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Nancy Norris

Age: Agent

Occupation:Travel Agent

Number of Cruises: NOT

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Radiance of the Seas

Sailing Date: March 30, 2002

Itinerary: 7-day Southern Caribbean

TrvlJrnlst@aol.com

As a former school teacher, my first cruise, and many subsequent cruises, have been taken during spring break. I was traveling with some close friends, who are still tied to the school calendar; so, I once again embarked on a spring break odyssey. Their lovely family of 4 and I have cruised together before, and each time the trips were wonderful. In the past, my daughter has always joined us, but her college schedule did not coincide with the public school, so I was traveling solo. I was, however, going to be sharing a cabin with a single friend from Michigan, who was to join us on board. This was my first experience departing from San Juan; so let me begin there.

Arrival/Embarkation:

We left Cleveland the morning of our cruise at approximately 7:00 am on a Northwest flight with connections through Detroit. The flight was uneventful, and arrived on time in San Juan at 2:30 pm. I was very impressed with the airport meet and greet service. We were met promptly by an RCI agent at the gate, taken directly to a transportation bus, and whisked off to the port. We did not need to claim our luggage and was assured it would be delivered to our cabin. This would not normally have been of any concern to me, but be advised that if your air has been purchased through the cruise company in bulk, you will probably be in the group that is pre-selected for a security check. If that is the case, you must keep your checked luggage, unlocked. I was not concerned about theft, but, as the zipper on my luggage has a habit of coming loose, I had visions of my clothing strewn across airports, and the streets of San Juan. I am pleased to say, that was not the case, and my luggage arrived, intact, about 9:00 pm.

The bus ride from the San Juan airport to the pier proved to be a rather pleasant bonus. Our escort provided us with a running commentary of the sights we saw along our way. The bus even took a short detour to give us a glimpse of some of the San Juan highlights. The tour we were provided would have been a $40 city highlights tour offered as an excursion through the cruise line. We were even offered shopping and sightseeing tips we could do on our own after checking in.

Once at the port, we went through a security checkpoint, and stood in line approximately 30 minutes to check-in, get our security photo ID taken, and step on board. Sandwiches and beverages were offered at the terminal, just in case we might starve before our first meal on board.


Nancy with the Radiance in the Background

First Impressions:

WOW!! What a beautiful ship. I have sailed RCI’s mega ships, the Voyager and the Explorer, as well as ships in the Vision Class, but nothing prepared me for the elegance of this vessel. It truly is a unique blend of the best of RCI’s Eagle and Vision class, with a hint of Celebrity’s newer ships thrown in for good measure. It is truly a work of art. And speaking of art, this ship is full of interesting and memorable pieces of modern art and 20th century design classics. There is even a full color brochure in your cabin detailing the artwork on board. From the free form suspended sculpture that is the centerpiece of the Centrum; to the 2-deck mural in the Cascades dining room, this is a ship that tantalizes the senses. The rich mahogany and choice of furniture used throughout the public rooms give the ship an intimate, old world appeal. It almost feels like you are in a very prestigious country club, and not on a cruise ship.

The Cabin:

I occupied cabin 7530, a forward balcony cabin on deck seven. If planning to book a balcony cabin, I would strongly recommend requesting one of the first 16 forward cabins on deck seven. These balconies are at least 5 feet deeper than any others in this category. They do, however, offer less privacy, as the partition between cabins does not extend over the extra depth. The navy and rust color scheme, coupled with the dark wood paneling and recessed doors is very appealing. There is ample drawer and closet space to meet the needs of most guests. All 4 members of the family I was traveling with shared a cabin, and though a little tight, the cabin provided sufficient space. The sofa converted to a bed, and an upper bunk, recessed in the ceiling, was lowered at night. If you are sharing a cabin with more than one other person, I would suggest bringing a hanging shoe bag – It is great for housing all those incidentals that take up valuable counter space (i.e. suntan lotion, hairspray, brushes, etc.), as well as avoiding clutter. A refrigerator took up some of the shelving space. Although stocked, I am pleased that RCI now leaves one refrigerator shelf empty for guests to use. The cabins have excellent sound insulation. High marks are also given to RCI for their interactive television system. RCTV provides numerous movie channels, as well as cartoon, music, sports, and news channels. Closed circuit TV also provided a view from the bridge, and televised shipboard activities. Booking of shore excursions, and onboard credit activity can be accessed directly from the TV.

