Radiance of the Seas Cruise Review by MadMax2
- Sail Date: March 2014
- Destination: Australia & New Zealand
We boarded the ship at Sydney, Australia, headed for 13 nights to New Zealand, travelling from the south to the north. A tip - ask the taxi to drop you off at Circular Quay *STATION* (Alfred St), rather than the OPT drop-off as it can take a long time to get around to the departure point in a car, whereas it is a short trundle along an interesting part of the quay from the station, which is not usually that busy early in the morning. There was an early drop-off area for big cases, so we only had to manage our smaller cases to get on board.
RCI states that we should board in accordance to our deck number so we waited around a while (had breakfast) then went to the (short) line about 1 hour before the time stated. The port personnel said to go on through, as the ship would be only TOO happy to have us on board asap, so we could start spending money on drinks! We had to complete departure info for outgoing passengers, as well as a statement about our health. All very easy. In the OPT, we received our cruise-keycard (a combined door-entry and charge card). There were the obligatory ship photos before passing through the security screening, then a final photo check as we boarded the vessel (this is matched to your cruise card, so they can see who is coming and leaving using that card). Boarding was well organised and relatively quick - about one hour - so we were at the Centrum by 1:30pm, our 'original' boarding time!
As we entered the Centrum (a magnificent void running from Deck 3 to Deck 11 in the centre of the ship), we were able to sign up for various 'drinks packages' and specialty restaurants. Unless you are intending to imbibe a fair bit, you should first weigh up the costs of your drinking habits to check if these represent value for money. You can always sign up later in the comfort of your room, courtesy of the clever account system available on internal video.
I had deliberately booked early on this cruise, to get a specific cabin, #7024. I wanted the port side (as land would be on that side) and I wanted to try a balcony, so that I could enjoy proximity to the outdoors in the comfort of a cabin. I also wanted to be nearer the front, as I love to watch and hear the crashing waters against the hull of the ship. This was only my 3rd time cruising, once was working in the children's program as a young uni student (tiny inside cabin in the bowels of the ship) and a recent 7 day cruise from Fremantle to Broome (West Aust), in a window cabin.
On arrival in our cabin, I was disappointed to find the bed made up as a double and not twins as requested when booking, Obviously there is someone in the chain that does not particularly care about their job, or was not able to read the instructions... There was a standard note saying a request to the Room Attendant would see this rectified. (A waste of their time, which on the first day, must be very busy!) Our Cabin Attendant was a pleasant fellow from Indonesia. He performed his duties to a level I would have expected, but not anything above that. He was always gracious, especially when we were in the room at the time he hoped to prepare it.
Our Cruise Critic contributors had arranged to meet at 3:30pm at the Sky Bar to get to know everyone, so we headed to Deck 11 (Windjammers Buffet) for lunch and then walked around to try to find the bar. It was right in the hot sun, and not a pleasant place to be at that time of day! I saw the organiser, but she was heading back downstairs, so I wasn't sure of what was happening, so we ended up going back to our room to start unpacking. We had to attend the safety drill (without life jackets) and our designated meeting place was the Aurora Theatre, a well-designed entertainment area, in which we spent many evenings. Soon after that our cases arrived so we unpacked.
At the departure, we were happily taking photos of the Opera House & Harbour Bridge, when my camera battery went flat. I raced back to my room, only to find my key-card would not work!!! Most distressing!! So, I missed some of the departure trying to get that rectified. Apparently ANY contact with ANYthing magnetised (like a credit card or camera) will demagnetise it, and it has to be replaced. I had to do that 2x over the cruise, and I bet 100s of others did, too! A simple instruction & warning when receiving the card could have prevented this annoyance.
We had very calm sea days across the Tasman (unbelievable!) with just a gentle rolling 2m swell from the south west. Took a few Kwells in the early days to ensure the "motion from the ocean" didn't overcome me! (Had also been taking ginger tablets in the week leading up to it, but have no idea if they worked.)
There was always plenty to do on board, and activities catered to a variety of interests, although if you were a regular cruiser, you would have probably seen them all before. I would have liked to have seen some more educational / informative activities, but they were mainly catering for “fun” times. It seemed as soon as one activity was over, it was time to eat again! I have a theory that there are 2 types of people on board - the 'early risers' and the 'late stayers'. We tried to be both for a while, but I couldn't keep up the pace! I regret that I didn't go to know any other fellow travellers very well. It seemed that most were couples and family groups.
