Since our flight was at 7:45 a.m., we decided to stay overnight at the hotel at the airport in Pittsburgh. I used Priceline.com and got the Hyatt Regency for $29.00. It was a great room and so convenient the next morning to just step outside the hotel's door to the people mover at the airport.
Security was very tight at Pittsburgh International Airport. Gary and I had a total of four checked bags and two carry-on pieces. Of the four checked bags, they opened and examined two of them before the bags were taken from us. We then proceeded to the security checkpoint before going over to the gate. Gary was taken aside and wand-ed all over. I do have one tip for travelers: wear tennis shoes, they do not make you remove them, but they do have you remove hard-soled shoes. We had a non-stop flight to Miami. Except for a couple of scary moments, the flight was good.
We arrived in Miami around 10:30 a.m. and took a taxi to the Hyatt Regency Downtown. The cab was a flat rate of $20.00 from airport to downtown Miami. Again, weused Priceline.com and were able to get the Hyatt Regency Downtown Miami for $50.00. I later learned that others in our group obtained the same hotel for much less (in the $20.00 range). But, even at $50.00 the hotel was a bargain. Very nice room with a balcony (small, but I was able to enjoy sitting on it in the morning before we embarked).
At 6 p.m. we met with a nice group of folks we had been corresponding with via the Internet for a cocktail party at the bar at the Hyatt. It was great meeting everyone before we embarked. A bunch of us decided to head to Bubba Gump's in the Bayside Marketplace for dinner. It was a great chance for us all to get to know one another. Gary and I sat with Philip and Gary from Texas and really enjoyed their company.
EMBARKATION As the Hyatt does not have a shuttle to the ship, we took a cab. I believe the cab fare was $10.00. The Port of Miami is very close to the Hyatt. We arrived at the pier at approximately 11 a.m. We stood in line less than a half hour before we embarked. The check-in process was painless and Royal Caribbean International's (RCI) staff at the pier was excellent. While standing in line, a representative handed us a paper stating our cabins would not be ready until 2 p.m. (I believe) but we were free to go to the Windjammer Café for lunch and then explore the ship. Unlike Celebrity, Royal Caribbean did not have representatives greeting us and offering to escort you to your cabin (probably because they did not want us to go to the cabin that early). Gary and I did go to our cabin (9616, category D) to drop off our carry-on luggage and the cabin was ready.
We then went to the Windjammer for lunch (my first impression of the food was very positive). I will talk more about Windjammer a little later. After lunch, we set out to explore the ship. There were very few people onboard so it was a great time to explore.
THE SHIP Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am the world's biggest Celebrity Cruise Line fan. My favorite ship up until now has been Celebrity's Millennium. Key words there."up until now". Brilliance of the Seas is unbelievable. This ship is absolutely beautiful. I never thought I'd find a ship that could match Millie, but this ship exceeds her. Don't' get me wrong, Millie is still a first-class ship.but there is just something about Brilliance! I think what I loved most is the décor. Brilliance has so much glass and wood. Seems everywhere you go on this ship, you can look out and see the water! The artwork is very pleasing to the eye also. Gary described his first impression as a "sensory overload". Everywhere you look, there is something new and pleasing to see. The Centrum is the prettiest I've ever seen.
We had cabin 9616, category D. This cabin really wasn't bigger than others I've had but the layout of the cabin made it seem much larger.
There are many smaller, intimate spaces on Brilliance, which I liked very much. Royal Caribbean achieved this very well. I've sailed on Golden Princess in the past. They attempted to create these small, intimate places but only managed to have the ship appear "chopped up". I'm very impressed with how Royal Caribbean managed to do this.
There is always one place on the ship that becomes my favorite. On Brilliance it was the Colony Club (aft, deck six). Just walking to the Colony Club is an experience all it's own. I love the areas you have to walk through to get there. You walk through the Schooner Bar; pass the specialty restaurants and the pool table area on your way. All of these areas are just beautiful. The Colony Club has comfortable chairs and couches of which some face the all glass back wall looking out to the water. Our first experience with the Colony Club was at night with a full moon outside. What a spectacular sight! I also found my way to the Colony Club mid-afternoon. It was pretty quiet back there and always bright and sunny. I'd use the excuse that I was going back there to read, but always ended up napping on one of the couches. Activities such as bingo, trivia and dance classes are also held in the Colony Club.
Another thing that I loved on this ship is the way they handle their Internet café. Instead of a room tucked away somewhere with many computers side by side, Brilliance offers several areas with just a few computers each. They are located on Decks, 4, 5 and 7. I used the Internet several times and never had a problem finding an unused computer. The charge was 50 cents a minute.
Although Brilliance is a large ship, you never felt like there were crowds of people. All in all, it is very easy to maneuver Brilliance. The layout is well thought out.
We were still finding new places on the ship well into the second week.
DINING As I mentioned earlier, our first experience with food on Brilliance was the Windjammer Café. The layout of the Windjammer works very well. There are several "stations": one for salads, entrées, desserts, etc. This was my first experience with how RCI handles their beverage stations. They have staff members filling the glasses behind a bar. They always had several iced teas, water, and lemonade, lined up and ready for you to grab on the fly. Sure beats trying to balance your plate and fill your glass at the same time.
We only used the Windjammer for breakfast and lunch. We were very impressed with the quality of the food. One big plus is the egg station. They will prepare eggs anyway you like; omelets, fried, etc. This was something we missed on Golden. There is nothing worse than a fried egg that has been sitting under a heat lamp. If you are a french fry fan, Windjammer makes the best I've ever eaten! I spoke to others who had their dinner there and they were very impressed. We walked through one night before dinner to see what the Windjammer had to offer for dinner. The selections were unbelievable. I heard folks comment that the steak and shrimp were excellent.
We ate dinner most nights in the Minstrel Dinning Room. Our table was #455, a table for eight. The location was not the greatest as it was not in the main section of the room. But we had so much fun with our tablemates that the location didn't matter. Our headwaiter, assistant waiter and Maitre'D were excellent. They were always willing to please!
The food is one area where Millennium wins hands down. The food selection and quality were above average on Brilliance, but on Millie they were excellent. Don't' get me wrong.. I certainly did not go hungry on this cruise. Gary and I are huge chocolate fans and RCI just misses the mark on their chocolate desserts with one exception, the chocolate soufflé, which was excellent. Non-chocolate desserts were wonderful, i.e. crème brulee, and tiramisu!
The Seaview Café is tucked away on Deck 12, Aft and is only open certain hours during the day and late night. What a cool place to have a snack. They cook your food to order, hamburgers, Rueben's, chicken salads and a great crab salad. They also have some desserts.their brownie sure met our chocolate cravings and they make a great milkshake. You do not pay extra for the food in the Seaview, but you do pay for the milkshakes. This place is not to be missed.
Another place we enjoyed on occasion was Latte-tudes. They serve coffee and snacks. A nice place to visit during the afternoon.
We ate dinner one night at RCI's specialty restaurant, Chops. The dining room was very pretty and the food and service was outstanding. We have a funny story about our experience here. Earlier in this review I mentioned how much we enjoyed our tablemates on this cruise. Well, Sunday night we went to chops for dinner at 6 p.m. Gary and I had a table for two. A few minutes later our tablemates, Jill and Steve, walked in and were seated right next to us at a table for two. Of course we laughed and said we just couldn't get away from each other. We talked and talked. The waiter asked if we wanted our tables pushed together but we said no, each of us assuming that the other couple wanted to be alone. Well, as the meal went on, we continued laughing and talking with each other. Finally, we had our tables pushed together and had a wonderful time with them.
THE ENTERTAINMENT This was my biggest disappointment with the cruise. I've heard that entertainment on an 11-day cruise may be lacking. That certainly was the case on this cruise. Gary and I go to every show in the theatre. The first few shows were certainly not what we have come to expect from our past cruises. Again, Celebrity's Millennium takes the prize for entertainment. In the past, we've always looked forward to going to the show after dinner. After the first few shows on Brilliance, we were almost afraid to go to the shows. It also seemed that a lot of the entertainment was geared to a much older group. I heard people say it made them think of the old Lawrence Welk shows. John Davidson performed on the third night. He started out slow, but soon had us all rolling on the floor. He really is very funny. The Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers seemed amateur-ish (a big disappointment). The comedy shows of Wilde and Haines (night 7), Steve Shaffer (night 8) and Blair Shannon (farewell show) were all very good. The Original Drifters entertained on night ten and they were great (Gary and went to both of their shows). So you can see that the entertainment improved towards the end of the cruise. I just wonder how many folks quit going to the shows after the first few. I did notice quite a few empty seats in the theatre as the cruise went on.
THE QUEST Anyone who has cruised with RCI before probably knows what The Quest is. I will not ruin it for those who do not. But it is not to be missed. We teamed up with Steve and Jill, our tablemates (Steve takes this game very seriously!) This was probably the most fun we had on the cruise. RCI rates this game as "PG13".I'm not so sure it shouldn't be rated "R". What a hoot! Be prepared to laugh until you cry if you play this game.
EXCURSIONS Since we have never visited three of the ports on this cruise, we decided to do excursions on all of them. We always book the ship excursions because I'm paranoid. I like knowing the ship will not leave without us if we are late getting back to the ship. I know the ship's excursions cost more, but I consider it an insurance policy.
In Cozumel, we did the Tulum Ruins tour. It is an all-day tour and the ship provides a box lunch. We enjoyed this tour very much. There is a lot of travel time involved to get to the ruins, but was worth it once we got there. After the ruins you are dropped off at Xel Ha park. Here you can snorkel; swim with the dolphins or just relax by the water.
In Ocho Rios, Jamaica we did the Dunn's River Falls climb. If you have never done this, I would highly recommend it. It was a lot of fun. After the climb, they take you to Dolphin Cove. We opted to go back to the ship as we had just seen the dolphins in Cozumel.
In Aruba, we did the all-day jeep tour. It was a lot of fun, but be prepared to get very dirty. I wore white because I knew it was going to be extremely hot in the sun all day.what a mistake. I think I'm still finding dirt on my body from that trip. During this trip you are taken to Palm Beach for lunch and some fun at the beach. We snorkeled here and it was awesome!
In Curacao, we did the city tour. It was informative, but I think next time I would go to the beach there instead.
TIPPING You have the option of having the tips added to your account or giving cash to the staff. If you chose to add them to your account you must alert Guest Relations of your wishes. If you chose to do "auto-tipping" you are given vouchers to present to the staff. I liked this very much because you still had something to hand out. And if you wanted to go above and beyond the suggested tip you could add cash to the envelope. On Golden Princess our waiter told us if you gave extra cash to them, they had to put it in a pool for everyone to share. This is not the case on RCI. The extra stays with the person you gave it to, as it should be.
MISCELLANEOUS The staff onboard Brilliance does a great job. I found them all to be very friendly and always had a smile and a hello for you. The Cruise Director, Bobby Brown, was very good. He was always very visible and very approachable. Bouncing Becky Bingo was so funny. That girl never stood still. I don't think I've ever seen someone with so much energy. An announcement was made our last day onboard that Becky was leaving Brilliance to become the Cruise Director on Majesty (I believe). I think she will be an excellent CD. Our cabin attendant, Elvis, was very friendly and he went out of his way to please.
There were daily public announcements made. This is something I usually do not care for, but they kept them to a minimum.
We never had a problem with finding a lounge chair on sea days. But we got there around 9 a.m. and were done by 12 p.m. We also did not sit by the pool; we went up to deck 12 away from the pool activity.
The seating in the solarium was minimal and it was always had to find a chair there in the afternoon.
Since the war began while we were onboard, the Captain made an announcement regarding the "conflict" (as he put it). They also made sure CNN was available 24 hours a day for anyone who wanted to keep current. CNN was on in the Schooner Bar also.
DISEMBARKATION This is the part we all hate most. Since our flight was at noon we were among the first off the ship. They began disembarkation at 7:18 a.m. and we were in the terminal by 7:30 a.m. We have never sailed out of Miami before and were pleasantly surprised at how efficient the process is. Having your bags come on the carrousel makes life so much easier. It sure beats walking into a room with rows and rows of luggage that you must walk up and down in order to locate your bags. This process was much smoother. I believe we were in a taxi to the airport by 7:50 a.m. I've read some reviews where people didn't have a good experience with disembarkation. Maybe since we were first off, it was smoother for us.
MIAMI AIRPORT I mentioned earlier how tight security was at the Pittsburgh International Airport. It was just the opposite at Miami. Security was minimal. Our checked bags were taken from us without any searching and walking through the security checkpoint was a piece of cake. I didn't see anyone being thoroughly checked. However, when we arrived at the airport, there were several dozen police cars parked outside the airport at various points. So maybe we just weren't aware of the security measures taking place.
CONCLUSION I tried to keep this short, which was impossible to do. I'm sure I've missed some things, but would be willing to answer any questions anyone might have.
We had a wonderful time on this cruise. I was privileged to host this cruise for CruiseMates and we met some wonderful people. I hope they had as much fun as we did. I feel we made some new, life long friends on this cruise.
Brilliance is brilliant!! From the decor,crew,entertainment and ports, this ship has everything needed for a memorable trip. The cabins are larger than on most RCI ships and very well appointed. The Windjammer is a delight since RCI has changed this format to individual food stations rather than one huge line, thus no waiting in line for food.
The entertainment was excellent and varied from magic acts,singers,even a dog show. The production shows were highly entertaining, energetic and well done. I loved the 10 day concept of cruising and found it much more relaxing than 7. I would recommend this ship to everyone.
This is Pam and my eleventh cruise together and our first on RCCL. We have sailed the Ecstasy 96, Galaxy 99, Mercury 99, Sea Princess 00, Millennium 01, Zenith 01, Grand Princess 01, Summit 02, NCL Star 02, and Maasdam 02.
In order for my review to have meaning to you, I think it is important to try and understand what type of person and cruiser Pam and I are. I am a type A vacationer who likes to snorkel, sail, and walk and look in shops. I rarely use the casino, and I am not a big bar/disco person, so bars are not high on my list. My wife and I cruise to dine, meet other people, and to see the ports and relax. We are not big sun worshippers because Pam is very fair skinned. Service is important, but I do not expect people to be perfect all the time. I am not, so why should they have to be? I just expect them to try and give their best effort. I also understand the difference between 5-star cruise cuisine and I don't confuse or compare it to5-star restaurant cuisine. The ship has to feed 800 to 1700 people per seating where a restaurant only feeds 200 a night.
Please take my review as a critique and not complaining. This is My Humble Opinion that represents my tastes and biases, and with that said, here is my humble opinion of the Brilliance of the Sea.
Preface We booked this cruise in March of this year when we were on the Summit. We like the Radiance class ship and we love the eleven night itinerary with Aruba. This will be my first RCI and will mean I have sailed the major lines and I wanted to see how the new RCCL ships compared to Celebrity, HAL and Princess.
Our booking price a year in advance on the Celebrity Summit was $2181 per person. by the time we got to the cruising date, the price had dropped to $1490 per person for our category D. Thanks Lori!!
Pre-Cruise We always leave at least one day before the cruise in the event there are airline issues (weather or mechanical). We flew American Airlines and went through Chicago on our way to Miami.
The weather was artic cold in Indiana when we flew out on Sunday. Lows that morning were close to 10F with wind chills under 0F. The day was sunny across the Midwest and the entire Eastern US. However, we did encounter issues that support our reasoning for going a day early.
We arrived at the Indianapolis Airport at 5:45 AM for our 7:15 AM flight. It was on American Eagle to Chicago O'Hare. The line to check in was not bad, but Pam and I got through fast because I am Platinum with American. We checked four bags. Two of them were 30" Pullmans with the heaviest weighting in at 47 pounds. At Indy, they don't measure the units and they didn't give the bags weight a second glance. If they were golf clubs or the bag looked like a casket, they might check the weight, but not on standard luggage.
Boarding went quickly and the plane was completely full. They had to de-ice the plane because it was the first flight and there was frost on the wings. by 7:30 AM we knew something was up. Three times the engines roared and then went quiet. Finally, the Captain came on and said that they could not get the number one engine started. They had tried three times and it wouldn't fire. After talking with the mechanics and trying two more times, they decided that the igniter was frosted over and not firing. The mechanics brought out a vehicle and climbed up to the engine to defrost it. Thirty minutes later if fired and we were off in the air one hour behind schedule. If that had not solved the problem, it would have been a long day.
A couple behind us were going to Fort Lauderdale for a cruise today. They were told they weren't sure if they would make the connection. I am not sure if they did or not, but I'm sure they were stressing.
We ended up with a two-hour layover in Chicago instead of a three-hour one. Our plane to Miami boarded on time, but there was an issue there. American used a standby crew to board the plane, but we ended up having to wait 5 minutes for the flight crew to arrive. Thank goodness the Captain was there and did all the pre-flight checks. Even when you think you have a perfect flying day, anything can happen.
Just when we thought the fun was over, we found out that one of our four checked bags was lost. Thank goodness the bag only contained our snorkel gear, collapsible cooler, water bottle carriers, one pair of dress shoes, our sandals, and cosmetic type items. At least I had my wine and all of our clothing.
Miami I used Priceline to get a room for the Sunday night stay. I have never stayed in Miami so it was a crapshoot so to speak. We ended up getting the Renaissance Miami Biscayne Bay Hotel on Biscayne Blvd at $75 for the night. I wasn't sure how close it was to the pier but we would find out. Upon arriving in Chicago, I called to see if they offered a shuttle service from the airport to the hotel. Note that they do not have a shuttle services. You either have to rent a car or you have to take a taxi. We elected to take a cab. It is a 10 minute ride from the airport to the downtown area. It costs about $18 before tip.
The Renaissance used to be the Wyndham hotel. It is an older property and it is in okay shape. For $75 for one night, it was fine. The room had fairly new carpet and it was in good condition. The bathroom was nice and it included a coffee maker with both coffee and tea. The towels were thick and new. The show was one of the very best I have had at a hotel. It had exceptional water pressure and the water was hot. The room did not have a safe but they did have safe deposit boxes at the check in counter. The beds looked uncomfortable when we arrived, but they ended up being very comfortable. A little soft but we slept well. Warm down filled blankets kept you warm. One note the rooms were cool and they don't have heat so we shut the fan system off.
As we stated there is not much by the hotel. We recommend that you go down to the Bayside Market place. The hotel has a shuttle that will take you to the Bayside Market place. We arrived down there about 4:10 PM and it was loud with music everywhere and very busy. I can't imagine it on a Friday or Saturday night.