The bathroom is small, with limited counter space, but acceptable. The shower is small, too, but its curved design is great for keeping the shower curtain in place. The shower pressure is not great, but the controls are well designed. The shower also has a retractable clothesline.

If I did not know better, I would think RCI read everything I ever wrote about their ships. My complaints and suggestions for cabin improvements have all been addressed. First the lighting: Adjustable reading lights have been added above all beds. Soft, side lighting rather than overhead lighting is used around the mirrors (A feature which enhances everyone’s appearance). The hair dryer provided utilizes its own special outlet, keeping the other 2 electrical outlets free for other use. A privacy curtain that separates the sitting area from the beds is full size and can actually be drawn across the entire width of the cabin. There is a retractable desktop configured into the shelving/drawer space of the dresser, which is great for laptops or writing. Now, RCI, if your listening, all that needs to done is improve the very limited room service menu, and put a light on the balcony, and I would have nothing to complain about.

Public Rooms:

The Centrum, or main lobby begins on Deck 4 and rises to deck 12 at the Crown and Anchor Society. A porthole table is in the center of the Crown and Anchor Society that provides an awesome view all the way down to deck 4. There is a very nice lobby bar and guest relations is also located in the Centrum on deck 4. The sculpture that is suspended in the Centrum area is illuminated with smart lights that keep this area light and airy. Although quite lovely, it is a relatively small lobby area.

Deck 5 and 6 are the main thoroughfares that run from stem to stern. Royal Caribbean Online is located on both sides of the Centrum on deck 5, where numerous computers and a printer are available to use for $.50 a minute. Moving forward, a winding marble shopping street beckons you to browse in the numerous shops providing the requisite logo wear, and duty free shopping. Continuing forward your stroll will take you through the photo shop and a rather pleasant art gallery. One exceptionally nice feature, in an area directly adjacent to the photo shop, is Books, Books & Coffee. This coffee shop/bookstore offers Seattle’s Best, some delectable sweets, books for browsing, and even 2 more computer terminals if you wish to surf the net while sipping on a latte. This is a great little hideaway. Deck 5 ends at the main floor of the 2 story Aurora Theatre. Although the sight lines, and acoustics are excellent in this theatre, I was not overly impressed with the decor.

It is perhaps easiest to continue our tour of the public rooms, by venturing to deck 6 via the stairs in the Aurora Theatre. As we venture aft, directly outside the Aurora Theatre is a small movie theatre that has seating for about 100 people. Movies were shown here daily. A small video arcade is located within the Scoreboard Bar, an excellent sports bar. There are numerous large screen TV’s, and this was an exceptionally popular spot the night of the NCAA Championship game. Walking aft from the Scoreboard Bar will require a stroll through the casino. Here you will find all of the required games of chance, as well as many slots, including the seemingly popular “nickel slots”. Once through the casino, the Champagne Bar in the Centrum proves quite appealing, and its wall of windows provides a fantastic view.

We are now approaching perhaps my favorite public area on the ship. As you walk through a replica of the wooden frame of a ship’s hull, you enter the Schooner Bar. No RCI ship would be complete without a Schooner Bar, and the Radiance is no exception. This is perhaps the largest and most beautiful of the fleet, however. The leather sofas and chairs are arranged invitingly in conversational groupings. Appetizers and happy hour drinks are served daily, while a very good classical guitarist and pianist take turns entertaining you. There is even a large screen TV tugged into a corner for those avid sports or news addicts. Access to the two specialty restaurants, Chops Grill Steakhouse, and Portofino is though the Schooner Bar. Leaving the Schooner Bar you move into the Colony Club.

The Colony Club is like no other show lounge afloat. Rather than the typical large room with dance floor, the Colony Club is divided into a number of smaller sections (It is this area that gives the ship a “country club” feel). First is the Bombay Billiard Club. The parquet flooring, large, deep, rich wood entertainment centers, hiding large screen TV’s, book cases, and 2 self-leveling billiards tables all combine to make this area quite appealing. The Jakarta Lounge (a corner bar) and the Calcutta Card Club are also sections within the Colony Club. Inlaid chess and backgammon tables beckon you, as do the floor to ceiling windows, and sunken bar of Singapore Sling’s. In the midst of all this, is a nice size dance floor and stage. The entire effect is fantastic!! Bingo sessions, a 50’s sock-hop, and the Captains Party are just some of the activities that take place here.

