My wife and I sailed aboard the Radiance of the Seas on the second official sailing of this new ship April 23rd -30th. We are both 30, without children, and fairly active. We enjoyed the repositioning cruise immensely. I will try to relate our experiences and opinions regarding the ship, service, and itinerary.
The Itinerary: The Radiance had just finished a Panama Canal trek prior to our sailing. We were to board her in Ensenada, Mexico. This required a flight into San Diego and a 2 hour bus ride down to Ensenada. The following day we were to return to San Diego. This was a running joke throughout the cruise, especially for residents of San Diego on board. We then sailed to Catalina Island before a day at sea. We visited San Francisco, another day at sea, followed by a stop in Victoria, BC and then disembarked in Seattle. For west coasters this was an attractive cruise. Many on board lived along the coast. For those of us that had never been west of the Rockies, this was a terrific broad exposure.
The Ship: This new 90,000 gross ton ship is spectacular. I am not a big fan of the all white floating condo on the outside, but once inside, this ship is stunning! Glass is the material of choice for the designers of this ship. There is not a meeting place on board that you cannot see outside. Or if there is, I never found it. The elevators mid-ship off the Centrum are glass and you can watch the ocean as you zip up the 13 decks. The Centrum is the central meeting place from which most all public areas are accessed. It is nine decks high with small seating areas on each level. On Deck 4 there is a baby grand piano where nightly live music is performed and dancing often occurs. Deck 5 leads to the second level of the 2 floored Dining Room Cascades. It is named for the cascading waterfall that drops between the spiraled staircases connecting the two levels. Opposite the falls is a beautiful tile mural. Again, there is glass enclosing the room and ocean views for all!
Deck six was home to the Centrum shops which included RCI logo wear, a perfume shop, a liquor shop, jewelry, and resort wear. Prices were reasonable for liquor and scents, but quite high for the rest of the merchandise. Although they do claim a low price guarantee against anything found on shore. I did find a Tommy Bahama shirt in Catalina about $40 less than RCI had, but I did not challenge the claim - I just bought the shirt in Avalon.
Also on Deck 6 is the Casino and an entrance to the Aurora Theater (two levels). We spent only a limited amount of time in the Casino, ending a positive $25, so we quit early. There is a small movie theater on this deck where we saw one film. The sports bar and small video arcade was located here as well.
The Schooner Bar was here as well. The entrance to this bar was lined with the keel of a boat lining the ceiling. Old ropes framed murals depicting Christopher Columbus landing in the new world. From these ropes a musty smell was piped in to give one the sense of stepping into an old ship. It seemed most were divided on the scent. I found it a nice enhancement, but many were not fans. Also in the entrance was a an old cannon recovered and mounted. Once inside the bar nice leather couches and chairs allowed for casual meetings and listening to a pianist or guitarist for evening relaxation. Beyond the bar was the Colony Club. Here is where the self-leveling pool tables were located. At $90,000 a piece, they were a conversation piece if nothing else. With no charge to play on them, the tables were consistently busy. Continuing inside the club was another bar and meeting area with the largest dance floor on the ship. The Captains cocktail reception was held here as well as bingo, dances, and other parties. Around the dance floor was a non smoking area , but on the outskirts of the room smoking was allowed. Off the side of these rooms were the two alternative dining facilities: Portofino's and Chops Grille.
At the top of the Centrum was the Crown and Anchor Lounge. We never saw much going on here other than the reservations of future cruises. The highlight here however is the Glass floored cutout that allowed you to look straight down nine floors.
Up on deck 11 was the Solarium, main pool and Windjammer Cafe. The Solarium was an African themed room. The life size elephant heads frame the cascading waterfalls that lead into the pool. A wood bridge crossed the water from one side of the room to the other in front of the elephants. The lounge chairs are comfortably padded in a safari themed print. Bird whistles and other jungle sounds were piped in at a pleasant volume providing a nice relaxing feel. The first day of our cruise the roof was open, but was closed the rest of the cruise. It was a nice place, but I wish on sunny days there could have been a bit of a breeze. It got rather warm with no air circulating.
The main pool was not too small as many have mentioned, but it seemed to be a good size given the Solarium and other activities available. Plenty of seats were available and the staff did remove towels that were clearly not being used. They did discourage saving of seats.
The Windjammer Cafe was a pleasant surprise. It was actually quite good food. We ate lunch and breakfast here. We never ate dinner here. It is a buffet with several islands for the different foods offered. Traffic flow was not a problem, although you could not pour your own drinks. This was handled by the staff. Desserts seemed to be leftovers from the previous evening, although still quite fresh. On occasion finding seats for dining was difficult. But our wait was not overly long. Tables are available indoors, in a covered outdoor area and on open deck space.
