Monday, December 12, 2011

A review about cruising with RCI vs other lines in Australia

Well we have now cruised with the following lines and I thought it might be helpful to do a review of the differences between the cruise lines in Australia now.

We have cruised with RCI on Radiance of the Seas on this trip, Sun Princess in Australia (Princess Cruises), Pacific Star, Pacific Dawn and Pacific Pearl (P&O Australia Cruises and Grand Princess in the mediterranean (Princess Cruises).

Let's look at how RCI does things:

Accommodation:

RCI does their stateroom arrangements very well. Similar to Princess line they call them "staterooms" vs P&O Australia call them cabins.
With RCI, even some of the more budget staterooms include a small seating area with a sofa. This is a big plus. Imagine having a hotel room where the only place to sit when you are there is on the bed. It can be quite annoying.
Staterooms here are of course different depending on the category you book, no different to other lines. We got a suite this time just for the extra space that it affords us with a small child. It was worth having the extra space. It also allows us to spend some time in our stateroom in comfort which we like to do. We do find it hard to roam the ship all day long. It is nice to have your own balcony and somewhere quiet to sit and read or something. A note to other passengers who have travelled in suites on P&O Australia, the suite perks are really different on this line. with RCI, suite guests get a range of extras thrown in like:
- Free in room movies on demand
- reserved seating at the shows
- Access to a lounge for suite guests
- Free happy hour drinks at the suite lounge between 5.00 pm and 8.30 pm. - Access to a Concierge to look after your tour, restaurant and other bookings
- Priority embarkation and disembarkation

However in comparison to P&O Australia, suite guests on RCI do not get free laundry service. It really depends where you would spend your money. Some people would get far more value from the free drinks each evening and not worry about the laundry. I must admit we have used lots of in room movies as we have had a few family movie nights in our suite. Even this is a treat for us as we rarely get to do this at home with our busy schedules and Trevor's shift work.

In your stateroom on RCI, you need to know that they do not provide bathroom amenities such as shampoo, conditioner, lotion etc. They do have a dispenser in the shower but I am not sure what is in it. Anyway, not a great loss as you probably not want to use their shampoo anyway! Best to bring your own anyway.

A great feature on RCI cruises in your stateroom is an interactive LCD TV that has a range of pay TV channels on it designed specifically for RCI but also has an interactive menu on it, just push MENU on the remote to access it. Igt includes access to the pay per view movies which are charged at the rate you would expect in a hotel ($12.95). It also includes a feature where you can access your shipboard account and keep an eye on your spending. It also allows you to book shore excursions through the TV which is a big time saver for those last minute tour bookings. Let's face it, when you are on a budget you need to keep an eye on your onboard spending a few times on the cruise and also to make sure that there are no incorrect charges which can happen. This interactive TV is a plus for RCI!! P&O Australia and Princess do not have this feature that I know of, for these services you have to go to the Purser's desk/tour desk and speak to a customer service officer. This can take some time with long lines at times during the cruise.

Balcony furniture on RCI is really nice too.

Power in staterooms requires a converter and we have used a european to Australia converter.

If your stateroom includes mini bar items, they are not free of course. Similar to a hotel, you should expect to pay for these. Some staterooms have a small fridge. It is not great so make sure you ask your stateroom attendant to keep your ice bucket topped up.

Stateroom attendants
For those of you who have cruised before, you will know how great these guys are. I must say we have had great stateroom attendants (or cabin steward on P&O/Princess) on all our trips. These guys work very hard to keep your stateroom comfortable, tidy and clean. Just as with all other lines we have sailed with, our stateroom attendant introduced himself on the first day and never forgot our names from that day on. He has been so attentive to us. An example of this is that I ordered some gifts to be here when we boarded for Michael to play with. I got him a crayola drawing thing that required batteries. Of course I didn't know this and did not bring any. On the first day he made it his business to go an get batteries for it and never charged us either.

Another example is that the basins in the RCI stateroom bathrooms are quite high. It is hard for children to reach and brush their teeth etc. We asked our stateroom attendant if we could get a stool or something Michael could stand on. The ship's workshop got to work and made him a whole set of timber steps, not just a stool. A little overkill but was a lovely gesture.

I must say that on all lines we have travelled, stateroom attendants have been excellent. Make sure you bring a post it note pad and a pen so that you can leave your stateroom attendant notes if you need anything as you don't always see them but as you return to your stateroom throughout the day, you will notice that they have once again tidied up, changed the towels etc.

Like other lines, your stateroom includes a safe if you want to lock up any items.
Our stateroom attendant has been surprising us with great towel animals each day which Michael loves. Some photos below.

Dining
Dining on RCI is similar to other lines in many ways.
Included in your cruise fare is all main meals at the following venues:

- The Buffet ("The Windjammer")
- Cascades Dining Room ( the main dining room )

Like other lines, RCI also has speciality restaurants that you have to pay for. The charge is generally a token amount such as $25 per person and that generally includes 3 courses so it is reasonable if you want to try one.

