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Jerry Hoehn

Age: 49.99

Occupation:Sales

Number of Cruises: 16

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Radiance of the Seas

Sailing Date: November 2nd, 2003

Itinerary: Western Caribbean


The Fomt Group

As in the past, I’ll start my review with a quick summary and some tips to help you get more out of your week at sea. Then I’ll go into detail for those of you brave enough to continue reading my ramblings.

*************IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT*************

This review is just one man’s opinion with some input from his wife. I am reviewing MY experience on the Radiance of the Sea during one week. YMMV (Your mileage may vary). I go into every cruise expecting it to be the cruise of a lifetime. I try not to get my expectations up too high, but sometimes this isn’t possible. The short version of MY cruise review is that we had a lot of fun, but some things didn’t meet MY expectations. Your expectations and your experience will undoubtedly be very different. Here is the “rest of the story.”

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What I Liked About This Radiance Cruise –
Cabin
Cleanliness
Price
The Passenger Mix
Dining Room Service
Room Stewart
Wine and Dine Program
Lounges
Games-Horse Race/Quest/Love & Marriage
Rock Wall
Putt Putt course
Viking Crown Disco (Starquest)
Security
Pools

What I Didn’t Like About This Radiance Cruise-
Food in Dining Room
Drink Prices
Entertainment (Not all bad, some was good and some was awful) details to follow.
Bar Service
Embarkation
Disembarkation
Tender Operations
Room Service
Concierge Service
Group Coordinator
Group Perks
Cruise in Review Video

Summary- Rating on a scale of 1-10 – 7.5

Maybe our expectations, based on our one and only past RCI cruise, caused us to lower our rating on this ship. But I really feel that the Royal Caribbean experience has been watered down since 1995 to the point that I may not go on another Royal Caribbean ship again for a while. If I do, it will definitely NOT be in a suite. Some of the reason for my lower rating may have to do with the fact that this is the first time that we have gone with a large group. I felt that we didn’t have enough time to spend renewing old friendships because there were a lot of group dynamics. I also didn’t like sitting at a table for 12. It made for a noisy and chaotic time.

Don’t think because we noticed some things that weren’t up to our expectations that we didn’t enjoy ourselves. We had a GREAT time. I’ll try to give you the good, the bad and the ugly within the perspective of a relatively experienced cruiser. But I’ll try to do it without a “jaundiced eye.”

Some things happened on this cruise that fell short of expectations.

So much happened on this cruise that was nothing short of MAGICAL.

Read on if you dare!

When deciding if I had a good experience on a cruise, I ask my wife and myself a few simple questions:

Did I get my money's worth? This may come as a surprise to some who traveled with us, but my answer would have to be, “No.” I say this in spite of the fact that we had a reasonable price on a very nice aft balcony suite. It was a discount price but not necessarily a bargain. Cruise prices are at an all time low and great cabins at low prices are available on all the lines. In relation to a basic outside balcony cabin, I paid a sizeable premium. My wife and I LOVE a big aft balcony, and we were thrilled to get the cabin we did. Honestly, we were trying to duplicate the wonderful experience we had one year ago to the week in an aft Penthouse on the NCL Sun. We got most of the way, but not all the way there.

Would I go on this ship again? Possibly, but not in a suite. I didn’t see the value in it. It seemed to me that about all you got with a B category suite was a bigger room. The “Concierge Lounge” was nice but it wasn’t worth an extra $1,000. The concierge was a negative. I’ll explain later. If I went again I would get an inside cabin on an upper deck or a minimum balcony --somewhere amidships or forward. More on the ship design later if you decide to read the rest of my ramblings.

Did we enjoy ourselves? Tremendously. A wise man once said,

“Quitcherbitchin, It’s a cruise for cryin’ out loud!”

Oh, wait. That was me! There were some ALL TIME cruise highlights on this trip. Give diehard cruise nuts a big ship filled with great bars and lounges, beautiful pools, a rock climbing wall, putt putt course, 7 days of excellent weather, interesting ports, unlimited food, new and old friends, some outrageously fun games like Quest and Horseracing and sure enough………

Ship Happens!!!!

Having had a wonderful time on the Grandeur in 1995 we had hopes of recapturing that same experience. To this day we still count that week as one of our top three cruises. The differences in Royal Caribbean’s product since then were striking. While this ship is and more diverse in it’s amenities, the overall cruise experience was less satisfying this time. I’ll give some reasons for this later in my review.

Tips – A few quick tips for those of you who don’t want to read all the rest…..

Ask for an upgrade at the pier. You may be surprised what you can get right there before you board. One couple in our group went from a standard balcony to the Ferdinand Magellan Owner’s Suite for and extra $400. Ask specifically for the “Pier Coordinator”. We were interested in upgrading to the Royal Suite but were disappointed when we were told that it was not available. The customer service rep told us that it must have already been booked. It wasn’t when we last checked - right up to the last minute. We found out later what RCI now does with the A and RS suites they can’t sell.

Be specific when ordering a drink. As I mentioned in nearly every review, when you ask for a drink, specify the size and the type of glass you want. If you don’t specify, you might get a large expensive drink or a “souvenir glass” which costs considerably more that just a regular drink. Just because the bar staff is wandering the pool deck with the big tall colorful glasses, doesn’t mean that’s all they have to sell. You can always ask them to bring you a regular drink of the same kind and volume and for a lot less with out the fancy glass. If you want a souvenir, get one. But don’t assume you won’t get it the next time. If you don’t specify, you probably will! If you want a Martini, don’t let them serve it in anything but a Martini glass. They have them on the ship, but not many! Tell them to wash one. Also, ask the price of the shots they offer at dinner. They look so cute and festive, but they really aren’t cheap! SHOTS FIRED!!! was the cry after nearly every meal. Fun, but whoa did they add up!

Look at “Costa Maya” as a “private island” day. If you don’t, you might be disappointed. We were the last time there, because we didn’t leave the “compound.” This is a “made for TV” port that in my opinion lacks dimension. It’s not real. It’s not Mexico. But then neither is Cancun. HA! This “secure” port area has pretty much the same merchandise you see in Cozumel. And it’s just as expensive if not more so! It has a pool with a swim up bar, a volleyball court and a sandy area to hang out in, but no where to swim in the Caribbean until you leave the “secure area.” Don’t be afraid of going to Mahahual. Consider donating some school supplies to the local school and visiting with the children. Some of our group will tell you it was the highlight of their trip. Rent an ATV, a golf cart or just get a cab. This little fishing village is more like real Mexico. You can see the influence the “cruisies” are having on the area (both good and bad), but the people there are generally friendly and the beach is about a 1000% nicer in Mahahual. Beer is cheap. The ruins are also worth seeing, but the trip can be long in a non –air conditioned bus. As they say in the RCI ads, “Get Out There!”

Consider taking the early dinner seating. We personally have a lot of trouble eating that early, but as has been the case on past traditional cruises, it seemed like the activities were more geared to the early seating crowd. We felt like we were out of synch with the things to do on the ship. We missed shows, karaoke, and had trouble getting a seat in the lounges from time to time. If I did another RCI cruise, I would, for the first time, try early dinner.

Make your dinner reservations for the alternative restaurants early if you’d like. Unlike NCL, where you can’t make reservations for the alternatives until the day before – unless you are a suite passenger – you can make reservations for the whole week on the first day if you wish. We aren’t specifically recommending the alternatives since we never got there (see next tip). Just giving you a heads up.

Lobster night is Friday, not Thursday. At least on this itinerary. The second formal night on a 7 day cruise is traditionally “Lobster Night.” The first night, we asked our head waiter which night was Lobster night. He told us Thursday. So we made reservations at Chops for Friday, our anniversary. We find out Thursday when they aren’t serving lobster that the next day is lobster night. We cancelled Chops and never had another opportunity to try the alternatives since Saturday was the last night and we wanted to see everyone one last time. Some members of our group went to Chops Friday night. Our waiter actually went up and checked on them. Nice touch. On Saturday, the wait staff brought them a nice lobster tail to go with their prime rib. That was a nice touch, too. This was not offered to anyone else in our group. I think it made them feel pretty special. I’m not sure, but it might have made some of the others in the group feel a little less special.

Room Service Breakfast. Don’t expect to get anything that isn’t right on the preprinted form. We have always gotten pretty much whatever we wrote on the menu like “Western Omelet,” or “Eggs Benedict” when cruising on NCL or others including Princess. On this cruise, we get a call from room service from a person with broken English explaining we can’t get that. After several patient attempts, it was too hard to communicate, so I gave up trying. Also, my wife thrives on half and half in her coffee. Every evening she wrote “Half and Half” on the menu and every morning we got the “whitener” coffee creamer. That stuff doesn’t come out of cows. And we know they have half and half on the ship. As long as we wanted to walk up to the Windjammer, which was directly above us, we could have all we wanted. Until they RAN OUT on the last day.

