This was my wife's 20th cruise and my 19th, and for both of us was our 17th on RCL. This is also the year of our 20th anniversary. We chose this cruise because we love Hawaii, we love sea days (have taken a Transatlantic cruise before), and the Radiance class is our favorite in the line. Radiance itself was the first RCL ship we sailed on, and we hadn't been on it since the 2011 refurb, so we were anxious to see it. We booked a Grand Suite since we had so many sea days - Suite 1060, which has the largest balcony on the ship, about 140+ sq. ft. (it's on the aft side of the Centrum "hump"). We favor RCL due to the consistency of the experience and the many perks afforded frequent cruisers (we're Diamond Plus).
The overall experience was very good. Radiance is showing some wear even after the refurb, but it's still a beautiful ship. We tend not to eat in the dining room - we don't necessarily want to spend 2+ hours at dinner, and we don't go on vacation to dress up. We booked a three-meal specialty dining package, selecting Chops, Giovanni's and Samba Grill, and the other evenings we dined in the Windjammer or in port. FYI, the Windjammer typically has several of the same entrees as the dining room, plus all the variety that comes with a buffet. The Diamond Lounge experience was wonderful, thanks to Juan Diego, the Diamond concierge.
We do wish it had been more clear that suite guests have the ability to order from the main dining room menu for room service - we didn't understand that until the last day. We did dine in our suite one night, but the normal room service menu is quite limited. We also wish suite guests had priority deck lounge chairs, as on some other RCL ships, as deck chairs were always hard to find.
Below are our detailed impressions:
Ship: Radiance is very easy to navigate, and rarely feels crowded, since many of the venues are on different decks (unlike the Voyager class with its mall-like Promenade, which always feels - well, like a mall). We only went to one show, a production show, but it was very good. Again, it's showing a bit of wear, but that's to be expected on a ship that sees so many passengers a year.
Cabin: Can't say enough about Suite 1060! The Grand Suite allows plenty of closet space, a bar, separate seating area, and a huge balcony that easily fits two chairs and a small table, plus two lounge chairs and another table. It's on the port side, so sailing from Vancouver to Hawaii we were able to sun on our balcony in the mornings. Upon boarding, we found a half-full coffee cup on the balcony, a used tissue on the shelf behind the safe, and some coins on the floor - unusual for RCL. Also, while packing, we discovered a previous guest's credit card in the safe and their binoculars in a drawer we hadn't used, and took those to Lost & Found. Although we were near the elevators, there was little noise, though we could hear the music in the Centrum some evenings, which we didn't mind.
Dining: The variety in the Windjammer is very good. There were always burgers and hot dogs, pizza, and several curry dishes, as well as some theme stations on different nights, such as a fresh-made pasta station, a Mongolian grill, etc. I was glad to see poached eggs in the buffet line, as the line at the fresh egg station was always quite long, and the scrambled eggs on most ships' buffets (or hotels, for that matter) are generally horrible. I like corned beef hash, and that was available every morning as well. Lunch included plenty of salad options, and the soups were usually very good. Chops is consistently good, with great steaks. Giovanni's was just okay. Samba Grill is a new favorite - a Brazilian-style steakhouse with numerous meat entrees, plus a large salad and soup bar. The soup was delicious, as were the entrees, but come hungry. We can't speak to the desserts, as we're not dessert people.
Entertainment/Activities: Again, we only partook of one production show, which was very good. Since you gain three hours on this westbound itinerary, we found ourselves retiring early and waking up early, so we didn't do much in the way of nighttime entertainment - unfortunate, since we always enjoy the piano music in the Schooner bar, and the evening bands in the Colony Club. That was our choice, but we do wish the piano music would start earlier than 9:30pm. The main band was outstanding - one of the best guitarists I've heard - and they could cover just about anything. They played on the pool deck several times. We don't do bingo, or the casino, or the art auctions, so can't opine about that. Our main activity was the fitness center on the sea days. It was sometimes crowded - often with passengers in street clothes who clearly never go to the gym at home, and sometimes just sat on the equipment listening to the lectures, etc. - but we were always able to get in a workout. We also walked on the track on Deck 12, but there were many people just ambling along the track that we had to dodge.
