Thursday, August 16, 2018

European Adventure - August 2018

European Adventure - August 2018

We (Ray and the Dear Wife) have a nice European holiday and adventure followed by a transatlantic cruise for August-September 2018.

Travel Day 1+  /  August 14
Berchtesgaden, Germany / Wednesday August 15
We had a mid-day flight from Waco to DFW where we took the 9+ hour American Airlines flight 50 to London’s Heathrow airport arriving at 7:00 am local time.  Then a British Airlines flight to the Munich airport arriving in Germany about noon local time (central Europe summer time).  We found the DB train kiosk in the terminal and booked our train tickets to Berchtesgaden.  It took three trains, but we arrived in Berchtesgaden at 5:00.  We could see our hotel from the station but being exhausted from hauling bags up and down at each rail stop along the way to change tracks we took a taxi uphill to the hotel.  The views from Berchtesgaden of the German Alps is spectacular, perhaps the most scenic mountain village view I have ever experienced.  Our room doesn’t have the view, those rooms are booking 2 years in advance, we feel fortunate to get a room here during this season.  After refreshing we walked steep uphill to the old town of Berchtesgaden were we had dinner at the Golden Bear a famous local eatery.  Here we did get an excellent table outdoors with a great view of the Mountains.  DW ordered a local white wine and I had the featured local Wieninger beer.  She ordered a Apple & Cheese Spaetzel and I ordered the Schnitzel with German potatoes.  The food was as good as the view: excellent, so our first meal in Europe was a success.  After the great meal we walked down to the hotel and were asleep by 9:00 pm.

Day 2 - Berchtesgaden, Germany / Thursday August 16
Kehlsteinhaus or the Eagles Nest
I had a very restful nights sleep. I woke about 7:00 am and logged into the hotel wifi to update news from home, check schedule, and charge iPhone.  The hotel serves a wonderful breakfast consisting of various varieties of; breads, cheeses, cold meats, juices, teas, cereals, fruits, and scrambled eggs, sausage balls & links, sweet oatmeal, and more.  The enjoyed the wonderful view from the dining room as we ate our breakfast.  We actually took the rest of the morning off to rest and I began this review.  Just before noon we walked down to the Visitors Center for a 1:00 tour and arrived very early so enjoyed a coke with ice and a beer in the beer garden across the way.  Our tour was of Obersalzburg and the Eagles Nest.  We had a nice guide and a group of 30 most of whom were actually from Texas.  It was interesting seeing the former Nazi community and residence locations of Nazi hierarchy including Hitler's Berghof.  The views from the mountains are spectacular…you could even see the old Fortress in Salzburg Austria many miles away.  The major site is Kehlsteinhaus or the Eagles Nest built for Hitler in the late 1930’s.  You enter through a long marble lined tunnel, then take a brass elevator to the top of the mountain.  The views from here were even better and the history very interesting.  We were returned to Berchtesgaden about 5:45 and back at hotel by 6:00 pm. About 7:30 we walked up to the old town and saw the old Marktbrunnen, the Marktplatz including two lederhosen shoppes, and stopped at the Gasthaus Watzmann for dinner on the patio.  I had a Bavarian plate with three traditional meats over sauerkraut and a bread dumpling with a Baverian flag on top. DW had an appetizer of fried cheese with cranberries and salad.  It was dark as we finished dinner, but we still walked through the old Berchtesgaden cemetery.  It was beautiful and about 25% of the graves had candles burning.  It somewhat lit the path for us and I had never seen anything like that before today.  It was a great, but tiring day in Berchtesgaden and we were in bed just after 10:00 pm. 

Day 3  -  Berchtesgaden Königssee - Salzburg, Austria /  Friday August17
Lake Königssee - Bavaria
I slept fine and we were up early in order to beat the crowds at Königssee today.  I enjoyed another good Hotel Bavaria breakfast this morning and we checked out and left our luggage so we would not have to rush back from our excursion.  We walked down to the Berchtesgaden Hbf and took a bus the short distance to Königssee.  We arrived just about 9:30 and there was no wait to purchase tickets on an awaiting boat.  Great timing.  Königssee is the largest and cleanest lake in the German Alps thus only the use of electric boats.  We took the full boat/ferry ride of the entire scenic lake.  It was very different and enjoyable.  We stopped as is the tradition and the driver played a duet with the echos from the steep mountain walls on a flugelhorn.  We were back at the main dock about 11:00 am and found the bus back to Berchtesgaden with ease.  We walked back to the hotel and got our bags and lounged for 50 minutes before walking back to the Hbf to catch the 1:20 Bus to Salzburg.  Only 45 minutes to the Salzburg Hbf by bus and our hotel was only 250 feet away from the drop off.  We’ve spent a bit of time in Salzburg and have seen ALL the sights so this is basically a transit stop this trip thus the selected location, it’s only 200 feet to the Vienna train tomorrow.  We decided not to go into the old town and to stay close so we took advantage of the nice hotel room to rest & relax.  We did venture into the immediate area for snacks, groceries, and ice creme.  We never eat at McDonalds, BUT we do take advantage of their Coca-cola fountain drinks complete with ice.  McDonald’s has strict rules about the consistency of their Coke product (and some secrets) and they did not fail…they tasted great.  We both took advantage of the WiFi speed and we even did some European TV before bed time.

Day 3  - Salzburg - Vienna, Austria  /  Saturday / August 18
Maria-Theresien-Platz  -  Vienna
Our hotel is the H+ Hotel a European chain and as mentioned perfect location for transit next to train station.  Good air-conditioning, clean, excellent layout for luggage, large bathroom, fast WiFi, and comfortable beds.  I slept very well. I went down to get our rail tickets early and I have to take back what I wrote about McDonalds, in lieu of eating breakfast at the hotel for €20 pp we had the Viennese Breakfast for €3.90 pp and of course a Coca-Cola.  It only took 20+ minutes to purchase the tickets, use the kiosk at McD’s and back to the hotel room.  That allowed us some time before our 10:08 departure on Austrian Rail.  The train was nice I typed this while on it and enjoying the Austrian countryside.  We arrived in Wein (Vienna) at 12:35 pm. and arrived at our hotel by taxi after a detour from wrong hotel.  The Marriott Courtyard gave us an upgrade so we are pleased and the location is only a block from Schönbrunn Palace.  We oriented ourselves and set our plan for Vienna adjusting somewhat for the heat…almost Texas like heat at 90º by end of day.  I wanted a proper Schnitzel and being a Saturday decided to eat during the slow part of the day so we began by taking a taxi to Schnitzelwirt 52 probably the most famous Schnitzel establishment in Vienna.   We were able to get a table without problem at this time and I ordered my first REAL WienerSchnitzelSchnitzelwirt 52 is to schnitzel, in the home of schnitzel, as Mary’s Cafe is to CFS in Texas.  The portion size is huge (even I could not eat all of it) and it was excellent...well worth the effort to get it.  After dinner we walked the 15 minutes (downhill) to the Museum District of Vienna.  The enormity of the former ornate palaces and buildings in small park settings in the middle of the old town is amazing…huge now governmental spaces that now house mostly museums. We walked much of the area pacing ourselves and walked by or saw:  Maria-Theresien-Platz with the huge Maria Theresa monument, Prinz Eugen - equestrian statue, Erzherzog Karl - Equestrian Statue, Die Hofburg, the Hofburg Wien, the Library with Kaisers Statue von Joseph II, and spent an hour on the Michaelerplatz on a perfect bench in the shade during the heat of the day watching carriages and people pass by us.  We strolled past the old and huge Opera House and the Graban Blvd. shopping district as we made our way to the Wiener Konzerthaus.  We arrived about 7:30 pm for a traditional Viennese Concert.  We had front row upper box seats and enjoyed the production with full orchestra, dancers, and soloists.  It was an excellent show.   Afterward we made our way to the U (underground rail) and made our way to the Schönbrunn stop and then our hotel just a block away arriving about 10:30pm.  It was a long and busy day.