Don’t get an aft cabin unless you REALLY like walking. My wife and I are both quite ambulatory. (In fact my wife even climbed an advance course on the rock wall). But the fact that this ship doesn’t have a staircase in the rear of the ship made for a lot of walking. It’s not the walking exercise that was the problem. It was the time wasted getting from one place to another. In order for us to get from our room to the Windjammer, which we could literally reach up and touch from our balcony, we had to walk all the way amidships, then back to the rear of the ship. We found a solution for this. The crew staircase. At the other side of the ship from our suite was a door marked “Crew Only.” These doors are VERY HEAVY. We pushed the door open and then pulled the next one open. Go up a relatively narrow and steep flight of stairs and out the door. You’re at the Windjammer. If you are not strong or not comfortable on the narrow stairway, you’ll do a lot of walking. I NEVER SAW A SINGLE CREW MEMBER ON THESE STAIRS even though we used them all the time! Only once did a crew member try to say anything and we were in the staircase with the door shut behind us before he could finish his sentence. We also used it to go down to the Colony Club which was on deck 7 below us. We popped out of the “Crew Only” door to the surprise of several people sitting in the lounge. They were so surprised they almost spilled their drinks!

Cruise Critics, Cruise Addicts and other internet sites. Being social beings, we got to know some great new folks in addition to the veteran FOMT gang. Getting to know others before you go can greatly enhance your cruise experience. Honestly the CC meeting was a little flat. Partly because only about half of the people showed up, but also because there wasn’t the excitement of meeting and getting to know new friends there. We spent so much time chatting back and forth on CC, we felt like we already knew each other!

Stay at the Embassy Suites in Fort Lauderdale and not the Amerisuites if you have a choice. Last time in FLL we stayed at the Embassy and it was great! I told everyone how wonderful it was and told everyone to try to get a room there. Trouble is, somehow in my cruise damaged brain, this became Amerisuites. Many of us booked there and it was OK, but the Embassy was a lot better. My bad!

Get a Porter at Disembarkation- The line to get through Customs was about a half an hour long, sometimes longer. If you get a porter, you get to go through a short line. Is a half an hour or more of drudgery worth 5 bucks? JHOO BED JOOOR FAARGIN AHAAAS IDS NOOT!!! As my friend Captain Lars Svenson of the SS FOMT would say.

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OK. Drum roll please…………………..

And now ladies and gentlemen, the full “MrTractor” review of his trip on Radiance of the Seas………….

(Cue the snazzy show band music)………..

(MrTractor enters wearing his black tuxedo, this time with a pure white silk tie and cummerbund).

Good evening fellow cruisers and thanks for listening! Tonight I’m inviting every one of you to embark upon a voyage on the Radiance of the Seas, the first in a new class of technologically and ecologically advanced ships. Join the other FOMT on a voyage where the weather is always perfect. Where there is no rain, only “liquid sunshine.” It’s a place where no one can be grumpy or whiny (for long). Sad faces become happy. And otherwise sane and normal people take off their pants in a public lounge. Come with me and my fellow adventurers to a place where…….

Even waiting in line can be fun!

So turn on some Mexican fiesta music, get yourself a large Margarita, some guacamole, salsa and chips, put your feet up and try to get through this incredibly long but hopefully informative review.

As usual, I didn’t take any notes during the cruise, so some of the events may be a little jumbled. And forgive me if I forget or misspell a name or two. I am writing this as I decompress from a whopper of a vacation and struggling to use what brain cells I have left. Besides, while I’m on the ship, I’m too busy enjoying myself to write anything down! If I sound a little pissy, it’s just the post cruise blues. Please, no flames or nasty email. This is just one man’s opinion. Remember, your mileage may vary. (YMMV)

As a little background, some of my friends had expressed an interest in going on another cruise with us. We always go in November because it’s our anniversary. John and Cynthia in particular were big SS Norway fans. Many others, including myself, had always wanted to sail the old gal, but just never got around to it. Some weren’t too thrilled about sailing a 40+ year old ship with a history of mechanical failures, but were willing to go along for the fun and camaraderie.

The fares were more than reasonable, so Barb and I decided to really go all out this time. (We are known for going “all out” at times! HA). We wanted this to be an old fashioned SS France experience with a fun Caribbean flair. We reserved one of the original Owner’s Suites on the Viking deck. It measured around 1,300 square feet, had two bathrooms, dining room service for 8, a huge living room and came with lots of free booze. It even had a bidet! (How DO you get a drink out of that thing anyway?).We had elaborate plans for a black and white formal ball. This would be a classic cruise to remember. There were rumors, though still unconfirmed, that even Rick would don a tux for this one!

But it was not to be. As some of you may remember, the SS Norway experienced a tragic explosion that killed 8 crew members and injured many more. She was later towed across the Atlantic to her current resting place in Bremerhaven, Germany. NCL announced that it would take many months to have her boiler replaced, but as of this writing, her fate is still uncertain.

Literally months of planning were blown away with the boilers. We would have to cancel our long anticipated SS Norway cruise and come up with a “plan B.” To keep the group together, we would have to move fast. At least we had a few more months to work with than the folks that were booked right after the tragedy. Some of us had already made airline reservations, so it looked like we would have to use the same week and a South Florida port if we still wanted to try to put a group together. I came up with an idea of how to select a new cruise. We would find out all the ships that left either Saturday or Sunday from either Port Everglades or Miami for 7 days. We eliminated a few of them right away for various reasons. Then we used the chat boards for a game of

…..FOMT SURVIVOR!!!!!!.....

Each day we voted off one or two ships until we had the final winner. We took into account the ship, the cruise line, the itinerary, the prices and our own personal preferences. The Radiance of the Seas finally won out over the NCL Sun, the Voyager of the Seas and others. I’ll have to admit I was pretty disappointed after the Norway tragedy, but this quickly gave way to a new sense of excitement.

We soon had a new set of activities the group would do that would take the place of the Black and White Ball, the Progressive Cocktail Party and the Presentation of a Norway Lithograph to the Captain. We would now be playing in a Putt Putt tournament (Thanks Deb for doing a GREAT job on a fun tournament), doing a “CruiseAid” project in Mahahual and having a Dance Contest and Margarita Festival at Carlos and Charlie’s. You have to be flexible to be a FOMT!!!!!

Getting to Fort Lauderdale - We fly out of the Washington, DC area and prefer using National (possibly the most secure airport in the world) instead of Dulles. We booked well in advance. Travelocity got us round trip, non-stop air on USAir for $131.50 pp. (I’m boycotting Orbitz.com after our last hotel disaster). That seemed like a pretty good price! As is our custom, we fly in the night before and stay in a hotel within a short distance to the pier. This saves a lot of stress and gives us a chance to get in full “Cruise Mode.” As noted above, we thought we were staying at the Embassy Suites, but as a result of too many intense cruise experiences, I didn’t have enough brain cells left to remember it wasn’t the Amerisuites. Actually, it turned out OK, because the boat show was in town and the Embassy was about twice as expensive! I just can’t stand to spend more that $100 for a place to lay my head for a few hours. As long as the basic amenities are there and it’s secure and relatively quiet, it’s no big deal. We did get a free shuttle from the airport and to the port and a minimal breakfast buffet. I did miss that free happy hour and big delicious buffet breakfast at Embassy, but I wouldn’t pay $100 to get it!

We all went out to a pre-cruise “FOMT Banquet” at the Bimini Boat Club and had our own private dining room. It was a good thing.

What with all the swearing, the screaming, the food fights, Oprah stories, the partial nudity and the general drunken debauchery.

And that was just the women! HAHAHAHhahahahaaaa!!!!!!

Seriously, by this time our group had gone into…….

FULL CRUISE MODE………

….and would have been a major distraction for the other diners. After dinner, we walked along the pier and checked out some of the million dollar yachts parked out back and then paid the check. Barb picked one out. Undeterred by a short rain shower, we walked down 17th Street towards our hotel. We ducked into the Mexican restaurant next to the hotel for more libations and to meet some members of the FOMT clan that didn’t make it to dinner.

Embarkation

We decided we wanted to get to the pier early to see about an upgrade. Getting to the port was easy since the hotel offered a free shuttle. Jane and Tom, new friends from Chicago, went with us. The shuttle dropped us off in front of pier 28 and we pulled our bags toward the doors. The place seemed strangely empty even though it was about 10AM. Normally, you would see at least some of the departing passengers pulling bags and clamoring into cabs and buses. As we approached the doors we found out why. A big burly US Customs agent standing in a group of men beckoned us over and explained to us in very firm tones (more like a tongue lashing) that we weren’t supposed to be there, the ship was not even close to being “cleared,” that we wouldn’t be getting on the ship until at least 2 pm and that we needed to go somewhere and cower in a corner until he said it was OK to breath again. He seemed to take great pleasure in browbeating cruise ship passengers. I’m guessing he needed to TAKE a cruise instead of inspecting one. Kudos go out to the RCI customer service rep that came to our rescue. She quickly spotted that we were under the scrutiny of the “Customs Agent From Hell” and took us under her wing. She said she would have someone come out and take our bags, but that it might be quite a while until we could board the ship. The ship had just come in to Port Everglades for the very first time and customs was really running her “through the ringer.” After the porters took our bags, she was kind enough to direct us to a small waiting area. There were already a dozen or so people waiting there, but enough seats for the four of us. It was there that we would meet up with some more of the folks that had posted on the chat boards.

