Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Radiance of the Seas cruise - Honolulu to Sydney Sept/Oct 2011


The Radiance of the Seas at Bora Bora, French Polynesia.

This was my first cruise and I loved every moment of it! 

Before setting off I'd tried to find one place that could answer all the questions I'd been asking. I couldn't find one place that answered all of them, so I decided to make my own blog with as much info as possible in order to answer those questions I'd asked, and you might ask. 

I also wanted to add high quality images. I am a photographer and set out to take as many photos as possible that conveyed the feeling of what it was like. In many cases a photo really is worth a thousand words and I wanted to express this.

*This post was copied across from my original blog and some of the formatting was lost in translation, so please excuse any aberrations. Prices are in US dollars and all information is as of October 2011.

I have discovered that this post runs slowly if viewed on Internet Explorer. It's best viewed on Google Chrome or Firefox (not as fast as Chrome).

Radiance moored at Bora Bora.


TECHNICAL STUFF


Length - 293m (961 ft)
Beam (width) - 32m (104 ft)
Draught - 8m (26ft)
Speed - 25 knots (28mph, 45km/h)
Passengers - 2,500
Crew - 860
Weight - 90,000 tons
Year built - 2001

Radiance of the Seas is powered by two 34,000 hp General Electric LM2500 gas turbines (Radiance was the first gas turbine vessel built for Royal Caribbean). The engines are the same used by the DC-10 aircraft and generate electricity to power two ABB azi-pods that drive five-bladed 5.5 metres diameter propellers. When berthing, the azi-pods can turn 360 degrees if need be and these are assisted up by three 2730 hp bow thrusters. Should full astern power be required at cruising speed the pods are flicked to just 90 degrees. Radiance takes about one nautical mile to stop.

The engines produce far less emissions than diesel engines and also produce steam for another 12,850 hp of electricity. Two Alpha Laval 650 tons/day evaporators and a 350 tons/day Desal reverse osmosis desalination plant provide more than enough fresh water.

Two 18 square metre stabilisers extend over seven metres from the hull amidships and fold back into the hull for berthing. They lessen the affect of swell by up to 60% and can allow the pool tables, stabilised by a computer-controlled gyroscope, in the Colony Club on Deck 6 to remain perfectly level during a moderate swell (Radiance was the first cruise ship to have these tables installed).

The Radiance being powered across the Pacific Ocean by its
two 34,000 hp General Electric LM2500 gas turbines.


THE CENTRUM

The Centrum is the focal point of the Radiance of the Seas. It's an atrium in the centre of the ship that runs from Deck 4 to Deck 13. It's a spectacular space, no matter the time of day or night. Places such as the library overlook the Centrum and the floor area at the bottom of the Centrum (Deck 4) is a well-used area. If there is an event in this area, it allows people on other levels a birds-eye view of proceedings. Two glass lifts/elevators also make their way up and down the inside of the Centrum. 


As well as these lifts, there are two glass lifts on the 'outside' of the ship that aren't specifically a part of the Centrum but are...kind of - and, sorry, way too hard to photograph but imagine a glass lift, inside a massive glass wall with spectacular views of the ocean!!! I went up and down in one the day I got on board but then took the stairs the rest of the time (I had to somehow try and work off all that good food I ate!...more on all the good food available later).


The Centrum from above (with the floor space on Deck 4 at the bottom).

The Centrum from Deck 4 (with one of the two glass lifts visible).

People watch proceedings in the Centrum from various levels.


SEA PASS, GRATUITIES AND DRINKS PACKAGES

You are given your sea pass when you check in at the port before boarding. Once you are on board, you don't need anything other than your sea pass. It acts as your room key and your wallet (currency on board is $US). You'll feel naked leaving your room and will invariably keep checking your pockets for keys and wallet each time you walk out your stateroom door.

When I checked-in I was only given the seapass. Initially I kept it in my pocket or wallet but this wasn't always satisfactory (things have a habit of falling out of pockets and wallets). I kept seeing people with the seapass on a lanyard and thought 'that's a good idea'. Someone said they'd bought the lanyard in the onboard shop and the guest services desk punched a hole in it so they could clip it onto the lanyard.

Sure enough, I bought a lanyard ($4.95) each, got a hole punched it it etc and spent the cruise with it around my neck. The other good thing was the bottom part of the lanyard could unclip, so I could take the seapass off if I needed to hand it over to pay for drinks etc and then clip it back on.

It seemed everyone cottoned on to the fact this was the way to go and the seapass 'necklace' was a very common sight. It would be good if Royal Caribbean included the lanyard with the seapass and they may do this but, unless things have changed, you can either bring your own lanyard or buy one on board. If you are a Gold, Patinimum, Diamond member you get a Sea Pass that makes your status easily recognised.  Children's Sea Passes punched with star-shaped holes to make them easily recognisable. If you buy the soda package you will also get a sticker placed on your Sea Pass so the bartenders won't charge you.

When it comes to gratuities, you can either pre-pay with your fare or you can pay a sum at the end of the cruise calculated on guidelines recommended by Royal Caribbean. You can also pay 'additionl' gratuities as you go if you think the service warrants it. I pre-paid and liked the fact it was taken care of and didn't have to worry about it.

You can pre-order water, soda and wine packages. However, the day I boarded they were offering the same deals. I bought a 16-bottle (1 litre/1 quart) water package for $54 each. The 'as many refills as you like' soda package, which includes a re-usable 'drink bottle', for an adult cost $124 (from memory, kids package cost $79), and the wine packages started at around $28 a bottle (to buy a bottle in the dining room or on room service started at around $32).


The Sea Pass.


