Radiance of the Seas -- 16 September 2011
We were booked for this cruise (YVR to HNL with port calls in Kona, Lahaina and Nawiliwili) and also the following one (HNL to SYD with port calls in Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora and Auckland). I injured my right knee the day we boarded and, after visiting the on board acupuncturist, developed a serious staph infection on my right calf. At the STRONG suggestion of the two ship's physicians, we canceled the second cruise and left the ship in Honolulu. I got some interesting insights into traveling while disabled and will write about that at the end of this review.
Travel to Port of Embarkation
We flew from LAX to YVR nonstop on Alaska Airlines. We were able to get seats on a nonstop flight for only $99.00 and that beat any other possible combination we could come up with. The plane was full but the service was excellent and wifi was complimentary during the month of September.
Arrival at Vancouver International was on time and we had a relatively quick trip through immigration, baggage claim and customs. The airport is very nice but we always seem to come in at one of the furthest out gates and that means lots of walking.
We had quite a bit of luggage -- two 22 inch rollaboards, two large totes, a garment bag and two smaller bags so decided that Skytrain would not be the best way to get into town. Instead, we took an Aerocar shuttle. The guys in charge outside were pretty disorganized but we only had to wait about 25 minutes for the next shuttle to arrive. Our hotel was the last stop but we would use this service again.
We spent the night before the cruise at the Marriott Pinnacle. It is a lovely hotel with a good central location. Because we are Lifetime Platinum members of the Marriott program we were given a very nice 25th floor room on the Concierge Level. We enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine with cruise friends in the Lounge and the complimentary snacks were our dinner.
The next morning we had breakfast in the Concierge Lounge and then used a van/taxi for the short trip to Canada Place and the ship.
There were plenty of porters to help with the bags that we were checking and the trip through U.S. Customs and Immigration and checkin were very easy. By doing the U.S. processing in Vancouver we were able to avoid having to do it when we arrived in Hawai'i.
We boarded at about 12:30PM and the cabins were not to be ready until 1:00PM. We found a place to sit in the Champagne Bar and soon afterwards the announcement was made that the cabins were, indeed, ready.
For this cruise we were booked in an E2 Balcony, 7534. This is one of the cabins that has the extra large balcony. It is about twice the size of a regular balcony but you do lose a bit of privacy because divider becomes a half wall for the last few feet and you also have people looking down from the cabins above onto that area. It was not a serious problem for us. The new deck furniture -- two nice chairs and a dining height table -- are a nice addition.
The cabin was pretty much standard. We did notice the new flat screen TVs but also realized that the E2 cabins are smaller and have less storage space than the D cabins. The beds were together instead of apart as we had requested but our very good Cabin Attendant Ahmad took care of that before bedtime.
The in room wi-fi (Fee charged although our two Diamond coupons gave us enough time to download and upload e-mail.) works great and is, perhaps, the best of the new features.
The location of this cabin is good. It is close to the stairs/elevators that go directly to the Theater. We had heard some comments about noise from the Theater but that was never really a problem.
This was our fifth cruise on Radiance of the Seas. The last one had been the Coastal Cruise from San Diego to Vancouver before she went in for refitting in Victoria, BC. We were looking forward to seeing the changes.
She seemed, on first look, to be in very good shape. A lot of painting had been done and some new carpeting installed. The Stateroom itself could have used new carpet and new upholstery. The bedding and drapes also need to be updated.
One of our first stops was the Windjammer to get something for lunch. We had been concerned that the addition of Rita's Cantina and Izumi would cut into the already scarce seating. We were right. You can still go through Rita's to the outside area but, unless it's a nice day, that's not a good option. This seems to have been a revenue driven decision and has not been a popular one with people who use the Windjammer on a regular basis.
Because I ended up needing a wheelchair for most of the cruise, I didn't get to explore as much as I'd like to have. I do know that there were negative comments about the loss of the much loved Sea View Cafe. We also missed the Breakers Dining Room for the Diamond/Diamond Plus breakfast in the morning. It has been replaced by three single cabins and six Oceanview cabins. We were told that the singles were being used for crew accommodation on this cruise.
The new Diamond Lounge has been carved out of the Royal Viking Lounge. There were so many Diamond members on this cruise they had to open a rear door up and use part of the Royal Viking Lounge. We very much enjoyed the complimentary cocktails and beer/wine. It was explained to us that this is the main difference between a Diamond Lounge and a Diamond Event. Service was a bit spotty although Nickson did a very good job. The Concierge, Steven, seemed to be spending quite a bit of time carrying plates and replenishing food on the buffet which is not really what he is supposed to be there for. He was very pleasant when he had time to stop and visit but that was rare.
While we enjoyed the Lounge, this has cut up what was once a lovely room with panoramic views for all to enjoy.
We were signed up for My Time Dining. With all of Deck Five being MTD, we hoped that things would go more smoothly than they have in the past. The first night we were seated fairly quickly but at a table directly next to the back side of a noisy service center. Watching plates being scrapped and dirty plates stacked wasn't especially appetizing.
