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Vision of the Seas - April 2-9, 2016 - the cruise that made me fall in love with cruising again


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Our cruise review from Vision of the Seas – April 2-9, 2016, sailing from Tampa to the Western Caribbean

Why did we choose this cruise? In all honesty, I wasn’t planning on taking a cruise for a while. We were sort of “burnt out†after the last one. One evening I found myself on the Royal Caribbean site, and noted that the Family Oceanview room was available on Vision of the Seas. We had sailed in that room on Vision previously in November 2012, and really enjoyed it. RC usually reserves these for families of 5 or more, but I was able to book it for my family of 4 in 2012, and it was available to us again. Next thing I knew my credit card was in hand and the room was booked.

We live in central Michigan, and our place is exactly half way between Chicago O’Hare and Cleveland. While we usually fly out of Detroit, and sometimes smaller airports near us, I do check all the other airports to see if I can get a better deal. Flying from Cleveland saved us enough to pay for a night at a Radisson near the airport, gas, plus leave a couple hundred extra in my pocket. I’ve never been to Cleveland so it added a little to our adventure.

Other than a bit of construction at the airport, it was an an easy flight to Tampa.

Tampa is a wonderful, world class city. It has a free bus service in the downtown area during the morning and evening. They also have a trolley service that goes from downtown to the Ybor City area, a Cuban/Arts area. We used both to get around town.

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We stayed at the Westin Harbor Island for the two nights we were in Tampa. For a number of reasons I won’t go into, I cannot recommend this hotel. We were comped one night due to a number of issues.

We watched Brilliance sail out, and watched RCBlogger Michael Poole’s Periscope from the ship, as it was sailing away – so we got to see the ship from two perspectives at once!

On our first night we had dinner at Jerk Hut, a Jamaican restaurant in the International Area downtown. It was absolutely fabulous!!!. We shared goat curry, Jerk Chicken and pork, and a sweet BBQ chicken. I will return here every time I visit Tampa.

The next day we visited the Florida Aquarium, which just happens to be next to where Vision docks. The kids loved it, and I thought it was very interesting. We also selected the dolphin tour option, where they take you on a boat into Tampa Bay to look for dolphins. We only saw a couple, but the trip was nice nonetheless.

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In the late afternoon we took the trolley to Ybor City for dinner and ate at Gasparilla Grotto, then back to the hotel for some sleep.

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April 2 – Embarkation Day

This was the fastest embarkation day ever! We left the hotel room at 10am, and checked out. Had to deal with one final screw-up on Westin’s part (tried to bill us for parking when we didn’t have a car there). We asked the bellboy for a taxi; he said they have a shuttle that usually waits until noon to do the run, but he had them take us to the port right then and there.

The boarding process was the fastest we have ever experienced. No waits whatsoever. From the moment we left the taxi to the boarding the ship we did not have to stop to wait at all.

We were onboard and up by the pool at 10:45am. It was raining, so we explored the ship for a bit, comparing the refurbished areas with our memories of our past Vision cruise, and then went to the Diamond Lounge to wait until the Windjammer opened for lunch.

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The Diamond Lounge appears to be new to the ship, as it seems like it was carved out of the ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ lounge.

We had lunch, registered the kids at Adventure Ocean, and then went to the room after they were opened at 1pm. Luggage arrived just moments later, so my wife unpacked while I took my son to register us for a special excursion for us in Belize.

We were in cabin 2532, a Family Ocenaview room. It was fantastic – clean, great space, and large – 280 square feet. It seemed more like a hotel room versus a cabin on a ship. We stayed in cabin FO-4032 on our last cruise. There is the main area with a bed and sofa (with a lot of room between the end of the bed and the sofa as well). At the other end of the cabin is the bathroom, and across from that is a tiny room the size of a walk-in closet that has bunkbeds and a tiny closet for clothes. The bathroom is nice, very white, accented with creams and greens. The shower still has a curtain rather than the hard shell unfortunately, but that would be my only complaint at all about the room. The room is perfect for my family of 4, and you could probably get a family of 6 in there without issues. I highly recommend this room if you have kids and can get it.

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Muster drill. Why do some people think the drill doesn’t apply to them and wander in 10 minutes late?

