We were very happy with this entire cruise experience. The Brilliance of the Seas is smaller than other ships that we have traveled on. I thought the food was better on this ship than on the Mariner of the Seas, which we traveled on at Christmastime. However, I liked the larger Centrum on Mariner and the larger Solarium, especially the hottub. So be prepared for some things to just be on a smaller scale.
The Solarium area on Brilliance seemed a lot more hectic, with the Park Cafe in one corner. It got really busy and noisy here on occasion, and I don't think they were really fussy about enforcing the adults only policy.
There are lots of beautiful common areas, though, to listen to music, read, or just watch the ocean go by. The Schooner Bar was one of my favorites. The elevators that look out over the water are also great. And speaking of bars, the view from Starquest is also wonderful, and John from Columbia was a super attentive waiter and an oragami wizard.
We liked the location of our cabin. It is a little forward of midship, and we really didn't feel any motion. Our cabin steward, Moses, was great. He made sure we had anything we requested, including packing tape to mend our garment bag long enough to make it back home. He was also able to get us bathrobes to use during our stay. I think it is important to let the staff know what you need and they will do their best to accomodate.
We took advantage of all the specialty dining venues. There was a package deal for, I think, $118 per person. It was well worth it. I would recommend any of the specialty dining options, but the Chef's Table might have been the most fun. There are only 16 people at a long table and you really get to know some of your cruisemates during the evening. Some people say you used to get this food without paying extra, and I have two thoughts on this. It's not necessarily about the food. The specialty dining rooms are smaller and quieter, and the wait staff is able to give you a little extra attention. My other thought is that cruising is still such a good deal. Transportation, lodging, entertainment, dining; I just don't see anything to grumble about.
Our main dining room experience was equally enjoyable. Our waiter and assistant waiter were attentive. I also like eating lunch in the dining room as opposed to the buffet, because you get to sit with people you might not get to meet otherwise.
We enjoyed all the ports. If you do this cruise in June or July, be prepared for the white nights, because it is really different to realize it is one in the morning and still as light as day. Make sure your curtains are shut tight so that you can get some sleep, or opt for an inside cabin. You move your clocks ahead three times from England to Russia, and I accidentally moved my clock ahead one day early. It took me a while to realize I was wandering around at four a.m. because it was so light out!
I talked about most of the ports below, except Gothenburg, which wasn't listed. It is a big city with lots of shops, a pretty park, and just a few historical sights to see. We purchased shuttle tickets to and from the city, but I wonder how much it would have cost to take a cab instead, especially when there were six of us and we could have split the cost six ways. Otherwise the shuttle is pretty busy first thing and we had to wait a bit.
We used Royal Caribbean transfers both ways. We went to London a few days early and booked at the Doubletree Hilton Westminster. (We hired a cab from the airport into London). You have to book the pre-cruise night directly through Royal Caribbean, but the hotel linked our reservations and it was a seamless stay. They pick up your luggage from outside your room the morning of departure and the next time you see it, it is outside your stateroom door. If you do go early, this hotel is very conveniently located, and many major sights are within walking distance (one or two miles). On the way back, we booked the transfer with the tour of Windsor. We loved the town of Windsor, opted not to tour the castle because we only had a couple hours, and then had the privilege of waving to the Queen as she drove herself to church.
The ship-board entertainment was fine. The four singers were wonderful, as was the orchestra. Rachael from the orchestra also entertained in the Schooner Bar a few nights and we really liked her. A Russian Folkloric troupe came on board in St. Petersburg and they were also great. A few of the variety acts were nothing out of the ordinary, just okay, but there is plenty more to do.
The gym was large, clean, and rarely crowded. My only suggestion here would be to open the steam room and showers to coincide with the gym, not wait until 8:00 a.m. when the spa opens.
I really can't think of any negatives on this entire cruise experience. Happy cruising!
