This is our second RCI cruise and the first on a mid to larger size ship. We are a couple in our fifties and have caught the cruising bug. As the time drew near to start the cruise our expectations rose. I'd like to report they were all fulfilled!!!
On the 8th of December we drove from Montgomery, Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia to catch our Air Trans flight to Ft Lauderdale. By taking late flights on both legs of the roundtrip we were able to get some great internet fares. You may ask why we drove to Atlanta when there is an airport in Montgomery. Basically, savings,savings,savings!!! I'll bet there are other cruisecritic members out there that have the same problem of having an airport that doesn't have any lower priced airlines flying in to it and having to travel miles to save money. We ended up saving (even after long term parking fees) about $200.00 over what Montgomery would have cost us. My thanks go out to Air Trans for their wonderfully competitive internet fares.
Now comes the only bad experience of the cruise. We arrived at the Ft Lauderdale airport and called a Wyndham Hotel airport shuttle to come and pick us up. When we got to the hotel a big surprise awaited us. They had rented our room out!!!!! Before we left Montgomery I had checked with the Wyndham customer service on-line and they said late check in would be no problem. The clerk at the hotel said" we have you down for a 12:30 check in it's almost 1:20." Instead of getting angry, which a few of the other people that this had happened to did, I asked "well can you get us a comparable room some where else?" This starts part two of the adventure.
We were loaded back up on the Wyndham bus and driven to the Hyatt Resort in Weston, Fla. The driver did not know the area well and the directions given to him by the Wyndham desk clerk were hard to follow. To make a long story short, it took us about 40 minutes to make a 20 minute drive. One of the people on the bus finally got a hold of the Hyatt and had them talk us in. When we arrived at the Hyatt it was after three in the morning. Wyndham did pay for the room and part of the transportation to the dock the next day but an organization that big, and I am a Wyndham by request member, should have had its stuff together a lot better.
When we arrived at Port Everglades the next morning (after a good nights sleep and in a lot better mood) we were amazed at how magnificent all the cruise ships looked. Our first comment when we saw the Radiance was "God what a beautiful ship!!"
Embarkation: Embarkation went smoothly and in no time at all we were aboard. We are amazed at how smoothly RCI can move people on and off its ships. Great job!! I didn't hear if the instructions given to us in line were given in any other language besides English but Royal could start doing this since there were a few non English speaking people in line who looked confused.
Once aboard the Radiance I was amazed at how light and airy the interior looked. I also like their use of inlaid wood as accent throughout the ship. The use of different grain and colored woods made for an understated elegance. The ships art work was fine but I didn't think it fit the decor well. The atrium was something to see as well as the elevators. Made you feel more like you were in a fine hotel rather then a ship. Some of the high points of the ship in my opinion are the colony club which is just rich and stately, the schooner bar, Hi Randy (my wife still thinks you're cute), the miniature golf course, which is one of the best I've ever played (especially the night of high winds) and the solarium which is a great place to decompress.
We were pleasantly surprised by the size of our large ocean view cabin. At no time during the cruise did we feel cramped, the only thing really wrong in the room are those terrible mattresses. Please Royal do something about them!!. Everything in the room worked well. They might want to hang a plastic card in the showers with instructions on how to adjust the water with the faucet system they have. It took a few tries but we finally figured it out. Some of our cruising friends had the same problem. We had a bottle of chilled champagne waiting for us as part of the grand romance package and it made coming aboard that much better, I'll give the rest of my review about this package later.
As far as the activities aboard ship we probably didn't partake in as many as some people but kudos to Royal for providing something for almost everyone to do. I especially enjoyed the Meet and Mingle, the comedians and reviews, and most of all, partaking in the International belly flop contest. What fun!
Unlike some reviewers I find the diversity and quality of the food in the windjammer to be better then in the formal dining room. Except for the formal dining nights,(hi nikolas, our waiter) which were made better by our tablemates who were great, we ate in the windjammer. I wish I knew where Royal got its proscuitto; I'd have them send me 20 lbs. The Sea view cafe was a great find with really good sandwiches and onion rings and great outdoor deck seating with a good view.
The shore excursions went from good to great:
San Juan: Our rain forest tour was cancelled so we ended up on a San Juan bus tour. Our drivers name was Walter and you could tell he was passionate about his country. He was well steeped in the history and culture of Puerto Rico and San Juan and it made this stand in excursions quite interesting. Overall a good excursion.