Before the cruise I went back and forth over whether I should buy the drink package. As a Diamond member I get three free drinks per evening between 5:30 and 8:00 PM, but they can’t be used in the dining room, and you have to select from a limited menu of simple drinks – rum and coke, gin and tonic etc. I really enjoy watching the bartenders create cocktails, so I decided to purchase the Premium drink package. It was great – when I used it, they took the card and delivered the drink, and didn’t require me to sign a slip. Less pressure for an additional tip. It also let me purchase what I wanted, when I wanted, and if I didn’t like a drink I could just leave it and order something else.

Had dinner in the MDR with some nice people from the west coast. Eric an anesthesiologist, his wife Carol a teacher, Brad and Kristi, a teacher as well. Very nice people and made for good conversation at dinner since they all like kids.

My son is allergic to peanuts, so each night the headwaiter brings over a copy of the next night’s menu and has my wife choose things he can eat from it. The next day the chefs then prepare his food in a completely segregated area so that it isn’t potentially contaminated by other foods in the prep process. I greatly appreciate this level of concern from the staff.

My favorite aged rum was not available in the MDR, and I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find it onboard. After dinner we went to the shops and explored a bit more. The kids were a bit tired so my wife took them to the room while I had a few more drinks and then finally went to bed. I did, however, discover that the Schooner Bar carried my Ron Zacapa rum so I’ll be stopping there before dinners from now on.

Food not salty at all which I greatly appreciate; I could always add salt if I wanted it, but can’t take it out if I don’t. I had the seafood spaghetti, but have forgotten which appetizers I selected.

Our waiter was Enron and his assistant is Jan.

Overall, one of the best embarkation days ever. Thus far this pre-cruise and first day were absolutely fantastic! An unbeatably welcome start to the cruise.

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Day 2 – Day at Sea

Slept in, breakfast, non-eventful morning.

I can’t figure out how to access my onboard account on the TV, but again that too isn’t much of a bother. Usually there is some sort of special remote control with additional buttons, but in our room we just have the standard Samsung remote. Perhaps viewing your bill and making reservations on the TV isn’t available on Vision.

The room itself is not too high above the water line, which makes for great ocean viewing. I usually go topside if I’m awake when we sail into port, so I won’t miss having a balcony on this trip.

It was cloudy and rainy, but warm today.

My son tried to climb the rock wall. He was partially successful, as he made it to the first bell. My wife took a Zumba class and greatly enjoyed it.

We had lunch at Izumi. We started with Pork dumplings for an appetizer. My wife had the Champagne Lobster Roll; I ordered the DX Roll. It was disappointing. Just rice and a slice of fish. No special sauce or anything. The kids had a non-spicy ramen soup that used coconut milk as a broth. They loved it, and I took a taste and wished I would have ordered that. The total bill for the 4 of us was $53. I don’t think we’ll be visiting Izumi again as we didn’t find the value in it.

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Later in the afternoon we hung out in the Diamond Lounge all by ourselves and just enjoyed the ocean going by.

Since tonight was the first formal night, we opted for dinner at Chops. We both ordered the large fillet mignon, medium rare. Service was really, really slow. When my steak finally came out, it was the small fillet and it was well done. We were two and a half hours into the meal at this point, and the kids were getting antsy, so I didn’t bother to send the steak back. I just ate it and left.

We likely won’t be doing upcharge restaurants any more; the price vs value/quality/service proposition just isn’t there in our experience. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't WOW!.

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Day 3 – Roatan

Today we visited Little French Key. We made reservations online, but they don’t require a deposit so we could ‘bail out’ at the last minute if so desired. The designated meeting place according to their email is just outside the port area and to the right; it was actually more like two city blocks away. The email said to look for Larry or David – it appears everyone knows them and the local folks gladly pointed the way to them. Once there our group of 4 were whisked away in a private car driven by David to the island, about 25 minutes away (including stopping at a gas station for a refill). David pointed out the sites along the way, including all three Bojangle’s Fried Chicken joints which he had an apparent fondness for.

Once you get to the pier near the key, you pay for your visit and additional options. The trip to the key and use of the facilities there was $55/person and half that for children. For $88 you can get a package with a meal plate and two drinks. We did the $55 option.

