Greg "Pepe" Giese
Number of Cruises: 6
Cruise Line: Regent Seven Seas
Ship: Radisson Diamond (sold)
Sailing Date: n/a
Itinerary: Panama Canal
The Radisson Diamond is one of those cruises where the ship itself is the destination. As a single male passenger (39) boarding in Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica, my main destination was the ship, and to see the Panama Canal. My trip itinerary for Feb 3-10, 2002 was embarking in Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica, Panama Canal transit, San Blas Islands, Cartagena, Curacao and then disembarking at Aruba.
I used the Radisson arranged flight package, which included a complimentary stay at the Real Intercontinental Hotel in San Jose, and even included a complimentary Poas Volcano tour while in transit to the port from San Jose.
My first impressions were how thorough Radisson is. Even though this was an upscale cruise, it seemed as though everything was included. Most other cruise lines have so many extras, that trip costs add up rather fast.
I do have to say that the documentation department screwed up a number of times -- first not delivering the cruise documents to my address, and then double charging me for the cruise (my travel agent had to spend an entire day to resolve that issue which resulted in a cabin upgrade to a verandah suite).
Arriving at the ship in Puerto Caldera was very exciting. The Pacific port was teeming with activity. The Radisson Diamond is a twin hulled ship, and was nestled in-between a container ship, and a tuna boat which was unloading huge 300-400 lb. tuna via crane.
Getting off the bus, we were greeted with a glass of champagne, and followed the red carpet to the gangplank up to the ship. Once inside, we were greeted and presented with our room card (plastic swipe card) and then had a digital photo taken for ship records. I was then showed to my cabin which was a beautiful cabin (921) with a verandah overlooking the water.
The cabin is fair sized, well appointed, and very clean. On the table was a rose, and a fruit plate (which was replenished every day). A complimentary bar refrigerator was also in the room, and the room came with two complimentary bottles of your choice of any number of spirits, from a simple bottle of rum, to Bailey's. I was supposed to have a complimentary bottle of wine (arranged from my travel agent), but it never got there for some reason. Each cabin gets two nice thick robes, which is a nice touch. A TV/VCR combo was also there, and a huge library of video's could be checked out from the ships library (complimentary).
Probably the only negatives for the entire cruise really could be focused to the cabin. The shower/tub arrangement never really got much, if any hot water. The toilet stopped working once (a first for me after 6 cruises). And there was an annoying beeping sound which randomly sounded at various times of the night, from the thermostat/pressure sensor mounted on the ceiling. I asked that it be fixed, but somehow the problem never got resolved.
Exploring the ship after getting unpacked in the cabin was top priority. There are only three decks of public area's on this ship, which is nice for getting around. The top deck is for sun tanning, pool/hot-tub, bar, topside grill and huge expanses of deck space for deck chairs, tables, and other activities including shuffleboard.
This cruise, unlike the ones before and after it, was only half booked, so there were only 143 passengers on the ship (205 crew). It was like being on a private yacht. My only complaint was that being a single, 39 year old male, there were no single women to speak of, and most passengers were over 60 years of age. The crew was in their 20's and 30's.
Let me say that the service on this ship is incredible. They have thought of everything when it comes to passenger service, and should be highly commended for this. The crew really did their best to learn your name, and your preferences (everything from wine to type of soda).
Breakfast was served in the Main dining room, and up topside in the buffet grill area. Most preferred breakfast and lunch on the top deck since you could sit outside and watch the world cruise by. For lunch, they had a buffet style selection of a huge variety of foods inside (everything from a salad bar, desert, sushi and miscellaneous hot foods), to an outside grill where they would make to order, fresh tuna, big juicy hamburgers, or steak.
Dinner was in the Main dining room, and was a 5-star experience. Patrick, the Maitre d’, was very professional, and had trained a great staff along with the head waiter, Wilson. Soda is complimentary throughout the ship, and for dinner, complementary house wine was served to a bottomless glass. I'm not a big wine drinker, but those I sat with said the choices were quite good reds and whites. Only twice during the whole week did I see a wine refused (because it was not up to par). And in those cases, a red wine was accepted instead of the white, and everything was fine.
The food presentation is incredible, along with the variety. There is a definite European pallet which is being catered to here. My favorite was the "Cowboy Steak." Don't let the name fool you, it was the most incredible steak I have ever had. It was a prime cut, and can be ordered any evening, even though it might not be on the menu that particular night. Order this steak, you won't regret it.
