We have cruised with Royal Caribbean at least 10 times in the past and never in my wildest nightmares did I imagine that I would see the cruel indifference exhibited by Royal Caribbean after we boarded the Brilliance of the Seas January 5th. My daughter, who is 25 years old, had some gastrointestinal problems due to food poisoning for a few hours until the Friday afternoon prior to our sailing; however, she felt fine by the time we boarded the flight from NY to San Juan Saturday morning and filled out the "24-hour illness" cruise form with a "no", since her symptoms were outside of the 24-hour window. When we arrived in San Juan my daughter and I boarded the ship, ate lunch and attended muster. Since my daughter felt a little warm we decided to go to the medical center for a "free evaluation" to make sure she was OK. An employee in the facility took her temperature which was, if I recall, 100.4 degrees; we admitted that she had symptoms the day before but felt fine otherwise at that point. With no further examination, the doctor walked over andannounced that we had to leave the ship immediately.
We were given no instructions as to our options, no help to secure accommodations for the evening, no help even in getting a taxi from the terminal and not even so much as a sheet with a list of phone numbers. We were escorted off the ship and dumped at the deserted terminal like so much detritus. This was not only cruel but put us in a potentially dangerous situation.
It is unbelievable and downright inhumane that Royal Caribbean can, first of all, pronounce someone ill without the most cursory examination and then put them in harm's way by throwing them off in a strange country without so much as a list of phone numbers. I shudder to think what would have happened if my daughter had really been ill; as it turned out, by the time we arrived at the hotel an hour later her temperature was 98.6 and she was 100% fine. I'm also wondering why they didn't quarantine us, as we had already been on the ship several hours and, if she had something communicable, would have exposed several passengers to the illness. By throwing us off the ship they had no way to follow up to see if she was, in fact, ill; I have a sneaking suspicion that this has something to do with CDC reporting, but that's just a hunch.
At any rate, in an attempt to get information over the next several days I called RCI customer service, RCI emergency travel assistance and RCI Choice Air. Not one of those was able to help or knew what to do in our situation.
We spent the next six days in San Juan at our expense, around $3,000. We are both extremely disgusted and traumatized by the way we were treated and will certainly be a lot wiser in the future.
This was the pits, 15 nights...and offered $100.00 each for next RCL cruise...my wife said no way, even if next cruise on NCL was offered for free...she is not going ever again. I would have given them another chance, but my wife is adamant about such poor service and treatment.
We have been on about a dozen cruises so far, we are in our 60s and both retired.
We checked 3 bags and two cases of water, with the dock's porter and gave him the GTR, guarantee, luggage tag, and $6.00 tip. [we have sailed out of that Hawaii port with NCL 2 times before with GTRs and never a problem.]
We got in line for check in, and to get boarding cards...after about 30 minutes, the girl could not get the system to check us in. She called her supervisor, he tried for 30 minutes too, then said, the reason we can't check you in, is that you don't have a room assignment. Let me go get you one. He left and 30 minutes later, had not come back. The girl's shift was ending or she was to go on break,so she went to look for him. He came back and said, you will have to go back over there where all those people are sitting and wait for a room assignment. I then insisted that they give me back my check-in paper work and passports back too. They didn't want to do that. But I was very firm about it. We went to that section, and 3 of the ship's uniformed staff were there handing out room cards, calling names. After a few minutes, I asked if all these people were waiting for room assignments. The staff member said "No, they all have rooms assigned and are waiting for cards."
I then asked to speak to the top person in charge, of the check in process, as we the other supervisor misled us.
A few minutes later, and elderly gentleman, think name was Walter, came over and said, "I don't know why he told you to wait here, let me check, do you have your confirmation paper." He said could thing you got that back, or we would have had a real problem. He came back 3 minutes later with our room cards. I thanked him. He said, "Don't thank me they were sitting there already, I didn't do a thing," Let me take you to the front of the line to check you in now."
On the way up the gangway, we passed about a dozen crew members, only the very last one, said welcome aboard.
We checked the room, they had upgraded us to an ocean view, and we went to get something to eat.
When we returned the cabin girl was there, by our door and said "Is this your room? How did you get this room? You do not belong here! You are not on my list! I said, this is the room they gave us. In any event, we will need a refrigerator for our medications.
She said, "You don't look sick to me! What is wrong with you, are you diabetic? I said no, but both my wife and I have medical problems and a bag of different meds many eed to be kept in cool place. I will have to ask my supervisor." I said, "Also, I would like you to make sure you keep our Ice bucket full too." We never got the frig, or ice, for 2 days.
It was now 5pm, we went in and set down in the room, not feeling very welcome. The phone rings, the lady on the phone said, "Do you want your bags." I said yes. "She said then you better come get them." I said why can't you just bring them to our room." She said, "This is security, your bags are sitting out here on the pier."
We went to the gangway, and the staff did want us to go leave the ship to get them and refused to go get them too. I got upset, and said no way we are leaving without them. He said let me ask my supervisor...I followed him down the gangway. The supervisor said, let them go em, but you better hurry, because we are sailing any minute.
We got down to security and I said to the lady, the ship confiscated our passports, how can we get back in, if we go out, she said do you have your pass cards. I said yes, she said that is all you need.
We went out and the bags were just outside security on dolly. Only our bags were there, they all were tagged with our names and GTR tags too. The porters were sitting on the other side of the hallway on other dollies, the guy we tipped was no where around. Another one offered to help us, but I told him, we had tipped the other guy and were not going to tip again, after all this. He said, he understood. He started to wheel the dolly in to security check point, when I guy in white shirt, pushed him away and said I will take it from here. When we got into the security area. I told him was not going to tip again. He said well I am not going to help you then and you can't use our dolly either. He put everything on the floor and took the dolly and left. We had 3 bags and two cases of water.
Somehow we managed to put through scanners and I was fit to be tied. I had the airline type carry-on bag, put one bag over the handle and the water on the top of roller bag and my wife did the same. We got up to the gangway, where the dozen crew were standing, no one offer to help us get them to the room, or even open the heavy door to the staterooms.
The ship did not sail for another 3 hours, as the check in process was such a mess for a lot of people.
The pier staff said they could not check in the bags, as no stateroom had been assigned timely. But they could call us in the stateroom. The ship blamed the pier staff.
We were exhusted physically and mentally, and slept for most of the next 2 days and rarely left the stateroom. We didn't go the Captain's Welcome either. But went up to the open buffet, about 8 pm to eat. The officer's were comiing up there now too, to eat, after the Captain's welcome.
One of them was behind me in line, and asked how I was enjoying the cruise so far. I said you really don't want to know. he insisted that I tell him, explained he was the manager of customer relations on board, his name was Rolston, as I recall. He spoke with me and my wife and said he was going to look into it.
I only told him about the cabin girl, no ice, no frig, no answer, and we did not feel wanted there. I asked to moved to another area, even if back to the inside cabin we had booked.
The next day he called and said, he had another stateroom for us, with a frig and asked us to come to the pursers desk to get the room keys and check it out.
It was a big balcony on the fan tail, the room was little bigger too. The desk draw would not stay shut...and the shower drain backed up...probably why it was not assigned before. Moreover the soot collected on the fan tail furniture and we had to wipe it down every morning.
I asked to have someone help us move the luggage, but the Purser's staff said everyone was in a meeting, as soon as over would send someone down.
We were almost done packing. The girl room steward shows up with a bucket of ice. "My supervisor said to give you this." My wife said "Take it back, your to late, we are leaving now."
She left, then another guy showed up to help us move, with a hotel dolly.
When we got to new room, the male stewards said, "Is this going to be your room?" I said, yes. He said, "So your the ones!" Apparently, we were one of the topics at the "meeting."
I handed him $50.00 up front and asked him to keep the ice bucket full too." He did, but in 13 days in that room, only made 3 towel animals, my wife really likes them. Never cleaned the balcony.
We wedged a wad of paper in the desk draw...and they had some come an fix the shower drain, I believe it had a reverse valve that was sticking in the open position. I found if you flushed the toilet it would drain.
We book the inside cabin all the time, mainly because the wife get sea and air sick easily. She was in bed for most of the trip, but really liked the balcony and didn't want to move.
Later, I told the Roys, about the check in process and pier experience a week later. He said, would take something off the bill. He took off $70.00 in the end, in Internet charges.
I also filled out a long questionnaire and left this story in the drop box.
Later, I got email from Aam M. Goldstein, President and CEO, blanket type, thanking us for choosing RC and hoped to see us again.
I wrote back all the above to his email, no reply to that or the one in the drop box.
I then worte to RC on its website...no reply to that one either. My neighbor suggested that I should have gotten another free cruise after all we went through and to write them email. She has been on RC many times and never had a bad experience.
i said only way we would take another one is if it were free. We have been on NCL, Carnival, QE2, and Disney, this was the pits on RC.
No lobster night either. The best part of the cruise was the dinning room staff.
I recently sailed on the Brilliance of the seas. It was the worst cruise i have ever been on. The crew was not friendly nor helpful. The ports were nice, but that was about all. Royal Caribbean stranded passengers at the airport for over 18 hours who had booked their airfare with them. This has got to be the worst customer service I have ever had with any crusie ship or cruiseline. Princess is looking better everyday.
