Let me begin by saying that I read over 800 various ship reviews (including Trip-advisor) and all of the posted 281 Radiance of the Seas reviews before I left, so I had a pretty good idea of what this was all about and what to expect even before I began. I am not a big time cruiser-person although I've been on a few cruises. I am a 63 y/o single, male, in good physical shape, without a bunch of hidden agenda...meaning I'm coming at this pretty unbiased. I own and live on my own sailboat. I went on this cruise to look at ports in Mexico before departing on my own circumnavigation. I was not looking for a mate, love boat cruise, or even companionship...I was looking for a good time and getting a value for my $$$ and for me personally...a chance to explore harbors in Mexico...(Oh! and to get warm and de-humidified from Seattle)!
Pre-departure...Getting set-up to go was easy and smooth...went to an online booking agent (Crown Cruises) and very happy with their service. (They even arranged for a room change for me a couple of weeks before departure). Booked my own airlines and ground transport...left Seattle on the day of the cruise...no problems except the whole "not enough room for carry-on's" deal and of course "flying "Sardine Airlines". [SIDE NOTE: Flying is not like it used to be....and I fear it will never be the same again..."Sorry" next generation...but you truely missed the "good old days" of no airport security, hot meals, and movies (for most flights over two hours), leg room, and single female airline stewardesses (Oops...flight attendants...my bad)...and you know...when flying used to be fun.
Embarkation - Smooth and perfect...so much better than my previous Carnival Cruise Line experience! It was obvious that RCCL had done this before...where Carnival had people screaming at us and having us change three different waiting lines in L.A....San Diego RC embarkation went perfectly (for me - although I heard stories about other's having problems). San Diego was awesome! Easily got out of the cab, into the terminal, through security, and onto the boat in minutes even with Carnival Elation sitting on the same dock and boarding at the same time. I was greeted immediately by the very friendly ground crew and welcomed aboard the boat by the "water crew." My luggage wandered off somewhere as I arrived but showed up at my room a bit later with no worries.
Biggest regret - Pre-paid tipping! Stupid on my part...will discuss at the end. Best surprise - Hot-hot tub!!! Way good! I was "Prune-guy" most of the cruise.
The Boat - First impression - Awesome!...(But I wasn't blown away...as I knew what to expect through previous sailings and reading the reviews). Still...pretty sharp ship! The boat was clean and sparkling...ready for boarding...barely noticed the other passengers leaving as we entered. Felt pretty much alone until I went up to the Windjammer for some snacks....where I found out the other 28,000 of us went! Ship was the right size for my liking (less than 2000 people really). Found the bow (Heli-o-pad) right away and lived up there most of the journey. This was an awesome place with no people...watched dolphins and whales and felt alone-on-the-seas when I wanted. I will qualify and say that I am not a real social person so the people/numbers game is/was important...loved the open spaces onboard.
My room was perfect (in the 3000 block)...easy to find...cabin attendant excellent, service impeccable! Everything in the room was "as advertised" and "as reported" by other cruisers and reviews...meaning I knew what to expect and got what I expected. People who didn't like their rooms...need to read these reviews...you'll greatly reduce your disappointment level for not only the room but the whole trip! (Heard that decks 9 and 10 had plumbing problems...all previously reported in Cruise Reviews so no grumbling here!). Couple of times got a whiff of sewage smell in the stairwells not sure where that was from but for the most part...no issues.
Elevators - Fun but weird...fun/weird because the center-ones looked out over the water as you went up and down...weird because ours in the front of the ship were sometimes disabled or otherwise not working. I've worked on elevators in my lifetime...I can think no reason for an elevator to be disconnected or broken. They were croweded at times, but always clean and (when working) were a pleasant part of the trip. I used to bet with other passengers which elevator would show first...I think "Wednesday" had silcone spray on the rails! Ha! Mentioned the problem to the guest services people got instant results!
Used My Time Dining, but never had dinner even once in the dining room. This was mostly due to reports and reviews...ate all my meals elsewhere on the ship and was not sorry. I was a single diner and couldn't figure out a way to make things work in the dining room. Either I had to sit alone or with other people not-of-my-choice. So I opted out. Food in the Windjammer was exactly as reported by other cruise reviews...sort of moderate-level buffet. I could always find something to my liking...except coffee and tea which I will talk about at length in a minute. Overall, the food tasted pretty good. My Time Dining room's looked crowded and uncomfortable...concept is good...needs more work. I think since I had to pay single sup that I should at least have a table for two assigned to me...but that's not the industry standard.