There are many shops and lots of restaurants and snack type shops. The Hard Rock is also part of the market area as is Bubba Gump, and Hooters if you are looking for national chains. If you are sensitive to cigarette or cigar smoke, be aware that a very large majority of the people smoke and many of the restaurants have seating outside where smoking is permitted so you will be inundated with smoke about everywhere. This made enjoying the market very difficult for me because I am very sensitive to the smoke.
We ate dinner inside at Lombardi's. It is an Italian restaurant. I had the Chicken Parmesan, Dixie had the cheese pizza, and Paul and Pam had the Angle Hair pasta in a marinara sauce. The cheese pizza is about 12" and can be split. The pollo parmesan was well prepared and it came with a side of spaghetti. The major issue that we all had was with the size of the drink glasses and the service. The ice water and ice tea glasses were only 10 oz glasses and were filled with ice, which meant that after 3 or 4 drinks they were empty. The problem with the service was our waiter spent most of her time talking, dancing outside to the music or eating instead of waiting on us. Again, all I expect a server to do is give me their best effort, but when I am her only table and she can't keep my drink glass filled, I have a problem with that. One other note, Lombardi's charges a 15% gratuity no matter what size party you have and they leave a space for a tip on your credit card receipt that you sign. Be careful or you could end up double tipping. IMHO, it wasn't worth 10% tip. Food was very good, but service was very bad.
After walking around, we ended up coming back to the room by 6:30 PM. The lost bag finally found its way to our hotel room at 10:30 PM. Another reason to go in a day early.
We got up around 7:30 AM and started getting ready. We walked across the street where there is a Sonic and Burger King. The Burger King is open for breakfast. After breakfast at Burger King, we came back and finished packing. We headed downstairs to start our trip to the pier at 10 AM.
The trip to the pier was painless. It took about 5 minutes and cost $4 per person.
Embarkation: (D) We are always anxious to start our cruise so we like to board as soon as the cruise line will allow us. I like Celebrity in that they will normally let you board at 11 AM even if the rooms aren't ready. You can drop your carry-ons in your room and then go to the public deck until they are ready at noon or 12:30 PM.
With the hopes of being on they ship by noonish, we made our way to the pier at around 10 AM. We arrived at 10:10 AM and there were still people disembarking from the previous cruise. We were dropped off outside between piers 3 and 4.
There were porters waiting to take our checked bags. Before the porters would take them, a RCL staff person had to check our picture ids and then highlighted our room tags.
We then went in to pier 3. We had to wait there until about 10:30. At that time, security checks your id and tickets and lets you go up the escalator to a waiting area. The waiting area is small and there are about 100 plastic chairs to sit in. One corner is roped off and the metal detectors are there.
At about 10:45, they line up the current emerald and diamond past passengers along with upper level suite guests and they go through the metal detectors first. After they were done, they then called the standard guests per row to go through. We were through pretty quickly. They don't take your wine so there is no problem bringing that.
After that you go to a long room that has the check in lines. Suite and Diamond and Emerald past passengers go to right to a lounge area to check in and wait the rest go through roped of turn style and wait for available.
Here is where it got crazy and down right stupid. To board the ship you have to go up another escalator after check in which is to the right hand side of the check in booths. Picture this. On the back, you have the check in lines from far left to almost far right. In the far right is the lounge for the suite and high level past passengers. The escalator to board the ship is in the middle of this far right wall.
The problem was at first all the standard passengers were congregating in front of the escalator and the suite passengers were going into the standard line because the signs weren't marked right. After 45 minutes, the lined the standard passengers up along the wall away from the escalator and moved the signs. Behind the queue lines for check in there are seats that encircle the polls that support the roof and there were two close to the escalator. People were sitting there. Finally, at 12:15 PM, they started to let people go up the escalator to board. They took the people from the round seats. This started an up roar by those that were in the line by the wall. Finally they told us after about 30 people in the line forced their way up the escalator in protest that those were suite people.
Finally, when they got everyone in line calmed down they started to take us over to the escalator. Well that was a fiasco because we had to cut in front of those coming from the metal detectors that were going to stand in line to check in.
In short, suite people ended up in the standard line, check in people ended up in the line of people that had checked in and were waiting to board, the signs were mismarked and misplaced, and there was a lack of supervision and organization. You would have thought that this was the first ship that RCL had ever sent out of this place.
Finally, we made it up to the boarding gang way. Just before you go down the gang way, they take your picture. Well you can stand in line to get your picture taken, or like others, you push past to the right side to bypass the pictures. This caused the second uproar by guests as they saw people cutting in front to the NEXT line where they form two lines to get your picture taken in case they need to validate you at a boarding. Now the fun really begins because these two units are malfunctioning. To add insult to injury, they realize that they didn't start boarding the suite and high level past passengers that were in the lounge yet. In that group, there was a wedding party, so they are coming up and forcing through the line first to make their wedding, the picture systems are malfunctioning. Oh, what a process.
We were finally on board by 12:40 PM and went down to our room which by this time were ready and dropped of our stuff.
The Ship() The Brilliance is only about 9 months old. It made her debut in 2002. She is 90,000 gross tons, and she looks just like all the new 90,000 ton ships on the outside. She is 962 feet long and 105.5 feet at the beam. At double occupancy, the maximum number of passengers is 2501. The Brilliance is one of the faster ships and cruises at a max speed of 25 knots.
The main public decks are deck 5, 6, 11, 12, and 13. You board on deck 5 mid-ship and from the minute we boarded, I found that I loved the ship. They do not use the solid woods like they did in the early 90's and before, but RCI has managed to make Brilliance a beautiful ship with the touches of wood, brass, and polished metals.
The ship is easy to navigate with the only unusual point being there is not an aft stair well and elevators for the passengers. If you are in the aft of the ship, then you have to walk all the way mid-ship to go up or down.
The hall way carpets are bright with a nautical theme to them on the pax decks. On the public decks, RCI combines a wonderful touch of carpets, hard wood, and marble floors to accent the decor of the room, area, lounge, or restaurant you are in.
The artwork is very good. It is not as strange as the artwork on the Millie class Celebrity ships. Are large majority of the art is based on marine type settings or of ships and ship masts, etc. Again, they complement the environment that they are in.
The stairwells are functional, but the layout can make them narrow depending on what floor you are on and the floor you are trying to move to.
The focal point of the ship is the Centrum. It starts at deck 4 and shoots up to the bottom of deck 12 where there is a glass window that opens up and you can look down 8 stories or walk across it. If you are afraid of heights or of falling, walking on it may not be for you.
Many events are held on the Centrum deck 4. The Centrum bar is located here and a three-piece band plays every evening. It is a very crowded area between first and second seating. Many people dance on the small dance floor to the music of Tammi Novak Trio.
During sea days, they hold many seminars such as cooking with the chief, vegetable carving, and ice carving on the 4th floor Centrum. Get there early for the cooking ones because the few seats fill up 30 minutes before the event starts. After the seats are gone, people stand behind the seats or line the rails of deck 5, 6, 7, and even 8 and 9 to watch the fun.
On deck 4, contains the conference rooms. The glass elevators start down here and starboard side is the shore excursion and management desk.
You enter the lower level of the Minstrel Dining room on port side of the ship only. You also enter for breakfast and lunch at this level. The artwork in the hallway leading to the dining room is really interesting.
Deck 5 is the main entrance to the Pacifica Theater. When leaving the theater after a show, you pass through a hall into the photo gallery. The photo gallery is one of the biggest I have seen at sea and it can be very crowded here before and after a show with people trying to get through.
After the photo gallery, you enter the shopping court. It is a relatively narrow hall considering that there is a large counter in the center where the RCI staff are selling sale items such as costume jewelry, watches, T-shirts, etc. When you throw in the crowds trying to go to and coming from the theater, it is a real traffic jam. The shops are nice, but it is the same merchandise that you see on all the ships except that the name says Brilliance and Royal Caribbean.
After the shops, you enter the Centrum area. The starboard side has Latte Tudes coffee shop and seating for that. There is another small seating area on the fore side of the Centrum. During the evening, this is blocked off for photographs about every night. They change the back drop each night, but it does add to the confusion. There is a very neat stairway that is lit up green that descends to the 4 floor where the dancing occurs. On formal nights, that stairway is blocked for formal pictures. This is the best bet for good formal pictures IMHO.
Moving to the aft on deck 5, you can enter the upper level of the Minstrel Dining room on both sides. Like the deck 4 entry way, the art work is very interesting with marching minstrels playing various instruments or just dancing that are fashioned out of colored stones.
The Minstrel Dining room is probably the most elegant dining room that I have been in short of the Millie class specialty restaurants on Celebrity. The decor is light cream colors with gold accent which makes the room very bright. Windows line both the port and starboard sides of the dining room on both levels to let light in and to watch the sea go by. The only strange part is if you have a table by the window, people can walk by or stand and watch you eat. The dining room is not on the stern of the ship like the Millie class ships of Celebrity, thus the stern of the dining room has a huge mural made of colored stones that depicts minstrels playing and three spectators dancing or clapping to the rhythm. It spans both levels and is very impressive. On the fore portion of the dining room is a double-sided staircase that winds down and comes together from deck 5 to deck 4. On the landing where they come together just short of deck 4 there is a waterfall and in front of that is a baby grand and room for a three-piece orchestra to play during dinner. Again, this is a beautiful dining room. There are many tables for two and four on deck 5 and some on deck 4. There are tables for 6, 8, 10 and 12. The tables for 10 and 12 are oblong and are too big IMHO. If you are at the end of the table, conversation with the other 6 people that are on the other end is next to impossible. We were at table 514 on deck 5 and it was a table for four. On side of the table had a bench seat that was comfortable. The other side had two comfortable chairs that were in the main walk way. I was concerned about being in the main walk way but I never felt crowded nor was I ever bumped by waiters or other guests. Dining was truly a special experience in this wonderful room.
I would call deck 6 the entertainment deck. This deck contains most of the activities and indoor entertainment. You start out with the Pacifica theater balcony entrance. The Pacific theater is large with fairly comfortable seats. It is not spectacular nor would I call it grand. The views are very good for the most part and the sound is good. The have stationary seats that have slots and a hole to hold a glass on the armrest. There are not tables like the Celebrity ship has. They do serve drinks in the theater and there is a bar for the servers in the back but RCI doesn't push them during the show like Celebrity does.
From the theater moving to the aft you enter The Scorecard sports bar. They have many TVs and a couple of large screen TVs that show ESPN. The only night I saw it crowded was on Sunday nights because of the NFL playoffs they were showing. It was packed then.
You then enter the Casino Royale. It is a large casino that contains the standard cruise casino tables (craps, roulette, black jack, Caribbean stud poker) along with the hundreds of slot machines. I saw 25 cent and $1 slots and video poker, but since we don't like the smoke and we don't gamble, we didn't venture to see if they had nickel slots or $5 slots. It is very smoky in there.
Upon leaving the Casino, you will enter the Centrum. The only item on the Centrum at this level is the Champagne Bar that is on the Starboard side of the ship. It is a nice spot for a drink and to watch the sea roll by during the day. They do serve liquor, but they have more of a selection of wines, champagnes, and ports that most of the other bars. It is a nice place to sit before dinner and listen to the music from the Centrum on deck 4.
As you continue aft, you will move into one of the most beautiful areas of the ship. On the Starboard side, you enter a long hall that will take you to the Schooner Bar. This hall is very interesting and is a great picture spot. They have a large 6-mast schooner on the left and ships wheel that is great for getting a picture of someone acting like they are steering a ship. There are other items with a nautical theme to theme. This leads you into the Schooner Bar. The Schooner as many seats and tables along the windows and a wooden Tug Boat separates the seating areas which is then followed by a piano bar area. Across from the seating areas and across the isle is the Schooner Bar. It is ringed with seats and it was always packed with people. Some we saw there at all hours of the night and day. Please note that most of the patrons that sit there smoke and the ventilation is not good in there so it is almost as smoky as the casino and may be more so.
The on the fore side of the bar is the entrance to Chops Grille and to the aft of the bar is the entrance to Portofino. I liked the decor of Portofino. Chops reminded me of a Ruth Chris in decor and in food quality and type. Chops has dark wood walls and a dark wood wine rack that curve around to the glass windows that face the sea. Many of the tables have bench seats that are light beigish color. The rest of the seating chairs of dark wood with brown padded leatherette.
Portofino has a lighter wood finish with wine racking in it. It also has glass along the port side so you have a view of the sea. There is a center counter running through the center of the restaurant from port to starboard that had very elegant urns on it colored in red, blues, and greens with designs in gold over them. The tables were cloth covered as they were in Chops and there were many that had bench seats that had red seats and brown back pads. The chairs were made of a light colored wood with orangish pads. On the fore wall, is a very nice painting of an Italian vegetable market.
At the very stern of deck six is a beautiful area. The area is designated as The Colony Club and it has five named areas. Some are hard to tell where one area begins and the other begins.
The first area is the Bombay Billiard Club. This is a very interesting area and it contains the well-known, self, leveling pool tables. It is a must even if you don't play billiards. To get the balls, you have to leave your onboard account card with the bar tender at the Schooner Bar and they give you a key. When you are done, you take the key back and get your card.
After the Bombay Billiard Club, you will enter into a large room. There is a central seating area and large dance floor with a stage in the middle of the port side. This is the Colony Club. Many events such as bingo take place during the day. The Captains party and repeaters party are held here as well. At night, the show band Sister Sez plays and that usually starts at about 10 PM. Sister Sez is a good band but the lead singer's voice is marginal. She is a better harmonizing vocalist than a lead vocalist. From 8 PM to 10 PM, it is pretty dead in the Colony Club in general and getting service for drinks is difficult.
Since there are no boundaries per say in this area, the starboard side of the room is denoted as the Jakarta Lounge. There is a bar there and seating. The interesting items in this area is there are bar high tables that have either checkers, chess, or backgammon boards built into them for your pleasure.
The stern part of the Colony Club is named Singapore Slings and they have a bar centered along the stern windows. This is a nice area and the place we would go for drinks after dinner. There are windows that give you a view of the sea and the seating is very comfortable back there.
The final room is offset next to the stage and it does have a door to block the sound. The room is the Calcutta Card Club and as you can guess it is the card room. It is a beautiful dark wood trimmed room that contains about a dozen card tables. The room is beautiful with a view of the sea. It is fairly busy during the day time hours.
Deck 11 and Deck 12 are the busy areas during the days. This is where the sun worshipers go. The aft portion of Deck 11 are occupied by the Windjammer Cafe. The Windjammer is a mixed bag. I liked the design of the buffet. Instead of 4 lines, two on each side that most cruise lines have on their ships, RCI has implemented islands that serve different items. There is two of each type except the Deli that is right in the middle. The islands that are duplicated are on the starboard and port side.
When you enter, you get a big oval plate. One point that I did not like was they do not have trays, this made getting food and drinks very difficult and you would have to put your utensils in your pockets if you didn't want to make extra trips. You have two islands with fresh salads and breads that were very good. The next set of duplicate islands is for hot food that usually had pasta, fish, chicken, and vegetable dishes along with the standard roast beef carving station. The pasta was always good and tender, but in the last half of the cruise the sauces became bazaar (pumpkin cream sauce). They would only have one sauce and many times it was a cream sauce so if you wanted a reduced calorie red sauce, 50% of the time you would not be able to get it.
The 43rd Street deli is right in the middle of the Windjammer. They serve the best wrap sandwiches. They will make one especially for you with what you want in it and they set out sections of ones they have pre-made. There were also deli sandwiches on different breads that they would make for you and have pre-made. These were very good.
In the back were the grills. On the port side, you would get hamburgers and pizza at lunch. In the morning, they would do the made to order omelets. Back in each corner is the Sweet Dreams dessert area. They also have soft serve ice cream (ice milk). It is fair and I thought it wasn't worth the calories.
This is a nice area, but there is a price to be paid. They added serving stations at the expense of seating. During sea days and during the peak time (around 12:30 PM), you probably won't be able to find a seat. If you do find a seat, it will be at a table of four with another couple. The outdoor seating on the stern is nice, but it is very smoky. If you do not like cigarette smoke, look elsewhere. The Windjammer outside sea on fore-port side is non-smoking and nice. The tables are big and they have huge wicker chairs with pads. The problem is that they take up a lot of space so there are not many of them and because they are comfortable, people take them to play cards, read, sleep, or talk so at lunch time it is hard to get one. 11:30 AM to noon is the best bet.
The pool area on deck 11 is nice. There are a lot of lounge chairs and a large teak dance floor in front of the bandstand. There are two hot tubs here and one has a seat lift for handicap passengers. The Poolside Bar is here as well. The lounge chairs were usually not crowded in the morning to about 11 AM. Then it is packed until about 3 PM.
From the main pool going forward, you enter into the Solarium. This is a beautiful room. It has covered dome roof that can be opened, but wasn't on our trip. It is decorated in an African jungle theme. There are many lounge chairs many with padded seats. There is a pool and a hot tub in this area. The fore wall has three large elephant heads displayed with huge tusks. They have a small waterfall between each of the elephants and an arched bridge that goes over the pool. The plants are live in this area and the artwork is very interesting. This is a great place to spend the day if you are not a sun worshipper.
There is the Solarium bar and Solarium snack bar here. The snack bar has pizza and cookies.
As you move forward, you enter the spa area. The decor is very interesting as well. The rooms looked like the normal spa areas on other ships. We do not take advantage of the spa so I cannot say how good the services are or what they cost. Make sure you take a tour of this area just to see the decor and artwork.
Deck 12 has the Shipshape fitness center and it is a nice large facility. The walking track is here as well. There are many chairs and lounge chairs on this level so you can always find a place to sit. Problem with the walking track is that it is busy with chairs pulled out in it and you have people standing looking out over the rail, slow walkers, med paced walkers and fast walkers. It is just hard to get around.
Towards the aft is the Kids Pool area, sports court and golf simulator. The Seaview Cafe is on the aft as well.
The cool part on Deck 12 is the ceiling of the Centrum is the Crown and Anchor lounge. It has the coolest thing. There is a raised glass window on the floor that you can walk on and look down 8 stories into the Centrum. It is a freaky feeling and worth a look and walk.
Deck 13 is only on the aft portion of the ship. It contains the rock climbing the wall and the Fairways of Brilliance 9-hole putt-putt course. It is a nice course and a lot of fun to play. At mid-ship is the Odyssey Lounge (normally known as the Viking Crown) and the Hollywood Bar.