The next morning, however, we ran into a favorite waiter, Andrew Tuscano, from Navigator. We were able to be seated at one of his tables for the remainder of the cruise and he and his assistant, Agnelo Fernandes, took excellent care of us. We were also happy to see John Fernandes, an assistant waiter from an earlier cruise and Rathan who is now a supervisor.
The quality of the food was good. It is, however, predictable. The menus have not changed since our first cruise on Radiance in 2009. Day One, Vidalia Onion Tart... A couple of favorites are there, of course, including the pork medallions and the Thanksgiving Dinner. Two of my favorite appetizers -- escargot and the scallop and shrimp gratin -- are also still on the menu. Andrew always made good suggestions and went far above and beyond to make dining a fun and enjoyable experience. One night, when I wasn't feeling up to going to the MDR, he insisted on sending dinner and dessert to the cabin. I had already ordered from Room Service but the thought and his concern was very much appreciated.
On this cruise we ate at only one Specialty Restaurant. We went as a party of six to Chops. The meal was, as always, good. The service, however, was not as personal nor as professional as we remember from other visits. I do very much like the addition of creme brulee as a dessert option, however. One very small complaint: The flatware is still cumbersome. It rolls off the plate when you put a knife or fork down.
We had looked forward to trying Samba's Grill but ended up not doing so. People we spoke with said that it was good but not exceptional. They also found the location -- replacing the Sea View Cafe -- a bit odd. That was especially true when it was cold or wet at night. Again, a revenue driven decision not thoroughly thought through?
Because of my condition we didn't participate in many of the activities. We did go to two shows. One was a comedy show performed by the two Argentines who own and produce Tango Buenos Aires. They are brothers and are very funny. The tango show, which we've now seen four times was excellent although the female lead singer was not as strong as the others we've seen.
Bobby and Becky Brown were the Cruise Director and Activity Director. They are both true professionals and do a great job.
We had excellent service from our Cabin Attendant, Ahmad, and in the Main Dining Room from Andrew and Agnelo. We had a feeling, though, that everyone was doing more work than before and some service suffered. We gave up trying to contact Guest Relations by phone. They just never answered and the one time they did were not able to help us with out an in-person visit.
We had breakfast delivered by Room Service most mornings and it was, with two exceptions, prompt and efficient. It would be nice to have more variety on the menu, however.
The people at Guest Relations seemed to be overwhelmed much of the time. I was also surprised, when we went to tell them that we would need to leave the ship early, that there was no hint of We're sorry to hear that. The young woman we spoke with seemed a little put out that we were causing her extra work. She did offer a complimentary phone call or thirty extra internet minutes which never activated. She was not available to speak to about this so we paid the charge.
The invitations for the Meet & Mingle were not sent in time to about half the people who were registered. Ours was in our cabin the evening after the 10:30AM event. Our Diamond amenities were not in the cabin when we boarded. They were delivered at 10:00PM the first night. Again, perhaps too much work for too few people?
Port and Shore Excursions
We didn't do any Ship's Excursions. In Kona we went ashore and met friends for lunch at the Kona Inn. As usual, it didn't disappoint. I had a very good Mai Tai and excellent calamari sandwich. At Lahaina we rented a car and drove to the top of Haleakala. It was a perfect day with the drive up the mountain in clouds and drizzle and then bright sun at the top. We could see both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island 100 miles away. We stopped at the Kula Lodge in Kula for a very good late lunch. and then drove up to the Iao Valley and Needle on the way back to Lahaina. On Kauai we also rented a car and went up to the Waimea Canyon, stopped at the Kauai Coffee Company and the Spouting Horn and had lunch in Wailua before returning to the ship.
We were in one of the last groups off the ship and met in the Cascades Dining Room. They had pastries and drinks available. When they called our number there was a crew member with a wheelchair (we had returned the one we were using so we could get the credit for the $250.00 deposit) and he took us to baggage claim where we got a porter and then out to the Taxis where we got a cab into Waikiki where we spent a night before flying home.
We made the best of a difficult situation and tried to enjoy the cruise as much as we could. I was disappointed that I didn't have the mobility to see as many of the changes that were made during dry dock as I would have liked. As mentioned, I think that the addition of Rita's and Izumi was a mistake. It has really made a bad situation in The Windjammer worse.
Spending most of the cruise in a wheelchair or on a cane gave me a new appreciation for people who travel this way all the time. The crew were generally very helpful and compassionate. Many passengers were, too, but I was really surprised by how rude and inconsiderate some people were. We had people go around us to get in elevators, let doors close in our face and generally ignore that we might need a little extra time or help getting around.
I have to especially acknowledge the crew working the tender operation. This can be difficult at best but they treated me with respect and the inclinator they use for getting the wheelchairs up and down to the tender platform works really well. We were also treated very well on the return trip, being taken aside so we would be the last on/first off the tender.
Would we sail on Radiance again? Absolutely, if only to see and experience the new things that we missed this time around!