We flew from Los Angeles to Ft. Lauderdale one day early, Friday, April 6, 2001, which was my birthday. We had a change of planes in Atlanta. The original connecting flight was canceled, however, Delta found another plane and we were in Ft. Lauderdale by 9 p.m. Our original documents from RCCL requested that we place the RCI luggage tags on all luggage and to take carry on luggage with a change of clothing, as we would not see our luggage until it was delivered to our room on Saturday. However, after reading so much about "lost luggage," we decided to tag ours after arriving in Ft. Lauderdale. All pieces made it and were tagged. We stayed at the Airport Hilton in Ft. Lauderdale. Older hotel, but decent room, with in room high-speed Internet access.
Embarkation: At the advise of seasoned cruise friends, we took a taxi to the pier, stopped at a convenience store on the way and picked up Pepsi and beer. Arrived at the pier at approximately 10:30 a.m. RCI employees in the terminal going around requesting that everyone check their docs to see if they were completeetc. Check in opened at about 10:45 a.m. We were in our cabin by 11:15 a.m. Luggage was received prior to muster, which was at 4:15 p.m., we noticed that one piece of luggage had been opened. We immediately reported the loss of a camera. We had purchased the insurance so we will be filing a claim. Also, upon embarkation we immediately went to the Business Center to sign up for the unlimited Internet access. We were expecting to pay $100 a week, for a total of $200. However, the Manager said that it would only be $100 for entire cruise! Wow, now I could really post my pictures and updates.
Muster was on Deck 6 in the Schooner Bar, not at the lifeboats as we had experienced prior. We missed sail away from Ft. Lauderdale as we had been incorrectly informed that they would be doing a room search when we reported the missing camera. Oh well. Before sail away, I used our cell phone to call the two credit card companies to inform them that we may be making purchases and what our Itinerary was. I had read this was a good thing to do so that your card isn't "frozen" due to out of the country purchases that is not your normal pattern.
We were assigned Main Seating, which we had requested. We had a table for 10. Met our tablemates, 4 were traveling together from Massachusetts, 4 were parents and son and significant other (John & Janet, Dave & Marie) Art & Dot, and Ken & Nancy. The later 4 were part of the group we had booked with. When they found out what time we were on the ship, they weren't happy. They followed instructions and weren't on the ship until after 3:00 p.m.
After dinner, made our way to the "Explorations/Guest Relations" desk to sign up for our excursions, since we were unable to do so from our room. We filled out the form and put it in the box. We were told we should have all of our tickets later that night or early tomorrow. However, hubby was very disappointed as the scuba dive tour was not available. With some information from one of the Explorations employees hubby was able to schedule a dive in Aruba, via the internet!
First two days were at sea. Hubby and I aren't sun worshippers but there were plenty of them on deck. Lots of saved lounge chairs, but I did notice that they were removing towels! I said to myself, "Ahhh HA! I have to definitely post this information in my review!" As we hadn't received our tour tickets yet, went to the Guest Relations, they check our file and found nothing had been booked, so we booked them and walked away with our tickets for our tours.
Aruba - Hubby had a morning dive, I slept in, took it easy. Met him on the pier, ran back to the cabin for him to change, ran to the Windjammer for a quick lunch, then back down to the pier for our afternoon "Off Road Adventure" Tour. Great tour. But very windy and dusty! But loads of fun. Sail away at 12:30 a.m.!
Another sea day - day to relax, read, walk, talk, take pictures
Panama Canal - WOW what a sight! We had a balcony on the starboard side and that was nice to get away from everyone on deck. We did use our balcony when we wanted peace and quiet. The solarium was always full.
Another Sea day - day to relax, read, walk, talk, take pictures (we took a lot of pictures!)!
Costa Rica - Puntarenas: We took the River Adventure Tour. This was a tour of a river where the Guide explained all about the river, the mangrove trees, the crocodiles, birds etc. Nice calm ride which is exactly what we had wanted. The guide also provided information as we rode on the bus to the location. Fresh fruit and cold drinks were provided as part of the tour. We saw very colorful crabs as we walked to the rivers edge to the boats.
Two Days at Sea - Crown and Anchor Society Cocktail Party. Captain Kent Ringborn sang, beautiful voice. Gordon Whatman is our cruise director. We didn't really participate in any pool side games.
Acapulco - We had signed up for an afternoon tour so hubby and I joined our tablemates from Massachusetts for shopping in the morning. WOW was that an eye opener. They can really bargain! They had been in Acapulco previously on a land vacation so they knew what they were doing. I'm glad we went with them, otherwise, I would have paid way too much for our stuff!! Everyone at our table was booked for the Shotover Jet Boat Tour. The timing was 3 to 3 ½ hrs. We left at 1 p.m., we didn't return to the Ship until 6:30 p.m. This is a new tour and RCCL and the ground operator really needs to work some issues. The information about the tour didn't say anything about getting wet, therefore, suggesting you wear your swimsuit. We saw what we were in for! These were JET BOATS! Looked Scary but also like loads of fun. The tour was a blast! We received a 20% refund from that tour, guess that's because one of the RCI Guest Relations personnel was on that tour and he was 2 ½ hrs late reporting to work!
