Radiance of the Seas - March 22 - April 2, 2010
!Excellente! My husband, myself, and our three girls (4, 9 and 11) decided to try an 11 night cruise out of San Diego down the Mexican Riviera and then stay an extra 5 days to visit the San Diego Zoo and Seaworld. It was great! We have a few tips for those doing a family trip below, and what to expect. The review is a bit lenthy so I've tried to separate it into sections:
Booking - First off we booked directly through RCI by phone 6 months in advance to get outside connecting portside cabins and luckily the $200 cabin credits x2. Deck three is nice and quiet! We don't know why it's priced lower than Deck 4's outside cabins. On Deck 3 you have cabins above and below so you don't hear too much. After booking and putting down our deposit we watched the prices and called when the category H price dropped twice (always on a weekend so the travel agents just wouldn't have caught them). We ended up paying about $4100 CAD (plus $500 USD for tips) for the five of us for 11 nights! The cabin credits went towards gift store purchases, babysitting at the Late Night Party Zone, a 7 bottle gold wine package and Pets At Sea. After we put down the deposit and then started to search for flights. We booked those as one-ways on Expedia and the Westjet website as we avoided some tax that way (about $300 CAD/pp). Our 5 night 2 bedroom suite at Homewood Suites Liberty Station was booked through my Gold Visa points ($210/night + tax otherwise). We booked a mid-sized rental car for 5 days with the Entertainment Book coupon for $170 USD which was much cheaper than a mini-van (just use the shuttles instead to move all your luggage to the airport). Altogether with meals and using our AAA card for the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld we spent just over $9000 CAD for our 17 day holiday. Not bad when you compare to a two week all inclusive for 9- $11,000 CAD with no excursions. Our cost also included the Stone Island Tour and other activities which totaled about $600 US in Mexico. However, if you want to swim with dolphins be prepared to pay a lot more. We mostly look for a nice beach and order beer and snacks when in port.
Flight - Our flight from Calgary on Alaska Airlines was on a small plane to Seattle and then after a 3 hr wait, another small plane to San Diego. Total of 9 hours travel and no entertainment at all not even the radio plug-in onboard. Plus we paid $15 US/1st bag each. Good thing we brought our own music and Nintendo DS for the kids. We chose this flight for the price mainly and the fact it arrived the day before the cruise. The flight back on Westjet was much better (and direct in just over 3 hours). And no luggage fees for first 2 bags! But they only fly on Mon/Wed/Fri. We used our Airmiles for a free night's stay at a decent hotel (Best Western Island Palms) but no airport pickup as we arrived in the evening at 8:30 pm. Waited 30 min for a taxi van at the airport as we all wouldn't fit in one cab. Rather ridiculous that all the couples in the line ahead of us got the vans even though we advised the airport worker we would need one. Sorry, but after almost 10 hours travelling with kids I'm not that patient, especially when the youngest falls asleep in my arms while we waited the 30 minutes. The other options was to pay for 2 cabs (we had 5 full sized suitcases and 5 people). It cost about $20 for the van so we waited (instead of paying double).
Boarding and Accommodations- The next day at noon we took the hotel shuttle to the cruise dock, and the only ship there was Radiance of the Seas. Boarding the ship was fast, luggage tags helped ensure our luggage made it. It didn't get to our rooms until 5 pm just before our 6 pm dinner. We toured the ship which has glass walled elevators facing out to sea for a breathtaking view daily. The ship has all the amenities we expected and the girls quickly learned which floor was ours (the Mickey Mouse artwork made for great landmarks for deck 3). The glass sculptures were beautiful. The Windjammer was nice once you figured out the layout of everything. We learned to get our drinks on a table we wanted and then we could scatter to gather our food as we knew where to meet. The back open deck past the buffet was the best kept secret too for open air and a beautiful view for breakfasts in port.
