This was our 2nd cruise on the BOS and certainly our last. Emb. took over 1.5 Hours, waiting in lines then again fingerprints 3rd time in 2 days ( this can only be classified as a joke ) to overseas visitors. Our cabin a D1 was ok, who ever thought to put the bed next to the window and not the sofa should be shot. The bathroom smelled of urine ( 1st cruise too ). The food in the resaurant was bland and never hot and of such low quality. The Windjammer cafe was terrible, so many waiters from Turkey and Romania who were just unfriendly and have not been trained. The food was mostly the same. The best place for food was the sea view cafe. Freshly prepared and HOT!!!!
The entertainment was at times awful. The singers were bad, many people left after 10 mins.
The last morning was just so bad. Only half the dishes were available for breakfast. Tables were left dirty. Disemb. was worse than Emb. They started letting us off at 7.20am. We left at 7.40, we got our bags at 9.20 am the restwas waiting to be fingerprinted yet again. The new American security policy leaves more than a little to be desired.
RCCL has become a cheap fill em up Cruise line offering cheap quality for a high price.
Not with me
We know we have a choice and we will use it. Good bye RCCL
This cruise ship is bordering on greatness, and with a few tweaks could easily compete with the high end ships.
Things I liked: 1. roomy cabins including the bathroom and lots of storage 2. polite and fun staff - no "attitude" 3. clean, clean, clean 4. spacious surroundings - I never felt crowded on a sold out ship 5. itinerary - every single Mediterranean destination was a winner 6. no high pressure tactics to get you to spend - extras were there, but only if you wanted them 7. easy check in and check out 8. the ship's stability - I could barely feel it move 9. the entertainment brought on board. Imagine sailing from Rome while an Italian tenor sang to a seven story high atrium whose balconies were filled with passengers shouting "Bravo" 10. the ship's design - really well laid out with uninaginable amounts of glass
Things to work on: 1. the food - oh, dear. With some exceptions, it was middle of the road. Everything was fresh, but things lacked the zip and pow factor. One example only - the Caesar salad was bland. (BUT, the diningroom staff happily brought us extra lemon and anchovies every night to zip it up.)
2. photography - they could take more time and produce better photos
3. the stage shows - beautiful theatre and sightlines but poor arrangements and low singer quality resulted in numerous walkouts
Don't let the "Things to work on" comments put you off. I would go on this ship again in a heartbeat.
11 nights on a beautiful ship! The Brilliance was great. The food, service and amenities were outstanding. Embarkation/debarkation were smooth and fairly quick. Our stateroom (Cat E2-balcony) was small but very well layed out and nicely appointed.
I would definitely recommend a balcony - fun to watch the ship coming into ports in the breaking dawn. We would do it again in a moment!
My wife and I sailed aboard a truly beautiful ship. Boarding may be difficult on some ships as we are disabled and use motorized scooters, but it was flawless on the Brilliance. Our wheelchair accessible (inside)cabin was spacious and we were particularly delighted by the "push buttons" that automatically opened the typically heavy cabin door. Meals were varied and better than on most other ships. Service by the waiters and cabin attendant was efficient and courteous.
The shows were not as impressive as on the other RCCL ships on which we have sailed. The only problem we encountered was disability-related and required no less than five visits to the Purser's desk before it was resolved. At the end of the cruise, leaving the ship in Miami was a breeze since the Immigration/Customs clearances were done while docked in Key West. That caused considerable grumbling by fellow passengers who waited in lengthy lines for several hours before being allowed to leave the ship in Key West. While we thoroughly enjoyed sailing on the Brilliance, our next sailings will be on the Explorer or the Navigator, as those larger ships offer ice skating and Royal Promenadeswhich we missed on this latest trip.
Wow. If I had to find one word that summed up my feelings on this cruise on Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas, that would have to be it. Wow.
A quick, one-word review for the major items:
Crew: excellent Food: superb Service: tremendous Entertainment: good (we didn't go to any shows) Ports: good (Key West, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, Aruba, Curaçao) Ship: AWESOME!
Rhapsody of the Seas bills herself as the 'Friendliest cruise ship in the world.' After being on her twice, I would have agreed. Brilliance, however, has raised the bar and blows Rhapsody out of the water. I may have a young cruise 'career,' but Brilliance of the Seas was, without a doubt, the best cruise I've ever been on.
Cruise Director Bobby Brown and his wife, Social Host Becky, made sure that people enjoyed themselves. They attended the CruiseCritic party and talked at length with all of us. No zipping in and out here; they stuck around for the long haul. Additionally, the cruise staff was the nicest I've ever been around. I came to know the names of many: Bobby and Becky, Becky #2 (who was on Explorer whenwe were in 2001), Chris #1 and Chris #2 (a fellow Texan and Austinite), Eddie the Scoreboard Bar bartender, Kim at Guest Relations, Wayne and Andrae in the Starquest Disco' and the list goes on. All of them were always interested in knowing if we were having a good time.