It’s a funny feeling when someone comes up to you and they know who you are, but you don’t know who they are! That’s how we met new FOMTs Barbie and Ken. I’m sitting there, minding my own business. (Well maybe I was enjoying a coke from the vending machine laced with some of Barb’s dark rum from a mini bottle. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time). But hey, I wasn’t expecting a cute bubbly brunette to come bounding in next to me in the waiting area. I turned and there she was smiling at me- at close range! I almost dropped my contraband rum drink! That would have been a five point “FOMT Beverage Infraction!” And you don’t want that to start a cruise. It’s bad CRUISE MOJO.

Startled for a moment but realizing this person must be a FOMT from the chat board, I said, “You must be, uhhh, uhhh.” I don’t remember who I guessed, but she finally blurted out, “BARBIE!” It was nice to finally meet the big fans of RCI and cruise nuts that I had conversed with so many times on the chat boards. I gave her a hug and introduced my self to her husband Ken. (Yes, Barbie has to come complete with a Ken. Some assembly required after 3 shooters). They were just exactly the kind of folks you want to have on your cruise. I hope we can cruise with them again some day soon!

Anyway, a lot of the gang was starting to arrive and we all gathered there in the terminal waiting for the ship to be cleared, reminiscing about our months on the chat boards, laughing, drinking, and of course, starting the fun before we even got on the ship! Even waiting in line is fun when you have fun people around!!

Finally, about 12:30 and a couple of rum and cokes later, the disembarking passengers filed off the ship and the port agent opened up the ship for boarding. As we entered the embarkation area, we saw a sign for Diamond Crown and Anchor and Suite passengers only. I thought, “Finally, the abuse and indignities are over!”

NOT!

We stood in this “Special Line” while other non suite passengers filed past us to a large holding area. We thought we would try to get a couple of our friends into the “Special” area to bask in the glow of its opulence. Instead, we just stood there while the scooter parade was escorted to the front of the line to go through security. Then several pushy senior citizens decided to make the line about four or five wide by just going to the front of the line and standing next to the people at the front. I bit my tongue. It was too early in the cruise to make waves. People like that never cease to amaze me. It just goes to show you, doesn’t it? Anyway, we finally get through security and up the escalator. I just knew that this was when things were going to start getting “Suite!”

WRONG!

We were led into- that’s right - another waiting area! But look! Now we had pitchers of water! Wow! I felt really special now! Oh, except that there were no cups. I pickup up one of the pitchers and drank the last few gulps. Sue me. That’s when the scooter and wheelchair parade starts. We sat and watched while what seemed like dozens of scooters and wheelchairs made their way onto the ship. I am sympathetic with anyone who is confined to a wheelchair. I think they deserve every measure of accessibility available. What sort of special privileges are they due because of it? I’m still a little conflicted about that. However at that moment, I once again bit my tongue and sat with the water dripping down my shirt and got to know Ken and Barbie and Sponge Bob and Sandy a little better. Oh what fun we were having. Whoo, Whoo!!!

I still had not found a single soul who I could ask a question. I finally saw the same nice agent who had helped us outside. She was looking pretty frazzled, but I finally got a word in past the scooters that continued buzzing around her. She said she would take me to the Pier Coordinator to see about an upgrade. We went down the elevator, back out past security again and past the steerage passengers filling the large room downstairs. Many of them were already heading on to the ship. I stood in line only to have the agent tell me that the Royal Suite was not available. I was disappointed, but not tremendously. I was offered an A category owner’s suite for an additional $400. I wasn’t interested in the A. I turned on my heels and walked past the embarking steerage and back through security, up the stairs and back to the “Special” waiting room. Later on in the day, I would find out the real story of what happened to the Royal Suite.

After another 15 minutes or so there still were no announcements, but just about everyone but us was in line. We got up and just went to the line. There were now no more wheel chairs or scooters, but RCI’s on shore staff hadn’t quite figured out that the ropes that divided the lines needed to change. We watched as our line moved forward, while the line next to us, where Barbie and Ken were standing, just crept along. The agents taking care of the wheel chair and scooter brigade were now calling our line over while the other line had to wait for a single agent. At least we were in the right line. I was thrilled when we got to the agent. FINALLY! We were getting on the ship!

WRONG!!!

“Oh, what’s that? YOU DON’T HAVE OUR CRUISE CARDS? “

“Uh, yes sir. Some of the cards haven’t been sent down yet.”

“Sent down from where?” I asked.

“The ship, sir. Would you mind standing right here at the front of the line for a few minutes?”

I could feel about a hundred eyes bearing down on me, so I said, “Why don’t you take care of one of these other folks while we wait.” Brilliant, huh? I couldn’t take it any longer. I moved away from the counter and stood over in the open part of the room with other suite passengers who were detained or delayed for some reason. Barb dutifully stood there at the front of the counter. A few minutes passed and finally a woman comes out and starts asking a few passengers standing near me what their names were. I happen to hear her ask about, “Jurrall. Jurrell.” That didn’t ring a bell for a moment or two. When she started walking toward the other side of the room, I realized that she wasn’t using my last name. She was attempting to pronounce “Jerrold.” I chased her down and called Barb over. She handed us our cards and we started toward the door.

For the benefit of those of you who have never had REAL priority embarkation, let me just contrast the above experience with our last NCL Suite embarkation. Immediately after clearing security, which was not backed up and no one was pushing past us to the front of the line, we were greeted by a customer service representative. There was a special handicapped boarding area separate from the Suite Passenger’s area. We showed the concierge our docs and she immediately guided us into the priority embarkation lounge. In this glass walled lounge overlooking the bow of the ship, we were invited to sit in large comfortable chairs, enjoy a set up of coffee, tea, juice, water, soft drinks, Danish, finger sandwiches, pretzels and other snacks or just stand at the window and enjoy looking at the ship. One by one, we were invited up to the agent to present our documents and get our pictures taken and our cruise cards issued. A few moments after that, THE CONCIERGE PERSONALLY ESCORTED US ON TO THE SHIP. As we walked onto the ship, she introduced herself, told us something about her job, asked if there was anything she could do to make our cruise better, and guarded us from the embarkation photographer (if we wanted a picture she put us at the front of the line!). Then as we entered the ship, she introduced us to a crew member who took our carryons and escorted us to our cabin. That gives you a real warm fuzzy right off the bat. Why couldn’t RCI do the same thing?

As we stepped onto the Radiance, we were asked for our key card, which was swiped each and every time we went on or off the ship. In general, I was pretty happy with the security procedures on the ship. I think most of the lines have had time since 9-11 to get the program down pretty well. Finally, after so many months of waiting, planning and even changing ships, we were onboard. We entered on the Promenade deck and were guided into the ship at the entrance to the grand atrium. I could feel that a new adventure was about to begin.

The Cabin

Barb wanted to take a look at the cabin first, so we headed past the Centrum, briefly gazing upward into the 8 story cavity. The ship in this area is very dramatic, but didn’t seem very open compared to the Dawn’s atrium area that wasn’t nearly as tall. It was exactly what we expected, though, since we had seen it in many pictures on the net. We headed over to the elevators which on this ship always seemed to work well. Once on deck 10, we headed starboard and started to walk down the “long, long, hallway.” I didn’t count the steps, but I have heard that it was over 100 each way! We reached the door to our room, which was open. It was now around 1:30 PM and our stateroom attendant was still cleaning our room.

There was a small hallway with a bronze sculpture where the hallway bends toward the foyer/bar area. Making the turn towards the aft, the bathroom door was on your left and the bar, which is counter height, was up against the wall. Underneath were a refrigerator and more drawer space. The area in the hall, foyer, past the bathroom door and leading up to the living area and the entire bath including its walls were covered in marble tile. Past that was the carpeted living room with two bucket chairs, one large armchair, and a full sized sleeper sofa between two end tables. I noticed the subwoofer for the surround sound was underneath one of them. Looking to our left we saw a queen size bed. The bed was sort of at an angle to the rest of the room because the shape of this room bends as it makes the corner of the starboard aft of the ship. The beds, as usual, were two small twins put together and had a curvature at the foot of them. I can see how this would be nice in a smaller cabin for getting around although it wasn’t really necessary here. The two beds had a crack that would separate from time to time. (Why couldn’t RCI use the foam “T” that Princess and NCL and other lines use?). In the corner next to the bed were a large dressing area and vanity, and two large full length mirrored closets with the safe. The bath had a large bath tub, but no separate shower. There was a double sink and a commode, but no bidet. Bummer! Ha! Overall, it was a pretty nice room and despite the lack of a rear staircase, we knew we would be pretty comfortable there. And did I mention that the balcony was BIG!

