Embarkation From Topeka, Kansas: We traveled, through Atlanta, to Barcelona, the departure point, arriving the day of departure. This worked out well for us with no problems. One of our Royal Caribbean luggage tags didn't quite survive the flight, so I had to perform a makeshift repair... might be a good idea to carry tape. Each of us always has a carry-on bag with toiletries and spare clothes, but we've never had our luggage diverted. We always have the cruise line book the flight and that has always worked well.
I wish the Royal Caribbean reps would have been more visible initially as we entered the terminal, but that was just me being nervous. The porters took our luggage while in the terminal. Unexpected, but no problem there.
We were a little early at the port; lines were short. HINT: Complete the on-check in from the Royal Caribbean website. We printed that documentation and took it with us. That made check-in quicker and much easier. The website, from my experience, did not allow corrections, so be a little careful when entering the data. We boarded very quickly.
Ship and stateroom: With our budget, we had a cabin on Deck Two, the very bottom. It was small, but it was also quite comfortable. We were not going to spend much time in there anyway. Our 18 year old son enjoyed the pullman bunk. The hall on the bottom deck had several offset fire door enclosures which disrupted the traffic flow, and it was also a dead end except for the crew access. Our room had only a porthole. The bottom deck has its compensations: On one night of rougher sea going to Mykonos, my son and I watched the big waves from our porthole. Some were actually up to or over our porthole! Let's hear those on Deck 10 say that!.
The ship rode very well with little disturbance. Overall, the ship is comfortable, stable, does not show its age, and is well kept. People were always cleaning.
Shore excursions: Know what you want to do. Carefully read the on-line documentation. Plan your tours in advance. Do not wait until you get to the ship.
HINT: We booked and paid for our shore excursions four months in advance. That was one of the smartest thing we did. All our tickets were on our bed when we first walked into our room. No lines, no stressed decisions, no missed tours, no problems. If you do this, I would suggest periodically checking the status of your tours on-line.
We had a shore excursion at each port. Royal Caribbean has improved the process. Go to the meeting place, wait for you tour ID to be called, get a tour bus assignment/sticker, then follow that number all day. Easy. The big city of Rome and the "Imperial Rome" tour was easy. We had two guides: one to lead and one that followed everyone. Because of the crowds, each of us had a portable radio receiver. The guide had the transmitter. EVERYONE could hear what he said regardless of where you were in reference to him and in spite of the surrounding crowd.
At each port I thought the lines moved quickly off and then back on to the ship.
Most tours were like Disney World: you exit the ride through the gift shop. A couple of tours started in a gift shop, e.g. Pompeii. Aggressive street merchants pretty much took over the Leaning Tower site, but not the actual grounds. The shop merchants in Kusadasi Turkey are quite audacious and will nearly pull you into their shop as you walk past. Our tour of Ancient Ephesus actually ended in a carpet store with a sales pitch; however, it was low pressure and we politely left. ... hope we did not ignore cultural differences and offend them but there was no way we were going to show interest or spend, on an impulse, hundred of dollars on Turkish rug, albeit a very nice rug, we did not need. Oh well, that's how they make their living.
There were a couple of times (e.g., the perfume factory in Grasse, France) that I suspected the site was a show for the tourists, with an associated shop. The "factory" had a pleasant but strong perfume fragrance, lots of bottles of what appeared to be essence, and other equipment, but something about it did not "smell right". Nobody was working in the factory and it was easy for the guide to say to folks that would never return "... I don't know why they are not here today". Maybe that was just me.
Most of our tours were of ancient ruins. We found Rome, Ephesus, and Pompeii very interesting, but we especially liked Mykonos and Santorini (especially the village of Oia) islands. They are quite beautiful. The drive to Amalfi at the Naples stop was wonderful!
The tours were well organized, well done, and kept on track. Our guides, especially in Rome, were helpful, very knowledgeable and they watched out for us. No complaints. Well done!
Dining: Food is a personal preference. We always ate the buffet for a quick breakfast and lunch. If you have cruised, you've seen these buffets; however, we did find them to be very good with several exotic or different selections on them. There was always, for us, a good variety. We thought the fresh fruit was good -- the best strawberries and melon we've had in some time. The "cook outs" on deck were also very good. We always ate in the dining room for dinner, even when we returned late from a tour. We thought the food was very good with variety. We had thought Carnival had better food. We now believe Royal Caribbean has the better food.
We were quite disappointed there was no place to get ice cream, except for the hand dipped, which was an extra cost, or cookies, later in the evening after the show. The buffets closed and the Seaview Cafe served only pizza. So, unless we missed it, there was no place to get a late night sweet snack.
Service No problems. We rarely saw our room steward, but he did a good job considering the mess of stuff we usually left. The dining room staff worked hard to keep us happy. They did great. We did not use room service.
Security: No issues on board. We always felt safe. No issues on shore, but always watch your wallet and passport, because thieves look innocent and friendly and works in teams, especially in crowded areas such as Rome. But then, when out, if I don't know them, I trust nobody, no matter how helpful or friendly they might appear to be.
Entertainment: Over the 12 days there were only 3, possibly 4, production shows. That was disappointing. The production shows that were presented were very good. The guest Tango and Flamingo acts were very good for what they were, but we preferred more song and dance productions and less Spanish flavor. The guest pianist had a style that one could predict even before he finished his first song and he manipulated the audience, which I did not appreciate. The Italian tenor had a fine show and wonderful voice, but also had an ego as big as the ship. The other "headliners" were, to me, to be second or third level. But, even so, they were OK for what there were.
We were thankful for the live music, especially the stage band. Note to cruise lines: keep the live stage music!
Disembarkation: Very quick and very easy. It is in Royal Caribbean's best interest to get passengers off and gone quickly. The luggage in the terminal was well organized by the disembarkation color and we retrieved ours quickly. The cruise staff could have told us about the "luggage truck". Our color was "Lavender 2". As we left the terminal there were several trucks taking luggage and one was marked "Lavender 2". Giving the driver our luggage, even in a foreign country, seemed reasonable, since there were other "color" trucks, it seemed to be sanctioned, and there was other tagged luggage in it. We then boarded the bus posted as "Lavender 2". We had to wait 30 minutes or so, I suppose to let the luggage truck get a head start. Upon arriving at the airport, all of our luggage was on a sidewalk area, and we easily found all of ours. That was an open area, so I don't know what would happen if it was raining. I THINK there was a Royal Caribbean rep there to watch it before we arrived. The Barcelona airport terminal was very crowded. We even had to wait 30 minutes before our flight check-in opened ... at 10:00 a.m.... and we had a flight at 1:05. ... easy with plenty of time, in spite of the LONG line.
Summary: The cruise and ship staff were excellent. Food was great. Accommodations and the ship itself were very good. We were very pleased with the excursions. Entertainment was disappointing but generally OK. Getting on and off the ship was quick and efficient. Would we sail the Brilliance again? Definitely, depending on the itinerary. Overall, high marks!