Now, through into the mix a great group of people from our Cruisemates.com and CruiseCritic groups, and the large ship seemed even more like home. Every day we'd see people we knew at every turn, whether it was crew, online mates, or just people we'd met onboard. We had great tablemates from England, and coincidentally enough, our cabin neighbors were also from England. Both pairs were great people.
The food in the dining room was excellent every night. Nothing bad I can say here. But what I have to say is a crown jewel on Brilliance is the Windjammer. Gone are the plastic resin tables from previous Windjammers. This one is full of rich wood furnishings and deep colors. Pity that some people ignored the 'no bathing attire' signs because the Windjammer was beautiful. The layout helped get food to people quickly also. Never had to wait long to get at the food. Additionally, there is outdoor seating available for the Windjammer, something I liked.
The menus were always diverse. (by the way, the dinner menu in the dining room can be found in the Windjammer each night.) Only one night did I feel I had to order off of the alternative items menu (I ordered the strip steak); otherwise, there were plenty of choices. And many times I didn't stop at one choice!
Our waiter, Ersin Erdem, and assistant waitress, Regina, were the best servers we've ever had, bar none. Ersin was so entertaining, providing laughs and conversation every night. Now I know many people don't care to have their servers talk to them, but I personally feel those people are social boors and probably couldn't talk to anyone. But that's just me. They made dinner so much fun every night.
Florian was our room steward and was great. He answered any requests quickly and efficiently. Our room was also cleaned quickly when we needed it. Kim at the Guest Relations desk was terrific, especially how she handled our CyberCabin problem (see below).
Entertainment. Well, as I mentioned above, we didn't go to any shows, but I can provide the names of the entertainers: Steve Smith, comedian; The Gusés, dancers; John Davidson, former Hollywood Squares host; Craig Dahn, entertainer and former Liberace protégé; Michelle Murlin, star of Cats, Les Miserables; Wilde and Haines, comedy duo; the original Drifters; and Blair Shannon, comedian. Of course, there's always the local troupe of the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers.
Having done this itinerary before, nothing was new in the ports. Island Village is a good place to visit in Jamaica. It was a short walk, and it had all the major shops. We bought Blue Mountain Coffee for $16/lb. Don't buy it from the coffee house, where strangely enough it was much more. Took excursions in Cozumel and Aruba, and both were very good.
Now the ship. Wow. What a beauty. Some people make a big deal about the artwork that goes into some of these ships, but Brilliance of the Seas is her own work of art. She's just beautiful. There is plenty of wood, huge expanses of glass, and soft but rich color tones. If you want to find the classiest place on board, visit the Colony Club. It's such a beautiful place.
Other places onboard to check out: The theatre. I expected just a large screen in a room with some chairs, but it's an actual stadium-seating theater for 48 right outside the Scoreboard Bar. The pool tables in the Colony Club also should not be missed. One night when the seas were a little rough, it was fun to go and watch the tables work their magic, rocking back and forth to maintain a level playing surface. There was a story going around about how the inventor of these $90,000 tables sailed on Brilliance when she crossed the Atlantic for her debut. The seas were so rough, the tables' inventor slept on them on the way over. Check out the Crown & Anchor Lounge. Suspended on a round platform above the Centrum, it has a glass center that looks down through the middle of the Centrum. A little unsettling, but what a feat. The Starquest Disco, part of the Viking Crown Lounge, has a bar that revolves around the bartenders' pit. It's the coolest thing.
Some additional things that, while minor, could be worked on by Royal Caribbean: While I like that you have allotted pool towels, if the purpose is to prevent people from saving chairs by the pool, this new method fails. Additionally, while RCI says someone would come around and monitor the saved chair situation, no one ever did. A chair next to me had nothing but a towel on it for an hour and a half.
CyberCabin was a big, BIG disappointment. It was ok ' when it worked. And that was rare and hard to come by. It didn't work at all for 3 of the days. I tried in the morning, afternoon, and evening on those days. Nothing. Incidentally, they will tell you time and time again that CyberCabin won't work on a Mac, when in fact they mean THEY can't get it to work on a Mac. It DOES work on a Mac! We did get an appropriate credit for it not working, and Kim at Guest Relations was terrific at resolving the problem. She followed through from beginning to end, finally supplying us with a complimentary bottle of wine for our problems. All I wanted was to have the problem fixed, and she went well beyond that. It was sincerely appreciated.
I wish RCI would return to having smoking only allowed on one side of the ship. It was permitted in any 'open deck area,' but the former policy was better I thought.
