This was our first Royal Caribbean cruise so we were anxious to try it out and compare it with the other cruises we have taken, all of which we have enjoyed. We are still fairly new at cruising, having taken only four other cruises - Carnival Inspiration, HAL Veendam (twice) and the Sea Princess. In fact, we had just taken the family on the Sea Princess in January and weren't really planning another cruise so quickly, but the rates for this repositioning cruise on a brand new ship were just too good to pass up. We had read much of previous problems with its early cruises, so our expectations were "guarded", to say the least. The final experience was generally very good to excellent.
The itinerary for this repositioning cruise included Ensenada, San Diego, Catalina, San Francisco, Victoria and Seattle, with two sea days. I understand that most passengers flew into San Diego and then were bussed to Ensenada, although I heard that RCI flew some of them into LA. Since it was our anniversary, we booked our own air and flew in two days early to enjoy San Diego before leaving on the cruise. San Diego is a great place to visit and we saw Old Town, Gastown, the pier and Ocean Beach area. We used Priceline and were able to get a nice King, non-smoking room at the Hyatt Sand Diego Resort on Mission Bay for only $100 per night. This is a great resort setting and a perfect location, so we were very pleased. Priceline worked for us on this one, as the room generally goes for $250 per night.
We were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get around San Diego and look forward to going back when we can spend more time.
Embarkation Undoubtedly, our biggest complaints would revolve around the embarkation procedures for this cruise. We've been spoiled by the ease of boarding on our other cruises out of Fort Lauderdale and Vancouver, and I can say with good confidence that it is highly unlikely that we will ever book a cruise again that either starts or ends at Ensenada. They're just not set up to handle large numbers of passengers, yet. We dropped our rental car off and were at the appointed place at the San Diego airport at 9:00 a.m. on Monday morning. RCI staff was there and they were all very friendly and helpful. Unfortunately, the company they have contracted with to transfer passengers to Ensenada uses very old buses and some of the drivers didn't know their way to the Ensenada processing point. (Nothing like the smell of an old bus restroom for three hours to get you in the mood.) We were on the bus by 10:00 a.m. and on our way. Don't believe what they tell you, the drive to Ensenada is not a "scenic" drive. While there are certain areas with spectacular views of the ocean, it is spoiled by the ugliness of the passage through Tijuana. It does not set the best mood to begin a cruise. The bus ride did however include a nice box lunch. by the way, once you load you luggage on the bus, you will not see it again until your stateroom. On arriving in Ensenada about 3 hours later, we were dropped off at a hotel for processing. We spent at least an hour standing in line or sitting in chairs waiting to be processed. The RCI staff did the best that they could, they are just not as well organized or set up in this town yet. They did offer bottled water and eventually you were inside a building and able to sit down to wait, but we spent at least 30 minutes standing outside. Fortunately, the weather was fine, but I think this could be very difficult if it were real hot or raining. At check in, you are given your passenger card, which serves as your shipboard credit card and key to your stateroom. (RCI required you to show this card when getting on and off the ship, but you did not have to insert it into an electronic reader slot as we have always done before. They only keep visual track and not computer track.) >From registration, it is a short shuttle ride to the ship and we were onboard by 2:30 p.m. exploring the ship and having a light lunch in the Windjammer. Our luggage showed up to the stateroom around 5:30 p.m.
Again, we were lucky and don't have too many complaints, but it was definitely more difficult than we have experienced on other cruises. I suspect someone of ill health or that had difficulty standing would find this a real challenge. We also heard of at least two bus drivers getting lost going through Tijuana. We also noted that prior RCI passengers were given a special line to go through, although I don't think it went any faster than the regular line.
The Ship I realize that our perspective is limited, but the Radiance has to be one of the most beautiful ships on the sea. We heard this from many others who had cruised a lot more than we have, but the beauty was one of the real highlights. We were continually noticing new details that were unnoticed before. This ship is a marvel of glass, granite, tile and wood. The public areas are incredible, but the Centrum or atrium area is exceptionally unique. The lighting and breadth of this area are wonderful. There is even a place up on the top where you can stand on a glass floor and look straight down to the bottom. Don't miss this.