Another day at sea
Cabo San Lucas, hubby had arranged another dive through the internet but was unable to get off the ship in time due to it not being a ships tour, and it is a tender port.
Last day at Sea - Farewell show was very good. Captain sang and so did our cruise Director, both have wonderful voices.
Food in the dining room was very good. We aren't gourmet eaters and we aren't that picky. Our Waitress, Mihaela, from Romania, was very good. They had brought her over from the Sovereign for one month. I'm glad we got her! Our Assistant Waitress, Aysun, first time on a ship. Has a bachelors degree in hotel management. Our Head Waiter was Mustafa, and he, too, had been brought over from the Sovereign. Mustafa stopped at our table every night. Even got us Escargot one night (when it wasn't on the menu!).
Windjammer food we thought was fine. Not dining room fare, but ok for what it was. We always found something we could eat. Usually kept it light and took the stairs a lot! I did get a snack in the Seaview Cafe one night, it was very good. Nothing cost extra there. Food and Soda. We did have dinner at Chops one night, in port in Costa Rica. It was very very very good! The New England Clam Chowder was EXCELLENT! I had the Filet and hubby had the prime rib! We weren't sure about the tipping. So I just asked, the waitress informed us that $3.00 per $20 was the tip. Well, we felt that they really did take care of you so we did add an additional sum for the tip. Alcoholic drinks are not part of the $20 per person.
Our Cabin Steward came on board the day of sailing, we really didn't see him much, however, he did his job well and we tipped him accordingly. One thing I saw, and was very happy about, is they closed the Windjammer buffet the last night. So the only way to get out of tipping at dinner was to have room service! After dinner we all got up and hugged our waitress and assistant waitress. I really felt like crying. They are my friends and I didn't want to leave them. And yes we tipped Mustafa, our Head Waiter; he had stopped by every night and did get the Escargot (I only tasted one - UGH! Gave the rest to hubby!)
We had a wonderful cruise. Things weren't perfect, like getting the items for our Grand Romance Package, but heck we got the better robes instead of the cheap ones. Our pillow chocolates started appearing on the third night. The canapes and late night sweets were delivered twice, at the wrong times and wrong days (supposed to be two formal nights). We reported this to Guest Relations and we received two bottles of champagne at dinner that night (celebrated two birthdays) as compensation for the error. Then received them two more times. We just laughed! Photographers, were not obtrusive! I noticed when we got to port (and we left the ship early enough), if you didn't want your picture taken, you weren't 'stopped' from walking right on by!
The ship never felt over crowded. We saw Mission Impossible 2 in the Theater. It was an 11 p.m. showing, now we asked ourselves why are all these elderly people awake and in the theater (only held 40). Being a 14-day cruise, much older crowd! There were some kids on board, pretty much behaved. Really none over 16.
Debarkation - We were delayed debarking due to immigration officials looking for several people who had not reported. The ship was cleared at about 10:45. Our son was waiting for us. No bus for us, we live in the Los Angeles area! We were able to stay in our cabin until about 10:15 a.m.
So in closing - WE HAD A WONDERFUL CRUISE. It seems that on the day of sailing, they had brought over staff from other ships. We found a great bartender brought over from the Monarch, so if you're on the Radiance in the Hollywood Lounge, tell Owens, Lee & Terri miss him! He makes the best drinks and a smooth Kamakazi! To read my posts and pictures submitted from onboard the Radiance, please check out www.seacruisechat.com.
These were our 15th and 16th cruises (back-to-back) in the past four years and our 6th & 7th on RCI. We booked these cruises so that we could be among the first to experience the much touted new ship the Radiance of the Seas which is the first of a new class of ships that RCI is introducing. The new Radiance class ships will be in size between the megaships (Vision class) and gigaships (Voyagerclass). Unlike the most recent gigaships, the Voyager and the Explorer, this one is Panamax (can pass through the Panama Canal). She is indeed a beautiful ship. Needless to say, we had another interesting cruise. Again the weather was perfect, the Caribbean Sea was calm, the moon was full and the stars were bright: the right ingredients for relaxation.
