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Royal Caribbean International: Brilliance of the Seas

Fodorite Reviews

Average Rating
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Apr 25, 2016

cozumel

WOW! Who doesn't love a cruise?! My wife and I just returned from our Royal Caribbean cruise on the Brilliance of the Seas out of Tampa on 4/18-22/2016. Having cruised with Royal Caribbean several times before we were sure this trip would be equally amazing especially since our port of call was Cozumel, Mexico; check that off the bucket list. The revitalization of the ship, Brilliance of the Seas, was stunning and the entire staff was awesome.

Unfortunately Royal Caribbean really missed the mark with the food - AWFUL - cafeteria food for fine dining! Room Service: Breakfast- 30min early - YEA... only cold & flavorless. The Danish appeared to have been left over from the day before. The scrambled eggs were a flavorless ice-cream scoop mound of yuk. By the way, no amount of salt and/or pepper can fix cold (powdered?!) eggs...believe me we tried. Buffet Breakfast: Not bad but nothing special...again the eggs left ALOT to be desired although the eggs from the “eggs cooked to order” looked good if I felt like waiting and waiting and waiting. Lunch Buffet: Standard lunch fare....probably better than breakfast but nothing memorable except the self-serve ice cream. Park Cafe: Thankful for a go to spot for a quick snack "after-hours"- oh wait... that was only till 10:30pm. Guess that explained why I saw so many guests squirreling food away to their cabins. Aside from that...snacks, pizza, and sandwiches were adequate. Minstrel Dining: THIS IS WHERE IT WENT FROM BAD TO WORSE. Ever since I can remember, one of the highlights of cruising was the food; specifically the main event-dinner. I gotta hand it to the wait staff...really on top of their game. It's just a shame they have such a poor product to work with. Many of the entree items featured were simply leftovers from the Windjammer lunch buffet or at best the same food prepared again for dinner with a slight variation and better presentation. Two specific items topped the list of worst of worst for us- the chicken marsala and the seafood medley were complete failures. Mrs. Pau's, Gorton's & Tyson have better or comparable products. So disappointing. We both felt like the bulk of the dinner entrees were essentially cafeteria food in a fine dining environment-and many of our fellow cruisers relayed the same sentiment even going so far as to advise others ahead of their meal of what NOT to order...sad, just sad. Bartenders: Not the most jovial bunch but who can blame them; so overworked it seemed they could barely look up. Regrettably this cruise was to be the benchmark for a future family cruise in February and it really has left a very poor taste in our mouths. No comps, coupons or refunds are being solicited, just needed for you to be aware of why you will not be seeing us for repeat business anytime soon.

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Nov 21, 2015

Cozumel and grand cayman

Dinning room service was terrible at our table. Bathroom smelled bad. Employees seemed tired and didn't smile much of the time. Bed pillows were old and flat. Need new towels as well they were old. Food was fine nothing special good salad bar. Nice cabin but it smelled bad in the bathroom and the pillows were old and very flat. Bingo was expensive $38.00 to play We didn't do any activities. Went with

family and it was stressful at dinner because service was very poor very difficult to get a drink No smiles from staff and our waiter and his assistant complained and seemed tired.

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Nov 14, 2015

repositioning

Our most recent cruise was a 13 day repositioning cruise from Boston to Tampa. This cruise appeared to attract older travelers many of whom take this same voyage every year. While there were a few newlyweds on board the cruise was predominantly retired folks. The food was not bad but not amazing or memorable. In general, the food lacked flavor although moderately salted (especially the soups). Omelets and fish were most generally overcooked

and not appetizing. With regards to dining venues the food available on the buffet stayed generally the same throughout the cruise. The food in the main dining room was okay with two notable exceptions. The horseradish crusted salmon and the prime rib were by far the best foods tasted during the 13 days on board. Our experience with the any time dining option was a nightmare. Expect long wait lines unless you are choosing to eat at 5:30 pm or after 8:15 p.m. If you are thinking of paying for food in the specialty restaurants expecting to be wowed, save your money. Both the Chops Grille and Giovanni's were huge disappointments. They only provided a more intimate dining experience than what we had in the main dining room. If you like coffee with your dessert be sure to order it at the beginning of your meal. For some unexplained reason it was very difficult to get coffee served just prior to desert. If I were to look for the silver lining it would be that I did not gain any weight during the cruise. The stateroom was nicely appointed, very comfortable and kept immaculate by our stateroom attendant. Surprisingly, there was lots of storage space available for all of our clothes and toiletries. On sea days there were a lot of activities available. The cruise director and her staff work hard and it showed. The entertainment in the theater was fantastic. If I were to make one suggestion it would be to turn down the volume for the RC singers because there were times that a lovely song turned into painful screeching. We enjoyed the progressive trivia, and the many demonstrations that were provided. One of our favorite sessions was a chat from the captain at both the beginning and end of the cruise. It was so informative and our captain was engaging and interesting. As far as the movies, we were disappointed with the options as they seemed to be either science fiction, adventure or serious. A lighthearted comedy or two would have been wonderful additions. We loved waking the deck and we were so pleased that we could walk all around Deck 5 which we did daily. I really appreciated the opportunity to attend daily Mass. Thank you Father Connolly and Royal Caribbean for making that happen. We actually played pool a few times on the gyro pool tables. That was something that we had never experienced on any other cruise. We enjoyed our excursions. They were long enough to allow us to see the islands that we were visiting while still allowing time at port for shopping and an ability to enjoy a local beer/cocktail. My only disappointment was the limited hours to enjoy Curacao which is one of my favorite destinations. Unfortunately we were only allowed six hours in port. We had a lovely and relaxing cruise. The Brilliance of the Seas was a nice ship and as with every cruise - it is what you make it. When looking back - my one pet peeve was that RC tended to favor the platinum and diamond guests (there were than 500+ on board) so much that we sometimes felt like second class passengers. While I understand the need to reward repeat passengers, that desire should be balanced with providing first time travelers with a reason to want to sail with RC again.

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Jun 13, 2015

Baltic cruise

The food was the worst I have ever encountered on any cruise,( previously been with P&O & Fred Olsen). There were virtually no vegetables, and what there were were severely undercooked. One main meal had 2 button mushrooms and half a tomato as its only veg, another had 4 very small pieces of potato and 9 peas. Most guests, including Crown & Anchor Diamond members,were very unhappy with the standard. Often it was at too low a temperature to be safe

from microbiological hazard. This was raised with the catering staff, but despite this the problem was not resolved until the final dinner, when suddenly we were served with our only hot meal. The ship has its faults, but is generally well-maintained, and is quiet and smooth, and the crew are all very friendly. The ports of call could not have been bettered, but some of the shore excursions were poor. An evening river cruise in St Petersburg drew lots of complaints, but Royal Caribbean offered a miserly compensation of under US$10. On the following day, a trip to Peterhof Palace was spoiled by insufficient time at the venue. The guide knew at the outset that the journey would take up most of our time, resulting in completing the tour of the grounds at a virtual jogging pace, yet no apology for this was ever made. See above. The waiters were not of the highest standard. It was not unusual to be presented with menus upside down, and on one occasion being given the menu for the previous day. Sometimes the meals provided were not what had been ordered, resulting in the waiters dashing around to find replacements. Excellent, as was our steward, who was very attentive. Not brilliant. There could have been much more done to occupy time on sea days, and the venues used for events were often unsuitable. Many evening events were in the Centrum, which is far too small, and of poor acoustics, resuting in many guests wandering around trying to find seats. There is an excellent venue, The Colony Club, which is severely underused. Avoid the St Petersburg evening river cruise. Otherwise, all of the shore excursions were to venues which were worth seeing, even if time was sometimes too short Everyone should do a Baltic cruise, but not with Royal Caribbean. It's well worth seeing, but the itinerary means you have 5 active days without a break. It's back to P&O for me.

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Apr 24, 2014

Mexico

Overall the cruise was what we made it. Some entertainment was fantastic - others were boring and we had to participate in order to keep the passengers awake. The greeter as you came aboard was the most boring I have ever encountered - she clearly did not want to be there and Royal Caribbean should have thought that one out before putting someone with 0 people skills at that position. For the first time ever on a cruise - I never saw the cruise

director and absolutely no staff members smiled or were friendly - with the exception of our room steward - Roxanne who always greeted us with a smile - and our dining room staff. Bars were always understaffed and crowded and bartenders were rude and nasty - in fact after patiently waiting in line for a drink or 20 minutes and being constantly overlooked - the bartender told me to relax I was on vacation and he would get to me eventually - really! Not - been on 23 cruises and have never encountered a crew with no personality! Disappointing to say the least. The food was ok...still miss formal lobster night - althought for an additional charge I hear you can get it from the dining room. The times for the Windjammer need to be extended and there should be more availability of food throughout the ship for those not wishing to attend the dining room. The stateroom was over the top and absolutely fantastic! They were ok - I didn't like the fact that most shows were in the main hallyway and people crowded the halls to look over the balcony. Entertainment was definitely of cruise ship level - nothing spectacular - did like the "fliers" and the passenger participation with Thriller was original. Been to Cozumel many times and would have normally rented a car but with a 6 pm back at ship departure it made that difficult so we just hung around the port and spent time at Senor Frogs - which was fun. Since we were celebrating my daughter's birthday - it was fun but again after all the cruises I have been on - the crew was absolutely boring. They all looked like they were at the end of their contracts and couldn't wait to get off the ship. Also the cost of the photos is getting out of hand. There should be more affordable packages available for those who would like - but cannot afford the $17 5x7 photo. Loved the perks of the Emerald level and hope one day to achieve Diamond - but you will have to pick up your game - already booked our next cruise - on Carnival....

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Dec 30, 2012

Caribbean Christmas cruise

This was my first cruise and i was a bit skeptical. Our 3-generation group of 10 family members picked this as a relatively economical option for a Christmas outing and it was really excellent overall. I am not much of a joiner and prefer to get onshore and explore the islands we stop at, rather than just staying on the ship, so i did not partake in much of the onboard activities. But there was something for everyone and on any given day, those

who wanted adventure could go ashore and those who didn't could stay aboard. The itinerary was packed - we stopped at St. Thomas, St. Lucia, Guadeloupe, Antigua and St. Croix during the 7 day cruise and it was great to visit so many different places. Overall, food was quite good. Lots of variety and even my very picky 14-year old son found food he liked at each meal. I preferred breakfast in the dining room when we weren't in a rush to ashore for an excursion-- it offered some a la carte choices that weren't available in the windjammer and a better granola bar too. Just more civilized to have table service. But takes longer because you are being served so allow extra time for dining room option. I was pretty pleased with the wine selection at dinner as well. Windjammer is a good choice when you are eating quickly to get to an excursion or activity. At lunch, there was a different regional cuisine each day at the back of the food station area and i had some very good Indian and Chinese dishes there on days we were aboard for lunch. Lemonade and iced tea and water are available free 24/7 - a way to save money on beverages. Highly recommend buying soda package beforehand (must order at least 4 days before sail date) if you have soda drinkers - much more expensive once aboard. It was nice - comfortable bed, loved the balcony, plenty of storage space. In general, quite comfortable. I was on deck 7 and would recommend a stateroom on that level or higher - lower levels might afford worse views from balcony. One great thing about the rooms is that the beds can either be configured as a queen or two twins - this was excellent as our kids all prefer separate beds. We were pretty busy with our shore trips during the day so didn't participate much. I took a Pilates class on our one day at sea which was really lame (i doubt the teacher was even certified as there was virtually no Pilates technique) so i would NOT recommend spending $ for the class. But we enjoyed the meringue lesson we took one night, and I also enjoyed the hip hop class offered on our day at sea. My kids were traveling with their cousins so didn't use the kids club at all, they just enjoyed roaming the ship and playing mini golf and swimming together. I researched the onshore options before we went, as i'm an avid snorkeler and beach goer. The trips we did through the ship were great, although i will say that our research helped us to choose the best options for our group. Stingray city in Antigua and the Segway tour with Lucian Style in St. Lucia were particularly memorable. I like to use my own snorkel gear but all of the trip providers provide gear if needed. In St. Croix, note that you can walk to some nice beaches right from the port if you don't want to spend $ on a shore excursion. Everywhere else, it is best to get out of the port area to experience the beauty of the island. Pros: good food, GREAT service by all staff we met particularly Shekhar our dinner waiter, he was so accommodating and so great to our kids. Tons of nice Christmas touches throughout the week - music, decor, activities (all kids even got a christmas present!), holiday menu. they did a really nice job with the Christmas theme. Cons: do not buy the wifi package, it was a total waste of money as half the time we couldn't connect. This was an issue for my husband who had a work emergency to deal with during our cruise. We complained but only got a partial refund. Pools are salt water which some of our group did not enjoy. Drinks vary in quality, we found the champagne bar to be the best one on the ship. Our kids were disappointed with the video game arcade - but that was a positive for me as i prefer they don't spend the whole trip playing video games anyway!

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By RRM_CR

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Sep 21, 2009

Mediterranean

This was our 2nd cruise with RCL. We again were not at disappointed. The first RCL was to Mexico with our kids. It was great on that one. I have to say that we are planners and knew exactly what we wanted to see at least a year before this trip. We watch travel shows all the time and knew where we wanted to go and see. RCL is the best organized company we have ever dealt with. They have it down pat. All the way from booking the airline, hotels, transportation

to the hotel, to the pier and back to the airport. No glitches what so ever. The food was great. You could eat in the formal dining room or in the Windjammer. You might as well go to the formal dining and be waited upon. We met great people form England and New Jersey. We had breakfast in the Windjammer and the food selection was plentiful and you had a lot of variety. We ate a couple times in the dining room in the morning when we didn't have an excursion to get to. It was good to be served; can't get that at home. There was a deckside party with tons of food. I would recommend that. They had a daytime lunch at poolside - again tons of delicious food. They did a weinerscizel (spell check) lunch-that looked good. There were restaurants you had to pay extra for. They were at the portinfino and Chop Grille. We didn't do any of those. Also if you want extra food at the formal dining you can't eat all you want. We had a balcony this cruise which was OK. We never really went out there. We could have gotten along with a non-balcony room. We had a great stateroom attendent. She made our beds up two to three times a day. Sheets were clean and we had plenty of towels. Needed extra towels-no problem. we left her an extra tip; she provided great service. We were so busy with the excursions we didn't have much time to go to many shows. What we heard were that they were very high quality. For us this was the reason we went on this trip. We bought all our excursions ahead of time. The first night we had all the tickets delivered to our room. The first excursion was Eze Nice/Monte Carlo. Nice was a great shopping town, it was beautiful. The town of Eze was a gothic town on top of hill. It felt like you transported back in time. We saw the Prince of Monaco palace but we didn't get invited in. The next stop was Florence. Suggestion: buy your tickets online for the Academy and Uffizi gallery a month before the cruise, we got right in instead of haviing to wait for 2 hours in line. The next stop was Rome. We took a tour of the Sistene Chapel, with a tour you can get right in, again bypassing a 2 to 3 hour wait. The next stop was Mykonos. This was beautiful Meditteraan town! It was a good place to pick up unique gifts. Next stop Athens. We saw the max with a tour! The Acropolis and multiple other sights to see. Turkey tour was fabulous! We saw Ephasus and Mary's house. Santorini was next, a beautiful volcanic town up on the cliffs-very spectacular-great shops-buy some wine. Next Naples; skip Naples tour go to Capri/Sorrento/Pompeii. The trip was more then we expected. We are glad we read Rick Steves travel books. He saved us lots of time and we were able to see a lot. You have to expect to only see a small test in each port. We'll stay a month in Italy to see it all the next time we go to the mediterranean. Don't think we would take our kids until they got older to appreciate the historical aspects of the region. Epahasus was a surprise and we would back to Turkey to see that again.

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Aug 12, 2009

Mediterranean

Overall, this was a very good cruise. Our 4th with RCI. We did Jewel to the Baltics, Legend and Independence from Southampton. The ship was as we remembered the Jewel. Food choices have changed for the worse. There is always space for sunbathing and 5 countries in 12 days is excellent. The stateroom was as expected but could do with a plasma TV. The cruise staff entertainment was great, but guest artists were nowhere near the quality of those on Independence

of the Seas. We enjoyed the Champagne bar and the Schooner bar - quality bar staff. The best food was served in the sit down lunch, always freshly cooked and hot. The food was nice. The Windjammer a bit hit and miss. The sit down meals started worryingly but improved over time. It is very good for mass catering, but not 5 star if you are used to dining out at restaurants. The main meal was typically the only hot part of the dinner. There were soups as well but no hot starters and only one or two souffles for hot desserts. The sit down meals were all a bit crammed in as well, presumably with it being holiday season so lots of children sharing rooms adding to the head count. Room service breakfast we only did once since it was a bit average. Our stateroom was as we expected. The shower is a tight fit with a curtain. Bed was turned into a double which was good. There were lots of rattles that had to be damped with the odd towel or two. The old Philips CRT television showed its age though, they are getting maximum value out of these. Our balcony was excellent, great views as always. The activities were very good. My children are 16 and 17 and they were very happy with the activities and really enjoyed Lee's management of them. There were the usual dance lessons, quizzes, poolside activities. Even piano lessons, which unfortunately I missed due to getting the timings wrong. We did our own thing apart from a Corinth Canal trip at Piraeus which was OK and avoided the Athens traffic. Santorini was a great location and the trip we did was great as it avoided the crowds up on the cable car and got us to the town of Oia as well as Fira. In Livorno, we paid for the extortionate shuttle to the town centre then walked (30 mins) to the train station and went to Pisa. We then got a taxi back. This worked out better than the trip. You can't get a taxi at the ship in Livorno. It's worth noting that if you get the shuttle into Livorno before 12, you can book a trip there to Pisa by coach which is a lot cheaper than the one they want you to get and as Pisa only takes a couple of hours you don't have to leave at 7am. Overall, the trip was good. Mykonos and Santorini were new stops for us and these were excellent. The museum in Naples had some great Pompeii artefacts and Pisa is always spectacular. Kusadasi was a genuine fake laugh. We had a late flight from Barcelona so we did the bus and the Hard Rock Cafe. Civitavecchia was a nice stroll along the beach rather than a trek into Rome. Villefranche was as french as always and nice for trying out my new camera. The ship is really good. The teen club a bit small for the summer hols, but lots to do for all. Getting loungers wasn't a problem. The bars were always responsive. Great bar staff and attentive waiters. The Argentinian captain, although looking quite young was hilarious. Schooner bar for singing along, Champagne bar for relaxing with a nice ambience.

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By Kay_CR

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Jun 30, 2009

Eastern Mediterranean

We set sail from Barcelona for an 11-day cruise. Entertainment was great, ports of call were interesting overall, and it was a fun time with lots of activities. I've never been too impressed with cruise food. We did eat at Portofino twice (once at the Murder Mystery) and the food there was great. Well worth the extra fee. We were surprised on the last night when we went to the Windjammer at 11:00 p.m. to get a snack and they were closed. We

couldn't believe it. Small but adequate. Having a balcony makes you feel like you have more room. The activities were great. We participated in "Gotta Dance" which was great fun, 50's dance was also a lot of fun. We were disappointed that there was not more of a setting sail party. Malta was a surprise - it was beautiful. Rhodes was very nice. The Pyramids were incredible - my only advice, don't go inside the pyramid. It was very hot, no air circulation. We arrived in Barcelona the day before the cruise. Barcelona is a beautiful city and worth your time to stay before or after the cruise. We stayed at the Regencia Colon which was a block away from the cathedral. It was a great location. We were able to walk to many attractions and took the tourist bus to others. We sailed to Sicily, Athens, Rhodes, Cyprus, Alexandria, and Malta. The only one that was a little disappointing was Cypus. At Sicily we went up to an old fishing village. In Athens we went to the Acropolis then walked around the plaka. In Rhodes we did not take an excursion but walked around the city which is very interesting. In Cyprus we went on a mountain trek mainly because we wanted to get away from people and crowds. In Alexandria we went on the bus to Cairo to the pyramids and the tombs. The heat is terrible but the history is great. Malta was such a refreshing surprise. It looks like what you imagine a Mediterranean island to look like. Don't miss the Cathedral of St. John. From the outside it doesn't look much different than other cathedrals but inside it is absolutely beautiful. Can't wait for our next cruise.

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Apr 22, 2009

Barcelona - Canary Isles

My family and I cruised with Royal Caribbean less than 2 years ago on Vision of the Seas. I much prefer this ship to the 'Brilliance.' We were quite shocked to see the vast price increases and cutbacks on this cruise. Whilst the cruise was very good, with interesting ports of call, I felt like the customers are treated rather liked 'Cash Cows.' Royal Caribbean started with their sales pitch before the ship was even boarded. I really felt quite

hassled. Drinks on board are VERY expensive and carry a 15% surcharge on top of that. You are not allowed to take your own drinks on board and scanners are used to ensure this. On the very rare occassion that we were offered the bargain of 2 drinks for the price of one we were still charged 15% on what the price of the free drink would have been!! Dinner wine is also expensive and the only way to do it at a half reasonable price is to buy one of their wine deals. This wine, although paid for, can only be ordered through the restaurant at meal times - we wanted to get a bottle to drink on our balcony and were not able to do this. Photographs are very expensive, but the staff were very helpful - even airbrushing some phtos for us free of charge. Personally I would not cruise Royal Caribbean again unless it was on a very, very good deal. The food and service in the Minstrel Restaurant was, on the whole, good. The windjammer food was good enough, due to the sheer quantity, although the 'fruit juices & beverages' available were almost undrinkable. You had to pay extra for decent drinks. There were two other restaurants, each of which you had to pay for. My granddaughter is diabetic and we struggled to get anything other than pizza for her supper. The stateroom was fabulous - spacey, with a huge bed and adequate balcony. Plenty of storage space. It was cleaned twice daily (supposedly) - I found a paper cup full of cigarette ends hidden behind the curtain! The shower was rather cramped. Plenty of clean towels. The only complimentary toiletries are mini soap bars and shower soap in a dispenser. Although I didn't use it, I believe the room service was good. Apart from the show in the evening, which was very good, most of the activities were rather mundane - i.e. towel folding, cake icing, etc. The children seemed to keep happily occupied although you had to pay an extra $25 to have them go on the climbing wall, which I think was rather unfair. Mid-evening entertainment was pleasant, but dull - discos did not get going until midnight and not everyone wants to stay up that late. The fitness centre is a very good size for a ship, althought it did get rather hot at times. I think a little more information could have been given on excursions available. On enquiring at the Guest Relations Desk it seems that Royal Carribean seem to expect everyone to watch the television in the cabins constantly to get the relevant info. On the whole most of the excursions seemed quite expensive. Beach transfers cost at least 4 times as much as it cost to 'do it alone.' We did the volcano trip on Lanzarote and the Mosque and Bazaar trip in Casablanca - they were both very good, although I would have liked time to go round the Souk. This should have been a lovely, hassle-free holiday, but there were quite a few times when we were stressed - especially on transfer to the airiport. Royal Caribbean arranged our flights, and at our request flew us out 2 days early so that we could stay in Barcelona - really great. ROYAL CARIBBEAN CLASS THIS AS AN 11 DAY CRUISE: DAY 1 We were told that we could not board the ship before 3pm on 10th April, so after having a rather expensive lunch in Barcelona we hailed taxis to the quayside. We were ushered straight through check-in, met with rather a lot of Royal Caribbean sales patter which was unexpected and unwarranted, given our cabin numbers and left to find our own way. We then found out that we could have boarded at 1pm, had lunch in the Windjammer and had a relaxing afternoon. DAY 11 Our Flight had been booked by Royal Caribbean for 3:25 pm. We breakfasted at 6am to be in the lounge forn 8am. Our cases had been taken out the night before. We were unloaded from the ship by 8:15 am and dumped at Terminal A at Barcelona Airport. We were told to get ourselves down to Terminal B and we could hire a porter at a cost of $25. At 9:15am our family of 5 (one of which is a diabetic) were hanging about landside with all of our luggage waiting to check in for a flight that afternoon. Very fortunately for us Iberia checked us in early and took our luggage, which allowed us to go airside to get drinks and food while we waited FOR 6 HOURS! I have never before had such treatment from ANY Holiday company, much less a cruise company. Upon enquiring it seems that Royal Caribbean expect you to pay an extra $59 for a tour to take up the morning. I personally think it is the responsibility of the cruise company to ensure that your needs are catered to - after all, we did pay for an 11 day holiday!! I do not pay vast amounts for a luxury holiday to be dumped at an airport on our last day.

