A "right-sized" small but modern ships just upgraded with new eateries, bars, kids programs and decor.
Best For People Who Want
A lively, family-friendly cruise experience on a mid-sized ship, with elegant decor, a wide variety of entertainment choices, and reasonable (though not gourmet) food quality.
Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
The really big Royal Caribbean ships with Royal Promenades, ice skating and Broadway shows
The Brilliance (and her sister ships in the Radiance Class - Radiance, Jewel, Serenade), at just over 90,000 tons, offers an excellent alternative to her much larger cousins, Royal Caribbean's Oasis, Voyager and Freedom Class mega-ships, while still being large enough to provide all the amenities we've come to expect from modern cruise ships.
There's no shortage of activities, from standard daily trivia games, to craft classes, dance lessons, guest lecturers, and passenger participation games; yet there are plenty of spaces where one can escape the frenzy to relax, read, or just watch the seas go by. Professional entertainment on board was varied and enjoyable.
Staff and crew are friendly and helpful to a fault, and any reasonable request was accommodated without hesitation.
One rather irksome quirk on this ship is the lack of self-serve drink stations except for coffee or water. All other drinks are pre-poured and available from only two stations well inside of Windjammer Cafe. (Inside the Windjammer Cafe, servers do circulate with trays of non-alcoholic drinks as well.)
With the 2013 upgrade the ship recieved a much needed face lift with new decor, a beautiful winter garden style atrium, and new furniture throughout including inside the staterooms.
The heart of the ship is the lobby bar on Deck 4, at the lowest level of the Centrum, where an ensemble performs each night. This is the spot people seem inclined to congregate. During the day this area is often used for cooking demonstrations, lessons on creating towel animals, etc.
At the bow on Decks 4 and 5 is the ship's main showroom, the Pacifica Theater. With plush burgundy and rouge toned individual seats, complete with cup holders, and unobstructed sight lines, the theater is an excellent venue for the ship's productions and headliner acts.
Two decks above on Deck 6, the low-key Champagne Bar offers panoramic views of the seas through floor-to-ceiling windows.
Also on Deck 6, the Bombay Billiards Club has the first pool tables at sea - very high-tech pool tables at that. Each one is balanced on a gyro-style ball bearing the size of a grape; the table may move as the ship rocks, but the balls will remain in place.
Another Deck 6 lounge is the natty Schooners, with marine blue chairs accented by real teak, along with nautical antiques and reproductions. In the adjacent Colony Club is a large dance floor and stage suitable for a variety of entertainment.
Forward on Deck 6 is the Casino Royale, where slots and video gaming dominate the large space, with lights, bells and whistles inviting passengers to contribute. Table games, a craps table, and roulette wheel call out to those who prefer more social gambling. One blackjack table is currently used for the ever more popular Texas Hold 'Em (and plans are afoot to begin hosting Texas Hold 'Em tournaments, but they aren't set yet).
A small but well-stocked library on Deck 8 faces the atrium, and feels like a traditional study. The library is open 24 hours per day, and operates on an honor system -- passengers sign books out and back in when returning them.
Close by is the tiny Crown and Anchor Club, but don't miss it: You can stand on a glass platform with a view of the entire atrium beneath your feet.
High atop the ship on Deck 13, the traditional Royal Caribbean Viking Crown Lounge offers a near-360 degree panoramic view. On Brilliance, it is divided into the StarQuest disco and Hollywood Lounge, a low-key room with a small stage for performances.
Forward on Deck 5, off the Centrum, Brilliance boasts a more upscale shopping area than other Royal Caribbean ships, including designer-branded fashion wear and a brilliant jewelry store. Near the Internet area is a small coffee and pastry shop with the unforgettable name of Latte'tudes. One of the best features of the ship is the cinema, which shows two features per day.
On outdoor decks, smoking is restricted to the starboard side. Smoking is allowed in passenger cabins, as well as private balconies. Contrary to some beliefs, there are no non-smoking cabins available.
