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Mark Kelly

Age: 53

Occupation:Radio News Announcer

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Radiance of the Seas

Sailing Date: May 17th, 2003

Itinerary: Pacific Coastal - San Diego to Vancouver


Some background for perspective on what is to follow: my Wife and I are first-time cruisers, in our early 50’s. We are not "world travelers" by any stretch of the imagination, but have traveled quite a bit in North America. We have stayed in everything from Holiday Inn Express and Fairfield Inns to 5-star hotels and resorts, and have been comfortable in all. Likewise, our food tastes run from fast-food to Morton’s and the like. This was a transition cruise for the Radiance on its way to Alaska for the summer. It began in San Diego and ended in Vancouver, with stops in Catalina … San Francisco … Astoria, OR … and Victoria, BC, with 2 "sea days" along the way.

EMBARKATION
We flew to San Diego late Friday night and stayed at Holiday Inn on the Bay. I chose this hotel after noticing its proximity to the ship terminal across the street on previous trips to San Diego. The room was very comfortable for our brief stay, the staff very accommodating to cruisers (offering a late check-out), and it was a good choice. My original plan was to roll our luggage across the street & to the pier by ourselves, which seemed like a good idea until the reality of the logistics of hauling 4 pieces of checked baggage & 2 carry-ons hit home. (It started to look a LITTLE FARTHER with the bags than when walking WITHOUT the bags …)I opted instead to have a Holiday Inn bellman drive us across the street and to the curbside check-in, tipped both the driver and the porter at the pier generously, I was done with the bags & the hassle, and considered it money well spent.

I have no previous experience to compare it to, but embarkation seemed to go quickly … maybe 30-45 mins tops from being dropped off to getting on the ship. We had passports, had filled out embarkation forms online, the line moved quickly & we had nice people in front of us to talk to. Check-in people seemed to be very efficient. We were aboard by 12:30 or 1:00.

Once on, we found our room, dropped off our carry-ons, and then walked the ship — literally. We started on the top deck and worked our way down, checking out where everything was. It took us about 2 hours, but it was a good move for a couple of reasons: it gave us first-hand knowledge of where everything was and how to get there, and that helped us the rest of the cruise; and it burned off some of our "excitement energy". By the time we were finished with our self-tour, we returned to the room — and all of our luggage was there. (We were off to a good start)

ROOM
Our room was a Category D on Deck 9, port side, about 9 rooms back from the elevators & stairway. I really liked the location, because we seemed close to everything, up or down. Also, even though we had lifeboats below us, they were several decks below us and never obstructed our view from the balcony. We were always looking out to water. We were very happy with the room — size, how it was decorated, its features. The lights above the bed have a nice nightlight feature and swivel around for reading (which we didn’t figure out right away.) The bed wasn’t the most comfortable I’ve ever had, but it was fine & we never had any trouble sleeping. The balcony has a sliding door (that we left open almost every night for fresh air and the sound of the waves.) We had people occupying the rooms on both sides of us, but rarely heard any noise. The closets had plenty of room & plenty of hangers (we brought extra hangers, but didn’t need them.) There are a lot of nooks and crannies for storage space, places where mirrors swing out to provide extra spaces. I thought the whole thing was very laid out and very functional. I’ve read where people say you don’t spend any time in your room, but we did. It was very comfortable for taking an afternoon rest or laying around to read. And I am definitely a balcony-believer after my first cruise. I spent a lot of time on the balcony — early in the morning, coming in to ports, waking up in the middle of the night and just staring out at the water. I loved the light and fresh air. Any future cruise will have to include a balcony.

My Wife liked the vanity area very much, and the lighting.

The bathroom is small, but very functional. Lots of light, lots of mirrors, lots of storage areas. The shower is tiny, but also very functional. (It took me a while to figure out the shower head and how it could be adjusted up and down and sideways.) I just liked the way they packed a lot of nice little handy, space-saving features into a very small space.

Rolando was our room steward and, and, while we didn’t have a lot of requests, he was great. We’d pop out for a little while, and the room would be magically be made up when we returned. Rolando’s specialty seemed to be creative ways to arrange the pillows on the bed — a different way each night. Then, the last two nights, he came up with a couple of the much talked-about towel animals (one was a stingray, and the other was either a rabbit, or a dog with very long ears.) Several times I’d be fumbling in the hall for my SeaPass to get in the room, and Rolando would magically appear out of nowhere and open the door for me. Another time, I locked myself out in the hall putting the room service tray out (happy to report I was clothed at the time …) and there he was again, as if I’d telepathically summoned him, to let me back in my room without a word said (other than my profuse "Thank You"s.) Rolando was always pleasant, always remembered our names, and he was a big part of making our trip such a pleasant experience.