STATEROOM

I had a Deluxe Ocean View Stateroom. It was a good sized room which was more than ample for the 17-night stay. It also had a private balcony (with, understandably, spectacular view) and small sitting area/sofa in the cabin. It had twin beds that had been converted into a queen-size bed that was not only extremely comfortable but very wide - almost king-size width - and a private bathroom that was quite roomy, all things considered. The total area of the room was 16.6 sq. m. (179 sq. ft.) and the balcony was 3.8 sq. m (41 sq. ft.).

The other thing that really stood out was the storage space which was better than a lot of hotel rooms (see photos). This meant I could unpack everything and settle in (the same could be said for bathroom storage). I didn't feel cramped - a good thing, considering the length of the cruise.

The TV was a flatscreen on an arm that could be swivelled so you could watch it anywhere in the room. The room had a curtain that could separate the room into two so, feasibly, someone can watch TV while someone sleeps or reads in bed. There were quite a few channels but, because a lot of the cruise was spent in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, this meant no satellite coverage. When the coverage dropped out the channels went onto a loop.

Channels:

*Discovery Channel (that incorporated programmes from several of the Discovery channels - Animal Planet, Discovery Travel, Lifestyle)
*E - which had celebrity documentaries and 'Keeping up with the Kardashians'.
*Several movie channels including TCM (Turner Classic Movies) and many channels with non-English versions of the movies showing.
*Children/Family movie channel
*Nickelodeon
*CBS - specific programmes made for Royal Caribbean
*Inhouse Radiance of the Seas channel - Each morning the Activities Manager and Cruise Director ran through the goings on for the day. I often woke and turned this on to see what was happening that day (the same 20 or so minute 'show' repeated continually until around 11am). They also talked about things such as upcoming ports of call and the customs requirements etc. It was the inhouse info channel.
*'Excursions' channel which showed what excurisions were available for that cruise.
Ship info - that showed stuff like how far the ship was from its destination, how deep the ocean was, what time the sunrise/sunset was, speed, actual compass position.
*FOX News

When the ship came into satellite coverage we picked up a few more channels:

ESPN 1 & 2
CNN
BBC World
Australia Network

We were at sea during the Rugby World Cup so, because satellite coverage was unavailable, they managed to transmit the games being streamed online. There was some buffering which meant there was about a minute of action then 20-30 seconds of buffering. The coverage was a bit stilted but better than nothing.

One nice little touch that occurred most evenings when I returned after a night out was the 'towel sculptures/figures' left by Solomon, my stateroom attendant (the photos below best describe what I'm talking about).


The Stateroom - 16.6 sq. m. (179 sq. ft.).

Watching TV from the bed was always an option...

The stateroom with the balcony and beyond.

The curtain cut the room in two.

The balcony - 3.8 sq. m (41 sq. ft.).

The bathroom...one angle...

The bathroom...another angle...

The wardrobe - plenty of space.

'Closet' space.

Solomon, my stateroom attendant, with one of the towel creations he regularly
left in the room - this time, a bat.

Another of Solomon's towel creations - an elephant in the room.

And yet another...a monkey.

An alligator (I told Solomon we'd have to call it a crocodile, 
because that's what we have in Australia).


FOOD

Windjammer Cafe
(Buffet - Deck 11)

Some of what was on offer...

Breakfast (7am - 11am)
bacon, sausage, hash browns, eggs etc,
yoghurt (plain and fruit),
selection of cereals
fresh fruit, fruit in syrup
selection of pastries
various bread/toast, jam etc
pancakes/waffles/sauces

Lunch (11.30am - 3.30pm)
make your own hamburger/fries
selection of cold meats
antipasto selection
pasta/sauces
roast of some sort
stew, rice, mashed potato
vegetarian curry/rice
soup
pizza
salad bar
large selection of desserts, including soft serve ice-cream (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry)

Dinner (6.30pm - 9pm)
roast of some sort
pasta/sauces
make your own hamburger/fries
selection of cold meats and salads
antipasto selection
soup (some nights make-your-own Asian soup with noodles etc)
pizza
make your own pizza
vegetarian curry/rice
stew, rice, mashed potato
large selection of desserts etc

Late snack (10pm - 1am)
make your own hamburger/fries
pasta/sauces
salad bar
large selection of desserts etc

The Windjammer buffet...aah the buffet...

More of the buffet.

At the back of the Windjammer was where I had breakfast most mornings.


Cascades Dining Room
Breakfast (8am - 10am)
Lunch (Noon - 1.30pm)
Dinner - Main seating 6pm, Second sitting 8.30pm, or My Time Dining (see below) from 5.30pm - 9.30pm.

Cascades is the main dining room for the ship, located on Decks 4 & 5. In short, the food was fantastic - not just 'chicken or beef'. This was a la carte on the high seas. I mainly ate there at dinner and on offer were, among others, kangaroo, duck, tiger prawns, curries and soups, always served with a great selection of bread rolls. And the same applied for desserts i.e. great selection. And you weren't limited to one meal - if you liked your main and wanted another, or you wanted to try more than one dessert, you could go right ahead and order more (in fact, this applies to every eatery/restaurant on the ship).

Seatings and My Time Dining...

You can choose a set time to have dinner each night and are assigned that table for the cruise, with the same people at that table each night, or you can choose 'My Time' dining. This gives you the chance to ring each day and book a time for your dinner. Or you don't have to, you can eat at one of the other restaurants. My Time is more about flexibility.

Cascades Dining Room (it's the same looking to the left).


Park Cafe
Breakfast (6.30am - 10.30am)
Snacks (11am - 6.30pm)

This was located in the Solarium on Deck 11. A buffet-style cafe...some of what was on offer - breakfast rolls, pastries, soups, carvery, sandwiches/rolls, salad bar, crisps (chips), whole fruit, and tea/coffee/hot chocolate/soft drinks (sodas).

