of the Seas
A Coastal Cruise
Vancouver to Los Angeles
Sept. 16-23, 2006
by Patrick and Harriette Regan
We looked at this cruise as more an ocean voyage or a passage. The ship provided elegant transportation to deliver us to Patrick’s 50th high school reunion at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, CA. Radiance was repositioning from Vancouver to LA to end the Alaska cruising season and begin the Hawaii cruising out of LA. We looked forward to stops in Nanaimo and Victoria on Vancouver Island and Astoria, Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia River, with a long day (7AM to 2AM the next morning) in San Francisco, and finishing in LA.
We were pleased to find this cruise a very few weeks before the sailing date and at a greatly reduced price. We have never cruised in a balcony cabin for such a low price. We are seeing more true cruise value now than ever before in happy hour specials, etc. We are always comparing cruise line amenities and value. Things change from cruising season to cruising season and from ship to ship. We went on 5 Princess cruises in a row -- a Princess binge -- and came back to Celebrity Concierge Class in May ’06. Now we are cruising with RCCL for the first time since 1999.
The cruise industry must be really nervous now having to resort to these low prices. Their fuel costs are huge now. There are fuel surcharges on some cruise lines. The fuel crisis has also made many potential passengers unable to put their plastic down on a cruise, because they already have credit card bills laden with big gasoline costs.
We had been instructed by our RCCL Cruise Documents to board the ship at Ballantyne Pier (which is a couple of kilometers farther East than Canada Place). We live in North Vancouver across the harbor, and when we woke up we looked out our windows and saw the Summit berthed at Ballantyne Pier and no sign of Radiance! We scanned Canada Place with our binoculars and there was Radiance berthed in front of Zuiderdam.
RCCL didn’t notify us of the change. When we were checking in, we heard stories of passengers taking cabs from the airport to Ballantyne and then being sent to Canada Place. That cost them a bit of extra money. Not to mention consternation.
We boarded the Radiance at Canada Place around 2PM. Crowded, but everything moving well. RCCL reps were there, making sure we got to the right boarding line -- there were a total of 3 ships at Canada Place that day.
We passed on the welcome aboard photograph session. They were shooting people in front of a doofus backdrop, even though here we were at the truly scenic Canada Place cruise terminal with many great backgrounds, including the striking “Radiance” dockside! We didn’t sail at 5PM as scheduled but left at 8PM because of the confusion resulting from the misdirection of many of the passengers. We prefer the 5PM sailaway from Vancouver, because leaving the harbor in twilight as the twinkling lights are coming up in the city is a scenic wonder.
is the daily planner/newspaper on the Radiance. It is excellent. It’s well laid out, and there is a perforated section you can remove, fold up and carry in your back pocket. Gives you lists of daily activities, shows, etc.
A balcony cabin almost all the way aft on deck 9. Way, way aft, with no aft stairwell. We prefer the ships with the aft stairwell and small aft deck areas like the Island and Coral Princesses.
Lots of storage in a small space on the Radiance. Clever design. The TV was across from the couch, and the shelf pulled out and could be tilted toward the bed. No DVD player, though. Considering that an all-regions DVD player costs about $50.00 retail it’s certainly due. It’s a reasonably priced amenity that should be available on every cabin of every ship (except that then people would stay in their cabins more??). We bring DVD’s to watch on our laptops. We like to revisit motion pictures we really like and prefer to watch them on a television set.
A curtain divided the sitting area from the sleeping area, and sliding doors opened to the balcony. The bathroom was small, with a tight shower.
Nice. Nude privacy. Oversize mesh lounge chairs. Radiance wins the balcony comparison. It’s so pleasant to enjoy a glass of wine and some delicacy as the scenery glides by. On this cruise the scenery included whales, seals, flocks of seabirds and passing ship traffic.
We want more TV. I’m sitting here writing this on the second Sunday of the ’06 NFL season while we are docked in Nanaimo BC on Vancouver Island. Football is being broadcast here on 2 local channels. The TV signal is free to all, and it can be plucked out of the air with a TV antenna; the ship says they can only access a satellite feed. They have cable TV connections on the docks at small boat harbors, why not at the cruise dock?
I understand that with less TV the ship can increase its revenue stream via shopping and gambling, but here in port the shipboard shopping and gambling can’t by law be opened for business.
We have decided to rename Radiance of the Seas. Henceforth she will be called “Announcements of the Seas”. K Mart level announcements into the cabins of napping passengers in the late afternoon. Particularly obnoxious to those dining at the 2nd seating at 8:30PM.
