Number of Cruises: 8
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Radiance of the Seas
Sailing Date: December 7, 2002
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean
First of all, let me say that this is not
a mega review of our cruise, since I would be duplicating what Nancy Norris
already wrote in her wonderful review, which I found very helpful before we took
our trip. You can read Nancy’s review by going to: http://www.cruisereviews.com/rci/Radiance11.htm
Since our last cruise was on the Carnival Victory in April 2002, I’ll compare the two on several occasions during my review. Turns out the couple sitting next to us in the dining room were on the Victory 3 weeks before us, so it was a natural comparison for all of us to make.
We flew out of Dulles airport on Saturday morning, leaving 9 inches of snow on the ground along with a temperature of 9 degrees. Needless to say, when we arrived in San Juan at 2:30 in the afternoon and it was 85 degrees with high humidity, we were just a bit overdressed.
The taxi ride from the airport to the pier was $17 for the two of us ($16 for the taxi and $1 for the airport fee). This cost is pre-determined and the system is handled very well.
When we got to the entrance of the pier, they asked to see our tickets. We explained we were travel agents and needed to pick up our tickets, so they just waved us through. At the next stop, same question, same response. They gave us some paperwork to fill out but did not direct us where to go. (When we checked in for Carnival, they directed us to an area where they gave us our tickets and this system worked much better. We also knew our cabin assignment weeks in advance.)
The next stop was to check-in the baggage. Since we did not have tickets, we also did not know our cabin number. However, they did have a copy of the passenger manifest and found our cabin number so we could complete the luggage tags. (Not a very well-organized system.)
We asked where we should go to get our tickets and no one seemed to know. I walked up to the nearest counter where Crown & Anchor passengers were checking in and interrupted the ticket agent to inquire. She told us that we just needed to get in the regular line.
The line was not very long and only took us about 20 minutes to get to the front. Luckily, there was a guy in a Bacardi Rum booth giving out free samples. (I recommend the 8 year old stuff straight up!)
When we came to the front of the line, the lady pointed us to one of the ticket agents whose line only had three groups in front of us (two couples and a foursome). (They don’t wait to point you to the next available agent, like they do at Carnival or for airline tickets.) Our line moved relatively quickly until the 4 people in front of us got there. The agent could not find them on the manifest even though they had tickets in hand. Making a long story short, we stood there for over half an hour waiting for 2 agents and the supervisor to figure out what to do. By this time, people who were way behind us in the long line had already been waited on and were on the ship. Needless to say, I was getting very irritated. My wife kept going over and getting free samples of Bacardi to keep me from loosing it – after all, we were on vacation and this was suppose to be relaxing!
After they finally took these people to someplace else to get things sorted out, it was our turn. It took all of 5 minutes to check us in. I got the attention of the supervisor and motioned her over. I told her it was very poor customer service to make people wait for over 40 minutes while they handled the problem. I suggested they should have taken them aside to handle it and let the ticket agent continue to wait on other passengers. She could have cared less! Her attitude was very poor and her customer service skills were equally as poor. (I later found out on a couple of occasions that this seems to be more of an attitude with the people of San Juan than of any particular company. We found them to be impolite and not willing to readily offer assistance, which is exactly the opposite of everyone else in the Caribbean.) However, this was only one of a very few number of complaints I had about the whole trip.
We got on the ship, checked into our room, and then immediately checked off the ship to do some shopping. One thing we found was that the liquor store in the terminal sells duty-free and tax-free liquor, which turned out to be the cheapest on our trip. We were also told we could take sodas, beer, and one bottle of wine or champagne back to our cabin. Since sodas and beer are relatively expensive on board, we bought two six packs of soda and two six packs of beer to enjoy in our cabin. This was a nice touch. However, the little beverage bar in the cabins is NOT a refrigerator, so we always had to keep things on ice. One thing I’ll say about liquor, if you bring it on board, they will confiscate it until the last day of your trip. However, it you put a bottle it in a backpack, they will usually not make a big deal about taking it to your room.