FOOD
The food was plentiful and we thought it was good. We ate most of our breakfasts in Windjammer, and liked the variety there. I also liked the variety of places to sit there … inside, outside, half-outside, inside around the corner by the window. We only had dinner twice in the Dining Room, our second day and our final night, mainly because of wanting to watch us leave port the first night (we had early seating), going to each specialty restaurant once, and deciding to eat later (in Windjammer or Seaview) the other nights. Our table mates in the dining room were all very nice people that we’d see elsewhere on board or in port, and our waiters (Michael Morgan and Jerry) were outstanding the two nights we ate in the dining room. We ate breakfast one in the dining room, the day of debarkation, and it was very good.

We tried both of the specialty restaurants — Chops and Portofino’s — and thought they were both outstanding. Lots of food (almost too much food …), great desserts, terrific service. The wait staff was standing by to respond to the slightest look or indication you needed something, and then they were right there. I tipped extra both nights just because I thought the service was worth extra. They were both very classy dining experiences.
We went to Seaview Café several times for odd-hour meals and the sandwiches (and cold beer) were always very good and the staff very friendly and efficient.

I only ordered room service twice, for early morning coffee on the balcony, and both times it arrived at the designated time (I ordered the night before both times) both mornings. If you’re an early-riser, like for mornings arriving in port, there’s self-serve coffee outside the Windjammer (starboard side, aft.) Also, Latitudes has specialty coffees (which I tried d once).

BARS/LOUNGES
Plenty of bars, comfortable surroundings, we didn’t get to all of them. I did stop in the sports bar in front of the casino one night … and was entertained by the cards tricks and brain-teasers of the bartender in the Solarium (too much thinking for me, my brain was on vacation, too.) The last night we spent some time in the Colony Club at the aft of the ship, a nice, quiet cozy spot and drank some of the best strawberry margaritas I’ve ever had. Almost wish we would have discovered that place earlier in the trip (or, maybe just as well we didn’t.)

ENTERTAINMENT
We went to the two stage production shows, and my Wife went to the Farewell Show the last night (and she was quite impressed with Captain Ringborn’s singing.) I though the shows were fine, very energetic dancing & singing. They were a nice diversion. I was more fascinated with the logistics and special effects on such a small stage, and the ability of the small number of dancers to perform so well while the ship was pitching around some.

We only used the fitness center once, but it’s a great facility … my wife had two massages at the Spa, I had one, and we both took a couple’s massage class. (The massages are not inexpensive, but they were great, and a nice way to pamper yourself) The Solarium was very nice, but I was never in there except to use the hot tub once (and a drink at the bar with the great bartender). We didn’t hit the casino — just one of those places we didn’t get to this trip.

PHOTOS
There are ship photographers offering to take your picture inside the ship, and outside the ship at the ports, and we had our picture taken a lot. There’s no obligation to buy, but we never have our picture taken professionally, and we did get a few we liked.

PORTS OF CALL

CATALINA

Our first time to this island, and the only port we used tenders. It was a beautiful day, and we took one of the two excursions we bought at this port, an inexpensive hour-long van tour that took us high above Avalon (and gave us a great looking-down view of Radiance)

SAN FRANCISCO
Another great weather day. We arrived at sun-up, passing underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. We had an excursion here, a bus tour to Sausalito and Muir Woods, that had us back to the pier by Noon. We docked just a few blocks away from Fisherman’s Wharf, and walked there and to Ghiardelli Square. It was a sunny, warm day and we didn’t leave until Midnight that night, passed again underneath the Golden Gate Bridge with clear skies, no fog or rain whatsoever. A great day.

ASTORIA
Astoria was a substitute on the original itinerary for Seattle. I’m sure some people, especially from other parts of the country were disappointed with the change but, since we’ve been to Seattle numerous times and its in close proximity to where we live, it made no difference to us. Astoria was a very pleasant surprise to me, a coastal town where the people seemed genuinely happy to have us there. As we got off the ship, they had a craft market set up with 15-20 vendors under tents … local artists with painting, jewelry, other stuff all made and sold by people in the Northwest. The Maritime Museum in town is well worth seeing, very modern with multi-media displays, and provides some interesting information on the training of the Coast Guard rescue crews that’s done off the coast of Oregon. One highlights of the trip for me was when we were leaving the dock that afternoon, a lot of the people from town came out to see the ship, and 12 members of the local high school band set up next to the ship and played songs as we got ready to head off. I thought it was equally nice how the ship passengers on deck applauded after each song and really seemed to appreciate (like me) their efforts and hospitality. Little things that make for nice memories. Incidentally, we took a shuttle bus into town from the pier, but walked back … not a short walk, but not difficult and with the good weather (just a little rain) and good exercise.

VICTORIA
Nice city, the ship pier is about a 25 minute walk to the Inner Harbour (where downtown is.) We had done Butchart Gardens on a previous visit here so opted just to stroll around downtown. A very relaxed place with friendly people. (There’s a great street vendor on — Street, one of the main drags, who has great hot dogs and hot pretzels.)