Announcements are necessary for lifeboat drills and the Captain’s daily report at noon, but tender ticket announcements just after 7:00 AM are not too cruisey. We wish they would do the tender notices on the ship’s TV system. When we boarded the ship, we checked out the beautiful 6 deck high Centrum. There was a constant raffle announcement going on, led by the cruise staff and the art sales guy. The volume was cranked up to what seemed like all the way as they prattled and boomed on. They finished finally at 4PM and we sat down for a glass of wine when the announcements erupted again. This time it was Captain Rune Lokling rattling the walls. The Centrum is an acoustic challenge, and the Captain exacerbated the situation by speaking loudly, almost yelling into the microphone. He sounds like a warm caring person. No sarcasm intended. At the end of his long (a couple of endless minutes) speech, he sincerely told us to have a “hurdy gurdy evening”. He nee
ds to dial down the volume of his announcing. The decibel level he used is illegal in many places. I would suggest he record one of his announcements and then go to the Centrum and listen to it played back.
The cruise director, Pierce Ivan, is much better on the mike, but he and his staff also make too many announcements for a cruise.
CODE RED FOR OPP
That sounds ominous and it is. There was a serious outbreak of Norwalk Virus 2 weeks ago on this ship; the acronym OPP stands for outbreak prevention protocol. Consider the following: The dining room is closed for lunch today while we are in Nanaimo, and we head to the buffet. We cannot touch the food or the utensils. Everything must be handed to us according to the protocol to control the outbreak. One isn’t even allowed to pick up a container of yogurt from a buffet station. Slows it all down to a crawl and adds to the already heavy burden of the tired buffet workers. Had we been informed about this code red we might have considered passing on this cruise even with the monetary penalty. We’re trying to consider the bright side. They will treat us for free in the infirmary if we come down with this type of illness. Uh, thanks but no thanks!
CASCADES DINING ROOM
We are very pleased with our wait team. Waiter Vanda is from Hungary and Juan, her assistant, from Peru. They are very helpful, and their English is excellent. Sunday will be our first formal night and there will be no lobster on the menu. We’re told there will be only one night when lobster will be served (the last formal night) and that it will be mixed with other shellfish. Boo Hoo! There are those pesky fuel cost economies again. We like the dining room, and the food is uniformly good. There is always an alternative menu of a broiled steak or chicken, a simple marinara pasta, etc., on the dinner menu should you not like the daily selections. Celebrity still has better food all around, but comparing just their main dining rooms, RCCL is very close. Assistant Head Waiter Francisco has also been very helpful in suggesting menu items.
SECOND SEATING DINING
Remember when dining was at 530PM or 545PM for the first seating and 8PM for the second seating? It would be good to return to that schedule. Then it would be easier to wait for 2nd seating dinner. That extra half hour makes a big difference to the body.
WINDJAMMMER BUFFET, SEAVIEW
& SOLARIUM CAFES
These venues were disappointing, to put it mildly. We are always turned off when there are no trays at a buffet. Princess is also guilty of this. You have to pocket your utensils and balance your beverage on the edge of the large platter you are given to gather your buffet fare. No thank you. We’d prefer plates, not platters, and trays. The level of flavor and cooking is low (think Excalibur or Circus Circus in Las Vegas) in this buffet. Celebrity is far superior in this area, plus they provide trays.
The Seaview Cafe is located on Deck 12 and serves deli sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, onion rings etc. Its normally greasy fare is even greasier here and not very appetizing. Celebrity again wins this comparison.
The Solarium Cafe is located in the spa area next to the indoor pool area. The menu is dessert oriented mostly. Deepak the
crepe maker is talented and turns out an excellent crepe. There are a couple of wraps on the menu, but Celebrity with their heart smart Aqua Spa cafe wins this comparison.
Princess has an afternoon high tea daily, Celebrity some of the time and Radiance none of the time. The buffet closes in the late afternoon, so there is little to eat other than at the Seaview and the Solarium cafes and the limited room service menu during non meal hours. The crepes are to die for and the wraps are OK but a
sit-down tea service would have been nice.
The coke card on this cruise was $48.30 including tax for the 7-day cruise. If you are not drinking at least 3 sodas a day it is not worth it. If you are drinking 3 cokes or more per day it is not worth it to your waistline.
The usual production shows, comedians, singers etc. Very pedestrian. Talent in the production shows on this ship was at the level of the artistes Woody Allen’s character, a theatrical agent, represented in his movie “Broadway Danny Rose”. It’s a DVD worth renting if you haven’t seen this movie.
The house band named the Radiance of the Sea Orchestra was great. One night the band members took leave of the usual Broadway tunes and standards and saluted the Blue Note Jazz record label in a superb show of Jazz talent. It was the entertainment highlight of the cruise for us.