One very cool experience: I was walking on the track on 9/11, when I could hear the Captain making an announcement. I paused my music and took out my earbuds to listen. He was commemorating that terrible day, and at the end, he asked for a minute of silence. I stopped and stood at the rail at the front of the ship. No one was talking, the music stopped, and they cut the engines. The only thing you could hear was the waves, and the only thing I saw was the vastness of the Pacific. More than 3,000 passengers from many different countries were silent. It was a wonderful tribute, and near the end of that minute, I saw a dolphin leaping into the air in the distance.
Photos: This is an issue for us on every cruise. The photographers insist on forcing passengers into these ridiculous poses that look unnatural in the final product. As a result, we wind up never buying the photos. (We did take our two free ones as Diamond Plus members, but even those were not what we'd have wanted.) I would think the objective would be to sell pictures, not just take pictures. Next time we'll be more assertive in telling them we want to pose ourselves.
Fellow Passengers: This itinerary draws an older crowd, as it's during the school year, longer in duration, and has a lot of sea days, which seem to appeal to families less. We saw more walkers and wheelchairs than kids. That requires patience, as your ship-mates may not get around as quickly as you. We do wish people understood that there are actual lines in the Windjammer, rather than just jumping in front of people to grab that one thing they want. Given the age of the passengers, the elevators can get crowded, but we generally take the stairs.
Embarkation: The facility in Vancouver is a zoo, very poorly laid out. It's not clear where the lines are for luggage drop-off, customs, check-in, etc. and there's lots of walking involved. (That's okay for us, not so much for the many elderly passengers on this itinerary.) It was exacerbated by the fact that both Radiance and Celebrity Solstice were embarking from the same facility at the same time - not a good plan. And note that as suite guests and Diamond Plus members, we had priority boarding. If we hadn't, it would have been a much longer and very frustrating experience. We spent the night before the cruise in a hotel near the airport, and traffic getting to the port was also a zoo. Next time, we'd stay nearer to the port. (We always fly to the port a day early, having missed the first day of a cruise out of San Juan due to a major snafu by Delta Airlines.)
Disembarkation: This was much smoother. The facility in Honolulu is excellent, and we were off the ship in no time. We spent one extra night in Waikiki, and the only issue was the taxi line, but that was due to the rudeness of some of our fellow passengers, who - rather than respect the order of the line and let the first people in line take the next available cab, jumped into the first cab that pulled up near them. Chaos ensued, with people scrambling for the first available cab from any position in the line.
Daily Recap and Ports: As noted, we love the sea days. There's something special about being in the middle of the vastness of the ocean, with nothing but water on the horizon. And it's the ultimate in relaxation; the daily routine is get up, eat breakfast, let that digest a while, work out for a couple of hours (keeps the weight gain at a minimum), have lunch, lie in the sun, clean up, have dinner, enjoy some evening entertainment or have a glass of wine on your balcony, go to bed, then repeat. The weather was generally very good, with clouds on some days, but always some sun. The first full day it was a bit cool on the pool deck, but still in the low 70s, warm enough to get some sun. Also, once on board, cruising out of Vancouver is beautiful.
We rented cars from National in each port, as we've visited each island previously (I made advance reservations). All of the rental locations were at nearby airports, and every port had a rental car shuttle except for Kona, where it was about a $35 cab ride each way to get our car. I learned there's an Enterprise facility right by the port there, and I'd opt for that next time. Other than that, the rental car experience was great, and the shuttles were always timely. Much cheaper than shore excursions - we spent an average of about $60/day plus gas.
Lahaina, Maui: Our first port call was an overnighter. The tender operation was very sloppy - it seemed as though it was the crew's first time. It took about an hour from door to dock (and we had priority tender tickets the first day). The second day, the delay was due to a tender that they had to take out of service because "it wasn't operating properly." Given that the tenders are the ship's lifeboats, that could be a concern. The rental car shuttle was very near the dock, and it was about a ten-minute drive to the National facility. Once we picked up our rental car, we drove across the island to Hali'imaile General Store, a wonderful restaurant on the lower slope of Haleakala, then drove to Wailea. We stay there when we fly to Maui, as it's much more relaxed and less crowded than Kaanapali or Kapalua. We visited the Kea Lani resort, where we usually stay, and the beach, then had an excellent sunset dinner at Ferraro's restaurant at the Four Seasons before returning to Lahaina.
