These were our 15th and 16th cruises (back-to-back) in the past four years, and our 6th and 7th on RCI. We booked these cruises so that we could be among the first to experience the much-touted new ship the Radiance of the Seas, which is the first of a new class of ships that RCI is introducing. The new Radiance class ships will be in size between the megaships (Vision class) and gigaships (Voyager class). Unlike the most recent gigaships, the Voyager and the Explorer, this one is 'Panamax' (can pass through the Panama Canal). She is indeed a beautiful ship.
The Radiance of the Seas at 90,090 tons and 962 feet long, can accommodate 2,100 passengers and 900 crew members. She has the beautiful sea green tinted windows on the upper exterior, typical of the RCCL ships, which distinguishes them from all other lines. Approximately 50% of her exterior is glass-walled, including four glass elevators facing the sea and two more facing the Centrum. Her sleek silhouette recalls the smaller RCCL ships, yet simultaneously she incorporates several amenities of the larger Voyager class while avoiding the boxier shape. She looks more like a gigantic yacht. The Radiance is truly a lovely ship with nautical motifs and tasteful, comfortable appointments. Inaugurated on April 7, 2001, (one day after we left her) she left for repositioning to Seattle, via the Panama Canal, and will cruise to Canada, Alaska and Hawaii before returning this fall to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to cruise to the Southern Caribbean Islands. She has many exciting cruises ahead and we wish her Godspeed!
This was the first time that we arrived in Port Everglades and couldn't locate our ship. Due to a late departure of the Millennium from Pier 18, the Radiance was kept out of port until well after 1:00pm. As matter of fact, she docked at the pier a little before 2:00pm. We had this straight from Captain Ringborn himself; even with this unexpected delay, she missed her scheduled 2:00pm boarding time by only 15 minutes. We arrived in port at 12:45pm, were processed and went by elevator to the upper waiting room from where we could see the ship approaching Pier 18. This was the first boarding of this ship in Ft. Lauderdale, with mostly new personnel, so there was some chaos. Some passengers were upset, but most of them understood the problem and knew that boarding time had been set at 2:00 pm, thus they were not perturbed by this small inconvenience. Life can be wonderful with a bit of patience. Unfortunately, we heard some strident loud voices, when in actuality boarding was only slightly delayed and the reason was given over and over to people who didn't care to listen. It's for sure that these people never heard the statement: "I travel a lot; I hate to have my life disrupted by routine." The unexpected can be refreshing.
Our boarding cards were not at the counters on the pier, but we received a temporary boarding pass and were told to pick up the cards at Guest Relations on Deck 4, which we did. We were disappointed for not receiving wheelchair assistance during embarkation or debarkation. Vincent lately has been having mobility problems and has extensively used his wheelchair, thus we had asked for assistance, but to no avail. On our recent cruises, on the Celebrity Millennium and CostaAtlantica, we were escorted to our cabins by crew members, but on this ship we had to search for the cabin ourselves, without a ship's map or deck plan which had not yet been printed, and thus not available for passengers. Upon entering on Deck 4, the Centrum was alive with piano music and we took the glass elevator to Deck 9 and in a few minutes we were in our cabin. Our luggage arrived while we were at dinner (main seating).
In 1998, for the initial planning of the Radiance of the Seas, Captain Kent Ringborn became the site manager for RCI at the Meyer-Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, where he remained for the entire building project of this ship. It can be a source of comfort for cruisers to know that this Captain has an intimate knowledge of his ship. He literally came on board before she was afloat! (More later about the amazing Captain Ringborn).
The nine deck high Centrum is refreshingly different; it has two tall waterfalls and each deck has semicircular balconies from which guests can look down over the entire Centrum. Up high is a suspended sculpture of delicate spoked half wheel arches which create interesting light patterns on the walls. There is a spectacular bar flanked by huge crystal urns filled with yellow lemons and white calla lilies, a green glass stairway between Decks 4 and 5 and tropical plants everywhere. The large dance floor has a nautical compass-like design in colored marble. People were dancing in the Centrum every evening.