Day 4  - Vienna, Austria  -  Sunday - August 19
Main Gallery - Schönbrunn Palace
I slept very well and kind of late, until 8:15 am.  Our only plans for the day is the Palace so no rush.   Soon we left for the Schönbrunn Palace and it is only one long block from the hotel.  We queued in line for a bit and received an entry time of 1:14 p.m.  We went to the very nice Viennese Café-Residenz in Schönbrunn for proper Coca-Cola with ice and glass and I had to have some of their famous Apple Strudel. The Palace actually offers Strudel demonstrations and shows hourly from 11:00 but I didn’t wait.  It was delicious and the cokes tasted great.  We walked around the famous gardens, but decided against too much walking especially because it was getting hot.  We went to the Patio of the Residenz to relax until tour time and I had a carafe of Residenz homemade lime&ginger lemonade and DW had a chocolate sundae.  We did the Palace Grand Tour (€17.50 pp) that included 40+ rooms of the palace.  I really expected more elegance due to the success of the Hapsbergs and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire but it was a fairly standard palace by European standards (IMHO) although the main Gallery was beautiful.  Still a very nice palace. I think my expectations were too high as a fan of Maria Theresa and that period. The longer tour takes about an hour.  We purchased tickets for the Palace Theater show then returned to the hotel to rest and relax.  So glad it is so close.  We went to dinner at Restaurant Schönbrunner Stöckl located just on the Schönbrunn Palace grounds very close our hotel.  DW ordered Zucchini in Tomato sauce with Quinoa, and Feta & Gorgonzola cheese, it was excellent and must be as she rarely complements food.  I ordered a simple Beetroot Carpaccio entree with Arugula, Goat Cheese, Balsamic Vinegar, and fresh shaved Horseradish…it was excellent as well.  We attended the Sunday evening Schoenbrunn Palace Concert in the Palace Orangery where Mozart himself performed in 1786.  It was similar to last night with an Orchestra, two soloists, and two dancers.  A lot of Mozart and Strauss and it was an enjoyable evening.  The orchestra last night was larger (almost twice), but the soloists and dancers were better this evening.  Very entertaining and just a short walk for us tonight.  It was a nice Sunday taking advantage of a lot of what Schönbrunn Palace has to offer the public.

Day 5 - Vienna, Austria - Bratislava, Slovakia  /  Saturday August 20
Old Town Bratislava Square
I slept very well.  We have a private tour service today and we went down to check out at 9:30am and our meet our driver for our 10:00 departure.  He was there before we could get checked out so we were soon on our way to Bratislava.  He drove a nice Škoda and it was less than an hour to our scheduled stop at Schloss Hof an 18th century Habsburg complex including a farm with restored state rooms & ornamental grounds.  They had very unique historical displays and the Maria Theresa suites she lived in during her later years.  After an hour and half visit we continued the short drive into Bratislava.  Our driver Laslo (a local) got us as close as possible to our hotel that is located in the pedestrian only area of Old Town Bratislava.  We were very glad we used the door to door service.  As soon as we checked in and relaxed a bit we made our way to Bratislava's Flagship Restaurant where we enjoyed a feast of Slovakian food.  I had the local Kláštorný Ležiak 11° lager beer and DW a Coca-cola.  We shared a board of three Slovakian specialties:  Bryndzové Halušky (potato dumplings with Bryndza sheep cheese), Pryndzové Pirohy (pirogi with Bryndza sheep cheese), and Kapustové Strapačky so Slaninkou (dumplings with cabbage & ham).  In addition I had a nice Roasted homemade sausage with mustard & horseradish and DW a Homemade Potato Pancake with Bryndza.  It was a wonderful meal and fairly priced, good to get away from tourist area.  We walked through Bratislava's very quaint and nice medieval central square as we returned to the hotel for a nap after the big mid-day meal.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

MSC Seaside Review - February 2018

 MSC Seaside Cruise Review - B2B February 2018

Just the Facts:
Ship: MSC Seaside
Captain: Marco Massa
Cruise Director: Andre Schlemmer
Ports: Miami, USA - Ocho Rios, Jamaica - Georgetown, Grand Cayman - Cozumel, Mexico - Nassau, Bahamas -  St. Johns, Antiqua - Charlotte Amalie, USVI - Grand Turk,
Turks and Caicos
I’m cruising on two 7-day cruises (B2B) on the MSC Seaside, these are my 7th and 8th MSC cruises and 135th & 136th cruises overall.  This is my first time on the MSC Seaside and my forth time to sail with the MSC ‘Black Card’ the highest of their Loyalty Club levels.  I am cruising with my dear wife (DW) and a large group cruise friends who wanted to try this new concept cruise ship. The first MSC ship specifically built and designed for the American market.  I love the other MSC ships so this will be a new experience for all of us, both MSC experienced cruisers and the first-timers.

Saturday February 10  / Miami  /  Embarkation / Day 1

MSC Seaside Atrium
We are flying into port on the day of embarkation so travel begins very early.  We left the ranch at  3:35 am for the drive to Waco, TX and the 4:50 am boarding time for the flight to DFW.  It was a nice clear morning and we arrived about 4:30 am and were through the TSA screening and at gate one at exactly 4:45 am.  Soon we were off and at DFW airport where we arrived just before boarding began for our 7:25 am flight to Miami.  We met one friend here at DFW and were on our way.  The flight was uneventful and no scares at baggage claim…all of our bags arrived fine somewhat unique for Miami.  We rolled out with all our luggage and took the MSC shuttle, a large bus just for the three of us ($20 per person charge to ship account) to the Port of Miami’s new MSC Terminal. There was a friendly porter to take our bags and we proceeded to the entry.  Arriving about 12:30 pm it was not really busy as I believe we are behind the early rush and before most airport arrivals.  We went through security (easy) and then upstairs to see a Black Card agent (no line) and receive our Loyalty Club cards.  Since we are not allowed in cabins until 2:00 pm we boarded and went strait to the deck 16 Biscayne Bay buffet.  We got a table with an excellent view of the actual Biscayne Bay and had a short wait until the 1:00 pm buffet opening.  The primary buffet on deck 8 opens at noon.  I had a nice salad, pasta, and a two slices of pizza pie.  We ate and relaxed until 2:00 pm then went to our cabin/home for the next two weeks.  We have a regular style balcony and first impression is how it is smaller than any cabin we have ever had previously on MSC.  Our bags did arrive soon and we began unpacking. Safety drill was uneventful, they scan your cards at the muster station and make announcements thankfully in English only unlike other MSC ships that do it in five languages.  We found more members of our group after boat drill and confirmed our meet up later on deck 8.  We were concerned that we had not seen our Drink vouchers we had purchased online.  We discovered that they are distributed by the cabin steward and that we had to sign for them, we had not seen her and then she was on break when we tried to find her before the group party.  Our group met at the Sports Bar on deck 8 and it is a great bar much larger than the sports bars on other MSC ships.  Well designed with a large big screen TV with stage, smaller lounge areas with other TV’s, as well as a large bar with a  sea view.  Our group met and it was great to meet the regulars and new guests as well.  A few stayed afterward and enjoyed cocktails until dinner.  We have 8:30 seating in the Seashore Restaurant.  We have great table locations in the center of the dining room and the tables are beautifully set with proper tablecloths and table service something you don’t see on many cruise ships. For dinner I ordered the Tomato Basil Soup, a wonderful Pasta with a Bolognaise style sauce with bacon (as a starter), and the Roast Lamb entree.  We passed on dessert and retired to the cabin where we met our Cabin Steward Glinda who finally delivered our vouchers. We didn’t ask her for turn down service as we went straight to bed after a very long and busy day.

