OVERALL: Our July 14th sailing was an excellent cruise experience we especially enjoyed touring Saint Petersburg and Tallinn. After the rehab, much of the Brilliance is shining, although some rust is still showing through! One of the best improvements was the touch screen guides on each deck and touch screen menus at the entrances to the main dining room.
But much of the rehab was to create additional specialty restaurants with food items that were previously free (e.g. sushi) in order to bring in additional revenues. Understandable, but not beneficial!
EMBARKATION: Took an early 9:30 train from Liverpool St. to Harwich changing trains at Manningtree arriving Harwich at 11:43. Change at Manningtree requires about 15 steps down to underpass and 15 steps back up 9:30 train gives you 53 minutes for the change, 10:02 train gives you only 5 minutes to catch the same train. At Harwich it was only a 2 minute walk from the train platform to the ports luggage check-in.
Embarkation was quick and easy after we found the right line 1st person we met was saying gold in this line when I asked about platinum he directed us to what turned out to be the general boarding line 5 minutes later I checked with someone else and found that the gold line was for gold and above then it was smooth sailing!
MEET & MINGLE: Fellow CruiseCritic members organized our own sail-away party at the Skybar; the following morning we enjoyed the ships CC get together nice to finally put faces to our new friends we had met online while planning joint shore excursions.
CABIN: Our D1 balcony cabin was in very good condition but still the older style with the single walkway with bath on one side and closet on the other. We prefer the newer style with a side aisle dressing area between bath and closets. Service was excellent immediately got us extension cords for our CPAP machines and extra foam padding for the bed.
DINING: Had excellent breakfasts and very good luncheons in the Windjammer Cafe, we love the multiple kiosks style serving rather than the old double line cafeteria style much easier and faster to pick up just the items youre looking for.
Our first and only breakfast in the main dinning room was rather confusing since we did not know whether we were expected to get some items ourselves from the buffet or if we could order everything off the menu we eventually learned that everything on the buffet could be ordered and served to us to my mind the buffet was superfluous since if I wanted to serve myself I could have gone to the Windjammer!
Dinner in the Minstrel (main) dining room was generally very good to excellent although one or two nights, depending on ones taste, the choices were a little limited. I had escargot every night even the one night when it was not on the menu! And the deconstructed beef Wellington was to die for. But with the competitive crunch on cabin prices, they now have to control their costs by charging extra for lobster! Service was excellent.
Snack food and service at the Park Cafe in the Solarium were both excellent.
SPECIALTY RESTAURANTS: Dinner at Chops the food and service were both superb.
Dinner at Giovannis Table the food was excellent but the service was mixed first evening the service was excellent; but the second evening our waiter seemed rushed and yet we had to wait over 10 minutes for our pasta course which finally was served at the same time as our entre.
ENTERTAINMENT: Very mixed Argentine Tango ensemble were excellent as were a regular magician, a comic magician and a Broadway musical rendition. Individual singers were good, but the very worst was a tribute group imitating an early-90s British group, Take That, that only our UK shipmates could remember and no one else had ever heard of!
Also enjoyed a few movies in the Cinema; tried the outdoor screening but the weather was too cold, the screen was not that large and the viewing angles from the limited seating at the sides of the pool were poor.
SPORTS: Did not get around to trying the climbing wall, but enjoyed the miniature golf one day and deck tennis on the sports deck twice however, although deck tennis was scheduled for a set time according to the activities section of RCLs daily Cruise Compass, both times I had to seek out someone to set up the equipment.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: Generally did things on our own, or took third party tours.
London Flew into Heathrow one day early Heathrow Express train to Paddington with overnight at Paddington Hilton. Walked through Hyde park, waded in the Princess Diane Memorial, viewed the outdoor sculpture at the Serpintine Gallery, on to Harrods for a tour of the food court, taxi back to the hotel at Paddington. Also had an extra post-cruise day to visit Westminster Abbey, Victoria & Albert Museum and Kensington Palace Heathrow Express train back to an overnight at Heathrow Hilton.
Copenhagen $15 ships shuttle to at the Nyhavn end of the Stroget pedestrian shopping avenues; walked over to tour the Christianborg Palace; then on to Tivoli for a walk through the gardens, liquorish ice cream and a lakeside Danish luncheon; followed by a walk along the Stroget all the way back to the shuttle.
Stockholm Hot room service breakfast on the balcony while sailing through the archipelago to the dock. Shared a taxi with CC friends to the Vasa Museum with an excellent guided tour in English; then HOHO boat over to old-town Gamla Stan to watch the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace, shop and lunch; taxi back to the ship.
Helsinki Used a one-day public tram pass to get around town visiting: the cathedral on Senate Square; shopping and lunch (reindeer meatballs with an outstanding garlic sauce) at the stands on Market Square; Temppeliaukio rock Church; and hummed Finlandia to myself at the Sibelius Monument in Sibelius Park.