The Radiance of the Seas at 90,090 tons and 962 feet long, can accommodate 2,100 passengers and 900 crew members. She has the beautiful sea green tinted windows on the upper exterior, typical of the RCCL ships, which distinguishes them from all other lines. Approximately 50% of her exterior is glass walled including four glass elevators facing the seaand two more facing the Centrum. Her sleek silhouette recalls the smaller RCCL ships, yet simultaneously she incorporates several amenities of the larger Voyager class while avoiding the boxier shape. She looks more like a gigantic yacht. The Radiance is truly a lovely ship with nautical motifs and tasteful comfortable appointments. Inaugurated on April 7, 2001, (one day after we left her) she left for repositioning to Seattle, via the Panama Canal, and will cruise to Canada, Alaska and Hawaii before returning this fall to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to cruise to the Southern Caribbean Islands. She has many exciting cruises ahead and we wish her Godspeed!
This was the first time that we arrived in Port Everglades and couldn't locate our ship. Due to a late departure of the Millennium from Pier 18, the Radiance was kept out of port until well after 1:00 pm, as matter of fact she docked at the pier a little before 2:00 pm. We had this straight from Captain Ringborn himself; even with this unexpected delay, the Radiance missed its scheduled 2:00 pm boarding time by only 15 minutes. We arrived in port at 12:45 pm, were processed and went by elevator to the upper waiting room from where we could see the ship approaching Pier 18. This was the first boarding of this ship in Ft. Lauderdale, with mostly new personnel, so there was some chaos. Some passengers were upset, but most of them understood the problem and knew that boarding time had been set at 2:00 pm, thus they were not perturbed by this small inconvenience. Life can be wonderful with a bit of patience. Unfortunately we heard some strident loud voices, when in actuality boarding was only slightly delayed and the reason was given over and over to people who didn't care to listen. It's for sure that these people never heard the statement: " I travel a lot; I hate to have my life disrupted by routine." The unexpected can be refreshing.
Our boarding cards were not at the counters on the pier, but we received a temporary boarding pass and were told to pick up the cards at Guest Relations on Deck 4, which we did. We were disappointed for not receiving wheel chair assistance during embarkation or debarkation. Vincent lately has been having mobility problems and has extensively used his wheel chair, thus we had asked for assistance, but to no avail. On our recent cruises, on the Celebrity Millennium and Costa Atlantica, we were escorted to our cabins by crew members, but on this ship we had to search for the cabin ourselves, without a ship's map or deck plan which had not yet been printed, thus not available for passengers. Upon entering on Deck 4, the Centrum was alive with piano music and we took the glass elevator to Deck 9 and in a few minutes we were in our cabin. Our luggage arrived while we were at dinner (main seating). On a new ship, it takes time to put into place all of the services which we take for granted (i.e. Do Not Disturb/Make Up Cabin signs, water carafes in cabins, etc., which were not yet available on this ship).
In 1998, for the initial planning of the Radiance of the Seas, Captain Kent Ringborn became the site manager for RCI at the Meyer-Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, where he remained for the entire building project of this ship. It can be a source of comfort for cruisers to know that this Captain has an intimate knowledge of his ship. He literally came on board before she was afloat! (More later about the amazing Captain Ringborn).
The nine deck high Centrum is refreshingly different; it has two tall waterfalls and each deck has semi-circular balconies from which guests can look down over the entire Centrum. Up high is a suspended sculpture of delicate spoked half wheel arches which create interesting light patterns on the walls. There is a spectacular bar flanked by huge crystal urns filled with yellow lemons and white calla lilies, a green glass stairway between decks 4 and 5 and tropical plants everywhere. The large dance floor has a nautical compass-like design in colored marble. People were dancing in the Centrum every evening.
On deck 6, toward the aft, is located the traditional Schooner Bar, augmented by a long foyer with small refurbished antique cannons and ship's ropes; when walking through this area, the air is pungent with the smell of old ships. On the left is a full length portrait of Jenny Lind, the famous soprano of the 1850's, known as the "Swedish Nightingale" and appropriately placed on the next wall is a painting of the ship "Nightingale" in a storm. We hope the passengers recognize the intended pairing. In this bar are also the foyers and entrances for Portofino and Chops Grille, the upscale "reservation only" restaurants.
Further on toward the rear is the Colony Club, styled after an English Men's Club, which consists of four separate areas: The Bombay Billiard Club, the Jakarta Lounge, the Singapore Sling's and the Calcutta Card Club. In the Billiard Club there are the first two self-leveling billiard tables at sea; it's amazing how they compensate for the ship's motion through the use of gyroscope technology, yet the balls remain absolutely stable. Captain Ringborn related to us that on the transatlantic voyage, the engineer, who oversaw installation of these tables, was found sleeping blissfully on one table during a rather nasty storm at sea: clever fellow to avoid rolling, pitching, and motion sickness. This made us wonder if there would be gyroscopic beds, cabins or decks some day, eliminating the needs for motion sickness medicine. Beyond the billiard room is the center of the Colony Club. It has tiered seating and a sunken dance floor. It was here where Captain Ringborn sang to the passengers "Welcome to Our World;" quite a pleasant surprise and he was in fine voice: a cultivated baritone. A modern day Renaissance man! The captain's welcome aboard cocktail was held here as were the daily bingo games.
