This was my fifth cruise, and my first with RCI. It was probably also the first time I have left a cruise feeling less than very satisfied. We love cruising and very rarely notice the issues that bug other people. In many ways the problems at the Radiance are typical of most other cruise lines at present, but I think this time they mounted up to be just too notable to ignore.
The Radiance is a nice ship. We had a Junior Suite which was spacious, good value for the extra money and very nicely decorated. The balcony is excellent, although there was no footrest which is a shame for a space that large. The public areas of the ship are a mixed bunch - the Schooner Bar and Colony Club are great, as are the specialty restaurants. The main atrium is starting to look a bit dated. The flow of the ship has been messed about a bit with the retrofits, with a great area at the stern (which is part of the Windjammer) now deserted because you have to walk through the new restaurants with your trays to access it. The pool decks are a little too small and the solarium is always packed - there just seems too much space lost on deck to the kids pool at the rear. The ship overall had quite a lot of maintenance requirements - there is a fair bit of rust around and a lot of the woodwork needs attention. It was probably the least well-maintained ship I have travelled on and I was quite surprised.
Service was good, with an excellent stateroom attendant and generally friendly and efficient restaurant/bar staff. However, there was just the slow drip of obvious cost cutting and lack of attention to detail that eventually wore down on us:
1. There were only 2 production shows on an 11 night cruise, which is at least one or two less than other lines. These performers were great, but the budget was obviously limited. Given they were on board the whole time, I have no idea why we saw so little of them. The lack of production shows would probably prevent me travelling on RCI again - they are a major part of the experience for me (and were of course packed out).
2. Entertainment was mixed - some very good and some that even the CD must have known were not up to par. They twice repeated performers and three times just had one showtime for the whole ship. In the past, if they bring an entertainer back for a second show it is usually a bonus show - not here. There was never more than one event per evening. It just seemed done on the cheap - lots of comedians, no musicians and just not enough variety. It just seems silly (and cheap) to have all that staging and lighting and then just keep putting on one guy with no set and a spotlight.
3. The food was well prepared, but there is no getting away from the fact that the quality of ingredients has been cut. We did not see any shellfish or game the whole cruise, even in the specialty restaurants. The Chef’s Table was more of the same - well prepared but frankly pretty basic food for ‘fine’ dining. The wow factor was provided by the setting, not the food. We did not have a ‘bad’ meal and I understand that they want to push us to specialty restaurants which I have no issue with - but even there the food was pretty basic. The menu for Chops Grille has zero imagination, but the food is great, as long as you just want a nice steak on its own.
4. RCI are very sneaky about extras on the menu. They mix up additional cost items with other menu items and then say in TINY print ‘available at current bar prices’ (whatever they are). We are constantly assailed with offers of ‘special’ orange juice, and waiters walking around with mineral water bottles. The wine suggestions always seemed to include stuff that was far too expensive for most people. It should be really simple - if you want to charge for something, make it clear on the menu and actually put the price down. I don’t mind being asked politely if I want mineral water (I don’t), but I do object to various items being waved in my face every mealtime.
5. The ‘free’ coffee is awful, but the stuff at Latte-tudes was just as bad. Everyone hated it and I have no idea why they cannot get this right. The tea bags were a running joke the whole cruise - nothing comes out of them! (stick to Lipton). The waiters all knew, so did the guests - so why were they still using them? I assume to force people to pay for something else.
6. The poor maintenance was quite noticeable. The Radiance had a refit in 2011, but as usual it was only a partial affair, so some areas are just too worn. In the MDR the carpet was dirty, the chairs battered and the curtain blinds falling down, there were a lot of blown bulbs and the lacquer was coming off some of the wood panelling. It is a lovely room, but just let down by lack of attention. This was the case in some other areas.
Many people on the forums commented unfavourably about the CD, Amy. Personally, I liked her and thought she did a good job and had great energy. However, some of her assistants needed to be reigned in and obviously thought that the whole thing was all about them showing off. Surely they must realise that many people do not appreciate their constant references to their own sexuality.
The ports of call were good and we took two ship-arranged shore excursions which were, as usual, well organised. At tender ports they have an early-bird arrangement where you get go straight off without a ticket in the first hour - WELL worth doing, we never encountered any type of delay tendering. The Champagne Bar (with Rebecca) was a highlight. I thought the cocktails were excellent and drinks reasonably priced (as long as you do not accept their wine suggestion!). We had the 5 bottle wine package - the admin of this was a bit of a mess but the wines were good value and certainly of a suitable quality for most.
Overall we had a good cruise, but the problem was that whilst the Radiance does everything competently, there is nothing really special about anything. I don’t remember any real moments where my expectations were exceeded. Everything had the feeling of being done to a price. I travelled on the Celebrity Solstice last year and I would say that ship and service is in a different class, and frankly no more expensive. I have already booked to go back to the Solstice on our next cruise - I just hope that their parent company can resist cost cutting and undermining that superior experience.