Deck 5 contains the promenade deck. It is a wide deck for the most part until you reach the Centrum glass area and the glass area by the Minstrel Dining room where the glass walls protrude out into the promenade deck. The promenade deck does go all the way around. In the front you can go into the restricted area climb steps to deck 6 and walk around the helipad thus making a full lap. We preferred to walk here instead of on the walking track on deck 12. There are plenty of lounge chairs and chairs on the promenade and you could always find a space. There are a few teak wood areas as you come out of the Centrum on either side, but the rest is the standard all weather rubber covering.
Rooms: (A+) We booked a specific room on the aft of the ship. We were in room 9660 that is a category D. We chose this hoping that the size of the veranda would be something like the Celebrity Millie class aft veranda's.
The room is wonderful. It is roomy enough for at least three people. Four would be crowded, but the room could handle it. For two, it is wonderful. The room itself measures 8'9" wide by 23' deep totaling 201 sq.ft. which is exceptional for a non-suite.
The veranda is large as veranda's go. It measures 9'10" wide and it is 10' 6" deep totaling 102 sq ft. The veranda came with two folding lounge chairs, two chairs and a small table with room to spare. There is not an outside light that makes reading at night next to impossible. On the starboard side, our veranda was separated with a steel structure wall and the other side was a glass partition. There is a rail with top surface of wood about 4' up and glass below it to block the wind and allow you to see through.
The cabin has the standard white-beige colored walls that make the room very bright. The carpet was in good shape and the pattern was a yellow- blue swirl pattern. It also contained a three seat, blue couch and a small stand. Across from the couch was the desk. The desk has a mirror in front of it, 2-220 volt and 2-115 volt outlets. The hair dryer was good and it plugged into a 220- volt leaving you 2-115 volt outlets. This was the first time we did not have to use our power strip. On each side of the desk mirror, are angle mirrors that go from desk to ceiling and they open up and there are shelves to hold small items like perfume bottles, makeup, etc. There are three drawers on each side of the desk chair. Next to the desk is a stocked refrigerator. The TV is above the refrigerator and it swivels and will pull out for better viewing. Above the TV are to doors that hide two shelves for items and the extra large safe. You can't put a laptop in it, but it will hold a camcorder and a camera and other items easily. At the end of the unit, are 5 shelves to store items on.
The closet is good. It has two doors. In the middle are shelves to put items on. On both the right and left of the middle shelves are bars to hang clothing and there is a shelf that runs above the bar and the shelves that contain the life jackets and extra blankets and pillows. There is plenty of room for two. Three would fill it full and four people would be a stretch for storage.
The bathroom is good and it has a nice corner medicine chest to store things out of site. The big problem is the size of the shower. It is only 30" wide and then goes out 15" before it goes out 15" more in a circle. It is tight. I'm 6'1" and weight 185 and it is tight for me. The shower curtain is the normal plastic one but I didn't have the normal problem of it sticking to me. Water pressure was good and for once I was always able to get hot water all the time. On many cruises, the water goes scalding hot to freezing cold in the course of a shower. That never happened once on the 11-nights.
There are two twin beds that can be pushed together in a king format and there are two small nightstands on each side. Then nightstand has a small drawer and a shelf by the floor.
The door to the veranda is a slide door that can be locked in the open position. Since we were on the stern, we would open the door at night and lock it open to hear the wake.
It was very quiet and stable in this room. Only two nights did I feel a little giggle and there was not much vibration either. Part of the reason it is so quiet is that there is not an aft stairwell for guests thus you are a long way to the center stairwell. The only time the long walk to the stair was an inconvenience was when we wanted to go to the Windjammer on deck 11. The extra exercise didn't hurt us at all.
Here are some of the strange things to be aware of. There is not an ice bucket in the room or a water jug. You can ask for an ice bucket though. They do not provide a small pocket size map of the ship. That would be nice to have while you are learning the ship. A couple of hooks to hand shirts in the room would have been nice.
IMHO: This room was great and the veranda was worth it IMHO for two reasons. One, it was on the stern and second the veranda was 10' deep. I still believe that veranda rooms are a waste of money when you only have a 4' deep veranda and you can't get two lounge chairs on them. I know that I am in the minority on the boards on this, but to those new cruisers, I recommend that you save your money and do an inside cabin. Rooms are almost as big, it is about a 40% savings per person for an inside cabin, you really only sleep and change in your cabin. There are plenty of places to lounge around on the different decks. Again, I know that a majority of you will disagree, but that IMHO. Save your money and cruise more.
The Staff: (A) I want to start of by saying that overall the staff was exceptional. It was very efficient and friendly service. It was not perfect because nothing ever is, but all most all said hello and smiled. They would great you and wish you a good day. Many made efforts to remember you and your name especially in the lounges. Three days after we ate at Chops, our waiter remember our names when we passed her in the hall.
I will start with the dining room wait staff. This was by far the best waiting staff. Grant was our waiter and this was the last cruise of his contract. He was going back to South Africa at the end of this voyage. He was friendly, funny and very efficient. The one who made the service was Apollo, our assistant waiter. He was the best ever. He had been on the ship since in started and he and one more sailing after ours before he went home. Even thought they were going home and had every reason to relax, they worked their butts off. Apollo knew what we liked to drink so it would always be waiting. Our water glasses were never close to empty because he was always watching over us and filling them. The same was true with the breadbasket. After dinner, Pam and Dixie drink tea. After the first time, he brought teacups after dinner and he knew what teas Pam and Dixie liked and made sure that they were in the box. Apollo also performed the wine steward roll. Our wine glass where never empty. I watched him often and you could see him scanning the tables seeing if we needed anything and trying to anticipate our needs.
Elvis was our room steward. He did a good job. Our room was always cleaned well and on a timely manner. Elvis just got back from time off and this was the first voyage of his new contract. For those who care, we only had towel animals 3 of the 11 nights. For me, I don't care if I ever get them, but many of you like them.
The food: (A-) Food is always subjective depending on each individuals taste. So take my review with that in mind. I think Celebrity food is the best at sea so I was anxious to compare RCI's offerings to that of Celebrity's. Based on other reviews, my expectations where not that high, but I was pleasantly surprised!
The important area to me is the main dining room. That is where I weigh most of my review.
The menu for dinner is posted at the beginning of the day on Deck 5 outside the Minstrel Dining room. Breakfast and lunch menus for the Minstrel are put up at the deck 4 entrance to the dining room.
The menu consists of a fresh bread section and there are usually two types of bread (i.e. sourdough bread and Whole Wheat-Honey Rolls). The Appetizer section has appetizers and soups in it. There were normally three soups with one being chilled and three appetizers.
Next is the Salad section. You can always get the traditional Caesar salad and 50% of the time there is another selection (i.e. Spinach salad) and there are usually three dressings for the standard salads.
The Entrees section contains five entrees and you can always get Salmon and New York Strip steak. The entrees normally contain at least one pasta dish with some type of meat in the sauce (beef, chicken, or seafood), fish dish, chicken, meat dish (steak, lamb, pork, veal, etc.), and a vegetarian dish which could be something like potato pie or could be a pasta dish without meat.
Finally, the last item on the left side of the menu is the sweet temptation section. There are normally three deserts and several ice creams and a sherbet.
The right side of them menu houses Ship Shape section for healthy food, Cellar recommendations for wine, the Vegetarian selection, Daily alternatives and the beverage list.
I did not have an appetizer that I did not like. The cannelloni is excellent as were all the pasta appetizers. The portions are very large in fact twice the size that you really need. The cannelloni is almost enough for a main course.
I did not always find a soup that I really wanted, but when I did have a soup they were always hot and very tasty. I cannot speak for the chilled soups because Pam and I don't care for any chilled soup.
The salads were a little lacking. They were always good except one night the Caesar salads had been setting out a while and were warm and a little wilted. The main issue is that some nights all they had was the Caesar salad. It would be nice to always have a couple of salad selections each night. The offer the Caesar with a low calorie dressing, you have to ask for it with that otherwise you will get the traditional high- calorie dressing.
I have read on the main entrees that the chicken and pork dishes where not good and over cooked. Between the four of us, we never had a poorly prepared dish in regards to it being over or under done. The chicken and port dishes were prepared to perfection and were always moist and tasty. We had the same experience with the lamb and veal dishes. I had also read how great the beef dishes were. I was very disappointed in the number of beef dishes that they had. Other than the New York strip every day (big deal IMHO), they only had Filet on first formal night and prime rib on the last night. The filet was the only beef dish that I had in the main dining room. It was very tender and prepared just right.
The pasta dishes were wonderful. I don't know how they do it but the pasta was always prepared perfectly and served hot. Pasta cools very quickly and it is very easy to under or over cook it. The fact that they can prepare it perfectly for so many people is absolutely amazing. Some of the sauces were not my favorites but the quality of the pasta made even those dishes outstanding. One note, if there is a pasta dish that you like but you don't like one of the ingredients (black olives, clams, etc) ask them not to put it in and they will do it.
The vegetarian dishes were always interesting and tasty.
A note on the Ship Shape menu, they offer the same items that are on the regular entree portion of the menu. Sometimes you will say that is not healthy and that is true. The difference is normally they serve the entree in a different low calorie sauce. If you don't specify that you want the Ship Shape item, you will get it with the standard sauce.
RCI's deserts are very good. The pastries are not in the same league as Celebrity's, but they are very tasty. Some things were good but not what I expected. RCI's definition of a tart is very different than what I would classify. It is more like a custard pie with fruit in it. This did not distract from the quality though they were very good. RCI also have souffle on a couple of nights. They are not as good as Princess', but they were still very, very good. The sherbet is excellent in the dining room and the ice cream has different flavors each night along with the standard chocolate and vanilla. The ice cream is good but HAL's is still the best IMHO.
I still give Celebrity the upper hand in food quality. The Brilliance was very, very good in portion size, temperature, and taste. The main difference is that Celebrity is more risky in their presentation and sauces. Celebrity is more European in their sauces and presentation that gives it a more 5-star taste and appearance. This can make Celebrity's menu more intimidating if a passenger is not experienced in this type of preparation or they are hesitant to try something they cannot pronounce and don't understand exactly what they are getting. On the Brilliance, the menu is very straightforward and most will be comfortable ordering and know exactly what they are getting.
First seating is at 6 PM and second seating is at 8:30. We were usually done by 7:45 and never later than 8. This leaves an hour our more until the show.
We ate twice in the Minstrel for lunch. The food was good but the service was mixed. The first time we were at a table for 12 and it was too difficult for the servers to take care of us. I had tea and water to drink. I never got a refill of either. They were just too rushed. The second time we asked for a small table and got one for 4. The service was much better and the lunch was much more enjoyable.
Lunches were on par with what we experienced at dinner in the Minstrel in quality and flavor. It is a good place to eat and I would recommend it because it was never busy and you always got a seat unlike the Windjammer. Lunch is from noon to 2 PM in the Minstrel.
We never had breakfast in the Minstrel. Breakfast is served from 7:30 to 9:30 on most days.
The Windjammer is an interesting concept. I like the layout of the islands but you pay for it in a lack of seating. I really miss the trays it adds a level of complexity to the whole experience that is not fun in trying to juggle many different items without dropping them vs. having to make several trips.
The first half of the cruise the food and desserts were excellent, but by the end of the cruise the food was bland and seemed to be leftover. The other issue I have is that they serve breakfast from 7 AM to 11:30 AM. I'm sorry, but if you haven't eaten breakfast by 10:45, eat lunch. In normal US society, lunch starts at 11 AM. You say that it is only an extra half hour until 11:30. I will give you that if they had everything ready at 11:30, but they never did. Many times you could not get pizza or hamburgers until 11:45 to 11:55. They would not have serving utensils in place until later
The drink station being two separate islands was nice and they worked hard to have glass already pre-poured with water, tea, and lemon aid so you could just walk up and take what you needed and move on. They would also pour you coffee or hot water for hot tea upon request.
The best deserts at lunch occurred the first 4 or 5 days. If you see something you like, get it and lots of it because you probably won't see it again. The soft serve ice cream is poor to fair in taste. Lots of chocolate and sponge cake deserts.
The hamburgers did not look that appetizing but the pizza was good if you could get it hot. There are usually three or four types (cheese, pepperoni, veggie, and a specialty.) The salad bar portion was excellent in the Windjammer and the deli island was great as well. The wraps were very tasty.
Breakfast in the Windjammer was fair. The French toast and the pancakes were obviously not fresh and from a frozen stock like you get from the store. The eggs were poor in taste. The omelet station produced good results but the line was usually long and it took a lot of time. We normally just had cereals, oatmeal and pastries. In short, normal buffet breakfast fare and nothing to get excited about.
The Seaview Cafe is hidden away on deck 12. We went there for snacks late one night. It is open from noon to 6:30 PM and then from 9 PM to 3 AM. On sea days it can get busy. Some of our group went up there on one sea day at 12:30 PM and were told it would be 30 to 45 minutes before they got their order. The menu is not that hard so I can't imagine why it would take that long. If you do want to eat there, be there right at noon. The veggie sandwich was very good.
Dress code. RCI is takes a different approach. There is really NOT an informal night(s) on the Brilliance. There are two formal nights which are the first sea day and the next to last day. There is one that is called Smart Casual (smart casual is country club casual). Still many people wore jackets and ties on this night. The remaining nights are classified as casual. What can you wear in the dining room at night on casual, anything but shorts and cut off shirts. Yes, blue jeans and tee shirts are acceptable in the dining room at night and on many occasions they let people in with shorts. One note, first night is an exception. This is the first cruise that we did not have our luggage in time for dinner so all I had was shorts and I did have to wear that the first night.
We ate at both the specialty restaurants. Both cost $20 extra per person. Where they worth it, IMHO, No? I have eaten at them and I know that I won't go back. If you are uncertain or you like eating at the specialty restaurants, then by all means try them. If you are uncertain, my recommendation is to save the money. The difference in quality between the Minstrel dining room and the specialty restaurants is minimal and the service we had in the Minstrel was far above that in Chops and as good as we received at Portifino.
CHOPS GRILLE: is a nice place with the grill at one end where they cook your food. We went on Day 4 that was a Thursday on the 11-night cruise. The food was good with the appetizers being the best. The crab cakes were excellent as was the Portobello caps.
You have the option of appetizers that include Shrimp cocktail, Maryland crab cakes, Portobello caps, cheese n onion soup, New England clam chowder, chips salad, beefsteak tomato or traditional Caesar. You can get any combination and you are not limited to one. One note. It states that the Caesar is made at your table, it is not. This is not a big deal, I just want you to know that it is incorrect on the menu. The cheese n onion soup was very good but it is very cheesy.
The Entree section offered Prime rib, filet mignon (10 oz), petit filet (7 oz), veal chop, Colorado lamb chops, royal pork shank, rotisserie chicken, mesquite grilled salmon. The filet was very good and grilled right. The salmon was also very good. Along with the entree, you ordered sides that were family style and served several people. They offered bake potato, home fired potatoes with sauteed onions, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, steamed asparagus, sauteed mushrooms, fried onion rings, and rice pilaf.
For desert, we were offered a choice of chocolate mud pie, apple pie a la mode, raspberry cheesecake, and warm brioche pudding. The apple pie was good, the chocolate mud pie is rich! The Warm Brioche pudding was very tasty.
In short, Chops was good but nothing spectacular like the Celebrity Millie class specialty restaurants. Chops reminded me of Ruth Chris' nothing more. The service was fair and the assistant waiter was not trained in how to open, decant, or pour wine that I would expect of a specialty restaurant that offers fine wines. The service was friendly, but not efficient.
I do not have the menu for there, but it worked very similar to how Chops worked with the same style except Portofino specializes in Italian cuisine instead of steaks. We ate here on Saturday night that was Day 6 of the cruise.
The food was as good as Chops and in some ways I thought it was better. The Shrimp Risotto was outstanding. In fact, RCI has great risotto in the Minstrel as well. The goat cheese with tomato was good. Again the Caesar salad is not made at your table and is identical to chops. The fish soup is very fishy and has a lot of oysters in it. For the main course Pam had the cod and I had the lobster. The cod was good and the lobster was prepared perfectly. One note, I think it is the exact same lobster they serve on the last formal night in the Minstrel so you are not getting any fresher of a piece. The only difference might be that it has a better chance of being cooked correctly in Portofino since they make the dishes to order instead of in mass like they have to in the Minstrel. In truth, the lobster I had in the Minstrel was as good as Portofino.
Deserts were good. They have a berry cup with custard that was excellent. They have an amaretto, orange mousse dish that was great and the Tiramisu was unusual and rich. Very good.
The service here was of a high quality and much better than Chops. Was it better than the service I received in the Minstrel, no it was not?
In summary, please take this with the salt mentioned earlier in the review. This reflects MY personal preferences and likes. Celebrity is still the best food at sea. Is there any room for real complaints on RCI? Only a few minor things, but you can please everyone all the time especially when there are over 2000 passengers. I hurt myself every night and never walked away hungry. I could always find something. The pecan pie is out of this world in the Windjammer the first two lunches. If you do walk away hungry then it is your own fault. They offer a wide selection of food on their dinner menu, and you can always find something at the Windjammer that fits the bill. Throw in the great waiting staff we had and it is a solid winner.
Entertainment (?) As I stated at the start, we are not big on the shows. We have seen so many of them that the production shows all sound the same, we know most of the comedians jokes by heart, and I can only stand the same juggling trick so many times.
We did attend one show on Day 9. We saw the Dangerous Comedy of Wilde and Hanes. It was juggling and comedy. Some of it we had heard before but they did go to areas that many won't. They really made fun of the Captain and his name and it was funny. Captain Wildung must have a good sense of humor since they are still on the ship. LOL They also utilized the passengers on this ship and they made the show especially a young 10 year old (or so) passenger. In the middle of the trick with bowling balls, they scared him so bad that he ran of the stage in the middle of the trick. They tried to get him back on stage but he would come. The resorted to bribery and he ended up coming back up on stage for $10 and they PAID him the ten bucks. It was funny.
The entertainment was: Day 1 the normal welcome aboard show with Moscow State Circus Star Gregory Popovich and comedian Don Friesen.
Day 2 was the music, dancing, and energy of The Gueses.
Day 3 was the South American Cowboy El Gaucho. He is a comedian and I heard that he was very good.
Day 4 was the production show of Closetoyou.
Day 5 was the magic and illusion of Russ Stevens.
Day 6 was the singers and dancers again.
