My family (2 adults & 2 children) took this cruise to introduce the children to international travel. We thought it would be a fairly relaxing and gentle introduction - and indeed, it was.
We boarded the Radiance of the Seas at the Sydney Overseas Passenger Terminal. We were surprised at how full the cruise was, given that it took place towards the end of Australian Summer school holidays. There were over 2200 passengers travelling - I understand that Radiance's capacity is approximately 2500. Regardless of the number of fellow passengers, the embarkation experience was very smooth and straight forward. We simply dropped our suitcases in a marquee near the terminal and then followed the instructions to board the ship. There were many very helpful Royal Caribbean staff to point us along in the right direction. From luggage drop off to stepping on the ship took approximately 35 minutes.
Lunch was served in the buffet Windjammers restaurant as soon as we boarded. And my goodness, it was busy! We could not go to our room for approximately an hour after boarding as the rooms were being cleaned - the Radiance had only arrived in Sydney that morning. So we found ourselves a nice table outside on the ship, as every table and chair in Windjammers appeared to be taken. It was a good way to acclimate to the vast number and range of people with whom we were to spend the next 2 weeks. I was surprised at how hungry fellow passengers seemed to be falling upon the buffet fare. They must have been starving! And unfortunately, the image of jostling pigs at the trough kept coming to mind. We especially enjoyed watching the local customs officers tuck into the buffet selection...it must have been the highlight of their day! Through all this however, Windjammer staff were courteous, productive and seemed eager to please. We particularly liked that the staff enforced use of the hand sanitisers available at the entrances - it contributed successfully to a gastro-free journey. I won't write any more about Windjammers as all our experiences there were similar - good hearty food which turned over quickly, enthusiastic and helpful staff, and seemingly starving fellow travellers who took on a zombie-like demeanor around food...must get to food...get out of my way!
Our room was ready on schedule and we were pleased to see that it was larger than expected and had a balcony (we were expecting a porthole!) The 4 of us fit comfortably - adults in the king size bed and children in the futon-style fold out sofa bed. The bathroom was small as expected, but had all the basic facilities. The cupboards and storage spaces in our room were quite sufficient for the 4 of us for 2 weeks. Our room attendant serviced the room twice a day which helped to keep it in great condition. The room attendant was delightful and shared lots of useful information and interesting stories with us and saying goodbye to her at the end of the cruise felt like saying goodbye to a lovely friend.
Dinner on our first night - and most nights after that - was in the level 5 Cascades dining room. The extensive menu changed every night and the food was mostly very good. A children's menu was also available with perennial favourites like spaghetti and burgers and hot dogs. I was initially overwhelmed (pleasantly) by the superlative service provided by dining room staff. Each table had a head waiter and an assistant waiter in attendance. No glass was ever left unfilled, no bread plate empty! Some nights, if the head waiter thought we ought to try a particular dish or dessert because it was something special, he would order it in addition to our order...just so we could have a taste! The assistant waiter entertained the children intermittently with napkin folding and magic tricks. We were all a little overwhelmed to start with, but got used to the attention and service very quickly!!
There are several specialty restaurants on board which provide different cuisines for a reasonable additional cost. We only went to 2 - i)Izumi - Japanese influences. This was a great experience with good food and very attentive service; and ii) the Chef's Table - which is not a restaurant per se but a special dining experience with 5 set courses and accompanying wines. The chef and sommelier (wine steward) discuss each course and wine selection with guests (14 guests at any one dinner). It is set in a dedicated dining room which feels very special. The Chef's Table is not cheap, but still represents great value for the wonderful and special dining experience that it truly is.
Most evenings, the children went to the kids club. I was surprised that they actually wanted to go! Most of the carers in kids club were well loved by the children. They did lots of activities, played heaps of games and made friends from around the world. And of course, with the children enjoying kids club, we could have some 'adult time' - just exploring different parts of the ship, catching a movie, reading together (there is a small library on board) or just watching the waves go by. It was so lovely to just be a couple for a little while. And I'm sure that the kids just loved getting away from parents for a little while too.
We didn't take any of the ship's organised excursions. However because New Zealand felt quite safe and comfortable to us, we went ashore at each port and took our time just wandering around locally or took a taxi from port to whichever location we wanted to visit. This is not something we would do if we did not speak the language or if we were concerned about our safety for any reason - but New Zealand is a fairly friendly and gentle place. At 2 of the ports we had to use tender boats to get ashore - Akaroa and Bay of Islands - they were pleasant 20 minute tender rides. The only advice I would give to people not taking the ship organised excursions is to know what time the excursions return as the tender boats become very busy at these times and long queues can form for tenders. However the queues were very orderly and with some simple precautions like a hat, sunscreen and drinking water, it was not too uncomfortable to wait for the 40 minutes or so, as we did at the Bay of Islands stop.
Overall, our experiences on the Radiance of the Seas were superb and we returned from our vacation feeling well pampered and very relaxed. We would happily cruise on this ship again. All kudos to the captain and crew for their professionalism and graciousness. One message to fellow travellers however: relax for goodness sake, you're on holiday. This means: be polite to the crew - they are just trying to do their jobs and can't abuse you back; the food will not run out - you do not need to push in or elbow children out of your way (sheesh!); and you will not die if you have to wait a few moments for soap or hand towels to be refilled in the public restrooms....etc etc etc.