Radiance of the Seas
Royal Caribbean International
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Cruises to Nowhere -- April 1-4 & 4-6, 2001
By Mary and Vincent Finelli
These were our 15th and 16th cruises
(back-to-back) in the past four years and our 6th & 7th on RCI.
We booked these cruises so that we could be among the first to
experience the much touted new ship the Radiance of the Seas which
is the first of a new class of ships that RCI is introducing.
The new Radiance class ships will be in size between the
megaships (Vision class) and gigaships (Voyager class).
Unlike the most recent gigaships, the Voyager and the Explorer,
this one is Panamax (can pass through the Panama Canal). She is
indeed a beautiful ship. Needless to say, we had another
interesting cruise. Again the weather was perfect, the Caribbean Sea
was calm, the moon was full and the stars were bright: the right
ingredients for relaxation.
The Radiance of the Seas at
90,090 tons and 962 feet long, can accommodate 2,100 passengers and
900 crew members. She has the beautiful sea green tinted windows
on the upper exterior, typical of the RCCL ships, which distinguishes
them from all other lines. Approximately 50% of her exterior is glass
walled including four glass elevators facing the sea and two more
facing the Centrum. Her sleek silhouette recalls the smaller
RCCL ships, yet simultaneously she incorporates several amenities of
the larger Voyager class while avoiding the boxier shape.
She looks more like a gigantic yacht. The Radiance is
truly a lovely ship with nautical motifs and tasteful comfortable
appointments. Inaugurated on April 7, 2001, (one day after we
left her) she left for repositioning to Seattle, via the Panama Canal,
and will cruise to Canada, Alaska and Hawaii before returning this
fall to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to cruise to the Southern Caribbean
Islands. She has many exciting cruises ahead and we wish her
This was the first time that we
arrived in Port Everglades and couldn't locate our ship. Due to a late
departure of the Millennium from Pier 18, the Radiance
was kept out of port until well after 1:00 pm, as matter of fact she
docked at the pier a little before 2:00 pm. We had this straight
from Captain Ringborn himself; even with this unexpected delay, the Radiance
missed its scheduled 2:00 pm boarding time by only 15 minutes.
We arrived in port at 12:45 pm, were processed and went by elevator to
the upper waiting room from where we could see the ship approaching
Pier 18. This was the first boarding of this ship in Ft.
Lauderdale, with mostly new personnel, so there was some chaos. Some
passengers were upset, but most of them understood the problem and
knew that boarding time had been set at 2:00 pm, thus they were not
perturbed by this small inconvenience. Life can be wonderful
with a bit of patience. Unfortunately we heard some strident loud
voices, when in actuality boarding was only slightly delayed and the
reason was given over and over to people who didn't care to listen.
It's for sure that these people never heard the statement: "I
travel a lot; I hate to have my life disrupted by routine."
The unexpected can be refreshing.
Our boarding cards were not at the
counters on the pier, but we received a temporary boarding pass and
were told to pick up the cards at Guest Relations on Deck 4, which we
did. We were disappointed for not receiving wheel chair
assistance during embarkation or debarkation. Vincent lately has
been having mobility problems and has extensively used his wheel
chair, thus we had asked for assistance, but to no avail. On our
recent cruises, on the Celebrity Millennium and Costa
Atlantica, we were escorted to our cabins by crew members, but on
this ship we had to search for the cabin ourselves, without a ship's
map or deck plan which had not yet been printed, thus not available
for passengers. Upon entering on Deck 4, the Centrum was alive
with piano music and we took the glass elevator to Deck 9 and in
a few minutes we were in our cabin. Our luggage arrived while we
were at dinner (main seating). On a new ship, it takes time to put
into place all of the services which we take for granted (i.e. Do Not
Disturb/Make Up Cabin signs, water carafes in cabins, etc., which were
not yet available on this ship).
In 1998, for the initial planning of
the Radiance of the Seas, Captain Kent Ringborn became the site
manager for RCI at the Meyer-Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany,
where he remained for the entire building project of this ship.
It can be a source of comfort for cruisers to know that this Captain
has an intimate knowledge of his ship. He literally came on
board before she was afloat! (More later about the amazing Captain
The nine deck high Centrum is
refreshingly different; it has two tall waterfalls and each deck has
semi-circular balconies from which guests can look down over the
entire Centrum. Up high is a suspended sculpture of delicate spoked
half wheel arches which create interesting light patterns on the
walls. There is a spectacular bar flanked by huge crystal urns filled
with yellow lemons and white calla lilies, a green glass stairway
between decks 4 and 5 and tropical plants everywhere. The large
dance floor has a nautical compass-like design in colored marble.