Michael, our room steward introduced himself and said he would be finished soon. He quickly finished and took a moment to show us a few features of the room. He tried to explain the use of the large rechargeable remote for the surround sound DVD, TV, VCR system. I planned to plug my laptop in as a juke box and I saw that it would work fine. We dropped our bags and headed out to the balcony for a quick look outside. Nice size. But too much furniture. We’d work something out on that later. It was about 10 feet deep at the inboard side and tapered down to a sliver at starboard. We still had plenty of room for five pieces of furniture. For our party, we stowed the loungers in the sliver. This gave us plenty of space for people to watch Grand Cayman fade away into the horizon under a huge bright full moon. It was tough to arrange an aft balcony, BGs favorite island as a backdrop and a full moon to all fall on our anniversary. Getting the Captain to rearrange his itinerary was tough, but getting a clear night and that full moon to come up just as the party began was tough! I told you I would move the heavens and earth for you, didn’t I, honey!

I would find a number of little problems with the cabin that were a minor irritation, but not a reason for any concern. The toilet sometimes didn’t have enough vacuum pressure, the cupboard door rattled, the bar top was gouged and the veneer separating. But there was one thing that happened that I didn’t think was minor at the time. The second day after Key West, we came back to the ship, and my wife wanted to run a bath and relax in her luxury suite bathtub. We had been showering, washing drinking and brushing our teeth in this water since the day before. I noticed the water had a little tinge of brown to it, but I didn’t think twice about it. I was out in the living room plugging in the jukebox. I heard a screech from the bathroom that sounded vaguely like my name and “COME IN HERE!” What I saw can only be described as some sort of spa treatment gone haywire. The bath water was as brown as Mississippi mud. Barb called housekeeping and firmly asked them to send someone up. I took a photo of the tub so no one would think I was making any of this up. About 20 minutes later, I had to call again. They said that the plumber was on the way. He came in, drained the water and ran the water for about five minutes. The water began to clear. I suddenly wondered if my teeth would turn brown or what I had washed my hands in. The plumber, in broken English, announced that they had changed a valve and it was just rust that needed to come loose. I was not happy. I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, they could have checked the water in the effected rooms after making that change. Michael came in and cleaned the tub because there was now a brown ring around it where the water level had been. EIEEEICH! The more I thought about it, the more upset I got, so I decided not to think about it any more. Instead I just figured I would include it my review. HA! I love the internet!

We headed out to explore the ship. On the way down the hall, we saw Sponge Bob and Sandy who were coming out of the “LaSalle” Owner’s Suite. I asked them if they would mind showing it to us. They invited us in. Nice. It had a couple of nice amenities we didn’t have. It had a small dining table with two chairs, and a large puffy chair in an alcove next to the bed. I overlooked the ocean and was directly on the outside of the ship. There was no door or wall separating the bedroom and the living room and dining area, but the very large plasma screen TV kind of gives it a sense of separation. The TV swiveled so it could be watched in any area of the suite. The bathroom had a separate shower and a bidet that ours didn’t have. One of the reasons I didn’t want the A was the small balcony. It was OK, but it was covered from the sun and less than half the size of our aft cabin. Come to find out these folks had a standard outside balcony and got it for the same upgrade price that it was offered to me. Another mystery that didn’t sit too well with me. But after our tour, we forgot about that because we wanted to check out the ship. (Later on we found out that Jane and Tom got the same deal. I was happy for them. At least we would have someone to hang out in the concierge lounge with!).

The ship is a few years old now, but seemed to be in pretty good shape. The carpet is getting a little wear on it, but the ship is generally very clean and very well cared for. Before we embarked, I noticed the outside of the ship had a lot of black marks on it. When I looked closely at it later on in the week, it looked like it needed a coat of paint pretty much all the way up to deck 6. I’m guessing the ship had just come from a long repositioning cruise which included the Panama Canal. Now that it was based in Miami maybe it might have more attention spent on it. The Colony Club was almost like three rooms in one. One had the self leveling pool tables, one a nice bar that overlooked the wake, and the other a good sized dance floor and various comfortable tables and booths. This is where karaoke was held. I showed up for the tail end of one session but never had a chance to display my amazing vocal range which, depending on my level of inebriation, may include up to four notes. The Schooner lounge was nice with a large bar and a piano. At the top of the ship was the StarQuest Disco, up in the Viking crown. They held the wild and crazy toga party there and were always rocking up there till the wee hours. And the rotating bar was pretty neat.

There were two main pools and a kid’s pool. Our favorite was the Safari/Jungle themed Solarium Pool with the retractable roof. It was adults only and had a nice hot tub, too. Much quieter and more relaxing. The main pool was kinda nice, but wasn’t real big. And as usual, forget finding a chaise on sea days near the pool. Why not get up early and put your towel and paperback on some prime location? Everybody else does! I’m not singling RCI out on this. It’s always bad on any mass market cruise. But no problem, we had our nice sunny balcony and didn’t stay there for the pool games. That noisy environment isn’t my favorite, anyway.

Dining Choices- The number of choices for food was actually more varied than ‘d expected. Not like NCL, but varied enough. There was the Windjammer buffet, the Sea View Café, The Cascades dining room, and alternatives Chops and Portofino. For lunch, Sea View was the hands down winner, for breakfast we chose the dining room on some days and the Windjammer on others.

Deck Areas- There was a promenade deck, but as is the norm these days, there are few places to sit and watch the ocean there because it is used as a life boat staging area. And there is no jogging track per se. The upper pool deck was supposed to provide this, but you had to dodge all the strolling pool users and hurdle the occasional misplaced chaise to get a lap in. I only saw a couple of people attempting this. The promenade deck didn’t go all around the ship, and structures jutted out of the walls making for narrow areas to pass people coming the other way, so that just wasn’t an option.

Aesthetics- The ship had some interesting art work in the stairwells, the atrium and even the hallways. It was a little bolder than the art in the Celebrity Galaxy, but not as garish as some of the “art” I’d seen on a Carnival ship. All in all the ship wasn’t what I expected in terms of color schemes. It was a lot more muted than I would have expected. The Grandeur had the rich greens, blues and light to medium toned wood. That’s sort of what I expected on the Radiance. The Radiance had a lot more chrome, lighter wood and muted golds, grays blues and browns. Living with “the color lady” has made me more aware of how colors can set in an environment. Sometimes I wondered what the designers were trying to accomplish with the color scheme. The ship tried to keep a “high tech” feel with all the chrome and glass but at the same time tried to be a little more tasteful and conservative than their archrival CCL. My impression was it was sort of like “The Jetsons Meet the QE2.” Oh well, like I said YMMV.

Entertainment – I was so unimpressed by the “Welcome Show” I avoided the ship’s shows all week. Instead of a full fledged welcome show, where you get to meet the various departments, learn something about what is going on that week and maybe get a real show from real live people, the first half an hour was a series of videos shown on large overhead screens. I wanted to get up and walk out, but my wife wanted to wait. The showband only played before the show started and for a short spurt while a few members of the dance troop did an uninspired number. Then the comedian came on and did some average at best shtick. The worst “Welcoming Show” I‘ve ever seen.

Here are my opinions of the musical entertainment on the ship:

Lounge Band- Slightly above garage band quality.

Atrium Trio – Absolutely awful. I stood above on one of the landings and couldn’t believe there were people actually dancing to them. Phew!

The Diamonds – An old 60s group that really rocked the house. If they are there, don’t miss them.

Guitarist in the Atrium – Pretty enjoyable. Not ready for Carnegie Hall, but he was good mood music for an afternoon or evening cocktail.

Piano Bar – Good. Tried having some fun with an audience that was generally pretty dead. And he was a good sport when Brad accompanied him on his version of “Piano Man.”

CD and Staff - Angie Glaser was our CD. Seemed more like a Soccer Mom with a makeover than a cruise ship CD. I don’t mean that in a bad way. She was actually very personable, but she didn’t generate a lot of enthusiasm and seemed like she could use a week or two away from the strain of trying to be “UP” all the time. Her staff was pretty energetic and seemed to be having some fun. The toga party was pretty entertaining and they kept the Quest game frolicking along. The guy that did the horse races had some fun with everybody and was more like the CD I expected. Again, no flames please. YMMV.

Food – the FEW dishes we liked:

Lamb Chops (Sorry John, I thought mine were good!)

Lobster- How bad can you screw this up? Although for some reason, they heavily laced the drawn butter with chunks of garlic. On Lobster? Good lobster with drawn butter doesn’t need heavy garlic to detract from the natural flavor.

Sweet and Sour Mahi Mahi

That Puffy Soufflé Thingy With the Sauce in the Middle- Sorry, I can’t remember the name, but I think it was just a Chocolate Soufflé.