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Apr 8, 2009

Barcelona Mediterranean Barcelona

We boarded the Brilliance of the Seas for a 12-Night roundtrip Mediterranean cruise on 8/10/08 from Barcelona. The entertainment and activities were well planned and offered something for different age groups and interests. Food served at the Minstrel at dinner was good and service excellent. The buffet food at the Windjammer was OK but the service staff there could do with some training in courtesy. Perhaps they had less initiative because they

did not expect to get as much gratuities as the Minstrel dinner waiting staff. The lack of a laundry room was a definite minus. An earlier review mentioned that the ship was not clean but generally my husband and I found the ship well maintained and clean. The only exception were the passageways to the cabins where worn and stained carpeting needed replacing. The Windjammer food was pretty pedestrian. Perhaps too much quantity rather than quality. The staff there reminded us of university canteen days. Really disappointing service and manners. Very comfortable and well maintained. Very good. The excursion to Pompeii is a must! Generally very enjoyable.

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Apr 6, 2009

Transatlantic

We paid to stay in a Suite and all of the furniture was old !! After all the ship is eight or nine years old. Is what is call wear and tear...I own apartment buildings and I would never rent an apartment in these conditions. The sofa upholstery was old and dusty, we even took pictures of the sofa with broken leg and holes in the upholstery. When we took same of the excursions those buses were filthy. There were tons of people.....maybe cruises are

not for us !! Food was good except the 2200 hundred people trying to eat all at the same time for lunch it was like aunts everywhere and people even pushing each other and no tables available to sit down. Not worth it !! Bad filthy furniture. No more cruises for us.

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Apr 27, 2006

NOT FOUND

Royal Caribbean International Brilliance of the Seas Cruise Review Transatlantic Fran This was our second cruise with Royal Caribbean, and overall it was terrific. We were through the line and onboard before our time of 2 p.m. Lunch was being served in the Windjammer Cafe as we arrived. The luggage took a little while to come, but loading luggage for 2500 people must be an incredible exercise. Our room steward kept checking to see how

long it would be, and kept us updated. Dinner was casual so it wasn't really an issue. Note for people taking this cruise - 5:30 is too early for a dinner seating, unless you don't eat lunch! We ate more often upstairs in the Windjammer, where we could eat later, and sit and talk to friends until we got shooed out at 9:30. Our dinner partners were really interesting people, although we were at a table for ten and only six ever showed up. All of us often ate together in the cafe, and met in the dining room for the more formal dinners, and for the last night together. There was some weather which made a few people seasick just after leaving Miami- but I couldn't say it was a problem. The Captain informed us they would be sailing around the edges of a major system. There was one stormy night when I went out on the balcony, and the wind was blowing and there was lots of spray - it was quite exciting. Back in the cabin with the balcony door closed, we never knew there was anything going on. The rocking motion of the ship kept putting us off to sleep, with the result that we would be out by 10:30 and sleep till 10:30 the next morning. For us there was reading on the deck, walking every day on Deck 12 (6 times around is a mile!), good meals with lots of variety and fresh fruit, Tai Chi classes, lectures, movies, singing around the piano in the Schooner Bar, and the musician, Anselmo Boles, was really amazing. He can play and sing anything you ask. I asked to drink Mojitos, and the bar staff ran all the way to the bar at the other end of the ship to get mint - and always thereafter had mint - and made great Mojitos to boot. The second night out was the Captain's Welcome Aboard Reception, with photo op. A very pushy photographer kept telling us to "get closer, get closer" (by then I was so close to the Captain there was nowhere to go!) so I quipped "Oh yes, always get close to the Captain!" - made him snicker, but he managed to slap a beatific smile on his face for the photo. I thought my husband would collapse laughing. Later that evening we heard that there were 3300 people (passengers and crew) from 60 countries on board. There were some really good live shows - notably a young jazz trumpeter - 19 years old - named Chantz Powell. We got to know him and his mother, and he dedicated a song to us in the first show. The other good act was the Beatle Maniacs - who had the audience dancing and singing in the aisles (but then, they're Canadians too, eh?) The Captain's ship talk was also fascinating, particularly how the ship was built and how the stabilizers work. Brilliance is not *pushed* through the water by propellers in the stern, but is *pulled* through the water by three enormous bow thrusters which literally suck the water through, creating far less friction and bow wave, and saving on fuel. Make sure you go to the Ship Talk, if only for the jokes! The first day we took a tour, the organization of each group was almost nil, instructions were poor, and we waited an hour to get off the ship and onto our bus. Subsequent days were better organized. We tried to be patient as we heard that this was also a training cruise, and there were a lot of new crew and staff. It was interesting that the most communicative of the cruise staff was a young man from Beijing whose English was not perfect but he really could get ideas across. He was also the Tai Chi teacher, and a lot of fun. Of all the stops, we enjoyed Malaga and Barcelona the most. Malaga enjoys 300 sunny days a year, and has almost no industry, hence no pollution. Nice was a big disappointment - the "beach" is mainly rocks. Don't bother with the tours from Villefranche - take the train or a taxi to Cannes - or Monte Carlo. Cannes is lovely. A good French breakfast was 7 Euros, which we didn't think was too bad. In Barcelona, be sure to see the cathedral of Antoni Gaudi, the Sagrada Familia - and if you can, take the train out to little villages along the coast. We stayed with friends in a place called El Masnou - and it was beautiful. I can't leave this review without praise for Captain Peter Sundet. He was visible around the ship, friendly, funny, the crew liked him - and I don't think he missed a thing in his strolls around. A friend here in Toronto worked with RCL on the ships and says he's the best. We concur. We were early in every port, and he has no trouble sailing and leaving late returns behind. There was some illness aboard (which is to be expected with that many people) but his updates were clear and informative, and the crew moved quickly to keep it contained. Here's a phrase to add to your cruising vocabulary: "The winds are a little fresher than we expected today, but it's a large day out there." - and sure enough, the only description for the expanse of Atlantic, and blue sky, was "large". If you sail Brilliance of the Seas, and Peter Sundet is your Captain, tell him Fran says "Always get close to the Captain." See if you get a snicker. Down sides to the cruise: Smoking is allowed in cabins, and we ended up beside someone who smoked cigars all day, to the point that the whole corridor smelled. RCL offered to move us, but had no room which was the same as ours. In the end we stayed in our room but left the balcony doors open all the time. We are pressing the issue of smoking, as we know other cruise lines are making some sections smoking and others non-smoking, which makes sense. Did we love this cruise? We did. We're considering doing the return trip from Barcelona next year - as we're both off from our jobs and it sails just before Christmas. As a clergy person, I was intrigued that there is no on-board chaplaincy service. Remember too, that more than 3000 people - even though it doesn't look like it - is the equivalent of a small town, and comes complete with the same kinds of issues you'll find anywhere. Fran Ota Toronto, Canada June 2006  

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Apr 27, 2006

NOT FOUND

Royal Caribbean International Brilliance of the Seas Cruise Review Transatlantic Michael Agus Embarkation This cruise was an enjoyable experience in almost all respects. Embarkation was a breeze, quick and very efficient. I was on board this ship at 11.30am and sat comfortably in a lounge until Lunch was served at noon and was in my cabin at 12.45pm a little earlier than the 1pm promised. The cabin was well appointed and very comfortable

and the room steward treated me like royalty for the entire voyage. My checked luggage was outside my cabin at 3.30pm and I was unpacked and ready for the lifeboat drill having had a little nap by 5pm. The Ship This ship is simply beautiful. It is easy to navigate, has lots of light and lounges for everyone. The cabins are reasonably large (170sq Ft) Inside and Ocean view, well appointed and there are lots of elevators and stairs so rarely do you wait long to get to another floor. There are lots of nice touches on this ship which gives you the impression of an elegant Hotel – especially the Centrum which is astounding. At 92,000 tons the ship is large enough without being too large. It seems to be well maintained with little or no showing wear, except perhaps on the balcony handrails, which are in need of varnish. No consequence to the passenger really but it does spoil an otherwise fresh, clean look for the exterior of the ship. Food I ate most breakfasts in the Windjammer Buffet and was happy with the very extensive buffet, which included fresh fruit, the usual breakfast fare and an Omelet station. It is a challenge to line up for food and get back to your table with everything still hot I don’t know how to get around that problem. I rarely bother with lunch, perhaps a snack but here again reports on the food in both the Dining Room and what I saw in the Windjammer was that the food was varied, good and plentiful. I ate Dinner in the Main Dining Lounge every night except four occasions when I ate at Chops and Portofino. The food was varied, nicely prepared and presented in the Dining Room and I had no complaints. I met some super people on my table and the servers were superb. Chefs actually do a great job with lamb, steaks, chicken and Duck especially considering they are catering to 2400 people every night. The food at the Specialty Restaurants was absolutely 5 star and outstanding. Entertainment We were at sea for the first 7 days and there is always lots to do if you wish, or you can simply take the opportunity to relax in the Solarium, have a massage, sauna or simply find a nice spot to sit and read. The seas were a little heavy over the first 2/3 days and although personally I was fine, a few people did say they felt a little queasy. The shows at night were average. Nothing to shout about but it was o.k. Rarely do you come across an outstanding act these days on Cruise Ships – lots of Dancing and singing from the ships company, which was fine but there were no real Star performances. You have a choice whether to attend or not and I suggest that the only way entertainment will improve on all Cruise Ships is for passengers to stay away from the shows until they do----. I stress that this is not specific to Royal Caribbean this refers generally to all cruise lines. In fairness the logistics of getting an artist of some caliber on and off the ship, especially when there are a number of days at sea are not easy not to mention the price many top artists are asking these days. Disembarkation Getting off the ship at Ports of Call turned out to be a bit of a challenge for those assigned to this task. I am sure they will get it right but there were just too many people in one location and confusion amongst passengers many of whom are challenged with the English language and with mobility! I know there were some complaints about long lines and waiting time and I would say that they have to get better or more and more people will simply forego organized tours and simply get off the ship on their own. I suggest that groups of 4 do just that and get a Taxi or tour bus on land – sharing the costs which will end up being no more than that charged for organized tours. If they simply handed you “colored stickers” for the tour bus you would be using as you entered the room and then directed you to an area where you would sit and wait it would be far more efficient. Leaving the ship in Barcelona was a breeze. I had time for an early breakfast then I was off and in a taxi to the airport by 8.15am and had little or no waiting time. The Europeans make travel and enjoyable experience at their customs and immigration sites. They are polite, quick and obviously have a far different approach to security than the US. Frankly after disembarking in San Diego in October I swore I would never cruise and land in the US again. That was a horror story of standing in line, waiting and being treated like a criminal rather than the law abiding retired citizen that I am. Believe me, Sailing into and out of Barcelona and indeed just about any European Port is a pleasure.

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Mar 6, 2006

NOT FOUND

Royal Caribbean International Brilliance of the Seas Cruise Review Panama Canal Steve Napier Overview: We are a couple who have been married for 21 years and are 51 and 50 years old. This was our third cruise (we only have begun cruising recently and are now hooked) and by far the best experience of the three. Our first was on NCL (Dawn) and our second was on Celebrity (Mercury). Our itinerary was centralized on the Panama Canal with

other stops in Aruba, Curacao, Labadee, and Puerto Limon. Brilliance of the Seas is just an awesome ship. So well laid out and beautiful in its elegance and fine touches of different types of wood (especially on Deck 6) and glass everywhere. It is hard to explain the little touches that add a great look to a ship but these touches were everywhere. The glass elevators that tell you the floor number, and look out over the ocean are fantastic in my mind. I heard a little grumbling near the end of the cruise that a few were tired of the talking elevators but not me! I never had to pay attention to the floor number, just look out at the ocean and the wonderful view. The main pool is a little small to me for such a large ship, but we didn’t use it. We went to the great Solarium and the nice adult’s only pool with a hot tub and warm showers to rinse off after getting out of the pool. My wife just loved the beautiful ShipShape center where she got massages, treatments but all kinds and exercised in the wonderful workout room (I am aware I am using the word wonderful/awesome a lot but it fits!). The amounts of activities available to you are incredible. We never got to everything and we were on a 11 night cruise! Stateroom: We had a Grand Suite, suite 1052 that was 400 sq. ft. with a 106 sq. ft. balcony. The room was gorgeous and well laid out. It had a large bathroom with twin sinks and a large shower/tub. Since we had a category GS stateroom, we had access to the wonderful Concierge Lounge and the awesome Concierge, Katherine Valenzuela. It was the perfect place to have a continental breakfast in the morning and snacks and free drinks in the late afternoon. Katherine made reservations for us, drinks, conversation and became a great friend. Dining: The dining options were Great on this awesome ship. Food in the main dining room was very good. Not quite as good as Mercury, but very satisfying. There were many dining options compared to Mercury and we ate one night in the reservation only Portofino alternative restaurant and that was one of the best meals we have ever had anywhere, not just cruising. The Windjammer Buffet area was a disappointment several times to me for the breakfast food (which was a combination of dry or over cooked) or so busy you couldn’t find a place to sit. The Station Concept is a good idea, it is just not big enough or the traffic flow was not designed well enough for the amount of people using the area. Dinner was much better and we had two good dinners in the Windjammer after we got back to the ship late in port and did not want to rush to our early seating in the main dining room. Service: Just fantastic! Everybody is extremely friendly and it was announced while we were on the ship that it had just received one of the best ratings for any ship in the cruise industry. This was not surprising after our experience. All of the employees who served us or were associated with our comfort went above and beyond the call of duty. Our waiters were friendly and talked and joked with us and even the head waiter stopped by our table every night. I have previously mentioned Katherine, our Concierge and Grace our Suite attendant was wonderful also. Ports: Aruba was nice. We just did the shopping thing after we were going to do a tour and decided to just mosey around Oranjestad. Labadee, RCI’s private beach on Hispaniola, was very nice and relaxing and my wife and I did the wave runners which was a load of fun. Curacao, was nice and we hired a taxi to take us around one end of the island. In Costa Rica, we took the outstanding Rain Forest Canopy tour which was of the best experiences we have had on a vacation. Entertainment: This was a good experience as opposed to what we were exposed to on the Mercury.One of the production shows, “Tango Buenos Aries” was just fantastic. The comedy of Marty Allen was good and the bands and piano players were great also. Overall: A great cruise experience overall. I probably sound like I should do commercials for Royal Caribbean, but it was just a fantastic cruise. We are not real picky or bitchy folks so I am sure some other reviews I have read have had different experiences with RCI, but ours was the best vacation we have ever had. We plan on sailing again on the Brilliance in the Mediterranean next year. I would give the entire cruise a 4.5 star rating out of 5. We plan on sticking with RCI for all of our future cruises. We stay with longer itineraries also which skew the demographics of the fellow cruisers to an older group so the teen and kid issue is held to a minimum which we like. Great Cruising!

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Feb 24, 2006

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Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas Cruise Review 10-night Panama Canal Joanne and James Having been on a cruise with Royal Caribbean before, we thought our cruise holiday couldn't get any better but we were wrong. We went on the 10-night panama canal cruise and we loved every minute of it. The food was fantastic and the service second to none. The ports of call were well chose and very organized. A visit to the panama canal is

a big must in life it was fascinating (although you have to get up stupidly early for the action). We booked several tours with Royal Caribbean which all were excellent and true value for money, the tour guides on each trip were full of great information and they did not looked bore or tired of telling the same information day in day out like on some holidays we have been on. The whole aspect of cruising lets you see things you can't always cram into normal land holidays and in 2 cruise I have been able to see 2 thirds of the Caribbean. Our state room was very comfortable and always clean and tidy. The waiters and waitresses were always very keen to help, not just with dinner, but with advice in the ports and where to go for the shopping and great deals. The entertainment I feel was aimed at the older market but we realize that cruising is open to every age and that's what's also so fascinating, all the different walks of life under one roof. We still speak via email to the first dinner mates we met and we have already exchange a few emails with the last lot, its great! There was only one bad thing about this holiday - we had to return home to wet, cold England. The first thing me and my partner did when we got home was to go onto the Royal Caribbean website and book the next cruise. I have never been on a cruise with any other cruise company and I feel I will never have to as I don't think you can get any better than what we have experienced with Royal Caribbean. Anybody that sails on this ship, who does the cruise we have just done and finds one thing to complain about doesn't deserve to have the opportunity to do so. It was all excellent, excellent, excellent!!!!!!!

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Jan 23, 2006

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Royal Caribbean International Brilliance of the Seas Cruise Review Panama Canal Mark My girlfriend and I went on the 11-day to the Panama canal. Overall we had a great time and the service was fantastic. Warning to younger/active people: The demographic of people on the ship is an older crowd (most people were in the "retired" bracket). I suppose not many people our age have the time and/or means to afford such a long cruise.

After 11:00, we pretty much had the ship to ourselves, but often we were wishing there were more younger people around, especially in the disco which was virtually empty most nights. The ship itself is quite incredible. The decor is very nice without being too overstated. There is plenty of room for everyone with the following exceptions: Some long lines in the Windjammer Cafe at peak meal times, poolside chairs on sunny days can be hard to come by and seats at some of the shows/events can be hard to find, especially earlier in the evening. I thought the food was decent. Everything was quite tasty, but nothing that is going to change your life. I found the desserts to be excellent and the main dishes were hit and miss although there was at least one dish each night that I thought was excellent. The sushi served in the Windjammer for dinner was quite creative and tasty considering no raw fish was used. Sushi snobs may want to skip it, but I certainly enjoyed it. As I mentioned, buffet lines can get long during peak hours. My girlfriend and I tended to stay one step behind everyone in order to avoid them and it worked out great. The itinerary was also very enjoyable. The only problem we ran into was that many of the excursions which were of an active nature (biking, kayaking, etc.) got cancelled due to lack of interest. Not a huge problem, but we were left a little disappointed a couple of times. Definitely go snorkeling in Aruba and check out the locks in the canal. Definitely the highlights of the cruise. We skipped the entertainment every night. Based on what we heard through our floor (we were right above the theater and could hear the performance as we were getting ready for dinner each night) and saw on the TV (they replay the previous night's show sometimes) we didn't miss much. I don't want to give a totally negative impression because I think the entertainment was geared for the older generation and from reviews we heard around the ship, the older folks seemed to like it. The other events were quite fun to do and watch and the cruise director staff did a fantastic job throughout. The gym and spa were great for being on a ship. We thoroughly enjoyed using the facilities. We chose not to do the "all you can drink" soft drink package. Water, iced-tea, lemonade and coffee are always available (juice during breakfast time) and soft drinks are $1.73 ($1.50 plus 15% gratuity) at the bar, so you can decide based on that. Alcoholic drinks were not as outrageously priced as I would have thought, ranging from about $3.75 for a domestic draught beer to $6.00 for a mixed drink. Those are normal bar prices where I come from. Overall, I'd definitely sail Royal Caribbean again, although I'd go on a shorter/more accessable cruise that would better suit the amount of activity I'm looking for.

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Jan 2, 2006

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Royal Caribbean Cruise Line Brilliance of the Seas Cruise Review Panama Canal Dr. Gerald Fisher The ship is absolutely gorgeous. The service in the dining rooms and at the stateroom was excellant. The food left a lot to be desired. The beef was tough and stringy except for the black angus sirloin which was fine. The women complained about the taste of the gravies. They seemed to have a seasoning that was strange. The entertainment

that was done by the ship's singers and dancers was marvelous. The tango dancers brought aboard from Argentina were fantastic. The rest of the entertainment left a lot to be desired. The karaoke was scheduled late at night for 45 minutes a session and even that was delayed if the preceding program was not through. Most of the potential singers never were able to sing. It was poorly managed. The band in the Colony room was very good with a dancing beat and a great vocalist. Another trio on the 4th deck played a lot of Latin and were very danceable. Our cabin with a balcony was nice and adquate for our needs. Overall, the ship was great but the programing needs a lot of fine tuning. Some nights the second seating had to wait until very late to see the show, other nights it was conveniently early. I have not been on a prettier ship but I have had better food and entertainment on many others. My next cruise is already booked on another line.

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Jun 28, 2005

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Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas Eastern Mediterranean Jane Roberson My husband and I planned our European vacation a year in advance. Our travel agent suggested that we fly to Barcelona a few days in advance to rest from our international flight. This is a must because we were very tired. We were booked in a wonderful hotel, Le Meridian, right off the La Rambla. The hotel was beautiful and offered a free breakfast buffet. After

doing a tour on our own, we decided that our time would be best spent taking a private tour. The hotel arranged it for us and we were so thrilled. Peter, our guide and driver, showed us the highlights of this beautiful city. Our tour was scheduled for 3 hours but we extended it to 4. Afterwards, we took a taxi to the port to board our ship. Check-in was very quick and easy and we got to our cabin in no time at all. We were disappointed in the size of our balcony stateroom however; we were accustomed to the cabins on the Voyager class. The cabin size, as well as the size of the balcony, was much smaller and our bed seemed to be shorter. This was a problem because my husband is 6 feet 7inches tall! This is not a major problem though because you really don’t spend a great deal of time in the cabin. I had done some research about excursions and decided to book several through the cruise line and several on our own. For our first port -Nice, Eze, and Monaco- we took a ship excursion. We were most disappointed because of the time that was wasted. Because passengers must be tendered at this port, the cruise line was running an hour late. Only two tendering boats were available for 2200 passengers! Once off the ship, we were taken to a tour bus with 41 other passengers and one tour guide. She spoke to us as we rode, and then told us we could follow her through Nice or go on our own. We thought it would be better to follow her, thinking that she would be able to give us some information about the places we were seeing. She did not do this. We mostly walked through a market and rambled around. Our next stop was Eze. This was a gorgeous village that offers a breathtaking view of the area. We were only given about 20 minutes to climb to the top where you were charged 2 Euros each to view the scenery. Afterwards, we did have a nice lunch at a local restaurant. Our tour continued to Monte Carlo where we were given an hour of free time. We were not interested in gambling or seeing the Casino there so our time was wasted. Overall, I would not spend $320 again for this tour. Instead, I would book a private tour. The second port of call was Florence, Italy. We also book an excursion with RC for $690. This time we were with a group of 11 with one tour guide on a mini-bus. This was better than the day before because we were given individual microphones so we could hear our guide speaking as we walked through the city and museums. This was nice but too much emphasis was given to the two museums. I would have liked to have seen more of the city. We had no free time on this tour but the lunch was in a very nice hotel and was very delicious. On Saturday, we were in Rome! I had made arrangements for a private tour through Romaround. Our driver met us at the port and drove us into Rome to meet our guide, Francesca. Our first stop was the Vatican and the line was already very long but Francesca got us in quickly. She was able to guide us through showing us the highlights. Francesca was very knowledgeable and passionate about her city. We were able to see all the major sights and still have about 30 minutes for sightseeing! She was a wonderful guide. Lunch and admission prices are not included in the price of the tour but your cost is still much lower than the ship’s prices. Our next day was a Sea Day and you will be so happy to have it! We slept in until late morning and than spent the day lounging on the balcony. It is very difficult to get a chair at the pool or in the solarium. Passengers go up in the early morning hours and put towels down and then leave. Even though there are signs stating that this in not permitted, no one is policing the area. (Some of the chairs in the solarium are wooden and are not very comfortable.) (This was the only day we were able to sit on our balcony because of the sea water spray and the strong wind.) By the way, our dining experience was most enjoyable. We sat a table for 10 and had wonderful conversation. Some of our dinner companions were experienced travelers, having been on ten cruises so we learned a lot about future trips. Our two waitresses, Elif and Pamela, were so pleasant and energetic. The food was good but not above average. All the meals we had off the ship were much better. Mykonos, Greece was our next port of call. This is beautiful and is a place where you don’t need to book an excursion unless you want to visit Delos. If you arrive on a Monday, which we did, you need to book your excursion through the ship for Delos. This is the only way you will get there. (This is not published!) My husband was most upset about this and did complain but nothing was done. He wanted to see the island but, since we didn’t book the excursion beforehand, he was unable to do so. The ship only takes the first 400 that sign up – that’s only 20% of the passengers! Mykonos has lots of shopping opportunities and the prices are very reasonable. Next stop was Turkey, where we had a private tour arranged. We had a driver and a guide that took us to Ephesus. Ebur was also wonderful and was able to weave us in and out easily, even though there were thousands of people there that day. We ended our tour at Turkmen’s Weaving School, where we were treated with a traditional Turkish lunch! This was very interesting. After the tour, our driver took us to the shopping district. Prices here are the cheapest you will find on your cruise. The only drawback is the shop owners are constantly badgering you to buy. Santorini, Greece was next. We booked a ship’s tour ($59 pp) which included a visit to the Santo Winery and a brief riding tour. This is all you need, if that. Again, this island is beautiful but you could see it on your own. Shopping is great and the beach is pretty. Our next private tour was taken in Athens, Greece. Our guide was also our driver here. Takis was very talkative and informative. He gave us lots of history and dropped us off at our different sites. We were able to see things at our own pace. We also drove to Sounion to see the Temple of Poseidon. On our way, we stopped for lunch in a great place by the seaside. We tried grilled octopus, fried cheese, and several desserts. Wonderful! Our last port was Naples, Italy. Here I booked our last private tour. Our driver was our guide. Augustos was not as talkative as our other guides had been, but he was adequate. We drove to Sorrento to do some shopping. This is a beautiful city and has a lot of character. We wanted to have pizza here but time did not permit. We continued our drive along the Almafi Coast, where you will see the most breathtaking sights! We stopped for lunch in Ravello, overlooking the sea. Our tour ended at Pompeii. This site is massive and you do need some type of guide – electronic or in person. We thought we would be able to see it in an hour-and-a-half but it was not possible. We got a little turned around and had to call our driver to meet us at a different exit. Go prepared if you’re interested in seeing all of Pompeii. All in all, our cruise was a trip of a lifetime. My husband is an art teacher so he was finally able to “see” everything that he had viewed in his art books. Our private tours were great and next time we will make arrangements for all private tours at each port. We will continue traveling with Royal Caribbean but will definitely ask more specific questions about arrangements in the future. Before I forget, if you are interested in a balcony stateroom, make sure you ask for the seventh deck. The balconies are much larger on this deck than any other. Happy sailing!

