Having never cruised before, my partner and I decided to try a 14 day round trip cruise to New Zealand from Sydney, Australia. A big factor in helping us choose a cruise line and ship was the activities offered on board; my partner likes to keep busy and I wanted to make sure he wouldn't get bored. Radiance offered a lot of activities and on paper, she looked like a fun ship with heaps to do. She certainly didn't disappoint!
Travel to Embarkation point & embarkation process
As we travelled from interstate to get to Sydney, we decided to take the airport train to Circular Quay, a 20 minute trip which cost AUD$30 per person. It was very easy to travel to the embarkation point this way straight from the airport terminal. The embarkation process itself was quite long - as we had not been through the process before being first time cruisers, we left it to our TA to arrange the air travel and arrived about 1.15pm in the Sydney Overseas Passenger Terminal (OPT) at Circular Quay. Unfortunately, so did everyone else on the cruise!
It took us about 2 hours to get checked in and onto the ship. Next time, we will make sure we get to the terminal as early as possible to check in. We talked to another couple at the end of our trip who told us they checked in at 11am and hardly had to wait at all. The facilities are a little outdated at the OPT so this may have been part of the reason why embarkation took so long. In addition, we were told by one of the Customs officers that some people checking in before us had not completed their paperwork for check in so this led to longer delays while we waited for these people to complete their paperwork. The check in process itself is quite quick but take it from me - make sure you have all your paperwork filled in and completed properly, this will ensure a quicker check-in process for everyone!
Staterooms, Facilities and Service on Radiance of the Seas
The ship facilities and decor are of a high quality standard considering the ship underwent major refurbishment in April 2011. We could not fault the service from any of the staff for the entire two weeks, everyone was very polite and helpful. Our stateroom attendant, Ni, greeted us in the corridor as we went to see our room after we checked in. She was always polite, unobtrusive and could not do enough to help us. During the trip, we received our Cruise Compass (newsletter) each night and every couple of days we had a towel animal on our bed waiting to greet us. The newsletters were well set out, informative and provided more than ample information on the ports we were sailing to and the dining and activities aboard the ship each day.
Our balcony stateroom was of a good size, the decor was elegant and not garish or over the top. We had a room right at the aft of the ship with a 'partially obstructed view' which was a ladder that is used by the crew for washing windows on the ship. It only annoyed me periodically when I wanted to take some photos from the balcony, otherwise the slightly bigger balcony was great as we had room for a sun lounge as well as the table & two chairs. As the balcony formed part of the superstructure of the ship at the aft end, it was also quite protected from the elements. The other advantage of this room is that it is very quiet as you are situated between two decks with staterooms and you only have one adjoining room. The bathroom was a little small as was the shower but both of us were more than used to it by the end of the cruise. We are both quite tall and didn't have a problem with the size of the shower.
The bed was very comfortable and very large! Generally, we didn't have a lot of trouble sleeping but with the rolling motion of the ship on the days where it was a little rough, I found it a little more difficult to sleep and kept waking up during the night. The stateroom had an interactive flat screen TV with several movie channels, one or two news channels, a sports channel and you could also order room service or check your account from the TV. We also found the channels dedicated to the ship information very helpful, especially the Cruise Directors' daily show which went through all the activities for that particular day. The TV selections with movies etc was quite limited and quite repetitive but really, who goes on a cruise to watch TV? There was also a large sofa, small coffee table, small desk space with chair and a large cupboard space for all of your clothes and shoes. Overall, I would most certainly get this cabin again on a future cruise, the advantages more than outweighed the disadvantages.
While we were at sea en route to NZ, I tried out the Day Spa on board and the spa staff were extremely friendly and the treatments are 5 star quality. The only complaint here is that the spa treatments are very pricey, as is the sauna & steam room facilities. They do have specials on the shore days but even then, I thought they were quite expensive.
The ship had many activities offered, especially during sea days, from horse racing to bingo, belly flop competitions, darts, art auctions - the activities program was very good and there was always something to do. My partner is an avid fan of rock climbing and he utilised the rock wall on the way to NZ during a sea day. The ship also has a basketball / games court, 9 hole mini-golf course and well equipped video arcade - we kept ourselves busy with the Guitar Hero machine on board on more than one occasion!
We didn't see any of the shows onboard, nor are we particularly interested in the formal nights so we didn't take part in these activities. The ship was always clean and we saw the maintenance men constantly maintaining the ship during our trip.
