My husband and I just returned from our 10-night Panama Canal cruise on the Brilliance of the Seas. This had been a very long-awaited cruise vacation, and it was worth the wait. We departed BWI for Miami on Wednesday, November 29th and spent two nights in South Beach Miami prior to sailing
EMBARKATION: We arrived at the Port of Miami around 11:15 a.m., and the lines for embarkation were long. The check-in process went quickly; however, everyone had to wait until noon to board the ship. Apparently, there was an inspection on board earlier in the day and that delayed everything. Once we were on board, we couldn't even drop our carry on bags in the cabin because the cabin attendants were all running late due to the inspection. We were told we could access our cabins after 1 p.m. So off to the Windjammer for lunch. After lunch, we were allowed in our cabins. This is a good time to make reservations for the specialty restaurants and/or spa—before they fill up. Our luggage arrived before 2 p.m.—that was a first for us!
THE SHIP: Brilliance of the Seas is one ofRCI's four Radiance-class ships. I love the design and layout of these ships. Even though they are large at 90,090 GRT, they are very easily navigable, and the public areas are, for the most part, easy to find and access. We sailed on her sister ship, Jewel of the Seas two years ago. While the layout is the same, the visual impact of the Jewel is far greater than that of the Brilliance. The colors of the décor are more muted on the Brilliance, and the artwork, while very nice, lacked the dramatic and dynamic impact of that on the Jewel. Those were the most striking differences that I recognized immediately. I love the dark wood paneling in the Colony Club, the gorgeous inlaid tile floors and hardwood floors, and the warmth and coziness of the Schooner Bar. These areas attract a lot of people for all kinds of gatherings, and they are very comfortable and attractive places to be. There are lots of cozy areas to sit and enjoy some quiet time, or just to gaze out at the ocean. There is a bank of elevators that overlook the ocean, which is a breathtaking sight.
Our cabin, deck 4, interior, was comfortable and very conveniently located right off the Centrum Lobby. We had more than enough storage space for a 10-night cruise, and in fact, had a couple of empty drawers. The closet is very roomy and well designed. The bathroom is very small, but manageable.
A few negative comments: two elevators broke down, one on Day 2, and the other a couple of days later. The first one stayed out of commission the entire cruise, and the second one was repaired within 24 hours. The automatic doors leading out from Deck 5 to the Promenade Deck (port side) also didn't work for several days. That was not only annoying, but inconvenient. What really annoyed me, however, was the fact that RCI does not offer high-speed internet access. Since they charge per minute to use the internet, there just isn't any incentive for them to offer high speed. I think that's pretty tacky. They do, however, offer wi-fi for people bringing their own laptops on board, for a fee, of course.
DINING: We had second seating, which is 8:30. The food was, for the most part, very good. Our waitress, Corina, and assistant waiter, Soto, were superb. They were both extremely warm and pleasant, and genuinely seemed to enjoy their jobs. We had very pleasant tablemates, therefore making dinner a very enjoyable experience. We did go to Chops Grill one night and it was worth the additional $20 per person charge. The ambiance, service, quality of food was excellent. Think Ruth's Chris or Morton's.
One night we went to the Windjammer for dinner because we had an early evening excursion (in Aruba—more on that later). We were disappointed that the menu at the Seaview Café had changed since we sailed on the Jewel. They only offered panini sandwiches and pasta. Not the fun pub-type food we were looking forward to. There is also a café at the Solarium pool.
ENTERTAINMENT: The cruise director, Bill Brunkhorst was OK—not great, but certainly not bad. We've seen better, we've seen worse. We went to the show every evening. Early on in the cruise, the shows were after dinner, and then the second half of the cruise, the shows were pre-dinner, which we preferred. The headliner was Marty Allen, who was hilarious. At his age, he can still put on a heck of a show. The other entertainers were all very good, and the two production shows by the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers were very good. The Tango Buenos Aires show was excellent. However, our favorite performer on the ship was Anselmo Boles, who sang nightly in the Schooner Bar. Not only is he a fabulous and talented singer, he is truly a performer. He has a great personality, and the ability to draw the crowd in.
PORTS: Our first stop was ARUBA. We've been there before so we taxied to Palm Beach in the morning and spent three hours there. Gorgeous beach. We enjoyed it very much. After a quick change of clothes and a quick lunch, we headed back out to do some shopping and walk around town. In the evening, we had booked the Pub & Bar Crawl, and we had a blast. We were about 30 people on our bus and the driver and *tour guide* made it a party—even on the bus. We were singing and shaking our maracas from the minute we got on that bus. We went to five bars and danced, sang and partied. The cost of the ticket included one drink in each bar. I recommend this excursion, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Note: we had been notified before the excursion that Carlos ‘n Charlie's is no longer part of that tour. We were given the option of canceling, but no one did. Our next stop was the PANAMA CANAL. This was truly a once in a lifetime experience to see the Canal. We, along with just about everyone else on the ship, were up early and outside to see the approach to the Canal. We just stood at the rail and took pictures for about an hour and a half. After sitting in Gatun Lake for a few hours, we headed back out through the locks, where we took more pictures. I canceled our tour in Panama because I found out that the Train & Bus Tour (7 hours), was more bus than train—and the roads are horrible. I was able to cancel our tickets and received shipboard credit for the entire amount. We stayed on the ship, and were able to get off at Cristobal Pier, where we were able to purchase small souvenirs. Next port was PUERTO LIMON, COSTA RICA. I've been told that Costa Rica is a beautiful country, but Puerto Limon is not. We did, however, have an excellent excursion there that we booked online through a tour company called Oscar Brown Tours (www.oscarbrowntours.com). We did the Tortuguero Canal tour, which was very good. We went on a brief tour of the area, and then onto a banana plantation and processing plant. Very interesting. The entire tour, from start to finish was about 4-1/2 hours, and we really enjoyed it. Our dinner tablemates did the identical tour through the cruise line and paid almost twice as much as we did. Our final port was GRAND CAYMAN. We'd been here before, so the original plan was to taxi over to Seven Mile Beach. However, it was a cloudy day, so that called for plan B. When we got off the tender, there were all kinds of tour operators offering all kinds of excursions. We opted for a basic tour which included Hell (pretty hokey) and the Turtle Farm. The turtle farm was excellent. After swimming with the stingrays (which we did last time), this is the next best thing to see on the island. We rounded out the day with lunch at Margaritaville (I'm a big Buffet fan), and finally, some shopping.