There are plenty of bars and wonderful small alcoves to sit and visit with others. Especially nice is the Schooner Lounge and Colony Club, although the "special effects" odor of the Schooner Lounge was not to my taste. These are areas where much of the nightly entertainment will take place and they are very spacious and comfortable. During the day, you can always find a nice table or chair to visit or relax.
You might want to note that there are only two banks of elevators, one in the middle (Centrum) and one forward. They were faster than those on other ships and we never had to wait very long. A nice touch was their posting the day of the week in a marble insert in the floor of each elevator. There are also only two sets of stairs, one at mid-ship and one forward. The ship deck plan shows a staircase towards the stern, but this is for staff only and is not available to the passengers. If you have a stateroom towards the back of the ship as we did, it can be a long walk to the stairs and elevators. With all the eating to be done, this can be a good thing, but some might find it inconvenient. The ship has two Internet lounges with new computers with fairly responsive access to the Internet. I believe the charge is $15 for 30 minutes. The staterooms are also wired with Internet connections, but we did not try these.
Stateroom We booked an E3 Balcony Stateroom and were upgraded to an E2 on deck 8, Stateroom #8666. This is the last room on the hallway and has an extra large balcony that bends out giving you a great view looking forward on the ship. The rooms are smaller than most we have seen and the storage is a bit more limited, although adequate for a 7 day cruise. Ladies may not like the fact that the closet does not have a space for hanging longer gowns. The closet is split with two racks, one above and one below, that will accommodate only shirt or skirt size clothing. There are also shelves in the closet and drawers at the dressing table and two very small bedside tables. Lighting is excellent with even small reading lights available next to the beds and there is a room temperature control that kept us comfortable. The room safe is bigger than most and the room has a small refigerator but it is full of items for sale and there is no room for your own things. Your room steward will keep the ice bucket full, though. The bathrooms are again the smallest we have seen, but they are very efficient and met our needs. I would suspect that a larger person would have some difficulty in the shower, though. Beds were comfortable but have rounded corners and seem shorter than usual. A taller person will have to adjust. The room TV had CNN, Headline News, The Weather Channel, TNT, Ship Movies, Pay Per View movies, plus some music and other channels. One problem we have had is that our 29" suitcases will not fit under the beds and most cruise lines will not stow the luggage so it sits against the wall and takes up room. One other thing these rooms could use would be some hanging hooks for jackets, cameras, etc.
Entertainment: Casino - we are not big into gambling, but this was the largest casino we have seen at sea. There seemed to be lots of slot machines from $1 to quarters to nickels, as well as blackjack, craps and other games.
3D Movie Theater - we didn't watch any movies, but this is a great theater with stadium seating and a reasonably sized screen. Many of the movies they showed were old classics, so if you're into movies, this will be a real treat.
Aurora Theater - this was where the main shows were held and it is wonderful. It is a true theater type setting with comfortable seats, all of which seem to have excellent views of the stage and have convenient drink holders. There is also a second floor balcony that provides good views also. The entertainment staff were pretty good and I would rate the shows as good, but not exceptional. There is a lot of energy and the singers and dancers seem talented, but I would rate what we have seen on HAL and Princess as better. There were also two comedians, one (Kelly Monteith) of which was excellent, the other (Robert Wilde) only good. Kenny James, a Star Search champion was also a fun performer. The hypnotist, Steve Baynor, was very entertaining and since we knew one of the subjects we thought it was hilarious. Don't miss these shows, as they were certainly enjoyable. Many ladies may certainly enjoy some of the costumes worn by the male dancers.