Sunday February 11th / Day at Sea / Day 2

MSC Seaside Bridge of Sighs on deck 16
Smooth seas overnight just enough movement for a very enjoyable nights sleep. The bed is ideal and very comfortable with a pillow menu and we chose what we have: one soft and one firm pillow each. I went to the MDR for breakfast and fortunately spotted two of our group in line and joined them. I ordered Eggs Benedict with a side of Bacon, & fresh grilled potatoes.  I was served Hot Milk that is not always easy to get on other cruise lines but very common on the Seaside.   DW enjoy a room service continental breakfast and is planning on a casual day.  I finished cabin set-up increasing my storage by using my packing cubes in my suitcase under the bed. In addition to the cabins being smaller the storage is as well with only one small wardrobe and two drawers. We are finally settling in and once Glenda cleaned the cabin about noon and with our little adjustments I feel we are set for the two weeks. I went on a walkabout and had a pizza slice with friend on the outdoor area outside the Marketplace Buffet on deck 8.  Also walked across the Bridge of Sighs on deck 16 aft (photo).  On the way back to the cabin I picked up one of the prepared hamburgers individually boxed and available at  the buffet, it was surprising very good, not a Guy’s Burger quality, but close.  Back in the cabin it was balcony time and I established our internet account and posted first days review online. I also used the MSC for Me app to make reservations for the 7:00 show in the theater, the app is great with a map, locator with directions, schedule, and much more.  We then watched a movie as we prepared for the evening.  A bucket of Brut Champagne and Chocolate Covered Grapes and petit fours were delivered…these for being Black Card members on Formal Night.  About 5:00 pm we met friends for drinks at the Seaview Bar. They were setting up for the Captain’s Formal Night complementary cocktails and I had a few rounds of those as well.  They really do it first class with white glove service and a choice of four cocktails/drinks (Champagne, Vodka Martini, Rum Sour, Fruit Punch) served on silver trays. On RCCL it is Champagne only and on Carnival nothing but a $1 discount. Very nice MSC!  At 7:00 pm we went to the  Production Show: The Wizard in the Metropolitan Theater.  It was an impressive production with singing, dancing, acrobatics, and more.  The theater is very nice and we had a great view for this spectacular show.  They do allow drinks in the theater, that's a first for MSC on this new Caribbean concept ship.  We had a little time before dinner so we went to the Haven lounge for a short time.  Formal Dinner was very good tonight, I ordered: the Arugala & Grana Padano Salad, the Rigatoni Meatballs (as a starter), and the Duck a la Orange entree.  For dessert I ordered the Bananas Foster.  Some attended the nightly Comedy Improv show at 10:30 pm but we retired to the cabin. It was a great day on the MSC Seaside.

February 12th  / Ocho Rios, Jamaica / Day 3
MSC Seaside in Ocho Rios  (click to enlarge)
Rolling seas overnight and I again slept very well. I did some internet work early until we arrived in  the beautiful waters of Ocho Rios.  I met friends for breakfast in the MDR ordering three eggs over easy with ham, potatoes, bacon, toast, fruit plate & hot milk. It was very good.  DW had her room service breakfast.  We just relaxed until about noon, met a friend in the lobby and then walked over to the shops on Main street.  We ended up hiring a taxi to take us up the mountain to a very nice overlook and I enjoyed the breeze and a couple of Red Stripe Beers.  We then went to the cascading waterfall where it meets the Caribbean sea,  It was interesting, but we passed on climbing the falls or getting in the water.  Next stop was to get some spicy patties at Spicy Pattys. We had to wait for some fresh, but they were hot and delicious and I wanted to try this local fast food delicacy. I ate mine while the girls shopped a bit.  We walked back to the ship and DW went to the Marketplace buffet for a salad and went back to the cabin and enjoy the view from the balcony until sail away.  One of the benefits of being a Black Card member on MSC is a complementary dinner in a premium restaurant so tonight a dozen of us had dinner at Butcher’s Cut the premium steakhouse on the MSC Seaview.  We met at 6:00 on deck 16 and had cocktails and were seated straight away for dinner.  I ordered the Hearts of Palm as an appetizer as well as the Beet Salad with Burrata.  My entree was a perfectly cooked to order Filet Mignon and for dessert a nice Sorbet.  It was a wonderful meal with wonderful friends.  After walking today in Ocho Rios and our three hour dinner I was ready for relaxing movie time in the cabin.  It was a fun and interesting day In Ocho Rios and on the MSC Seaside.

Tuesday February 13 / Georgetown, Grand Cayman / Day 4 
Production show FLY in Metropolitan Theater
Very smooth seas overnight and I again slept very well. We were already anchored off Grand Cayman when I woke this morning about 7:30 am.  The Freedom of the Seas is anchored next to us and I see the NCL Escape beyond her.  It’s a nice partly cloudy day I’m sure guests will enjoy it and we plan to stay on board and enjoy the ship without most of them.  I met three friends at the MDR for a very nice breakfast at 8:30.  I’m enjoying the breakfast service, food, and hot milk. We had a nice lazy morning then again went to explore new areas of the ship while most guests are off.  I met friends at the Jungle Bar and pool area on deck 18, it is a uniquely decorated area with an African jungle theme.  We moved to the Miami Beach Pool and Bar area on deck 16 in order to get bar service. We had our Snoozemates traditional stay on the ship Bloody Mary party that grew to a dozen friends as they came & went as they too explored the ship.  The Bloody Marys changed to Mojitos as we enjoyed the breeze and Caribbean views. I had a pizza for lunch, DW found the Creperie & Ice Creme area on deck 7 aft.  I attempted  a nap but did get some rest before preparing for the evening.  The Black Card Reception was held at 5:00 pm in the Haven Lounge.  Personal Comment: This is a proper time to host a reception with complementary cocktails unlike some cruise lines who have moved their VIP events to morning hours.  The Haven was full but there was plenty of wait staff to serve all guests.  They served a selection of wines, champagne, and cocktails, but Aperol Spritzers seemed to be the drink of choice as it is Italian night.  A couple of light hors d'oeuvres were also offered.  You could order a call cocktail and I did get a Cosmopolitan, but went with the flow of the evening on the Aperol as they were easily replenished.  I spoke with the Beverage Manager Sergi who I met on The Divina and Captain Marco Massa came by our table and toasted each of us with his glass individually (much safer than shaking hands) and spoke with us a bit.  I’m impressed by anyone who speaks six languages as the Captain does.  We went to the Metropolitan Theater at 6:45 for the 7:00 production show Fly. It was a fantastic show with singers, dancers, acrobats, and more.  I especially enjoyed the Cancan dance portion that not only included the dancers, but  the acrobats in the final scenes.  A very enjoyable show.  Time for one cocktail before dinner in the Haven before dinner.  Being Italian night (also White night) the waiters dress in Italian flair and the menu was all Italian.  My choices were the Eggplant Parmesan, Lasagna Bolognese, Chicken Marsala, and the Osobucco.  DW had the Pasta e Fagioli Soup.  I ordered the Lemon cake with limoncello for dessert. They had the big Italian party tonight and the White dress theme party, but we retired to the cabin.  It was another good day on The MSC Seaside.