The main pool and solarium are on deck 11. Let me tell you about the solarium first. As impressed as I was with the Colony Club, the solarium is equally impressive. When I first entered this space, I thought it was a little overdone, but upon further investigation, I reevaluated my initial reaction. The African safari-themed solarium is an example of the details that separate this ship from any other. Stone sculpture elephants line the pool. The pool and Jacuzzi are both set at a perfect temperature. Jungle foliage surrounds you as you lounge in teak chairs with African print cushions. The piped in sounds of crickets and birds provide an added sensory experience. The retractable roof, a bar, and snack counter embellish this space. This is a room that must be experienced to truly appreciate. Perhaps, the nicest feature was the extended pool hours. The solarium was open until midnight, for adults only – YEAH! In comparison, the main pool is a disappointment. The open deck area around the pool, as well as the pool itself, are exceptionally small for a ship this size. There was, however, a lift chair to accommodate the physically challenged so that they could enjoy the pool. In my cruising experience, this was a first. Unfortunately, it was often misused by the multitudes of children on board over spring break, and became a safety hazard. Perhaps some form of locking device could be installed to avoid this. There were 2 canopied whirlpools in the main pool area, which I used only twice during the cruise, as they were always overcrowded.

The health center, shipshape spa, and hair salon were located forward of the solarium. The relaxation room on this ship was exceptionally appealing and just a few minutes in this respite was enough to totally rejuvenate your spirit. If you take the stairs inside the spa you will be on deck 12 and at the fitness center. State of the art machines were plentiful, as were free weights, and a rather large floor space for exercise. Although this was a very nice workout area, many of the exercise activities incurred a fee. Yoga, cardio kickboxing, and pilates all had $10 fees attached. The jogging track is located on deck 12, as is the teen center, and children’s facilities. The teen disco is very small, but the teenagers I was traveling with did not seem to mind. This area was used as a meeting place, then, they would be off in little packs to roam the ship. A children’s pool, with water slide, was quite popular with the many children on-board. Unfortunately, the water slide had very limited hours of operation. A basketball court (1/2 court), and golf simulator round out the sport’s area. The one glaring design flaw on the Radiance is the basketball court. Water from the children’s pool often spilled onto the court, making for treacherous play. Also, the basketball court is located directly above the Windjammer Cafe. The noise from bouncing balls created a major distraction from the ambiance of casual dining in the evening, and therefore the sports court was closed every evening during dining hours. Apparently, attempts are being made to correct this flaw on the Brilliance.

Deck 13 is the location of RCI’s signature Viking Crown Lounge, which doubles as the Starquest Disco in the evening. A smaller lounge, the Hollywood Odyssey, was the venue for karaoke each evening. I liked the Hollywood Odyssey, but was very disappointed in the Starquest Disco. Other than the one evening that the cruise staff hosted a 70’s party, this area was relatively dormant. For all the attention to detail I found throughout the ship, this lounge lacked any panache. It was a rather bland space, and the DJ did nothing to liven things up – one of the few disappointments of this ship. Rounding out deck 13 is the rock-climbing wall, and a very popular, miniature golf course.

Dining/Food:

I purposely did not share a description of the various dining spaces in the public rooms portion of my review, as the design of these areas is part of what makes the dining experience onboard so pleasurable. First, is the impressive 2 level Cascades Dining Room: The focal point of the dining room is a spiral staircase, with a waterfall as its backdrop. On the opposite end of the dining room is a beautiful mural that exudes “old world” charm. Columns, which are actually created from delicate fabric, span the 2 decks and complement the decor. RCI offers open seating in the main dining room for breakfast and lunch, and has the traditional 2 dinner seatings (main at 6:00 pm/late at 8:30 pm). Our group of 6 selected late seating, and assigned to a large table for 10. The arrangement turned out to be perfect. The family I was traveling with had 2 teenagers (Brad, 16, and Brittany 15), and a wonderful family from Toronto (also with 2 teenagers) joined our table. Each night the teenagers managed to keep us entertained with their lively and diverse conversation. The menu on RCI tends to be similar throughout the fleet, but the choices each night were sufficiently varied as to please all of our tastes. The lobster was exceptionally moist and tender, as were the short ribs. The filet mignon, on the other hand, was very disappointing. Based on a consensus of our table, overall, I would recommend the seafood, and pasta dishes. Our waiter, Daniel, was a real cutie! He was able to accommodate all of our requests, no matter how unusual (believe me when you have teenagers at a table, their demands can be pretty stringent), and did it all with a sense of humor, and a charismatic smile. He really earned his pay, as his assistant was an inexperienced young lady from Lithuania. Although she tried very hard to please, I felt sorry for her, as it was obvious that the long hours, a language barrier, and homesickness were all affecting her performance. Kent Ringborn, our very personable Captain, came by the tables one evening and chatted with the guests. This was a nice touch seldom seen on ships of this size.

The Windjammer Cafe is another highlight of the Radiance, and an example of the attention to detail, that I found to be so pervasive on this ship. As you sit in very comfortable, leather chairs, in tables of 4 to 8, there is an array of marine and nautical memorabilia to catch your eye. Numerous small serving areas divide the room, each offering a different choice of cuisine. Not only did this arrangement alleviate congestion and lines, but I found it created a more intimate ambiance. Aft of the main buffet area is a somewhat hidden, marvelous glass walled semi-open area. Here one could sit on rattan sofas, arranged in conversational groupings. Continuing aft through this area was a canopied outdoor section, which became my favorite spot for enjoying a danish, or fruit, and coffee, after my morning workout. The Windjammer was open for breakfast from 6:30 am – 11:00 am, began serving lunch at 11:00, and snacks from 3:00-5:00. It was closed from 5:00 – 6:00 to prepare the room for casual dining. The Windjammer offered some of the best buffet food I have experienced on a cruise. Eggs were cooked to order, food was hot, and the choices were plentiful. The burgers and pizza were mediocre, but the rest of the selections made up for this weakness.

The Solarium Cafe offered pizza and sandwiches from 11am – 7 pm daily, and the Seaview Cafe on deck 12 was THE place to get a great burger. The Seaview Cafe takes the place of the Johnny Rockets found on the Eagle Class ships, and was an excellent replacement. Soup, salads, appetizers, and sandwiches were served in an outdoor terrace setting from 4:00 pm – 2:00 am, on days in port. On sea days it opens at noon. Not only were the burgers great, but the milkshakes (they do cost extra) were outstanding!

Rounding out the dining options, the Radiance has 2 specialty dining choices: Chops Grille Steakhouse, and Portofino for Italian fare. There is a $20 dining fee per person for these restaurants. One night, Portofino was the site of a “Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre” for an additional fee. No one in our group chose to try these venues, so I cannot attest to the quality. In speaking with someone at the pool, however, I was told that the steakhouse was excellent, and worth the extra money. At some point in my travels, I will have to return to each of the ships I have sailed, just to try the alternative dining choices.

Entertainment:

There are a variety of lounges and bars on the Radiance, and I have already shared that my favorites were the Colony Club and the Schooner Bar. The Pool Bar and Sky Bar, on the pool decks, provided me with ample daytime libation, but “Focus”, the poolside calypso band, did not impress me. They would have been wise to stick to instrumentals, and not attempt any vocals. Vicky and the Holding Company mainly performed in the Colony Club, and were quite enjoyable. The Brian Buchanan Trio that entertained in the Centrum Lobby appealed to many, and was great for providing soft, mellow, after dinner music.

Two production shows were presented during our cruise, and they were good, but not great! The lead vocals were very talented, but the shows seemed to lack continuity. Of the 2 shows, I preferred “Rockin in Paradise” to “Welcome to My World”. RCI has gone to an evening schedule that rotates the time of major entertainment in the evening, and I am not sure that it is being well received. On alternating evenings, shows for late seating dining are scheduled before dinner. I, along with many of those dining during second seating, found this to be inconvenient. Having chosen late seating so that we could leisurely prepare for dinner, perhaps enjoying pre-dinner cocktails, found ourselves rushed in order to make the show.