The dress for formal night and a couple of other nights at the table next to us caught our attention. Unfortunately it didn't catch the attention of the head waiter, who should have asked a couple of them to change. And I'm NOT talking merely about jeans and a t-shirt. Two of the girls at the table had faded, tattered jeans that revealed more than a plumber's pair of pants, and tops that were just short of tube tops.
While the food and service were great, the table itself was unacceptable. It's positioned at the back wall of the dining room behind a column that blocked any view. Plus, because the column was so close to the table, anyone passing by between the table and column always came close to knocking over one of our drinks or something else. One man walked by one night and left with my butter on his coattail. RCI should replace that table and its twin on the other side with a piece of art or maybe a small bus station.
We were in cabin 1574, a D cabin on deck 10. It was a great cabin, but there was some noise that came down from the Windjammer. Our tablemates were in a D down the hall, and they had even more noise that kept them awake or woke them at different times. So watch out for that.
All in all, this was a terrific cruise, and one that will be hard to top. I know I ended the review with a few negatives but they were FAR outweighed by all the great people, all the great things, and all the great times that were on this cruise.
Just got back from the Brilliance and I am writing this as a British person who booked a package from RCI
We should have been on the Legend but flights were cancelled due to a storm in the UK. RCI offered a full refund - a fair offer in the circumstances but then spoilt it by charging more for a shorter cruise in a worse cabin This seemed a bit cheep as the cruise had been booked over a year ahead for a special occasion which is why we agreed-I would not in any other circumstance
The travel from UK was pretty good considering that we only switched 3 days before the cruise
We stayed at the Radison in Miami which was OK but I would not wish to stay for more than 1 night.
Embarkation at the port was very quick only spoiled by being fingerprinted for the 3rd time (eventually 4) I understand the USAs concerns about security but UK is under the same threat and we do not treat Americans like this-we are allies! I am aware of many British people who love the USA and its peoplewho will not return because we are treat like criminals.
We were on the Brilliance 2 years ago and it was interesting to contrast the experience.
I must say that standards have dropped noticably since the last time.
The ship itself remains lovely and its staff are a credit to the company.
Chief bartender Eddie who we met last time when he worked the sports bar does a great job and has tremendous staff.
Whilst almost reluctant to single out individuals as they were all great I would highlight Medal Kirk and Susanner from the Schooner bar who I regarded as genuine friends at the end.Medals tricks were the most entertaining thing on the cruise
Food is a real topic of conversation and is a very personel thing. Some liked it some did not-I did not They seem incapable of serving anything hot and the dining room got emptier by the night.
That said the simple menu at the Seaview cafe is very good with everything prepared fresh and although we did not use them I gather that Chops and Portofinos which have a cover charge were excellent.
The entertainment 2 years ago included the Osmonds (not my cup of tea but most liked them) No danger of this now - expect a plate spinner and an appaling French "comedian" -truly dreadful The resident singers tried hard but at least 1 of them was tone deaf.
I can only assume the cost of fuel has forced cutbacks - the contrast over 2 years was incredible.
We had a balcony cabin on deck 8 which was excellent and well kept by the cabin steward Dotsy The ship rolled and creeked much more than the last time - are the stabalisers being withdrawn to save fuel?
The ports of call varied.
Aruba-been before but worth a visit
Panama -great experience in canal but tour "Monkey watching" dreadful -overpriced 4 hours on bus for 1 hour in Gatun lake
Port Limon - why would anyone inflict this dump on anyone-dreadful
Grand Cayman - visited before and is very nice
Dis embarkation was incredibly smooth (fingerprinted again!)until we got to the car park. We has a day room booked at the Hilton but we were left in the car park in 40F temperature for well over an hour put on and removed from 3 buses before eventually getting to the Hilton 3 hours later -this came close to spoiling the whole holiday. The RCI reps in the bus area were un-helpful and 1 woman down right abusive " I have 2000 passengers to worry about what makes you special"
RCI really need to either treat UK customers properly or simply accept that they cater only for US citizens-it was very noticable how few UK citizens took this trip compared to last time.
In spite of my grumbles I still think on balance that I would use this company and ship again if only for the lovely staff and the many American friends we made.
RCI need to decide if they really want UK people on board and if so treat them well - we paid about about 6500 dollars for this (and over 1000 dollars on board) and for the first time in 4 cruises was left wondering if it was worth it
"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, whichwill 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 can't control.
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 wheelchair.
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 nautical.
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 for everyone.
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 possible.
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 Cascais.
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 winning cars.
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 moon.
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 all.
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 and memories.
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 wheelchair easily.
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. Arriverderci Roma!
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 day.
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 Corsica.
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 Cruising!
We are a couple from Cape Town, South Africa and this was our second cruise with Royal Caribbean. We have been to the Caribbean on Sovereign of the Seas, and now decided that we would try Europe, although we have been to Europe more than once before.