Antigua: Eco snorkel and kayak excursion. The bus ride over to the other side of the island was enjoyable. Once again the driver/ tour guide was passionate about his country and this made the ride that much more enjoyable. The new cricket stadium they're building is really beautiful and Antigua should be proud. The excursion starts at bungalow style building near a cove. The people and the building exuded a very welcoming attitude. The building is surrounded by tropical plants with many tropical small birds. The owner also has a parrot and I was lucky enough to get my picture taken holding it. There were probably more hummingbirds flitting around the place then I think I've ever seen in one place. We boarded our 24ft Carolina skiff and headed across the bay to a beautiful small island. There we hiked to the top of the island which gave a beautiful view of the bay and coves. After returning to the beach we donned our snorkel gear and walked/swam to the snorkeling area which was probably 300 ft away from the beach. Even when in deeper water you knew you were only about 30 ft from water depth you could stand in. I enjoyed this so much more then another snorkeling excursion I had been on Where they more or less plopped you out of the boat into 25-30 ft of water. We then got back in the boat and headed back across the bay to some mangrove coves where brightly colored ocean kayaks awaited us. We kayaked for about an hour and this was a lot of fun since while guided is more or less self paced. Along the way we saw and handled some of the largest starfish I have ever seen. After the kayaking we headed back to the bungalow where awaiting us on the pier was a man handing out cool damp hand towels (nice classy touch) and rum and fruit punch was served at the waiting area at the back of the bungalow. All and all a great excursion.
St Thomas: We took the excursion to Magens Bay. While this was a nice beach and relaxing and even though it is touted as one of the "ten best beaches in the world" which I didn't think it was, it more or less ended up being a day at the beach. Not a bad excursion to rest up at after the kayak snorkeling adventure but still more like a day at the beach. A fair excursion.
St Croix: Due to fighting seas and headwinds on the way down we had to make a stop for gas in St Croix. Lucky us, another country on itinerary for free!! Even though at night, I enjoyed the stilt walking performers and the street music. The dock shop area looked quite nice also. For an unscheduled stop, pretty darn good!
St Maarten: Honestly I was lucky enough to take the best excursion by far I have ever taken here. We signed up for the 12 metre Yacht challenge and got to crew the 1987 America's Cup winning boat, the Stars and Stripes(U.S. 55). We raced two other boats and finished second. The combination of the beautiful boat, the exhilaration of crewing her, and the history involved made for a totally immersive experience. Just a marvelous and fantastic excursion. The professional crew of the boat was courteous, helpful, and about perfect. On a scale of one to ten I would give this excursion a 15!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Nassau: We took a beach getaway to Blackbeards Cay. If you notice a trend its strenuous excursion, relaxing excursion. We enjoyed Blackbeard Cay, but mainly just drank rum drinks, try a Goombay Smash they're delicious, and talked about what a wonderful cruise we had. Thanks to the shell necklace vendor on the beach who made a custom "tickle shell" bracelet for our 4 year old granddaughter. She really loves it!!
Ft Lauderdale: Pulling back into Florida we were sad and really didn't want the cruise to be over. Disembarkation went smooth and we were soon off the ship. Our transportation to the airport was provided by 4 season's limo service in a Lincoln town car and would like to thank the driver for a great price and for being such a nice guy. I highly recommend them.
We were lucky enough to catch an earlier flight back to Atlanta then scheduled, thanks Calvin at Air Trans, and flew back to Atlanta. When we went to start our car in the parking lot the battery was dead! (We had left the overhead light on in our excitement). We didn't know this but after checking with the parking lot shuttle driver we found out that Atlanta airport provides jumpstarts. The customer courtesy guy came out and had us jumped and running within 15 minutes (free), I don't know if it's like this at all major airports but hats off to Atlanta airport from us, you guys are great!
The only other thing I want to mention is the grand romance package. We thoroughly enjoyed the champagne, robes, flowers, chocolate covered strawberries and the breakfast in bed. The only thing I wish they would change is different choices in the canapés or something else besides the canapés. They were not up to the class of the rest of the package.
In summary, a glorious cruise full of great memories, fantastic excursions, and best of all, getting to meet and make some wonderful friends.