My partner and I sailed on Radiance of the Seas 6 night Western Caribbean February 24 - March 1, 2008. This was our 7th cruise together and my 11th cruise overall. I have sailed on Carnival and Princess (though probably would do neither again), HAL Oosterdam, Zuiderdam, and Westerdam and sailed on Jewel of the Seas 8 night Eastern Caribbean December 1, 2007. I am 40 and he is 52.
I want to give my overall impressions, plus a few comparisons to Jewel of the Seas and Holland America.
We live just outside Ft. Lauderdale, so cruising from our home port is very special to us. We love just having a friend drop us off at the port and start our vacation immediately instead of recovering from the airport, time changes, etc..
We have been trying to do 2 cruises from home per year, but that's getting more difficult with increasing cost of living plus the trend towards HUGE ships which we do not like one bit!
Last year, we had a real clunker of a cruise on Star Princess that was really bad. We made up for it with Jewel of the Seas in December 2007 and had a very satisfying vacation.
Our favorite cruises before this cruise was a tie between great Eastern Caribbean cruises on HAL Zuideram Memorial Day week 2005 and Radiance of the Seas Martin Luther King week January 2006. After this new trip on Radiance of the Seas, we have a three-way tie.
When we sailed Radiance in 2006, it was only 1 week before she was going into dry-dock. She had scuff marks here and there, but certainly nothing to complain about. This time she is going into dry-dock in just a few weeks, but she almost looks brand new. We were amazed at how beautiful her exterior still looks; so pristinely white with all that beautiful green glass. Didn't see a spot of rust anywhere. Once aboard, only the cabin furniture (desk, closets) are really showing their age.
The thing we loved so much about our prior voyage on this ship was that we felt so incredibly welcomed by the staff in every department. It was evident that the crew were very proud of their ship and we felt like we had been invited to their home. Much to our delight, the ship still has that same incredible feeling (It was slightly lacking on Jewel of the Seas).
We were so happy that one of the first people who greeted us was our Assistant Server from our 2006 cruise. She recognized us and we chatted with her for a good while. She is now a Server in Portofino's. Her name is Karen and I highly recommend you ask to be seated with her if you dine in Portofino's as she is utterly delightful.
Embarkation was a breeze. We were on the ship before noon and headed up to the Windjammer Cafe for a delicious lunch. The Windjammer Manager, Chantal, and the chefs for this area do a spectacular job. Every thing I had for lunch was yummy! I was particularly impressed with how well this ship does fish, chicken, carving station items and desserts. On Jewel of the Seas, the fish was always dried out and inedible and the chicken was just okay. The fish on Radiance was perfectly cooked, hot, moist, flaky and flavorful. I try to eat lots of fish on a cruise to counteract all the sweets I can't find a way to say no to (especially if they are really good). I'm always impressed with what a nice salad bar this ship has and what a good job they do providing fresh, flavorful vegetable selections. The ship uses a lot of dark meat chicken which is usually not my favorite, but the preparation and freshness on Radiance make such a difference. I did not have a piece of chicken or fish all week that was not yummy! I also really enjoyed the vegetarian Indian selections. I couldn't tell you what they were called because I could not pronounce any of them, but they were delicious. I was thrilled that they had my favorite coconut cookies for my first lunch. On Jewel, they had them but they were overcooked and dry. On Radiance they were moist and delicious, and unfortunately for my waistline, they had them every day! We met Chantal on the first day. She is from South Africa. What a lovely soul. She greeted us with such warmth. We were so impressed with how adept she was at overseeing the entire operation while being so personable with the guests. What a great first impression. We knew immediately that we made such a great choice booking Radiance again.
After lunch, we went to check out our dining room table and to make reservations for Portofino's and Chops Grille. We were at a table for 10 on the upper level. I don't like these big tables, but it had a very nice view of the waterfall behind the piano. Karen from Portofino's who first greeted us asked our table number and assured us we had a good service team of Trilok from India and Alvin from the Philippines.
We think formal nights are more for the ladies and the men just go along with it to make the ladies happy. No harm in that, but since we had no ladies with us we opted to not pack a jacket or tie on this cruise. We really wanted to feel like this was a vacation from everything, including work clothes. We dressed nicely, but booked our Specialty restaurants for the two formal nights.