Please don't make the same mistake I did: by browsing too much on the Internet beforehand, I knew exactly how the ship looked inside and out before we embarked, and in the end of the day the surprise was not that big. I knew the ship was new and beautiful, and all my expectations were met.
Embarkation was a song, and we were in our cabin after 20 minutes if even that long. Our inside cabin was lovely and spacious for two people. There was more than enough storage space. The only complaint was that the cupboard opposite the bathroom door was very dark even if you switch on the light in the passage.
The cabin was number 4537 on Deck 4 amidships, unfortunately located near the entrance used by all the staff on Deck 4. They slammed the doors every five minutes andalthough I complained about it, nothing was done. So try to get a cabin far away from the linen rooms, staff entrance etc.
Our stateroom assistant Jo-Anna was very friendly, did her job well, and was very creative making towel animals. All the staff members were extremely friendly throughout the ship.
One complaint about the ship I cannot overlook -- and I noticed that everybody was complaining about it -- was the air-conditioning in the passages and the public areas. It was extremely cold. Outside were lovely summer temperatures and inside it was like an icebox. I read in previous reviews that people complained that the public areas were too hot, but now they are too cold! In the Windjammer cafe, it was so cold that we always looked for a table on the sunny side of the ship.
Although the ship has two swimming pools for adults, I felt that the outside pool was too small for the number of people on the ship. The solarium is beautiful and peaceful with the sound of running water. The decor is also very peaceful on the eye.
In the dining room we had the same problem as the last time we sailed with Royal Caribbean. We were allocated a table with people we could not understand at all. We in South Africa are fluent in English, but we were allocated a table with a Portuguese couple, a Danish couple and a Norwegian couple. Nobody was speaking English and the Portuguese couple could not understand anybody, as well as the Norwegian couple. The previous time we were with Filipinos and a honeymoon couple in their early 20s, although we are in our early 50s. I think Royal Caribbean could match their tables better. They have all our information, so why not make an effort to match people with approximately the same age group and language? We learned that there were 23 South Africans on the ship -- not that we particularly wanted to be seated with them, but that would have been better than a bunch of people you could not communicate with.
The food in the Windjammer was not as good as on the Sovereign of the Seas. We love chicken, but it was always served either with a chili covering or in a sauce that looked so bleak and unbecoming that I never tried it. We never saw grilled chicken or chicken in a nice crispy batter. The variety on the menu in the dining room was also not very large, and sometimes I really had to battle to decide what to order. Food was never an issue with us, but it is really worth mentioning that the food on the Brilliance is not that brilliant!
Also, I noticed that the waiters in the dining room serve the main course for all the people at the table at the same time. That was agony, because we had to wait until everybody was through the menu before we received our main course. The other people ordered everything on the menu, whereas we only ordered a starter and then the main course. The fact that we could not communicate with a soul at the table made the waiting worse.
The itinerary was very good, and the shore excursions were worth the money except one: Panoramic Rome was a rip-off!
We drove from Civitavecchia and after 15 minutes the bus made a toilet stop where we wasted 20 minutes. I feel if you go on an excursion and cannot wait 90 minutes (the duration of the trip to Rome) to go to a toilet, stay on the ship! When we arrived in Rome, we drove past the Arch of Constantine, the Coliseum, the Victor Emanuel monument, and were dropped off at St. Peter's for only 30 minutes. We never got to the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, or the famous via Condotti. Luckily we have been to Rome before, but if not, I would have been very disappointed. They could have cut out the toilet stop and stopped briefly at the various sites, even if it was just for a photo. We would not take photos at all, because the bus was moving all the time.
The first morning after Barcelona, we docked at Villefranche -- and what a surprise! It is a wonderful, picturesque harbor town situated between mountains. We took the Nice and Eze excursion, which was very nice, especially Eze. I still wonder why people always rave about the Promenade de Anglais, because it is the most horrible beach -- there is hardly any sand, just uncomfortable gray pebbles. We didn't have enough time to explore Villefranche, but will if we have the chance in the future. We left Villefranche at 11 p.m., and the lights of the town up the mountain and the reflection in the water was spectacular while the band at the pool played and people danced the night away as the staff prepared for the midnight buffet.
The day in Livorno we stayed on the ship, because we have been to Pisa and Florence. We had the ship to ourselves! It was wonderful to wander around and the perfect time to take pictures of the ship.
The day in Naples we took the Capri-with-lunch excursion, which we enjoyed up to the point where the guide dropped us for two hours in a part of Capri where there were just a lot of cheap souvenir shops. She said we would be taken to the section where there is more up-market shopping, but that never happened. We were also supposed to be taken to a point from where we could view the rocks for which Capri was famous, but that also never happened.
The next day was at sea and very relaxing. It was also our first formal night and everybody was dressed up. We liked the way Captain James made announcements from the bridge. He always made it very informative, especially the day he deliberately sailed close to the volcano Stromboli with its active crater.
