who had been one of my waiters in 2012, remembered me!  I had seen him in the dining room the night before and knew his face from somewhere.  It had been deck 5 then.  Interestingly, my phone now had Cellular at Sea as I'd walked around the ship but kicking out in my cabin.  Having had the same one in the past I knew there used to be a signal.  I reported it then went and sat on the Prom deck for a while since Marlon, my steward, hadn't done the room.  I returned to the cabin and he did it at 3.30pm, apologising for the lateness but he joined in Lisbon so was doing training.  That was like my last one so I understood.  A nap, woken by my Diamond nibbles.  Guest services phoned about the no signal and said maintenance blamed the position of the cabin and there was nothing they could do.  Sorry but having had one in 2008, that was just bollocks.  Something had obviously been disconnected when they put wifi around the entire ship, except now aft had no mobile signal but did have wifi, which you were still unable to use until they fixed it.  It was our first formal night so I went to the Captain's booze up in the new Centrum.  it was the first time I had seen it properly and I liked it.  There was much more space without that awful green sculpture and the columns, but I did miss the stairs between decks 4 & 5 and 5 & 6 plus the waterfall.  Captain Ban didn't give passenger numbers but there was talk of 1600 onboard and us leaving 400 behind.  40 I could understand but not that many.  Cruise wasn't even sold out to leave so many.  Morticia Addams had gone to another table so we weren't regaled of me, me, me tales so the conversation flowed better.  After dinner I went to see singer Stephen Bayliss in the theatre then grabbed some nibbles from the Park Cafe before bed.
Our second sea day and another lie-in.  We'd gained our first hour - wooo!  Still got up before noon though.  On my way to see if the bloody internet let you sign up yet, I wandered into Chops Grille, which used to be the Showboat Lounge.  They had done well with the space and the room looked good.  I ended up booking a table for the 1st November.  After lunch, I went for a stroll and discovered the phone signal also cuts out forward now too.  The number of times I had sat overlooking the bow in the windjammer or on deck 10 at sailaway, tweeting, Facebooking, texting and uploading photos and now nothing.  I knew the cabin explanation was crap.  Someone somehow messed up and created dead spots on the ship and couldn't be arsed to fix it.  Went to the 1pm lecture about Sir Francis Drake which was good.  Internet was working - woooo!  Signed up.  The acrobatics people were rehearsing in the Centrum.

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© Patricia Dempsey 28th October-10th November 2013
Not to be reproduced without permission