Radiance of the Seas
February 19 - 24, 2011
I was excited when the school calendar came out for this year because it included a weeklong break in February. While some of my colleagues were lamenting the loss of a two week break in April, I knew that a break from winter's ice and cold is a powerful medicine for the soul. I had a tough time finding a cruise that fit the schedule though, so I ended up taking an unpaid personal day so that we could leave town on Friday the 18th.
Diana made the flight arrangements, and I was surprised to see that Delta was the least expensive carrier. We had no difficulties prior to the flight, completed our online check-in Thursday night, even printing our boarding passes and paying for our checked luggage. We flew through Atlanta, which is a very large airport. We had to walk quite a long way just to get to the train that took us to the terminal for our connecting flight. This was a little tough on Diana, so we decided that on the flight home we would pay the extra to check her backpack too.
We arrived on time, picked up our bags, called the hotel, (The Double Tree Tampa West Shore) and then waited for the hotel shuttle to pick us up. We had some confusion with another Double Tree Hotel in the area, and a bit of a wait at the airport before the shuttle arrived to pick us up. After about a half-hour wait the shuttle arrived and brought us straight to the hotel. We had stayed here last year, so we knew what to expect, and were quite happy with the experience. The hotel provided a free shuttle service to the local mall, where we ate dinner and got some gelato for dessert. We called the shuttle to bring us back, and were picked up within fifteen minutes. After a good night's sleep, I woke in time to spend 20 minutes on the elliptical in the very nice fitness center, then shower and enjoy the slightly overpriced but very complete breakfast buffet.
At 10:00 AM we called for a cab, and were picked up within ten minutes. We stopped by a convenience store to pick up two 12 packs of soda, and then off to the ship terminal. The cost for the cab ride with the tip was $20. This is one place where the story gets a little more interesting. On several previous trips we had purchases cases of soda, on which we placed a luggage tag for delivery to our stateroom. This had always gone off without a problem. This time the porters told us that we had to carry the cases on with us and that we could not check them through. After a quick and speedy registration, we were seated in the priority boarding area. While there first the beverage manager came over to inspect our soda cases, and then another person, who also said he was the beverage manager came to look at them. They were both very polite and they did allow us to bring the sodas on board, but it was the first time we've had such an issue.
Once again, we were among the first people to board the ship at about 11:20. We changed into our swimming clothes and found a sunny place by the pool. The pool water was very warm and it wasn't long before the Buffalo chill in my bones began to melt away. At about 1:00pm we went down to our stateroom (4056) and found it to be clean and ready for our arrival. Throughout the cruise, Stateroom Attendant Ricardo was always very good in taking care of the room. We had an oceanview room that was only two rooms removed from the Centrum. I was a little worried that being so close to a main meeting place might be little noisy, but there were no such problems. It was very nice to be located so close to the elevators and the main dining room. The rest of the day played out as expected with nap time and a little exploration of the ship before leaving port.
At 5:00pm we went to the skybar to meet our cruise critic friends. It was a little disappointing as only 6 of the 27 people we had hoped to meet found us there. That was OK though as it left us with lots of candy favors to hand out to other friends we made along the way. Our next stop was the "Nightly Diamond" event in the Hollywood Lounge. It was very poorly attended, with only about six or seven people there each night. We met some very nice people there and had a chance to talk at length with them. The most delightful were a pair of twin sisters who have been cruising together for many years.
After that it was off to dinner. Our waitstaff was very good. Roberth and Sophia took excellent care of us throughout the cruise and were always eager to meet any special requests. I tried roasted Duck for the first time; I liked it! We went to Portofino one night. I had this amazing seafood skewer with lobster, shrimp, scallops, and salmon. The presentation of the food was unlike anything I'd ever seen before. Throughout the cruise, all the food and drinks were very good, though Diana did have one piece of chicken that was undercooked.
The activities and entertainment were anywhere from good to excellent. The most entertaining night was "The Unexpected Boys" which was a tribute to Frankie Vally, sort a miniature "Jersey Boys". There were two comedians, Bud Anderson, in particular, was quite funny while always staying clean. Even his late night adult comedy was refreshingly inoffensive. The Royal Caribbean singers and dancers were the best I've seen in eight cruises. The singers were always strong and on key, and the dancers were exceptionally acrobatic. The sets for these shows were also among the most impressive I've seen. We played a lot trivia in the schooner bar with our new cruise critic friends, Rich, Heidi, and Donna. That was fun, and something we hadn't done before. We also used our $5 match play coupons in the booklet to win a total of $55 in the casino. We're not gamblers at all, and had to have the dealer teach us how to play three card poker. It seemed like we caught on pretty quickly though. We left as soon as our coupons were used up.
We took two shore excursions. At Cozumel, we went on the Passion Island beach break. It was very much as we had remembered it from our visit there five years ago. Lots of good food, free drinks, white sand, clear water, and clean bathrooms. It was fun to take a boat ride from the port to the island. On the way back we saw several flying fish soaring through the air, not more than ten feet from the boat. In Costa Maya we did a private tour of the Chacchoben Mayan Ruins with Native Choice. We paid $50 per person ($25 less than the Ship based tour) and there were only two other couples in our minivan (The ship based tour would have had a bus load with 30 - 40 passengers). Joel, our tour guide was knowledgeable and spoke English very well. I would highly recommend the Native Choice Chacchoben Ruins tour to anyone stopping in Costa Maya.
There were two negatives about this cruise. First was the occasional sewer smell that would waft through many of the locations on the ship. I am not particularly sensitive to odors, so if I noticed it, it was probably pretty strong. The second problem was the chair hogs, especially on sea days. We went up to the pool at 9:00am to find no open chairs, and over 30 unattended chairs with towels on them. We waited until 9:30 and then went to an attendant to explain the situation. When the attendant went to remove some of the towels a man came over to say that those chairs were for his kids who had just left a few minutes ago to go to the windjammer. He became so belligerent to the attendant that he called security to help deal with the situation. We didn't stick around to actually claim one of those chairs and ended up not spending much time on the pool deck on this cruise. It just seemed too crowded.
Our return flight out was scheduled for 9:47. This was a little earlier than I was comfortable with, but Diana was confident we would make it. Departure from the ship was a little delayed, so we weren't off of the Radiance until about 8:45. Fortunately the luggage pick up and customs inspection were smooth. We were in a cab by 8:55, to the airport by 9:15 through customs and onto the plane by 9:30. We made it, but it did add a little stress to our travel day.
All in all, Royal delivered another delightful getaway. We'll be back for more.