Radiance of the Seas is Royal Caribbean's newest ship in the "Shampoo" series.
OK, not really. But "Radiance" sounds like a shampoo, doesn't it? Her sister ship will be the Brilliance of the Seas. We're waiting for the Head and Shoulders of the Seas.
We were on a complimentary introductory cruise, March 24-26, 2001. This review can really only deal with the ship herself, since there was little real relationship between this two-day "cruise to nowhere" intended for travel agents, press, and employees and a real cruise with paying passengers.
The Radiance is a real gem when it comes to decor. Almost in the Celebrity class, I would say. The carpets are light in color, with a ubiquitous "compass rose" motif that is found on floors and in decorations everywhere. The stairwells have a darker blue carpet. In the cabin areas, the walls are mostly a light wood finish. In the public spaces, the wood is everywhere, in various shades. Art is everywhere, and is of good quality (but mostly contemporary in style). Each stairwell, for example, has a theme in its art. The aft staircase's theme is glass; you'll have to see the others to decide what the exact theme is.
The Grand Atrium is...well, it's grand. It's 8 decks high, with lighted elevators, glass stairs, sitting areas, etc. For a real thrill, go up to deck 12 and walk out on the floor that serves as a ceiling to the atrium. All around the edge, you can look down to the bottom. Not for those inclined to vertigo, but pretty impressive.
One interesting touch: each elevator has a panel in the floor, about 6 inches by 24 inches. This panel matches the floor, and is changed each day, so that it tells what day it is! Can you imagine what that added to the cost of the elevators? And do you really want to know that today is the next-to-last day on the cruise?
Deck 2 holds passenger cabins and the Medical Center.
Deck 3 is entirely passenger cabins.
Deck 4 is the location of the base of the Grand Atrium, amidships. You'll find what we used to call the Purser's Office, but is now the Customer Relations Office on the starboard side. There's also some impressive waterfall artwork. Throw in a handy bar and a small stage for music performances, an equally small dance floor, and you've got the picture.
Just off the lobby on the starboard side is the Breakers Dining Room. This was full of furniture during our cruise, so I have no idea what the plans are for it.
A few steps aft will bring you to the bottom floor of the Cascades Dining Room, the main full-service dining room on the ship. The lower floor is open to the second floor down the middle, but the opening is flanked by huge "faux columns" of fabric. I assume this is for noise control, but it's pretty impressive, with a 2-deck high mythic sea mural at the aft end, and a grand staircase to the upper deck at the forward end.
Forward of the main lobby are passenger cabins, with a small conference room at the bow.
Deck 5 is one of the main public decks. Starting from the bow, we find first the main floor of the Aurora Showlounge. Not a bad seat in the room! There is enough slope to make the view of the stage good from all the seats. Aft of the show lounge is the art and photo gallery. Gotta sell those photos, you know. To the port side, you'll find Books, Books, & Coffee. Or maybe it's Books, Coffee, & Books. In there, you'll find books ... and coffee. Oh, and four internet terminals. An imitation of Starbucks, sort of. To the starboard side, you'll find the shops, with the usual assortment. Nothing amazing there.
Continuing aft, you come to the atrium. On each side, as you enter, you will find Royal Caribbean Online. Each side has 6 internet terminals. They worked just fine for sending e-mail, although I had trouble signing on to my CompuServe account to check for incoming e-mail. The speed online seemed to be about the same as my 56K modem at home, when it came to visiting web sites. I have no idea what the per-minute charge will be for this service. (Note: In each cabin, on the desk, is a connection for a laptop to the phone system, and thence into the internet. The jack did not appear to be a standard jack, and the system was not yet in operation.)
Aft of the atrium is the upper floor of the Cascades Dining Room.
Around most of deck 5 is a promenade. Unfortunately, you can't go all the way around. It's a great place for lounging or staring off into the seascape, however.
Deck 6 is entirely public spaces. From the bow, we have the balcony of the Aurora dining room. Then, on the port side and very well-hidden, is the entrance to the movie theater. It seats about 55 people, and has a steep rise in the seating to minimize space and maximize visibility. Following the cinema is the Scoreboard Sports Lounge, including a video game arcade for the big boys. And speaking of games, next we come to the Casino. It is not large, but it is well laid out to maximize the usage. At the atrium, we find the champagne bar on the port side.