Day 7 was the recording artist Lenny Welch.
Day 8 was the singers and dancers doing Latin Groove. This was Aruba day so there was only one show at 10:30 PM for all guests.
Day 9 was Wilde and Hanes as mentioned above.
Day 10 "The best of Las Vegas" Glen Smith.
Day 11 was Russ Stevens again and Izolda Popovich.
Other Topics In this section, I will cover other items of interest.
Tips can be charged to your room account. They send you a form to fill out and return to guest relations. On the last day they send you the envelopes for your staff and receipts to put into the tip envelopes. We did this and we tipped extra via cash in the envelope.
They do charge an $8 corkage charge in the specialty restaurants. The Minstrel it is suppose to charge, but that is up to your wait staff. Our staff did not charge us and we tipped him in cash nicely for the effort.
The Fairway of Brilliance putt putt course is a very nice course and is something you should try. If you are at a sea day, it can be challenging if the winds + speed of the ship exceed 30 knots.
Latte Tudes coffee bar does charge $1 for their pastries. They look interesting, but nothing that I was will to pay extra for. Bring your pastries from the Windjammer they are just as good.
In Curacao, the walk to downtown is only 10 minutes and it is a fun walk. Do not take a taxi it is not worth it.
Disembarkation was not even close to as bad as the embarkation process. You get your luggage tags several days before the last day. The colors are:
White - Miami flights before noon Orange - FLL flights before noon and any other guests with departures before 12:30 PM. Green 1 - Guests with Explorations Tours Green 3 - Deck 10 Portside Green 4 - Deck 10 Starboard Red 2 - Deck 9 Portside Red 3 - Deck 9 Starboard Yellow - Deck 8 Portside Lavender - Deck 8 Starboard Blue 1 - Deck 7 Portside Blue 2 - Deck 7 Starboard Purple 4 - Deck 2 and Deck 4 guests Brown - Deck 3 Port Gray - Deck 3 Starboard
We arrived in Miami by 6:30 AM. They only called two names and that is unusual. The disembarkation process started at 7:35 AM with the White tags. I think this is very unusual so I would not count on that happening all the time. Orange followed at 7:40, then by Green1 at 8, Green 3 at 8:10, Green 4 at 8:20, Red 2 at 8:30 and Red 3 at 8:40.
We had red 3 so I am not sure when the others left and what order. They tell you on the sheet they give you with your tags where to sit. Because of this, leaving the ship was hassle free compared to my Celebrity experiences. You stand in line after leaving the ship to clear customs. This takes a while. Customs scans your passport and has to manually check your birth certificate. From there you go down and turn in your customs form and proceed to get your bag.
Getting your bags was easier if you ask me. Unlike FLL where you go to a big warehouse and search for your bags, at Miami they have different conveyors like at an airport that circulates your bags. Don't bother trying to get off with a different earlier color, your bags won't be there. It is a just in time system. The red tags where just starting to come out when we got there. All the bags came out and we were out of there by 9:15 AM.
We walked over to the taxi area and had a taxi in under a minute. We were at the Miami Airport by 9:45 AM and it would have been sooner if it wasn't for the road construction.
Miami Airport The Miami airport is a zoo and no wonder no one wants to fly. I sure didn't want to after experiencing that.
We were on American. After going through the check in line, they don't take your checked bags at the counter. Instead, they put the destination tag on them and you have to go to one, two or three lines depending on how everyone comes at the machine. It is poor organization because there is not one line and queuing system.
From there, they take your checked bags and run them through the X-ray system. Without much instruction, you have to take your carry on around and stand and make sure that there are not questions on your bag. If your bags are fine the toss them on a cart and take them to the conveyor behind the counter and load them on for boarding. If there are questions, you have to figure out that they pulled a bag and find them. There they will open it and inspect it.
This happened to one of our bags. Three of the four were fine but we couldn't find one of them. Finally, the agent said it must have cleared and been put on the conveyor. We were leaving and we heard someone calling our name. They were going to inspect our bag.
If we hadn't of responded and if we had a lock on our bag, they would have cut the lock and inspected it. This was very unorganized and was a joke.
You then go to the line to security to enter your gate area. The line starts with the normal checking of your boarding pass only. You then wind through the queue. Just before the metal detectors, another person wants to see your boarding pass and photo id. Why?? Why didn't they do all that at the first checkpoint? I didn't and couldn't have went anywhere. Finally, you go through the metal detectors. What a pain and a total waste of our government's money.
Ports of Call KEY WEST -- > On the 11-night cruise, you visit Key West. We arrived at 7 AM that is well before any of the shops open. You have to be back on board by 1:30 PM. I love Key West, but this is a total waste of time. Stores start opening at 8 AM and many don't open until 10 AM. If you are going to stop here, at least stay until 4 PM to 6 PM, otherwise skip any port of call that you only stay that long.
We docked at the main pier and this is a great place to dock compared to the military pier. You walk right off the ship and you are at Mallory Square and Duval Street that is the main drag.
COZUMEL, MEXICO-- > Day four is Cozumel. We have been here 9 times now so I won't spend much time on this. We arrived at 8 AM and all aboard is 4:30 PM. We docked at the International Pier that is south of San Miguel. The cab ride to town is $6 not including tip. It is a long walk to town, and I don't recommend doing it.
Cozumel is on Central time and we did not set our clocks back. Make sure you know that you are on ships time if you ask a local for the time, you will have to add an hour.
The don't miss is the Dolphin Swim (not the Encounter) at Chankanaab Park. You will have to do this on your own because the ship doesn't off it only the Encounter. It costs about $130 per person and the minimum age is 12. It is well worth it because you get to interact with the dolphins and do tricks with them. It is a thrill of a lifetime.
Tulum is great but it takes a long time 8 hours. Someday I will do it but just can't get the desire to be gone for 8 hours.
Xcaret is very interesting as well, but it is like Tulum in that it takes 8 hours and a lot of it traveling time.
The other thing that is fun is the Catamaran Sail, Snorkel and Beach Party on the Fury catamaran. It lasts 3 ½ hours and I drank my monies worth in Dos XX beer when I did it a few years ago.
GRAND CAYMAN -- > Day five is in Grand Cayman. We were one of four ships and it was crowded. I can't imagine it with 7 or 8 ships and a Voyager class ship there.
The only time we tendered was a Grand Cayman and it is a slow process. We had tender ticket 16 and we did not get off until 12:15 PM. Grand Cayman is on EST the same as ships time. so it makes it easy when booking excursions on your own. We arrived at Georgetown at 8:30 and the last tender back left at 5:30.
We booked with Captain Marvin. We have done them before and they are the best. For $35 a person, we did the 1:30 PM Barrier Reef snorkel and Sting Ray City excursion and we were back by 4 PM.
Captain Marvin is down three blocks on the left of the pier. It is an easy walk there. There were only 10 of us on the boat and only 8 of us entered the water. This was great. You take a bus up the island to their slip and take a 20-minute boat ride out to the reef. The Barrier Reef is right by Sting Ray City.
The Barrier Reef is beyond belief. The water was rough, but the coral was alive and thriving. I am not sure how because there are so many boats and people and you wouldn't believe how many people stand on the coral to adjust their mask. People really are uncaring and/or stupid. You don't stand on the reef, ever. That is what kills it.
We saw a sting ray there, but the cool thing were the two, huge green eels!! There were divers that went down and brought them up by tempting them with food. The fish are good, not spectacular. The water is so clear that you can't explain it but have to experience it.
After about 30 minutes there, you take a short two- minute trip to Sting Ray City. This is a sand bar out in the middle of the bay. The water is knee to waist deep. There are hundreds of sting rays here and they are tame. They rub up against you and will take food from your hand. The first few minutes are freaky but you get used to them. They are like dogs that want to be petted. You can and should wear your masks, but you don't wear your fins. Take an underwater camera for both places.
The shopping in Grand Cayman is crowded and I don't think the prices are that good. Some love it, but we don't have this on our best list.
OCHO RIOS, JAMAICA -- > Day six is Jamaica. We arrived at the Main pier at 9 AM and all aboard is at 4:30.
I don't care for Ocho Rios or Jamaica. Dunns Rivers falls is fun and you should do it once. The people are poor and all the shops have the same thing. The Islander Village is right by the pier. I recommend shopping there. The Taj Mahal and Soni's Plaza aren't that great. You can walk to Taj Mahal, but the walk to Soni's while short is an experience. I was on guard the whole walk there.
Many people do the Sandles Resort all inclusive excursion for the day on their own. Everyone loves it. The eat, drink, swim and soak up the sun. The funny part (IMHO) is that they say how much they love Jamaica after that. How would they know if they like Jamaica or not, they didn't go anywhere to form an opinion. Walk along main street and then let me know.
We were never hassled about buying drugs. They are not as pushy since 9-11 because there are more police trying to control it, but it is still not one of my favorite places. Since Paul and Dixie had never been here, Pam and I went with them. For Pam and I, Jamaica is a day on the ship.
ORANJESTAD, ARUBA -- > Day eight is Aruba. You arrive at the pier at 8 AM and all aboard is at mid-night. One note, Aruba is on Atlantic time and that is one hour ahead of EST. The ship sets the clock ahead one hour that night after leaving Jamaica so ship time and local time is the same.
This is our second trip to Aruba and I love it hear. It is a desert. It is 20 miles from the coast of Venezuela, South America and part of the Dutch Islands. It is 20 miles by 6 miles that is about 74 square miles.
We rent a car here. Hertz and Avis have stalls at the dock along with a couple local companies. We got a piece of junk 4-wheel drive mini-SUV for $89. Same cost as a ship excursion but we got to go where we wanted and when. They drive on the right side of the road so that helps if you are from the US. Store hours are from 9 AM to 6 PM. So what do you do with the extra hours until we leave at mid-night? Many did the pub crawl in Oranjestad and they were pretty wiped out.
You definitely want to see the natural land bridge. There are some ruins on the way there and the rocky, eastern shore line is great to see. They have a snack shop with food, souvenirs, and bathrooms at the bridge. Try the local beer. The bottles are small, but it is good.
You should have plenty of time to head north after the land bridge. Go to the far northern tip to see the California lighthouse and the California sand dunes. It is really cool. The funny part is that right in the middle of it all is the Tierra Del Sol Golf Course. It looks beautiful.
From there work your way back along the beaches on the west cost. Pull in and walk down to Palm Beach. It is a long, beautiful, sandy stretch of beach. The water is shallow, clear and feels great in the hot sun. Remember, you are only 12 degrees from the equator here. Even in January, the sun was hot and you burn quick.
If you have time go to the south tip to baby beach and see that area. That would be the third item on my list. Some maps show the tunnels and caves like the Tunnel of Love. MHO is don't waste your time on those.
After that we returned our car and shopped around downtown Oranjestad.
WILLEMSTAD, CURACAO -- > This was our first time in Curacao and we were excited to go here. We weren't disappointed. We arrived at the Mega Pier at 8 AM and the all aboard is at 4:30 AM. Curacao is on Atlantic time as well so the ships clock stayed on local time.
Curacao is the biggest of the three Dutch islands. The island lies 35 miles from Venezuela and 42 miles east of Aruba. It is 38 miles long and 7.5 miles at its widest point. There are about 170,000 people on the island and the major industry is oil refining. There are refineries in Willemstad and storage tanks throughout the country. The sad part is that they have the refineries because they don't have the EPA regulations thus less cost. The black smoke that pours out the smoke stacks is disheartening.
The capital, Willemstad, is large. It is about a 10-minute walk to the downtown area from the mega pier and the walk is fun. To get there you have to cross a pontoon bridge.
A must do is to be on the downtown side of the bridge when it has to unlock and open up to let a ship through. It is cool. It is hard to explain, but it is a must do. The architecture is very interesting. The buildings are similar to Aruba and have a Dutch style (imagine that). They are brightly painted and pretty well maintained.
This is an excellent shopping port. You don't have the standard Diamonds, Tanzanite, Emeralds Internationals here. They have great prices on linens like tablecloths, bed sheets, pillow shams, place mats, bun and potpourri holders and wine bottle covers. We bought a nice tablecloth for our 129 inch long table with placemats for $50.
You will have to make a choice most likely. You can spend the whole day shopping or you can see the sites. We chose to shop here and we were glad we did. Next time back, we will see the countryside.
One cool thing is check out the stone people as you are exiting the ship at the Mega Pier. They are pretty cool. You have lots of photo opportunities in Willemstad and it is a great place to get a picture of the ship.
FOUR SEA DAYS -- > The sea days are day 3, day 7, day 10 and day 11. At the end of day 11, you set your clock back one hour to EST.
Things to consider or to do on the sea days based on the Compass are:
Day 3 - There is a fragrance seminar, professional dance class, and horseracing on deck. There is a digital photography seminar in the conference room by the photo gallery that was packed so get there early. Art auction and Wine Tasting. There are other items so check the Compass.
Day 7 - Art auction, Blackjack tournament, photography seminar, belly flop competition, owners cup race, and battle of the sexes.
Day 10 - Digital photography seminar, Bright eyes seminar, art auction, slot tournament, Captain's ship talk, Gala buffet, honeymooners reunite, guest adult talent show, ship hunt, ice carving and Mr. Sexy legs.
Day 11 - Detoxify to lose weight. Yes a great last day seminar. LOL Final Jackpot bingo, international farewell parade during dinner in the Minstrel. Pajama party.
Conclusion This was a great cruise. It is one of my top two cruises. I loved the Celebrity Summit cruise as well. What made this special is it being an 11 night cruise. There is plenty of time to relax and unwind unlike on a 7-night cruise when it just seems like you got on and you have to prepare to leave. RCI blew away my expectations. The food was much better than I expected and more consistent than I had been lead to believe on the boards. The service was first rate and the ship was beautiful with many things to do or places to go if you didn't want to do anything at all.
I would do RCI in a heartbeat on the Radiance class ships and I would recommend it to anyone. Great job RCI.
(Future Cruises: Galaxy 7/03 and Mercury 10/03)
Well, unfortunately our trip has ended, but what a trip it was! We just got back from the 10 night circle the Caribbean out of Miami departing on 1/3/03.
We booked this cruise, and a hotel stay (night before and after) all through Royal Caribbean. The hotel they put us in was nice, though it was out of the way. It was in Coconut Grove, and was about 10 miles from the pier. There are many closer hotels, so look for them. The way they transfer you to the ship is via bus, and this was a headache. The bas was to be there by noon, and did not arrive until 3pm, this made allot of people uncomfortable. We would have taken a cab, but due to the fact we were a good distance away, it would have been an additional $25 on top of the money we paid for the included transfers, HOWEVER, if we were closer, it would have been cheaper. My advice to you if you will are going to book the night before and after package, get a close hotel so you have some options. Allin all, it did not ruin the trip, but was not as smooth as I would have liked.
Arriving at the ship: This process could not have gone any better. We arrived at the ship at about 3:30pm, and were onboard in about 30 minutes. There were allot of people in the terminal, but the line went fast, and was very organized with allot of employees making sure the process went smooth.
Once on Board: The ship is beautiful and CLEAN. There were employees cleaning every inch of this ship at all times. Also, there were signs in all bathrooms and at all bars telling people to wash their hands frequently. We did not notice any sickness that was out of the ordinary.
The Stateroom: We were in cabin 8666 all the way at the stern of the ship, but still on the side. It was nice, and had a larger then normal balcony (note: get a port side stateroom if you want to see anything while in Ports, get a port side room, it will make the balcony more enjoyable. The staterooms could have used more soundproofing, if we were in our room, with the TV off, you can hear everything around you. All in all, the rooms were nicely decorated, always kept clean and had plenty of room.
Dining: The dining on this ships was pleasantly surprising. We really like all the options that were given to us, Chops being the best. There are many places to eat, the fist being the Windjammer which is a buffet. We ate here for breakfast, and one dinner. It is a large room, with plenty of food and space to eat. It is good food, and is a very clean restaurant. Next is the Seaview Cafe. This you order and they bring it to you, it is open for Lunch and dinner, and has burgers and sandwiches. It too was good food, with healthy portions. The dining room was very nice, and had great staff. It was a little crampt, but the staff handled this well. All in all, the food was a 3 on the scale of 1 - 5, it did not blow me away like on our previous RCCI cruise, but was very good. Service from the head waiter to the assistant was GREAT! Chops and Portofino are the more intimate restaurants you can go to, it is $20 per person to eat there. They are wonderful and intimate, with small rooms, good service and wonderful food.
Common Places: At no time did we feel crampt or that there was a lack of space. The ship is laid out very well, and has plenty of places to go and rest, read or just relax. All of the bars are nice, and have room for all. However, my favorite and recommendation is the Scoreboard Sports Bar. YOU HAVE TO GO AND SEE EDDIE!! He is a great bartender and person, and makes it a point to great you, and chat. Is is from Texas, and really makes you feel welcomed and at home. GO SEE HIM!
Service: Over all, service was very good. All of the employees were very polite and always said hi or tried to help in anyway they can. It was nice that there are ALLOT less announcements on this boat, but you need to follow you cruise compass if you like activities.
Ports: We loved Grand Cayman, very clean and great shopping. Jamaica and Cozumel we could have done without. They are a bit dirty, and unless you are in to Scuba or Snorkeling, are useless. Aruba and Curacao were wonderful. BIG, clean and lots to do.
As you should be able to tell, we loved this cruise. We had a good to great experience in all aspects, and nothing was disappointing.
As a bit of background, both my husband and I are in our early 30s and we have sailed on over half a dozen cruises to date, mostly with RCCL. We selected this cruise due to itinerary, ship and length.
We flew into Miami a day before the cruise, and had reservations at the Hyatt Regency Downtown Miami, made through Priceline.com. It was our first experience using Priceline and we weren't sure what to expect. The staff at the Hyatt could not have been more pleasant and we were treated excellently. We checked in at 11:00 am and they were able to accommodate our non-smoking, king-bed request. As they did not have any rooms with a clear view of the port, the check-in associate gave us the choice of city-view or bridge-view. His suggestion was city-view since some people found the bridge a bit too noisy. We went with his suggestion, and he told us that we could move if we were at all unhappy with the room. The room was beautiful - it was a corner room with floor to ceiling windows and a walk-in closet. There was a separateliving room and bedroom area, and the TV swiveled so that we could watch it from either area. The bathroom was very modern with a coffee maker inside. My husband specifically noted that the shower pressure was the best he ever experienced. he called it the "Kramer shower" for any Seinfeld fans out there.