I was disappointed in this cruise overall.
I concur with the review written by "RCL victim" as well.
The food on this ship is cafeteria quality, and the service was fair at best.
We finally went to the premium restaurants toward the end of the cruise and wish we had earlier. They were well worth the extra $25 after enduring a week of the mediocre dining room fare.
I agree with the previous reviews stating that RCL takes many oppurtunities to capitalize.
I read online when I did a Google search for cruise ships that had pool tables on them that the Royal Caribean Cruise Line had the first gyro pool table as of 2002.
That is not so. We took a cruise down the Amazon River in December of 2000 on the Olympic Voyager Cruise Line, and it had a pool table onboard.
Our cruise on the Royal Olympic Voyager took place two years before Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas was even built.
I just wanted to correct this inaccuracy.
Save your vacation, run screaming from RCL.
On Royal Caribbean, you are vacationing cattle, held captive to be herded and milked dry. You will encounter all manner of crass, tacky scams designed to wring every penny from you before you are hustled grumbling home. Royal Caribbean brings new meaning to the term "shake down cruise".
Tips for Royal Caribbean cruisers:BEWARE OF RCL AMNESIA: Record everything the Royal Caribbean reservations agent says to you. Bring the recorder with you aboard. You will need the recorder and a stool for the hours you will spend complaining at the "Guest Relations" desk. Get everything in writing. RCL reservations will tell lies to get your booking. Nobody on board will honor the lies. WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES: You will be gouged by RCL for a ride to the end of the pier. It is worth the walk. Royal Caribbean shore excursions are a complete rip off. You will find great cheap tours within a block of the pier head. REVENUE ENHANCEMENTS: Royal Caribbean will give you crummy orange juice, awful coffee and cafeteria food as a part of your ticket. If you want decent food, real orange juice, sodas, water or drinkable coffee, you must pay lots extra. On our RCL cruise, there was a $25 dollar per person cover charge just to set foot in the decent restaurants. Internet service is set to run at a snail's pace, maybe because RCL charges by the minute. You will be given a handful of gratuity envelopes. Swallow your anger and tip, in person, only those staff that actually did their job. In our case, our cabin steward, one bartender and one waitress. ADVANCE PURCHASES: If you purchase anything from RCL reservations for a "discount" you are being screwed. The same packages are available at the same price aboard the ship. When you try to redeem anything you pre-purchased from Royal Caribbean, be prepared for a long, long wait and something like an IRS audit. The usual excuse is "nobody has the wine locker keys" or "the wine steward is off duty". If you advance purchase wine you can't have it delivered to your state room. Room service will, however, sell you another bottle instead of delivering what you have already purchased. RCL tells you where and when you can have the wine that you pre-purchased. If you buy a soda package you are doomed to roam the ship for two weeks carrying the "special" sippy cup that you must drink from to be served. ALCOHOL: You will pay simply infuriating prices for alcoholic beverages aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise. RCL will search you and your bags at each gangway to make sure you don't have any bottles. They even sniff your mouthwash. Once they are sure you have no bargain booze they will really put the screws to you. Expect to pay multiple times the retail price for a bottle of wine. You will pay almost the cost of a twelve pack for just one beer. Plan to get short poured on cocktails and bend over and grab your ankles when they bring the bill. AIRPORT SERVICE: Imagine the service you have received from the airlines in recent years. Picture your worst airline terminal nightmare. Visualize long lines, screaming kids and high handed treatment from puny gods behind counters and podiums. Now surround that with water and you get some idea of the Royal Caribbean cruise experience. Royal Caribbean advertising bears no resemblance to RCL reality. As our shuttle bus finally departed for the airport, someone yelled "Anyone who had a good time, raise your hand." Nobody did.
Royal Caribbean still owes us $92 dollars in disputed charges. They were going to contact us. I am not holding my breath.
Overview We left a day early to fly overnight to Barcelona. I was sure our bags would never make it from Philadelphia to Barcelona since we nearly didn't, but thankfully, there were no problems. We got to the port bright and early and were on board by noon.
Ship I was super excited to be cruising a Royal Caribbean ship as I had always heard great things about them and they always looked so luxurious. The Centrum is amazing. All the glass and lights and décor is beautiful. I thought there was a Royal Promenade and was looking forward to a parade, but found out quickly I was wrong. The movie theatre was awesome. The shops were set up nicely, and I loved the photo gallery area -- so organized. I loved the pool area and deck space, and the Solarium pool area was wonderful. Even the children's pool area with the slide was super nice. The rock climbing wall is a nice touch, I climbed it twice and even got a gold medal! The lounges and clubs were set up nicely as well. What I did not like about theship was that it was not always easily accessible. There seemed to be crew only doors every door I tried to go in. After I spent a few days on it, it was easier to navigate. All in all the ship is really nice and well kept.
Stateroom I loved our stateroom. We had two beds, a pull down bunk, and a giant round window I could sit in! The beds were comfortable. We had plenty of closet and dresser space, and I brought an over the door shoe hanger with plastic pockets to put our toiletries in so it wasn't cluttered. All the navy and white made nice touch.
Dining Dining was decent. I think the Windjammer should have better hours, as well as ice cream/frozen yogurt 24 hours a day. The pizza was wonderful on board, and the Windjammer has an awesome set up. Going into the second week they had to serve us due to GI illness, which slowed service quite a bit, but let up on it halfway through the week. I never got to try Portofino's or Chops, or the Seaview or Solarium Café's. We ate Windjammer food during the day and ate in the main dining room @ 8:30 every night.
Service Service excelled in some areas, and in others not so much. One Explorations desk girl helped me tremendously. Our assistant waiter in the dining room was exceptional. He catered more to us and seemed to enjoy our company more so than our headwaiter, therefore earning a bigger tip. We absolutely loved him. Our headwaiter did not seem to like our table, and his service was so poor on the last night we didn't even order desert. We enjoyed our cruise director, Bill, and his staff were phenomenal in attempting to assure a good time aboard such a busy cruise. We had a few bar waiters in the disco and clubs that we became friends with that always took care of us when we were there. Our stateroom attendant was pretty good as well.
Ports I have already decided I will be back to Europe within two years. We went and did and saw so much, and yet didn't see nearly enough.
June 11 -- Villefrance, France: Here we got off the ship and taxied to Monaco/Monte Carlo and walked around. It was nice but really commercial. We saw the Castle and the Grand Casino. Then we bused back to Nice and went to the Stone Beach, which was peaceful and beautiful. Super nice, but I'm not dying to go back.
June 12 -- Florence/Pisa, Italy: Florence is incredible. Everything is marble/bronze/gold plated, and the giant church and bell tower and basilica there are so incredibly detailed with carved marble and the colors are beautiful. There were statues, churches, and fountains galore. We spent a good part of the day on the guided tour and then had some free time. After lunch, we went to Pisa. I was speechless as we walked up and saw the basilica and the tower hanging there. I told the girls "You know, it hasn't hit me that we are 6,000 miles from home seeing something that most people only read about." I'm not sure that even at this point it's totally sunk in.
June 13 -- Rome, Italy: Rome was one of my favorites. We went to the Vatican Museum, which the detail of the carvings/tapestries/paintings cannot be adequately described in words. The Sistine Chapel was a totally emotional experience for me, being in what I have always thought to be one of the most holy places in the world (I'm not Catholic, but a Christian, and have always had a revered respect for Vatican City). Every panel is a different story. The Last Judgment was not what I expected but better. I wished we had more time in there, because that is somewhere I could spend all day. We went over to St. Peter's Basilica and that is somewhere I could spend three days. Again, the detail and architecture are amazing. We saw where the Pope comes to Mass and the giant altar. There is a dead Pope in a glass case, which is kind of creepy. They had a mass going on in one of the smaller chapels in the Basilica. The dome is gorgeous. I could go on and on. President Bush was in Rome the day we were. If he had messed up my tour I was going to be so mad. Happily that didn't happen and we got to see what we came to see. After lunch, which was fabulous, we went to the Coliseum. We got to go inside and walk around and see where all the gladiators came in and the emperors sat. They were also setting up a stage for a ballet to take place that night inside. Driving from place to place we saw great parts of the city. We did not get to see the Trevi Fountain or the Spanish Steps (because the tour I wanted sold out), which I was so disappointed about I wanted to cry! But what we did see was well worth it and I am so ready to go back!
June 14: Saturday was a cruise day. I spent the day outside on deck and playing with some little girls (ages 10-11) that were cousins of a guy (Jose) I had met the day before, and then he joined us. After playing in the hot tubs/children's pools I went to get ready for dinner as that night was the Captain's night and I had to get all dressed up to the nine's. The Captain's party was ok. I was hoping for better drinks. On to a fun night at dinner and later dancing in the disco.
June 15 -- Mykonos, Greece: The tour I wanted had sold out, so we just tendered off the ship and walked around. Tendering was a total mess, incredibly disorganized and not planned out well at all. It took us an hour and a half to get off. I thought Mykonos was really pretty, with all the white and villa style buildings. We made it up to the windmills, which are impressive. It was so hot that after a few hours we called it a day and took naps. The girls stayed asleep but I got up and got to spend a couple of hours by the pool again with my new friends (Jose and his cousins).