Hot Chocolate Cake

Banana Cream Pie

I won’t give you a list of the foods I didn’t like. I’ll just say that the only decent beef we had all week was the prime rib that wasn’t. Prime, that is. Overall, I thought the food was what I would describe as “pedestrian.” What I had feared would happen, seems to have, well, happened. RCI has diluted the experience in the dining room in an attempt to generate more onboard revenue through alternative dining. The service in the dining room wasn’t bad, but it didn’t measure up to our last RCI experience. And the food fell short in nearly every area.

Our List of “Favorites” –

Restaurant- Sea View Café (For what it was, it was the best on the ship!)

Martini Bar- N/A

Quiet Spot- Our Aft Balcony

Noisy Spot – Colony Club during Quest

Excursion- Native Tour of Grand Cayman (Thanks Cuzin R!)

Place to Shake a Tail Feather- Starquest Lounge (Viking Crown)

Hot Tub – Solarium Pool

Outdoor Bar – Sky Bar

Best Place for a Beer- Schooner Bar

Best Piano Bar – Schooner Bar

Place to Meet for Cocktails and Hors de’ oeuvres – Concierge Lounge

Cocktail Waiter(ess)- Barb serving dark rum and OJ on our balcony during sea day!!!

Other topics………

Wine Service- There are no wine stewards on the Radiance. Wine at dinner is handled by your waiter. We got the wine and dine deal which is a real money saver. Seven bottles for $110 plus 15% gratuity. Almost half the off the wine list price! There were some decent mid range wines. Woodbridge, Robert Mondavi, Korbel. I don’t pretend to be a wine connoisseur, so this was fine for me. I kind of missed the Chateau St. Michel and the St. Francis Cabernets I would have normally splurged on, but the price somehow made these good, but not excellent wines taste so much better!!! The wine we ordered was served at the right temperature, with the right glass and was opened properly.

Bar Staff- In case you are worried about pushy bar staff, don’t be. They seemed to be pretty available, but didn’t really get in our face. They wandered the deck with souvenir glasses and beer, but didn’t seem obtrusive. See the tips above about ordering a drink. The drink prices seemed a little higher on RCI than on some other ships we’ve been on. However, since we could buy liquor and take it back to our room, we found we didn’t spend as much on bar drinks. If it weren’t for the shooters in the dining room, we may not have spent $200! And we spent our first sea day lounging on our own balcony with Barb serving me rum and OJ. Instead of spending a sea day parked near the pool deck with a waiter keeping an eye on my drink, I spent it on my balcony drinking our own liquor. Don’t get me started about the Martini Glasses.

Disembarkation- Like Embarkation, this was another mess. I swore after our last Princess Cruise disembarkation disaster, we would never do anything but a Freestyle cruise - if for no other reason than the way NCL gets you off the ship. I must confess that I totally ignored the paperwork asking about our flight arrangements. I sort of assumed that we would get the last color to be called. After all our flight wasn’t until 2:20 pm, so we didn’t care. Instead, we got ORANGE ONE, which was the SECOND TO BE CALLED. We were at breakfast in the dining room with Tom and Jane and some lucky Brits who were staying on the ship for the eastern route when they called our color. We ignored their pleas to leave the ship. What were they gonna do? Kick us off the ship!?!?!?!? We had even left our carry off bags up in our room. When we finished, we headed back up to our room to find the door wide open (it was like a déjà vu for our arrival). Michael our room steward seemed a little less friendly and a little more perturbed than when we arrived. I thanked him again, grabbed our bags and on the way out, I dropped an extra $10 on the coffee table. He really was pretty good and deserved a little extra just for cleaning up after our Gala Sailaway Party. Anyway, when we get downstairs and finally figure out where to get off the ship, stepping past all the passengers sitting on the stairs, in the halls and in the centrum, we walk off the ship, down the gangway and to the terminal. When we reach the baggage area, it’s a free for all! What looked like 500 people all wandering around looking for their bags. We didn’t see any Orange tags anywhere. The line was about a mile long, so Barb went to stand in line while I went to hunt our bags down. I found an NCL rep and asked where the Orange tags were. She pointed all the way down near the front of the customs lines. There, all by there little lonesomes, were the three bags we had put outside our room the night before. I went back and got Barb. I noticed there was a line with only a few people in it they all had a porter. A porter was heading back to find another customer, I snagged him and he grabbed my bags. We were out the door about a minute later. I looked back and saw the chaos and wondered who in their right mind would stand in line for 20 or thirty minutes to save 5 bucks. Oh, well. The porter lead us out to a waiting cab. We were off and running to the airport.

We were about three hours early for our flight, so we chatted with some of the cruisies coming off ours and other ships. We ended up getting bumped not once, but twice off our flight. We got four round trip tickets and then USAirways flew us to DC first class. That was nice, but now Barb wants to fly first class ALL THE TIME!

Ports-

Here is what we did:

Key West - Got off the boat and ran into Cuzin Robin and SO Frank (Radio). Walked over to the marina and had the COB (Cracking of the Beer) Ceremony at a little funky outdoor Key West bar. Walked around and looked at some local houses, past the cemetery, down Duvall Street, had a couple of brewskies along the way until we landed at Sloppy Joes. All along the way we were running into lots of FOMT. We had a beer or two with Jane and Tom, then Brad and Denise. Robin and Frank wanted to go to Pepe’s for lunch, so on the way down there, we ran into John and Cynthia and we all headed down there. Nice little out of the way place with good food.

Cozumel –Jane, Tom, Steve and Carolyn wanted to get together, so we all met up and did a little shopping on the pier. We then caught a cab to Chankanaab and spent the day sunning, snorkeling, drinking, eating, and snoozing. The snorkeling there was excellent. Better than I’ve ever seen it. Lot’s of fish and close to shore, too! Then we headed into town for some shopping. Well. Not exactly. Steve and Carolyn went off on their own to see the sights. We shopped for a little while, but the boys couldn’t hold out any longer. So Tom and I found one of my favorite spots in a restaurant overlooking the square to park our selves and drink. Barb bought a set of three hand painted Mexican earthenware plates and some trinkets for the girls. Then we all met up at Carlos and Charlie’s for the “Freakiest Dance Contest and Margarita Festival.” Robin and Frank met us the six of us there. We smoked contraband cigars and drank the rest of the afternoon shaking our booties. The Freakiest Dance contest was a dead heat between Frank and Robin and Tom and Jane. Honestly, things were going along pretty well until Tom and Steve decided to moon the place. I was there to record this. Whew, man, those pix are NASTY! I’ll be including them in our webshots.com pix. Geez, guys! Just goes to show you what a few shots of tequila will do to otherwise rational people!

Costa Maya- Costa Maya isn’t a town. It is more of an area of the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula. But the cruise lines want you to thing there is an actual town there. There isn’t. It’s a “Made for TV” port that isn’t anything more than a money machine for the cruiselines and the locals. We decided we would not spend much time at the “port,” but rather try to visit a local school and do something nice. After taking a pile of school supplies to the kids in Mahahual, our plan was to spend a couple hours lounging on the beach and drinking margaritas, then head back to the ship early for a nap or to explore the ship.

It didn’t work out quite the way we planned.

I told everyone to meet at the end of the gang plank at 8:30 with their stuff. Robin and Frank had done a great job shopping for the supplies in FL so we didn’t have to lug them on the plane. Others brought some cool stuff like soccer balls, toys and pencils sets. Robin and Frank had packed their stuff in two boxes, one of which was pretty good sized. I’m not sure whose idea it was, but someone said, “Why don’t you just get a trolley and wheel them down to the gangway?” Hey, that sounded like a good idea to me! So naturally, I called upon the one person who I would expect could be of the most assistance in any matter of my personal convenience……. OUR CONCIERGE!!!

WRONG!!!!!

This was a grave error. I told our man “Willie” that I had a couple of boxes of school supplies for the local school and that I needed a trolley to help me carry them. He sounded confused, so I told him again. He said he would call me back. About ten minutes later, he calls back and says that carrying anything off the ship in a box was not possible.

I WOULD HAVE TO REPORT TO THE MEXICAN AUTHORITIES TO EXPLAIN MYSELF. THAT I WAS TO REPORT TO DECK 4 JUST OUTSIDE THE DINING ROOM TO THE PORT AGENT.

I hung up the phone and said, outloud “YOU F___ING RAT!” I had no choice but to “report” now. I get there and there are several Mexicans all speaking Spanish sitting around the table. The Port Agent was standing nearby talking on his radio or cell phone when I walked in. I stood patiently smiling and trying to be invisible until he finished. He then began to explain to me how there were certain “regulations” that I was violating by carrying boxes of any kind on shore, that certain “papers” would have to be filled out and the boxes would have to undergo careful “inspection” by him and his compadres. “Riiiiight,” I thought. I explained to them that all we wanted to do was to share some school supplies with the children in the local school. That we would be happy to let them inspect the things we brought. I stood silently while they discussed my fate. I didn’t let on that I could understand enough Spanish to get the gist of what they were saying. They started out real tough, saying that we were breaking the law and that they would have to arrest us if we tried to step foot on the shore with unregulated material. Then slowly but surely, they realized it would be bad publicity, if not BAD MOJO, if they were to arrest American citizens trying to do charitable work off the ship. He chatted with the “Doctor” presumably an MD, who was part of the Port Agent’s Inspection Team. They came up with a plan. They said that their main concern was health regulations. They asked me if there were any drugs or medications in the boxes. I told them there were some Band-Aids, children’s Tylenol, Neosporin and some cough medicine. The doctor spoke no English. But the Port Agent said the Doctor would have to meet us 10:30 at the entrance to the “Made for the Cruiselines” port area under the Mexican flag. He would have to “inspect” the goods for unhealthy material and any health code violations. HA! “Nothing $50 bucks won’t fix,” I thought, but didn’t dare utter.

