First up, a disclaimer. I’m more recently a solo cruiser and I choose cruises based on the ship (ambience etc), the itinerary, and mostly because I like to relax and read a book (thus quiet spaces are very important). I’m not really interested in active onboard activities (iFly, Dogems, Flowrider etc).
Radiance of the Seas was my 9th cruise from Australia, and my 5th with RCI (after Voyager, Explorer, Rhapsody, Legend, and now Radiance). I wanted to travel on Radiance for two reasons; firstly, because I’d heard fantastic feedback on her, and secondly because she is going to be home-ported at my home city of Brisbane in November 2020. I also cruised on Carnival Spirit in May 2019 (which I never bothered reviewing) which is also moving to the new Brisbane Cruise Terminal in late 2020.
I loved her. People have raved about the glass and lighting, and they are right. It is bright and airy. I love the fact that you can walk around the lido deck up to the front helicopter deck, and there are chairs and lounges on this level (5) to enjoy (unlike Carnival Spirit). Yes, she is an older ship, but the crew are doing an awesome job to keep her in condition.
The only negative I would say is her lifts. There are two lots; one bank of three forward, and then a bank of five midships, starboard side adjacent to the Centrum. The latter were a real challenge as you had to run between each when they arrived (quite a distance). They have spectacular views of the outside, but they are a challenge. One of the comedians made a great joke about them in his performance, which brought a resounding cheer from the audience.
As others have said, if you are dining in Windjammer and you need somewhere to sit, keep going aft to the “secret” location overlooking the stern. What was the Viking Crown Lounge on level 13 (now called the Star Lounge) is also a great daytime escape. The adults only Solarium is another great spot, although can get a bit hot and humid on occasions.
I did a few of the speciality restaurants; Giovanni’s, Chops Grill and Izumi. All great. On day 1 you can sign up for a discounted three dining package for AUD$79, which is well worth it. I didn’t try Sumba (the Brazilian Restaurant), and I think it would struggle to attract numbers because it is tucked away on level 12 or 13 (can’t remember which).
The Schooner Bar is one of the largest that I have seen on the RCI ships that I have cruised on (plenty of room) and I appreciated the Colony Club at the stern for a quiet space to take a break (except during the inevitable art auctions and bingo….)
We were absolutely blessed to have the University of Wisconsin Blugold Marching Band with us on the cruise (https://www.blugoldmarchingband.com/). These folk performed a few times over the cruise and they were absolutely outstanding. My numbers may be wrong, but the band normally has around 450 members, however on this cruise, some 300 plus support staff and parents/guardians (around 400 all up). They are normally used to performing on US football fields, but whilst the restrictions of the Aurora Theatre were challenging, they did an awesome job.
A shout-out to the parents, guardians and supervisors. To put this in context, these students are primarily aged between 18 and 21, and they have come from the US, where the legal minimum drinking age is 21. In Australia (where Radiance was home-ported at the time) our minimum drinking age is 18. You would have expected a few “challenges”, but I have to say that the young adults from the University of Wisconsin were exemplary in their behaviour.
There were other entertainers as well, including an illusionist, comedian, singers, and entertainers, and whilst they were great, I have to say that they were out-performed by the Blugold Marching Band.
Ports and excursions:
I did a similar itinerary on Voyager a few years ago, as well as a more recent comprehensive self-drive tour of the South Island, so I wasn’t really interested in organised tours, plus I had friends to catch up with in Auckland.
The Sounds (Milford, Dusky etc) are simply awesome. Although there was low cloud with limited visibility, it is a magical place. Congrats to RCI; the local guide that they engaged did an outstanding commentary all the way through.
I didn’t do anything at Dunedin (I’ve been there a few times), choosing instead to take a nice walk around Port Chalmers. Nice place.
There were two tender ports that I was really looking forward to exploring on foot. Akaroa was one, and it was a disaster. The ship moored at 7.30am around 2kms from the port of Akaroa, and there was another ship adjacent to us (Noordam). Radiance had four tenders running, and understandably they had to give priority to those who had booked shore tours through RCI. Four hours after tendering started my number was finally called, but all that meant was joining another queue just to get to the tender, which would have meant a departure of around 12.30pm, with a 45 minute transit to Akaroa, just in time to turn around and return to the ship. I gave up, and heard a few folk saying that the delays were exasperated by congestion at the wharf (3,500 pax from two ships) and massive delays queueing to return to Radiance.
Clearly RCI had learned the lesson and at the last tender port, Bay of Islands, in addition to the four on-ship tender bats they had hired two additional tenders to get us on shore. Well done RCI. It made the whole process much more enjoyable.
Would I cruise on her again?
In a heartbeat. I love her mid-size and overall ambience. I’m already booked on her post-refit cruise from Singapore to Brisbane in early November this year. I’m so looking to welcoming her to her new summer home port of Brisbane.
The best balcony that I have experienced. The cabins on deck seven in this category have over-sized balconies. The balcony seemed to be at least one third of the size of the cabin interior. The only downside is that the balcony extremity is open, and there is no privacy from your neighbours. Which could be a good or bad thing.....