2 Miami to Panama Canal & Central America Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas Cruise Reviews

Preface: We've cruised on many cruise ships, seen many places, however, we have never taken a cruise ship through the Panama Canal. We chose this 14-day itinerary because it finished up in our home town of San Diego. This was a very ... Read More
Preface: We've cruised on many cruise ships, seen many places, however, we have never taken a cruise ship through the Panama Canal. We chose this 14-day itinerary because it finished up in our home town of San Diego. This was a very relaxing, enjoyable cruise and we hope to do this itinerary again. We began our trip on Friday by traveling from San Diego to Ft. Lauderdale on SouthWest Airlines. We love SouthWest Air and traveling into Ft. Lauderdale was a plus, since we didn't have the hectic traffic that can be experienced at the Miami International Airport. It is only a 20 minute drive from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami. We rented a car in Ft. Lauderdale since we were visiting relatives in Miami before our Sunday embarkation. We booked the InterContinental Hotel in Miami near Bayside Marketplace with points we had accumulated over the years, and enjoyed this hotel very much. We had a suite on the 29th floor which overlooked the cruise port. It was also a plus to be able to drop off our Hertz car at the kiosk in the lobby of the hotel, rather than having to return it to Hertz in the City of Miami (just a few short blocks from the hotel). We had a wonderful Cruise Critic group dinner at Bubba Gumps at the Bayside Marketplace on Saturday evening. Great food, good friends, and a perfect way to start off our journey through the Panama Canal! Embarkation: Embarkation was a piece of cake! We are Diamond members and arrived at the cruise port at 10:30 AM and were amazed to find that check-in was followed up by boarding immediately at 11:00 AM! This was a fantastic start to the cruise. Cabin: We prefer to cruise in AFT cabins and this was no exception. We originally booked 9256, but had some friends that had never cruised in the AFT cabins, so we booked 9258 and asked them to book 9256. We were glad that we had the AFT cabins on this itinerary, since the majority of the transit through the canal was seen from our cabin balcony. Our Cabin Attendant, Fannie, was a gem! We simply cannot say enough about her. She made the "BEST" towel animals we have ever seen! She was gracious and always had a smile on her face. Itinerary: This itinerary is a good one if you LOVE sea days. There are 7 sea days and 7 "ports", providing a lot of time to relax and lots to see. Aruba: Aruba is a fun port! The main interest here is their beautiful beaches and bars. We booked the "Jolly Pirates" excursion on our own, since it was not offered by RCCL. We read lots of good things about it on CC, and were very glad we booked this tour! It was a very nice way to snorkel, swim, and see some of the coastline of Aruba. The tour ended around 1:30 PM and we headed back to the ship to take showers, get dressed, and head out for the Kookookonuku Pub and Bar Crawl provided by RCCL Excursions. We didn't do the "dinner" crawl, but rather the later version. We were glad we did. The dinner version was longer and started earlier. We had the opportunity to eat dinner onboard in the Windjammer before heading out for the evening which was a plus in our book. Panama Canal Cruising: The reason we booked this cruise was to see the workings of the Panama Canal. We were definitely given a great show, with some great weather. It is very hot when you transit the canal (100 degrees is not uncommon). We got up very early (5:30 am) and went to the bow (heliport) of the ship to watch the ship enter the locks. I highly suggest watching the beginning from the bow (East to West itinerary) since it really is the best view. After transiting the first set of locks, we went up to the Windjammer and ate some breakfast. The rest of the day was spent transiting the remaining two locks and then stopping in Fuerte Amador for those folks who wished to tender to Panama City and take tours. We chose to stay onboard and relax since the intense heat really made us very lethargic and tired. Costa Rica: We were originally scheduled to port in Puntarenas. Although many of the cruisers were never given the port change information, some very observant CC members noticed that the RCCL website had changed our itinerary to "tender" in Puerto Caldera. We had a private tour with Mauricio (see "Ports" on CC) and it was just lucky that we noticed