Radiance is a beautiful ship and has converted us to cruising. This was to be a special cruise for our 40th Wedding Anniversary and Radiance certainly passed the test. We initially booked an E1 forward balcony cabin on deck 10 directly through the RCI Web site in Feb of 2011 and ended up in a favoured D2 hump cabin on deck 9 with a huge balcony at a cheaper price than we initially paid for the E1.
We flew from Sydney to Perth with Virgin on their new long haul A320 and had booked extra length seating. This aircraft has very comfortable wide leather seats in economy class and going business class is just not warranted for the 4.5 hour trip. We extended our holiday by spending a wonderful week with family at Mandurah, about 1 hour south of Fremantle, pre cruise.
This is a long review written with the first time cruiser in mind.
Day 1 and all things associated with it
We arrived at Fremantle at 11am and immediately dropped off our luggage. We were given paper luggage tags by the porters even though we had gone to the trouble of attaching our specially printed and laminated baggage labels. Note that overseas cruisers get their personalized luggage tags sent to them but Australians don't.
We decided not to check in yet. Instead we went to the Fremantle fisherman's wharf area and had some lovely fish and chips. We returned to the ship at 2pm and said our goodbyes.
Fremantle Cruise Terminal has easy access with plenty of parking. There are lifts and escalators to the huge 2nd floor waiting lounge. You are given a boarding number as you enter and called up in groups to go through customs and boarding. This number is not related to your cabin or deck so it matters not at what time you arrive or what your so called official boarding time was.
We were in our cabin within 1 hour. Some people were complaining about long delays but these appear to be of their own making by not having all documentation completed. There are multiple security checks as you walk from the check in area to the gangway.
Spending Packages and Speciality Restaurants
As you board, security takes a photo of you to match your sea pass tag and then you are directed to the Dining Room to check in for that evening's meal. You then have an opportunity to purchase wine packages, water packages, soda packages, dining packages, spa packages and the list goes on. We were not impressed with the American wines on offer so we did purchase the gold level AUSTRALIAN WINE PACKAGE at $281 (10 bottles) which was not available to purchase on line and included a selection of red, white and sparkling wines. This proved to be adequate and well worth the money.
We had already purchased the complete CHEFS TABLE DINNER PACKAGE on line at A$117 each and this was being offered on board "at the discounted price of just US $120." So definitely purchase on line. This package is good value if you intend to go to the Chefs Table ($95US on its own) but is not flexible in so far as being able to visit a particular speciality restaurant more than once under the package deal. We ended up going to Chops Grille twice and willingly paid the extra. We did go to Giovanni's but only as part of THE MURDER MYSTERY PACKAGE which was a heap of fun.
Of all the speciality restaurants we would recommend Chops Grille, Chef's Table and the Samba Grill although we weren't impressed with the wine pairing at Chefs. We found the staff at Giovanni's Restaurant to be rude and the menu was lack lustre. Rita's Cantina was very draughty due to it being open at the back and the staff constantly walking into the Windjammer. It would probably be ok in warmer climates. The Margarita's though are to die for. We are not into raw food so gave Izumi a miss.
We also purchased a WATER PACKAGE at $32.75 (10 large bottles) which we later found unnecessary as there are adequate filtered water filling stations around the ship. We had pre purchased a SODA PACKAGE each and found this also to be a waste of money as there is free soft drink in the form of lemonade (lemon squash), cordials, iced water, iced tea etc available throughout the ship and at meal times. We could have saved another $291 here. Non-alcoholic drinks from the bar are only $2.50 by the way.
DW booked a SPA PACKAGE and later several Acupuncture treatments which, although expensive at a total cost of $820, she thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommends as an indulgence.
Radiance has WI-FI HOTSPOT locations throughout the ship, in the cabins and ample computer terminals. The internet rates were 65 cents per minute but you could get packages ranging from $35 for 60 minutes (58 c per min) to $150 for 500 minutes (30 c per min). We were fine whilst in Australian waters being able to use our own service provider. In NZ we used a total of 20 minutes at the basic rates.
Pre Sail Away Party and Muster
Our Cruise Critic roll call had arranged a pre sail away party to be conducted prior to the general muster. This was a great idea as the official Meet & Mingle would not be until the 1st sea day which on this cruise would not be until day 4 (see later for comments on this). Originally the party was to be held at the Sky Bar above the pool but was moved indoors to the Schooner Bar a few days before boarding. This was a good idea as there was little shade available at the Sky Bar in Perth's 38 deg C heat. Some 2/3rd of the roll call turned up -- a great result and a chance for everyone to put a face to each other -- better than the Meet & Mingle in my opinion and an opportunity to get the first couple of tour finalizations out of the way. Everyone identified themselves by wearing a string of those $2 kids' beads or you could wear a CC name tag.
Muster was set at 5.15pm and your particular muster location was listed on the back of the cabin door. Your muster code was also printed on your seapass tag. Our station happened to be at the Schooner Bar -- a good location to be at. The muster was taken very seriously and was conducted similarly to an aircraft safety brief. Your names were checked off, drinking was forbidden and mobile phones switched off.
Our Cabin - 9576
We were very impressed with cabin 9576, a D2 balcony stateroom on the "hump" on the starboard side of Deck 9. BTW there is a similar cabin on the port side and on decks 7 & 8. This cabin has a triangular balcony twice the size of a standard one. Another advantage is that the forward view is unobstructed. The cabin is on the opposite side of the lifts and very close to the Centrum balconies. Contrary to some reports on CC, noise from the Centrum entertainment does not filter into the cabin and we even had to open the door to hear the ship's announcements.