The island itself was fantastic; there was a zoo with 3 lions, monkeys, peacocks, etc that are all rescue animals from Roatan. There are horses that can be taken for a ride along the beach and into the water. There is a tall building with a rope swing that you can take and fall into the water, and another similar option at the other side of the island. My wife and kids did this, but I could not work up the courage to do so.

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The beaches were nice, our first one that we stopped at was a little rocky from the coral, but the second one had sand that was like fine velvet. The island itself was very clean, with lots of trails and wooden paths/decks, a freshwater shower to clean up in after swimming, and bathrooms/changing rooms. Lots of shady spots, and several umbrella-type things in the water where you can set your drink while you swim.

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Several bars were available, but one restaurant was open. There were other restaurant buildings there, but they were not open as we were the only ship in port that day and the number of people there did not justify having them open.

For lunch we purchased the “Mixed Plate†which consisted of a small lobster tail, 3 shrimp, a slice of beef that was marinated in a fantastic tasting sauce, chicken, yucca chips, pico de gallo, a small spoonful of corn that seemed a little out of place, and some really good tasting rice and beans. The plate was $22; we ordered two for the four of us, and there was plenty to go around, we thought it was an excellent value. Beer was $5 a bottle, and mixed drinks were $7.

The island’s local concoction is a “Monkey La La†which is kind of like a mudslide with a little banana flavor.

At the end of the day we took the pontoon back to the main island, and David met us there to drive us back to the ship. All in all I’d say this was a great place for an excursion. It was so large it seemed empty since we were the only ship in port, so even with large crowds I think it can handle the capacity.

Roatan is 2 hours behind Eastern Time at this part of the year, so each night the captain had us turn back the clock one hour. I mistakenly did this to my watch one extra time so I was off by an additional hour, so our time on Roatan was cut short, which I greatly regret. Lesson there that I’ll never forget – check the time on the ship’s TV system before I leave, just in case.

For dinner I had the escargot, chilled mango soup, and Pad Thai. The Pad Thai was a little oily; I would have preferred it has used sesame oil instead of veggie oil to keep it more Oriental flavored, but that was the only thing I noted about dinner. I opted for the after dinner shot as well.

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After dinner the kids bought their first “big people†watches at the $10 Sale in the shops onboard, then we watched a trivia type show where the person that answered the questions last had to do a public dance with the host. It was very funny.

After the kids went to bed I went to the Viking Crown lounge and met two of this sailing’s Pinnacle members. They have over 800 points under their belts. Had a nice chat with them; they are onboard for this and next week’s sailings, then on the 14 day transatlantic when the ship moves for Europe for the summer. Gail noted that they usually don’t board until after 2pm so that when they arrive they’ll room will be available to drop off carry-on luggage. I’ll have to consider that in the future, as I usually like to get on early.

Clocks go forward one hour tonight – I took extra care to make sure I only did it once this evening.

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Day 4 – Belize

Woke up early for a quick breakfast and tender in with my son for our “City Tour and Airboat Ride†excursion made directly on the ship a few days prior. The tender ride over was only 15 minutes.

We met our guide Maria (she rolled her r’s so much she said to spell it with 17 of them). Chukka Tours was the excursion organizer. You take an air conditioned bus to the site, and along the way Maria pointed out the areas of interest in Belize. When we arrived the 46 of us were divided into three groups and each group took an airboat into a mangrove swamp where you are shown birds and animals, plus the airboat ride is thrilling in and of itself. We did see a manatee poke its nostrils above the water, but other than that he was shy that day.

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All in all this excursion was very professionally run and staffed. I left impressed and will seek out other tours by this company should I find myself in Belize again.

After returning to the port terminal we went around the corner and ate lunch at Anna’s Lunchbox. I had looked up this place previously and was looking forward to eating here. I had the curry beef which was great, but a very tiny portion.

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We walked around the port, and then went back to ship since it started raining.

I noted in the Cruise Compass that they started offering drink cards at 10 for $85. I’m still glad I bought the package, though.

Another nice dinner and then we left for the aerial show in the Centrum. I thought my daughter’s eyes were going to pop out of her head.

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Day 5 - Costa Maya

Today we visited the Maya Lost Mayan Kingdom Water Park. It’s a new park that just opened in November of 2015, and because it’s so new there are few people visiting there currently. It’s just a few blocks away from the port, a tall Mayan looking building that looms over the surrounding jungle.