This was screwing up our original plan. Instead of delivering the supplies early, and partying later, we would have to meet the “Doctor” at 10:30 and then go to the school midday. That would mean that we would not get back to the ship until later than planned. Oh, well. Not to worry. We’d go over to the beach to the right of the pier for a couple hours and then meet the doctor. We took a swim, had the COB and around 10:20 we headed back to the ship to grab the boxes and bags of supplies. We jumped on the tram that shuttles pax to and from the ends of the pier. Brad went along with us, but had forgotten his pass to enter the ship. When we got to security, I put my camera in a tray so as not to set off the alarm. When I get to the end of the conveyor, I am surprised to find that the boxes have been brought down from our room and are sitting under the table in the security area. And they’ve been opened. Hmmmm. I am so shocked that I entirely forget my camera in the tray. I had forgotten to bring enough cash, so I ran up to my room to get more. By the time I got back, Barb and Brad had shuffled the boxes and bags onto the tram. I jumped on just as the tram was heading back to the “port” and off we went.

When we arrived, the Doctor wasn't there. But Denise and others were waiting there to share some more bad news. When Denise asked the bartender at the little beach outside the compound why their kids weren't in school, she had told her that it was a holiday.

Someone suggested that we give the supplies to this lady and they could take them to school the next day. I didn't like that idea and hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Somewhere around $500 worth of stuff just left with the bartender. That didn’t sound like a good plan. Anyway, when we got to the beach, I spoke with the bartender’s wife, in Spanish, and determined that her children didn't go to the school in Mahahual. And that the school in Mahahual was open that day. It was at this point that I realized I didn't have my camera. I realized I had left it at security. Since Denise was right there and Brad was off throwing the football, I told Denise, that Barb and I were going to get my camera. We would meet them at the taxi stand and go to the school. Barb and I rushed back to the boat and got the camera. We saw Rick and Deb who had already given up on the whole school idea. They were going snorkeling. We told them we were meeting at the taxi stand to go if they still wanted to go. They declined so we headed back to meet the group.

When we got to the taxi stand, we saw none of the group. So we walked briskly back over to the beach outside the compound. Still no group and no supplies. I wasn’t really sure why, but I could only assume that they went ahead without us. We went back to the taxi stand and it took us a while to get a taxi to town. (While we were standing in line, the “Doctor” shows up and wants to know where the boxes were. It’s now after 12 noon. I guess time isn’t the same in Mexico. I told him that the boxes went to the school 20 or 30 minutes ago. If he wanted to see them he would have to go there. He had a translator with him. He smiled, and in probably the only English words he knows, he said, “Is OK,” and walked away).

We arrived in the little fishing village of Mahahual to find the gang getting out of a van in the middle of town. We asked our driver to pull up in front of them. They had already been to the school. At this point, I wasn't even going to go to the school. But Barb talked me into it. Tom and Brad talked the driver into taking us down there for free, but since it turned out he had overcharged the group for the ride to town, this didn't seem all that generous. I showed up at the school, empty handed, and had to stand and explain, in Spanish I only use once or twice a year, why the heck I was there. Once I explained that I had forgotten my camera and missed the rest of the group when we went back to get it, he welcomed us warmly and brought us in to meet the students.

My plan originally was to divide the loot into the things that the older kids could use and the things the little tykes could use - before we met the kids. Since the group didn’t wait for me, they had no way of knowing this. There was something else that they would have known if they had waited -that there were actually three classrooms and not two. There was another classroom with little tiny kids just around the corner from those two classrooms. Sort of a Mexican kindergarten. Since I had nothing to give these kids, I didn't go there. Maybe next time we go we can concentrate on getting some nice things back to those kids.

We visited for a few moments, heard them sing a song and chatted for a moment or two. The little girl that others who have been to the school in past weeks said spoke English never stepped forward and no one spoke to me in English. Maybe my Spanish is better than I thought! Barb had to keep her sunglasses on to hide the tears when the children sang.

I get a great deal of satisfaction from doing these little projects. It normally doesn’t take that much time out of our pillaging and drunken depravity. On the way back to town, I turned to Barb and said that at least our goal of getting the supplies into the hands of the kids was accomplished. I didn't make a big thing out being left behind, because I didn't want to make a good thing into a bad one. I believe we did some good there. I'll chalk this up to experience and the next time we go to Mahuhual, we'll have the program down pretty smooth.

Grand Cayman – Cuzin Robin lived in GC for 7 years about 15 years ago. She and her first husband built two houses there and her daughter was born there. So this was a walk down memory lane for her. We tagged along and got the native’s tour of the island. Most tourist, myself included, immediately head west as soon as they get off the ship. This time we headed east. Our first stop – Stingray Beer Brewery for the COB with native beers. We were able to taste a few different styles of beer and decided, since it was breakfast, we would stick with the lighter beer. We had hired a driver to take us to wherever we wanted to go. He was happy to oblige since we were paying him $40 PER HOUR!!! Four hours cost us $160! YoUcH!!! We headed all the way around the east side of the island and saw where semi – normal people lived. There was some development on that side of the island, but it was more spread out.

The furthest point of our journey was Rum Point. This is a little finger of land at the northeastern tip of the great bay that some of you may have gone to see the stingrays. There is a beautiful resort run by Hyatt there with bar service on the beach, gorgeous white sand, lots of snorkeling reefs and swaying palm trees. We found the atmosphere there a lot more relaxed than on 7 mile beach. We stayed there on the beach chairs and had a Mango Colada and took a swim. No one asked us if we were cruise passengers. No one tried to charge us to use the beach. There was no charge for the use of a chaise lounger. It was nice and we wished we could have stayed longer. But at $40 an hour, we couldn’t afford to stay long! We headed back to Georgetown, had a lunch in a local restaurant. I had my first drink of Soursop. Don’t ask me what it is, but I saw it on the menu and always like to try something new. A local was at the next table and overheard me asking about it. He said it was good, but couldn’t really tell me what it was either. I gave it a shot. Hey, ya gotta get outta your usual routine when you’re on vacation, don’t ya! Well, it wasn’t all that great, but it wasn’t awful. It just tasted sorta like a mix of lemonade and coconut milk. I just happened to have a mini of Smirnoff’s. I threw that in there when the waiter wasn’t watching. It started tasting reeeeally good after that. The two couples split up after that because we wanted to get back and get ready for our Anniversary Sailaway Gala. Besides, I needed a nap!

A Few Final Thoughts – (I’m sure you’re saying, “Whew, man, I thought he’d never finish!)

The last time I wrote a review, I used a lot of ink talking about how to deal with the Concierge. I should have said, a Concierge on NCL.

We paid a premium over an E, D or C cabin to get into the class of cabin that included suite privileges and concierge service. This, in my opinion, was a waste of money. It should be exceedingly obvious to everyone why all but one of the A Category Owner’s Suites and the Royal Suite was not booked before sailing.

Outside of a few free drinks in a separate lounge…….

THE ONLY THING YOU GET WITH A SUITE IS A BIGGER ROOM!!!!

If RCI wants to sell suites, they will need to completely revamp their concept of premium cabin service. This ship is filled with amenities and fun things to do. But the same services, food, activities, and areas are available to everyone on the ship at any time. Except for a 15 by 20 room with 16 chairs in it and a few free drinks and snacks. I had what would be considered a Penthouse Suite on any NCL, Carnival or Princess ship. Each one of those could be considered a “Contemporary” Cruise Line (read Mass Market). With those lines there would have been any one of a number of special privileges, amenities, gifts, services, drinks, etc., etc. They would have paid a LOT more attention to passengers in this category. For details, read my review of the Sun and the Dawn. The suite categories will continue to experience poor occupancy rates until RCI comes up with a reason for passengers to book them. Right now, the highest cabin you will ever need to book before embarkation day is a standard (E) or deluxe (D) cabin with balcony. Anything else is just a bigger room. (See above for tips on getting an upgrade at the pier).

Note to RCI Bar Service Manager – A Martini is…..

NOT A MARTINI UNLESS IT IS SERVED IN A MARTINI GLASS!!

A martini is not gin and vodka and vermouth etc.

It’s and EVENT, a RITUAL, an ATMOSPHERE, a FEELING OF ELEGANCE.