We really enjoyed our servers in the dining room, but we only ended up eating there three nights. We ate in Portofino's for the first formal night and Chops for the second. Formal nights were nights 2 and 5 (Key West and Jamaica). Night three is the menu we really do not like at all, so opted to go for a pre-dinner swim in the Solarium pool and dine casual in the Windjammer. Again, the Windjammer really excelled. On Jewel of the Seas, there was very little difference between the dining room menu and the Windjammer menu for dinner. Not so on Radiance. They had some of the options the dining room had, but a much greater variety. I had delicious BBQ chicken, one of those yummy Indian vegetarian dishes, fresh veggies and a good salad. Partner really enjoyed the curried lamb. As we became accustomed to, we were warmly greeted by the Windjammer manager Chantal with her beautiful smile.
On the nights we did go to the dining room, food and service was very good. Entrees were almost as good as on Holland America and the service was friendly. Our assistant waiter Alvin took really good care of us and my water glass was never empty. I love how Royal Caribbean serves the bread. It gives you a chance to chat with your assistant waiter as he/she brings the bread basket around. Despite Holland America's delicious food, they just plop a basket of bread down on the table. Standout items were the chicken stuffed with proscuitto and cheese, the vidalia onion tart, salmon with a tomato sauce and a delicious crunchy banana nut parfait for dessert. This was our favorite dining room dessert from two years ago, so we ordered it again and told our tablemates how much we enjoyed it. They ordered it too and were very impressed. It's more of a pie than a parfait and it has an ice cream center. The only item I did not like was Thai lemongrass soup which just salty beef broth with a bit of lemongrass and strange dumplings. I sent that back and had a crab cake instead. The crab cakes don't have much crab, but if you know that in advance they are tasty and well presented.
If this ship has one weakness in the food department it is the soups. That was not the case 2 years ago or on Jewel in December 2007.
On the second night, we had a lovely dinner in Portofino's. They are changing their menu and upping their price to $25 in April. They did not seem to have many guests all week. What a shame because we had a lovely dinner with exceptional service. I'm still missing the warm goat cheese souffle that they took off the menu, but I did fine without it. I had the Tuscan bean soup. Again, this was disappointing compared to when I had it before. It was a bit too thin and did not have the full robust flavor that it had on Jewel. 2nd course was thin eggplant roulade stuffed with ricotta and spinach in tomato sauce. 3rd was Mesculan greens with pears, candied walnuts and gorgonzola cheese. Main entree was the marinated Filet Mignon. I personally think this filet is better than the one in Chops. I love the flourless chocolate cake for dessert, but it keeps me awake so I had that to go to eat the next day and our server brought us the dessert sampler that has small portion of flourless chocolate cake, white chocolate brulee, tiramisu and panecotta. I really like them all except the last one.
2nd formal night we went to Chops Grille. Our server Ganesh from India has been with Radiance for 7 years and service was exceptional. My partner had the French onion soup and again the soup was disappointing. On Jewel and our prior Radiance trip it was full of onions and had lots of perfectly melted cheese. This version was more beef broth with some onions, very little bread and cheese on top. I had Dungeness crab and shrimp cake. Just a good squeeze of lemon over the top and this was fabulous. We both had the Chops Grille salad which has greens, asparagus, tomato wedges and cherry tomatoes and bacon. Salad was very good and tomatoes were ripe and flavorful. On Jewel we had "forced" tomatoes that were anemic and nearly ruined the salad. I had the T-bone and partner had the Filet. Both were outstanding and came out with the plates still sizzling. We had football sized baked potatoes and corn with snow peas for sides. Both the Chocolate coffee brulee (really a dense cheesecake) and the Croissant bread pudding with ice cream were terrific!
Enough about the food.
Ports: Key West- we had lovely weather. Partner did the historic homes tour (don't book this through the ship as there is no need to pay the extra money). I slept in, found a deck chair on Deck 12 in the shade facing the ocean and started a good book.
Cozumel-again we had nice weather with partly cloudy skies and not too hot. We were happy to arrive at International Pier because it was closer to beaches. Based on advise from the message boards, we went to Nacci Coccum beach because we didn't want to deal with crowds and we wanted shade. We paid $20/person for consumption to use their beach and facilities. We had 2 chairs with pads and a palapa umbrella. Very clean beach. Sand not as soft as I had hoped, but acceptable. Beautiful pool and hot tub both with swim up bar and extremely clean restrooms. We had lots of food, sodas and bottles of water and I had one beer and we didn't come close to hitting the $40 we paid. We had delicious nachos with very fresh pico de gallo and chicken tacos. It was so nice to be served on the beach. If you are more of a drinker, you can buy an all-inclusive for $50 and eat and drink till your heart's content. Neither the $20 or the all-inclusive include gratuity, but not a big problem. Service was very nice. Maybe 30 - 40 people there tops, and that's with 4 ships in port. $15 cab ride. We shared a cab back which got it down to $10 for the two of us.
