November21st-30th Background: I traveled with my partner Jimmi (jmcal123). I am a lifelong cruiser (#35) on everything from Crystal to Carnival. While I am not loyal to any one line, I tend to favor Royal Caribbean and Princess. This was my choice for cruises because of the itinerary (two new ports) and ship (new class of ship for me).We also were able to combine my platinum discount with the AZ resident special and the FCC I had, so we ended up with a decent deal with some onboard credit as well. We were joined by a friend that we have travelled with twice on the Caribbean Princess and two of his friends. While there are many positives about this cruise, there were a few disappointments as well, enough for me to mention them, but not to deter me from Royal Caribbean in the future. We are very much looking forward to our Oasis cruise next September. Fortunately, our biggest issue happened immediately upon boarding the ship and we were able to put it behind us within a few hours. So with that being said, take my opinions with a grain of salt, as you should with any review that you read online. Pre-Cruise: We drove the 5 hours from Phoenix to San Diego and arrived midday on the 20th. Having been to SD many times, we chose the Sofia Hotel on Broadway about 2 blocks from the Pier. We have stayed at the Sofia before and would recommend it to anyone, especially at the $88/night we found it for on Expedia. It is a steal at that rate. After spending 3 meals on land, I again realized the value of a cruising vacation. Meals are expensive, even when you are paying attention to price. We spent the morning on Mission Beach for a run, before heading to Coronado and then to the ship. We used Mission brewery parking and paid $9/night for the cruise and there was ample service to and from the cruise port.
Embarkation: For those who have not used the cruise facilities in San Diego, they are some of the worst out there. We were docked next to the Oosterdam and there were plenty of people to crowd this area. We had waited until 1 to go and park, so we did not board until 2 PM and it was still busy. Once through the initial chaos, it was easy to actually board. I understand now that San Diego and CCL have invested some money into building a new green pier which should improve this process immensely. Anyone who questions about water and alcohol, we checked a bottle of vodka and a case of water with no issue.
Cabin, the issue, and Sail away: Our reservation for the Radiance was about 16 months old, but did not book the ship until May. Cabin selection was wide open aside from the “bump”, so ended up with an E3 balcony cabin, 7566. The cabin was exactly as expected with typical décor, plenty of room for us and a comfortable bed. The issue we had was with the balcony, more specifically, our view from the cabin. It appears that just about every balcony cabin on deck seven is obstructed by the cover of the life boat. So there is no looking down from your balcony, just looking out. It was funny, when I first went out on my balcony, I was blinded by the reflection of the light off of what I thought was a barge or something next to the ship… little did I know that that was our view. After becoming really irritated with realization that this was our view, we called our travel agent and sent picts to him to describe our balcony. I was going to call guest relations, but wanted to be sure we did not accidentally book an obstructed view balcony. After connecting with RCI corporate, our travel agent was informed that we were in a 100% non-obstructed balcony cabin. She also mentioned that there may be other cabins available and to contact Guest Services as there is nothing that could have been done from the corporate side once we board the ship. On my first visit to guest services, I spoke with a guest service representative about my complaint. Her first and immediate reaction was: “ Just so you know the Radiance of the Seas has been sailing fully booked the past few sailings.” At this point, I was only trying to find out if there was a cabin to switch to like the land representative said there may be. I asked if I would be able to speak with her manager and she walked away into the guest service office and returned to tell me that that her boss had stepped away and that her computer was locked so there was nothing she could do right now. So I asked to be contacted by the supervisor. The woman scribbled my name at the bottom of a loose sheet of paper and that ended our first interaction. As I walked away, I became extremely irritated with the condescending treatment I received from her and the lack of importance put on my request, being added to a loose piece of paper with everything from beds needing to be put together to a crib being needed did not make me feel like my issue was taken in any regard as important. Several hours later, I again returned to the guest service desk and again asked to speak to the manager. By this time, I had learned who I should be speaking to and asked for her directly. Instead, her assistant came out to “deal” with me. I again explained the issue I had with this stateroom. She told me that the ship was indeed sailing full and that a room change could not happen. We continued this conversation about our room and she continued to say that RCI considers a 100% non-obstructed balcony view a 180 degree left to right view and did not account for moving up or down. That this was a decision made by RCI corporate and that they knew it was an issue and have adjusted their description for it. With this description, I argued and still believe that I did not receive what I paid for. In fact, to be technical, the balconies in between the “bump” and dining room “bump” do not even have the 180 degrees promised because of the “bumps”. My argument was that considering the timeframe I was booked, had I been able to find this information out, I would have either booked a higher category stateroom or lower as I do not feel this cabin was suitable for the description given to it. I further brought to her attention the service we had received earlier in the day with her employee. After about 20 minutes of pushing the blame onto RCI corporate and saying that additional training was needed for her staff, she offered us a bottle of wine for our inconvenience and she said we would be contacted if someone should decide to leave the ship during the cruise. At that point I walked away from the situation, we were sailing and that was what mattered at that point. It got cold quick and sail away was definitely a little different from a Fort Lauderdale, San Juan, or Miami departure. But it is beautiful and the San Diego skyline is very pretty at night. We stayed out as long as we could and then headed in to the warmth of the ship and we were finally heading to the warmth of the Mexico.