(Oops, I was having too good a time and forgot to get photos of the Park Cafe -
but here is where it is located).


Boardwalk Dog House
(11.30am - 6.30pm)

Free hotdogs - Sicilian, Coney Island Dog, Big Apple, Warsaw, Wunderdog, Smoke House, German Thuringia Bratwurst - on a selection of buns.

The Boardwalk Dog House.


RADIANCE ALSO HAS SPECIALTY RESTAURANTS YOU HAVE TO 'PAY' FOR
(menus where available)

Chops Grille
(steak, a la carte, 6 - 9.30pm)

A one-off $30 per person 'dining fee' that covers everything on the menu. I had steak the night I ate there and it was among the best steaks I've had anywhere.

Smart casual dress.

Chops Grille Dinner menu and Dessert menu

Chops Grille - fantastic steak!

Chocolate mud pie (this is why I put on 7kg!).


Samba Grill
(Brazillian steak house, 6pm - 9.30pm)

A one-off $25 per person 'dining fee' that covers everything on the menu.
It's meat, meat, meat at Samba. Best to have a small lunch the day you go to Samba, as they (the 'gaucho') brings nine cuts of meat to your table on large skewers, which he slices off in, thankfully, small portions (you don't have to have all of them). There is a small salad bar there but keep it to a minimum, you'll need the room.

Each table has a small 'Samba Grill' sign that lights up green, red and white. When you're ready for meat, you press the button on the sign and that will bring the gaucho to your table. When you want a break (to digest) turn the light to red and they stay away. Then, when you're ready, flick it to green and away you go again.

Then, when you're ready for dessert, turn the sign to white and away you go!

Smart casual dress.

Samba Grill.

Green light - bring it on!

Red light...hold off..


Giovanni's Table
(Italian, a la carte, 6 - 9.30pm)

A one-off $20 per person 'dining fee' that covers everything on the menu.

Like all the restaurants/eateries onboard, the food at Giovanni's was fabulous. However, the night I was there they were keen for me to try a 'taste' of everything on the menu. This added up to way too much food. I'd looked at the menu and had decided what I wanted but they kept bringing food and by the end of the starter 'tastes' I was just about full. Rather than move on to the tastes of the rest of the menu I had to stop them and tell them I was too full and wanted to order something. Despite all this, the food was great.
Smart casual dress.

Giovanni's Table Dinner Menu

(Oops, I didn't get a photo of Giovanni's)


Rita's Cantina
(Mexican, 4 - 11pm)

A $3 dining fee but you also pay per dish, although the prices are very cheap: $4-$5 per main and cheaper for starters.

Good size serves so make sure you go in hungry. I couldn't understand why you have to pay $3 at the door and then pay for food, albeit at cheap prices. Why not just pay a one-off $10 or $15 fee and be done with it, or add $1 to everything on the menu? It seems odd to 'double-dip' this way. Still, the food was fabulous and I saw a spectacular sunset as I was perched over the ocean.

Rita's also had a happy hour between 6.30pm and 7.30pm with great margaritas - buy 2, get one free. Like all alcohol on board, you had to pay for these, about $7 each.

Casual dress.

Sunset at Rita's Cantina.



Izumi
(Japanese, 6pm - 9pm)

Like Rita's Cantina, there was a dining fee - this time $5 - and you also pay per dish, up to $10 per main and cheaper for starters. Once again, why not just pay a one-off fee and be done with it, or add a bit more to everything on the menu?

Menu's vary from ship to ship but here's a sample Izumi menu

Izumi's Japanese restaurant


Chef's Table

The Chef's Table was one of the highlights of the cruise. It's a five course dinner with wines to match and it $90 per person but it's also a real event.

It started the day before the dinner when a small note was left in the room reminding me that the booking was for the following night and to meet in the Champagne Bar at 6.30pm for complimentary champagne before moving on to the Chef's Table dining room.

After 'bubbles' in the Champagne Bar the Chef's Table diners were met and accompanied to the dining room, where place names greeted us. At one end of the beautifully set table was a small, raised counter. After we all sat down, the head chef, sommelier (wine steward) and maitre d' stood at the counter and welcomed us.

The purpose of the counter became evident when the head chef brought out each dish and explained it to us, during which time we could ask questions. The sommelier then explained each wine that was to accompany the meal. This was a great chance for us all to chat and get to know one another and both the head chef and sommelier joked and made us all feel a part of the evening.

Everything about the night was top class - Lobster and Alaskan King Crab Leg Salad, Pear-grapefruit slaw, citrus dressing and micro greens, being one of the dishes. And it was silver service the whole way.
At the end of the evening we were all presented with the menu and seating plan of the evening, as well as a copy of the ship's cookbook (top quality publication) and a Chef's Table apron each.

Smart casual/formal dress.

Click here for the pdf version of the menu (the lobster salad...mmmmmm)

The head chef, sommelier (right) and maitre d' chat to us all at the 'counter' at the end of the table.


The head chef joins us at the table.

The 'light shade' in the Chef's Table dining room - made of cutlery.

The Royal Caribbean International Cookbook given to each booking at the Chef's Table.

Each cookbook signed by head chef, Richard Henry.


ROOM SERVICE

Room service is free, except for alcohol. It's a somewhat limited menu but, considering you're not going to be spending a ton of time in your room and there is so much good food elsewhere 18 hours a day, it isn't bad (there is a $3.95 delivery fee between midnight and 5am).

I ordered the cheese plate and a bottle of wine on several occasions and watched the sunset on the balcony, and even had other people I'd met on the cruise over for afternoon drinks and cheese (I ordered a few plates) on the balcony.

I also had breakfast delivered on a couple of occasions (when the ship going to be in a port-of-call and had an early start) and the food was great - especially the basket of pastries!