Radiance of the Seas has the following speciality restaurants:
- Giovanni's Table
- Chops Grille
- Izumi's
- Rita's Cantina
- Samba Grill

Don't feel obliged to go to all of them or any of them if you don't want to or it does not suit your budget but worth a try for a treat and to try something different. We have tried Chops Grille and will be trying Samba Grill tonight!

I must admit that the meals in the main dining room have been good. A reasonable selection and I always find something I would like to eat and I can be a picky eater. They have three courses, starter, main and desert so you do need to watch your eating around here. They are also better for portion control.

The Buffet has been good too. I am not a big fan of constantly having to go and get food from the buffet but the food is good and there is a good selection. Breakfast there is really good and they do eggs to order which Trevor likes alot. P&O Australia has been getting worse with their buffets and on the last few trips with them we had cold food in the buffet so that was not nice. You can get food in the buffet at most times of the day so even just for a snack, there is always something to have. Great fresh fruit and salads too so you can eat healthy if you want to. I must also admit that the Princess line buffets were fantastic so those of you who travel on Princess will know this.

Room Service
RCI has a limited room service menu in the Cruise Information Book in your stateroom like the other lines do however theirs is FREE except between 12.00 and 05.00 am where there is a small service charge to bring the items to you but the food is still free.

If you are travelling with small children and would like to bring snacks on board for in your cabin, you can do this. Michael always brings some crackers and other buscuits to last the trip. We just pack them in a hard shell lunch box and buy the individual lunchbox packs so they stay fresh.

Dining Times
We have booked "My Time Dining" which is the option to book our dinner for a time that suits us. P&O and Princess have this option too. We find it suits us more than traditional first and second seating where you have to turn up to dinner at a preset time every night and depending on your tours that can be a rush each day. We like to book a small table and we have never had a problem getting a table by booking in advance.
Be sure to plan your days ahead and make your dinner bookings. You can always cancel if things change on the day. If you cancel the speciality restaurants however there is a charge if cancelled with less than 24 hours notice.

Entertainment
Entertainment onboard is included in your fare just like with P&O and Princess. We have not been to all the entertainment of course but have seen one show in the theatre so far and it was good. They have lots of different shows, comedy, song and dance broadway shows, illusionists etc. We intend to see a broadway show too so I hope that will be good. P&O and Princess do their shows really well and we have always thoroughly enjoyed them also.
To plan your days with all the entertainment and activities on board, it can be easy to miss something you would like to do. Each night a Cruise Compass on RCI will be delivered to your stateroom which includes information on the next day's activities, port of call, dining, dress code etc. I use a highlighter to mark the items we want to do so that we don't miss them.
Princess has the "Princess Patter" and P&O has the "Pacific Daily" which are very similar.

Kids Facilities
Michael enjoys cruising because of the kids facilities. RCI kids club seems to focus alot on science related activities for the 6-8 year olds. Michael enjoys that. He does miss some of the more fun activities that they had on P&O and Princess too. They are all really good programs and the kids have a great time. The kids club also offers the option for kids dinner or kids lunch on a few occasions on the cruise where the kids go to eat together. Otherwise RCI is the same as other lines where you collect your kids prior to lunch and dinner and then they return later.

Shops on board
We have checked out the shops on board and I have already had to attend my shopaholics anonymous meeting due to my indulgence in yet another Guess handbag. Yes, ladies, RCI like other cruise lines has all your favourites:
- Handbags
- watches
- jewellery
- perfumes
- cosmetics
- alcohol/cigarettes
- Svarovsky crystal (see your bank manager before buying!)

Of course there are clothing, souvenirs and general stores also for any last minute items but expect to pay for these at a premium price. They do have sales so watch for those. Very similar to other lines and in fact many of the same brands.

Remember it is easy to spend up on a ship. With the cruise card being your only currency it is like buying everything on credit so be sure to keep track of your spending.

Drinks
Drinks on board a reasonably priced, similar to what you would expect to pay on land in a hotel or club. RCI has a "soda" package which you can pay for that gives you unlimited cola etc for the trip. 

Similar to Princess and P&O. They also have a wine package. Be careful with this one. Try to work out how much wine you might drink each night for dinner and then pick a package that has the right amount of bottles. Then you pick a wine list you want to be able to pick from. The smaller the list, the cheaper the price, the larger the list to select from, the dearer the price. Regardless, if you manage to drink all the wine you have bought on a package, it is supposed to save you lots on the individual prices of the bottles. We got the Australian/NZ package that RCI has put together for their Aussie passengers. It has a collection of Aussie and new zealand wines to pick from.

RCI also has a water or juice package. I bought the water package. This is where you can pre order so many bottles of water to be delivered to your stateroom at a cheaper price than paying for them by the bottle. The water on board is Evian so it is really nice. Ships water is perfectly fine to drink. They serve it at dinner and it is fine. Bottles are just easier for in your stateroom and to take ashore when you go on excursions.

Movies
Radiance of the Seas has a dedicated Cinema and movies are also shown on the big screen over the pool deck and also in the main theatre so if there is a good flick you want to catch, check out the Cruise Compass for screening times.

