Brilliance of the Seas Cruise Review by critterchick: Brilliance of the Seas Transatlantic
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Brilliance of the Seas Transatlantic
We are back from our Norway/Transatlantic adventure on Vision and Brilliance. We had a terrific time, in spite of missing two of our four ports on Brilliance, some service issues (also on BR) and some really rocky weather along the way (both ships). What follows is a review of the Brilliance TA, starting with our day in Copenhagen pre-cruise. I'll review the Vision cruise separately. There was a lot of good and a fair amount of annoying, but not much bad.
We booked this cruise because it commenced in Copenhagen, which we had visited on a port day on our Jewel Baltics cruise in 2007. We loved what we saw and wanted to have a couple of days to explore the city. We then saw the Vision 5-night fjords cruise and added that on for a chance to see a bit of Norway as well. The price was set very low when bookings opened, and we were able to snag a JS on BR and a D-1 on Vision for less than the cost of a JS on Jewel, and for 3 more nights (counting the hotel in between).
Brilliance was More
returning to the US for the first time in 5-6 years. The staff and crew were extremely worried about the pending health inspection, and of course the navigation crew was very concerned about getting us to New Jersey without going through the storms that kept cropping up. I think that some of the lapses we saw were the result of those two events. Nothing happened that ruined our cruise, but the experience wasn't what we've come to expect from RCI. I am confident that a few sailings in the U.S. market will turn things around.
We had one night in between the two cruises, which RCI considers to be a B2B. So they paid for our transfers to and from our hotel and the hotel itself, a perk worth about $300. We had a large number of cruisers taking advantage of this promotion. We stayed at the Scandic Palace, which is a short stroll from Tivoli Gardens. The hotel is an older one, but the rooms are completely modern, if a little oddly laid out (the shower was on the opposite side of the room from the sink/toilet, and the towels were all stored in the sink/toilet room). There is free Wifi and a coffee/tea setup. There's also a mini-fridge.
Our room overlooked a square that bustled all day, especially on the second day when a farmers' market was set up. Although it was a little noisy, it was fun to open the French doors that led out to a mini-balcony and watch the street scene below. We slept like rocks, so it couldn't have been that noisy.
Our rooms weren't ready until 3:00, so we dropped our bags and did a little more exploring of Copenhagen. This time we walked -- down the Stroget (the main shopping street), across the canal to Christianhavn, then over to Nyhavn for lunch at an Indian buffet. We then took a canal ride, which we had done in 2007. There was quite a bit of new stuff to see -- the opera house and the royal yacht being the two that stand out in my memory.
In the evening we had dinner at the Nimb Hotel in Tivoli (we got tired of looking for a place, and they had tables available). It was good, not as pricey as we had feared it would be, and we were finished in time to get to the Biergarten to meet up with Danish Viking, who has been so helpful on the Copenhagen thread. We enjoyed a few beers with him and a couple of other Cruise Critics, then headed back to the hotel to bed.
We arose early, took advantage of the included buffet breakfast and then took another long walk, ending up in a sculpture garden not too far from the hotel. The bellman came to our room and collected our luggage, and we went down to the lobby to wait for our bus. In short order we were headed back to the pier.
We had left our luggage tags at home, but of course they had them handy for us, and we were in line to go through security in minutes. The entire process took a little longer than it had on Vision, in part because we had arrived about an hour earlier. But we were still onboard the ship about 40 minutes after getting off the bus.
Brilliance is the second-oldest of the Radiance class ships, and she is looking pretty worn around the edges. Our cabin was in great shape (other than a really beat-up balcony floor and a very worn-out sofa), but we noticed a lot of wear and tear around the ship. The worst to me was the carpeting on the Centrum stairs, which was worn to the point of being threadbare on many steps, and there are some ragged edges that are a tripping hazard. She's still a pretty ship, just not as gorgeous as her sisters Radiance and Jewel (We haven't been on Serenade since 2006, so can't throw her into the comparison mix). I just thought it was a shame that they have let maintenance slide. She is scheduled for a makeover next spring, so I'm sure all of those things will be fixed by then.