People were dancing in the Centrum every evening.
On deck 6, toward the aft, is located
the traditional Schooner Bar, augmented by a long foyer with small
refurbished antique cannons and ship's ropes; when walking through
this area, the air is pungent with the smell of old ships. On
the left is a full length portrait of Jenny Lind, the famous soprano
of the 1850's, known as the "Swedish Nightingale" and
appropriately placed on the next wall is a painting of the ship
"Nightingale" in a storm. We hope the passengers
recognize the intended pairing. In this bar are also the foyers and
entrances for Portofino and Chops Grille, the upscale
"reservation only" restaurants.
Further on toward the rear is the
Colony Club, styled after an English Men's Club, which consists of
four separate areas: The Bombay Billiard Club, the Jakarta Lounge, the
Singapore Sling's and the Calcutta Card Club. In the Billiard
Club there are the first two self-leveling billiard tables at sea;
it's amazing how they compensate for the ship's motion through the use
of gyroscope technology, yet the balls remain absolutely stable.
Captain Ringborn related to us that on the transatlantic voyage, the
engineer, who oversaw installation of these tables, was found sleeping
blissfully on one table during a rather nasty storm at sea: clever
fellow to avoid rolling, pitching, and motion sickness. This
made us wonder if there would be gyroscopic beds, cabins or decks some
day, eliminating the needs for motion sickness medicine. Beyond
the billiard room is the center of the Colony Club. It has
tiered seating and a sunken dance floor. It was here where
Captain Ringborn sang to the passengers "Welcome to Our
World;" quite a pleasant surprise and he was in fine voice:
a cultivated baritone. A modern day Renaissance man! The
captain's welcome aboard cocktail was held here as were the daily
The Cascades Dining Room, Decks 4
& 5 is elegant with its two deck sweeping semi-circular staircase
flanked by two dark blue waterfalls (for those planning an onboard
wedding this would make a dramatic backdrop). On the ceiling
there is a simple huge oval glass light and ten round glass lights
circling the lower tier. There are ten two deck high columns covered
with white sheer fabric and twenty wooden columns downstairs; the
chairs are blue/green with arms -- very comfortable. But the most
fascinating sight in this room is the back wall mosaic: Three mermaids
and a dolphin cavorting on a copper and gold sea, while the gods of
the wind blow down on them from clouds above. Tres belle!
We found the nicest public place for
relaxing to be the African themed Solarium Deck 11; three bigger than
life elephants, with a bridge in front of them, form a wall
overlooking the pool. There is a bronze lion cub reposing on the
edge of the pool and monkeys high up in the tropical plants and
a bald eagle and a background audio tape of jungle sounds. Very
relaxing. They should remove the English ivy plants, since they
are not tropical and mostly dying anyway. There is a medium
sized jacuzzi, two thatched roofed cabanas for rinsing off and more
than enough wooden chaises.
On Deck 13 is the Starquest Disco and
it's a RADIANT room with sparkling crystals imbedded in the windows
and walls in galaxy designs: A must see! Right next door is the
Hollywood Odyssey featuring a life-size bronze of Marilyn Monroe with
billowing skirts from the movie the "Seven Year Itch."
This ship has many delights for the eye, some of which are quite
remarkable and every stairwell has huge colored glass murals.
There are many more public places
that we have not yet mentioned, but the three deck high Aurora theatre
is a must see. We believe that there are no bad seats or
obstructed views in this theatre. Other interesting places are
the Champagne Bar on deck 6, the Sports Court/Country Club, with the
rock-climbing wall and miniature golf course on deck 12, a very
spacious Ship Shape Spa, the Seaview Cafe and the Adventure Beach with
water slide and splash pool for kids. We are certain to have
missed some interesting locations on board, but our cruise on this
ship lasted only five days. We must plan a longer cruise to get
the information needed to write a thorough review, but for now this
Vincent recommends Books, Books &
Coffee on deck 5, adjacent to the shops. There were not too many
books for sale, but we bought some exquisite liquor filled chocolates
(reasonably priced). However, the most favored spot here is
Seattle's Best which brews the best specialty coffees at sea, such as Espresso,
Cappuccino, Caffe`- Latte and Granita, and these beverages were
all free of charge, including some great cookies.