DEBARKATION: This was the easiest one we've ever experienced in all our cruises. We were off the ship before 7:30, the second group after the Express walk-off folks. We just had too much luggage to attempt that. The terminal at the Port of Miami has carousels, like at the airports, and each carousel is color-coded to the tags on the bags. An excellent system. There was a porter right there to load our stuff and get us a cab. We were at the Miami airport in 15 minutes, with plenty of time (too much time actually) before our flight back to BWI.
This was a wonderful cruise and a wonderful experience. We met fantastic people that we socialized with, took tours with, and made memories with. The few things that annoyed me were just not worth stressing over. It is, after all, a vacation. And this Panama Canal cruise on the beautiful Brilliance OTS is one which we will long remember.
This was our second cruise, first with RCI. The ship was beautiful and very well maintained. The staff were friendly and eager to spoil you. There were 2500 passengers on board but we never felt crouded except mabye around the pool. We had outside room on deck 3. The room was very nice, although bath room was bit small was not bad after all its a ship.
This is a midsize ship and theres plenty to do on board.the putt putt course was fun and free. So were the billard tables. And what an experience to shoot pool on a table that moves with the ship although the balls never did. There were plenty of shows and activies. We were never bored.
Labadee, Hispaniola What a great place to relax at the beach no mater what age you are. There were plenty of trees to get out of the sun. RCI had a cookout and beach volley ball. If u take a panama cruise i recommend the 11 day cruise over 10 day cruise or you will miss this must stop resort.
Aruba We booked an all day jeep safiri tourwith ABC tours direct on-line with tour company. It was lot cheaper than cruie company and a great tour. We visited a light house, a small church,mountains, a cave, an old fort, an ostridge farm and several beaches. A rough ride but what a great tour.
Curacao We were going to walk to town.On the way a local tour company talked us into taking a tour for only 15 dollars. We decided to try it and he did a great job. We visited the city and also the country side. Also he took us to a local distilery. We are learning slowly that the locals do great tours and a lot cheaper too.
Panama Every one has to visit Panama. Going through the locks were awesome. Every one crowded the front of the ship so we decided to try the rear. And we werent disappointed. What a view to watch the gates open and see other ships behind us entering.
We took the tour to Panama City and loved it. Panama City is not great by its beauty but i never visited any where with so much history.This was a great tour.
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica This was a bit of let down for us.Dont take the See and sea tour. What a waste of time and money. RCI should replace this port with Cosumel or Cayman Island. Both are a lot more interesting places to visit. We will defenilly sail RCI again. They deserve their 5 star rating. They had great service. The food was good but not great.
Embarkation - Embarkation went very well. We got to the ship, signed in and were able to get into our cabin very quickly. The only problems we encountered were related to our dinner seatings. The first dinner seating was advertised as being 6:00 p.m. However, upon arrival we found out it was 5:30. That is way too early for dinner. Also, 2 people in our party were assigned to different tables. After speaking with the maitre d, that was promptly corrected.
The ship is beautiful with many public areas. There is truly a niche for everyone. The Schooner Bar and Colony Club are very nice areas for a drink with friends. The Colony Club also hosts many of the trivia contests, special events etc. On these occasions, the place was always packed. The other thing I noticed which was very different from my previous Celebrity cruise was that the disco was packed every night. The cruisers on RC seemed to be a much livlier bunch than those on the Celebrity cruise. Since this cruise was over Easter (as was the one on Celebrity) there were a fair amount of children - manyunsupervised. It does amaze me that parents would allow young children to wander around a cruise ship undersupervised but it happened on both cruises. I think the staff on this ship did a much better job of controlling unruly children than the Celebrity staff did. It also appeared that the childrens' program on the Brilliance really kept the kids entertained. Oftentimes I would see a group with their group leader traipsing around somewhere on the ship having a scavenger hunt or somthing and the kids looked like they were having a great time. There is also a pool for children only which was nice as well as an adult's only indoor solarium which is just beautiful and relaxing. This was a great alternative to the outdoor pool when you wanted to just relax in a quiet atmosphere.
The one area that was lacking was the quality of the food. The food in the main dining room was adequate but I can't say I was overly impressed with anything (although the chateaubriand was very good). I was especially disappointed with the desserts. This is quite a difference from the food on the Celebrity Century where I walked away from the dining room every evening wondering how such wonderful food could be served to that many people. The service was good but not great. It took our assistant waiter until day 3 or 4 to remember to bring lemons for the water. The Windjammer Cafe was a nice alternative for breakfast or lunch. The food was quite good and lunch menus varied every day. The only complaint I would have is with the quality of the fruit. I also noticed that clean-up and personal service here was not as good as Celebrity. I did not eat at Portofinos or Chops. Four of our party did eat at Chops and raved about the food and service.
Ports - Our itinerary included Aruba, the Panama Canal, Costa Rica and Grand Cayman. I think the time allotted to each port was just right. The Panama Canal is not to be missed. I was quite impressed with the ship's step by step commentary on what was being seen. Aruba is a great island and not visit would be complete without a trip to Carlos and Charlies. Be prepared for crazy congo lines with tequilla shots being poured down your throat, strip teases by men etc. Not a place for children or the weak at heart but it was fun!!!! In Costa Rica we took the ship's shore excursion down the Tortuguera Canal. I would highly recommend this excursion. We saw a lot of wildlife and foliage indigenous to the area. The tour guide was wonderful and gave us a lot of information on the history of Costa Rica.