We generally ate at the Buffet and although food was tasty enough, it always had a "same-ness" about it. As a vegetarian, I found offerings WAY too short on vegetarian protein. Only had chick peas, and that only sometimes, although always baked beans at breakfast time. Once when I couldn't find ANY protein at lunch, I asked one of the staff, and he quickly fried up some tofu squares, which were absolutely tasteless because they had not been soaked in any flavours. The three times we had dinner in the MDR (had My Choice Dining), there were only 2 vegetarian choices on the menu and they were the same. Others said the menu changes were good, but not for me, unfortunately (or maybe I just managed to jag the nights with the same choices??). Couldn't stomach eating risotto or linguine EVERY night of the week! I tried to eat the usual portions I would have at home, but occasionally strayed to have beautiful afternoon teas and desserts towards the end of the trip. Detested the way the wait staff constantly referred to the desserts as "yummy-yummies" - "Would you like some yummy-yummies?" Loved the banana-crumble in the buffet but after seeing it served up repeatedly, or as pear-crumble, was a bit disappointed they never quite got around to making an apple crumble, as the crumble WAS delicious! Salads were tasty and plentiful with a satisfactory variety over the 2 weeks. Unfortunately, a lot of the fresh fruit was tasteless, probably from being bought too early, and not allowed to ripen sufficiently before use. I never tried any of the specialty restaurants - probably too much of a miser to pay the extra US$30pp to book?
The buffet breakfasts had a selection of at least 6 (packet) cereals, the same 2 cheap yogurts (plain or strawberry), fresh fruits (no thanks!), pastries, standard English breakfast, delicious potato gems (the item that was eaten the MOST of, all cruise - so not just by me!), English muffins or toast (that you could have used to tile a wall with, they were so hard - until slightly softened by well placed eggs, tomatoes or baked beans) and jams.
There were little "yummies" available at morning tea, too, I think, but we hardly were there at that time.
Lunches were standard cold meats and spreads, a variety of salads, and I can't remember what else! Pastries? I mainly kept an eye out for vegetarian foods, so didn't commit to memory other foods that were on offer. I'm not a big foodie, so this was not a great importance to me - as long as I could find something I thought would agree with my philosophy and taste-buds, I was happy! A variety of desserts also available, but many seemed to have that "out of a packet", or pre-cooked and defrosted look. However, the chocolate syrup was to die for, and I reckon that must have been the 2nd most popular food choice in the buffet!
Buffet dinners always had choices of roasts, Indian, hamburgers, hot or cold vegies and lovely desserts. Once again, vegetarians not well catered for... so I mostly ended up with plates of roasted vegies (oh, and potato gems, of course!)
I stuck to water, orange 'fruit juice' or watered-down lemonade and some hot chocolate (in packets) when the weather cooled, but you could have bought wines and beers. Hot water (a little tepid, so passengers "don't burn themselves - safe, you stay safe") available all night in Hot Dog area (which was hardly EVER used, probably because there was so few kids) for self-serve teas, coffee & hot chocolate.
Room Service menu not extensive and quite ordinary - nothing special there but its free up until midnight. Be careful though! One night I ordered Room Service around 8:30pm as I had been feeling ill that evening from a heavy cold I had developed, so had got into my pjs and was resting in bed. My travel buddy was out at a show. When finished eating, I took the plate and tray and dutifully left it outside the door, as I had seen fellow passengers doing. Suddenly the ship gently rolled, and 'CLICK', my door closed! And me with no key card around my neck and in my winter pjs - and feeling crook to boot! I just sat there dismally for about 15 mins before thinking I might wander out to the lift area to see if there was a phone nearby. There was (and no guests, thank goodness) - not that I knew which number to call! I remembered the room service number and dialled that - the lass said in broken English she would let 'someone' know. ~40 mins later & still no-one. A fellow passenger had been passed and given me commiserations, but I was too ill to think to ask if she could ring someone for me - and she was too tipsy to care! Luckily, a staff member with a few stripes on his sleeve walked into our passageway, so I called him back, and FORTUNATELY he could get straight into my room! What a relief! When I rang Room Service to let them know I was back in my room, it was if I had never called in the first place. Absolutely NO recollection of any request to get back into a room! Even the Room Manager knew nothing about it!