We booked this via the RC website. The description they give goes not do it justice – this water park has at least 9 slides, some of them terrifyingly tall. And you don’t have to climb stairs, there is an elevator to to make it easy to get to the slides.

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My wife did the Zip Lines, and even with absolutely no waiting between sections it took her 45 minutes to do the entire run.

The lazy river takes between 20 and 30 minutes to do the entire circuit, which includes going underneath the Mayan pyramid building itself.

There are lockers for your items available at $5 for the day. The lockers are inside the pyramid, which also has changing rooms and showers, and a smoothie bar.

Members of the ship’s staff rave about this place, its where they go there on their time off for the fun they have. The entry fee is $89 for adults, $79 kids and worth every penny! Food available onsite at $8 for a hot dog, $10 for a burger, etc. No alcohol due to the nature of some of the rides.

IF you have children, or IF you like zip lines, or IF you like water slides, then visit this place. You will not be disappointed.

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During the evening I met another Pinnacle member named Rob aka â€Scooter†– he ranks up there with Super Mario in terms of cruise points. He introduced me to Captain Marek. Marek rocks – literally, he sings rock tunes, and did a couple in the Centrum that evening. Also met a nice couple from Oklahoma that I wound up bumping into everywhere for the remainder of the sailing.

Previously I met a nice couple from Exeter in the UK. I ran into them again tonight. Their daughter had won several hats in a competition, and they gave one to me for my son. He wore it constantly for the remainder of the cruise (and everyday since as a matter of fact).

My throat started to get a little itchy...

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Day 6 – Cozumel

Today I woke up with a full blown headcold and lost my voice. This will not stop me from having fun – I’ll just have to point to what I want on the menu.

We visited Nachi Cocom, a beach area that limits itself to 100 reservations per day. I don’t care for crowds so this appealed to me. I booked online previously with a $29 deposit, and you pay the remainder when you arrive. Since they do limit the number of reservations, they will charge you even if you are a no-show, so keep that in mind should you select this on your cruise. Also, bring your paperwork with your reservation number. It makes entry easier.

We left the boat at 9:00AM during the morning rush and taxies were still easy to get even with 7 ships in port (three Carnival ships were docked right next to us). The taxi was $20 each way.

When you arrive you pay for the remainder of your reservation then are handed a glass of champagne. You are then taken to your own palapa (I think that’s what they are called) along the beach with your own loungers, and then you are introduced to your waiter for the day. Ours was Renae, and he brought drinks, took our lunch orders, called for the taxi when we left, etc. Very attentive.

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At lunchtime we placed our orders. The food was fantastic! The civiche was good, refried beans were to die for. I had enchiladas with green sauce that was out of this world. If this is what authentic Mexican food tastes like then what they serve here in Michigan is a crime.

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There was a party atmosphere by the pool, chill out area near the beach. My wife said the margaritas were out of this world. We had a fantastic time, I highly recommend this place.

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(Me in my RCBlog shirt)

After the taxi back to the ship I noticed some brilliant orange jewelry in a store, and wound up buying my wife a Mexican Fire Opal ring and earrings. Supposedly there is a 18% tax on credit card purchases in the port area; they will dicker and deal if you have cash for even a portion of your purchase. I emptied my wallet for the biggest discount.

After returning to the ship we stopped at the cabin and there was a letter from the health staff announcing that there were cases of Norovirus onboard and to take the usual precautions.

We walked around during sail away and noted the rock wall was wasn’t being used, so I ran down to the room to get the kids socks and IDs and they climbed the wall. My daughter Lily made it all the way to the top and rang the bell.

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Due to my headcold we skipped the MDR for dinner and ate in the Windjammer (this is only the second time we’ve done this in 13 cruises). They had some wonderful Indian dishes that my wife and I enjoyed. The cooks created a giant hamburger maybe two feet across, and sliced it into 16 pieces. They were greatly amused when my son took a piece of the dinosaur sized burger.

Didn’t drink as much today due to my headcold. Drink of the day was some lemonade and curacao concoction at $10 and no souvenir glass, I passed on that. I think I had a total of one beer and three mixed drinks on board, drinks that had grapefruit juice as a base...for the vitamin C content of course.

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There was a ‘extreme bartending’ show in the Centrum during the evening.

