With my oldest son growing up and setting off in the world, I felt that we needed one last big adventure together before they all grew up and left me. We were able to find this fabulous 11-day, 6 port Mexican Riviera cruise for a wonderful family vacation. My boys were seasoned cruisers with 4 prior cruises under their belt but none over 5-days long. This 11-days along with a Deluxe Balcony was suppose to be our ultimate vacation, which it was, but it also hooked us on cruising for life!
The Radiance of the Sea is a beautiful ship. Common areas are in very good repair. Maintenance defiantly keeps up with the daily wear 'n tear common to cruise ships. The public area restrooms are very beautifully decorated and maintained.
Dining We had main seating dining at 6:00PM. We never had to wait in line. In fact, once we were shown our table the first day, we were able to seat ourselves just as soon as the doors were opened. I know there are a lot of people signing up for My Time Dining and some may like it but all I saw was people waiting in line to make reservations and them later standing in line to be seated for their reservations. With main seating we were in a smaller, less noisy dining room on the side of the MDR. We had the same table and the same wait staff each night, which we loved. They knew from the first day what we liked such as lemons on our water or jam with our rolls, and had those things ready for us every night after. Eating that early was closer to our normal dinner time at home and gave my teens time to work up an appetite for a 2nd desert at the Windjammer before they closed for the night at 9:00PM. Also to note, if a table of people didn't show up for dinner because they had plans to eat somewhere else like Chops or Portofino's, their table was not filled with MTD reservations. It was left empty. Our dining room was only for main seating dining. On day 5, the other 3 tables in our section were empty and we had our wait staff all to ourselves. Not only did we have their undivided attention, we had time to really talk to them and get to know them. With MTD and different staff each night, that would not have happened. The head waiter was visible every night and not only to be seen but was actively refilling water glasses, clearing plates and being of "service" along with his staff. Dinner was always relatively quick, only about 1.5 hours each night. Food was great every night. There was always plenty of food with not too large of portions. Just the right amount for when you eat as often as we did in a day. Quality, flavor, presentation & temperature were just fine. I had no complaints with the food. All three sons were able to borrow tuxedos from the high school's drama wardrobe. They totally dressed up both formal nights and dresses per guidelines each additional night. I lost count of how many people stopped at our table complimenting how well they looked. I loved it and I think they did too.
Stateroom We had a D1 stateroom on the 9th deck listed as Superior Ocean View w/Balcony. We had 1 adult and 3 teen boys in the cabin and it had plenty of room. The balcony measures about 9' x 4' and was furnished with 2 chairs and a side table. We did a cabin crawl with our Mix & Mingle group and I was able to tour several different types of cabins. The inside cabin with 2 drop down bunks would have fit us fine but I really loved the balcony. The bathroom did smell bad. Kind of like sewer but not too heavy. I sprayed my Febreze and the smell went away for awhile. The room steward said it was the shower curtain and changed it for us. The bathroom was always damp but it wasn't a damp, musty smell it was a poppy smell. The steward sprayed Glade each time he made-up the room and the smell came and went with no consistency but was never strong or offensive enough to complain about. I just kept the Febreze handy. The beds were nice but the sofa bed and drop down beds were too hard for me. The boys didn't complain. I like how they have done away with the bed spreads. I never trusted how germy they might be. The beds have a nice heavy comforter enveloped with a sheet or duvet which is washed every few days. The curtains were very heavy and blocked any light from the balcony during the day plus we had a curtain separating our room in half. With the center curtain drawn, I was able to go to sleep while the boys stayed up with the lights on playing quiet games in the other half of our room. We came on-board with 9 suitcases. I know, that's a lot, but we were on the ship for 11 days and there is no self serve laundry on the Radiance. My point is that I was able to completely unpack, get everything into closets, cupboards and drawers and be able to stow my empty luggage under the beds with no problem and room to spare. I did bring two of the suitcases with the clothes still on the hanger which was good because I would not have had enough hangers otherwise. The night of the midnight poolside bar-b-q we had a ventilation problem. The air conditioning system sucked in the diesel smelling lighter fluid charcoal fumes from the grill and our room was not inhabitable for about an hour. So we went to the bar-b-que! The smell vacated any one awake on our hall and when they sent me to Guest Relation the fumes started filling the Centrum area and even the Guest Relations employees started complaining. There was no thought to stopping the poolside bar-b-q but later I thought their resolution to the problem was pretty smart. The Maintenance Engineers turned the air-conditioning on to the whole ship. They spread the smell across all the public rooms that were closed like the MRD, Windjammer and the theaters. This diluted the smell enough that it was no longer strong enough to bother anyone. When we returned to our room it smelled just fine. Some residual smell on the clothes in the closet but I just whipped out the Febreze again.