I did not do any of the ship's tours as I found them far too expensive, so I did all my own planning and booking on the internet, reading reviews on Trip Advisor. Used a hire car at Dunedin, Tauranga & Paihai (Bay of Islands). Phoned a place in Paihia to work out the best way to get 20kms to Kawiti Glow Worm Caves and found the cheapest option was to hire a car (Rent-A-Dent - a good guy, and knowledgeable). I know these car tour businesses only have the cruise season to make their money but charging $40pp to get just out of town is unethical, I reckon. It would have cost us $80, but the car hire was only $65!
Getting around was made easier by internet pre-planning but I still managed to forget my way out of an Eco-Sanctuary near Dunedin, so I quickly decided to spend some $$$ on the ship's internet that evening and printed out the maps I had created earlier on MapMyRide, plus I was happy to use public transport if available. We also found being interested in one part of a trip meant we had to miss out on other parts planned. Road works nearly all the way down from Tauranga to Rotorua, on Pyes Pa Rd (we went to AgroVentrues to do the Swoop & Jetboating - the Freefall wasn't operating), and the State Highway (on the return journey) made timing awkward, so we had to forgo a planned stop-off at Hell's Gates. Didn't mind too much, as we had a great tour at Te Puia, and learned a lot about Maori Culture and had seen the famous Pohutu Geyser gushing steam and boiling water. We also found bus timetables not very reliable in Auckland, so missed a booked activity that afternoon rather than try to catch another taxi (we had already just missed a train to a venue, so by this time, my travel buddy was losing it! She had missed out on a planned massage and had to sit around doing nothing whilst I had mine, because the place did not honour their agreement with us but we had to dash, & I never found out why that happened. I copped a fair bit of verbal abuse from her after the trip - so be wary of who you take as a travel companion! I also found out she HATED public transport, when we came across a fellow bus passenger talking loudly to himself - and us? He had such a rich tone and a theatrical sounding voice, and reminded me of Peter O'Toole. I'm sure he would have been fascinating to get to know!)
We saw some excellent shows on board - in particular "multi"-musician Danny Elliot, and the Radiance Singers & Dancers put on some cheesy but beautifully choreographed shows. Back drops were outstanding! Hypnotist good but quite tame. Was oddly funny (but not for the hypnotised) to see them barking and quacking when someone shook their hand, after the show (definitely NOT PC!).
Most informative was the commentary through the Fiordlands (Milford, Doubtful & Dusky Sounds) by an ex-ranger, who knew the place like the back of his hand, but it was not always possible to hear what he was saying. Funniest moments had to be the Captain / Cruise Director Cake Decorating Competition. Couldn't help but laugh at the Captain's antics!
New Zealand has such beautiful scenery and is a country I'll certainly want to go back to explore in a little more depth. I think my favourite places were Akaroa, where we did a boat trip called Coast Up Close in the morning, and in the afternoon, took a ride up into the hills on a Honda Goldwing 1500cc with a sidecar, and Bay of Islands, where we went to Hole in the Rock and then down to the lovely Kawiti Glow Worm Caves. We had perfect weather, too!
The worst features of Radiance were the cheap jewellery and watches being sold at high prices, and the exhorbitant prices for optional extras (ship photos @ $25ea, specialty dining, Chef's Table @ US$135, Salon Services - although I did have an acupuncture session @US$155, and went to the hairdressers once, and had a Fire & Ice pedicure, plus bought some products - which are all far too expensive to warrant buying / using. There were SO many photos left on the last day, and taking them has been a waste, even though the quality is good. Lower the prices, and you'll improved your sales! Although maybe they are busy already, with those who are a little more cashed-up? I also refused to see the doc when I fell ill, as I had been told it was $50 to make an appointment, another $50 for the visit, and another $50 to get a script filled! (So I waited until I got back to Aussie soil.)
Radiance of the Seas is a comfortable ship, but would I use her again? I don't think so, at least not for the same part of the world - maybe Alaska? I'd like to explore other ships such as Celebrity Solstice (also has glassed balconies), so only time will tell! Although I DO like the idea of chalking up reward points for cruise line loyalty!
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