There are two swimming pools on Deck 11. The Solarium is a tranquil, glassed-in pool area with an African theme and three enormous plaster elephants overlooking the pool. You'll hear bird and animal sounds through the towering tropical plants. The Solarium Cafe offers a variety of salads, a couple of sandwich choices and pizza.
The open-air central pool and surrounding sun deck are bit small, so the space can feel crowded on sea days. However, there are plenty of sun loungers and open spaces one deck up, on Deck 12. I'd love to see some patio-style furnishing (tables and chairs) in an open-air deck area. The central pool area has only two tables with chairs, and they are tucked into a hallway on the starboard side leading to the Windjammer Cafe.
Indoors, both aft and forward of the Windjammer Cafe are areas with lovely faux wicker style sofas and coffee tables -- excellent spots to relax, read, or socialize. If this same concept could be transferred to an outdoor area it would be most impressive.
Aft on Deck 12, are indoor and outdoor kids' areas -- the Ocean Adventures Club, complete with kiddy pool and a small water slide. Further aft is the SeaView Cafe, with indoor and outdoor seating. The menus at the SeaView were recently changed; it now only offers salads, pastas, and pizzas.
Above on Deck 13, also aft, there's a rock climbing wall, sports deck, and mini-golf course -- all free for passenger use. On Deck 12 around the pool deck is a walking/running track. Eight laps equals one mile.
The main dining room food is as good as on any of the mass market lines. Your best bet is to try the alternative options described below.
The Windjammer buffet area has been restyled with "actions stations" to make service faster and more a la minute.
The Minstrel Dining Room is a glamorous two-story space amidships, with a grand staircase, large pillars, and lovely, high-end furnishings. In addition to dinner service, it is available for open-seating breakfast and for lunch. At lunch, it now offers "Brasserie 30" -- a set menu that does not change day to day, but promises that diners will be in and out in 30 minutes.
Breakfasts, lunches and casual dinners are offered in the Windjammer Cafe. The physical setup at the Windjammer works very well, with separate service islands for different parts of the menu -- e.g., for lunch, burgers/hot dogs/condiments, salads, sandwiches, a carving station, pizza, and yet another that alternates between Asian, Chinese and Thai offerings.
The 2013 brought a number of upgrades and new dining venues as follows:
Main Dining Room with complimentary, multi-course dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner
The Windjammer Café, pizzeria, Seaview Café with sandwiches, soups, and snacks, and room service
Royal Caibbean signature Specialty restaurants Chops Grille steakhouse and Portofino Italian restaurant, where for one low cover charge you can choose any items off the menu from appetizer to dessert.
Café Latté-tudes, a specialty coffee house
Complimentary Park Café for sandwiches, wraps, soups and carry away desserts like cookies and cannoli.
Chef's Table intimate dining experience
Giovanni's Table Italian restaurant
Izumi Asian-fusion cuisine, featuring a la carte sushi selections
Rita's Cantina for Mexican fare favorites
The multinational staff and crew clearly enjoy watching passengers enjoy themselves. They're uniformly cheerful, knowledgeable, and eager to help. The wait staff in every restaurant is noticeably solicitous and conscientious. Cabin service staff is efficient but unobtrusive. The purser's desk is notably responsive, especially in view of how much troubleshooting they must do on a ship this size. Even room service is prompt and delivered with a smile.
Royal Caribbean suggests a per person, per day gratuity of $3.50 for the stateroom attendant ($5.75 if sailing in a suite), $3.50 for the waiter, $2.50 for the assistant waiter, 75 cents for the headwaiter. These gratuities may be paid in cash or charged to your onboard account. For children sailing as third or fourth passenger in the stateroom, tipping is at the parents' discretion.
A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage tabs. Gratuities for room service, spa, casino and other staff are at your discretion.
The Pacifica Theater is the ship's main show room. The production shows with the ship's production crew were well received. The variety in the type of acts chosen as headliners was among the most diverse we've found on a cruise ship.
The daily entertainment at the Lobby Bar packed them in nightly, with rotating musical acts. A variety of musical entertainment is offered each evening in lounges around the ship, and of course the DJ spins tunes in the disco late into the night.