Aft of the atrium, the Radiance bears some resemblance to a Carnival Fantasy-class ship. Passengers move along the starboard side in a sort of "street", with attractions on the port side. This area is very nautical in decor. In fact, the entrance to the area is supposed to resemble the gun deck of a sailing warship, complete with the smell of gunpowder. Many people thought it smelled like they'd had a fire there, so I wonder how long they'll keep that up.
Next is the Chops Grille. This is an extra-cost alternative steak house. The extra charge may be significant. Then we pass the Schooner Bar. My guess is that this will be a very busy place in the evenings. Next is the entrance to Portofino, an extra-cost alternative Italian restaurant. I have heard the cost is expected to be $26 or so per person.
Leaving the ship, we enter the Colony Club, patterned after an English gentlemen's club - dark wood, bookshelves, cushy chairs; a small but very nice showroom; a card room hidden aft and port. Oh, and pool tables!
A few years ago, on the dear departed CompuServe Cruise Forum, we discussed what attractions we thought we'd never see on a cruise ship. Three that stand out in my mind were an ice skating rink (who goes on a cruise to be cold?), a bowling alley (most of us can't bowl straight in the best of conditions), and pool tables. Well, only the bowling alley remains untried!
The pool tables are self-stabilizing. It's weird to stand and watch them move around, keeping the balls still. Well, technically, it's the ship that's moving and the table is staying still, but you can't tell that.
Deck 7 holds more passenger cabins.
Deck 8 holds more passenger cabins, with the Explorer's Court, a small lounge area, by the atrium.
Deck 9 holds more passenger cabins, with the library by the atrium.
Deck 10 holds even MORE passenger cabins, with the Concierge Club just off the atrium.
Deck 11 is public spaces. Starting from the bow, we first have the fitness center, followed by the Solarium. These are Africa-themed, with trees as support columns, giant carved elephants on the walls, and even the sound system broadcasting gentle jungle sounds. The roof over the Solarium can be opened, but it was closed all during our stay. The area is also off limits to children under 16. Personally, I was rather taken by the bronze lioness....
Aft of the Solarium is the pool area, including the Pool Bar. I did notice what seemed to be a special lift for helping handicapped passengers into the exercise pool.
Aft of the atrium, we have the Windjammer Cafe, which is the buffet dining area. This does not operate like most buffets, so a few words are in order, here.
You will be greeted at the door and led to a table. A card will be placed on the table that it is occupied, and you can then go to get your food. There is no "buffet line," but rather a "scramble system" is used. Various island counters serve salads, entrees, vegetables, desserts, etc. There were two sets of each of those. There was also one counter serving Chinese food, and one serving what passed as Mexican food.
A problem area was the beverage service. On our preview cruise, we had to go to the beverage service counter and ask for what we wanted. Although there were two beverage counters, they became bottlenecks in the process. The manager said that on regular cruises, passengers would return to their tables, and servers would bring them their beverages. He seemed to indicate they would still have to go to the beverage counter for refills, but I doubt that will really be the case. There were no waiters circulating with coffee pots or anything, and I can't believe that will be the case forever.
Also, I found no full-time self-service coffee or other beverage location, although there might be such an area in the grill serving area, aft of the Windjammer.
On deck 12, we again find public areas. First is the gym. I can't say how well-equipped it may be, as I did not go in there! The jogging track is on deck 12, as is the Sky Bar (just above the Pool Bar). Most of the aft portion of deck 12 is dedicated to the young people's area, including a basketball court and their own pool with long slide.
One thing to see is the small sitting area at the roof of the atrium. Around the edges, you can look down the entire height of the atrium!
At the aft of deck 12, the Seaview Cafe serves pizza, but not as yet on a 24-hour basis.