There is internet service on the ship, however it is quite expensive and slow so we only bought a package for what we thought we needed. Wi-Fi is available everywhere on the ship, however I had trouble with our iPad at times. We preferred to buy a pre-paid wireless card when we got to NZ and used this throughout our trip. Definitely a much cheaper and easier option if you will be spending most of your time in one country on the cruise.
Food and Dining
Now as for the food & drinks - OH MY GOD! I don't think I have eaten more food in a two week period than what I did on the ship. The quality of the food in the Dining room and the specialty restaurants was easily as good, if not better than, a 5 star hotel. The additional money we paid to eat at the 4 restaurants on board was well worth it in my opinion. Each of the 4 restaurants had very high quality food and you rolled out of each restaurant following your meal absolutely full! Take it from us - make sure you don't eat for half the day before you go to the restaurants, especially the Samba Grill. You certainly need to make room for the 9 types of meat they serve as they are absolutely delicious!
We didn't eat much in the Windjammer cafe as it was quite crowded at times and unfortunately we aren't really people who like buffet style food so maybe that was a factor. I preferred to eat breakfast at the Park Cafe because it was quieter than the Windjammer.
My partner loves hot dogs so he was a regular at the Boardwalk Dog House. The hot dogs were pretty good although we didn't try anything other than the usual Coney Island hot dog. There are about 7 or 8 different types of sausages you can have in your hot dog here.
It would have been nice to be able to make a decent tea or coffee in your stateroom, there was only tea bags available and the coffee wasn't good. Even the Starbucks coffee you paid for wasn't fantastic.
The bar service was good and the ship has many places to go for a quiet drink or, if you like, find a happening place for a party! The range of drinks offered was very wide and varied from many different types of cocktails to beer, wine & soft drink. We paid additional for the soft drink package which was worth the money in my opinion. The drink prices were very reasonable on the ship and again, you always got service with a smile from the staff. Unfortunately, you could not buy alcohol and take it on board the ship to consume; the staff would take it from you when you boarded the ship and store it until the end of the cruise. I thought the bottles of wine onboard were a little pricey so I usually bought these by the glass, however you could buy a bottle of wine and if you didn't finish it, you could have the staff store it for you and have it the next night, whether you were dining in one of the restaurants or in the dining room.
During the first sea day on the way to NZ, we went to Rita's Cantina for 'Margarita happy hour'. The margaritas were good and it was great to see the sunset at sea from the back of the ship.
Safety Drill and Tendering process
The mandatory safety drill took place before we sailed from Sydney, was well organised and all the staff took this very seriously which was good to see. The two days where we were required to be ferried ashore by tenders was also well organised by the crew. We never had to wait for too long to board the tenders and we thought the process was quite efficient considering there were 2100 passengers aboard the ship.
The shore excursions were also well organised but we were a little disappointed when our excursions we had arranged for two of the ports were cancelled as we were the only people who had booked those particular excursions on those days. Next time though, I wouldn't book excursions for each port and do some more research on what we would really like to see in each place. If the excursions offered on the ship don't suit, we would book our own. Generally though, the tours were good and offered friendly bus drivers who were very knowledgeable about their respective local areas. I thought the prices were reasonable for the shore excursions.
The disembarkation process was quite organised and we were off the ship and through Customs / Quarantine within 30 minutes. Much quicker than embarkation!
Negatives and Conclusion
The only thing we noticed on the negative side was that some of the older generation passengers on the ship appeared quite rude, pushing past you often without apologising, not waiting for you to exit the lifts before they pushed past you to get in and God help you if you got in their way when they were heading for the food! This did not apply to all of the elder generation onboard, but we thought that those who were rude could have displayed a little more courtesy and patience, after all, aren't they are supposed to be on holidays? We also had a couple of days where the sea was about a 3 metre swell and particularly at the beginning of the cruise when we were still getting our sea legs, we both felt a little queasy but never totally seasick! Thankfully this passed very quickly and we felt fine the next day.
Overall, our first time cruising experience was about as good as it could be and we are already planning our next trip. Although the ship capacity is 2,501 passengers, we never felt crowded and in fact, we wondered where all the people were at times! We enjoyed our first cruise immensely; it was a stress-free holiday that we would recommend to everyone. In fact, we are a little worried that the bar has been set very high with this cruise and that we could be disappointed next time!