We found Copenhagen to be very walkable. We visited the Little Mermaid, Gefion Fountain, Amelianborg Palace and Rosenborg Castle. We walked along the canal, where there are lots of very cute cafes lining the streets. However, we left the ship first thing when we were cleared, and as a result, we were in the shopping streets before all the shops opened at 10:00, so if shopping is really your thing, maybe wait awhile to get off. We also had just had a good breakfast, so we weren't hungry enough to eat at a cafe and thought it was too early for a Danish beer, so again, you might want to consider timing if these are things you are interested in. I loved the colorful buildings in Copenhagen, Stockholm, and St. Petersburg.
I would recommend you take the shuttle into Helsinki and back. We talked to a couple who did walk it and would not encourage others to do so. It is a bit further than Copenhagen and Stockholm, and also confusing, and they did get lost and end up at the wrong pier.
Once you are in Helsinki, there are many sites to see. We visited the National Museum for a few hours, which was great. We could have spent many more hours there. We headed to the Rock Church and had a little trouble with our map. However, we asked a young man for help, and he was on his way there and showed us where it was. He spoke amazingly good English! We had to wait for a service to be over before we could go in. There is no cost, and it is just beautiful. Don't miss it.
We then walked back to the area where the shuttle dropped us off and headed to the market. The market is fun, though we didn't buy any goods or food there. You can buy reindeer furs! We headed to the Uspenski Cathedral, again very beautiful inside and out, and then to Senate Square Cathedral. We didn't go inside here, but did climb the steep steps in front. On the way back we checked out the Merimekko store and Stockman's. There were many more sites on my list, but I was happy with what we accomplished in one day, and just hope to get back some day.
This was a two-day tour for our group of six. We booked through an agency called Red October. I would not hesitate to recommend them, although I know that the ship and many other tour agencies have these tours and I would think they are probably similar. I would recommend the private tours over a large bus full, however. I would just think it is easier to get around when you are not trying to coordinate the needs of an entire bus full of people. We saw so much in 2 days; the Catherine Palace, St. Isaac's Cathedral,Yusopov Palace where Rasputin was killed, Peterhof Palace, Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, the Hermitage, a hydrofoil ride, and many photo stops along the way, again easier with only six people in a van. My one thought is if the main thing you want to see is the Hermitage, try to go as early in the day as they will let you, even if there are other things you don't see. We arrived at the Hermitage in mid-afternoon and it is just silly to try to appreciate great works of art when you are being herded through a room like cattle in a feed lot. All the other beautiful palaces and cathedrals more than made up for this disappointment, but if your heart is set on the Hermitage, look into other options than one stop on a whirlwind tour.
St. Petersburg is a beautiful city steeped in history, but big, busy, and crowded nonetheless. It was an exhausting couple of days, but worth it to see so much.
I am sure this bus tour would be fine for some people, but I like to walk around, and Stockholm is another city that is an easy walk from the ship, and several sites that are walkable. I was interested in the Vasa Museum, but by the time our bus tour was over there wasn't really time to do that. So nothing against the tour, it's just not for me. I would recommend walking into town. The old town and the shopping streets are close by. Hopefully I will get to go back some day. Then I would either go to the Vasa Museum or check out the
This would be the port where I would recommend you do your shopping on this cruise. Walk up to the old town. There are all kinds of shops built into the midieval town, and street artists and musicians as you walk along. I purchased woolen goods and amber in the shops. We went to the Beer Haus for lunch. If you order the fish sampler it is smoked, pickled, and dried, not beerbattered and deep fried, just so you know. However, it was a fun place to eat and they have their own brewery with good beers to choose from.
Take Euros with you when you go. The town square is a huge market, and few places take credit cards. We bought a juniper wood trivet and the guy gave us a straight exchange for our dollars, but one of our group was not so lucky and got a pretty bad exchange for dollars, so I think-go prepared with euros!
There are also pretty good shops right outside the ship, and I was able to get some nice wooly slippers and a colorful woven runner.