June 16 -- Ephesus, Turkey: We had booked the Ephesus, Didyma, and Miletus tour. Ephesus was great. So many ruins and we walked the length of Ephesus, walked around in the Library, saw the baths and toilets, the giant stadium, and saw an interactive show. In Miletus we walked around the stadium there and saw some more of the baths. After a buffett Turkish lunch, which was pretty good, we went to Didyma where the Temple of Apollo is, which was incredible. We walked all over and inside that temple. From there we went to a carpet demonstration and I so want a Turkish rug. However, my bank account says no. We walked around the Grand Bazaar and many streets in Turkey before returning to the ship, where I spent a good amount of time outside at the pool area before getting ready for dinner.
June 17 -- Santorini, Greece: Beautiful. We visited Oia and went to a winery, where I found a wine I actually like and promptly bought (I don't like wine in general.) I loved the village. We went back to the city area where we could take cable cars back to the tenders and walk around a bit, seeing a Greek orthodox church and then cable carring it back down, because there wasn't much else to see. I went to the pool and hung out with my friend Jose and his cousins while my girls slept or found something else to do.
June 18 -- Athens, Greece: We hiked up the hill to the Parthenon/Acropolis and had lots of free time to walk around. You can't walk through any of the temples but you can see straight through them. The architecture/detail is incredible. The Parthenon is amazing, and the most amazing thing about it is that it's not remotely duplicated anywhere in the world. The guards there are very strict about not crossing the boundaries to take pics and will take your camera and delete the picture if you do (I saw this happen to a guy.) It was so hot that day. After visiting we went back to the ship, then walking around Piraeus for some shopping.
June 19: Another cruise day. I spent this cruise day partly by myself, then going around with my friend Jose to an art show, spending some time in the Concierge club, seeing the Turkish rug he had bought (I am so jealous) playing out at the pool, and just being lazy. It was great.
June 20 -- Naples, Italy: While we did not see any of Naples except from our ship, we did go to Capri, Sorrento, and Pompeii. Capri is now one of my most favorite places in the whole world. It's gorgeous and their gelato is really good. We did not have nearly enough time there or in Sorrento. Sorrento is nice too. And Pompeii blew me away. That buried city they have dug out is so big that I swear if you ever went in at night by yourself without a guide you'd never find your way out. The city walls are still intact for the most part, the brothel rooms restored, and the courtyards with the temples are amazing. We saw the buried people of Pompeii behind the wrought iron cages, and the words from Titanic kept repeating in my head "Waiting to live, waiting to die, waiting for an absolution that would never come." After a stop at the Cameo shell necklace place, to watch how/where they make the beautiful Cameo necklaces, we went back to the ship.
June 21: Another cruise day. My girls wouldn't get up, so I went out again by myself. I spent the day with my friend Jose and his family, eating breakfast, playing ping pong, going to a movie and to bingo (where at bingo I found my girls, who wanted to play but decided it was too expensive and a couple from our table bought them bingo cards), then going off by myself for a bit. After Jose's bridge tour we jumped in the pool and hung out til it was time to get ready for the pre-dinner show/dinner.
People We met some awesome people. Our dinner table was amazing. There were two couples from Brazil, who did not know each other, and only one of them could speak English. Another couple from Maryland, and another from California. Dinner was one of our favorite times because we enjoyed the company so much. We all got along, and were even able to make ourselves understood between us and the Brazilians who couldn't speak English.
I met two guys, Jose from Miami whom I met on our tour in Rome and he was super nice and his family was awesome. His cousins, whom were 10 and 11 and one boy cousin who was 13, were a lot of fun to be around. And he had an aunt who was totally fun loving and made everyone around her have a good time. We spent quite a bit of time together on the ship, and it was nice having someone to hang out with because my girls were always napping in free time or not wanting to do much. The other one was Julio from the Dominican Republic. We met up because my sister's friend, Sarah, asked him one night in the Colony club what time it was in Spanish, and when he told her, she said "What?" He repeated in perfect English. It was hilarious. He ended up on our tour in Athens and I went to one show with him. We hung out a bit on the ship together, and I exchanged numbers and email addresses with both.
Our bar waiters in the Colony Club and the Disco were great. Maria from Naples was in the Colony Club and she was witty and always ready to please. Roberto in the Disco bought us drinks one night because someone stole our seats, and after asking for ice water the first night he always brought it as soon as we walked in.
Our assistant waiter Joseph in the dining room rocked. He did so much more than the main waiter. We loved him.
Sarah and Crystal made some new friends as well, but not anyone I think they are keeping in touch with.
Entertainment Shows: The shows that the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers put on were so so, although parts of "Now and Forever" were really good. Duggie Brown, the comedian, had some jokes that were great, others not so much. Tango Buenos Aires was incredible. Jonathan Kane as Elton John was so good you would have sworn it was Elton John sitting right there. The Abba tribute group wasn't that great, so I didn't stay for the whole thing. Nestor Torres, a man whom played the flute as well as other instruments, was quite entertaining. The juggler was hilarious, as well as very talented.
Onboard Activities: The disco was dead nearly every night, except a few. The Latin Fiesta Night was a big hit, and we were happy not to be the only people dancing. The 70s party also did well, and the male cruise staff dressed up to a T as the Village people. I went to Mariachi Music one night with Jose and his family, then to the 50s party. Another night, Crystal and Sarah learned to line dance at the Western Party in the Colony Club. Karaoke in the Colony Club was always fun. We attended salsa class one day. The Toga Party the staff had one night was great. They wrapped anyone willing up in Togas and we looked great! We attempted Greek dancing but they got going so fast we almost fell, so we just watched. The piano guy at the Schooner Bar was pretty good. The pool was almost always an option, except it was closed a few times. We had plenty to choose from. There just wasn't always others wanting to join in. Not a lot of 18-35 year olds onboard, more of an older crowd, which really had Crystal and Sarah disappointed.
Debarkation Debarkation was the easiest I've ever been through. I loved the fact that we came off the ship without wait, walked in the terminal, and our luggage came out on conveyor belts like at the airport. I think that idea is phenomenal. There is no trip and try to grab bags over everyone else doing the same thing. We got our taxi and headed to the airport.
Flying Home Leaving Barcelona was not an issue. Leaving Ireland was quite another. The plane that was supposed to take us from Ireland to Philadelphia decided it was going to leave the runway 30 minutes early. Soooo -- there were about 30 of us (from the Brilliance and the Norweigan Jewel, and these were only who we could find to count, there were probably more) stranded. Luckily, Aer Lingus, the company we flew in on, put us all up in a super nice hotel, fed us gourmet food, and got us transportation to/from the airport. Not a bad place to be stuck in. We did get home the 23rd about 5'ish in one piece with all our luggage.
Summary The trip was amazing and I did like Royal Caribbean. There are things they can improve on, such as food and tendering, but Royal excels in their pool area, debarkation, and cruise director's staff, as well as the itinerary choices. The places we saw and the things we did are beyond words. I got to spend that time with my sister Crystal on the trip of a lifetime, which I can never get back and will never forget. I hope she enjoyed it as much as she seemed to. I think Sarah had a good time too, and I'm glad my sister got to share it with her best friend. I will be going back. And I will cruise Royal Caribbean again.
This was an 11-Night Ultimate Panama Canal with an itinerary of Miami, Labadee, Curacao, Aruba, Panama Canal, Columbia, Miami.
Day 1 -- Depart Miami We arrived at Miami airport, a gleaming new facility, at 9:45. We had pre-arranged for Royal Caribbean's transfer to the port. This proved to be an unnecessary ordeal of waiting in a long line to have one overwhelmed person verify our transfer voucher, more waiting to board a bus and more waiting to fill the bus for what proved a 12 minute ride to the port. Sea Dawg says just hire a taxi.
It was cloudy and in the low 60's in Miami. This was a welcome escape from our cold winter weather, but the local dawgs were bundled up in coats and jackets.
The line waiting was only beginning and, as we would experience, typified too much of this cruise. Once we arrived at the port terminal we stood in line with several hundred others for over a half hour before we were allowed to enter the check-in area. Even though we are Crown & Anchor members and had pre-booked online with our printed SetSail Pass inhand, check-in took over a half hour and went no quicker for us than first time cruisers. Then we stood in an even longer line waiting to be allowed to go aboard! A rumor came down the line that there were passengers on the previous cruise still aboard who had gone over their allotment and were still waiting to clear U.S. Customs. This wasn't accurate because the customs inspection is in the terminal.
Anyhow we queued up into a very long line waiting to have our boarding Security photo created. This line was slowed even more by photographers eager to take your "Welcome Aboard!" photo. These photos are not free, sometimes go on sale or may be bargained down in price before the end of the cruise, and if you do not want your photo taken you may firmly say "No thanks" and be on your way. During the cruise there were times photographers set up in a way that constricted pedestrian traffic creating, I think, a hazard should there be an emergency. On this particular departure I think it would have been wiser to arrive at the ship terminal after 12:30. Our friends arrived at 2:00 and "breezed" through check-in. Sea Dawg's rates this departure a growl.