The other dining option is up on the top deck, inside, at what is called, "Don Vito's." This is a more casual dining experience, but is energy packed and lots of fun. A three piece band plays great Italian music (and song) while you are served a 10 course Italian dinner. It is done "en masse" by about eight waiters, and is an experience (reservations required) you should have at least once during the cruise.
Evening wear consists of one formal night (tuxedos for men or nice dresses for the women) and the rest of the evenings are split between "informal" and "casual" attire. What this means is that for men, you are best to have a dinner jacket most evenings, and switch between a shirt and tie, or nice shirt for even casual evenings.
Tipping is included in the fare, and even when I asked the staff, they reiterated that it was definitely included. A few of the passengers did tip at the end of the cruise to a few waiters, and staff who had shown exemplary service. I took out the casino staff and some others to a bar one afternoon in Curacao as my way of tipping.
On my cruise there were two nights of a comedian, and the balance of evenings were shows and singing from the four show people. The entertainment was excellent, and even with only four show people, a great ensemble was produced time after time. The singers were incredible. The live four person band was topnotch.
My only complaint was that since it was an older crowd, the passengers evaporated after 11pm when the show was finished. And even though the "windows lounge" turned into a disco at 11:30pm, there was nobody around to actually enjoy it.
There is a casino aboard as well, staffed by about 8 mainly British, Scottish, and Australian dealers. Blackjack, craps, roulette, slots and Caribbean Poker are offered. I regularly played blackjack and actually left about $200 ahead.
There are a few computers aboard ship which the passengers can use (printer included). If you wish to send a email, it is around $3-5 to have one sent. (they price it at $1-2 per kilobyte, and the emails are sent out in batches every 4 or 6 hours). While there is a shipboard phone (via satellite), expect to pay $14 per minute. You're better off in both cases to find an internet cafe, or pay phone when you arrive at port. In Cartagena, there is a beautiful old bar which was converted to an internet cafe, for only $1.00 per hour fee's, and they serve great beer as well.
Transiting the canal was absolutely fascinating-- but the timing could not have been worse. Going from the Pacific side to the Caribbean side, we arrived under the Bridge of the Americas just outside Panama City at around 5am. By 7:15am we were already though the Miraflores Locks (when I finally awoke). Going through the Culebra (Gallaird) Cut was quite enjoyable and the ship dropped the hook at the Gatun Yacht Club around noon. We stayed there until around dinner, when we went through the final locks (of course, it was during dinner). At Gatun Lake for the afternoon, most of the land-based tours where either cancelled, or scaled back due to a security zone in effect due to a US Nuclear Sub which was transiting the canal.
It was at Gatun Lake that we had the only rain sprinkles during the entire cruise.
Once in the Caribbean, the trade winds frothed up 15 foot seas which the Radisson Diamond took very well. Most ships would have been rocking at a fair clip, but the Diamond with it's SWATH design rode it out very well, and almost perfect flat. My only observation the design of the ship, is that it jitters from side to side in a most peculiar fashion, instead of the rhythmic gentle roll of most mono hull ships. I spoke to a few captains about this, and they agreed.
Next stop was San Blas Islands. I elected to go jet skiing on one of the ships many water toys (from ships onboard marina) on the "deserted island." Of course, this was also complimentary. Other passengers elected to go to one of the Kuna villages, where it got mixed reviews. The Kuna are getting quite savvy to the cash which can be generated from the cruise ships (who can blame them).
Cartagena was the next day, and was probably the most beautiful port. Be sure to take a $30 taxi (for three hours) up to the Monastery overlooking the port, and then to the Old Town to peruse the shops, internet cafe, and bars. It is a very safe city, and well policed.
Next was a day at sea, and then Curacao. Curacao is a Dutch port with a most picturesque city of multi-colored pastel shops and homes. The beaches here are great. Be sure to go to the Sea Aquarium beach and visit Mambo Beach Bar. The is one of the best places to catch a beautiful Antillean sunset.
The final port was Aruba, where we disembarked. Another complimentary bus tour of the island was given to us before dropping off passengers at the airport. Aruba is a arid, dry island, and was probably my least favorite island.
When all is said and done, Radisson does a great job once on the ship with unequaled service, and staff. The ship is maintained to very high standards, but could probably use some upgrades (the ship was built in 1992). The teak deck and varnished rails were the best I've seen on any ship. Crew was always painting and touching up the ships hull, and housekeeping staff were always buffing the miles of brass hand rails.
I highly recommend this ship, if nothing else, for the ship itself as a destination. I have digital photos of the cruise and the ship on my website -- www.ipepe.com for more detail. Good luck on your travels, and fair seas.