Review of Radiance of the Seas, 8-day eastern Caribbean cruise, October 28, 2006 - November 5, 2006
First, a breakdown of the ship:
The Room - I was pleasantly surprised that the D1 category room was a bit more accommodating than I was expecting. Blame the fact that my last 4 cruises were in minisuites, but even though the D1 is slightly larger than the standard balcony room, I was really expecting worse. Entering, there are 3 closet doors to the right, and the bathroom door on the left. Then the desk/vanity on the right, with drawers and mirrored cabinet doors on both sides, and on the left, a full-length couch (ours was not the pull-out variety for a 3rd person). Next to the desk on the right was a full height console, with minifridge below, TV just above, and a large cabinet at the top with your safe and an extra shelf for storage. Along the trailing outside edge of this console was a shelf unit with 5 smaller rounded shelves. The beds on the left were positioned close to the window nicely the beds were separated from the couch and vanity area by thick full-length curtains which could completely bisect the room. And at the balcony doors were another set of thick curtains to seal out light from outside.
The Closet - The first closet door opened to 6 wide and decently high slanted shelves, while the other two opened to the clothes pole. There was plenty of closet room for two people's clothes I left the drawers in the room to the female and easily stacked my dresser goods on the shelves in the closet. The pole was high enough for men's slacks and women's gowns to hang off the floor, and plenty of shoe room beneath.
The Bathroom - Small and efficient, typical Royal Caribbean. Small sink, small medicine cabinet, under-sink shelf for bulk, small angled toilet, and small round shower. The shower was a half-circle, with the other half being the curtain which does tend to become intimate with you when you shower&but there's enough room to spin around and the showerhead is the handheld variety so you can access everything. The water in the shower was able to get very hot, and had good pressure too.
The Balcony - This is why I love the aft cabins! Access is through a single sliding door, with the other door fixed. The balcony was very deep, equipped with two small chairs and a small end table. It was at least 6 feet to the rail from the door, and another 3 feet extended out under the rail because of the diagonal slope of the glass. Width was probably 7 feet. We requested recliners from our cabin attendant, and he had them on the balcony by the evening turn-down on that first day. The balcony easily handled two recliners, as well as the two chairs and table, with room to walk around them all. Roughly half of the balcony is covered from the deck above, with the other half extending beyond and visible from other decks nice to have both choices. The right side of the balcony was a steel bulkhead, and the left was a glass divider that you couldn't see through, or under. The balconies next door could see into yours if they stood at the rail and looked around intentionally, since the dividers were slanted back.
The Ship - The Centrum is beautiful stretching from deck 4 to deck 11, with nice space at the bottom for a piano stand and musicians and seating throughout plus a lobby bar. Water flows down the aft sides, and the glass elevators run on the port side. Along the Centrum, on deck 4 are Guest Relations & purser, Deck 5 the Cafe Latte-tudes and RCCL Online, Deck 6 the Champagne bar, Deck 7 Business Services, Deck 8 Explorer's Court, Deck 9 Library, Deck 10 Yacht Club and Concierge Club, and Deck 11 the pool deck.
The Aurora Lounge was the typical two-deck show lounge, with good viewpoints from most of the seats and a wide stage. I personally prefer the lounges that have love-seats and couch seating for groups and friends, as opposed to the single theater-style seating as in the Aurora&but otherwise a fine theater.
The Colony Club/Schooner Bar is a beautiful space entering through the ship's skeleton hull flanked by cannons and powder kegs, and into the long schooner bar decorated with riggings and masts, the Schooner also doubled as the nighttime piano bar. Behind the Schooner bar itself, the two special dining restaurants, Chops and Portofino's. Continuing aft, you pass through the billiard room, with two leveled tables, plus two couches and televisions on the other side showing sports games. Then into the Colony Club lounge, with bar, game/card room, main dance floor, another larger aft bar, and lots of mixed couch/chair seating all along the big rear windows - a very nice space for daytime bingo, midday events, and nighttime acts and music. Definitely my favorite lounge space on the ship.
