Vision of the Seas, Oslo – St Petersburg
Even on a relatively modest budget this is a fantastic way to travel if you take the time to shop around for something that suits your itinerary and budget – there is absolutely no way we could have done this trip cheaper by any other transport means and it adds quite a luxury element with the a la carte dining, on-tap ice-cream, live music, dance parties, craft workshops, gym, climbing wall, whirlpools, regular pools, variety shows, your own room with ensuite… all included in the price.
We used this as an A to B trip to take us from Norway to Russia, which meant leaving the cruise 2 days early but we only missed two “at sea” days, no ports. Leaving the cruise required a little extra paperwork but the team on board were very good and took care of the necessary immigration details so the additional trouble for us (over and above the notoriously complicated Russian visa itself) was minimal. On our arrival day we were free to leave the ship whenever we wanted so we slept in and stayed on-board until after lunch to save ourselves a few rubles.
The trick for budget travelers is: don’t buy any alcohol, and ideally no drinks at all: water, lemonade, iced-tea and tea and coffee are complimentary – and there is some free alcohol to be had e.g. at the art auction and the captain’s reception – otherwise this is a splurge. Likewise “specialty” coffees, Ben and Jerry’s icecream, beauty treatments, etc. If you don’t think you can resist these little treats try to get your travel agent to throw in some “on-board credit” to sweeten the deal.
There is one additional cost you need to allow for in your budget: US$10 per person per day for gratuities. This can be paid from your on-board credit if you have managed to negotiate some. We tipped in cash (US, although I’m sure any currency would have been OK) directly to our waiters and housekeeping team and only for the days we were on board.
We had an inside cabin. This was fine for our needs and included a small ensuite bathroom and a small sitting area and desk/dressing table. There are plenty of common areas with windows where it’s fine to sit and enjoy the view without ordering any drinks for the privilege. I’d say, unless you plan to spend a lot of time in your room the only down side is that without natural light it’s a little difficult to gauge the time, especially in the mornings.
We choose the late dining option. 9pm seems late to dine but it was never a problem and if you want to eat earlier you always have the option of going to the buffet whenever you like. There is absolutely no chance of going hungry: there is food (which is included in the cruise price) available from around 6am through to 2am and after that you can order room service which will only cost you a service fee.
There was one formal night. We dressed as best we could from our backpacks and only felt marginally under-dressed. Mr K hired dress shoes for $12, there wasn’t any shoe hire for women so I wore my Birkenstocks and tried to keep my feet tucked out of sight as much as possible. We could have avoided the formality altogether by just going to the buffet for dinner but where’s the fun in that?
There’s plenty of things to do on board during the day and every evening there’s a show, of which we saw three. The shows, though fun, also felt kind of surreal. They were of the cheesy “variety show” formats with very bad jokes, skimpy outfits for the girls, spangles, 70’s kitch… generally fun, light family entertainment – I guess precisely what you might expect – but we wouldn’t have missed much if we’d skipped them.
One small disappointment: our travel agent had set up that we would get a complimentary glass of bubbles to toast our (delayed) honeymoon on the second night and this never showed up.Otherwise: a brilliant trip and if we calculate what it would have cost us for the travel plus five days of food and accomodation it’s very good value too.
Photographer: George Jackman. Location: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Undated.
Description: Miss M. Carne is dressed in shorts, halter top, pith helmet and sandals, enjoying the view from the deck. She is standing beside a lifebuoy with the identifying name of Orion, London, printed on it.
Information about State Library of Queensland’s collection: pictureqld.slq.qld.gov.au/