Our week on the Radiance is over, and we want to go back! Here¹s our review, and we'd be glad to answer questions.
But first, a note about Cruise Critic. We've said this before, and we'll say it again. Thanks to Cruise Critic for helping us make new friends! This year we cruised with friends we met on-line before we sailed on Radiance last January. In fact, it's the second cruise we've taken with them since then. And we have another dozen friends we contacted first through Cruise Critic, who we spent time with on board, and will continue e-mailing in the future. We hope to be able to sail with them again, as well!
Cruise Critic Party: Ours was the first night, the day of embarkation, at 7:45, in the Colony Club. Invitations were delivered sometime in the afternoon. RCI provided a tray of hors d¹oeuvres, most of which went untouched (except by people just passing through). We had just eaten, and others were on their way to second seating dinner. We had actually met many of the people we had been corresponding with on our own, first in San Juan on Friday night, and than at 5:00 in one of the lounges in the Viking Crown the day of embarkation. Gordon came to the Cruise Critic party, along with a number member of the cruise staff came to the Cruise Critic party. There were about 30 people there, some of which we saw frequently during the cruise, some of whom we never saw again. They passed out orange rubber bands, with "Cruise Critic Radiance of the Seas" imprinted on it. Gordon said that each ship is getting their own color rubber bands so people can collect them. There were some people who signed up, but didn't come. Overall, we had a good turn out, nearly everyone who signed up came, people seemed to enjoy themselves, and having it the first night was really nice.
Radiance is sill beautiful, a year after we first sailed her. There is some evidence of the thousands of people who have sailed in the past year, but the ship is being kept up very well. She goes into dry dock for a week in just a few months, for an overall cleaning and freshening. The overall theme is more nautical than other RCI ships we've been on, with a lot of wood, navy blue and deep red in the colors. There are lots of nooks and crannies to sit and relax, and to meet with people, so you never need to feel crowded. Except in the elevators adjacent to the Centrum! Those get quite crowded - the forward elevators don't seem to get quite as crowded. Honestly, the stairs are quicker.
The ship is easy to get around - all the food and clubs (Seaview Cafe on deck 12, Windjammer on 11, Chops and Portofinos on 6, and the dining room on decks 4 and 5) are aft, one atop the other.
We had a D cabin, 1104, on deck 10, aft. It was large enough, with more than enough storage for the 2 of us. The balcony is enormous, with 2 lounge chairs, a table and two regular chairs, plus room to walk around! The aft balconies are very private, and have a great view of where you've been. The room was spacious, comfortable, and very attractive. Our cabin attendant was Rodney John, from Trinidad. He's terrific! He has superb customer service skills, and the room was always in great shape, as well.
Food: The Windjammer on Radiance is the nicest one we've seen, in decor, in layout, and in the quality of the food. It's set up with stations, or islands, for different kind of food - hot entrees and sides, salads, desserts. There are omelet-making stations in the morning, and at lunch and dinner they prepare made-to order Asian stir-fries of various types. There are drink stations to pick up free lemonade, coffee, tea and water. There is limited bar service in the Windjammer, as well. New this year is waiters circulating with drink carts. In the past you had to get up and go to the drink station to get your beverages. This is a nice change.
Cascades: is the 2-level formal dining room. It's very pretty, and the food was good to very good. We noticed definite improvements in the dining room from last year, and were told, in fact, that many changes have been made in the last six months, from management staff, to waiters. We had first seating. While dinner on the first night last year was open seating, this year they've gone back to seating you at your assigned table. We really prefer this, and were glad to see that change.
Seaview Cafe: on deck 12, behind the kid's area. The Seaview has changed its hours since last year, and is now open from mid-day until 1:00 am. They have sandwiches, salads, bar-type appetizers (potato skins, onion rings, poppers, fries), apple pie and brownies. We had lunch up there one day this year, but were told the food was variable. I know the hamburger I got was very dry, but was told that others had had perfect burgers. The fries and brownie were yummy!
Chops and Portofinos: We didn't eat in either. Friends that did said they were very good. Chops is steaks, and Portofinos is Italian. There's a $20.00 per person charge.
Midnight buffets: 2, one on the pool deck the night of the Caribbean deck party, and the Gala Buffet on the second formal night, Thursday night. Other nights they had "Midnight Delights," with waiters passing trays of finger sandwiches and desserts.
Entertainment: The cruise director for this was Gordon Whatman, possibly RCI¹s best cruise director. We ran into him numerous times during the cruise. He was definitely out and about. He'll be on the ship until it goes through the canal, then he's leaving for vacation and then for some short stints on other ships. There were 2 production shows, "Welcome to Our World," and "Rocking in Paradise." They were the same 2 shows they were doing last year, and we didn't see either of them again.
Guest entertainers included: Bobby Arvon, whose claim to fame is that he was "the voice of TV's Happy Days. We didn't see him, but were told that much of his show consisted of imitating various celebrities as he imagines they would have sang the theme from Happy Days. Kelly McDonald, a very funny comedian, who also does a midnight adult-oriented show, Gossamer Magic, and the Coasters.