Art was everywhere you looked. I seem to recall a figure of $5 million in artwork on board. Some of the work was art for arts sake, others were quite attractive.
The sports deck on Decks 11 & 12 included a basketball court that doubled as a volleyball and soccer surface. There was a 9 hole mini-golf course that was challenging, a golf simulator and a rock climbing wall. I did climb the wall and made it to the top! It was quite fun. There was no charge for any of these activities.
The Viking Crown Lounge on Deck 13 was a nice room, but it did not seem to get a lot of attention. It included two lounges with full view of the ocean. We did not spend much time here as we don't do much dancing or drinking and that was the appeal in the evenings for these rooms.
We did not explore the children's activity areas as we are childless. There were not many young ones on board our cruise, so I am not certain how well the areas were used.
We did visit the Shipshape center which provided a nice view of the ocean as it is in the forward section of the ship high above the ocean. We ran on tread mills as we pulled into San Diego. Many cardiovascular machines and weight machines were available and in good working condition. There were aerobic classes offered for a charge of about $10 per person. We did not attend. We did use the spa service twice with pleasant results. The regular prices were way too high, but as the week wore on specials were offered, especially days in port.
The materials used on this ship were wonderfully selected. The warm tones were perfect for an elegant and comfortable feeling. Wood was found in most places that glass or marble was not present. Most bars were marble or granite and often ornately decorated with a design in the surface. Blues, greens, purples, and burgundy colors were used very smartly. This ship is stunning.
The Food Cascades was the only dining room in which we ate dinner. The food was average in our estimation. There were some good dishes, but nothing spectacular. The Lobster, Filet, Prime Rib and Chicken Kiev come to mind as the best meals we ate. We found the desserts pretty bland at times. Only a chocolate flourless cake and tiramisu get high marks. The food was never horrible, just bland and lifeless.
The Windjammer was a pleasant surprise. The choices were quite good and often tasty. Crowds flocked to this option. I suspect the quality of the food, speed of the service and casual atmosphere added to the popularity. Made to order omelets were available daily and wrap sandwiches were made fresh in addition to the prepared entrees, hamburgers, pizza, and salad bar for lunch. As everywhere else on board, a view of the sea was not far away while you ate your meal.
The Service The buzz about poor service and new employees put us on guard. We frankly had nothing to worry about. Our assistant waiter was brand new and he was a little slow at times, but he was working hard. Sometimes I think he was trying too hard! Every night my wife had a Caesar Salad. After bringing my salad dressing he would ask which she would prefer. The Caesars always arrived with dressing. I can't fault him for wanting to do the right thing. Our main waiter had been aboard the Monarch for a few years. Eurdley was terrific. He had a great sense of humor and was always a pleasure to spend time with each evening. We do not drink wine, so we did not deal with the wine steward. Getting extra desserts or entrees was not a problem. Even getting two appetizers instead of a salad was easy enough. Our cabin steward did a great job. He was a shy guy, but was competent and took care of us nicely.
The Entertainment We recall three ensembles, three individuals and the orchestra for musical entertainment. The ensembles included two bands, one for a more mellow sound, a more rock and roll styled band, and a more classical sound which included a violin, accordion and oboe. All the groups sounded great and had a large repertoire. The soloists included two pianists and a guitarist. Dinner was accompanied by live piano or classical ensemble and during the evening hours, live music could be found in various locations. The shows were presented with a live orchestra, which included a keyboardist, lead guitar, bass guitar, 2 (Very good) trumpets, a trombone, and two saxophones (alto and tenor). They provided the live music for the headliners and the singers and dancers. The production shows left us a little unimpressed, although those that enjoy Vegas style reviews seemed to enjoy them. The comedy and hypnosis headliners were the acts we enjoyed most. Hypnotists always tickle my funny bone.
The Cruise Our departure time was moved from 5:00 to 9:00. We never heard why, but the embarkation nightmares must have played a key role here. I will admit that the drive to Ensenada was far more scenic and beautiful than I expected, however the hassle of going from San Diego to Ensenada to sail back to San Diego was annoying. The Jones Act has outlived its usefulness! We did the ship drill at 8:45 right before second seating dinner.
Our first day in San Diego was beautiful. We went to the Zoo. We took a taxi from the port and saved about 10 dollars off the excursion price by doing so and buying a park entrance on site. We also made it to the zoo about a half hour before the excursion buses arrived. Getting a taxi was simple, they line up at both the port and zoo. We took the bus tour of the zoo, which we highly recommend. This allowed us to see most of the high points of the zoo. We were able to watch the Polar Bears splashing and playing in their pool from our perch on the double decked bus. We did have to walk to see the Pandas. Do go to see them early if it is going to be a warm day. They are definitely cool weather animals and get uncomfortable in the heat. They are beautiful creatures though when you can see them. We went back to the ship early and had the place nearly to ourselves. I climbed the wall, we played some mini-golf and we enjoyed a snack in the pool area.