We had terrific adjoining oceanview rooms 3080 (2) and 3078 (3). I had to phone to get the doors in-between unlocked by the manager - which then stay unlocked until we get off 11 days later. There are two doors back to back though and the soundproofing was pretty good when both were shut. The onboard announcements can be turned down with the switch by the bathroom, but they are always loud when Captain Erik does a fire drill (which happened at 9:30 am in Acapulco when we tried to sleep in) or the medical emergency (not sure why we all had to hear this), and the missing 16 yr old girl that fell asleep in a friend's cabin (the 1 pm curfew revealed her absence). Yawn, sometimes it would be quieter to sleep on a deck chair I think!
The room was perfectly big enough for two, a bit squishy for three in the kids cabin but they're smaller so they managed ok. I wouldn't want to have all five of us in a single cabin though. The kids' cabin had a pullman bed right above the two regular beds but lengthwise over the headboards. The ladder went in between the two regular beds and it was a good economy of space. The bed itself was a bit hard so we took the queen topper we found under the beds and folded it a few times to give the bed more cushion. Too bad our bed in 3080 wasn't a little softer - we used all three toppers from under that bed, but it didn't help much.. ... they need to look at getting the foam ones rather than the thin pads. My back was still quite sore even at day 10.... I took to using the cushions from the couch and putting them under my knees for sleeping on my back... and I've given up trying to sleep on my side as if you have hips and aren't built like Sponge Bob Squarepants you'll get very sore hipbones after one night. The kids' beds seemed a bit better.
The portholes on deck 3 are about 4 feet in diameter and allow for a good view of the ocean and the ports. We were portside for the first 3 ports which was neat. The ledge under the porthole window was actually an excellent place for storing our 4 yr old's outfits, since she was in our room a lot of the time getting ready to go out. We asked Marsha our room attendant to take the drinks etc from the room fridge and we stored our own bottled water/juice and pop we brought onboard in our luggage. Our boxed wine and boxed margarita mix worked great (bought at Von's which is affiliated with our Canada Safeway brand which was great as we got the discount). Storage was good but took some imagination - I do quite like the dresser area with the cupboard mirrors that you can use with the wall mirror to get all angles of your hair. The dryer has a weird plug but worked just fine, just straight warm air no choice of speeds. The tv is about 20"CRT style that is fine and can swivel a bit between the loveseat and the bed. On our cabin crawl with our cruise critic friends I think just the suites have flat screens (and wow some of them are quite nice rooms). They have about 10 channels or so with movies that they also play at the cinema.
The towel animals were a big hit with the kids and the ship had a class where they could learn how to make them. There was some noise while docking or tendering but not too noticeable. One morning some people were chatting quite loudly outside our room for over 5 min waiting for the tender to Ixtapa to start at 7:45 am - but they moved on quietly when I poked my head out into the hallway and mentioned that our little ones were still sleeping. Motion at the beginning while we were getting underway was the most noticeable but gravol did the trick (can't buy bonamine in Canada I guess). The two kids that took it were asleep within 3 hours.... Otherwise, we didn't feel any motion sickness during the whole trip.
The bathrooms were clean but 3080 had a semi-permanent smell of outhouse to it.... not sure why, but not a dealbreaker either. Otherwise, good, but 3078's showerhead needed replacing or cleaning as the water sprayed everywhere. At least the shower nozzle can be taken down and used by hand. Take care to make sure your shower curtain stays inside the lip of the shower floor otherwise it will leak into the main bathroom area.
The muster drill did not require us to wear our lifejackets (yay!) and the kids each had to wear wristbands indicating their muster station throughout the trip. The staff were quick to replace them if they came off, as parents are asked to not go to the Adventure Ocean if there were a real emergency as the staff would see that they made it to the same muster station as the parents. We toured the Adventure Ocean at 5:30 the first day to sign the kids information forms and get an idea of what their schedules were like. The room attendant will leave the correct age activity planners for you every evening if your kids are signed in for Adventure Ocean at the start of the trip.