There were pleasant cocktail piano and dancing venues pre and post dinner. We tended to gravitate to those instead of the production shows. We must admit we are spoiled by the fact we spent our working lives in the entertainment industry, and we expect more from rehearsed, expensive production shows.
We want better comedians and a Jazz trio with a singer every night.
We’ve been hit hard again with announcements. In addition to the noon report, the Captain came on at 5PM right in the middle of our second seating diner’s nap with a happy announcement right into the cabin. We thought in-cabin announcements were limited to regularly scheduled Captain’s reports and emergencies. Capt. Rune wanted to share with us the fact that (we are quoting him) “no one who boarded yesterday has come down with the G.I. virus or the vomiting yet” so keep on washing your hands and even though it’s a grey, dank day, the weather is good “if you have sunshine in your heart.” You can’t make this stuff up! It’s bad enough being stuck with 2nd seating dining at 8:30PM and then to have it compounded by these extra loud albeit sincere announcements right in your bedroom during your naptime.
There are many more announcements from the endless free-champagne-driven art sale and bingo, bingo and more bingo, piping these announcements into the cabin where we try to nap.
THE QUIET PLACE
Well, this sounded good to us -- to sit in the beautiful disco lounge (Starquest) by day and soak in the silence. Only trouble was, the place had driving music pumped through it, and there was nobody around with whom to discuss some sort of arrangement which would result in actual quiet.
However, later, during the first seating dinner, when most cruisers were standing in line to meet the Captain and perhaps have a photo taken with him, we tried the Starquest again. It was lovely and quiet! There was a bartender there who was enjoying his standby time by practicing his juggling -- he had promised his Mum he’d show her something new from his travels (but no tattoos or piercings!). He was very genuine and friendly, and we were soon happily sipping our favorite beverages in the nonsmoking side of the lounge.
All of the newer ships now have automated music set to the theme of a particular venue or area. You can’t just quietly relax in a nightclub or bar in the off hours and not be pounded by music. Some of the music we like, but we are seeking a quiet more cruisey feeling during the daylight hours.
PLATINUM AND DIAMOND LEVEL SPECIAL BREAKFAST
Not special! Served in the Colony Club area, which is not a food venue, and brought in and set down for us to pick at. We found out that the Code Red protocol was lifted this morning while talking to a Crew member at this event. Considering the number of announcements on Radiance, one thing they should have announced was this lifting of the protocol.
Greasy scrambled eggs. Not fluffy as those kind of eggs should be and are on Celebrity. After the scrambled egg tray the next offering was hot dogs wrapped in bacon in silver serving salvers. No, I am not kidding. Let the trumpets blare! The bacon wrapped hot dog, for the Platinum and Diamond cruisers!
No sign of Eggs Benedict. It was a crappy half-hearted presentation served in the wrong kind of room for anything more than cocktail appetizer service.
We left, to join the big line at the Cascades dining room entrance and have our eggs over easy (read that ‘to order’ -- no chance of the bulk cooking of scrambled eggs). Breakfast at the Cascades dining room was always tasty. The only minor glitch was the watery Hollandise sauce on the Eggs Benedict. Celebrity is the only cruise line at this level to offer a decent Eggs Benedict.
The coffee served on board the Radiance is the best we’ve had in quite some time on a cruise ship. Celebrity and Princess cannot compare. The beans are imported from Colombia by RCCL, and blended with a Seattle’s Best bean -- they call the blend ‘Carib-bean’. Cute, huh? Better than Celebrity or Princess. They have a designer coffee bar called Lattitudes where all the coffee drinks have Starbucks-like charges. They don’t even have the free non designer coffee available. You can get that only at the dining/buffet venues or by ordering room service.
is attentive, with a small menu. You can order an expanded menu during lunch or dinner hours in the dining room. They work hard. A couple of dollars’ tip is well appreciated.
MICROPHONE WIELDING CAPTAIN
This good hearted man is mangling this cruise for us. We had high hopes on our way out of Astoria; his sailaway speech was at a normal volume -- in fact, we overheard a crew voice in a stage whisper say ‘turn the volume down’. It seemed to work.
However, he soon got loose again and has been running amuck at full volume. We have been assaulted with news of the past filming of ‘Free Willy’ as well as, in a third speech in about 2 hours, his take on what the harbor pilot will have for dinner after we are escorted back to sea. He actually imagined for us what the pilot will sit down to a bit later! I no longer care about his opinions on anything, and we hereby retract anything pleasant I/we may have thought or said about him.