The Cascades Dining Room, Decks 4 & 5 is elegant with its two deck sweeping semi-circular staircase flanked by two dark blue waterfalls (for those planning an onboard wedding this would make a dramatic backdrop). On the ceiling there is a simple huge oval glass light and ten round glass lights circling the lower tier. There are ten two deck high columns covered with white sheer fabric and twenty wooden columns downstairs; the chairs are blue/green with arms -- very comfortable. But the most fascinating sight in this room is the back wall mosaic: Three mermaids and a dolphin cavorting on a copper and gold sea, while the gods of the wind blow down on them from clouds above. Tres belle!
We found the nicest public place for relaxing to be the African themed Solarium Deck 11; three bigger than life elephants, with a bridge in front of them, form a wall overlooking the pool. There is a bronze lion cub reposing on the edge of the pool and monkeys high up in the tropical plants and a bald eagle and a background audio tape of jungle sounds. Very relaxing. They should remove the English ivy plants, since they are not tropical and mostly dying anyway. There is a medium sized jacuzzi, two thatched roofed cabanas for rinsing off and more than enough wooden chaises.
On Deck 13 is the Starquest Disco and it's a RADIANT room with sparkling crystals imbedded in the windows and walls in galaxy designs: A must see! Right next door is the Hollywood Odyssey featuring a life-size bronze of Marilyn Monroe with billowing skirts from the movie the "Seven Year Itch." This ship has many delights for the eye, some of which are quite remarkable and every stairwell has huge colored glass murals.
There are many more public places that we have not yet mentioned, but the three deck high Aurora theatre is a must see. We believe that there are no bad seats or obstructed views in this theatre. Other interesting places are the Champagne Bar on deck 6, the Sports Court/Country Club, with the rock-climbing wall and miniature golf course on deck 12, a very spacious Ship Shape Spa, the Seaview Cafe and the Adventure Beach with water slide and splash pool for kids. We are certain to have missed some interesting locations on board, but our cruise on this ship lasted only five days. We must plan a longer cruise to get the information needed to write a thorough review, but for now this must do.
Vincent recommends Books, Books & Coffee on deck 5, adjacent to the shops. There were not too many books for sale, but we bought some exquisite liquor filled chocolates (reasonably priced). However, the most favored spot here is Seattle's Best which brews the best specialty coffees at sea, such as Espresso, Cappuccino, Caffe`- Latte and Granita, and these beverages were all free of charge, including some great cookies.
Our Deck 9 Deluxe Oceanview cabin #9592 with balcony was a nice size. When entering on the right, there is a bathroom with circular shower with curtain (we missed the Plexiglas door), a single sink with triple mirror and a single medicine cabinet (beware of the sharp corner on the cabinet door). There is blue decorative tile with a lifesaver motif centered with white daisies, nice touch. Then there was a double blue/gold velour sofa and what was listed as a queen sized bed was really a king sized one with an extra firm mattress.
Entering on the left there is a triple wardrobe, a vanity/desk with a triple mirror and after that a three-tiered cabinet with a safe in the top section, in the middle an interactive TV (nice for checking on your onboard account, but not yet functional) and on the bottom a well stocked mini-bar refrigerator. A wall to wall drape separated the sitting area from the bedroom and another drape covered the far glass wall with the sliding door to the small balcony. The cabin was pleasantly decorated in blue, gold, and burnt orange with lots of natural maple wood. The stewardess, Neneng, was new and needed prompting, but was willing and pleasant. Since our veranda was a bit larger than others of similar cabins (the shape of our veranda was trapezoid, not rectangular, due to our cabin's position near the ship's center where it bulges out), we asked Neneng for a chaise to be placed on the veranda with the two chairs and tiny table already there. She took a while but did bring one.
Note on shipboard etiquette: Do not flick cigarette butts off your balcony -- they will land on our balcony if your cabin is above or forward of ours.
The Welcome Aboard Buffet was very good as with all of the Windjammer offerings. The new set up with several islands is a bit confusing with a chaotic traffic pattern on the first day, but the signs above the fare are helpful and it did get better in future days. There was staff ready to carry trays to the tables, which was necessary due to the wheel chair. The desserts were excellent: fantastic fruit tarts, eclairs, cookies (Mary was hooked on the oatmeal and chocolate chip ones). We had breakfast (full American) in our cabin the first two days, but then room service was inexplicably terminated for the rest of the cruise, from then on we ate breakfast at the Windjammer. However, the last morning we had breakfast in the dining room and it was almost deserted. Perhaps too many rumors of two hour breakfasts scared people away. We usually ignore rumors and see for ourselves. We had excellent service and a delicious meal.
