RADIANCE OF THE SEAS Western Caribbean March 6 - 13, 2005 By Mary & Vincent Finelli
Thomas Wolfe once wrote "You Can't Go Home again" (1940), but this cruise proved him wrong. After only being back on board the Radiance of the Seas just five minutes, we encountered Captain Kent Ringborn; it was as if the last four years had never happened. We were home again. For two years he was RCI's manager for the Radiance building project in Papenburg, Germany and he personally oversaw the creation of the Radiance (2001). She is the first ship of the Radiance Class which now includes the following: The Brilliance of the Seas (2002), The Serenade of the Seas (2003), and the Jewel of the Seas (2004) upon all of which we have sailed.
When we met this singing Captain, his gentle, caring nature immediately impressed us; during this cruise we noted that those who sail with him never forget his kind friendliness or his beautiful baritone voice. On Monday he invited us to dine at his table on formal night, and later in the week with him at Chops Grille. This cruise felt like it was a family reunion. Unfortunately for us and RCI, he retires in May (2005). If there ever was a Captain who set an inviting tone on board, it is Captain Kent Ringborn! This cruise negated Wolfe's statement ----- we did go home again.
EMBARKATION On Sunday the Port of Miami is easily accessible. No traffic and an excellent port crew made boarding fast and painless. A steward greeted us curbside, took our luggage and wheeled Vincent's chair through security to the Ambassador's Lounge where we picked up our boarding passes, signed our charge account and that was it; since all documents are checked weeks ahead. As Crown & Anchor members we enjoy priority boarding. In less than ten minutes, we were on board and in our stateroom. We have a specific routine for day one: first, we go to the buffet (a very nice one of roast beef, salads, pastas, pizzas, soups (potato leek) fruits and desserts, including RCI's famous cookies); second, we go to the Dining Room to meet the staff and check our seating for dinner. This day Maitre D' Metin Camurlu set us up with a table for two, near the entrance at the foot of the massive staircase. Perfect, from a perfect Maitre D'! Next, we go back to the stateroom and rest until the boat drill, in this case it was held at 4:30pm. We are now in cruise mode: well fed, oriented and shedding all shore side cares.
THE SHIP The GTV (Gas Turbine Vessel) Radiance of the Seas is 90,090 tons, 962 ft. long, 105.6 ft. wide and carries 2,100 passengers (this cruise had 2,207 double occupancy.) and a crew of 900. She boasts of over three acres of exterior glass and elevators overlooking the sea and the centrum. Media and cruisers have deemed this class ship to be the epitome of beauty, size and style. It has maintained the overall profile of a huge private yacht, yet with all the accouterments of the largest ships afloat. The Radiance holds the award for the "Ship Team of the Year 2004" and the "Environmental Ship of the Year 2003," and the media have voted the Radiance Class the "Most Beautiful Ships at Sea." We reported in our 2001 review many details on this ship's decorations; thus, this review will center on general comments and special crew members. Immediately upon arrival, passengers are first impressed with the beauty of the nine deck centrum with its waterfalls, cymbidium orchids and semi-circular balconies located on each deck. Be sure to go to deck 12, where the Crown & Anchor Society Lounge has a window set in the center of the floor, from which the entire centrum is visible all the way down to Deck 4. This is an incredible view not to be missed. There are thirteen decks.
Deck 2 has some interior (Cat. Q) and ocean view (Cat. I) staterooms.
Deck 3 has mostly ocean view (Cat. H), some interior (Cat. N and O) with two wheelchair accessible staterooms.
Deck 4 has ocean view staterooms (Cat. G) with two wheelchair accessible ones, and interior staterooms (Cat. N) with two more wheelchair accessible ones. Forward is the first level of the Aurora Theatre with its crystal embossed curtain and simple elegant seating and decor. Midship is the Lobby Bar, Guest Relations and Explorations Desks. There are six Centrum Elevators, four overlook the sea and two overlook the centrum. We wish the buttons controlling these elevators were divided in two sections; since, it is difficult to reach the opposite end elevator when pushing a wheelchair. Usually the doors closed, just as we reached it: It was especially difficult for those of us with mobility problems. All the way aft is the first level of the Cascades Dining Room, a beautiful dark teak wood embellished room with a bandstand located in front of the waterfall and two curved staircases leading to the balcony. The aft wall is a two deck tall stunning mosaic of the Roman Goddess Aurora rising from the sea while watching a dolphin frolic before her in the ocean. There are figures sitting on clouds exhaling wind and the colors are wonderful: gold, blue, aqua, and copper.
Deck 5 forward has the main floor seating of the theatre. Midship is the Conference Center, Art Gallery and the Photo Shop. The boutiques and shops are also located here (logo wear, perfumes, resort wear, etc.). Next is "Latte-Tudes" coffee shop and RCI On Line computers/internet. Aft is the balcony of the Cascades Dining Room.