BARS, DRINKS AND PRICES

Lots of places to get a drink - alcohol, that is. Not surprising, as this is one of the ways the Radiance makes money. All are spectacular in their own way, even the English pub, The Quill and Compass, that was located in the middle of the ship i.e. no ocean views. This actually added to pub, as there are many English pubs with ocean views. The one downside to the Quill and Compass is that the only two beers on tap were Heineken and Amstel, from Germany and Belgium repectively.

They didn't have a great amount of UK beers, however they did have have, among others, Boddingtons (cans) and Newcastle Brown Ale (bottles), as well as a myriad of other beers from around the world. I was surprised how cheap cocktails were and had quite a few cocktail nights. The bar staff also free pour, instead of using nip measures, so you often got more bang for your buck (especially in cocktails).

PRICES
Wine started at around $9 a glass
Beer started at around $5 a glass and around $7 a pint in the Quill and Compass
Spirits were around $7 a nip
Cocktails started at around $7.50 and didn't go much higher than this

BARS
Quill and Compass (English pub)
Schooner Bar
Singapore Slings (Colony Club)
Jakarta Lounge (Colony Club)
Sky Bar (outdoors and overlooking the pool)
Pool Bar (pool deck)
Lobby Bar
Champagne Bar
Starquest Night Club

There are also bars in the Aurora Theatre, Casino Royale and the Solarium. There is a limited bar in Windjammers and a full bar in Cascades dining room, where you can also buy a bottle of wine and, if you don't finish it, they will hold it for you until the next time you are there for dinner.

The Quill and Compass (English pub).

The Schooner Bar.

Entrance to the Schooner Bar.

Table and chairs in Singapore Slings (Colony Club).

Tables and chairs in Jakarta Lounge (Colony Club).

The Pool Bar and the Sky Bar (packed out to watch the start of the Bathurst 1000 motor race
on the big screen - photo later in blog).

The Lobby Bar.

The Champagne Bar.

Starquest nightclub/disco (with revolving bar).


COFFEE SHOP

While it's possible to get filtered coffee everywhere, there is only one place on board where you get your cafe latte, cappuccino, cafe mocha or the like - and that's at Latte-tudes. And they have a good selection of pastries/cookies/cakes.

Latte-tudes.


CLOTHES 

Rather than tell you what I took, this is what I lived off -

3 T-shirts
1 long sleeved casual shirt/top
1 pullover/jumper/sweater
1 pair tracksuit pants (for lazing about in the cabin, mainly)
two pair long shorts
one pair swimmers
3 pr white socks
8 pr underwear

There were three formal nights on board:
one suit
2 dress shirts
one tie
1 pr dress socks

Shoes:
1 pr flip flops/thongs/sandals (you choose)
1 pr walking boots (which also doubled as footwear for casual dining on the ship)
1 pr dress shoes to wear with suit


LAUNDRY COSTS

No Royal Caribbean ship has a laundry room available for passenger use, as they take the view that you are there to have a holiday and not do laundry. The laundry service they provide is fast and efficient - you leave your clothes in the laundry bag in your room, tick the service/s you want, they pick it up at night and have it back to you the following afternoon. Of course, there is a fee for the service but, from my perspective, it gives me more time to relax and enjoy the cruise (and when you're there, the cost seems worth it).

Some examples of costs -

Wash and press (per item):
Blouse - $4
Dress - $6
Jeans - $3.50
Long-sleeved shirt - $3.50
Shirt (casual)/T-shirt - $2.75
Shorts - $3
Skirt - $4
Slacks - $4
Underwear - $1.25

Dry clean and press (per item):
Blouse - $4.50 (silk - $6)
Dress - $8
Dress (evening or silk) - $9.50
Long-sleeved shirt - $4
Shorts - $3.50
Skirt - $5
Slacks - $4.50
Suit (men and women)- $9

They also offer a 'press only' service for cheaper prices.


***Follow me on SOCIAL MEDIA for more fun, interesting cruise news and information.


EXERCISE

With all the fabulous food available, it is inevitable you will put on a few kilos/pounds. If you don't, well you have far stronger will power than me!

However, while a few kgs/lbs might be added, there are a few ways to keep it to a minimum. While there is a jogging track on Deck 12, most of which overlooks the swimming deck and passes by the gymnasium (one way to keep the weight gain down), I discovered that on Deck 5 you can walk all the way around the ship. 
One circuit is nearly 600 metres (650 yards). I also took the internal steps everywhere I went, despite the availability of lifts. On a good day I could several hundred steps.

As mentioned, there is also a gym - a well equipped gym - open from 6am - 10pm. And it's free. If you're keen, there is also the rock climbing wall (with spectacular views) open from 9am - 11am and 1pm - 3pm, and a basketball court that doubles as a sports court. There are also soccer tournaments and other sporting contests held on the sports court (it also has spectacular views).

If you feel like doing laps, albeit short ones, or treading water, there is the main pool on the pool deck or the pool in the Solarium, an under cover, adults only area just off the pool deck with a large, glass retractable roof (which is rarely retracted).

The jogging track on Deck 12.

Deck 5 - once around the ship was nearly 600 metres (650 yards).


People walk around Deck 5.
Deck 5.

People work out in the gym as someone walks around the jogging track.

The gym.

The rock climbing wall - a great view!

The sports court.

The main pool and pool deck (with hot tubs).

The pool in the Solarium (where there is also a hot tub).



*     *     *     *     *


If you like the photography in my blogs, it's because I am a professional photographer. My photos don't merely show something, they tell a story. And visual stories i.e. photos, are more interesting than pictures that merely show something. 

If you'd like to know how to turn your images into visual stories, I've published a book that takes a whole new slant on photography and 'translates' the art of taking photos into a language we all understand.

To read more about my book and see some of its 100+ visual examples, please click HERE.