On our way out, we encountered Mehmet Soyler, Wait Staff Trainer, whom we had previously met on both the Voyager and the Explorer. He had been an excellent waiter to us on the Voyager and he appreciated our writing him up in our review. We are sure he will be successful in training the new crew to bring "snappy" service to this ship, a badly needed improvement! There was some improvement in service in just the five days we were on the Radiance, but we expect to see better reviews as time goes by. The main dining room food was fair to good. The best dishes were shrimp cocktail, Peking duck and the desserts (chocolate souffle, tiramisu`, ice cream but no swans!). The lack of wine stewards was soon evident when Vincent's wine was misplaced. Service was slow but pleasant, we guess they need to find their "sea legs"!
The ship has two alternative dining options: The Portofino, an upscale Euro-Italian restaurant, and the Chops Grille, both requiring reservation and a $20 fee. We checked out the menu at the Portofino and found it the same as the one on the Explorer. We also found out that there has been no changes in the chef involved in the creation and formulation of the Portofino's menu. Thus we decided not to try this restaurant again, since our last experience on the Explorer was not satisfactory. In our review of the inaugural cruise of the Explorer we suggested that for creating a menu with the true taste (gusto) of Italian cuisine, RCI has to hire a chef who truly knows what Italian food should taste and use the right ingredients to achieve the expected flavors, which is not currently happening at the Portofino.
We did dine at Chops Grille with the Captain, and the Environmental Officer Debbie Nylund (this was a treat for Vincent since he is a retired Professor of Environmental Health) and Debbie's friend, a lady passenger from Chicago. The Captain is a wonderfully warm gentleman, who has spent most of his life at sea after graduating from the Swedish Merchant Maritime Academy. His love of the sea and ships is much in evidence. We had a wonderful meal consisting of grilled veal, cooked to perfection, broiled portobellos with roasted peppers, New England clam chowder (as a native Bostonian, Mary gave it an A+) and desserts were Mississippi Mud Pie, Tiramisu` and ice cream. Don't miss it, allow approximately two hours, if you make reservations for 6:30 pm, you'll just make the 9:00 pm show as we did. Service was casual and we had an excellent time with delightful company. To be sure that there are available tables, make your reservation during the first few hours aboard the ship.
Cruise Director Gordon Whatman (England) was highly visible, ebullient and has set the goal of making the Radiance the friendliest ship afloat. We feel he is succeeding. A university educated mechanical engineer, he also has a finely tuned voice (opera background). We have it on good report from reliable sources ( Mary's sister Elizabeth and her husband Vito who raved about his performance) and other cruisers who said that he wowed the audience.
The welcome aboard show "Rockin in Paradise" had great dancers, but the singing (the microphone check failed to tone down a too loud sound) and the costumes were not the greatest. The second night there were two brothers from Argentina (Mario & David) who did a hilarious routine on the "trip to nowhere" and on the strange habits of elderly Italian gentlemen hitching up their trousers. They ended up with a breathtaking performance of twirling "boles" and were warmly applauded. They perform on Telemundo (Spanish) TV, Miami. The final show was "Welcome to Our World," an around the world tour with wonderful costumes: Chinese, French, African and Spanish segments with excellent visual effects! Great dancing, but the singing was loud and dissonant.
The Casino is the usual smoky, busy place. The final night it was crowded with so many gamblers trying to recoup their losses, that we gave up and sought the peace and quiet of our veranda. But on this "Cruise to Nowhere" it was open every day and cruisers were truly enjoying it. We had our time in it, when it was less crowded, and made our usual donation to the slot machines and the poker table.
The Centrum frequently had a wonderful group "Upscale" with a female vocalist so terrific that she attracted people on all nine decks of balconies. Sorry we can't attach a name to her, we asked at guest relations and everyone was so new that they couldn't identify her. There was an abundance of activities to suit all: art auctions, Ship Shape exercise programs, bingo, line dancing, contests, horse racing, etc., etc., and a fine library. If a passenger was bored it was not Gordon's fault.
Since many new ships are scheduled to come on line in the near future, a new experiment took place on the Radiance: More than 60% of the staff is new, not just to the ship, but also to the service industry. RCI has initiated a new system aboard this ship. There are no longer officers in charge of the service crew, such as a Chief Purser or Hotel Manager, who are in the chain of command of the ship, but in their places there are civilian administrators: a comptroller and a general manager, who oversee the hotel activities on board. We did write to Helmut Leikauf, General Manager, requesting an appointment; however, we did not have the chance to meet with him. He set up two appointments, which he had to cancel due to emergencies. Basically since our questions went unanswered, we approached this cruise like an ethnography and tried to make sense out of some of the incidents we encountered: we ended up attributing problems to "unschooled help." Some passengers complain loudly and rudely. We prefer to ask politely for whatever we need and we are always served pleasantly. We were onboard for a restful cruise and we had one.