A major highlight of the entertainment on board was the cruise director, Gordon Whatman. He was EXCELLENT! He had a wonderful sense of humor, but never took himself too seriously. He was low-key, and seemed to truly enjoy his job! On the morning of debarkation, when RCI requests you vacate your room by 8:00 am, Gordon entertained us in the Aurora Theatre. He used a talk show format and had passengers come up on stage with him and ask questions. Not only did I learn a lot about the ship, and the crew, but made waiting for my flight to be called to disembark an almost pleasant experience.

As for the “Headline” entertainment, I think RCI is sending me a message. The first of our celebrity guests was none other than Bobby Arvon. Who is he you ask? Well, his claim to fame is being the voice of “Happy Days”. What makes this amusing is that I just returned from a Hawaii cruise aboard the Vision of the Seas, and mentioned that RCI must be getting low on name entertainment, since Bobby Arvon was our headliner. The Coasters also performed, and although not the original group, they were entertaining. Actually Captain Kent Ringborn was also very entertaining as he sang, both at the Welcome Aboard Party, and the Crown and Anchor Society Party for repeat passengers.

The Cruise

Day One – Depart San Juan:

As we were not departing until 10:30 pm, there was plenty of time to explore the ship, and still take a stroll through Old San Juan. Open seating for dinner on our first night made for a relaxed and casual beginning of a wonderful trip. After dinner we attended the Welcome Aboard Show, followed by our mandatory lifeboat drill at 10:00 pm. We were scheduled to assemble in the Aurora Theatre, which made the whole process much more pleasant. After this brief requirement, our group headed up to the pool deck to join the Bon Voyage Sail Away Celebration. Drinks, music, and dancing were enjoyed by all, and then it was off to bed, as we would be arriving in St. Thomas early the next morning.

Day Two – St Thomas:

We arrived in St. Thomas on Easter Sunday. Most of the shops in downtown Charlotte Amalie close at 1:00 pm on Sundays. At first, an itinerary that has you arriving in the duty free shopping capital of the Caribbean on a day when stores close early may seem questionable. However, once docked you realize that this is a GOOD thing! Although the stores close early, there were only 2 other ships in port. Shopping and getting around town is much more pleasant than when there are as many as 15 ships in port mid-week.

This was a very port intensive cruise, and having visited St. Thomas on numerous occasions, I was planning to spend most of the day onboard. Of course, with the cruise ships docking directly next to Havensight Mall, the temptation was too great – I couldn’t resist taking a short break from sun bathing to purchase some tanzanite jewelry and restock my perfume supply! St. Thomas also has some wonderful beaches. Having spent so much time in St. Thomas, I would suggest you go to Sapphire Beach, via taxi, rather than Magens Bay, or take the ferry to St. John.

This was the first of 2 formal nights. We attended the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Reception in the Colony Club before dinner. There were three noticeable changes to this scaled down event. First, there was only one reception scheduled between the 2 dinner seatings, rather than 2 separate receptions. No hors d’oeuvres were served, and choice of cocktails was limited to champagne, whiskey sours, Bacardi cocktails, or punch.

After the reception, we went to dinner, and met our enjoyable tablemates for the first time. Having already mentioned the celebrity show featured Bobby Arvon, the adults opted to return to our cabins to enjoy after dinner drinks on our balconies, before heading to the Starquest Disco for the 70’s flashback dance party. The dance party was a hoot! Everyone had great fun, and returned to our cabins exhausted.

Day 3 – Antigua:

Easter Monday is a major holiday in Antigua, so much of the town was closed. Many of the locals were enjoying one of the 365 beaches on this island with family and friends. My friend, Suzi, and I managed to snag a cab and headed for Dickinson Bay. Cabs have preset fares and a trip to Dickinson or Millers Beach costs $10. The cost to Jolly Beach, another excellent beach choice, would cost about $25. We made arrangements for Curly, our cab driver, to pick us up in 3 hours. Sandals Resort is located at Dickinson Bay, and the beach is quite nice. Taking a walk on the beach proved to be an interesting adventure. On the opposite end of the beach from Sandals, is a small cove that took a direct hit from a hurricane. The beach homes are completely gutted, and just the shells remain standing. We discovered that many of the locals have claimed these spots and converted them into open-air beach retreats, complete with tents, tables, and open barbeque pits. Curly arrived early, and since we had time to explore the island before returning to the ship, he took us to Blue Waters, a beautiful 5-star resort, that truly was a luxurious, tropical island paradise. After a full day of sun and sand, a power nap and a long shower rejuvenated me for a fun-filled evening.

