SEPT 28 2001 and MAY 24 2002

For our seventeenth cruise we chose to return to an old favorite, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.  Her newest ship, Radiance of the Seas, had just finished her Alaska season, and was doing a series of three and four night cruises out of Seattle.  This seemed to us like a wonderful weekend break so we booked an outside cabin guarantee.  We were upgraded to a category E1, outside with balcony, our first experience with a balcony.

The first thing I want to say is that after 16 previous cruises we did not think any ship could knock our socks off.  We were wrong!  The Radiance of the Seas is such a beautiful ship with such wonderful cabins, food, service, entertainment and facilities that even blasé cruisers like us were amazed!!  We had a perfectly wonderful time and would highly recommend it to anyone! In fact, we enjoyed it so much that while onboard we booked it again for the next May!!

We flew to Seattle and took the ship's transfers from SeaTac to the pier ... about a 45 minute ride.  Boarding was long and tedious, complicated to be sure by increased security but also by inefficienty on the part of RCI.  There were costumed crew members walking along the line pushing Portofino and Chops, their extra fee restuarants, which I found sorta annoying.

However, once we boarded the ship everything was wonderful.  Our category E1 cabin on Deck 9 was a treat for us since we are used to being in the cheapest outside cabin way down on the bottom deck.  The bed was made up as a Queen, and since there was adequate space on each side we let it stay that way.  It was kinda funny that the bottom of the bed was curved.  My feet hung off the end if I put them on the short end of the curve, but fit fine if I kept them on the long end!  We had a nice little balcony with two chairs and a small table.  And to answer the question most asked on the boards ... it was reasonably private, but I am sure your neighbors could hear anything that went on ... so if you have ideas of doing THAT on your balcony, you had better be really quiet!!!  ;-)  We were traveling with our daughter, and the third bunk recessed completely into the ceiling during the day so it was very convenient.

Of course we did not stay in the cabin long.  We headed up to the Windjammer immediately for the embarkation buffet, and for the first of many times were stunned with the beauty and excellent facilities of this ship!  The buffet is huge, with lots of indoor and outdoor seating, and a separate enclosed area for smokers.  It outdoes almost any buffet I have ever seen shoreside.  Everything is duplicated on both sides so there are never any long lines, even when all 2100 passengers hit the buffet at once!  It starts with a wonderful salad bar featuring greens, fruit and mixed salads like seafood and potato.  The Orange dressing is great!  Then there is a sandwich station making sandwiches and roll ups of several varieties.  The hot food station features pasta plus several hot dishes such as sweet and sour pork.  There is the ubiquitous pizza as well as burgers and hot dogs.  And it all finishes with wonderful desserts, cheeses and fruit.

Ice tea, lemonade, milk and coffee are available.  The only thing is that the drink station is inconveniently located, and the drinks are served in tiny glasses, 6 oz. I think!  You either have to walk all the way back there with a big plate and get four glasses on it, or keep returning for refills.

After this wonderful  lunch we toured the ship.  The nice Steiner girl at the spa talked us into taking a "5 minute" tour which was much longer, but very interesting.  First was the beauty parlor -- not tucked in the bowels of the ship like most are, but on a high deck with a huge picture window in front of the chairs and dryers!  Then were massage rooms, mud rooms, and even a "stone therapy" room where they pick out the proper semi precious stones for your profile, warm them and apply them to your body!?!?  But the thing that attracted my ladies was the "Thermal therapy suite".  They immediately signed up for a three day unlimited use pass for $30.  I tried a single day pass for $15.  It starts with mosaic couches, heated from inside, overlooking a beautiful picture window.  When the warmth has thoroughly relaxed you, the steam room is next, a "dry steam" room, and then the aroma room where warm currents of air scented with cinnamon and other spices float around you!  Finally there is the "tropical rainstorm" shower with warm droplets floating down, and you then hit the "ICY MIST" button for an exhilarating experience!  My ladies loved it and were sure to schedule at least an hour in it every day!  It was not crowded and was always very enjoyable!  This is typical of the wonderful facilities on this ship for everything you can imagine.

I also have to mention the solarium.  Many ships have covered pools, but this one is special.  A beautiful pool and hot tub with trickling waterfalls and bronze statuary is surrounded with tropical foliage for a wonderful and calming place to sit and enjoy.  The pizza parlor in the corner is an added bonus!!  I do have to say, though, that even with the solarium and the outdoor pool that I think it is going to be severely lacking in deck chairs for the Caribbean season.  The third pool is the kids pool and is wonderful for them with a great waterslide, but very little sunning space around it.

And there is the rock climbing wall, the wonderful children's area, the miniature golf course, the eight story atrium with champagne and caviar bar ... just one beautiful facility after another.  What a ship!

