Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Posts Tagged ‘Royal Caribbean’

Writers Conference on Independence of the Seas

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 27, 2017

Fun in the Sun Writers Conference on Independence of the Seas
Sponsored by Florida Romance Writers
February 16, 2017

As soon as we boarded Independence of the Seas, we headed to lunch in the Windjammer Café. Entrees were tempting. They had the grill with burgers and hot dogs inside here instead of out on the pool deck like on other ships. Desserts were not overly appealing, especially after the artistic confections on Celebrity Equinox. The cookies were the crunchy type, whereas I prefer soft, chewy centers. However, there is a soft ice cream machine on the pool deck that’s free to guests.

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We strolled around and unpacked a bit before the lifeboat drill. This one took place outside on the deck where we lined up like sardines and stood there for a half hour until dismissed. No life vests required for the drill, which was a bonus. However, I prefer the cruise lines where you sit in an air-conditioned lounge to hear the spiel.

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The FRW Meet & Greet Welcome Party had the editor/agent panel where we heard what each industry guest has on their wish lists. This event gave us a good chance to mingle in the Olive or Twist lounge on Deck 14. Here I am with my agent, the wonderful Evan Marshall from The Evan Marshall Agency.

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Shortly thereafter, we attended dinner in the King Lear Dining Room. I’m not a late diner, and eating at 8:30 led to a long evening on a full stomach. Some nights we didn’t finish until after ten. While the food was good, it wasn’t exceptional. Nor was the dining room service as efficient as on other vessels.

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Our cabin service was excellent, though. The balcony cabin was spacious with adequate storage. We had an extra-long couch across from a desk console. The shower is the round manhole cover shape but at least it has a glass door. Don’t drop your soap on the floor. You have to be a contortionist to pick it up. I used my slumber mask as light came in from outside the ship at the edges of the drapes. Bathroom amenities included bottles of lotion, shampoo, and conditioner. The bar soap was very thin. I missed the robes we get on other cruise lines.

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We awakened at our usual early hour. I prefer the buffet for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast in the Windjammer Café offered varied choices, but they didn’t change much from day-to-day. A chef would do made-to-order omelets. Pancakes and waffles were always available along with the usual fruits, pastries, yogurt, and more.

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Our conference workshops began promptly at 8am on Friday. Stay tuned for more in the next installment. See all photos HERE.


Tropical Treats Giveaway, Feb. 21 – March 14

ENTER HERE to win a blue scarf, a blue crystal pendant necklace, a West Indies cookbook, and a signed hardcover Killer Knots.

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Posted in Conferences, Cruising, The Writing Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Coco Cay

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 23, 2016

The water in the Bahamas is a beautiful aqua, and I might have been tempted to go in except it was very windy when we tendered to Coco Cay on the third day of our cruise. RCCL’s private island is an oasis with native shops, a nature trail, small coves for snorkeling, and numerous beaches with lounge chairs already laid out.

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We enjoyed the beach barbecue with chicken, ribs, burgers, hot dogs, and accompaniments. Somehow this food tastes better outside and when someone else cooks it.

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I savor these private island stops both for the relaxation and the food. And don’t forget to order a Bahama Mama. You can’t visit these islands without drinking at least one. Or a Coco Loco, which they offered at Coco Cay. As the drink vendors said, “If you’re hot, see what I’ve got.”

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We lazed around until we’d had enough sun and then caught the tender back to the ship.

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At night, we celebrated our 40th anniversary with a champagne toast. And so ended our latest cruise.

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View all the photos HERE.

 

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Posted in Cruising, Food, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

A Day in Nassau

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 22, 2016

Our first port of call on Majesty of the Seas was Nassau. Having been here before, we didn’t care to take a tour and elected instead to find a place for lunch.

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I’d read about a native Bahamian restaurant and wanted to check it out. Several blocks later, we entered the place on a quiet side street. Nobody was there, and so we left. It’s not a good sign if a restaurant lacks customers. We retraced our steps and chose an air-conditioned place by the water called Via Restaurant and Bar. Our grilled snapper was delicious but spicy. It came with cole slaw plus rice and beans. You can find lots of places to eat along the waterfront including Senor Frog by the far end.

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We shopped on Bay Street despite the intermittent downpours and ended up buying inexpensive umbrellas to add to our collection. Stores were decorated for Christmas. The straw market is still here and under cover. I bought a hat since I’d forgotten to bring mine. The usual souvenirs are available along with fine jewelry, liquor, and perfumes on Bay Street. Know your prices before you go.