Wednesday  Valentine's Day  February 14 / Cozumel, Mexico / Day 5
Valentines lunch in Cozumel
Again calm seas overnight and we slept very well. It was 9:30 am before I got around and that’s late for me, but I was able to watch us dock at Puerto Langosta near downtown San Miguel.  I was going to go get a haircut early and take a friend, bit there was such a long line to debark at 10:30 am we went to the buffet so I could eat some breakfast.  My first time there and it was actually good.  We finally debarked and we did the 20+ minute walk from the ship to downtown San Miguel. After stopping to rest in the Main Square and photos we made it to Antonio’s Barber Shop.  Martin has been cutting my hair for eleven years now.  After my haircut I met the group at Woody’s just off the main square in San Miguel.  They have been my HQ in Coz for years and have good Mexican food as well the fastest internet on the island.  Woody’s does have my favorite Mexican beer: Bohemia and live music.  We had a dozen+ Snoozemates there most who had attended a Valentines Day meal we shared in Cozumel nine years earlier.  We shared a Valentines cake just as we had years ago and it was wonderful.  Mexican cakes are so rich and delicious.  After a visit to the Pharmacia we walked back to the ship about 3:30 pm and was on board by 4:00, much smoother process than this morning.  A shower and cool cabin felt so good after the humid day and nice walk in San Miguel.  I had some Travel Agent business to do online as well. We met the group in the Seaside Bar for cocktails about 6:00-6:30 pm.  Sergi did his job as they did have the proper ‘fixins’ to prepare a Hugo Spritz.  Thanks.  We shared Valentines goodies and Jazz began at 8:00 and that was very nice.  At dinner we did a boy table and a girl table as we have been known to do, even though it was Valentines…we had our own decorations too.  For dinner I ordered the Asian Salad, the excellent Tortellini with Spinach & Ricotta (pasta as a starter), and the Shittake Beef Short Ribs entree.  For dessert the Black Forest Cake.  This was one of the better dinners especially the Tortellini.  After dinner friends went to the Casino, Retired, or to one of the shows.  It was an great Valentines Day in Cozumel and on the MSC Seaside.

Thursday February 15 / Day at Sea / Day 6
Beautiful interiors of MSC Seaside
Again very smooth seas overnight, perhaps a bit more rolling.  I awoke in the early morning and had some super fast internet time then slept until 9:00 am. when room service arrived.  I decide to join DW on the balcony for breakfast.  And yes they deliver hot milk but only brought cold this morning.  Danish and Fruit Plate were good.  At 11:00ish all in group who had bottles of Prosecco delivered took them to the Miami Beach Bar. The bar servers, who already know us, brought ice buckets, Orange Juice, and Champagne glasses for our deck party.  It was fun. I had lunch from the buffet then the DW and I went to the 2:00 pm show in the theater:  Invito All’Opera a selection of various opera sung by a tenor and soprano accompanied by Classical Violin and Piano.  Good but not as good as a full production you may see on MSC in Europe.  Afterward it was lunch  for DW and they had Guacamole & Hearts of Palm in salad bar (I was jealous).  It was cabin time and an actual nap for myself in the late afternoon…nice.  We attended the 7:00 pm feature show Timeless in the Metropolitan Theater and it was perhaps one of the best shows I have seen at sea.  It was actually similar to the MSC show Starwalker as it featured several Michael Jackson numbers.  The costumes and feature singers and dancers were fantastic.  After the show we met the group in the Sports Bar for an aperitif before dinner.  We had the full group at dinner tonight unfortunately it was perhaps the weaker menu of the week, yet still good, they just had the bar set high with previous dinners.  I ordered: the Arancini Messina-style (this was excellent), Shrimp Fettuccini Alfredo (as starter), and the Beef Tournedos entree (just OK).  For dessert the Key Lime Pie and Coconut Tapioca (both just OK).  After dinner some went to the casino, others to the 70’s party, and some retired for the evening.  I did the later.  It was a great lazy day on board the MSC Seaside.

Friday February 16  / Nassau Bahamas / Day 7
Peter Punk Show
Again very smooth seas overnight.  I awoke in the early morning and had some super fast internet time booking clients then slept until 9:00 am. when room service arrived.  Same procedure as yesterday except this morning I did get the hot milk. Again the Danish and Fruit Plate were good. DW does yogurt and cereal.  We have the Disney Magic docked next to us on port side so that is our breakfast entertainment this morning in Nassau.  Lazy morning until I went to the Sports Bar about noon for a few beers, those in the group met there at 1:00 pm if they were interested in going to Nassau’s  Fish Fry for lunch.  This is an area of Nassau that is where the fishing boats dock and many fish vendors operated then later seafood shacks then restaurants sprang up.  The place to go for fresh seafood.  Once we got to the dock and gates we took a taxi with Ms. Barbara who had a nice a/c van for the seven of us.  We went to Goldie’s Conch House where we got a table on the water among all the discarded conch shells.  Interesting atmosphere.  Between us we ordered everything from Lobster to Red Snapper, but we had three full orders of conch to get through before the main courses.  The conch was fantastic and everything else was great too including the Kalik Gold beer.  Ms Barbara picked us up and carried us back to the ship ($5 pp each way) about 4:00 pm. There are five ships in port and it was crowded in town and at the pier.  Nassau is not a favorite port, but the lunch was super good.  It was back to the cabin for R&R until time for the 7:00 pm feature show.  Tonight's show was Peter Punk featuring the acrobats, dancers, singers, dancers strongmen, and more.  The costumes were amazing with lots of pirates following a revised Peter Pan theme.  After the show we had aperitifs in the Seaside Lounge. Dinner tonight was perhaps one of the better of the cruise.  I had the Mediterranean Meze (fair), Risotio Pescatora-style (good), and the NY Strip Steak entree.  The steak was the best I have ever had in any MDR…certainly steak house quality.  Guests were having a big final night everywhere on the ship tonight…all the venues were very busy.  We haven’t received our new Sail cards for next week, but Guest Services is far too busy for me to get them tonight so  I retired to the cabin and will make a go early tomorrow. Glad we have another week especially since they announced an itinerary change from Freeport to Grand Turk. It was a great day of food today in Nassau and on the MSC Seaside.

Saturday  February 17  / Miami  /  Day 8
Miami from the MSC Seaside
 Smooth seas overnight and I slept well, but up very early and watched us sail into Miami early.  The lights were beautiful.  I went down to Reception for my new cruise cards at 5:00 am….no line and back straightaway.  I did some internet using the local connection on my iPhone since we were in port. I went to the main buffet for breakfast about 6:30 am and it was very busy…guests are getting off early. I did get an hour more sleep before getting up to do some telephone Travel Agent business.  The B2B guests met at 10:00 am in the Seaview Lounge and they did have cocktail servers so an opportunity to have nice Screwdrivers while we visited with friends.  They had trouble getting the last few guests off but took the B2B’s down to Customs & Border Security about 10:40 am  We were processed and back on the ship by 11:00 am.  Easy Peasy.  At noon we went to the Buffet for lunch, I actually had the Roast Beef from the Carving Station.  Also some Guacamole, Mashed Potatoes, and Green Beans.  A nice lunch.  We decided to do a walk about as DW had not seen the Jungle area and indoor/outdoor pool.  We also walked across the Bridge of Sighs before stopping at the Miami Bar for A Mudslide and a beer.  Then to the cabin for a nap or rest, already a long day having started at 4:30 am.  Soon they began announcements for Safety/Muster drill.  MSC does not require B2B guests to attend the 2nd muster drill probably because they have a long history of boarding passengers in various ports along the itinerary.  They began announce drill is for those who boarded “today”.  After drill we met our friends and our new friends who just boarded in the Seaview Bar for cocktails that extended into aperitifs. We skipped the Welcome Show as usual and went to dinner in the Seashore MDR…we have the same tables and waiters as previous week.  For dinner I ordered the Niçoise salad, the Penne Amatricaina Pasta with a hearty tomato sauce with bacon (as a starter), and New York Strip steak entree.  It was a very nice meal and we skipped dessert as we retired to the cabin to rest and for me to update this review.  A very good day with friends on the MSC Seaside.

