I take a cruise for my birthday each year. This year I chose a cruise in the Eastern Caribbean for two reasons: (1) It was a change from my usual Mexico trips, and (2) I was sailing with a group of friends one couple who had never cruised. And because we had first timers along, I wanted this cruise to be special: and it was.
Because we took a midnight flight from Oregon to Miami, we decided to leave one day early and spend the night in South Beach. It was a great choice. Even though we were awakened at 6 AM by a marathon, it was great to have a day in Miami to decompress. We arrived at the ship around noon on Sunday fully rested and ready for 7 days of cruising fun.
The embarkation was perfect. Because we arrived by private car, we did not need to worry about long lines. We had a very good chat with the counter personnel and were on board in less than 10 minutes. Everyone at the counter was professional and able to answer all of our questions.
When we looked at our sea pass cards, we noted that between the 6 of us, we were seated at 4 different tables. But we knew the drill. Three of us headed off to the dining room to talk with the head waiter. Usually the reassignment goes very easily. For some reason, we seemed to tick off the head waiter. He got all of us at the same table, but it was right next to the kitchen door. (More on that later.) But we were happy because we were together.
Let me get the one disappointment out of the way. I have never had bad dining room service on an RCI cruise, and the service on this cruise was not bad simply not what I have come to expect. Our waiter and assistant waiter seemed to be constantly distracted. Our assistant waiter would leave one roll, fill the water glasses, and disappear. That may be why they were at the kitchen door table.
There is an old phrase that everything is ruined by repetition even Paris. And the phrase applies to the RCI dinner menu. It seems to have remained unchanged for the past two years. And that is not necessarily bad. I now know on each cruise what I will have on each night. It us a little like walking into your neighborhood restaurant. Cruise food in the dining room will never be outstanding. It cannot be. It is the equivalent of political fund raiser dinners. You need to feed a large group of people in a very small amount of time. Personalized dinners should not be expected.
But they should be expected in the specialty restaurants. And the Radiance did not disappoint. We ate in Chops two nights. It is easily as good as any of the major steak houses such as Mortons and El Gaucho, with highly professional service and personalized dinners. Portofino (the Italian restaurant) was good. We ate there one night sponsoring a farewell dinner for the singers and dancers. I would not rate it as high as Chops for food, but I was definitely pay another visit.
Well, you now know what I like about cruising eating. But the rest of the cruise was every bit as good as the food often better. I took a cruise on my first Radiance class ship last August: on the Jewel. I really like the moderate size of the ships. They offer a lot of the qualities of a Voyager class with the intimacy of a Vision class. Even though the Radiance went into dry dock immediately following this cruise, everyone did a superb job at keeping it looking in top shape. The public rooms were always clean.
And the entertainers: superb. One reason I go on cruises is live entertainment. Between the solo and group entertainers in the bars and public rooms and the evening shows, there is always something going on. I like the headliners, but my favorites are the singer and dancer casts. And RCI knows how to put on a quality show. I have noted that some cruisers tend to think of the dancers and singers as being similar to the neighborhood kids putting on a show. That attitude truly demeans these professionals. They know their craft and they perform it expertly. Unfortunately the group on the Radiance completely dispersed on their individual ways when the ship entered dry dock.
I had a balcony cabin on the fantail. It was a perfect place to have room service breakfast in the morning and to wrap up a day watching the ships wake disappear over the horizon. Being a nonsmoker, I was a bit surprised to notice how often I could smell cigarette smoke on the balcony. But I decided that is simply the smell of freedom and it made my libertarian heart happy. We Americans spend far too much time trying to regulate other peoples lives.
Yes, the ship did stop at ports even though I thoroughly enjoyed the three sea days. Our first port was Coco Cay, RCIs private island. A friend and I spent the day parasailing and riding waverunners. I sky dive, so the parasailing was a bit tame. But even being a motorcycle rider did not prepare me for the thrill of the waverunners on the choppy sea. For a full hour I had a blast convinced that every second would be my last. I then went snorkeling. That day was one of the best days of the vacation. I strongly recommend the waverunners. But be prepared to be scared to death and to laugh and survive in the process.
The second port was St. Thomas. We were there a year ago and spent our full day at Coki Point. The snorkeling there is fantastic. The fish have become addicted to dog biscuits, so you will not see them acting naturally on the main beach. But at the south end of the point there is a small reef where few people go. The viewing is far better there.
The third port was St. Maarten. We rented a van and drove around the island. When we were there last year, the traffic was terrible. This time we made the full circuit far too fast. We had planned on eating lunch in a village on the French side. But we were there at 10:30 far too early for lunch. Instead we stopped at two beaches and went shopping in town.
When we arrived in Miami, I dreaded leaving the ship. My experience has been that RCI has one of the worst departure procedures I have ever seen. I was more than pleasantly surprised. Our tag color was called while I was raising my fist fork of breakfast. Between the call and walking out of customs, no more than 15 minutes passed. Great job, RCI!
Overall, this was an incredibly memorable cruise. Like everything in life, some things could have been better, but only a very small person would allow a few blemishes ruin an otherwise marvelous experience. My barometer is based on the response of the first timers with us: they are ready to cruise again.
I look forward to seeing the Radiance when it leaves dry dock.