The D2 cabin has a full size 3-seater sofa with a small moveable table as compared to the E cabins which have the 2-seater sofa; a reasonable dresser with ample mirrors and a chair; a king sized very comfy bed and lots of cupboards and storage space. There is also a partitioning curtain that can divide the room into sitting room and bedroom. Individual lights also have small personal reading spots. There is a loaded mini fridge which we emptied out to store cheese & fruit etc in but it was not very efficient. The TV is now an interactive digital flat screen through which you can also view your account and book shore excursions.
A couple of fittings were broken in the cabin which we brought to the attention of our room attendant, Dewar, who had everything fixed immediately. Dewar was amazing. He was never obtrusive and very likeable yet had everything cleaned whilst you were out no matter when. The daily newsletter "Cruise Compass" and Welcome letters and appointment reminders were all neatly laid out on the bed with a welcome towel animal every day. We left a small tip for him on the 1st day.
The bathroom is adequate but the semicircular shower recess is small with a curtain rather than a sliding door. The trick to keeping the bathroom floor dry is to make sure you close the curtain all the way and ensure that the bottom of the curtain drop is inside the lip of the recess.
About the only drawback of a cabin in this location is that it does catch the wind whilst sailing. An alternative would be the aft facing cabins on the hump or at the stern of the ship.
Our luggage arrived at various times even though it was all checked in together. One suitcase had not arrived by the time we sailed. We checked with Guest Services who had a note for us to visit Security on Deck 2. Checked security who claimed we had a scissor in the bag. DW had packed her tiny needlework scissors with plastic handles. According to Security scissors had to have round points and a maximum of 3" in size. They were confiscated and we got a receipt but couldn't be bothered collecting them on the last day.
Next day we purchased another pair that we brought on board in our backpack without any problem -- work that out. According to DW nearly everyone had scissors with them and none were confiscated out of checked in luggage!
This was the only time we had an issue with security. The most annoying part though was that Guest Services did not even bother to contact us by leaving a message on the room phone or on the interactive TV. It can be very worrying when the ship has sailed and you still have not got your luggage
We had My Time Dining (MTD) which is a great option if you require dining flexibility. The distribution of tips at the end of the cruise is also simplified as everything is prepaid albeit at a premium rate. You still have the option of booking the same table, time, waiter etc if you wish. On most occasions we just turned up when we were ready to eat and were still able to be seated where we wanted. Deck 4 was reserved for Set Dining whilst all MTD diners were seated in the Deck 5 dining room. Both were connected by a central staircase. We ate in the main dining room on the first and second nights and then about every second or third night thereafter. The meals were always good and the wait staff excellent. The other nights we either ate at a speciality restaurant or at the Windjammer Cafe.
For breakfast we mostly ordered room service and for lunch we either snacked at the Park Cafe or went to the Windjammer.
First Impressions of the ship and layout
Radiance is a beautiful ship and easy to find your way around. She is spacious and airy with views of the sea from huge glass windows at almost every place. There are visual displays everywhere you go of the deck layouts. Contrary to some reports we found the lifts responded very quickly to the call buttons. THE CENTRUM isn't huge but it is impressive reaching from Deck 4 to Deck 11. With balconies on every floor it certainly is the focal point of the ship. There are 2 internal lifts and 4 external lifts. There are also lifts towards the front of the ship. However, most of the time we used the staircase just in order to keep fit. There are 18 steps between each floor.
DECK 4 at the base of the Centrum has the Lobby Bar and a general entertainment area as well as Guest Relations and the Shore Excursions Desk. Many of the scheduled outdoor games were played here in bad weather.
DECK 5 gives access to the Promenade Deck. Also on Deck 5 near the Centrum is Cafe Latte-tudes where you can get an Espresso Coffee and access to the shopping arcades, Art & Photo Galleries and the Aurora Theatre.
DECK 6 aft has the Colony Club with its dance floor and Singapore Raffles decor together with the Singapore Sling Bar, the Australian Bar, the Chefs Table and the Cruise Director's office and recording studio. On most occasions the Colony Club area was a lovely quiet place to while away the time. At other times it was quite busy with activities -- you just picked your time from the daily programme. Moving forward you passed the Billiard room with its impressive Gyro stabilised tables.
Our favourite spot was next, the Schooner Bar with its grand piano. Adjoining this was Giovanni's Italian Restaurant and Chops Grille. At the Centrum area was the Champagne Bar which was a good place to just sit and listen to the music. Moving forward you walked through the money grabbing Casino to the Quill and Compass Pub which always seemed to be empty. Further forward gave you the Dress Circle area of the Aurora Theatre. The small Cinema was tucked in behind the Quill & Compass Pub. We went once and never returned -- it needs major refurbishment. There is too much light on the screen and many of the seats are broken. Access for physically impaired guest is difficult due to the extreme steepness of the aisles.
Day time activities were mostly spent up on Decks 11-13. DECK 11 has the famous Windjammer Cafe with its huge glass windows and adjoining verandah areas where much of the breakfast seating spilled into. The Boardwalk Dog House is located on the port side verandah. The new Izumi restaurant and Rita's Cantina is accessed through the rear wings of the Windjammer. Access to the rear deck is through Rita's. A Promenade leads forward to the main pool with its new outdoor screen and through to the adults only Solarium with its African theme and glass domed roof. The popular Park Cafe is here where you can also get Seattle's Best Coffee. Further up front is the Spa & Fitness Centre where DW was to spend quite a bit of time.
DECK 12 has a terrific jogging/walking track all the way around and great kid's sport and recreation facilities. The Sky Bar overlooks the pool on Deck 11 but there is little protection from the elements. Deck 11 also tends to be quite draughty and many poolside events had to be cancelled. Aft is the fabulous Samba Grill with an outdoor pre dinner cocktail area that also connects via stairs to the rear of Deck 11. At the roof of the Centrum is the Crown & Anchor Lounge on Deck 12.
