"Con te partiro` su navi per mari... (With you, I'll leave on
ships for seas...)" as Andrea Bocelli sings, this is exactly what
happened: We departed from Miami April 30th, after a slight delay
when a routine engine check revealed a wiring oddity; however, we
confidently sailed once again in the capable hands of our friend
Captain Michael Lachtaridis (Samos, Greece). We had sailed with him
last year on the Grandeur of the Seas from New Orleans to Harwich,
England and then on to the Baltic capitals. This extremely
competent master is beloved by the passengers for his droll and
humorous daily noon reports on the ship's position and the weather.
This cruise had calm seas all the way.
Since we have already published a review of the Brilliance of
the Seas' maiden Transatlantic Voyage (Sept. 2002), describing in
detail the ship, this review will concentrate on service, food,
activities and the many European ports of call.
THE SHIP The Brilliance is the second of the Radiance class. The
first was the Radiance of the Seas (2001), then the Brilliance
(2002), the Serenade (2003) and finally, the new Jewel of the Seas,
will make her Maiden Transatlantic voyage from Harwich to Boston
(Sept. 2004), with us on board, God willing! This Panmax ship is
90.090 tons, 962 ft. long, a beam of 106 ft. with a draft of only
26.7 ft. and a top speed of 25 knots. Several times Captain
Lachtaridis announced that, if we were to make the next port on
time, and we always did, then he would have to put the proverbial
"pedal to the metal." Top speed is most obvious to the passengers
when riding one of the four elevators overlooking the ocean: The
sea rushes by horizontally as the elevators go vertically ---- This
is a very heady experience, which many cruisers miss, since they,
like robots, face front to the elevator doors. We are usually
facing the sea, since it is difficult to turn the wheelchair around
when other passengers are in the elevator with us. Oh, the
unexpected delight of viewing life from a unique angle!
The Brilliance can accommodate 2,501 passengers and she is just
as beautiful now as when she was launched. She is kept in excellent
condition and her service is top of the line under Hotel Director
Gordon Shenk (USA) and Food and Beverage Manager Rinaldo Lemma
(Italy). These two welcomed us and shared information about the new
menus, dining times and other particulars about the ship; thus, we
learned how RCI regards passengers' needs by adopting new menus and
dining schedules to suit their customs and habits.
EMBARKATION Crown & Anchor members never have to wait on
line; this is the best reason for being a RCI repeater. After ten
cruises you will be greeted in the C & A room and processed
quickly. It makes a big difference if you are travel tired. We
arrived at 12:15pm, were checked in shortly, and in our cabin by
12:30pm, left our hand luggage (rooms were not officially ready
until 1:00pm) and went to the Windjammer Buffet. After lunch we
always go by the dining room to check our table assignment for
dinner. We met the very capable Maitre D' Paulo Barbosa (Portugal),
who arranged a table for two for us near the entrance. Excellent!
This stop is a must, or at dinner time you may find yourself in a
long line of grumpy, tired and hungry people.
SHIP'S PUBLIC AREAS As mentioned in our first Brilliance review,
this ship is beautifully and tastefully decorated with light and
dark woods, lots of brass and marble, and an eclectic art
collection. The public areas catered to cruisers' needs and
comfort. For a deck by deck description see our Sept. 2002 review
at this web site. The eight deck tall Centrum was the center for
some of the best music on a ship ever. The relaxing guitar of
Voytek (Poland) was enhanced by his wonderful repertoire of
classical songs. The "Romantic Strings" and "Frank's Company" were
magnets for passengers. We kept saying that this was the best
musical cruise we've ever had.
This cruise began with Seven Sea Days, and we were never bored.