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Day 7 – Day at Sea

Woke up at 4:15am due to my cold. Noticed very little movement from the ship – this cruise has been incredibly smooth.

My wife did Zumba by the pool with the activities director Elvis and had a fantastic time. We also watched the “Captain vs. Passengers†water volleyball games which were very entertaining. At lunchtime we did a backstage tour of the theatre that was offered to Diamond members. My seven year old daughter loves to dance, so she was thrilled to be backstage with us.

We had lunch by the pool and then sent the kids to Adventure Ocean. Emily and I went down to the Centrum and watched a ‘cha cha’ dancing class.

I guess I’m an old phart – I actually enjoy listening to the Captain’s announcements. I wish I could turn on the announcements in the cabin like they had in the past. Captain Marek was quite personable, his English is excellent, and he announced birthdays and anniversaries of people (including crew). I thought that was a nice touch.

Dinner was excellent, I managed to have an Italian-based dinner even though I don’t normally care for that style of food. It was quite good.

Each night I usually “pass†on dessert, as the dinner is so good. A few days earlier my son whispered something into the waiter’s ear, and today I was suprised with this:

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We said goodbyes to our tablemates and waitstaff, and then took the kids for a final quick a dip in the pool.

I hit a couple of the bars for a few final drinks and then finally went to bed around 11:30pm.

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Day 8 – Disembarkation

 

We woke up and had our final breakfast in the MDR. After a brief wait in the theatre, we were on our way… We opted to use a porter – the best $10 I've ever spent. We located our luggage, went through customs, and into a cab in less than 5 minutes. I’m not joking, totally stress free. If you sail from Tampa, use the porters. The cab to the airport was $25, and we were through security and at the gate waiting for our 12:45pm flight at 9:20am after leaving the ship at 8:30.

 

The flight home was uneventful except for the horror of seeing snow on the ground when we returned to Cleveland.

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Take Aways:

I read somewhere that the ship has a new Food Manager, Top Chef, Boss Dog, whatever they are called. She’s a miracle worker, as the food in the MDR was some of the best we’ve ever had. Two of our tablemates usually sail Celebrity, and they commented on how good the food on this sailing was - so much so that they visited the Next Cruise desk for their next vacation.

Somehow we managed to miss all the shows in the theatre, mostly because the kids were tired and we put them to bed.

Final thoughts on the drink package: Most likely I’ll be purchasing it from now on, at least on 7 day or less cruises. Most days I ‘broke even’, and when I didn’t I was still enjoying the types of drinks I wanted. For me, it was worthwhile. I also liked not having to sign the receipt. I tipped my favorite bartenders at the end of the cruise with cash.

Tampa is amazing. Our embarkation and disembarkation was fast and efficient, and the city itself is wonderful. I will seek out cruises that leave from here in the future.

This was the cruise that made me fall in love with cruising again. It was our 13th cruise, and our best. We’re sad that Vision is sailing to Europe and then the middle east, as I’d love to sail on her again.  Perhaps someday.

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Thank you for the excellent review of your cruise!  It was fun to go through and see likes and dislikes, etc.  I hope you do one of these for your cruise on Adventure of the Seas in November.  I will be on Adventure in February and would love to get some glimpses of the upgrades, your thoughts on how the ship is, etc.  Well done!

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Had a chance to read over this- it looked like a blast!  I need to save some of your information, as the itinerary is similar to what we are doing on Liberty at the end of the year.  

 

We have only sailed Oasis, so pardon my questions...

 

- We tend to like newer things.  Like I would rather stay in a new Holiday Inn Express than an old Ritz Carlton.  Do the smaller ships feel older and "grungy"/dated to you?  This is something I'm worried about

 

- Would you feel comfortable bringing a 2 year old on the excursions you did?  I wouldn't be interested in the air boat, as I grew up in New Orleans and they're not that special to me haha

 

- Not a question, but the Costa Maya park looks ridiculously awesome.  I'm sad we won't be stopping there.

 

- You mentioned the souvenir glass at one point.  If you have the premium package, do you get the drinks of the day in a souvenir cup?  That's really cool

 

- If you've sailed bigger ships before, is there anything you missed being on a smaller class ship?  

 

Thanks for all the details!