More notes on the Captain of the Announcement of the Seas... We had someone aboard ship need a helicopter medical evacuation from the U.S. Coast Guard. He made the announcement about this at the same time calling for his Bravo team (we would think that would be the crew providing support for this evacuation) and going on and on about many things and finally inviting us to watch. He repeated versions or updates of this announcement into the cabins, not just in the passageways and public areas, and he doesn’t know when he kicks in to extra-excited mode, so you have to plug your ears with your fingers which is hard to do when the announcement goes on and on. Is Rune Lokling suited to Captain a ship noted for its passenger service?
We like to use the stationary bikes, but the room is flooded with extremely loud music at all times even if you are up in the early hours of the morning. The gym staff controls the sound there, and they seem to prefer the pounding, hard-driving music at all times, not just during the classes they offer. We are used to gyms where people exercise wearing I-Pods, radios etc. They have their own sounds with them.
A knowledgeable hotel staffer told us that the gym/spa is a concession and RCCL doesn’t have control of the music. Not very cruisey.
CRUISE DIRECTOR TEAM
There was a titled sub-chief this time called the activities director, by the name of Kevin, who preferred yelling into the microphone. Kevin handled many of the chores usually handled by the cruise director, who only introduced the production shows and MC’d the audience participation shows e.g. “The Not so Newlywed Game”, etc. Cruise Director Pierce Ivan was more like an Executive Cruise Director, only appearing at the more “special” venues. There was always some cruise staffed activity going on for those who need to be doing group activity all of the time.
Very small and in the open. It is not in a quiet, closed room. Poor selection of books and no variety to speak of. Little non-fiction.
Great attitude. The dining staff, room service troops and bartenders were very helpful. The waiters in the Cascade dining room during the day are excellent. The hotel staff is a different story. They are a bit officious. The officer status they are accorded on the ship seems to put them on a higher plane than us in their own minds.
SHAKING HANDS, ETC.
It’s a hand sanitizer world now. We were in the beautiful glass elevators with 2 other couples when they started talking about hand sanitizer. They each had one and we
surprised them by also carrying it. The buffet venues had it on this cruise also. Considering the red alert the Radiance was on why do the Captain, and the dining room and cruise staff still want to shake our hands? Go figure. They are now providing hand sanitizer in the buffet area on most ships, and some ships wisely provide it to those reboarding the ship at the various ports.
The service troops work hard and have a great attitude on Radiance. In addition to the normally expected tips we like to carry a whole bunch of US dollar bills. When good service is provided we tip. When we order a soft drink on the coke card we always give the server a buck. Room service waiters get 2 bucks from us. It never fails that if you tip room service on a regular basis that your order gets to you very quickly once room service is aware of this. It’s a big ship and they have a lot of area to cover.
PERSONAL CELL PHONE USER BEWARE
Just because the ship is near enough to shore to try to obtain a cell phone signal, don’t! Make sure the ship is docked at a pier or anchored at a place where tendering is taking place before you use your personal cell phone. We were shocked to receive a cell phone bill the month after a coastal/Alaska cruise on Celebrity Summit for three dollars per minute which added up to about $600.00. We did a bunch of research and discovered that the cruise line, in conjunction with a company called Wireless Maritime Services had added a huge surcharge to our bills without us finding out until 30 days later. The cruise lines are attempting to mine a new profit center. The press releases on WMS pushes them piggybacking on our cell service as an amenity. Those of us who have high minute flat rate phone contracts good all over the US and Canada get hosed under this so called amenity. Be wary, the charges are highest of retail.
The indication on the bill said the calls originated on Celebrity; just that one word. We complained to our cell phone provider, who claimed they knew nothing about this charge; they were merely passing on the surcharge that had been billed to them by Celebrity. It took many calls to the customer satisfaction line of the cruise line and our cell carrier. We ended up eating most of the charges absent a token credit from our personal cell provider and a credit from Celebrity toward a future cruise. A cruise ship is a hotel with a propeller, and hotels routinely warn you about phone charges in the hotel, which causes people to use their cells instead. There was no notice given to us by Celebrity. The window on the cell that is active when you call did not indicate Celebrity, just Cingular or whatever. The damage is done. Be warned! I asked the hotel desk if RCCL was doing that surcharge on this cruise and they said they weren’t sure. So I was careful to o
nly call in port. Later in the week the notice they were doing it appeared on the ship’s TV channel. Later, I found a press release on the ‘net trumpeting the fact that RCCL had signed a contract to place cellular signal repeaters on their fleet “as a further service to their customers”. A $3.00 per minute service. We’ve been using our cell phones for years on cruises and whenever we got a signal we made a call.
Nice port with good shopping and a nearby Costco. Since we live in BC and it was raining we passed on the tender trip to Nanaimo.
High Tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel in beautiful Victoria. Wonderful tea room with grand views across sweeping gardens over looking the BC capitol buildings and a tinkling piano player.
The price is nosebleed high though. Tea for two with a glass of wine is about $125.00 Canadian including tax and tip.
Our first visit. Located at the mouth of the Columbia River. Good shopping. Reasonably priced shuttles from the ship. Great bookstores, cloth stores etc. Harriette found good prices at the local Joann’s Fabrics and Crafts.
We also had a nice Mexican food lunch at Plaza Jalisco on 8th Ave., easy walking distance from a shuttle stop. We had luncheon specials and beverages for about $23.00 plus tips. We want to go back to Astoria again. Big city pricing has not arrived yet in this lovely place.
We had a great time in Astoria – nice, friendly people.
One of our favorite cities in the world. Food, shopping, sweeping vistas and cable cars. An easy city to tour using public transportation. Buy the all day pass good on Cable cars and buses etc. Take the Hyde St. cable car from the Powell St. turntable near Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf for a spectacular view/tour of the city. The other cable car departing from the Powell St. terminus is the Bay and Mason car, on which the views and vistas are not nearly as good as the Hyde St. line even though they end up just a few blocks apart.
Cabs are everywhere, and the ship is docked just a very few blocks from all of the choice downtown shopping, making the cab fares reasonable.
We took a cab to “Greens,” a gourmet vegetarian restaurant located on the water at Fort Mason in the Marina neighborhood. Greens is famous worldwide in vegetarian circles. We met our son, who lives in Oakland, and his girlfriend there and had a delicious, very expensive lunch that took forever to be served with a generous helping of attitude from the waitstaff. They made a mistake with our orders and were loathe and then very slow to correct it.
We had a tasty dinner at the Hunan Restaurant on Sansome North of Broadway behind KPIX TV. Tell the cabbie you want to go to ‘old Hunan’; if you just tell them ‘Hunan’ they will take you to their touristy sister restaurant in Chinatown. Great and reasonable meal at old Hunan. Yummy!
Harriette here -- I always manage a visit to Britex Fabrics when we are lucky enough to be in San Francisco. I accepted the sad fact that THE DAY BEFORE they had had a great sale, and I found some wonderful extra-wide white on white cotton stripe fabric for shirts. Britex has 4 stories of fabrics, notions and patterns for the sewing enthusiast; it’s located at Union Square in a great shopping area.
It was a swell way to travel from Vancouver to LA! We felt really elegant having given ourselves such a lovely voyage to a great 50th class reunion. We would hope that the cruise lines schedule more of these coastal cruises during the warm weather months and not just during repositioning. They would certainly save on fuel charges, because they are only going 1200 miles in 7 days. Seemingly, a win-win situation cost wise for the Cruise Lines. We would also like a Seattle stop instead of Nanaimo and 2 days docked in San Francisco. We would also like a stop in Santa Barbara, CA.
We would like funnier, fresher comedians and more relaxed singers who simply entertain on stage with the band instead of the trying-too-hard production shows that feature musical theater for those who only attend musical theater on cruise ships.
We don’t want any IN CABIN announcements other than lifeboat drill, the Captain’s daily report and emergencies. Please don’t pipe in Final Art auction (the sequel) announcements, tender schedules etc. into our cabins. Put that stuff in the paper or on the TV in our cabins not on the loudspeaker.
Late dinner seating passengers suffer the most with these nap killing announcements. We also want 1st seating dining to start at 5:30 and 2nd seating to start no later than 8 O’clock. The difference between dining at 8 instead of 8:30 is huge. We know it’s a cruise but we don’t want to have to eat between meals.
We also want more satellite TV on the high seas and over-the-air sporting events and network TV/Cable when we are in port.
The cost of internet service shipboard was ridiculous. We use internet cafes or coffee bars to check our email when cruising.
We had a pretty good time on the Radiance. The ship is huge and beautiful, and the housekeeping is excellent in the public areas. We love to wander the ship when the rest of the passengers are doing something else. We love the sound of the ship cutting through the water.
We are going to cruise again with Holland America, on the Oosterdam out of San Diego on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2007. Our last cruise with HAL was on the Zaandam at the end of the Alaska season in 2002. It was a dirty ship with a tired crew, and we have had HAL in our penalty box since then.
We want to give HAL another shot, and we fell in love with the look of the Oosterdam last summer in Alaska when we were berthed next to them in a couple of ports. We booked a suite to get a bit more room and we look forward to celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and visiting the Mexican Riviera on the
Copyright 2007 by Patrick and Harriette Regan
Caribbean Cruise Reviews