Up on DECK 13 at the rear of the ship is a fun mini golf course where DW scored a hole-in-one on the U shaped 9th. At the back of the funnels is the rock climbing wall. Nearby is the exclusive Concierge and Diamond Clubs separated from the huge Viking and Starquest Lounge with tinted windows.
Unfortunately some of the outdoor facilities such as the Rock Climbing Wall and Water Slide were only open a couple of hours each day. There was a good selection of movies on the big screen but on most days it was either too breezy or too cold to sit and watch the movie. An annoying aspect was the constant screening of American news reports. In Australian waters, Australians would like to see more Australian content.
Day 2 -- Albany -- my home town
Arriving by sea at this town was one of the main reasons for selecting this particular cruise.
Firstly, I grew up here after emigrating from Holland with my parents in 1952, arriving at Fremantle aboard the famous Nederland Line "Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt" on her first migrant refit trip. She later became a world cruise ship then in her final years cruised between Sydney and Wellington. She was sold to the Greek Line in 1963 and renamed Lakonia. Her ship's bell was presented to the Lower Hutt College at Wellington. She caught fire and sank on her 18th cruise, 200 miles from Madeira.
The second reason is its History. Apart from the fact that Albany was the first place to be settled by the British on the West coast of Australia in 1826, it also has an important military history. On 1 Nov 1914 the residents of Albany climbed Mt Clarence and watched the largest fleet of warships ever assembled in southern waters gather in King George Sound. Aboard were 30,000 Australian & NZ soldiers and 7,500 cavalry horses bound for the Middle East as part of the 1st wave of Australian Imperial Forces of WW1. Little did they know that these troops known as the ANZACS would be involved in the disastrous landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Albany was their last sight of Australian soil. The date now serves as Australia's Memorial Day with the first service being held on Mt Clarence at dawn on 25 April 1930.
But first Breakfast
Up early and off to the Windjammer to enjoy a hearty breakfast. The Windjammer was probably our favourite eating spot mainly because of the casual atmosphere and the great views. It was open almost all day until 9pm. We met many interesting people here. Empty tables were in short supply so that was a good opportunity to meet others. You could also use the tables at one of the adjoining restaurant spaces such as Rita's, Izumi or the Boardwalk Dog House which don't open for breakfast. On most days though, we just had a light breakfast ordered through room service in our state room or visited the Park Cafe. We did not eat at the main dining room for breakfast or lunch.
There was very little information about previous cruise ship arrivals at Albany on the roll calls and what was there was very negative. I set about correcting this by organising a private shore tour of the town and advertising on our roll call. This 1 hour tour costing only $30 was quickly filled and was immensely popular.
The ship also offered some basic tours including a 3hr trip to Whale World -- a museum of the whaling history of Albany located on the other side of the bay. This would be a good tour to do if the ship were to dock earlier in the morning, but far too rushed for a quick half day tour if you also wanted to explore the town. A reasonable 2.5 hr ship's tour of Albany was also offered and conducted by a local walking tour guide. The cost of the Ship's shore excursions was reasonably priced at an average of $82 pp but why does RCI persist in charging full price for children?
The ship docked at Albany at 11.30am (schedule time noon). Albany is a very picturesque port to come into and it takes about 90mins from the time the ship rounds Flinders Peninsular and sails through the guarding islands of Breaksea & Michaelmas in King George Sound and through the narrow Ataturk Entrance into Princess Royal Harbour . I was a little annoyed at the number of people who were oblivious to the fact that we were entering an historic port and just continued to sunbake or read a book by the side of the pool. I guess these people are your typical long term cruisers who really don't care where the ship sails to. The dock at Albany is not that attractive but it is functional being a bulk grain terminal. The old Deep Water Jetty has been landfilled and now serves as a woodchip port. An impressive new Entertainment Centre has been built near the original Town Jetty at the end of the dock. The town itself is set between several granite hills.
We were off the ship within 30 minutes of docking and our group joined one of the free shuttle services into town. We were dropped off at the Town Hall in York St. A short walk up the street found Robert Woods of Denmark Wine Lovers Tours and his Mini Bus faithfully waiting for us. We had some extras join us overnight so Robert accommodated them on the next tour.
Our driver was Richard Pemberton who was very knowledgeable and drove us through some of the older parts of town showing us many of the old and newer landmarks. He then took us to Mt Adelaide for a quick look at the restored Princess Royal Fortress area before driving to Mt Clarence where we stopped and took in the views of King George Sound and Princess Royal Harbour and also inspected the Desert Corp War Memorial dedicated to the soldiers of WW1. On the way back we passed Middleton Beach where our family spent many a warm day, before driving past an early farm and past "Dog Rock" (a huge granite rock in the shape of a dog's head). He also deviated past my old Primary School before dropping us in York St and commencing his next run. This was a great little tour.
The rest of the day we spent shopping and slowly strolled back to the ship taking in a coffee on the way. Incidentally there was a craft market set up at the Allison Hartman Gardens in York St where the tour bus also departed from. You could also hire scooters and bicycles there.
Back on the ship we enquired at Guest Relations as to the possibility of obtaining tender tickets for the whole of our CC group on tomorrow's Esperance tour. This appears possible with the approval of the Group Tours Director.
We spent a nice relaxing evening consuming a few cocktails of the day -- Mango Mai Tai, whilst watching the magnificent sunset as we left Albany.
Day 3 - Esperance
Esperance is a tender port where we were due to arrive at 9am. Tender tickets for those not on ship organised tours are generally available from the scheduled time of arrival at the port. By 8.45am I was lined up on Deck 5 opposite Cafe Latte-tudes and managed to get 30 tender tickets for the whole group. We were on Tender's 1 & 2 and were called down to Deck 3 around 9.15am and boarded the tender at 9.45am. By 10.15 we were ashore and welcomed by our host Milton Valli from tourism Esperance.