Coffee...BIG TIME COMPLAINT HERE...Coffee and Tea - Maybe it's because I'm from Seattle (the self-proclaimed coffee capital of the world)...but...the coffee (and tea) was beyond terrible...I'm serious...it sucked big time! I'm thinking it was the ship's water because I get Seattle's Best Cofee at home and it's good...but I want to say that there are actually no excuses here. I have a watermaker aboard my sailboat that I live on, and my water is perfect tasting...I just run a MOEN filter after production and our boat-coffee is excellent and we always get lots of compliments...no excuses R/C! This is a deal breaker for me in the future. I would have figured at least the Seattle's Best Coffee espresso station aboard would be decent...No such luck...aside from bad tasting, the guy at the espresso stand didn't know the first thing about coffee making...(Like what's a Breve???)...and after preparation, it was terrible...it was all I could do to gag it down. I could hardly wait to get off the ship to get a decent cup of coffee! Hey RCCL if you need a coffee chef to come aboard and show you how to make good cup of coffee just advertise in Seattle because your chef or whoever's in charge of the coffee mess needs to find a new occupation or at least re-apply for some taste buds...what gives here??? How you can have an absolutely beautiful boat (ship), with the best crew I've ever seen put together....with perfect weather and great ports of call...with great food and service and offer coffee that tastes like crankcase oil? Okay...Okay I'll leave it alone. But I just want to say...
Okay...Activities on board...Shows were great...all of them exceeded expectations. I even stayed completely through a couple of whole shows and I was by myself!!...A first for me, they were that good! Don't gamble or drink so I was pretty much cut out of 90% of on-board activities unless I was interested in buying something. Bingo? Read Vegas reviews...about the worst percentage other than Keno in all of Las Vegas...I didn't get it was any better on the ship...sorry.
Chops and Portifino...way beyond expectations!...Excellent service and food...congrats to the Portifino bunch they really kicked out some good stuff...with service to match! Highly professional crew and management! My complaint...food was too good and there was too much of it! The cost ($25.00 and $20.00 respectively) was within margins although I cruised in the days when Chops and Portifino were industry standards for the dining room...alas I'm afraid those days are gone with the influx of mass-market cruising....I still didn't mind the extra for what I got...also great for single people...quiet and out of the way...loved it!
Windjammer...Hmmm...I skipped some of the food and just ate the deserts! I swear they put the Windjammer right in the way of the jogging track...well...my jogging track anyway! The pastry chef should be given a raise or a bonus at least...(unless he/she also did the coffee!). Overall the WJ food was well presented. I didn't like a lot of the choices but that was purely personal as I don't like Indian food and weird stuff... What I did have was done well for a buffet...no Mexican or Chinese food...wondered what's the deal there? Otherwise...Okay...always looked forward to going to dinner...in Windjammer it was always like an Easter Egg Hunt...you never know what your going to get...or was that a box of chocolates?
The Skyview Cafe - Excellent fish and chips...Don't miss the onion rings!
Fitness area - Excellent but I don't like machines smarter than I am...Ha!
Large pool - Okay but I don't care for this space on the ship...there's something weird about passing through this area. Was kept up nice, and looked appealing for those that like to gather...just weird. Fun to watch the water in the pool in rough weather. Hot tubs were not.
Solarium- What at pleasant surprise...a hot-hot tub!!! and warm pool water! Wow! Way beyond my dreams and expectations!!...made my trip!!!...Okay one design flaw...one hot tub!!? Way too crowded and problems with over-chlorination with the single hot-hot tub...Other hot tubs on board were cold-cold....very puzzling ...on the other hand....no towel issues anywhere, anytime, as reported in other reviews...thank you RCCL for listening to the cruise reviewers! Plenty of fresh hot towels all of the time!
Miniture golf - Wasted space for me...I suppose great for kids. Did a round...died of boredom before finishing...bad when it was a bunker shot from two decks below and no pitching wedge.
Climbing wall - Great, I suppose, if you were on Carnival or had a bunch of kids on board...we didn't...(25 kids in all I think). The wall looked empty the whole trip....too much of a fad thing for me. This whole "something-for- everyone-to-do-while-on-board bit is really challenging...I confess...I couldn't do that job even as a ship designer! But I'll try...Let's see...First run movies all day and night, free Internet, full TV, top of the line coffee, and fresh hot popcorn would be a few of my cruise director suggestions, What happened to Dice/Horse racing...costume parties and hat making? Guess I'm too much old school...and too sober.
Lounges etc...I don't know what to say here...it seemed like the center of the ship (Centrum?) was always packed with people viewing or doing something which was cool but it tended to crowd things up...while the other "gathering lounge areas" were empty. I don't drink so I guess that says it all...again wasted space on the one hand, and way too crowded main areas, on the other.
