We have only cruised 3 times before, all with P&O. This was a big holiday for us, our expectations were high, and we weren't disappointed.
We travelled by car from our home near Nottingham, which took approx 3 hours, the traffic was good as it was the weekend, the Port of Harwich was easy to find, we paid for parking at the booth on entry, just over 7 per day. We drove to a large car park where luggage was taken from us and put on a trailer to be taken straight to the ship, then we parked our car ourselves, retaining the keys, and hopped on a shuttle bus with hand luggage for the short trip to the check-in.
Short delay for check-in as the computers had crashed, lots of apologising from staff, and then on to the beautiful Brilliance of the Seas. The fabric of the ship was stunning and plush compared to P&O's Oceana and Oriana, the glass lifts and Centrum where amazing.
Our cabin was nice, the bed huge, with our 16 year old in the bunk above our heads. Space was tight, we needed to be organised, but we fitted all our clothes into the wardrobes and drawers. Our cabin assistant Merle was so nice and friendly, always making us feel welcome, we felt all the staff were exceptionally helpful and couldn't do enough to help. Loved the towel animals, disliked not having shampoo, conditioner and body lotion...and no chocolate on your pillow!
The usual free-for-all in the self service restaurant for lunch, fantastic food, and free flavoured squash, juice, water, tea and coffee. This felt like a restaurant, and was plusher than the self-service on P&O. We happily shared a table and realised that Brits were in the minority, we thoroughly enjoyed mixing with people from America, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Israel, Armenia, Nigeria, Australia...the list is endless, and this made our holiday.
Loved the help yourself breakfasts and lunch in the Windjammer (free self serve icecream machine), nice organic salads at The Park cafe in The Solarium and supper here too, together with Fruit Punch, iced tea and lemon squash all free of charge.
Evening meal.....hmm...AnyTime dining, if you don't book in advance, it's more like AnyTime to suit the restaurant dining. Not being aware of the importance of booking, we ate in the Windjammer the first night, as only 8-45pm was available. After this we booked each night for the following night. If I could put the P&O evening menu on this ship, it would have been perfect. The waiters were fantastic, very accommodating with our fussy eating son, couldn't fault their service, BUT, the food was not the best. Once we realised which things weren't to our taste, we adapted by ordering something different.
Smoking policy....smoking inside ruined the Colony Club, The Casino and the NightClub, we just avoided these areas. I'd forgotten how lucky we are in England with the smoking ban.
Alcoholic drinks...wow, they know how to charge, and then add 15%. So we didn't bother, if they had been cheaper we would have spent more.
Entertainment....managed to see most shows, different each night, with mostly a British slant ranging from comedy, comedy magician, singers, dancers, Russian evening, hypnotist and magician all in a lovely theatre. We went to the cinema and also the outdoor screen around the pool. Loved the Mini Golf course. Loads to see in the Centrum, bands, quartets, singers and a great British evening. Hats off to Keith, he got involved and really made us laugh.
We walked into Copenhagen from the ship, took the HoHo in Stockholm (made certain we went straight to Vasa museum). Took the ships shuttle in Helsinki, walking around the shops and sea front market stalls. Went with SPB Tours to St Petersburg, who, after an initial mix up with groups, were excellent. Thank you to our fellow travellers in Svetlana's group, we loved your company and sense of humour. Used the shuttle to the centre of Tallin, which was walkable, and just soaked up the Medieval atmosphere. Tallin and StP were best for souvenirs. Ships shuttle again to Gothenburg(which was needed) walking around the old part and the new shops. Oslo, wow, parked up next to a Fortress, we walked along the harbour, visited the main street shops and back through the Fortress.
Our son went along to the Teenage Lounge on the first evening, and we barely saw him for the rest of the holiday, other than Port visits and most evening meals. He has made loads of friends, they enjoyed their freedom on the ship and he is now keeping in touch via Facebook. We drew the curtain separating our cabin from the beds, and left a small light on as he was later to bed than we were!
This was a fantastic holiday, we will use Royal Caribbean again. We would actually like to do this cruise again, as hearing about the different aspects of each Port from other people made us realise how much we missed.
Thank you to all crew and fellow cruisers that made this a very special holiday.