Instead of sitting out by the pool, we opted to do a little shopping at the new Miami Dolphin outlet mall. There was a free shuttle that stops at all the major downtown hotels and the Hyatt concierge gave us the schedule. It was your typical outlet mall, with many stores we Canadians don't have (check out http://www.shopdolphinmall.com/old- directory/ for a list of all stores). After contributing our share to the US economy, we took the shuttle back to the hotel and went to Bayside Marketplace for dinner. On the 10 minute walk back to the hotel, we stopped at Wal-Greens for some snacks and soft drinks. I heard that there was also a liquor store nearby for anyone interested in buying booze to take aboard the ship.
In all, out pre-cruise stay was a very pleasant experience and we would certainly use Priceline again. The internet-special on the room was $120 plus tax per night, and we paid under $40 including all taxes and Priceline fees. Not bad.
Check-in began later than usual for our sailing due to 3 deaths and a suicide the week before. We got to the pier around 11:00 and check-in had not yet begun. All Diamond and Platinum Crown and Anchor members were ushered into a special lounge and the remainder of the guests stayed in air-conditioned waiting area. There were 2 weddings being held onboard that day, and the brides, grooms, families and guests were the first ones to board. I would say that we finally got onboard by 12:30.
We were in a category D balcony, room 9092, which is in the center on the "hump" of Brilliance. The balcony was extended and considerably larger than normal, and we only had one neighbor since we bordered the centrum on the other side. Another plus is that the balcony is recessed enough that others could not see us if they stood at the edge of their balconies. The surprise was that I never thought that being midship would be so convenient. The cabin is literally right off the stairs, so it was very easy to run back to the room to drop stuff off or pick things up. If we were at the pool and wanted to pick up our camera from the room, it would take under a minute. We especially noticed it coming back from shore excursions when we wanted to drop off our bags and then head up to the Windjammer for a bite - our room was just off the elevator. Never had any noise problems at all, and noise from the hallway was minimal. Personally, I would take this room again in a second as it offers the extended balcony with the convenience of being midship. For anyone interested, here are a couple of pictures of room 9092 (http://community.webshots.com/album/58654523LdpVTS)
"Cruise Critic" party
Royal Caribbean has teamed up with the Cruise Critic message boards to offer a get-together for passengers who have met online before the cruise. As we did not know when RCCL would schedule the party, we all decided to meet informally at the pool bar on the first day. It was great to finally meet all the people we had been corresponding with for months before the cruise. RCCL scheduled the official Cruise Critic party on Day 3, which I thought was a bit late. The invitation said that the get-together was to be held in the Starquest lounge on Deck 13, but when we got there no one looked familiar. Turns out that was a different private party, and the CC party was moved to the Hollywood Odyssey lounge also on Deck 13. I would say that the majority of folks walked into the wrong lounge, and the invitations should have had the correct location stated. The cruise director, Clodagh O'Connor, was there and RCCL offered a few hors d'oeuvres but the main purpose of the party was to meet our fellow online friends. People still don't understand that, and there was one guy who went up to the cruise director and asked her why he was there, and what was the point of the party.
The food on the Brilliance was your typical cruise fare, but I was impressed with the variety of options offered, as well as dining locations. In addition to the main dining room and Windjammer buffet, there was a Solarium Cafe, Seaview Cafe, Latte-tude's, Chops Grill, PortoFino's and room service. A brief description of each is below, along with some of the typical food offerings. I know a lot of folks of interested in menus, so here's what I remember...
Main Dining Room
An elegant 2-story room, with a piano player on the landing between the 2 floors. Each night, there was a different menu theme and there was more than enough variety to please most. Of course, they also offer an "everyday menu" with some generic favorites such as sirloin or salmon. There were a couple of nights where the waiters came out dancing and singing. Basically, it was your typical cruise dining room experience.
Although this was not typical of the dining room staff, I must say that our waiter was pitifully slow. On the majority of evenings, our table remained waiting for our main course while others were already on dessert. The first night of the cruise, I mentioned to the waiter that I was 5 and a half months pregnant and it was uncomfortable for me to remain seated at the table for over 2 hours - he assured me that he would serve us promptly. The next couple of nights, service for our table remained slow while other tables were done in good time. I asked the headwaiter if service would improve and he guaranteed me it would - it did not. It was frustrating, especially since it meant that we missed some evening activities. However, we were just unlucky and others did not the same experience with their waiters.
I have sailed on all classes of RCCL ships, and this was by far the most extensive Windjammer I have seen. Instead of one long line, the area was broken out into several clearly marked stations. Unlike the chaos I noticed on the Golden Princess, this area flowed well and there was plenty of variety. There were several self-serve drink stations with ice, water, coffee, tea (regular and herbal) and hot chocolate. In addition, there were a couple of manned drink bars where the waiters would serve you juices for free, as well as soft drinks and alcoholic beverages for a charge.
For those interested, here is a summary of available items: Breakfast - Omelet bar (egg beaters and egg whites available), scrambles eggs, hard-boiled eggs, pancakes, French toast, waffles (with fruit and whipped cream toppings), cold and hot cereals, grits, bagels, toast, muffins, donuts, croissants, Danishes, biscuits, smoked salmon, sausages, bacon, home fries, hash browns, yogurts, milk, cheeses, an Asian soup corner (Miso soup with several ingredients to add on), and a huge variety of fruit.
Lunch - Varied daily.
Afternoon Snack - Nacho chips with all the toppings, chili, salad bar, tuna, spinach dip, chopped egg, hot dogs, spring rolls, cakes, cookies, scones, fruit, ice cream as well as other items that varied daily.
Dinner - The main courses varied daily but there were a few staples, including: A regular salad bar and a Caesar salad bar - each with a huge variety of ingredients, large peeled shrimp, mussels, 2 soups, a pasta bar, a stir-fry bar, sirloin steak and of course many desserts.
This sit-down casual restaurant is located above the Windjammer on Deck 12. It was open from noon to 3 am, with the exception of a few hours in the evening. You would place your order with the host at the front, and waiters would bring your meal with 10 minutes. There is a big sign saying that take-out is not permitted. The menu did not vary, with the exception of the dessert-of-the-day. Menu items include: Cheeseburger, chili, nacho plate, fish 'n' chips, onion rings, tuna melt, Cuban sandwich, Reuben sandwich, chicken fingers and wings, blackened grouper Caesar salad, cottage- cheese fruit plate, cookies and brownies. There was no additional charge for food, however beverages (soft drinks, milkshakes, alcohol, slushies) were extra.
Your typical Starbucks at sea, offering lattes, cafe-au-lait, etc. There was a charge for these specialty coffees, as well as for the cookies, muffins and biscotti they served. This struck me as a bit odd, especially since the cookies looked exactly like what was offered in the Windjammer, just a bit bigger. I guess they are charging for the convenience of having the snacks right next to the latte bar. As far as I could tell, these were not "premium" cookies.
Opened daily from 11am to 7 pm, this little cafe offered a variety of pizza, mini sandwiches and wraps, cookies and occasionally brownies. There was also coffee, tea and water, and there was no charge for any of the items.
These premium alternative restaurants that are an additional $20 per person. Although we did not eat here personally, many others gave both restaurants rave reviews.
Room service could be ordered by phoning or via the interactive television. The selection was quite varied, however I heard from others that service was quite slow and that you were lucky if you got what you ordered. We never used this service ourselves.
There are two large pools aboard the Brilliance - the main pool and the Solarium pool. Both pools and their respective Jacuzzis are open 24 hours a day, save for about an hour or so at night when they drain the pools for cleaning.
The Brilliance solarium was by far the nicest out of any ship I have sailed. Statues of elephants, a waterfall, a bridge, elegant tiles, wood lounge chairs with puffy mattresses all added to the beauty. My only complaint was that the glass canopy was always closed and did not seem to be retractable as on the Vision class ships.
There were plenty of chairs around the main pool and on the upper decks. A reggae / calypso band played several sets daily and pool games were held on sea days.
There was also a pretty large kiddie pool as well as a water slide for older children. I believe the minimum height restriction for the slide was 4 feet.
For those interested in not gaining the requisite pound a day, Brilliance offered many exercise options. Every morning, there was an aerobics class, a stretch class and a walk-a-thon. Most aerobics classes were free of charge, however there was a $10 fee for spinning, yoga and kickboxing. Throughout the day, there would be dance classes, various sporting competitions (mini-golf, ping- pong, long drive, etc), and other aerobics classes. by participating in any scheduled class, you would earn Shipshape dollars redeemable for merchandise such as T-shirts, baseball caps, towels, bags or water bottles.
Sports Deck and Country Club
Yes, you can try your skill on the infamous rock- climbing wall aboard Brilliance, which apparently is harder than it looks. The hours of operation are posted in the daily Cruise Compass newsletter, and there is no charge to climb the wall. Be sure to wear socks.
Brilliance also offers a 9 hole mini-golf course, as well as a golf simulator. The simulator is $25 per hour for up to 4 people, and you do not need to bring your own clubs. In addition, the Country Club loans out shuffle board equipment, basketballs, soccer balls and ping-pong equipment.
In addition to the many $1, $0.25 and $0.05 slot machines, you can find Blackjack, Roulette, Caribbean Stud Poker and Craps tables in the Brilliance Casino. The slots were pretty tight this cruise, but I knew many folks that did well at the tables.
Given the fact that the demographic for this particular cruise was retirees, the entertainment appeared to be geared towards an older crowd. On several nights the entertainment was piano-playing singers, which did not interest us. I was also not that impressed with the comedians, whose regurgitated jokes I had heard many times before. Our entertainment last spring on the Golden Princess, which consisted of younger comedians, magicians and hypnotists, was more our style.
We found the production numbers on this cruise to be not up to par as well. This was the first cruise for the new set of Royal Caribbean singers and dancers, and it appears as if they require a bit more practice. Their timing was off and they did not exhibit the same level of confidence we typically see. They were a talented bunch, though, and I am sure time will improve their performance. We also found the sets and costumes to be lacking over what we have grown to expect from a typical RCCL show.
Crown & Anchor Recognition
Once you have sailed with RCCL, you are automatically enrolled in their Crown and Anchor loyalty program and are entitled to special onboard discounts. Depending on your level, you will be given a Value Booklet with vouchers for 2 for 1 drinks, match play casino certificates, free wine tasting, etc. To see a copy of these booklets, check out http://www.cruisingpower.com/USP/General/QRDetail.as p and scroll to the bottom of the page.
This elegant room was actually 4 lounges in one - The Bombay Billiard Club, Jakarta Lounge, Singapore Sling's and the Calcutta Card Club. The captain's cocktail party and repeater's party were held at the Colony Club, as well as the majority of trivia contests and theme nights. One evening that cannot be missed is the adult scavenger hunt, the "Quest".
The self-leveling billiard tables were amazing and certainly interesting to play on. I never thought that I would be able to play pool at sea, and you have to see it to truly experience it.
General Ship Comments
The selection of artwork on the ship was quite interesting and I was impressed with the considerable amount of New York City and 9/11 commemorative pieces. We found the sea-view glass elevators to be breathtaking, and be sure to ride them up to the 13th deck to see the 2 fishermen - I guarantee you will do a double take upon getting a glimpse of these guys.
One common complaint about the Brilliance (and her sister the Radiance) is the lack of aft stairs and elevators. There are only 2 sets located in the front and midship, and it was a relatively long walk for some to get to the back. Something to note when selecting staterooms.
Ship's Photographers - Every other night, the ship's photographers would set up different backgrounds for formal portraits. We were impressed with the variety and originality of backdrops that were offered, which seemed to be more diverse than any other cruise we had been on. Of particular interest was the Titanic staircase. we were provided with costumes to go with the scenery, including an old fashioned dress, evening gloves and a huge feathered hat for the lady, and tux shirt / jacket, gloves, cane and top hat for the gent. The photo was taken in black and white and was a lot of fun.
Interactive TV - In addition to ordering room service, you could order shore excursions, check your bill, and order pay-per-view movies via the interactive television service. Note however, that there were free movies as well and our cruise we saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Banger Sisters and Spiderman.
Internet - Internet terminals were available for $0.50 per minute, or you could set up in-room internet for $120 provided you had your own lap-top.
Doctor's Hours - If you are unfortunate enough to need the infirmary on your cruise, note that the doctor's official hours are 9-11 am and 4-6 pm. If you require an appointment outside these hours a $30 surcharge on top of the standard fee applies.
Cozumel This was our third time back to Cozumel and each time we have gone to Chankanaab park. It costs $10 per cab (up to 4 people) to get to the park, plus $10 per person admission. The admission includes the use of beach chairs and umbrellas, and there are facilities, rentals and restaurants on the premises. We have typically seen lots of fish at Chankanaab, but this time the seas were a bit rough. The variety was still good, but it had been even better in the past. By the afternoon, the seas calmed down a bit, but the earlier turbulence stirred up all the baby jellyfish. These creatures are small and almost invisible, looking like little pieces of tissue. It was impossible to go in without getting stung. Luckily, it didn't hurt too much and just felt like being stuck with a needle, but it was unpleasant nonetheless.
Admission to the park also includes access to the nature trails, botanical gardens, small waterfall and Mayan ruins. We toured these areas for a bit, and took a few pictures. They also offer the Dolphin Encounter, where you can swim with the dolphins for an extra $100 or so. For those not doing the encounter, you can still watch the dolphins swim around and jump into the air.
Grand Cayman Unfortunately, we were unable to dock due to ocean swells. This is my third trip to Cayman, and the second time we weren't able to get off the ship. Luckily, I was able to swim with the stingrays (with Captain Marvin) on my cruise last year. As per typical RCCL style, they did not refund the port charges for this stop, something other cruise lines do automatically. Others have mentioned that occasionally the ship will offer open bar as compensation, but that was not extended to us either. I have had discussions with RCCL in the past regarding why they do not refund the port charges, as these are fees collected by RCCL on our behalf to pay to the local port authority. We don't stop, the fees never get charged and it seems only fair that this prepaid amount get refunded. Apparently RCCL does not see it that way.
Montego Bay, Jamaica We were originally scheduled to stop in Ocho Rios, but the itinerary was changed as Navigator would be in Ochie instead. This suited me just fine and I was eager to see a new port. We have climbed Dunn's River Falls twice before, and toured the area with Peat Taylor last year. Upon arriving in MoBay, we were advised by the local authorities that we should not wander around by ourselves, as it could be dangerous. We opted to take a taxi shuttle to Margaritaville Beach, as the local guy said that there is good snorkeling there. Price to Margaritaville was $4 per person each way. When we got there, we realized it was just a bar on the ocean, but there was a large waterslide from the bar into the water. No beach, no chairs, and I assume if you wanted to go swimming you would leave your clothes and towel at your table. Doctor's Cove Beach was just up the street and we decided to walk it. No surprises here - in the under 5 minute walk it took us to get to Doctor's Cove we were harassed by many locals offering hair braiding, jewelry and "ganja". We just ignored them and kept on walking. Admission to the beach was $3 per person and a beach chair was an additional $2 or so. The beach was very nice, offering full facilities. We headed out to the reef and were surprised to see quite a few fish. Nothing like Cozumel, but much better than the snorkeling we did in Ocho Rios last year.
Aruba We found a local cab (mini-van) driver just outside the pier area to take us on a 2.5-hour island tour. He gave it to us for $10 per person, but others paid $15 depending on how many people inside the van. He took us to the Natural Bridge, the Casibari rock formations, lighthouse and old church. We were able to stop and get out at each place and he did not rush us at all... we spent as much time at each location as the group wanted. He also drove past the Spanish Gold "fort", Sly Stallone's house, and other rock formations as well. On the way back, he would drop us off at the pier or at a beach along the coast. We chose to be dropped off at Boca Catalina, which is excellent for snorkeling. In fact, we saw a couple of excursion boats stop off here as their snorkel spot. Saw lots of marine- life, including a couple of barracuda, squid, eels, and of course huge schools of brightly colored fish. Some of the non-snorkelers got dropped off at Palm or Eagle Beach. We found the snorkeling in Aruba to be the best out of the entire cruise. The only drawback to Boca Catalina is the lack of facilities - no restaurants, rest rooms or rental shops. We caught the local city bus back to the pier from the beach, which was around $1.25 per person. The bus was very clean, and most riders were resort guests or cruise ship passengers.
In the evening, we stopped off at Carlos n Charlie's for a bit, then decided to check out the Aruba casino. First time I ever saw penny slots! My husband took a picture with the scantily clad showgirls, and I posed with the equally costumed show-boys. After walking around a bit more, we finally settled on an outside second floor terrace, and watched the excitement on the street below.
Curacao This was our second time in Curacao, and we returned to Kon-Tiki beach. There is actually 3 beaches all attached here - Kon-Tiki, Mambo, and Seaqurium Beach. The cab ride to the beach was $12 for up to 4 people, admission was $3 per person plus $2 for a chair. This is a very pretty beach, with a restaurant, facilities and rental gear. There is a wall of rocks that extends the length of all 3 beaches about 200 feet out, and snorkeling is great out there.
I hope I didn't forget anything here. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to ask. Happy Cruising...
Just A Glimpse of Brilliance!
When we first visited the Radiance Of The Seas, back in early 2001, I thought that she was the perfect size cruiser. The extra twenty or so thousand gross registered tons engineered into this class of ship seemed to enable naval architects and designers to make a major leap over the Vision and Sovereign Class vessels without losing the feel of being on a ship that one gets on the Voyager Class vessels, fun though they may be.
Radiance Of The Seas is the second of four vessels scheduled to be built in the class. The third, Serenade Of The Seas is due in September of 2003 and the fourth, Jewel Of the Seas is expected to be launched in June of 2004.
Brilliance Of the Seas does not disappoint my great expectations… in fact, like many sea going second sisters, she represents a fine honing of design and execution over the Radiance. We got to experience the vessel on a brief overnight voyage for the Travel Industry on Friday, November 8th. We embarked in Miami shortly after noon on Friday and had most of the afternoon andevening to get a feel of her and to experience her ride as we headed fifty mile to the northeast, into the Bahama's and then back for a Saturday morning arrival in Miami.
The Brilliance is 90,090 gross registered tons, is 962 feet long, holds 2100 cruise guests at double occupancy and has a cruising speed of 25 knots. Her features are basically the same as we find on the Radiance… from cabins to lounges to theaters to restaurants… with many decorating touches that separate her from her sister.