On Deck 6, toward the aft, is located the traditional Schooner Bar, augmented by a long foyer with small refurbished antique cannons and ship's ropes; when walking through this area, the air is pungent with the smell of old ships. On the left is a full length portrait of Jenny Lind, the famous soprano of the 1850's, known as the "Swedish Nightingale" and appropriately placed on the next wall is a painting of the ship Nightingale in a storm. We hope the passengers recognize the intended pairing. In this bar are also the foyers and entrances for Portofino and Chops Grille, the upscale "reservation only" restaurants.
Further on toward the rear is the Colony Club, styled after an English men's club, which consists of four separate areas: the Bombay Billiard Club, the Jakarta Lounge, the Singapore Sling's and the Calcutta Card Club. In the Billiard Club there are the first two self-leveling billiard tables at sea; it's amazing how they compensate for the ship's motion through the use of gyroscope technology, yet the balls remain absolutely stable. Captain Ringborn related to us that on the transatlantic voyage, the engineer, who oversaw installation of these tables, was found sleeping blissfully on one table during a rather nasty storm at sea, thus avoiding rolling, pitching, and motion sickness. This made us wonder if there would be gyroscopic beds, cabins or decks some day, eliminating the needs for motion sickness medicine.
Beyond the billiard room is the center of the Colony Club. It has tiered seating and a sunken dance floor. It was here where Captain Ringborn sang to the passengers "Welcome to Our World" -- quite a pleasant surprise and he was in fine voice. A modern day Renaissance man! The captain's Welcome Aboard cocktail was held here, as were the daily bingo games.
The Cascades Dining Room, Decks 4 & 5, is elegant with its two-deck sweeping semicircular staircase flanked by two dark blue waterfalls (for those planning an onboard wedding this would make a dramatic backdrop). On the ceiling there is a simple huge oval glass light and ten round glass lights circling the lower tier. There are ten two-deck high columns covered with white sheer fabric, and twenty wooden columns downstairs; the chairs are blue/green with arms -- very comfortable. But the most fascinating sight in this room is the back wall mosaic: three mermaids and a dolphin cavorting on a copper and gold sea, while the gods of the wind blow down on them from clouds above. Tres belle!
We found the nicest public place for relaxing to be the African-themed Solarium, Deck 11. Three bigger-than-life elephants, with a bridge in front of them, form a wall overlooking the pool. There is a bronze lion cub reposing on the edge of the pool and monkeys high up in the tropical plants and a bald eagle and a background audio tape of jungle sounds. Very relaxing. (They should remove the English ivy plants, since they are not tropical and mostly dying anyway.) There is a medium-sized jacuzzi, two thatched roofed cabanas for rinsing off and more than enough wooden chaises.
On Deck 13 is the Starquest Disco and it's a RADIANT room with sparkling crystals imbedded in the windows and walls in galaxy designs: A must-see! Right next door is the Hollywood Odyssey featuring a life-size bronze of Marilyn Monroe with billowing skirts from the movie the "Seven Year Itch." This ship has many delights for the eye, some of which are quite remarkable, and every stairwell has huge colored glass murals.
There are many more public places that we have not yet mentioned, but the three-deck high Aurora Theatre is a must-see. We believe that there are no bad seats or obstructed views in this theatre. Other interesting places are the Champagne Bar on Deck 6, the Sports Court/Country Club, with the rock-climbing wall and miniature golf course on Deck 12, a very spacious Ship Shape Spa, the Seaview Café and the Adventure Beach with water slide and splash pool for kids. We are certain to have missed some interesting locations on board, but our cruise on this ship lasted only five days. We must plan a longer cruise to get the information needed to write a thorough review, but for now this must do.
Vincent recommends Books, Books & Coffee on Deck 5, adjacent to the shops. There were not too many books for sale, but we bought some exquisite liquor-filled chocolates (reasonably priced). However, the most favored spot here is Seattle's Best which brews the best specialty coffees at sea, such as Espresso, Cappuccino, Caffé- Latte and Granita, , and these beverages were all free of charge, including some great cookies.
Our Deck 9 Deluxe Oceanview cabin #9592 with balcony was a nice size. When entering on the right, there is a bathroom with circular shower with curtain (we missed the Plexiglas door), a single sink with triple mirror and a single medicine cabinet (beware of the sharp corner on the cabinet door). There is blue decorative tile with a lifesaver motif centered with white daisies -- nice touch. Then there was a double blue/gold velour sofa and what was listed as a queen-sized bed was really a king-sized one with an extra firm mattress.
