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NANCY ZUPANCIC

Age: 36

Occupation:SYSTEMS ANALYST

Number of Cruises: 17

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Radiance of the Seas

Sailing Date: December 11th, 2005

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

We flew down to Miami one day prior to the cruise on Air Canada. We always fly at least one day or more before just in the event of flight delays or cancellations due to weather. We really enjoy getting a chance to decompress and enjoy the port city prior to the cruise. If there is any advice I could give someone it would be to spend time pre and post cruise.
As it was, our flight originally scheduled for 7:30am changed to 10:30 and then waited on the tarmac until 11:30. You can see how schedules can go from comfortable to slight uneasiness to panic very quickly. Most people on board this packed flight were going on cruises that left that evening and ‘yes’ they were stressed. Not the way we like to begin vacation.
Last year we met a great tour operator through a porter at the airport in Miami. So we pre-booked him again this year. He was waiting for us in the terminal when we arrived.
The forecast had been for showers and thunderstorms. The inclement weather stayed away and it was a lovely afternoon and evening. We checked into the Miami Courtyard Marriott got settled and then went to Bayside Marketplace for dinner and some shopping. If you plan to go to Bayside Marketplace you can go to their website and get a voucher for a coupon book, nothing great, but a few savings. You can also print out coupons from the Bath & Body Works website to use at their stores and there is one at Bayside.

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2005
DEP MIAMI 4PM


We had breakfast at a nice little bakery called the Don Pan on the corner across from the hotel. The smoothies were excellent.
We checked out just before noon and waited for Edgar, our driver, to pick us up. Remember the hotels in Miami are very busy on Saturdays and Sundays with people getting ready to board their ships so call the porters and check out earlier than usual.
Hotel Information:
Courtyard Miami Downtown
200 SE Second Avenue
Miami, Florida 33131
USA
Phone: 1-305-374-3000
Fax: 1-305-374-4061

Great rooms on the 7th floor and up.

Once at the pier we left our bags in the hands of a friendly porter, we made sure he was well paid and we were off to board the ship.

Checking in was fairly painless. One tip for Canadian residents, make sure you check the box that disallows RCI to convert your shipboard account to Cdn funds. They do this ‘for your convenience’ and at a horrible exchange rate. Thanks but no thanks. The 2 or 3% you pay to your credit card company will be lower. Another tip to those who choose to not be very observant, make sure before you leave the check in counter you ensure you have the correct seapass card. My mother and aunt got someone else’s cards and it was not noticed until already onboard. Guest services rectified the matter but save yourself the pain and very unnecessary trouble.

We always try to get down to the dining room to asses our table location and meet the maitre d’. After our tasks were complete we went to the windjammer for a buffet lunch. I really like the buffet setup and offerings on the Radiance. However, I am not a fan of buffets so this would be the only time I ate at the windjammer this sailing. I do remember eating there many times on a prior cruise on the Radiance.

We had two balcony rooms on the 9th deck aft and starboard. This was the first time in a lot of cruises that we did not have a room on the port side. My mom and aunt stayed across the hall in an interior room. This is a great ship to go in an inside room as they are quite large and comfortable. However, our balcony room and my brother’s balcony rooms were so nice – she made a pledge to not go in an inside room if we were getting balconies.

On sail away we started out on the good side of the ‘port of Miami’ the side that is not facing the port and pier but the houses and south beach. The ship will then turn around in order to sail out and then we were facing downtown Miami and the port for most of the sail away.

Other ships in port that day were Carnival Valor, Carnival Victory, NCL Jewel, Explorer of the Seas.

That night we met our waiter Chako and Oleksandr. They were fantastic and probably one of the best wait staff teams we had. The glasses were always full, they always made recommendations and they always finished our thoughts by bringing extra of the good entrée and desserts. You know, ‘just in case…’

Tonight almost everyone at the table enjoyed the prime rib, I had the ravioli and I enjoyed it very much.

MONDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2005
AT SEA
FORECAST 83F


We woke up to the coffee being delivered to our room and we would enjoy it with some Bailey’s (after all we are on vacation!). This has become a cruise tradition. We all met for breakfast in dining room around 8:30am. I think the dining room closed around 9am.

We spent the morning relaxing, swimming or exploring the ship. Later on in the afternoon we went to the Sea View café for lunch around 1:30 –2pm. This seemed to be a good time for the Sea View as there were a lot of empty tables and no one in line. I really like the Sea View but it is often crowded.

Afterwards my nephew went a few times on the water slide and then he discovered the rock climbing wall. When I was onboard in 2003, the rock wall cost $10 to climb. Now they offer it for free. This was the start of my nephew climbing it numerous times.

Tonight was formal night and the production show was ‘Piano Man’. Both were fun and a success. Unfortunately, this was the only night we got to the show because we are on late seating and the shows mostly were pre-dinner after that. So I can’t comment on any of the others. I can comment on the show lounge being one of my favorite, as you can always get a fairly good seat, even right up to the curtain up. If you showed up 10 to 20 min early you had your pick of seats. The last time I sailed on the Radiance, we usually sat in the second level one deck up on deck six. The seats were large and comfortable and there is enough room for others to walk in front of you while you are seated.

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2005
LABADEE, HISPANOLA
8am – 4pm
FORECAST 88F


We anchored off the coast of Labadee early and it was a fantastic day to spend at the beach. We took our time and had breakfast in the dining room.

I read some varied complaints about Labadee on the Cruise Critic boards and they concerned me slightly. Then when I saw the peninsula I was delighted. RCI has a great brochure and map of Labadee, if you don’t get one in your room than make sure you get it from Guest Services.

They offer many activities such as parasailing, kayaking, jet skiing and a thriller power boat ride to name a few. Then they also have a water park for tykes and other aqua park activities for older kids to adults.

The day we had was hot (around 90F) humid and sunny! A perfect day to enjoy the beach.

When you land at the tender area, to your right is the Columbus Beach area and this has the Jet Skis, kayaks, thriller power boat, water slides and Aqua park. Unless you are going to be apart of these activities or just exploring, I would not bother with this area. So, from the tender drop off if you turn towards the left you will see the first beach and extreme far left into the distance a second beach, barefoot beach and then one more after that, hideaway beach. These were smaller and quite nice if they are not too busy you can enjoy these areas. We continued on and found the beach on the other side. This was a big bay and was not too crowded, so we enjoyed the day there not too far in front of the first aid station. The bathrooms were just behind and the food stations where you could get the BBQ were on either side.

On this big bay you could see some small waves breaking and some markers in the water. This was a very good snorkeling site. The snorkeling was a lot better than I expected and just on the other side of the markers there was some great coral formations and tropical fish. Don’t get too expectant to see tons of fish, there are not many. There is worthwhile stuff to see, mostly critters and corals, look hard. One unfortunate thing I wish the ship educated people better regarding the reefs. I think they should make an announcement in the cruise compass to tell people when they are wading into the ocean that whatever they think are rocks are actually corals and many living animals. Touching them or stepping on them can easily kill them. You would not believe the number of people we saw walking up on top of the coral, ‘Yes’ right on top of the coral in their water shoes.

After the snorkeling, we headed for the BBQ and enjoyed some burgers and salads. Our breakfast waiter told us he recommends the fruit punch and it was quite good. It would be even better with some vodka or rum. They offered the regular variety of fruits and salads and some great brownies for dessert.

The rest of our afternoon was spent on the mats we rented for $10. They were very comfortable and great for starting our base tan.

Do not worry about there not being enough beach chairs or mats. There is a lot of all these things available. Labadee was everything my cruise agent said it was and more. The only problem was we had to be back on board for 3:30 and the ship sailed at four. The sail away was breath taking and the moon was now almost full. Our starboard side balcony was facing Haiti during the day and the port side saw more of Labadee. During the sail away, our side was the best for seeing all of Labadee.