The Casino had plenty of slots, ranging even down to penny and nickel slots, and up to $5 slots. Tables were arranged throughout the center poker and blackjack well accommodated, but only one roulette table, as well as other assorted casino tables. My only gripe here was the layout of the tables on the starboard forward entrance into the casino this was a main traffic artery for people passing through the casino flanked by slots on one side, and tables on the other. With people seated at the tables and slots, there was just enough space for one person at a time to pass through&a real bottleneck throughout the cruise. Yet, strangely, behind the tables, the dealers had more than 6-8 feet of empty space before the wall with far more room than needed. These tables really should be backed up a few feet, leaving plenty of room for the dealers and opening up that horrible bottleneck. The Sports Bar was just forward of the casino always packed on this cruise with the college and NFL football fans the bar is circular and flanked by chairs and couches, with plenty of televisions to watch different sporting events.
The Starquest/Crown Lounge, at the top of the ship, was a very large space with large dance floor, big rotating bar, tables all around, and a step-down ringing 230 degrees around the outside windows with couches and chairs. Most late-night club and dance music was held here, along with special late-night events on theme nights. Tucked into the port-aft corner of this lounge is a separate and smaller side lounge with bar, piano, and small dance floor this space also substituted for the Concierge Lounge from 5:30 - 8:30pm each evening to accommodate the large Diamond/Diamond Plus crowd's free cocktails (the Concierge Club downstairs would be too small to accommodate, and has no bar facilities). Overall, a nice place and great nighttime bar. During the day, it is mostly empty, which would make it a decent spot to read, or cool off while watching the pool deck below but one small gripe: all day long, they piped in reggae/dancehall/rap music up there&which would be fine, except the pool-deck band is clearly and loudly audible up there too&which would also be fine on its own. But sitting in the Starquest in the afternoon meant your ears had to be assaulted by dueling reggae/dancehall music with the pool band and dancehall over the speakers at nearly equal volume. They really should turn off the piped-in music while the band downstairs is playing that's probably the main reason that lounge stays so empty during the day (every other RCCL cruise I've been on, that room has remained popular during the day with readers and people wanting to cool off.
The Cascades Dining Room - very elegant, beautiful space. I like the large mural on the aft wall, the curtains flowing down the columns throughout the open central atrium, and the double staircases flanking the flowing waterfall. Tables seemed well arranged, enough to allow room to walk throughout the tables without asking anyone to scoot in. Access on decks 4 or 5 from either port or starboard. Our table for 4 on deck 5 starboard side had a couch on one side and two chairs on the other a nice touch.
Outside decks - the Solarium was beautiful Asian elephants, waterfalls, columns, hardwoods and greenery beautifully designed and decorated, and mostly quiet all the time, devoid of the children, pool music, or daily contests. The starboard side included the small cafe, serving pizza, wraps, or hotdogs, and the port side had a nice bar. On our cruise, it remained covered throughout, allowing the air conditioning to keep it reasonable in the hot Caribbean. The main pool deck was always crowded and popular, with bars on decks 11 and 12, and lots of chairs all around. The sports deck area, with ball court, rock climbing, children's center, and minigolf is to the aft, with the Seaview Cafe tucked in behind the children's play area (on Brilliance, this cafe served wraps, gourmet deli sandwiches, salads, etc on the Radiance, it served more American fare, burgers, chicken wings, chili, fries, etc). Lots of viewing decks at the front of the ship, with deck 11 wrapping around, a drop-down to a narrow deck 10 viewing deck, a deck 12 wrap around, and the upper deck 13 which also included the more adult sunning area. And of course, on Promenade deck 5, there are chairs all along the two sides, and all the way forward you can go up a flight of stairs to access the helicopter pad on the bow.
Windjammer - I've never been much of a Windjammer person it's probably the space on every ship that has the largest crowd most of the time. Since I rarely eat breakfasts, and like smaller lunches, I was rarely tempted to fight the Calcutta-bus-station-like crowd who seem to occupy this room from 6am to 8pm, taking in food intravenously non-stop. The 4 times I ate there, I found the space very comfortably laid out plenty of service areas, and a nice outdoor (covered) dining area all the way around the aft of the ship as well as the indoor and a/c space in the middle. Food was good by my standards no complaints though I mostly made a salad or grabbed a sandwich or wrap. Unfortunately it was usually a very crowded space, and I tended to visit only on in-port days when the crowd was off the ship.
As already mentioned, I was fine with Windjammer's selection, though I never really tried the full hot meal selection, so I can't comment on that. The sandwiches and wraps were good, salad materials cold and fresh, hot dogs and omelets fresh to order, and more than enough selection for me. I never tried Seaview Cafe's selections I had been hoping it was more like Brilliance, but seemed to be geared more towards snack-like stuff and kids' fare. I occasionally grabbed pizza at the Solarium not NY style, but good taste and usually freshly baked, plus a decent selection of pizza toppings each day.
