Radiance of the Seas Review: September 16, 2006 Pacific Northwest Cruise
My husband and I departed from Vancouver, British Columbia on September 16, 2006 on a seven night Pacific Northwest one-way repositioning cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas; a relaxing voyage calling on Nanaimo and Victoria in British Columbia, Astoria Oregon and San Francisco. Our final destination was Los Angeles, California, with two days at sea.
As you may already know, the Radiance has a seasonal itinerary that takes it to Alaska in the summer and to Hawaii and through the Panama Canal before arriving in south Florida, where she winters. We had a very enjoyable cruise and wouldn't hesitate to do it again. Not every aspect of the cruise was perfect, but we didn't have any major issues that put a damper on our vacation. And we found the ship, our accommodations, service and overall value to far exceed our expectations.
The Radiance of the Seas is the first Radiance class ship to be built; it is slightly larger than Royal Caribbean's Vision class ships and a little smaller than Voyager class ships. Its design incorporates the best of both ships, including a solarium and lots of glass everywhere, making it perfect for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest as the glass provides lots of windbreaks. It also has a lot of the features that have made Voyager class ships so popular, including a rock climbing wall and two alternative restaurants. If you ask people who are familiar with Royal Caribbean's fleet, they will tell you it has many Voyager class ship features without the hoards of people. As a fan of Voyager class ships, I can see why so many people consider the Radiance class of ships their favorite. Its interior is done in muted colors and has a very upscale feel to it. The designers did a great job incorporating all the windows - those glass elevators overlooking the water while the ship is in motion are not to be missed!
The Radiance was built in 2000, making it six years old. It's a fairly large ship, weighing in at around 90,000 tons; it can accommodate around 2500 people, though it was announced that we had about 2100 people. The ship was surprisingly well maintained and sparkling clean; there had been another Norwalk Virus breakout a few weeks earlier, so all the public areas were kept very clean. This issue also had a few negatives; until the captain gave the order to relax the 'outbreak procedures' no one could serve themselves in the Windjammer Buffet. This caused long lines and a lot of headaches, as they didn't bother to open up the formal dining room to ease some of the congestion. Eventually, by mid-cruise, we could serve ourselves in the buffet lines, but until then, it took twice as long to eat breakfast or lunch.
We flew into Seattle and took the cruise line bus to the port in Vancouver. After collecting our luggage, we checked in with the Royal Caribbean reps who handle the bus transfers. We waited about 20 minutes, got on the bus and arrived at Canada Place three hours later. The bus ride over took longer than our flight to Seattle! The tour bus that transported us wasn't in the best shape, but it was convenient and we arrived exactly like they said we would. We got off the bus, checked in and found that our cabin on Deck 7 wasn't ready. A land-based company was replacing all balcony dividers, and they were still working on the cabins on our deck. About the time they were announcing the lifeboat drill was when we finally could go to our room. Was it a little irritating to not be able to get to you room? Sure, but what can you do; we went to eat a late lunch and then it was off to the lifeboat drill. By the time we returned to our room, our luggage was outside our door, so we proceeded to unpack; then it was off to the Concierge Lounge to decompress.
We had a low-end balcony on deck 7, a very 'standard' stateroom with a nice balcony towards the front of the ship which we received as an upgrade. It was tastefully decorated; our two beds were moved together and made up as a queen size bed. The beds were okay, and by cruise end, we got used to it. But they weren't in the best of shape - some lumps and bumps mostly. I understand that the Radiance is scheduled to get new beds, so by the time you cruise, this may be a mute point. As a side note, I never sleep that well in strange beds, so more often than not, I have to make due with what we get. The only exception was on our last Carnival cruise in February; that bed was better than any other we have had on a cruise!
The room had a small couch, a glass topped coffee table and a lighted vanity desk. Storage wasn't a problem, as we had two night stands, shelf storage in and around the vanity with a few drawers, as well as a divided closet with shelves and hangers. There was a minibar/refrigerator in our cabin though we never used it. Our on-board telephone had a great voice mail system, so new friends and people traveling with you can leave you a message anytime. The bathroom came equipped with shampoo and soap, but no conditioner. The shampoo can double as a nice body wash, but I wouldn't recommend it for your hair. There was a hair dryer in the vanity - it worked quite well, so I never used the one I packed. I found the storage space in the bathroom more than met our needs, and I always seem to over pack when it comes to toiletries, so I'm pretty sure you too will find the storage space adequate.
All in all, I really had no disappointments when it came to our stateroom. At 200+ square feet plus another 45 on the balcony, we found our room very comfortable. Our balcony was everything you would expect a balcony to be. I know people who would never cruise with anything less than a balcony stateroom; but I have to be honest with you, those times we cruised in inside or outside accommodations were no worse than our balcony, as we never spent much time in any of our rooms. Having the additional square footage that comes with a balcony is by far the best benefit I can see. But on most new ships, even inside cabins these days have larger rooms. At least that is what I have noticed. It's up to you whether it's worth spending the extra money on a balcony. If you do, I recommend you make an effort to use it!
Public Areas of the Ship
All in all, the public areas of the ship such as the Aurora Theater show lounge, the many bars around the ship, the pool areas and the dining room were tastefully decorated. The Radiance is now six years old, and with constant use, it does in places, show some wear and tear. But for the most part, it's in good repair and it's very clean. Everyone from officers, to management to custodial staff to service personnel were for the most part friendly and professional.
What Is There To Do?