This is another port that had little, if any, information about it on the Cruise Critic forums yet many ships have visited in the last couple of years. I contacted Tourism Esperance for information on suitable private tours and subsequently was able to arrange a 4 hour itinerary with Milton for a 30 seater vehicle at the modest price of $66pp including a lovely morning tea and all park entry fees. The ship offered 2 -- 4 hour tours ranging in price from $79-$155pp starting a half hour earlier.
Although the Dutch did sail through the area in 1627 they did not sight land. Discovery of the area is attributed to the French when two ships, L'Esperance and Recherche, sought shelter from a storm in the Archipelago in 1792. The great navigator Matthew Flinders mapped the coast in 1802 during his circumnavigation of Australia and a monument to him is located at the local museum. Esperance is home to Australia's best unspoiled beaches and nature parks -- and this is what we came to see.
Our tour commenced with a drive out to the Rotary Lookout just west of Esperance with 360 degree views and then along the Great Ocean Drive past West Beach to Twilight Beach. This is a spectacular family beach with crystal clear waters and snow white sands. It is protected by offshore rocks and has been voted "Most popular beach in WA."
We then backtracked some 18km to the East of Esperance for a morning tea stop at the newly constructed Stonehenge. Our host were Jillian and Kim. Jillian cooked up our morning tea of mini pancakes with jam and cream whilst Kim gave us a talk on his amazing structure. The Esperance Stonehenge is a full scale replica of the original Stonehenge" in the UK, as it would have looked in 1950BC. It is aligned with the Summer & Winter Solstices Sunrise & Sunset. The 137 massive stones are of local Esperance Pink Granite rock. This was truly an amazing sight in the middle of cattle country. The site has only been opened a few months and there is still some minor landscaping and facilities to be completed although the basics are all complete, including a small souvenir shop.
Following this delightful stop -- and we spent extra time there -- we continued east into the Cape Le Grand National Park and to Hellfire Bay. Here we found some magnificent displays of WA's unique Banksia's, a native plant species first identified by Sir Joseph Banks. A walk along the beach, dipping in the toes into the Southern Ocean and clambering along the rocks like little kids before continuing on to Lucky Bay named by Matthew Flinders and today voted as Australia's Whitest Beach although the people from Queensland will probably dispute this fact. We spotted a couple of Kangaroos in the camping ground receiving lots of attention from one of the ship's 4WD tour groups. The main attraction though was a Kangaroo on the beach munching on washed up seaweed and an Albatross.
We turned back for Esperance some 66 km distance enjoying the views and singing a few Aussie songs. The bus returned us to the Esperance Museum where some elected to catch the shuttle bus back to the tender whilst others continued exploring the town. Our tour was to include the Section Glass Gallery but we ran out of time and our driver had a school run to perform. We had a feed of fish and chips for lunch across the road then visited the Esperance Museum. This is well worth a visit with terrific displays of the local history including machinery, trains, boats and the wreckage of the 1979 Skylab to mention just a few.
We returned on the tender exhausted but satisfied and ready for 2 days of cruising. A big thankyou goes to Milton Valli for organising this fantastic tour.
Days 4 & 5 at Sea on The Great Australian Bight
Roll Call Activities
Meet & Mingle
The official Meet & Mingle for Cruise Critic members is usually scheduled on the first sea day. Our roll call had about 80 people sign up for the M&M but nowhere near that amount actually showed up to the Starquest Lounge on deck 13 at 10.30 am on day 4. An invitation to the event had been left in our state room on the first day so there was ample notification. As the Meet & Mingle was not scheduled until day 4 (the first sea day), an unofficial get together was held at the Schooner Bar on Day 1 at 3.30pm. This was a great idea because it meant we could introduce ourselves at the beginning of the cruise instead of a quarter of the way into it.
RCI put up some lovely snacks and cool drinks. Your invitation included a raffle ticket for a free gift and novelty door prize. When we arrived at about 10.40 it was quite obvious that people had split up into groups and many were sitting down already. The idea is to mingle folks and introduce yourself to those you don't know, not to huddle into groups. There were many who did not mingle at all and to this day I still don't know who they are. Others I recognised from the roll call but never saw again for the rest of the cruise. I believe that this happens quite a lot so the format may need to be changed.
Too much of the time was taken up by the Cruise Director, outlining the cruise itinerary. This was a total waste of time as we all knew what the itinerary was. A group photo was taken a copy of which I have yet to see. The raffle was held with about 6 souvenir type prizes on offer that you could select from. After this an announcement was made promoting the Gift Exchange and the Mini Golf Tournament that had been organised by the roll call.
There was a ship organised Art Auction planned for 1pm. The crew started setting this up whilst we were still half way through the M&M. This put pressure on the group and many left immediately after the Raffles. The Meet & Mingle should be held either earlier or not in conflict with other activities so that everyone gets a fair chance to properly meet each other.
Yankee Trade Gift Exchange
The Gift Exchange organised by Les & Nan (FCSTeacher) was to be held once the M&M was finished. The Gift Exchange started early nevertheless everyone had a great time receiving and stealing gifts. Everyone who participated brought a small gift from their local area. A deck of cards was used from which you selected a card and when your matching card was called you could select a gift from the table. If you had a red card you were able to steal another person's gift. They were then able to select another gift and if someone else liked that gift, you could be stolen from again.
Mini Golf Tournament
Our group had organised a whacky mini golf tournament at 2pm. This was heaps of fun with 22 participants. The rules were abandoned by the referee and it became more a game of foot golf -- all in fun. DW actually got a legal hole-in-one on the 9th that no one else could repeat --she should have got a prize for the shot of the day. We had an award for the most honest player and lowest score. This game was so much fun that in future I think we need to organise several rounds.