Casino - moneymaker for the ship...'nuff said (except nicely done, very clean). I lived in Vegas for a few years so I pretty much know what this is all about. Ship has to cover it's costs this is as good as place as any to get it. I played about a dollar and a half...lost it...remembering the Vegas rule...you win if you lose early...and the worse curse is to win in the first hour...you'll be back until it's all gone...you money that is...ha!
Art and art sales...what is that all about!!?? I don't understand the mentality here at all...the art for sale on the boat has no appeal to me what-so-ever...but I understand that it's a personal thing. Why don't they sell computers or IPODS, blackberry's, CD's, or movies or even automobiles at cost or something worthwhile...??? Artwork??? I live on a boat. Even if I kept the home I sold I can't figure this out as these guys are on all cruise boats...along with the jewelry people...must be some inside deal for the boat managment. Reminded me of a giant 11-day-long informercial. I stayed away as I have no way of telling real or good art from bad...the same for jewelry...I'll bet 1 out of a 1000 people can't tell you one good stone from another. I'll further bet they had to introduce people to Tanzinite just so they could sell it to them! I wonder about people who try to tell me what is valuable and what I need...what an insult. Why don't they ask us before we go what we'd like to see? I lump boat art, and jewelry into the same catagory as vacation time shares...what a scam feeling it leaves me with (he said prepisitionally).
Pictures and picture-taker people...Read the previous reviews...I escaped without even having my picture taken once (I think...except to get on the ship of course). This is a great service if this is your first cruise and you don't know any better. I felt like the pictures were worth a couple of bucks-a-piece maybe $5.00 each, but...$20.00!!? No way! Sorry picture-taker people...I know you work hard for your money...and picture paper is expensive but I think of this as probably the best scam on the boat next to or including the cruise video?...I watched it...it wasn't my cruise...Oh it was taken while I was on the boat, but it wasn't MY cruise...they missed the target here...big time!
Ports-of-call - Excellent! See full reviews below...Went to Cabo, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, back up Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, and finally Manzillo and home. On and off barking, disembarking, reembarking went easily, great tender service...no disappointments as I read the reviews and made my choice of trips based on the reviews. Did not use any ship sponsored shore excursions (I read ship reviews warnings again). Heard many good things, however,about shore excursions on this cruise maybe they're getting the message. Watch out for the HAWKERS at Acapulco...they have tamed them down a lot but many people complained about being followed clear into town by hawkers right off the ship.
OVERALL CRUISE IMPRESSIONS - I would rate this cruise as slightly above average for me because (1) It was between holidays (exactly between Thanksgiving and Christmas) and therefore had no children (love children etc...just not a a cruise ship...BTW they had over 400 kids on the cruise just proceeding ours). I did my homework. (2)Crew and service above average...Wow! One of the best surprises...was I always pleasantly greeted anytime I came across a crew member. (3)Ship cleanliness - Excellent...beyond my expectations! (4) Food - Okay, there was always plenty of it, it was hot and prepared well, (5) TV - terrible but I don't know what to expect here. I sail a sailboat so any TV is better than none I guess...it was just so weird seeing the same episodes of something like 10 times...what kind of an idiot would watch that...Oh wait...it was me! (6) Internet - wait until you go ashore, anywhere... lots of Intenet Cafe's cheap! Don't understand the cost related to this...figure the Internet must be related to the Casino margins as I get long range internet on my boat for free...so what's the deal? (7) Pictures - For me a waste of money but this was not my first cruise, nor honeymoon, nor anniversary, nor birthday...you get the picture (or not).
Do I feel like I got my $$$'s worth...Yes...would I do it again...Yes...would I choose this cruise line...Yes...would I choose this ship?...Yes, (if they straighted up the coffee and tea mess). My room? Outstanding, but I was alone so I had lots of room. A little locking safe, a TV that never made sense (can you say "antique" and wouldn't turn completely around to be viewed while on the bed?)...really weird design flaw.
Two areas of complaint - Pre-tipping - Didn't work for me as I went with My Time Dining and then chose not to eat in the dining room so people got tips for no service...also there's no incentive for the crew to do more or better if they think tips are all pre-paid. Next time, I'll hold out to see what kind of service I get. The other area of complaint was dining....which includes coffee. I don't have any suggustions other than those made.
Disembarkation - For me probably the most important part of the trip as I had naively believed I could get off the ship a few minutes after docking. I scheduled a 10:50am flight out of San Diego (we docked at 7:00am) but the disembarkation went so smoothly I actually sat for an hour at the airport. I simply followed the crew's directions. I leave with fond and good memories of my Mexico Cruise on Radiance of the Seas. I met some wonderful people, and excellent crew, and wish the ship and crew well on their future endeavors.