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Feb 25, 2005

Panama Canal

 Douglas Ayrer I had quite a few apprehensions about Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines before departing on our 2/25/2005 Panama Canal Cruise. I had read reviews that rated the food bad and comments that Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines just did not care. I found those comments misleading. The food was good and the personnel did care. The drink prices were very high, coffee was not convenient and much too strong, I will not cruise again

with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines is that they also charged for soft drinks and bottled water. I found Carnival to be different in that respect and will return to them for future cruises and the trip was more fun. We did the “catamaran Snorkel trip in Aruba and despite rough waters, we snorkeled in a sheltered cove and saw a gorgeous reef and marine life of multi colored fish and plants, octopus and starfish. The Panama Canal was awesome. Don't book a shore tour for that day. Stay aboard. The best part of the cruise is the trip in and out of the locks. "Swim with the Stingrays" in Grand Cayman was very nice. Brilliance of the Seas is a beautiful ship. The public rooms especially are awesome in fit and finish but like other reviews state there are no passenger laundry facilities on board, and the shipboard laundry charges are very high. Another interesting tidbit, there were thirty of us in our group and our travel agent supplied each couple with a complimentary bottle of wine in their room, one couple who did not drink bought their bottle to dinner one evening for the other dinner companions and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines attempted to charge a $15.00 cork fee . I think Royal Caribbean should make cruisers feel like guests and not cash cows.

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Feb 25, 2005

Panama Canal

There are many other excellent reviews here, and we found ourselves disagreeing with only the positive description of one shore tour in Panama. Those reviews were very helpful to us in planning our cruise, and we thank the writers very much. We were especially appreciative of all the pictures! So in an effort not to be redundant, here are some things which we would have liked to know in addition to what we read here... Get to the pier

early if you can. We got there at 11:00, and breezed right through the check-in process. Literally no queue anywhere to get aboard. Staterooms won't be ready until 1:00, but there was a place to check hand baggage in the Minstrel Dining Room (Deck 5, port side; Guest Relations got the location wrong and we had to find it). But the Windjammer is open for lunch, and the ship is free for roaming. If you have never been to the Panama Canal - don't book a shore tour for that day. Stay aboard. The best part of the cruise is the trip in and out of the locks, and the shore tour we took to the Gamboa Rain Forest ski lift ride was on a circular route in a rickety bus filled with graffiti over typically bad Latin (OK, Central) American roads. We spent a total of four hours in that uncomfortable bus with only a muffin, two inedible "sandwiches," a miniature bottle of water, and an apple for lunch (eaten on the bus) - all for a 30 minute treetop ride. Then, they deposited us at the Cristobal pier outside the canal with only a few stress-filled moments to spare before the ship sailed. Taking this tour means that you miss the return trip through the locks, and several people told us that the best view of the locks was from the stern of the ship during the passage out of the canal. But what will gall you the most is that after bumping over the Panamanian potholes, you get to the Gamboa park and find it next to the canal and the canal railroad! Why not do a tour up the canal to this beautiful place in either a boat or train? And this was the most expensive shore excursion we took! Since there is an alternative treetop tour on the itinerary in Costa Rica, take it instead if you are determined to do this kind of thing. OK, a little redundancy... The best shore tour we took, hands down, was the "Swim with the Stingrays" in Grand Cayman. Even though the RCCL-sponsored excursion with two school bus loads of "friends" from the ship made you feel like you were in a crowded Wal-Mart aisle instead of personally served, it was the least expensive shore tour we booked (of four), but the best value and most fun overall. Brilliance Of The Seas is BEAUTIFUL. The public rooms (including the public restrooms!) especially are awesome in fit and finish. But it was obvious that RCCL was still running a lot of programs as if this huge, beautiful ship was really a small ship with a lot of first time cruisers, instead of adjusting the experience to accommodate the fact that Brilliance is so large, and by now hosts a lot of repeat customers. For example, the Crown and Anchor party for frequent cruisers was hosted in the Colony Club. The first time we were invited to one of these, on a smaller ship, the number of repeat cruisers was not as great. This time, it was a CRUSH of people, even in the large Colony Club lounge. I counted 18 ship's officers standing by, who were friendly enough if approached, but tended to talk to each other instead of the passengers. But they didn't DO anything, yet there were only four bartenders in two bars struggling to keep up with the mob, and the noise level was deafening. When the Captain gave his talk, he was barely able to make himself heard over the din. RCCL needs to break these gatherings up into much smaller groups, or have them in larger venues (as on Sovereign, where it was held in the theatre). Or, at least have a higher staff to guest ratio working them, with a PA system that can reach the whole room, if they are interested in making them the feel-good-about-RCCL events that they have been on past cruises. There are no passenger laundry facilities on board, and the shipboard laundry charges are astronomical. (for example, $1.50US for one pair of underwear) So pack accordingly. The best strategy is to pack light, and buy casual clothes in the ports you visit for wear later in the cruise. The ice buckets in the staterooms are miniature in size by default. No problem. We just asked for a real ice bucket the first night. It appeared immediately, and stayed refreshed the whole cruise. A small detail, but like no passenger laundry, there are no self service ice machines on this ship. And if you are like us, ice always seems to run out at the exact wrong time! There are no rental cars at the Port of Miami, but Hertz, Avis, and Alamo rental car vans were plentiful when we disembarked. Unfortunately, our reservation was at Budget, which was nowhere to be found. If you want to rent a car for a day in Miami, instead of taking a transfer to the airport or shore tour, count on the vans taking you to the Miami airport to pick up the car anyway. We over thought this, thinking of using a downtown Budget location. Bad choice. There was no way "to get there from here." Our last advice is to avoid cabins in the stern of Brilliance generally, and specifically on the port side of Deck 7, where we were. There are no elevators or public stairs in the aft section of this ship - a serious design flaw for a ship this large. And the cabin staff were ADAMANT on our cruise, despite what is written other places here, about passengers not using the crew stairs or pass-through to get around. So there was no alternative but to walk (and walk and walk) to mid ships to be able to navigate up and down the crowded elevators there. Our cabin (7172), along with those of our party (7168, 7166, 7164) were directly above the stage in the Colony Club. The live band which played there every night except one, the blessed Karaoke night, made a din so loud that it was impossible to turn in early or even enjoy a quiet evening on the terrace. We all left saying that these should be the staterooms given to the entertainers on board. They are by definition not in them at the time these staterooms are most affected by noise, yet they are wonderful accommodations otherwise. Conversely, there are elevators in the bow of the ship, and they got relatively little use except in the evening when the shows in the theatre next to them began or ended. Net, given a choice, choose forward cabins on this ship.  

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Dec 3, 2004

Deep Western Caribbean and Panama Canal

Tom Ogg CruiseReviews at aol.com The Brilliance of the Seas Group The Setup: I was the group coordinator and seminar leader for a group of 37 travel professionals on a 10-day Deep Western and Panama Canal cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s beautiful Brilliance of the Seas. The Brilliance of the Seas Summary in Advance: WOW!  If you haven't cruised on one of Royal Caribbean's Radiance class ships yet, make it your next cruise.