In the main dining room, I only ever ate dinner so I can't speak for lunches and breakfasts. I found the dinner selections to be good, and food of good quality. Soups and sauces were quite good in my opinion, meats always cooked properly to order, and a decent selection each night for picky eaters. Deserts were decent some hits and some misses, but overall quite good (coffee crème brulee was quite delicious). The roast duck stood out, as did the steak bernaise. Servings were at times a bit smaller than experienced on other cruises but they were always more than willing to serve double entrees on request. The new trend of serving the bread by the piece as opposed to leaving the bread dish on the table seems a bit silly and certainly limits the amount of bread most people eat as it doesn't come around often. Overall, I thought the food was quite good, and had a very positive dining experience.
Our cabin attendant Steve, from Goa (India), was excellent, and nearly transparent. We never bumped into him working on the room when we wanted access, yet somehow the room was always made up or turned down exactly when it was supposed to be. He was also graciously able to provide the two chaise lounge chairs for the balcony on the first day, and was always readily available for any request within a minute. Excellent steward!
Our waitstaff were Jerry and Lyn, from the Philippines. Our waiter Jerry was friendly, quick, and willing to cater to any request. Assistant waiter Lyn was always where she was needed, refilling drinks, opening wine, bringing bread, and cleaning up. Jerry and Lyn were a couple which really seemed to make them work perfectly together. Service was always perfect and Jerry was very accommodating to requests for extra entrees, different appetizers, and special orders for all of his tables.
Concierge Club attendant Willie was excellent as a concierge, as a bartender, and as a pianist and guitarist as well! Always accommodating, and funny at cocktail time, the regular Diamond crowd wouldn't miss a day before or after dinner on deck 13 at Willie's bar.
Itinerary - Day by Day cruise breakdown:
Day 1 as a local, I didn't have to worry about arranging flights to the ship I was lucky enough to be able to sleep in, have a nice breakfast, leave my house around 1:30pm, and take a 25 minute ride to Port Everglades and the ship.
Arriving at 2pm or so, the lines for check-in were no more than 10 people deep and they seemed to be processing quickly. Fortunately, the C&A Diamond lane was empty and awaiting us, so we were able to walk right up to a check-in desk and board (friends of mine who were not Diamond members told me they were about 15 minutes behind us in the regular line so still pretty quick).
Coming into the ship on deck 5 (Promenade), and entering the Centrum, we climbed two flights of stairs to deck 7, and started the long trek aft to our room, 7176. I love aft-facing rooms for the quiet and the view, but fair warning to anyone who can't do long walks the first stairs or elevators you can access are the ones in the Centrum at midship so you'll be making that half-a-ship long walk to and from your room many times a day! I didn't mind the walking and thought the room was worth it, but those with walking issues should be aware. Cabin 7176 sits just about dead-center in the aft it was just as easy to get to from the starboard or port hallway from the Centrum.
Day 2 at sea. Just a nice day to relax, sun, read, or whatever it is you like to do. Weather was hot and clear, seas were calm. That night was formal night dress up time!
Day 3 San Juan, Puerto Rico. Not being a big tour person, I elected to walk into Old San Juan, and enjoy the 400-500 year old architecture and sights. Gate of San Juan, the city walls, Iglesia de San Jose and remains of Ponce de Leon, El Morro fortress, the old city squares, pigeon park, and lots of shops all along the way. It was hot&a light sunshower lasted a few minutes, but otherwise good weather and a favorite stop of mine.
Day 4 Phillipsburg, St. Maarten. Slightly crowded with two other large ships in port with us I just walked into Phillipsburg along the marina and beach boardwalk, then up and down Front Street shops before heading back to the ship sweating and looking forward to a cool drink. Casual night for dinner.
Day 5 St. John, Antigua. Finally someplace I hadn't been to yet! St. John was not really different from any other Caribbean city lots of shops, crowded, nice near the docks and not as nice the farther you get from it. I was happy to find a cab and negotiate a rate to Falmouth Bay and English Harbor on the south end of the island. A roughly 30 minute drive through the lush fertile farming and grazing heart of the island, through small and pretty villages, poor but nice little homes, one rough spot (where a local official had been shot and killed by police answering a domestic, causing lots of local anger the road had been blocked, and a bonfire was lit with loud music and lots of angry looking people our cabdriver deftly negotiated narrow neighborhood roads around the problem area), and finally to the absolutely beautiful English Harbor. Nelson's dockyards are wonderfully restored to their Napoleonic colonial era glory, and the harbor itself is beautiful. Shirley Heights provides a beautiful view of the island and neighboring islands. I would love to go again, and would immediately go back to English Harbor to spend more time. This night was Halloween aboard normally casual night, but costumes were quite common, and on board Halloween parties followed.