Our Deck 9 Deluxe Oceanview cabin
#9592 with balcony was a nice size. When entering on the right,
there is a bathroom with circular shower with curtain (we missed the
Plexiglas door), a single sink with triple mirror and a single
medicine cabinet (beware of the sharp corner on the cabinet door).
There is blue decorative tile with a lifesaver motif centered with
white daisies, nice touch. Then there was a double blue/gold
velour sofa and what was listed as a queen sized bed was really a king
sized one with an extra firm mattress.
Entering on the left there is a
triple wardrobe, a vanity/desk with a triple mirror and after that a
three-tiered cabinet with a safe in the top section, in the middle an
interactive TV (nice for checking on your onboard account, but not yet
functional) and on the bottom a well stocked mini-bar refrigerator.
A wall to wall drape separated the sitting area from the bedroom and
another drape covered the far glass wall with the sliding door to the
small balcony. The cabin was pleasantly decorated in blue, gold, and
burnt orange with lots of natural maple wood. The stewardess,
Neneng, was new and needed prompting, but was willing and pleasant.
Since our veranda was a bit larger than others of similar cabins (the
shape of our veranda was trapezoid, not rectangular, due to our
cabin's position near the ship's center where it bulges out), we asked
Neneng for a chaise to be placed on the veranda with the two chairs
and tiny table already there. She took a while but did bring
Note on shipboard etiquette: Do not
flick cigarette butts off your balcony -- they will land on our
balcony if your cabin is above or forward of ours.
The Welcome Aboard Buffet was very
good as with all of the Windjammer offerings. The new set up with
several islands is a bit confusing with a chaotic traffic pattern on
the first day, but the signs above the fare are helpful and it did get
better in future days. There was staff ready to carry trays to
the tables, which was necessary due to the wheel chair. The
desserts were excellent: fantastic fruit tarts, eclairs, cookies (Mary
was hooked on the oatmeal and chocolate chip ones). We had
breakfast (full American) in our cabin the first two days, but then
room service was inexplicably terminated for the rest of the cruise,
from then on we ate breakfast at the Windjammer. However, the
last morning we had breakfast in the dining room and it was almost
deserted. Perhaps too many rumors of two hour breakfasts scared
people away. We usually ignore rumors and see for ourselves.
We had excellent service and a delicious meal.
On our way out, we encountered Mehmet
Soyler, Wait Staff Trainer, whom we had previously met on both the Voyager
and the Explorer. He had been an excellent waiter to us
on the Voyager and he appreciated our writing him up in our
review. We are sure he will be successful in training the new crew to
bring "snappy" service to this ship, a badly needed
improvement! There was some improvement in service in just the
five days we were on the Radiance, but we expect to see better
reviews as time goes by. The main dining room food was fair to good.
The best dishes were shrimp cocktail, Peking duck and the desserts
(chocolate soufflé, tiramisu`, ice cream but no swans!). The
lack of wine stewards was soon evident when Vincent's wine was
misplaced. Service was slow but pleasant, we guess they need to
find their "sea legs"!
The ship has two alternative dining
options: The Portofino, an upscale Euro-Italian restaurant, and the
Chops Grille, both requiring reservation and a $20 fee. We checked out
the menu at the Portofino and found it the same as the one on the Explorer.
We also found out that there has been no changes in the chef involved
in the creation and formulation of the Portofino's menu. Thus we
decided not to try this restaurant again, since our last experience on
the Explorer was not satisfactory. In our review of the
inaugural cruise of the Explorer we suggested that for creating
a menu with the true taste (gusto) of Italian cuisine, RCI has
to hire a chef who truly knows what Italian food should taste and use
the right ingredients to achieve the expected flavors, which is not
currently happening at the Portofino.
We did dine at Chops Grille with the
Captain, and the Environmental Officer Debbie Nylund (this was a treat
for Vincent since he is a retired Professor of Environmental Health)
and Debbie's friend, a lady passenger from Chicago. The Captain
is a wonderfully warm gentleman, who has spent most of his life at sea
after graduating from the Swedish Merchant Maritime Academy. His
love of the sea and ships is much in evidence. We had a
wonderful meal consisting of grilled veal, cooked to perfection,
broiled portobellos with roasted peppers, New England clam chowder (as
a native Bostonian, Mary gave it an A+) and desserts were Mississippi
Mud Pie, Tiramisu` and ice cream. Don't miss it, allow
approximately two hours, if you make reservations for 6:30 pm, you'll
just make the 9:00 pm show as we did. Service was casual and we
had an excellent time with delightful company. To be sure that
there are available tables, make your reservation during the first few
hours aboard the ship.