Bring money to buy stuff at the market
Otherwise everything else uses cruise card
Bring our own floats to use – to rent them is $10
Went to large bay beach, not that busy at all
Snorkeling was better than expected lots of nice corals saw some great tropical fish and sea anemones
More than enough lounge chairs
Big buffet
The fruit punch was excellent.

NO OTHER SHIPS IN PORT

If you are staying at the beach right until the end of the day, my advice would be to wait and go on the last tender. We lined up in a huge line for one of the tenders going before the last tender and they of course, were packed and the last tender was sparse.

Tonight’s dinner attire was casual/Caribbean. The entertainer in the show lounge was a female singer/comedian.

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2005
OCHO RIOS, JAMAICA
9am – 5pm
FORECAST 90F


Reading some previous posts on Cruise critic I could see that hiring one of the many private guides was the way to go. The ship’s excursions do not give good value for the half day and we always try to avoid them. I got in touch with some of the guides a few months prior. We decided to go with Peat Taylor and his son, O’Neil. Email: oneiltay@cwjamaica.com

The main tour consists of a visit to Dunn’s River Falls, the fern gully up on the mountainside, some shopping if desired. We stopped at a small school with a few 5 year old students, they were so welcoming and very sweet. We saw a typical Jamaican neighborhood and enjoyed Peat and Oneil’s commentary and singing. It was well worth the price and they met us right as soon as you got off the pier.

Dunn’s River Falls is very touristy but we really enjoyed it. I would stay clear of the market there as they are brutally pushy and really made my nephew uneasy. My advice is to stay polite and walk right past – do not make eye contact. We enjoyed lunch at a very beautiful restaurant called ‘The Ruins’. The food was great and the setting gorgeous. The Jerk (BBQ) pit really packed some heat. We really enjoyed the food and atmosphere and it was not that busy.

The morning tour (including the falls) is all included. Lunch is optional and you can be dropped of at the ship as it is very close by. In the afternoon, you could go either river tubing on the white river or horseback riding. We were supposed to go river tubing but the time got a little too close for us to do the activity and go shopping afterwards and make it back to the ship. We just settled on being dropped off at the shopping area near the pier.

The cost is US35.00 per adult & US25 .00 per child inclusive of admission to Dunn’s River falls and transportation cost to the other locations, no charge for children under 2 years old. We paid at the end of the tour. When I was originally booking the tour I enquired about a private tour. I believe what happens is Peat takes the larger bus and Oneil will take private guests in the van or if they are very busy you may get a contracted out driver. I would recommend you stick to the larger bus. This way you can get lucky and benefit from having both Peat and Oneil and meet other guests from the ship. As it turned out for our tour there was only one other couple besides our family on the tour.

If you are buying Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee (JaBluM), the price we were told to pay per pound was between $13 & $20. In most stores you will find it for more than $20. Bargain down and try to do your best. The best price we could get, even though we were buying 8 pounds, was $17usd per pound. The TajMahal is a main shopping mall near the cruise ship pier. The best store we were told was the one right in the middle of the parking lot. We found the coffee to be cheaper in another store. The name of this store was Reggae Jam and it was shop#7. I’m not saying this is the cheapest but it was the cheapest we could get at the time.

I had heard horror stories about Jamaica and was a little nervous about our stop here. The last time I visited there was back in the eighties and I really enjoyed it but places change. I heard Dunn’s River Falls was a horrible tourist trap and the locals harassed you terribly. I am happy to say we were all pleasantly surprised. Jamaica was one of my favorite memories of this trip and I think it was all due to the fact we went on a private tour and got out and into the countryside. I would really recommend others do the same.

The other ships in port today were the NCL Jewel, NCL Dawn and Westerdam

We had the best berth in this port and the Westerdam was berthed at the James Bond Pier. Sounds better but it is older and further out of the town. The two NCL ships tendered in to our pier.

