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Radiance of the Seas, Pacific Northwest, April 30, 2001 - May 4, 2001
This is a day Allyn had been waiting for. We hadn't cruised in awhile and he had the itch. The extra treat this time was the ship, Royal Caribbean International's "Radiance of the Seas", a brand new ship. It was less than a month old at the time we took the cruise. And for the first time, we'd convinced our good friends Marc and Tami that they needed to come on the cruise too!
Allyn had been following the progress of Radiance for some time. It was built in the Meyer-Werft shipyard in Germany. Royal Caribbean would issue press releases from time to time which Allyn would eagerly read and then forward to Teri and Marc and Tami (much to their dismay, no doubt).
Radiance is the first in a new series of ships of which there are three more on order (to be delivered in 2002, 2003, and 2004) with options on a fifth and sixth. (Cruise lines often build several similar ships in a series, it saves on design costs. Carnival is the winner here with eight "Fantasy class" ships).
Allyn started to get really excited when Radiance was nearing completion in February and March. Bart de Boer (famous for his Passenger Ship Parade web site with incredibly well-done ship tours) was able to tour the finished ship in Amsterdam before it left Europe and wrote an extensive (and extensively illustrated) report.
Then about a week prior to our cruise, Radiance had stopped for the day in San Diego! Allyn took a long lunch and drove down to the port to take some photos (of the outside only, no visitors allowed).
Radiance has the honor of being charged the most of any ship for passage through the Panama Canal. She is actually slightly smaller than the previous record holder (Celebrity Cruise Lines' Infinity passed through less than a month prior) but is larger in some way that matters at the canal "toll booth". As you can guess, this ship is BIG!
We spent the weekend before the cruise in Seattle. After packing up and getting ready to go, we met Marc and Tami downstairs at the hotel. They had checked in to our hotel the night before so we would be able to get an early start. After taking the rental cars back (rental agency within walking distance, just 3 blocks away) we caught a cab down to the port.
To Allyn, as the cruise planner, it was very gratifying to see their wide eyes as we drove up to the huge ship (their eyes needed to be wide to take in the whole thing).
Check-in was terrible, they had not really gotten the process down yet since they had only done it a few times so far. We waited an hour to get on the ship. Good thing we arrived early, we heard it only got worse.
We couldn't believe our eyes when we boarded the ship. We have been on several Royal Caribbean cruise ships but this one was far more amazing than any other. Now we had spoiled Marc and Tami by showing them the best ship ever as their first one. They are likely to be disappointed in any other ship now. Allyn told them, "not all cruise ships are like this". In fact, Allyn repeated that over and over again, so often that it became the running joke of the cruise.
We boarded into the 8-deck high Centrum and went straight to our cabins on deck 9. Teri and Allyn had 9204, Marc and Tami had 9210. We rushed out to the balcony (never having had one before it was exciting) and of course Marc and Tami did the same and we waved and took photos. The cabin was very large and nicely furnished. We particularly liked the color scheme, which was a distinct departure from the Royal Caribbean norm. Other ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet use pastels everywhere, but Radiance used much darker, bolder colors. We were very pleased.
We really enjoyed the balcony, and as so many folks warn on rec.travel.cruises, we were hooked. We're going to have to book balcony cabins from now on.
After getting settled for a few minutes, hey, we're hungry. Good thing we're on a cruise ship where there is food available all the time. We went immediately to the Windjammer cafe (a buffet restaurant on deck 11) to start stuffing our faces. Teri and I had invented a pet name for the Windjammer several cruises ago: we call it the "Foodjammer". Even the Foodjammer was really nice compared to its predecessors on other ships. We ate outside on the back of the ship even though it was a little cold and wet from recent rain (we were in Seattle after all).
Then on to more ship exploration. We headed forward to the african-themed Solarium pool. This solarium has three 15 foot elephant sculptures overlooking the pool (and a bar and another food station which regretfully wasn't open the first day). The Solarium has a retractable glass canopy (but alas we did not see it open in the cool pacific northwest weather).
We moved on to the main dining room. Our table turned out to be on the right side way back toward the back (but near the railing so we could look down on the other diners and even see the captain's table).
We checked out (and approved of) the Viking Crown Lounge, a trademark of Royal Caribbean, there is one on every ship. This lounge is usually situated around the funnel overlooking the pool area. We love the Viking Crown lounge because of the great views and look forward to hanging out there on every cruise.
We have a tradition of standing on one of the outside decks as the boat unties from the dock and pulls out to see and we introduced Marc and Tami to this tradition. It was windy as the boat pulled out of Seattle and started our voyage. It is always impressive being on a huge cruise ship when it starts to move.
We had a table for four in the dining room for dinner. We'd asked for a larger table, but were just as relieved to have one to ourselves. Eating with strangers can be fun, but sometimes it is tedious if you have nothing in common to talk about.