Sunday February 18 / at Sea /  Day 9
Tappenyaki Lunch
Smooth seas continue and I slept very well overnight.  I did wake early so I was able to get in some faster internet time and review the news, sports, and pay some bills online.  DW always has room service breakfast and I’m joining her this morning for a light breakfast as I have big lunch plans. They did have hot milk, but a juice size glass and there were other omissions so we requested correct order…that will help them remember in future.  Beautiful weather today so had balcony time before going up to deck 16 to the Asian Market for lunch at the Tappanyaki Grill.  We had the entire grill seating area for 12 and were the only ones doing the Tappanyaki so a private room for us.  It is a choice of four options all being a multi course experience, DW did the Vegetarian ($20) and I did the Sencho ($30). My first courses was Miso Soup then Sushi & Sashimi, then from the grill Atlantic Salmon and Tiger Prawns, next Garlic Fried Rice, followed by the main entree of Filet Mignon with Asian vegetables.  For dessert we had Carmelized Pineapple hot from the grill covered with Matcha Custard, Ginger Ice Creme, and Mint Poesto.  An amazing meal and show from chef Joseph.  By far the best lunch I haver ever experienced on a cruise ship.  It was nap time after such a good meal but I was up for the Cruise Critic gathering at 5:00 pm in the Haven Lounge.  It was much better than I expected it to be with complimentary drinks, snacks, and a wonderful cake.  The Captain also came by all the tables to meet guests.  MSC is using this as a marketing opportunity and they will soon have a large percentage of the cruise market from Miami, but I’m glad to go along for the nice food and drinks.  I then went up to the Seaview lounge where the Snoozemate’s area was well represented.  We were joined by others through out the evening.  We passed on the MDR for dinner and the show was a repeat so it was a party night. We actually stayed through the Jazz sessions and Piano sessions and not leaving until 10:30 pm when we retired for the evening.  It was a great sea day on the MSC Seaside.

Monday February 19 / Day at Sea / Day 10
Butcher's Cut Steakhouse on MSC Seaside
Again smooth seas overnight and another great nights sleep. We turned our clocks forward one hour overnight so I woke about 8:00 am and logged on the internet to check mail and messages before the wifi begins slowing down once everyone logs-in today. Room Service was delivered at 9:00 am and the order was perfect.    I again just wanted my Hot Milk and Danish as we decided to  eat in the steakhouse that is open for lunch on seadays.  After some restful cabin time, we went to the Butcher’s Cut premium steakhouse just after the noon opening and had a very nice two-top table with window on the water.  I ordered the same as previous visit:  Hearts of Palm as an appetizer as well as the Beet Salad with Burrata.  My entree was again a Filet Mignon and for dessert a nice Sorbet.  DW ordered the Hearts of Palm and preferred just to order side dishes in lieu of the grilled vegetables she had previously.  We were both very satisfied with the wonderful meal.  It was now nap time and then a cabin movie.  We went to see the production show FLY again.  It was one of our two favorites from last week.  I really features travel with its songs and dances.  Perhaps best and longest Can-Can routine I have seen.  Excellent show.  We listened to the entertainment in the three level Atrium until dinner time.  Dinner was good tonight, I ordered the Gravlax (just OK), Seafood & Chicken Gumbo (better), Penne Pasta in Vodka Sauce (good), and the Chicken Breast Parmigiana (excellent) entree.  For dessert the Caribbean Rum Cake with Coconut Ice Creme.  After dinner DW went to the buffet to get some of the fresh cookies th Iat come out at 10:30.  It was Western night with a show at 10:30, but we retired to the cabin. It was a restful sea day  on the MSC Seaside.

Tuesday February 20 /  Antigua / Day 11 
Mystic Cat at Antiqua Beach 2018
A few rolls in the sea overnight for the first time this week and I slept very well.  We docked about   9:00 am in St. John’s Antigua and I went down to the buffet for a nice breakfast this morning.  I then went the Sports Bar at 9:40 to meet my excursion, along with nine others in our group, for the Catamaran Tour with Lobster Lunch excursion booked thorough the ship ($109). The tour operator was Mystic Catamaran and they are a first class operation with excellent boat and crew.  It was a very short walk from the pier to the large catamaran and very soon we were off on our adventure.  A 6-hour sail on this boat featured swim stops at 2 scenic beaches including Turners Beach, a nice lobster lunch, and unlimited wine, champagne, rum punch, beer and soft drinks. All nationalities and languages on board had a great time on this excursion.  We watched sail away and had a short nap until the 7:00 pm production show: Frank Forever and the three feature singers did a great job performing, I especially enjoyed their accents on the various Frank Sinatra classics they performed.  Afterwards we met the group in the Sports Bar for an apéritif while waiting for dinner.  When seated this evening we ordered a cheese plate and requested quick service so we could catch the 9:30 show.   For dinner I ordered the excellent Tortellini with Spinach & Ricotta (pasta as a starter), and the Shittake Beef Short Ribs entree, my favorite meal from last week.  The food was again wonderful and we were out early and seated on row two of a full house in the Metropolitan theater by 9:30 pm.  The Show was a condensed presentation of the Opera Madame Butterfly featuring the opera vocalists, two feature dancers, dance company, and even the aerialist.  It was a very different show.  Tonight is the White Night Party with special events on Pool Deck and there were many more guests dressed in white this week than last. It was a great and fun day on the Cat excursion and on the MSC Seaside.

 Wednesday February 21 / St. Thomas, USVI / Day 12
MSC Seaside docked St. Thomas USVI
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well although up very early to update my review from yesterdays busy day.  We arrive very early at St. Thomas (7:00 am), but leave early too due to our itinerary change for tomorrow. I met friends at 10:00 am and plans for Paradise Point were changed as the road up is still not repaired from recent hurricane.  DW and I did walk the Havensight Mall area for about 1.5 hours and returned to the ship by noon.  A few friends went on excursion, some just a walk about as we did, or just stayed on the ship.  At noon we went to the buffet on deck 8.  We got a table near the back and friends came and went as it became hard to get a table when we received some showers closing the outdoor dining tables. Then to deck 7 to the Ice creme area where we had some nice Gelato.  We sailed away at 2:00 pm and it was a nice cool day after a second shower so we left the balcony door open and enjoyed the ocean sounds.  We attended the Black Card Party today at 5:00 pm, I saw Robert the Assistant Hotel Director and Sveto the Beverage Manager, I enjoy talking to them.  The Captain came by our table as well for a toast.  There were fewer guests than last week, I'm sure the number of Black Cards vary from week to week.  At 7:00 pm we then went to the feature entertainment show My Life in Music.  It was DW’s favorite show of the two weeks and as the final song they did the best version of Con te Partiro I have ever heard. It is one of my favorites and the five feature singers really belted it out…IMHO better than Andre Bocelli and Sarah Brightman.  We then went to the Seaview Lounge for aperitifs until dinner time.  Tonight I ordered: the Arancini Messina-style (this was excellent), Shrimp Fettuccini Alfredo (as starter), and the Red Snapper entree (just OK).  For dessert the Dulce De Leche Ice Creme (good).  After dinner some went to the casino, others to the Quest, and some retired for the evening.  I retired after a cookie run to buffet.  It was a busy day on board the MSC Seaside.