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If you’re here for the first time, you can do a city tour, view the fort, visit the Atlantis resort, or participate in a number of water sports activities. I regret that RCCL didn’t offer a culinary experience or any kind of botanical garden if there is one on the island. However, the rainy weather made our independent choice the best one.

View all the photos HERE.

Next Post: Coco Cay

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Majesty of the Seas

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 21, 2016

We took our adult children on a weekend cruise to celebrate our fortieth anniversary. The older Royal Caribbean vessel left out of Port Canaveral. This was our first time at this port, which seemed less hectic than Port Everglades. Besides our ship on Friday, only one other was docked there and it belonged to Disney. We parked in a garage opposite the terminal and boarded before noon.

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Lunch was available in the Windjammer Café on Deck 12. The buffet setup was much smaller than on our other recent cruises, and I vaguely remembered being here before. We’d sailed on this ship back in 1992.

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Although an older model, the ship is well-maintained and clean. There’s only one pool area on Deck 12 without a secondary glass-covered solarium pool. Elsewhere, there’s a rock climbing wall for sports enthusiasts. You can also go outside on Deck 7 and walk around the deck there for exercise or lounge in a chair facing the water.

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Our oceanview cabin on deck four was tiny, with a small desk that also served as a dresser. Inside the small bathroom, the rectangular shower space had a good showerhead on a removable hose and a curtain instead of a glass door. Lotion, shampoo, and conditioner were provided. I wasn’t as comfortable here as on other recent ships we’ve been on, but it’s a less expensive cruise and we managed for the three nights. This sailing is good for a quick getaway that isn’t as expensive as some other ships, and it has an appealing itinerary with two ports of call. The cruise staff was friendly and worked hard to give guests a memorable experience.

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Shops were located on Deck 5 and had better merchandise than on the larger and newer Celebrity Equinox, our most recent voyage. The shows were entertaining with a comedian, juggler, and singers/dancers. If you’re a night owl, other activities are offered to keep you occupied. The Schooner Lounge had a musician nightly, and you could find dance music in another lounge.

Deck 14 has the Viking Crown Lounge, always a favorite of mine with its panoramic view toward the bow with floor-to-ceiling glass windows. This is where Diamond Members and above could get their free cocktails and appetizers each evening at 5pm.

We’d opted for assigned seats in the dining room at 6pm and luckily had a table for four. The food was very good, although the choices were not as classy as on Celebrity Equinox. You had to pay extra for filet mignon or lobster. The bread selection was varied enough, and a different salad was offered each night. On the second night, the waiters danced along to a conga line. On the last night, they serenaded us with “O Solo Mio” to go along with our Italian cuisine. Other dining options included Johnny Rockets for a small fee, Sorrentos for free pizza, and a deli with appetizers and wraps. For early birds, Sorrentos is open early with coffee and pastries. 

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The Windjammer opens at 7am in the morning for breakfast. I liked that they offered prepared fried eggs although you could have your eggs or omelets cooked to order. Half and half is available in little cups to go with your coffee.

There’s a ceremony of flags in the atrium where the cruise director announces the number of crew members from each country. This was an impressive display along with a few selected native dances. We also attended the welcome back party for repeat cruisers, and Richard won 100 credits in the casino. It took us a while to figure out how to play the slots. It took us less time to play and lose all the points. I’d rather spend my money on souvenirs I can bring home. Note Santa hiding in the crowd on the below right.

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Now I have to work to lose the weight I’d gained. So it goes each time after a cruise.

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View all the photos HERE.

Next Posts: Nassau and Coco Cay

 

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St. Kitts

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 21, 2012

Basseterre, St. Kitts
Nov. 9, 2012, Vision of the Seas

We took tour KT67 Fairview Great House and Beach. First we drove in an air-conditioned bus through the historic streets of Basseterre. Lower levels of structures here are built with volcanic rock to guard against fires, which destroyed much of the town in the past.

Dating from the 17th century, these interesting buildings and monuments offer a glimpse into history. This is a substantial town that invites exploration. Next we drove to Fairview Great House, a former hotel that stands on a hill with an expansive view.

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Outside it has a swimming pool and a covered outdoor terrace with a bar, while indoors is the dining room, men’s study, ladies parlor, and more. Upstairs you can see a sample bedroom with a private lavatory—an ancient toilet and a basin with pitcher only. On the grounds is evidence of former stables and a bathing room with a stone bath. A gift shop is down below, next to a separate building that housed the kitchen. This was a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era. The so-called botanical garden was mostly a grassy area with labeled trees.