Deck 6 forward has the balcony of the Aurora Theatre; toward midship is the Cinema and Scoreboard Sports Bar with its many screens showing live venues from around the world. Then, midship is the Royale Casino for slots and gaming ---- very posh with beautiful peacocks and a lighted, colored glass ceiling. Also, near the Centrum is the Champagne Bar.
Going aft is the Schooner Bar, which is the most nautically decorated area: cannons, cannon balls, and even creosote soaked ropes enhancing the ambiance through the sense of smell. Murals by H.E. Nissen (Norway) depict seascapes and Columbus setting foot on the New World. A lovely full length portrait of Jenny Lind the "Swedish Nightingale" is paired with a painting of the ship "The Nightingale" weathering a storm. Here are located the bar and two specialty restaurants, Chops Grille and Portofino (both with $20 cover charge per person.)
Aft is the Bombay Billiards Club with two gyroscopic self leveling pool tables ---- which are fun to watch on a rough sea day. There was just one of those days this cruise. Next is the Jakarta Lounge with handy chess set ups overlooking the sea. Also located here are the Singapore Sling's Bar, the Calcutta Card Club and the Colony Club, all of which have the atmosphere of an English gentlemen's club with bookcase lined walls, elegant wood and plush seating.
Decks 7, 8, 9 and 10 are all staterooms, eight of which are wheel chair accessible with balcony, bringing the total of special needs cabins to 14. Always located near the Centrum elevators on each of these decks are additional passenger services: On Deck 7 are the business services; on Deck 8 is the Explorers' Court; on Deck 9 is the library and on Deck 10 is the Concierge Club which is available only to Crown & Anchor Diamond Members and Suite occupants. Here, Concierge Willie Salaya was very attentive and courteous. Thank you Willie!
Decks 11, 12, and 13 are all passenger areas. On Deck 11 forward is the Ship Shape Spa with the Massage Center, separate Men's and Women's locker rooms, a Thermal Suite and the Hair Salon. Next is the Solarium, where Vincent can be found every morning in the whirlpool. Mary prefers the lap pool which is filled with sea water (the water was cool and hard to get into, but refreshing once in). The jungle atmosphere is nice and most cruisers take pictures of the life size elephant statues. Aft is the Windjammer Cafe with buffet dining and both indoor and outdoor seating.
Deck 12 forward has the Ship Shape Fitness Center, midship is the Jogger's Track. There is an Optix Teen Center, Game Arcade, the Adventure Ocean Club and Beach, all for the younger cruisers. The children's program is free except for baby sitting after 10pm. We saw the children "Pirates" marching and singing in the theatre, lead by a crew member. They were scary, funny and loud and received a great ovation. Parents seated near us in the theatre told us that their children liked the youth programs so much that they rarely wanted to stay with the adults. Aft are the Golf and Sports area, Golf Simulators and the Sea View Cafe serving excellent snacks and lunch.
Finally on Deck 13 there is the Viking Crown Lounge with a star shaped bar and beautiful windows overlooking the sea. There are also the Vortex Night Club and the Hollywood Odyssey, an intimate Show Club (check out the life size statue of Marilyn Monroe with billowing skirts from the famous scene in the "Seven Year Itch"). Outside, on this deck, is where the Rock Climbing wall and the Putting Green are located.
The stair wells of the ship have bright colorful art work; near the Centrum are unique murals of glass inlays. The ship is gleaming under Chief Housekeeper Renita Kumari.
CABIN Stateroom #7610 is wheelchair accessible with an automatic door opener. When entering on the right, there is a large bathroom with a 5'x5' shower, with safety rails, a bench and an emergency phone and call button. The sink has a mirrored medicine cabinet with shelves. Then, there is a queen size bed with two night stands and reading lamps.
When entering on the left, there is a double armoire inside which the personal safe is inconveniently located. This was difficult to access, especially after clothes were hung in the closet. Next is a lighted, mirrored vanity/desk with six drawers (so narrow that 8"x11" paper cannot lie flat!). There is a TV and a cabinet above it. There is also a navy blue sofa, two chairs and a teeny tiny coffee table. The far wall is all windows, floor to ceiling, and a door which opens on to the trapezoidal shaped balcony, holding two chairs, and a large table, to which our steward added a chaise lounge. Our excellent steward Cassandra Dasilva was amazing. She anticipated all our needs and was efficient and friendly. Thanks Cassandra for everything.
FOOD & SERVICE We have a new friend, Maitre D' Metin Camurlu, who oversees an excellent staff. We also visited with our old friend, Food & Beverage Manager Rinaldo Lima, whom we met on the Brilliance. We were wonderfully served by Waiter Kristian Dukic and his assistant Joel Loayon under the watchful eyes of Head Waiter Leonardo Spinelli. Executive Chef Rana Bir has an enormous task serving over 9,000 meals daily, but he is certainly up to it! The food is generally good with flashes of excellence.