After showing our passport to Royal Caribbean staff seven times after we had landed in Miami, and almost three hours later, we were finally aboard the Brilliance of the Seas. We found ourselves in yet another line -- but this was for the expensive soda package so we skirted around it. Sea Dawg packs his own sodas. We have sailed her sister ship, Jewel of the Seas, and found the deck layout and décor familiar. Still considered large in this age of mega ships, Sea Dawg's experience with larger ships is bigger is not always better.
Sea Dawg loves to cruise and figures if you are reading this then you may be debating whether to take this cruise or not. Sea Dawg says you should. Or you might have already booked this cruise and now you might be wondering if you made a mistake or not. Sea Dawg says you done good. Or you might be wanting to learn a few helpful tips from a salty dawg. Sea Dawg will try to do just that. Is Sea Dawg critical? You betcha, and I call it like I see it. Criticism should not be equated with a dislike of cruises.
The wife and I respected the request to not enter our cabin until 1:00 so we enjoyed a casual lunch in the Deck 11 Windjammer, the buffet restaurant. Contrary to the rule, there would be times I thought the Windjammer offerings were better than in the main dining room. It disgusts me that some chow hounds load their plates like they're about to get stranded on a deserted island for a month and then only eat half of it. Nor does anyone appreciate line crashing hyenas that snatch all the remaining choices away causing others to wait until another tray is delivered. Try to forgive them because maybe their mothers never taught them better. We enjoyed the panoramic views of the Miami skyline and harbor.
Sea Dawg has learned the advantages to pack only carry-on luggage. Packing for an 11 day cruise demands careful consideration. I spend most of my time in a bathing suit and tee shirt. Once we were in our cabin we unpacked and met our cabin steward who would keep our ice bucket filled throughout the cruise. Luggage would begin to be delivered in the hallway outside the cabin door at 5:30, though some did not receive their luggage until 9:00. Our cabin was about 10 feet by 17 feet. This includes an airplane efficient bathroom with a don't-drop-the-soap shower. It takes a little choreography for two to move about at the same time in a cabin. Watch out for the entrance door, bathroom door, and closet door traps. There is a room safe but you should be aware that a not-so-secret master code will open it. Sea Dawg says it's probably wise to check really valuable items in at Guest Relations to be kept in the ship's vault until needed. Our room had a stocked mini-fridge but ours seemed barely cooler than our room air conditioning. One real luxury aboard is a bathtub available in the more expensive staterooms. Salty dawgs know the sauna bath in the spa is free! Sea Dawg says it is a good idea to pack your own won't-fall-through-cracks soap and specialty shampoo.
All too quickly it was time for the mandatory life boat drill. Some muts think they can skip this unaware or unconcerned that the life station crew is checking a roster. This only delays the drill for domesticated dawgs. During the drill the Captain made a difficult to hear announcement that our ship's departure would be delayed eight hours due to "technical issues" but we would be on time to our first port. Experienced salty dawgs understand this usually means the ship will make up the lost time by going faster and not using the stabilizers. Another rumor was that the ship waited for passengers whose flights had been weather delayed. The Casino wouldn't open until the ship was in international waters, so a few gaming dawgs were unhappy they could keep their cash one more day. The presence of several police cars beside our ship until after 1 a.m. suggested our delay was due to more than waiting for delayed arrivals or "technical issues." It may have delayed boarding as well. Or maybe the captain misplaced the keys and had to call a locksmith.
The majority of passengers on this cruise were gray dawgs 65 years up. I can't remember a cruise with this many using walkers and scooters. In our fifties, my wife and I were considered youngsters by this Geritol generation. But it would be a mistake to prejudge because Sea Dawg found this to be a "get out there" crowd. We were told there were only 24 pups aboard. The holiday cruises had over 600 children aboard. During the Spring Break weeks in March and April many frisky college canines are expected aboard. Not to worry, we had a few incredibly rude, line crashing, seat saving, argumentative Russian hounds aboard. So, I would conclude late January and February are good times to cruise the Caribbean.
We had early seating in Minstrel, the main dining room. Instead of 6 or 6:30 it began at 5:30, a little too early for us. I think it is important to remember this is a moderately priced cruise and this is reflected in the meals. Pedigrees who desire a higher quality dining experience have the option of eating in extra fee Chops ($25) or Portofino's ($20). Sea Dawg thinks they should exercise that option instead of belly ache on these pages. In my experience, the meals in the main dining room aboard Royal Caribbean keep improving in quality and presentation. The salty dawgs at our table dined on delicious prime rib or fantastic "chef special" Atlantic cod the first night. Big dawgs may order a second entrée or a different entrée if they desire. Sea Dawg thinks this is a "can't lose" proposition.
A decision dawgs usually make when booking is whether to schedule main or second dinner seating. On this cruise there were some advantages to later seating. During the cruise there were some shore excursions that arrived back to the ship after main seating was nearly finished. A smaller number of show dawgs in second seating went to the theater while main seating chowed down. So second dinner seating had more theater seats available. Main seating sometimes had standing room only for the theater shows and the crew was obliged to enforce their no seat saving policy. Second seating had an opportunity to compare choices available in the Windjammer to the dining room menu. There were times I thought the Windjammer dinner buffet choices were better and their chefs would cook fresh to order.
We attended the "Welcome Aboard" show in Pacifica Theater that is a state of the art stage and sound auditorium. Unfortunately, I thought the state of the audio was too loud. I have learned to expect that most song and dance troops aboard a ship are about the caliber of theme park entertainment. I recall mediocre American Idol wannabees are sometimes told they might make a living singing on a cruise ship. With that caveat I appreciate and expect performers' energy and enthusiasm. To me the 11 member Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers needed a vacation. Our young cruise director, Abe, helped pump the audience up. The refreshing comedy of Steve Bruner made this a "sorry if you missed it" treat. Sea Dawg's rating for this show is one bow-wow.
Sea Dawg loves the theater shows. The shows you will have an opportunity to watch on your cruise will not be the same. Allow that even if we saw a performance together, your opinion might not agree with mine. Headliners will be different. This particular cruise had booked the best lineup of celebrities than on any cruise Sea Dawg has taken.
There are eight live music choices aboard. Those who appreciate live music performances will have many reasons to rejoice. They represent a variety of musical styles and, in my opinion, are all quite good. My wife and I enjoy opportunities to dance and this is one area we agree Royal Caribbean has greatly improved and merits praise. At least Royal Caribbean is responding to popular interest in ballroom dancing. We enjoyed dancing in the spacious Colony Club but were usually obliged to dance in the tiny Centrum.
The ship pulled away from its Miami berth after 1 a.m. and once in deep waters one could feel little bumps and rolls as Brilliance steamed nearly full speed ahead through the waves. As the night progressed we entered calmer waters and the motion became less perceptible.
Day 2 -- At Sea The morning greeted us warmly. It was shorts and tee shirts weather! I made a quick trip to the made-to-order omelet station (try shrimp) in Windjammers. Then on went my bathing suit and I went into the hot tub then the salt water pool of the adults only Solarium. Goodbye winter!
A daily Cruise Compass is delivered to your cabin publishing the onboard activities, announcements and advertisements. Dawgs have a variety of events from which to choose on this day at sea: exercise, spa seminar, ship tour, cooking demo, belly dancing instruction, golf, wine tasting, movies, bingo, yoga, concert, ballroom dance class and shopping seminar just begin a list. We spent the day relaxing, eating, socializing and attending events that interest us. What a dawg's life! Royal Caribbean must make a lot of money from bingo because most of the public address announcements are only about the latest opportunity to win the bingo jackpot. Salty dawgs know the big cash prize bingo jackpot is usually won on the final day. Sea Dawg was pleased to learn that he was not the only dawg who found these interruptions annoying and soon start to ignore them at the risk of not paying attention to a really important announcement.
Our onboard shopping "expert" had all the show presence of my old math teacher, Mr. Demerol. Sea Dawg says those thinking of attending what are really infomercials disguised as shopping tips should know participating merchants have paid an advertising fee to Onboard Media. Inc., Miami, Florida, for promotions and warranties. Here's a Sea Dawg tip you can really use: make your shopping list before you leave home. That helps control impulse or hype-induced buying. Then write down local or internet prices for items on your shopping list plus tax BEFORE you leave home. That way you really know when you are getting a deal or hoodwinked. For instance, prices for duty free alcohol aboard ship are higher than Sea Dawg's retailer back home -- including taxes. The ship store offers a limited selection. And one more thing, should you buy a bottle of booze aboard (or in port); the ship will keep it until the night before you disembark at the end of the trip -- no taking your bottle to your room. The cruise line doesn't want to impact bar sales. On the other hand, the public relations department would remind us that this is done in the interest of individual and public safety. Besides, salty dawgs know to wait for the sales at the end of the cruise. Royal Caribbean shops advertise they will not be undersold but you will need to present a current advertisement for the exact same item before they will match the price.
I watched part of an art auction presentation. Unless you know art, it's you the novice against them the expert. A helpful resource for determining the value of art is the internet. Yikes! The art bid does NOT include shipping, frame and (can you believe this?) an auctioneer's fee! You are paying those sly dawgs to auction their own property! There's nice art and sports memorabilia to admire, but unless you require this particular remembrance of this cruise, Sea Dawg says do some research before you buy. There is another issue with the art auctioneers. Their staff override and block elevators at busy times and insist the guests wait.