The cabins are well sized and nicely appointed. Abundant closet and drawer space and a handsome wooden console that dominates the cabin area make for a comfortable and relaxing environment. A large percentage of her Ocean View cabins offer balconies and they well sized. We have an aft Category D, overlooking the stern… with a huge balcony than we delightful. Brilliance has a Gas Turbine propulsion system and, I must say, there weren't a trace of vibration or hint of noise in our Cabin, 8172, on Deck 8. If you are sailing on either of these vessels, I can heartily recommend these aft cabins.
If I must find one fault with the design of this class of vessel, it is the absence of any stairs or elevators aft of mid ships. It is a loooong haul to the aft cabins… a great way to work off some of the food, but not for anyone with problems walking.
Brilliance have several alternative restaurants, including Portofino (Italian), Seaview Cafe (a sort of upscale Johnny Rockets… with a great Cuban Sandwich, I might add) and Chops Grille (with the most attractive menu at sea… at least for this fan of New York Steak Houses). The Windjammer Cafe offers a varied buffet and is very sensibly laid out with easy to read signs identifying the various food stations. I thought the selections were varied and attractively presented. What I tasted (and I'm not a fan of buffets in general) was quite good. The traffic flow was smooth and there is an abundance of tables and staff. They've done a good job here.
The Minstrel Dining Room is gorgeous. And, while it is commodious one doesn't get the feeling that one is dining in a football stadium. It retains a small restaurant "feel" and lots of sound absorbing surfaces keeps the noise level down, allowing for pleasant dinner conversation. Tables are well spaced and there are lots of choices of table size. The Minstrel is a room that works.
The signature Viking Crown Lounge is a delight. The circular bar and stools slowly revolves around a stationary pit with the bartenders and their wares. While it may be a task for these folks to get the right drink to the guest who is slowly rotating around the bar, it surely is a unique way to meet lots of people.
Brilliance, and older sister, are ships with an abundance of nooks and crannies… all beautifully decorated and sort of classic in motif… with lots and lots of wood paneling everywhere. The Schooner Bar area is just stunning… attractive, understated and instantly welcoming and open. They have done a remarkable job in the public areas of this ship.
For me, Brilliance Of The Seas is another appropriately named vessel. In every respect, she matches up to her name. Those of you scheduled to sail in her are in for a treat. Those who aren't should give some serious thought to doing just that.
Normally I cruise a least once a year, but this year was devoted to medical stuff. I was really missing my cruise fix. I found out that the new Brilliance of the Seas was making a 4 day cruise from Miami and that the rates were quite low. So I booked it. I've never liked RCI. Mainly I found service on board absolutely abysmal. Boy, have I ever changed my mind. I loved this ship. Everything except the embarkation process which was a nightmare, was wonderful. The ship is a real beauty. Lots of wood and patterned marble with steel inserts are used throughout. The ship is very well laid out. No decks ending in bulkheads where you needed to go to the forward elevators to get around.
My cabin was a standard outside just two cabins from the Centrum elevators, a bank of 7 elevators which were the main elevators on the ship. The cabin was good sized like a Celebrity cabin. The only design flaw was a lack of cabinets in the bathroom, especially since the cabin sleeps 3. A good, powerful hairdryer is provided which is athe Solariumpool area. The latter is a little over the top but I loved it anyway. It has a pool with graduated steps into the water. I can't handle ladders but this was no problem. Brilliance is a much quieter ship than any other RCI ship I've ever sailed on. The captain commented, so did the cruise director and there were only 4 other announcements, 2 for bingo and 2 for art auctions. Other than that there was peace and quiet. Anyone who is booked for Brilliance is in for a treat. I would sail it again in a heartbeat. If anybody has any specific questions feel free to e-mail me.
My husband and I departed from Boston aboard Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas on a very hot day (81 degrees). We arrived early, so embarkation was a snap: We were on the ship in 10 minutes! However, if we had arrived later we would have been caught up in a terrible mess. There were many irate passengers who couldn't get porters for their luggage and felt they had been herded around like cattle in long, two to three-hour lines. We missed all that. The ship sailed an hour late in order to get everyone aboard.
The Brilliance of the Seas is the most beautiful ship I have seen. Since we boarded early, we had time to explore the ship thoroughly. The spa area was exceptional, as was the solarium, which housed the whirlpools and indoor pool and pizza service. The theater is multi-tiered, with and an unobstructed view from any seat.
The dining room also has two levels, with a beautiful open staircase leading from the top to the lower level. The Windjammer Cafe on Deck 11 is used for buffet meal service. Its seating is partially covered in the stern ofthe ship, but unfortunately it wasn't used much because the weather was to cold for many people. I can imagine that in the warmer weather this area would be a favorite. On Deck 12 is a small cafe serving fish and chips, sandwiches, milkshakes etc. The ship has two alternative restaurants that we did not use. They charged $20 per person extra. The ship also has several spacious and well-appointed lounges and showrooms. One of the prettiest areas is the middle foyer where you enter the ship.
Our inside cabin was quite large, with all the amenities that you needed. The bathrooms were rather small, though. We were located on Deck 4 mid-ship, a good spot located near most of the activities. Sports and recreational facilities include a rock-climbing wall, pools, waterslide, miniature golf, basketball and ping pong areas, and pool tables. Many of the passengers were not prepared for the cold weather, so you saw lots of Royal Caribbean sweatshirts and jackets around.
The first port was Bar Harbor, Maine--a quaint New England town with a shopping district that can be easily walked. We took the Olly's Trolley tour to Acadia National Park, which offered spectacular scenery. The next port was Halifax. When you first looked out of the window it appeared to be an old mill town but when you got out and about, it was a really neat city. We took the hop-on bus and got to see most of the city. We also took the harbor hopper, which was fun.
Next we called at Sydney, Nova Scotia. I had planned to rent a car and drive the Cabot Trail, but the weather did not cooperate. It was so windy you could not stand up. In fact, several people were literally blown off their feet. So we decided to stay put and just browse the shops. I should mention that the townspeople are just great! They go out of their way to be helpful.
Our next port was Quebec--a beautiful city with lots to see and do. It is really romantic to be sitting with your cocktails at night and look out over the lights of the city with the Chateau Frontenac in the background. Next was a trip up the Saguenay River. The ship picks up a naturalist who narrates the trip. It is a place of quiet beauty and an area to see Beluga whales and other wild life. It was so windy that it was difficult to see the whales. Only one or two were spotted.
Next was St John's, New Brunswick. We took the jet boat over the reversing falls. That was fun, and we enjoyed it despite getting wet (we were well warned). Our last port was Portland, Maine, which is also a very "walkable" city with several inexpensive tours as well as a "duck" tour. We had two sea days as well.
The entertainment on board was very good. The Platters performed, and there were two production shows and the usual comedians, singers and magicians. Overall, we had a great time. I was not impressed with the dining room food. The choices were not as good as most of the other ships we've been on, and it took at least two hours to be served. The buffet had much of the same fare and was usually hotter, but after 10 days you get tired of buffets.
Next week we are leaving for Miami to sail on Celebrity's Mercury and NCL's Dawn. After that I should be cruised out for a while.
I'm going to go into great detail with this review, so please keep that in mind if my review appears too run long. My husband Brian and I are in our mid-thirties and live in Barrow, Alaska. This was our sixth cruise and the third one for which I have written a review.
London, England Sunday, September 8th
Time to take a cruise!
We slept in!!! After days and days of getting up so early, we finally got to sleep in! We got up around 9:00 a.m. and ate breakfast alone in the hotel restaurant. It was just continental today and I hope to never have to eat an English breakfast again. I don't know how they survive eating all those fatty, cold meats and cheeses, not to mention the yucky sausage and eggs deep fried in an inch of oil. But maybe they don't eat that way and that is just what they feed to the tourists. :O) I ate way too much bread on this trip because I have a weakness for it.
At 11:00 a.m., we checked out of our hotel and got one of the little, black cabsto take us and our luggage to Liverpool Street Station. It took a long time to get there because there is so much construction going on in London and many of the streets were closed off. The driver was getting pretty feed up with it, and could be heard muttering under his breath.
We found where to get our train tickets to Harwich after much wandering around the massive train station. They had a special boat train scheduled today that was heavily discounted for the cruise passengers. It only cost 15 pounds for each of us to take the subway car style train to the Port of Harwich. Everyone on it was going to the boat, but there was NO storage place for all the big suitcases people had! We had four bags and ours were small in comparison to many others. Everybody piled their bags right against the door which is a serious NO, NO. They had to add four more cars to accommodate everyone and the conductor told us that we had to move our luggage. Everyone asked themselves, "where in the hell should we put them?". We stuffed one of ours under a seat, one behind a seat, one right up against me and one in an open seat next to a guy who was nice enough to offer it. Most people just left their bags at the door and did nothing about it. It took about an hour and fifteen minutes to get to Harwi When we pulled into Harwich, everyone poured off the train and threw their bags at the attendants and got in line as quickly as possible. The line was out the door of the terminal and didn't move very fast. Inside, there was a musician playing soft easy listening music which Brian recognized was by the rock band Queen. It took a little over an hour to get on board and we got to know a few people while standing in line. We heard from someone that Royal Caribbean's new Brilliance of the Seas, is the largest ship to ever dock at this port.
Aaahhh, it feels SO good to get on a cruise ship. The excitement returned instantly when we boarded the Brilliance of the Seas. She was only recently added to Royal Caribbean's fleet and is the newest cruise ship out right now. This is the 90,000 ton ship's 6th official sailing. It's very impressive, and absolutely gorgeous inside. The first thing we noticed was the beautiful woodwork and the striking glass windows which could be found everywhere! It is bigger than the first cruise ship (70,000 ton) we ever sailed on and of course smaller than the (140,000 ton) Adventure of the Seas, which we were passengers on last December. We were very happy with our cabin (#7558) which was located on deck 7 towards the aft of the ship. It was plenty spacious, but of course we are used to dinky rooms now, from our time spent touring the British Isles. We had more than plenty of storage space and the colors of the room and ship were navy and brown. The bedspread was an ugly brown print and the loveseat was a very pr We went exploring while waiting for our luggage and Brian videotaped briefly until he ran out of tape. We took a moment to make reservations for Chops Grille which like Portofinos, is an alternative dining room located on deck 6 that costs $20 per person. We had found Portofinos enjoyable on a previous cruise, so we decided to make a reservation with the gentleman taking reservations. We asked if he knew which night that the main dining room wasn't serving anything real interesting and he said that Wednesday night was English night. Having just spent two weeks in the British Isles, that sounded like a night we wouldn't mind missing. Our reservation was made for 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, which would be September 11th by the way. Back at the room we found that one of our bags had arrived so I unpacked it while Brian grabbed another tape and battery for our video camera. Then we headed out again for a late afternoon lunch in the Windjammer Cafe. Windjammer Cafe is where you find the buffet style dining opti We chose the early seating so each night our dining time was at 6:00 p.m. Thankfully, dress for dinner was casual on this first night. We found our table for six on the bottom floor by the door and near the kitchen. It wasn't a great location, because we didn't have a view of the gorgeous dining room. Our waiter, Mustafa from Turkey and his assistant, Claudia from Chile were really nice and attentive to our needs. We were joined by Jane and Paul from Raleigh, NC. They were an elderly couple who have done 23 cruises. They were very tired that night because they had just flown in from the states that day. The other couple arrived a little late after we finished our first two courses. Bruce and Adriana were in their early 30's and from Connecticut. We visited a little bit with our table mates while we dined on really good cod with a saffron based stuffing crust.
After dinner we made our way to the Pacifica Theatre which is located on decks 5 and 6. Here we briefly met Clodagh O'Connor, our Cruise Director from Ireland and we all got our first glimpse of this ships entertainment staff. The short Welcome Aboard Show was pretty boring until the comedian came on stage. His name was Neal Austin and he was hilarious. He was very geeky looking and he used magic and lots of props in the vane of a more talented Carrot Top.
After the show, we wondered around some more and visited the Shops of Centrum on deck five. Brian picked up a bottle of Grand Marnier to take back to the room. It cost an extra $9.00 to have the bottle in the room. We saved money in the long run and on some days added a bit of it to our morning coffee. People who don't know us will likely think we're alcoholics based on our trip reviews. We also discovered that the ship has a movie cinema that seats about 50 people. We'll have to check that out at some point.
The remaining bags were waiting for us or "me", since I'm often the one that does all the unpacking. Brian's stuff was pretty wrinkled so I turned on the shower and steamed up the bathroom. That worked pretty well. Then I hand washed some of our shirts and under garments. I distinctly recall that Brian promised me that I wouldn't have to do any laundry while we were on this vacation. It was very hard to pack for a three week vacation and the two week British Isle tour we took prior to this cruise left us short on clean clothes. All in all, it hasn't been too bad, I guess.
by the time I was done unpacking, it was after 11:00 p.m. and I was pooped. Brian preordered room service for our breakfast in the morning through the TV and we went to sleep with the balcony door wide open to enjoy the sound of the sea.
Brilliance of the Seas Monday, September 9th
We awakened at 7:40 a.m. to the tranquil sound of the ocean through our open balcony door. The noisy neighbors woke us up a couple of times, but the sound of the waves put us back to sleep. We grew tired of waiting for our breakfast to arrive. Brian had preordered it the night before for delivery at 8:00 a.m. At 8:50 a.m., we gave up and went up to the Windjammer Cafe and had a fabulous omelet.
There was not much in the Compass (the daily cruise planner) that appealed to us this morning so we grabbed a cup of coffee and went back to our room to add some Grand Marnier to it. I had wanted to sit on the balcony and enjoy my coffee, but it was too cold.
We went to the Colony Club for some mid-morning line dancing, but the floor was too crowded to do any serious dancing so we gave that up. Hasn't there been any new dances since the Electric Slide? We decided to watch the dancing and play checkers instead. In the same lounge, they had some tables made of nice dark wood with inlaid board games on them. We sat down to play checkers and realized that we didn't remember how to play! It's a kids game, how sad is that? The India motif Colony Club was a richly wooded lounge located at the aft part of the ship with floor to ceiling windows looking out the back. There is also the peaceful Calcutta Card Room located just off from the Colony Club with a lot of different games available to play. At the entrance was the Bombay Billiards Club where two pool tables were equipped with stabilizers so the balls wouldn't roll around with the movement of the ship. I think I read somewhere that Royal Caribbean paid $40,000.00 for them. The tables were not open for play y Our chosen lunch venue was the Seaview Cafe on deck 12. We thought this was going to be the Brilliance of the Seas' version of the fantastic Johnny Rockets of the Adventure of the Seas. We ordered a strawberry shake and it was the worst shake we have ever had. They used strawberry daiquiri mix and didn't even blend it well. Yuck! It was in a tiny glass and cost $3.74 with the mandatory 15% tip. We were so disappointed and couldn't bring ourselves to drink it. The shakes at the Seaview Cafe were definitely nothing like our beloved Johnny Rockets. Johnny Rockets shakes were so good and they came in a big glass with the metal container on the side with the leftovers. Later in the cruise, we would find that the food here could be quite good at times. This time however, I thought my Cuban sandwich was just okay and Brian didn't like his burger. We left and headed for the Windjammer where we had a salad and sandwich wrap. Today, unlike yesterday, the lemonade sucked and it began to seem we were not havi While I caught up on this journal, Brian went to the spa to schedule massages for us. They were booked for the entire cruise already! Only the real expensive package treatments were available. It was obvious that they are trying to sell them instead of the basic massages since the same treatments were included in the $300 packages. Brian was pretty disgusted when he got back to the room. Again' nothing seemed to be going our way. This afternoon we decided to stroll the ship and we stopped off at the Schooner Bar for two glasses of cognac which cost us a surprising $13. The Schooner Bar was probably the nicest bar in our opinion. It was located just outside the Colony Club and had a nautical motif with really dark woods and ship type decor like ropes, sails and even a ships wheel. It smelled so good here, kind of a nice mesquite smell which they must pump into the room. Across from the bar in the middle was a piano area with leathered bar stools for sing-a-longs. We left here with our cognac glasses and returned once again to the ships liquor store to buy a bottle of fine cognac. We usually don't do this kind of thing but the cognac in the Schooner helped us to realize that this could turn out to be our last vacation if we don't lighten our bar tab.
Tonight was the first of two formal nights on this cruise. At 5:00 p.m., we got dressed in our tighter than should be dress clothes and headed to the Captain's Cocktail Reception in the Colony Club. It was a pretty sedate, though well attended party, where Captain James MacDonald told us a bit about the Brilliance of the Seas. I filled up on some great shrimp hors d'oeuvres' and free champagne here. A couple from Texas shared our table with us. He was the quintessential rich Texan in dress, gold jewelry and a strong accent. I never got a chance to ask him what he did, but he looked well off. At tonight's dinner, I had an excellent shrimp cocktail for my appetizer while Brian had roasted vegetables with goat cheese. We both tried the Lobster Bisque and Brian had the Filet Mignon for the main course while I had Duck a`l'Orange. He had some nicely prepared asparagus with his steak and he gave most of them to me. He is such a sweetie. :O) We had a great chocolate mousse and double strawberry cheesecake Tonight's show was called "Close to You". It was a tribute show that featured a collection of Burt Bacharach songs. It started out really well, but got kind of so-so in the middle and stayed that way until the end. The singers and dancers were really good though. We recognized one of the dancers because Brian had bought the Grand Marnier and Cognac from him in the liquor store. Most of the entertainers have day jobs around the ship to make a little extra money.
After the show, I was ready to call it a night. We had been in bed for about 45 minutes when Brian decided we should go for a swim! I gave in and we headed up to the Solarium pool area but there were young people (18-20) in the pool and hot tub. We didn't feel like joining them so we braved the cold and wind and got in the hot tub in the main pool area. The water was not hot enough but we stayed in it for awhile. Brian was even crazy enough to dive into the pool for a few minutes. It was extremely cold getting out of the hot tub. We dried off very quickly and headed up to the Seaview Cafe for a late night snack that we didn't need. Brian's Reuben sandwich was great and my Tuna Melt wasn't half bad. Maybe the food is pretty good here after all. We finally got our fill and got our wet butts back to bed.
Brilliance of the Seas Tuesday, September 10th
We woke up to wind and rain this morning. The ship rocked all day long - a lot! It didn't bother me too much, but Brian was pretty queasy and it made him dizzy to climb the stairs. The captain informed us that we were getting some of the effects of cruising around Hurricane Gustalf.