Grand Cayman was very nice. We took a local tour around the island then had lunch at Breezes across the street from the tendering docking area. Had wonderful mussels there.
One big area of complaint is that you can not hear the ship's announcements if you are in your stateroom. You need to open the door to hear what is being said. That was very problematic on the days you had tender tickets because you could not hear when your tender number was being called.
The cruise director, Dan was wonderful. He was lots of fun and got people involved without being offensive to those who preferred to watch from a distance. The other cruise staff were also very good with the exception of Franco, who I found to be irritating, rude and abrasive. It seemed like the bingo crowd liked him so it my just be me.
The quality of entertainment on board varied. There was a violinist that was excellent. However the Brilliance singers could use a voice coach.
Although I did have some minor complaints I would definitely book another cruise on the Brilliance if only for the "fun factor". It's a beautiful ship with lots to do and people that seem to like to have a good time. If you are a person that goes to bed early and likes a more staid and sedate environment I'd recommend a Celebrity cruise.
We traveled to Miami the day before as we had missed one cruise because of flight delay. We were at ship at 11:45 AM. Slight wait because of wedding party. Don't know why they are put ahead of others. Embarkation was about 30 minutes.
Went to Windjammer for lunch. By the time we were ate , room was ready. We had deck 8 with balcony, Luggage came by 3 PM.
We had requested first dining and seating for 2. We had seating for 10.We went one time and 2 couples came 30 minutes late and we had to wait for our main meal for them. Never went back.
This is a fantastic ship. Beautiful decor , and lots of class.
Entertainment: Great: we had Marty Allen and his wife: unreal: Over all I would give a 9.5
Food: As I didn't eat in dining room, I would give 7.5.\
Explorations. Great; we did Sunset Cruise in Aruba: Great, lots of booze, great scenery. Eco walk and Charges River cruise, Panama,? so so., Bus, Boat, train, in Puerta Limon, Costa Rica. 12 on a scale of 10. Grand Caymans " Seven Miles beach,about an 8.
Values. Puerta Limon, Costa Rica. Buy all you can, T shirt 4-5 dollars. Great quality , same shirt in Grand Caymans 20-to 25 dolars.
I would definitely recommend this cruise to anyone.
I have no negatives: well maybe the ones that think they are so special, like I want to be in front so I can hear, like no one else does.
My backround: Male that just turned 40, no kids, partnered and this was our 13th cruise, 4th with Royal Caribbean.
As with any ship, they all have their good and bad qualities. I will start with the good points and end with bad.Good:
The ship is beautiful. Water views everywhere. The ship appeared to be in good repair with few signs of wear and tear for being a four year old ship.
The Schooner bar is the best in the Royal Caribbean fleet. The Champange bar in the centrum was my favorite with spectacular views out a wall of glass. The Colony club looked like the inside of a fancy country club with wood paneling everywhere and it was lively at night with some type of activity or entertainment and empty during the day. It was a great place to go during the day and watch the wake of the ship and doze off in the big comfy chairs with hardly a person around. The Sea View cafe is a great alternative food choice serving pasta , salads and grilled panini's. It was our favorite place to eat. The Sea ViewCafe was tucked away on the 12th deck in the back of the ship with outdoor seating and there was never a wait because you had to look for it to find it. The main dining room was grand and very elegant.
Chops, their specialty steakhouse restaurant, was as good or better than a Ruths Chris Steak house or Capital Grille. Worth the $20.00.
The health club was great! Never too much of a wait for the machines and all with great views.
But the best part was the service. The wait staff in the dining room, the cabin attendant and bartenders were the best of the 13 cruises I have been on. No lack of service on this ship. Everyone was friendly and helpful and all areas of the ship.
The excusions were well organized and top notch. I felt I got my moneys worth on the programs.The Bad:
The Windjammer Cafe was a dissapointment. On Sea Days (and we had 5 of them) the place was so crowded that a couple of times at breakfast and lunch it was difficult to find a suitable table for the number of people we were hoping to dine with (mostly 4 people and once 6 people) and we found our selves making mad dashes for tables that were emptying only to be beat by another group doing the same thing. In addition, the food choices offered were poor. In the afternoon, they offered a limited buffet that they called Afternoon Tea. We had late seating so a snack was in order. A couple of times the place was closed at 5:00pm. What? The only food option on the ship at that time was rooms service. we finally settled into having breakfast everyday in the main dining room (where the food was better) and lunches either in the Sea View Cafe or the main dining room if we were dressed appropriately. Avoiding the Windjammer turned out to be very pleasant.
Also the Sea View Cafe had an excellent menu and delicious food, but it had limited hours and you could not get any of the food to go.
The Outdoor pool was way, way too small for a ship that size. The main enterance to the pool was one door which was off the Centrum elevator bank connecting it to the Windjammer Cafe, making the ship feel really crowded while trying to navigate between those areas.
The Ships rooms are nicely decorated, with one of the most comfortable sofas in our room (it was different than the other sofas in our friends rooms). There is plenty of storage for plenty of stuff. We took WAY too much stuff and still had some storage left. The bad part of the room is the doors to the closets. The way in which they open make it difficult for two people to use the bathroom door and access the closets. We were always moving around each other and worse, banging the bathroom door into the person in the closet. (Princess has designed their rooms on the newer ships to aleviate that problem).
Lastly the entertainment was good. There was always a band playing in the centrum and at various other locations of the ship etc..BUT...they had the same steel drum band playing at the pool everyday with the same songs. In addition they were so loud that it was almost impossible to carry on a conversation or listen to my IPOD with them playing at the same time. Lets mix it up a little RCI!!! They should at least require the band to have two programs and alternate the days in which they play them and keep the volume lower. People like the music, but I think it could have been enjoyed at a lowe, more relaxing level.
Lastly, while the dining room was grand and elegant, the upper level where we sat seemed to be very crowded and noisey. I dont know if it was just our location that was noisey, but it definately felt very crowded.
