Our family of five sailed on the 04/04/04 Radiance sailing to Key West, Cozumel, Roataan Island Honduras, and Belize. The stops at Honduras and Belize were changes from the original itinerary of Costa Maya and Grand Cayman. We had been to Honduras and Grand Cayman two years ago, but we still enjoyed all the ports.
Months ago when planning the trip, we wanted to cruise on RCCL. We had previously been on the Nordic Empress, Carnival Paradise, NCL Sky and NCL Sun. My preferences were to sail on the Serenade (southern), Radiance (western), Adventure (southern) or one of the other newer Voyager-class ships if a good price came up. I know the larger ships are nice, but I tend to favor the smaller 2000+ versus 3000+ passenger ships. The Adventure was a viable option because we hadn't been to the Southern Caribbean and it had only 4 ports of call versus the more prevalent 5 ports. Being from Minnesota, the ice skating rink isn't a big novelty for us. I also wanted to avoid the mass of children likely to be on the Voyager class ships during spring break. Although we had our three kids (ages 11, 15, 17) there is always the fear of kids running wild. Our kids do not participate in any of the organized ship activities, but never have a problem finding things to do. Wanting to book early, the Radiance price dropped to a reasonable rate, while the cruises out of San Juan remained higher. Carnival had some comparable prices for the Triumph and Conquest, but the design of the Radiance won out easily. After booking the Radiance I was also able to use the Crown & Anchor magazine discount coupons to further reduce the price of our two inside cabins.
In the end, our choice of the Radiance was a great choice. The ship was beautiful and classy. We enjoyed the ship's design and layout. The 90,000-ton size was spacious and not crowded. I think there was an unusually high number of kids onboard (700+), but unruly children were not a problem. Some of the reason is that the children's areas and activities are located at the rear of the ship (rock wall, miniature golf, kid's pool, adventure island) and the fact that age limits were posted and enforced for the Solarium and lounges. For a spring break cruise, kids were not a problem.
Embarkation. Flying into Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami was a little less stressful. There was less of a journey to the baggage claim area and the airport was a little less hectic. The port is also closer. We had no problem with bus transfers arranged through our TA. Normally we just take a cab. Embarkation went quick and easy. We purchased Coke cards for the kids right way ($28 pp). They attach a sticker to the room card, which is way more convenient than a wristband or plastic cup. They also provided a thermos-type Coke container that the kids could also use.
Dining. We had been on NCL twice previously with open seating for dinner. We had the 6:00 seating on the Radiance and had no problems. We enjoyed our tablemates and our two waiters. Open seating may be more convenient for others based on personal preferences, but it was a non-factor for us. The main show lounge started at 9:00 so we were not rushed at dinner. I do remember on NCL that if you stayed for desert you were always in a rush to leave in order to get seats at the nightly shows. We would go to the show lounge at about 8:30 and would find seats in the first three rows without any problem. The shows were good, but again everyone has their preferences.
Shore Excursions. For shore excursions, I signed up in advance on-line at the RCCL site. Everything went fine as our tickets were delivered to our rooms the first night. For the stop in Cozumel, I had signed up at home months earlier for the Dolphin Swim through the Dolphin Discovery web-site. This also worked out fine, as our reservations were available when we reached Chankanaab Park. Our shore excursions consisted of: Fury Catamaran Snorkel at Key West (followed by time in town); Chankanaab Park and Dolphin Swim in Cozumel; Tabyanna Beach Break in Honduras; and Catamaran snorkel to Rendezvous Caye in Belize. Departing and entering the ship is fast and easy by swiping the room cards through a card reader.
At the Key West snorkel site, we did see a shark and barracuda (a big deal for non-scuba divers). We wanted to spend more time in Key West, but the ship leaves early and you are tired from the morning excursions (and early rum punches). Besides the Dolphin Swim, Chankanaab Park has a nice clean beach and lovely botanical garden trail to walk through. We saw plenty of huge colorful lizards. The Dolphin Swim is expensive, but a once-in-a-life-time adventure. Being pulled and pushed through the water by the dolphins is simply amazing. The photos and video are also expensive, but what the heck. (how many times do you kiss a dolphin ). Tabyanna Beach on Roataan Island is a nice excursion, with a lovely clean beach, good swimming and snorkeling, courteous beach waiters and buffet lunch. The 30-minute bus ride across the island is also an enlightening trip. The Rendezvous Caye excursion in Belize is recommended over the Goff's Caye excursion. (Catamaran versus speed-boat; snorkeling and beach break versus lengthy beach break.) Both Cayes are excitingly small. In Belize, our excursion did not leave until 12:30. It was great to spend the whole morning out by the pool area on a virtually empty ship.
Overall. The Radiance of the Seas was a great choice. You sometimes worry about doing too much prior planning (or reading too many Cruise Critic comments), but everything went fine. After taking several cruises you also have a fear of expecting too much or nit-picking some items. The Radiance of the Seas delivered a great vacation.