Public Areas We did not spend much time at the pool on the ship as we were at the beach almost every day while at port and our sunburns didn't need any more exposure. We did spend more time than I thought we would in the card room playing Scrabble. We don't usually play this at home but I think it must be a vacation thing. They provide quite a few board games and loads of cards. Bring a small dictionary if your family doesn't trust your creative spelling in Scrabble. We stumbled into a daily trivia game of "Name that Show Tune" at the Schooner Bar. I was amazed at how well my 19 year old son knew his show tunes!?!?? We came in 2nd place. Most of those kinds of "cruise activities" we shy away from because they seem dorky but it was fun.
The Casino Royal gladly took our money, again! I was pleasantly surprised that they had a no smoking area with decent games. All the machines cashed out in quarters instead of tickets making it hard to slip your winnings into your pocket for the next night. We did a slot pull with 26 people in our M&M group. One slot machine was picked and we each put in $20, so that would be $520 we invested. We each pulled a $5 (maximum) bet 4 times then stepped aside for the next person. At the end, we had $455 left so we lost a total of $2.50 each after a total of 104 $5 pulls. The payout was not very good with that much going in. It made me rethink playing slots.
Guest Relations We spent too much time at the Guest Relations desk. The staff was excellent, especially Keshia, and all of our problems, large and small, were taken care of superbly. I ordered, and prepaid for an Adventure Gear package (with 4 items) to be delivered to our cabin. Half of the package was missing and the receipt delivered with it said there were only 3 items in the package. I did have my internet receipt showing what I had ordered so that was fixed. Next, I had booked when they were offering a $75 on-board credit for my class room but it didn't show up on my account. My booking statement only said "offer" in the promotion section. Keshia e-mailed the corporate offices and they responded the next day and my account was credited. Now, both of these problems were computer record problems with RCCL so make sure to print any receipts and advertisements showing what you purchased and bring them with you so you can show them what you really purchased if you have any problems. I thought 2 problems for one customer was enough to indicate that something is wrong with their system. guest relations also impressed me when I was called down to the desk the day after our midnight air-conditioning fumes experience. I was offered a voucher to have the clothes in my closet cleaned to remove the smell. Remember, I packed 9 bags of luggage so there were way too many clothes in my closet. I told them that I was fine with my Febreze but I'd love to get some underwear and t-shirts washed. No problem and I was happy. I do want to note that I was on vacation and I was having a wonderful time so I wasn't functioning in my insistent, frustrated and demanding customer mode. I did see several of those kinds of people at the desk in front of me. One lady had been offered dinner for two at Chops and a bottle of wine to solve her problem and now she was down there demanding a second bottle of wine. I don't know what her problem was but the way she behaved embarrassed me. The staff was very gracious and professional.
Our stateroom had plenty of room for 1 adult and 3 large teen boys. In fact, with the couch pulled all the way out to make a full bed and the pull down bed we could have slept 5 people in our cabin. I used the balcony everyday and it had plenty of legroom to lounge in the sun and relax. I especially enjoyed the glass balcony wall. It made viewing the sea easy from anywhere in our room. Standing at the balcony railing and looking straight down you did not look directly to the sea but to the roof of the promenade. Instead of being disappointed, I was a little comforted that if I fell from my balcony, something was between me and the sea. With 4 people and 9 suitcases we still had plenty of storage room for all our stuff. Only shortage was in hangers which I did bring extras of just in case. The bathroom curtain is the worst. If it's not sticking to you it's letting you flood your bathroom floor.