I think they are the best of the best in the mass market fleet. Without too much detail, I am going to let the pictures do the talking. Have a GREAT cruise! The Brilliance of the Seas was launched in July of 2002 and is one of four Radiance class ships in Royal Caribbean's fleet. At 90,090 gross tons, she is much smaller than the Voyager class (142,000 tons) but her features and design are superior to any other class of ship, in my opinion. She is simply breath taking.   Inside Cabin 3073 Cabin 3073: I was located in an inside cabin (3073) and was pleasantly surprised when I entered it. Most inside cabins make use of every available square inch and tend to be very compact indeed. This cabin appeared quite large and my first impression was “wow”. Many people believe that inside cabins are somehow less desirable than outside, or ocean view cabins. I actually prefer inside cabins, as they are so much easier to sleep in, as when the door is closed and the lights are out, it is extremely dark inside. All the way in the back of the cabin is the sleeping area. My bedding was configured into a queen size bed, but the mattresses separate into two twin beds as well. A large mirror hung over the bed and there was a nightstand on either side of the bed for storage. There is also a lamp affixed to the wall on either side that offered both a small reading light, as well as a traditional lamp. The cabin’s telephone is located on one of the nightstands. A Typical Hallway on the Brilliance of the Seas In the sitting area there is a large sofa and coffee table with a lamp affixed to the wall serving the sofa. Across the cabin is the entertainment area featuring a refrigerator hidden behind a cabinet door. The television resides right above the refrigerator on a pullout shelf that swivels so that one may turn the television screen so that it may be seen while lying in bed. A safe with two additional shelves make up the balance of the first cabinet. A large desk/make up counter dominate the area between the entertainment area and the beginning of the closet area. There are three shallow drawers on either side plus a wide, but shallow center drawer. The desktop was quite ample for all of my electronics and there are two-110 volt American outlets and two additional European outlets. Best of all, the cabin is wired for Internet access with a modem cable jack right next to the additional telephone jack. The desk offers two tall narrow mirrors on either side that conceal additional shelving for miscellaneous items and between two large make up lights is a very large mirror. Closets line the balance of the cabin on the same side with two large hanging areas and a floor to ceiling shelf in the center. All in all, there is a considerable amount of storage space in the cabin. The bathroom door is across from the closets and reveals a well-lit sink and counter top with a 3-sided mirror. The mirror on the right hides three large shelves for storage of toiletries and other items. The towels for the bathroom are stored in a rack over the toilet and there is an ample shower with a shower curtain enclosure. First Impressions I instantly loved this ship. My overall initial impression was very positive. I loved the wood, the textures, the carpeting and inlaid woodwork, simply everything about it. Of note was the considerable amount of artwork on the ship. The Artwork on the Brilliance of the Seas This ship offers some of the most unique and beautiful artwork I have seen on any ship (even luxury lines). If you would like to see pictures of just some of the art, click here. A Tour of the Ship Investigating the Brilliance of the Seas takes a long time as it is so unique and interesting, you just can't take it all in the very first time you see it. Let me take you on a tour of the ship. The Main Elevator Bank We will go to the main elevator bank and board the two elevators that will take us to deck 13 and the entrance to the Starquest Disco. The Entrance to the Starquest Disco Deck 13 The elevator lets us out in front of the entrance to the Starquest Disco, the Brilliance of the Seas disco, bar and observation lounge. This is the home of the Viking Crown Lounge and the main part of it is the Starquest Disco. We met in the disco on a couple of occasions and it was a perfect place to meet. The Hollywood Odyssey Another part of the Viking Crown Lounge is the Hollywood Odyssey, the ship's cigar club and bar. We had our welcome aboard cocktail party in this room and it was quite nice. On sea days they also use this area for specialty seminars, coffee tasting and other special events. The Brilliance of the Seas Rock Climbing Wall Moving aft from the Viking Crown Lounge on finds Royal Caribbean's signature rock climbing wall on the aft side of the funnel. It never seemed crowded to me and it was more private than on most of the Royal Caribbean ships. The miniature Golf Course Across the bridge from the rock wall is the miniature golf course. One can simply show up, grab a club and ball and start playing a round of golf. From here we will head down the stairs and go to the very aft fantail of deck 12. The Country Club Deck 12 On the port side of the ship one finds the Country Club, home of the Brilliance of the Sea's golf simulator. This was a very popular spot with the golfers and it actually gave you that "country club" feel. The Interior of the Seaview Cafe On the starboard side of the ship is the Seaview Cafe. If this were a Voyager class ship, this is where Johnny Rockets would be located, but on the Radiance class ships it is the home of the Seaview Cafe. The dining venue offers salads, sandwiches and other tasty treats and is available without reservations. It offers both indoor and outdoor seating and is a great place for a light lunch. The Brilliance of the Seas Sport Court Forward of the Seaview Cafe is the location of the ship's Sport Court. It offers a full basketball half-court and can be used for other sporting activities, as well. While popular with teens, it never really seemed to be too busy. Adventure Ocean Youth Area Forward of the Sports Court inside is the location of Adventure Ocean, the youth area on the ship. Adventure Ocean Video Games There are a good number of video games that were very popular with the children on the cruise. The Ocean Adventure Kids Pool The outside area surrounding Ocean Adventure features a great children's pool that was not only safe for young children, they simply loved it. The Ocean Adventure Kids Pool Slide One of the most popular features of Ocean Adventure seemed to be the slide at the Ocean Adventure kid's pool. There were constantly kids going down the slide having a great time. The Brilliance of the Seas Main Pool Area Moving forward from the Ocean Adventure complex, we get our first view of the main pool area. At first blush it seems somewhat small for this size of ship, however, deck 12 offers a considerable number of lounge chairs for those wanting to lie out in the sun. The Sky Bar The Sky Bar was indeed popular. Overlooking the pool area, many folks relaxed in the lounge chairs on deck 12 and used the services of the Sky Bar. The Crown and Anchor Lounge Moving inside one sees the Crown and Anchor Lounge, home of Royal Caribbean's loyalty program. This lounge is absolutely breathtaking. It seems to literally float several decks above the lobby connected to the rest of the ship by narrow walkways to gain access. The "Spiral Light" Looking Trough the Glass Porthole in the Crown and Anchor Lounge In the very center of the Crown and Anchor Lounge one finds the unique glass topped area where you can look directly down at the Centrum lobby of the Brilliance of the Seas. It is this sort of effect that really sets the Radiance class ships apart from all others. Don't miss a visit to the lounge. Also, take advantage of Royal Caribbean's loyalty program and sign up to become a member of the Crown and Anchor Society. Their loyalty program is the best in the business. The ShipShape Spa Entrance Moving past the pool and entering the forward section of deck 12 presents us with the entrance to the ShipShape Spa. The ShipShape Spa Beauty Salon The spa offers a full compliment of spa services and there is also a beauty salon, The ShipShape Spa Relaxation Room an excellent relaxation room, The ShipShape Spa Massage Rooms several massage rooms, and a complete fitness facility. The ShipShape Spa Stairwell From here we will head down the stairway right behind the Relaxation room down to deck 11. The Entrance to the Solarium The Brilliance of the Seas Solarium Deck 11 From the bottom of the stairs we will make our way aft past the locker rooms and enter the fabulous solarium. As you can easily see, the solarium is a visual treat (not to mention a treat for all of your senses). I found that the solarium was relaxing beyond belief. The Solarium Bar The Solarium Bar served the entire area of the Solarium and was never crowded. Continuing aft through the Solarium will deliver you to the Brilliance of the Sea's main pool area. On the other side of the Solarium is a small sandwich dining venue for those looking for smaller portions and sandwiches, pizza and other treats. The Pool Area The pool area was heavily used during this cruise and finding a lounge chair by the pool became difficult after lunch on sea days. Royal Caribbean has a policy requiring that folks do not reserve lounge chairs for folks not by the pool and the towel policy requires that folks are responsible for their towels when they leave, as they are charged against their room if unaccounted for. These policies make the best of what could be a difficult situation. In addition to the pool there are 2 Jacuzzis that are also heavily used. A Pool Side Bar B Q During sea days, the Brilliance of the Seas hosts pool side Bar B Qs that are excellent making it possible to simply hang out by the pool the entire day. Poolside Entertainment Most days saw a group entertaining by the pool and their music was excellent. In addition to the entertainment, there are the usual pool side games, dance lessons, and ice carving demonstrations. The horse race yielded some excellent income for the winning team. The pool Bar was quite active during the cruise and offers a good number of stools to enjoy as the day goes by. The Entrance to the Windjammer Cafe Moving aft still, as we leave the pool area and go by the main elevator bank we enter the Windjammer Cafe. This is a real treat! The wood flooring, paneling, ceiling treatments and furnishings give on a feeling of being on a large, but opulent sailing vessel. There are a number of food stations serving breakfast and lunch and I found the food excellent. Various Views of the Windjammer Cafe The Windjammer is open for Breakfast and serves many selections. There is a fresh omelet station where omelets and eggs are prepared to order and also a station where breakfast meats (usually ham) are carved. The drink station is unique, as coffee and juices are poured by staff rather than being self serve. At first I didn't like this set up, as well as the more traditional self-serve, but I grew to like it much better. Lunch found many selections once again. There is a traditional buffet, a sandwich counter, a pasta station, a salad bar and a dessert area. It is very easy to get around and I never found the Windjammer to have a crowded feeling to it, as one usually finds in ship's buffet venues. While I never took dinner in the Windjammer Cafe, many in our group did and said it was a wonderful casual alternative to the main restaurants. It was also very popular with families. All in all, I would give the Windjammer Cafe on the Brilliance of the Seas top honors. From here we will head back aft to the main stairwell and walk down to deck 10. The Yacht Club Deck 10 Deck 10 is all passenger cabins with the exception of the Yacht Club and the Concierge Lounge. The Yacht Club is simply a small meeting place where folks can relax and chat. However, if you look closely at the picture, it gives you an excellent idea of how the entire ship is furnished. Note the inlaid wood flooring, the exquisite wood paneling and wood moldings and the unique detail in the ceiling. The furniture is first class and every where you look there is art, flowers and elegant touches. The Entrance to the Concierge Club One of the major benefits of being a Diamond Member of the Crown and Anchor Society (10 or more cruises on Royal Caribbean) is the ability to use the Concierge Lounge on Royal Caribbean's Radiance and Voyager class ships. The Concierge Lounge Interior There is a full bar and both hot and cold appetizers in the evening. The Concierge on the Brilliance, Mr. Chris Hou was attentive and greeted everyone with a warm welcome as they entered. He remembered my wine choice after the first night and served me a glass of Chardonnay upon entering the club. While I did not partake in the morning treats that were offered, a continental breakfast was offered along with specialty coffee drinks every morning in the club. This is a huge benefit. The Concierge Club Sitting Area and Computer There is also a computer connected to the Internet for your use in the club and while you need to use your onboard Internet account, it is a very private way to conduct your online business. From the Concierge Club we will head back to the stairwell and head down to deck 9. The Brilliance of the Seas Library Deck 9 As we pass by the main elevator bank from the stairwell, the library makes its residence here. While seemingly small, everyone was able to find books of interest and it was never crowded. The balance of deck 9 is entirely passenger cabins. Business Services Deck 8 and Deck 7 Deck 8 is entirely passenger cabins, as is deck 7 with the exception of the Business Services where one can conduct business on the Internet and with the off line computers, as well. The Card Room Deck 6 Aahhh, deck 6. This is the epitome of the beauty of the Radiance class ships. We will start the tour in the very aft section of deck 6 in the Card Room that is tucked away in a corner of the Colony Club. The Entrance into the Colony Club The Colony Club is the ships alternative entertainment venue and is the scene of many of the themed parties on the Brilliance. The Captain's Welcome Aboard party and Crown and Anchor parties are also held here. The Colony Club Dance Floor There is also dancing available most evenings in the Colony Club and you can see that the dance floor is very generous. The Self Leveling Pool Tables The Colony Club is broken into several smaller areas each offering a unique environment. The self leveling pool tables were a blast to shoot pool on. We enjoyed them one evening for the entire night. One of the Colony Club Bars The Colony Club bars were awesome. They give you that "local pub" feeling even though you know that you are on a ship in the middle of the ocean. A Colony Club Room You can see the unique character of the Colony Club. It was one of my favorites on the Brilliance. Moving forward from the Colony Club we enter the Schooner Bar. Let me say here and now, I love Royal Caribbean's Schooner Bars more than anything. They are creative and impressive. The Schooner Bar on the Brilliance is the best of the best. The Schooner Bar More Pictures of the Schooner Bar Check out the various areas of the Schooner Bar and I am sure you will agree. This is one of the most spectacular bars on any ship. I loved its attention to detail and the use of wood in the flooring, walls and ceiling. The bar just invites you to lounge around and take everything in. Chops Grill The entrance to one of the specialty alternative dining venues, Chops Grill, is located in the Schooner Bar. Chops is a wonderful restaurant serving steaks and other chop selections. There is a $25 service fee for dining here, but it is well worth it. Excellent service, a great presentation and the overall ambiance makes Chops Grill a very special dining choice The Portofino Restaurant. The Portofino Restaurant is the Brilliance of the Seas other alternative dining venue. A group of us had dinner here on one evening and had the time of our lives. Chops is great, but our group liked Portofino better. Don't miss it. Again, there is a $25 service fee for dining in Portofino Restaurant. The Champagne Bar Moving forward past the stairwell we enter the Champagne Bar. This is a beautiful bar that offers wine and champagne by the glass or bottle. I enjoyed a glass of wine here on more than one occasion and thoroughly enjoyed it. Casino Royale The Brilliance of the Seas offers a huge casino with many slots and a good number of gaming tables. Forward of the casino is the Sports Bar, cinema and other small rooms before you arrive at the upper entrance to the Pacifica Theater. The Pacifica Theater There are shows every evening of this cruise and I understand that they are great. Many in our group attended the shows, but I tended to simply enjoy the dinner crowd I was with and then turn in . I didn't make it to one show. Deck 5 Walking down the stairwell outside of the upper entrance to the Pacifica Theater, we arrive at the lower entrance. If we head aft we come to the art gallery (home of the ship's on board art auctions) and then the photo shop and gallery. The Photo Gallery The Photo Gallery was a very popular spot and was well located so as not to cause any congestion on the ship The photographers were always available, but not invasive. One of the Conference Rooms The ship's Conference Center was on the port side of the ship and was state-of-the-art for a cruise ship conference facility. The Shopping Arcade There are many shops on the Brilliance and they offer a wide variety of products. Just One of The Stores on the Brilliance There seemed to be sales every day in the shopping arcade. I think shoppers will be very happy with what they find. Royal Caribbean Online Royal Caribbean Online is the Brilliance of the Sea's Internet Cafe. I would strongly recommend that you get "in-cabin" access for a flat fee with unlimited useage, as the computers in the Internet Cafe are much slower than broadband access. Latte-Tudes Coffee Bar I loved Latte Tudes Coffee Bar. The served "Seattle's Best" coffees and their specialty coffee drinks were excellent and reasonably priced. The Minstrel Restaurant Moving aft still we arrive at the entrance of the Minstrel Restaurant. This restaurant is simply beautiful. More Views of the Minstrel Restaurant There is a huge mural overlooking the restaurant that is simply stunning (click on the middle picture to see it) and every view within the restaurant is awesome. We experienced nothing but excellent service and dining. Deck 4 Heading down to deck 4 is another visual treat. The lower level of the Minstrel Restaurant dominates the aft portion of the ship and the forward portion of deck 4 is all passenger cabins. The Lobby Bar However, the main lobby of the Brilliance is very stunning. In the center of everything is the Lobby Bar. This is a hub of activity and is also an excellent meeting place. There is always something going on and it is easy to access. The Centrum While this shot is somewhat fuzzy, it gives you an idea of how stunning the Centrum is on the Brilliance. Note the Christmas decorations that made the entire ship feel very festive. The Tour Desk and Guest Relations Desk are both located off of the Lobby Bar. Deck 3 and deck 2 These decks are all passenger cabins. The Cruise: Friday, December 3rd, 2004; Miami, Florida I had been attending a cruise conference in Ft. Lauderdale and decided to simply grab a taxi from the Ft. Lauderdale Marina Marriott to the port of Miami. The total cost of the taxi transfer was $68.00 (I paid the driver a total of $75.00 including tip). We arrived at the cruise terminal at approximately 1 pm. (HINT: By the time we arrived, there was a considerable line to clear security and check in took about 1-½ hours. I would strongly suggest that you arrive around 11 to 11:30 am to board the ship.) Once processed, we were allowed to board the ship. After depositing my carry-on luggage in my cabin, I went to Guest Relations and reconfirmed the group’s activities for the cruise, delivered the “Welcome Aboard” flyers to the group's cabins and made my way to the Windjammer Café for a late lunch. Evening found me in the Hollywood Odyssey for our arrival cocktail party. To my surprise, Anna the excellent group coordinator that was on the Mariner of the Seas earlier this year, was now on the Brilliance. It was great so see her and once I did, I knew that my job was going to be easy. She is one of the best group coordinators on any ship. I met the group and enjoyed a wonderful cocktail hour before going into the Minstrel Restaurant for the first of many wonderful dinners. Royal Caribbean has done such an excellent job of selecting their waiters and assistant waiters and the dining teams at our group tables were tops. Saturday, December 4th, 2004; Day at Sea I love sea days and this was the first of 5 sea days on this itinerary. After a quick breakfast in the Windjammer Café, I staked out some lounge chairs for the group out by the Jacuzzi. After a few hours a small group of us had formed and had a wonderful day in the bright sunshine. As the afternoon wore on, I decided to enjoy the sunset in the Jacuzzi before returning to my cabin to prepare for the first formal night of the cruise. There were a few Diamond Members (Royal Caribbean’s loyalty program designation for repeat cruisers that have completed 10 or more cruises on RCI) and we agreed to meet in the Concierge Lounge for a quick cocktail before attending the Captain ’s “Welcome Aboard” Party that was held in the Colony Club, a simply fabulous bar and lounge. The Concierge Lounge is one of the major benefits of being a Diamond Member as it offers hosted a continental breakfast (including specialty coffee drinks) for breakfast and in the evening offers an open bar from 5 pm until 8:30 pm. The Captain’s cocktail party was well attended, however when the Captain was speaking many of the passengers continued talking around the bar area disrupting the experience for everyone else. The Captain even stopped his presentation mentioning the noise coming from the bar, but the people continued to talk loudly. Most folks felt it was quite rude to say the least. We then continued on into the dining room for the “Welcome Aboard” dinner. Four contiguous tables housed our group for the late seating dining and since we had prepaid the gratuities, we were able to jump from table to table so that we could all get to know one another. It was proving to be an interesting and fun group of agents. I was tired from getting so much sun, and since I had a seminar to conduct in the morning, I turned in right after dinner. Sunday, December 5th, 2004; Day at Sea I was up quite early and after a quick breakfast in the Windjammer Café, went to Conference Room B to get ready for the first of our three seminars that were to take place on  the Brilliance of the Seas. The Conference Center is a state-of-the-art meeting facility with every conceivable electronic device known to man. We enjoyed fresh coffee and Danish before our meeting and it was replenished for our break. Once again, Anna, the Group Coordinator did a stellar job. I continued on to the Windjammer Café to meet some of the group members for the purpose of answering questions and to talk about some of the ports we were going to visit. It was a great session and really had me enthused about the group. It was another hot afternoon by the pool’s Jacuzzis before turning my attention to getting ready for the evening’s events. The Diamond Members met in the Concierge Lounge for an hour of cocktails and conversation before making our way to the restaurant. In a rut, I turned in right after dinner. Monday, December 6th, 2004; Oranjestad, Aruba, Netherlands Antilles We arrived right on time, debarked the ship and entered downtown Oranjestad, Aruba. A small group of us had planned to rent a jeep to explore the National Park, beaches and other natural attractions of Aruba before returning to enjoy the fabled night life in Oranjestad. We negotiate a jeep (well, actually a chick jeep) and started off in our exploration of the island. To give a fair picture of the day, as it unfolded, a lady from the mid west was driving and another was the navigator riding shotgun. I was relegated to the back seat, which I eventually was grateful for. We drove south from the ship with the plan of encircling the island taking in its more natural wonders and beautiful beaches. After traveling a few miles through small towns and the countryside we found our way to Baby Beach and adjoining Coco Beach. While Coco Beach was inviting, I was not really impressed with Baby Beach. However, I did get a great photo there. Leaving Baby Beach, our plan was to continue north through the National Park, visit the natural bridge and then continue on to the north coast's beaches. Well, our navigator was having a difficult time finding the way, so we ended up driving in circles for hours trying to find our way. We visited Baby Beach several times and drove through the same town a good number of times. We never did find the National Park (or any of the other attractions, for that matter) but we had a great time laughing, as we wandered in circles. At one juncture we had followed another couple from our group that was also looking for the passage to the National Park and thought we were making progress when we ended up at the public dump. That is when the un-controllable laughter started. We then followed a city bus for miles, as the navigator thought it must be a tour bus. I had more fun picking on the driver and the navigator than I would have had if we actually found any of the sights. Once we realized that the "tour bus" we were following was actually heading back to Oranjestad, we simply resigned ourselves to the fact that we would never make it to the National Park and other attractions and decided to head for Eagle Beach and the hotel district. We made our way through downtown Oranjestad and entered the hotel district. Working our way back down the coastline, we discovered Eagle Beach. Eagle Beach came highly recommended on a number of chat groups, as the best beach on Aruba. While picturesque, it fell way short of what I would consider a great beach. We decided to keep looking and remembered seeing a small beach club just south of town named the Havana Beach Club. With a destination in mind, we took off to retrace our steps to find it and after fifteen minutes or so, we pulled into the parking lot. We piled out of the chick jeep and walked onto the beach in front of the spot. We had found our destination. The Havana Beach Club offers a wonderful beach, excellent swimming, a great bar with its own pool and swim up bar and a good restaurant. I am not sure what else anyone could want. The lounge chairs were free to use, as were all of the facilities of the Havana Beach Club and the folks running it were friendly. The prices were quite reasonable and there was a dearth of cruise people, as the club was clearly favored by locals (primarily Dutch). After a long day in the sun, we decided to return to the ship, change for the evening and then walk back to the Havana Beach Club to enjoy their "movies on the beach" where they show first run movies on the beach for $3.00 per person. You get a lounge chair, the bar is open and the movie is displayed on a large screen right on the beach. After changing and freshening up, we started walking through Oranjestad and stopped at one of the bars located along the harbor to watch the sun set and enjoy a glass of wine. Silversea's Silver Whisper was in port, as well and departed right at sunset and it reminded me why I like cruising so much. There is something magical about the essence of a cruise. On this day we shared Aruba with folks from Silversea that were now heading on towards their next port or call, while we were heading in a different direction, just the vary nature of the freedom of a cruise experience is exciting. After sunset, we decided to dine at Don Carlos Restaurant where fresh live spiny lobster is the restaurant's specialty. We ordered the largest lobster they had (about 4 1/2 pounds). They brought it to our table live to show us the lobster before taking it into the kitchen. I wanted to get a picture of it, so our "navigator" held it up while I took the lobster's picture. Unfortunately, the lobster moved and she then dropped the poor thing onto the floor. It hit like a sack of cement and emitted a large "splat". Everyone in the restaurant groaned at the idea of this doomed lobster hitting the ground with such force. The cook quickly gathered the lobster off the floor and with its tail flapping as it left the table, we couldn't help but laugh. The lobster returned some 25 minutes later and we enjoyed it immensely. After a short walk we arrived at the Havana Beach Club in time to claim our lounge chairs, set them up, pay the $3.00 and enjoy the movie. HINT: Unless you know your way around Aruba, forget renting a car or jeep. The maps are useless and you are much better off taking a tour if you want to see the National Park and other sights. The tours are inexpensive, both on the ship and off, and you will have ample time to explore Oranjestad. I would highly recommend the Havana Beach Club, as one of the better beach/restaurant/bar options after exploring Aruba. Note, however that many of the ladies using the Havana Beach Club prefer to go topless. If this is a consideration, then I would suggest Eagle Beach as an alternative. Tuesday, December 7th, 2004; Day at Sea After a quick breakfast in the Windjammer, I spent the morning working in my cabin and decided to enjoy the afternoon's abundant sunshine. I met some of the group that had been by the pool all day and managed to find a lounge chair and started relaxing. Days at sea are the best, in my opinion. Just relaxing by the pool enjoying the sunshine and companionship of newly made friends is what cruising is all about. I had offered some of the agents the opportunity to call their family using my in-cabin Internet access and SKYPE, so arranged to meet them in the late afternoon so they could call. While it was generally a bad connection, everyone couldn't believe they were able to call their families from my computer for a pittance of what it would otherwise cost. We had a great time calling people and laughing at their responses. One of the great benefits that Royal Caribbean's loyalty program (the Crown and Anchor Society) offers to its Diamond (10 or more completed cruises) members is use of the ship's Concierge Club. Located on deck 10, the Concierge Club became my early evening hangout, as they offered an open bar with hot and cold appetizers for the members. While there are numerous benefits, use of the Concierge Club ranks the highest in my opinion. I spent the pre-dinner hour in the Club and then made my way to dinner for another outstanding dining experience with our group. By now everyone was getting along famously and totally enjoying one another. I was bushed from working and then getting so much sun and called it a night. Wednesday, December 8th, 2004; Panama Canal and Colon's Cristobal Pier Having been through the canal a couple of times already this year, I opted to sleep in, take a light breakfast and work in my cabin until almost lunch time. The weather was overcast and it was certainly not a pool day, so my time was well spent. After a salad for lunch in the Windjammer Cafe, I decided to spend some time in the Solarium for the afternoon. Since it was totally enclosed, it made a great choice. I was joined by some of the group, as the day wore on. Late afternoon found us docked at the Cristobal Pier in Panama and I debarked to do some shopping for the "Ideas for Prizes" seminar  that was coming up. I wasn't disappointed with the selection and pricing of the items I purchased. Back on board, I fell into my routine of dressing for dinner, enjoying the Concierge Club and then making my way to dinner for another enjoyable meal. Tonight was no exception. I am not sure if it was the work load I had brought with me, or the cruise itself, but I had a difficult time staying up past dinner and tended to retire early. HINT: If you do not want to stay on the ship all day in Panama, you must book one of the ship's shore excursions. I would suggest that you book it early, as many of the shore excursions sold out and there were some people that wanted to get off the ship and couldn't. Thursday, December 9th, 2004; Puerto Limon, Costa Rica A group of us had planned to negotiate for a taxi and driver to take us south to Cahuita National Park, but the weather had not cooperated with our plans. I was up early to SKYPE my wife who was in Florida getting ready to board Oceania's Regatta with a group of travel professionals that she was leading. It was my only chance to talk with her for a good period of time, so I was disappointed when the Internet connection was not working. I decided to try for a prepaid telephone card and a telephone off the ship and made my way to the embarkation deck. I was the first person off the ship and immediately went to the port's communication center. Unfortunately, they were closed and by the time they were to open, I would have missed Joanie. Desperate to call her, I left the port and entered a souvenir shop directly across the street. In broken Spanish I was able to purchase a local international telephone card. The shopkeeper offered me her personal telephone to make the call. I gratefully accepted, but had difficulty dialing the number. She then offered to help, dialed the number and handed me the telephone back. Joanie answered. We talked for almost 40 minutes. When I was done, I returned the telephone to the shopkeeper and offered her $10 for her trouble. She refused to take it and was genuinely glad to have helped me. Her shop is directly across the street, just one down from the corner. She deserves your business when you are there. After making the call, it started pouring rain. I spent the morning once again, working in my cabin, had a salad and some vegetables for lunch and then located a lounge chair in the solarium for the duration of the afternoon. It was a great way to spend a rainy day. The evening found a large group of us with reservations at Chops Grill, one of the Brilliance of the Sea's specialty restaurant. After visiting the Concierge Lounge I met the others for cocktails and then made our way to Chops for an extraordinary dinner. We had two tables and for whatever reason, our table broke into laughter the second we sat down. We didn't stop laughing until we were the last to leave the restaurant. It was one of the most fun dinners I can remember in recent history. The food, service and overall experience was simply wonderful. Friday, December 10th, 2004; Day at Sea I was up before dawn and watched the sun come up enjoying a cup of coffee on the fantail behind the Windjammer Cafe. It reminded me of how special cruising is. Even though there were thousands of people on this ship, it seemed like I was all by myself enjoying the morning unfold. I had scheduled a 2-hour seminar for the morning, so after returning to my cabin and doing some work, I made my way down to the conference center. Once again Royal Caribbean had done an excellent job of preparing the room for our meeting. Anna was on hand to make sure everything was perfect, as always and the meeting went without a hitch. A number of the agents wanted to see SKYPE in action, so I invited them back to my cabin where we spent almost an hour calling people. Everyone enjoyed the interaction and had tons of fun. I made it up to the pool area just as the lounge chair that was being saved for me was about to be confiscated by the lounge chair police. The ladies holding it admonished me for taking so long. I had a quick lunch and then simply enjoyed the day with new friends and acquaintances. As it was the second formal evening, I dressed early, made my way to reconfirm our group's photograph and then went on to meet our group in front of the reception desk. Everyone had become fast friends by now and the group shot was lots of fun. Most of the group continued on to the early show and some were dining early and returned to their dinner, so a small group of us made our way to the Concierge Lounge for a glass of wine before heading off to another wonderful dinner in the main dinning room. I am not sure what the chefs did to the lobster on this evening, but it was simply tender and delicious. I had two tails. After dinner one of the other couples in our group wanted to talk a bit, so I joined them in the Champagne Bar for a glass of wine before turning in for the evening. Saturday, December 11th, 2004; Georgetown, Grand Cayman I was keen on visiting Grand Cayman since it had just reopened to visiting cruise ships after the hurricane that ravished it. I had no idea what to expect, as personal accounts were few and far between. We were up early and grabbed the first tender into the tender wharf. There didn't immediately seem to be much damage which was a relief. We decided to walk a bit towards 7-Mile Beach and after a few blocks, the damage became evident. Downed trees, shrubbery and debris were everywhere. Structural damage to buildings was obvious and the further we walked the more severe the damage. Just about out of town, we hailed a van to take us to 7-Mile Beach. He dropped us at the Wyndham Hotel, which had just reopened a few of its rooms to visitors. Unfortunately, the beach guy at the Wyndham would not allow us to rent lounge chairs (even though the beach was vacant) and made it clear that the hotel's facilities were for the use of the few guests that were staying there. We decided to find another spot to enjoy the day and started walking up the beach. After a short walk we stumbled into Seagrape Beach, a public beach that offered lounge chairs, a bar and restaurant and other amenities to make for a nice day at the beach. We negotiated for lounge chairs and an umbrella (for one of the non-sun people with us) and settled in for the day. It was hot! Several families from the ship had found their way to the same beach and everyone seemed pleased with the accommodations and overall experience. When it came time to make our way back to the ship, an attendent at Seagrape called one of his buddies to take us back. He arrived and then offered to take us on a tour of the side of the island that had been devastated by the hurricane. He offered to do it for no fee, as he just wanted us to know the real situation in Grand Cayman. The common thread among those we talked to was the complete dissatisfaction with the British Government who has not lifted a finger to help those in need on Grand Cayman. He believed that the Brits felt that everyone on Grand Cayman was wealthy and didn't need any help. While Grand Cayman is certainly one of the richest economies in the world, the local population is not among that group. We visited the area where the hurricane came ashore some months prior. It appeared to me that nothing had been done since the day it had happened. There were boats, cars, appliances and debris piled up everywhere. Houses were partially or predominantly destroyed with large parts of some structures were simply missing. The destruction was overwhelming. It was actually quite moving to witness the devastation of what once was, a beautiful community. Somewhat somber, we returned to the main part of Georgetown and to a bar on the waterfront that one of the ladies with us had spent a day enjoying a few months ago. We enjoyed a glass of wine and reminisced about the mayhem we had just seen and felt lucky to have somehow avoided it. We barely made the last tender back to the ship. A large group of us had made early dining reservations in Portofino (the Brilliance of the Seas other alternative dining venue) for dinner and I hurried to dress for the occasion. Our group met in the Schooner Bar for cocktails before entering the restaurant and taking our tables. I must say, tonight's dinner was superb. The Portofino menu, the service, the presentation and the execution from beginning to end was simply flawless. It was a dinner to remember. Monday, December 12th, 2004; Day at Sea It was our last seminar this morning and it went without a hitch. We had a very thorough cruise and port review, a coffee break and then an active round of "Ideas for Prizes". This is a game where travel professionals earn "prizes" for sharing ideas. It is coupled with a scheme whereby they can trade their prizes for other prizes that have been awarded to other agents and it encourages everyone to share ideas to simply protect their own interest. It is usually hilarious and this session was no exception. The group had really become fond of one another. A large group of us went back to my cabin to "SKYPE" some of the folks back home and we had a wonderful time laughing and enjoying one another's company. After a quick salad, I made my way to the pool where a large group of our group members had set up by the Jacuzzi. While I didn't have a lounge chair, I was very content to hang out by the pool's edge visiting with the various people, as they came and went. It was a very fun afternoon. The evening's festivities came all too soon and I was dressing to meet our group in the Starquest Disco for a business card exchange and white elephant sale. We had a great time. I stopped to say good bye to Chris Hou, the Concierge Club manager and then made my way to the last dinner of the cruise. It is always a bitter-sweet dinner, as while you enjoy your new found friends, you also know it may be the last time you ever see them. I really don't care for last dinners on ships for this reason. We acknowledged our waiter, assistant waiter, Maitre d' and wine steward and thanked them for the wonderful dinning experience they had provided us. They had been great! I was not ready to go to bed yet, so a bunch of us went out about the ship and ended up in the Colony Club where we ran into more members of the group shooting pool. We stayed until the wee hours shooting pool and having a great time. Note that there is no charge for using the self-leveling pool tables and they work great. Unfortunately, I am not much of a pool shooter, so my excuse of the table moving with the ocean's movement went unheard. I slept like a newborn baby. Tuesday, December 13th, 2004; Miami, Florida Since I had been on another cruise (the MS Opera) and to a convention before that in Ft. Lauderdale, my airline reservations were returning from Ft. Lauderdale rather than Miami. I needed to make my way to Ft. Lauderdale and found some other souls in the same boat. We shared a taxi up to Ft. Lauderdale where I eventually boarded an American Airlines flight to my home in San Diego.

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Dec 3, 2004

Panama Canal/Caribbean

TrvlJrnlst@aol.com Introduction: I was attending a conference in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, so I flew from Cleveland on USA3000 on Tuesday. I was part of a travel professionals group that would be attending a seminar at sea on a Panama Canal cruise aboard the Brilliance of the Seas. As the cruise was sailing from Miami on Friday, I enjoyed a leisure day of sun and relaxation at the Marriott Marina pool on Thursday and anticipated

a relatively easy transfer from Fort Lauderdale to the Port of Miami on Friday morning. I left the hotel in Fort Lauderdale about 11:30 and shared a cab with one of the other members of the group for the trek to the ship. Traffic was exceptionally heavy so it took almost an hour to get to the port at a cost of about $60 plus tip. Sue, a very good friend from Cleveland would be my traveling companion for this cruise. She had decided to fly to the port the day of the cruise, so I had made plans to meet her onboard. Embarkation: Once we arrived at the pier, we were quite surprised to discover they had not yet begun the embarkation process. Greeted by a very lengthy line that spilled out onto the sidewalk, I knew this was not going to be a smooth and quick procedure. I was to discover later that the situation was created by a problem with immigration clearing passengers of the previous cruise and once embarkation did begin, was exacerbated by only one security scanner functioning. Clearing the security line well over an hour after we arrived, the next stage of the process went much more smoothly. As diamond members of the Crown and Anchor Society we have access to priority check-in and within minutes were issued our SeaPass card and boarded the ship about 2:00 PM. First Impressions: --There were 2 formal nights, 2 smart casual and 6 casual nights on the cruise. Optional attire on 3 of the casual nights were: Caribbean themed, ‘50s/’60s attire and Country & Western dress. --Very friendly and accommodating staff (particularly at guest relations). --Physical layout of inside cabin is perhaps best utilization of space provided on any ship. --There were a few maintenance issues, but response time for problems was excellent and there was also follow-up. --No laundry or ironing room is a definite negative. (Recommend you bring along a travel steamer which is permitted; travel irons are not.) --Suggest you pack a nightlight (particularly for an inside cabin) and alarm clock --Overall physical components of ship rate a definite 10. --Consensus of group: Food was rated 6-7 in main dining venues and 9-10 in the Specialty Restaurants. --Special requests for food and services were graciously provided (don’t be afraid to ask). --Be aware that bottles of wine are overpriced and the Wine Package is NOT a good deal. --Pool tables were great. --Spa services given a very high rating by those who used them. (Hint: If you are looking for a special romantic package – try the Couples Massage Class.) --Demographics of this Panama Canal cruise was definitely a bit older than the typical RC Caribbean passenger load (of course this is true of most cruises longer than 7 days). --Definitely make a point of working towards Diamond status in the Crown and Anchor Society. It is so worth the effort! For me, it’s on to Diamond Plus! --Recommended shore excursions in Aruba: – Town and Country Tour good and reasonably priced at $34 pp; DePalm Helmet Dive/Snorkeling Adventure excursion very good and worth the hefty $99 pp; Atlantis Submarine excursion good but pricey. --Shore excursion tips in Panama Canal: Two Ocean Railroad Journey was great; Embera Indian Culture Tour excellent; Grand Tour of Panama not good for anyone with any difficulty walking – lots of climbing and steep stairs and definitely not worth the money; Locks by Ferry fascinating and worth the money ($154 pp) --Recommendations for Puerto Limon: Although this activity must be done on your own as it is not a ship sponsored excursion - Zip Lining/Canopy Ride Tour at Almonds and Corals Outstanding even in the pouring rain – get there early to avoid large groups – rated 10+. (Check out the special Crazy Monkey Canopy Ride review at: www.caribbeanportreviews.com/puertolimon8.htm) El Farro Restaurant good choice for lunch; Rain Forest Canopy Aerial Tramway through Nature Reserve exceeded expectations (a definite 10); Tabacon Hot Springs great experience and well worth the money, but it is a long, long ride and unfortunately time is very limited at the springs. --Shore excursions in Grand Cayman (be aware that Grand Cayman was undergoing hurricane recovery so these evaluations are based on what was available): Seaworld Explorer Submarine Tour good; Turtle Farm Trip was okay at best; Rays and Reef Combo which includes a trip to Stingray City was phenomenal. Overall Impressions: In my estimation, the Radiance Class ships are perhaps the most beautiful ships afloat and the Brilliance is no exception. Although they are large ships, they have a small ship appeal and a welcoming coziness. A supportive staff compliments the tastefully decorated and elegantly understated surroundings, making the Brilliance one more shining star in the RCI fleet. Other than the elevator situation, I would be hard pressed to find glaring flaws in the design of the ship. Easy to navigate and wheelchair friendly, this was a wonderful ship from stem to stern, and I would definitely look forward to sailing her again. As a side-note, the holiday elves were very busy during the night. When we arrived on the ship, there were no Christmas decorations evident; but by Day 3 we awoke to beautifully decorated trees and garland strewn artistically around balconies, stairways and as window dressing. Final Assessment: In the final analysis, all things considered, these are the grades that I would assign to the Brilliance of the Seas on this particular sailing: Appearance: A+ (Absolutely stunning!) Staff/Service: B+ (Very friendly, courteous and helpful. There were a few service personnel that were more interested in socializing with their fellow crew members than assisting passengers, but overall very accommodating and pleasant. Special kudos go to my assistant waiter Stephano, the group coordinator, Rusti at the Champagne Bar and everyone at the guest relations desk.) Food & Dining: B- (Traditional Dining Venues); A (Specialty Restaurants) Entertainment: B (Production shows weak, but overall quality of entertainment staff was good.) Activities: B (Although there were a variety of options and plenty to do, as this was a Panama Canal cruise more lectures/presentations geared to the unique aspects of this itinerary would have been a pleasant addition for many.) Stateroom: A (Excellent utilization of space and tastefully appointed inside cabin) and ports; interesting and diverse ports.)