In this port our starboard side room faced the port and it was a very beautiful port to look at.

The moon tonight was now full.

The dinner attire for tonight was written as country/casual. Not ‘country club’ casual, it was more country western. The show lounge featured a comedian ‘Chad Chesmark’. After dinner they had the ‘love and marriage’ show featuring married passengers. We always find this to a highlight and these couples did not disappoint.

Something to note about the shore excursions, since you can book them on the TV, you can book them right up and including the night before or even the day of the tours. So if you feel you are too late – you can try to get on one. I thought this was good for people who aren’t sure what they want to do until the last minute and on most cruises you find you are out of luck. Our friend decided at the last minute to join my brother and his family on their shore ex in Cayman and she booked it on the TV with no problem before she retired for the night.

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2005
GRAND CAYMAN
8AM – 5PM
FORECAST 85F


We woke up to a beautiful day in Grand Cayman. My sister and I booked a certified scuba dive through the ship. My brother and his family were going on a tour of Hell, the turtle farm and then to the beach.

The dive tour was with Red Sail Sports. This was a first rate dive op and I would use them again. However, we did not have a first rate experience. There is always the debate, should you dive with the ship or book a dive operator privately. Well today would be an argument to book a dive on our own.

One of the reasons we booked with the ship was because you have to tender in Cayman and by the time you get to shore most of the dive trips have already gone out or you could do a shore dive.

We had not gone on a dive since last year we were put in the less experienced group, even though we are advanced divers. I would not mind so much but we had a dive guide who only lived in Cayman for two weeks, so unfortunately, she did not know the dive sites as well as they usually do. This particular site is on the famous Cayman wall and we were supposed to go through three swim through and then dive along the wall. What happened was we got through one swim through and another diver was already low on his air and we had to go back to the boat. Usually what happens in this situation is we swing around so the diver knows where the boat is and they do their safety stop and go back to the boat. The rest of the group would continue on. In this case the dive guide stayed there and after a very short period of time she wanted us to go back to the boat and we still had 2000 psi. There was a mutiny right there in the depths and we shared our displeasure with the captain once we were back on board. We were then moved into the other group for the second dive. I am still mad as that could be the last time I get the opportunity to see the Cayman wall. After that the second dive was quite excellent.

After the morning of diving we tendered back to the ship to drop off our gear and then headed straight back into Georgetown.

There were way too many ships in that day. The main areas of Georgetown were packed. The traffic was horrible. If you were on a private shore excursion make sure the tour is in the morning and give yourself plenty of time to get to the pier through all the bad traffic.

The only thing we needed to buy here was Tortuga rum and Tortuga rum cake. Make sure you buy the rum early because they have to deliver it to the ship, you cannot take the liquor you buy. I was very close to missing the cut off time and we saw many people disappointed. Most of the stores you need can be found right on the two main streets, Harbour Drive & Cardinal Avenue.

Other ships in port that day were, Star Princess, Rhapsody of the Seas, NCL Jewel, NCL Dawn, Westerdam, Carnival Conquest, Jewel of the Seas, Carnival Valor and a Pullmantur ship not sure of the name.

Tonight was formal night and the night they served lobster. The show was after dinner for the late seating show. However, I was just too exhausted after the full day enjoying GC.

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2005
COZUMEL
10AM – 7PM
FORECAST 88F


Today we woke up to very dark skies. It was so overcast, there was absolutely no chance of clearing up. We were thinking the ship might cancel the port stop.

