An absolutely wonderful, 14 day (wedding anniversary) cruise from Vancouver to Alaska and back on Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas (July 20 -- Aug 3, 2012.
Embarkation was a breeze. It took less than 20 minutes from the time we got out of the taxi at the pier, until we were inspecting our room onboard. All the Royal Caribbean pier-side staff was very friendly, helpful and efficient. As we are Gold Crown & Anchor members, we got into a priority line-up for check in. I'm sure this saved us 10-15 minutes.
Radiance of the Seas is a beautiful ship. She recently had a major renovation. While each room now has flat-screen TVs (with interactive features -- so you can now order your room service "online"), it seems that most of the money was spent on adding new restaurants -- money that was, in our view, very well spent. More on those restaurants later.
The Centrum is a multi-story central lobby that is extremely striking. It features a lobby bar and nightly live entertainment. It's also where the hugely entertaining 70's Disco Night show takes place. This show was hilarious and the dancing was terrific. If you take this cruise -- do not miss this show!
The Radiance of the Seas has an enormous amount of floor to ceiling glass throughout the ship for viewing. Four of the glass enclosed elevators face the ocean and provide a multi-story wall of glass as your viewing port out to sea as you rise or descend Very impressive!
The bars and quiet spaces throughout the ship are in excellent condition and are impressively themed. What impressed up most about the overall look of the Radiance is that it has virtually no garish colour themes anywhere. We have cruised on several other cruise lines and have been put-off by the ridiculously loud colour themes employed on those ships. The Radiance of the Seas is more muted and calm. We felt that the Radiance's colour design was more suited to a cruise ship -- we felt it was much more elegant.
Our favourite space on the Radiance was the 5th floor starboard (right) side at the aft (rear) of the ship. This space includes the Colony Club, the Schooner Bar and 3 of the ship's featured restaurants. The design is "old-world luxury liner" with a hint of a gentlemen's club theme. This entire area is filled with beautiful woods, Persian-style carpets, brass, elegant cabinetry, and vintage furniture. Relaxing in this part of the ship makes you feel pampered and luxuriant.
The Schooner Bar is where the late night piano bar is located. This became our favourite haunt over the two weeks we spent on-board. Kelly Goodrich is the "Piano Man", and a finer entertainer/party host you could not ask for. He had a dedicated crowed that showed up virtually every night from 9 pm-ish to 1 am-ish to sing along, laugh, and dance. We loved our evenings at Kelly's Schooner Bar! Our waitress, Marylyn Mondragon was the other highlight at the Schooner Bar. Marylyn is efficient, personable and hilarious! Thanks to both Kelly and Marylyn for all your kindnesses!
The extremely elegant Colony Club has two bars and an area for watching TV (ESPN) and playing Wii interactive video games. It also has its own dance floor and stage (where big-band jazz and country nights are featured -- it's also home to Bingo). But what we enjoyed the most were the Club's two pool tables (designed to remain completely level at all times - no matter what the seas are doing), and the chess/backgammon tables set up beside the windows. We spent many relaxing hours in the Colony Club playing pool, playing chess, relaxing at the very back of the ship watching the scenery float by, taking jazz dancing lessons, and listening to very impressive big band jazz concerts.
As this was an Alaska cruise -- most of our pool time was spent in the Solarium -- which has a retractable roof so you can swim/hot-tub/relax/eat in warmth and comfort. Very nice ambience in the Solarium -- very tropical. Park Avenue is a nice little relaxed little food area (included in the price of the cruise) in the Solarium. As a bonus -- a few of the days on our 14 day cruise were warm enough to enable us to lie out on the open part of deck around the main pool and hot-tubs!
We had My-Time Dining (where you can eat at the main dining room -- the Cascades - whenever you want and all tips to the wait staff are pre-paid). We ate at the Cascades on 8 of our 14 nights. Dinners were generally very good. On some nights the dinners were extraordinary. The wait staff was very attentive and service was uniformly excellent.
We generally ate lunch at the big buffet area called the WindJammer Cafe. For a buffet, the quality of the food was pretty good. It certainly provided a very extensive number of choices. We particularly enjoyed the lunchtime daily curries. For breakfast we sometimes ate in our stateroom (room service), sometimes at the Windjammer (ok -- but not terrific); but mostly at the Cascades dining room where the breakfasts were pretty darn good!