We found a place to park overnight about two blocks off Front Street, on the left side of Dickenson St. It was only $15 (there is a closer lot on the other side of Dickenson, but it cost twice as much), and about a 5-minute walk from the dock. The second morning, we ate breakfast across the street from the lot at a wonderful place called Lahaina Coolers. The server, Frank, was very knowledgeable and friendly, and gave us lots of good tips on what to see and do. After breakfast we went to Kapalua, but it was very windy and cloudy, so we moved to Kaanapali and spent the rest of the day on the beach there. We rented beach chairs for the two days from The Snorkel Store, and Jonathan, the sales rep there, was also very knowledgeable and friendly. The rental rate was $5/day for each chair, but he only charged us for the one day.
Hilo, Hawaii (Big Island): We'd only been to Hilo once, so it was less familiar to us. We docked there, and took the shuttle to the airport to pick up our car (about five minutes away). We ate breakfast at Ken's House of Pancakes, which was fantastic. Hilo itself is quite beautiful, being on the windward side of the island - very green and lush. We drove north and visited the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, which is not to be missed. But first we pulled over at a trailhead and hiked down to a beautiful little cove, just on the other side of the Botanical Garden. It's a pretty steep hike, but the views are worth it. The garden itself is equally beautiful, and involves about a mile and a half of walking, part of it also steep, but they have golf carts for those who can't make the walk. The flowers are breathtaking, unlike anything on the mainland. After that, we visited the spectacular Akaka Falls, which also involved some walking, part of it steep. We had lunch at a little roadside place called the Low Store Deli. It's a little market that has a few tables outside, and excellent food. Then we drove around Hilo before returning to the ship.
That night, the ship sailed around the Big Island to Kona, and at about 9:30, the Captain stopped the ship off the coast, where we were treated to a wonderful view of the lava flowing into the ocean from Kilauea. This was a treat, as sometimes the lava isn't flowing or the clouds are low enough to obstruct the view, but the spectacle was on that night, with huge steam clouds rising off the water. The Captain turned the ship 360 degrees so that everyone could enjoy the view.
Kona, Hawaii: We took the 15-minute cab ride to the Kona airport and picked up our car, then drove up the mountain to Waimea, taking the long way up Waikoloa Road, then north on 190. The scenery was amazing, with great views of the ocean and other islands in the distance. We had breakfast at the Paniolo Country Inn, then drove toward the coast. I took a wrong turn that led us up Highway 250, the Kohala Mountain Road, and it was well worth the detour, as the road climbed to about 4,000 feet before we turned around, offering more amazing views. Finally we made our way to the beautiful Hapuna Beach. Chair rentals are available at the Three Frogs beach shack, which also has great fish tacos, though we didn't eat there on this trip (we did have shave ice, though, and it was wonderful after a hot day on the beach). We had a late lunch at the Marriott in Waikoloa before returning our rental car. We took the airport shuttle from the rental facility to the airport, then caught a cab to the port. Again, next time I'd rent near the port from Enterprise. Note: as National Emerald Club members, we were able to take any car on the aisle, and there was a Mustang convertible available, so naturally we took that. We drove all morning with the top down, which was great - but I forgot to put sunscreen on, which was a mistake! Don't forget the sunscreen if you rent a convertible, especially if you don't have much hair.
Lihue, Kauai: We docked here and took the short shuttle ride to the airport rental car facility, then drove to the Grand Hyatt on Poipu beach, where we'd stayed before, for breakfast. We visited the beach, then drove around the island to Hanalei Bay on the north shore. We went beyond Hanalei to Ke'e Beach, at the end of the road, but there was no parking available, so we went back to Hanalei. We didn't spend much time at the beach, as we'd had enough sun the day before. We had a late lunch at the pool bar at the St. Regis Princeville, then drove back to Lihue.
Honolulu: We docked, and again, disembarkation was a breeze, other than the taxi line. We took a cab to Waikiki, where we stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Our room had a sunset view, so we ate dinner on our balcony (excellent pizza from the nearby Round Table Pizza). We spent the next day at the pool, then used a complimentary hospitality room to get cleaned up for a sunset dinner at the fantastic House Without a Key at the Halekulani hotel before taking a cab to the airport for the flight home.
We would do this cruise again in a heartbeat - a few minor issues notwithstanding, it was probably the best vacation we've ever had, and we've traveled extensively. We only wish RCL would sail to Hawaii from somewhere other than Vancouver, but the embarkation process was but a small part of the overall experience. Read Less