All in all it was a beautiful ship with a nice itinerary, but I think I would choose a different ship than this if I were to do it again.
Overview: We are a couple who have been married for 21 years and are 51 and 50 years old. This was our third cruise (we only have begun cruising recently and are now hooked) and by far the best experience of the three. Our first was on NCL (Dawn) and our second was on Celebrity (Mercury). Our itinerary was centralized on the Panama Canal with other stops in Aruba, Curacao, Labadee, and Puerto Limon.
Ship: Brilliance of the Seas is just an awesome ship. So well laid out and beautiful in its elegance and fine touches of different types of wood (especially on Deck 6) and glass everywhere. It is hard to explain the little touches that add a great look to a ship but these touches were everywhere. The glass elevators that tell you the floor number, and look out over the ocean are fantastic in my mind. I heard a little grumbling near the end of the cruise that a few were tired of the talking elevators but not me! I never had to pay attention to the floor number, just look out at the ocean and the wonderfulview. The main pool is a little small to me for such a large ship, but we didn't use it. We went to the great Solarium and the nice adult's only pool with a hot tub and warm showers to rinse off after getting out of the pool. My wife just loved the beautiful ShipShape center where she got massages, treatments but all kinds and exercised in the wonderful workout room (I am aware I am using the word wonderful/awesome a lot but it fits!). The amounts of activities available to you are incredible. We never got to everything and we were on a 11 night cruise!
Stateroom: We had a Grand Suite, suite 1052 that was 400 sq. ft. with a 106 sq. ft. balcony. The room was gorgeous and well laid out. It had a large bathroom with twin sinks and a large shower/tub. Since we had a category GS stateroom, we had access to the wonderful Concierge Lounge and the awesome Concierge, Katherine Valenzuela. It was the perfect place to have a continental breakfast in the morning and snacks and free drinks in the late afternoon. Katherine made reservations for us, drinks, conversation and became a great friend.
Dining: The dining options were Great on this awesome ship. Food in the main dining room was very good. Not quite as good as Mercury, but very satisfying. There were many dining options compared to Mercury and we ate one night in the reservation only Portofino alternative restaurant and that was one of the best meals we have ever had anywhere, not just cruising. The Windjammer Buffet area was a disappointment several times to me for the breakfast food (which was a combination of dry or over cooked) or so busy you couldn't find a place to sit. The Station Concept is a good idea, it is just not big enough or the traffic flow was not designed well enough for the amount of people using the area. Dinner was much better and we had two good dinners in the Windjammer after we got back to the ship late in port and did not want to rush to our early seating in the main dining room.
Service: Just fantastic! Everybody is extremely friendly and it was announced while we were on the ship that it had just received one of the best ratings for any ship in the cruise industry. This was not surprising after our experience. All of the employees who served us or were associated with our comfort went above and beyond the call of duty. Our waiters were friendly and talked and joked with us and even the head waiter stopped by our table every night. I have previously mentioned Katherine, our Concierge and Grace our Suite attendant was wonderful also.
Ports: Aruba was nice. We just did the shopping thing after we were going to do a tour and decided to just mosey around Oranjestad. Labadee, RCI's private beach on Hispaniola, was very nice and relaxing and my wife and I did the wave runners which was a load of fun. Curacao, was nice and we hired a taxi to take us around one end of the island. In Costa Rica, we took the outstanding Rain Forest Canopy tour which was of the best experiences we have had on a vacation.
Entertainment: This was a good experience as opposed to what we were exposed to on the Mercury.One of the production shows, â?oTango Buenos Ariesâ? was just fantastic. The comedy of Marty Allen was good and the bands and piano players were great also.
Overall: A great cruise experience overall. I probably sound like I should do commercials for Royal Caribbean, but it was just a fantastic cruise. We are not real picky or bitchy folks so I am sure some other reviews I have read have had different experiences with RCI, but ours was the best vacation we have ever had. We plan on sailing again on the Brilliance in the Mediterranean next year. I would give the entire cruise a 4.5 star rating out of 5. We plan on sticking with RCI for all of our future cruises. We stay with longer itineraries also which skew the demographics of the fellow cruisers to an older group so the teen and kid issue is held to a minimum which we like. Great Crusing!
Beautiful ship with good service. Stateroom and stateroom service excellant. Food consistently good; selections somewhat limited and repetitive; food service good. Suspect food poisoning last day of cruise, however. Did not particularily like the way port tours were organized (never could seem to find a tour that included everything we wanted to do-only parts of what we wanted), but guides were very good. Tour of the city (Barcelona) with transfers at disembarcation very poor. Somewhat lacking in follow up to small details-tours frequently returned to ship after assigned meal service began; needed to purchase port transfers-would prefer to have them included in total cruise price; staterooms clean but smelly; food a little salty-similar to something "straight out of a prepackaged mix", etc. Wonderful gym!
This is a "family oriented" line that attracted older clients and few children on this fall cruise. As a more mature traveler, amazed that "rap music" was played on overhead systems with this group, and that we were read the "riot act" over potential behavior the first night of the cruise! Would consider cruising RCCL during times of year that children are not likely to be present, but would stay offthese ships other times! Good value for the $$ with a little price shopping and definitely a memorable and positive experience.
We recently returned from two back to back cruises on the Brilliance of the Seas. Embarkation in Barcelona went very smoothly, taking no more than 20 minutes upon our arrival at noon. The staff was very friendly and well organized. We were directed to the Windjammer on Deck 11 for a buffet lunch. We used this restaurant throughout the trip except for dinners and were never disappointed in the food or service. Excellent selection and we really loved the Tapas served at 4 P.M. each day. The food stations are scattered so this avoids those long buffet lines - excellent idea.
Our inside cabin was surprisingly large and very comfortable with warm colours. Service was excellent throughout the cruise. The cabin attendant will introduce himself to you almost immediately upon your arrival, so if you would prefer to have some quiet time in your cabin first, make sure you put out the "do not disturb" sign.