Dinner with Captain Kent Ringborn is always a treat and this time was no exception. On the menu was Shrimp Cocktail, Escargots Bourguignon, Lobster Bisque, Chilled Pear nectar (Mary thought this was delectable) and Caesar Salad. The entrees included the following: Teriyaki Glazed Fresh Alaskan Salmon, Duck a` L'Orange and grilled Beef Tenderloin. The Captain enjoyed his salmon; Vincent said his beef was excellent (and he is not easily pleased); Mary thought her duck was crispy and very tasty. What is there to say but, fine food, fine service and fine company, all contribute to a fine evening.
We also dined at Chops with Captain Kent and the delightful Rolfes (109 cruises with RCI, when do they ever see home?). During this meal we got an up close and personal view of what a Master's life is really like. He received and made various calls to the Bridge concerning the weather in Grand Cayman, our next port of call. He ultimately decided to change course and head instead for Cozumel, Mexico; thereby, avoiding rough weather and giving the passengers an extra night in Mexico. RCI and the Captain stress safety first and we concur.
Room Service took about 15 to 30 minutes; we ordered breakfast every morning in our stateroom: and the coffee and omelets were hot, the fruit and juices were fresh. The variety on the dining room menu was more than adequate; however, both Head Waiter Leonardo and Kristian offered to get us whatever we desired, even if the items were not on the menu. According to Rinaldo Lima the Midnight Buffet was the best he had ever seen, and that is saying something, since he has seen so many. Food and service on board deserve high marks.
Vincent, a retired Professor of Environmental Health, had a very enjoyable meeting with Environmental Officer Mark Curtis (a graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy). He gave us interesting information on the Advanced Wastewater Reduction System and other recycling programs on board. He and the Captain should be proud of the Radiance's high marks on environmental issues and its award winning status.
We spent some time with the especially helpful Loyalty Ambassador Carol Williams talking about the Crown & Anchor Society and Diamond Plus membership perks such as the following: 1. Special tours of the Bridge, Galley and back stage. 2. Choice of Amenities (wine or flowers). 3. Discounts on early bookings. 4. Dinner with the Captain or other ship officers. 5. Schedules of key crew members. We feel strongly that RCI truly appreciates its returning passengers, and knows how to show them that they are valued through special cocktail parties and other perks. There is also on board credit for RCI shareholders and those who reserve a future cruise while on board. ENTERTAINMENT We had sailed with Cruise Director Gordon Whatman before and were happy to encounter him again. He is an extremely upbeat and active leader. He inspires his group and the passengers with his singing (he has had operatic training and it shows). Throughout the cruise there was bingo, trivia, scavenger hunts, pool parties, 50's dances, Casino tournaments, etc.... We also enjoyed some of the music played around the ship, especially that of the terrific Sandra Mandella trio in the Centrum.
The RCI 's Singers & Dancers new show "Piano Man" was a hit. Mary enjoyed "Beetle Mania" especially "Yesterday" and "You May Think That I'm a Dreamer" by John Lennon and dreams of world wide peace. "Welcome to Our World" was warmly received; Bobby Arvon, the voice of "Happy Days," wowed the audience with his singing, impressions and piano playing. He put it all into his show and it was appreciated with a standing ovation.
The nicest final touch was the "Farewell Show" featuring Captain Kent's warm baritone voice. It is tough to say "Good bye" after such a terrific week. But all good things must come to an end. Arriverderci a presto! Till we meet again soon.
PORTS OF CALL Day 1. Miami, Florida Departure 5:00pm Day 2. At Sea Day 3. Labadee, Haiti Arrival 8:00am Departure 4:00pm Day 4. Ocho Rios, Jamaica Arrival 9:00am Departure 5:00pm Day 5. Georgetown, Grand Cayman canceled due to high winds and danger for tendering. Set sail for Cozumel. Arrival in Cozumel 8:00pm. Day 6. Cozumel, Mexico Departure 8:00pm Day 7. At Sea Day 8. Miami, Florida Arrival 8:00am
CONCLUSION This was our 50th cruise and our 25th on RCI ships. It appears that the more we cruise the more we enjoy it. We definitely are addicted to cruising and Vincent gets "withdrawal syndrome" if at anytime he has not booked two or more future cruises. He was showing symptoms while we were on this ship, since he had only one more cruise reservation, the transatlantic crossing on the Costa Mediterranea for this April. The problem was solved aboard by booking a cruise on the behemoth Freedom of the Seas, the next RCI cruise ship which will be launched in May 2006 and will take the title from the Queen Mary II of the largest cruise ship afloat. We hope that there will be many more cruises in between these two bookings, but we have not yet decided on which ones. It would be nice if it were possible to do around the world cruising on several different ships, each leg on a different ship; i.e., from the USA to South America, then on to the South Pacific, Australia, Japan, China, India, Africa, through Suez Canal to Europe, and back to USA, or a similar itinerary. We know that some cruise lines are doing such an itinerary on some smaller ships, but we would like to see it done in a sequence of legs on several ships to fully enjoy the cruises and land tours. Happy Sailing!