MIAMI -- Perhaps Royal Caribbean International has painted itself
into a corner.
Since 1999, cruising's second-largest line has been at the
forefront of mass-market innovation with Voyager of the Seas and
Explorer of the Seas, two ships of unprecedented scale that feature
facilities and amenities from rock-climbing walls to ice skating
rinks, previously foreign to cruise vessels.
As a result, Royal Caribbean's subsequent vessels are subject to
comparison with those highly successful megaships.
That was certainly the case in March, as a sizable contingent of
travel agents, investment professionals and media embarked on a
two-night journey to the hallowed industry testing ground of
Nowhere -- actually, about 50 or so miles off the coast of Florida
-- aboard Radiance of the Seas, Royal Caribbean's newest ship.
Throughout the brief sailing, passengers were overheard
comparing Radiance with its innovative fleetmates.
The consensus seemed to be that Radiance, while a "nice" cruise
ship, "is no Voyager."
Those sentiments were somewhat accurate based on the brief
voyage, which did not include port calls.
In terms of size, Radiance can't match up to Voyager or
Explorer. Radiance is the first ship in a new class of vessels for
Royal Caribbean and is significantly smaller than its two
predecessors (90,090 tons compared with the 142,000 tons each of
Voyager and Explorer).
smaller Radiance also lacks some of the facilities that helped make
Voyager and Explorer ground-breaking ships.
Passengers literally stood in line to get into the Johnny
Rockets diners on the two megaships. There's no similar outlet
The Royal Promenade retail and dining corridor opened to rave
reviews on Voyager and Explorer, yet this, too, is absent from
But while this new ship is no Voyager or Explorer, it is an
excellent option for mass-market cruise passengers.
The ship features an abundance of glass -- 57% of its exterior,
according to Royal Caribbean -- that fills the interiors with
The staterooms are spacious and well-appointed; the public rooms
are tasteful and often adventuresome.
Radiance also offers a few of the innovations first found on
Voyager and Explorer, and like those ships, the vessel features an
array of diversions designed to appeal to active vacationers new to
the cruise format.
In fact, Radiance has something the other two ships don't -- two
$19,000, self-leveling billiards tables.
pool tables are in the Bombay Billiard Club, which is part of the
Colony Club, a fifth-deck entertainment area that combines four
separate venues -- the billiards club, the Jakarta Lounge,
Singapore Sling's bar and Calcutta Card Club. The views from
glass-walled Singapore Sling's encompass the vessel's entire aft
The pool tables, I'm told, operate on a gyroscopic system
designed to accommodate the ship's motion. You can see the tables
move to counterbalance the ship's fore-to-aft and side-to-side
Surprisingly, the system works reasonably well, although you'll
occasionally find yourself lining up a ball just as the table
The billiards club seemed to draw particular attention from the
investment crowd, and there might have even been some small-scale
All told, the pool tables are a pleasant diversion made more
enjoyable due to the sheer novelty of playing pool aboard a cruise
Naturally, I was duty-bound to tackle Radiance's rock-climbing
wall, located at the ship's top deck.
The climbing wall, which includes instruction from Royal
Caribbean staffers, is one of the very popular features carried
over from Voyager and Explorer.
Affixed to the back of Radiance's smokestack, the wall is just
as popular here as on the other ships.
I didn't start my ascent until an hour after signing up. That
was just enough time to watch the misadventures of other climbers
and start sweating over what I'd originally figured would be a
piece of cake.
Finally, I watched a slightly overweight man (who I estimated at
about 60 years old) slowly work his way to the very top. I couldn't
very well back out after that, and I indeed climbed to the top when
my turn came around. All I can say about the trip to the summit is
it's harder than it looks.
A putting green adjacent to the wall is among the less
challenging activities available. Again, it's fun to have the
option of shanking a few balls around the synthetic turf course
that winds around the deck's aft end.
Deck 12, one level above Radiance's lido area, features golf
simulators, a sports court that can be set up for basketball or
volleyball, a kid's pool and a teen's pool with a water slide.
On the second day of our voyage, a film crew from a popular
cable television show, complete with producer and two young stars,
tried steadfastly to set up a shot of the pair tumbling down the
water slide together. Neither of the stars were teens.