Our routine began with breakfast in our cabin at 7:00am, then we
went to the Solarium where Vincent enjoyed the Hot Tub and Mary the
Lap Pool. At this time of day it was all ours. At 9:00am, when it
was getting crowded, we would leave and visit Chris Hou in the
Concierge Club (reserved for Suite occupants and Diamond members)
for an expresso or cappuccino and a cream cheese bagel. There is
always a brunch set up here. There are two computer stations, and
the daily newspapers in brief. We like to compare how the news
differs from various countries, (i.e., France, England, Spain and
United States). Concierge Chris, is extremely capable and helpful
by getting excursion and tender tickets, etc. From here we usually
go to the Library on Deck 9 and pick up a daily Trivia Quiz to
check it for errors. It's the habitual teacher thing in us that we
Ah yes, lunch at the Sea View Cafe (Deck 12), fish 'n' chips,
chili, soup, salad and apple pie or brownie; then an afternoon
movie or nap. At times, before dinner, we would go to the Concierge
Club where from 5:00pm to 9:00pm there is a cocktail and hors
d'oeurves set up; then dinner at 6:30pm, theater at 9:00pm, and
after that we may go strolling on the Promenade (Deck 5). With a
schedule like this there is no time for boredom or hunger, since
there is always 24 hour room service (fast, friendly and
excellent). Some of the crossing's highlights included the
Captain's dinner on Day 2. There is no better place to dine than at
Captain Lachtaridis' table: Crostini and mushroom tapanade,
escargot with sautéed onions and fresh tomato concasse in
puff pastry, Sea Bass stuffed with jumbo shrimp, and a dessert cup
crafted out of caramel and almonds, filled with wild berries, rum
and creme anglais. Captain Michael confided that on the very next
Mediterranean cruise, he would accomplish a life long dream: to
sail into Piraeus (Athens) as commander of a ship. As captain, he
had sailed into many ports all over the world, but this would be
his first time into the capital of his homeland. We wished we could
have been on board with him. The last time we sailed there, the
water was a beautiful blue with delicate, bridal veil like medusas
(jellyfish) floating in it.
Day 3. We had a plumbing problem which Chief Purser Tatiana
Cortes Berglund (Sweden) handled with aplomb; that evening there
was a red planet on the horizon at midnight. Breathtaking.
Day 4. Tatiana moved us to Suite #7672 (2 bedrooms, 2 baths, 2
TV's, dining room, living room) in the rear of the ship and with
white caps on the seas, we had a bumpy and noisy night. However, we
do suggest this accommodation for a large family or group.
Day 5. We moved to Suite 1542 and finally settled in for the
duration. This was an excellent experience, since we became
familiar with several types of staterooms.
Day 6. The sea was tranquil all day and dolphins and sea terns
were visible as we passed closely to two of the Azores' islands.
The first was a volcano rising straight out of the ocean, and the
second was a long, low lying island. At 7:00pm the temperature was
62 F. We had lost 20 degrees since Miami, and several hours by
moving the clock ahead an hour almost every evening. That night we
had dinner at Chops Grille with Gordon and Rinaldo our interesting
new friends. Chops has a terrific menu: crab cakes, New England
clam chowder, interesting sides and salads, filet mignon, veal
chops and Mississippi Mud pie for dessert. Excellent! Day 7. There
was a Crown & Anchor Society cocktail party; the Champagne
flowed freely and the hors d'oeuvres were hot. We were sailing
through the remnants of a huge storm over Ireland, we felt some
movement, not too bad, but just enough to make walking amusingly
unsteady and to be gently lulled to sleep.
Day 8. The sea was much calmer, the sun was out on this last sea
day of the Transatlantic crossing: tomorrow Lisbon, Portugal. The
ports will be discussed later.
FOOD & SERVICE When people ask, "How can you stand being
confined to a ship for seven days?" We answer that unless the port
is new or worthy of many returns, well, there is no better
destination than a beautiful ship. Maitre D's Paulo Barbosa
(Portugal) and Emmanouil Kampanakis (Greece) go out of their way to
please passengers not for just one meal, but for weeks on end. A
table for two, just in front of the lovely stair case, being
serenaded every evening by the melodic guitar of Vortek or the
Romantic String Trio, is always a beautiful experience. Believe us,
we never missed land.