1100 (corner aft JS portside) is my favorite cabin on the ship for the money and it was ours for almost two weeks. The has a spacious interior, and the balcony is fabulous. We had two loungers (newer fabric), two chairs (old slatted kind) and two of the newer wood-topped tables. Both were cocktail height. The cabin was equipped only with a hot water kettle and tea supplies. When we met our cabin steward, he confirmed that we should have a coffeemaker, but since we bring our own instant, we told him not to bother finding one for us. Rosen (from Bulgaria) was terrific -- he started out slowly, sometimes not finishing up until 2:00pm, but we found out later that he was instructed to start later in the morning to allow people to sleep in. We observed the "make up room" cards in most of the doors across the stern early in the morning, so it appears that the order was ill-advised. But he kept us supplied with towels and toiletries and always had a cheerful demeanor -- if he ever was having a bad day, he didn't let it show.
A note for those who want to hook up their own videos: There is a Samsung brand flat screen TV in the cabin, and the input feature is disabled. The remote control is the generic RCI one, not the Samsung model, so we couldn't change it with our cheap little universal remote. At our lunch with an officer late in the cruise, we had the chief housekeeper at our table, and suggested that they allow people to change the inputs to watch movies or whatever. He thought it was a great idea and wrote it down; let's hope that he is able to persuade whomever disabled the inputs to re-enable them.
One service rant related to the cabin (not Rosen's doing): on the next to last day of the cruise, we came back to the cabin to find that our vanity chair had vanished. Apparently, maintenance was refurbishing them, but I had to hunt down Rosen to find that out. He hadn't gotten advance notice, either. A note would have been nice. I did try using the ottoman to do my hair and makeup, but my chin was just about hitting the vanity, and the ship was moving just enough that standing while holding hot appliances wouldn't have been a good idea. The chair came back around 5:30, looking exactly the same as it did when it vanished. It was formal night, and I'm just glad we weren't planning to go out early. One would think that they have a spare couple of chairs that they could swap out.
Dining Room and Beverage Service
I generally don't like Radiance class dining rooms at dinnertime -- they are crowded and chaotic, the tables are too close together and the waitstaff is really pressed to provide good service. We chose My Time Dining, and ended up in the MDR only three times during the cruise. The menus were a mix of the familiar and some, well, different is the charitable way to describe some of the menus. Service was harried, the food was lukewarm and not very tasty. I might have thought that we just picked three bad nights, but others who ate there more frequently didn't seem to like the food any better. The waitstaff tried really hard, but they were spread too thin. That issue isn't confined to Brilliance, as we've seen it on Radiance and Jewel as well. We brought our patience along with our appetites and made the best of it.
We did have breakfast and lunch in the Diamond area a few times. The food was very good, and, although there was a buffet option, we were never pressured by our servers to go get our own items (we did because it was close, convenient and good). Fortunately the ship had re-provisioned in Reykjavik, so I didn't notice them running low on anything except for Don's beloved raisin bread. The salad bar had the usual selection of lettuce, veggies and meats, and I took advantage several times.
One day as we were leaving, we heard one of the waiters coaching the others how to tell passengers that they have to sit a large table. I realize that it's easier for them to serve a large table rather than several small ones, but it kind of frosted me that, instead of finding a way to accommodate passengers, they are training the crew to refuse their preferences. Not exactly a Gold Anchor Service moment. IMO, it's the wrong attitude, but in any event, that kind of thing shouldn't be carried on in front of the passengers.
We ordered a 7 bottle Diamond wine package because we enjoy the four bottles on the Diamond list. It turned out that they didn't have one of them at all (Charles Krug Merlot), ran out of another (Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc) by day 3 and ran out of the other two (Conundrum and Spy Valley Pinot Noir) with 4-5 days left in the cruise. It was inexcusable to sell those packages knowing that they either didn't have or were critically short of the wines. In the MDR they would not offer another comparable wine, just made us order off the Platinum/Gold list, but in the Windjammer the cellarmaster offered another comparable (actually tastier IMO) Pinot Noir on the last night, which I think should be the policy fleet-wide. They ran out of quite a few other wines as well, including the Veuve Clicquot that I had hoped to indulge in for my birthday. Big boo!
