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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Royal Caribbean Cruise Review


This is a short review of a cruise that we took last December (2006) on RCCL's Radiance of the Seas. The cruise itinerary was a Western Caribbean cruise with port stops at Key West, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Montego Bay. The overall length of the cruise was 6 nights leaving on a Sunday afternoon out of Ft. Lauderdale.

First I want to give a brief review of the ship itself. The Radiance of the Seas (R.O.S.) is a beautiful ship with a passenger capacity of just over 2500. The ship is considered to be in the mega-ship size category due to it's berth capacity along with its gross tonnage being just over 90,090 tons.

The R.O.S. is known for it's abundance of large glass areas allowing uninhibited views of the ocean as you sail from port to port. It is also known for the gorgeous area mid-ship called the Centrum. The Centrum is the first thing you see as you board the ship. It is an open air lobby area spanning 8 decks. A popular picture taking location is on the 12th deck where you can peer down through a glass floor all the way down to deck 4.

The ship appeals to a wide variety of cruiser's due to the various on-board activities such as the Casino Royale, Adventure Ocean, the Solarium, the Library, etc. I will elaborate more on some of these areas in just a moment.

The ship at the time of our cruise was in great shape. It had some areas that showed more wear and tear than others such as the pool side chairs and high traffic areas around the staircases and elevators, but overall the ship was in very good shape.

Our room was a deluxe stateroom with a balcony on the 9th deck. Due to the location of our stateroom being right off the elevators, we had an over sized balcony which made it an excellent viewing area as we pulled into each port. The stateroom was in good condition and came with a nice sized couch and sitting area. The bathroom was small, but kept clean. The only negative about the room (which applies to all of the rooms) was that the sewage water tended to have some minor backup problems that maybe lasted a few hours, but caused an odor to be present until it was fixed. Our stateroom was always cleaned and kept in order by our invisible stateroom attendant. He always knew when we were gone and the room was always promptly made up when we arrived back from breakfast each morning.

Now on to the food. We had heard some positive and negative reviews about the food before we set sail on the R.O.S. We found the the food to be adequate and average on the breakfast and lunch buffets and above average in the dining room and specialty restaurants for dinner. We ate breakfast most every morning in the Windjammer which is their large buffet restaurant on deck 11. The food selection did not change from the first day and considered to be average quality. The service would also be called average. Sometimes we had to wave down a sever to come clear the dishes on our table. The best thing about the Windjammer is that it has a large outdoor, but covered eating area in the aft part of the ship which made it a great place to sit and eat and gaze out into the blue waters of the Caribbean.

When we didn't eat in port, we also ate lunch in the Windjammer and found it also adequate, but not stellar. They do have the best fries at sea however. It is also a great lunch spot for the days where you plan on spending most of the time by the large pool adjacent to it on deck 11. One of us would go get a quick plate of food while the other held feverishly to our pool chairs.

We ate every dinner in the main dining room (The Cascades) except for our anniversary dinner in Portofino's which is their Italian specialty restaurant. The staff in the main dining room was excellent, at least at our table. They were attentive and knew what we wanted in the way of beverages after the very first sitting. They also paid very close attention to one of our table mate's dietary needs and went above and beyond to make sure she had a selection of food items to choose from. They were awesome! The food was good to a little above average. Presentation was good, but one of the steaks was not cooked correctly and came out a bit tough.

Dinner in Portofino's was excellent. The food was well above average and the service was impeccable. It was a great experience and worth the extra fees. I highly recommend budgeting for a night in either Portofino's or Chop's.

Now to the different public areas of the ship. If you want peace and quiet, head to the Solarium. It is a covered, adult's only pool area on deck 11. The chairs are actually wooden and come with padding instead of just the cheap plastic pool chairs that are around the main pool. They have the area decorated like a tropical rain forest with nature sounds playing softly overhead. It was the place to go and relax and read a book. Here is a tip though, on sea days, get there early because it gets rather crowded quickly.

The other quiet area that tended to be overlooked was the Library. It was a place we went to get the daily Sudoku puzzle and take a breather from the crowds. It is situated on deck 9.

The shops were crowded and were not laid out very well for the large crowds that congregated there every night for yet another "special" buying opportunity. The ship did a lot of merchandise promoting which became a little annoying by the end of the cruise. Unless you are just a shop-a-holic, avoid the area if you can.

The 3 story Aurora Theatre was a treat. It was very picturesque and a great place to end a wonderful day. The productions were good, but seemed a little over the top even for Vegas standards. By that I mean, the costumes seemed to be too gaudy even for a Vegas style production and didn't really fit the song or dance production. But it was a still an enjoyable thing to do after a nice dinner. There were some seating areas to avoid due to some large floor to ceiling columns, but the theatre was never at full capacity so you can easily find a good seat.

The spa and fitness areas were great. I had 3 different spa treatments and enjoyed just going and relaxing in the thermal suite. The spa is managed by Elemis which is top notch when it comes to spas and spa products. This is a must do on board. But make your appointments as soon as you board the first day because they fill up quick.

Now on to the port reviews. Our first stop was Key West. It is a great place to get off and take some pictures, but we find it to be too much oriented around the tourist which means you can spend a lot of money for their tours and cheap shows and probably regret it when you get back on board. We did our own self tour off the beaten path and took several pictures of the great architecture and lush landscape and then boarded the ship early to take advantage of the quietness on board and indulged in a spa treatment.