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From here we visited Frigate Bay Beach after a winding drive through the hills. This site boasted an expensive sit-down restaurant: $16 for a club sandwich or a burger plus 22% tax and gratuity. Chair rentals cost $10 each and we were only there for one hour. A large covered building held a bar and the costly restaurant, plus it had a pleasant sitting area under cooling ceiling fans. It’s a lovely beach if you want to soak up the sun and go for a quick swim, but it would be nice if they had a reasonable snack bar. While the beach is beautiful, it seems like a rip-off with the high prices and lack of other amenities. My caveat: bring your own snacks. You get a free fruit drink with the tour. If you want to sit in the shade, you’ll have to pay more for an umbrella or find a seat inside the structure where you can read a good book or admire the scenery.

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Back in town, we went shopping near the pier. This is a good shopping stop although St. Maarten is still better for jewelry and electronics. You could keep busy browsing the shops along the pier, eating lunch in one of the restaurants, and meandering into the historic parts of Basseterre. If you do go on a tour, a couple of hours here is all you need to pick up souvenirs and gifts.

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This concludes my recitation on Vision of the Seas. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and a Healthy Voyage into 2013!

To View the entire Photo Album, Click Here.

Posted in Cruising | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Antigua

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 20, 2012

St. John’s, Antigua
Nov. 8, 2012, Vision of the Seas

We took the ship’s tour AN48 Antiguan Experience. Antigua is a dry island compared to Dominica, where it actually rained in the rainforest and the shrubbery is lush with tropical foliage. Here cactus grows and the hills are lower although they still offer scenic views.

After driving in an air-conditioned bus through the hilltops, we arrived at a private home open to visitors. Inside were artifacts dating back to the 16th century collected by former owners, relatives of the current occupants. Their family owns cattle raised for meat. We saw sheep without its coat that looked like goats. The way to tell the difference? Look at their tails. I think it was the sheep whose tail is down, the goat whose tail is up? Anyway, the lady owner said that whenever the volcano at Montserrat blows, they get ash blown in. We toured the house, peering at the fascinating museum-quality relics. This lived-in home gave us an idea of how a well-to-do family might live on the island. It was a peaceful, comfortable ambiance.

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From here we drove to a pineapple farm where they grow a small, sweet variety called gold pineapple. It was pretty hot out as a woman explained the growing process.

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A stop at a beach came next. I didn’t care for this portion because there was absolutely no shade. It was a fairly deserted beach, but there were restrooms and we were provided a barbecue lunch. We rented chairs for $3 each but there weren’t any umbrellas. Ants crawled on the ground and perhaps got into my shoes because the next day I got a couple of bites on my foot. I tried to go in the water here, but there was a drop-off not far from shore so that I’d have to climb over the ridge to get back. And the undertow was extremely strong. I splashed myself but then scampered out onto the sand. We broiled in the heat until lunchtime. Seats at tables were arranged under an awning but it was still hot. We ate barbecued chicken with beans and rice. Then a lady entertained us with poems and song while I fumed impatiently to go back to town. This dragged on too long. Finally, we got back into the bus and made it to the pier. There are shops lined up here where we browsed before gratefully reentering the ship.

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The house might have been fascinating, but I was less than thrilled with the beach portion of this excursion. I don’t like it when the tours take you to a deserted beach. Maybe you’ll love it if you’re from up north, but I prefer a more active beach site with restaurants, gift shops, and facilities. Here you’re stuck waiting for the driver and others on the tour, whereas if you’re in a better location, you can amuse yourself at a bar or a shop when you get tired of the sun.

To View the entire Photo Album, Click Here.
Coming Next: St. Kitts

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Dominica

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 19, 2012

Roseau, Dominica
Nov. 7, 2012, Vision of the Seas

We did the Royal Caribbean ship’s excursion RO32 called Cooking Caribbean, Rum, and Nature.

An air-conditioned van drove us through a poor section of town with ramshackle buildings to a mountain road. We drove up a steep, winding incline. It was a bumpy ride where we jostled against each other, swaying left and right around hairpin curves. It appeared to be one lane but served as a two-way road.

We climbed up and up into the rainforest, spotting banana plants, papaya trees, clumps of bamboo, colorful crotons, broad-leafed plants and reaching vines. Wealthier, substantial houses dotted the hillside. We arrived at a lovely home and were guided out back to an outdoor kitchen under a covered patio. The view of the cloud-shrouded mountains from this location was spectacular.  Be aware that it actually rains in this rainforest! Showers swept in but quickly passed. While sipping a fruit punch, we admired the flowers, shrubbery, and distant vistas.

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Then we were summoned to take our places in the outdoor kitchen. We stood in a semicircle around a broad counter. There were 15 people in the class. Three lady cooks introduced themselves and gave us each a yellow apron to wear.