We attended the pre-dinner production show of “Rockin in Paradise” at 7:15, and then proceeded to dinner in the Cascades Dining Room. After dinner we headed for the Scoreboard Bar to watch a little of the NCAA Championship game, obviously not an original idea, as the place was packed. Since we couldn’t find a seat, we traveled on to the Colony Club to check out the Radiance Quest Game. Audience participation games are not usually my thing, but this game proved to be quite hilarious. There is something to be said about losing one’s inhibitions at sea. I am sure that there is no other place I would witness otherwise refined gentlemen wearing bras, lipstick, and purses, while “strutting their stuff”, in order to win a key chain. Following this unique event, we got down to some serious rock n’ roll, from the twist to hand jive. We worked off many of the calories we had consumed at dinner, and once again returned to the cabin, exhausted and ready for a good nights sleep.

Day Four – St. Maarten:

We arrived in Philipsburg at 8:00 am. I was traveling with a true “shopaholic”, so since the stores were closed in Antigua, our goal was to make up for lost time, and hit the stores running. I must say, my friend, Suzi, did a great job of leaving the St. Maarten economy in good shape for a long time. Just a word of caution, the $1200 duty free limit is for purchases made in St. Thomas. Expect to pay duty if you exceed that limit in other ports. By the same token, I have found the best prices on liquor and cigarettes can be found in St. Maarten. On this trip, cigarettes were $9 a carton, and a liter of Bacardi Limon was only $7.95. Don’t forget to try some of the guava berry liqueur, exclusive to this island. After some serious power shopping we returned to the ship, grabbed a bite to eat, and the entire entourage headed for Orient Beach.

This is another port in which taxi fares are pre-set. A cab to Orient Beach should cost you $3 per person. We once again negotiated with our very personable driver, Frances, and made arrangements for him to return us to the ship at a specified time. Even though “clothing optional” Orient Beach can be very crowded, it is still one of my favorites. The beach has a carnival like atmosphere that is very easy to get caught up in. There are a myriad of eating, and drinking options, as well as all the requisite rental equipment. On this trip, one of the teenagers, Brittany, really wanted to parasail, but was reluctant to do it alone. Always up for a new adventure, I offered to accompany her. It was a marvelous experience, and one I can highly recommend! The ride was smooth, and breathtaking. The most difficult aspect of the whole experience was getting on and off the jet ski that delivered you to the parasailing boat.

Unfortunately, some of the best of St. Maarten is reserved for the evening. After days filled with shopping and beaches, cruise passengers rarely see how casinos, nightclubs, and romantic sunsets transform St. Maarten.

Once again we needed to be back onboard by 5:30, as the ship set sail at 6:00 pm. We had a lively conversation at dinner sharing the day’s adventures, particularly our impressions of Orient Beach. If you enjoy gardening and butterflies, the “Butterfly Farm & Marigot” ship excursion was given high marks by one person at our table. This evening, after dinner, the group split up, and all found different venues for entertainment. Some of our group spent some time in the casino, while others went to listen to the vocalist Donna Huntley, and the comedian Phil Tag which we deemed as satisfactory, but not outstanding. The late nights, and full days of sun were catching up with me, so after a nightcap, I retired early to enjoy a restful nights sleep.

Day 5 – St. Lucia:

We did not arrive in Castries, St. Lucia until about 10:00 am. This was the day we had reserved for some serious sightseeing. We did have, however, a very specific itinerary in mind, so once again, we chose to make our own arrangements, rather than take an excursion through RCI. Once we hit land, we negotiated with a gentleman to utilize his escorted van services for $25 per person. At first, we were not sure we had made a wise choice. Castries, is a gated port, and the van we had arranged to escort us was on the outside of the gated and guarded area. As we walked to the van, safety and legality were thoughts running through our minds. We were to discover, however, that the van was VERY safe, our driver was outstanding, and we were doing nothing illegal. (Apparently there is a surcharge of 10% that all cabs are required to pay, if they are inside the gates).

