We just returned from a seven night Southern Caribbean cruise on the Brilliance of the Seas departing from Puerto Rico. This was the second leg on the schedule after cruising the first leg in 2011 on the Serenade. We missed a year as our preferred cabin 9076 was not available in 2012. We love this cabin as the balcony is a large wedged shape allowing a full frontal view of the ship. There are two lounges and a full sized table with two chairs. The only drawback is that this cabin is directly under the Concierge lounge on the 10th deck and for some reason the cleaning crew has to drag the furniture at two am waking us every night. I might suggest cabin 9576 on the starboard side of the ship. On this cruise we were pleased to find that a bottle of wine per passenger was allowed to be carried on the ship.
IMPORTANT: Please note that curling irons,clothing irons and scissors are not allowed on the ship. They will remove these items from you and hold them until the end of the cruise.
We are well traveled individuals in our late fifties. This was our 5th cruise, and the second on the Brilliance having sailed on a 12 day Mediterranean cruise in 2009. Other cruises have been on NCL and Carnival, all very nice trips.
We arrived in San Juan a few days early ahead of the pending storm on the eastern seaboard and stayed at the Sheraton Old City. This hotel is situated right in Old San Juan across the street from the cruise ship docks and a short distance from the RCI port. This is an excellent hotel choice for both post and pre-cruise vacations. For more on the Sheraton Old City see my post on Trip Advisor.
After arriving at the cruise terminal at 10:45am we were onboard by 11:20. The Windjammer buffet did not open until 12:00 so we spend time reacquainting ourselves with the ship. Our cabin was available at 1:00 pm and the luggage arrived at 3:00pm. Our cabin Steward Rajah met us and was ever present throughout the entire cruise. Does this guy ever sleep! We wonder just how many times the Stewards are in the cabin daily. Tipping has changed somewhat from our last RCI cruise. Being on the my-time diner option the pre-paid tip is allocated automatically to each wait person instead of the coupons that had to be placed in envelopes on the last day. You are still given envelopes for all involved wait staff, however, extra tipping is at your discretion.
We love being on the Radiance Class ships as they feature a lot of glass and just the right amount of passengers for their size. The Brilliance still sparkles and has that wow factor, however, some areas are in need of replacement. The ship is scheduled for a dry dock re-fit in May 2013.
All of the staff we encountered were friendly and greeted us with a smile. The cruise director Mercedes was energetic and not in your face as some others can be. The assistant cruise director spoke French mostly so we did not get to know him. More on that below.
We choose my time dining this time in the Minstrel Dining Room. We ate at the same time each evening so we were assigned a specific table with 6 other couples. Our head waiter Ricardo and his staff were excellent greeting us all by name. Nice touch and what a great memory! The food was varied and well prepared with a different theme each evening. On the two formal nights Sunday and Thursday most guests dressed well creating a nice atmosphere throughout the ship. This was a big contrast to our Carnival cruise where dress night consisted of T-shirts, cut off jeans and flip flops the same as every other night. We are not cultural snobs by any means but people if you have a burger and fry mentality then stay with the buffet.
The Windjammer buffet was consistent all week offering a varied menu. We ate both breakfast and lunch there daily and had no problem finding a table as turnover is frequent. The staff did a great job of cleaning tables. It is just such a shame seeing people leaving almost full plates on the table then walking away after taking a few bites, enough food to feed a third world country. There are several other places to eat which is covered in other reviews. Check your daily activities sheet for times as they vary daily.
Entertainment was typical cruise with two full production shows for the week and fillers each evening in the Pacifica Theatre. Our favourite show was the "Original Drifters' featuring one of the many original members from 1967. It was an excellent show and brought back several memories. We do miss the dedicated Comedy Club offered on Carnival.
One thing we love about RCI is that they are port intensive travelling at night and arriving at a different port daily with only one real blue day. The ports were all excellent and we had pretty well most of the day to explore the islands on scheduled tours and on our own. More on that below.
One thing you should know about the RCI cruises out of San Juan is that every Wednesday the ship picks up 350 guests and drops off 350 guests from Guadeloupe. Although other than a few rude unattended children running around we had no issues but it was apparent other long time cruisers did. The Guadeloupe guests speak French so all announcements are in English, French and Spanish. This is all shipboard announcements and entertainment venues. There is a definite cultural clash evident.
Disembarkation in San Juan was well organized, however being non American it took us over an hour to file through customs and retrieve our luggage. American citizens are free to pass by Immigration and leave the terminal directly. If you require a taxi be aware of the pushy locals that only drag you 50 feet or so to a waiting cab expecting a tip for doing so. This was a change from last time where you lined up and approached a cab in order. RCI offers airport transportation for $36 a couple, however your luggage is placed on a large truck and what a mess at the airport finding your luggage once again. Better to share a cab or pay $25 for the one way trip. All cabs in San Juan operate on a fixed rate which is advised up front. The other concern with the San Juan airport is that your luggage first has to go through the Food and Drug Inspection area located inside the entrance. It only takes a minute to get the green sticker after placing all items including carry on and purses on the conveyor for X-ray. Airline check-in is not possible without the green stickers.
One thing that we always do is take the RCI excursions. We have tried the do it yourself tours arranged ahead of time or at the dock with independent companies, however, the RCI tours may be a bit more expensive, however they are quality tours and you are guaranteed that the ship will not sail without you. We did not select any excursion more than 4 hours in length giving us plenty of time to shop and enjoy the afternoon onboard the ship.
In all this was another excellent cruise experience and we will continue to cruise RCI based on schedule availability.