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First on the menu was marinated, sautéed tuna. This came out a bit chewy and not to my taste. Next we cooked red beans and rice that was very good. The cooks used fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs like lemongrass, many of which were obtained from the grounds. We made a salad with homemade dressing and then did fried coconut-dipped plantains. I mixed the batter which consisted of one can of coconut milk, two eggs, and 1 cup flour. Everybody participated. We had grapefruit with rum sauce for dessert, and a rum punch made with West Indies pumpkin.

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We were promised recipes via e-mail but so far they haven’t arrived. There was a tip bottle put out at the end. A long table was set for the tour participants and we ate buffet style. It was a lot of fun, and I’d suggest this as one of the best, most unusual excursions if you’re into cooking. What would I change? I’d suggest they put stools around the counter so we wouldn’t have to stand for so long. Also, they should hand out copies of the recipes. I doubt we’ll ever get them, so you might want to take notes if you do this tour.  Our stomachs satisfied, we went back to the wharf in Roseau to browse the native market.

To View the entire Photo Album, Click Here.
Coming Next: Antigua

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St. Maarten

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 18, 2012

Philipsburg, St. Maarten
Nov. 6, 2012, Vision of the Seas

On previous tours of this island, we visited the French side of Marigot. It’s a tedious drive across the island on the only road which means it’s usually congested. We didn’t find the expensive restaurants and European cafes to excite us when the ambiance in Philipsburg is charming enough and a lot closer. That prior ship’s excursion also took us to a not-so-nice beach near a nudist site. Not our cup of tea.

So this time, we went shopping in Philipsburg, capitol of the Dutch side, after taking the water taxi for seven dollars (round-trip fare) from the pier. There are shops near the ships that are adequate representations of the ones downtown, but it’s much more fun to go into the town center and stroll through the quaint streets.

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A beautiful beach faces the water in Philipsburg that is fronted by restaurants and shops. We ate lunch at the Barefoot Terrace. This restaurant is to the right after you dock downtown from the water taxi. I had coconut shrimp with French fries, coleslaw, and sautéed plantains for $14.95. The St. Maarten Rhumba drink cost $6.95 and packed a wallop. After I went back to the ship, I had to take a nap. Holland House is another restaurant we’ve enjoyed with a water view.

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I can recommend my favorite stores here if you’re in the market for baubles. Otherwise, souvenir stores are plentiful. I like the Guavaberry place for a taste of the island’s specialty liquor. If you tire of shopping and aren’t on a tour, you can rent a beach chair for $5 and enjoy the water. Bring cash for the water taxi, food, and incidentals. Philipsburg is my favorite port! Shopping, restaurants, and a free beach–what more could you want?

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To View the entire Photo Album, Click Here.
Coming Next: Dominica

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Vision of the Seas: The Food

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 16, 2012

Vision of the Seas, Nov. 2-12, 2012
The Food

If you want a sit-down meal on Vision of the Seas, you go to the dining room. Otherwise, the Windjammer Café on the pool deck serves a buffet three times a day plus afternoon snacks between 3 and 5 pm. You could also get pizza, burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches at a grill outside the Solarium. There’s also a specialty coffee bar with cookies and pastries.

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The food was okay but was not as impressive as on the Allure. The choices didn’t seem as upscale as on past cruises and some of the menus were mediocre at best. Even the garnishes seemed lacking. My husband’s dinner would come with one or two broccoli florets instead of a generous portion. You could do better at the Red Lobster. Not so for those lucky folks invited to the Captain’s Table. We sat right next to this special group, and I almost bumped chairs with Captain Lis herself. These guests were served a feast. Their selections were very different from our simple choices.

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I liked the veal shank, the lobster tail and garlic shrimp, the roast duck, and the turkey dinner. The daily alternate choices weren’t as appealing as on other cruises. And we were disappointed there was no Baked Alaska on the last formal night. The waiters did sing that one time, but it wasn’t the same as in the old days when the dining rooms were decorated according to a different theme each night, and the waiters wore matching outfits. Times have changed, and not for the better. Generally we’d rate the food on this ship as average.

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The coffee throughout the ship was Seattle’s Best, and it was better than on most ships. No complaints there. Creamer is offered at the buffet in non-perishable cups. There are no specialty restaurants yet on this ship, which is scheduled for refurbishment. Hopefully a couple of additional restaurants will be added along with a Diamond Club lounge.