Cruise Director Gordon Whatman
(England) was highly visible, ebullient and has set the goal of making
the Radiance the friendliest ship afloat. We feel he is
succeeding. A university educated mechanical engineer, he also
has a finely tuned voice (opera background). We have it on good
report from reliable sources ( Mary's sister Elizabeth and her husband
Vito who raved about his performance) and other cruisers who said that
he wowed the audience.
The welcome aboard show "Rockin
in Paradise" had great dancers, but the singing (the microphone
check failed to tone down a too loud sound) and the costumes were not
the greatest. The second night there were two brothers from
Argentina (Mario & David) who did a hilarious routine on the
"trip to nowhere" and on the strange habits of elderly
Italian gentlemen hitching up their trousers. They ended up with
a breathtaking performance of twirling "boles" and were
warmly applauded. They perform on Telemundo (Spanish) TV, Miami.
The final show was "Welcome to Our World," an around the
world tour with wonderful costumes: Chinese, French, African and
Spanish segments with excellent visual effects! Great dancing, but the
singing was loud and dissonant.
The Casino is the usual smoky, busy
place. The final night it was crowded with so many gamblers
trying to recoup their losses that we gave up and sought the peace and
quiet of our veranda. But on this "Cruise to Nowhere" it was
open every day and cruisers were truly enjoying it. We had our
time in it, when it was less crowded, and made our usual donation to
the slot machines and the poker table.
The Centrum frequently had a
wonderful group "Upscale" with a female vocalist so terrific
that she attracted people on all nine decks of balconies. Sorry
we can't attach a name to her, we asked at guest relations and
everyone was so new that they couldn't identify her. There was
an abundance of activities to suit all: art auctions, Ship Shape
exercise programs, bingo, line dancing, contests, horse racing, etc.,
etc., and a fine library. If a passenger was bored it was not
Since many new ships are scheduled to
come on line in the near future, a new experiment took place on the
Radiance: More than 60% of the staff is new, not just to the ship, but
also to the service industry. RCI has initiated a new system
aboard this ship. There are no longer officers in charge of the
service crew, such as a Chief Purser or Hotel Manager, who are
in the chain of command of the ship, but in their places there are
civilian administrators: a comptroller and a general manager, who
oversee the hotel activities on board. We did write to Helmut
Leikauf, General Manager, requesting an appointment; however, we did
not have the chance to meet with him. He set up two appointments,
which he had to cancel due to emergencies. Basically since our
questions went unanswered, we approached this cruise like an
ethnography and tried to make sense out of some of the incidents we
encountered: we ended up attributing problems to "unschooled
help." Some passengers complain loudly and rudely. We
prefer to ask politely for whatever we need and we are always served
pleasantly. We were onboard for a restful cruise and we had one.
We had priority white tags, and were
on land by 8:15 am. However, unlike Costa and Celebrity Lines, there
was no one to help with the wheel chair upon debarking. We had a
hair-raising experience when on a long steep ramp the chair picked up
speed and was difficult to hold back. We did the fifty yard dash
in record time for us! In retrospect we should have insisted on some
assistance to debark. After this close call, next time we will.
This was one of our worst cruises as
far as service, but we still loved it. The service was the
poorest, especially to those who consider RCI among the lines with the
best service at sea. Not that it matters much, but this was our
first cruise without having chocolates on the pillows at night.
We suggest that RCI train the staff prior to offering cruises to
paying passengers; otherwise, the line's reputation becomes tainted,
especially with new customers. When novice cabin stewards or
waiters are utilized on board they should be closely supervised by
experienced staff. In our opinion this experiment has failed and
we want to post this review on the internet hoping that RCI will
become aware of the mistakes and try to prevent repeating them.
We are addicted to cruising and plan to remain so for many years.
Are we going to cruise again with the Radiance of the Seas and
with other RCI ships? Of course we will!
One positive note on the training of
the new crew of this ship was passed to us by Debbie Nylund, the
Environmental Officer. She assured us that her priority has been
training the crew on safety in emergency situations. This was
done prior to other training activities, including service.
Safety to us is the most important aspect on a ship or in any other
place indeed. And we hope that the lessons on safety are not forgotten
while the crew is trained to perform excellent service.
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