According to Gordon Shenk, RCI has instituted new menu
initiatives which strive for uniformity in plating, ingredients and
preparation. There is a new dining room luncheon menu listing the
following: 2 soups, 3 salads, 2 appetizers, 6 different entrees and
a "Tutti Pasta" set up, where one can choose a variety of sauces
for pasta. Finally, don't forget the dessert, five including creme
brulee. The evening menu offers even more varieties of meat, fish
and fowl selections. Keep in mind this is only the menu in
Minstrels main dining room. You may want to eat in the Windjammer
Buffet (Deck 11) or the Sea View Cafe (Deck 12), pub style diner.
During the transatlantic crossing, the Minstrels had a 6:30pm main
seating and an 8:30pm second seating. However, in the
Mediterranean, the formal afternoon Teas became Tapas on the pool
deck at 4:30pm and the evening dining room hours were now 6:30,
7:30, 9:00 and 10:00pm, to accommodate the large number of European
passengers who prefer dining late.
RCI portions are generous. We keep begging for one-half
portions. However, anyone can be satisfied by ordering more, less
or sharing. Service at our table was excellent: During the
transatlantic crossing, our waiter was Leane Kershaw (S. Africa)
and Cetin Devrim (Turkey) her assistant. In the Mediterranean,
waiter Hakan Pamukcu (Turkey) was wonderfully assisted by Kadir Oz
(Turkey). Hakan was a competent teacher to his new eager assistant.
Among the many courteous waiters, we remember Ismael (Mexico), who
was always sociable and helpful in the Windjammer Buffet.
The Minstrel Dining Room is beautiful with a birchwood balcony,
a waterfall behind the curved staircase, and a two deck tall mosaic
of wandering minstrels at the aft end. The blue, gold and green
decor is elegant, while food, service and ambiance rival any four
star restaurant on land. Food & Beverage Manager Rinaldo and
the two maitre D's Paulo and Emmanouil are brilliant in their
dedication to pleasing passengers. After all, as Gordon says,
"That's what it is all about." This attitude radiates all the way
down from the Captain, whose genteel manners made every passenger
feel at home. We observed him even checking the pool water
temperature on his early morning rounds. Great service is noted in
the details; whenever we tendered or disembarked the ship's crew
was exceptional in assuring our safety, especially with Vincent's
CABINS We occupied 7110, 7672, 1542 and 7610. All were balconied
cabins and the decor of 7110 and 7610 were exact. When entering on
the left there was a double armoire with safe, a long mirrored
desk/vanity, TV console, refrigerator and a sofa bed. When entering
on the right there was a 6'X6' tiled bath, with mirrored medicine
cabinet and safety rails appropriately placed. Then, there was a
king sized bed, a large coffee table and a glassed wall to the
balcony holding a small table, two chairs and a chaise lounge.
Both cabins had the same two pictures: one was lemons and
sunflowers and the other orange day lilies and red peppers. 7672
we've already described and 1542 was similar in size to 7110 and
7610, only there was a tub in the bathroom and the dominating
picture was of a reclining woman in a white sun dress. Basically,
the cabinets were maple wood with dark mahogany trim and the color
schemes were variations of navy blue, maroon and gold -- very
All four cabins were comfortable, but only 7110 and 7610 had
automatic door openers for wheelchair accessibility. All of our
stewards were excellent and efficient: Elvis, Florian and Anthony,
thanks once again.
ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Directors Peter Benfield (England) and Bill
Brunkhorst (USA) were both friendly and engaging. The ship has
sport facilities like rock climbing, basketball, golf, ping pong,
shuffle board, swimming and a great gym and health spa, not to
mention dancing all night.
The RCI singers, dancers and orchestra performed Broadway style
shows with energy. Headliners included violinist Gary Lovini (UK)
who put on a spectacular virtuoso performance: WOW. Crowd pleasing
were also two tenors: Frank Tenaglia (USA) had a wonderful voice
(he should sing more and tell jokes less and his repertoire did not
do justice to his great voice); and Renato Pagliari (Italy), whom
we have seen before. Pagliari also sang in the centrum one evening
and the eight decks of balconies were packed. Every one was
impressed with his Caruso style performance. Bravo! "Dancing Fools"
the Taylors, a husband and wife team, were sensational.