ODDS ‘N ENDS


CROWDS
Prefacing this with someone telling me this cruise was only about 2/3 full, I never felt like the ship was crowded. About the only time I saw crowds were in & out of the Aurora Theater and through the adjoining shops, and prior to being seated at dinner. I found lots of open places out on the decks where it seemed like you were all alone … and in the Windjammer … and in the lounges. Again, maybe it was the ship not being at capacity, since I have nothing previous to compare it to.

WT GAIN
We’re not very physically fit people (major understatement …) and we didn’t scrimp on any meals, but we really didn’t gain any weight on this trip. We did a lot of walking (on board, in ports) and used the stairways a lot. I really liked the stairways inside as an option to the beautiful elevators. They’re wide and a good alternative to waiting for the elevators.

PILOT BOATS
Cheap thrills here, but I was fascinated by watching the Pilot Boats that came to pick up the Channel pilots when we were leaving ports. They have to kind of snatch them off the ship while its well underway (there’s a good video on this procedure at the maritime Museum in Astoria ), and it was interesting to watch the choreography and timing it took to do it. It also gives you an idea of how fast the Radiance is going when it seems like it’s barely moving. We got a great view of this process while at a window seat at Chops one night, cruising out of Astoria, where the pilot boat captain was really being challenged by the waves and had to make several passes to pluck the Pilot off our ship

BRIGHT & LIGHT
I like sunlight, and everywhere on this ship it was bright & light. Even when you were in the Shops, there were windows to the outside and you could see the ocean. I looked at other ships in port, and I could be wrong, but most of them didn’t seem to have the exterior windows the Radiance has. I certainly never felt cooped up.

STAFF / TIPPING
The staff seemed genuinely friendly and nice, everyone from maintenance workers to people cleaning in the early morning hours to the service staff. I never got the impression that anyone was looking for an extra tip (although their service & actions prompted me to do so on several occasions.) Everyone seemed to enjoy what they were doing and being nice to the passengers.

CLEANLINESS
This ship was kept clean, really clean. They were always cleaning inside, day and night.

THE MOTION THING

My Wife is very prone to motion sickness, in airplanes and vehicles. No one thing works for everyone, but the wrist SeaBands have been a godsend to her in all our travels. (They sound like hocus pocus, but they work). On this trip, she wore them 24 hours a day, and never had any problems except for one uneasy time when she was inside at the Spa. I don’t think we had anything that would be considered heavy seas on this trip, but there were a few stretches where the ship was rocking, and she had no problems.

PORT SECURITY
Hats off to the Coast Guard. In all the U.S. ports, they escorted the ship in & out, (sometimes with two boats) and while we were docked they had patrol boats cruising the perimeter, keeping an eye on us. If any pleasure boats got a little too close to get a better view of the ship, the Coast Guard patrol intercepted them to tell make them keep their distance. In noticed things were a little different when we got to Victoria but, hey, that’s their country and they have their own rules & problems and can do things the way they want. But while we were at the US ports, it looked like we were being watched pretty well.

DEBARKATION
The Radiance docked at Ballantyne Pier in Vancouver, the "other" pier. The debarkation process was as expected, somewhat slow but not as bad as I had anticipated. (Possibly because the ship wasn’t at capacity). Staying overnight in Vancouver, we were in one of the last groups off and were assigned to wait in the Aurora Theater. Once off the ship, the baggage search was pretty quick since we were one of the last ones off, and the Canadian customs check went quickly. The biggest slowdown was for people like us waiting to get cabs … there were two other cruise ships in town (at Canada Place), so the cabs were in demand.

We stayed overnight at Delta-Pinnacle, very nice room with a great view of the harbor, Lion’s Gate Bridge, and Stanley Park. It’s on par with The Pan Pacific and Waterfront Fairmont. If I had to do it over again, I’d go somewhere less expensive (there was a Renaissance right across the street that looked like a good bet) and maybe go through Priceline, but the Pinnacle is a great hotel, and a great way to end the trip. I got a great view & photos later Saturday of three cruise ships leaving Vancouver (including the Radiance) from the room window, and watched 2 more arrive Sunday morning, so that was pretty much worth the cost right there.

Downtown to the airport is about a 25 minute cab ride. It helps to have your Customs form filled out ahead of time, and be aware that there is an airport "exit fee" that you have to pay as you leave. (I’ve seen people shocked at this fee, but it’s nothing new. I think it’s $7 per person now, and several years ago it was $10. It might be handy to save some of your Canadian $$$ for that and for the shops & fast food places on the way to the gates.

This trip was much researched, planned-for, and anticipated, and it lived up to all expectations. I expected to enjoy it, and both of us did. I can see how people get hooked on this. My next cruise would have to be pretty good to match this one — but I’m sure willing to try it again and I’d definitely look at the Radiance or one of its sister ships.

MKelly

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