Our location was about 20 feet from the Centrum elevators - easy to get around and up to the Windjammer/Main pool on deck 11 in the morning, the Adventure Ocean/kids' pool and waterslide/Seaview Cafe on deck 12 and the Main Dining Rooms (Cascades) on decks 4 and 5, the Movie theatre on deck 6, and Latte-tudes on deck 5 and the library/Internet hotspots areas. The only time we walked to the front of the ship was to attend the Aurora Theatre shows. Kirk and Zack were the Cruise Directors - Mindless Chatter with Kirk and Zack - they talk about different things including the contract times for the different workers on the ship. Sounded like the naval crew got the best gig with regards to time off to time working where the regular kitchen staff or Adventure Ocean staff have the longest contracts.
Service - Excellent, the Windjammer staff were friendly and tried to make conversation if you looked willing. Our MDR staff Sergey and Luciano were classy and enjoyable to have waiting on us. Marsha our room attendant did have an uncanny way of knowing when we needed something. She was terrific!
Food- Oh I'm still stuffed just thinking about it! It was excellent whichever choice you made. Quality rivalled our Independence of the Seas trip in 2009. The Main Dining Room was the best for multi-course meals, with superior service and atmosphere. At home we would pay $150 + for these types of dinners so we didn't miss one (well the kids did a few nights when they were allowed to stay at the kids club for dinner). My Family Time Dining (only available for 6 pm dinner) didn't quite work for us as our kids never got their food fast enough (you need to be there before they even open and get the kids orders in ASAP to get their kids meal done by 6:45 pm (forget dessert, no time). Then supposedly you troop them out the the stair landing and they'll let you sign then in right then and there. However if they changed it to 7 pm that would probably work perfectly. Our solution was to have one of us excuse ourselves at 7 pm (or when the kids were done) and take them on the short elevator ride up the 7 decks, sign them in and get back in about 6 minutes, so no big deal. It's a nice idea in theory but the food just doesn't come quick enough (and the Windjammer doesn't open until 6:30 pm so that didn't work either. )
SeaView Cafe and room service were also excellent for comfort food (chips and guacamole/salsa/sour cream). The burgers are awesome including the bacon cheese Bistro burger from the room service. The Windjammer was good for the most part as it's never easy to please everyone. I always ate too much for breakfast and then wasn't hungry for lunch -which had very nice sandwiches and ice cream. The kids really like to get their own self-serve ice-cream which was in vanilla, chocolate or mixed.
I cannot comment on Chops or Portofinos as we didn't feel the need to go there as the MDR was awesome, and children weren't allowed in the specialty restaurants after 7 pm anyway. We skipped the midnight buffet and BBQ (too late for us). Latte-tudes had complimentary desserts for a late night snack (but coffee was extra) and the SeaView Cafe was great for even later night snacks. Room service had a nominal fee after midnight.
Pools- The main pool was good, but not very kid-friendly, as my older daughters were afraid of the scowling adults. Really, if they don't want to swim with kids there is the Solarium pool. So all in all there really was nowhere for 8 yr - 17 yr kids to swim other than the main pool....the kids pool is about the size of a small hot tub and the rest is wading pool area with a fairly tame waterslide. Great for the 4 year old but not so much for those that can actually swim laps. This is where the bigger ships like Independence with the H20 Zone really shine vs the older ships. We figured out what the waterslide times were while on seadays and then took the older girls to the ocean on port days. Worked fine for the kids and ourselves. We tried out the Solarium hot-tub which was nice during a cold and rocky sea day, but the pool looked jam packed. Not enough pools/hot tubs in my opinion in comparison to the bigger ships (like the canti-levered ones on Independence).
Adventure Ocean - Excellent programming, great staff. Our 4 year old was there a lot (at her request!), and our older girls took awhile to warm up to it, but then we couldn't get them to leave at the end of the night! Lots of activities throughout the day including science and arts and crafts. Port days often included supervised breakfast and lunch and possibly dinner with the staff. Sea days no such luck except for formal night for dinner (great if you want to plan a date-night without kids). Main hours were 9 - noon, 2 - 5 and 6:45 to 10 pm (and 10-2 am for $6/child/hour). On sea days you could pay $7.95 for lunch time supervision. I wish we could get the full list of hours for the whole trip right on the first day so I could plan things out better. Or even a month in advance when trying to figure out tours and such.