Grand Cayman- Weather was beautiful, but hot. We were packed in with lots of ships and we arrived last. We decided to wait until the tendering process using the number system was completed. We had a great lunch in Windjammer at noon, then went ashore about 1:00 p.m. We caught the tender immediately for a smooth ride over. We talked two blocks into town to the library and caught a public bus for $2.50 each to go to Sea Grape Beach. What a glorious beach this is! The soft sand and the warm water were heavenly! There are chair and umbrella rentals, but their is shade under public pavilions which we used so we only spent $10 for the day. We got back to the pier after the herd, so traffic wasn't bad. We had no trouble getting a tender back. The poor folks for the Norwegian ships were standing in a LONG line in the HOT sun. A great day!
Montego Bay- We booked an excursion called "A Mystic Adventure" which was just lovely and somewhat strenuous. We had an excellent driver and guide. We drove a little over an hour up into the country with the driver stopping so we could smell/taste plants and herbs of the island. Once at Mayfield Falls, we put on water shoes, stripped to our swim trunks and went across a bamboo bridge and went climbing up the river. Lots of natural pools and waterfalls. Our guides were very helpful showing us the easiest path and giving us a hand for big steps. It was just lovely! They took lots of pictures and sold us a photo CD for $25. One of the best excursions we've ever been on. The people we talked to who went ashore on their own did not like the island at all due to pushy people.
Our sea day was overcast and sprinkled rain off and on, but not a complete washout. We spent the morning in the Solarium enjoy the comfy padded chairs and having a nice swim. A lazy day for us. We just really relaxed that day.
Entertainment- Cruise director Kirk was just average. He is too much of a chatty cathy for us, but we don't choose a ship based on a cruise director. Have to say that Bobby on Jewel was much better.
We really enjoyed the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers and the nine piece orchestra. Both shows, City of Dreams and Piano Man were excellent. We also really enjoyed the Rosario Strings and pianist David Curtis in the Schooner bar each night.
One night Celebrity showtime was Mickey Dolenz of "The Monkees". He's not holding up too well in my opinion, but several people enjoyed this show. His sister sang with him and her voice was painful. She sang "My heart will go on" from Titanic and I had to cover my ears.
The best Celebrity showtime was "David Morgan and Chucky". He points out he is not a ventriloquist. He just brings this silly duck puppet to life and it was a hysterical show. He really made you believe this silly puppet was alive.
We had a treat on the last night which most passengers missed. At 11:30 the singers did a jazz concert with the orchestra in The Colony Club and it was great! Most people had already hit the sack though because we had to get up early the next morning.
Disembarkation - We did Express Walk-off with our own luggage (yet another advantage to not packing a suit) and it was very smooth.
We are missing her already and having Post Cruise Withdrawal Syndrome (PCWS). What a great ship with an outstanding crew!
We hate that she will not be back to Fort Lauderdale and is being replaced by the huge new Independence of the Seas. We really have no interest in sailing on a ship that large. We just hate the idea of a Royal Promenade. What we love so much about Radiance is that she is so outwardly focused. You are never more than a few steps away from looking at the sea.
After a canal transit, a Hawaii cruise and her Alaska season, she will be re-positioned to South America to go between Rio and Valparaiso. All these trips are far more than we can afford.
Our next cruise so far is on Holland America Westerdam Southern Caribbean in January 2009. Holland America is very satisfying for cabin comfort, wonderful beds, delicious food, gracious service, but they get poor marks in the entertainment department. We've had a fabulous guest entertainer (A singer who tours with Yanni named Alfreda Gerald) on two of our Holland America cruises, but otherwise the ships just go to bed after dinner. Production shows are very poor compared to the high quality ones on Royal Caribbean.
We will miss Radiance of the Seas and hope this trend towards HUGE ships based in Fort Lauderdale will eventually wane so she will return.
I HIGHLY recommend this ship beautiful ship! Tim in Pompano Beach