Saint Petersburg Outstanding 16-person (all CC members), two-day comprehensive tour with a superb guide from one of the top three tour agencies (SPb-tours) visiting the fountains at Peterhof and inside visits to five other sites: Catherines Palace, Peter & Paul Fortress & Cathedral, Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood, Yusupovs Palace and St. Isaacs Cathedral; together with a general photo-stop tour of the city, visit to a subway station, canal boat ride, hydrofoil ride and two excellent restaurant meals!
Tallinn Another excellent guide (also from SPb-tours) for a two hour walking tour many interesting stories, but a poignant moment when she talked about her three-year old father being banished to Siberia returning back to Estonia eight years later we were afraid to ask what happened to her grandparents.
Gothenburg $15 ships shuttle to central downtown location on the canal just outside Tradgardsforeningens Park, leasurely walk through the park to the free Palm House with five connected greenhouses containing a comprehensive collection of trees and flowers, ice cream cone from the nearby shop, walk back along the canal to our starting point, hour canal boat trip, and then back to the ship.
Oslo Dock is right downtown, so walked through Akershus Festning (fort) to the Resistance Museum, then on to City Hall for a free guided tour of the many murals culminating with a trip to the roof of the City Hall Tower for a great view of the city with the Holmenkollen ski-jump in the distance. Then public tram out to the Vigelandsparken to view the sculpture garden. Finally a walk over to the Opera House where I dipped my feet in the waters of Oslos fjord.
DISEMBARKMENT: Had no problem replacing our number 30 luggage tags with a number 2 so that we could get off earlier to catch the 9:03 express cruise train back to Liverpool St. Station. Two minutes to find our luggage then straight out to the train platform with nary a stop for customs. Since the train was there at 8:30 so we leisurely boarded early before the crowds appeared.
SUMMARY: Wonderful CC friends; excellent cabin service; very good to excellent dining food & service; interesting ports; and superb third-party shore excursions in St. Pete and Tallinn.
The ship's shuttle dropped us off at a good central location. Enjoyed touring Christianborg Palace; then walked over to Tivoli and enjoyed walking through the gardens and a lake-side lunch. The walk back along the Stroget pedestrian shopping avenues was a bit crowded, but we found a couple of shops to pickup some interesting inexpensive souvineers.
The one-day public tram pass was a cost effective way to get around the city
Had a nice visit to the Cathedral on Senate square then walked over to Market Square to view the shops and have lunch at one of the stalls. Reindeer meatballs were delicious but the accompaning garlic sauce was outstanding!
Walked through the adjacent flower gardens and then took the tram up to the Temppeliaukio rock Church - a nice experience with the organ playing. Then another tram ride up to Sibelius Park where I hummed Finlandia to myself as we viewed the Sibelius Monument. Then the tram back to the ship
The resistance Museum was well worth the price of admission - an somewhat old style of window-box exhibits and newspaper clippings but a comprehensive view of life during the Nazi occupation and the risks taken by heroic resistance members.
The free English speaking guided tour of the murals at City Hall was terrific - it culminated in a trip up to the rooftop of the tower with a wonderful view out over the city
The public tram ride out to Vigelandsparken was easy and inexpensive - you can buy tickets for the tram at the 7/11 across from the entrance to City Hall that are half the cost of buying them on the tram.
The finally was a trip along the slanting walkways outside the Opera House - where I sat down and dipped my feet into the waters of Oslo's fjord was
An outstanding comprehensive two-day tour with a superb English speaking guide and friendly driver - in addition to the highlighted sites also included two wonderful restaurant meals, visit to a subway station, and a hydrofoil ride back from Peterhof
Amazing restoration - well worth the visit to Catherine's Palace just to see this room
Outstanding restoration - wonderful parquet floors
Surrounds the protected small remainder of the cobblestoned road where the assassination of Alexander II occured
Nice un-rushed photo stop opportunities
Viewed many of the impressionists works
Never knew that Picasso had done ceramic works until we saw them there
Enjoyed Cross's pointillism work
Great photo ops - especially of the riverside of the Hermitage/Winter Palace
you can see the golden spire of the cathedral as you look down many of the larger avenues
tour of only the fountains - which were beautiful engineering feats
Amazing art work in addition to the 4th largest dome in the world
Interesting tale of Rasputin's assassination
Room Service breakfast on the balcony gave us a chance to enjoy the superb view of the many islands and waterfront homes as we passed through the archipelago on our way to the docks on the north western side of Stockholm
Taxi from dock to the Vasa Museum was reasonable, the included English speaking guided tour of the Vasa was outstanding
HOHO boat was a cost-effective way to move on to Gamla Stan to view the excellent changing of the guard ceremony at the Royal Palace
Getting a fair price for a taxi from Gamla Stan back to the dock was challenging but successful
Madli was the most superb guide of our entire cruise - took us on a walking tour - her stories were filled with both humour and sadness. The most poignant moment was when she talked about her father being bannished to Siberia when he was only a 3-year old child - followed with a discussion of the peaceful "singing revolution" and her a cappella rendition of their national anthem.
Most reasonable place in the Baltic to shop - purchased some ceramic items in a handicraft shop and some knit goods along the "Sweater Wall"