The ship itself is one of the most beautiful I have been on, particulary the Colony Club (with its pool tables). I found the Centrum area to be a bit small- this area was used for preor post dinner dancing and was quite crowded before and after the dinner seatings. Its location right by the purser's office didn't help matters.
The pool area was very crowded after 10AM with great difficulty getting lounge chairs after this time. You have a better possibility of getting a deck chair near the rock climbing wall, although it is located near the basketball courts and children's area so it is a bit noisy. While we did not use the solarium pool, it is beautiful and tended to be less crowded than the regular pool. It can get quite humid and warm there.
There are two alternative restaurants on board for a surcharge of $20 per person, both were excellent. One is Italian cuisine, the other specializes in steak.
Organization on board was very good, particularly for shore excursions. It is a good idea to pre-book your shore excursions before you board (at least 10 days before sailing). Tickets are delivered to your room and you avoid lineups and the possibility of sold-out excursions.
I was a little disappointed in the quality of the salads and main entrees in the dining room, although appetizers and desserts were excellent. Several pasta or rice dishes that I tasted were very heavy, steaks were generally good. Service was excellent on both cruises. We had an early dinner seating since we are used to dining early - this worked out well except you may be a bit rushed if you take some of the longer shore excursions. Early seatings were 6 or 6:30 p.m. and late were 9 or 9:30. If you take the early seating, you will be attending the late entertainment time of 9:30, if you dine late, the entertainment for you is scheduled for 7:30.
The excersize and work out area located on Deck 12 is excellent, with many aerobic and weight machines. Classes are also available, but are charged at $10 per class.
We found the main entertainment on board to be poor, especially the production shows. The main singers seemed to have difficulty harmonizing and the general effect was quite amateurish. Headliners were fairly good, but in general we were disappointed. Several of our tablemates stopped attending after the first few shows.
While the library on board is very small, it is open 24 hours a day - a wonderful idea since we have always found the limited hours most ships post for the library are very restrictive. On board the Brilliance, we were able to check out books at any time simply by logging in our name and book title.
Disembarking was effortless, when our tag colours were called, it was a quick walk off the ship.
In general, we were very pleased with our cruises on the Brilliance with only slight disappointment in the quality of the food in the dining room.
OVERVIEW: Ports of Call: Rome, (Civitavecchia) Italy; Naples, Italy; Messina, Sicily; Livorno, (Florence) Italy, Villefranche, France and Barcelona, Spain (this was a one-time itinerary)
About us, my husband and I are in our low/mid 30's, married for 3 years with no kids yet. This was our first time over the pond, and it will certainly not be the last. It is very important to mention that on a cruise like this your time is so limited, that it is not possible to see everything. We focused our time on the beauty and architecture in each port.
I booked our air, transfers, precruise stay in Rome and cruise itself directly with RCI over the phone. I was nervous about this after everything negative I heard, but we did not experience any problems during precruise planning. We flew Delta there and US Airways back. The seats were small and uncomfortable on the Delta flights. We tried to buy upgrades at all of the airports, but apparently RCI gets such a discount on the seats we were ineligible for any seat changes.
As far as the ports themselves, we did everything on our own, or hiredprivate drivers. I found this to be the most economical way to see the best of each port. PRECRUISE STAY IN ROME: A representative from the local tour operator that handles the logistics for RCI, Aloschi Bros, greeted us at the Rome airport right outside the baggage claim area. Within 30 minutes we were on a bus and on our way to the Crowne Plaza St Peters Hotel. We got to the hotel about 11:30am and we were able to check-in to our room. There was a Hospitality desk in the lobby from the tour operator to greet us. They had a welcome kit that included: instructions, a map, schedules for courtesy transportation and an order form to buy tours through them. We were also given a time for the next day for our transfer from the hotel to the pier. We were instructed to leave our bags outside our hotel room door in the morning as they would be picked up and transported for us to the ship. A nice surprise in the hotel room was one 110 volt outlet in the bathroom, so we did not need a converter to charge our electronics. There was also a hairdryer in the room. The front desk exchanged our US$ travelers cheques for Euros for a nominal exchange fee.
TOURING ROME: The best advice someone gave me to overcome jetlag was to stay on local time once we arrived. So after checking into the hotel, my husband and I decided to take a cab to the center of the city, Piazza Venezia, and just explore. We walked around for a couple hours and saw Quirinal and Palazzo della Consulta, (the official residence of the President of the Italian Republic), Trevi Fountain, Victor Emmanuel Monument (not to be missed), Coliseum, Arch of Constantine, Circus Maximus and the Forum, all on foot. After a late lunch at a lovely outdoor restaurant we took a cab back to the hotel so I could rest. Jet lag was catching up to me.
In order to see more sites in the morning, my husband decided to go back into town and rent a scooter, the preferred way to drive around Europe, (and lots of fun!) for the next day while I took a nap. For dinner we just stayed at the hotel because it was raining. Breakfast in the morning was complimentary with our package, which I did not know when I booked.
The next day, we did not have to meet the bus for the transfer to the pier until 2pm. This was the only Sunday of the month the Vatican Museum is open, and we thought if we got an early start we would be fine, but NO. By 7:30am when we got there, the line stretched for more than 6 city blocks that we could see. We then went on to Piazza del Popolo, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain again (I did not have a coin to toss in the day before) and the memorial of Giuseppe Garibaldi (we only saw this because we got lost, but it had a fantastic view). We decided to try St. Peter's, which also had a long line to get into St. Peter's Basilica. We took pictures at the square and watched the Pope give a blessing on large screens in the square. It was around 12:30pm, so after returning the scooter, we had pizza and gelato at Piazza Venezia before taking a cab back to the hotel to catch the bus for 2pm.
EMBARKATION: The bus ride to the port was scenic and seemed to be quicker than 90 minutes. We did have a slight delay at the pier because the check-in facilities are very informal. To control the flow of people, we had to wait on our bus for about 20 minutes while the bus in front of us checked in. Once they were done, we had to go through security and registration, and we were on the ship just after 4pm! Because they had collected our luggage at the hotel in the morning, our bags were in our room waiting for us.
