Radiance of the Seas Cruise Review by wuppis
- Sail Date: February 2007
- Destination: Eastern Caribbean
Almost everything there is to tell about the Radiance can be found in my last year's Hawaii review. That is why I wanted to put the focus more on the personal aspects this time. For some of you it might not be interesting, but for me these aspects are an important part of our cruise experience. For those who are looking for facts and more, you will find a few, but the emphasis of this review is on the personal aspects.
A few notes about the Radiance: By and large, the ship is in good shape, considering those were her cruises #304 and #305. The cabins had been fitted with the new bedding system, here with decorative cushions and spreads in dark blue. Of course you will find some wear and tear when you look at the carpets or the chairs, the deck chairs, etc. Out on deck, almost every day you can see crew members polishing and painting. But all those signs of old age did not bother us.
The service and the food were good but not excellent—with the exception of the two specialty restaurants, "Portofino" and "Chops Grille". You will need 2 to 2 ½ hours for these dining experiences in order to fully enjoy every minute. The food in the Windjammer Cafe was, like on other ships, slightly above canteen standard. Thus, we decided to have lunch in the Dining Room when it was open for Brasserie 30 Lunch. Although they only had one menu for the two weeks, the selection of entrees was enough to have more than one lunch in the Dining Room.
In the evening, the already well-known menus were presented, among them only one new menu. So we chose different courses in order to discover new dishes. Here RCCL should show more flexibility; I am sure that the Executive Chefs would love to present more new dishes. The meat entrees were rather adapted to the North American appetite than to the average European appetite: Some steaks covered more than half the plate. However, they offered something for every taste, meat and poultry, fish and vegetarian food. But why does the menu selection of the first week have to be repeated in the second week? What about the back-to-back guests? What about a change of menus every 14 days? It was striking that the head waiters and assistant waiters changed after the first week, and it was interesting to us to compare those two weeks with different service.
A new experience to us was the large number of kids and teenagers. Because of the Presidential Weeks in the US and the Canadian spring break, many families were on board, with children of all ages from babies to young adults. Most of the time we did not notice it in a negative way. But when we went to the Windjammer for a coffee in the early afternoon, it was often hard to stand and watch some families. Some parents seemed to be free of pain in view of their children's table manners. Relaxing by the poolside was impossible for people who love tranquility. In spite of respective warning signs, children jumped into the pool or romped in the whirlpools. Part of the guests could generally be described as plebe like. We have been told similar stories by some passengers on the HAL Westerdam, however, the price level for this ship is much higher than for the Radiance. Several people must have been drunk; the whirlpools were occupied by some drunken passengers in the late afternoon. Fortunately, they did not use the pool and whirlpool in the solarium.
The unprofessional front desk team made a negative impression, since they were not able to register the Crown & Anchor internet coupon on our onboard account, or to make a reservation for the shuttle transfer from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami International Airport. It cost us a lot of time until they found out that they had not made this reservation, and they were not able to tell us the correct price. They said a private taxi transfer would only cost 45-50 $, so that would actually be much cheaper than the RCCL transfer, and were really impolite. It cost us time to get a taxi, and in the end it costs us 83 $ to get from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami International Airport.
On the cruise to the Eastern Caribbean there were 2,153 passengers from 29 nations on board, many of them cruise novices and the first time on a cruise ship. On the second cruise to the Western Caribbean, 2,097 passengers from 37 different nations were aboard, also among them many beginners who did not know how to behave on a 4* cruise ship.
Our very personal impressions Boarding the ship was like coming home to a wonderful place. To re-discover familiar things, to see familiar faces, to meet and greet acquaintances, and to be happy together about the reunion. It was great to experience crew members, including the Captain, remembering us as dear guests after 9 months, sometimes even with hugs and kisses. Then you know you must have done something right. And considering the tens of thousands of other passengers on board after you left the ship 9 months ago, it is incredible that they remember you, and that gives you a good and warm feeling inside.