We had priority white tags, and were on land by 8:15 am. However, unlike Costa and Celebrity Lines, there was no one to help with the wheel chair upon debarking. We had a hair-raising experience when on a long steep ramp the chair picked up speed and was difficult to hold back. We did the fifty yard dash in record time for us! In retrospect we should have insisted on some assistance to debark. After this close call, next time we will.
This was one of our worst cruises as far as service, but we still loved it. The service was the poorest, especially to those who consider RCI among the lines with the best service at sea. Not that it matters much, but this was our first cruise without having chocolates on the pillows at night. We suggest that RCI train the staff prior to offering cruises to paying passengers; otherwise, the line's reputation becomes tainted, especially with new customers. When novice cabin stewards or waiters are utilized on board they should be closely supervised by experienced staff. In our opinion this experiment has failed and we want to post this review on the internet hoping that RCI will become aware of the mistakes and try to prevent repeating them. We are addicted to cruising and plan to remain so for many years. Are we going to cruise again with the Radiance of the Seas and with other RCI ships? Of course we will!
One positive note on the training of the new crew of this ship was passed to us by Debbie Nylund, the Environmental Officer. She assured us that her priority has been training the crew on safety in emergency situations. This was done prior to other training activities, including service. Safety to us is the most important aspect on a ship or in any other place indeed. And we hope that the lessons on safety are not forgotten while the crew is trained to perform excellent service. Happy Cruising!
This is a review of our spring break cruise on the brand new Radiance of the Seas. There were 3 of us including my wife and our 15 year old son.
Before embarking on it's maiden season of Alaskan and Southern Caribbean cruises, RCI was offering several short ‘reduced rate' cruises to nowhere on the Radiance from Miami and Ft. Lauderdale starting March 24th. Our particular cruise was the 3 night embarking March 26, and was the first cruise scheduled for paying customers. The actual maiden voyage of the Radiance was set for April 7th, a 14 day trip through the Panama Canal as the ship heads to Alaska for the summer.
The Radiance is a brand new class of ship for Royal Caribbean. At around 90,000 tons it is supposed to bring together some of the best aspects of both the Vision and Voyager class vessels while still being able to navigate the Panama Canal, spending half her time in Alaska and the other half in the southern Caribbean..
Before going any farther I need to answer the question of why take such a short cruise, especially since we had totravel a long distance just to get to Miami. In fact, our only previous cruise was a short cruise aboard the Disney Magic 2 years ago and I swore then I would never take a short cruise again because it was over too soon (though that experience did hook us on cruising). However, there were several compelling reasons we decided to go on this cruise.
First of all was the price. I received an e-mail in early January from a large internet cruise agency advertising special prices on this ship in March and April. Even for a short cruise I thought they were misprints. I called, verified the price, and booked on the spot. I was also able to secure really reasonable airfare to Florida. I have found you can get good rates most any time of the year, even during peak periods, if you just look for them. The internet is an invaluable tool in this regard.
Second was the itinerary. This cruise was originally to be sailing only, with no ports of call. So, unlike most short cruises that sail only at night and are docked at Nassau and maybe a private island during the day, we would get to spend the whole time on the ship and take advantage of all she has to offer. Just what we wanted As it turned out the itinerary was changed, a fact I will discuss later.
Third was the chance to be among the first passengers on a brand new ship. I know many people avoid initial cruises on a ship because of the anticipated problems that occur. No doubt it takes awhile to get everything to work correctly, and for the crew to get their act together. However, this is why it was a reduced rate cruise in the first place. We decided up front to accept the fact that there would be problems, and just go with the flow and enjoy ourselves.
Fourth (but first in level of importance) was to spend some quality time with our youngest son, who at 15 is not far from joining his brother and sister in the real world.
Lastly, my e-mail friends Tom and Mary Milano, who have taken over 20 cruises the past 4 years with various cruise lines and write wonderful reviews of both their cruise experiences and their views on life convinced me that Royal Caribbean gives the most bang for the buck for average folks like us, and here was an economical chance to prove them right. They were!
We arrived at the cruise terminal in Miami at about 1:00 on Monday, March 26, unloaded our bags, and then I took our rental car around the corner to the Avis location. It was about 1:15 when we actually entered the terminal. Unfortunately, we had not beaten the rush as I had hoped (traffic on I-95 was terrible) and had to wait in a rather long line. The line moved quickly, however, and we stepped on board about 40 minutes later.
My first impression as we walked on board was that the ship was an engineering and artistic marvel. It was stunning. My son was almost speechless as he had never seen anything like it, and believe me that does not happen often.
I will attempt to describe the ship from the bottom up, and then reflect upon other aspects such as the itinerary, food , service, cabins, etc.
