We chose this cruise because of the itinerary, and because it fit perfectly with our vacation plans. It was really a last minute decision, as we booked on Monday and cruised on Saturday! I don’t recommend that for everyone, but in our case we were happy just to get onboard.

First, cruising out of Stockholm is wonderful, and you should stay an extra night or two to really experience this beautiful capital city. Since we were already here in Sweden, we took the train and subway to one of the cruise ports in Stockholm-Frihamnen…From there, Royal Caribbean had a bus waiting to take guests directly to the check-in terminal at the port. We weren’t aware that RCCL was offering these, and had just purchased bus tickets to the cruise terminal. We decided to take the Royal Caribbean bus anyway, which turned out to be a better choice because it took us all the way down to the terminal for check-in, instead of dropping us at the busstop at the entrance of the port. Embarkation was smooth, and we were boarding the ship before we knew it. The crew was friendly and helpful, the ship sparkling and clean. We headed up to the Windjammer for a drink and a snack and enjoyed the view of Stockholm on a summer’s day…It’s a hard view to beat. Sailing through Stockholm’s archipelago is also a highlight of this cruise.

Our room was an ocean view, category H, aft on deck 3. We had booked an inside guarantee and had been given an upgrade to a room with a window. I was very glad and realized I would really have regretted being in an inside room. The room, although small, was adequate for two people, and comfortable. Throughout the cruise, our room steward kept it spotless, and changed towels every day.

There were some signs of normal wear and tear, and we knew the ship was older, but it really didn’t bother us. Vision of the Seas is a mid-size ship with a good feel to it, with large amounts of glass windows in her design, which brings in lots of light into the ship, and the 7story glass atrium is stunning. I agree with others that VISION does need some upgrading to bring her up to the standards of the newer ships, but Vision is still a beautiful ship, and well-kept. There are plans for dry dock and refurbishing in late 2013 or early 2014.

Ports of call for this cruise were Helsinki, Finland, St. Petersburg, Russia, Riga, Latvia, Gdansk, Poland, and Visby, Sweden. The only port we took a shore excursion in was St. Petersburg. We explored the others on our own, which is our preference, but tours are available in all ports, and allow you to see more than if you do decide to go it alone. Anyway, Helsinki, Finland was surprisingly beautiful, with statuesque buildings, lush parks, nice shopping-(Marimekko) and cozy cafes. Swedes LOVE coffee, and so when our Swedish shore excursion representative recommended we try the Finnish coffee because it was so good, we were intrigued and had to try some in Helsinki. Yes, it is as good or better than Swedish coffee! The harbor market was bustling with local craft vendors, and is a perfect place for souvenir shopping and lunch. There are several grill tents, where they stir-fry up local fresh seafood and meat, such as salmon, moose, reindeer and bear with vegetables and rice. Try a sample platter to taste them all! The Church in the Rock is a hike from the port, but you can do if you don’t mind the walk.

St. Petersburg-Mystery, excitement and wonder…Never thought I would get to Russia, and I started checking the different excursion options-(You need to have your own Russian visa to leave the ship on your own), or else go on a shore excursion with an authorized tour if you do not have a visa, and we didn’t have one. As I said before, we prefer to go off on our own, rather than with an organized group, but in this case we had to take an excursion…Luckily, I noticed there was an excursion that takes you into St.Petersberg with a Russian guide who provides some commentary on the city during the 30 minute trip. Once your bus arrives, you are given a map and a general advisement on what you can do, should not do, etc, and reminded to be back at your bus location in 6 hours. So, we were basically on our own-in Russia! What a great day-We could have taken a day tour out to the Summer Palaces, or a short tour of the Hermitage, but we had read up a bit on some of the places we could see without a tour, and went off on our own…We went to the Church on Spilled Blood-(amazing)

, the Winter Palace, we ate perogies from a great Russian deli,

went into any store we wanted, people watched, even dared walk down into the subway! In general, we soaked up 6 hours of life in the city and will come back again another time to visit the Hermitage and other sites. We were back onboard by 6pm, and after dinner we enjoyed a very entertaining show with local Russian singers and dancers. The long summer daylight lasted well into the evening, and we sailed away from St. Petersburg at 11:59pm.