Thursday February 22 / Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos  / Day 13
Topher 2/22/18
Rolling seas overnight and I slept very well and until 9:30 am on my birthday morning.  Just after 10:00 am I went up to the buffet on deck 16 and had a nice breakfast…after I was seated the lady from the omelette station brought me a nice ham & cheese birthday omelette…thank you nice lady. I enjoyed some morning cabin time and reading birthday wishes on Facebook and email until our arrival in Grand Turk about noon.  It took a while to get tied up in the wind but the Captain did a fine job, it would have been disappointing to lose this port. The Carnival Glory came in just behind us we were able to block the wind for them.  Our ship is so long that we will only be able to use the forward gangways here so we are going to stay on board for a while and go off in the late afternoon.  We watched a movie then went to the buffet about 2:00 pm.  We debarked and walked down the beach to Jack’s Shack arriving about 3:30 pm and literally greeted by Topher.  Our group already had a couple of tables so it was great timing.  Thanks to my very nice friends I didn’t have to buy a drink yet enjoyed several Turk’s Head lager birthday beers.  Thanks all.  One of the best beaches in the Caribbean here and it was a very fun day.  DW got me a nice Topher shirt for my birthday.  The jerk chicken here is much better than any place in Jamaica so try it if you come.  We walked back about 6:00ish enjoying the sunset as we walked back to pier.  The Glory was late sailing so we enjoyed their sail away party as our balcony was over their pool deck area.  A lot of fun between the two ships as they finally pulled away from the dock. We sailed away about 7:15pm.  We went down to the Seaview Lounge for aperitifs and the Jazz Singer actually sang Happy Birthday to me.  Sweet since I’d been enjoying her all week..  We went to dinner in the MDR and it was very good.  I ordered the Pate appetizer, the Mushroom Cheese Ravioli (as starter), and the NY Strip Steak entree.  The waiters sang “Happy Birthday” to me in Italian and English as well as delivering a very nice cake.  We went to the lobby bar for cabin cokes then retired.  For the rest of the group it was 70’s night, Casino, Comedy or music.  It was a great birthday at Jacks Shack and on the MSC Seaside.

Friday February 23 / Day at Sea / Day 14 
Some rolling seas continue as well as the good nights sleep.  I slept for almost 12 hours but with the turn back in ships time overnight was awake about 9:30 am.  Much needed sleep after a busy birthday.  Updated my review and relaxed this morning then went to the Butchers Cut Steakhouse for Brunch at 11:00.  This is champagne morning for the rest of the group at the Miami Beach bar.  Our Brunch was wonderful.  DW ordered the Mediterranean Omelet that was perfect for her, I ordered the Breakfast Club a great egg, cheese, & avocado sandwich, and we split the Blueberry Pancakes.  It was great and we would do it again.   Just after noon we joined the Champagne party still going on at the Miami Beach Bar.  The *ding* notice on my iPhone reminding me to check-in for flights started bringing me into trip reality so I returned to cabin to review our travel day tomorrow.  Boarding passes in the iWallet…sweet.  Did some preliminary packing then up one deck to the buffet for pizza and salad about 3:30  pm before the buffet closes.  Did a walkabout and ended up at the Creperie & Ice Creme on deck 7 aft so always time for a Gelato…especially when you have extra drink vouchers that can be used.  No show for us tonight so we met the group for our final cocktails in the Sports Bar this evening…it was nice, but sad as well.  It was Italian night for our final dinner.  I ordered the Tri-color Italian Salad, the Lasagna Bolognese (as starter), and the Chicken Marsala entree.  For dessert I had the Lemon Delight.  All were very good.  It was time for final good byes to friends and wait staff.  After dinner we returned to the cabin to finish packing and put out our luggage out for pick up before 11:00 pm.  It was a very nice final sea day on the MSC Seaside.

Saturday February 24 / Miami /  Debarkation
We arrived in Miami about 6:00 am.. Our group and Bosque Travel actually had our own time and color luggage tag: Fuchia. That’s a first for me and group.  We had a 8:15 meet time for debarkation in the casino.  We went down to deck seven just before the designated time and had about 30 minute delay, but I adjusted our position to the gangway and soon we were ‘dinged’ right out.  We then went down to baggage claim and yes our color was out.  Just a few minutes until all the bags were collected and we got a porter who escorted us through U.S. Customs and to the taxi station. The passport cards really helped in getting us through both U.S. Customs AND airport TSA security strait away.  We were at our departure gate about 10:00 am for a 11:50 am boarding.  Piece of Cake.  The flight from Miami to DFW went well, I watched the movie Dunkirk.  We had time to eat some Tex-Mex at DFW before our Waco flight.  From ACT to the Ranch about 7:45 pm.  A long but uneventful travel day.

Maiden Voyage: 2017  /  Gross Tonnage: 153,500 tons
Passenger Max Capacity: 5179  /  Crew: 1413  /  Length: 323 meters/1060 ft
Max Cruising Speed: 22 knots  /  Avg Speed 21 knots
Installed power: Diesel (40,000kW)  /  Propulsion: Twin propellers

Passenger decks: 17  /   Builder: Fincantieri  /  Godmother: Sophia Loren

This is a very uniquely designed ship with a lot more of outdoor space than any other MSC ship since this ship will be a full time Caribbean based ship.  Beautiful public spaces throughout the ship.  Deck 8 has the indoor/outdoor promenade and primary food buffet…unique in design.

We have cabin 15114 a starboard side balcony located on deck 15 and located between the aft and mid elevators.  It is well decorated, but smaller than any cabin we have ever had on any other MSC ship.  Storage is very limited too compared to other MSC ships. The toilet seems smaller perhaps because of the glass shower doors restricts some movement.  The wardrobe is also smaller so storage can be a problem. The cabin has a push button safe, twin/king beds, large padded headboard, two small night stands, wall mounted wall lights, a large mirror, a small refrigerator, small table/bench (unusual), and nice TV with interactive features.  I used an open suitcase as a set of drawers under the bed to get enough storage…we did have more clothes than normal since we are out for two weeks.  Balcony is standard size with two chairs and table.  You can hear chairs scooting above about 11:00ish each night when they clean or move nice to be just one deck below food & drink though.  The cabin 'grew' on me the move we stayed in it.  (became more acceptable for my foreign friends)

Bars / Entertainment
Entertainment is the strong suit of MSC with very elaborate production shows and live music in most all venues. The shows in the theater were really outstanding and not to be missed.  Great Talent.  In addition to the production shows they have a ‘fun’ event scheduled every night night at 10:30 pm in the Haven Lounge (larger lounge located aft).  I enjoyed the jazz in the Seaview Lounge.  Several very uniquely decorated lounges among the sixteen bars and lounges on the ship.  Being new not all the bars are fully stocked with correct stemware or even cocktail napkins as yet but will be soon.  It does discourage ordering a martini when they don’t have a martini glass. 

Dining / Food
The dinners in the MDR are very good, service and settings were wonderful.  I can assure you that one will not get fish knives, coffee spoons, olive oil dishes, or other first class service items on a cruise line such as Carnival, but you will on MSC. Our wait staff were excellent, very pleased with the service.  Buffet food was good to excellent.  Not as many selections as in the past, but the food variety was fine.  Favorites: all the Pizza, all the Pastas, Guacamole, Hamburgers, and Salad Bar.  You can order bar service from all the buffet tables with an electronic buzzer…very convenient.  I only did one specialty restaurant: The Butcher’s Cut.  I really enjoyed both dinners and the brunch. 

Black Card — MSC has a Loyalty match program that honors your status from other cruise lines so that made us ‘Black Cards’ the highest level.  We received dinner for two in a specialty restaurant, large Chocolate Ships, a private Cocktail Party, Champagne & h’orderves, and more.  The gifts were: a light beach backpack, lanyard, & baseball style hats…it was nice they changed the gifts from one week to next for B2B guests.  Great program.

Comments - MSC Cruise Line
MSC is very different than the usual American cruise lines and if your looking for the same experience it will be much different.  You may like the differences or you may be very unhappy with the differences.  As an experienced cruiser I love different.  If you don’t like change or are not flexible you will probably NOT like sailing a European cruise line.  Following is my personal observations on sailing MSC: 

MSC Seaside Pluses:
Beautiful Public Rooms, Top quality MSC Production Shows & Entertainment, Quality and Beautiful Themed Bars, Hot Milk readily available on buffet and MDR,  Attentive bar servers, Good MDR Breakfasts, Great Alternative Restaurants, Smoothest sailing ever.  The MSC for Me app is shows in theater, make dining reservations, check on-board account,  interactive map, find closest toilet, and much more.