***I use all the tips and hints from my book in every photo I take, including those in Travel With Giulio.


*     *     *     *     *


ENTERTAINMENT

Aurora Theatre - seats over 800 people with a lower level and a large balcony. The live theatre acts perform there every night and during the day there are things such as guest lectures.

Big screen on the pool deck - used both day and night (twilight movies).

Starquest nightclub/disco - open until the wee hours and it got pumping late into the night.

Mini-golf - not a great mini-golf course but the great views make up for it.

Cinema - seats around 60 and they have the movies on a loop, so early on in the cruise the cinema is quite full but tapers off.

Casino Royale - one good thing about the casino is that it isn't open 24 hours. It shuts around 2am and reopens at 10am. There is a bar and all the obligatory games...pokies (slot machines), roulette, craps, black jack, poker.

Library - a small but well stocked library overlooking the centrum. A nice space where you can sit and read or pick up a book (no more than 2 books at a time can be loaned).

Seven Hearts - overlooking the centrum, where you can play cards on the several card tables (with green felt tops) or choose from a selection of board games which you are more than welcome to take anywhere on the ship.

The pool deck - another space well used. A duet performed there daily but there were also events such as the 'crossing of the equator' ceremony and 'hula lessons'.

The Centrum (floor/lobby area) - the Centrum is often used for all sorts of things, from cooking displays to themed dance nights.

Art auctions - you can even buy art while on the high seas, if that's your cup of tea and you brought the cheque book/credit card (not sure if you can put it on your sea pass). And there are some good works up for grabs. I'm not an art expert but one piece went for over $3,000 the day I wandered in and had a look (auctions aren't held every day).

Aurora Theatre.

Aurora Theatre.

Johnny Thunder performs in the Aurora Theatre.

Big screen on the pool deck (showing the Bathurst 1000 motor race).

Big screen on the pool deck - twilight movie.

Starquest nightclub/disco, sitting at the revolving bar (this was early one night - it did get pumping!).

9 hole mini-golf (located at the back of the ship on Deck 12 ).

Cinema (the last day of the cruise when the crowd had really dropped off).

Casino Royale.

Casino Royale.

The Library.

The Library (overlooking the Centrum).

Speaking of reading, will you be looking for a good book to read on your next cruise? If so, then how about one - or more - of my three books? Have a look and see which you might like.

Seven Hearts - cards and board games area (all of which can be taken anywhere on the ship).

Crossing the equator ceremony on the pool deck - King Neptune presides over the event.

A 'pollywog' (first time crossing the equator) after the induction ceremony.

The Centrum - cooking display.

Pool deck entertainment - hula lessons (we'd just left Hawaii).

Some of the works on display in the onboard art gallery.

While it isn't advertised as entertainment, all of the stairwells are packed full of art.

Or, if non of the above grab you, there is always the option to catch some rays and top up the tan.


KIDS' ENTERTAINMENT

The kids have a whole area to themselves. In fact, we hardly even knew there were kids on the ship because they were all off doing kids stuff and being entertained.

There's the 'Royal Baby & Tots' area (http://bit.ly/tjaF63), Challenger's Arcade, with video and arcade games, and the Adventure Ocean for 'kids and teens' that offers art, individual and team sports, performance and generally a fun time for all (http://bit.ly/tvYqVA). The outdoors element of the Adventure Ocean comprises a water park with a water slide and other watery fun.

Adventure Ocean 'water park'.


DAY SPA/HAIR SALON

The onboard day spa is a fully outfitted day spa and offers everything you'd expect. I had a 50-minute Swedish massage that cost $119 and well worth the money. I felt totally pampered. The only downside was that a $17 gratuity was added to the cost without my knowing, so it came to $136.

While I didn't check beforehand, I didn't expect the gratuity to be added. This was probably because I had paid for gratuities up front.

The day spa also has a sauna which is also available to users of the gym.

One of the massage rooms in the Day Spa.

Entrance to the Hair Salon (with fake tree in foreground...on the left).


SHOPPING

There is a general store, a jewellery shop and a duty free shop on board, all off a small shopping 'mall'. Every so often they have 'sales' in the shopping mall or in another busy part of the ship (outside the Windjammer Cafe).

Shopping mall.

General store.

Jewellery shop entrance.


*I'm just going to jump in here and ask/suggest a couple of things...

Firstly, if this post has inspired you to book a cruise on Radiance of the Seas, can you send me a quick email and let me know - TravelWithGiulio@gmail.com - so I can tell Royal Caribbean what a great job I do promoting their cruises.

Secondly, if you want to book a cruise on Radiance of the Seas, you can do so via 'Looking to book a cruise?' at the top right of this post. These posts take around 100 hours to produce and I don't get paid to do them, so making a booking through the blog ensures I get a little something back.


INTERNET

It wasn't cheap but, then again, you're in the middle of the ocean.
There is an internet 'cafe' and internet was also available in the business centre. Costs using these two was 65c/minute.
Internet was avaiable in all rooms via WiFi. Packages are on offer (as of Sept 2011):

US$35.00 for 60 minutes
US$55.00 for 100 minutes
US$75.00 for 150 minutes
US$100.00 for 250 minutes
US$150.00 for 500 minutes

The internet cafe.

The Business Centre, with internet available and printing facilities.


PHOTOS

You can take photos pretty much anywhere, even the casino. In fact, taking photos is almost encouraged! Everywhere I went, people were more than happy for me to take photos. There is a large team of on board photographers and you will inevitably get snapped at least once.

Photos are available to buy - a 25x20cm (10x8inch) photo goes for $20 and you can go all out and get the full package for $349.95 (what you get for this, I don't know). All the photos are put up in the photo lab and gallery on Deck 4. The on board photographers also set themselves up on many night (the formal nights, especially) in the Centrum and surrounds and are available to take family portraits. The up was quite impressive with full on studio flashed and backdrops.