At several ports there were local talents. But in Naples, most
impressive was the mini concert by singer Roberto Rossini with his
guitar accompanied by a mandolinist in the Centrum. He sang many of
the classical Neapolitan favorites with style, and Vincent had
tears in his eyes. RCI, please note: He is wonderful and really
radiates Neapolitan musicality, a nice touch during the
Mediterranean cruise. Other passengers said that he had also
performed on the dock and drew admirers.
The Brilliance also has self leveling pool tables, bingo, the
Casino, sports bars, lounges and poolside activities ---- something
PORTS OF CALL Day 9. Lisbon, Portugal Arrival: 7:00am Depart:
3:30pm Departure was delayed for late passengers. We have visited
here many times and we suggest that you watch your wallets and
handbags. Every cruise the pick pockets warmly welcome the
tourists, as they did this time. Our acquaintances had their bag
stolen from their wheelchair (passports, wallet, cash and personal
check book were all taken). We never bring these items ashore, and
since American Express checks are safer, we never bring a personal
check book. Try to travel with less valuables and as light as
Tour LSB1, City Panoramic Drive, $39, 2 hrs, is a nice tour for
those with limited mobility and the first timers.
More interesting is tour LSD1, $44, 4 hrs, visit to the village
of Sintra with the old Royal Palace and the resort town of
Day 10. Malaga`, Spain Arrival: 11:30am Depart: 8:00pm This is
the second time we have visited this resort on the Sun Coast and
always on a Sunday; thus, we have no idea what real shopping is
like here. It is the birth place of Picasso and the best tour would
be to Granada. Some of the interesting tours:
Tour MGA1, $118, 8 hrs, a drive through the Andalusian
countryside and Granada and visit to Alhambra Palace & Gardens.
Lunch is included.
Tour MCE1 $42, 4.5 hrs, scenic coastal drive and visit to the
famous Cave of Nerja.
Day 11. Alicante, Spain Arrival: 9:00am Depart: 3:30pm Alicante
is linked historically to Africa through trade; there is lovely
Baroque architecture; all the tours were walking over uneven
surface for over one mile, an impossible task for those with
mobility problems. We took the shuttle to down town to the Bay
Walk, a wide tiled promenade at the base of the terra cotta colored
Castle on the Mount.
Tour ALB1, $40, 5 hrs, this is a breath taking ride along a
curvy mountain road through lemon and orange groves to Guadalest, a
mountain top village with Islamic origins.
Day 12. Barcelona, Spain Arrival: 7:00am We disembarked here for
three days and booked a hotel in the 13th century Gothic Quarter in
order to be in walking distance to Las Ramblas, but it was rainy
and cold the first part of our stay. We did get to see much of
Barcelona: La Sagrada Familia of Gaudi fame, the Gothic Cathedral
and other sites.
Interesting is tour BRF, $42, 4 hrs, visit to Monteserrat. This
goes through the Cataluna countryside to the monastery, which has
"La Moreneta" (the Black Madonna).
PART II May 14th. Barcelona, Embarkation Depart: 6:30pm
Barcelona has fine modern port facilities. The porters were fast
and efficient. Going back on board, we felt like we were returning
home. So, we began the second leg of our cruise by sitting on our
balcony contemplating a slender silver moon.
Day 2. Villefranche, France Arrive: 10:00am Depart: 11:00pm
We booked Tour VFG1 $49, 3.5 hrs, Scenic French Riviera, which
departed from the old port's Citadel on the Lower Corniche road
slowly climbing to the Middle Corniche and finally the Grand
Corniche. From here we viewed Cap Martin, Monaco, Italy and Nice.