the change of itinerary. It seems that RCCL gives advantage to Celebrity when porting, since the Celebrity ship was docked in Puntarenas along with the Norwegian Sun. We chose to zipline in Mahogany Park and then have a traditional Costa Rican lunch, see the alligators and do some shopping. We loved Costa Rica (although very hot temperatures there)! This is one place I would love to visit again. Check out the "feather paintings" while you are there. The art is amazing. Huatulco, Mexico: This is a very interesting port. The area is very young for a Mexican port, and the community is trying to build itself up around some lovely beaches and resorts. We took the RCCL Swim and Sail and enjoyed this tour very much. The water can be very rough in Huatulco, so be careful if you book water excursions. Some of the group we were with spent their time at a private beach and enjoyed the day very much. Although you can go to the beach right from the cruise ship port, a short cab ride will bring you to some very pristine, unspoiled beaches very close by the ship. Acapulco: We booked a private tour in Acapulco. This was our first time in Acapulco and certainly wouldn't make it a priority to go back. We booked our tour with "Oscar" through the CC "Ports" board. Our first stop was the San Diego Fort which is directly across from where the cruise ship ports. You can easily do this via taxi! Our next destination was to take a tour through the hills of "old Acapulco". It is a very depressed area, although very interesting. We saw some of the old hotels and had a lovely stop at the Hotel that Johnny Weismuller made famous. We then headed over to the "Cliff Divers" and waited for about 30 minutes until the show began. Our next stop was up to Senor Frogs for lunch and then over to the "new" side of Acapulco where all of the Resort hotels are located. My suggestions: visit the San Diego Fort and the Cliff Divers. Driving is very dangerous in Acapulco and I would definitely advise NOT renting a car! Cabo San Lucas: We really enjoyed this port and were pleasantly surprised at how grown up and nice this area has become. We visited Cabo in 1987 and couldn't believe all of the changes! We went into the main part of town, did some shopping, visited the "factory tequila store" and then headed over to Cabo Wabo for some good times with cruise folks before returning to the ship. San Diego: This is my home town and certainly a great place to visit with lots to see and do. Dining Room: Our Dining Room table was terrific. We had previously, through the use of the "Roll Call" thread for our sailing on CC, put together a group of us to dine together on this trip. We enjoyed the good company and friendship very much. Our Waiter, Emanuelle and our Assistant Waiter, Maria, were top drawer! We thought the service and food in the Dining Room was Good to Excellent. Entertainment: Entertainment on the ship was hit and miss. We tried to attend all of the evening shows. We walked out on the "John Davidson" show. His antics and mocking of old age were enough for us. The highlights were the shows presented by the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers. Kudos to all of those folks for a job well done! Mystery Dinner (Portofinos): This was something that has never been offered on any of our other cruises and we decided to see what it was all about. We booked it the first thing after embarkation. We had a great time. The dinner started out in the Colony Club with appetizers and drinks, and then moved into the Portofinos Restaurant onboard where the "players" were seated with the guests. At the end of the evening, the murderer was revealed and prizes were given to those who guessed the murderer correctly. The dinner is an abbreviated menu from Portofinos and garlic was abundant! If you have never done this before, I highly suggest it! The cost was around $49.00 per person and was a very good way to enjoy an evening of fun, food and entertainment. Disembarkation: There was no "priority disembarkation". Platinum and Diamond members were given a separate area to wait for their turn to leave the ship. RCCL has decided to now allow those with flights to leave first due to security reasons and lines at the airports. If I had a flight out that day, I would have been very happy with the process. Since I live in San Diego, our turn to leave did not occur until 10:00 AM. Read Less
Sail Date April 2005
Cruise review - Radiance of the Seas Panama Canal full transition (Westbound) April 17-May 1 This was a special cruise booked a year ago, with it being a 14-day cruise. RCI don't do many longer cruises as they now seem to focus on ... Read More