We bought the 5 dinner -- "Chef's Table" Dining package. This package buys you dinner and included wines at the "Chef's Table" plus 4 other meals at the Samba Grill, Chops, Izumi's, and Giovanni's Table. We very strongly recommend that you consider purchasing this package. It cost us $120 each but, for us, the value was worth very much more! Without going into detail, the 5-course meal and 5 wine pairings at the Chef's Table was an amazing culinary experience. Hosted by the Chef and chief Sommelier, the 3-hour intimate dinner with 10 other fellow cruisers was exceptional. The meals at the other above noted restaurants were also wonderful. We warn you -- do not indulge in any snacks before eating at Samba Grill -- the food portions are very generous and you won't want to miss a thing. The filet mignon at Chops was world-class. The service was impeccable! Giovanni's Table and Izumi's were equally impressive. These are all very elegant high-end restaurants -- you will not be disappointed!
Btw: the under-utilized Dog House is a great spot! The hot dogs/sausages from around the world are excellent. This is included in the cruise price.
We know that there are some who complain about having to pay for drinks aboard cruise ships, over and above the cost of the cruise. However, on Radiance of the Seas, we felt that the prices were very good and, when compared to the prices for bar drinks in major cities, a relatively good deal. As well, the bartenders all seem to free-pour the drinks -- so the deal is even better than at most land-bars.
As previously mentioned, Kelly in the Schooner Bar is a wonderful entertainer. We also felt that the rest of the entertainment was a notch above what we've experienced on other cruises. The house band and the singers and dancers were excellent and put on 2 original shows each week. The comedian/magician was hilarious and the other featured entertainers -- particularly the Beatlemania Live show that was on-board, were excellent. A real highlight for us was when the cast of Beatlemania Live came up to the Schooner Bar after their last show to sit-in with Kelly Goodrich at the Schooner Bar and do over an hours' worth of 4-part harmonies on Beatles' songs. What a night that was!
The Cruse Director was Paul Rutter. He is excellent. Very funny, very personable and very engaged. His morning shows on the in-house TV show -- co-hosted by the Entertainment Director (and great dancer -Darren McColl) were always entertaining. Paul also hosts the 70's Disco Night show -- replete in a white suit. The dancers and the Entertainment Team re-created the Village People. It was hilarious!
Ports of Call:
Radiance of the Seas visits Ketchikan, Icy Straight Point, Juneau, Skagway, and Seward. Each port has lots to offer. There are many great excursions and lots of walking to be done in the towns. The only shame is the number of jewellery stores and t-shirt shops that dominate the central part of Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. Sigh... Proliferations of jewellery stores seems to be a fact of life in any port town where cruise ships dock.
We really enjoyed the White Pass Yukon railway trip in Skagway. In Juneau we took the tram to the top of Mt. Roberts (the tram loads just steps away from the cruise ship dock). The Mendenhall Glacier was very impressive. It's located just outside Junea -- and it only costs $16 round-trip by bus. In Ketchikan, we walked around the Creek Street are. It's a beautiful and very interesting historical area that was worth the walk. We also enjoyed the Alaska Bar in Ketchikan (located right at the cruise ship port). Icy Straight Point isn't really a town (the tiny town is a few miles down the road from where the tender boat drops you off). However, the walk along the beach and into the woods is beautiful! They've also got a great Crab Shack on the pier. The Dungeness crab was delicious. Icy Straight Point also has a zip-line that our fellow travellers said was exhilarating. Seward is the most like a regular Alaska city/town -- (ie: it was not dominated by jewellery or t-shirt stores). The Marine Centre was fantastic! The water side park is beautiful.
This was the high point of our cruise. As we were on a 14 day up-and-back cruise we saw the glacier on two occasions. The Captain managed to get the ship within 3/10ths of a mile of the face of the 400 ft high glacier on both occasions. Words are inadequate to describe what this glacier looks like up close. It is an enormous unearthly landscape of intense blues, brilliant whites, and obsidian blacks. We've never seen anything that compares with it. It was unbelievably memorable. We hope the photos we brought home with us will give our family and friends at least some idea of what the Hubbard Glacier looks like.
Disembarkation was remarkably fast. After about a 5 minute wait in the theatre for our designated departure time, we were whisked off the ship and through customs in less than 15 minutes.
This was the best cruise experience we have had to date. We feel the real difference that made the whole experience so enjoyable was the quality of the Royal Caribbean staff and the quality of the Radiance of the Seas and its dining/wining establishments. We enjoyed our fellow-passengers and time just flew by. We strongly recommend this cruise to anyone!
Dale & Robyn