We split the rest of our evening meals between the specialty restaurants and the Windjammer. I really enjoyed the Windjammer at night -- it was relatively quiet and the selection was pretty good. One station offered different cuisines at night -- Mongolian stir-fry, "American grill," Italian, etc., had a crepe station one night and sushi every night. The sushi man prepared a plate for us every night, and earned a Wow card for his efforts (Rosen got the other one). I really enjoyed the Indian food options.
Portofino was, for us, sublime -- we ended up dining there 4 times. Others reported having bad service, but Rajeev and [can't remember the other guy's name] gave us great service, and we enjoyed every bite. Chops was not up to snuff. On the first night, they overbooked the restaurant, and simply couldn't keep up. We had a 7:00 reservation, and I think it was close to 10:00 by the time we left (but we drank an entire bottle of wine, so I'm pretty fuzzy on the exact timing). The food was great, but the staff was overwhelmed. Most people were using their D+ 2:1 coupons, and whoever took the reservations just booked up the place without considering the result, which was chaos. I hear that things settled down and that it got better, but we were hooked on Portofino by then.
The second Chops meal we had was the wine pairing dinner. I'm just going to quote what one of our tablemates said on our Roll Call, because I agree with it: "one "experience" we would NOT choose again was the wine pairing dinner in Chops. The wines were wonderful but the food was terrible. We rejected the so called crab cake that smelled very fishy and tasted even worse....the filet was cut into pieces (weird) and the "creme brulee" dessert was a square of some tasteless goo and was ice cold....... It seemed that their only intent was to pour wine and food was only thrown in......not worth the price paid." I would just add that I think that the filet they served us was the MDR filet, not a Chops filet, as it was much thinner. The manager did quickly offer up salads instead of the fish cake, but it just wasn't worth the upcharge ($74.50pp).
Chops was also available to suite and Pinnacle Club guests for breakfast (we weren't informed of it, but knew to ask after Vision -- it would have been nice for the Concierge to let us know). They keep a list of suites guests who are entitled to eat there, but not of Pinnacle Club members, so we (and others) had to explain for about 4 mornings in a row that we were entitled to eat there -- perhaps PC members could be added to the list in the future. The menu was completely different from the MDR, which we enjoyed. The service was pretty bad most mornings -- it took a long time to get orders, and whenever we asked for cappuccino, we got the same, "it will take me 10 minutes because I have to go down to Deck 4." That went on for the first week, and the manager even told us that they would rather not bring us cappuccino because of how much time it took. You know what? I don't care. It's not my fault, and it should not be my problem, that you don't want to use the machine in Portofino. They finally got another waiter in there just to bring specialty coffees. And the crew fought with each other every day for the first few days -- we could see them bickering, which I thought was completely inappropriate -- at least come closer so I can hear what you're fighting about! Seriously, their obvious animosity should not have been expressed in front of the passengers.
We ate in the Seaview Cafe once. I had a pasta dish that was far too salty but otherwise ok and Don had a pizza that was a little better than the usual icky RCI pizza. It would have been nice if they'd offered a salad or other vegetable, but pizza, pasta and panini were it. Another CCer said that they basically ran out of ingredients by the end of the cruise and he was served a panini with 2 slices of pepperoni and maybe a pickle inside. The Solarium Cafe served up some good-looking salads and sandwiches, but somehow we never made it there for lunch.
European bar pricing seems to be about 15% higher than US pricing, but that doesn't stop them from adding another 15% gratuity on top of that. The result was that we did our livers a favor and didn't purchase that many beverages onboard other than wine (which is similarly marked up). In Australia, they mark up the drinks but don't add another charge on top of it.
We couldn't get into the CL at the cocktail hour, even after 6:00 when the early dining folks left, but we did sit in the Yacht Club a few times, and Melissa was very good about coming out to check on us. The Hollywood Odyssey, used for CL overflow, was also crowded most nights, and we had often trouble getting anybody's attention for a drink, so most nights we ended up at the Diamond Event in the Starquest, where the service was tremendous. They would pour drinks for D+/PC/Suites upon a showing of our Seapass, so we weren't limited to wine, champagne and soda. They RAN OUT OF LA TERRE by the end of the cruise, yippee! So we had some slightly upgraded wine choices.
So, that's food and drink.
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