The muster drill was at 5:15pm, so we had enough time to unpack and freshen up before we donned our fashionable orange life vests. After the drill it was off to the Bon Voyage party on the pool deck at 6:30pm. Now, we are officially on vacation as they say!
THE SHIP: The ship was so clean and tastefully decorated. A nice touch with recent on-board illnesses is the addition of hand sanitizer stations at the entrance to the Windjammer, the gangway and at the computer stations. I noticed the Solarium had "Family Hours" posted twice a day, which I do not recall on previous cruises, and there were a lot of children in the main whirlpools with their parents. Although the pool decks are always busy on sea days, I always managed to find a deck chair. I tried to use the internet service on the ship several times, but it never seemed to work properly. I also inquired about high speed internet access in the cabin and was told it was not available, only a dialup service was available in the cabins. A must see is the porthole "window" in the Crown & Anchor Lounge. Quite a view down! I loved the cascading waterfall in the Minstrel Dining Room.
THE CABIN: We had an aft deluxe balcony on deck 10, #1102. We will book aft cabins for all future cruises! It is so nice to have breakfast on your balcony in the morning! We experienced very little disruption from the Windjammer above us and we had a wonderful view! A nice touch in the cabin was full sized shampoo, shower gel and lotion in the bathroom as well as a loofah sponge for the shower. There are plenty of nooks and crannies for storage, but I continue to use an over-the-door shoe organizer for all of those little things. Our balcony was large enough to accommodate 2 chairs, 2 lounges and a table, and still have room to move around! The worst thing about the cabin was the long walk from the elevators in the center of the ship.
I followed some advice and on the first day after we met our Cabin Attendant, I thanked her in advance, gave her a portion of the tip and just asked for a couple of bathrobes if there were any extras. Within 10 minutes we had 2 robes! We also received very attentive service all week from Aishesha who made our cabin up as soon as we left!
THE STAFF: Overall, we found the service to be exceptional. The dining room staff did not get too personal with us on the first night. Our server Martina said so many people change tables or seating times after the first night that it is hard for them to keep up. So she waits until the second night to find out who will be with her all week. The CD Bill was not very impressive, but his staff was very energetic. The captain, Michael Lachtaridis from Greece, had a good sense of humor. I spoke with the ships doctor on the pool deck and he was very friendly. Fortunately for me, that was the only time I met him.
DINING: As far as dinner on the ship, there were four seating times in the main dining room. We were assigned late seating which on our cruise docs said 9pm, but upon check-in, our seapass said 8:30pm, much better for us. We did not leave several of the ports until after 7pm, so for us the early seating would have been nearly impossible. One disappointment we felt was that the shows and evening activities were not scheduled as well as they could have been. Many of the production shows were scheduled for us to see before dinner. I prefer to see shows after dinner, and some of the activities we wanted to participate in were overlapped. The dinner schedule for the week was as follows:
6:00 pm Main seating Deck 4 6:30 pm Main Seating Deck 5 8:30 pm Second Seating Deck 4 9:00 pm Second Seating Deck 5
As far as the food, I have no complaints. But, my husband and I are not the pickiest of eaters. The great thing about a cruise, if you don't like what you ordered, you can order something else! We ate in the dining room all nights except one. I thought the main dining room menu offered a lot of variety, but the dessert menu could use some more options. For breakfast and lunch we altered between the Windjammer and room service. I must admit, it is nice to have breakfast on your balcony in the morning. Both were fine, but I prefer Windjammer for the variety. I do regret not making it to Seaview Café as I've heard it was good.
There was a Murder Mystery Dinner in Portofino's on day five so we reserved early in the week. If your cruise offers the Murder Mystery Dinner, I suggest participating. It was $50 per person, but champagne and wine were included throughout the evening. Dinner was 5 courses, which had lobster as one of the entrée choices. It cost more than the traditional alternative dining, but well worth it to me!
We bought the Wine & Dine package on our second night which is a good deal if you tend to order wine nightly with dinner and are not a true "wine connoisseur". We paid a discounted price for 5 bottles, and were given a limited menu to order from. If you don't finish a bottle, they will re-cork it for the next evening. On the last night we still had 1 bottle left so the head waiter let us take it to the Schooner Bar to toast with our new friends.
BARS: I will comment on this as my husband and I tend to be social people. The best place to hang out and make new friends is the Schooner Bar. The staff was awesome and we got to know them throughout the week. Servers, Arlene and Steve were wonderful and Eric the bartender would introduce me to other passengers if I was there alone. A true meeting place! Next to Schooner was the Colony Club which was the location for: Bingo, Captains Welcome Aboard party, Crown & Anchor Welcome Back Party, The Quest and Karaoke. We enjoyed the Champagne Bar on the formal nights. They had hors d oeuvres available nightly before dinner. The sports bar never seemed to have anyone in there, but the pool bars were always busy. Also, Tanya in the Casino was awesome. She really made losing all of my money as fun as it could be.
ENTERTAINMENT: We only saw one production show which was as good as expected. Remember, this is not Broadway. We watched the Newlywed Game and participated in The Quest. Both are not to be missed in my opinion. There were not as many people participating in The Quest as on the Caribbean cruises, but I think it is because of the intensity of the ports on this cruise and the difference in passengers.