We especially appreciated those little extras you receive when you ask in a kind and friendly way. When you get your unsalted butter with your raisin bread, delivered every morning to your table by a kind head waiter (it is simply not the same with salted butter on this wonderful, freshly baked raisin bread). Or the waiter who orders the delicious blue cheese dressing in the galley even when it is not on the menu, just because you love it.
On the other hand, it was interesting to see the first-timers, how they explored the ship and how they marveled at so many things. For us, everything is well known, more like visiting a good friend at home; it is like he welcomes you and says: "My house is your house." And then the anticipation of things to come, the familiar places you will visit again. Or the unknown places you will explore. I was really happy with our decision to do everything spontaneously. We had not made any plans in advance, instead, we did just what we felt like doing on the respective day—maybe an island tour or a taxi ride to one of the Caribbean beaches. Or maybe you decide to stay on board and enjoy the quiet ship with all its amenities, when the other passengers are doing tours in overheated busses or ports.
We often say "We are on vacation!", a sentence that stumps many people. But after a while they agree: When they understand the meaning of the words, i.e., that we have time, and when we tell other people like crew members to take their time and that nobody needs to hurry for us. Even on vacation, many people have stress and react on little things like on major issues. People, you are on vacation, enjoy the life of doing nothing and give your respect to all those people who deserve it, like all the crew members who are doing everything in order for you to have the time of your life.
We loved all the conversations with crew members who we only had met briefly last year, and now we took the time to get a closer contact. Like our daily conversations with a bar waitress or even with the Captain. Or several conversations with a young singer, only 18 years old, far away from home, and doing remarkable performances on stage.
Those are the moments that make a cruise very special, because humanity and personal contacts are of such importance, even on a larger ship. (Not a boat, Captain!) Where the Captain makes small talk walking through the Dining Room during dinner and sometimes teases guests like me. Or the dinner in Chops Grille, where we got a special entree which was not on the menu. That is what made those two cruises so special.
Anyway, both cruises where an adventure for ship spotters. I am sure that Uwe took more pictures from ships than from any other subject.
The Caribbean Islands What will it be like, visiting the islands for the second time? We were more critical than the first time. In fact, these islands only exist to make money from the cruise tourists. Think about this: A 10-minute ride to Paradise Point on St. Thomas for $18, to get a wonderful overview of the harbor and the surroundings, and then another $4 to get into an overcrowded town that more or less consists of jeweler stores. And people’s main interest is the bargain you can get in one of those stores. But if you take your time, you will find some romantic small alleys that render a bit of a Caribbean feeling. And maybe you agree with the policeman cautioning a vacationer who thinks that walking around without a shirt in town is appropriate.
We noticed that many of our co-passengers wanted to visit some of the famous beaches on the different islands. On Antigua it was difficult to get a taxi for an island tour without a beach stop. The price was reasonable, $30 per person for a 3-hour tour and a group of 6. And Antigua is worth an island tour, it is one of the most beautiful Caribbean islands we have visited in the past years. But let me warn you: The island dialects can sometimes be very strange and hard to understand, e.g., “tong” means town.
The island tour in St. Maarten was neither worth the money nor the time. Many traffic jams, only a few photo stops. The stop at Maho Beach was too early to get the experience of the landing jets right behind the beach. The French part of the island presented itself with its capital Marigot, with colorful straw markets and great marinas. A stop at the totally overcrowded Orient Beach made us refrain from taking another taxi ride in the afternoon for a beach break. St. Maarten did not meet our expectations. One day during a cruise is enough, but a longer stay would be too much for us. Personally, all those tropical islands we visited are not what we expected. But for those who love visiting several beaches and doing all kinds of water sports, these islands are perfect.
Before we reached St. Thomas, the ship’s officers made an announcement about a gas turbine. We arrived in St. Thomas in the night, engineers came on board, and one turbine was replaced. The passengers were not bothered by this incident. It was different with the medical emergency in the afternoon, when the departure was later than scheduled. There were actually several medical emergencies, and we had some unplanned port stops in order to take the people to an ambulance in the closest port.