Lounges - as I already mentioned there are plenty of lounges on board, including a sports bar that showed different games that were on during the cruise. There is also a great band from Seattle playing in the Colony Club and a pianist/guitarist taking requests in the Schooner Lounge. You will also find string quartets, duets and other performers playing in different clubs and lounges from the Centrum to the Sky Lounge. Always a lot going on and the entertainers are talented and enjoyable. You will also find the standard karaoke, "Newlywed Game", "Dating Game" (although that was a bit unorganized), trivia, bingo and other activities going on. Perhaps I should say here that Gordon Whatman, the cruise director is excellent and contributes a great deal to the success of this ship. Much of his staff appears to be new, but they will get up to speed.
Dining / Food: The dining facilities on this ship are beautiful and certainly exceed the overall quality of the food. I would rate the food as good, but again we did not feel that it was as good as we experienced on Princess or HAL. The one exception to this was the food in the Windjammer, the more casual, 24 hour restaurant. The breakfast and lunch experience in Windjammer was very nice. This is the first cruise ship that actually cooks its scrambled eggs. I hate runny eggs. Breakfast generally included two kinds of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, French toast and pancakes. There is also an omelet bar and a separate area with donuts, bagels and other breads. Lunch was varied with pasta, burgers, sandwiches, salad bar and meats. Desserts were also available, including soft serve frozen yogurt.. We never found the Windjammer crowded and thought the layout was a great improvement over Sea Princess. Complaints we had read about cold food and difficulties with drinks did not exist on our cruise. It was also fairly easy to find a table and many people filled up tables sitting with strangers, more so than we have seen on other cruises. We enjoyed meeting so many new people every day.
We ate dinner every evening but one in Cascades, the formal dining room and enjoyed the experience. We asked for a large table and were so pleased with the friendliness of the other tablemates. We hit it off so well, we spent much of the cruise together. This was a real highlight and helped us look forward to each dinner. We had the main dinner seating at 6:00 p.m. and were there generally until 8:00 p.m. It wasn't that the service was slow, we just took our time, enjoying the good company. Menu selections include three appetizers and two soups, one salad choice and generally five entrees, served in three courses. The cold soups were excellent and we found ourselves ordering more than one appetizer on a regular basis. The rest of the fare was pretty standard. Not featured, but always available is the Caesar salad, steak and chicken breast. Desserts were also good, but not as strong as Princess. The service problems that we had read about didn't play a large part in our cruise, but it is obvious that there are a lot of new employees with little or no experience. The service process is a little disjointed and the room is noisier than usual; lots of dropped plates and glasses. Our waiter, Sulaymon, was wonderful and seemed to do a good job directing the assistant waiter that obviously was only beginning to learn. The head-waiter was invisible until the one night that the captain sat at an adjacent table. On that night she seemed to be everywhere, but was seldom seen on other nights. If they have a maitre'd, we never saw him at all. I'm sure that with time they will get their act together and service will be on a par with other ships. We expected this since it was a new ship.
Radiance has two alternative restaurants, Chops and Portofino. To eat at these restaurants there is an additional charge of $20 per person, plus tip. We looked into these restaurants but didn't eat there. I find it a bit offensive that these additional dining options are available for a fee. I'm afraid this may be a taste of the future. You get on the cruise for a base price, but additional fees are charged for all the really fun stuff. Besides, isn't this like the cruise line admitting that they can do better than what is served in the formal dining?? It just doesn't make sense to me and seems to be a dangerous direction that cruise lines may be taking as things become more competitive and cruise prices are driven lower.
Since we don't drink alcohol, we were particularly pleased that RCI didn't charge for soft drinks or fruit juices in the dining room or in the Windjammer. There was a charge for soft drinks only in the lounges. Coffee, tea, lemonade and hot chocolate are readily available in the Windjammer and drink service throughout the ship is not pushy at all.