Speaking of internet, computers are available or you may bring your own laptop and use Wi-Fi wireless access. There is a fee (150 minutes for $55) to access internet aboard. Unfortunately, it is not high speed internet (and you are paying by the minute) and was often so slow page loading timed out or was not available at all especially on "at sea" days.
By now it should be clear that a cruise is not all-inclusive. Cruise lines keep creating new opportunities to increase their profits. Unfortunately, some cut out "frills" or charge for what was once included in the fare. Sea Dawg is usually content with enjoying the basic amenities but sees a trend leading to a time all dawgs will be expected to chew dry bones. Some will receive a statement of charges to their account at the end of the cruise that is higher than their ticket price.
Brilliance is a beautiful ship. The crew can be seen constantly cleaning and maintaining trying to keep her that way. Even so, the daily wear and tear over the years has taken a toll. The interior décor in the public areas is elegant. The soaring atrium is refined modern without neon glitziness. The floor and hub of ship activities, the Deck 4 Centrum, can be approached by descending a glass stairway. I found the Deck 5 shops crowded and made more so by the presence of sale tables competing with walking space. As expected, the Casino is ablaze with glitz and neon and all the bells and whistles to tempt a passerby to join the other winners. Sea Dawg has learned the house odds aboard is higher than Las Vegas or even the Reservation and money gambled here is probably better considered the cost of entertainment. Even so, there seem to be enough who walk away with more cash than they arrived with (and who are not shy to herald their success in these pages) to fuel the gaming. Compulsive gamblers beware! I was astonished to learn that one could use their SeaPass card to receive up to $2,000 gaming advances each day.
Brilliance has 13 bars, each with its own hours of operation. The Schooner Bar has a tasteful nautical theme and the nearby Colony Club an African safari theme. Check out the billiard tables that stay level even when the ship rolls. Modern artwork is displayed most everywhere, including the stairways, and is worth investing a little time to stop and appreciate. There is a children's pool with waterslide, a main pool sunning area and a smaller glass enclosed oasis Solarium. The blaring music usually drove Sea Dawg away from the main pool. The panoramic Hollywood Lounge and nearby Starquest Disco perched high above ship is worth a visit. There is a spa, a fitness center, basketball, mini golf, and the signature rock climbing wall. I did not witness a lot of seniors attempting the ascent. But the free exercise machines in the fitness center stayed busy. This is not the ship with the surf wave machine. Brilliance is scheduled for dry docking soon and will begin to cruise the Mediterranean Sea afterwards.
Tonight's dinner is "formal attire suggested" followed by the Captain's welcome aboard reception. I think because the majority of passengers are seniors, I saw more than the usual numbers wearing formals. Only a few came without at least coat and tie. Sea Dawg packs his own tux shirt, tie and cummerbund for formal nights, but not a complete tuxedo. This investment is less expensive than tux rental. The popular entrées tonight were filet of beef (not thick slice) and half roast duck. So far, Sea Dawg's dinner entrée choices have been better than his usual chow.
We attended the Captain's welcome and were treated to a glass of champagne. The captain introduced department heads. The hotel director is the individual most responsible for guests should any have an issue, not the captain. We also danced a few turns before going to the evening show. The show, "Mastering the Magic" starring Fallon Magic and his wife Mystia, proved amazing as advertised. Mystia is a star in her own right and performed some breathtaking Cirque de Soliel acrobatics. This was no amateur production! Sea Dawg appreciates that our Cruise Director does not abuse his captive audience like others have done. He delivers announcements with humor and lets people go. Sea Dawg's rating is three bow-wows.
Day 3 -- Labadee, Haiti Labadee is the cruise line's privately owned party island, though from the ship it looks like a peninsula. The ship anchors offshore in a stunning cove surrounded by steep forested hills descending sharply to the blue-green sea. Guests board a tender (transfer ferry) from the gangway on Deck 2 and are shuttled there. It features manicured beaches and touristy for fee water activities. The clear water helps determine where sharp coral outcroppings are. There is an Aqua Park and a Zip Line across the bay starting 500 feet up a hillside. I was reminded of Royal Caribbean's TV commercials here. For shoppers there is a straw market. Shuttle trams transfer quests that prefer not to walk from one end to the other. Think cruise line controlled park enclave in Haitian theme and you'll have the right idea. Also think fun and standing on terra firma. Barbeque lunch was available ashore but we opted to enjoy the broader selection aboard ship. The temperature was in the mid-80, the sun was strong today and sunburn protection was necessary. Sea Dawg packs his own lotion. We found lounges by the surf under a shady tree and enjoyed a dawg's day in paradise a few hours. Back home the highs were in the low 40's. There were some activities on ship for those who did not want to go to the beaches ashore.
Tonight would have probably been a good time to dine at Portofino's, Chops or even Windjammer's. Tonight's popular entrée was Penne Tarantino -- a delicious and filling seafood pasta. Experienced salty dawgs agree that Royal Caribbean has downsized entrée portions. This is more a compliment than a complaint because for most this seemed to be just right, but for a few big dawgs the portions were too small and necessitated ordering seconds.
After dinner we danced a little in the Centrum before going to the theater to watch the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers production of "Now and Forever." This featured current or recent hits from Broadway. Instead of a canned, homogenized soundtrack the music was provided by the ship's impressive live musicians. The singers and dancers performed better than I have come to expect from cruise line entertainers and with contagious enthusiasm the audience appreciated, forgiving that both the soprano and alto songbirds had pitch problems. The costumes were exceptional and the stage sets quite impressive. The "Wow" finale erupted into a well-earned standing ovation and complete disbelief the production had lasted fifty minutes and not twenty. Sea Dawg's rating is two bow-wows.
After the show we enjoyed dancing in the Centrum. I think the small, crowded floor witnessed to the need for the ship's entertainment director to schedule this in a larger area for dancers. At 11 p.m. we made our way back to the theater for the Steve Bruner's comedy show. It was refreshing to hear truly funny "adult" comedy with so few four-letter words. Sea Dawgs rating is three bow-wows.
We noticed more officers out and about ship on this cruise than we remember on other cruises. Many seemed to be there to stop and ask whether dawgs were enjoying the cruise and listen to responses and comments. On many cruises officers appeared at receptions or when someone had an issue to resolve. Sea Dawg hopes this continues and welcomed the opportunity to praise the crew.
Day 4 -- At Sea The Cruise Compass was filled with a variety of activities today to appeal to most everyone. Added to those mentioned above were: men's belly flop contest, diamonds seminar, sit-to-be-fit, acupuncture for arthritis seminar, scavenger hunt, dodge ball tourney, aromatherapy, seaweed healing secrets, and rock-a-rokie (karaoke with a live band).
Something curious happens today. At noon (instead of after midnight) guests set their watches ahead one hour to Atlantic Standard Time. The result created some confusion and missed activities. For example, lunch service began at noon. But at noon it became 1pm, time for some activities to begin. Most realize this better served the crew (by shortening their work day) at the inconvenience of the guests. Sea Dawg found this was one of Brilliance's less brilliant ideas.
Dinner did seem to arrive early. Tonight's popular entrees were Thai shrimp (4 super jumbo size) and steak. All at our table who ordered steak agreed it was a little tough.
The headline show featured violin virtuoso Maria Neglia. Any who prejudged this would be a show to skip would have made a mistake. Maria's virtuosity, showmanship, audience appealing selections and humor made this the best theater presentation yet! Maria received not only a standing ovation but accepted calls to play an encore. Her encore, in her words, "went for the gold" and displayed an even higher level of virtuosity. Her show had so much "Wow" factor that the audience began a standing ovation even before she had finished. Sea Dawg's rating is a howl (highest rating).
After the theater presentation we danced about an hour in the Centrum. Its tiny floor space could not handle all the couples who wanted to dance so some were dancing in the hallways and balconies.
Day 5 -- Willenstad, Curacao (Cu-ra-SOW) Curacao is the largest island of the Netherlands Antilles. This is the first real port visited on this cruise. Dutch influence and architecture is evident in the old town shopping district, called Punda, in Willenstad. This is about a fifteen minute walk from the ship. If open, cross over St. Anna Bay on the pontoon Emma Bridge or use the free ferry. If you would rather avoid walking, take a trolley tour. There is considerable old world charm to be found in Punda's narrow streets and century's old buildings. I noticed what I considered good prices for fine linen and Delft china. And, as in most every port, beer and drinks were less expensive than aboard ship. I think one may find better prices outside the tourist district as there seems to be more cooperation than competition among merchants here.
No information has been made available regarding U.S. Customs limitations. I think the cruise line wants to do nothing to discourage spending in the recommended shops that have paid for promotion. Already, some new dawgs received a shock that their booze was taken from them when they boarded. It will be given to them near the end of the cruise. Imagine their shock when they pay tax for going over U.S. Customs limits. Sea Dawg says learn about U.S. Customs limitations on the internet before starting a cruise.
An interesting exchange was overheard in the line to board the ship. As his booze was being confiscated the owner protested he was an American and he had rights. The reply was he wasn't in America now. It is worth reminding that when in port the laws of the visited country apply, when at sea International Maritime Law applies as well as the laws of the Bahamas, where the ship is registered. Not only that, but a careful reading of the ticket discloses many rights and privileges passengers surrender during a cruise. Understanding these should help avoid confusion and misunderstanding. And one more thing, the ship has security aboard but dawgs should know these police dawgs are there more to protect ship property, crew and interests than guests or their property.