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Nov 1, 2004

TransAtlantic

My wife and I just returned from a transatlantic cruise on the Brilliance of the Seas. It is accurately named “brilliance” of the seas. The ship was absolutely beautiful and the service was second to none. We sailed from Barcelona, ported at Alicante & Malaga (Spain) and Lisbon, Portugal. All three cities were interesting in their own way. Alicante offered the least to us of the three, but it was a nice place to visit. We took

a guided tour (walking and bus) in Malaga and found it to be very interesting. We had an excellent tour guide and would like to have had more time there. Lisbon offered a great location to walk and shop. The streets were very inviting for visitors and the shops were welcoming to tourists, even though the language was a barrier. Returning to the ship for the next 7 days at sea, we were overwhelmed by the activities offered on board. There were more things to do than we could participate. A wide variety of activities and interests were included and all were well planned and executed. The crew members that led each activity were very friendly and interesting. The ship was nicely appointed with exquisite furnishings in the public areas. The furnishings included inlaid woods, marble, granite, beautiful artwork, tapestries, leather and other top of the line materials. Much attention had been given to detail. The self-leveling pool tables were a nice feature, especially on the days when the ship was experiencing excessive motion due to the rough seas. Even the seats in the 3 level theater were equipped with air conditioning in the seatbacks. As with previous cruises, the food was delicious. Each dish was tasty and beautifully presented. The service by our head waiter and assistant was excellent. The Seaview Café was a particularly quaint and pleasant place for an afternoon meal. It was somewhat remotely located and offered an ambiance found no place else on the ship. The service in our cabin was excellent. Our steward (Dotsie) was pleasant and very efficient. We would love to repeat this transatlantic cruise in the future or return to this ship for any of its cruise offerings. It was a trip to be remembered!  

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Oct 3, 2004

Western Mediterranean

My partner and I took the October 4th Cruise on Brilliance of the Seas out of Barcelona. We arrived in Barcelona 3 days prior to the cruise and found a nice hotel convenient for both the beach and the main attractions. We thoroughly enjoyed those 3 days in Barcelona. Be prepared to eat late however- most restaurants did not open till after 8pm and it was not unusual for people to be eating well past midnight. Quite a shock to out systems.

We arrived at the Port early, around 11.30am and within 35 minutes we were on board sitting in the lounge with a nice cold drink in our hands. At 1pm our cabin was ready and within an hour our luggage was outside our cabin door. WE had an inside cabin and it was spacious and very comfortable. Lots of storage room and the beds were very comfortable. Given the fact that we seemed to be in the cabin only about 8 hours each night, an inside cabin was more than sufficient and cost effective. The ship is absolutely wonderful. I cannot start to explain the beautiful decorations and lots of open glass. My suggestion is that you will not find anything anyweher much better than this ship. The food in the Main Dining room was o.k. I would say it was about the same as you would receive and expect in the restaurant of a 3/4 star hotel. There was nothing wrong with the food, it was plentiful and there were several choices. Having said that it did lack a little imagination and very little spice....bland would be the word. We ate lunch and breakfast a few times in the Windjammer- lots of variety and very good. We also paid the additional $20 to eat at both of the Theme restuarants. These were excellent...if the food in the main dining room was as good as this- then RCL would be the leader in cuisine. Complaints are few. Having to pay for coffee at the coffee shop and pay for bottles of water and soft drinks was annoying. Nearly everyone we spoke with found this annoying and a bit cheap....most of us agreed that RCL should charge a bit more for the cruise and give these FREE. It is an irritant which they would do well to resolve. The service throughout the ship was nothing short of superb. The ports of call were great and the fact that we were late in the season meant that we actually docked in a few places where we were meant to Tender. That was a GREAT BONUS. This was especially true in Venice where we berthed just a short walk from all the major sights. Let me say, that this was the best vacation we have ever had...and we can strongly recommend this trip to anyone wanting to see Europe and the Med in luxury. WE are now looking for a cruise with more Greek content, so that we can see Turkey and Greece as well as Italy, France and Spain. We are saving our pennies...

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Apr 29, 2004

Mediterranean

"Con te partiro` su navi per mari... (With you, I'll leave on ships for seas...)" as Andrea Bocelli sings, this is exactly what happened: We departed from Miami April 30th, after a slight delay when a routine engine check revealed a wiring oddity; however, we confidently sailed once again in the capable hands of our friend Captain Michael Lachtaridis (Samos, Greece). We had sailed with him last year on the Grandeur of the Seas

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

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Apr 18, 2004

Western Caribbean

On April 19th of 2004, my husband & I took our first cruise with Royal Caribbean, on the Brilliance of the Seas. This was our first with taking a Balcony and we will continue to do so. We were impressed with the service, food, friendliness of the staff, and overall lines. The only bad part, we were seated with a couple, whereby the husband complained about everything, and there was nothing to complain about. WE felt there could have

been more interesting pool games, which the Princess offered. We met so many people from all over, on this cruise, and must have exchanged addresses with at least 6 couples. We will definitely sail with Royal Caribbean again and anyone wishing to ask us further about this ship, please email me.

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Mar 26, 2004

Western Caribbean

Alright, we went on a cruise to the caribbean, the ultimate caribbean 11 night cruise on the Brilliance, hence why im writing the review on it! For starters it was a sweet ship and you really should take a good look on going on it. Getting on the ship wasn't great. My parents had the owners suite and my aunt and uncle had another suite and my cousin and i had a balcony room. So you would think that since we were with people with an

'owners suite' we would get priority going on the ship. They did have a suite line, but it wasnt any good, it was just as long as the regular line. So getting on was not the best. We walked on the ship, tons of glass, very open, and i, along with my peers, were in total 'awe'. The ship is beautiful and by-far the nicest ive been on. The ports were alright, i think they would of been better if we had our heads in the game and booked some excursions before hand and not just gone to the port looking for things to do! Dumb hey? (Haha yes im Canadian!) FOOD: The food on the ship however was the weak point to be quite honest, but dont let one point stop you from a trip of a lifetime. The dinning room was alright, we had dinner there 3 times (My cousin and i) but all 3 times it was pretty good. The windjammer was not great for lunch, breakfast, i mean how can you screw up eggs and bacon??...so obviously that wasnt bad (*note* The hame is really really good!)Dinner, it was very good, they have a pasta bar with a choice of 6 sauces and a bunch of noodles, it was very good every night. One thing NOT to miss. I mean it, especially for the teens with your friends that you will meet on the cruise, go to the Seaview Cafe. It owns! (ill tell more about it later on in the review) CABINS: Our room wasnt great, though it didnt matter, we were never in our room, we woke up at 11, went to bed at like 4 am lol, so we werent in it much. We had 2 little beds, a chair (barely any closet space so that chair was covered in our clothes!) and a tiny bathroom, hes 15 and a monster! (6'5 200ibs) so he had troubles getting in the bathroom cause it was little. My parents room was super awesome. Had a 50 inch flat screen revolving tv, big bathroom with marble vanity, marble shower, and a nice bathtub. Big bed, really big couch (like enough for 10 no jokes) and a couple desks. My aunt and Uncles was nice, lower priced suite, pretty big, you could actually walk in it, not like ours. It had a big bed, nice bathroom, big balcony, and a desk. Environment, and what ages are on the ship: The age of the cruise ship ranges, from young kids, lots of teens, lots of people in the twenties and thirties and lots of families. Some seniors too. It is overall more of a young persons cruise considering theres a band playing american and caribbean music all day long (reggae..sp?, and r&b) my cousin and i must of met 15 of the coolest people around, from all around the world, from the first day, we hung out all day! Literally, the ships new name is 'paradise of the seas'. For all the teens out there, make sure you go to the optix thing for the first day, they just play music and everyone went there and we met em all! Then we hung out in our own places for the rest of the cruise. Every night at about midnight we would go to the Seaview Cafe, have our midnight snack (its open till 130am) and then just chill and talk about things. Then others went to bed, my cousin and i (cousins a huge bball player) so we played every night till i swear 2 30-3 am just talking about whatever was on our minds, what could be better than with a best friend in the caribbean shooting hoops, talking about whatever, on a sweet cruise ship?...i cant think of much better than that. What was also kinda neat was that the crew about 5 of 11 nights would come play with us, because there allowed to go play after certain hours when know one is up. So we played with them a couple times and got to know tons of the crew on the ship. After that, we went to play ping pong for half an hour and drink our hot chocholate before we headed up to our rooms. At this time we were the only ones up on the ship, except for the people in the dance club, which you had to be 21 to get into. So we played ping pong, listening to music and drinking our drinks then went up to bed. Thats what you call good times. POOL: The pool was alright, cold to say the least! The hottub we went in lots and listened to the great band play. It wasn't very hot which made me kinda mad because you had to be 16 to get in the hottub anyways, (we said we were 16, they didnt bother us, i dont really look like a little kid...) and yet its not hot?...and you had to be 18 for the solarium, the actual HOT tub, but we went in anyways at night when there wasnt anyone in. The Solarium pool is really cool aswell, i advice you try that juring sea days or when you have the time. BARS: They have many bars located all around the boat and will serve you whatever kind of drinks you want. For the kids, get the coke cards, there good, they just put a sticker on your key card and you show that and you get a drink. Its like 28 bucks or something and well worth it. Dont even try getting alcohal haha, it doesnt work on this ship! The sports bar was sweet, we watched a full game of soccer (or as the brits say it "Football" or "proper sport!" and what made that cool was it was 2 british teams playing, so all the fans were british! So everytime one of the two teams would score people would go nuts like none other! Its like being in Canada for a playoff game! Overview: In conclusion for this review, even though its long, i felt i gave lots of info anyways. Feel free to email me back if you have any questions and ill get back to you asap! Happy cruising!

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Feb 6, 2004

Caribbean

Having been on the larger, Voyager Class RC ships and more than satisfied, I was greatly disappointed by the selection of food on the Brilliance of the Seas. I mean Meat Loaf as the only thing at a carving station and Cheese Raviolis as the Chef's Special in the Dining Room? The only thing rare about the beef was how often they served it. It was on par with a school cafeteria. No I take that back, at least a cafeteria changes every day.

Embarassing and by weeks end a near mutiny. Thank God for Chops and Portofino, the extra charge restaurants. Service was very good and so was the food prep so its a shame if the service people suffered on tips because of the terrible food selections and very negative reaction from the guests. The quality of selection was as cheap as I have ever seen. Funny (not really) but when I waited for 1/2 hour to get my turn to complain at the Customer Service Desk the response was "Listen, you think the food is bad? You should see what we have to eat". Unreal! Customer Service does not return calls or letters and in one way or another, 3 different travel agents have told me "They are busy and just don't care". Sad. So, as I look to book a group trip for 2005 I cannot get a return call to just tell me this will not happen again. Result? why pay Royal Caribbean prices for Carnival quality? I read a tightening to improve profits and a customer service incapable of handling the problems. At the least, get menu copies upfront, if not for future trips then recent past ones. Most other cruise lines offer them and if RC doesn't I suggest there is a reason why. My advice... stay away from Royal Caribbean. They simply don't care.

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Dec 19, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

This Christmas cruise was my first on Royal Caribbean, and the first ever for my boyfriend Joe (hereafter known as the MI – Melancholy Italian). It took a lot of work on my part to convince him that he would enjoy a cruise, and by the time we got to the airport on the morning of December 19th, I was exhausted from forced perkiness and trying to get all my Christmas preparations done a week early. Luckily our flights were perfect, and

all luggage arrived with us in Miami. We took a cab to the Port Authority ($21), and I was amazed at the Embarkation process – we were on the ship within 20 minutes of getting out of our cab! Royal Caribbean has things beautifully organized; even with 3 security checkpoints we never waited more than a minute. We were in our room by 1:00, and went immediately out to explore the ship. As many other reviewers have noted, the Brilliance is amazingly beautiful. All the public rooms have glass walls, and the whole ship is bright and clean. It was decorated from top to toe with Christmas and Hanukkah decorations; down to live poinsettias in all the restrooms. Everything was spotless, and we happily explored all the lounges, dining rooms, and public areas. We made our reservations for the specialty restaurants (Chops and Portafino), following the wise advice of Tom and Mary Milano from Cruise critics. We were glad we did, since when we tried to add another Chops visit later in the cruise, they were completely booked. We also checked our dining room table (table for 4). I asked for a table for 2, but was told that 4 was the smallest table size they had. This turned out to be a big lie, as I noticed when we went down to dinner for the first formal night. There were several cozy tables for two scattered about, and I was a little unhappy to have been fibbed to. We checked out the gym and spa areas, and I signed up for the specialty classes that all the lines seem to charge for (Pilates and Yoga). They also offered kickboxing and spinning classes, as well as several free ones, like stretching, aerobics, and toning. Of course I picked up the spa list to see what would tempt my cruise card out of my pocket. I signed up for a pedicure and a total massage, an absolutely lovely nearly 2 hours of a full body massage and a facial. More on that later. We were scheduled to leave port at 8:00, so we made dinner reservations for Chops at 8:30. By 7:00, my main bag had still not shown up, and I was getting nervous about having to dine in tennis shoes and blue jeans. Our lovely room steward, Raymond, suggested I check on level 4 where the luggage without tags was stored, and sure enough, there was my poor woebegone bag sitting waiting for its mommy. I snatched it up and wrassled it into an elevator (not an easy task) and got back upstairs. We made it through muster, and then changed and headed down to Chops. I would highly recommend scheduling one of the specialty restaurants for the first night, since the windows let you watch the lights of Miami fade into the night as the ship heads out to sea. It was a beautiful sight! The food was excellent, the MI said the filet was the best he had ever had. Our waitress Maria was a doll, but I was expecting the level of service I had had in the Olympic on the Millennium and was quite disappointed. Both Chops and Portafino were like a nice restaurant on land, nothing like the exquisite tableside service I had received in the Olympic dining room. I missed the waiters in tails, the escort service to the ladies room, the tableside preparation for most dishes, and the leisurely pace of the meal. They did prepare our Caesar salads tableside, but it was just putting the lettuce and croutons in a bowl and pouring on prepared dressing. On the Millennium, the entire dressing was made from scratch, and assembled in front of us. We were out of Chops in a little over an hour, nothing like the almost 3 I had spent happily ensconced in the Olympic. In general, I found the food on the Brilliance a good notch below both the Celebrity ships I have cruised in the past (Millennium and the Century). The dining room service seemed rushed, and the selections and preparations were not as extensive or as lovely as Celebrity. The MI and I did give very high marks to the buffet, however. The Windjammer individual stations made it easy to get what you wanted without having to wait on line, a real pet peeve of the MI. Even the egg stations never had more than a couple of people lined up, and the MI was able to get his beloved egg white omelets every morning without incident. We tried the Windjammer for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and always found the food to be nicely presented, fresh and good. The selections were wonderful, and the cookies were outstanding, I think I ate my share and probably several other people’s as well. I also enjoyed the soft serve ice cream, although there I did have to wait in line behind the 603 children (!) we learned were on the ship. One of the MI’s biggest worries was the number of people on the ship, and I am happy to report that in spite of a full ship and the aforementioned number of children, there were many times that we felt like the ship was ours alone. We could walk from one end to the other and only see a few other passengers, nothing like the swarming hordes he was afraid of. The only time we saw most of the young children was when Santa arrived on Christmas day; otherwise they seemed happy to spend their time in the children’s camp at one end of the ship. There were quite a few teenagers roaming the halls, but for the most part they were well mannered and polite. The layout of the ship made it possible to always find a quiet corner to have a drink in and watch the sea go by. Our Room We had a category E2 cabin with verandah, booked through Online Vacations with American Express. We had paid for an E3 cabin, and were upgraded free to an E2 (just a higher floor, it seemed). The MI was surprised by the small size of the cabin, but I was prepared, having had a similar cabin on the Millennium. He had doubted the need for the verandah, but was a convert in about 2 minutes. I was delighted at all the storage, the large closet split down the middle with deep shelves was plenty large enough for all my evening dresses, shoes and other essentials (not an easy task). There were also plenty of drawers in the desk on both sides for socks, underwear and bathing suits, and 2 small drawers in the nightstands for anything else. All suitcases fit easily under the bed; and the bed’s rounded corners made it easy to get around when heading out for the verandah. The bathroom was small, but again had fabulous storage, a long shelf under the sink, a nice sized counter, and a huge cabinet behind the left side mirror. Another plus was that the arrangement of the mirrors in the bathroom and in the main room allowed you to see the back of your hair and dress with no problems! This wasn’t much of a plus to the MI, but I loved it. The shower, however, was very small, and the fabric curtain did a poor job of keeping the water in the shower stall. I flooded the bathroom every time I showered. I’m small (5’4”) and I felt very cramped in the shower; I can’t imagine how anyone 6’ or taller would manage. I couldn’t even bend over to shave my legs, there literally wasn’t room. Other than those couple of minor complaints, the room was lovely and very well designed. Our room steward kept it immaculate, and we hardly ever saw him. Ports of Call We stopped the first day in Nassau, Bahamas. The weather was sunny and cool (60’s) so we took a cab ($8 for 2 people) to Atlantis to see the sights. The driver was very entertaining and articulate with his block by block description of down town Nassau. He made it seem like a guided tour. We didn’t pay the $25 charge to get full access to Atlantis, since it was too cool to use the beach. The free aquarium was amazing, and so large I can’t even imagine how much bigger the other one was. The hotel was beautiful, and we enjoyed walking around. We had no problem finding cabs either on the way there or on the way back, so it made a pleasant way to spend the morning, and since we were only in port from 7:00 am to 2:00 pm, there really wasn’t time to do much more. 2nd day was a sea day, which we enjoyed. I spent a lot of time on this trip in the beautiful Solarium, both for its peaceful atmosphere and its childfree environment! There were two “family” times a day in the Solarium but otherwise it was off limits to children under 16. It’s a beautiful space, covered so it was always warm, with a wonderful waterfall that made a very soothing and restful noise. There is a salt-water pool and a Jacuzzi, and plenty of chairs, both facing the pool and facing outward towards the sea. There is also a little café and a bar, so you pretty much have everything you need. And, at regular intervals, a wonderfully scented cooling mist rolls out of the waterfall and over all the loungers relaxing poolside! It was my favorite place on the ship. The MI decided to try a little gaming in the on board casino. The blackjack tables’ bet minimum and maximum were $5 and $100 respectively. Same for the craps and Caribbean stud poker tables. This is in line with mid level casinos in Las Vegas. The critical element for him was the dealer demeanor. The MI was not on a Vegas junket and this was not a gaming vacation for him, he was just passing time at the tables as recreation while having a drink. The dealers however were dealing cards at lightening speed rivaled only by the top casino dealers in Vegas. One dealer in particular would frequently fumble and drop cards on the floor due to his crisis like urgency. It made it look like he was trying hard to be better than he was. Since there was almost always a seat available at the tables the MI felt that this level of dealing was inappropriate for a cruise ship casino. The casino’s volume simply didn’t justify it and gosh; aren’t we all here to just have some fun? The casino will get your money all in good time anyway. That evening was my massage, which was scheduled for 5:30. I got a call about 4:00 moving my appointment back to 6:15, which made it impossible for us to make our 8:30 dinner that evening in the main dining room. But it certainly didn’t make me enjoy the massage less – we just ordered room service that night. The massage was lovely, but I do find that shipboard massages are less therapeutic and gentler than the massages I get at home. I suppose they are trying to appeal to a broader base, but I have some problems with my shoulder, and prefer a firmer, deeper tissue massage. The facial was also lovely, but the young lady informed me that my skin was “Fed up” with my current skin care regime, and I would need to purchase about $500 of new products to fix the problem. We negotiated briefly, and I was able to escape with only 3 new items. The sales pitch is never fun, but she did a good job, and the products I did purchase are lovely. The 3rd day we docked in St. Martin promptly at noon. I had my pedicure at 8:00, and it was well worth the money. I got a wonderful massage, and my toes looked like little jewels by the time she was done. She also didn’t try and sell me anything, so I tipped her a bit extra. The weather was warm and sunny, and I’ve never seen so many butterflies in my life. As soon as we docked, they began fluttering around our balcony, and the bushes and hills were full of them. The MI and I headed off the ship, and found a van to Orient Beach for $5 each (up to $9 each if you are the only ones in the vehicle). Orient Beach was glorious, and we had no problem finding chairs and an umbrella to rent. We just strode up to the nearest empty set, and within 2 minutes a gentleman appeared to collect our $15 for two chairs and umbrella. There were a few vendors walking the beach, but they were very polite and not pushy at all. In back of the beach was an area of little restaurants, rest rooms, and shops, so it was a very relaxing beach experience. I proceeded to take my leisurely walk down the beach and although I was aware of it ahead of time, I had put out of my mind that this was a “clothing optional facility”. I was sobered immediately to say the least when I came upon a rather elderly gentleman strolling along in his birthday suite. This sparked my return to the chairs where the MI (who had not forgotten about the “rules”) was certainly enjoying the sights (you see, the MI may be melancholy but he’s not dead). After a couple of hours, we caught a cab back to town for shopping. The cab driver for our trip back was even more colorful than the one in Nassau. He delightfully pointed out that a woman smiling in the stopped car next to us was his “ex” who had shot him in the groin about a year and a half ago. This made the MI nervous but slightly amused. The town wasn’t nearly as large or nice an area as in St. Thomas, but the prices were excellent, especially for liquor and resort wear. The MI purchased several cigars to enjoy on the balcony, and 3 tropical shirts for $20, which appeared to be the highlight of his trip so far. We were able to walk back to the ship, a little over a mile, and made it back in plenty of time before we left at about 7:00 pm. We had dinner that night in Portafinos and had a lovely meal. I love Italian food, and had the broiled lobster tail, the MI enjoyed his garlic shrimp in truffle oil. The deserts were the highlight, my tiramisu was served in a little chocolate cup with chocolate garnishes, and I was delighted. Day 4 was Puerto Rico, and unfortunately, customs day. We were in port from 7-2 again, but couldn’t disembark until about 10:00 when everyone finally made it through customs. There was a good deal of the dreaded “Waiting on Line”, but the MI survived, and we headed off the ship to wander around Old San Juan. It was very hot (high 80’s) and sunny, so the narrow shaded streets felt good. We visited the Butterfly People, which I highly recommend. They have the most fantastic butterfly collections beautifully mounted in Lucite (www.butterflypeople.com) and I purchased a beautiful Indian butterfly as a gift for only $25. We also bought some liquor to take home, since they did take it from us when we got back on the ship and delivered it to us on the last day. The MI was a little disappointed at the short amount of time spent on San Juan and Nassau. We were only there from 7-2, and by the time you had breakfast and got off the ship you only had a couple of hours to enjoy the ports. Day 5 was Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private island off the coast of Haiti. The island was beautiful, very mountainous with beaches on both sides. The tenders were fantastic, large and comfortable, and we were ashore in just a few minutes. Beach attendants set us up in the shade in comfortable chairs, and I headed off for beach yoga – well worth the $10 charge. I’m a dedicated yogi, and had been disappointed to find only 2 yoga classes scheduled for the entire week, but doing yoga on the beach almost made up for the scarcity of classes. When I got back, it was time for lunch, and we headed to one of the picnic areas for a great barbecue lunch (ribs, hamburgers, hotdogs). We steered away from the “Artists Market”, the people were very aggressive and the goods didn’t look like anything special. The only drawback of Labadee was the beach on the north side of the island. I have never seen a filthier beach in my life! An area was roped off for swimming, but you couldn’t have paid me to get in that water. The beach was littered with all kinds of garbage, from bottles to old shoes, and after a short walk I was so disgusted I headed inland to walk back. Since Royal Caribbean owns the island, there is no reason they couldn’t have had the beach cleaned up before we docked. It was a real sour note, and almost spoiled the day for me, since beach walking is my favorite thing to do on an island. The beaches on the other side that faced Haiti were immaculate, so it was just the Atlantic side that needed attention. Day 6 was another restful sea day, and we puttered around, packing and revisiting our favorite places to take photos. It was also Christmas day, and after Raymond cleaned our room, we found a wonderful Royal Caribbean rolling suitcase as a Christmas gift, complete with a smaller bathroom case inside! Even better, at about 10:00. our captain came over the loud speaker to announce that Santa and his reindeer had been sighted, and would be landing on our ship shortly! All children (and childish adults) were requested to go to the main atrium and await his arrival. We headed right down, and sure enough, within a few minutes we spotted the man himself descending down the glass elevator. The crowd went wild, and he was quickly settled into a big chair and surrounded by his 4 elves. Apparently the reindeer were being fed and watered on the upper deck. He had a wrapped gift for every one of the 603 children on board, up to age 17! It was lots of fun, and a really nice touch. We were in port right on time on Day 7, and had a quick breakfast at the Windjammer before we headed down to the public areas to wait until our color was called. We had notified them that we had a flight out before 2:00, so we were in the second group to disembark. Customs went smoothly, and we were looking for a cab in about 30 minutes once we retrieved our luggage from a carousel similar to the airport. Much nicer than the Celebrity jumble of bags in one big room! All in all, it was a fabulous cruise. The Brilliance was so beautiful, and the staff couldn’t have been nicer or more attentive. We tried most of the lounges and restaurants, and enjoyed everything. Even the MI had a splendid time, although he did admit that on a future cruise, he would probably buck up for a suite. The rooms are small, but it didn’t hamper our enjoyment (at least mine) any. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me. Happy cruising!