THE PORTS: Day One, NAPLES/AMALFI COAST: We privately hired Francesco Marrapese in Naples and he was great! We were with him from 7:30am until 5:30pm. He was very polite, informative, and constantly concerned that we make it to the ship on time at the end of the day. We started at the Herculaneum where he dropped us off and we spent about 1.5 hours exploring. It was not crowded at all, and much smaller than Pompeii from what I have heard. One of the guards at the property walked us around to explain and point things out for us for a nominal "tip". Then we drove the Amalfi Coast. We were able to stop in Sorrento, Positano and Ravello. We had about 45 minutes in each town to enjoy and shop. Along the drive he pointed things out to us like the balcony that was used in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, and one of Sofia Loren's homes. He also knew just where to stop for great photo opportunities. The views were just breathtaking. The cliffs just seem to drop into the beautiful blue water. Each view was better than the previous. After returning to the ship at 6pm, we had time to relax and dress in our formal attire for the Welcome Aboard Reception before dinner. The captain was delayed coming to the reception because we had to leave the port late due to a group of passengers that arrived to the ship late. The hotel director greeted us in his absence for photos. Day Two, Messina: I had no particular plans in this port, so we just walked around the city near the port. When we first arrived we saw a group of school children dressed in costume that were playing a life size game of Chess. Very neat to watch! We stopped in some beautiful churches and did some shoe shopping. Ironically, we had a difficult time finding pizza for lunch, so we headed back to the Windjammer for lunch and relaxed on the ship for the remainder of the afternoon. This is a nice time to enjoy the pools. After the ship departed, I found out from my friends in the Schooner Bar that the ship could not sell cigarettes or duty free alcohol at all on this cruise. It was due to some Italian and Spanish laws, and they would start selling again the end of June. I can only assume it was because of the ports we embarked and disembarked at.
Day Three, At Sea: The day was perfect, with beautiful sunny weather. Today was also pretty packed with activities. We were in the 10am Slots tournament, in which I came in 2nd place. Then at 12:30pm I was a judge for the Men's Sexy Legs Contest. After that we watched the Men's Belly flop competition. We had lunch in the Windjammer and then I stopped in the Schooner Bar while my hubby was in the Blackjack tournament. Bingo was at 3:30pm and just like in the casino, I walked away with less money in my pocket! At the same time as Bingo was the horserace on the pool deck. Hated to miss the races. Tonight before dinner was the C&A party. After dinner was Love and Marriage and as always, it was a hoot! We decided to stay and watch the Production show, Now and Forever. The singers and dancers were good.
Day Four, Florence: We privately hired Marco with Tuscany Tours as our driver in Florence. He was very knowledgeable of the area. We were with him from 8am until 6pm. We started at Piazzale Michelangelo for great photos and views of the city. Then off to Florence where Marco dropped us off and gave us a map. He is not a "guide", so we spent about 4 hours on our own just walking around in awe of our surroundings. Although we did not go into any of the galleries or museums (due to long lines), we did climb over 400 winding steps to the top of the Duomo. Wow, was that an experience, and not for the weak hearted. Ponte Vecchio was very crowded but we did do some window shopping. We stopped for lunch and gelato at Café Maioli and then met up with Marco to go to the Field of Miracles in Pisa. It was amazing as we drove around a corner and there was the tower! We did not climb the tower because of the timing, but we did buy tickets to go into the Duomo and Baptistery. They only allow so many people in the tower at a time, and the next available tickets were for 4:50pm. Marco felt that would have been pushing it to get back to the ship on time, just in case we ran into any delays. The one thing that surprised me was that there is an entire street lined with vendors selling cheap knick-knacks in the area. Kind of takes away from the beauty of it all. After 1.5 hours on our own, we were off to the ship. Dinner was the Murder Mystery tonight. The characters were quite funny, and believe it or not, my table did not guess "who done it". This evening after dinner was The Quest (not to be missed). I was surprised that there were not more people participating, considering the room was full.
Day Five, Villefranche: For this port I had no particular plans except to see the changing of the guards and the Grand Casino. Guess what, I missed both! We left the ship just before 11am and immediately caught a cab right outside the tender station to go to Monaco. The drive took longer than I thought so we missed the changing of the guards by minutes! Although the drive was beautiful, the cab cost 50 euro, which is a lot more than a train ride. Once in Monaco we decided to walk around and see everything we could. We ended up going into the neo-Romanesque cathedral and saw the graves of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier. After that we wandered around in awe of the cleanliness of the city as well as the beautiful views. We then stumbled across the Oceanographic Museum, founded by Prince Albert in 1910. Jacques Cousteau was the former head of this institution. We stopped for lunch at a little street side café, Restaurant Da Sergio, and enjoyed people watching. To get back to the ship we decided to take the train but it was not easy to find. It might have helped if we knew the French word for train. We asked a policeman on the street and he pointed us in the right direction. The station was quite large and once we bought and validated our tickets it was only about 5 minutes until the 4:30pm train arrived. The ride was quick as we only had 3 stops before ours, but there was no air-conditioning. At 6 euro for the 2 of us, it was much cheaper than the taxi. After spending some time walking around the port for a while, we got back to the ship about 5:30pm. My husband was determined to go the Grand Casino, but I was exhausted. So he dressed in his suit and went back into the port while I stayed onboard for dinner. Since we were scheduled to leave the port at midnight, I worried about him making it back on time. I thought that if he did miss the last tender, at least one of us was there to pack up our cabin. It all worked out and he was back on board by 11:30pm! For those that enjoy gambling, there is a more traditional casino around the corner from the Grand Casino with slots according to my DH.
Day Six, At Sea: Our last day on board. This day was not as busy as our first day at sea, but with my hangover that was a good thing. We basically spent the day lounging around as this has been a very intense week. It was the coldest and windiest day so enjoying the pool was out of the question. I had my first hot stone massage and it was wonderful. My massage therapist was very kind and professional and she did not try to sell me any product. What a way to end the week! Before dinner we packed our luggage. After dinner we just spent the evening in the Schooner Bar saying goodbye to all of our new friends. We took one last trip around the ship to say good bye to everyone that has made this trip so enjoyable and took lots of photos.
DISEMBARKATION: The next morning we headed to the dining room for our last breakfast on board. Because we booked our transfers through RCI, we were in the first group called off just before 9am. What a nice treat! My mind is a bit fuzzy, but my husband and I do not recall going through customs. I do know our luggage was waiting for us and we were very quickly directed to a bus for the airport. As we drove through Barcelona, I wished we had a day to stay here because it looked lovely from the bus. Our flight was at 12:10pm so we had plenty of time to check in, go through security and relax (and shop duty free) before boarding.