Once we arrived in Coz and were at anchor, the devastation became very apparent. It was really horrible to see what weather is capable of. We were anchored out front of the International Pier area. At first view, all we could see were skeletons of buildings and rubble. You could actually see right through high rise hotels. I would have never imagined the damaged could be so bad. If I could give my honest opinion about this, I believe it is too soon for the ships to stop here. I do realize they need the tourist dollars to re-build, however, the day we were there, there was the Coral Princess, Carnival Valor, Carnival Conquest, the Radiance – and I even think I saw the Rhapsody of the Seas as well. This is close to or more than 10,000+ people and the infrastructure just is not there yet. On a positive note the people were exceptionally warm and happy and ready to please. I am not sure if there are any planes coming in yet as there did not appear to be many hotels in operation.

Our ship prepared as the huge ferries are used as the tenders. Once the tenders began service, it was very fast to get ashore. The International pier itself was completely devastated and you could see where they rebuilt just enough to allow the ferries to have a proper docking area and just beyond this it was fenced off. The rest of the pier was reduced to just some footings and twisted rebar.

We had pre-booked a scuba dive with Eagle Ray Divers. We used this dive operation last year and we really like them. When we got off the tender, there were a lot of shore excursion operators offering tours. We had to get to the ‘La Caletta’ marina just up the road. We got there very quickly by taxi.and met our hosts for the day. The taxi fare was $6 flat rate plus tip. There was another couple going snorkeling on our boat and there was supposed to be another family going diving also booked. They were ‘no shows’. This was very lucky for us, as we now had the dive master all to ourselves. The great thing about scuba diving is it does not matter if it is a rainy day because you get wet anyway and you are underwater so the weather did not ruin our day as much as it was a factor for my brother and his family who were going to the beach.

I do not want to dwell on the hurricane damage, but I will mention a few more things to try and help people choose their shore excursions. I think to get out and do some water sports is a good idea as our dive was still excellent and the snorkeling still appeared good as well. Since there did not appear to be a lot of land tourists staying there, there is not the amount of divers and snorkelers there usually is. These operators need the business. I do not think this would be a great beach port for the next little while. The water goes right up to the shore line beaches are washed away. Chakanaab (sp?) no longer exists. Paradise Beach is operational but just does not look ready. We saw some people that went on the Tulum and Xelha excursion and they really enjoyed it. The shops and shopping available is picking up and they are putting out their best efforts. There is still a lot to buy. The restaurants were destroyed at the International Pier. There might be a lot more shopping and restaurants downtown but I cannot comment for sure, as we did not get down there.

I can comment on the diving, it is still fantastic! Do not hesitate to go. You can certainly see where unfortunately reefs have been covered over in sand and some unfortunate destruction. However, the water was still the most gorgeous blue and the animals were plentiful. The crew on our dive boat was even telling us the hurricane actually opened up more caves and swim throughs, so you might be pleasantly surprised. We went to Santa Rosa Caves and the second dive was at a reef we went to last year ‘las palmas’. It was still the most fabulous topography and walls and IMHO the critters are the best in the area. The day before, in Grand Cayman we had great dive conditions and 100+ visibility and I still preferred Cozumel. We saw a great nurse shark under a ledge and many huge queen angelfish (the best I have ever seen) and those Cozumel ‘splendid’ toadfish are just the best!

All in all we had a great day in Coz even though the weather was cold and miserable (probably got to about 76F). The warm people and their remarkable surviving spirit was so warm and certainly was a lesson for all of us.

If you want to contact Chellie at EAGLE RAY DIVERS
www.EagleRayDivers.com
chellie@eagleraydivers.com
011-52-987-872-5735 phone
FAX-52- 987-872-7295

The last evening was casual/50s & 60s attire. Honestly, I didn’t notice anyone dressed up for any of these themes. Maybe by telling you all ahead of time you will be better prepared than we were on our sailing. The show again was a pre-dinner show, this was the production show ‘Welcome to our World’ and I have seen it before and remembered it was well done and would recommend it.

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2005
AT SEA


Today was our last day of the cruise and the plan was full out sun bathing. It was one of those days where there was not one cloud to be seen across the sky. Just a great day to be alive!