1st Formal Night -- Captains Gala Reception
The first formal dinner was held on the first sea day. The Captain invited all guests to a reception at the Colony Club. There were in fact two receptions to match early and late dinner sittings. We had our photograph taken with Captain Claus Andersen prior to entering the reception and were given a glass of Champagne. The ship's Directors, Managers and Senior Officers were also introduced. Very few of the men wore Tuxedo's, most electing to wear a dark suit with dress shirt and tie.
There are tons of activities throughout the day and night that you can either participate in or watch and listen.
On day 1 a planner is provided with your Cruise Compass on which you can plan every hour of the day for the whole cruise if you so wish. Either way it serves as a handy summary of daily activities.
There is also a separate Cruise Compass for kids and teens.
Some of the popular activities for adults are Daily Dancing and Lessons of all types; Live Music from easy listening to Big Band; Late Night Disco; Karaoke; Sudoku Challenge; Trivia Challenge; Bingo; Card Games; Casino Games; Cooking & Craft Demo's; Sports Tournaments including Golf, Basketball, Billiards, Shuffleboard, Rock Climbing, Pool Games and Horse Racing. There were also seminars of all types including Health and Beauty Treatment seminars and history seminars.
Each bar location also had its resident entertainer including Classical Guitar, Piano & Strings, Jazz, Ballroom, Easy Listening and Pub Style. Our favourite night spot was to sit around the piano at the Schooner Bar listening to piano bar entertainer Tony B. He didn't have a "great" voice but he presented fun sing-along type songs which we enjoyed.
Every evening there were two Headliner Shows in the Aurora Theatre including vocalists, musicians, comedians, acrobats, magicians, dancers and full scale production shows on formal nights. Some of the artists were Patrick McMahon, Australian Hypnotist Bill Wheeler, Variety entertainers Ian Cooper & Ash Puriri, Australian vocalist Annie Francis, Tom Weston, Gymnasts Donavan & Rebecca "Crazeehorse", Vocalist Jamila, Mark Donoghue, Illusionist John Taylor & Cherry, Bernard Walz, Dutch Juggler Niels Duinker. The production shows included the Radiance of the Seas Singers & Dancers performing Piano Man, City of Dreams and Tango Buenos Aires featuring Argentinian dancers.
We attended most of the shows and enjoyed them all.
The Great Australian Bight can be very rough as the Low Pressure fronts sweep in an arc across it. We were lucky as the fronts stayed in front of us dispersing the hot weather and leaving behind a relatively calm sea with 22 degree temperatures.
Day 5 was DW's birthday and we decided to have a night out in one of the speciality restaurants. We chose Chops. We were not disappointed as the food was delightful and we struggled to finish the meal.
Day 6 Adelaide
Once again we arrived early and were well and truly docked by the scheduled time of 7am. The cruise ship terminal is at Outer Harbour near the north western suburb of North Haven about 28 km from Adelaide city. The city was founded in 1836 as a free settlement designed by architect George Kingston and surveyed by Col William Light. The radical idea of a free settlement in Australia came from a convict named Edward Wakefield serving time in Newgate Prison.
Today Adelaide is a modern city with wide streets and world-famous festivals. Apart from its early British settlers, many immigrants came from the old country of Prussia now part of Germany and Poland. These early Prussians set up many of the fabulous vineyards in the Barossa Valley and nearby Adelaide hills that the district is famous for.
Several of our roll call members travelled to the Barossa Valley on a private day tour with Barossa Wine Tours. We took an afternoon ship sponsored city sights tour, which in my opinion was good value for money at just $52. The tour took in much of the main attractions of both Adelaide and North Adelaide with a stop at the statue of Col Light's vision of the city. Many of Adelaide's old colonial buildings have thankfully been preserved. We then travelled to Mt Lofty and did some Koala spotting on the return journey. A similar tour also travels out a little further to the historic German village of Hahndorf for $55pp.
Adelaide is easily reached by train at $8pp return if you did not want to do a tour although the ship does put on shuttle buses at a cost of $15pp each way! The train station is directly opposite the cruise terminal and trains run at least hourly on weekends and half-hourly during the week. Rundle Mall in the city is a popular destination as is the surrounding parks and a tram trip to Glenelg. A nearby destination is Port Adelaide and its old pubs and Maritime Museum.
Another day at sea then Melbourne
Day 7 was spent as a relaxing day at sea watching the coast of Australia slip by. Around noon the Arcadia passed by travelling in the opposite direction from Melbourne to Adelaide on one of its World cruise sectors. We also saw quite a few whales at this time and were not far off the Victorian town of Portland. Quite a few fishing boats were out and I was amazed at how the ship's crew managed to sail through the many fishing traps that were only marked by tiny floats.
We spent some time with a lovely couple we met off the roll call, going over future cruise plans and checking out their state room over a few glasses of iced drinks.
There were plenty of unusual things to do during the day such as cooking demos, men's belly flop contest, and horse racing at sea, whilst on the big screen you could watch "An Audience with Michael Buble."
In the evening we relaxed to a Summer Breeze concert in the Centrum of easy listening pop/rock ballads followed by a show in the Aurora Theatre.
Day 8 saw us arriving at Melbourne again on time and to a beautiful sunrise. We spent time here with family and a chance to do some washing. The big drawback for Australian cruisers on Royal Caribbean ships is the lack of do-it-yourself laundry facilities. The ship provided laundry service is far too expensive and the only time we used it was to wash and press our formal attire.