St. Lucia is not only a beautiful island, but was perhaps the highlight of my island hopping on this trip. Our journey began with a trip through the lush, mountainous island to Soufriere, the location of the drive-in volcano, and sulphur springs. On our way we stopped at a banana plantation, the Governor’s mansion, the university, and numerous lookout points to view the magnificent Pitons. A visit to the volcano is most definitely worth the time. It is a fascinating, and informative journey. Our driver was exceptionally knowledgeable, and provided a very colorful history of the island. Once we left the volcano, we headed for the beach at Anse Chastenet.

Getting to Anse Chastenet is an adventure in itself. The only way in or out of this beachfront paradise is a 3 mile long, winding, one lane, dirt road. There are points along the way, that if 2 vehicles meet, one of them must back up to allow the other to pass. As you traverse this road, and look down at the sheer drop offs that one hovers next to, this can be a daunting trip. But, I must tell you; the reward is worth the effort. Without a doubt, this is the most beautiful black sand beach I have seen, and would have to rank as one of my top 10 beaches in the world. The water is crystal clear, and the view is magnificent. Although there are, restrooms, showers, and a beachfront restaurant and bar, this is a quiet, secluded beach. It can best be described as a secret bit of heaven on earth. Needless to say, our guide had to drag us from this spot, in order to return to the ship on time.

We were back on board in just enough time to shower, dress for a casual Caribbean night, and get to the Coasters pre-dinner show at 7:15 for second seating guests. After dinner drinks, lounging in the Solarium, and then poolside for a Caribbean party and midnight buffet was the order of the evening. Actually, the poolside buffet was moved indoors to the Windjammer as we had some brief early evening showers, so the presentation was not quite as impressive as it could have been. It was, however, a pleasant night under the stars.

Day 6 – Barbados:

We awoke to another glorious day. The sun was shining brightly, as it had on every morning of our trip, and we were ready to visit our final port. The morning began with my usual mile walk around the jogging track, followed by breakfast alfresco. We had booked an afternoon trip aboard the Jolly Roger Pirate Cruise, which was the only ship excursion we chose to take on this cruise. The morning was spent shopping at the portside mall for some last minute souvenirs and lounging poolside. We chose not to go into town, but those who did seemed to have mixed reactions.

The Jolly Roger was docked within walking distance of the ship, but a shuttle service was also available to escort us to the boat. The party began the minute you stepped aboard. Music was blaring and drinks were flowing. Rum punch, soda, as well as beer and other cocktails were included in the package. It was apparent that the goal of the crew was to make sure everyone was dancing and drinking as we set sail for a beach party. Once we arrived at our beach location, we could choose to take a tender ashore for a 45-minute stay, or stay onboard and swim off the ship, and use the rope swing. On the return, we were entertained by such frivolity as a pirate wedding, and MORE drinking and dancing. We had great fun, but this is not a trip for everyone. It can best be described as a floating “Carlos ‘n Charlies”. If you are not a partier, this is definitely not an excursion that would interest you. For those of you who are, it lives up to its reputation.

After our wild afternoon, it was unfortunate that this evening was the second formal night of the cruise. Somehow, we all managed to pull it off, however, and managed to look sharp for formal portraits. This was lobster night at dinner, and as already mentioned, it was excellent. We had planned to check out karaoke at the Hollywood Odyssey, but the second production show, “Welcome to My World” was scheduled at the same time. So, I went to karaoke for a bit (no, I did not perform), then caught the tail end of the revue. The costuming was good, but the choreography was boring and repetitive. Of the two production shows, I preferred the first. The comedian, Phil Tag, from Tuesday’s show, performed a late night adult comedy show at 12:15 am. As this was a very long day, I once again collapsed into bed, and fell asleep instantly.

Day 7 – At Sea:

I was looking forward to our one day at sea with great anticipation, as one of the things I love most about cruising is the enjoyment of leisure days at sea. I awoke very early, and had completed my exercise regimen by 8:00 am. Apparently, it is a good thing I did, because deck chairs were at a premium by 8:30. I was able to lay claim to 2 chairs on the upper deck above the pool, where my friend and I spent the better part of our day.