Spa Facilities One of the real strengths of this ship is the spa facilities. I can't speak for any of the special treatments, although my wife was pleased with a cut and highlight treatment, but the layout and decor is incredible. One of my favorite experiences of the cruise is to walk my miles, then sit in the whirlpool and take a steam before showering. This ship has a nice walking/jogging track up on top and the largest collection of training equipment I have ever seen. Plenty of treadmills, stair-steppers and lots of weight equipment. Inside the men's changing area are lockers and a great steam room and dry sauna room. The steam room is made of beautiful tile work and has a cold water hose (rare in these days) and interesting lighting in the ceiling. There is a separate area called the "Thermal Suite" which includes heated tile lounge chairs, a steam, sauna and eucalyptus room. There is a $15 per day charge for this room, but since swimsuits or robes are required, it is something that can be done with your spouse. Hidden around the front of this spa area is a relaxation room with great padded lounge chairs for quiet reading and napping. What a great place. It seemed that many people spent much of their day in this room.
Unlike many ships that place the treatment room towards the center of the ships in small closet like rooms, the Radiance treatment rooms are located on the outside with views of the ocean. This should add to the overall experience. There is also a special partner room that is available for a fee to partners to have fun with the mud, steam and shower on their own. I don't know of anyone that tried this, but I've never seen it on other ships.
Again, the use of marble and tile in this area is just phenomenal, although the shower drains never seemed to work and the floor was always wet.
Shopping Minimal at best. There is a jewelry story, sundries store and a book store that is more like a small Barnes and Nobles, including the coffee bar. We were disappointed in the items available. Very limited clothing and few quality sales. The photo shop seemed to have a bigger inventory and better prices. The photo people make themselves available but don't put the hard sell on. Its easy to by-pass their picture taking if you want, although we were pleased with the quality of the photos taken. We just wish they would come off of the $9.95 price.
Disembarkation Unfortunately, this didn't go well either. I don't know if they had trouble with the Seattle port or if they are just not organized enough as a ship. We were scheduled for the 8:30 a.m. group, but by 9:30 a.m. we were still sitting and waiting patiently. When we did get off, we found their transfer set-up as disorganized as I have ever seen. We were also disappointed to note that some passengers seem to lose their sense of civility on the day of disembarkation. Again, the RCI staff had no paper transfers and there was no manifest. You simply asked where the bus to the airport was and stood in line. Once on the bus, it was a short ride to SEA-TAC and on for home. There were some delays at the airport, but this seems to have become the norm rather than the exception. Nothing to fret over too much,
1) Overall beauty of this ship. If there is a better looking ship at sea, I'd like to see it.
2) People. People who cruise are the nicest people and perhaps one of the best reasons to cruise. (Although some tend to Jekyll and Hyde this on the last day of the cruise.)
3) The Spa area and the many options it provided.
4) The Windjammer restaurant.
5) Large number of lounges and comfortable seating areas.
6) A large ship with only 1600 passengers. What a treat!! No lines. No crowds.
1) Ensenada embarkation and Seattle disembarkation. (I think we've become spoiled by the smoothness we've experienced on other cruises.) While definitely a "con", this can be endured.
2) Temperature of the whirlpools. They are only lukewarm. Not even bathwater warm. I don't know if this is by policy or just an oversight.
3) No tour of the galley and a tour of the bridge was only done at the last minute and we were already committed and couldn't make it.
4) Pillows. Just not that comfortable.
5) Itinerary (Ensenada, San Diego, Catalina, San Francisco, Victoria, Seattle). This repositioning itinerary was interesting, with great cities, but weather wise it is more like an Alaskan cruise. On both sea days the weather was cold and rainy so we didn't really get a chance to enjoy the outside of the ship.
6) There is a Lido type deck that surrounds the ship (I think it is deck 4), but you are not able to walk completely around. The front and rear ends were closed, so you only had the sides available.
As you can see, the complaints really don't amount to anything of great significance. The bottom-line is that this is an incredible ship and from what I've been told about RCI, I'm sure the service difficulties will improve. We look forward to cruising RCI again and wouldn't hesitate to cruise the Radiance again.