Our next island destination is a mere 77 nautical miles away but Brilliance will take all night to float there. The ship will depart port at 4:30 to avoid port charges (fees that would be passed on to consumers) instead of staying in Curacao longer or experiencing Willemstad's nightlife. Brilliance followed the published schedule, but the reason for departing early is to avoid paying port charges as the cruise line makes sincere efforts to maximize profits at every opportunity.
We attended a Crown & Anchor loyalty reception and were treated to free drinks and heavy hors d'oeuvres. We heard the latest on new ships being built and new cruise routes planned. We also learned that there would be no chocolate buffet on this or future cruises. It's a dismaying trend Sea Dawg believes will continue: frills that once enhanced a cruise will cease in order to keep costs down. Consider for a moment what has already happened to the airline industry. After a toast to Royal Caribbean we were able to dance a few turns before going to dinner.
Tonight's popular entrees were lamb and pork chop. Tablemates agreed this would have been a good night to go to dine at one of the surcharge restaurants or even the Windjammer.
Tonight's theater show featured Jonathan Kane, an Elton John impersonator. He performed some of Sir Elton's biggest hits and at times impersonated the star remarkably well. He was backed by both the live Royal Caribbean musicians and a vocal soundtrack. But their volume was kept too soft and they were barely audible. So what we heard were piano pounding more in the style of Ray Stevens than Elton John and an ear splitting lead vocal that made even mellow rock ballads painful listening. However, sound imbalance issues did not prevent the show from managing a powerful ending, I think mostly due to the popularity of the selections, so that about two-thirds of the audience offered a standing ovation. Sea Dawg's rating is one bow-wow.
The theater show set the theme for the rest of the evening: the 70's. Sea Dawg heard groans from the mostly senior passengers when it was announced that all the dance venues would be disco tonight. Sea Dawg considers this another one of Brilliance's less brilliant ideas. In this case stubbornly sticking to an established cruise script instead of modifying it to suit the tastes of all the gray dawgs aboard.
Not having packed polyester or danced disco in 30 years, we spent a lovely evening walking about the Deck 5 promenade before retiring.
Day 6 -- Oranjestad, Aruba The cruise is now half over and we wake to find ourselves docked in Aruba. Again, Dutch influence is evident but competes with neon and modern architecture. Aruba has world famous beaches and pristine waters ideal for snorkeling or scuba diving. The nightlife is exciting here and a Carnivale procession is scheduled to snake the downtown streets tonight but Brilliance will depart before it begins depriving dawgs in order to avoid port charges.
I guess most are still mindful that there has been no justice for Natalee Holloway. It mocks its self proclamation as "the happy isle." In quiet response, my wife chose to boycott shopping on Aruba.
We booked an excursion here on the sailboat Mi Duschi, a two masted ketch. The name means "my lovely one." As advertised, we experienced six hours aboard with three snorkeling stops, lunch, rope swinging and sailing. What isn't advertised is the three person crew announces the ship is ours and has as much fun as the 14 guests. My wife and I found a comfortable place in the netting "hammock" under the bowsprit. We were taken to snorkeled the sunken freighter Atilla and saw many beautiful fish. Then we went to two shallow snorkel sites and saw coral formations and colorful tropical fish. I demonstrated my best Tarzan impersonation on the rope swing off the starboard side. After the third snorkel the unlimited bar opened. I had a thrill of a lifetime fulfilling a personal dream by taking the helm under sail for much of the trip back to the marina. There seemed to be other vessels making the same tour, but Mi Duschi seemed the only boat actually using wind power. And the other vessels appeared much more crowded. Another couple at our table booked the same tour with another boat and after comparison wished they had been with us. If sailing and snorkeling seem an excursion you'd be interested in, I heartily recommend going on Mi Duschi. To quote the captain, they need the bookings or else they'll have to get real jobs. Sea Dawg's rating is a howl.
Tonight's popular dinner entrées were sea bass or scallop linguini. Sea Dawg could have made the shrimp cocktail appetizer his main course. The sea bass had some fish bones. The tiny scallops in the linguini were about the size of a marble. Kahlua crème broulee was the popular dessert choice.
Tonight's show in the theater was the "Love and Marriage Game Show" which is similar to the "Newlywed Show" in format except only one couple is newlywed. One couple chosen has been married the most years (ours for 66 years) and one couple in between. Salty dawgs have seen this on our other cruises, but this proved one of the funniest. Even our cruise director broke up. The participants make or break the show and no two shows are ever the same.
A poolside buffet and dancing followed the show. Though I went promptly from theater to poolside, the buffet had already started. The very long queue wrapped around and outside the pool area. I can't believe how much I am eating! I took a look at the offerings, mostly heavy hors d'oeuvres, and decided I really could do without the calories.
Day 7 -- At Sea Once again the warm, bright sun greets this January 27th day. Gone are thoughts or reminders of winter. So far, the weather throughout the cruise has been great with only two brief showers. Tonight at 2 a.m. we set the clocks back one hour to Eastern Time. Remember we set clocks ahead an hour at noon last time? I think most realize adding an hour during the day would increase the crew workday by an hour.
Today's Cruise Compass is filled with activities. Flyers advertise an "Amber Event" and an art auction. Half off sales on selected shop items are making their appearance. Today's schedule includes puffy eyes seminar, detox for weight loss presentation, acupuncture, men's sexy legs contest, benefits of hypnosis session, Tai Chi, bridge tournament and walk a mile challenge. I've made up my own "sit to be fit" session in the peaceful retreat of the Solarium. In the afternoon I participated in activities of interest.
Tonight's popular dinner entrée was an excellent Cog au Vin. After dinner we went to the theater for the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers production "Big Time Swing." Though expected to be very popular with the many senior guests, this show did not live up to all it promised. Too often, the dancers seemed to be repeating movements. At the times they were supposed to be dancing together they weren't. And I thought they were the best part of this show. The song selections scattered several popular hits among too many obscure songs. The lady songbirds had serious style problems singing swing in a Broadway musical style. I think they would improve if they listened more to the original hits. One songbird might sing better after she has given birth to her baby. Four-part arrangements of swing ballads would have been at home in a conservative church. I think the real problem with this production was the writing by a hack arranger who put his jazz stamp on all the music instead of sticking to the original scores of the hits. As talented as the orchestra members are, they were reading a musical arrangement that tried and failed to improve the original. My overall impression of the show is that this is a parody of Big Time Swing. In the ultimate irony, the finale tune "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing" was stiff jazz but not swing. As I was leaving the theater one senior summed it up pretty well when I overheard him saying, "Today's kids can't play swing anymore." If you don't care for swing music you would avoid this show anyway. So my opinion is for swing music lovers: avoid this show. Sea Dawg's rating is a yawn.
After the show we went to the Colony Club for the Big Swing Dance. The same orchestra that had performed on stage now played the music for the dance. They were playing music scores more or less true to the original swing hits and what a difference! This is the swing music the theater audience came to hear. They played the big hits the theater audience should have heard. All too quickly the midnight hour struck and the dancing was over. My wife and I agree this is the most dancing opportunities we have ever been given on a cruise.
Day 8 -- The Panama Canal Sea Dawg thinks a little clarification would be helpful. Though billed as the "Ultimate Panama Canal Cruise" this cruise does NOT transit the complete Panama Canal from Atlantic to Pacific. It enters from the Atlantic, goes through the first set of locks, enters Gatun Lake, turns around, goes back through the same set of locks and enters the Atlantic again. This is not the cruise to book if you want a cruise that transits the complete Panama Canal from one ocean to the other. We booked this cruise understanding we would not transit the complete Panama Canal. But we met some grumpy dawgs who did not understand this or somehow thought we went to Costa Rica (like a similar cruise used to do.) We were later told the Panama Canal toll Royal Caribbean paid was $250,000.
We were scheduled to go through the locks at 6:15 a.m. so we got up at 5:15 a.m. and settled on an observation spot on Deck 11 forward overlooking the bow. We watched the pilot boat drop off the Panama Canal crew. The captain turns control of the ship to the Panama Canal pilot and his crew handles all the lines and communication with cog railway locomotive "mules" that pull/push the ship through the locks. We watched the ship approach the dark coast and align the red channel lights starboard and green channel lights port as we drifted toward our locks. We arrived as the sun rose. An informative narration explained the procedure we were watching and how the locks operate. There are two sets of locks each with three 1,000 foot long chambers (just long enough for Brilliance to enter). There is less than two feet clearance between the hull of the ship and the concrete walls of the locks. More amazing is that the flying bridge and other areas protruding over the hull are designed to barely clear rooftops of buildings along the canal. The designers of Brilliance definitely considered the limitations and restrictions of traversing the Panama Canal.
Once in Gatun Lake dawgs who had booked a shore excursion were tendered ashore. We wanted to experience the canal trip again so stayed aboard. We watched going back through the locks from several vantage points and recommend Deck 11 aft for up close views of the gates, Deck 5 starboard (right) for up close views of the canal walls and "mules" and Deck 5, the bow. The crew set up a bar there and it's one of those opportunities guests are permitted to go to the bow. Guests were treated to a poolside BBQ lunch as the ship went through the locks.