Cruise Critic Get together: We did not have a particularly active roll call, but we had quite a few sign up for the meet and greet. Unlike others I have been to, this one was very organized and led by the cruise director. While it was nice to see him come to the get together, it was a very much sit and listen rather than mingle and get to know your cruise critic members, so we left. I much prefer the casual get together where you chat and not deal with raffles, prizes, etc.
Cabo San Lucas: The tender process for Cabo was long. We waited about an hour to get off. It is surprising that RCCL does not have a priority tendering process for Diamond cruisers. It was just unorganized as we walk all over the ship and there were people cutting in line. I have been to Cabo many times and we just wanted to find cheap beers on the beach. The weather was beautiful… sunny in the mid 80s. We took a water Taxi ($5) over to Medano beach and a short walk later we were at “The Office”... a cute little restaurant with tables in the sand and with decent prices and really good food. We spent several hours here drinking and in the water before heading back. It was a great relaxing way to spend the day. We did walk around the tender area, found $2 Coronas and were one of the last tenders back to the ship. This turned out to be a wonderful day that I would repeat again in a heartbeat.
Mazatlan: Going into our stop at Mazatlan, the city has ranked amongst my least favorite that I have visited. Jimmi has been hounding me to go horseback riding and I did not want to go to the Golden Zone, so we spoke with Randi and booked her Happy Horses. She was easy to meet off the ship and we were on our way to Stone Island. We were berthed with the Oosterdam, so Randi had two groups going out. So we ended up at a restaurant on the beach for about 2 hours before we got to ride. It was a little long as we did not want to get wet by going in the water before the ride. That being said, lunch was fantastic. We rode for about two hours on a deserted beach. It was great. Jimmi had a mishap in that he fell off the horse while dismounting while trading horses at the halfway point. After the tour, we hung out at the closest bar and had Coronas. I had to get my fill so I did not pay $5 for Coronas on the ship. We figure out that we do not need to go horse riding again (OUCH!). But there is still something about Mazatlan that I just do not like. Personal preference I am sure, but I would suggest Randi’s to anyone who enjoys horse riding.
Puerto Vallarta: Our day started out with the Splendor mishap #1. We were fortunate to both have front row seats and not get injured. While running up on the track, we noticed that the Splendor was going to be parking in what seemed to be an impossible parking spot so we walked down to the helipad to watch. It turned out that the spot was too small. We saw the angle and the speed and it seemed inevitable at that point. The railing from the Splendor wrapped around the railing on the Radiance and tore off. Not a big deal really, but the guy standing a foot away from me ended up with the railing in between his legs. It was interesting that RCI had crew waiting for this, almost as it was expected. The screamed everyone to get off and it was over. Shortly after, we hear the now common Echo Echo Echo. The captain then announced what happened and the Splendor tried again. It was announced later that there were 2 injuries onboard related to this accident, but I could not see how as we saw everything that happened. We had plans to go to blue or green chairs, but just never made it. We walked through town and again found a bar for lunch and beer. Our restaurant featured tableside made salsa and it was excellent. If you noticed, there was a theme in our port stops… find a restaurant and bar, and enjoy the scenery.
Manzanillo: This was the ship’s maiden call on Manzanillo and I should have done more research for this stop as the ship did not have much to offer. We originally planned on doing the turtles, but read a couple of things on CC that made us choose not to. I figured I would go down to the exit and find some information about the port. I ran across the cruise director and I asked him what he suggests to do here. He said that the best bet is to walk to the end of the pier and ask the locals. So, apparently he had not done his homework either. We just went down to the shuttle and paid the $4 for the round trip to downtown. We spent a few hours downtown and headed back. There were no beaches close by and not much of anything close to the port area. In hindsight, we should have done the turtle tour.
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo: What a pleasant surprise this port was. Beautiful beaches and a great market area, the only problem was the limited time we had in port. We had a bad tender spot on our first attempt, so we went down early and were on a tender by 7:15. We walked through the port area and got to see the fish market. We chose Los Gatos for the day and it was a great choice… probably the highlight of the trip port wise. We had chairs at a restaurant and service all day. We did have a little issue with the cabs trying to rip us off on the return to the port area, but went with it… it was $3 to get there and $5 to get back. We had a few minutes to walk though the market area and then it was back on the ship. It was HOT and the tender line was long.