Cruise review - Radiance of the Seas Panama Canal full transition (Westbound) April 17-May 1 This was a special cruise booked a year ago, with it being a 14-day cruise. RCI don't do many longer cruises as they now seem to focus on mass-market 7 day cruises so this was a great opportunity to enjoy their longer product. Radiance of the Seas was the first "Radiance" class ship and is now 3½ years old. She is still in fine form with very few signs of age. We are not casino people so didn't use that facility. We mainly drank in the champagne bar and Schooner's. Pre-cruise arrangements. We booked this cruise as a package through our travel agents. This included indirect flights from London Heathrow to Miami through NYC. The transatlantic flights were very comfortable and the food and service was markedly improved from last time we flew with AA. We then transferred to the Sofitel Hotel in Miami for one night. We found the hotel informal and comfortable, with a good bar area and excellent breakfast the next morning. We then transferred by coach to the pier at 11am the next morning. The whole package was flawless and congratulations to the travel agent for putting together such a superlative package Embarkation. Yet again this was a bit disappointing since the "platinum & diamond" queue was longer than the normal queue and we could have saved time by using the normal line. We also got treated with derision by one of the staff as he didn't seem to believe we were platinum members. Once on though it was fine. There was a huge queue for embarkation photos which we just skipped. Luggage was in our room by 1.30pm. Cabin. We had a standard inside cabin on deck 8 (8635) which was fine. There were some plumbing issues and the toilet regularly failed to flush and this seemed to be a deck-wide problem. The showers are very small on these ships. Great cabin attendant in Dennis who was attentive and unobtrusive. Food/Dining. Windjammer cafe: This was better than normal, with a wide selection of food of very high quality. We ate here most breakfasts and lunchtimes. Seaview cafe: We ate snacks here a couple of days which were of OK quality. Cascades Dining Room: We had table 520 second seating. We had an absolutely superb dining room experiences as we were blessed with an exceptional waiting-on team (Mehmet Soyler from Turkey, Dev Thomas from Trinidad and Branka from Slovakia) and wonderful fellow diners who made the evening meal one of the highlights of the cruise. The food was usually of very high quality. We had the platinum wine package which seemed good value. Best meals were prime rib and duck. Portofinos: We ate in here for the Murder Mystery theatre. Enjoyed this very much but the meal was completely saturated with garlic which spoilt it. Entertainment. We were blessed with having Gordon Whatman as our cruise director and he really shone over the 14 days. The entertainment was, by and large, excellent although there were some mixed views on this. The show band, Next Level, were excellent although I didn't really rate the Sandra Mandella Trio who did the classic dance hits. Tom McTigue (comedy) - very funny on day one, usual "cruise humour" John Davidson (musical comedy) - didn't go to this but he had a very mixed reception Jacqi Michaels (vocalist) - was very good Phil Palisoul (comedy) - did not see Piano Man (production show) - absolutely fabulous. Have to say that the "Piano Man" himself was truly exceptional and the rest of the cast were not too far behind. This was a marvellous show and certainly the best we have seen on this ship, well done RCI. El Gaucho! (Cowboy) - didn't tickle our fancy but was well received by those who went Lenny Welch (singer) - a bit passed it really and a little sad Martin Lewis (magician) - very funny indeed Blair Shannon (singer/comedy) - what an exceptional man! Great singer and very funny, seemed a true gentleman and also sang with the showband as well. A pleasure to see and wish him well. David Pengally (singer/ukulele) - OK I suppose, not my cup of tea Sean O'Shea (impressionist) - very aggressive with the crowd, did not like him Welcome to our World (production show) - again a true showcase of talent, did not have the wow factor of Piano Man but still exceptional. Craig Dahn ("Showman") - did not see him as went to Portofinos Steve Carte (Comedy Juggler) - was excellent! Captain. Again we were blessed to have Captain Kent Ringborn on his penultimate cruise. An exceptionally kind, funny and articulate man, he tops it all by singing regularly throughout