We had breakfast, then went to the cinema to see "A Beautiful Mind" It was a terrific movie. OK - We finally have to admit that Russell Crowe did deserve the Oscar and was robbed! :O) After the movie, we played a game of pool. The stabilizers in the tables were definitely being tested by the rough seas. It is amazing how well they work. But since we were still rocking around, it was really hard to play when your not stabilized. But it was fun, even though Brian kicked my behind.
After lunch, in the Windjammer, we decided we better go through Immigration. The line went on and on and Brian decided to bag it and come back later. We went to the casino and played blackjack and roulette. We won a little and walked out $56 ahead. We went back to Immigration where the line was even worse than before! So we decided to wait until the next day to try it again.
We spent the middle of the day exploring the various parts of the ship. The Viking Crown Lounge on deck 13 consists of two bars, the Starquest Nightclub has a revolving bar and is the ships disco, while the Hollywood themed Odyssey lounge provided live music with easy listening tunes most evenings. The Crown and Anchor Lounge was directly above the Centrum and offered a unique view of the lower Atrium area. This lounge was on deck 12 and it was the place to go if you enjoy cognac and a fine cigar. The Champagne Bar on deck 6 was very comfortable and decorated with a bubbly champagne theme.
Tonight we went to the Cruise Critic Cocktail Party at 5:15 p.m. which was held in the Starquest Nightclub. We had signed up for it on the Internet a couple of months prior to the cruise and the purpose of the party is to meet fellow cruise critic patrons. But looking around the room, we didn't see anyone we really wanted to talk to and the one out going lady that talked to us was kind of scary. She was a very loud older woman who spent most of her time talking negatively about other people. One of the organizers of the party had made wooden duck and whale letter holders for everyone. That was really nice and he was a very pleasant man. We were joined by the ships captain and cruise director and ate some funky hors d'oeuvres' before heading to supper. There were no free cocktails and over 100 people attended the party.
For dinner I had a great shrimp scampi and Brian had the equally good chicken marsala. We couldn't decided what to have for dessert so we had three between us. I've had better Tiramisu but it was good. Brian had a creamy raspberry thing that was good, but the warm chocolate cake was to die for. There was warm chocolate syrup inside the cake. Num! Brian had three Murphy's Irish stouts and I had a lot of wine, but after eating such a large dinner, neither of us felt a thing from the alcohol. Feeling very full we went back to the room and got into bed by 8:30 p.m., turned the clock back an hour (we turned it back an hour each night of the cruise to reflect the time change) and watched Harry Potter on the television until we fell asleep. How old are we anyway? :O)
Brilliance of the Seas Wednesday, September 11th
We woke up a little after 6:00 in the morning and went for a swim in the Solarium pool. We had it to ourselves for about two minutes. Older people are such early risers! But it didn't get too crowded. The jungle themed Solarium is so tranquil and it was our favorite part of the ship. The center piece was a wall sculpture of three elephants with waterfalls on each side, observing the bridge that crossed the main pool. Steam would sometimes trickle from the elephants and when it was dark a lighting system made them appear violet, blue, red, orange, yellow and green. The Solarium also had a bar, a hot tub and many comfortably padded deck loungers.
We had breakfast, then went to the gym for a light workout and a relaxing sauna. We showered and went to attend the 10:00 a.m. September 11th Memorial Service that was being held at the Pacifica Theater. It was very tastefully done and tearful at times. The audience participated in the singing of hymns like "Amazing Grace" and "How Great Thou Art".
Latte-Tudes Lounge was a place you could relax with a coffee, view the sea or sign onto the internet. We bought a couple of Mochas from the Latte-Tudes Coffee Bar and went to the room for our Grand Marnier additive. We started watching "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" which is really a cute movie. The captain interrupted for a ship wide moment of silence. This was nice, still it was hard to enjoy the movie after that so went for a walk and had some lunch. At all times the Windjammer seemed to be packed full of people. It was always easy to get food but it was always difficult finding any open tables. After lunch we observed but did not participate in the Park West, Live Art Auction. On previous cruises we have bid on prints, but on our last cruise we really over did it and bought an original painting which set us back a bit.
At 1:45 p.m., we thought we would finally beat the crowd for Immigration since it didn't open until 2:00 p.m. Can you believe there was already a line that seemed a mile long? This was annoying so we left and came back at 4:45 p.m. They were supposed to be all done by 4:00 p.m., but the line was still out the door when we arrived. We had to get in line that time because it was out last chance since they only offered Immigration for a two hour period on two days. It was ridiculous to think they expected the whole ship to go through in that time. They brought on two officers to do the Immigration. They were on the ship for the whole week, but would only work those hours . Must be nice to get a free vacation and refuse to do the work to earn it. If they would have opened Immigration up for 8 hours on one single day, there would never had been any congestion. I don't think the passengers who paid for the cruise should have had all that irritation. This could have been handled much better than it was.
The ship was still rocking really hard all day even though we only cruised through the outskirt of the storm. We had to turn north to get out of it a little bit, but then had to turn back south and deal with it. We had 45 foot swells and 65 knot winds whatever that means. All I know is this was the worst rocking we have ever felt. I actually walked into a wall at one point! Everyone was walking the halls and swaying from one side to the other. The stairs were really hard to climb and the elevators would shake a bit. A couple of times it actually felt like we hit something and it shook the vessel like an earthquake! Due to the danger, the ships open decks were closed.
At 5:00 p.m. we went to the Welcome Back Repeaters Party for previous Royal Caribbean cruisers. It wasn't anything exciting but I got my free champagne and some shrimp. We had reservations for Chops Grille at 6:00 p.m. but when our reservation card came to our room, it said 6:30 p.m. So we went to kill some time in the casino before dining. We should have just gone to the restaurant because we lost $50. Bummer. We were surprised to find that the reservation card was wrong and that the restaurant had us reserved for 6:00 p.m. after all. But it wasn't a big deal being late because there were lots of empty tables. Our waiters were terrific and very attentive. The bread was a delicious, sun dried tomato with a pimento spread. Brian ordered a bottle of red wine and we drank a glass with our appetizers of crab cakes and Portobello cap mushrooms. We each had a Cesar salad before our 10 ounce filets arrived. They were both well done so we sent them back. The second time, Brian's was a perfect medium but We made it out just in time for the Magic Show that night. The magician (Mark Taylor) was really fast with his hands and used lots of colorful props and we enjoyed it. Oh my gosh, its 10:00 p.m. - bedtime! We even remembered to turn the clock back.
Brilliance of the Seas Thursday, September 12th
Even though we are doing as little as possible on this cruise, the week was still going by way too fast. :O( We could cruise forever. We awoke at 6:00 a. m., got our swimsuits on and went up to the Solarium pool for a swim, but the pool was closed. Even though it was a 24 hour pool, they closed it for many hours every other day to drain and clean it. So we decided to sit and relax on the padded chairs for awhile in case it opened soon. Brian went down to guest relations to get a Compass for the day because we had not gotten one in our room the night before. He came back to the Solarium empty handed. They were having problems with their printer, so they weren't done yet. Brian was pretty upset with the way the day was beginning, so I tried to get him to relax. I had been telling him to calm down a lot lately and we both hope he doesn't turn into a grumpy old man someday! I was quite happy to just sit there and do nothing for awhile, but I needed a cup of coffee. Brian went off in search for it and c Two hours later, it became apparent that the pool was not going to open any time soon. It was becoming more populated in our private oasis, so we went to the gym and worked out on the machines and spent some time in the sauna and steam room. The sauna is great, but we can't spend the time in there together because they are located in the different genders locker room. But it is worth the time apart, haha. :O)
After our showers, we went to Latte-Tudes where they were having a special where you get 15 minutes of free Internet service with a purchase of a spirited drink. That wasn't a bad deal since the rate for Internet was 50 cents a minute. We got an Icy Bourbon Mocha which was minty and delicious! Surprisingly, the alcohol didn't make us loopy at 9:00 a.m.
We made a poor choice and went to the Minstrel Dining Room for breakfast today. It took forever and it wasn't very good. Upon leaving the dining room, we checked out the menu for supper that night. There wasn't anything too appealing on it so we contemplated making other plans.
A cooking demonstration was being held in the Lobby Bar. The Chef, Clodagh the Cruise Director and a volunteer from the audience were frosting a cake. Only the Chef got real whipping cream to make his frosting with because the other two whipped forever and didn't get anywhere. Clodagh was being a comedian and doing all sorts of funny things with her frosting and cake which included swigging from the liquor bottle that was an ingredient for the cake. It was amusing.
We went to the casino where I quickly lost $40 on slots. I joined Brian at the Blackjack table and after both of us being down a lot, we walked away $35 ahead even with the $40 I had lost on slots. So that turned out okay for us.
We decided to eat at Portofino's for supper tonight, so Brian went to see if they had any available times. He found out that they were having a murder mystery dinner theater that night for $50 a person. We thought that might be kind of fun, so even though they were sold out, they juggled things around and squeezed us in after some pleading on our part.
We grabbed a quick bite in the Windjammer and headed back to the Solarium. It was the busiest time of the day, but we succeeded in finding two chairs together. We swam together for awhile, then I got out, relaxed and read my book while Brian stayed in the pool. The sun was shining through the enclosed Solarium since we had reached smoother waters for awhile. We spent a relaxing couple of hours there. Brian left me relaxing contently and did another sauna. Then stopped by the spa desk to see if their calendar had opened up for any massages. They must have had some cancellations because we were able to reserve a massage for Saturday.
After the hard morning and afternoon we had, we went back to the room and took a nap! :O) The calmer waters of the day didn't last long and the boat started rocking again. This wasn't bad when you were laying down as it was a bit like being rocked in a crib. Having amassed a fair amount of dirty clothes, we decided to try the ships laundry service. We had about half a dozen articles cleaned and pressed for about $17. The items were returned to us the next afternoon.
After the nap we decided to get dressed up for tonight's murder mystery dinner show. On the way to it, we stopped by the casino and won $40 in blackjack. We wouldn't be able to see the headliner show that night because of the dinner theater, but we did stop by for the beginning of it. It didn't take more than two songs before we left, not because we had to get to the theater, but because he was not very good in our opinion. We grabbed two double cognacs from the room and headed to the Colony Club for the start of tonight's dinner theater.
The murder mystery, called "The Toy Makers Gift" was so much fun! We had a ball. It began in the Colony Club where we were told that a rich toy tycoon had died mysteriously. The five suspects introduced themselves and we had a brief preliminary questioning period. Then at 8:30 p.m. we moved into Portofinos to dine and try to figure out "who done it". Angela, the former mistress of the deceased sat at our table and dined with us. We and the other couple sitting with us asked her questions while we ate. She was totally in character the whole time. The rest of the suspects caused a few scenes in the restaurant to give us a few clues and they went around the room so everyone could question them all.
The other couple at our table was from San Diego. He was a chiropractor who also lectures on some drug that is supposed to be better than viagra. He and his wife were very nice people although a bit too uninhibited about talking about their terrific sex life. :O) At one point the director and creator of the play sat down and spoke with us a bit. You could tell he was excited about how well the dinner show was progressing. Throughout our dinner courses, we were supposed to figure out who killed the old toy maker. It was hard to concentrate on solving the mystery while enjoying the excellent lobster and shrimp. Brian had the Filet Mignon - medium rare - just the way I like it. He had ordered it medium but enjoyed it anyway. Spoiler's Warning: Don't read this paragraph if you plan to take this cruise, in the event they redo this play.
We picked Robert for the murderer. He was once the business partner of the old man and had stolen ideas from him. We were so wrong. Lionel, the gay house boy did it only because Angela talked him into it. But Lionel and Angela both died in the end, right in the restaurant. It was great!
Then Angela sat back down with us (no longer in character) as her real self, Becky Gustafson. She is one of the lead singers from the ships entertainment staff and in our opinion, the best one. We found out she was from Moorhead, MN which borders ND so we talked about home. She knew someone from Bottineau but couldn't remember her name. She is Lutheran too (like me) and her whole family works at Concordia College. She was thrilled to find someone who knew what lefse and krumkaka were. She is only 20 years old and lives in NY. Her goal is to be on Broadway someday and we think she will definitely make it.
It was 11:30 p.m. when we left the restaurant. I had just finished my cognac and was feeling pretty tipsy. The wine had been included with the meal so I drank a lot of it. :O) The boat was really rocking and the captain said we were hitting 45 foot swells. It felt like the boat was going to break because we slammed down so hard at times. Brian video taped in the room, trying to show how much we were moving. It was really hard to sleep all night.
Brilliance of the Seas Friday, September 13th
Friday the 13th! AAAAaaaaaeeeeeeehhhhhh! We slept in until 9:00 a. m., but we were rocked and tossed around all night. The waves were still really high when we got up.
We had breakfast in the Windjammer and got yet anther mocha at Latte-Tudes that we took back to the room for our special ingredient. We watched the Love and Marriage game on the TV and were glad we hadn't actually gone to it. It was amusing, but really ran a bit long.
All in all, we spent a very relaxing day and did not do too much. Brian checked the email and we had a couple more of the Icy Bourbon Mochas. We played some blackjack where Brian broke even, but I lost. I played slots again because we had a coupon for $2 in quarters. I put in 75 cents and in one pull won $36. So with the losing in Blackjack, I was only down $15. After a light lunch at the Seaview Cafe, we went to the top sports deck and played basketball for awhile. It was still windy and rocky, but the sun was out and the open air decks were available for the first time since we hit that bad weather. In the afternoon we played a game of HORSE on the basketball court, which was a lot of fun. I defeated Brian, but just barely.
The Minstrel Dining Room offered lobster as an entree this evening. Mustafa offered us seconds and we happily took him up on it. The chocolate cake we had for dessert was scrumptious. We definitely noticed that everything chocolate on this cruise was just incredible. From here it was off to the casino again which turned out to be a very bad idea. We lost four hands of blackjack in a row because the dealer got 21 that many times. Then a guy started smoking at the table so we moved to a non smoking table. The minimum bet was $10 instead of $5 at this table which doesn't seem fair to us non smokers. This dealer got 21 two times right off the bat and we lost over $100 in no time at all! Then I thought I would win it back at the Roulette table. HA! We lost $160 there. It was a very bad day to go into the casino. From here we went to the main show tonight called "Turn the Beat Around". It was really good with my favorite numbers being the Moulin Rouge medley.
We actually stayed awake tonight so that we could go to the 12:15 a.m. Late Night Adult Comedy Show. It was Neal Austin who was the guy we liked so much from the Welcome Aboard Show on the first night of the cruise. I thought since it was so late at night that it was going to be adult comedy, but it was more the same that he did the first night and fairly tame. He was good but probably not worth staying up so late for. But since we were up, we thought we might as well check out the Gala Buffet. It was impressive as all the cruise buffets we have seen are. I loaded up my plate with some shrimp while Brian stuck to all the chocolate desserts. Everything was fantastic. They had a midnight chocolate buffet a couple of nights earlier that we didn't go to, but I bet it was divine!
It was a bad idea to go to bed extremely full again and Brian had some really strange and violent nightmares. Must have been the late night chocolate!
Brilliance of the Seas Saturday, September 14th
It's the last day of our wonderful cruise vacation. Sigh. I am always sad on the last day, but the weather has finally straightened out. It was sunny, 79 degrees with smooth waters. After a late breakfast, we played another game of HORSE on the basketball court where I barely won yet again. Then Brian beat me at miniature golf. A lot of people were enjoying the nice weather and happy to be on the outer decks. The rock climbing wall was even open and plenty of people were scaling it. We should have stayed outside, but went to the casino to lose $200. UGH I hate that. Brian tried to make me feel better by telling me that it was nothing compared to what we have lost in the stock market. That was supposed to make me feel better?
We went back to the room and got a head start on packing. On a television channel we saw that they had the very front of the ship open to the passengers. So we took a walk out there and stood at the very tip of the ship. It was cool, but not as thrilling as on the Adventure of the Seas because the tip goes out farther on that ship. We tracked down our room steward Dewa, and gave him his tip. We tipped very well because he did an outstanding job. We never saw him with any help and we never had to wait for our room to be done. And even after all the cruises we have done, he made some towel animals that we have never seen before like an elephant and an extravagant bunny.
At 4:30 p.m., we had our scheduled massages which left us pretty relaxed for the rest of the day. They asked Brian if he would prefer his massage from a girl or guy. Brian had no hesitation in choosing the girl and I had to go with the guy. We had scheduled deep tissue massages, but I told my masseuse that I didn't need the elbows. One time I told him it was a little too hard, but after that it was perfect. Brian said the girl was pretty rough on him too, but he didn't say anything. I think he didn't want to be perceived as a wimp! :O) The hour went by incredibly fast and I got conned into buying some bath soak even though I had told Brian he had not better buy anything. :) We decided that in the future instead of losing so much money in the casino, we will just schedule a bunch of massages because it is a less stressful way to throw money away.
Our last supper in the dining room was great. I savored the shrimp cocktail, spring roll and prime rib. The apple pie and brownie were excellent too of course. At dinner we polished off the rest of our bottle of cognac, but we had eaten so much that all the alcohol was soaked up. We said goodbye to our tablemates who we really enjoyed getting to know. We tipped Mustafa and Claudia more than the suggested tip even though we didn't dine there two nights. They were both terrific. Claudia was shy and didn't talk much, but she was very attentive. We also tipped the head waiter. She was very visible and even cut the shells from my shrimp and lobster. Obviously she does a great job with the staff.
We went back to the room to finish packing and had our bags outside our door by 9:00 p.m. And this time Brian actually helped! That was so nice of him! Usually I am stressing at midnight throwing our bags together. We still had half of the bottle of Grand Marnier that we risked packing. It actually made it all the way home to Barrow without leaking on us.
We headed back out, grabbed a Murphy's Irish stout and went to the Farewell Show which featured a guy who juggled and rode a unicycle. His name was Jody Reynolds and he was really good. He picked some poor lady out of the audience, humiliated her, then put her on his back while he attempted to ride the unicycle! He pulled it off without killing her, but the poor girl must have been horrified.