Deck 13 is mostly open deck, with the exception of the Viking Crown Lounge, Royal Caribbean's trademark vista lounge. It contains a bar and dance lounge, as usual. Just off that lounge is another, smaller lounge, called the Hollywood Odyssey. Check out the Hollywood collectibles there, such as a display of Frank Sinatra's shirts.
Also on deck 13 is the rock-climbing wall. Better you than me, is all I can say.
Oh, and don't forget the miniature golf course at the very stern on 13.
Also, check out the hidden flock of sculpted glass birds on deck 13. I won't tell you where they are, so you still have some challenge in your life...
Since this was a trial cruise, and we were the first passengers ever aboard the ship, we really can't judge the entertainment much. The "Rockin' in Paradise" revue was pretty good, but still needed a little practice. The second night was filled with Academy Awards hoopla, but we saw the ventriloquist, Ron Lucas, perform in the Colony Club. He was extremely good, so see him if he's still around, or if you come across him somewhere else. His "Scorch, the Teen-aged Dragon" reminded me of plenty of teen-agers I know.
There was also a pop trio aboard, performing requests. They were quite good. A hypnotist also appeared, and was highly praised, although we didn't see him. A Caribbean band performed on the pool deck, but I found them disappointing.
The rest of the typical cruise entertainments did not take place, so I can't judge them.
The buffet food was quite good. When you consider that the kitchens had not been used before the day we came aboard (according the RCCL's rep), they did amazingly well.
Service in the dining room was very slow, but, again, that was largely due to a lack of practice. We had only three of us at a table for ten, but we were still eating when the second seating started to arrive. The servers were agreeable, and were doing their best. It didn't help that some of the diners arrived as much as an hour late, and still expected to be served their full meal promptly.
The food in the dining room, however, was very tasty when we got it. Dottie especially enjoyed the pasta dish she ordered. My filet mignon was very tender and tasty, if not exactly hot.
Mike may be the only reviewer who photographs his food!
This is one area where the service fell down. Many of the drink waiters and bartenders seemed to be completely clueless. There was a drink of the day, but we had to give the waiters the daily schedule for them to know what it was. The bartenders worked hard, but were having a hard time keeping up, and the cocktail waiters/waitresses in the various areas of the ship often misunderstood drink orders.
Also, the word is that there will be no wine stewards in the dining rooms; beverage service will be left to the wait staff. This does not bode well for the passengers. Supposedly, the wait staff will be assigned fewer tables to make up for the increased work load.
I would guess that a ship this size is the equivalent of about 25,000 new cars. I would further guess that it would have about the same number of little defects as 25,000 new cars. As such, you won't be surprised to hear that the lock on our cabin door failed twice and locked us out, requiring repairs to get us back in. The toilet leaked constantly on the floor, and the hot and cold water in the sink was hooked up backwards.
The beds in the cabins are oddly shaped, with the foot cut at an angle. When we asked to have our two beds put together, the beds blocked access to the bedside area. Also, they just pushed the beds together; this is not the height of romantic luxury.
Many items for the ship were still missing, such as glasses for the holders in the cabin bathrooms. Towels were in short supply.
At one time or another, many of the public restrooms were out of order.
These are all items that should soon be cleared up, of course.
One thing we especially liked was the proliferation of small sitting areas scattered around the ship. If you want to sit and talk with friends, you shouldn't have trouble finding a place to do it.
All in all, I'm looking forward to reading a review of a "real," full cruise on the Radiance of the Seas. And, if I come across a bargain for a cruise on this ship, you can bet I won't hesitate to take it!
PHOTOS courtesy of Mike Blanche & Royal Caribbean International.
For lots more SeaLetter photos and information on Radiance of the Seas, click HERE.
Mike & Dottie Blanche are experienced cruisers and have been on 4 of our CompuServe & SeaLetter Cruise Bashes, serving as group leaders for the 2000 millennium Mexican Riviera bash on Carnival Cruise Line's Elation. Mike also served as a sysop for the former CompuServe Cruise Forum and has written numerous reviews and articles for the SeaLetter Cruise Magazine.
Even when Mike & Dottie are truckin' the country for Werner Enterprices, they keep in touch with all of their on-line friends. Mike and Dottie can be reached at: Mike@sealetter.com.
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