Radiance of the Seas doesn't have a famous "midnight buffet". Instead there is a restaurant called the Seaview Cafe that serves hot dogs, pizza, and other greasy finger foods from midnight to 4am. Of course we had to check that out every night. :-)
On a 4-night cruise, you have three full days on the ship (the first and last days are partial days). Our first full day the ship pulled into Vancouver, British Columbia. We had decided to take a shore excursion to the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Grouse Mountain Aerial Tramway. The bus picked us up right at the ship and meandered its way through the streets of downtown Vancouver over to Stanley Park. Stanley Park is one of the largest city parks in North America. We stopped to view some totem poles. (Totem poles are everywhere in British Columbia). The Capilano Suspension Bridge is supposed to be the longest suspension foot bridge in the world and we can believe it because it was long and high. Next stop was the aerial tram to Grouse Mountain. Very similar to the Palm Springs Aerial Tram in Southern California. There was plenty of snow at the top!
While Teri and Allyn were on the bus, Marc and Tami were walking around Vancouver and went up in the Harbour Centre tower for a fabulous view of the ship.
In the late afternoon it was time to depart Vancouver. A light rain caused us to retreat to the Viking Crown Lounge but it stopped quickly so we could venture back out. The Lion's Gate Bridge guards the entrance to the Vancouver inner harbour, much as the Golden Gate Bridge guards the entrance to San Francisco harbor. All ships pass under the Lion's Gate Bridge entering and leaving the harbour. Many people were concerned the ship would not fit under the bridge, not realizing it had already fit on the way in early that morning.
The next day the ship was docked in Victoria, British Columbia. Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, is on Vancouver Island, in a deliberate Canadian plot to confuse tourists. Victoria has a quaint british flavor everywhere you look. The inner harbour is the happening place, unfortunately, it is far too small for cruise ships to visit directly, so the ships dock several blocks away. We took one of those pedal cabs (the driver pedals, not the passengers). We rode by the Legislature building and over to the famous Empress Hotel. The classy thing to do in Victoria is have afternoon tea at the Empress and since we're all classy folks, that's just what we did. We felt very refined to be sipping tea with our pinkies out and eating our tiny cucumber sandwiches with the crust cut off, and our scones and clotted cream. We asked the waiter in which order to eat the treats in the multi-tiered cake plate thingy, and he said something to the effect that Americans usually ate from the top down and everyone else ate from the bottom up. We ate from the bottom up even though we are Americans.
We also walked around Victoria a bit and saw Thunderbird Park (lots of totem poles here) and visited the Crystal Garden, a funny little tourist-trap zoo and botanical garden before catching a bus back to the ship.
The third full day on the ship was a "day at sea". This means the ship just toodles around in the ocean or inland waterways and doesn't stop and you don't get off the ship. You just hang out and relax and donate to the casino and drink in the bars and play bingo. We did all of those things so it was a very successful day.
Seriously, it was a grey chilly day but we were passing through some beautiful scenery. We sat outside on the back of this ship for awhile and spent some time in our favorite Viking Crown Lounge at the top of the ship. Teri loves bingo, and "progressive" bingo is very big on cruise ships. It is progressive in that the jackpots are driven by the number of players playing during the cruise and get larger and larger ending in a very large snowball jackpot on the last day.
Marc and Allyn were sitting in the Schooner Bar having a drink while Teri was in the Colony Club (next door) to play the final bingo rounds. Marc suggested we go in and watch. The room was packed. People were playing 6 or more cards per person. The final bingo game was "blackout", which means that every square on your card has to be called. Teri was doing pretty well and only had a few left. The tension mounted as each number was called, with the expectation that someone would be the one to call out bingo. Teri won! Teri alone won the final bingo game. She won $1900 (U.S.) dollars!
There was still more fun to be had. It was cold and very very windy outside but we hadn't gotten a chance to play mini-golf yet! Teri and Marc and Allyn decided to brave it anyway. The wind was so strong, it sometimes blew the balls around. We were laughing pretty hard and had only had played a few holes (out of 9) when tragedy struck. Teri slipped and twisted her ankle. That put a quick stop to the fun as we slowly got her back to the cabin and iced up her ankle. She was in a lot of pain and walked slowly and gingerly the rest of the vacation.
There isn't much to tell about the rest of the cruise. Teri limped around and we were sorry to have to leave the ship. We had breakfast in the Foodjammer and waited there until we were called to depart. Our departure was uneventful.
Radiance of the Seas is a real winner. The ship is far more beautiful and amazing than any ship we have ever seen. (And I've later read many similar comments on rec.travel.cruises). It just has to be seen to be believed.
We would not hesitate to sail again on Radiance of the Seas, indeed, we would be delighted.
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Copyright © 2001 Teri & Allyn Fratkin, All Rights Reserved.