Entering on the left there is a triple wardrobe, a vanity/desk with a triple mirror, and after that a three-tiered cabinet with a safe in the top section. In the middle is an interactive TV (nice for checking on your onboard account, but not yet functional) and on the bottom a well-stocked mini-bar refrigerator. A wall to wall drape separated the sitting area from the bedroom and another drape covered the far glass wall with the sliding door to the small balcony. The cabin was pleasantly decorated in blue, gold, and burnt orange with lots of natural maple wood. The stewardess, Neneng, was new and needed prompting, but was willing and pleasant. Since our veranda was a bit larger than others of similar cabins (the shape of our veranda was trapezoid, not rectangular, due to our cabin's position near the ship's center where it bulges out), we asked Neneng for a chaise to be placed on the veranda with the two chairs and tiny table already there. She took a while but did bring one.
Note on shipboard etiquette: do not flick cigarette butts off your balcony: they will land on our balcony if your cabin is above or forward of ours.
The Welcome Aboard Buffet was very good as were all of the Windjammer offerings. The new set up with several islands is a bit confusing, with a chaotic traffic pattern on the first day, but the signs above the fare are helpful and it did get better in future days. There was staff ready to carry trays to the tables, which was necessary due to the wheelchair. The desserts were excellent: fantastic fruit tarts, eclairs, cookies (Mary was hooked on the oatmeal and chocolate chip ones). We had breakfast (full American) in our cabin the first two days, but then room service was inexplicably terminated for the rest of the cruise; from then on we ate breakfast at the Windjammer.
However, the last morning we had breakfast in the dining room and it was almost deserted. Perhaps too many rumors of two hour breakfasts had scared people away. We usually ignore rumors and see for ourselves. We had excellent service and a delicious meal. On our way out, we encountered Mehmet Soyler, Wait Staff Trainer, whom we had previously met on both the Voyager and the Explorer. He had been an excellent waiter to us on the Voyager and he appreciated our writing him up in our review. We are sure he will be successful in training the new crew to bring "snappy" service to this ship, a badly-needed improvement! There was some improvement in service in just the five days we were on the Radiance, but we expect to see better reviews as time goes by. The main dining room food was fair to good. The best dishes were shrimp cocktail, Peking Duck and the desserts (chocolate soufflé, tiramisú, and ice cream -- but no swans!). The lack of wine stewards was soon evident when Vincent's wine was misplaced. Service was slow but pleasant -- we guess they need to find their "sea legs"!
The ship has two alternative dining options: The Portofino, an upscale Euro-Italian restaurant, and the Chops Grille, both requiring reservation and a $20 fee. We checked out the menu at the Portofino and found it the same as the one on the Explorer. We also found out that there has been no changes in the chef involved in the creation and formulation of the Portofino's menu. Thus we decided not to try this restaurant again, since our last experience on the Explorer was not satisfactory. In our review of the inaugural cruise of the Explorer, we suggested that for creating a menu with the true taste (gusto) of Italian cuisine, RCI has to hire a chef who truly knows what Italian food should taste like and use the right ingredients to achieve the expected flavors, which is not currently happening at the Portofino.
We did dine at Chops Grille with the captain, and the Environmental Officer Debbie Nylund (this was a treat for Vincent since he is a retired Professor of Environmental Health), and Debbie's friend, a lady passenger from Chicago. The captain is a wonderfully warm gentleman, who has spent most of his life at sea after graduating from the Swedish Merchant Maritime Academy. His love of the sea and ships is much in evidence. We had a wonderful meal consisting of grilled veal, cooked to perfection, broiled portobellos with roasted peppers, New England clam chowder (as a native Bostonian, Mary gave it an A+) and desserts were Mississippi Mud Pie, Tiramisú and ice cream. Don't miss it; allow approximately two hours -- if you make reservations for 6:30 pm, you'll just make the 9:00 pm show as we did. Service was casual and we had an excellent time with delightful company. To be sure that there are available tables, make your reservation during the first few hours aboard the ship.