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A couple things I forgot:

The Windjammer was the usual breakfast stuff in the morning, but had some fabulous 'ethnic' foods on the days we visited at lunchtime.  Many Indian selections, some Chinese, and a Vietnamese fried rice dish that was excellent.  And they weren't afraid to hold back on the spice.  If you happen to go to the Windjammer at lunchtime, check out both the right and left hand entrances - sometimes one dish would be on one side and not the other.  

Casino was a little too smoky for me, but that's almost always the case.

Bar service, even poolside was top notch.  On Jewel last year there were very few wait staff wandering around the pool taking drink orders; on Vision there was sufficient staff for the people there.  I even noted a manager pulling staff from slower inside areas and having them go poolside.  When I was up there I never waited more than a few minutes to see someone.

 

Eight Pinnacle members onboard; the ones I met were sailing on my sailing, the next week's sailing, and then the trans-Atlantic the following two weeks.  Once I win the lottery.... :)

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The Windjammer was the usual breakfast stuff in the morning, but had some fabulous 'ethnic' foods on the days we visited at lunchtime.  Many Indian selections, some Chinese, and a Vietnamese fried rice dish that was excellent.  And they weren't afraid to hold back on the spice.  If you happen to go to the Windjammer at lunchtime, check out both the right and left hand entrances - sometimes one dish would be on one side and not the other.  

Love the ethnic foods!

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- We tend to like newer things.  Like I would rather stay in a new Holiday Inn Express than an old Ritz Carlton.  Do the smaller ships feel older and "grungy"/dated to you?  This is something I'm worried about

I didn't feel like it was 'older' or 'grungy'; the refurbishment made it seem like the ship is newer than it is. They've replaced much of the carpeting in the public spaces with more modern colors so that isn't that pastel blue and pink that was used on other ships of the era.

 

Some of the new spaces on the ship (Izumi, in particular) you would never stumble on to on your own - you had to be specifically seeking it out in order to get to it.

 

But it is a smaller ship - you won't find surf simulators or a giant eyeball on a stick - so if you need that type of entertainment onboard you might want to look elsewhere.

 

People became my entertainment on this cruise. Because it's a smaller ship, you wind up running into the same people frequently, and wind up having impromptu conversations etc. I'm not exactly a 'people person', so this was ice for me.

 

>- Would you feel comfortable bringing a 2 year old on the excursions you did?  I wouldn't be interested in the air boat, as I grew up in New Orleans and they're not that special to me haha

 

YES! Most definately Little French Key! The water park in Costa Maya does have a section with smaller water slides and a more shallow pool. Just make sure someone is around to keep an eye on your little one. At Nachi Cocom as long as they can play on the beach it should be all right; the pool would be too deep for someone that small unless you took your own safety gear.

 

> - Not a question, but the Costa Maya park looks ridiculously awesome.  I'm sad we won't be stopping there.

 

IT WAS! :)

 

>- You mentioned the souvenir glass at one point.  If you have the premium package, do you get the drinks of the day in a souvenir cup?  That's really cool

 

I didn't ask for one (we have tons of them from past cruises) but I imagine you could get one by paying the difference. I only mentioned that because it was the only time I recalled seeing the souvenir glass offered this cruise.

 

They're real sticklers when it comes to the drinks packages though - when I asked for a second bottle of water when leaving for an all day excursion, I was told I'd have to pay for it.

 

>- If you've sailed bigger ships before, is there anything you missed being on a smaller class ship?  

 

The Centrum is a nice area for shows and such, but I kind of prefer the Promenade Decks on Voyager and above classes.

 

In the evenings (post 9-11pm or so) the only food available (that I discovered anyway) other than room service (which I didn't try) was in the Solarium, and it was burgers, hot dogs, etc.

 

Other than those little things, I didn't miss much versus the bigger ships. If anything, it seemed to be a more 'intimate' experience, if that makes sense. I loved it.

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Loved the review. Might have to consider the water park I. Costa Maya. Sounded like a blast.

 

Whomever built it did it right.  Someone with a ton of money appears to have planned out the area (there's a bunch of streets laid out in a block pattern visible from Google Earth) with the intention of developing this port area big-time.  While it's not 'true' Mexico, it certainly caters to American tourists.  In fact, there is a pool right at the dock area that kids can splash in while parents shop/drink.

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