Our driver Gianluca and tour guide Sophie were terrific and very
knowledgeable in both history and current events. The Monaco Grand
Prix preparations and time trials were going on and we got close
enough to see and hear the racing cars. But, Monte Carlo was
cordoned off, so we had to be satisfied with an aerial view from
the Grand Corniche. We also saw a collection of former Grand Prix
Sailing out of Villefranche was beautiful with the golden lights
of the town offset by bright white shafts of light coming from the
lighthouse on the promontory and again that slender white crescent
Day 3. Livorno, Italy Arrive: 7:00am Depart: 6:00pm There were
tours to Pisa and Florence from here, but we've been to both
before; thus, we settled on the Tuscan countryside: Tour LVF1, $52,
4 hrs, Scenic Drive and Wine Tasting. There were bright red poppies
all along the road side and beautiful huge roses in many garden. We
drove through medieval towns with olive groves and vineyards. At
the Michi Villa we met Wanda and Vincenzo the owners and toured the
villa gardens and the winery. They produce cold pressed virgin
olive oil, a lesser red wine, and a finer white vin santo (dessert
wine). Vincent spoke with the loquacious, elderly Vincenzo. They
talked of using the chestnut casks for the young wines and the oak
casks for the finer aged wines. The Michis planted the vineyard
after WWII and enjoy the visitors.
Sail away was after 6:30pm and by 8:30 there was a glorious
sunset. We passed Elba, the island of Napoleon fame, and at 10:00pm
there was the very bright Venus in the NW sky.
Day 4. Naples, Italy Arrive: 8:00am Depart: 8:00pm There are
many beautiful tours departing from here: The Isle of Capri,
Pompeii Ruins, Herculaneum Excavations, Sorrento, and the Amalfi
Drive. All of which we have done, since Vincent was born near
Naples. Instead we were met by relatives and friends who treated us
to a lovely private concert during a drive along Naples' "Lungo
Mare" and Posillipo, then topped it off with a great dinner at
Giorgio Rosolini's "La Cantinella." This picturesque restaurant,
with a view of the bay and the Vesuvius, served exquisitely
prepared seafood: Spaghetti e vongole, delicate sautéed
fillet of sole, and delicious rum baba. At sunset we sailed out of
the port of Naples with a beautiful red sunset in the west. "Vedi
Napoli e poi muori" (see Naples and then die), as the old adage
goes, once you have seen the beatiful Naples, you've seen it
Day 5. At Sea After four port days in a row, the passengers were
happy just to stay on board and relax.
Days 6 & 7. Venice, Italy Arrive: 1:00pm, Overnight, Depart
5:00pm The Captain's cocktail reception for Platinum & Diamond
Members was set for 10:30am on the second day in Venice at the
Starquest Disco on Deck 13. This was the perfect vantage point from
which to view the unfolding panorama of Venice, as we slowly sailed
by the wonderful buildings and canals spread out before us: The
Campanile, Dogi Palace, St. Marks Cathedral and the Bridge of
Sighs. There are terra cotta roofs, trees, canals and the music of
the Romantic String Trio: Bellisima. Never mind the camera, savor
the passing splendid view. We have to thank the Captain for this
slow measured entrance into this magnificent city, when
repositioning the ship on the second day.
We have visited Venice before, so we went out on our own. In
order to get the vaporetto (water bus), we had to traverse two
bridges, since we went off forward. We strolled through St. Mark's
Square early in the morning before it was glutted with tourists. We
went to Cafe` Florian and saw its many beautiful rooms. Then we ate
at "Al Chianti" Ristorante Pizzeria, on Calle Larga S. Marco, near
Piazza San Marco. This is where the Venetians eat. We had Frittura
mista of fresh Adriatic sea food, Spaghetti vongole, almond pie for
dessert, a beer and a lemon soda. All this for only 34.30 euros. On
the return, we took the vaporetto (3.50 euros) to the exit past the
ship, and only had to traverse one bridge. A great day for sights
Day 8. Dubrovnik, Croatia Arrive: 9:00am Depart: 6:00pm We
sailed into this perfectly preserved medieval town, which looks as
if Disney could film fairy tales here without making any changes (a
walled city with charm). The main street, Placa Stradun, was paved
in large smooth stones. It was neat as a pin. The very narrow side
streets had hundreds of stairs leading up to the mountain. The
Croatian Kuna was six per dollar, and they accepted both euros and
dollars. Prices here were very reasonable and the people sweet. The
ship had wonderful tours, priced reasonably, but alas all included
strenuous walking; thus, they were not for us. We entered the old
town, which is a pedestrian island, and got around with the
When we sailed out of Dubrovnik, Captain Lachtaridis blew the
ship's horn to aknowledge the friendly waiving by the Croatians,
who were flying their national flag from the ancient city walls.