Melbourne is Australia's 2nd largest city. The ship docks at Port Melbourne right next to the beach and the eateries of Port Melbourne. An easy tram ride takes you into the city and tickets are available from the cruise terminal. There is also a free tram that goes around the city perimeter. Melbourne is a city that needs to be explored as there is many things to do and really warrants an overnight stop. Radiance took 2 days to reach Hobart from Melbourne, a journey that could easily be completed in 1.5 days or less.
Some of the popular destinations are Melbourne Zoo, the Italian quarter in Lygon St, Queen Victoria Markets, Bourke St and Collins St shopping precincts, the ultra-modern Southbank district, the National Gallery, the Botanic Gardens, Carlton Gardens and Fitzroy Gardens.
Not too far out are the Dandenong Ranges and the delightful "Puffing Billy" steam train ride at Belgrave. Healesville sanctuary and the wineries of the Yarra Valley are also within reach.
Further afield is the city of Geelong and access to the Great Ocean Road or to Sorrento on the Eastern side of the bay. These are more suited to an overnight visit.
The ship offers tours ranging in time from 3.5 hours to 10.5 hours. In my opinion a self-guided tour of the city is far better than any other offered unless, as I said before, the ship stays in port longer. Some people ventured on the Great Ocean Road tour to see the 12 Apostles. This is a great tour that is normally done in the space of several days -- not in one day! If you really want to go outside the city then possibly the 8.5 hour Vintage Train & Wine Country Tour at an expensive $165 would be worthwhile. Some people toured the sleepy villages of the Dandenong Ranges, but be aware that many shops here do not open until 11am.
Melbourne to Hobart
Day 9 at sea and a Murder Mystery
At dawn we were only half way through Bass Straight off Wilson's Promontory. The Tasmanian ferry that departed Melbourne 5 minutes after us has already arrived at Devonport on the north coast of Tasmania. We were cruising at a leisurely 12 knots in a smooth sea, very unusual for the notorious Bass Straight.
I was taking some photographs on Decks 11 & 12 when the fog horn sounded and I nearly jumped out of my skin. We sailed through Banks Straight in thick fog for the next 4 hours and unfortunately were not able to see any of the islands.
In the evening we participated in the Mystery Murder Theatre Dinner. This was a heap of fun and well worth the extra $48pp we paid through our pre cruise planner. We assembled in the Colony Club and were assigned given a table number and given a glass of champagne.
Act 1 was played out in the Colony Club. We were then ushered into Giovanni's Restaurant in table order and were seated in accordance with named place cards. Further acts were played during the meal and between courses with the villain finally being revealed at the end of the evening. In between we were able to interview the suspects and finally nominate who we thought was the villain. In the end a prize was given to the winner.
Today we had a full day private tour with Show You Tasmania and driver John. We had a wonderful day driving through the Hop fields out to Mt Field National Park where we walked through the forest and out to Russell Falls and the Horseshoe Falls. We then drove to Bonorong Wildlife Park enjoying lunch at a roadside bakery. Everybody was able to cuddle a Koala, scratch a Kangaroo and enjoy lots of Australian wildlife in an open setting. The weather started to close in and by the time we got to the historic village of Richmond with the oldest stone bridge in Australia, it had started to rain.
We therefore didn't stop in Richmond and decided instead to head for Cascades Brewery and a nice drop of Tasmanian Beer and the only place that you can see a "Tasmanian Tiger."
Following this we drove through some of the exclusive residential districts and some great panoramic views of Hobart. Some other cruisers reported that they had lots of problems with Customs and Security reboarding the ship, we had none.
There is a lot to do and see in Hobart and if you are there on a Saturday then I would not do a tour and just spend the day visiting the local craft markets at Salamanca Place and possibly enjoy a meal and a drink at one of the many local pubs along the waterfront. Some did drive out to Port Arthur to the ruins of Tasmania's horror convict penal settlement but in my opinion this is a bit risky on a day trip and you don't really get to see everything that is on offer. It is a 90 minute drive each way plus time to spend at interesting places along the way. This trip would be ideal on an overnight visit.
Once again the ship's tours are overpriced and most tours can be done privately at half cost.
Across the Tasman to New Zealand
Day 11 and we are cruising at 18knts on our way to New Zealand across the notorious Tasman Sea. This morning our roll call group had organised a slot pull. Lots of fun but the Casino won out in the end. Don't like those 3 wheel machines that stop between the pictures on the reel and pay nothing.
The Casino has all the usual take your money games.
After lunch DW attended a scrapbooking workshop whilst I listened to an Aboriginal Dreaming lecture at the Colony Club.
Later in the afternoon the Captain gave a presentation about all the technical aspects of the ship and her crew. An informal question time was held. The Captain also outlined the crew wages structure. This was an interesting topic that reflects several pay structures. In a nutshell, those you do not see are on a fixed salary and those you do are on a base salary plus tips. Another interesting technical aspect of the ship is that she can be turned around to a full stop from maximum cruising speed within 1 mile.
After this we played Bingo but didn't do any good. The 2nd formal night and we had a number of photographs taken. The photographs are an optional purchase but we did buy a family photo package that included a nice presentation folder and a DVD of the cruise for a $45 saving.
Checked out Giovanni's Restaurant but found the door shut. I opened the door and saw a couple of diners. I asked the host if they were open and she explained that they close the door because of noise from the Schooner Bar. I commented that it sent a message that the restaurant was closed and before if even got a chance to ask for a table, the door was shut. So much for Giovanni's -- we won't be back. Fix the noise problem, change the restaurant location or change the door design to include a window or even a "we are open" sign.
The evening was spent at the main production show in the Aurora Theatre followed by a few drinks and songs at the piano bar.
St Patricks Day
Day 12 was St Patricks Day and the whole ship had been decorated out with orange and green balloons. A hilarious cake making challenge was held in the Centrum. There was also a Love and Marriage game show on at the theatre. Most of the day was spent relaxing by the pool with a Guinness or Shamrock Cocktail to lubricate the voice for the Irish sing-a-long at various locations that evening.
Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound
Day 13 saw us waking up in darkness at the crack of dawn having already entered Milford Sound, stationary, waiting for the ferry to take about 100 guests on their overnight land cruise to Dunedin via Queenstown. In total darkness we could just make out the huge mountains right alongside us capped by heavy fog. As daylight broke we saw the breathtaking peaks rising from the crystal clear blue water with stunning waterfalls tumbling back towards the sea only to be blown back up again by the tremendously strong winds that howled through the passage. Radiance took this all in her stride and the Captain was able to put the bow close to one of the waterfalls, drenching everyone on the foredeck. We cruised through the 12 miles of the sound with roaring waterfalls everywhere due to the heavy rains we were encountering. This made the experience even more breathtaking. By 9am we had left the sound on our way down the coast to Doubtful Sound.
At noon we entered Doubtful Sound. The weather was not the best but we made the most of our balcony cabin to take a snap shot of the wonderful scenery. The ship had taken aboard a pilot at Milford Sound who gave a running commentary all day over the ship's PA system and through the in cabin TV on channel 40. We cruised at 18knts through the sound in flat seas. Did not see any wildlife although I am sure there was plenty about as we sailed through some of the old sealing haunts of yesteryear.
After a late lunch we again ventured out on deck as we entered Dusky Sound at 2.30pm. For the next 90 minutes we were mesmerised by the stunning views of the many remote islands shrouded in fog and the spectacular waterfalls. Dusky Sound was our favourite and has sparked us into booking another New Zealand cruise on an annual basis.
We returned to our cabin to find a lovely bottle of Moet Champagne waiting on ice for us, compliments of several of our roll call members. We immediately returned the compliment by inviting them to our cabin for an instant party. What a lovely end to such a spectacular day.
Today was our wedding anniversary and I had arranged to go to the Chefs Table speciality restaurant. We were received with a glass of champagne and when everyone had arrived we were ushered into the restaurant which is located at the side of the Colony Club. We all had place cards and the table was laden with all types of glassware for the wines that would be paired with each course. The Chef presented each course and the Head Wine Steward presented each wine. At the end of the evening we were presented with a signed cook book. This would have been a delightful evening had it not been for the arrogance of the wine presenter who we found to be overbearing to the point of even being rude. Oh, by the way, the door had to be shut also because of the noise from the Colony Club which was conducting a Celebrations party to which we had also been invited. Bad timing me thinks.
We ended the night once again at the piano bar amongst friends.
The port's rich history boasts the anchoring of the first ships of Otago Association settlers in 1848 and the departure of New Zealand's first refrigerated cargo destined for Britain, pioneering the frozen meat and dairy trade. A stone memorial also stands high above the town dedicated to the final expedition of Robert Scott to the Antarctic.
The ship docks within metres of the town. You could quite easily spend the entire day here on a variety of long and short walks around town and enjoying the local atmosphere.
Taieri Gorge Railway
We had pre-booked a trip on the Taieri Gorge Railway directly through their website at NZ$84pp so it was off to Dunedin. The ship provided shuttle buses at US$10 each way into Dunedin but we used a direct shuttle bus that departs at 8.45 direct to the station operated by Headfirst Travel at NZ$5pp each way. This bus (usually a green bus) is parked alongside the information centre (i-site) at the town end of the pier and you pay the driver direct. There is also an optional 1 hour+ town tour of Dunedin and Port Chalmers available at the end of the train trip for an extra NZ$15pp. This tour departs from the i-site in Dunedin -- a short 10 min walk from the train station.
The equivalent ship's tour (including the town tour) cost US$232pp ($189 child) -- an absolute rip off. You could do just the train trip for $199. The only benefit is that the train departs from the ship and you get a boxed lunch with some beverages included. I would strongly recommend the privately arranged trip. There is also no need to book private taxi's as some have done as the shuttle gets you to the station with ample time to spare for photographs. The ship's train gets priority on the track so that the 2nd train (scheduled to depart at 9.30am) does not leave until the ship's train has cleared the station.
The Taieri Gorge Railway operates Vintage Trains to Pukerangi returning to Dunedin at 1.30pm but on Friday and Sunday the journey is extended to Middlemarch, returning at 3.30pm. There is also another journey along the coast to Palmerston called "The Seasider" and operates on selected days. Both trips take you through some of the most spectacular countryside you will ever experience. There is live commentary and a licensed cafe on board. Souvenirs are also sold. The train makes several stops but you can get great photos from the carriages. This is a journey you should not miss.
Dunedin (pop 123,000) is New Zealand's first city, constituted in 1865. The 1848 Scottish migrants named the settlement Dunedin, the Celtic name for Edinburgh. The Maori settled here over 400 years ago. Dunedin boasts New Zealand's first university, botanic garden, daily newspaper, co-op dairy factory and skyscraper; the tallest tree; the first girls' high school in the southern hemisphere; New Zealand's oldest farm buildings and working brewery; and the wold's steepest street and only mainland albatross colony. Dunedin also has some of the finest collection of Edwardian and Victorian buildings in the southern hemisphere. The train station with its ornate Flemish Renaissance-style architecture is the most photographed building in New Zealand. The Cadbury Chocolate factory is within walking distance of the train station and central Dunedin.
After the train trip we visited the First Church of Otago, located not far from the i-site. The church was opened in 1873 and sits on top of Bell Hill. Convict labour was used to cut back the top of the hill by 40 feet. We then joined our coach for a lovely town tour which included some great vantage points with stops along the way at Roslyn and the University of Otago. After a final visit to the Scott Memorial at Port Chalmers, our driver took us all the way back to the ship.