Food: After reading my review of the Emerald Princess I can almost say the same thing here. Again, food is completely subjective and I am trained chef, so can be picky. I found food to be good to very good. The dining room was standard and I thought was significantly better than our Elation cruise in September, but choice wise a step down from the Emerald and Princess in general. I never went hungry in the dining room, but there were a few nights the menu just did not jump out at me. Some of the highlights… the soups were outstanding. The Chilled were some of the best I have had. The Ice Cream was fantastic. I think I had Almond Butter Ice Cream with my dessert 5 out of the 9 nights. We did not care for our Turkey dinner. I wish I had chosen something else. We thought the Windjammer buffet was very good. We ate all breakfast and lunches here and were always pleased with the quality, choices, and temperature. The afternoon snacks were also a very good treat. I like that they have food here just about the entire day. We ran into lapses on the Elation where there was only pizza or sandwiches. Overall we were quite satisfied with the dining options; though looking back our company in the dining room overshadowed our dining experience. Also, the pizza is not very good. Princess blows everyone else out of the water on this one. Portofino: Portofino has become our favorite dining experience on a cruise ship. The food and service are consistently outstanding. When making reservation, make sure you do not have other plans for the night. All plates are made to order and if you order the same appetizers, you will most likely not get them at the same time, but a different one. We chose just about all of the appetizers on the menu between the 5 of us and the highlight was the lobster risotto. This is one of the best dishes I have had on any ship. The seafood skewer is beautiful and tasty. My favorite dessert is also in Portofino. The White Chocolate Brulee is to die for. It was a 2.5-3 hour dining experience, but it was wonderful. Dining Room Service: Normally I would group this with service in general, but our dining room service was beyond accommodating and seemed to go out of our way to serve us. We chose My Time Dining and there were five of us. After a member of our party talked to the head Waiter, we were told we can have the same table if we came after 8. With all the kids and families on this trip we were more than happy with this setup. Our servers were great and we had them for 7 of the 9 nights. They even arranged for us to have soufflé on the final night because we missed it when we went to Portofino. As usual, MTD was a success for us and are very happy to see it rolling out to all cruise lines. I have never been a fan of being forced to eat at certain times with people I may or may not like and did not sail RCCL because their lack of this option for years.
Bar Service: Bottom line is that RCI is a bit overpriced. The positive is that they do not measure shots like Princess and Carnival, but you pay extra for that. The fact that on a Mexican Riviera cruise is charging $4.95 for a Corona is ridiculous. I thought that we would try to save a few dollars by ordering buckets, but a bucket of 6 Coronas and they just charged me for $30 plus tip… so instead of saving a few dollars I ended up with warm beers! Entertainment: If I have sun, pool, ocean, and a good book I am more than satisfied. Throw in a bucket of beers and life does not get much better for me. We did not go to any of the organized entertainment except what we say in the atrium during cocktail hour before dinner. We really enjoyed our company and spent hours just chatting in the windjammer, on the pool deck, or in the dining room and we had a blast. We hope that we get to sail with our new friends again. Because we traveled in a group we did not really meet many new people which is usually the case. Either way, we enjoyed our self made entertainment and laughed until our sides hurt. Pure word of mouth was that the show with the salsa dancing was extremely well done. We stayed out late one night and closed the bar down which was a lot of fun. People tend to stay up late on the formal nights. Ship: Aside from the above mentioned issues with the balcony, the ship is gorgeous and I love the size. It should be mentioned that our friends we in a balcony cabin on deck nine and still had the white lifeboats in sight, but had a better view. The ship holds the people well and has activities throughout the ship. We never had a problem finding a chair, and chair saving did not seem to exist. We loved the Solarium pool and napped there on occasion. We did think that the faded fake plants should be replaced with live plants, but we enjoyed the area. The pools were warm after the 1st day and extremely warm on the way back.
Weather: It was just about perfect. Sun was out midday on day two and did not go away until the last day. This is typical for this cruise, but it was HOT in the ports. Loyalty Program: Aside from the Balcony discount, RCI’s program is just awful. I just turned elite on Princess and the perks you get there are significant compared to the coupon book placed on your bed. I will never cruise a line for a loyalty program, but RCI has not put forth much to change my mind on that.
RCI Response: Upon returning to Phoenix, I wrote a letter to RCI corporate about my experience in my room and with the guest relations department. The woman acknowledged that this is a common complaint and that they were looking into the reclassification of the 7th floor balconies. She offered us a small OBC for our Oasis cruise. I was not looking for anything, but was told that they would follow up when any decisions are made on this. I was pleased with this response and hope that adjustments are made to the guest relations issues we had on this cruise. While it made up a good portion of this review, it did not bother us after 6 PM on day one. I am happy that it was promptly addressed upon returning.
Bottom Line: We seem to be in a Princess then Royal pattern and we like what both have to offer. We are sailing on the Island Princess in March and have the Oasis booked in Sept and we are very much looking forward to both. While we were disappointed in our cabin, I should have done more research and suggest the same for anyone sailing on the Radiance class ships. We still like the Caribbean more than the Mexican Riviera, but with the pricing so low on the West Coast and an easy drive for us, I would do this cruise again in a second. We really enjoyed our trip and the company was very special.