Aquanauts (3-5 yrs) are in their own play area with Dora kitchens, tables/chairs for arts and crafts, and a tv area with a cushioned bench. They have scheduled something every 15 minutes so our 4 yr old loved it. She loves preschool and her favorite staff were Rainbow, Ethel and UpChuck. Day 9 they got painted up as pirates and colored a pirate scarf and marched into the Aurora Theatre at 8:50 pm to sing their pirate song and do their motions making fun of the Captain and the crew. The adults seemed to enjoy it as far as I could tell. They really don't see the younger kids that much as they're usually in Adventure Ocean. There was also a talent show on the last sea day which was cute and they all got gold medals.
The kids pretty much stay inside the whole time except for ice-cream at 3:30 pm port days. So no swimming or outdoor time when they're in there even though they have doors that back right onto the kids pool and ball court. This could be considered good or bad, but we figured out the best times to take the 4 yr old swimming was right after pickup time at noon for an hour, then have lunch and back to kids club again by 2 pm.
The older groups 6-8 Explorers and 9-11 Voyagers are combined if not too busy (we only had 130 kids aged 0-18 yrs on board). But our older kids 9 and 11 could sign themselves out if you agreed. They enjoyed gaga ball (ball tag), face painting, and the pajama party. They made friends and enjoyed the staff, especially Kung Fu Karl. There was a Scavenger Hunt inside the kids' club which they did and another outside which they missed. The late night party zone was available for $6/child/hr and they begged to stay in when we went to pick them up at 10 pm. The youngest couldn't stay awake though (and neither could we as she woke us up bright and early every morning) so we only let them stay late one night when we had no plans the next day. They do expect tips for Late Night Party Zone which I didn't expect but I did give them a large tip at the end of the trip which they divide amongst themselves equally which was fine as they rotate through the different kids groups. They don't get much free time in port so I would recommend tipping the Adventure Ocean staff to show your appreciation. They should really have their own envelopes at Guest Services.
Ages 12-14 and 15-17 were in a different area called Optix. There were planned activities from 9-noon and then in the evening but the room is open all afternoon for unsupervised casual time. The teens seemed to be having a good time meeting each other. It's probably a good idea to make them go the first few sea days to at least meet some other kids to hang around with later on.
Pets at Sea - like build a bear - $20 for the plush animal they pick and stuff and then about another$8-$10 for clothes. Limited hours usually 5-7 pm (during dinnertime of course). My girls picked the seals and dolphin.
Arcade - load their seapass with cash. Not very busy, but you have to go through the arcarde to get to the Adventure Ocean check in area.
Internet - 55 cents/minute.... computer stations in the arcade and at the internet room and at Latte-tudes, as well the wifi locations were near the centrum mainly. Same price if you bring your own laptop.
Movie Theatre - Very nice theatre room, could probably hold 50 people or so. Movies included UP, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the Proposal, Julie & Julia among others - times didn't coordinate well with our schedules though - usually right in middle of meal time or too late at night. However, room service was excellent so that's an option too.
Rock Climbing Wall - Ages 6 and older can do this but need an adult to sign the waiver at the beginning and then their child's seapass is punched to show it's been signed. Helmets, harnesses and tight shoes are signed out as well. My older girls have taken lessons before so they kicked butt doing several different climbs from easy to hard. I did one easy one and my hubby did one of the moderately hard ones. It was fun.
Shopping - The liquor wasn't a bad deal if you didn't mind buying 2 for a set price (Sheridan's 2 for $40, Tequila 2 for $35 ). The ports didn't have any better prices from what we could tell. Ternier watches/pashminas and purses for $10 each and a t-shirt sale on day 10 (2 for $20).
Shows- Comedians were good, the City of Dreams was very good (nice sets/costumes) with different songs for different cities (great if you are ADHD). The impressionist was ok, but we missed the violinist and some of the other shows. The magic show was good too. The centrum entertainment was very good, and the guitarist was excellent.
Library- I can always find a book to read there, some are even left by guests. I made it through 2 books plus a couple of my own that I brought. Next time I won't bother bringing any books except for the flight down.