the cruise. He completely won his guests over and I am glad we had the opportunity of meeting him. Open Decks. We used the solarium quite a lot since the weather was truly blistering. The ship had the solarium roof open when in port which was nice. There was very few problems getting a sunbed which was a pleasant change. Meet and Mingle. This cruise had an unbelievable active Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle group (5,200 posts going into the cruise) and it was a delight to meet all these people at the M&M party on day two. There were around 50 folk and there was a gift exchange. A little disappointing not to see Gordon there. We made good friends and this blossomed over the two weeks which made for a really unforgettable cruise experience. Hopefully the thread will stay active and everyone will keep in touch. Member Events. The welcome back party was OK, had to be split in two due to the numbers, and again the event was made by Captain Kent. The platinum "brunch" on day 9 was good, had the opportunity to chat to the captain, but we felt we again experienced a bit of "inverse ageism" since no-one else bothered to speak to us, which is strange since we (hopefully) have 50+ years if cruising ahead of us. Destinations. Aruba - we have been to Aruba before so didn't do a formal tour. Those that did did not seem to enjoy it. We had a good time on Palm Beach and sea was lovely. Many of the M&M people went to Carlos and Charlies and seemed to have a great time, do that next time. Panama Canal Transit - the experience of a lifetime. Great transit of the Canal in fabulous weather, accompanied by the Norwegian Sun all the way to further illustrate the miracle that is the Panama Canal. Hit the Gatun locks at 7am, then cruised the Gatun Lake and had a slight delay before cruising the Gailliard cut and getting to the Pedro Miguel lock and 2.30 and Miraflores at around 3.15pm. This truly needs to be done if you haven't done it already. Fuerte Amador - sadly couldn't get off the ship as clashed with dinner and also the tendering was a bit of a shambles, but apparently not too much to do when you get ashore Caldera, Costa Rica - one-horse port, not much to do there at all, hired taxi/tour to take us around Costa Rica but a little disappointing. Better to do rainforest I think. Annoying that Infinity and Norwegian Sun pushed us out of port in Puntarenas. Huatulco, Mexico - very pretty place, we took a water taxi to the beach (Bahia de Maguey) where we had pleasant beers and also watched the local people frolic on the beach. Nice day Acapulco, Mexico - did long tour which was very good, got excellent view of the cliff divers and the scenes around the town. Didn't realise the place had so many (VW) beetles!) Expected it to be a bit squalid and was pleasantly surprised. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico - Very pretty went to Lover's Beach by Water taxi which was very nice indeed. Tendering worked much better. Miscellaneous. Joe Condrill was guest lecturer on board who did 7 lectures during sea-days and was full of interesting information. He also seemed everywhere on the ship when he was not lecturing! I did not go to all of his lectures (3) but they seemed well attended. Craft classes and scrapbooking - These were good fun, and complementary. Dancing - Unfortunately the trio did not inspire people to dance very much but big up to James and Emily who really tried and were very good dance instructors. We have now learnt the Sweetheart in cha-cha which we did not grasp on the cruise. The lessons were too popular really with a good 50-60 people there. Trivia - went to several trivia events which were fun. Debarkation. Had to be up ridiculously early (6.15am) for immigration and then had over an hours wait in line. Then had another two hours before we got off the ship. Transfer to airport (handled by RCI) was exceptionally poor and the only bad part of the cruise. Summary. This was an exceptional cruise with an exceptional captain, CD, and staff. The ports of call were usually excellent and the Panama Canal is simply an experience not to be missed. Very few poor points, only the pier arrangements again let down the company. Looking forward to our next RCI cruise! Read Less
Sail Date April 2005
Radiance of the Seas Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.2
Dining 4.0 4.0
Entertainment 4.0 3.7
Public Rooms 4.0 4.3
Fitness Recreation 4.5 4.1
Family 4.0 4.1
Shore Excursion 3.5 3.8
Enrichment 2.0 3.5
Service 4.5 4.4
Value For Money 4.5 3.8
Rates N/A 4.3

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