The next stop was Cozumel Mexico. It is amazing how blue the sea can actually be. Cozumel's blue waters are something someone has to see at least once in their lifetime. The port itself was a different story. They were still rebuilding from Hurricane Wilma and we had to tender in which made it an adventure in itself. This was the most unorganized port experience on our entire cruise. Part of that is the Mexican Port Authorities fault and part of it was Royal Caribbean's fault. The tendering and chaos associated it with it was all due to poor planning and lack of a sense of urgency. The Mexican Port Authorities just didn't seem to care that there were a few thousand folks that wanted to actually see their port. They were slow and very disorganized and acted as if they had no idea ships were coming their way that day.

We had booked an all-day excursion at what they call "Passion Island." It included a day on a beautiful private island with lunch and beverages and hammocks etc. Well...once we finally got into port, Royal Caribbean had changed the group size at the last minute for our excursion. The change sent our guide into a tizzy because he did not have enough transportation reserved for the much larger group size. This delayed things for at least an hour which was cutting into our excursion time. Our Guide, Alex, was visibly shaken by the change, but kept his humor and politeness about it to his credit. After he commandeered a taxis to go along with the previously reserved bus, we started on our 30-45 minute bus ride. To make things more interesting, the bus driver pulled out and hit another taxis driver. You had to laugh at this point. A few Spanish words were traded between our driver the taxis driver and the police officer and we were waved on our way as the taxis driver looked in dismay at his dangling rear view mirror. I wish I understood more Spanish to know what was said, but by this time we are all laughing and just hoping to get to see a little of the Island before we have to head back to the ship.

Once we got to the boat that was to take us to the Island, we all got on board and headed for another 15 minute transfer trip to our final destination. We all started to look at one another as the water we were in was a gross dingy brown. The guide saw we were getting a little concerned and reassured us by letting us know we were in a lagoon and it would get better once we got to the Island. He was right. It was beautiful! The water was clear and blue on the Caribbean side of the Island and the sand was white and soft. Chairs and hammocks were plentiful and the food was great. We might give this excursion a second chance and see if it can get off to a better start.

Next stop, the Cayman Islands. Once again more beautiful blue Caribbean water and white sand beaches. This stop had some of the prettiest white sand beaches we have ever seen. We also tendered in here but it went very smooth and was well-organized. We did a self tour of the port and shopped a bit. The most popular excursion here is swimming with the sting rays. Everyone says that it is a chance of a lifetime. We were watching our budget for each port and chose to do planned excursions in 2 of our 4 ports so we will have to wait to come back and try the sting ray experience on another cruise.

Our last port of call was Montego Bay, Jamaica. We were docked here which made it a breeze to get off and on the ship similar to Key West. We did a "planned" excursion while in this port. I had researched the area for a spa that my wife and I could spend our anniversary at. I had read about a place call "Round Hill Resort and Spa." We arranged to be picked up at the pier through the help of the staff at Round Hill. Our driver, Perry, was a treat. He was waiting for us at the pier and had a nice car waiting to whisk us away to the resort. After entering through a private gate we were driven through some of the most plush and gorgeous scenery we have ever scene. We were told that Ralph Lauren has a private home somewhere on the grounds and we can understand why. It was something you just have to see to appreciate. We were awe struck at the beauty of the area. My words will not do it justice. Just picture greens and reds and all shades of blue in the water with the stark white architecture standing out among the various colors. If you want to do a non-cruise arranged excursion, I would highly recommend this one. The spa staff was great and treated us like royalty. We had lunch on the grounds overlooking the Caribbean. It was something out of a dream.

In summary, the cruise as great. The ship was wonderful and the staff was always helpful and courteous. I give Royal Caribbean and "A" and highly recommend them for your next vacation option.


4 comments:

A. said...

I realize I am nearly two years behind & this comment may never be read; however upon reading your post I felt compelled to comment. My DH & I took our 1st cruise last October (RCCL). We also hit Key West & Cozumel. We chose the Passion Islnd excursion also & Alex was our guide and was one of the highlights of the entire trip! He learned the name of every individual on the tour ( there were over 50 of us). His sense of humor was impeccable! He found out it was my b-day & would not allow me to head back to the ship until I had a gift. I would be willing to participate in almost any excursion Alex is leading.

Operationdestination.com said...

Thanks for reading and commenting. You are absolutely correct. Alex made the excursion for us. He was so very helpful and friendly and kept us laughing well after the excursion was over. His ability to remember names was incredible, even the hard to pronounce ones. What did you think of the island itself?

A. said...

I thought it was incredible! I couldn't have asked for a better birthday honestly. I spent most of the day either lounging on the beach or in a hammock. The sand was the softest I had ever felt under my feet. I am used to the East Coast.
Many folks participated in the activities offered on the island. There was an ocean trampoline, volleyball, paddle boats, kayaks, Segways, shops, and a maze for children.
We plan to visit Cozumel again soon. As much as we liked Passion Island, we will likely go a different route. If you have any excusion suggestions, let me know.

Thanks,

A.

Operationdestination.com said...

There is a great company called Shoretrips.com They offer some pretty cool excursions for Cozumel, Cancun etc and are a very reputable company. You might check them out before you go next time. Swimming with the dolphins is a very popular excursion in Cozumel if that is something you have never done.