Photos - Formal nights were Day 2 and 10 (both Sea days) and most port days were casual. The photo people were pretty good but one of our favorite pictures was ruined by the kids' lanyards for their seapasses so remember to take them off prior to portrait taking. Also you can remove the kids' muster station bracelets for photos and get new ones the next day at the kids club. I kind of wished we had posed for the white background portraits during a casual day as some other people's photos were really good in different types of poses. We bought the package of 10 for $170 and we now have four of them framed and up in our house. The rest will go to grandparents and the kids' will each get one.
Disembarkation - Everyone who is not American (including Canadians) need to go to the 6:30 am US customs line before leaving the ship... not a big deal but a very early morning! It was more than a bit crazy to try and get into the Aurora Theatre when all the people carrying off their luggage are blocking the way. Not great timing on their part as they were late getting off. Once we finally could get in everything went like clockwork.
We got through the lines and into a van taxi in about 20 minutes after having to purposely walk side by side to block off the people that kept getting between us and our kids... yes we are all travelling together and only one adult has all of our passports in hand so no you cannot slip in front of that little kid struggling to pull a full sized suitcase because we couldn't find a porter! Sheesh, some people have no patience. It was like this after one of the shows in the Aurora Theatre as well when we were waiting our turn to walk up the stairs out of the theatre a woman frustrated by I don't know what... my eleven year old's slowness or existence? decided to cut in front to stand and wait pretty much three feet ahead of us, and guess what? She still had to wait .... seriously you need to RELAX! As well there was a lady who decided to lecture my eleven year old daughter in the ladies bathroom when she was perfectly quiet and ladylike...I later told my daughter she was being good and that I was scared of that dragon lady too! Anyway, I hope everyone enjoyed my 4 year old's impromptu show on stage while we were waiting to disembark. Not everyone is a killjoy, and some even clapped for her and her little friend!
San Diego - We got to Homewood Suites Liberty Station and hung out in the breakfast area and pool table room until our room was ready. The front desk was great at letting us store our luggage and giving us pool access keys. The pool here is best in the early afternoon before the pool is in the shade. Free internet was easy to access with my laptop. The free breakfast was good and the room had a fully equipped kitchen so we had spaghetti one night for dinner. The room had two bedrooms with separate bathrooms and tvs off the kitchen/living room area where you have another tv...just like home! The location is great and if you turn left out the path behind the hotel and walk about 10 minutes you'll find a gigantic park for little kids up to age 10. There are BBQs as well for use by hotel guests and a free dinner Monday-Thursday.
The San Diego Zoo was a full day 9 -7 pm and we still didn't see everything. To see the pandas you pretty much have to head there straight away or the line is insane (we skipped it). Bring a cheap collapsible stroller ($15 at Target). You can skip the seal show if you're going to Seaworld as their show was longer and funnier. To save money bring extra cups for everyone and order one memento glass that you can refill all day. Seaworld is mainly about seeing the shows so plan your day accordingly. The river raft ride wasn't worth the time but the others were good. They may or may not check your bags for snacks and drinks... they didn't check ours the day we went. We skipped Legoland after bad reviews from fellow passengers. We checked out the haunted Whaley House (again not worth going but the kids kept asking to go there). The Birch Aquarium near La Jolla was good (again AAA card discount) and the sea horses and sea dragons were really cool. The Easter Sunday earthquake shook us out of the giftshop, kids in hand so we were a little freaked out after that. We hopped in the car and went to the beach in La Jolla and found the Sea lion area and quickly decided that we should have spent the day there instead. The earthquake didn't cause too many problems and no injuries. We had a couple of aftershocks over the next 36 hours. We also checked out Point Loma and the lighthouse, and the SS Midway Aircraft Carrier museum (very cool but give yourself a few hours). We ran out of time to take the bridge to Coronado but I think we'll be back in the future to visit again.
Conclusion - The kids had a wonderful time and didn't want to leave the ship even after a full 11 nights. Would we do it again? You bet! It was a great way to see different cities without unpacking more than once. Also the price point was much better than the all-inclusives to Mexico for a family of five even adding in the flights -with better service/entertainment/and WAYYY better food. Except for a few things we couldn't have had a better time!