Cabin 1586 - Category C Captain - Kent Ringborn Cruise Director - Parker Cristan
Background: I traveled on this sailing with my partner of five years. I have an extensive cruising background, having sailed on 45 or so cruises. Included are all the major lines, Royal Caribbean; Holland America; Norwegian Cruise Line; Princess Cruises; Carnival; and Celebrity among others. I tend to gravitate towards Celebrity and Princess as my preferred lines. Prior to RADIANCE, my most recent cruises were on the NORWAY in March, SEABREEZE last summer, and VOYAGER OF THE SEAS earlier last year. I may tend to compare aspects of RADIANCE with VOYAGER as they are of the same line, and are the latest offerings of Royal Caribbean International.
Pre-cruise: We live in Atlanta and spent four days in Los Angeles prior to the cruise. We stayed at the Bel Age in West Hollywood which was quite nice. Unfortunately filming was taking place on the roof top pool for a new movie entitled "Showtime". This necessitated restricting access to the area for all guests, which I was not too happy about. I've contacted Wyndham hotels regarding this inconvenience, and I'll be interested in their reply. From LA it was on to Seattle for one night at the W Hotel. I highly recommend this excellent and eclectic hotel, although it is pricey. Our room was on the 26th floor (highest level) and offered a beautiful view of the Puget Sound of Seattle. Service was excellent and the "unique" amenities deserved a chuckle. I enjoyed dinner at a private dinner club called The Ruins with a friend I met on the NORWAY in March.. My partner had dinner with his Aunt and Uncle who live in Bellevue.
Embarkation: We arrived at the pier, which is located near Pikes Place Market in downtown Seattle at about 11:15am. There was no line to check in although those that already checked in were beginning to build up. Check-in was painless, with the usual credit card imprint and presentation of the cruise cards. It always helps to have your forms filled out and ready. Too bad the majority of passengers don't seem to feel the same way. An announcement was made that boarding would begin at 12 noon, and so it did. by this time the line to check-in was winding through several barrier straps and those who already checked in had increased ten fold. At 12 noon they began boarding although in no organized fashion. Everyone piled into a wide hallway that led to the A-pass security registration system and the metal detectors. It was basically a cattle call and my partner and I both felt as if we were waiting in line for a popular ride at Disneyland! Your picture is taken for security purposes and embedded with your cruise card. Then the metal detectors and the obligatory welcome aboard photo, and finally onboard the ship. You are welcomed by a single person then on your own to find your cabin. You enter directly into the Centrum Lobby which is quite impressive.
The Cabin: Deck 10 aft, number 1586, Category C (mini-suite). I had the same type cabin onboard VOYAGER, and for some reason it seemed larger on VOYAGER although the square footage listed states otherwise. RCI lists the cabin as 293 sq. ft. with a 41 sq. ft. balcony. The layout is exactly the same as on VOYAGER, with a walk in closet as you enter on one side, and the bathroom complete with tub on the other. The decor is darker and richer than other RCI ships, more suited to Celebrity than the usual RCI pastel decor. Amenities include a terrific safe, hair dryer, mini-bar (only partially full), and remote control TV. RCTV as they call it is excellent. The TV is completely interactive and you may order room service, purchase movies, make dinner reservations, purchase shore excursions and listen to music all through a touch of your remote control. RCI also provides nice bath amenities which were replenished daily. Flowers and a snack pack were waiting for us which was a nice touch from our agent. Our cabin stewardess introduced herself early on, and provided excellent service throughout the cruise. The balcony was fairly large, and contained two chairs and a table of a high quality (not resin plastic). Privacy was quite good and the only time you could see other people was if you were leaning over the rail. Avoid cabins on Deck Seven midship if possible. These cabins (like most balcony cabins) are recessed from the outer hull of the ship, but since they are the first deck of balcony cabins they are above an awning which hangs above the lifeboats. This overhang restricts your view looking down to the water, and you may only look straight out. As you progress to higher decks, this problem is alleviated. Sound proofing was excellent, and we never heard our neighbors or noise from the hall. A doorbell was a nice touch!
The Ship: Much has already been written about RADIANCE, so I will not get into too much detail. Suffice it to say, RADIANCE is a stunning ship. Areas that stand out are the African themed Solarium, the Centrum Lobby, Aurora Theater, and the Colony Club. These areas really left a lasting impression as some of the most beautiful areas afloat. Unfortunately there are some serious design flaws that hopefully will be addressed on future RADIANCE class ships. The most obvious is a lack of a third (aft) staircase and elevator bank. The entire ship only has 9 elevators for 2100 or greater passengers. For this reason, stairs and elevators were ALWAYS crowded and necessitated longs waits. For myself and partner, it's really not a big deal as taking the stairs is not a problem. For those who are elderly or incapacitated in some manner, the lack of elevators is a real problem. It's interesting to note that on MILLENNIUM, which is built on the same hull platform as RADIANCE, has basically the same layout, but carries less passengers, there are 12 elevators and three stair towers. Similarly sized vessels such as CARNIVAL SPIRIT have as many as 15 elevators and again three stair towers. It amazes me that RCI would build a new vessel with such a serious lack of passenger mobility. Although VOYAGER OF THE SEAS only had two stair towers, there were actually four as they were separated on each side of the ship, and 18 elevators in all. While RADIANCE many times felt crowded, VOYAGER never did. The other design flow problem is just aft of the Aurora Theater. On the lower level of the theater, everyone must squeeze through a small hallway which enters the art gallery and photo shop. There is another hall which enters Books, Books, and Coffee, but this shop closes at 8pm and the doors are locked. Therefore, everyone on the lower level of the theater has only one exit unless you decide to walk outside, which is not always possible due to the weather. Another area which seemed crowded was the Windjammer Cafe. The cafe itself is beautiful and very well laid out, so I think the problem stems from colder weather and the inability to use the outdoor seating areas. Once the ship is in the Caribbean, I'm sure this problem will be alleviated.