The ship is very beautiful and well-maintained. The only area I see for improvement is the need for a couple of ice machines and laundry rooms on each deck. We had these plus soda machines on the Victory and it made it much nicer. In fact, on the Victory, the laundry rooms had irons so we could touch up the wrinkles in our dress clothes. On the Radiance, we had to constantly call room service or our cabin attendant to get ice. And speaking of ice, they must not freeze it hard because everyone commented on how fast the ice melted, especially in drinks.
We had a standard balcony cabin that was smaller than our standard balcony cabin on the Victory, but still very nice. Our cabin attendant was very good and made sure we were treated well. We ordered coffee every morning and room service was very good. (One thing I learned a long time ago, if you pre-tip your cabin attendant the recommended amount on the first day of the cruise and let them know this is a down-payment for their services, you will get much better treatment.)
Several people have posted comments about the poor service on the Radiance. We can confirm this was not the case on our trip. The service we received on the ship was great in all aspects of our cruise. The one thing that struck us was when we said, “Thank you,” to a crew member, they always responded with, “My pleasure.” The service was very good! If fact, because of the comments, we were paying special attention to the service and we can honestly say that except for one night at dinner when our waiter was not feeling well, we did not have even one time where we could have considered it less than good.
Before we left on our trip, we contacted Sandals Resorts and got some day-passes to the Sandals in Antigua and in St. Lucia. This was not only a way to check out the resorts for future reference, but it allowed us to drink, eat, and play for the day. The Sandals in Antigua was okay, but not one I would recommend. The Sandals Grand St. Lucian in St. Lucia was wonderful and gets a 5-star rating from me! We had a wonderful day there.
I won’t go into all of our experiences at the different ports except to say that we did not buy one shore excursion from the cruise line. It was a wise choice.
On St. Thomas, we listened to people who told us to by-pass the shopping area by the pier and go downtown instead. This was very good advice. Taxi cost $3 per person each way. We met a guy name Roy downtown who had an open-sided taxi and after talking to him for a while, we agreed to go on his tour after lunch. We shopped for a couple of hours and found a good deal on a gold neckchain. We met up with Roy again and he took us back to the ship at no cost – as it was part of his tour. We had lunch on the ship and got our snorkeling gear together. We then met him outside along with 6 other couples. He took us on a very nice tour of the island from 1:15pm to 4:45pm for a cost of $20 per person; much better than any shore excursion. As a part of the tour, we also spent 2 hours at Coki beach snorkeling. It was beautiful! There were two separate beaches and both were great! We had wanted to go to Magen’s Bay, but it had rained earlier and the water was not as clear. After snorkeling, we went to a little bar and had the best Island Girls. (These are drinks!) They’re made with lots of rum, bananas, mango, and strawberries mixed in a blender. We finished our tour with several stops for pictures of beautiful scenery, including Magen’s Bay and atop the hill overlooking the town and our ship.
We made friends with another couple at our dinner table on the ship and hit it off right away. So, we hung out together and decided to do our own thing instead of taking any of the shore excursions. We rented a car in St. Maarten for $45 and another one in Barbados for $85. I highly recommend doing this, especially if you have a party of four. We had a fantastic time and were always the last ones on board the ship every day. Listening to others on the ship talk about their shore excursions, we definitely did more and saw more for less money than they did.
On the French side of the island, we stopped in a village called Merigot. They have an outdoor flea market that was wonderful. We bought a lace tablecloth for $25 and a great cotton Caribbean shirt for $15. We later saw the same tablecloth in a store for $85 and the shirt for $25! We then drove over to Orient Beach where we enjoyed hamburgers and fries for $9 each at the Bikini Beach Restaurant while watching the myriad of bathing attire (and lack thereof) on the beach. After lunch, we walked down past the jetty to the nude beach where we went skinny dipping. Aw yes, when in France……
In Barbados, we rented a car that resembled a dune buggy. It was a hoot driving on the wrong side of the road – something I had always wanted to try. Right after we left the pier, we found the Mount Gay Rum distillery. Of course we had to stop, take the tour, and partake in the free sampling.