The photographers also act as videographers and film much of the cruise for the cruise DVD available for sale at the end of the cruise for $29.95. I snapped up a copy but was disappointed after viewing it when I got home. The production was pretty ordinary and it was merely a series of video 'snapshots' of passengers doing stuff (okay, you might say...isn't that the point?). However, the footage didn't have any particular flow or meaning and there were no voice-overs or text explaining what was happening.

And the port of call footage was file footage and any didn't show of the passengers doing anything on the multitude of tours available where we stopped. For instance, the day we were in Papeete the weather was terrible but in the video it was beautiful and sunny - straight out of the tourist 'brochure'.

If this is your first cruise, you probably feel obligated to get the DVD but, seriously, I wouldn't have bothered.

Photo lab and gallery.



ON BOARD NEWSLETTER AND INFORMATION

Each night the on board newsletter, the Cruise Compass, is delivered to your stateroom (either left in your room when you were out or in the mail slip on your stateroom door).

The Cruise Compass includes a chronological, hour-by-hour list of the day/evening's activities on board, a slightly more expanded explanation of some of the activities, a reminder of the opening hours of everything on board and a few small 'features' on what was available on board, such as specials and the like. I found I used this quite a lot but, even if I was without it, there were large versions of the chronological, hour-by-hour list of the day/evening's activities on boards around the ship.

Scattered around the ship were electronic 'Wayward Finders' that let you know what was on and when it was on. There were also non-electric Wayward Finders scattered around the ship (see photos below).

A selection of Cruise Compasses.

One of the electronic 'Wayward Finders' scattered around the ship to help you
find your way around and let you know what is on and when.

A non-electronic 'Wayward Finder' - also scattered around the ship.


LINKS YOU MAY FIND USEFUL -

Deck plan of the Radiance of the Seas (The Radiance recently went in to dry-dock for refurbishment and the Royal Caribbean website is yet to update some of the new features and restaurants, but this will give you an idea).

Staterooms on the Radiance of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean International - if it wasn't for them, there would be no Radiance of the Seas.


TOURS/EXCURSIONS

Radiance has an on board excursions desk/service through which you can book shore excursions. I opted to book tours myself on the dock of each port of call. There were advantages to both. If you book a  tour through the ship, they organise everything and there's no need to worry about anything. This can be an advantage when you're totally chilled from your days at sea and don't want to have to worry about anything. Also, if something goes wrong i.e. there is a delay getting back to the ship, then the ship will wait. If you 'go it alone' and something goes wrong, the ship sails without you.

I found the advantage of booking onshore was that I could get the same tours/excursions much cheaper. For example, on one excursion I paid $59 (on shore special) for a tour the ship was advertising as $159, and on another I paid $30 for a trip being sold on the ship for $59.


*   *   *   *   *


Before I go on, this is as good a time as any to remind you to do a couple of things before you depart on your cruise - 

  1. If you intend using your credit card while you are away, tell your credit card provider that you are going overseas, so they don't think your credit card has been compromised and someone in a foreign land has suddenly started making transactions. The last thing you want to deal with when you get home is a cancelled credit card and having to sort out all your direct debits etc when your bank sends you a new one. While it's good that credit card security works this way, it's a hassle you don't need.
  2. Similarly to your credit card, contact your mobile phone provider and have your phone switched to international call roaming. The costs are very high if you do make calls but it's a security blanket should you need to use it in an emergency. IMPORTANT - turn off data roaming on your phone. While you may not make calls while you are away, any data that is uploaded/downloaded (emails or apps, for instance) will be charged at a far, far more expensive rate.

*   *   *   *   *



SHORE EXCURSIONS

For all shore excursions, you must have your sea pass and photo ID.

When the ship is moored dockside at a port-of-call, it's a simple case of walking off, and on, when you like.

When the ship is moored offshore, the tenders are used. These are small boats (seat over 100) that take passengers from the ship to shore, and back. Because the tenders can't take everyone at once, those who have booked a tour through the onboard tour desk are given a tender ticket and have priority.

That said, there is a window for those without tender tickets - usually from around 7am - 7.45am, or thereabouts - before the tours start, then from around 10am onwards. Coming back, it's first in, best dressed. There were 4 tenders working and they shuttled people all day, leaving the ship/shore every 15-20 minutes.


HAWAII

I spent two nights in Honolulu before boarding Radiance of the Seas. I thought I would need a couple of nights to get over my jet-lag so I could enjoy the cruise and not spend my time sleeping at all hours of the day and night.

As it turned out, I was okay pretty much from the moment I arrived. I flew into Honolulu at 7am and went straight to my hotel, the beautiful Moana Surfrider located right on the beach at Waikiki. Amazingly my room was ready (I had requested this ahead of time but they made no promises) so I dumped my bags and went looking for breakfast. I wandered around but nothing grabbed me and I ended up next door to the Moana at Duke's for a breakfast buffet - just what the doctor ordered!

After I'd eaten I went up to my room - by now around 11am - and slept for a few hours, then got up and the jet-lag was completely gone. It probably helped that Hawaii is 20 hours behind Australia, so my body clocks was almost exactly one day behind and I just needed a 'top up' sleep to get me back on track (just a theory).

The Moana Surfrider was stunning!!! I didn't get any photos of my room but I did get lots of photos of just about everything else...

So famous it needs no introduction...Waikiki Beach (with Diamond Head in the background - more on that later).

The Moana Surfrider hotel (stunning!).

The Foyer at Moana Surfrider.

The terraced courtyard leading onto Waikiki Beach.

A huge tree overhangs the courtyard terrace - looking towards the pool and through to Waikiki Beach.