Day 6 at approximately 11 a.m. we sailed into Venice, and what a spectacular view from the Viking Crown Lounge! Everybody was standing on the top deck of the swimming pool, and it was extremely hot outside, but we were clever enough to enjoy the view from inside the air-conditioned lounge. We were fortunate that the ship docked on the Grand Canal a few minutes' walk from St Mark's Square. The captain reported that from May to October the ship was only allowed to dock there twice, and this was one of the times!
We took the "Gondola by night" excursion and enjoyed it very much. Venice by night is very beautiful with the lights reflecting in the water. Every gondola got a bottle of bubbly and everybody was very cheerful. We walked back from St. Mark's square, where lovely music was played. The Brilliance of the Seas is a wonderful sight at night viewed from one of the bridges on our way back with all its lights on. It looks so majestic.
The next day we explored Venice on our own. It was very hot, so we stayed on the ship that afternoon after being in the sun the whole morning.
The following day we arrived in Dubrovnik surrounded by mountains and cypress trees. The water was aquamarine and another cloudless day was awaiting us. We took the panoramic Dubrovnik tour, which gave us an idea of the damage done during the war, and viewed parts of the old city within the city walls. I found the city itself to be very bland. Everything is gray, and I cannot remember seeing anything colorful.
Next day we visited our favorite Greek island, Corfu. We once stayed there for two weeks, and it was still as beautiful as ever. We took the Paleokastritsa, Lakones and Kassiopi excursion, which was very informative and scenic. We had time to take a small boat to visit all the caves with the bluest and clearest water I have seen in my life. In some places we could see purple crystals in the water. What a sight! We had lunch in Kassiopi, a fishing village at the north of the island. We then drove to Kyrkyra, Corfu's main town, where we had time for shopping. There were lots of people and I feel the time there was just too short.
Our last stop was Rome, on which I have commented before.
Our holiday was a blast, seeing that the weather was perfect, the ship lived up to our expectations, the excursions were good, and we met wonderful people.
I noticed that a lot of people don't make use of the excursions. They just take a taxi into the various towns and walk around by themselves. That is not a way to see the real picture. If I would have been dropped in Corfu and just went to Kyrkyra I would not have liked the island -- but that way you didn't see anything of the island. A lot of people form their opinions from just minimal sightseeing, and that is unfair.
Disembarkation was as easy as embarkation and we will definitely, if given the chance, sail with Royal Caribbean again.
Background: This was our 6th cruise and 4th with Royal Carribbean (previous ships were Majesty, Enchantment, and Grandeur). Also sailed with Carnival (probably not again) and Princess. Both me and wife are in our early 30's and love cruising. This was our first time in Europe and our first cruise 12 nights. All our other cruises were 7 nights.
Itinerary: 12-night Mediterranean cruise aboard RCCL's Brilliance of the Seas: Barcelona, Spain Villefranche, (Nice), France Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Italy Naples, Italy At sea Venice, Italy ( 2 days) Dubrovnik, Croatia Corfu, Greece At sea Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy At sea Barcelona, Spain
Air Transportation and Pre-cruise package: Our air and hotel was arranged through RCCL (we have always let the cruise line pick our hotel and flights and have always been happy with the results). We flew Delta from Minneapolis on May 9th to Cincinnati to JFK in New York to Barcelona, Spain. Total flight time was 12 hours. Cruise representatives meet us outside of customs at 8:30am on May 10th and took us to our hotel. We stayed at the Silken Gran Havana. The staff at the hotel let us check in early about 11am,instead of the usually 3pm. The hotel staff spoke english and were very pleasant. The hotel was nicely located and we were able to walk everywhere (La Rambla, Gothic quarter, Church of the Sacred Family and the water front). Our room was on the top floor (6th floor) with a balcony. The room was small, but didn't really matter to us, since all we used it for was sleeping and watching some tv. The bathroom was marble and was very nice. The only downside of the hotel was that the room was not soundproof as the brochure indicated. We stayed 2 nights at the hotel.
Embarkment: Cruise representatives meet us at the hotel at 10:30am on May 12th and we left for the pier. After about 20 minutes we arrived at the pier. Since all our paperwork was already filled out before we left the hotel, embarkment went smoothly. Waited in line for about 20 minutes, had our picture taken, and boarded the ship.
Overview of the ship: Very nice and clean ship, artwork and glass is everywhere. The ship is less than one year old and is of the Vision class of ships. The elevators face outward and have glass on them, so you can see the ocean or port of call when traveling in them. The ship was very clean and I can't say anything bad about this ship. It met our expectation completely. The Schooner bar was a favorite hang out as was the Viking Crown Lounge (also called the Starquest Disco).
