Having always wanted to pass through the Suez Canal, and with my wife wanting to visit Petra this cruise to Civitaveccia seemed ideal, tagging on the next part back to Dover meant the added bonus of no flying home - great.
Our holiday started with a couple of nights in Dubai at the Ibis, Deira City Centre which is well situated for both Airport and Cruise Port being between the two. Also has a shopping mall opposite the hotel, a direct bus service (No 27) to the Gold Souk Bus Station from the nearby Metro Station (the Metro entrance across the road from the main Mall entrance); the Metro has a closer entrance to the hotel just on the corner of the main road junction 300 metres away, and is handy for reaching the Dubai and Emirates malls.
As a bonus we had saved enough by booking our air fare direct with Emirates, rather than the cruise line, to pay for our complete stay in Dubai.
On embarkation day we arrived at the port at around 1230, platinum check in was a breeze and inside 20 minutes later we were eating our first cakes of the trip!
Cabin wise, as usual the requested separate beds had not been done, but was fixed later. A request for an egg crate topper for the pretty firm mattress could not be done, but our steward arranged an extra duvet under the sheet which worked pretty well instead. The cabin was clean enough, roomy enough and with the exception of the air con which struggled until the ship reached cooler climes was perfectly adequate. Our steward maybe could have had a better eye for detail, with us having to always ask for things like laundry bags, breakfast order forms etc. but we forgave him as he was always a cheerful happy soul!
MDR dining was where the ship as a whole gave such a varied experience, that on the one hand it could be 4 star and at other times struggled to be 2 star. We try and avoid buffets, preferring instead to be served our meals at cloth covered tables in a civilised way. The dinner service we received in my time on deck 5 of the MDR was spot on, the food mostly very good for mass catering except the duck, which as usual was tough. Open seating Breakfast and Lunch fell down considerably with some very long waits and mixed up orders, to the point where one of the head waiters ended up apologising to us twice in the same day for the same problems. Following that we started to receive what I can only describe as preferential treatment - very nice if you can get it, but not the norm - with one of the head waiters taking a personal interest in our meals wherever and whenever we ate in the MDR.
The buffet was used for just drinks and cakes; many times we saw serving utensils that were in clear need of changing left out and becoming clogged with different cake, often there were no plates to put the servers on so they got dumped back amongst the remaining cakes, and rarely if ever was there a member of staff at the cake/dessert servery. Coffee was hit and miss between weak and strong, cold and hot. Hot milk from the flasks was often curdled with unpleasant bits floating in the cup. The cloudy lemonade was nice, but is full of additives and having got to read the container it comes in, not the old fashioned lemonade it seems to be.
Room service was a bit hit and miss; our breakfast coffee showed up at all sorts of times and one day not at all. The nightime snacks on offer came only with fries - no wedges despite being on the menu, and the one time I ordered a well done steak sandwich it turned up an hour later cooked on one side only.
The Seaview cafe up on deck 12 was a real gem though. The best pizzas and paninis on ship, all freshly made to your order. So we gave up on room service and trekked up there most nights after the shows. Fortunately, not many others seemed to be either aware of it or able to find it, so we often shared the room with only another 8-10 people.
Entertainment varied from guest artistes who sang/told jokes/juggled/acrobatics to production shows. The production shows were the really weak part with some of the cast obviously much better than others, and like many of these efforts at sea, a musical director who seemed to think that drowning out vocalists with a wall of noise was what everyone wanted. Most ships we have been on, we go to all the main theatre shows, even repeats - not this cruise.
Ports of call - MUSCAT, we called on a Friday so very little doing until late pm with most of the Souk closed. AQABA - everyone including us went to Petra, which although expensive with the ship was a really good excursion, probably the best ships tour we have ever done. Ignore the walking distances in the ships tour brochure they are at least 100% more, and you need to be fit enough to walk as the alternative horse carts could leave you with serious back problems on the bumpy ground. SAFAGA is an industrial port some way from the small town, again we were there on a Friday so not much doing. SHARM on a Saturday was also quiet, but within 15 minutes walk of the ship, and had private beach areas where you could rent a lounger etc. ALEXANDRIA is filthy, dirty and the people very poor. If you are not going to Cairo, the Corniche area is probably the best to visit and is walkable for the independent traveller but you will get hassled by taxi and horse carriage drivers. CIVITAVECCIA to Rome by train is both easy and cheap; the bus shuttle drops you at the fort like building at the port entrance, on getting off turn right and up onto the parade and the first kiosk will sell you train tickets and for 1 Euro extra a very useful Rome map with train times and all the main tourist spots clearly marked. GIBRALTAR another day of rest, Sunday this time as we were in the UK! Most shops were open and in walkable distance, loads of taxi vans offering Rock tours and the like at the port. LA CORUNA is a gem, free of the normal tourist tat with loads of Tapas bars etc.; tourism here is mostly fellow Spaniards on holiday. Having said that some English is spoken. The castle and lighthouse, churches, shops and squares are all walkable from the ship, or there are cheap and efficent bus services around the city. LE HAVRE was our last call before jumping ship, of course many people will do a long organised trip to Paris. If not, be warned that the walk from ship to city centre is long and pedestrians not very well provided for until you reach the Fish Market area. Although there is a city walking tour, most of the sites are post war and made from concrete, so not much history.
We disembarked one day early at Dover (ship went on to Amsterdam) along with several other passengers. We had to attend a special immigration desk set up in one of the meeting rooms at 0730, duly got our exit passes from the ship and after that it was our last MDR breakfast, collect cases and out to a taxi for the train station and our journey back to Scotland.
In summary we enjoyed the cruise as it enabled us to tick off two of the things on our "wants" lists,took us to three more ports we hadn't been in before, Muscat/Sharm and La Coruna, and was a welcome change from the awful UK spring weather. Had Brilliance been able to deliver consistently on all fronts it would have been a 3 star cruise, but the mixed performance in the catering and entertainment functions sadly lowered it to 2 stars for us. Would we sail on her again - yes, but only if the itinerary was the deal breaker.