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Nov 24, 2003

Royal Caribbean Cancellation Policies

This review has to do with how absolutely wonderful Royal Caribbean customer service was when I had to cancel an 11 day cruise, just two days before scheduled boarding due to a medical emergency regarding my wife. When I called customer service to notify them of the trip cancellation they were extremely understanding and accommodating. Even though I did not have trip insurance, they offered me a coupon for another cruise crediting me with

%75 of my cruise fare, or another booking on a 11 day cruise without penalty. I was and am absolutely astonished with the wonderful treatment I received. I have taken more then twenty cruises on numerous cruise lines in the past 25 years, and nothing a cruise line has done for me matches this response. Royal Caribbean will now have me as a loyal customer for as long as my wife and I can cruise.

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Feb 24, 2003

Southern Caribbean

Pack for Success Our holiday began with a cross continent journey on Star Alliance partners Air Canada and United Airlines. The air journey was fine but one of our suitcases never made it to Miami at the same time that we did. This is a good lesson; pack as if one of your suitcases won’t make it. We didn’t. Maybe you will! The Long-Line Shuffle Royal Caribbean insured that our 11-day cruise vacation lived up to their motto “like

no vacation on earth”. Trouble is, the Earth component is part of the vacation on which RC can use some tutoring. The check-in process is a clumsy variation on Disney line-ups. Rather than sending the first person in the queue to the next available agent, RC stacks people from the end of the queue behind busy agents. Tough luck if you’re behind an agent taking a long time to process guests. Bizarre Baggage Returns Part Two of land-based issues plaguing Royal Caribbean is their unwieldy baggage retrieval process, once the cruise is complete. We were part of a group that included at least a dozen “Early Debarkation” cruisers who waited almost 2 hours for our bags. Whatever RC’s process problems are, they are being downloaded to their guests. One frustrated “Early Debarker” mused that had he known the frustrations of RC’s baggage retrieval process, he wouldn’t have given such a glowing cruise review on his comment card. A Quintessential Museum of Urban Art This was our tenth cruise, and the first on the Royal Caribbean line. We were wide eyed and google mouthed over the magnificence of this enormous ship. Truly a masterpiece at sea, the Brilliance is a result of a four-year construction process. The architecture inside the ship is simply stunning! The attention to detail is breathtaking. The urban art theme onboard is manifest by towering whimsical sculptures, inspired photography, and an eclectic medium of funky contemporary art. What a Stateroom! We prefer staterooms that are sandwiched between other staterooms as opposed to being above, below, or beside public rooms or decks. On the Brilliance of the Seas, the two stateroom decks that most appeal to us are deck 3 and deck 9. Our lovely Deck 3 ocean-view stateroom’s amenities included a large comfortable bed, ample storage, an efficient bar fridge, a comfy sofa, generous lighting, and inspirational artwork. The Calorie Neutralizer The fitness centre on the Brilliance is better than the one we belong to at home! There are about 15 treadmills, about 8 elliptical machines, recumbent bikes, plenty of resistance equipment, barbells, benches and a large compliment of dumbbells. A big hardwood gym floor used for aerobics and other fitness activities surrounds this well maintained equipment. Regrettably, RC charges extra for some of the fitness activities led by a trainer, though all the other fitness amenities are included at no additional cost. Without exception, before breakfast each day we climbed the stairs from our Deck 3 cabin to Deck 12’s Ship Shape fitness centre and spent 60 minutes working-out. Setting our metabolic clock for the day, so to speak. My complete participation in the program is a testimony to my wife’s keen persuasive skills! Good thing; as we arrived home in as good or better shape than when we left. That’s no small wonder, given the chefs’ delicious food available in reckless abundance! Excellent Service We enjoyed leisurely outdoor breakfasts and lunches from the Windjammer Café. In the evening dined in the crowded Minstrel Dining Room at a table for ten with couples from Scotland, South Carolina, Illinois, and yours truly from Canada. We only hope that the others enjoyed our company as much as we enjoyed theirs. The food was fine, though the service from Murat and Elesio was even better. Don’t Bite Royal Caribbean offers a prepaid cocktail card that I bought, though I don’t recommend it to other cruisers. On two occasions, my single glass of Merlot with dinner was punched twice. The first time I brought it to the server’s attention and it was corrected, though I let it pass the second time. In the future, if I choose to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, I’d use my SeaPass card and simply sign for every glass. The saving on the cocktail card is minimal anyhow. Poolside We spent many afternoons by the main pool on the 11th deck. The pool is well designed to cool a body from the heat of the Caribbean sun. The pool Band energized guests and those who weren’t on the floor dancing were wagging their toes over the edge of their lounge chairs. The poolside beverage servers were present but not a pain in the butt. The Entertainers The nighttime entertainment in the Pacifica Theatre was pretty good. We particularly enjoyed Two Funny Guys, a pair of very funny comedians (you had to be there) and the singing quartet, The Diamonds who wore bright red blazers and performed all their hits including Silhouettes on the Shade, and Why Do Fools Fall in Love? The Crew Review The crew of the Brilliance seems pleasant and cheerful. My guess is that they’re treated with respect and it shows. We once cruised with a crew that seemed sullen and resentful. What a drag! Not so on the Brilliance. The Captain has crafted a working environment that has led to an inspired crew and satisfied guests. “Like no vacation on earth” They’ve certainly got that right! Now, it’s time to bring RC’s land-based operations up to speed with those of the sea.

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Jan 13, 2003

11-night Ultimate Caribbean

RCI Brilliance of the Sea 11-night Ultimate Caribbean 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 to 5-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 Price line 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 polo 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-on 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 noon ish, 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 (A) 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 décor 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 décor 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 décor of Portofino. Chops reminded me of a Ruth Chris in décor 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 Café. 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 décor 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 décor 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 Café 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 entrée portion of the menu. Sometimes you will say that is not healthy and that is true. The difference is normally they serve the entrée 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 soufflé 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 Café 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. SPECIALTY RESTAURANTS: 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 Entrée 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 entrée, you ordered sides that were family style and served several people. They offered bake potato, home fired potatoes with sautéed onions, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, steamed asparagus, sautéed 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. PORTOFINO: 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 (B+) 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 Port

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Dec 23, 2002

Southern Caribbean

My family went on the Dec 23rd, 2002 11 night cruise from Miami. I would definitely go on this cruise again, as long as it’s during the holiday season, where people my age will be going I'm 20) I heard that the cruise before the one I went on, the average age was late 60's. I thought the Brilliance is a great cruise!! Its' great for teens and people under 30 only during holiday season, otherwise its more of a retire cruise! The only

problem was the food in the dining room! The dining room food was awful , and very VERY SLOW service…(We didn’t get out the first night until 12:00AM…we started at 7:30pm)My family and I ended up going to the Windjammer Cafe for dinner instead as it was sooo much better! It was well organized with different stations for different types of food! They had every morning a station where they can make you any type of omelet, and during lunch an dinner they always had something like a stir fry they make you with choices of tofu, chicken, beef…etc They even had sushi! Oh, and during lunch, they have these amazing spinach noodle wraps where you can put turkey or chicken or just vegetable in it…they make you it right on the spot with whatever you want! The desserts there are GREAT! The staff there was very friendly. The kids on the boat obviously looked like they we’re having a blast! The kids’ staff on board really made sure all the kids had fun. There was even a club for teens there until 11pm…and their strict rule of 18 and older for the adult club was highly appreciated! At the beginning of the cruise, it wasn’t too much into effect, but soon after everything was good! I wouldn’t worry about this though unless you’re on a cruise during the holiday season. I would recommend going off on the islands yourself, and exploring them by renting jeeps, since the islands aren’t so big. There’s soo much more to see in Cozumel, Mexico and Jamaica etc… then just the waterfalls. At Cozumel, I would recommend renting a jeep, and asking someone how to get to this restaurant called “Coconuts” …It’s got great food, and you’ll love the backdrop!! The beautiful turquoise ocean is right in front of you while you’re eating…makes great pictures! At Aruba, we did the jeep tour there…it was a lot of fun!!! DEFINITELY worth the money! Just make sure that you know how to drive a standard car…As long as you know the basics of a standard car, you should be fine…I only drove standard once…and it sure made the trip very interesting!!...and loads of fun! There are 2 automatics however, in case you don’t know how to drive standard. In Aruba, your there till 12:30AM…I don’t know if it was because it was close to new years eve (1 day before), but there were loud noises ( and when I mean loud, I mean like as if an explosion happens literally right in front of your face,) going on during our dinner there. It was nothing to worry about, but being tourists, we did have the urge to duck under our table! At night, EVERYBODY goes to Carlos And Charles! It’s a great club/bar/pub that you should definitely try! They’ve got contests, and fun little games that they play with everybody!! They literally got everybody in that place (it was packed solid…2 floors) sitting down on the floor…They wouldn’t put any music on until the whole place sat down!...It was quite amusing! Curacao was a beautiful place, but not too much to do. We heard those bomb noises there again; however it sounded more like shotguns going off non-stop for about 2-3 minutes each time. We later found out, because that day was new years eve, once a company closes down that day, they light firecrackers in spirit of new years!...I just wish that the cruise line would have told us this ahead of time so you don’t get the urge to run for your life! They had this Chocolate buffet one of the nights, and let me tell you, the wait is worth it!...you’ll find EVERYTHING there…but make sure if you like the chocolate covered strawberries, run for them! They go very fast! One more thing... Petrofina's and Chops Grille are great places, and definitely worth the 20 dollars you pay for it!... Murder mystery night at Portofino's was a lot of fun as well...you get to meet some of the actors that play in the show! REALLY listen to the story though….It’s a tricky ending…but I seemed to get the answer right...Oh, and yes…there is a reward for the people who answer the right question! Chops Grille was great as well, as long as you aren’t a vegetarian like I am!... But the cheesecake there is beyond amazing!!! Hope this review helps a little bit!

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Dec 23, 2002

Southern Caribbean

My wife and I, along with our two sons (ages 22 and 18) and my wife's parents were on the 11-Day Circle the Caribbean cruise from December 23rd and returned on January 3rd, 2003. This was the 7th cruise for my wife and I with others being on Carnival and NCL over 20 years ago and RCCL Severeign, Dolphin's SeaBreeze, and Celebrity's Century in the past 5 years. The Brilliance is truly the most beautiful ship we have been on, including

the Century. There is so much glass that you can almost always see the water. And, the colors and decorating are very classy and understated for the most part. We had a balcony cabin on deck 7 that adjoined our sons room and my wife parent's room was next door. EMBARKATION We arrived at the Port of Miami around 11:45AM, dropped off luggage and then parked in the garage ($10 per day). We were told the wrong gate to go to and had a long walk. Waited in line to check in for about 25 minutes, then got our photo and were on board by 1:00PM. The Windjammer Cafe was open for a buffet and we had the afternoon to explore. CABIN Since it was Christmas, we brought a small tree and decorated it for the cabin. The cabin is very nicely appointed and around 180 square feet not counting the balcony. The lifeboats were on the deck below us and covered by a large white cover that went our approxmiately 8 to 10 feet from our balcony. Therefore, we could not look direcly down at the water. The balcony, like many of the outdoor decks, was covered in a rubbery surface that always seemed wet. The cabins include a TV, refrigerator (Mini Bar), hair dryer, safe, and good closed space. They also had very nice reading lamps while in bed. PUBLIC AREAS The ship was decorated for Christmas and had many trees, greenery and poinsettias around. On Christmas, the Captain, crew and many staff joined passengers in the Centrum to sing Christmas caroles. On Christmas morning, Santa and his elves paraded from the top deck down to the Centrum and gave wrapped gifts to each child. They also had their photos made with Santa. RCCL had also provided each cabin a very nice rolling picnic cooler as a Christmas gift which was a nice touch. All public areas were beautiful. The Colony Club is a very nice area as was the Pacifica Theatre which is large and was rarely crowded on our cruise. The most beautiful area was the Solarium with the pool, hot tub, greenery, and elephant statues. There was also a pizza stand that was open all afternoon and a bar. The two-story Minstrel Dining Room was is even more beautiful than the dining room on the Century. There are many big tables for 10 to 12 so it may be hard to get a small table. We were at a table for six. FOOD The food was okay in the dining room but not quite as good as The Century. The desserts were usually very good. On Christmas Day, they had a traditional turkey and dressing entree. The Windjammer is a nice informal restaurant near the top with lots of glass. It is open for breakfast, lunch and many evenings for dinner. It is designed really well with many different food stations so there were hardly ever any lines. Breakfast was good and the same foods most mornings. Lunch included hot foods along with burgers, hot dogs, pizza, salads, and more. They also had really good cookies, desserts and soft serve at the back of the Windjammer. We also ate several times at lunch and late night at the Seaview Cafe. It is hard to find but they have cooked to order sandwiches, chicken wings and fingers, and more. The Cuban and Reuben sandwiches were very good. The Seaview is very small but was usually not crowded. Our sons ordered room service on many late nights and found the service quick. We ordered only once late night and the servcie was also quick. The menu is fairly limited and the food is okay. We did not eat in either of the two specialty restaurants which cost $20 per person. If you like Midnight buffets this is not the cruise line for you. They had a Chocoholic buffet one evening but the lines were long and we did not go. They also had one or two other buffets that again we did not attend. However, they are supposed to have something called "Gourmet Bites" in lounges on the evenings they do not have a buffet. However, we went several times and never saw any food or evidence that any food was ever there. ENTERTAINMENT Music reviews by the RCCL Singers and Dancers were excellent. There were a couple of comedians, jugglers, and a group called the Guises that were good. We had two name entertainers on the cruise. First, the 60's band The Happenings ("See You in September" and "I got Rhythm") performed and put on a very entertaining show. John Davidson performed on New Years night and was disappointed in the show. He does cheesy bits and very little singing. He was apparently on the entire cruise because we saw him on several occasions. Disco was good, especially on 70's night for us old folks. They had music every evening from 6 to midnight in the Centrum lounge, a band in the Colony Club and piano bar in the Schooner Bar. Karaoke was in the small Hollywood lounge on deck 12. They have a small but nice cinema and say they have "first run" movies. However, they played the same movies on TV that were in the theatre and they were NOT first run or even close. SERVICE Service was excellent. Our dining room waiter was Angel and Alex was his assistant. Both were from the Philipines. Josep, from Croatia, was the headwaiter and was extremely attentive and visited with us most evenings. Our cabin steward was Hussan from Indonesia. He was efficient and personable and left towel animals on several evenings. The lounge service was slow and the drinks cost entirely too much. DEBARKATION Took longer than other cruises we have been on but this is our first since 9/11. Everyone now must go through customs so it takes longer than in the past. MISC The ship movement was noticeable on many occasions but it may have been due to the time of year. The seas were typically rough and it was so windy during the evening that you could hardly be on deck. On sea days, of which we had 4, deck chairs were at a premium because there seemed to be more teenagers and children due to Christmas. And, yes people saved chairs. OVERALL This was a wonderful ship and cruise and would recommend it to anyone. Even though the food is average, the ship is spectacular and the service good. And, after an 11-day cruise it may be hard to go back to a 7-day.

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Nov 22, 2002

Western Caribbean

Cruise was fine, but we were not allowed off the ship in time to get to the airport- even though we paid extra for RC to book our flights and transfers. At the airport, we waited a full 24 hours on standby before we got home. Repeated phone calls to RC, only to be told that it wasn't their problem. I guess once they have your money they are through with you! Thanks to American Airlines, anyway, for finding us rooms in Miami. ______________________________________

(Editor's Note: After 9/11 it is not uncommon for disembarkation to be delayed. Your best bet is to book a later flight and always obtain your own air as the cruise lines do not guarantee anything.)

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Nov 20, 2002

Western Caribbean

My best friend and I sailed for our first time last year on the Monarch of the Seas. This year we decided to go all out and book a cruise on the newest Royal Caribbean, Brilliance of the Seas for 10 days going to Cozumel, Aruba, Curacoa, Grand Cayman, and Ochos Rios. The ship itself was beautiful and our room was an inside stateroom and it was spacious. We could walk around the room without bumping into each other which was not the case

on the Monarch. The theatre was immense but we really didn't care for the shows because they were more geared towards an older crowd. After you have seen the Lion King, Madame Butterfly or Cats everything else is just a let down. The performers were very enthusiastic about their work and they did a variety of different shows throughout the trip. The ships lounges and bars impressed us much more than the shows. The had a bar for every fancy you could imagine, Karaoke, Piano, a rocking Disco. The disco had a revolving bar and they had a 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's night. The ships activates were numerous and varied for our days at sea. The spa and gym were state of the art and if you could afford it you could get just about any kind of spa treatment under the sun. However the minimum for a treatment was 100.00 which paid for a 10 minute facial and neck rub. The spa also offered beauty classes on a variety of topics that were free but they main purpose was to sell you their services or products. The aerobics instructors at the gym were fantastic. They offered classes from Spinning to Yoga, you name it they had a class for it. After all the food you will eat a work out is well needed. The restaurants on board were a delectable treat. We were so impressed with the Italian Bistro and Steakery which were so worth the 20.00 the charged for dinner. I have never had better service or food in my life! The main dining room had good food but the pay dining was 10 times better. There were several nights where we just didn't like anything on the main dining menu so we went to the alternative dining and had our every whim catered too. I really want to review our day trips because these can make or break your cruising experience. The trip I would not recommend that was highly recommended by our cruise agent was in Aruba at DePalm Island. They had an all you could eat barbeque style lunch and free Arubian Beer (which is nasty). Neither myself nor my friend liked anything they were saving. The island itself had a barricaded wall around its shores so you could not take a swim in the 100 degree weather. The snorkeling was in 2-3 foot of water and neither of us wanted coral critters living in our flesh from bumping the coral so we didn't attempt snorkeling. It was quite a let down because we had heard so much about the beautiful beaches of Aruba and we did not get to see them on this tour. A tour you must do at Aruba is the Kukukanoo Bar Hop. It was the funniest thing I ever did in my life. You board an open air bus lined with maracas and your tour guide escorts you to 3 of Aruba's night life spots. You sing and dance the night away. The trip consists of a stop at a lighthouse for a champagne toast then to dinner at an outdoor mansion (fabulous food), then to 3 bars. The bus drivers and bus party girls made sure everyone had a great time. The last bar was Carlos and Charles and it was wild. If you are young or young at heart you have to stop at Carlos and Charles. People dance right on the tables. I have been to clubs all over the United States and nothing compared to this experience. Leave your inhibitions at the door! When I go back to Aruba I will book this tour again and again. The other day tour we didn't enjoy was the Grand Cayman Combo tour that took us out to snorkel then to the sting ray city. The sting rays were very intimidating because they come right up to you (their huge) and you could not admire them from afar. The snorkeling was choppy and everyone was excited to see a moray eel and shark but we later found out that these are both signs of a bad snorkeling spot. The islanders told us you do not want to see these two things at a snorkel sight. The trip ended up at a very beautiful beach where lunch was served but we had missed all the good sun rays. We wished we could have been at this beach all day long instead of out at Sting Ray City. In Ochos Rios we took a champagne yacht cruise to the falls and we loved the yacht so much we never even got off the boat. I can not remember the tours name but it is the only champagne yacht tour listed. The yacht was beautiful and the staff waited on you hand and foot. I did get off the boat briefly to snorkel but I enjoyed my spot on the bow so much I spent my entire day there drinking Red Stripe Beer, which was free all you could drink. I had a fabulous time shopping in Jamaica after of yacht ride was through. The islanders waited on me hand and foot and I told them what I wanted to buy and they took me exactly where I needed to go to get it. Jewelry shoppers be sure to barter with the clerks because we were able to get the prices down by a couple of hundred dollars every time. Jamaica's people were very friendly and me and my friend are beautiful blondes and no one bothered us. I spent tons of money in Jamaica and had the best time shopping there. A quick shopping review seems appropriate because we are pro shoppers and on every island we shopped till we dropped. Cozumel was awful. The street venders hounded you to no avail and they were at every store. We could not relax and spend our money there even though the items were very cheap. Grand Cayman had good shopping as far as make-up and perfume goes but jewelry was expensive there and the retailers did not barter. Aruba was experiencing roaming power outages while we were there so shopping in 100 degrees weather with no air conditioning was horrible. We walked what seemed to be miles to buy some exclusive perfume only sold in Aruba to find we didn't like the smell for 100.00 a bottle. You can get any fragrance you want on most of the islands so spending 50.00 more for an exclusive fragrance hardly seemed worth it. Shopping was expensive all over Aruba. Their was a ship director who had a seminar everyday before you entered port to tell you all about the shopping on each island. We went to everyone of her seminars to find out the best buys, what a job she had! In Curaco we took a boat to the beach and laid out all day in the sun. There beaches were the best on this cruise! The last day trip I have to review was in Cozumel. I do not know the name of the boat but it was white with a rainbow across the back and it was a snorkel & glass bottom boat tour. The snorkeling in Cozumel was breath taking. Their were tons of fish and coral formations and it was deep water (25 Ft) so you could swim all over and enjoy. The glass bottom boat was o.k. but choppy and the diesel fumes made my friend sick. This day trip made up for the poor shopping experience. I would highly recommend the Brilliance of the Seas but the island itineraries of the Western Caribbean were not as exciting as our last cruise to the Eastern Caribbean. This year I am going on the brand new Carnival Spirit for a 14 day Panama Canal cruise so I will write a ship by ship comparison afterwards. I am curious to see if there is much difference in cruising Royal Caribbean and Carnival.