We loved the free drinks and appetizers we’d earned with our Diamond status and frequented the Viking Crown Lounge every evening where this event took place. Between this perk, the Welcome Aboard Party, bottles of wine from our travel agent and a friend, plus two repeat cruisers parties, we saved money on the bar bill. And that’s without getting the free champagne at the art auctions! I miss the nightly Diamond Club appetizers the most.

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Also notably lacking were the chocolates on our pillows at evening turn-down service. This omission was a disappointment, no doubt a cost-cutting measure but a come-down all the same. It went along with the more plebian food choices. Even the breakfast buffet had little variety. It would have been nice if they’d offered fried eggs and premade omelets like on Princess. You could get them only if you stood in line for the chef.

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Despite the shortcomings, it was still great to have food available at all hours and in various locations around the ship. We found plenty of tasty choices to enjoy. Fortunately, stair climbing and walking around the decks helped to counteract the extra calories.

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To View the entire Photo Album, Click Here.

Coming Next: Ports of Call

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Vision of the Seas

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 15, 2012

Vision of the Seas
Nov. 2-12, 2012

The Ship

Vision of the Seas was a refreshing change from our last voyage on the exciting but enormous Allure. A member of Royal Caribbean’s Vision Class fleet, this ship has sleek lines and a classic layout. Ocean views are prevalent from all the lounges, and the more intimate size makes this cruise an easy one to run into the same people and make friends. We had a great itinerary with four days at sea to relax and five ports to visit.

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I loved the floor-to-ceiling windows in many of the lounges and the Windjammer Café that showed ocean views. The Windjammer faces forward so you have a view of the ship plowing through the waves. I really missed these windows on the Allure and felt closed in on that huge ship despite the numerous venues. The Vision’s Solarium has a domed glass cover, so you can sit out at the pool during inclement weather. We had no problem getting lounge chairs at either of the two main pools during the day.

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There are enough inside lounges for variety, and the shops have interesting wares. We had plenty of places to walk around, and I for one did not miss the interior Promenade from the larger ships. I’d rather see the water wherever possible, although the Promenade at night does give you a place to stroll. Still, there was plenty to do here. A lively, several stories-high atrium had a dance floor where musicians played in the evening.

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The captain greeted us at the Welcome Aboard Party on the second night which was formal dress. Lo and behold, we had a lady captain! As I’m a fan of Captain Janeway on the Enterprise, I was thrilled. Captain Lis Lauritzen was gracious and kindly posed for photos and gave welcoming talks throughout the cruise as well as her daily briefing from the bridge. (“This is Captain Lis from the Bridge”—Do you ever wonder where else they might be?) I liked her joke about the difference between a boat and a ship. “A ship has a captain. A boat is run by a frustrated husband.” Diplomacy, poise, and wit are definitely part of her job description.

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Our cabin was comfortable and in a great location. If you’re sensitive to light when you sleep, I’d suggest you bring a sleep mask. Light beamed through the peephole from out into the corridor and it shone like a beacon in my eyes at night. If you have a balcony, light from outside might shine in as well. You might also want to bring some shower gel. You can barely move in the shower, so if you drop a bar of soap, good luck retrieving it. Our shower on Vision had a clingy curtain instead of a glass door, and I cringed at the thought of who might have touched it last. As for shaving in the shower, forget it. I had to put my foot on the toilet seat and dip my razor in the sink. I hope the shower curtains are replaced with glass doors during the upcoming refurbishment. It is badly needed as most of the carpets throughout the ship are stained and the paint is peeling off the outdoor chairs.

Make sure your room isn’t over, under, or near a lounge with music at night or near an elevator. On the Vision, a door separates the public areas from the stateroom sections. This door helps to keep noise out of the cabin areas, except perhaps for the people right next to it. They might hear the door bang open and closed all night. A couple we met had their room over the show lounge (not the theater). The band’s noise reverberated throughout their cabin and they were forced to stay awake each night until after midnight. Be careful to look and see where your cabin is located when you book your cruise. Otherwise, our cabin was comfortable and the steward gave excellent service. This is a nice size ship if you’re looking for a more relaxed cruise experience.

As for entertainment, the production shows in the Masquerade Theatre were visually appealing and the singers/dancers competent, but these shows lacked sparkle and so were nothing exceptional. I hate jugglers, so we skipped that performance. We enjoyed the comedians, especially 85 year old Norm Crosby who’s the best we’ve heard in recent times. We also caught a couple of movies: The Lucky One with Zac Efron and People Like Us with Chris Pine. Overall, I’d rate the entertainment and enrichment topics as average. If you’ve been on many cruises, you’ve seen similar. But does it matter? Being on a ship is still a diversion from watching TV at home.

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Coming Next: The Food (my favorite part!) and then the Ports of Call.

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