The ship docked at Cristobal Pier at Colon, Panama. There is a large warehouse with shops and craft stalls inside. Inexpensive souvenirs crowd flea market stalls. The price comes down as the time to depart nears and it pays to make an offer less than the first quoted prices. High quality crafts are expensive here and cheaper in Colon. Taxi fares are not metered and agreeing on a price can be an issue, especially on your return trip. The accepted advice is don't try it.
The popular dinner entrées tonight were roast beef with mashed potatoes and Asian noodles with shrimp. Sea Dawg regrets to report that he has eaten tastier roast beef in the Windjammer. The Asian noodles bore remarkable resemblance to the Thai shrimp entrée available on Day 4.
The headliner in Pacifica Theater was Billy Fellows, a comic composer. He has enjoyed a fifty-five year career in show business. He proved a chronic big name dropper and most of his act seemed to be out of date. The songs he wrote about growing old really appealed to the mostly senior audience. His big finish was a crowd pleasing, flag waving patriotic tribute. Sea Dawg's rating is one bow-wow.
Since many guests had gotten up early to watch the transit through the locks, there was a limited schedule of evening events. A deafening assault on my ears in the Starquest Disco or listening to a murder of music in the Colony Club Karaoke Superstars had little appeal to me. As has been the case throughout much of our times at sea, and I guess should be expected in the Caribbean this time of year, it was too windy to attempt an evening stroll on the promenade Deck 5.
Day 9 -- Cartagena, Columbia I have to admit, if this cruise wasn't stopping here, I would not go out of my way to come to Cartagena, Columbia. Sea Dawg would have preferred a stop at Jamaica or one of the Virgin Islands instead. The ship was scheduled to arrive at 11:30 and depart at 5:30.
I spent a relaxing morning in the Solarium. The glass roof is kept closed while the ship is at sea and there is only a little ventilation so by late morning it gets too warm for me to stay. Sea Dawg thinks the ventilation would improve if the access doors were locked open.
At about 10:30 the ship began entering the channel. The Columbian coastline and the modern high rise skyline of Cartagena in the distance were surprisingly attractive. The private harbor was filled with everything from little rowboats to sleek yachts. The busy container ship port attested to the city's prosperity. We docked and people with shore excursions departed. The Old Town maintains Spanish buildings along narrow cobblestone streets. The walls of the old town, churches and Spanish fortifications, including the impressive hilltop Castillo, appear to be a leap back into Old World history.
The ship distributes flyers about ports of call and we decided to walk to the Old Town from the ship. I do not recommend doing this. First, it is a longer walk than we were led to believe. Second, once outside the port compound we had to run a vicious gauntlet of independent taxi solicitations and jackals hawking wares until "No" became an unceasing mantra. I have learned not to put valuables in my back pockets and realize this mobbing could have been an ideal opportunity for pick-pocketing. Third, some sidewalks are so broken and hazardous they should display a "danger" sign (to say nothing that every once in a while I saw a mad dawg drive his car on it). Fourth, it goes through a high crime area and smart dawgs should be in the safety of a pack. Fifth, even our internet maps proved insufficient and unreliable. Take a lesson from our mistake and book an excursion or just hire an approved taxi available inside the port compound.
The reward for Sea Dawg's stupidity was an unhurried and close inspection of Old Town architecture, shops, harbor, mansions, churches and fortifications. The sight of wrought iron security bars over doors and windows made us uneasy. The temperature was in the low 90's and we welcomed the rare breeze. We must have looked exhausted because we could barely walk a block without getting a taxi solicitation. We saw all the sights we planned and made the trek back to the ship and arrived dawg tired before 5 p.m. A dip in the cool pool has rarely felt so good.
Tonight's dinner was billed as Italian, but the menu really wasn't. The popular entrees were lamb shanks and tiger shrimp. I tried the chicken marsala and received two fried chicken patties topped with mushrooms. No lasagna, cannelloni or even spaghetti was available. The tiger shrimp was excellent but the lamb shanks were too greasy. The waiters gathered on the stairs and sang an exuberant O Soli Mio. Aha! That is what is meant when this meal is Italian night! The waiters came from 37 countries and not one from Italy. And apparently none of the chefs came from Italy either!
The theater presentation featured "Tango Beunos Aires." We had seen a production of this starring the Argentine tango champions aboard the Jewel and welcomed the opportunity to compare. Tonight's tango stars were not champions but were about as amazing. The Tango Buenos Aires musicians each displayed their impressive virtuosity but every now and then a soundtrack went a little out of synch with the live musicians. I don't think the soundtrack was necessary. The Royal Caribbean dancers complimented the stars in their supportive roles. Once again our lady songbirds had pitch problems and supplanted Argentine style with campy vaudeville style. I would argue the songbirds learn the Hippocratic Oath, "First, do no harm" because their performances were not up to the standards of the other performers in this production. One example, the overly melodramatic, out of tune four part harmony rendered in "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" brought tears to my eyes, elicited groans from some in the audience, and would probably make any South American cry. Thankfully some energetic pampas footwork followed and stomped out memories of tortured singing. In a "save the best for last," our tango stars performed a quick, intricate routine featuring "no room for error" kicks that brought a "Wowed" audience to their feet. Sea Dawg's rating is three bow-wows.
Day 10 -- At Sea Today's Cruise Compass activities include all the usual ones already mentioned plus Aquadynamics, Ping Pong Tourney, Acupuncture Facial (ouch), Backstage Tour, Tux rentals, Beauty salon specials and photo portrait sessions to prepare for the formal dinner tonight. On board shops were having sales and those who bought earlier in the cruise now wish they had waited. Even Bingo cards are on sale.
Sea Dawg accepted the invitation to the Royal Caribbean Loyalty Brunch. After we had been softened by the buffet the cruise line drop a bombshell explaining changes in the cruise point earning policy that are not as generous as before. It's time for salty dawgs to learn new tricks. Sea Dawg cautions cruise lines to study what happened to airlines. As airlines eliminated perks their loyal patrons began to disappear. Maybe salty dawgs should band together and have an opportunity to teach cruise lines new tricks.
We participated in activities that sounded interesting and had made to order pizza and pasta in the Seaview, Deck 12. It was windy and the seas choppy today. This class of ship, with shallow draft and high above water profile tends to roll and sway. Today it was just enough to challenge walking in a straight line.
Tonight's popular dinner entrée was lobster tail. The menu called it "seafood combination" but waiters made certain loyal main dining chow hounds knew it was lobster tail with shrimp. It was formal night and it appeared more salty dawgs got the memo to dress up. I think most who did not want to dress up or didn't know it was lobster tail night ate in Windjammers. Sea Dawg says just clip on a tie and eat lobster.
Tonight's theater celebrity headliner was Yakov Smirnoff, the Russian comic famous for the line, "What a country." His show is a current and hilarious look at life in the U.S. His side splitting show ended much too quickly. Sea Dawg's rating is a howl.
There was dancing and a jazz cabaret after the theater show. We found there was too much ship movement to safely dance and opted to retire. A towel monkey dangling from the cabin ceiling greeted our arrival.
Day 11 -- At Sea Hard to believe the last day has arrived. Soon the cold reality of going home will be upon us. Time to make the most of today and Sea Dawg likes to start in the Solarium.
After breakfast a flurry of announcements for Bingo, special sales in shops, drink specials, today's activities and customs information begin. Hallways are constricted with bargain hunting dawgs sniffing out sales tables. The Captain makes his announcement from the bridge -- interesting we're told the latitude, longitude, depth (in meters and feet) and water and air temperature, wind speed and direction and how far we have traveled since we began the cruise and, finally, where we are (at this hour off the north coast of Cuba). The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Form arrived along with more information -- interesting what Uncle Sam requires to know.
Again there were many different activities aboard and Sea Dawg spent the day participating in those he liked best. Tomorrow will be back to reality.
It is time to settle our account. For many dawgs, this is the shocking time when they discover that their bar tab, shopping tab, and casino tab can double the cost of their cruise. Experience has taught Sea Dawg to settle accounts early because it is easier to settle billing discrepancies now than during tomorrow's rush to leave the ship. Each guest will receive a statement in their cabin later. Our account was both pleasantly detailed and accurate.
Tonight's popular dinner entrées were mahi mahi or turkey. It was farewell to the table waiters and time to tip. The waiter's livelihood depends on the tips received. The waiter doesn't decide the menu or prepare the food. Tipping is based on the quality of table service alone. Sea Dawg has a few tips he would like to give the chefs and will provide it on the cruise evaluation form to be completed tonight.
The "farewell" theater production starred comedian Michael James. His show was laced with impressive acrobatics and great humor. Sea Dawg's rating is three bow-wows. The captain and representatives of the entire crew came onstage to receive the appreciative ovation from the audience.
The Tango Buenos Aires stars gave a brief performance in the Centrum. Then we took the opportunity to dance. Soon it was back to the cabin to pack our bags and prepare to end this wonderful cruise.