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Nov 11, 2002

Southern Caribbean

Easily lured to the sea, a call from a former cruise companion convinced us the Brilliance of the Seas would be an ideal venue for sailing again with her and other past shipmates. A hectic period prior to this adventure did not allow enough time for our pre cruise routine of reading guidebooks and travelogues, listening to local music and sampling native recipes. We relied on memory and intuition to guide us to Caribbean sights, sounds

and cuisine. Miami, Florida Sunny and warm, Miami offered a welcome retreat from a cool mid-Atlantic autumn. The Inter-Continental Hotel was our weekend home. What a surprise upon entering our room to see before us the lovely Brilliance of the Seas glistening gold in the reflective light of the setting sun. Dwarfed by the Explorer of the Seas, we watched as she set sail for a two-night cruise to nowhere before returning to Miami for our Circle the Caribbean voyage. A balmy Saturday evening beckoned us to Bayside Market Place, where we settled into an outdoor table at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company Restaurant and Market (http://www.bubbagump.com/). Yes, we veered from our normal dining pattern by succumbing to this chain. However, frosty mugs of Sam Adams and comforting drunken shrimp and Cajun sausage with mounds of country-style garlic mashed potatoes were perfect choices for two very tired and hungry travelers. We were treated on Sunday morning to warm and flaky, made-to-order croissants at Le Café (http://www.baysidemarketplace.com/go/restdetail.cfm?MallID=163&StoreID=2137018974). With fresh squeezed orange juice and steaming cups of café au lait, we were transported to Paris. Thus fortified, Lincoln Road Mall was our next stop. The antique and farmers’ markets extended for blocks. One was amazed by endless selections of enormous and inexpensive fruit and vegetables. Our kitchen begged. We were enticed by the unfamiliar stone crab and were soon seated al fresco at South Beach Stone Crab Restaurant (http://southbeachstonecrab.com/). Here the very trendy Lincoln Road procession passed by as we enjoyed a luncheon special of oysters on the half shell. We started with a delicious dozen and before long learned they were from our own Chesapeake Bay. Stone crab followed. Simply boiled, chilled, cracked and served with a mustard sauce, these claws were exceptional. Creamed garlic spinach was just the right accompaniment. We will never again be satisfied with Maryland blues or Alaskan kings. We shared a second platter of jumbos before rolling back out onto the street. Timothy – the owner – was there to offer tips and advice on enjoying this delicacy. Shortly, he will be opening a new South Beach Stone Crab Restaurant at the Las Vegas Venetian. Ocean Drive presented an interesting diversion. Here one marveled at the Art Deco buildings and the broad expanse of beautiful white beach. After a brief pause at a colossal sand castle, which included a reproduction of the Eiffel Tower, Ocean’s Ten Restaurant at the Edison Hotel (http://edison-hotel.com/dining/) was chosen for our afternoon beverage break. This outdoor retreat surrounds a small swimming pool. We were astonished when a nearby patron slid into the water for a few impromptu laps, while a bespectacled canine observed the scene from the flat bed of a passing pickup truck. Notwithstanding the day’s eating frenzy, dinner awaited us at Lombardi’s Ristorante (http://www.lombardisrestaurants.com/locations/miami/index.shtml). The oven hot focaccia and mixed green salads wetted appetites for the subsequent risotto di mare. This luscious dish was heaped with melt-in-the-mouth calamari, mussels, shrimp and baby scallops. A long stroll back to the hotel through Bayside Park was enhanced by the spirited Latin sounds of the Bryan Gonzalez Grupo Milenio at the Bayside Arena Stage. Brilliance of the Seas We awoke Monday to discover the Brilliance of the Seas once again in port. We departed early for the pier and found the embarkation process at the Crown and Anchor lounge to be quick and efficient – 20 minutes from curbside to cabin. A beautiful addition to the Royal Caribbean fleet, Brilliance of the Seas has many of the design features of the Radiance of the Seas, making orientation easy for us. We were particularly taken by her artwork. The Centrum sculpture – “Spiral Light” by Warren Seelig and Sheryl Gibson - was intriguing with an evening play of colorful illumination against its sweeping coil of ethereal steel mesh. Other noteworthy pieces included “The Minstrels’ Gallery” in the Minstrel Dining Room, “Spoons” in Latte-tude Coffee Bar, the Pacifica Theater curtain – “Inferno,” the Schooner Bar’s “Wyoming” and “Prussian” model ships, “Light Strokes” at the Pool Deck, the Solarium’s “Baby Elephant,” and “The Seagull has Landed” at the entrance to the miniature golf course. Greeting us upon arrival, our cabin attendant, Budi (Indonesia), was friendly and efficient throughout the voyage. His individual way of keeping the cabin comfortable and sparkling clean made the 204-square foot stateroom appear palatial. It was with great anticipation that we awaited our reunion with Rusty (Philippines) in the Champagne Bar. We met Rusty aboard the Radiance of the Seas in 2001, where this mixologist extraordinaire won us over with his bartending skills and amiable personality. We were delighted to be sailing with him again and quite impressed that so many months later he still remembered us by name and our drinks of choice. He and his assistant, Frieda (Chile), welcomed us warmly every evening to their cozy hideaway. Traveling with a Danish friend, her family and a couple from Louisiana, our group of ten had cross referenced our reservations to enable us to dine together at the same table. We had also requested a specific table in the dining room and were deeply disappointed to know we could not have it on this sailing. Yet, we were together, and for that we were thankful. Our table in the Minstrel Dining Room presented unique challenges for our servers. We were blessed with Farouk (head waiter – Turkey), Sonia (waitress – Brazil) and Carolina (assistant waitress – Chile), who all handled well the gratuitous and recurrent criticism of a hospitality specialist among our dining companions. It was awkward for us to witness his treatment of our very qualified and professional servers. How embarrassed we were to learn our table was a topic of conversation among dining room staff. Bryce Clarke – Dining Room Manager – finally intervened. A private meeting with Leigh Hesling – Executive Chef – was scheduled for our tablemate. At that meeting, an invitation was extended to our entire table to join the Executive Chef on a private tour of the galley. For more than an hour one afternoon, we accompanied Leigh through the various galley departments. From the bakery, to stations for soups, appetizers, salads, main courses and desserts, he covered every element of food preparation. His detailed description of the wait staff’s role in the food service process was enlightening. As Bryce’s attempts to pacify continued, he became a frequent visitor. One evening, we told him of our exceptional dining experience last year aboard the Radiance of the Seas at the table of Margarita Winkler – the ship’s doctor. Bryce told us that Dr. Winkler would be coming aboard in Miami as the Brilliance’s doctor on the day we were to disembark. It was sad to know we would miss seeing her by just one sailing. We were accustomed to an evening ritual of musical chairs in the Minstrel Dining Room. However, one night Sonia uncustomarily assigned our seats. Carolina whispered to Christine that there was an extra place for the Dining Room Manager. We were utterly amazed when Margarita Winkler appeared on Bryce’s arm to take the place of honor at our table. The five of us who knew her from the Radiance of the Seas were overwhelmed. Bryce had asked her, and she had agreed, to come aboard a few days early to spend some time with us. For this very special occasion, the Executive Chef and Bryce had arranged an exclusive menu selection – filet mignon from Chops Grille. Margarita joined us again on the final evening of the voyage. This reunion was made possible by Royal Caribbean and is testament to its dedication to customer satisfaction. Spending quality time with Dr. Winkler was indeed a highlight of this cruise holiday. While others in our party enjoyed the informal Windjammer Café for breakfast and lunch, we opted to take those meals in the Minstrel Dining Room, where the menu selections were varied; the food was quite satisfying; service was excellent; and open seating allowed us the luxury of meeting many other fellow passengers. We did visit the Windjammer from time to time for an impromptu conversation and a refreshing beverage. As Diamond members in the Crown and Anchor Society, we were again offered the services of the Concierge. Brett Goad was informative and attracted a loyal crowd. However, we were dedicated to Rusty and the fine ambiance of the Champagne Bar. We saw Brett for tender passes and for clarification on a lunchtime dining arrangement. The Concierge Club is a wonderful benefit of membership, which we plan to use on future voyages. The Ship Shape Center was an afternoon haven. After a shocking body composition analysis by Sharon, Christine was determined to negate the potential adverse effects of dietary choices at sea. Armed with an Elemis de-tox kit, daily pedaling on a recumbent bicycle and miles of walking onboard and ashore, she managed to control her weight during this holiday. The presence of Mary Campbell (Group Coordinator) and Louise Earwicker (Loyalty Ambassador) on the Brilliance’s Guest Relations team was an unexpected surprise. They, too, were aboard the Radiance of the Seas with us a year ago. Captain James MacDonald, as master of the vessel, was the ultimate host at three social events. His enlightening talks on the current fleet, upcoming additions and cruise itineraries were likely the reason the Explorers Court was always filled beyond capacity during Louise’s limited hours for assisting passengers with future bookings. Rebecca Thomson came aboard with us as the new Cruise Director. It was a delight to observe her bubbly and friendly personality. Becky has an amazing ability to address passengers by name at all times, which adds a warmhearted and individual touch to everyone’s cruise experience. Often we were unable to pull ourselves away from dinner in time to enjoy live performances in the Pacifica Theater. However, we did not miss the energetic Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers in “Turn the Beat Around,” “Let’s Dance” and “Latin Groove.” The very talented husband and wife team of Marty Allen and Karon Kate Blackwell were aboard, as was the incomparable Judy Kolba, who fills the theater and the ship with a never-ending abundance of belly laughs. We were also very pleased to have the familiar tinkling of ivories by David Curtis in the Schooner Bar. His memorable Broadway and other popular tunes encouraged impromptu sing-alongs. Again, the internet made it possible to meet dozens of fellow passengers in advance. Royal Caribbean and Cruise Critic enhanced that experience by hosting an onboard event, which was organized by Mary Campbell. The light refreshments and easy conversation were welcome. This and two other privately arranged social gatherings offered perfect occasions to match screen names to faces. It was a pleasure for us to sail with these interesting people and because of them to find so many familiar and friendly faces both onboard and ashore. A souvenir photo by the ship’s photographer is an ideal keepsake. Ports of Call As our main goal in holiday travel is to enjoy local cuisine, our time ashore was often spent seeking special dining opportunities. Three very good finds enhanced this cruise experience. Richard was feeling a bit under the weather after a few very busy days. Key West, Florida, was not a new destination for us. Yet it was with regret, we remained onboard and bypassed its festive atmosphere. At the International Cruise Ship Terminal on Cozumel, Mexico, the Brilliance of the Seas was once again beside the Explorer of the Seas. An hour’s stroll into San Miguel was along the coast and very scenic. One was amazed by the number of cruise ship passengers in such a small town – an inevitable occurrence with nine cruise ships in port. Our destination was Pancho’s Backyard (http://www.loscincosoles.com/panchosbackyard/home.htm). Located at the back of Los Cinco Soles store, Pancho’s Backyard was a tranquil retreat from the crush of tourists. Seated near a rippling fountain in one of several courtyards, we delighted in the simple menu of homemade specialties. We both chose filete di pescado a la Veracruzana and were quickly sated. The careful blending of ingredients with spice and the accompanying basket of hot tortillas were just right. Our aim in George Town, Grand Cayman, was to have lunch at the Hyatt Regency on the shores of Seven Mile Beach. The award-winning Hemingways (http://grandcayman.hyatt.com/property/hotelinfo/dining/dining_info.jhtml?id=0&ssnav=0) offers open-air dining overlooking the beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. Our friendly and knowledgeable waiter – Andy Roberts – walked us through the intricacies of the Caribbean inspired menu. We started with mixed salads topped by tropical fruit and honey vinaigrette. Richard moved on to blackened Chilean sea bass with a plantain and potato mash; gingered apples accented the flavors. Seared coconut crusted tuna prepared rare on a bed of spicy pad thai – Christine’s preference – was a lively contrast of sweet and hot. This two-hour dining experience was very memorable. Perhaps a future stay at the Hyatt Regency will satisfy our appetites for more. As this was our third call on Ocho Rios, Jamaica, we opted not to go ashore this time. Brilliance of the Seas shared the pier in Oranjestad, Aruba, with the condominium cruise ship – The World. An interesting concept, but totally under subscribed. We were told only 47 cabins were occupied when she set sail from Oranjestad. We were amazed by the amount of development in Oranjestad since our last visit eight years ago. A brief walking tour of town introduced us to the local iguana population, new casinos, time shares and shopping arcades. Christine spied Gandleman’s and picked up a Prima Classe map bag – surprisingly, the only item on her shopping list. Joining past cruise and dining companions, evening in Aruba brought us to a long-awaited dinner at Madame Janette’s (http://www.madamejanette.com/index.html). Our group of four was greeted promptly and seated at a great garden table. Nearby, soothing sounds of a classical guitarist entertained. The extensive menu presented too many appealing options, making decisions difficult. We all began with Caesar salad. The main course for three was Almond Grouper – generous fillets crusted in almonds and served with a light spinach sauce. The other chose Burgerloin – butterflied beef tenderloin, which had a stuffing of sautéed onions, mushrooms, and cheese; it was served with Béarnaise sauce. Steamed rice and potato gratin were offered family style. Lured by the Belgian chocolate cake, a generous slice came with four forks. Coffee at the end of the feast was accompanied by crisp speculaas. We enjoyed a brief chat with Sabine Hartig – manager and charming hostess. Our walk from the cruise terminal into Willemstad, Curaçao, took us across the famed Queen Emma pontoon bridge. The floating market offered varied and appealing produce selections. The tropical fruit was particularly tempting. We noted many types of seafood sold from the tiny vessels’ decks. The public market provided a glimpse into the island’s culture. Arts and crafts vendors, herbalists, butchers, shoe repairmen, new and used clothing merchants, a post office and others all shared space under the domed structure. We explored several side streets throughout the Punda before sitting down for a refreshing beverage at Vienna Ice Café. The alarm sounded on the pontoon bridge during our return to the Otrabanda, but we made it across before it was moved to allow an approaching ship to pass. Disembarkation / Conclusion Reserved for the exclusive use of Diamond and Platinum Crown and Anchor Society members, the Star Disco was a comfortable departure lounge. A continental breakfast was served, and lovely downtown Miami was the backdrop to the end of another relaxing and enjoyable Royal Caribbean voyage. Disembarkation by color was executed quickly; baggage claim was efficient; and transportation was readily available on the pier. We ended our holiday with a long wait for an afternoon flight out of Miami International Airport. It afforded us the chance to think back upon the past two weeks and realize what a very unique experience this had been. We are no longer the active travelers we once were. It was enough for us to have been able to spend quality time with old friends, as well as to make the acquaintances of so many other fellow passengers. Onboard one of the most beautiful ships at sea, this cruise was truly satisfying, and for that we are very grateful.

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Nov 4, 2002

Western Caribbean

We just sailed on Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Sea and it was fantastic. The photos of the ship on the internet don't do it justice. The food was great and had a lot of variety. Any one traveling with children will be happy with the kid's program. My son is 4 1/2 years and couldn't wait each day to attend the camp. This ship has miniature golf, a rock climbing wall, 2 beautiful pools and a separate kid's pool with a slide. For

the size of this ship and as many people that were on it we never felt crowded. The view of the sea with the elevators facing the ocean was spectacular. I fell ill (not from sea sickness) during this cruise and got wonderful medical attention. The crew was nice and helpful at all times. Since this was a short cruise the entertainment was a little limited. We were in a cabin on deck nine with a balcony which was nice to have but the cabins without a balcony were just as spacious. The room decor was very pleasing to the eye. Our son slept in the fold out sofa and there was still plenty of space. It also had a refrigerator that was stocked with snacks but beware they were very expensive. Bring your own snacks particularly if you are traveling with picky children such as my son. All in all we had a great time. I can't wait to go again. Anyone can e-mail me with specific questions.

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Sep 7, 2002

TransAtlantic

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 cabs to 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 Harwich once we finally got going. We talked with the people around us who would be our cruise mates on the Brilliance of the Sea. Robert and Sue were from San Francisco and Alexander and Peter were frequent cruisers from Germany who were really interesting to talk to. 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 pretty blue. The bathroom was small with a circular shower with just a curtain, not a door. The balcony had two comfy chairs and a little table. 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 options on the ship. There were floor to ceiling windows looking out and the food was quite good. The lettuce was really good and crispy and the sandwich wraps we decided upon were scrumptious. The lemonade was also excellent, and it hit the spot. Then we had to get back to our room to grab our life jackets for the outside deck muster drill. It was the most organized drill we have ever done and I was impressed when we sailed away from the port on time at 5:00 p.m. The bags still had not arrived when the drill was over, so we briefly explored the ship a bit more before the our evening meal in the two level, Minstrel Dining Room. 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 yet, so we went up to deck 13 to play a round of 9-hole miniature golf. It was extremely windy and cold but we braved the gale force winds long enough for me to kick Brian's butt. :O) 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 having a good day. Brian grabbed an ice cream cone and I got an orange and a couple of cups of coffee for us to doctor up with Grand Marnier back in the room. 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 for dessert. After supper, we went to the Casino Royale and gambled for the first time since we had boarded the vessel. We usually get there a lot sooner. We lost $37 playing blackjack. :O( 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 mine was raw. The third time it was perfect and we thoroughly enjoyed our meals. I hate sending food back but the wait staff was very understanding. We overheard a nearby table rudely conversing that some people just can't be pleased. We were quite tickled to see that when their food arrived it was not cooked to their liking. They sent three plates back so I guess you can't please everyone after all. For dessert, we had a fabulous apple pie alamode. Uff-da we were very full again. 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 came back triumphant this time. :O) He sat in the hot tub while I relaxed in a padded lounge chair in the nearly empty Solarium. I was perfectly content and he got to meet a few fellow cruisers. 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 else we could dance to. We were rather surprised to see a number of guys dancing with each other on the dance floor. Then the young entertainment crew came in and started dancing. We knew there would be no more old stuff then, so we headed across the hall to the Hollywood and listened to the Celeste Duo. She was really good also and sang things like "Do you know the way to San Jose". It was 12:45 a.m. and suddenly Brian was starving. The only place open for food was the Seaview Cafe and it was about to close at 1:00 a.m. We made a mad dash for it and made it just in time. I had a Cuban with the rest of my beer and Brian had a Reuben. Again they were both good. 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.

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Sep 7, 2002

Transatlantic

Mary & Vincent N. Finelli 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 (more later). 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. SUGGESTIONS 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!

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Jul 14, 2002

Inaugural cruise to the Norwegian Fjords

This was our eleventh cruise, (we’re cruise addicts!) the fifth with RCI, the other RCI ones all being on the Legend of the Seas, which we like very much. We were quite excited to be sailing on an inaugural cruise, and to one of our favourite countries. We were pleased to sail from Harwich this time as it meant we didn’t have any baggage restriction and could drive to the port in just four and half-hours. We could see the ship as we

neared the port. She looked quite an unusual shape, and towered above everything else around. We parked in the allocated parking area, our baggage was taken away in trucks and we were bussed to the embarkation terminal. We arrived about 11.30am not realising that embarkation had actually started at 10 am. There was quite a long queue, but there were a lot of check in desks, so we didn’t have to wait very long. We were in our cabin by about 12.30 p.m. It was a long walk to our cabin as we had chosen one with a balcony at the stern of the ship, as we knew there would be lots of beautiful views and we would be able to see the full panorama along the fjords. From the ship’s plan in the brochure, we thought there would be a staircase quite near to our cabin, but it was only the staff stairs and emergency exit, so we had a long walk to and from the cabin. It would be good exercise after a meal! The cabin was very nice, quite large with plenty of storage space, three-seater sofa, coffee table, fridge, TV, and a large balcony. It was good to think that we were the first people to use it. While waiting for our baggage to arrive we decided to explore the ship. It would have been nice to have had a leaflet with a plan of the ship as we had on Celebrity’s Millennium. We headed for the dining room first, to find where we would be seated for dinner. We were very disappointed to discover that we had been allocated a table for twelve in an annex to the main room. We asked about changing, but there were a lot of other people waiting and we decided to leave it as it was. We found all the bars and lounges etc. and were quite impressed with them all. We thought the solarium was a bit ‘over the top’. It was rather ornate, with elephants all over the place. At night the illumination changed colour continuously. We had the emergency drill before sailing. This seemed to be a bit more chaotic than on other ships, as some passengers seemed to be going up stairs and some down, which didn’t seem quite logical – still it was the first time it had been done with over 2000 passengers. We had expected a special send off as it was the inaugural cruise, especially as we had read on the Harwich Web site that they had all those facilities, but there was nothing. At least the weather was good for us. Our baggage arrived around 4.30 PM which was rather longer than on previous cruises. We had requested late seating dinner, as we found it to be too much of a rush on main seating if you’d been on a tour. We went down with our usual apprehension, wondering if we would get on with our table companions, but we had no need to worry, as they were all very pleasant company. We have never actually had any problems. As there were twelve of us we moved about round the table to get to know everyone during the cruise. Although it was quieter in this dining room we did miss the atmosphere of the larger room and didn’t hear any of the music. The first night’s service was extremely slow, but we put this down to the waiters being unfamiliar with the ship, although they should have had some time on board before taking on passengers. It did improve for the rest of the week. We ate breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer café. The design of this was different to other ships, having various food stations. This did get rid of the usual queuing, but did mean that hot food was going cold before you’d found every thing. It was also very difficult to find seats as it always seemed crowded, and as trays weren’t provided it was quite difficult carrying things whilst searching for a seat. (We like Celebrity’s idea where the waiters help to find you a seat). We didn’t book any tours with the ship as we have spent a lot of holidays in Norway and knew the places we were visiting. In Amsterdam we saw the city from a canal boat and then explored on foot. In Bergen we went on the ‘Bergen in a Nutshell’ Tour which we booked at the tourist office near the market – the cost being Nkr120 (about £11, or $US16). This included a return ‘antique’ bus ride (at half-hourly intervals) to the Mount Ulriken cable car terminal and the cable car to the summit. As there were six cruise ships in port that day it was quite busy and elbows were an asset in ensuring a place on the bus! The view of Bergen and the surrounding area from the top is spectacular, better even than that from Mount Fløien. In Flåm we went on the Fjord sightseeing boat up the very narrow, spectacular Næroy Fjord to Gudvangen. This used to be a car ferry, but since the building of a tunnel linking the two places there is no need for a car ferry. This return trip takes four hours. In Geiranger, again we did our own thing, just happy to be in this beautiful country. For any one who hasn’t seen any part of Norway, it would probably be good to take a ship’s tour to see the spectacular scenery. People who had been on them said they had been excellent. We didn’t try the speciality restaurants as we enjoyed the food in the dining room. Talking to people who had tried them, we got the impression that the Portofino was good, but the Chops Grille not really worth the extra cost, as the steaks in the dining room were excellent. We wish we could get such good ones in the UK. Our only real complaint was the price of wine. We enjoy a bottle with our meal but the cost of a decent bottle is extortionate. There is usually a package ‘Wine and Dine’ but although this was advertised in the ‘Compass’, it wasn’t available. We did buy the ‘Royal Cocktails Card’, which made a saving on most of the cocktails, glasses of House wine and beer. We enjoyed most of the shows and Margaret was thrilled to find that Jane McDonald was on board, as she has followed her career since the documentary series ‘The Cruise’ on British TV in which she starred. She took part in an interview with the cruise director and gave an excellent show, and then stayed on board for the rest of the cruise as an ordinary passenger. The captain was Thomas Wildung, whom we had met twice before on the Legend. We thoroughly enjoyed the cruise and thought the ship was beautiful, although not quite as easy to get around as others we’ve been on. Although it is a big ship with over 2000 passengers, it never seemed crowded, except in the Windjammer café, but we never managed to get a seat in the solarium. The weather was kind to us and the only poor day was the day at sea on the way back. On the ships information program on TV the weather report said that the winds were force nine at times, but the ship was so stable that even at the stern of the ship you didn’t feel any adverse movement. We are now looking forward to our next cruise on the ‘Splendour of the Seas’ in October to the Mediterranean

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Feb 3, 2002

Western Caribbean

This review is mostly for the benefit of the Canadian traveler. ********************************** The brilliance of the seas was gorgeous. the ship was its name and the service and food also stood up as well. all in all a very fabulous holiday. I will make comments on the do's and don'ts rather than give a play by play ports of call ************* We beached it a lot and had a great time doing so. the only part that isn't a whole bunch

of fun is that everything seems to cost extra. 5$ for a chair, 5$ for a raft and than the beer in Aruba and grand Cayman (refinance your house $10.00 Canadian a piece) you couldn't beat the beaches though in the grand Cayman and Aruba, they were priceless. the most fun of the islands to us was Jamaica. I had heard a lot of negativity about it before we went, but it was a blast. four of us rented a taxi for the day for 80.00 u.s. the cab driver was "Pamela" she took us everywhere including up to Mick Jigger's house, the rain forest and dunn's river falls. she was excellent and didn't put pressure on us. she also told us if the locals were giving us a good deal or not. she made the trip awesome. we also beached it in Cozumel and shopped in Curacao and key west. no one really pressured us for sales except Jamaica, the people seemed poor and pushy. rooms ***** We had an inside room 3045 on the brilliance. surprisingly it was spacious and I didn't feel trapped. there was a lot of space for such a tiny room, even my wife said so. the bed was remarkably comfortable for being foam. I slept like a baby, not to mention our room steward was top notch. we didn't want for anything, as well he had our schedule figured out. we would leave for breakfast and the room would be complete by our return. I was very happy with our room decks ***** We spent just about every day in the middle of the ship by the pool. this area was crowded during sea days. I would suggest getting there early to get the best possible location. the solarium was nice on windy days. casino ****** Always a lot of fun, but lost about 150.00. there were a lot of people winning though, just not me. windjammer cafe *************** An excellent choice for breakfast and lunch. excellent variety, we didn't want for anything. one tip, try and go very early or late for any meal as you will avoid a shortage in tables and line ups. fine dining *********** There are two specialty restaurants, but for 60.00 Canadian a couple extra we decided to eat in the minstrel dining room, which is the regular evening dining spot. bingo ***** I played bingo twice although I believe this to be a big rip-off and cash maker for the ship. the first time I played it was 35.00 u.s. for four games. the most money any of the four games paid out was less than 100 dollars. well there had to be one hundred people playing the day I did. that would mean the house took in around 3000.00 and paid out around 400.00 bing was played often and by the end of the cruise the big jackpot was around 6000.00. that sounds high but there had to be at least 300 people playing the last day at 35 dollars a shot. that is over 10,000 dollars being brought in and 6000 going out not to mention the rest of the cash the ship stroked the travelers on. my suggestion, play one bingo card for 15.00 on the last day as the jackpot can be huge. I also challenge the ship to reveal the books on this one, they are making a fortune on bingo. seaview cafe ************ Excellent short order food. go there when you need that fast-food/ hangover food crave. boarding/deboarding ******************* The most annoying part of cruising. both take forever, although i'd sooner wait to get on. disco ***** Was a blast, great d.j. and martini's. the d.j. remembered my wife's favorite songs and played them everytime we came in shows ***** I hate to say it but we only went to two. not for any other reason but we were played out every day. we had the late supper sitting which caused us to extend the day. we would have drinks before supper wit our good friends and then go to supper and then to the disco, casino or call it a night. crown lounge ************ Really enjoyed this place. it is suspended over the centrium and is a meeting place for cigar smokers. i went there every second night or so and lit up a tasty cigar. met quite a few nice people their. drinks ****** Be careful on drinks. the cruise can be very expensive for a canadian. i would suggest buying a couple of big bottles and keep them in your room. get a go cup and mix a shot up in your room and take it to the pool. if you choose bar drinks they will run you anywhere from 5-7 canadian a piece. keep that in mind cause at the end of your trip the bill shows up. minstrel dining **************** Top notch, our waiters were excellent. the food was outstanding as well Ship Shape ********** Excellent workout facility. to keep the added pounds off i ran 25 miles while on ship.i only gained 2 pounds. my suggestion is work out as much as possible. excellent facilities I have tried to be very objective in my review. please email me with any questions. i certainly didn't touch on everything. i had a great time and so did my wife. i would definitely go again harry

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Nov 30, -0001

Weatern Med

Save your vacation, run screaming from RCL. On Royal Caribbean, you are vacationing cattle, held captive to be herded and milked dry. You will encounter all manner of crass, tacky scams designed to wring every penny from you before you are hustled grumbling home. Royal Caribbean brings new meaning to shake down cruise. Tips for Royal Caribbean cruisers: 1. BEWARE OF RCL AMNESIA - Record everything the Royal Caribbean reservations agent

says to you. Bring the recorder with you aboard. You will need the recorder and a stool for the hours you will spend complaining at the Guest Relations desk. Get everything in writing. RCL reservations will tell lies to get your booking. Nobody on board will honor the lies. 2. WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES You will be gouged by RCL for a ride to the end of the pier. It is worth the walk. Royal Caribbean shore excursions are a complete rip off. You will find great cheap tours within a block of the pier head. 3. REVENUE ENHANSEMENTS Royal Caribbean will give you crummy orange juice, awful coffee and cafeteria food as a part of your ticket. If you want decent food, real orange juice, sodas, water or drinkable coffee, you must pay lots extra. On our RCL cruise, there was a $25 dollar per person cover charge just to set foot in the decent restaurants. Internet service is set to run at a snails pace, maybe because RCL charges by the minute. You will be given a handful of gratuity envelopes. Swallow your anger and tip, in person, only those staff that actually did their job. In our case, our cabin steward, one bartender and one waitress. 4. ADVANCE PURCHASES If you purchase anything from RCL reservations for a discount, you are being screwed. The same packages are available at the same price aboard the ship. When you try to redeem anything you pre purchased from Royal Caribbean be prepared for a long, long wait and something like an IRS audit. The usual excuse is nobody has the wine locker keys or the wine steward is off duty. If you advance purchase wine you can't have it delivered to your state room. Room service will, however, sell you another bottle instead of delivering what you have already purchased. RCL tells you where and when you can have the wine that you pre purchase. If you buy a soda package you are doomed to roam the ship for two weeks carrying the special sippy cup that you must drink from to be served. 5. ALCOHOL - You will pay simply infuriating prices for alcoholic beverages aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise. RCL will search you and your bags at each gangway to make sure you don't have any bottles; they even sniff your mouthwash. Once they are sure you have no bargain booze they will really put the screws to you. Expect to pay multiple times the retail price of a bottle of wine. You will pay almost the cost of a twelve pack for just one beer. Plan to get short poured on cocktails and bend over and grab your ankles when they bring the bill. 6. AIRPORT SERVICE Imagine the service you have received from the airlines in recent years. Picture your worst airline terminal nightmare. Visualize long lines, screaming kids and high handed treatment from puny gods behind counters and podiums. Now surround that with water and you get some idea of the Royal Caribbean cruise experience. Royal Caribbean advertising bears no resemblance to RCL reality. As our shuttle bus finally departed for the airport, someone yelled "Anyone who had a good time, raise your hands" nobody did. Royal Caribbean still owes us $92 dollars in disputed charges. They were going to contact us. I am not holding my breath.