Day 6 St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. we were late coming in, and docked about 2 hours later than expected a lack of pilot boats was blamed as there were 4 vessels there that day. Having been there dozens of times, I decided to find a cab ride to Mountaintop for some panoramic pictures, then head into town for some shopping. I ended up getting a cab with 8 other people who wanted to get to Sapphire Beach, and since I wasn't in a rush, I just went along for the ride. After dropping them off, the cabbie took me to several viewpoints and then to Mountaintop. Afterwards, I got dropped off in Charlotte Amalie, shopped for a few hours, then caught a cab back to the ship. All in all, a very nice day. Sailing out, the seas were glass and another fantastic sunset, then casual night for dinner.
That night we had a medical emergency onboard, and made an unscheduled detour to San Juan, where we stayed a mile or so off the harbor and a tug came out to transfer the passenger to the hospital. We got moving again, though the captain was unsure what that might do to our schedule in Nassau.
Day 7 At sea another relaxing day to enjoy reading, sunning, and eating. Calm day, no rain, very nice. That night was formal again nice that they scheduled those on the at-sea days. Apparently at some point that night, we had another medical emergency aboard in the Champagne bar, where someone had to have CPR performed but I never learned the full details, and it didn't involve any detours. That night, seas turned from glassy to bumpy, and in the early morning hours the ship was rocking and rolling pretty good (I slept like a baby and didn't mind the motion, but my friends aboard who haven't sailed as much said they were a bit queasy and found it even a little scary that doors were opening and stuff on counters was falling down.
Day 8 Nassau we were a few hours late coming into Nassau because of our medical emergency detour, and that morning was some ugly weather. Seas were running 20-25 feet, winds were blowing a near-constant 40-50 knots. Visiting Windjammer for my first breakfast, the crowd was down (possibly because of the foul weather and lots of movement)&as we neared Nassau harbor, the ship was leaning 5-10 degrees to starboard for 30 minutes or more as those winds battered the port side&just a light lean but you were aware that everything was leaning in one direction. Then around 10:45, the ship lurched much harder to starboard, and things got messy. Dishes, glasses, food, and silverware crashed to the floor in Windjammer, at Bingo the board fell over, at many bars, the bottles and glasses fell and crashed, and the pool emptied its top third of water which ran down the starboard deck to the glass windows, where it sloshed up and soaked the few people sitting back there. We finally made the sheltered harbor, but the skies stayed grey and the winds raged all day. I never bothered to get off the ship been there too often and with the weather that foul, there was nothing I really felt the need to see or do.
That night was casual again, and the seas calmed a bit the ride back home was fairly smooth with just a light roll. Of course, the night wasn't perfectly calm, when at 2:45am the speakers throughout the ship called out Bravo Bravo Bravo, Windjammer port 4 several times which I knew to be a fire call. The captain was very quick to come on and announce that there was a fire, but that it was controlled at the moment and more info would follow but not to panic or evacuate. Not too long after, the captain came back to announce the fire was isolated to a dishwasher with an electrical fire, that burned up but did not damage anything else. I had a pillow over my head and tried to sleep through the announcements but my mother was less than calm and wanted to get dressed and get out of the aft of the ship (despite 105+ cruises, she has a complete phobia of fires especially at sea).
Day 9 due to the late-night announcements interrupting us, I decided I was sleeping in, announcements-be-darned. They want you out of the rooms by 8am, but I decided to push that as long as I could. I slept until 8:30, showered, got changed, packed the last of my carry-on, and then heard the Lavendar announcement for debarking at around 9:15am. That was my color, so I called our ride, left the room, went down two flights of stairs, hung a left turn, and walked off the boat! Talk about a smooth and wonderful departure. Customs was only a few minutes, found my luggage below in 5 minutes, and a porter brought us around the side of the terminal building. 10 minutes later, our ride arrived, we loaded up the car, and were home by 10:10am.
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