We started out by having breakfast in the dining room. We found great lounge chairs in a prime spot providing possible all day sun on the deck above the pool deck and right outside the solarium.

Now I will comment on the ship itself. When you board the ship on one of the main decks (deck 4) you see the bank of glass elevators and the main floor of the centrum. Very impressive. Take the time to explore all the public areas, I found the ship well thought out and elegant. I noticed lots of attention paid to detail in both the décor, architectural details and cleanliness.

I liked the choice of chairs they had in the outside eating areas as they were not just the regular white plastic patio furniture, they were slightly heavier gauge and thus a little more comfortable. The loungers weren’t the regular white plastic loungers that have cushions on top. Although these are the usual type to be found on Princess for example, and are technically more comfortable, unfortunately, we find the cushions are piled for storage and are often wet and get very smelly and musty so we preferred the ones on the Radiance.

The décor was nice rich colors mostly earth tones and blues, they were neither flashy nor boring. Our stateroom was decorated in rust and navy. I really liked their choices.

The Staterooms: the rooms on this ship are my favorite of any ship I have been on in seventeen cruises. The regular rooms are a great size and very well laid out. They have tons of nooks and crannies to store things. They had lots of closet space and they provided lots of (real) coat hangers. There was a large desk area and a large mirror with extensions on the side. These extensions opened up to provide more shelves and storage space. Beside the bathroom door was a full-length mirror.

The lighting was also excellent there were sconces that provided soft light beside the beds and the couch that provided good reading light but there were also smaller spot lights under each of these sconces. Excellent!

The bathroom also had lots of space to keep your toiletries. A terrific three way mirror which one side opened up to provide a medicine cabinet and another mirror on the backside of this door. This was fantastic when the bathroom mirrors were foggy from the shower. The shower was a good side for cruise ship standards and there was great water pressure. On days like Labadee where you just knew practically every room had the shower going with everyone washing off the salt and sand from a day at the beach and never did the supply of hot water run out.

The balcony was very nice to have especially the glass ones like on the Radiance, they are my favorite as you can sit and watch the world go by.

I’m not going to get too far into the food. I can never understand how people can complain about food on cruise ships. I always leave the table full, there is more than enough variety. I don’t have to cook anything and most of all I do not have to clean up. What could possibly be so wrong in this department that I hear complaints. What can I say, the food is fab and you will not be disappointed.

The Service/Staff was simply fantastic. The crew on this ship really seemed to be happy and it shows. We spoke to some crew from the kitchen on the tender ride from Grand Cayman, and they told us that the Radiance is considered the best ship in the fleet to work on. They also told us they all get free time everyday to go ashore or whatever, and this is a big thing for moral. It is very noticeable when the crew is truly happy.

Our waiter and assistant waiter were only second to a waiter we were privileged to have on the Celebrity Constellation. We enjoy traditional seating and like the wait team to get to know our preferences and spoil us in every way. Chako from India and Olekzandr from Czech Republic truly spoiled us. Chacko always gave us recommendations and Olekzandr new our every need – even before we did.

Our head waiter Mustafa, was always there when had special requests. He did a lot of ‘little’ extras for us and we really appreciated him.

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2005
DISEMBARK RADIANCE OF THE SEAS


Disembarkation is always going to be the worst part of the trip just because your cruise is now over. The line up to get off the ship was a little longer due to the fact we had to pass customs at this point. I much preferred this to getting up at 6am to present ourselves to customs any day. All in all though, this disembarkation went very smooth.

Our driver Edgar from Florida Trans Tours picked us up at the pier. Before we knew we were back at the Courtyard Marriott. This time we were lucky enough to get beautiful rooms on the 14th floor (top floor). Great view of city and ships leaving port. The hotel was not busy at all. We did some more shopping in downtown Miami.

MONDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2005
At noon our driver form Florida Trans Tours picked us up to take us to the airport. We were sad to leave beautiful Miami, but were left with some great memories of a fabulous pre-Christmas cruise.

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