Later down the road, we found the Malibu Rum distillery and again we had to sample their goods.
There are lots of pristine beaches on the west side of the island and they are beautiful; great for swimming and snorkeling. This is the Caribbean Sea side of the island, with the Atlantic Ocean being on the other side. We drove cross country to see Atlantic side and found a great restaurant high on a cliff overlooking the ocean where surfers kept us entertained trying to ride some large waves.
When we got back to the city, we got lost. They don’t label their roads with numbers and the maps don’t have names, so it was always fun trying to figure out exactly where we were – but it just led to our adventure. We asked a guy how to get back to the ship and his response was, “Follow me, I’ll take you there.” Fifteen minutes later and many turns, we got to the ship. His display of friendship was indicative of the island. They are truly a very friendly people.
Back on the ship, the food was very good in the Cascades dining room. The food in the Windjammer Café was good with lots of selection, but they pre-cook their hamburgers. Food in the Sky View Café was good and they freshly cook their hamburgers. (We all agreed the little restaurant in the back of the Lido deck on the Victory was much better in this regard as they freshly cooked hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, and great minute steaks.)
We splurged and the four of us went to Portofino’s one night and Chops Steakhouse another. Both are outstanding!! Service was impeccable and the food was magnificent. They are well worth the extra $20 per person. (This is not a charge for the food but for the gratuity.) Both have my highest 5-star recommendation!
Since it was our 30th anniversary, I ordered the Grand Romance Package for our trip. When we arrived in our room, the flowers were already in the cabin along with our bathrobes, a bottle of champagne and hors devours. However, the ice had already melted in the bucket and the champagne was not cold, so we had to order more ice and then had to wait till later to open the bottle. Also, they were suppose to have hors devours to us before dinner and chocolate covered strawberries after dinner. On the two nights we had these, they were both delivered at the same time. As a part of the package, we also got an 8x10 portrait in a silver frame, which turned out beautiful. We had the full breakfast delivered on our last full day so we could sit on the balcony while the captain steered the ship to within ½ mile of Montserrat. It was amazing to see the devastation on the island from the volcano. Anyway, the Grand Romance Package was a nice touch and added to our enjoyment of the trip.
One thing we really liked about the Radiance compared to the Victory is in the number of announcements. On the Victory, it seemed we were always being bombarded with announcements – very annoying. (This is one of the biggest complaints I hear from my clients about Carnival.) However, on the Radiance they kept the announcements down to a minimum and this was much nicer. The only bad thing was that they had to always announce everything in four languages (English, Spanish, French, and German) since this was definitely an international group of passengers.
Another thing we liked about the Radiance was that we never felt crowded. Even though the trip was sold out, we never had the feeling of too many people and too little space.
Debarkation is always a pain, but it went relatively smoothly.
The couple we met had rented a car in San Juan as they were spending the night, so we had a van waiting to take us to the car rental office. When the van got there, the driver waited as we loaded our own luggage (it’s the Puerto Rico attitude again). Then when we got to the rental car office, we had to unload the luggage ourselves as well. After reloading all that luggage in the car, we went to their hotel to drop off some of the stuff and got to see the Hilton Carib. This is a very nice hotel right on the beach. Later, we stopped at the Hotel Intercontinental and found this to be even nicer than the Hilton. I would recommend these two to clients who would like to spend a night or two in San Juan. We also went by the Embassy Suites near the airport and this was also very nice.
We had just enough time to drive over to the Bacardi distillery and take the tour. After the obligatory sampling of their products, we drove to the airport for our flight back to chilly Virginia.
All in all, it was a great trip. Except for the hassle with check-in, we really have no complaints. The only suggestion we would make to Royal Caribbean is to add the ice machines. The addition of soda machines and laundry facilities would be nice, but are not as important.
We would recommend this ship and itinerary, but this is definitely a ‘port intensive’ cruise since we visited 6 ports in 7 days and only had one day at sea. If you’re looking for a lot to see and do, this is the cruise to take. If you’re looking to lay back and relax, I would suggest a cruise with more days at sea.
Please contact me if you would like more detailed information.