Cabo San Lucas We reserved a trip with CaboEcoTours in Cabo San Lucas. The trip was advertised as a kayak/snorkel/zodiac trip on a catamaran with a bar-b-que lunch and open bar. We booked online using a credit card but I was told to pay cash at the time of the tour. Even though at that port they used tenders, we were easily able to make one of the first transits of the day and checked in with CaboEco (really EcoCat) about 1.5 hrs early. The check-in point was really easy to find right on the main boardwalk. That gave us time to shop, exchange UD dollars for pesos (1US for 12.2 pesos as of 3/24/10) and look around. The catamaran could book 100 and I counted about 64 guests on our tour. Drinks started right away abut I had to wait a little while for non-alcoholic drinks to be available for the kids. No icy-blender drinks but lots of juice and pop for mixing. Everyone was fitted for snorkeling prior to reaching the beach which was about an hour's ride away from the port. It looked like a real beautiful beach but the guide said that because 3 other tour boats were there already we couldn't go to the beach but just snorkel. They had everyone jump off the boat and swim to the area with fish. We were not asked if we wanted to kayak or zodiac. Life vests were offered but not required. Only a couple children used them for snorkeling and by the time I reached the snorkel area I wished I had worn one. We did see fish but not many and the water was semi cloudy. They blew a horn when they were ready for us to come back. I did see a couple kayaks in the water when I came back and a small inflatable motor boat tied to the ship with a crew-member fiddling with the engine. I think that must have been the zodiac. We spent a total of about 1 hour at the beach that we were not allowed to swim to. I also never saw more than a dozen people on the beach so I question there might have been another reason why they didn't want us on the beach. While we were swimming, they fired up a propane bar-b-q, like I have in my back yard, and grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. The meat was joined with a potato salad (kind of warm) and a tossed salad. This was not the kind of "Bar-b-q lunch" I expected but after all the swimming, it tasted really good. It got a little wild on the way home with the tequila shots flowing freely and my teen boys got to see a body shot up close but not personally. We got a really good deal on the trip so it was worth what we paid. Make sure you use the bathroom before boarding. The ones on the boat are not great. All together, I wouldn't repeat the tour because once was enough but it was a value for the money and I would recommend it if you want to spend the day away from port and not spend a lot of money.
In Puerto Vallarta we booked a sailing on the MARIGALANTE PIRATE SHIP through Puerto Vallarta Tours. It was the best! It was a continuous, interactive experience starting when your personal pirate meets you at the cruise ship until you step off the dock. The service was wonderful the food was great the entertainment was professional and engaging. The snorkeling was the best. The crew feeds the schools of fish at the private resort beach we are taken to assuring that you will be swarmed by hundreds of vibrant blue and yellow fish in your diving area. The crew swims with you and dive down to the ocean floor to catch puffer fish with their bare hands. They bring the fish to the surface and share the wonder of them with us. The beach is set up with an open bar, beach chairs, umbrellas and games. A special treasure hunt is put together for the little kids. Kayaks and a very exciting banana boat ride are available also. We had plenty of time at the beach to enjoy ourselves. On the boat ride back we were served a very delicious well prepared lunch. There were lots of interactive games, dancing, prizes and even some whale watching while we traveled back to the port. This excursion was the best part of our trip. It was not offered by RCCL but my sister took it with NCL last year. I was glad I was able to find it online. I had two comments or concerns to express. 1st, I had a hard time making sure that we would make it on time due to our port docking schedule and local time changes. Everything worked out alright and we were docked over an hour before we set sail on the pirate ship but we were nervous. 2nd, I had my tip in cash ready for my personal pirate prior to boarding but at the end of the sailing we were told that we were to tip the “crew” also which included the captain, entertainment, chef , & gift shop staff? I had to decide to not tip my pirate as much as I’d planned and split his tip with the crew or come up with more cash for the crew tip. I had planned a +20% tip so I felt okay splitting it 15/5 between my pirate and the crew. This was a great trip and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Puerto Vallarta. Decidedly a trip worth repeating next time we're there.
