Our first cruise in a little more than 10years and we picked a NYE cruise to really celebrate this year. We picked Royal Caribbean and Radiance of the Seas based on the great reviews we had read and the fact that the market does rave about this ship wherever she goes. We also wanted a something a little more upmarket than the usual local product offered. We were not disappointed.
This was a Sunday so there wasn't a great many people around in the morning and since RCI have introduced staggered boarding by deck numbers things seemed to go smoothly.
On in 30mins although directed to wrong priority queue once up escalators
2 x Interconnecting Junior Suite's so we really had more space than an owners suite with the added bonus of 2 bathrooms, 2 x TV's, 2 x Bedrooms etc. We certainly had much more privacy than if all 4 of us had lobbed in a single Grand or Owners Suite. We obviously didn't have Concierge Services but we wouldn't have made much use of these anyway. RCI wanted another $1K per person for this cruise to make it to a single GS from our 2 x JS's!
Our Staterooms were always clean and tidy and any little thing we may have left lying around was usually folded nicely when we returned. Our Stateroom Attendant, Virna, was wonderful. She remembered our names after the first afternoon and was always there in the morning with a happy 'good morning' or in the evening always interested in our activities and offering suggestions on other things we might want to do. These guys work hard, are the most visible in terms of guest interaction, and deserve the gratuities they receive and more. We indeed pre-paid ours but made sure to leave extra for Virna.
One thing we did notice though was white paint spatter all over the balcony chairs and table -- obviously from the regular maintenance that takes place during longer port visits and turnaround days. They don't seem to protect the outdoor furniture from the painting activities.
A Change of Itinerary
Due to Cyclone Freda in the Coral Sea it was not possible to visit Noumea, Mystery Island and Isle of Pines in New Caledonia. There was a letter in our Staterooms informing us of this upon embarkation. No surprise really since we had been monitoring the situation in the few days leading up to our cruise. The good thing was though we were to remain in Sydney Harbour for our first two nights! Night 1 at the Overseas Passenger Terminal and then New Years Eve sitting just off Point Piper where we had a "money can't buy" view of the NYE fireworks. We later found out that we made all the News bulletins and Newspapers. We had all the News Helicopters circling us all afternoon on New Years Eve.
The decision to shelter in Sydney Harbour was made based on safety issues and whilst politicians and the media may wish to indicate otherwise the facts are the facts. Our actual location was determined by the Sydney Ports Authority and ultimately the Harbour Master -- not our Captain.
Early New Years Day we sailed out of Sydney Heads and spent the next 3 days at sea heading up to beautiful Champagne Bay in Vanuatu. A beautiful location with a picturesque beach and gorgeous aqua coloured waters. A fantastic compensation for missing our 3 New Caledonia Ports. We then headed for Port Vila and were back on track from that point. Following was Lifou which was also good but after Champagne Bay nothing could compare although the Snorkelling at Lifou was great judging from reports we had from others.
Food & Dinning
We found the food options on board were excellent from the Windjammer buffet, Main Dining Room and Specialty restaurants through to the cafes. There is a sufficient variety in the buffet to keep you interested for the length of the cruise. There are a lot of criticisms made about the food in the MDR but I have to say that with only one or two exceptions we found the choice, quality and quantity of food excellent. We ate there all but 3 nights and were more than happy with the results.
Service on the first night was very slow but this was likely due to the ship picking up a percentage of new crew members and they needed to quickly come up to speed with the MDR routine. We travelled with our two daughters (15 and 19) who can sometimes be fussy eaters and they had no issues. Our 15 yo is also a Type 1 diabetic and once again we had no issues.
The girls loved Izumi and in fact we went there for lunch one day and went back a few days later for Dinner as at lunch they don't do hot food (e.g. the hot rock). Giovanni's was OK and there was a lot of food. We couldn't have one of the appetisers we chose because the cheese ingredient had expired but they gave us an opportunity to change so all good in the end. Chops Grille was fantastic and we had a fantastic meal there and you don't have to have Steak as there are chicken and seafood selections on the menu as well. It was nice to have cooked to order food. My wife and I also did Chef's Table one night and this is an absolutely amazing experience. We had a great Sommelier (Sergey) and our Chef (Armando) worked well together and were informative and entertaining at the same time. The other 11 guests there also made it a night to remember.
My 15 yo tried the Doghouse once or twice but it was a take it or leave it kind of experience. The Cafe in the Solarium area was great for snacks and we made use of this once or twice for lunch when we didn't really need anything substantial or didn't want to go to the Buffet again.
Latte'udes -- the re-badged Starbucks cafe on Deck 5 has good coffee, frappes etc and free pastries but service is slow and there is nearly always a line. One of the three coffee machines broke down during our cruise and there were no spare parts on board to repair it so this just added to the problem.