MSC Seaside Negatives:

Children Sail Free (too many uncontrolled children and prams), Buffet areas very busy, Smaller Cabin areas, Small storage wardrobe.

Differences on Seaside
I have been asked about the differences between European MSC ships and new MSC Seaside marketed as a more Americanized sailing concept and have noticed these:
Primary buffet is on deck 8 (no Lido deck per se) with lots of outdoor seating.
Pool Games…the typical things found on U.S. sailings. 
Drinks are now allowed in main theater (still no bar service…a good thing IMHO)
Tips now gladly accepted.
More alternative dining options.
More outdoor swimming pools.

Highlights of the Cruise
Snoozemates and cruise friends sailing with us.
MSC Production Shows.
Antiqua Catamaran Adventure
Private Tappanyaki Luncheon with friends.
Cozumel Valentines Day gathering.
Grand Turk and Jack's Shack.
The Butchers Cut Steakhouse.
Bar Servers and Dining room staff

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Vision of the Seas - Mexican Caribbean Cruise December 2017

Just The Facts:
Captain: Marek Slaby of Poland
Cruise Director: Steve Davis of Milwaukee USA
Embarkation: Galveston, Texas   December 9, 2017
Ports: Puerto Costa Maya, Mexico - Cozumel, Mexico

This is my 25th Royal Caribbean cruise, first time on the Vision of the Seas, and my 134th cruise overall.  I am sailing as a solo, but have friends on board.  

Day One  -  Embarkation  -  Saturday - December 9th
Seawolfe Park - Pelican Island - Galveston
I had been doing the later later arrive of late when driving to Galveston, but I woke early so decided to leave early and was off about 6:15 am from the ranch.  I stopped to check air pressure, get gas, and to buy a tire gauge,  but still arrived at EZ Cruise Parking by 11:00 am.  It went from 30° to 58° from Waco to Galveston and traffic was fine.  Good timing on arrival as by the time we were shuttled to the terminal the early birds were already boarded.  There was no one in front of me at security, check-in, or boarding.  Once I had my card I basically just walked on board and was at the Windjammer by 11:40 am.  Perfect timing.  I didn’t even have a problem getting a table, ship must be not full or most guests will be late arrivals.  Just off the sister ship Rhapsody and noticed the Windjammer is not as large.  Buffet begins just as you walk in so I think may be a bottle neck but fine this morning.  After lunch I went to the Solarium and got a table to open computer and sign up for the Zoom Wifi.  I’m doing the ‘Surfer’ package and not the ‘Streamer’ package this cruise.  Price less than $20 with my Diamond+ discount.  I used my Galveston duffle  (largest that will fit in security scanners) so I carried my bag on board and could begin cabin set up as soon as the cabins opened at 1:00 pm.  I really like this cabin and balcony, it’s the fifth or sixth different Royal Caribbean ship that I’ve enjoyed this location with the special extended balcony.  Boat or Safety drill was about 3:15 pm.  I was a good guest and went although I sat in the old folks area after I checked in at my station.  Very few in the comfy chairs and drill was very short and sweet, I probably could have stood on the cool and sunny deck.  It was maybe all of five minutes…I was back at cabin by 3:30 pm.  I'm doing sail away from the aft facing balcony for a good view of the dolphin escort.  One of the sail always in many years: perfect weather and so much activity today.  Cargo Ships, Cruise ships, small craft, ferries, dolphins, Pelicans, sport fisherman off Pelican Island, and great weather and view.  (Photo: Sea Wolfe Park with WWII submarine the USS Cavalla and one of only three destroyer escorts in the world, the USS Stewart. The remains of the tanker S.S. Selma, the largest concrete ship constructed, can be seen in background-click photo to enlarge).  I went to the Diamond Lounge about 6:00 pm., it was not busy at all, not many Diamonds sailing on a 5-day cruise on an older ship.  I enjoyed a few Cosmopolitans and enjoyed great table service.  I have late dining @ 8:00 pm and dinner was interesting.  My friends are at next table, they messed up link, but should correct.  I ordered the Strawberry Kiwi Pineapple Medley, Seafood Spaghetti (my pasta as starter tradition), and the Slow-roasted Prime Rib with Baked Potato entree.  The Prime Rib was as tender and delicious as I have had on a cruise ship…pleasantly amazed.  I ordered a Carrot Cake for dessert.  I skipped the Welcome Show @ 9:45 although I would have time to attend, our waiter service was prompt.  I was anxious to hear who won the 2017 Heisman Trophy tonight so retired to the cabin after dinner.  Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma won so I’m very pleased with that selection. After updating my blog I turned in early after a busy embarkation and travel day.

Day Two  - Cruising -  Sunday - December 10th
Vision of the Seas- Centrum
Predominantly smooth seas overnight and I slept very well.  It’s a mostly cloudy day and cool enough to get nice sea air through the open door of the balcony.  I went to the MDR for breakfast.  They are serving the Daily Specials (they did not on the Rhapsody) and I did order one: the Country Omelette.  Fortunately I also ordered a side of fried eggs and bacon as the omelette was only fair.  Rommel my cabin Steward was cleaning my cabin when I returned so I started my balcony time early today.  I did a walkabout on the ship and it is decorated very nicely for the Christmas holidays.  A very large tree in the lobby area and decorations throughout with a very large ten foot Santa and Snowman in the Windjammer.  I did use my $5 D+ voucher in the casino today… lost the $5 but cashed out with $6.20 so I can apply the big winnings towards my tip money.  I went to the Windjammer and they had Pork at the carving station.  I also had some nice Pork Chops with Mashed Potatoes and Corn on the Cob.  As on the Rhapsody the Cutlets & Chops are consistently good on Royal Caribbean.  The sun came out in the afternoon but it remained somewhat cool.  Still very nice balcony weather.  They delivered a bottle of wine on ice and later some very nice Petit-Fours.  This is the formal night and the Captains reception this evening, I no longer do dressy, but I have a nice Christmas shirt…who doesn’t like Santa.  Tonight I went up to the Concierge Club on deck 11 for cocktails, it was not too busy either and the Cosmopolitans were a little better IMHO.  Just not as many VIP’s on this older RCCL ship.  I went to dinner and sat with my friends.  They had messed up the dining link but corrected it this evening and same waiters and staff.  I ordered the Bay Scallop Gratin, Artichoke filled Crepe au Gratin (as starter), and the Roasted Sirloin of Beef entree.  It was good, but not as good as last nights dinner.  I know I could have had that same Sirloin sliced to order upstairs in the Windjammer, the better choice for dining on formal night on RCCL in my opinion.  But it was nice to visit with my friends in the MDR ad the Pistachio ice creme for dessert was good.  The production show Boogie Wonderland was tonight at 10:00 pm in the Masquerade Theater, but I had a short walkabout then retired to the cabin.  Guests were enjoying the evening especially the Battle of the Sexes finale in the Centrum was most impressive.  A very nice sea day on the Vision of the Seas.