Stateroom This was our first balcony cabin (room #7624 on the aft side of the ship). Normally, we get an outside cabin with a window, but since this was for 12 nights we decided to spend a little extra money on a balcony. The room size was standard Royal Caribbean, but had lots of storage and closet space. The balcony was nice, since I could sit outside watching the ship coming into and leaving port. Our room steward was very friendly and quickly cleaned our room whenever we left for the day.
Dining There were many places to have a meal on this ship and food was always available. The choices included: dining room, windjammer café, seaview café, Chops steakhouse and Portofino's. We ate breakfast in the windjammer café every morning, except on disembarkment when we ate in the dining room. The food in the windjammer was better than on other RCCL's ships, with the exception of the yogurt. It was terrible. Lunch was good in the windjammer also, the salad bar was fresh, burgers and hotdogs were very hot (temperature, not spice). The desserts were ok. Some of the less popular desserts from the night before in the dining room appeared in the windjammer. We never ate at Chops or Portofino's for dinner. We always ate in the dining room. This was due to having a great table of companions. We had second seating at table #405. Second seating starting at 9:15pm, instead of the usual 8:30pm. There were six of us. Me and my wife from Minneapolis, MN, another couple from NYC, and another from Detroit. All of us were in our mid 30's had previously cruised and it was our first time in Europe. We had a blast each night at dinner and frequently got together outside of the dining room. The cruise line did a good job at matching us up. The food in the dining room was very good. I especially enjoyed the chilled soups. The chocolate desserts were sometime to rich for me, but tasted very good. All my steaks were cooked to my specifications and I never was disappointed with the meat selections.
The seaview café which was located on the sports deck on deck 12 had very good food, especially the onion rings and Cuban sandwich. We went up there everyday for a before dinner snack or 2. I would definitely recommend having at least one meal at the seaview café, just to try it and see for yourself.
Entertainment: There were 3 production shows on the cruise. They were called Now & Forever, Closer to You, and Turn the Beat Around. All three were excellent. The headliners included: Jacqui Scott, Ole' Ole', Jon Courtenay, Graham P. Jolley, Bobby Arvon, Claire Gobin, and finally Hal Frazier. On the overnight stay in Venice, the ship did not have a show, instead they had a movie night and showed, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding". The only show we missed was Jacqui Scott's. The other headliners were good. Claire Gobin was the best in my opinion, she played many different types of music on her violin. Very impressive. The least entertaining was Bobby Arvon. He sang the theme song for Happy Days. The rest of his music was from the 50's. I didn't recognize any of it and we left early, to catch up on our sleep.
Ports of call: Since this was our first time in Europe and the only language we speak is English, we decided to take ship excursions at all ports of call. Villefranche, (Nice), France Took the Best of the French Riveria tour. It was 8 ½ hours and included lunch at a local restaurant. The tour started out bad, since the French government workers were out protesting and had their demonstration in the streets, preventing our bus from leaving Nice. We sat on the bus for over an hour. Finally made it to Cannes, home of the film festival. Had limited time looking around, before we were back on the bus to visit the village of St. Paul-de-Vence. The village was up in the hills, surrounded by walls and had stone walkways and buildings. This was a very picture-perfect setting for some great pictures. We had about 1 - 1 ½ hours here. Our last stop was at the village of Grass to visit a local perfume manufacturer. You could smell the fragrances as we neared the factory.
Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Italy Took the Florence and Pisa tour. The tour lasted 10 hours. In Florence, we toured the Piazza del Duomo, where the cathedral, bell tower, and baptistery housed a copy of Ghiberti's "Gates of Paradise". In the Piazza della Signoria we saw a copy of Michelangel's "David" and the Loggia dei Lanzi. Next we walked to the Church of Santa Croce and finally to a restaurant for lunch. There was only about 30 minutes of free time in Florence, the majority of the time was walking through the city. After lunch, we got on the bus for the trip to Pisa. I learned Pisa, is a historic university town. A short walk later, we were in the Field of Miracles to marvel at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We had about 1 hour of free time in Pisa.
Naples, Italy Took the Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri tour. The tour lasted 10 hours. After leaving the ship, we took a transport boat to the island of Capri. The water was very rough and lots of people had motion sickness on the ride. The ride took about 45 minutes from Naples. After arriving on Capri, we took a funicular to the top of the island. A funicular is a combination cable car/ sky ride up the side of the mountain. It was a very smooth ride and gave great views of the island. We had about 1 hour of free time to visit the Augustus Gardens and stroll the streets of Capri. Additional time would have been nice here. Next, we took a water transport to Sorrento and had a bus tour of the city before lunch. Finally we were off to Pompeii. This is what I had waited to see and I was not disappointed. We saw Mount Vesuvius as we walked through Pompeii. The archaeological site is much larger than I had originally thought. Many paintings and inscriptions are still visible in the city. This is a must see for anyone interested in ancient ruins. Finally, we stopped at a cameo factory, where we saw the art of cameo carving and a chance to purchase some of the handicrafts.