I loved the Solarium and Shipshape Spa area, and made good use of them every day. Women's and men's steam room and saunas are free of charge, and beautifully laid out and decorated as is the entire spa area. There is also a Thermal Suite which is quite beautiful with saunas facing the ocean with huge windows. There is a charge to use this area, and I believe a flat rate provides admission for the entire cruise. The spa area is run by Steiner's, as is the case on many ships. On RADIANCE, they are adopting a new philosophy where as you enjoy the entire "spa experience" rather then be rushed in and out.
Food and Service: I have nothing but great things to say about both the food and service. The menus have greatly improved since my cruise on VOYAGER. We had second seating on the upper level of the Cascades Dining Room. Our table was directly next to floor to ceiling windows which provided incredible views. Service was timely and professional and all food arrived at the correct temperature. These are the basics which RADIANCE more than surpassed. We also enjoyed room service which always arrived quickly and was well presented. Food in the Windjammer was pretty typical, but was also well presented. One evening we enjoyed dinner in Chops Grill. At $20 bucks per person (+ tip), I expected this to be excellent, and it was. I only paid $5 per person at Portofino's on VOYAGER last year, so RCI has certainly increased this charge. I do recommend it, even at the $20 charge, as it truly was a special evening.
Entertainment: The shows onboard RADIANCE are two of the best I've seen on a ship. "Welcome To Our World" is the first show, and is more in line with what you might see in Vegas. The second show, "Rockin' In Paradise" was truly excellent, and included some stunts and pyro-technics I have never seen onboard a ship. The theater itself is beautiful and well laid out. I don't think there a bad seat in the house. The dancers and singers were a very talented group, and the leads truly had the strong vocals needed to support these production shows. We also enjoyed the juggler, Jason Garfield who was not only talented, but quite funny as well. Parker Cristan was the Cruise Director, and our cruise was his first onboard RADIANCE. I think he did a great job considering this was his first time on the ship. He was very chatty and could always be seen walking around the ship. The rest of the cruise staff were also very visible and a pleasure to speak with. The Captain, Kent Ringborn is probably the most personable I've ever met. He even sang during his welcome aboard party and I must say his voice is excellent.
Staff and Crew: Everyone we encountered was eager, polite and offered a smile. The crew and staff were truly wonderful and seemed sincere to ensure a great cruising experience. Hello's were offered when ever passing a crew member in the hallway, bartenders and wait staff were always available, and our cabin stewardess, dining room waitress and busboy were a pleasure to be served by. The Maitre d' was also extremely helpful, switching us to an excellent table for two directly by the window with no hassle what so ever. The staff and crew seem to be treated rather well on RADIANCE. Each crew cabin is two to a room with private bathroom, refrigerator, VCR and TV. In addition, every crew cabin has an IBM monitor which is linked to the Internet and ship's Intranet. I think this is a first for any cruise ship.
Fellow passengers: Mostly from the Pacific Northwest, there was a good mix of all ages. No one group really stood out. There were very few children onboard, or at least they were not noticeable. The crowd did tend to stay up late, which surprised me as the disco was crowded on several occasions (with staff as well).
Ports and weather: Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle. The ports were beautiful and it was wonderful returning to Vancouver. Several years ago I used to spend quite a bit of time in Vancouver, and this beautiful city remains one of my favorite in the world. I spent the day having lunch with an old friend and partaking in lot's of shopping. It was nice to take advantage of the favorable exchange rate, and Vancouver offers excellent shopping especially on Robson Street (a short walk from Canada Place pier). We did not do much in Victoria and the final day was at sea. The sea day was spent cruising at very slow speeds (10 knots or less) around Vancouver Island and up a little way into the inside passage. In fact, we rarely sailed over 10-14 knots which was a little disappointing. I like to "feel" like I'm going somewhere. The weather was mostly overcast and in the 50-60 degree range, fairly typical for this area of the world. There was some drizzle but no downpours which was a plus. RADIANCE sailed with absolutely no vibration what so ever. When I say none, I mean none! The only movement was the occasional turn to port or starboard. In addition, there is no visible emission from the smokestack due to the highly efficient and quiet Gas Turbines. RADIANCE is probably the most environmentally friendly ship afloat, which is perfect for the ecologically delicate Alaska region. I must admit, I really missed the roar of the engines, the slight vibration, and slow rocking that helps me appreciate I am in fact, on a ship!
Disembarkation: Quick and easy, by colored coded tags. We stayed in our suite until our color was called. This is also a great time to explore other cabins as many of the doors were open. We were off the ship by 9am and at the airport by 9:45am. We took a towncar which was a $35 flat fee to the airport. A very comfortable way to end the cruise.
Conclusion: All in all a great cruise. At the end of the day I prefer VOYAGER to RADIANCE, basically due to the flow and design flaws of RADIANCE and the feeling of crowds at certain times. As I stated earlier, this problem may resolve itself when the ship is in warmer weather such as the Caribbean. RADIANCE is an incredible vessel with a wonderful staff, and I'm certain she will be a success wherever she sails. I would like to try her out on a longer cruise, and in warmer weather to really take advantage of all the great things this ship has to offer. To all her future passengers, you are in for a real treat!