The evening departure was highlighted by a Scottish Pipe Band playing traditional farewell music alongside the ship. This was a lovely touch to the end of a great day visiting Dunedin.
We ventured up to the rear of Deck 12 to the Samba Grill for the 6pm departure. It was a beautiful evening and we sat outside on the deck consuming a Pinna Colada before going inside the magnificent glass enclosed Samba Grill. To our surprise there was only one other table occupied.
The Samba Grill is an ideal restaurant for an evening port departure and has been built on the site of the old Seaview Cafe. The waiters are very friendly and explain the procedures very well. Basically, you start the evening with as much salads as you want before turning on your table light to green to indicate to the "Cowboys" that you are ready to commence the main meal. You receive a side dish of vegetables which can be replenished as often as you want. There are 9 cuts of meat offered and you can elect to skip any of them or repeat them. Each meat is offered when you are ready unless you forget to turn the light to Red (to indicate a pause). The last two cuts are full portions of meat so leave some room for these. The idea is to take your time and make it a long, memorial evening together with some nice drinks. This was one of our favourite restaurants and offered a quiet atmosphere with great views.
Akaroa is uniquely the only French colonial settlement in the country. Set on a stunning waterfront within a volcanic caldera. Akaroa, which is Maori for "long harbour" was the regions first substantial European settlement and a safe haven for early sealers and whalers.
Akaroa is a tender port but we had no problem getting an early tender by once again lining up at arrival time rather than waiting.
About 90 cruise ship visits per season have been coming to Akaroa since the disastrous earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 at Christchurch destroyed their port facility at Lyttelton. There are shuttle and tour buses leaving the main wharf to Christchurch at 9.30am and 10.30am for an approximate cost of $45pp. Christchurch is 90 minutes from Akaroa.
We filled our day by strolling through the village. In summer, this tiny town swells from a population of 1,000 to 10,000 day trippers. Akaroa was settled by the French in 1840, just after New Zealand as a whole had been formerly declared as a British protectorate. The local museum is well worth a visit. After arriving at the wharf, turn left along Beach Rd to the main village with its shops and roadside cafes or turn to the right for a walk along the foreshore to the Lighthouse and beyond.
There is an information centre on the main wharf and in town. Many of the available tours can be purchased ashore or pre-booked through the internet. A popular tour is the local mail run that takes 8 passengers for $60pp and can be booked through the tourism centre or through the operator Robin & Jo. Be warned though, this is a scheduled service and cannot wait for you if your tender is late bringing you ashore. The ship does not offer this tour. Ship's tours range from $75 for a 2 hour harbour cruise to $359pp for a 9.5 hour Tranz Alpine rail & Jet boat tour. A journey to Middle Earth costs $235 pp.
We departed the beautiful harbour of Akaroa at 6.30pm enjoying the cocktail of the day, a strawberry lava flow. Tonight's production show was Tango Buenos Aires with fabulous visiting dancers from Argentina.
Windy Wellington then Sydney
Day 16 and Wellington lived up to its name. The Captain delayed the arrival time to pick up the pilot inside the harbour in daylight hours and docked to horizontal rain and wind at 8.30am at the main cruise terminal just outside the city proper opposite the Westpac Sports Stadium.
Shuttle buses operate at regular intervals into the city for a cost of $4 and stop at both the information centre and the Cable Car at Lambton Quay. There are also taxi's available. Once again the ship's tours were expensive and we opted out of these. Most could be booked via the information centre at far less cost such as John's HOHO bus for $39.
We took a shuttle bus into the city and visited the Te Papa National Museum of NZ where we spent a good 4 hours and only covered two of the six floors. We will see the rest on the next cruise. From here we walked along the waterfront to Queens Wharf where The World was docked. We passed the Wellington Museum and made a mental note to visit that next time. We found the Wellington Cable Car and rode that to the top of the hill through the fog. A quick visit to the cable car museum was next before a nice stroll downhill through the Botanic Gardens back to the city. Here we passed by the Parliamentary Buildings and the National War Memorial on the way back to the ship. By this time the weather had eased and the walk was quite pleasant. You could extend the walk by visiting The Old St Pauls Cathedral but we had run out of time.
The evening entertainment included the wild adult game show of Quest.
The next two days were spent relaxing at sea before a spectacular early arrival in Sydney.
We struck some heavy weather with winds exceeding 100 knots but the ship coped well with the conditions.
We caught up with people we had met for drinks and also revisited Chops Grille with some of the roll call members and on the last day caught up with the remainder at lunch.
There was plenty of entertainment to keep everybody amused.
The last evening was spent at the main dining room where we passed on our prepaid gratuity vouchers to our waiter and assistant waiter. If you don't give the vouchers to a specific waiter then the tip is shared amongst all.
The luggage had to be outside the door by 11pm. We were allocated a disembarkation group number and time. Luggage tags were issued corresponding to the group number.
The ship docked at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in Circular Quay right next to the Harbour Bridge in the historic Rocks area of Sydney and opposite the Opera House. The sun was just rising and this created some fantastic photo opportunities.
The time came to disembark but a 40 minute delay in luggage handling created a huge crowd in the Aurora Theatre as the staff continued calling the groups -- a little miscommunication there. Anyway we were off the ship by 9am, collected the luggage, through customs without a problem and off home. For those wanting taxis, these are available at the luggage collection area on the upper level of the terminal, whilst shuttle buses are on the lower level.
There were only a few minor problems. We would love to see more Australian content on the Big Screen by the pool with some blankets supplied. Laundry charges need to be reduced on the typically longer Australian cruises. Some of the speciality restaurants are badly located for various reasons including noise and draughts. The meet & mingle should be able to be held without interuption.
This was a fantastic cruise with a great itinerary on a beautiful ship and we will sail on her again soon.