You enter the ship on the 5th or promenade deck where the lifeboat drills are held. After winding through an attractive shopping area you came to the heart of the ship, the centrum which was truly beautiful. It extended from the 4th deck all the way to the top with overhanging balconies on each level. On either side of the centrum was a glass wall that extended up to the 10th deck, flooding the area with daylight. Unlike previous RCI ships the bank of elevators in the centrum were on the port side instead of centered and the exterior elevators went up alongside the glass wall so you could look out over the ocean as you rode. Same was true for the interior elevators that looked out over the centrum as you rode them. There was another bank of elevators in the bow, centrally located, but none in the stern, only stairs, which made for some long walks for people with rooms in the back.
The centrum lobby, lobby bar and guest relations desk were on the 4th deck. There was adequate seating in the lobby and an open area for dancing or congregating. There was also a large seating area alongside the glass wall overlooking the centrum on the 5th deck. Live music was played in the centrum lobby much of the time.
The dining room, Cascades, was located from mid ship back on both the 4th and 5th decks, with a beautiful staircase connecting both levels, and two lines of majestic columns running the length of the room. It was truly elegant. There were also floor to ceiling windows from the front to the back both levels. Access to the dining room from the centrum area was available on either level so that you could walk to your table without having to use the staircase.
The Aurora Theater was also multi level and located up front on the 5th and 6th decks. It was truly state-of-the-art with a beautiful multi-colored curtain on the stage. The design of the theater was what I would call modernistic. Seats were stadium theater type with large cup holders. A bar was in the back of the auditorium.
As I mentioned earlier, the shopping area was on the 5th deck and included a coffee shop and bookstore called Books, Books, and Coffee which is supposed to a scaled down version of a Borders Bookstore or equivalent. It was only open a few hours on our cruise as they were still putting it together and I never got to visit it.
Working back from the Aurora Theater on the 6th deck was a movie theater and a large (and active) casino. After crossing the centrum area you entered a nightclub / entertainment area that included the nautically appointed Schooner Bar (including the appropriate nautical smells as you entered), and an area called the Colony Club which featured a billiard room, a card playing room, another lounge, and a stage area for other entertainers. The billiard tables are unique in that they will always be level, no matter how rough the sea may be. The Schooner Bar featured a piano player/songtress that had a large following each night.
Also located in this area were the alternative restaurants, Portofino's and Chops Grill, which featured hefty $20.00 per person cover charges. I looked in both and they were elegantly appointed but not enough to entice me to spend extra money to eat there.
Decks 7 through 10 were all cabins. All the exterior cabins on these decks had balconies, with the expensive suites being on the 10th deck. The less expensive cabins were all on decks 2 through 4, with the outside cabins featuring large portholes. If you want a less expensive cabin on this ship (certainly the best values) you better book it early because they are not that many of them.
Deck 11 had the Shipshape spa area, a stunning solarium pool area decorated in an African motif fronted by several elephant statues, the main pool area, and the Windjammer Cafe. The latter was large and airy with windows all around. I thought it was an extremely attractive area for casual dining. The various serving stations were adequately spaced so that you were not always bumping into others, and there was enough seating both inside and out to meet the demands of the breakfast and lunch rush times. My son camped out here.
Many people commented that the Solarium was the most impressive and beautiful part of the ship.
The 12th deck had the children's program areas, including a children's pool with a long slide, an outdoor sports court, a golf simulator, and the Shipshape fitness area. . There was also the Seaside Cafe, a small eatery at the stern that served late night snacks from 11:00 on. I actually thought the food here was the best served on the ship. My son also camped out here.
The main sunning areas were around the main pool on deck 11 and overlooking the pool and down either side on deck 12. The main pool area was nice, but not overly large. There is not enough room on these 2 decks to accommodate everyone that would want a deck chair on days when the ship is at sea. Thus the necessity to stake out a deck chair early.
Finally, the 13th deck featured the rock climbing wall and carpet golf area, both at the stern, and RCI's traditional Viking Crown area that was divided into a pulsating disco and a much more laid back lounge.
Now that you have a feel for the layout of the ship let me give my impressions about the ship and this particular cruise.
There were problems of course, lots of them. You heard apologies from the crew all day long. Many cabins had no ice buckets or glasses. Quite a few people did not get their luggage the first night until after 9:00. Second seating dinner the first night was delayed for 45 minutes and overall service in the dining room was very inconsistent. Room service was extremely slow. Lots of things like that, but one should expect that in a shakedown cruise, which is what this was. A far as I know most of the problems were of the annoying variety, not really critical.
On the cruise immediately following ours, however, there was reported to be serious water damage caused by faulty seals on doors and windows when the ship encountered a strong storm with high winds.