Venice (2 days in Venice) Day 1: Tour of Murano Glassworks, San Giorgio, and gondola ride. The tour took 4 hours. We first visited San Giorgio. A motor launch took us to the island of San Giorio Maggiore, we had time to visit the interior and exterior of the Church of San Pietri di Casell. Next, we went to the island of Murano to visit a glass factory. A demonstration of glass blowing was done. The worker made a horse out of glass in about 5 minutes. We were then ushered into the glass showrooms to shop. There were about 10 rooms filled with very expensive glass. Chandliers, figurines, vases, jewelry boxes. Our last activity was a gondola ride. We traveled six per gondola, for about 30 minutes trough the many canels. It was very relaxing and tranquil as we glided by the many balconied, waterfront homes. Day 2: Tour of Doges' Palace, St. Mark's Cathedral & Glass Showroom. We started at the Doges' Palace, the ancient residence of the Doges', governor of the Serenissima Republic. It is an excellent example of Gothic architecture. We toured the interior and climbed the Golden Staircase, admired the Great Council chamber and the grand painting of Tintoretto and Veronest. We walked through the Bridge of Sighs, that spans the canal between the Doges' Palace and the prison. Next, we went to St. Mark's Cathedral. We saw the haze of blue and gold mosaics inside the cathedral. Finally, there was another glass factory tour. It was very similar to the previous day's glass factory.
Dubrovnik, Croatia Panoramic Dubrovnik and city tour. The tour took 4 hours. We drove through Dubrovnik and the riveria for a panoramic view of the city of Dubrovnik Old Town. It was a very beautiful city and showed very little signs that a war had been fought here. After entering Old Town, we did a walking tour by entering through the Pile Gate and down the main street called Stadum. We visited a 14th centry Franciscan Monastery, which still houses the oldest working pharmacy in Europe. The Rector's Palace was toured next, this palace use to be the seat of Dubrovnik Republic government. Finally, we visited other monuments such as: Onofrio's fountain, the Sponza Palace, and St. Blaise's church.
Corfu, Greece Achilleion Place, Paleokastritsa, and Old Town tour. The tour lasted 5 hours. We started out driving to Paleokastritsa. The bay has been called the "Capri of Greece". I can see why, it was very beautiful. Next, we went to the byzantine Monastery of the Virgin. This monastery is still inhabited by monks. It had a small museum for viewing priceless icons and church relics. The gardens gave a great view of the bay. Next, we went to Achilleion Palace. The palace housed many great statues of ancient Greek history and mythology. Some of the statues we saw included: Achilles dying and the statues of the Nine Greek Muses, and Achilles Victorious. Many statues can be seen in the gardens. Finally, we went to Old Town for independent exploration.
Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy Imperial Rome tour. The tour lasted 10 ½ hours. This tour focused heavily on ancient Roman times and not on the Vatican. The bus ride from Civitavecchia to Rome took 1 ½ hours each way. Our first stop was at the Roman Forum. We walked through Via Sacra (Sacred Way), to the Arch of Titus and the Arch of Constantine. We had a very good guide, who provided explicit details as to what we were seeing. We had about 30 minutes of independent exploration, before we walked over to the Colosseum. We went inside of the Colosseum and was very impressed by it all. Next, we walked over to St. Peter's in Chains Cathedral. We saw Michelangelo's statue of Moses holding the ten commandments. After lunch, we drove to the Vatican City to visit St. Peter's Basilica, the largest church in the world. We saw Michelangelo's "Pieta" and the carved Bernini Pulpit. This church was the most impressive that I had ever seen. After some independent time shopping, we got back on our bus for our return trip to the ship.
Disembarkment: We had to vacate our stateroom by 7:00am on May 24th and wait in a lounge until our color tag was called to disembarkment. We had breakfast in the dining room and then waited until about 9:30am. We located our luggage very quickly in the terminal building and proceeded to the bus for our ride to the airport. The Barcelona airport was a madhouse of people. It took us almost 3 hours to check-in, but only 30 seconds at security. Our flight schedule was Barcelona to JFK in New York to Cincinnati to Minneapolis.. We arrived in Minneapolis at about 10:30pm on May 24th and were home by midnight.
Overview of trip: This was a great trip. We meet some very nice people . The ship was beautiful and fun. The ports of call were all interesting, with lots of things to see and do. I would definitely cruise with Royal Caribbean again and hopefully very soon. I would rate this cruise a 4.5 out of 5 stars.
To coin someone else's phrase, the Brilliance is Brilliant! An absolutely gorgeous ship!
This was a Cruise Mates Cruise. I'm convinced knowing people onboard before you board is the way to go! We had a pre-cruise party at the Hyatt, well attended, all of us ready to cruise!