Like a good meal or a fine wine. A Martini must be properly PRESENTED. I’m buying 6 ounces of fancy gin for TEN BUCKS, and I can’t get it in the proper glass? There is nothing elegant about drinking a Cosmo or Chocolate Martini out of a small wine glass. Most of the bars were out of martini glasses after 6 PM.

I DON’T CARE IF YOU USED ALL THE CLEAN ONES AT 5 PM “MARTINI TIME.” WE DIDN’T EAT UNTIL 8:30 AND WANTED ONE BEFORE DINNER.

This is unacceptable on a cruise. On ANY cruise line. And don’t tell me that if I want a martini, I should go to a different bar to get it. Would you accept a glass of wine in the dining room if they brought it to you in a soup bowl? Why should I have to accept a martini in a lounge in ANYTHING BUT a Martini glass? Sorry. I’ll get down off my high horse now.

Mass Market Feel - I liked this cruise more than the Grand Princess cruise we took two years before, but I could see some similarities in the two ships. One of them was the way that certain activities were overrun, while others were underutilized. An activity like karaoke that might work well on a smaller ship, gets overrun on a large ship like this. When there is only one microphone and 300 people show up to use it, this creates a problem.

Things like the cattle call embarkation and disembarkation, the largely indifferent staff, the sheer number of people on the ship, the Martini glasses, the pedestrian food and unimaginative menu contributed to a mass market feel.

Also, I found that RCI’s unannounced an unexpected prohibition of smoking in all but a couple of areas of the lounges lead to a dull atmosphere. I want to make it clear that I am not a smoker, per se, but occasionally enjoy a fine cigar. Even the occasional cigarette. Only a couple of lounges had any smoking at all – the Colony Club and the Starquest – and then only in a small area. What is the big deal? I’m glad I don’t have to make a living as a bartender in those places. They were half empty when they should have been FULL!

A few last comments about the concierge and then I’ll stop thinking about it. I am realistic about what a concierge can or can’t do for me. It came as a real surprise that he “ratted” on me about the two boxes of school supplies. Astonishingly, later that day in the hallway, he pulled me and Barb aside and said, “You should have just put the things in a bag and taken them ashore.” My eyes got about as big as dinner plates and I thought to myself, “you RAT! Why didn’t you just say that before you had the boxes taken out of my room, opened and “inspected” them without my permission?!” I was so mad , I couldn’t speak. I turned and walked away while my wife stayed. Did he have the right to go to my room, without my permission, remove my personal belongings, open them and inspect them without us present. Maybe he did, but that was only one of several incidents that turned me sour against our man Willie. The second one was when later in the week we wanted to arrange for a small gathering in our stateroom. We wanted some snacks, some Champagne and a few items like mixers and glasses. This is how the conversation went:

Me: “I’d like to have a party in our suite for around 25 people.”

Willie: “Can I see your cruise card, please?”

Me: “Can we talk about this before you charge me anything?”

Willie: A confused look.

Me: “The last time we did this we had some hors d’ oeuvres brought up, a few bottles of Champagne and some glasses.”

Willie: Another confused look. “I’ll call the group coordinator.”

(Elena shows up in a few minutes with her price list).

Elena: “Ah, Meester Hooen. We hof sim plattas dat joo can orther.” I assumed FROM Her Spanish accent that now I had two people to deal with, neither of whose native language was English.

Me: I explained to the two of them, as they stood there wide eyed, smiling and nodding how this had gone on our last anniversary cruise, thinking maybe they would come up with an idea of how we could make this work. I told them that, “on the Norwegian Sun, I asked the Concierge to handle the arrangements, and was charged $40 for the hot snacks and $20 per bottle for two bottles of Champagne.” I used one that came with the suite and John and Cynthia brought another. NCL also supplied a complimentary tray of fruits and veggies with dip. The NCL concierge had a butler come in the room and set all this up on white linen tablecloths, and then the butler served the Champagne and the trays of snacks in white gloves on a silver platter. (He only worked about an hour, but I tipped him and the Concierge handsomely. Then and again at the end of the week. And I had to practically hunt them down to give them the money!)

I’m not sure if they understood a word. Once again they pulled out the price list for platters - the same ones that you’d see in your cruise docs. They totaled up a few and said that would be $135. But, I could use my wine and dine card for the Champagne. Once again they asked for my cruise card. I almost started laughing. I told them I would get back to them.

The next day, I capitulated. I knew we wouldn’t have time to chase down room service, or get a few plates of food from the Windjammer and set all this up ourselves. I had Barb call Elena and tell her which platters we wanted. (Elena called the Hors d’ourves, “HORS,” as in “Hue wunt teu orthers of whores?”). The stuff we ordered totaled around $100. I’d have them send up four bottles of Champagne on my Wine and Dine. We’d have most of the three bottles of liquor that we bought for onboard consumption and Tom and Jane would bring some of their “perk” wines from their suite. I was now confident that everything was taken care of.

At around 4 pm the day of the party a couple of people in waiter’s uniforms showed up with three trays of glasses, four bottles of Champagne, four trays of food, some mixers and a couple of white tablecloths.

They dropped them on the bar and left.

All bar set ups, serving, laying out the tablecloths and sorting the glassware were done by Barb and me.

I made it clear what I wanted to happen at this party. I though they would connect the dots. Instead, they asked me for my cruise card and then tried to sell me some overpriced platters. In fact we ended up only eating about half of them. The difference to me was that the staff on NCL Sun spent their time thinking of things to do for me - without my doing all the thinking – and sometimes without my even asking! When the first words out of RCI’s staff were to ask for my cruise card, I lost my warm and fuzzy feeling in a hurry. Sorry. I might try another RCI cruise, but I won’t stay in an RCI suite again. It’s back to NCL for our next cruise. I can’t help but make comparisons between the experience I had here and on NCL - and even on our last RCI cruise. Especially in terms of the service I got from these two different crews. There were a few exceptions, but overall, I thought the crew on the Radiance was pretty indifferent, sometimes even bungling. OK. I’m done thinking about that. OUCH! (Flames) Like I said, YMMV.

Oh, I almost forgot. I promised to tell you what happened to the Royal Suite. Well, as it turns out, the Royal Suite WASN’T booked before we left the pier that day. When I asked about it at the pier coordinator’s desk, they said it was “taken.” It was taken alright. By the BINGO staff. They planned to BINGO it off the second day after Key West. Bingo cards for this were available for $10 each. The winner would get the RS for the remainder of the cruise. I was told that the cruise lines made a lot of money doing that. Maybe. I’m not convinced it isn’t a little riskier than selling it to me. But I was never given that opportunity.

There are folks on cruise ships that are going to play bingo no matter what. You can’t convince me that they sold 160

*****MORE*****

BINGO cards than normal at $10 each because the RS was up for grabs. Here is why I say 160 more cards.

If I had known, at the pier, that the RS was available I would have tried to buy it anyway. I went to the Pier Coordinator willing to pay up to $800 more for it, no questions asked. The truth is, if they had said $1000, take it or leave it, I would probably have taken it.

Then they had two choices. First, they could BINGO off my Penthouse Suite. OR, and this makes more sense, they could have sold my room to someone in a balcony for another $400. (People were lined up at the PC desk asking about upgrades).Then someone in an inside pays $200 for a balcony. That’s $1000 plus $400 plus $200 equals $1600. Divide that by $10 and you get 160 MORE cards than usual they would have to sell to equal the same revenue. My guess is they sold more cards - but I don’t think they sold 160 MORE cards.

People who really like BINGO would show up to play for a set of used tires, for crying out loud!

I was in the Meet and Mingle for the Cruise Critics when the RS was given away. I went down later and found the nice elderly lady that won. She was with a group of handicapped folks. (Somebody said with MS, but I’m not really sure). She seemed a little unsure of what she had won. I congratulated her. Then I offered to buy it from her thinking she might like the money instead. Her daughter and I chatted and I told them to go ahead and enjoy the suite. I had a great cabin. I almost felt bad because I had tempted them to give it up! MrTractor would have another shot at the Royal Suite some day. This was their chance for the “Suite Life.”

Finally, here is “Top Ten Reasons I Liked, or Didn’t Like, The Radiance.” I posted this on Cruise Critic for those of you who want to skip to the next section, Coming Back to Earth.

First, here is my top ten list of reasons NOT to cruise on the Radiance. Don't spend a lot of time focusing on them since your experience is going to be very different than mine or anyone else's:

The envelope please.......

BG enters wearing the traditional Hawai'ian mu-mu that she was unable to wear during the cruise....

She hands the rum soaked envelope to MrT. (Must have been at the bar during our Gala Sailaway).

Drums roll.................then..........cymbals CRASH!!.......

10) Getting to the port early on day one and getting yelled at!
9) Getting up early on disembarkation day!
8) Not getting to do kareoke!
7) Brown Water!
6) Not getting to dock at the downtown pier in Coz!
5) No rear staircase on the ship!
4) Room service!
3) Not having the first day as a sea day!
2) The Welcome Aboard Video, er, Show.....
and the Number One reason for NOT going on the Radiance of the Seas....
1) Getting Ratted Out by the Concierge!!!!