After two busy days, we had a sea day before heading to Riga, Latvia, which was great to just relax and explore the ship. Vision of the Seas has both an indoor and outdoor pool, gym and a nice walking track around the ship. There is even a rock-climbing wall. There is a kids play area onboard as well, and several quiet seating areas around the ship to just sit and read. The one complaint I did have was that the internet service was both expensive and very slow. Hopefully, this will be an area that RCCL will upgrade in the future.

Riga, Latvia: I had no idea what to expect about Latvia, except that I had read it was former communist and that it was inexpensive, at least compared to Sweden! When we arrived, the view from the ship was promising. The city looked exciting, and when we arrived in town, we were not disappointed. The city is full of beautiful art deco buildings, many restaurants and cafes, and beautiful parks. It’s a great city to visit, and seemed lively and thriving after throwing off its’ communist past.

To experience some of the local culture, make sure to take a detour to the old city markets, which are in several huge hangars that look like they were made to hold airplanes-maybe they were! Hundreds of vendors selling everything from raw meat to shoes are packed side by side in this enormous shopping area. There are almost no tourists here-We really felt like we were seeing the real country. You need to convert money to Latvia Lats, as they are called. We brought some with us, but you can easily take some out from an ATM in the city.

Next port-Gdynia, Poland. Gdynia is a port city, with not much to see, but ships dock here for visits to the city of Gdansk, Poland. You can take an excursion to Gdansk from the cruise line by bus, or you can buy train tickets at the station in town to Gdansk. It is about a 45 minute trip, either way. You need to have local currency- the Polish Zloty, to buy the train tickets, which are very cheap, about $3.50p/p, r/t. Buying them is a little tricky, as there may only be one window open that sells those particular tickets, and you have to be in the right line…Not many speak English, and there’s no explanation where to go, once you get your ticket…Follow the signs towards the trains, and look for a machine on the wall where people put their tickets in…You put your tickets in there to validated them with the date….Wait for your train, and hop on. There’s no seat assignments, no a/c, your window may not open, and you may need to keep a look out the window to see if you have arrived at your stop, as there are no announcements…It was a little bit like a trip back in time, but very pleasant, and you will know when you get to Gdansk.

This city was completed destroyed in WW2 and reconstructed in the same style…It is amazing how beautiful this city is. The building facades are very intricate, and the history is all around you with towers, churches, museums, etc…There is no shortage of restaurants and shops, all with very reasonable prices. One very common item that is for sale throughout this cruise in all the ports is amber. You may find some of the best prices for amber jewelry here in Poland. Gdansk is a great town to explore, but you will do a lot of walking.

Last port: Visby, on the island of Gotland. Gotland is Sweden’s largest island, located in the Baltic. It is a popular summer destination for vacationers, with its charming medieval capital, Visby. There are numerous Viking ruins and spectacular beaches around the island.
Most visitors spend the day walking the hilly cobbled streets inside the medieval walls of this city. Make sure to try the island specialty, a saffron pancake. There are many artists on Gotland and you can find some excellent handicrafts, sweaters and artwork. We had been to Visby before, but enjoyed a short port visit and our pancake before we headed back to the ship for one last evening before back to Stockholm!

Dining onboard VISION of the SEAS-We dined every evening in the Main Restaurant and enjoyed it consistently throughout the cruise. I particularly liked the Black Angus top sirloin steak, which I had almost every evening! That was a surprise, as I have found that the steak is usually not that good,(unless in a specialty restuarant, which Vision does not yet have) but this was!!! NOTE* When we booked last-minute we had to take Early Seating for dinner-6pm. Immediately upon boarding, we went to the dining room and spoke to the maitre d, Chandra, from Denmark. We asked if there was any way we could switch to MyTime Dining, as we had already prepaid our gratuities. Not only did she confirm us right away, she was a complete pleasure the entire cruise, seating us easily whenever we arrived. Our waiters and wine stewards were also very attentive, friendly and pleasant. We looked forward to every dinner on this cruise. Food selections were plentiful and delicious for breakfasts and lunches in the Windjammer Cafe. The made-to-order omlettes and the french toast were very good.

Entertainment-The musical entertainment was very good-Tribute to Motown, and to Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. Singers and dancers worked very hard and were very talented. The Russian dancers and singers in St. Petersburg were also excellent. The casino was a little boring, but we didn’t spend too much time there, so maybe that was a good thing.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable 7nt cruise with many interesting ports of call. Service and food were excellent, and I’m sure the experience will be even better once she undergoes a refurbishment late 2013 or early 2014!
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