We choose this Radiance of the Seas cruise for its New Zealand itinerary.
We arrived in Australia two weeks before the ship's departure to visit friends in New South Wales and South Australia. We also spent a couple days in Sydney before departure. We stayed at the Aspire Hotel which was within easy walking distance of Darling Harbor. Even with the Taxi fares, this was a nice 4-star hotel that was less than 1/2 of the cost of the hotel offered by RCCL. Taxi from our hotel to the ship was about $40AUD.
THE SHIP EXPERIENCE: The condition of the ship was excellent as would be expected since Radiance came off refurbishment last year. All public areas were gorgeous and in absolutely top shape. The Solarium Indoor pool was our favorite relaxation spot during our "at sea" days. The Gym was also very well equipped and in excellent condition too.
FELLOW PASSENGERS: We found the ship was about 80% Australians with the rest from North America and a very small number of Brits & Europeans. I am guessing the average age to between Mid 40s to Mid 50s. There were about 400 children on this cruise. Too many of these kids were unsupervised and behaved in a manner that should embarrass their parents. RCCL Crew members saw this ill behavior but seemed powerless to do anything about it.
ONBOARD ACTIVITIES: Rock Wall, Mini Golf, Pools, Game Room, Library were all well maintained and in nearly constant use.
OUR ROOM: We had booked early so we could choose a Balcony room (8604) on the "Hump" on the Starboard side. Our balcony on the Hump was a about twice as big as normal. The views from the Starboard side (Even Numbered cabins) were always dockside for this itinerary. The size and layout of this room was more than adequate for our needs. There was ample storage for all of our things. Our room steward was great and always had our room spotless. Two Cruise Critic Tips that served us well were to bring a Power Strip (or two 3 into 1 adapters) for all your electronic gadgets and a Digital Clock. There was absolutely no outside noise even though the room was very near the beautiful Atrium.
DINING: We chose Early Seating in the Cascades (Main Dining Room) even though we knew we might have to rush back from our late tours (but this was not really an issue). We sat at a table for 10 and enjoyed the excellent company of our dining companions. The food selections were ample and the taste was usually excellent. One of our table-mates didn't like a couple of their first choices and they were offered a replacement selection that was more to their taste. Portion sizes were not large but we never walked away hungry.
Windjammer Buffet: We only ate most of our breakfasts and lunches at the buffet. The selection was adequate but not extensive. Don't be shy about ordering Room Service (it is included) for your morning Coffee/Tea/breakfast. This was a real time saver while we were getting ready for those early port tours. (It also can serve as your wake-up call ;-)
The only specialty restaurant that we chose was the Samba Grill, a Brazilian Dining experience. Great food & service that was well worth the $25 per person surcharge.
ENTERTAINMENT: There was a very enjoyable variety of musical entertainment throughout the ship. The ships band was awesome and we did enjoy their performances throughout the ship and the cruise. The RCCL Dancers and Singers were very good and their Broadway musical was very well done.
INTERNET: There was an Internet Lounge and Hotspots available throughout the ship but it was VERY EXPENSIVE ($.55 per minute when pre-buying 100 minutes) which could be acceptable (given that you are at sea) but the speed was quite slow.
Day 1 EMBARKATION Jan 15: We arrived at 11:00 AM and that was about the same time that many others arrived. (Remember that most of the ship's passengers were from Australia so many simple drove from their homes throughout New South Wales) RCCL's staff was well organized in spite of the crowd's surge and we were on the ship within 45 minutes. Any delays were due to the fact that Sydney's Overseas Passenger Terminal needs to be updated to accommodate their increasing Cruise Ship visits.
Day 2 AT SEA: Continued learning our way around the ship. The Tasman Sea was (unusually) calm so it was a fine for resting. It was our first Formal Night,(most men wore suits). Another fine dinner and the show after Dinner was wonderful. The Headline Entertainer played 7 different instruments, sang, and danced all without a fault!
Day 3 Another AT SEA day so we moved slowly in the morning. We went to a Port Lecture and there was also a "Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle" group party hosted by RCCL so we met all of our fellow Cruise Critic members. Weather cooled off (it is 73 Degrees Fahrenheit) Later in the day, we had a RCCL Party for their Crown & Anchor Members.
Day 4 We spent the day cruising through Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, and Dusky Sound. The steep mountainsides went right down to the Sea. Pictures do not do the scenic beauty justice. This was one of the highlights of our cruise and a fantastic day.
Day 5 DUNEDIN, NZ: We had booked the Taieri Gorge scenic railway tour. We boarded the train started dockside so it was very convenient. We saw some great scenery along the way and a box lunch and some very nice New Zealand wine was included. Overall though, I would rate this tour as somewhat enjoyable but very poor value for the price.
