This was our fifth cruise, and our third in a row with Royal Caribbean, so they must not be too bad. The ratings I allowed may seem to be a bit lower than some might issue, but they have more to do with comparisons to other cruises and what I have now come to expect as 'AVERAGE' for a cruise vacation.
We flew Chicago to San Juan via United. The flight was pretty bumpy, but we left on time, arrived about on time. They ran out of meals before my wife and I got fed. They managed to find a couple from first class provisions however, so it worked out OK eventually. We did NOT have RCCL book the air. I've never seen an instance yet where doing that didn't cost at least a couple hundred extra dollars. The vendors on the various islands need that money more than RCCL or the airlines. Although, I guess at this point you could say United might need it more...
We DID use the transfer service between the airport and the ship though -- it seems like a reasonable price to pay not to have to even see your bags until they are delivered to your cabin. The process of getting from the airport to the dock was fairly smooth as we only waited in line for a bus for a few minutes. Embarkation was something of a surprise. Any other time we have cruised, we must have managed to miss the crowds, or else there were more agents at check in. This time, we were in line for about an hour before we got checked in. That seems excessive to me. There is now a procedure getting aboard where they take a digital picture of you to match with your room key/passcard/charge card and it IS checked each time you get off and back on the boat. We know this because when we checked in, I accidently picked up my wife's card and vice-versa. We got photographed backward. When we discovered the error and switched cards, we were stopped the very next time we went down the gangway and asked for an explanation. They re-took new photos to properly match the cards. I suppose it's lucky we were both standing right there at the time and the problem was obvious. But, we found our cabin easily as I had looked at a ships diagram on line before we left, and the bags showed up after a couple of hours.
The Radiance of the Seas is a fairly new ship (about a year old) and was supposedly built to have more balcony rooms than is usual. Must be true as the rate we paid for a room with a balcony wasn't too bad -- plus they were running a special, plus we had a coupon for $125 off the room because of being in the 'Crown and Anchor' club - their repeat customer program. By the way, if you ever cruise, be sure to sign up for whatever repeat customer program they have -- this one saved us $125 for doing nothing more than sending in a coupon. Plus, they hold a special party on board for repeat guests. I must say that the ship itself is beautiful. Very, very well done. It looks very much like RCCL hired an excellent designer and said 'spare no expense' because the end result is really spectacular. The Norwegian Sky is the only other ship we've been on that was close. I found myself wishing that my home was as well and tastefully decorated as the toilets on this ship. Our room attendant showed up soon after we got there, introduced herself, and showed us a couple of things about the room -- thermostat, storage in the bath closet, etc. The room was provided with a 220 volt hair dryer -- but there were only 2 110 volt outlets. If you wanted to use a curling iron, an alarm clock and any other 110 volt device at the same time you need to take along an outlet strip -- we always do. The cabin was, of course, fairly small but was well laid out and usable. Quite a bit of storage, a little couch and table, a teeny-tiny little bathroom and a balcony with a couple chairs and small table. The beds had, as requested, been shoved together and made into a queen. They apparently forgot to put the mattress on the bed however, as it was really, really hard and difficult to sleep on. We didn't sleep well the entire trip. I can only guess that after spending so much on the rest of the ship that there was no money left to buy decent mattresses. This is an area that needs correction. The balcony was nice. Really nice. I recommend it if you can manage it. We've done without one before, but I'm not sure we'll be able to do without one in the future -- spoiled just that quick.