After the show, we decided to spend our final night aboard, bar hopping. We stopped at the Schooner for another stout and listened to the piano music for awhile before going to the Colony Club to listen to the last couple of songs that the band Midnight Oasis played. They were really good and we even danced a little for the first time this cruise. Then the orchestra band set up. We filled out the comment cards and listened to them play a few big band melodies. We watched the older folks kick up there heels and some of them were really quite good. Then we headed up to the Starquest Disco where we had more beer and danced to an 80's music set. That was a lot of fun, but the DJ switched to more modern stuff way too soon. I guess I can't expect them to know the good music from my generation. I asked him to play more 80's stuff and he did, but it was bad 80's stuff. We did notice that more people would hit the floor when they were playing the 80's stuff. We had a few more beers and waited for something
On the way back to the room, we stopped at the Solarium to enjoy the tranquility one last time. We sat in a couple of lounge chairs, talked and giggled for awhile. We really miss that place. It is weird that we didn't partake in any of the night life until the very last night. But we don't feel like we missed anything. Maybe we are getting old, but we really enjoyed our slow paced, not doing too much cruise. We finally went to bed and turned the clocks back an hour for the last time.
Brilliance of the Seas Boston, Massachusetts Sunday, September 15th
We finally rolled out of bet at 7:30 a.m. We had been awake for quite awhile because the neighbors were very loud, banging things around apparently doing some last minute packing. I got dressed and ran up to the Windjammer, grabbed a couple of bananas, an apple and two cups of coffee and brought them back to Brian in the room for breakfast.
We were supposed to be out of the room by 8:00 a.m., but we didn't leave until 8:45 a.m. Dewa didn't seem to mind and we told him goodbye. We also told him about a leak in the bathroom he should probably have checked before the next occupants check in. He seemed grateful to have the heads up on it.
We went to the Pacifica Theater to wait the morning out. They called our color tag to disembark, but we stayed on for as long as we could. We were in no hurry to get to the airport where we would just sit and wait for our 7:00 p.m. flight. Brian had tried to rent a car online since we had the day to kill in Boston, but it didn't work out. We didn't want to spend the day at the airport and the only excursion Royal Caribbean offered was the one we did before when we came through Boston. It seems like we have been gone a really long time, but yet it went by so fast considering everywhere we had been on this trip.
Reluctantly, we had to get off the boat at 10:30 a.m. It is always sad to leave, but it's also nice to not to have rush with the crowd for a flight. It was easy finding our luggage since ours were with the very few bags remaining. They had a free shuttle to the airport, but it was pretty much chaos outside with so many buses and no one knowing which one to take. We managed to get on the right bus and made our way into Logan Airport by 11:00 a.m. In the airport we thought about all the fun we had on our first TRANSATLANTIC CRUISE while waiting for our flight home to Barrow, Alaska.
The Brilliance of the Seas is the second of the Radiance Class ships being constructed by Royal Caribbean International (RCI). We sailed on her sister ship the Radiance of the Seas, so for us it was simple to find our way around the ship and interesting to make comparisons in the decor of the two ships. They are easily spotted in port with their abundance of green tinted glass and the Crown & Anchor symbol atop the all white ship.
The Brilliance of the Seas at 90,090 tons (Panamax) is the largest ship to ever visit Port Harwich, the same port from which the Mayflower originally set sail in 1620, a little known fact. The Brilliance was built in Germany at the Meyer Werft Shipyards. She is 962 ft. long; beam is 106 ft. with a draft of 26.7 ft., and she boasts a cruising speed of 25 knots. She can accommodate 2,501 guests, but this sailing she carried 2,060, mostly Americans, 700 of whom were between the ages of 25 and 45. Her Captain James MacDonald (Canada) proved to be a wonderful sailor in both calm and high seas (morelater).
We booked the Air/Sea package and flew from Miami to London on American Airlines. Arriving on Sept. 7th, we stayed at the Royal Lancaster Hotel overlooking Hyde Park. This classic European style hotel, located minutes from the center of London, is newly decorated and renovated with marble baths, etc. The doorman wears a canary yellow morning coat and top hat, pure "Old World." We arranged for a private tour of London by "Chunky Black Cab," and were fortunate to be driven by a local, who was excellent in pointing out all the sights and adding colorful lore. While touring, we saw the gates of Buckingham Palace open and Prince Philip ride by in a motorcade.
On Sept. 8th, we transferred by coach to Harwich. The English countryside is much like New England and it was entertaining to see on the road signs the names of the original towns which are the forerunners of so many New England towns, including Mary's home town of Sudbury, Massachusetts. The pilgrims certainly maintained their heritage in the "New World."
EMBARKATION Two conditions figured into this less than smooth embarkation. First, Harwich has never embarked such a large ship with so many passengers. Second, the Brilliance is new with a mostly new crew. The railroad tracks run within ten feet of the port entrance and incoming busses must wait for trains. The port crew directed passengers, but did not assist with wheelchairs. Lines were long, but as Diamond members of the Crown & Anchor Society we went to a separate desk and check-in took about 15 minutes.
I.D. pictures were taken and then we faced what looked like Mt. Everest to someone in a wheelchair: a steeply inclined ramp to get to the boarding area. The security guard stopped the line and assisted us up. Then, we faced another steep incline at the gangway! A Harwhich port attendant pushed Vincent up that one. We have met so many kind people since using a wheelchair, that we have learned to totally ignore those few rude people. We are positive that in the future embarkation will be much smoother.
Once on Deck 4, there was no crew member to escort us to the cabin. After waiting 15 minutes, we decided to manage the wheelchair and hand luggage on our own. We were on Deck 10 (the Bridge deck) in Suite 1068 and our first impression was "beautiful!" We went straight to the dining room to check on our table assignment, which we found unsatisfactory, but no change was made. We need a table for two right near the entrance in order to avoid disturbing other diners when maneuvering the wheelchair. However, once in our suite Hotel Manager Helmut Leikauf (with whom we had sailed on the Radiance's Maiden voyage) called to welcome us aboard and he left us the number for Julie of Guest Relations. One call to her and the table change was arranged, so we were finally off to the Bon Voyage Buffet.
SHIP'S PUBLIC AREAS Over all, this is a very tastefully decorated and comfortable ship with the extensive use of light (Minstrel Dining Room) and dark woods (Colony Club). On this ship there is a great attention to detail, with many art works enumerated in a 34 page book titled ART: THE COLLECTION, Brilliance of the Seas (not as extensive as "THE ART OF THE COSTA ATLANTICA", 221 pages book); it is still a thoughtful collection including whimsical works (what Captain James describes as postage stamp art, tiny 2"X2" pieces centered in oversized 2'X2' frames on Deck 10), "The Seagull has landed" by Kinloch, Deck 13, two "Baby Elephant" bronzes by Manley on Deck 11 in the Solarium, "The Fishermen," two life size figures, pole fishing in the shaft of the ocean facing elevators and a lot more throughout the ship. There is much to see and enjoy aboard this ship.
Deck 2 has 27 Category Q staterooms including one wheelchair accessible #2023; there are 14 wheelchair accessible staterooms onboard.
Deck 3 is all staterooms in categories H, N, O, P with two wheelchair accessible units.
Deck 4 forward has the lower level of the Pacifica Theater. Staterooms are forward with three more wheelchair accessible units. Midship is the Centrum/Lobby and aft is the Minstrel Dining Room with the beautiful 2 Deck high mosaic depicting Renaissance musicians performing for an applauding group on a balcony, exquisitely done by American artists J. and M. Moul.
The columns in this dining room are draped and the corridor has three untitled oils by American artist Lace Bencivengo that we appropriately called "Tiny Bubbles."
Deck 5 is totally public areas; forward is the main level of the Pacifica Theater, with a subdued atmosphere except for the stage curtain "Inferno" by American artist Steve Rundle, which is an explosion of color. Toward midship are the Conference Center, Art Gallery, Photo shop, Onboard shops, Latte-tudes Coffee Bar/Internet Stations and, on the portside, the Centrum Elevators (six beautiful glassed cages overlooking either the ocean or the Centrum). The mechanics of using one call button for all six is not user friendly. Many times they are all stopped on the same deck for long periods of time, or while full, they stop on every deck needlessly like the "local." Perhaps, the engineer who designed this system could divide the controls for two independent groups of 3 elevators each, thus eliminating long waits. Also when the button is pressed on one side of the lobby the elevator on the other responds and the door will invariably close even before the passenger can reach it. Needless to say, we met many passengers while waiting for elevators.
Deck 6 forward is the balcony of the Pacifica Theater, with last row seating for wheelchairs -- and a good view of the stage. Going toward aft is the Cinema (this week's fare was A BEAUTIFUL MIND and MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING.). Then, there is the Video Arcade, and the Casino Royale. Across the Centrum is the Champagne and Schooner Bars. We like the nautical ropes, sails and wheels of the latter. On this deck is also the wonderful Chops Grille with Mrs. Leikauf as its able manager. The food and service is wonderful here, well worth the $20.00 fee; the 10 oz. veal chop and the Mississippi Mud pie dessert are winners. Right next door is the Portofino, where service under the able direction of Manager Gianluca Maglianella is top of the line. Check out the wall art which is an Italian Market scene, more appropriate for a trattoria than an upscale restaurant. Gianluca's table side preparation of pasta is very enjoyable. The "Murder Mystery in Portofino" night was entertaining: Family style dining with guests participating in solving a "Who Done It." Naturally, the butler did it! The cost for the dinner and show is $49.50 per person.
Toward aft is the Bombay Billiards Club (with self leveling pool tables which were constantly bobbing up and down (during the gale force winds of the North Atlantic Ocean) while the billiard balls were perpetually still. Incredible! All the way aft is the Colony Club with Asian Indian influence. The stage curtain is a procession of spangled elephants. Surrounding the Colony are three separate areas: The Calcutta Card Club, Singapore Sling's and the Jakarta Lounge.
Noticeable artwork on this deck is located in the Schooner Bar, the Scoreboard Bar and the Casino. Worthy of mention are the ship models in the Schooner Gallery, "The Wyoming," "The Prussian" and "The Connecticut," all famous sail ships of yesteryear. In the Casino at the entrance there are two ornate and colorful peacocks and a statue of "Goddess of Good Fortune" (Zsiba Smolover, USA). Impressive are the Gaytee Stained Glasses ceiling and panel (Michael Hope, USA) in Art Nouveau of the 1900 Parisian style. At the Scoreboard Bar appropriately there are three "Sport Figures" representing football, basketball and baseball, as well the "American Sports Mural" (Andrew Reid, New Zealand), an interesting modern interpretation of athletes in motion.
Decks 7, 8, 9 and 10 are all staterooms, mostly with balconies, among which are the remaining eight wheelchair accessible units.
Deck 11 forward has the Ship Shape Spa, Health Center, Hair Salon, Outdoor pool and Solarium with bespangled elephants as a backdrop. Aft of the elevators is the Windjammer Cafe and the most used dining area for casual eating. Again many beautiful woods are used in the furnishings. Several pieces of artwork can be found throughout this deck, from sculptures to paintings: Some are beautiful and interesting, others not worth mentioning. We liked the glass and metal sculptures near the pool, "Light Strokes" (Meza Rijsdijk, The Netherlands), and the oil paintings located at the Windjammer Cafe entrance, "Broadside into Valsheda" and "Racing with Valsheda" (John B. Harris, British). Also on this deck, in the Shipshape area, there are relief panels by British artist Kevin Fazackerley: one in ceramic and mosaic representing the Taj Mahal and the others, stylized peacocks, in terra-cotta, mosaics and metals.
Deck 12 has the Ship Shape Fitness Center, Youth and Teen Centers and the Seaview Cafe. The latter is difficult to reach in bad weather (Like the rain and strong winds which we experienced during this crossing.) but normally take the central elevators and stroll aft to the Sea View. Aft on this deck there are also the Basketball Court, Golf Simulators, Kids Pool and Sport Areas. Midship is the Crown & Anchor Lounge where can be found "The Vigilant," a miniature model of one of the ships which raced in 1893 America's Cup.
Deck 13 holds the Viking Crown Lounge and Dance Club with revolving bar and the Hollywood Odyssey an intimate entertainment area. In the Starquest Lounge there is an interesting modern artwork: a UV Sensitive Mural depicting an "out-of-this-world" landscape with special scenic effects of stars, galaxies, etc. (UV/FX Scenic Productions, USA 1997). On this deck there are also the Putting Greens and Rock Climbing wall.
FOOD & SERVICE We feel the food is good, but a bit below our expectation. There are areas such as meat entrees which were excellent, as we usually find on all the RCI ships, and some desserts exquisite and brilliant, appropriately for this ship namesake, the Brilliance of the Seas. But in other instances, such as the Italian dishes, even in the upscale Portofino, there is dire need for an Italian chef. We have been told that they are too expensive; well, at least find a chef who can read an original Italian recipe and precisely follow it. An important hint in the preparation of Italian dishes could be hide most of the spices, especially cumin and curry, which are not conducive to Italian cuisine and never in say a Bolognese sauce! And the pasta dishes were definitely unpalatable to an Italian palate. Overall, the food is generally good, nicely presented, but not as inventive as Princess, Costa and Celebrity Lines.
Dinners in the Minstrel Dining room were served hot and pleasantly at our table #448 by Angelito Buenaventura and Menino Estibeiro. Dinner on Monday, formal night, at Captain MacDonald's table was superb. Social Hostess Natasha Gee met us at the Captain's reception and escorted us to the table where we dined on Shrimp Cocktail, Mushroom Feuillete`, Lobster Bisque, Chilled Pear Nectar, Caesar Salad, Salmon Soufflé, Duck a`l'Orange, Filet Mignon and the Chef's special dessert "Sweet Temptations". . . a sinful chocolate delight. This was a memorable meal and evening, especially for Mary, sitting on the Captain's left, she had ample opportunity to learn the "inside story" of this beautiful ship. The Master's conversation and manners are delightful and we look forward to sailing with him again.
Besides 24 hour room service, which is speedy and friendly, this ship has almost continuous service in the Windjammer with only a half hour break in the a.m. and 1 1/2 hour break in the p.m. for set up. The Seaview Cafe is open during those times. Ice cream, Afternoon High Tea and Latte-tudes Coffee take up the slack.
Service was top notch at both alternative restaurants; Mr. Maglianella and Mrs. Leikauf are superb. General Manager Helmut Leikauf can be proud of the start up team he has.
CABINS We were in Suite #1068 (not wheelchair accessible) Category C, on the Bridge Deck and it is impressive in Navy Blue, Red and Gold. Entering on the left is the large marble bath with tub/shower, single sink and double mirrored medicine cabinets. There is a king size bed with night stands and reading lamps. A wall to wall drape separates the sitting room, which has a hide-a-bed sofa, a plush arm chair with ottoman and a large coffee table. The far wall is all glass and leads to the balcony with table, 2 chairs, and a chaise which was set up by Mario, our excellent stateroom attendant, upon Vincent's request. Thank you, Mario.
When entering on the right there is a walk-in closet with a motion sensor light, good only for people over six feet tall -- Mary had to wave her arm at it each time to activate it. There are many shelves, cupboards, and drawers for storage. Next, there is a desk/vanity with lighted mirror, hairdryer and a TV, refrigerator and personal safe. The furnishing are maple wood handsomely trimmed with mahogany -- very effective, especially the mahogany arch to the entry. Two numbered prints and a picture of a reclining woman, reminiscent of Modigliani, complete the decor.
Although this was not wheelchair accessible, it could easily have been if the door had been just a foot wider, since the entry was very wide. As it was, we had to close the wheelchair to get it through the door. The suite was large enough to use the wheelchair while inside.
ENTERTAINMENT There were the usual busy, busy schedules of trivia, dance classes, Bingo etc. The production shows were more than adequate. The headliner Mario D'Andrea, billed as the "Mixed up Italian from Australia direct from Las Vegas" -- as introduced by Cruise Director Clodagh O'Connor -- has a marvelous voice capable of mimicking Dean Martin, Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdink. But, equally amazing was his command of the electric guitar. He had the audience up on its feet. Clodagh is active and bubbly; she never failed to entertain.
PORTS OF CALL There were no ports of call on this transatlantic voyage taking the Northern Route. We went farther north than previously anticipated in order to avoid rough seas due to Hurricane Gustav, which after all did go so far north as to affect the Brilliance's itinerary. We still encountered swells of over 45 feet and gale force winds. Captain James' expertise held the Brilliance of the Seas steady and she proved to be able to take rough weather in stride. Some annoying creaking was heard, but she was admirably steady in the face of rough seas.
Some passengers took British excursions prior to embarkation and others took Boston tours after debarkation. We opted for only one day in London and none in Boston, due to time constraints and the fact that we are originally from the Boston area and were there in March.
This was our first transatlantic crossing in recent years. Even though we encountered stormy weather, we had a very restful and pleasant cruise, with the exception of a sleepless night when the squeaking and creaking were continuous and loud. We thought that there was something moving in the ceiling of our cabin, but we were assured that there was nothing abnormal, it was the same throughout the ship. However, we did not understand why in a new megaship the level of creaking should be so high, when we have encountered very rough seas on smaller ships (Michelangelo, 1968 and Norwegian Dream, 2002) without significant creaking. On the contrary, the rocking and rolling on the Brilliance was much less than what we have felt on other ships.
God Bless the Brilliance of the Seas and may she sail the seven seas safely for many years to come.
1. The water aboard is too heavily chlorinated. Although this is a problem we frequently encounter on ships, some lines have been more successful in controlling the odor and taste of the water by end point filtration, or by other methods which better monitor chlorine levels in the system. Remember the three qualities of water are colorless, odorless and tasteless; without these attributes any ice cubes or drinks made on board are less than optimum in flavor (including orange juice, coffee, tea, etc....).
2. At Harwich, since the terminal is not equipped with elevators, wheelchair passengers should be embarked on Deck 2, as they were disembarked in Boston, to avoid extremely steep gangways.
3. While the meat entrees have been some of the best we have eaten on ships, the Italian dishes definitely do not meet our expectation. We feel that there is an overuse of spices not common in the Italian cuisine and the quality and/or the cooking method of pasta is inadequate. If RCI does not want to hire an Italian chef, it should train the cooks to use authentic Italian Cuisine cookbooks and accurately follow the recipes. It is not too hard to do and the end result will give an edge to RCI in the fast growing cruise industry by attracting those people who are connoisseurs of Italian Cuisine.
4. The number of wheelchair accessible staterooms can be easily increased by installing wider entrance doors, eliminating the step to the bathroom and replacing the bathtub with an appropriate shower unit in some already spacious suites. Frequently on ships, we have encountered physically challenged passengers who were not fortunate enough to have a wheelchair accessible stateroom. Apparently there is an increasing number of disabled passengers, thus the demand for wheelchair accessible cabins definitely exceeds their availability.
Our next cruises will be on Nov. 30, a return to the Golden Princess, and on Jan. 25, 2003 aboard the new RCI Navigator of the Seas.
'Till then, Happy Cruising!