The Veranda breakfast buffet overlooking Waikiki Beach (also doubles as The Beachhouse restaurant for dinner).

No photos of the room...but here was the view.

Another famous landmark - the statue of Duke Kahanamoku at Waikiki Beach. Duke is, among many things, credited
with spreading the sport of surfing (here the statue is getting a clean).

Surfboard for hire on Waikiki Beach.

The tunnel leading into the crater at Diamond Head, an extinct volcano crater located next to Waikiki Beach/Honolulu.
The walk from the hotel to the top of Diamond Head and back took me three hours.

The last part of the climb (99 very steep steps) to Diamond Head.

The view from the top of Diamond Head.

Cocktails at Moana's bar by the beach after the three hour walk to Diamond Head and back.


PORTS OF CALL

Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia

To be honest Papeete wasn't one of my favourite places. It wasn't helped by the awful weather which would have been more suited to staying on board the ship and enjoying the spa, windjammers buffet, hot tubs, movie or taking a long nap...or all of the above!

As it was our first port of call I was excited to go exploring (despite the rain) and headed off the ship bright and early. At the dock I walked through a sea of tour buses and 4WDs ready to take passengers to different parts of the island. I hadn't booked any tours on the ship and didn't take up any offers presented to me at the dock. In hindsight maybe a tour would have been the way to go to experience a different side of Papeete.

Papeete from Radiance.

Markets at Papeete.

Radiance docked at Papeete.


Moorea, French Polynesia

This was my first experience with tenders (see Shore Excursions) and it ran smoothly, like a series of shuttle buses running between a hotel and airport (only minus the hassle of traffic or red lights!).

Once onshore at Moorea, a small market set up greeted us. I imagine this had been set up for the arrival of Radiance. The market didn't just sell touristy 'junk'. There was some lovely pieces for sale - clothes (I bought a lovely shirt), artwork/sculptures, black pearls and food.

I'd bought a ticket for a tour on Moorea while we were dockside in Papeete the day before. The 'tour' involved swimming with/feeding stingrays and sharks, then a visit to a tropical beach and a BBQ lunch. I bought my ticket for $59 (shore special) and the same tour paid for through the excurions desk on the Radiance was $159 (tip: BYO snorkel and reef/ water shoes as there are only a limited number you can borrow on the tour and if you miss out there is little chance of getting your hands on them!)

The tour was good but the beach, quite small, was visited by several companies doing the same tour. As a result, the beach got very crowded, very quickly, as did the water. Also, we'd been on the beach for 2-3 hours and, along with many others, were ready to head back. Our tour boat arrived with another load of people and, as we queued in the water to get back on, the boat left and headed off empty. 

I, and many others, then had to sit for over an hour (all watching the horizon) for the boat to return. Then it was first come, first serve, as everyone clambered to get on board. It was crazy logic that the boat went back empty when people were queuing to go.

Clouds cover hilltops, Moorea.

Radiance of the Seas moored at Moorea, French Polynesia.

Markets dockside at Moorea.

Swimming with stingrays at Moorea.

Shark feeding on Moorea (the guys doing the feeding are guides).

People in the water at the 'tropical' beach, Moorea.

Crowded 'tropical' beach, Moorea.

A woman watches the view as the Radiance leaves Moorea.


Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Bora Bora is one of those 'bucket list' destinations and, on a perfect spring day, it doesn't disappoint. After my experience of choosing a tour bought at the dock for Moorea, I did the same in Bora Bora. I headed for the tenders during the 'free no tender ticket needed' window of 7 - 7.45am and the whole process was smooth sailing - so to speak.

Arriving on the dock there were quite a number of tours to choose from. There were snorkelling / island visit tours as well as quite a number of bus tours. I opted to do one of the 2 hr circuit island tours on the local 'Le Truck' - these are local buses that looked like they were brought out in the masses for ships in port. 

The bus I choose was $25pp (I paid in French Polynesian Francs but you could also pay in Australian or US dollars) and we all proceeded to pile into an open-sided truck with wooden bench seats...and then we waited..and waited...as our tour guide was back at the dock drumming up more passengers - though all the current passengers felt like we were full enough. 

It did get to the point where it was obvious quite a number of ship passengers were going to be piled in with us making the experience less than desirable - so I decided to get off that bus and look for an alternative activity. I got a refund easily and went for a walk around the dock area deciding what to do. To cut a long story short I found a new guide with a much more comfortable mini-bus (with air-conditioning!) that seated about 12-15 and I was the last passenger to board so off we went! This bus still only cost me $25.

The tour was entertaining and the vistas beautiful. Our guide seemed like a bit of a local legend and he certainly revelled in his role. Plenty of photo stops and overall a great way to get an idea of the island. The ship offers this exact same tour for $59 and I constantly ran into friends (made on the ship) who had paid for a ship organised tour throughout our tour. We visited a market, sarong maker and spectacular beach complete with the daydream-inducing white sand and topaz blue lagoons. A very short pit stop was made at the world famous (their words) Bloody Mary's - which was famous before it featured on E!'s hit show 'Keeping Up with the Kardashians'.

I got airborne and went for a helicopter ride (sorry, can't remember the cost) and this is highly recommended, as you can see from the photo below and the photo at the start of this post of Radiance of the Seas moored at Bora Bora).

Bora Bora (with Radiance moored in the distance).

Vaitape, the main town on Bora Bora.

Chilled out dog (one of many) in front of tour 'desks' dockside on Bora Bora.

One of the many tour buses that, en masse, does the circuit of Bora Bora (there's one main road around the island).

Bloody Mary's...with sand floor.

Radiance moored at Bora Bora.

Leaving Bora Bora...


Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland is just across 'the ditch' from where I live in Australia but I'd never been to New Zealand and didn't know what to expect of its biggest city (population 1.4 million). The ship was docked there for one night/two days but I loved what I saw of 'the city of sails' and have every intention of going back for a longer stay.

The port is right on the doorstep of the CBD. You get off and you're smack-bang in the middle of downtown Auckland. After a very quick walk around part of the CBD, I headed to the bus stop for the 'Auckland Explorer', located a couple of hundred metres from where the Radiance was docked.

The Auckland Explorer is a 'get on, get off' bus that departs every 30 minutes and the stops include the Auckland Museum, the Auckland Zoo and Mt Eden, the highest point in Auckland with spectacular views of the city and harbour. A full circuit, if you don't get off, takes one hour (one hour ticket - $25). Otherwise, a one day ticket is $40 and a two day pass is $65 (the 2nd day of the pass doesn't have to be consecutive). I opted for the one day pass and found that was fine. I even got off in Parnell, a lovely inner-city suburb and had lunch, then walked the rest of the way, getting a close up view of part of the city.

While there is a million-and-one things to do and see in a city this size, the one thing I didn't do was the Sky Walk around Auckland's Sky Tower (the needle-type building in the photo immediately below). This involves walking on a 1.2 metre-wide walkway on the outside of the building 192 metres (630 feet) above the ground, with no handrails and nothing but air on either side of you! However...you are connected to the building by a cable/harness. As of November 2011, cost was $145/adult and $115/child (or $460/family of 2 adults/2 children).

Alternatively, if that doesn't 'rock your boat' enough, while you're at the Sky Tower you can partake in the 'SkyJump', which can best be described as base jumping attached to a wire (192 metres - 630 feet). You fall at approximately 85kph (53mph) for around 11 seconds, and then come to a smooth landing in the plaza below (so that say!). As of November 2011, cost was $225/adult and $175/child (or $700/family of 2 adults/2 children).

Call me a 'scaredy-cat' but I chose the relative safety of the Auckland Explorer and the closest I got to the Sky Walk or SkyJump was cringing with fear on the deck of the Radiance as I watched both take place from afar.

Auckland cityscape from the harbour.

Auckland Museum, one of the stops on the Auckland Explorer.

Inside Auckland Museum.

View from Mt Eden (extinct volcano crater covered with grass in foreground).

Foggy Auckland Harbour the morning we arrived.

My bangers (sausages) and mash (mashed potato) lunch in Parnell - bangers cut open
to look like porcupine/hedgehog. Did it taste good? You bet!


Sydney, Australia

Our end destination, so technically not a port of call. However, I'm not from Sydney, so it felt like one (boohoo!) and the view from where the Radiance was docked was spectacular, despite the weather.

Radiance of the Seas moored at Circular Quay, Sydney, next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge (in shot), at the end of my journey - a sad day, indeed. I booked into my hotel close to where she was docked, walked back down to the cruise terminal and sat and looked up at her, not wanting to believe it was over.


I hope you enjoyed this post and, if you cruise on Radiance of the Seas, I hope you have an amazing time like I did.

Bon voyage!

Giulio
*If you booked a cruise on Radiance of the Seas as a result of this post, please tell me!


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All photos and text by Giulio Saggin (unless otherwise stated)
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TravelWithGiulio@gmail.com

9 comments:

John Harlow said...

Just like your Voyager blog this is very comprehensive and of interest to us as this cruise is on our 'bucket list'. Of particular interest was the information on shore excursions. We cruised on the Radiance to NZ in 2011 and had a fantastic time. Cheers John

Travel with us! said...

Thanks John, we loved Radiance, too, and she will probably always be our 'first love'. Without her, we probably wouldn't be as mad keen about cruising as we are!

John Harlow said...

You should try the Rhapsody too. We have cruised on her twice including our first cruise and prefer her in many ways to the Radiance.

Travel with us! said...

A few people we've met have mentioned that same comparison between Rhapsody and Radiance. We're keen to try Rhapsody...Another excuse to book a cruise! :)

mark Steunenberg said...

Hi thanks for your info about the radiance we are going on her 4th feb just a question about tips we gave our credit card as you have too but we want to pay cash ive heard you can put cash on your seapass as you go and top it up when it gets low is this true??Also on tips we havent gone pre pay would we just tip the people who look after you ???

Travel with us! said...

Hi Mark,
You can put down a credit card (much like you do in hotels) however they will let you settle your bill with cash at the end. Or you can put down a cash deposit on the first day and keep topping up - which gets a bit dull when the pursers desk is busy - which it often is! We link our credit cards to frequent flyer points so always use the credit card on the ship - also more for convenience. It's a personal choice!
Same with tipping - we opt for the pre-paid but also advocate not pre-paying and tipping your stateroom attendant and waiters at the end. Bar Staff earn tips on the drinks you purchase - however if you find a favourite one give them a good tip and you may find your drinks are extra delicious!!!
Have a great cruise!

Pommy Stuart said...

Just came across your blog.
Great info for my Sydney to Hawaii cruise with RCI.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Giulio, Thanks for your cruise travel blogs - I have been reading them over the past few days.
We are booked on the Carnival Spirit South Pacific cruise next year, so was very interested to read your 2014 blog about that ship, but the Hawaii - Sydney cruise is also on my bucket list. Looks like we could choose between Radiance of the Seas or Celebrity Solstice but your blog has helped me to no end!
I can see how much time & work goes into it so I will be sure to mention it or use your link if we end up booking!
Thanks again, Kate

Giulio Saggin said...

Hi Kate,

Sorry for the late reply. I haven't cruised in over two years now - am hoping to change that in 2017 - and the blog has been neglected as a result. I am going to make more of an effort moving forward.

I love making the reviews and getting feedback such as yours, so many thanks.

Happy cruising!

Giulio