Now for a few detailed observations:
The Itinerary: It turned out not to be a cruise to nowhere. Instead, we went to Nassau the first full day. There were some complaints from passengers but the cruise line has the right to change the itinerary for whatever reason and we understood that going in. My son really enjoyed sailing into Nassau's harbor, turning around, and docking next to other ships. We dwarfed them. While I probably would not have booked the cruise if I had known up front that we were going to Nassau, it was no problem. In fact I got some beautiful video of the ship from the dock area. The weather was great all 3 days we were on the ship and we were able to experience everything on her we wanted to. The full day at sea was particularly nice.
The Service: Very spotty but this was a very green, inexperienced crew. I was told that 50% or more had never been on a ship. It is going to take some time to indoctrinate them into the RCI way of doing things. The dining room staff in in particular had a lot of problems, with some of the assistant waiters not having a clue as to what to do. This caused a lot of tension between the waiters and assistants. On all three nights there were mistakes on our orders and it was clear that the waiters could not be counted on yet for making dining suggestions. Our cabin attendant did the best she could, considering she had to come up with makeshift ice buckets, glasses, etc.
Room service was late both mornings with our breakfast, but to their credit on the second day they called and apologized for the delay and inquired if we still wanted them to bring the food. We appreciated that.
I want to point out, however, that the crew tried hard under difficult circumstances and that is what was important to us. They were to a person friendly and willing to help, and always had a pleasant greeting. I know some people probably under tipped the cabin attendants and wait staff but we thought they did an admiral job under the conditions and gave them the recommended amounts. I am sure RCI will quickly mould them into a superb crew.
The Food: I sometimes have a problem with people who go on a cruise and suddenly become food critics when I know they mostly eat out at places like Chili's and Applebee's. That certainly describes us. And let's be honest, people have different likes and dislikes when it comes to food, so that any comments about it are subjective at best. However, in this case I would be charitable if I said the food was anything better than average. The main problem was inconsistency.
For example, dinners in the dining room were very inconsistent in their quality and presentation and that included all aspects from appetizers to desserts. For lunches the Windjammer always had a nice variety of hot and cold items and desserts and what I had was tasty and nicely presented.. Breakfast from room service, despite being late, was above average, plentiful and filling, but the breakfast served to us in the main dining room on the morning of debarkation was rushed and hurried and the hot items (eggs, etc.) were barely lukewarm. On the other hand, the sandwiches, snacks, and desserts served late nights in the Seaview Grill were really good.
However, we did not have to prepare the food or clean up the mess, so we had no real complaints. It was certainly as good or better than what you receive in the above mentioned chains. The food is mass produced, not gourmet, and I am amazed they do as good a job as they do. I am confident this area will show marked improvement over the next few weeks and months.
The Cabins: We had a balcony cabin on the 8th deck. It may be ages before we have one again. The balcony was surprisingly large with a small table and 2 nice size chairs. While not the largest cabins afloat, they were extremely well designed. There was more than adequate room to store things, and the furniture and fixtures were of a very high quality. The circular shower curtain in the bathroom ingeniously doubled the effective size of the shower. We had a triple and the third bed came out of the ceiling and was above and perpendicular to the main bed. This is fine if you have children with you but an elderly person would have a hard time climbing into this bed. You would have to go to a quad to get a couch that also makes into a bed. As I mentioned earlier, the best values on this ship are the less expensive cabins on the lower decks but there are not that many of them. I would not have booked a balcony cabin if it had not been for the special pricing we received, but we certainly enjoyed and took advantage of it.
The Entertainment: I thought the entertainment was good to excellent. The RCI ensemble cast of singers and dancers put on two high energy shows featuring pop and rock music. A couple of the dancers were really good and the singers could all sing in key and we could understand every word. The sound system was excellent. The real highlight was the second night when a ventriloquist, Ronn Lucas, was the featured act. He was tremendous and had the entire audience in stitches. I did not check out all the other entertainment but the trio that played evenings in the centrum lobby were good and the piano player/songstress in the Schooner Bar attracted a very large following.
Final thoughts on the ship: It is a beautiful, beautiful ship and is yet another advancement in ship design and function, of which RCI seems to be in the forefront. The new vibrationless propulsion system is so good that you hardly know you are on a ship, especially if you are cruising at less than maximum speed. On the cruise immediately following ours the ship encountered 80 mph winds and torrential rains and people were more concerned about the water damage than the rough ride.
I think RCI did a very smart thing by having the Radiance go on several short shakedown cruises before launching into it's regular schedule. It is easier for one to put up with the annoying problems encountered on a new ship on a short cruise rather than on a longer one.
When they get their act together, which I am sure will be soon, this is going to be a very popular ship which will garner consistently high reviews.
We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and my son had the absolute time of his life. As we were pulling away in our rental car there was a tinge of sadness, like one has when saying goodbye to an old friend. That best describes our trip.
Considering what we paid for this cruise it was more than worth it, problems and all. We would definitely sail RCI again if the opportunity presents itself.
Any comments or questions are welcome. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.