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Nov 30, -0001

NOT FOUND

Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas 7 Day Mediterranean Cruise Alecia Strohm OVERVIEW: About us, my husband and I are in our low/mid 30’s, married for 3 years with no kids yet. This was our first time over the pond, and it will certainly not be the last. I booked our air, transfers, precruise stay in Rome and cruise itself directly with RCI over the phone. I was nervous after everything negative I heard from others, but I

did not experience any problems during precruise planning. As far as the ports themselves, we did everything on our own, or hired private drivers. I found this to be the most economical way to see the best of each city. We flew Delta and left Orlando at 3:55pm on May 27, 05 and after a short layover in Pittsburgh, we landed in Rome at 10:10am on May 28, 05. The seats were a bit uncomfortable and small for such a long flight. We tried to buy upgrades at all of the airports, but apparently RCI gets such a discount on the seats we were ineligible for any seat changes. PRECRUISE TOUR IN ROME: We were greeted at the Rome airport by the tour operator that handled the logistics for RCI. Once you exit the baggage claim area, you will see all of the tour operators holding signs. Within 30 minutes we were on a bus and on our way to the Crowne Plaza St Peters Hotel. We got to the hotel about 11:30am and our room was ready for us. There was a Hospitality desk in the lobby from the tour operator to greet us. They had a welcome kit that included: instructions for us, a map, schedules for courtesy transportation and an order form to buy tours through them. We were also given a time for the next day for our transfer from the hotel to the pier. We were instructed to leave our bags outside our door in the morning as they would be picked up and transported for us to the ship. A nice surprise in the room was one standard outlet in the bathroom, so we did not need a converter for our electronics. TOURING ROME: The best advice someone gave me to overcome jetlag was to stay on local time once we arrived. So after checking into the hotel, my husband and I decided to take a cab to the center of the city and just explore. We walked around for a couple hours and saw the Quirinal, Palazzo della Consulta, Victor Emmanuel Monument (not to be missed), Trevi Fountain, Coliseum, Arch of Constantine, Circus Maximus and the Forum, all on foot. We had lunch outdoors at a lovely little restaurant we stumbled across. Around 4pm between the jet lag and heat I was getting tired. We took a cab back to the hotel so I could rest. In order to see more sites in the morning, my husband decided to go back into town and rent a scooter (the preferred way to drive around Europe and lots of fun!) for the next day while I took a nap. For dinner we just stayed at the hotel because it was raining. The next day, we did not have to meet the bus for the transfer to the pier until 2pm, so we had plenty of time on our own. Breakfast in the morning was complimentary with our package, which I did know when I booked. A nice treat before we spent the next few hours navigating the city on our scooter. It was the only Sunday of the month the Vatican Museum is open, and we thought if we got an early start we would be fine, but NO… By 7:30am when we got there, the line stretched for more than 6 city blocks that we could see. We went on to St. Peter’s Square which also had a long line to get into St. Peter’s Basilica. We took pictures at the square and watched the Pope give a blessing on large screens in the square. We then went on to Piazza del Popolo, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain again (I did not have a coin to toss in the day before), and the memorial of Giuseppe Garibaldi (we only saw this because we got lost, but it had a fantastic view). After returning the scooter, we had pizza and gelato before taking a cab back to the hotel to catch the bus. EMBARKATION: The bus ride to the port was scenic and seemed quicker than the 90 minutes we were told it would be. We did have a slight delay at the pier because the check-in facilities were very informal. To control the flow of people, we had to wait for a bus in front us to check in and then we were on our way. Just two more lines and we were on the ship! We were on board by 4pm. Because they had collected our luggage at the hotel in the morning, our bags were in our room waiting for us. The muster drill was at 5:15pm, so we had enough time to unpack and freshen up before we donned our fashionable orange life vests. After the drill it was off to the Bon Voyage party on the pool deck at 6:30pm. Now, we are officially on vacation as they say! THE SHIP: There has been a lot written about the ship already, so I’ll just highlight a few things, especially our cabin! We had an aft deluxe balcony on deck 10, #1102. At first I was worried because we were right under the Windjammer and on a much higher deck than we ever have been. We experienced very little disruption from above us and let me assure you, the cabin was perfect! A nice touch was full sized shampoo, shower gel and lotion in the bathroom as well as a loofah sponge for the shower. Our balcony was large enough to accommodate 2 chairs, 2 lounges and a table, and still have room to move around! The cabin was also wider than the standard Balcony rooms. The worst thing about the cabin was the long walk from the elevators in the center of the ship. But that is why I felt no guilt about having dessert nightly! I followed some advice and on the first day after we met our Cabin Attendant, and gave her a portion of the tip and just asked for a couple of bathrobes if there were any extras. Within 10 minutes we had 2 robes! We also received very attentive service all week from Aishesha who made our cabin up as soon as we left! THE STAFF: Overall, we found the service to be exceptional. That is why we keep going back to RCI. The dining room staff did not get too personal with us on the first night. Our server Martina said so many people change tables or seating times after the first night that it is hard for them to keep up. So she waits until the second night to find out how will be with her all week. The CD Bill was not very impressive, but his staff was fun. The captain, Michael Lachtaridis from Greece, had a good sense of humor. I spoke with the ships doctor on the pool deck and he was very friendly. Fortunately for me, that was the only time I met him. DINING: As far as dining on the ship, there were four different seatings. We were assigned late seating which on our cruise docs said 9pm, but upon check-in, our seapass said 8:30pm, much better. We did not leave most of the ports until 7pm, so for us the early seating would have been nearly impossible. One disappointment we felt was that the shows/activities were not scheduled as well as they could have been. I personally do not like to see shows before dinner, and some of the activities we wanted to participate in were overlapped. The schedule for the week was as follows: 6:00 pm Main seating Deck 4 6:30 pm Main Seating Deck 5 8:30 pm Second Seating Deck 4 9:00 pm Second Seating Deck 5 And the big shows or important activity of the night, were timed as follows: Day One: (Casual) 6:30 pm – Bon Voyage Poolside 7:45 pm - Welcome Aboard Show Featuring Comedy of Steve Rawlings, all guests Day Two: (Formal) 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm - Captain's Welcome Aboard Reception: All Guests 9:00 pm - "Everything Old is New Again" Production Show: Main Seating Guests 11:00 pm - "Everything Old is New Again" Production Show: Second Seating guests Day Three: (Smart Casual/50’s & 60’s) 7:30 pm - Headliner Showtime with Mark Donoghue: Second seating guests, 9:30 pm – Headliner Showtime with Mark Donoghue: Main seating guests Day Four: (Formal) 7:30pm – Crown and Anchor Party 9:00 pm – “Now and Forever” Production Show: Main Seating Guests 11:00 pm – “Now and Forever” Production Show: Second Seating Guests 10:15 pm – Love and Marriage (do not miss this) 10:45 pm – Karaoke Hour Day Five: (Casual / Country Western) 7:30 pm Headliner Showtime with Brenda Cochrane Second seating guests 9:30 pm Headliner Showtime with Brenda Cochrane Main seating guests 11:00 pm – The Quest (do not miss this) Day Six: (Casual / Toga after dinner attire) 9:00 pm - "Close to You" Productions Show - Main Seating Guests 11:00 pm - "Close to You" Productions Show - Second Seating Guests 10:30 pm – 12:30 pm – Toga Party Poolside 11:30 pm – Poolside Chocolate Buffet Day Seven: (Casual) 7:30 pm - Farewell Show with Magic of Mandy Muden – 2nd Seating Guests 9:30 pm - Farewell Showtime with Magic of Mandy Muden - Main Seating Guests 10:45 pm – Karaoke Hour 11:00 pm – Farewell Disco Party As far as the food, I was pleased. We ate in the dining room all nights except one. There was a Murder Mystery Dinner in Portofino’s on day five so we reserved for that well in advance (lots of fun, and great food). I thought the main dining room menu offered a lot of variety. But the dessert menu could use some more options. For breakfast and lunch we altered between the Windjammer and room service. Both were fine, but I prefer Windjammer for the variety. I regret not making it to Seaview Café as I’ve heard it was good. We did buy the Wine & Dine package which is a good deal if you tend to order wine nightly with dinner and are not a true “wine connoisseur”. We paid a discounted price for 5 bottles, and were given a limited menu to order from. If you don’t finish a bottle, they will re-cork it for the next evening. On the last night we still had 1 bottle left so the head waiter let us take it to the Schooner Bar to toast with our new friends. BARS: I will comment on this as my husband and I tend to be social people. The best place to hang out and make new friends is the Schooner Bar. The staff was awesome and we got to know them throughout the week. Arlene and Steve were wonderful! Eric the bartender would introduce me to other passengers if I was there alone. A true meeting place! We also enjoyed the Champagne Bar on the formal nights. They had hors d oeuvres available nightly before dinner. The sports bar never seemed to have anyone in there, but the pool bars were always busy. Also, Tanya in the Casino was awesome. She really made losing all of my money fun. ENTERTAINMENT: We only saw one production show which was as good as expected. We did watch the Newlywed Game and participated in The Quest. Both are not to be missed in my opinion. There were not as many people participating in The Quest as on the Caribbean cruises, but I think it is because of the intensity of the ports on this cruise and the difference in passengers. THE PORTS: NAPLES/AMALFI COAST: We privately hired Francesco Marrapese in Naples and he was great! He is 32 (our age range) and I highly recommend him as a driver for anyone. We were with him from 7:30am until 5:30pm. He was very polite and informative, and constantly concerned that we make it to the ship on time at the end of the day. We started at the Herculaneum where he dropped us off and we spent about 1.5 hours exploring. It was not crowded at all, and much smaller than Pompeii from what I have heard. One of the guards at the property walked us around to explain and point things out for us for a nominal “tip”. Then we drove the Amalfi Coast. We were able to stop in Sorrento, Positano and Ravello. We had about 45 minutes in each town to enjoy and shop. Along the drive he pointed things out to us like the balcony that was used in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, and one of Sofia Loren’s homes. He also knew just where to stop for great photo opportunities. The views were just breathtaking. I’ve never seen anything like it. The cliffs just seem to drop into the beautiful blue water. Each view was better than the previous. We did not have a lot of time at each place, but it was certainly enough to enjoy. After returning to the ship at 6pm, we had time to relax and dress in our formal attire for the Welcome Aboard Reception before dinner. The captain was delayed coming to the reception because we had to leave the port late due to a group of passengers that arrived to the ship late. The hotel director greeted us in his absence for photos. Messina: I had no particular plans in this port, so we slept in and just walked around the city near the port. When we first arrived we saw a group of school children dressed in costume that were playing a life size game of Chess. Very neat to watch! We stopped in some beautiful churches and did some shoe shopping. Ironically, we had a difficult time finding pizza for lunch, so we headed back to the Windjammer and relaxed on the ship for the remainder of the afternoon. This is a nice time to enjoy the pools. After the ship departed, I found out from my friends in the Schooner Bar that the ship could not sell cigarettes or duty free alcohol at all on this cruise. It was due to some Italian and Spanish laws, and they would start selling again the end of June. I can only assume it was because of the ports we embarked and disembarked at. At Sea: The day was perfect, with beautiful sunny weather and that we were traveling at a pretty slow pace, no more than 14 knots. Today was pretty packed with activities for us. We were in the 10am Slots tournament, in which I came in 2nd place. Then at 12:30pm I was a judge for the Men’s Sexy Legs Contest. We then watched the Men’s Belly flop competition. After lunch in the Windjammer I stopped in the Schooner Bar while my hubby was in the Blackjack tournament. Bingo was at 3:30pm and just like in the casino, I walked away with less money in my pocket! Tonight before dinner was the C&A party and this time the captain was on time! After dinner was Love and Marriage and as always, it was a hoot! We decided to stay and watch the show. The singers and dancers put on a good production. Florence: We privately hired Marco with Tuscany Tours as our driver in Florence. He was very knowledgeable of the area and pointed many things to us along the way. We were with him from 8am until 6pm. We started at Piazzale Michelangelo for great photos and views of the city. Then off to Florence where Marco dropped us off and gave us a map. He is not a “guide”, so we spent about 4 hours on our own just walking around in awe of our surroundings. Although we did not go into any of the galleries or museums (due to long lines), we did climb over 400 winding steps to the top of the Duomo. Wow, was that an experience, and not for the weak hearted. Ponte Vecchio was very crowded but we did do some window shopping. I personally did not find any “bargains” on the jewelry that caught my eye. We stopped for lunch and gelato and then met up with Marco to go to the Field of Miracles in Pisa. It was amazing as we drove around a corner and there was the tower! We did not climb the tower because of the timing, but we did buy tickets to go into the Duomo and Baptistery. They only allow so many people in the tower at a time, and the next available tickets were for 4:50pm. Marco felt that would have been pushing it to get back to the ship on time. The one thing that surprised me was that there is an entire street lined with vendors selling cheap knick-knacks in the area. Kind of takes away from the beauty of it all. After 1.5 hours on our own, we were off to the ship. Dinner was a bit different for us tonight. If your cruise offers the Murder Mystery Dinner, I suggest participating. It was $50 pp but champagne and wine were included throughout the evening. Dinner was 5 courses, which had lobster as one of the entrée choices. The characters were quite funny, and believe it or not, my table did not guess “who done it”. This evening after dinner was The Quest (not to be missed). I was surprised that there were not more people participating, considering the room was full. Villefranche: For this port I had no particular plans except to see the changing of the guards and the Grand Casino. Guess what, I missed both! We left the ship just before 11am and immediately caught a cab right outside the tender station to go to Monaco. The drive took longer than I thought so we missed the changing of the guards by minutes! Although the drive was beautiful, the cab cost 50 euro, which is a lot more than a train ride. Once in Monaco we decided to walk around and see everything we could. We ended up going into the neo-Romanesque cathedral and saw the graves of Princess Kelly and Prince Rainier. After that we wandered around in awe of the cleanliness of the city as well as the beautiful views. We then stumbled across the Oceanographic Museum, founded by Prince Albert in 1910. Jacques Cousteau was the former head of this institute and it contains so many artifacts and photos from his diving expeditions. The aquarium contains hundreds of species of fish in such a contained facility that they are able to grow their own coral reefs. As scuba divers, we truly appreciated this museum. We stopped for lunch at a little street side café and enjoyed people watching. To get back to the ship we decided to take the train but it was not easy to find. It might have helped if we knew the French word for train. We asked a policeman on the street and he pointed us in the right direction. The station was quite large and once we bought and validated our tickets it was only about 5 minutes until the 4:30pm train arrived. The ride was quick as we only had 3 stops before ours, but there was no air-conditioning. At 6 euro for the 2 of us, it was much cheaper than the taxi. After spending some time walking around the port for a while, we got back to the ship about 5:30pm. My husband was determined to go the Grand Casino, but I was exhausted. So he dressed in his suit and went back into the port while I stayed onboard for dinner. Since we were scheduled to leave the port at midnight, I worried about him making it back on time. I thought that if he did miss the last tender, at least one of us was there to pack up our cabin. It all worked out and he was back on board by 11:30pm! For those that enjoy gambling, there are a few “Vegas style” casinos around the corner from the Grand Casino with smaller limit tables according to my husband. At Sea: Our last day on board. This day was not as busy as our first day at sea, but with my hangover that was a good thing. We basically spent the day lounging around as this has been a very intense week. I had my first hot stone massage and it was wonderful. My massage therapist was very kind and professional and she did not try to sell me any product. What a way to end the week! Before dinner we packed our luggage. After dinner we just spent the evening in the Schooner Bar saying goodbye to all of our new friends. We took one last trip around the ship to say good bye to everyone that has made this trip so enjoyable and took lots of photos. Disembarkation: The next morning we headed to the dining room for our last breakfast on board. Because we booked our transfers through RCI, we were in the first group called off just before 9am. What a nice treat! My mind is a bit fuzzy, because I do not recall going through customs. I do know our luggage was waiting for us and we were very quickly boarding a bus for the airport. As we drove through Barcelona, I wished we had a day or two because it looked lovely from the bus. One more reason to go back. Our flight was at 12:10pm so we had plenty of time to check in, go through security and relax (and shop duty free) before boarding. After all is said and done, here are my tips and hints: • Change the date/time to the local time on your digital camera to get the best record from your photos. Bring lots of memory for your camera. We brought our laptop to download the pictures onto daily. • The currency exchange rate on the ship was the best we found, and trust me, my husband shopped around on this one. They offer it at certain hours throughout the cruise at guest relations. We used ATM’s twice in Italy and were only charged $6 additional form our bank for the transactions. • The best book I found was “Mediterranean by Cruise Ship” by Anne Vipond. Very informative and easy to read. This is the book they sold in the shop on board. • Eat lots of Gelato! It is so much better than ice cream. • American Express was rarely accepted in the ports, so do leave home without it, and bring your Visa or MC. • Ladies, I invested in some Chico’s Travelers collection and they are the best clothes to travel with. Very lightweight and never wrinkled. • I used the Space Bags travel set and they worked great. It’s amazing how compact you make your clothes! • For those flying a long distance, invest in a good neck pillow for the flight. • For your first aid kit, make sure to include Gas-X or Bean-O. Enough said. • There is a lot of walking, so were very comfortable shoes, and make sure they are broken in! • I read terrible things about the public toilets in Europe and envisioned holes in the ground that I had to pay to use. Not so. Many of the toilets were like a standard toilet without the seat. I only had to pay at 3 of them in Pisa, Ravello and Monaco. The most expensive was .50 cents.

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Nov 30, -0001

Westerb Med

Save your vacation, run screaming from RCL. On Royal Caribbean, you are vacationing cattle, held captive to be herded and milked dry. You will encounter all manner of crass, tacky scams designed to wring every penny from you before you are hustled grumbling home. Royal Caribbean brings new meaning to “shake down cruise”. Inferior food Cramped stateroom Childish activities Shore excursions are a rip off Tips for Royal

Caribbean cruisers: 1. BEWARE OF RCL AMNESIA - Record everything the Royal Caribbean reservations agent says to you. Bring the recorder with you aboard. You will need the recorder and a stool for the hours you will spend complaining at the Guest Relations desk. Get everything in writing. RCL reservations will tell lies to get your booking. Nobody on board will honor the lies. 2. WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES You will be gouged by RCL for a ride to the end of the pier. It is worth the walk. Royal Caribbean shore excursions are a complete rip off. You will find great cheap tours within a block of the pier head. 3. REVENUE ENHANSEMENTS Royal Caribbean will give you crummy orange juice, awful coffee and cafeteria food as a part of your ticket. If you want decent food, real orange juice, sodas, water or drinkable coffee, you must pay lots extra. On our RCL cruise, there was a $25 dollar per person cover charge just to set foot in the decent restaurants. Internet service is set to run at a snail's pace, maybe because RCL charges by the minute. You will be given a handful of gratuity envelopes. Swallow your anger and tip, in person, only those staff that actually did their job. In our case, our cabin steward, one bartender and one waitress. 4. ADVANCE PURCHASES If you purchase anything from RCL reservations for a “discount” you are being screwed. The same packages are available at the same price aboard the ship. When you try to redeem anything you pre purchased from Royal Caribbean be prepared for a long, long wait and something like an IRS audit. The usual excuse is “nobody has the wine locker keys” or “the wine steward is off duty. If you advance purchase wine you can't have it delivered to your state room. Room service will, however, sell you another bottle instead of delivering what you have already purchased. RCL tells you where and when you can have the wine that you pre purchase. If you buy a soda package you are doomed to roam the ship for two weeks carrying the special sippy cup that you must drink from to be served. 5. ALCOHOL You will pay simply infuriating prices for alcoholic beverages aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise. RCL will search you and your bags at each gangway to make sure you don't have any bottles¦they even sniff your mouthwash. Once they are sure you have no bargain booze they will really put the screws to you. Expect to pay multiple times the retail price of a bottle of wine. You will pay almost the cost of a twelve pack for just one beer. Plan to get short poured on cocktails and bend over and grab your ankles when they bring the bill. 6. AIRPORT SERVICE Imagine the service you have received from the airlines in recent years. Picture your worst airline terminal nightmare. Visualize long lines, screaming kids and high handed treatment from puny gods behind counters and podiums. Now surround that with water and you get some idea of the Royal Caribbean cruise experience. Royal Caribbean advertising bears no resemblance to RCL reality. As our shuttle bus finally departed for the airport, someone yelled “Anyone who had a good time, raise your hands¦.nobody did. Royal Caribbean still owes us $92 dollars in disputed charges… They were going to contact us. I am not holding my breath.

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Nov 30, -0001

Southern Caribbean

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean the Seas Sailing Date: December 13th, 2002 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. Pre-Cruise 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 separate living 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 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. Room 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. Dining 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 Café, Seaview Café, 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. Windjammer Café 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. Seaview Café 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. Latté-Tudes Café Your typical Starbucks at sea, offering lattés, café-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 latté bar. As far as I could tell, these were not "premium" cookies. Solarium Café Opened daily from 11am to 7 pm, this little café 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. PortoFino’s, Chops 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 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. Pools 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. Shipshape Activities 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. Casino 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. Nightly Entertainment 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.asp and scroll to the bottom of the page. Colony Club 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. Miscellaneous 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. Ports 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... --Jacquelyn Hyde

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