One of the most entertaining evenings we spent was participating in the Murder Mystery Dinner at Portofino's, with many cast members from the production crew acting the parts. It is very much an interactive evening with guests and actors, and highly recommended.
Of the ship's 1,050 staterooms, 813 have ocean views and 577 private verandas. Standard features in all cabins include refrigerator/mini-bar, hair dryer, interactive TV, telephone, computer jack, and a large closet and plenty of drawers. In standard and most balcony cabins, bathrooms have a shower and one large medicine cabinet. There are also such welcome touches as beds with rounded corners and lighted vanity tables with mirrored cabinets. Tubs are found only in the highest category staterooms; most bathrooms only have showers (though large ones) and medicine cabinets. There are even full-length mirrors in the "superior" category cabins. There are 14 wheelchair-accessible staterooms.
Brilliance has some of the best balcony cabins at sea; for the very best, look to the aft cabins on Decks 7-10, where the Cat. D rooms have the largest balconies on the ship (13 x 9.5 ft.). There are steel walls between balconies instead of the glass common on the rest of the ship. Overall, staterooms on this ship are larger than the average Royal Caribbean cabin. While inside cabins measure only 165 sq. ft.; outside cabins range from 170 to 204 sq. ft., and the five categories of suites from 293 to 1,001 sq. ft.
Brilliance had just completed the replacement and upgrading of beds, linens, and pillows during our time on board, and new duvets to replace the sheets and blankets previously used were due the following week.
The 15,500 sq. ft. ocean-view ShipShape Spa comprises three sections: a beauty and health center with 12 treatment rooms, including Rasul and thermal suite ($15 for a half-hour); an aerobics area with mirrored wall and a wooden suspended aerobics floor; and the gym, with 18 treadmills, 10 Reebok Recumbent Cycles, eight Reebok Body Peaks, four Reebok Ridge Rocker Cycles, four Reebok Body Treks, free weights, and multiple benches. TV monitors and stereo sound are available throughout. Scheduled fitness activities include stretching and aerobics classes and aqua-dynamics. The famous Royal Caribbean rock-climbing wall rises 200 feet above the sea with five separate climbing tracks. The Sports Club & Country Club has golf simulators, ping-pong, a basketball court and deck games. There's even a nine-hole miniature golf course and a jogging track.
Royal Caribbean has made a number of improvements to youth and teen programming. One new program is Adventure Theater, developed by Camp Broadway in New York City to give kids an immersion into the performing arts. On each RCI sailing, teens and kids can learn acting fundamentals, vocalization, and dance techniques during a series of three 45-minute Adventure Theater sessions.
Another innovative program is Scratch DJ101 classes, which are available to all ages, along with special two-hour sessions just for teens on Liberty of the Seas. After their lessons, teens can showcase their music mixing knowledge in a graduation performance that friends and family can attend.
RCI has added new activities for those three to five years old in conjunction with Fisher-Price. Some of the new themes include Chefs on Deck, which involves role playing for pre-schoolers; Dino Adventure; and Train-O-Mania.
Lastly, RCI unveiled a Youth Loyalty Program this summer. Children and teens can now also enjoy Crown & Anchor Society repeat passenger benefits. Rewards for youngsters on their second or more RCI cruise include Crayola Twistable crayons or a Royal Caribbean bag. All repeating youth receive a Youth Ultimate Value Booklet with coloring pages, games and discounts for onboard amenities such as Ben & Jerry's, Airbrush Tattoo, and arcade games. Parents can enroll their children (if they have already cruised with RCI) via the line's website: www.royalcaribbean.com/youth.
Private babysitting is offered from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., provided sitters are available, for children from one year old. The rate is usually $8-$10 per hour depending on the number of children in the family. Cash payment is made directly to the sitter. Arrange through Guest Services at least 24 hours in advance.
There were two designated formal nights during our 11-night cruise. The others are split between suggested dress codes of smart casual and casual, but the line between the two seems to be disappearing, and on evenings designated as smart casual the majority of men opted out of wearing jackets.