We took a slightly different approach to this trip. We were both really brain fried from various challenges that have confronted us the last year, so we decided we weren't going to do anything that required us to be at any particular place at any particular time. We went on no planned excursions, and didn't eat in the dining room even once. We kept an eye on the daily menu, just in case, but there just wasn't anything being served that we cared to eat. Until the very last day when they served roast turkey. By then we didn't care to go in there and try to explain why we hadn't been there all week, so we skipped that too. Saved us quite a lot of tip money actually. Which we pretty much gave back plus more to the staff in the Chops Grill. That's the 'special' dining room where they serve the really good food -- prime cuts of beef, salmon, lamb chops, stuff like that -- for an extra $20 each. We ended up there 3 nights as the food was really superior and the service quite excellent. The maitre d' - whose name was Havva (from Turkey, as, it seemed was most of the staff...) did an excellent job of making us feel at home and making sure we got the best possible service. She even arranged for special dessert the last night aboard as they didn't ordinarily serve Creme Broule and my wife mentioned that she was partial to it. They made some up -- or found some at another galley or something -- anyway, they made it happen. If you are aboard the Radiance, I recommend you patronize this dining room. They suggest that you make reservations, but it MAY not be necessary. Seems most people are more likely to go eat the food they've already paid for. Who can blame them, really? There is also an Italian specialty dining room, which I expect was similar but we didn't go there.
The ports of call were St. Thomas, Antigue, St. Maartin, St. Lucia, and Barbados. We only had one sea day -- the last day of the cruise. We found this schedule to be a bit crowded and wished for another day at sea to just relax and do little or nothing. We got off at each port and wandered around town a while, but didn't really do much. We once again discovered that we kind of liked St. Thomas and St. Maartin, but probably could have skipped the other islands. Barbados may have been OK, but by the end of the week, we were tired of wandering around the nearly identical native towns and hardly got off the pier. Just walked around the nearby shops for a short while and went back aboard. On the way back, the captain took a pause just off the coast of Monserat and turned the ship through a 360 degree pirouette to give everyone a good look at the volcano damage. What a disaster! As we left, I noticed that there was actually volcanic ash dusting the railing of our balcony. I don't think it's quite time to go shopping for real estate on that island yet...
The entertainment aboard was as usual, pretty good. Fairly typical, but of good quality. The captain even sang a song and told a couple jokes the last night. The production company was competent and performed well. Perhaps not quite as well as some we've seen, but certainly of professional quality. The reggae band by the pool was as usual -- loud. The orchestra was good, there was a guitar player that played a few places during the trip - very nice. A piano/violin duet likewise. There was one fellow that occasionally played piano and did a lot of Billy Joel tunes that was quite good according to my wife. I only caught one tune. Dimembarkation was, as usual, a disgusting mess. Up WAAAY to early for being on vacation. Go to the crammed cafe to jamb down breakfast while you wait for your 'color' to be called. Stand in a long line to have a customs inspector give your form a cursory glace, wait again for your turn to exit the ship, pick your bags out of the sea of luggage on the dock. Then, it really got bad. We had the transfer from the ship to the airport. We had to haul our own bags the length of the pier, wait to have them thrown on a truck, then get aboard an old, smelly bus. For reasons we were not told, the entire bus load of people simply SAT and waited for about an hour just at the end of the pier. Apparently we were waiting for the luggage truck to get completely filled up and head for the airport as we eventually got under way and followed the damn thing. At the airport, we had to stand around in the street waiting for our bags to be unloaded from the truck, at which time we had to haul them in to the airline -- or hire a porter. Which it seems to me like baggage handling SHOULD have been part of the transfer. It was coming IN. Then, because of an afternoon flight, we sat around the airport for 4 hours and 'enjoyed' a 9 dollar hamburger. We got back to Chicago OK only to find that ONE of our bags hadn't been put aboard our flight. I guess it could have been worse, we only had to wait around O'Hare for about an hour until the next flight from San Juan came in with our errant bag. United apologized and passed out $25 vouchers which CANNOT be used on line -- so that's pretty much an empty gesture.
A general impression: The ship is beautiful, the crew is excellent, the food overall is average (about typical family restaurant quality) except in the specialty dining rooms, the entertainment very good. Given an opportunity, we would definitely sail on the radiance again. PS: As far as we know or were told, there have been NO unusual cases of illness aboard RCCL ships, and we certainly did not get sick on this cruise, nor did we hear of anyone aboard getting suspiciously ill.