Day 6 AKOARA NZ: This was an alternate port as the port of Christchurch was still not repaired following the 2011 Earthquake. We used the ship's Tenders to get to shore. They ran late so the day's tours were quite rushed. We booked a ship tour to Christchurch to see the Antarctic Centre (Great but rushed) as well as the NZ Air Force Museum (Yawn). (Very good value considering the transportation to Christchurch.
Day 7 WELLINGTON: We had arranged a Â½ day "Lord of the Rings" tour with Wellington Rover. Our guide was incredibly well informed and took us to many of the local Lord of the Rings filming locations. He had pictures of each location in the film(s) which matched the trees and scenery of each location. We ate dinner was at the Brazilian Specialty Restaurant which featured 9 different kinds of meats. I made all nine meat courses (but waived Desert) and my wife stopped at 8 (but ate desert). The after dinner show was a wonderful Argentine Tango dance show.
Day 8 NAPIER: We docked at 7AM and left at Noon. We booked a private tour of the town in a Vintage Car through the Art Deco Trust (http://www.artdeconapier.com/). Our car was a splendid 1939 Packard. Our driver (David) shared the fascinating history of this wonderful little town. The buildings are all extremely well maintained so it was like stepping back into the 1930s. Without a doubt, Napier was our favorite NZ city that we would like to visit over a longer period. It was also our 2nd Formal night.
Day 9 TAURANGA: None of the ship or private tours seemed enticing so we just stayed on the ship. The ship was almost deserted so we quite enjoyed our relaxing time on board.
Day 10 AUCKLAND; We had booked a private tour with Bush & Beach Tours. It was a 2-part tour the first being Auckland City sights. It was nice but a large city like Auckland is not unlike many other cities. Auckland does have the largest Boating Marina though. The 2nd part of our tour package took us out to the bush areas outside Auckland. We had a fantastic Driver /Guide (Wayne) who knew everything there was to tell about the area. We made several stops along the way with great picture opportunities. Our walks took us to waterfalls and through beautiful tropical forests. This was a great tour. Our ship's departure time had moved up by a Â½ hour since we booked the tour which cut our safety margin to zero so the Tour Company sent a car to drive us back to the ship. We made it back on the ship with 10 minutes to spare! Well done Bush & Beach Tours!!
Day 10 BAY OF ISLANDS: My wife & I choose different tours for this day. She chose a Treaty House tour that covered the starting history of the Maori / English Treaty that formalized the creation of New Zealand as an English Territory. She thoroughly enjoyed the tour and took some great pictures. While I chose a more active tour with a Kayak trip up a river (notice I said "up a river" as in UPSTREAM against the current). They also took us through the Mangrove tress just to test our navigation skills. (Did I mention that this was my first time in a Kayak?) The trip upriver took 2 hours of nearly continuous paddling. We stopped near a waterfall that my wife has also visited on her tour so she had all the pictures. The trip back was easier for the most part down-stream except when we neared the bay. By this time, the tide was coming in so more heavy paddling to fight against the incoming current. I eventually made it back to our starting point, dropped off the equipment, and then walked back to the Pick-up point. All & all it was a very fun excursion but it not for the faint-hearted. I headed straight to lunch where I ran into my wife who has also just returned to the ship from her tour. Needless to say, she was in better condition than I, (by this time, I could barely lift my arms above my shoulders). She went for a massage (she said that it was the best massage that she had ever had) and I went to the cabin for a rest(as I look back on these choices - something does not seem quite right). We had a nice dinner and followed by a so-so show in the theatre. The ship was heading west back toward Australia so we set our clocks back for an extra hour of much needed sleep.
Day 11 AT SEA: A quiet relaxing day allow us to rest up from the previous days of tours. The Captain's excellent talk covered the running of the ship. It is our 3rd (and final) Formal night. It was Australia Day so the ship had several special Australian events to mark the occasion throughout the day.
Day 12 AT SEA: Another great day to rest & relax. I took the opportunity to climb the Rock Wall. We rested and reluctantly started packing.
Day 13 SYDNEY: The ship spend the day & night docked in Sydney so it was like being in a hotel. We booked a tour of the Blue Mountains through the ship. (would not choose this tour again) Final Packing as we have to have our bags outside our rooms by 9 PM.
Day 14, DISEMBARKATION: We were out of our rooms by 8 O'clock and off the ship by 9:30. Our luggage was well organized and easy to find. We had booked transportation to the airport as we had early afternoon flights.
SUMMARY: We had a FANTASTIC trip. This itinerary was an excellent balance between port stops and relaxing days at sea. We returned home exhausted from our travels with a good overview of New Zealand. We absolutely recommend the Radiance of the Seas and this itinerary as it was a trip that we will never forget!