Day Three  - Puerto Costa Maya, Mexico -  Monday - December 11th
El Faro from Costa Maya Pier
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well.  It’s a bright and beautiful day today. We are scheduled to arrive in Costa Maya about noon so off to the MDR at regular time (8:00-9:30) for a nice breakfast.  I ordered the Huevo Rancheros from the special of day AND an Eggs Benedict knowing not all specials are special.  Both were good, but glad I ordered the EB too.  The very efficient Rommel had my cabin cleaned by the time I arrived back…thanks.  It was a bit breezy this morning but great on the balcony.  We arrived about 11:00 am and guests were off right away.  I decided to wait a while.   We ended up backing in on the shore side so I have a front row seat of the pier, port area, El Faro, and the village in the distance.  Soon some xylophone players set up on the pier so I enjoyed music while on the balcony too.  The breeze dropped and the weather is perfect so I prepared to go to town for at least Guacamole and beer: Walking shoes, Pesos, Sunglasses, check.  I went up to the Windjammer just to see what was available about 12:30 before leaving.  Guess what? Mexican on the buffet including Guacamole.  The best item was the Sirloin Steak on the carving station and it was cooked medium well…perfect for me.  I had several slices with freshly Grilled Vegetables and Mashed Potatoes…excellent.  After eating lunch I fixed a nice Mexican snack plate and some steak sandwiches for later on the balcony.  So a great view, great weather, food, cokes, and music in the afternoon in a relaxing spot on my balcony.  So easy.  I went to get some cokes from the Diamond Lounge when it opened at 4:30 pm and continued balcony time through sunset.  At 6:30 I went to the Diamond Lounge for cocktails then met friends at the Schooner Bar at 7:00 a fun evening. For dinner tonight I ordered Summer Fruit Medley, and two entrees: Chicken Cordon Bleu and Braised Beef Duo.  The waiters also brought cheese plates for the table and Hearts of Palm for me to enjoy.  Super.  Cherries Jubilee was my choice for dessert.  The entertainment was a Journey cover band Resurrection, but skipped for comfort of my cabin.  It was an easy day on the Vision of the Seas.

Day Four  - Cozumel, Mexico -  Tuesday - December 12th

New sign in the main square
Smooth seas overnight for the short sail to Cozumel.  We docked early at the International pier. Very windy today. I woke early and went to the MDR for a nice country breakfast just after 7:00 am.  I watched the Carnival Dream struggle to try and dock at the Costa Mayan pier with eating.  It took them over a half hour to get in due to the wind.  We know first hand the thruster problems on the Dream class.  I decided to go ashore early to avoid the crowds as we have the Liberty of the Seas sharing our pier later this morning.  I made through the shops and no lines at security or taxi stand.  I was at the main square in San Miguel by 8:30 am (9:30am local) and just enjoyed the improved square for a while while waiting for the opening of the barber shop at 9/10. I visited Iglesia de San Miguel the church as usual as Martin is usually late by a few minutes.  After another great haircut I went to my Cozumel HQ: Woody's Bar and Grill just off the main square.  I visited with Nelly and soon some friends sailing on the Dream came by to share a few drinks.  I enjoyed my favorite Mexican beer: La Bohemia and some great guacamole & Pico de Gallo with chips.  The music was good and weather perfect.  Later Nelly insisted we share a Christmas lunch.  She's thinking of adding Bacon-wrapped shrimp so we shared one: very good.  I enjoyed the traditional beef (steak) tortillas.  Thanks Nelly.  We sailed away about 5:15 pm...very interesting being docked next to the other RCCL ship from Texas.  The Vision was dwarfed in size next to the Liberty of the Seas.  I went to the Diamond lounge about 6:30 then to the Schooner Bar about 7:00.  It was surprisingly busy for a Cozumel day. The Captain who is an excellent singer joined a group in the Centrum before dinner, my second singing Captain on Royal Caribbean.  Tonight was Italian night in the dining room (MDR). I ordered the Insalata Mista salad and added my special Hearts of Palm.  Also  the Lasagna del Forno (with two sauces) as a starter, and the Chicken Marsala entree.  I had Pistachio Ice Creme and an excellent Sticky Bun & Pudding served with Ice creme for dessert.  A nice dinner but I had nice food all day.  I retired direct to cabin after a busy day.  It was a great day in Cozumel and on the Vision of the Seas. 

Day Five  - Cruising -  Wednesday - December 13th
Busy in the Galley Bakery
Smooth seas overnight, but I was up a lot overnight but got enough sleep.  Beautiful sunny day today.  I went down to the MDR for a nice MDR breakfast about 8:30 am.  I then had the one hour VIP Galley Tour at 9:30 am.  The galley is not that large although on both decks four and five.  I enjoyed the Baking Area as I have experience there and the breads are so good on Royal Caribbean.  When DW sails she always orders room service  breakfast and about half the time they deliver coffee cup although we don’t order nor drink it.  As I suspected the room service trays are preloaded with certain items including coffee cups…thought so and tour confirmed it.  Lots of morning sunshine on balcony upon return.  I’ve enjoyed the Captain’s noon announcements (a regular thing on all RCCL ships) and port announcements, he lists guests and crew birthdays and has interesting messages.  I went to the MDR for lunch just because I saw the prep for the unique salad bar they set up during the galley tour.  I had the Seafood Risotto and Fish Enchiladas.  They were good, but I think the Windjammer may be better option.  Balcony time in the afternoon, nice sun going north bound yet cool enough to make it very nice.  Several friend came by to check out it out as well.  I do plan to cruise less but better in the future when it comes to cabin location and ship selections.  I went to the Diamond club for my final Cosmopolitans there then to listen to the Piano music in the Schooner Lounge until dinner.  Dinner ended up being a feast.  I ordered Pan Seared Bay Scallops (2), Shrimp Cocktail (2), a Green salad with Hearts of Palm, Rigatoni Pasta (as starter), and the Rosemary Lamb Shank entree.  All very good, the Scallops excellent, and the Lamb outstanding the best I have ever enjoyed.  For dessert I had Key Lime Pie and Ice Creme.  Yes a feast and it was served promptly as our servers other tables were a no show.  Romeo, from India, was an excellent server all week.  The big Thriller dance was this evening in the Centrum, I had been seeing guests rehearse all week…they really looked good.  I again retired early as I know I’ll be up early to pack the next morning.  It was a very nice day on the Vision of the Seas.

Debarkation -  Galveston, Texas -  Thursday- December 14th
Smooth seas overnight and I was up very early as the ship approached Galveston.  I had my final MDR Eggs Benedict as they opened at 6:30 this morning.  After breakfast I returned to cabin and packed, then left the cabin about 8:10 am.  No wait for an elevator, no line on deck four or at 'ding-out', fast moving line to Border Control, brief 1 minute wait at customs, then out the door.  I was on the EZ Cruise shuttle at 8:30 am.  Amazingly smooth debarkation.  I stopped to put air in my tires and was on the bridge by 8:45.  I took I-45 through Houston and stopped for a great lunch at Billy B's in Groesbeck.  At the ranch at 2:00 pm.

I had cabin 7152 an aft facing balcony cabin located on deck seven on the port side corner.  The room is the standard size for a balcony on this class ship (a bit larger than same on newer ships). It has the following: key pad safe, hair dryer, large couch, vanity/desk, nice standard shower, storage in cabinets and vanity, flat screen TV, and good lighting. There is an empty small refrigerator and they offer and they offer mini-bar service for drinks, etc.  Well designed.  The air conditioning & water pressure worked well.  Excellent service from cabin steward Rommel.  The key feature is the aft corner balcony (see photo below)


All service people have been excellent, they have an obvious ‘guest first’ attitude and it shows in service and attitude.  My cabin steward Rommel and waiter Romeo were very good.  Excellent Captain, he even wished all guests a Merry Christmas on the gangway as all debarked the ship.

Food / Bar

Overall very good food, better than recent Mariner and Liberty cruises and perhaps even better than the Rhapsody. Amazing that the better food is on the smaller ships. By far.  Excellent: Cookies, Ice Creme, Breads, Mashed Potatoes and entrees.  Continental Breakfast is complementary but a charge for Room Service meals delivered to the cabin. 

General Comments

I really enjoyed the cabin, it does spoil one and all other activities are different due to availability of your own nice balcony.  Great food, easy embark and debark, very nice crew and Captain, the Diamond Lounge was very hospitable, it was a very enjoyable cruise.


the End - Aft - fin



  ~~ Click on photos to enlarge ~~