Now eight years old, the Radiance of the Seas, the first of RCI's Radiance class, is well maintained and in good condition. The crew was great and very friendly. A nice touch is that RCI has fixed benches to the heliport in the bow where you can sit and watch where the ship is going.
My stateroom was a Category H Ocean-view, far forward on Deck 3. It was spacious enough. I had expected to feel more motion but even in less than calm waters, I felt little motion. Evidence of swells was mostly experienced when water splashed over the window.
We were assigned second seating at 9:00pm for dinner. That was later than usual for dinner but I believe this time was set in deference to the large number of South American passengers who normally eat dinner later. The food in the Dining Room was acceptable but mostly unremarkable. The food in the Windjammer Café was mediocre at best and varied little from day-to-day. The best sandwiches were found in the Seaview Café. There you could get freshly grilled burgers, Reuben and Cuban sandwiches. There was also food available in the Solarium; usually a variety of cold salads, bad pizza, hot dogs, cookies and brownies.
Table size at dining was an issue for many people. Some guests who requested tables for 2 or 4 were put at tables for 10 and 12. My Time Dining was at capacity and people could not switch. I even tried to bribe the maitre d' but to no avail. What also bothered many was that there small tables that were never used during the cruise.
The entertainment in the Aurora Theater was average. The main show planned for one night was postponed for technical difficulties. When it finally was performed, there were still technical problems. The two headliners, alleged stars of Broadway productions of Le Miserable and Phantom of the Opera, were unremarkable. I did not stay for their entire show. There was an Elvis impersonator show (Helvis or something like that) I skipped altogether. I eventually gave up on the shows and stopped going.
Many of the passengers I spoke to, whether Diamond Level Crown & Anchor members or novice RCI cruisers, expressed disappointment in the overall cruise experience. RCI veterans pointed to the elimination of things such as toiletries, pillow chocolates, and the traditional champagne fountain as evidence of the cruise lines diminished service. First timers tended to say that while the cruise was okay, there was no Wow Factor. Several expressed interest in trying other cruise lines for comparison. Three of the ports were beach resorts. Porto Belo, Ilhabela and Búzios, all in Brazil, were small towns or islands where passengers tendered ashore. Ilhabela was arguably the loveliest and Búzios had the best shopping. Búzios became known as an up-scale resort when Brigitte Bardot visited in the 60's and there is a statue of her near the central Beach. Another of the most common complaints I overheard was the value of the shore excursions. In Santos, Brazil, most, if not all passengers on the Historic Santos excursions demanded refunds when they returned to the ship. The Coffee Museum (former Coffee Exchange) was apparently an empty warehouse; the Train Station was modeled after Victoria Station but is now abandoned and there were few animals in the Zoo. The remaining ports were Punta del Este, Uruguay, our first port of call, where I chose to remain on board, Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo, Uruguay. Montevideo was pleasant but I was under-whelmed during a Highlights tour.
The primary destination of the itinerary was, of course, Rio de Janeiro and the Samba Parade. I learned that the parade is actually a competition between the city's top 12 Samba Schools.
The Parade is held on two successive nights with six schools parading each night starting at 9:00pm. In this photo, the Parade is moving from the bottom to the top. Each school has thousands of participants parading in various costumes; dozens of dancers; floats and a band. They are given between 60 and 90 minutes to parade through the Sambodromo which is about 2300 feet long. There is a 20 minute break between each school. Many tourists left after the 1st two schools. RCI begins its shuttle service back to the ship then. I stayed for 5 of the 6 schools and finally left the Sambodromo at 4:30am. It was exciting but after a while the costumes begin to all look alike.
Many passengers were upset about the cost of the Carnaval excursion. As people compared notes, it became apparent that many passengers bought tickets for the Parade on-line and had comparable or better seats for much less money. The ship excursion did include transportation but, again, the passengers I spoke to who went on their own had no problems getting to and from the ship. Two of our members went on their own and found themselves in the staging area for the schools. They had the opportunity to see and touch the costumes up close.
There was also much grumbling about the seating. Many agreed, me included, that the initial description of the Excursion on RCI's website implied a reserved seat. The reality was a seat cushion and a scramble for a place to sit in grandstand Sector 7. Sector 7 is considered a good place because it is across from the judges' box and the schools paused to perform. But it is hard concrete seating, although most of the crowd is on its feet dancing and singing most of the time. People also have the opportunity to order costumes in advance and march in the parade. I also took the Best of Rio excursion on the third day in Port. It included a trip up Corcovado to the Cristo Redentor (or Christ the Redeemer) Statue, one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World; drives along the Ipanema and Copacabana Beaches; lunch at a churrascaria (Brazilian barbecue); the cable cars at Sugar Loaf mountain and a stop at the Cathedral, which is very contemporary and was inaugurated by Pope John Paul II.