We went to Stone Island on our own. Outside of the taxi terminal at the dock entrance turn left. Walk the sidewalk until you get to the end of that street, maybe 3 long blocks. There was a large sign pointing out the Stone Island water taxi. We paid $2 each for a round trip ticket. The beach was beautiful and it had great sand. We lounged around and played in the water. The lounge chairs we claimed were great and we expected to have to buy lots of food but the couple of hours we were there no one came to take our order?! We had a few geocaches to find and one was at Benji's Pizza just across the little bay from the main beach at Stone Island. Two of my sons decided to swim to Benji's, one having an unfortunate encounter with a spiky sea urchin on the way. I walked back to where we were dropped off by the water taxi, turned left and walked the berm to the end. Here we found the secret to Stone Island. Eli, your typical blond California surfer dude runs Benji's Pizza. He runs around in board shorts and bare feet at an open-air restaurant on the sand. It was so laid back and relaxed that when Eli would come to take your order, he was more likely than not to just sit down and start shooting the breeze, totally forgetting what he came there to do! We ordered a half Hawaiian, half Shrimper pizza that was to die for. The sand at this side of Stone Island was not as smooth but it was much quieter and there were no beach venders bothering you. Don't miss Benji's Pizza at Stone Island in Mazatlan!
We arrived in Acapulco on Palm Sunday. Many people toured the Catholic Cathedral and received intricately braided and twisted palm leaves in honor of the day. We had researched the location and meeting times for our own denomination of church and found that a chapel was only 5 blocks from the cruise terminal. It is amazing what you can find on Google Earth! Three of the 4 of us knew a little High School Spanish but that didn't come close to helping us understand 3 hours of services with no interpretations. We were given a Spanish hymn book and since the tunes were familiar we just sang along in Spanish. They did have a missionary from Hermiston, Oregon there and he helped a little but he had been in Mexico speaking the language long enough that he really had to think hard to switch back to English. It was really fun and we felt very welcome. Not a normal cruise vacation experience but one we will always remember.
We planned a day at La Playa Las Gatas because I read that there was a reef to snorkel there. First, we wanted to shop in Zihuatanjo. All the normal boardwalk shops were there with their 3/$10 t-shirts (that shrink 3 sizes in the first wash) by the dock but the beautiful street shops of Zihuatanjo don't open until 10 or 11AM. It was early so we took a water taxi over to Las Gatas. The droves of locals at the dock would like to sell you water taxi tickets for up to $20 per person. Don't pay that. Right at the shore end of the dock is a blue building with a window where they sell round-trip tickets for $3.50. It is clearly painted on the wall of the building and I walked pass it 2 times before I asked a fellow cruiser getting on a taxi where he got his ticket. Once you get over to the beach you are expected to tip the driver of the taxi. At Las Gatas we found rocks under the water but very few fish. The beach was beautiful and the sand was very fine. The beach is wall-to-wall restaurants with their lounge chairs actually in the water in order to claim as much beach space as possible. We found the price of food and drinks outrageous and some places charging $5 to sit in their chairs even if you ordered food and drinks. We stayed a couple hours and it became so crowded and our service so poor we decided to leave. The restaurant we landed at lied about having a fresh water shower (it was saltwater)and took a 20 peso tip out of our change when we paid before leaving. When we returned to Zihuatanejo the shops were open and the shopping was great. Wonderful silver and carved stone and lots of choices. Unfortunatly, we were all chafing from the saltwater and were quite too uncomfortable to shop much. I do need to note that we found out that because it was Easter week in Mexico, the whole country was on vacation. The crowds at Las Gatas along with the high prices and poor service were hopefully due to the fact that the beach restaurants were planing on making a lot of money that week and didn't need to be nice, people would probably be willing to pay them what they wanted for chairs and such.