Where to begin, where to begin. I guess I should preface this post with a little disclaimer...the ill-feelings I feel towards our Baltic cruise that sailed in July of 2013 had almost nothing to do with the Baltic countries we visited, but more to do with our terrible cruise ship/staff. The trip started out fabulous, as all of our cruises do...with D and I on a vacation high, ready to explore and be pampered while floating around Europe. This cruise was a bit different because it was the very first cruise we'd ever been on with a group of friends from Germany. 6 other couples, to be exact. We had been planning for months and months (even before we'd started planning our INCREDIBLE Mediterranean cruise), and growing even more excited about our trip together as we booked plane tickets and final arrangements in Stockholm, our departure port. I have to say, had it not been for our amazing group of friends, D and I wouldn't have made it through this cruise with our sanity intact. After our sailing, we were all in agreement that it truly was the worst cruise any of us had been on (and I felt so bad for the first time cruising couple we had with us!) and if we all had to endure it alone, we likely would have jumped ship after day 3!
So, guess you wanna know what cruise line and ship we sailed on, huh? I hesitate to tell, because I know this cruise line isn't known for having horrible sailings and they've more than righted their wrongs since, but for the sake of awareness...if you can help it, avoid Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas. It's the oldest ship in RC's fleet (launched in 1998) and it TOTALLY showed. I like to tell people it was like walking into an episode of Saved By the Bell...peach and teal green geometric carpet, a 13" white tube stateroom TV (really), outdated shows, outdated furniture & decor, outdated technology (think PowerPoint clipart), 90's music playing at the pool (on a loop!)--we'd literally stepped into a cruise ship time warp. At first we were all kind of whatever about it...we weren't there for the decor. But as the week rolled by, all the other issues that arose made the small things seem even more annoying. The attention to detail that we were used to from Celebrity (RC's sister company, hard to believe!) was lost on this ship.
The worst of all was the lackadaisical, impolite, and impatient staff. We were all shocked. There were two specific encounters that stand out in my mind...one where a staff member blatantly & disrespectfully refused to serve a glass of water to our friend one evening. When asked his name, the bartender covered up his name tag and told our friend to get the *bleep* lost. D and our friend's wife were witnesses to the exchange and said it was the strangest thing. Of course, our friend complained to management and management confessed this particular bartender had issues in the past, so the manager apologized on his behalf (ahem, why the bartender wasn't made to do that is beyond me?) and gave us a free bottle of champagne to share at dinner. The second issue happened during the White Hot party on our overnight in St. Petersburg, Russia. We were all dressed up and making our way through the hors d'oeuvres line on the pool deck when an overstepping staff member came up beside me, offered me sushi, and whispered a lewd remark about my skirt. I was taken aback, of course, but politely walked away without engaging...or engaging D who was just feet away (because that wouldn't have gone well!). Later that evening I informed D on the issue and after deciding not to hunt down the guy, we added it to our laundry list of complaints to review with RC after our cruise.
Another awful issue? The toilets on our floor and the 2 floors above us on both sides of the ship were clogged for 2.5 days. I'm talking feces-filled toilets that wouldn't flush and started to overflow into staterooms. Unfortunately, 2 out of the 6 couples we traveled with experienced this horror firsthand. To add insult to injury, even if you weren't one of the affected staterooms, you could smell the issue...EVERYWHERE. I still gag thinking about it. Needless to say, it was rough having to sleep and get ready in our rooms those two and a half days. Thankfully it was resolved before our cruise ended, but not before we were all scarred for life.
I honestly could go on...the 5am paint scraping along the sides of the ship that woke everyone up two days in a row, the lack of organization of the cruise excursion staff, the fact we never ever saw our stateroom attendant (if you've ever cruised before, you know you see them all the time--they acknowledge you as you leave and sometimes even become friends, if they're good)...we left the ship with more grievances than we did compliments. The only bright shining star of the sailing was our amazing wait staff in the main dining room. Our head waiter went out of his way to make sure we were taken care of, so we all looked forward to eating dinner each night. Normally we hand out a handful of envelopes to exceptional staff members our last night onboard, but he was only the only one that received a tip from any of us. Makes me sad to think about. Oh, and the couples massage we got was the cheapest we'd ever seen on a cruise, so there's that. Although, I'm not sure what that says about their spa. Either way, we count that as a small win.
So, there you have it. The reasons you've never heard me utter a word about our Baltic cruise thus far. I've still got a rather bad taste in my mouth about it all. I realize that we had sort of been spoiled rotten with exemplary service prior to our Baltic sailing because Celebrity provided us with an outstanding experience on our Med cruise just 2 months before. Even so, those high standards should be something all cruise lines should strive for, no matter the cost incurred to its guests (believe me, a Baltic sailing isn't cheap!). As I mentioned before, after sending a lengthy email to the president of RC on behalf of our entire travel party and being called by the president's office, RC thoughtfully apologized (over and over) and monetarily remedied the situation. Which we really, really appreciated and helped to rebuild our confidence in their company. Even further, the Vision of the Seas underwent a complete refurbishment a month after our sailing ended. This is not because of anything we complained about...it was already scheduled to be done prior to our cruise. Only wish we'd known that before we picked those dates for our vacation. Might have saved us all some stress headaches! I hope since its upgrade that the ship (and staff) have improved tenfold, so if you've been on it since last July, let me know what you thought! Will we ever sail with Royal Caribbean again? Probably. Cape Canaveral is one of RC's largest hubs and since it's right down the road, I'm sure we'll give them another go. We just might stray away from the Vision of the Seas. And by might I mean DEFINITELY.
Now that you know the scoop, I'm ready to share recaps from all our Baltic ports of call! YAY travel! Look out for the first post tomorrow!
Have you ever had a bad cruise experience?