When dinner time came we went to the Cascades dining room, so called because there is an actual waterfall in the dining room.  It is a little low ceilinged, like may dining rooms, but the noise level is under control. Seating is typical with mostly 6 to 10 person tables and a few two or four person ones.  We had a great server, Oscar from Mexico and an even greater assistant, Lizane from South Africa.  The menus every night were wonderful, varied and all excellent of their kind.  I had scampi, orange duck and a vegetable curry the three nights.  Renée had her usual bloody beef including a great prime rib, and Andréa tried various things including the all American turkey dinner. They were universally good.  As has been noted, RCI has combined all their first dishes into a "Starters" list, so Appetizers, soups and salads are all listed in one category.  However there is absolutely no problem of ordering one of each.  I did not think these starters were up to some other lines, but on the other hand I found the desserts to be outstanding, especially the chocolate mousse cake!

The passengers were a mixed group, many first time cruisers which is exactly what RCI is looking for on this trip, I am sure.  There were lots and lots of kids of all ages, but there was never a problem as the youth staff kept them occupied all the time.  There was even an optional kid's dinner on the formal night where the youth staff took the kids to dinner while Mom and Dad dressed up!  The kids also had their own cafe, the Seaview cafe at the stern with a wonderful view over the water.  It featured everything greasy and fried, from burgers and onion rings to jalapeno poppers and crab cakes!  The adults of our party discovered it early on and did not leave it just the kids!

The ports were quite nice.  Pulling into the marvelous terminal at Vancouver early in the morning we were treated to a great view of the Zaandam berthing next to us.  A bus tour of Vancouver was routine, featuring some nice views and a stop at the fish ladder, where we had the interesting experience of watching the scientific staff trying to flush a harbor seal who had climbed the fish ladder back out to sea!

In Victoria a new tour had been added, the Larkness Monster.  When we read the description of the tour we cancelled our previously booked tour and took it instead.  The shore excursion department was very efficient and took care of the change.  The Larkness Monster has only been operating for two weeks in Victoria, and is a refurbished Vietnam era LARC (Landing and Rescue Craft).  First it negotiates the streets of Victoria (drawing a lot of stares from drivers and pedestrians) and then suddenly splashes down a ramp into the harbor, where you can get great views of the Empress Hotel and Parliament building.  Eventually it crawls back up the ramp and drives back to the ship!   Visitors to Boston will remember the famous Boston Duck tours, on which it is obviously modeled.  It is lots of fun and I highly recommend it!

Then we had the high tea at the Empress Hotel.  This is a classic experience and not to be missed.  However, at $35 a person for four finger sandwiches, a scone, a lemon cookie, a berry tart and a small piece of raisin cake I do not think that I will be tempted to repeat it!  The Hotel, of course, is beautiful and a grand example of a bygone time.

Back on the ship we went to the big production show.  The show lounge is of course huge, but sight lines are great and seating was readily available, at least on this cruise.  It was almost impossible to get a drink as there seemed to be only two waiters for the whole lounge.  We found this all over the ship, and it seems inexplicable, especially compared to Carnival which is always flacking drinks at every possible occasion!  The show was fabulous, and the flyers were an amazing couple ... I would not have believed they could do that on a ship!

Oh, yes, I won the trivia contest the first day all by myself (well, Renée and Andréa showed up at the last minute and gave me two answers ... but they were both wrong!) and our team won again the second day!  We all got Royal Caribbean base ball hats!

I will also remark that I picked up menus from Portofino's and Chops Grill, and certainly did not see anything on them that I thought was worth an extra $20 apiece.  Portofinos does have lobster, which we did not see in the dining room.  But one of our cruise mates said that he tried Portofinos and it was equivalent to a $150 dinner ashore.  So opinions seem to differ...

Debarkation went smoothly, although of course your passport was thoroughly scrutinized.  A companion, who is a frequent traveler, was asked why he had entered Canada four times in the last year and underwent quite an interrogation about it.  This is the price we pay for increased security.

All in all it was a wonderful trip, easily equal to any cruise we have ever been on.  Recent comments by some people that RCI has declined in service and food were absolutely not warranted, IMHO.  We thought everything was excellent.

Since it was such a great trip, we returned in May 2002 for our nineteenth cruise. It was very much the same. We booked a car with Metropolitan Town Cars to pick us up in Seattle and take us to the ship. Arriving about 11:30, we thought we would have to wait a couple of hours, but to our sruprise they let us on board right away, and handed us a note that said we were welcome to relax in the public rooms, lunch would be served in the buffet at 12:00 and our cabin would be ready at 1:00. We thought that was a real nice touch. After lunch and getting to our cabin we went immediately up to the spa and had the first of several sessions in the Thermal suite!

In Vancouver this trip we just stayed on board, enjoyed the spa and solarium, and won keychains in the trivia contest. In Victoria we had booked a driver with a 1926 Model T Ford convertible from Classic Car Tours to tour. It was wonderful but slow, so eventually we switched to their 1965 Pontiac convertible and had a wonderful time!

All in all these are great cruises and highly family oriented so anyone who is looking for an introduction to cruising with the family would do very well on these, as well as experienced cruisers looking for a weekend escape!

To see our pictures of these cruises go to
 Radiance of the Sea pictures

Back to  Cruising With The Halls.