You will find destination & shopping lectures presented by cruise staff and guest lecturers, a fully equipped Shipshape Fitness Center with state-of-the-art gym and aerobics room, and a full service spa with sauna/steam rooms and massage. There are three swimming pools, including one with a retractable roof and several whirlpool spas. There's also a couple of 'way cool' self-leveling pool tables, a sports court with basketball (no volleyball), a jogging track and a rock climbing wall. All in all, you will find quite a bit to keep you entertained when you are NOT in ports of call. Like Voyager class ships, all Radiance class of ships were designed for the more active person in mind.
Formal and Informal Dining
A lot has been written about the food one can get on a cruise ship, and yes, you'll find plenty to eat on the Radiance of the Seas. But the quality of the food one gets today is NOT what it used to be, even if the quantity is the same. I found the dinners we ate in the formal dining to be very good, but NOT outstanding; meaning it was comparable to the quality you would expect from a mid-range restaurant. I always managed to find something I liked. Our meals were warm, but never piping hot; the service was excellent and special requests were accommodated cheerfully. This is NOT four star cuisine, however, the menu items were tastefully presented, and offerings included escargot, refreshing cold soups, and lobster tail and rack of lamb. Suffice it to say, everyone at our table came away having enjoyed their dinner.
The Windjammer Buffet is where we ate breakfast and lunch most days. It was standard buffet type food; nothing out of the ordinary, but lots of fresh fruit, home baked breads and pastries for breakfast as well as eggs and pancakes. At lunch, there were sandwiches and hot food items, a salad bar and even pizza. The Windjammer buffet was always busy, so staff was constantly refilling empty food containers with fresh items. As I mentioned earlier, the formal dining room was never open for lunch on days we were in port.
It was such a chore to eat in the Windjammer early in the week - long lines, rude people everywhere cutting in, overworked staff members serving the food, and finally, never being able to find a clean table! Thankfully, the 'outbreak' procedures were relaxed by the fourth day and the Windjammer got back to normal! On the two days at sea, the dining room was open for both breakfast and lunch and we made a point of eating there. The lunch menu was just okay, and the quality of the food wasn't really any better than what you could get up at the Windjammer, in my opinion. But you didn't have to fight the crowds, so it was more relaxing and much less stressful. I never ate dinner up at the buffet, but heard it was 'just okay'; people remarked that many of the same dinner items served in the formal dining room were available in the buffet but were consistently less fresh and dried out.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
It's been a while since we took a "perfect" vacation; our trip to the Maui Four Season's a few years ago comes to mind. Although enjoyable, our cruise had a few minor "issues" that are probably not even worth mentioning - they weren't enough to put a damper on our vacation. Suffice it to say, they guy who ran the Concierge Lounge had his 'favorite' past guests' and pretty much ignored everyone else. This was by no means a problem for us, as we stuck pretty much to ourselves and we had no problems going up to the bar to request drinks. Willie, the Concierge, had a tendency to be short with some passengers (like me) when asked for assistance; others we spoke to felt he was the best Concierge ever! Therefore, please take my comments with a grain of salt - I have never met this person before, so it could be he was just having a bad day!
In case you are wondering, the Concierge Lounge is a very nice past guest perk for Diamond and above Crown & Anchor Society members (Royal Caribbean's past guest program - Diamond level is 10 cruises or more) and for high-end suite passengers where they serve complementary drinks every night from 5:00pm-8:30pm. The evening lounge was in the Hollywood Odyssey Lounge, Deck 13, but the Concierge was located on Deck 10.
Our second "issue" really wasn't Royal Caribbean's fault, as it had to do with rude and aggressive passengers. Not sure why there were so many aboard this particular sailing, but they were out in-force EVERYWHERE! The 'outbreak' procedures in the Windjammer probably caused this, however, once they relaxed a bit, it did get better.
Ports of Call
The reason we booked this cruise was for the ports of call. We had never visited Nanaimo, Victoria or Astoria, so it was a real treat to explore these ports of call. We also called on San Francisco, and made the decision to visit areas we had never been to, so getting off the ship was a real adventure. In San Francisco, Nanaimo and Victoria, we booked shore excursions through Royal Caribbean. They were well run and enjoyable.
We took a walking tour of the city in Nanaimo - it was very informative and I came away learning about its culture and history. In Victoria, we visited Buchart Gardens and a small winery. I felt we didn't have enough time at the Gardens, so next time I would NOT do a forma tour, but rather go on my own. In Astoria, we had access to a car and drove up and down the coast - from the mouth of the Columbia River to CannonBeach. That was by far the best day we had in port. In San Francisco, we took a tour to Muir Woods and Sausalito; it was okay - however, one hour was not enough time at Muir Woods. Sausalito was okay if you liked strolling up and down a tourist hot spot - restaurants, tee shirt stores and art galleries.
We are in our 40's - work full time and have no kids. We enjoy scuba diving, skiing and hiking vacations and although we do enjoy cruising, it's not the only type of vacation we take. I lead 'active' cruise groups for Cruise Critic a few times a year and occasionally we cruise to simply 'get a way' - as was the case this time. I also used to consult for the cruise lines 'education' programs years ago when they restructured their kid's programs.
We run into many 'cruise experts' who cruise all the time - they are on a first name basis with ship staff and seem to be 'in the know' when it comes to the ship all the time! Many work in the travel industry or are retired. Many cruise to cruise - the ports of call tend not to always be that high up on their list of priorities. I am just the opposite - the ports of call are more important to me than the cruise 'experience' or the ship. Sure, when given a choice between identical itineraries I will go with the ship that gets the better reviews, is recommended or somehow offers me 'something special'. But please note that I base my decision to cruise on the itinerary.
Please don't hesitate to email me if you have any questions.