When we got back from a shore excursion in Nassau, we had a message on our voicemail saying that we would reach Ft. Lauderdale earlier than scheduled. Another gas turbine was to be replaced, and we would leave Ft. Lauderdale only at 2 am on Sunday instead of 5 pm on Saturday. They offered us $ 100 per person as compensation, since they had to cancel the stop in Key West. But in the end it was not necessary. The turbine was replaced faster than expected, and we could leave Ft. Lauderdale for our second cruise to the Eastern Caribbean islands at 8 pm on Saturday, so that we reached Key West on the following morning.
Back-to-Back: Two cruises on the same ship, starting at the same port, are called back-to-back cruises. We did the Eastern Caribbean with an 8-day cruise and the Western with a 6-day cruise. We had booked the same cabin for the two cruises, so there was no packing and unpacking after the first part. The sea passes were delivered to our cabin the day before the last day. We were escorted by the 3rd purser off and on the ship after a short wait in the terminal. Everything went absolutely hasslefree, a quick check from the local customs, and back on the ship for the second cruise. It only took longer than usual because the Radiance had the comprehensive Coast Guard test with smoke, smoke removal, etc. going on that is done twice a year on every cruise ship.
Key West was hot, really hot with a humidity of more than 90%. Ships in port: the HAL Veendam and the Carnival Celebration. We strolled around in the center of Key West and were glad to get back on the air-conditioned ship.
The next stop was Cozumel. We docked next to the Freedom OTS and the Carnival Fantasy off the center of Cozumel, where several other ships were docking: Oceania Regatta, Norwegian Pearl and Norwegian Dream, Costa Magica, and in Playa del Carmen Celebrity Constellation.
On Grand Cayman there were lots of people in the port, all ships had to tender to different spots close to the totally overcrowded city center. It was again hot, and with so many people and traffic it was almost impossible to cross the streets and to get into one of the stores.
Freedom OTS and Voyager OTS, Costa Magica, Carnival Liberty, Carnival Imagination and Carnival Inspiration anchored off the harbor. We had planned on booking a boat trip, but with so many people everywhere, we did not want to queue for a tour. The weather was again extremely hot, so we tendered back to the ship at noon and enjoyed the ship’s amenities. After dinner we attended the production show “Piano Man” for the second time. It was interesting, because we noticed more details than with the first time—the excellent decoration, the wonderful costumes, and the professionalism of the singers and dancers.
Montego Bay, Jamaica: The last port on our cruise, and for us also the last one on our ranking list. Mo-Bay is a total tourist trap. You can buy a bus round-ticket for $12 and you get a paper bracelet and a map with their so-called “Hot Spots”. So we took one of these buses to the last stop, “Doctor’s Cave Beach”, where we were asked to pay $5 for visiting the beach, $5 for a beach chair, and $5 for a parasol, all in all $30 for the two of us. We decided to take the bus back to the next Hot Spot, because the beach was not worth paying $30 for 2 or 3 hours. The next Hot Spot was a bar, but we do not belong to those species who love to drink already in the morning, so we went to the next stop, the “City Center Mall”, a third-class shopping mall and also totally overcrowded. On our way back to the pier we passed the “Harbor Street Craft Market”, but this did not interest us either. Information for those who want to take a taxi: 1 hour for about $30, a tour to Dunn’s River Falls about $100.
Our conclusion These ports of the Western and Eastern Caribbean were so overcrowded that we had no fun leaving the ship and discovering the ports. On Antigua, we were able to avoid the crowds on an independent tour, but in every other port we did not experience any Caribbean feeling; I doubt that it was there at all. Someone who loves to visit the different beaches on these islands will have fun, on the beach or with water sports activities, and enjoy these itineraries.
I believe that RCCL made the right decision to bring the two smaller ships “Azamara Quest” and “Azamara Journey” into play, with different itineraries and different, less crowded ports of call. A touch of expedition, and less mass tourism.
Translation kindly supported by Susanne Wurster, Göteborg, Sweden
More information, also in english available: www.oppermann-wuppertal.de
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