The Aurora Theater is lovely, the seats are comfortable, and all the seats seem to have a good view of the stage. The Radiance of the Seas Orchestra is quite good, the trio in the Centrum is very good, and the lounge band, Midnight Oasis, was pretty good, as well. There's also a calypso band that plays on the pool deck, and sounds much like the other calypso bands on the other ships. There are also several pianists, and a violinist that play in various spots at various times.
There were the usual adult games - Radiance Quest, the Not So Newlywed Game, a TV Tune Trivia game (lots of fun the older members of the audience definitely have the edge) and karaoke. The game shows are worth going to, even if you're just there to be a spectator. There's also a movie theater on board, but we never went in. There are current or recent movies, as well as pay per view movies, available on the tv¹s in the cabins, as well.
Ports: St. Thomas. We took the ferry from Red Hook over to St. John to snorkel. This is very easy to do on your own. Cabs wait at the pier as you disembark, it's about a 15-minute ride to Red Hook ($6.00 or $7.00 per person), and a 20 minutes ferry ride ($6.00 per person round trip). We snorkeled at Waterlemon Cay. It's remote, but fantastic snorkeling. The cab lets you off at Leinster Bay, and then you take a walk of 25 - 30 minutes, on a park trail at the edge of the bay to get to the snorkeling location. There are no facilities, you'll need your own gear, and it's not a sand beach area. It's well worth the effort, but make absolutely sure the cab driver will come back to get you. Ours ensured us that he didn't need to that cabs came by frequently. This wasn't the case, and we ended up having to hitch a ride to Maho Bay to catch a cab back to Cruz Bay.
Antigua: We love Antigua! We did a full-day outing with Adventure Antigua (www.adventureantigua.com). We found this on the web last year, enjoyed it then, and decided to repeat the experience this year. It was even better this time. Eli Fuller was born on Antigua and takes people to the spots he used to go while he was growing up. There were 12 people, all from
Radiance, plus Eli and Francis, his helper. We snorkeled off the boat, on a barrier reef, and then he took us on a tour around the shoreline and some coastal islands. We hiked Bird Island while Eli was setting out a homemade picnic on the beach, and after lunch went rock climbing on Hells' Gate. We ended up the afternoon seeing the mangrove area, and shelling on another deserted beach. This was an adventurous, but not overly strenuous excursion. Got back to the ship at 4:30, and it was the best experience of this trip.
St. Maarten: We took a taxi to French Cul de Sac and took the ferry over to Pinel Island. You can hike the island -- the view on the far side is pretty spectacular, with more rolling surf, and lots of big boulders. There's a high point, and some trails though lots of grass. Not a lot to see. The snorkeling area and beach aren't particularly large. There's a restaurant where, among other things, you can get grilled lobster at $36.00 a kilo. There's a good $6.00 hot dog, as well. We don't feel the need to go back to Pinel.
St. Lucia: This is a favorite island of ours - very lush and green. Pulling into port is a great experience - probably the prettiest port of any we've seen. This year we had made prior arrangements with a resort (Ti Kaye village) we had found on the internet to spend the day there. They sent their water taxi for us ($20.00 per person, round trip, since we had made arrangements for 5 people). We ended up with 7 in our group, including the 5 of us, plus a couple we had met on-line prior to the cruise. The water taxi driver took us on a shoreline tour on the way to the resort beach, showing us Marigot, the Hess oil storage area, and giving us other interesting information. Beaches in St. Lucia are public, so the beach was not the exclusive property of the resort. The beach is a black volcanic sand beach, and is beautiful. It's right on the national underwater preserve, and the snorkeling is terrific. The resort has a bar and equipment rental facility near the beach. Since we were guests of the hotel, we didn't have to pay for deck chairs, and those of us who didn't have our own snorkeling gear got free use of the hotel's. This isn't Sandals. There isn't the same variety of stuff, and you have to pay for your drinks, but there's no day fee, either. The rest of the resort is up on the heavily wooded cliff, reached by climbing a 126-step staircase (yep, one of us counted). We climbed up for lunch. They have a lovely open-air restaurant that overlooks the Caribbean -- terrific view, and serves great food. Most of us had flying fish -- delicious! When it was just us and other guests of the resort on the beach, the beach was secluded and quiet. This is, however, the beach they bring the catamarans to for the snorkeling excursions the ship offers. One was just leaving as we got there, and 4 more were arriving just as we had finished lunch. We had a large block of time by ourselves on the beach, though. We had asked the water taxi to come back for us at 3:30, and he showed up right on time, returning us to Pt. Seraphine in time to walk through the shops a little, and get back on board well before the 5:00 "curfew."