Deck 12 also features three children's clubs -- separated by age
group -- all connected to a video arcade. There's a fully equipped
fitness center at the bow end of the deck.
While not as revolutionary as self-leveling pool tables and
rock-climbing walls, Radiance's lido deck offers a welcoming degree
of flexibility for passengers who want to lounge around.
Like virtually every other new ship in its class, Radiance's
lido deck offers a large central pool surrounded by deck chairs and
In what's become a staple of Caribbean cruising, there's a small
stage nearby where a calypso/reggae band plays throughout the
But Radiance's lido deck also features a solarium decorated in
an African motif.
The solarium allows light and fresh air to flood in while
eliminating most of the clatter from the main lido area. It's
perfect for sun worshippers who desire a more meditative
experience. The solarium also includes a main pool and one
Behind the solarium is a full-service spa and hair salon that
connects, via an interior staircase, to the health center directly
The facility also includes men's and women's locker rooms,
massage rooms and a "thermal suite" for specialized treatments.
Radiance's public areas are all connected by a huge atrium that
includes two banks of elevators. The atrium is a soaring column of
glass that admits light throughout the ship's interiors.
The glass elevators look out over the sea. The effect created,
particularly on sunny days, is of a weightlessness that lifts the
passenger into a sublime state of relaxation.
Clustered around the atrium, on decks nine and 10, are the
Concierge Club, a cigar-smoking room; the Yacht Club, a small bar,
and a library/coffee shop. These rooms made an attractive setting
for the atrium's upper levels, but seemed to be empty for most of
Interior activity aboard Radiance is focused around decks five
and six. The two-level Aurora Theater, the main venue for
production shows and live entertainment, extends from decks five to
six at the ship's bow end. The theater seats 915.
Another venue, the 3D Theater, is a 40-seat cinema featuring
current movies, and just like in land-based theaters, there's a
bank of video games nearby.
Midship is the rather large Casino Royale, through which
passengers can find the Champagne Bar, a small, sleek watering hole
that's one of the more intimate areas of the ship. Located adjacent
to the atrium in a slightly recessed space, it's great for a
Radiance's Schooner Bar runs the length of the starboard side
from a bulkhead just beyond the Champagne Bar all the way to the
Close by are Chops Grille, an elegant steak house, and
Portofino, an Italian specialty restaurant.
These "alternative" dining venues are both available by
reservation and carry a $20 per diner surcharge.
I dined in Portofino on the second evening. Radiance's cuisine
was largely on target in all of its main dining venues, but it was
still worth the $20 to sample Portofino's atmosphere.
The main dining venue, Cascades, is a two-level restaurant at
the aft end of decks four and five.
Deck five also houses a sizable retail complex, with a general
store, branded souvenir shop, jewelry store, resort-wear shop, gift
shop, photo shop and perfume center.
Radiance's Internet center, Royal Caribbean Online, also is on
deck five. The facility features 12 workstations offering 24-hour
Internet access for a nominal fee.
Guests also can establish on-board e-mail accounts and send
Royal Caribbean ships were once known for unusually small
staterooms. That characteristic has changed dramatically, as the
line's new ships offer an array of roomy cabins as attractive and
feature-filled as any in cruising's mass market.
Of Radiance's 1,050 staterooms, 577 have private balconies, 813
have ocean views and 14 are wheelchair accessible.
Each stateroom is equipped with an interactive television,
telephone, computer jack, a vanity with extendable working surface
for a computer, a refrigerator/minibar, hair dryer and bedside
This ship's largest stateroom is a 1,035-square-foot royal suite
with a 172-square-foot balcony. There's only one of these, so book
There are six owner's suites at 512 square feet with
57-square-foot balconies, 17 standard suites measuring 385 square
feet with 106-square-foot balconies and 35 deluxe outside cabins
measuring 293 square feet with 66-square-foot balconies.
Most of the remaining balcony cabins are split between category
D (each measuring 204 square feet with a 41-square-foot balcony)
and categories E1, E2 and E3 (179 square feet, with 41-square-foot
Radiance also has three family suites measuring 586 square feet
each with 140-square-foot balconies.
While it's true Radiance of the Seas is no Voyager or Explorer,
it remains a pretty satisfying ship in its own right.
And as it stands, Radiance is the only cruise ship on which you
can scale a rock wall and stop by the local pool hall later to