Pools and Outdoor Entertainment
RCI does outdoor entertainment really well compared to other ships we have been on.
There is a main pool on the open pool deck. On this trip we have been on it has been used little due to the cold weather we have had. Then there is an undercover pool in an area called the "Solarium" which I think I covered earlier. This is a warm space which is supposed to be for adults only and has been used alot on this cruise. It also has its own little cafe and tables, chairs and of course pool loungers.
This ship has a children's pool and waterslide. Again, sadly it has been a little cold for these but if you are on a South Pacific cruise, I would expect that these would be packed out. Opening times are not long so check the Cruise Compass for opening hours.

There is also a Rock Climbing wall on Radiance. Again, not a lot of use on this trip but I would say this would be a popular feature on the ship.

Ports Of Call
RCI does things similar to P&O and Princess. When the ship docks in a port, there will be a dedicated gangway and you can just walk off the ship and go and do your own thing or you will have to assemble in a specific lounge on the ship to go with your tour. You use your cruise card as a boarding and disembarkation pass each time you get on and off the ship so that they can keep track of who is on and who is off. Of course when you return to the ship, you have to also go through security screening with xray machines etc as you are familiar with at airports. This is part of maritime security arrangements to prevent any illegal items being brought onto the ship when passengers go ashore. When you go ashore you also need photo ID so make sure you take this with you.

When the ship cannot dock at a particular port, it will anchor outside the port and then use the ship's boats (called Tenders) to take passengers ashore. This is an involved process. All the lines do this very similarly. On the morning you arrive there, they will be giving out tender tickets for you to go on a tender and then you wait until your tender ticket number is called on the loudspeaker and then off you go.
RCI on Radiance of the Seas did this very efficiently. The tenders worked all day going backwards and forwards to the ship and there was very little wait at all. Similar to other lines, if you book a suite or mini suite, you can get priority tender tickets if you want them.

Disembarkation
We haven't disembarked yet as I am writing this on board the Radiance of the Seas but we have been informed of the disembarkation procedure already.
It is very similar to other lines. The cruise line asks you to complete a form about half way through the cruise telling them about your flight arrangements after disembarkation. This allows them to group passengers for disembarkation. We have to appreciate that they can't just tell 2300 passengers to get off at once. It would be chaos! So similar to other lines, they give you a number/colour group related to your disembarkation and an approximate window of time on the day that you might be disembarking. You have to vacate your stateroom early generally by no later than 08.00 am so that they can get it ready for the next passengers who will board in just hours, then off you go with your hand luggage, get breakfast or just wait in a public area until your disembarkation group is called. Suite guests get a special lounge dedicated to them to relax in while waiting and priority disembarkation.

Laundry
Yes I know, the rude word you don't want to talk about when on holidays but when you travel for 14 nights or more, there is not enough suitcase room to bring enough clothes for that period of time without having to wash clothes. RCI does not have a self service laundry on board which I think is a negative in comparison to P&O Australia and Princess. I can just hear people saying, who cares, you are on holidays....I know but sometimes you need to wash some clothes. Especially if your cruise goes to hot climates, you can go through a lot of sweaty clothes very quickly and you really can only wear things once. RCI offers a laundry service that you pay for by the item.
They do offer a special offer half way through the cruise where they give you a bag and you can fill it with as many clothes (only of certain types - t-shirts, underwear, swimsuits, socks, pyjamas) and the whole bag only costs $25. Not too bad but you can't include pants, shirts etc and if you do they will be charged to your cruise card at normal prices. We found the P&O and Princess self service laundry useful at least for one load of washing throughout a 14 day cruise. Also their laundries include an ironing facility. Shirts can get pretty wrinkled in suitcases. RCI offers a pressing service but you pay per item and have to give it to them the day before you actually want it or you pay a higher price for same day service. My tip is to bring as many wash and wear items you can. For women, slinky tops work great but it is harder with men's shirts!

Tours
Tours are all the same with all lines. Remember that the tour operators sell the same tours to all the cruise lines. Yes, they are overpriced but if you are in a foreign place and want the peace of mind to have everything organised for you, then this is the way to go. We have chosen to do two ship organised tours on this trip and in the other ports we intend to do our own thing. Remember if you go ashore on your own and do not make it back to the ship on time, it will not wait for you and you will have the added expense of getting home or joining the ship at the next port. Make sure for this reason that you take note of the ship's agent's phone number when you go ashore on your own so that if you get into trouble, the agent can help you. Take your ID for this reason too. An easy way to take the agent's details with you is to take a copy of the cruise compass paper with you ashore.

Overall Summary So Far
Overall I am not convinced that RCI is better than P&O Australia, just different in some things and it depends if those things matter to you. It is such a subjective thing. From our point of view we found them to be on par with P&O Australia and still think that Princess is a step above both of them but that is because we had such a great experience on Princess.

Check out some of the photos of towel animals we got in our stateroom plus the outdoor areas

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

WOW! What a great review. Soooooooo much information. Sounds absolutely fabulous, can't wait 'til we go! This info is really useful, thanks heaps Ally. You should think about moonlighting as a cruise critic.
Enjoy the rest of your trip.

xx
Lisa

Ali said...

This is the first time i read your blog and admire that you have posted on this...I really found useful.Keep updated. best place to book royal caribbean cruise