Day two was at Catalina. We had to tender in to the city of Avalon. Fog was thick this day. It was so thick at times we you could not see the ships from the shore. We chose not to take any excursions here, rather we walked around town and just enjoyed being away from home. We wandered over to see the old casino building and did some shopping. This town felt like a Caribbean island. It had a nice charm to it. We did look at renting a golf cart to explore some on our own. However, the price of $40 per hour for a golf cart was a little more than we were willing to pay just to wander. So, again we returned to the ship to enjoy the Solarium and relax.
Day three was at sea. Very cold weather and strong winds limited the outdoor activities. We attended the pool Olympics which were moved inside due to weather. The Colony Club was the site for balloon popping, Hula Hoop transfer and clothes changing relays. We then braved the cold for the mini golf tournament and basketball hot shot contest. In spite of the conditions we had a good time. The recreation specialists did a good job of organizing and making the best of rough situations.
Day four was San Francisco. This was a great place to visit on a cruise vacation. I woke up to see us passing directly under the Golden Gate Bridge. I scrambled to shake my sleepy eyes to track down the video camera to get footage of the passing. We had ordered tickets to tour Alcatraz through Grayline on their website (http://www.grayline.com). We took the first tour out with the headphones. Spend the extra money, get the headset. This tour is very interesting and informative. I enjoyed seeing the historical figures' cells, the hole, the different cell types and the remnants of the marine grenade attacks and escape plots. We spent about two hours on the island and took the ferry back to the mainland. We then had some lunch on the waterfront, walked to Ghirardelli Square, Lombard St and then went shopping at Pier 39. We chose not to take a Cable Car ride as the lines were extraordinarily long. The weather was chilly this day, but comfortable in the upper 50's.
Day five was again at sea. The weather was bright and sunny, but cold. We relaxed quite a bit this day, had spa treatments, watched horse racing, attended the art auction, passenger talent show and basically enjoyed the laziness a cruise can provide!
Day six we docked at Victoria, BC. We arrived late as one engine had troubles and for several hours we had to go much slower than planned. Apparently the crew was able to make the adjustments or repairs and the engine began to perform as hoped. So, we only arrived two hours late. Kudos to Captain Kent and crew for the work they did and keeping us advised.
Victoria is a beautiful town. Riding around the streets you just don't see litter or unkempt properties. It is such a pleasant place to visit. I suspect from the locals comments too that it is a terrific place to live. We did some shopping downtown before we took an excursion to Butchart Gardens. What we did not know is that it would take about 25 minutes to get to the gardens. The bus driver we had was a joy. He gave us a running commentary on the buildings, neighborhoods, political climate, weather trends and basically an overview of Victoria and Vancouver Island. Tourism is the number one economic industry he claimed and with the friendliness of the residents, they'll do fine attracting more. The gardens were beautiful. A small disappointment was that the roses had not yet bloomed, but the tulips were vividly on display. This is almost a zoo for plant and flower enthusiasts, that is the only way to describe it. The cost of the excursion was $50 per person, but throw in the city tour as we went and we felt we more than got our money's worth.
Our final day took us to Seattle where we disembarked. Rain (imagine that in Seattle?) and cold made for an unpleasant experience. Waiting two hours after the scheduled time to have our color called was a horrible start to the day. Then, our bus driver had never been to the airport before, so we wandered aimlessly before he found a bus that was going to the passenger terminal and he followed! Oh my. We were able to catch an earlier flight stand by so we could get back home to the dogs that my wife (OK, I did too!) sorely missed.
Overall thoughts This ship is beautiful. It compares favorably in many areas with the only ships we have sailed previously (Disney's Magic and Wonder), but still has some bugs to be worked through. There were some design flaws that make moving from some areas difficult. You don't want an aft cabin unless you are prepared to walk a good deal. RCI will have to figure how to balance the Windjammer and Main Dining. Many folks passed on the dining rooms to eat upstairs as that facility is wonderful and the food on par with the main room. Veteran waitstaff were clearly frustrated with the new system, so it will be addressed I am certain. They never knew how many at their table would arrive each night. The Captain and his crew were always friendly and seemed more than competent. The service staff was really trying hard. Any deficiencies were overcome with smiles and hard work. The entertainment staff was quite good and were good at what they did. We did not enjoy the production shows too much, but that was more a design issue and personal preference than the talent of the performers.
We would love to sail this ship again, but when she hits the warmer climates. This was a bit of a trial for us to see if Alaska would be something we would enjoy. We found quickly we prefer to be in warm weather. Alaska may be beautiful, but us thin blooded Texans need to see the sunny skies!