Captain Kent Ringborn provided us an added treat on this wonderful day at sea. At about 9:30 am, as we sailed passed Montserrat on our journey back to San Juan, he maneuvered the Radiance as close to the shoreline as possible. He then proceeded to take a very slow cruise around the island. The destruction caused by the recent volcanic eruption was devastating. Although some residents are returning to the island, and a slow process of rebuilding is underway, the eerie view of a ghost town created by the fury of Mother Nature is embedded in my memory.

Needing to take a short respite from the sun, around 11:00 am we made a futile effort to try our luck at Jackpot Bingo. Having no success, we returned to the pool deck to continue the baking process. As we sipped our “coco locos” poolside, horse racing, the belly flop contest, and an ice carving demonstration entertained us. Life is good! The only downside to this entire day was the overcrowding in the main pool area. There were approximately 560 children under the age of 18 on this cruise. On this day, about 200 of those children had taken over the main pool. As a former teacher, I really enjoy children, so in and of itself this was not a problem. It just brought to light how small the main pool and surrounding area actually was. The fact that there is no lounging space at the children’s pool, only exacerbated the problem.

About 3:00 pm I called it quits, and headed for my cabin to pack and prepare for the evening. As I enjoy spending my last night doing something other than packing to go home, I have found a short cut to alleviate the stress, and resolved to get that unpleasant task over and done with before dinner.

Once again, the show was a pre-dinner event at 7:15. The main attraction of the Farwell Show was a magician. I am NOT a fan of magic, and would have preferred not to attend this event, but everyone in my group coerced me into attendance. My opinion was not altered by this performance. Our casual dinner the last night was bittersweet as we said goodbye to our new friends from Toronto. After dinner, the reality that our cruise was almost over, and the real world was closing in came to fruition when it was discovered that my traveling companions had lost the keys to the car we had parked at the airport in Cleveland. A frantic search of all the packed luggage, their cabin, and remaining contents proved fruitless. Coupled with the fact, that my roommate did not have her airline tickets, our last night proved to be a bit harried. As we devised alternative plans, and continued to search in vain, a damper befell the last night festivities. Although this is not the way we had planned to end our trip, we all agreed that overall the cruise was another resounding success and eagerly looked forward to our next cruise adventure.

Debarkation:

For a ship of this size, the process was relatively seamless. As previously mentioned, the wait for our group to be called to disembark was made much more pleasant by the cruise director’s entertainment in the theater. It was certainly better than being forced to sit in public areas with your luggage, and nothing to do. Once off the ship, porters were plentiful, and very helpful at moving us quickly through customs and the terminal. Luggage was placed in separate trucks according to airlines, and we were quickly transported by bus to the airport. The Delta terminal at the airport was a nightmare. Apparently there were only a few agents trying to accommodate a very large number of passengers at one time. After waiting in line for over an hour, we finally approached the ticket counter only to be rewarded for our wait. The “cruise gods” must have known I still needed a bit more pampering before I returned to reality, as our entire group was bumped to first class, for both segments of our trip home. What a nice way to end an already exceptional vacation.

Overall Impressions:

Once again WOW is the best word that comes to mind! I truly loved the Eagle Class ships of the RCI fleet, but they did not provide the same elegance I felt onboard the Radiance. She is a real beauty! It is obvious that much thought went into planning this ship, as she is well designed for her planned Alaska itinerary. There are many enclosed spaces that will provide protection from the elements, while still enjoying the awesome beauty of the surroundings. From the Solarium, to the enclosed “Windjammer Alfresco”, attention to detail and year round usability are evident. Other than the children’s pool and sports court flaw I have already mentioned, the only other negative that needs a mention is the lack of beverage stations at the pool area. One needed to go inside the Windjammer during the day to get ice water, or iced tea. As this was the only location for such libations, frequently, guests clad in bathing suits were subjected to walking through the Windjammer. A beverage station outside would have alleviated this problem. Even with this minor complaint, I would be hard pressed to imagine how RCI could improve upon their product. Well-done RCI!

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