I cruised with April this time, which helped me beat the single supplement I get hit with when I travel alone. We had heard about RCI's "pier coordinator," so April and I decided to check it out; we spotted the desk in the very far corner of the check-in area. Earlier, the travel agent had offered us an E3 cabin for $200 more than the outside room we had booked, but we decided to wait. The pier coordinator showed us a chart listing prices to upgrade, which were also also $200 to go from outside to balcony. She listed cabins available, showed us a deck plan, and we were able to get a "D" on 9 -- better than an E3, so we were happy. You also check in at this desk, so we didn't have to wait in a long line.Later in the day, it caused some brief problems relocating our luggage and a bottle of wine from the other cabin, but our room steward took care of it. It was not a big deal considering the better cabin we got.
>From the minute we walked onboard, I was impressed. I love light and airy, with lots of windows, so I knew I was going to love this ship! I was on the Golden Princess in November. It was nice, but the Brilliance is over the top in appearance, inside and outside -- just gorgeous! The art in the stairwells was absolutely super, I never got tired of looking at it! The whole ship is very well done and pleasing to the eye.
We had a category D cabin and it was fine. Twins beds are a little close when it comes to going around to the balcony or bathroom, but not too much of a problem. The closet/bathroom door arrangement is tricky, but Brilliance isn't the only ship with this setup. The bathroom itself has a small shower, similar to other ships, but great water pressure and ease of use. Even with the curtain, we never flooded the floor!
Dining is an important part of the cruise, and the Brilliance didn't disappoint. A few nights the menu items seemed a little "different," but you could always choose from the "always available" items. I was not disappointed with any of my meals and the deserts were good, too. The waiters were eager to please and handled requests for an extra entrée, or baked potato instead of rice, with a smile. There were seven at our table, and everyone seemed pleased with the meals.
We also tried the alternative dining restaurants, Chops and Portofino's, and the food was excellent. I had the best filet mignon ever (and I generally don't eat beef), and the veal was super, too! We had an issue with Chops that was clearly miscommunication and poorly handled, but in the end they credited my account.
The Windjammer Buffet's location, just steps away from our cabin, was my downfall! I could not stay away from the cookies and desserts that were always out. The food in the buffet area was good, and I was so hung up on snacking, I didn't get to try all the lunch items. Seating was never a problem. There were no lines to wait for food, and drinks were easy to get. I still prefer a tray over just a plate, but that's not a major complaint, just my personal preference.
The SeaView Cafe was good, too. I had a great salad there one day, with a side of onion rings. Another place to get food (I found them all) was the solarium pool area, which had good pizza, and deserts and cookies always available. The solarium area was great if you wanted a pool, nice chairs and a little quiet.
I don't know what the answer is for cruise lines when it comes to the towels/ chair-saving situation. I'm not sure what would work; it's definitely a frustrating situation on sea days. April and I separated on some sea days, because it was a struggle to find two chairs together. I was always able to find a chair all the way forward on Deck 12, but a lot of people don't like those because you are far removed from any activity.
As for the ports, we took the Trolley Tour in Key West, which gives you a good overview. You can get on and off at various stops, or just ride for the two hours. It was a good tour; we just hopped onto it on our own, although you could book it through the ship for a higher price.
We took a catamaran snorkel/sail in Cozumel, which included snorkeling and a beach stop. It was nice and worth the price comparable to others I've done.
After we overdid it in Cozumel and got rather sick, we opted to stay on the ship in Grand Cayman. I won't bore you with the Cozumel details, but we slept 15 hours to recover! A friend thought we got lost and was worried when she didn't see us for two days.
In Jamaica, April booked a tour with Peat Tailor; he has a great tour and is very accommodating. Searching the message boards, we never found a single complaint so we decided to give him a try, and it was well worth it. There were 10 of us, and he was willing to take us to Dunn's River Falls, give us an island tour, drop us at various places, and come back and pick us up even before we paid him. Incredible guy, great tour!
In Aruba and Curacao, we just did tours that were there as you walked off the ship. The Aruba driver/guide wasn't great, but we got a fairly good overview of the island (minus the lighthouse). And on our own, we went to Carlos 'n' Charlie's. In Curacao, the guide was great and gave us a great deal of information, a much better tour.
I can't really think of any negatives about the Brilliance, except that the disembarkation procedure was the worst I've seen in 16 cruises. I felt sorry for people that had to stand for long periods of time and weren't prepared for it. Leaving the Golden Princess in November was a walk in the park compared to this process. I was booked on a tour, and it took well over an hour to get off the ship, get luggage, get on the bus and be on our way. I booked the Everglades tour, which was very good.
As I said, cruising with a group and writing ahead of time on the message boards makes the cruise even more enjoyable. Cruising is the best, but even nicer when you meet a great group of people!