Believe me if you can't find something to your taste and style on this ship you simply are not trying hard enough.
The usual list of cruise activities from Pool games to various kinds of Trivia, Karaoke, Shuffleboard and mini-Golf tournaments as well as Dancing lessons and Crafty type things such as scrapbooking were offered. Lots of things related to health and well being to try and get you in to paying for the high priced services in the spa though which we avoided.
Some of the night time entertainment was not to our taste but a few nights we really enjoyed the shows in the Aurora Theatre. The first night though, which ended up being the Captains Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party, they showed a 10minute video which was in fact a blatant advertisement for Royal Caribbean -- guys you already had our money and we were already consuming your product why was this kind of advertising necessary?
There was also one night a bunch of rather intoxicated fellows near us who took to heckling the male singer who was performing and there was no security in sight to take care of this which I thought a little odd.
The casual entertainers in the bars and atrium were very good and it was nice to be able to sit and enjoy a cocktail or two with great musicians to keep you entertained and help you relax.
Bill (Cruise Director) and Darren (Activities Co-ordinator) did their best but really only were visible during major evening events and frankly we didn't see much of them except on the TV doing the daily activities rundown. On the second last day there was a Black Forest cake cooking "demonstration" which Bill took part in with the Captain. This was probably one of the most hilarious things I've ever seen. Captain Sidre is an excellent entertainer and to see him throw cream and liqueur around was just side-splittingly funny. A few in the audience wound up wearing some of these ingredients. Captain Sidre followed this up with a session dealing at one of the Blackjack tables the same evening -- he had the Casino staff wondering what on earth he was doing!
If they have the "Love & Marriage" game on your cruise -- go see it -- it's a great night.
A word about Bingo. This is only held on sea days and for all but the last day it is held in the Colony Club (last day is in the Aurora Theatre). Well the Colony Club has limited space and the Activities guys seemed to underestimate the popularity of the event. If you didn't arrive 30-45mins before ticket sales started forget thinking about being able to sit anywhere but on the floor! Tickets were scheduled to be sold from 3pm usually and Bingo itself due to start at 3:30pm. Well it never started at 3:30pm and always ended up going well beyond 4:30pm (once it finished at 5pm) and it ended up interrupting the trivia session in the neighbouring Schooner Bar when finished with all the Bingo people walking through to get to either dinner or their next activity. This can definitely be organised a little better I think. Tickets should be sold earlier in the day (the last day they started selling them on the pool deck from 11am!). Any why not make use of the Theatre every day for this event.
Champagne Bay (Champagne Beach to be precise) was absolutely beautiful. As we were blessed with wonderful sunny weather our whole cruise we managed to get picturesque days in all the ports. Beautiful blue and aqua waters in Champagne Bay and also Lifou. Friendly locals and plenty of space to roll out your towel, swim, snorkel and relax. Port Vila was a little different to what we remember from previous visits. The locals tout for your business shouting and yelling at the ship early in the morning offering all sorts of tours and activities. Also the days of the shipside markets are gone -- these have all been moved outside the fenced wharf compound which is a shame. A sign of the booming cruise ship market I guess.
The only stupid thing that the ship did was the distribution of Tender Tickets for our visit to Champagne Bay. They only started to issue these from 08:30am at a single place on Deck 5 and the lines stretched twice around the atrium. Why oh why didn't they do this either the evening before or even the day before and have a number of locations where these tickets could be obtained. In the end when they called the relevant tender numbers for boarding there was no one checking you had the correct ticket anyway! When we arrived in Lifou I think all the passengers were a bit gun-shy as whilst they advised the first hr or so of the tenders required no tender tickets the fact was that passengers really spread themselves across the morning which meant there was never any need for tender tickets to be used for this port at all.
Faultless. Dinning staff were really great and helpful and if you didn't like a meal then they would encourage you to choose something else. Even Guest Services who tend to get a bad rap in these forums were helpful. We had two occasions where we had items on our shipboard account that were not ours and they happily removed them from our bill. The first day we needed to get extra keys so we all had access to the two cabins and they did this in very quick time.
The Activities staff were mostly OK but Kim (from Jamaica) was the standout. If you are lucky enough to have her on your cruise you will love her!
Radiance is a fantastic ship with lots of modern amenities and a design that means you are always able to avail yourself of an ocean view from some angle. The crew are always happy and helpful and even when I came across some of the engineering staff during my very early morning walks around the ship I was greeted with a friendly and hearty "good morning". Food was great with a variety to suit all tastes and entertainment and activities that make your cruise that much more memorable. Whilst our itinerary was somewhat altered the result was more than satisfying with being able to see the Sydney NYE Fireworks.
Will definitely be looking to cruise on this ship again.