OBSERVATIONS/COMMENTS: . Because the ports are so close and the water is so calm, the sailing was the best I've experienced. I never felt a bit of seasickness. . The spa appointments were completely booked up by the third day. They also have some deals for treatments on port days that are definitely worth looking into. . If you want to book a future cruise, pay close attention to the C&A Ambassador hours, because I missed him on the last day. Have your credit card in hand. . As always, the elevators take awhile during peak times. A trick we learned when returning from port, was to go up 2 flights and catch the elevator there. Many people would get off then so there was room for us. . Something different from previous cruises was the fact that we were able to take liquor bought in the ports directly to our cabin. We had Sangria and wine that was not questioned or confiscated. . We were disappointed in the ship's photographers. They did not seem to take the best photos, and the ones they took were difficult to find on the boards. . Compared to a Caribbean cruise, there were fewer children, and the adults were a very refined group. People did adhere to the dress code, and we saw a lot of tuxedos on formal nights. . Speaking of which, my husband was able to rent a tux once on-board. Someone came to the cabin to measure him before they had it delivered. Once it is delivered, the tux is yours to enjoy for the entire week. . Change the date/time to the local time on your digital camera to get the best record from your photos. Bring lots of memory for your camera. We brought our laptop to download the pictures onto daily. We took over 900 photos total during the 10 days. . The currency exchange rate on the ship was the best we found, and trust me, my husband shopped around on this one. They offer it at certain hours throughout the cruise at guest relations. We used ATM's twice in Italy and were only charged $6 additional form our bank for the conversion transactions. . The best book I found was "Mediterranean by Cruise Ship" by Anne Vipond. Very informative and easy to read. This is the same book they sold in the shop on board. . Eat lots of Gelato! It is so much better than ice cream. . American Express was rarely accepted in the ports, so do leave home without it, and bring your Visa or MC. . Ladies, I invested in some Chico's Travelers collection and they are the best clothes to travel with. Very lightweight and never wrinkled. . I used the Space Bags travel set and they worked great. It's amazing how compact you make your clothes! . For those flying a long distance, invest in a good neck pillow for the flight. . For your first aid kit, make sure to include Gas-X or Bean-O. Enough said. . There can be a lot of walking, so were very comfortable shoes, and make sure they are broken in! . I read terrible things about the public toilets in Europe and envisioned holes in the ground that I had to pay to use. Not so. Many of the toilets were like a standard toilet without the seat. I only had to pay at 3 of them in Pisa, Ravello and Monaco. The most expensive was .50 cents.
My husband and I have become fans of Royal Caribbean. I think the reason is the unbelievable amount of glass on their ships, which means you see the ocean almost everywhere you look. On the Brilliance, that means even when you are on some of the elevators.
The Brilliance is really a beautiful ship. The atrium was smaller than other ships we've been on, yet it was the prettiest. The little "balconies" on each floor overlooking the atrium were wonderful. Even in the hallways -- the "wood" touches -- made it classy.
As far as staff, friendliness, etc., quite frankly we've never had a negative thing to say about these services on any of the cruises we've taken. These people work hard! The entertainment seemed run of the mill, except for John Davidson's show. I've never been a big fan of his, and we almost didn't go to the show, but we would've missed the best night of entertainment on the whole cruise. For 63 years old, he really had energy, and a lot of talent too.
The self-leveling pool tables in the Colony Club are amazing to watch, even if you're not apool player. We spent a bit of time each day by the coffee bar; sure, you pay a little for a cup of coffee, but I've never been in a Starbucks with such a beautiful view! The seats in the theater were very comfortable, which hasn't been the case on some of the other cruises we've taken. And the game room, which is hard to find (off the Colony Club) was just the right place for an afternoon cribbage game.
One HUGE negative was that we had a balcony cabin on Floor 8 forward, right above the staterooms on Floor 7 with the larger balconies. The smoke from these balconies floated up to ours and totally ruined the balcony experience. Even after lodging a "gentle" complaint with the front desk, it didn't improve. WHY don't any of the cruise lines do something about the smoke? How about those "smoke eater" ashtrays? Better yet, why aren't smokers a little more considerate???????Also, the casino -- we would have spent time at the casino every evening, but the smoke was so bad, even in the middle of the day, that we didn't. Smokers should be put on the back of the ship where the smoke blows off the back and not into our faces. We work really hard for our cruises; we might as well have booked an inside cabin on this one because of the smoke ... However, this could have happened on ANY ship on any line. They all have the same problem.
One other (minor) complaint: so much of the food at the Windjammer cafe seemed to be "regionalized." The chicken noodle soup had been modified to become "Indian chicken noodle soup." Not my cup of tea. When I see chicken noodle soup, that's what I want, not something with a lot of spices. On a positive side, if you went to the Windjammer for dinner, you could have pasta made to order, as well as a steak. And the bread and rools have been excellent on EVERY RCI ship we've been on.
In finishing, we have booked the Brilliance for a 2006 Panama Canal trip. This is the first time we've sailed on the same ship twice. We usually like to try a different ship or line each time, but the Brilliance had the itinerary we wanted and heck, we already know our way around! (We've booked a balcony cabin in a different area this time.)
We're trying one thing differently, however. This is the first cruise where we're not packing dress clothes AND we're not going to the formal dining room at all. Been there, done that. It isn't that we don't like dressing up. The reason is that we like being on OUR schedule. We like to sit on the balcony and watch the sun go down, then eat on OUR schedule. We did this a couple times on our last cruise and just loved it. Also, I'm quite an extrovert, but sometimes even I have trouble making small talk with a table full of strangers. We make friends all over the ship -- in the Windjammer, at shows, in the coffee area, etc., etc. Going without dress clothes will also save one whole suitcase - WOW!