Sailed on the with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines' "Radiance of the Seas" from Sydney to Perth via Bali on a 16 day cruise departing on a sunny Saturday afternoon from Circular Quay Sydney, 15 October 2011. This was the first cruise of Radiance in Australian waters however its sister ship Rhapsody of the Seas has just completed its third season.
Cruise overall was very enjoyable but I cannot let it pass without first commenting on the booking in procedures.
Put simply the embarkation was a complete debacle. RCCL will need to get their act together on this matter before their next cruise in Australia. It was so bad the Captain made the decision to delay the mandatory safety drill till the second day at sea due to the number of elderly passengers distressed by the process. A number actually collapsed while sweltering it out in the lengthy queues. In fact the elderly couple in front of us on the queue were very distressed and needed assistance from my wife during the ordeal.
The Captain did formally apologise to all passengers but the damage had obviously already been done. I think the Captain like everyone else would have been very annoyed.
The embarkation process was the talking point right throughout the cruise and even on the last day it was still a subject of discussion.
Having got the boarding process issue out of the way I have to say that I think Radiance has made a reasonable start to its cruise program around Australasia and has something to build on.
The ship itself is very impressive. At 90.000 tonnes it is large but not overly so and you never get the feeling of overcrowding, so common on other lines, with Radiance. There were queues at various times but they were quickly dealt with and were of no real concern. The ship sails smoothly with very little discernable "bumps" of the stabilisers. Even in the quite rough seas on the trip the ship maintained a smooth course. Glass walls dominate the central atrium which itself is some 9 stories high and a spectacular centrepiece for the ship.
Faculties are first glass; a well-equipped gym, two adult pools and a children's pool. Actually there are numerous children's facilities and was surprising therefore there were only 60 kids on board. The kids would also like the putt putt course, waterslide, basketball court and inside areas like the cinema and disco/games room. A highly recommended cruise for those with kids.
The stand out feature of this cruise for this writer was the food and service. The dining experience was enhanced by the sterling efforts of our waiters Karen and Marvin both of who are from the Philippines, Ever courteous and efficient, but unobtrusive, they made our dining experience all the more enjoyable. The food itself was varied, good portions and beautifully presented. The late sitting was at 8:30 pm which suited out timetable and considerably less crowded than the 6:30 sitting. In fact we enjoyed the food and service in the Cascade Dining Room so much that for the first time on a cruise we did not go to one of the speciality dining restaurants.
Extensive wine list is available but purchase in the single bottles is expensive. I would recommend purchase of a wine package which attracts savings of up to 40% on single bottles.
As for the food and wine service ditto for our cabin attendant Joel, also from the Philippines, who was forever helpful and very discreet. Our cabin was roomy, well equipped and kept in excellent order by Joel. The beds were comfortable, well presented and there was more than enough storage space for the longest of voyages. Some commented that the shower recesses were small and that is so but this was countered somewhat by the strong water pressure which was a pleasant relief from previous ships. Linen, towelling and bedclothes were high quality.
We did not do organised tours but rather made our own way around the ports in hire cars. Tours are expensive but you do get priority tender boarding.
Some suggestions for the next venture of Radiance into Australian waters:
1. Improvement to the booking in procedures is a must. There has to be a better way to get 2,000 passengers onto a ship. In particular look at the procedures for issuing of Seapass cards.
2. Review procedures for tender ticket issue. Tender ticket issue for Bali was of particular concern with the queue forming at 11:00 am for a 2:15pm issue.
3. Open the pool bar after 7:00 pm. Keeps passengers on the pool decks rather than crowd the downstairs bars. Several of the insider cabin occupants were annoyed they were effectively dispatched downstairs as the pool bar had closed.
4. Have a late time show starting at 10:00 pm. People usually prefer to dine before a show.
5. Improve the quality of the inside cinema. I think a new projector is badly needed. Screen picture was barely watchable and nowhere near the quality of the large outdoor cinema.
6. Put more effort into the Port Hedland stop off. Do have to mention however that one of the highlights of the cruise however was the send-off we got form the residents of Port Hedland as they lined the shores and cheered as we left their port.
7. The bingo, at $32 a game was too expensive. As a result the crowds dropped off except for the last day. As a consequence payouts were not as high as they could have been.
Things to remember before you cruise with Radiance:
1. Don't forget to bring an adapter for American power sockets. Also bring a small four gang power board to re charge all the essentials.
2. The wi fi internet works well but is quite slow and therefore expensive. Bring your mobile dongle which connects in all of the Australian Ports. If you do use the ship's wi fi and you are using an ISP make sure you address error code 550 with regards to the sending of emails.
3. Shampoo, conditioner and hand and body lotions are not provided, so don't forget to bring along.
4. There are no self-serve laundry facilities on board. Airlie beach is four days into the cruise and there is a self-service laundry just as you get of the ship. While not expensive on board ($15 per bag) we were not very happy with the standard of washing provided on board.
5. If you are going to hire cars do so before you leave. We used balieasycarretnal in Bali and were very pleased with the value, the driver and the standard of car. In Darwin AVIS and Budget are a half hour walk from the ship so is probably better to get a taxi.
Radiance is a very impressive ship. An enjoyable cruise with some teething issues which I am sure management will address.