Cruise Director Gordon Whatman (England) was highly visible, ebullient and has set the goal of making the Radiance the friendliest ship afloat. We feel he is succeeding. A university educated mechanical engineer, he also has a finely tuned voice (opera background). We have it on good report from reliable sources (Mary's sister Elizabeth and her husband Vito who raved about his performance) and other cruisers who said that he wowed the audience.
The welcome aboard show "Rockin' in Paradise" had great dancers, but the singing (the microphone check failed to tone down a too-loud sound) and the costumes were not the greatest. The second night there were two brothers from Argentina (Mario & David) who did a hilarious routine on the "trip to nowhere" and on the strange habits of elderly Italian gentlemen hitching up their trousers. They ended up with a breathtaking performance of twirling "boles" and were warmly applauded. They perform on Telemundo (Spanish) TV, Miami. The final show was "Welcome to Our World," an around-the-world tour with wonderful costumes: Chinese, French, African and Spanish segments with excellent visual effects! Great dancing, but the singing was loud and dissonant.
The Casino is the usual smoky, busy place. The final night it was crowded with so many gamblers trying to recoup their losses, that we gave up and sought the peace and quiet of our veranda. But on this "Cruise to Nowhere" it was open every day and cruisers were truly enjoying it. We had our time in it, when it was less crowded, and made our usual donation to the slot machines and the poker table.
The Centrum frequently had a wonderful group "Upscale" with a female vocalist so terrific that she attracted people on all nine decks of balconies. Sorry we can't attach a name to her, we asked at guest relations and everyone was so new that they couldn't identify her. There was an abundance of activities to suit all: art auctions, Ship Shape exercise programs, bingo, line dancing, contests, horse racing, etc., etc., and a fine library. If a passenger was bored it was not Gordon's fault.
Since many new ships are scheduled to come on line in the near future, a new experiment took place on the Radiance: More than 60% of the staff is new, not just to the ship, but also to the service industry. RCI has initiated a new system aboard this ship. There are no longer officers in charge of the service crew, such as a Chief Purser or Hotel Manager, who are in the chain of command of the ship, but in their places there are civilian administrators, a comptroller and a general manager, who oversee the hotel activities on board. We did write to Helmut Leikauf, General Manager, requesting an appointment; however, we did not have the chance to meet with him. He set up two appointments, which he had to cancel due to emergencies.
Basically since our questions went unanswered, we approached this cruise like an ethnography and tried to make sense out of some of the incidents we encountered: we ended up attributing problems to "unschooled help." Some passengers complain loudly and rudely. We prefer to ask politely for whatever we need and we are always served pleasantly. We were onboard for a restful cruise and we had one.
We had priority white tags, and were on land by 8:15am. However, unlike Costa and Celebrity Lines, there was no one to help with the wheelchair upon debarking. We had a hair-raising experience when on a long steep ramp the chair picked up speed and was difficult to hold back. We did the fifty yard dash in record time for us! In retrospect we should have insisted on some assistance to debark. After this close call, next time we will.
This was one of our worst cruises as far as service, but we still loved it. The service was the poorest, especially to those who consider RCI among the lines with the best service at sea. Not that it matters much, but this was our first cruise without having chocolates on the pillows at night. We suggest that RCI train the staff prior to offering cruises to paying passengers -- otherwise, the line's reputation becomes tainted, especially with new customers. When novice cabin stewards or waiters are utilized on board, they should be closely supervised by experienced staff. In our opinion this experiment has failed and we want to post this review on the internet hoping that RCI will become aware of the mistakes and try to prevent repeating them. We are addicted to cruising and plan to remain so for many years. Are we going to cruise again with the Radiance of the Seas and with other RCI ships? Of course we will!
One positive note on the training of the new crew of this ship was passed to us by Debbie Nylund, the Environmental Officer. She assured us that her priority has been training the crew on safety in emergency situations. This was done prior to other training activities, including service. Safety to us is the most important aspect on a ship or in any other place. And we hope that the lessons on safety are not forgotten while the crew is trained to perform excellent service.
PHOTOS courtesy of Mike Blanche & Royal Caribbean International.
For lots more SeaLetter photos and information on Radiance of the Seas, click HERE.
Vincent & Mary Finelli have written many reviews for the SeaLetter and may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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