Alright enough of all that negative stuff…….

Here are the TOP TEN REASONS you would want to sail on the Radiance..............

The passengers and crew gather one last time in the Aurora Theatre just to learn about the FOMT cruise. MrT is at center stage in his finest black tuxedo with pure white silk tie and cummerbund. BG enters, this time with a deep tan. She is barefoot, wearing only a terry cloth robe cinched at the middle and a smile on her face......

Drums Roll.......then.....Cymbals........CRASH......

10) Wine and dine program...
9) Rock Climbing for Barb.....
8) Not having to smuggle liquor onboard
7) Solarium Pool and Hot Tub
6) Two of our group, who will remain unnamed, stealing beer out of the Concierge Lounge ("Operation Brewski"-cue the Mission Impossible music).
5) Winning the Radiance of the Seas Derby with TEAM FOMT'S Horse #4 "Ship Happens"
4) Grand Cayman fading into the distance under the full moon at our Anniversary Gala.
3) A Quiet afternoon sunning on the Balcony in 1600 with Barb
2) All the great FOMT - the newbies and the grizzled veterans.....
The tympani begins a low rumbling roll and builds to a thunderous rumble.......
......And the number one reason why you would want to sail the Radiance of the Seas..............the drums halt their beating and the room falls silent............the hearts that haven't stopped beating altogether are the only thing audible as thousands hold their breath.......

MrT Speaks...........

"SORRY BUT YOU'LL HAVE TO WAIT FOR THE REVIEW
HAHAHAHAAHAHAAAAHAHAHAHAAAAA!!!!"

The crowd goes nuts!

Led by a contingent from Alabama, they begin hurling insults followed by fruits, vegetables and beer cans (half full, of course). Apparently folks from there always have these items on them.

MrT and Bronze Goddess quickly disappear off stage. The angry mob follows in hot pursuit. MrT and BG were anticipating this. Under her robe, BG was really wearing a cut off wetsuit. MrT jerks on the collar of his tux and off comes his tuxedo in one pull to reveal his own two piece wetsuit. (I assume there would be some kind of “Mission Impossible” style music playing in the background in the movie version of this).

They reach the stage exit door- the one that they had wedged open before the show. And just as someone shouts, "You'd better make that last reason happen or we're gonna".......

SLAM!

They wedge the door closed from the outside.

MrT and BG know they only have a few moments to execute their plan before the folks left behind find another way around. They run down a short corridor to a watertight exterior door.

"I sure hope they're there," Barb said as they cranked the door open.

They were! It was IslandFan and TheSuze. They had guided a Zodiac in from a small island in the Bahamas chain. They couldn’t yet see their rescuers, but the buzz of the outboard let them know that the cavalry had arrived.

And not a moment too soon!

The small craft skimmed along in the wake of the huge ocean liner, its outboard straining to keep up. After seeing the light from the hatch, Island Fan eased up just under the opening. As the ship rolled along in the dark Caribbean sea, the fugitives could see the faint outline of their rescuers, lit only by the full moon (MrT had arranged it just for this occasion). So far their plan was working to perfection!

BG would go first. While the Suze handled the boat, IF reached out and broke her fall as she leaped down into the darkened boat.

BG was safe.

MrT could hear the angry mob getting closer. It was time to exit stage left!

But just as MrT reached forward, he felt a tugging at his left hip.

HIS WETSUIT PANTS WERE CAUGHT ON THE WATERTIGHT DOOR LATCH!

He struggled to break free. He looked down the hallway and all he could see were a hundred angry eyes racing towards him!

He looked toward the bobbing Zodiac and saw the longing gleam of Barb’s eyes in the moonlight.

THIS WAS THE MOMENT OF TRUTH!!!

He knew there was no way out. He gathered up all his bravery. His courage and grit. He remembered the months of training he had endured getting ready for this operation. He had trained for it, but hoped it would never come to this. He knew at that moment he would have no other choice.

HE WOULD HAVE TO ACT LIKE ALL THE REST OF THE GUYS AT THE QUEST GAME...

AND REMOVE HIS PANTS!!!!

In one motion, he dove down towards the Zodiac and out of his wetsuit trousers. At just that moment a slight rise in the ships wake caused the little boat to swerve slightly away from the ship. MrT fell half naked onto the boat, his torso in the boat, but his legs dangling outside!

Let's just say that MrT took this moment to show his affection for some of the angry clawing rabble. You might say that the passengers left behind saw............

......TWO FULL MOONS.......

.....that starry Caribbean night!!!

As the small boat veered away from the huge ship, the escapees looked back to see dark, backlit figures angrily shaking their fists and the wetsuit at the little boat. Security had shown up now, just as planned, and was trying to pull the crowd back from the door to prevent a man overboard situation. The Captain had dispatched a security detail. He was brought onboard this operation from the beginning and anticipated there might be trouble. He had slowed the boat down and extended the stabilizers to steady the ship.

IF reached under my arm and pulled me in the boat. I looked up at the bridge just in time to see the Captain watching us fade into the moonlit ocean. He waved, and I could see he was laughing his butt off after seeing me moon the people left behind. "Good guy," I thought. "Even if he doesn't speak with an accent."

Island fan had brought everything we had requested. He handed me the bag with my bathing suit, a cold beer for me and a mimosa for BG. He grabbed the controls from The Suze and put his arm around her. I slipped the suit on. After all, I didn't want to make Island Fan feel bad - seeing all that amazing manhood! HAHAHA!

The ship headed back to Port Everglades and we headed out to FOMT's private island to work on my review. As the monstrous ship became just a twinkle of light on the horizon, I took BG in my arms. When she looked up at me, the moonbeams bounced off her iridescent blue eyes and pearly white teeth.

I said, "I wonder if they'll ever be on a FOMT cruise with us again?"

"Some will. Some won't," she said wistfully.

"Well whatever ship they sail, I hope they share the FOMT spirit with everyone they meet," I replied.

"Oh, MrT!" BG sighed.

We shared a kiss in the moonlight as the outboard whined and the water rushed by under the floor of the boat. We heard IF and Suze say something and as we looked up they were embracing, too.

I said, "Cut that out guys! Somebody's got to steer this thing!"

We all laughed and looked out over the bow of the boat. A short ways off in the distance was the soft glow of tiki torches and the just now audible tink, blink, tinking of a steel drum. We were going back to our private island to share some more fun times together with the FOMT. A place were only the people who know how to have fun can go. Where people care about each other and consider others feelings as well as their own. Where kindness and courtesy come easily. Where people are generous and are happy to reach down and help children in need.

I'm not sure everyone can find this place, but isn't it nice to know that place exists?

OH, you want to know where that is? Well......

???
???
???

It's wherever you are when you close your eyes and see the full moon over the Caribbean Sea and hear the crashing of the ocean against the hull.
.
AND ON OUR NEXT CRUISE, OF COURSE!!!!!

Thanks to some great people for helping us find that place again, if only for a little while.

************THE END****************

[The schmaltzy violin orchestra reaches a summit and finishes on happy chord.]

[Fade to Black]

Get it?

I’m sorry I can’t tell you my #1 reason, because it’s just between me and Barb.

After all it was our anniversary cruise!.....

We now return you to THE REAL WORLD.

Coming Back to Earth-

After all this complaining, you would think I was mad about something. I’m not. Over all, we had a HUGE amount of fun. We went to have fun and NO ONE was going to prevent us from finding it! When you have a number of experiences to draw on, it’s just hard not to notice when things don’t meet your expectations. We find it easy to forget all those things while we were on vacation. I just make a few mental notes for my review. Man, I love the internet! The mouse IS mightier than the mouth.

The ports were more fun this time than most past visits! The warm sunny days, the many places to see and the fun people we had along made the trip. We deepened some old friendships and made some great new friends. I could go on and bore you about all sorts of little things that we noticed. But anything negative we encountered will fade from memory as time goes by. The memories that linger will be good ones……

The full moon rising over the Caribbean Sea for our Anniversary Gala.

Feeling like we had just won the Kentucky Derby when ole’ number 4, “Ship Happens” crossed the finish line.

The absolute pandemonium and sheer sidesplitting laughter of the Quest Game.

The happy faces of the school children in Mahahual as they sang their song.

The total eclipse of the moon over the Caribbean.

A quiet afternoon on the veranda sunning and relaxing with my very patient and loving wife of 22 years.

And as always, the fine friends that went along with us. We had been to every one of the ports before. Some several times. It really is the people that make cruising exceptional.

Steve, Carolyn, Tom, Jane, Brad, Denise, John, Cynthia, Deb, Rick, Frank, Robin, Barbie, Ken, Gary, Anne, Vann, Michelle, Eric, Kim, Artie, Holly, Elenor, Michael, Bob and Sandy and all the fun people who sailed with us:

Thanks for finding your way on to our little private island for 7 short days.

After a long excursion to Virginia, our next “re-embarkation” – An NCL ship TBA.

Stay tuned!

MrTractor

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