That night the ever crescent moon was beautiful over a very bright
Venus in the NW sky. This was picture perfect.
Day 9. Corfu, Greece Arrive: 7:00am Depart: 7:00pm This island
18 miles wide by 36 miles long is one of the most beautiful of the
Ionian isles --- it is densely populated and lushly vegetated with
olive, fig and citrus trees. We took the shuttle bus to the Old
Fort, from where we walked down Dousmani to the center. Very nice
ambiance with outdoor cafes and some good shopping.
Both Dubrovnik and Corfu had an abundance of shore excursions
all of which involved walking over rough terrain; thus we enjoyed
both cities and eschewed the country sides.
Day 10. At Sea We passed through the Straits of Messina and by
Reggio Calabria (near Grotteria, the birth place of Mary's father).
Later on we sailed nearby the volcano Stromboli with clouds
shrouding its peak, and a tiny town at its feet.
Day 11. Civitavecchia (Port of Rome) Arrive: 7:00am Depart:
7:00pm We have lived in Rome, so we had a reunion of family and
friends planned at Ladispoli, a sea side resort near Civitavecchia.
Nineteen of us ate at the Grazia Deledda Ristorante (moderately
priced). We all enjoyed the delicious seven course dinner,
reminisced, laughed and when it came time to leave, we all cried.
The ship's tours here are many:
Tour CVA1 $179, 10.5 hrs, Rome the Eternal City. Basically, it
visits Vatican City, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican Museum, and the
Sistine Chapel, lunch at a local hotel or restaurant, then a drive
through the city to the Colosseum.
Tour CVB1 $150, 10.5 hrs, Imperial Rome. It visits the Roman
Forum, the Colosseum and St. Peter's Basilica. Our new
acquaintances, the Neimarks took this tour and enjoyed everything
seen, but were dismayed over the included lunch. They felt that in
Rome lunch should have been at a "local restaurant" as the
description states. Instead, they were taken to Best Western and
served what someone thought was American fare, with overcooked
pasta which no Italian would want to eat. They felt it would have
been better to have a local pizza, than the inedible meal provided.
Only the "rosette" (Roman bread rolls) were good. When in Rome, eat
as the Romans eat ---- after all Americans may eat at Best Western
any day at home, but these cruisers were in Rome for only a
Tour CVC1 $82, 9.5 hrs, A Taste of Rome. This guides the tourist
to a partial independent exploration of Vatican City, St Peter's,
the Colosseum and Roman Forum. Here lunch is on your own!
Tour CVE1 $52, 5 hrs, Panoramic Rome. This is probably the best
brief tour of the Etruscan countryside and the highlights of Rome,
including the Vatican, Villa Borghese, Via Veneto, the Colosseum,
etc. and lunch on your own.
Sailing away from Civitavecchia, we enjoyed a spectacular
sunset, while admiring the promontory of Argentario, the islands of
Giannutri and Giglio. The visibility was so good that we could see
the profile of the distant island of Monte Cristo. Late in the
night we passed the straight of Bonifacio, between Sardinia and
Day 12. At Sea
Day 13. Barcelona Arrive: 6:30am Disembarkation in Barcelona was
a dream and very orderly. Those in need of assistance waited in the
Centrum until their baggage color was called and then, they were
handily dispatched. There were many porters to assist with the
luggage and taxis were assigned on a first come first serve basis.
Make sure the taxi driver uses the meter and doesn't con you.
CONCLUSION We love these back-to-back cruises which include one
leg with many sea days and the other with port intensive itinerary.
This was the second time we have booked a transatlantic crossing
followed by a European cruise. Both trips we had sufficient sea
days for rest, relaxation, enjoying the ship and the sea, and then
the excitement of visiting beautiful and historical ports. It
surely made a superb long vacation.
Now we look forward to enjoying an Alaska cruisetour on the
Island Princess (July 2004) and then another transatlantic crossing
on the newest RCI ship, the Jewel of the Seas (Sept. 2004). Happy