Day 12 -- Disembarkation Brilliance arrived and docked before daybreak. At 6 a.m. we went to Windjammers for breakfast. After breakfast we returned to our cabin and packed the last items into our suitcase. At 6:30 an announcement called for express departure was made. Here's another advantage of carry on luggage. We showed our SeaPass card and were promptly off the ship with all our belongings. We stood in a short line to be cleared by U.S. Customs and within a few minutes walked out of the terminal building and onto our shuttle waiting to take us to the airport. Dawgs who let the cruise line handle their luggage will wait for their suitcases to arrive in the baggage carousel. For information and planning it took us over an hour to clear security in Miami Airport and we were ahead of the rush. If you book air travel, you might do better to compare ticket prices with arrival and departure at Fort Lauderdale airport. It is only 17 miles from the ship terminal and shuttles are available at the ship terminal to take dawgs there.
Bottom Line Sea Dawg hasn't been and doesn't expect to be on a perfect cruise. But this cruise had the fewest issues or glitches of any cruise experienced so far. I believe Royal Caribbean is making sincere efforts to improve every dawg's cruise experience and there were signs of it on this cruise. Each cruise is different and each dawg will have a unique and personal experience. A cruise is not for everyone and an eleven day cruise could be too long for new dawgs.
A pedigree dawg looking for a cruise experience offering glitz and glittery atriums and promenades, five star dining, large cabins, Vegas quality entertainment, vast high end onboard shops, more ports and longer stays in ports, may not be satisfied with this cruise. I'm convinced that if a dawg keeps expectations realistic, then this promises to be among a dawg's greatest cruise experiences. At the very least, this cruise is an escape from winter's weather and into the warmer and usually sunny Caribbean. That's reason enough for me!
My husband and I were on the May 26th Barcelona/Barcelona cruise of the Brilliance of the Seas. A little about us -- we are professionals in our early 30's -- no kids yet -- 2 prior cruises in the Caribbean on Celebrity. This was also our first time to Europe. With frequent flyer miles we arranged a free flight into Heathrow and stayed one night at the Paddington Hilton. What a wonderful town! Not nearly enough time. Then purchased tickets on British Airways to Barcelona where we stayed at the Barcelona Hilton for 2 nights. We spent one day catching up and the other day traveling around the city on the Bus Turistico. Went to all the sites and Las Ramblas. Ate at a couple of restaurants by the hotel in the financial district. Because we were out of the area of the main city, we missed out on some of the charm of Barcelona but with a couple of free rooms ...
We boarded the Brilliance of the Seas about 11am on the 26th. We had every intention of checking in, dropping off luggage and going back into town butsince we love cruises, we found ourselves by the pool bar and meeting friends from San Francisco. First impressions of the Brilliance -- nice, but no Celebrity Galaxy or Century. Not as clean or nicely maintained as the Celebrity ships. We quickly made friends with our pool staff bartenders -- Lukas from South Africa (only second week at sea), Allan and Marcio. We met another couple and looked forward to the next week ahead!
We were seated at the late seating -- 9:15pm. We prefer the late dinner so when we get home from the day ashore we can relax or have a drink before rushing to dinner. One note, all the brochures and info stated 2 formal nights, 4 casual and 1 smart casual. There were actually 2 smart casual nights, not 1. Dinner was OK for the week. Again, hate to compare but not nearly up to the standards of Celebrity. We had to hail down the drink server and always ask for water instead of the ass't waiter just refilling. This was the only disappointing part of our trip and because of it, we will probably not sail RCCL again. To give a glaring example, my husband ordered two appetizers on the final night of the cruise: risotto and soup. Only the risotto came. I'm sorry, but if you can't get the orders right ON TIP NIGHT, something is very wrong.
Anyway, we spent most of the evening in the casinos and exploring and making friends. There is no craps table but we were more than happy with the slots, roulette, blackjack and Caribbean poker. We did purchase the RCCL 12 drinks for $39.99 card which was very easy and a good deal. Also, we found MANY Americans. We thought it would be mostly Europeans and were pleasantly surprised. The ship is considered an American ship and accepts USD in the casinos. You can cash in Euros for USD but you cannot exchange USD for Euros as they are not allowed to carry. All tipping was in Euros for the tours so be sure to get some at one of your ports or before embarking.
Ports Think HOT. Any later than the end of May and these ports would be so hot, I would not want to visit. Most ports were upwards of 35 degrees Celsius at mid day. In some ports we had our own arrengements through local tour guides. The excursions were great and the ports were fun places to visit.
Villefranche: We spent the day riding the train to Nice. Nice is a wonderful city to visit. While many of the smaller ships can gain entrance into Nice's commercial harbor putting Nice within walking distance, many more larger ships anchor in Villefranche, France leaving the independent traveler with the problem of getting to Nice if that is their choice of destinations.
Livorno: We took the ship's tour to Pisa -- Great shopping, restaurants and lots of color.
Rome/Civitavecchia: Tino was the driver provided by Driver In Rome www.driverinrome.com/ . He did an excellent job getting us to the must-sees which included the Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and Coliseum (admission 11 Euros). On our drive to the city, Tino asked if we'd discussed having a private guide at the Vatican (admission 12 Euros). We agreed it would be a good idea, and Tino was able to book a guide who spent two hours leading us through the museums rooms and explaining some of what we saw. Our guide also accompanied us through St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel before taking us back to Tino for our return drive to the ship.
Mykonos: The tour to nearby delos is worth it. Delos was revered by both the greeks and the romans as the birthplace of apollo and served as a major trading port to several ancient civilizations. wear sunscreen and a hat -- no shade. The tour goes until lunchtime and you can either return to the ship for lunch or eat out. we had already decided to eat "local" whenever possible to get as much of the experience as possible. Afterwards, there is time to visit the shops or the beach; the ship doesn't sail until late.
Kusadasi: Booked the Ephesus trip with Denizhan firstname.lastname@example.org He's a local turkish man who I thought very knowledgeable about Ephesus. So we had the tour guide for ourselves which is much better than a huge group. Denizhan brought us to a local restaurant which we asked for. The food was reasonable and nice. We enjoyed the tour very much and highly recommend Denizhan to everyone.
Santorini: We took an open tender into Santorini at about 11am, rode the gondola to the top and spent some time wondering around Fira before the heat got to me. Having been to Santorini a good number of times, I elected to return to the ship and take advantage of the fact that everyone was in port and I could have the Brillance all to myself. That is exactly how it worked out. I lounged by the pool and did a little work in the afternoon before logging some time in the solarium and eventually getting ready for dinner. There were actually very few people at dinner as many had chosen to stay in Santorini and dine because of our 11pm departure time. After dinner I attended the evening's show, which featured a guy that I had seen before named Bob Arno. Bob is a pick pocket and watching him practice his trade is indeed a very real awakening. He simply removes watches, wallets and whatever he wants, at will from a suspecting audience. I highly recommend that you attend his show if you ever get the opportunity.
Athens/Piraeus: We used Spiros Taxi Service athenstaxi.net First stop was the Acropolis so we could get up and down the hill before tour buses began arriving. Next was the changing of the guard at Parliament. The ticket purchased for the Acropolis (12 Euros) included admissions to other sites (Ancient Agora and the Temple of Zeus) so we visited those as well. The balance of the day was spent visiting Cape Sounion's Temple of Poseidon (admission 4 Euros) and included a stop for lunch at a seaside restaurant on the way.
Naples: The shopping is great on Via Toledo, a 10 minute walk from the ship (there is a huge old castle by the ship, walk up the right side of it into town). Leather items are a great buy, such as non-designer leather purses for 10 E, and designer ones for 60E. Get a city map from the tours desk. The tours are good, to Pompei and Herculaneum, and the Isle of Capri. There is no tour to the Mt. Vesuvius crater, but you can do that on your own, which we did. Twenty minutes 30E taxi to the Herculaneum ruins (at the current town of Ercolano), 30 minute 5E minibus ride to the crater parking lot, and lastly a 30 minute walk from the parking to the crater on a fairly well inclined cinder/ash path. At the top a mandatory 6E guide is required to accompany you along the crater edge. If you don't want to go further than the parking lot you still have lots of good views, and a small cafe serves beer, pop, and bottled water. Taxis are also available from the Ercolano train station, near the ruins, at a set cost of 36E to take you to the parking, wait about an hour for you to do the crater, and take you back down. If you really want to save money doing Vesuvius, you can take the Circumvesuviana train from Naples (10E taxi from the ship to the station) to the Ercolano-Scavi stop for under 2 E each way. Trains run every 30 minutes, and a schedule is on their web site.
This is not a cruise for anyone who wants to rest. But if visiting a variety of ports with multiple points of interest is what you seek, I highly recommend this ship and this itinerary. I saw something new each day.
We took a 14 day cruise on the Brilliance that left Barcelona April 29. We visited Villefranche (Nice), Livorno (Florence & Pisa), Venice (2 days) Dubrovnik, Naples and Civitavecchia (Rome - 2 days).
The ship is very well appointed and is easily navigated.
Food service was excellent. We ate at the specialty restaruants (Chops and Portofino). Both are not to be missed. We chose second seating because we were on tours each port day. 9PM is a bit late for dining, but otherwise OK.
We enjoyed the solarium (covered) pool area very much - we look for that accommodation on ships when we travel.
Entertainment was good, but not as good as other RCCL ships we have been on.
Overall - an excellent cruise!