Barbados: The port here is a combination industrial/cruise ship port - you dock in an industrial area. This year you could walk from the ship to the terminal -- last year you had to take a shuttle. There are taxis available at the terminal, and you can walk to the main street in town in about 15 minutes. With friends, we hired a taxi to give us a tour of areas of the island we hadn't seen on previous trips. He charged us $25.00 per person. We stopped first at the Barbados Synagogue, a 200 year old Synagogue in the process of being restored. He took us to St.
James Cathedral, the largest Anglican Cathedral on the island. They are in the process of restoring their large and very unusual pipe organ (the pipes are suspended in a mahogany box below the ceiling). We went to the Animal flower cave, located where the Caribbean and Atlantic converge, drove along the Atlantic coat to Bathsheba, saw the only functioning windmill on the island (owned by Mount Gay Distillery and maintained on a working farm which is a tourist attraction). Caution: the bull in the corral next to the windmill does not like to have his picture taken! Then we went to Earthworks pottery, and then back to port. We got door to door service
the taxi driver took us all the way back to the ship.
This was the second formal evening. The last day is the at-sea day. The pool is small, but not
crowded. However, deck chairs are at a premium on both the pool and sun decks.
San Juan: We got in a day early, stayed at the Wyndham Old San Juan. Had a great room, for the second year in a row, this time on the 7th floor, the concierge floor. They had a room where you could get hors d¹oeuvres and beverages in the evening (you pay for soda), and breakfast in the morning. Our room was on the apex of the triangle, and had a balcony and a view of the bay. We had dinner at Parrot Club (363 Forteleza). This was, without doubt, the best dinner we had all week. The restaurant is bright, lively, friendly, knowledgeable staff and great food!
General: You've got to check out the pool tables - they are wild. The table moves with the motion of the ship, staying level. They really work - the balls absolutely don't roll because the ship moved! Miniature golf on board was fun, too.
Shops: Do compare the prices and pieces of the jewelry on board with the shops in the ports. We've found that the pieces are usually nicer, and the prices are better, than what we found on shore. The photographers on this cruise were far less aggressive than on other cruises we have been on. The formal portrait backgrounds include the stairs in the Centrum, which light
up green. This makes a really cool picture.
Make sure you bring an extension cord if you planning on bringing any electrical or electronic equipment. The polarized plugs are "backward" in some cabins, and they are too low down to fit most transformers.
Hairdryers: I brought my own, because in the past the ones supplied didn't do much on my long hair. Didn't try the one supplied this year, maybe it's improved.
Heliport: You can walk all the way to the bow of the ship, the heliport - it's really cool! Go all the way forward on deck 5. There are gates with signs on them that say entrance for heliport operations only, but we were told they really only restrict people when there are helicopter operations in progress. The gates are usually open during the day. There are even benches up there, so apparently it was intended that guests could go up there. If you look back toward the ship and up, you can see the officers on the bridge.
The ship was full - plenty of people from all over the world. Despite some complaints on the boards about passengers from Puerto Rico, we did not observe any problems, with anyone (and there were many Puerto Ricans on board). Our fellow passengers were polite, not pushy, or overly aggressive. There were plenty of kids on this ship, but they were well-behaved, and were
no problem, with the exception of liking to push every button on every elevator (of course, even if they didn't there were usually people on every deck waiting to get on or off).
Disembarkation: This starts early - everyone has to present to immigration by 8:00, starting at 6:15. The lines are long, but move quickly. You get a special tour of the ship waiting in line. It winds through Books, Books and Coffee, through the theater, out a door near the stage, through a crew only area, and ends up in the conference facilities. Diamond and Platinum Crown and Anchor members have a waiting area specially set aside in Breakers, where you can get stuff to eat and drink, but we left the ship quickly after breakfast (Platinum and Diamond members' luggage are tagged for priority disembarkation, so if you want to get off early, you know your luggage is already out and waiting. If you aren't going on a tour, and don't have RCI transportation to the airport, you have several choices: 1) send your luggage on the RCI truck - they'll hold it at the terminal for you to claim; 2) taxi to the airport with your luggage and sit there all day; and 3) taxi to Barrachina Village with your luggage, or 4) take a tour with one of the many operators standing outside the terminal. For number 3, Barrachina, you check your luggage with them (free), can use their restrooms, and are free to walk around the city then come back and retrieve your luggage. They have a nice restaurant (we ate lunch there last year), but you have to walk a couple of blocks, with your luggage, to catch a taxi to the airport.
Although we're very familiar with San Juan, we elected to take one of the Old City tours on a mini bus this year. It gave us a convenient place to put our luggage and let us kill some time before we had to go to the airport. Essentially, the guy drives you around Old San Juan, offers some commentary, stops at El Morro for about 10 minutes, then drops you off downtown, making specific arrangements to come back and get you to take you to the airport. He keeps your luggage safe, and you get the opportunity to have lunch, to walk around, or to shop more if you want to.
The taxi trip to the airport takes about 15 minutes on a Saturday, and you need to plan on getting to the airport 2 hours before your flight. The lines were long, but kept moving, both at check in and at security.
April 2003 Read Less