This was a mother-daughter cruise. It was my daughter's 4th cruise, my 8th, but the first for both of us on Royal Caribbean. Even though we've lived in New England our whole lives, we have never visited any of the places on the itinerary.
EMBARKATION-BOSTON: We live less than an hour from port, and it was a joy to not have to fly to the ship. My husband drove us the 50 minutes to the port, dropped us off at the pier, we waited a short time in a drizzling rain to check our luggage, were guided to security, and checked in. It was all very quick and painless. As we boarded the ship at about noon, our cabin was not yet ready. This was the first time I have boarded by noon and not been able to go directly to the cabin. I really missed being able to drop our laptops, cameras and carry-on gear in order to tour the ship or go to lunch unencumbered. It was pouring by the time the ship sailed, but that didn't stop us from putting on our rain gear and being on deck for sailaway!
MUSTER: No lifejackets were required to take with us to the muster, and we were directed out to the appointed station. Just wish the crew in charge would have directed the passengers in the crowd to stop yakking loudly. I felt bad for anyone who was cruising for the first time really interested in hearing what to do in case of an emergency, as it was impossible to hear the voice over the loudspeaker due to the rudeness of others.
THE SHIP: Brilliance is clean, bright and attractive. The Centrum, the activity hub of the ship is stunning to look at, but a little small and can gets crowded at performance times. However, the area spans 8 decks high, creating an open feeling. The absolute most beautiful place onboard is the Solarium. A gorgeous pool and jacuzzi are surrounded by beautiful tile and greenery in a jungle-theme, creating a peaceful oasis, especially late evening or early in the morning, at which time I found I had the whole place to myself.
THE CABIN: We had an outside cabin on Deck 4, forward-starboard, off the atrium, convenient to the public venues on decks 4, 5 and 6, but not so much for the Windjammer, pool, fitness center, spa and everything else on decks 11,12 and 13. Though I had requested a twin bed setup, the bed was set up as a queen when we arrived. Not a problem, as our steward happily fixed it for us right away. The cabin was large enough for two people, the beds were very comfy, storage was plentiful with ample space in the closet. There is a small sofa and table which is a big plus for the extra seating areas. The flat screen TV swings out from the wall for easy viewing from either the sofa or bed. The bathroom is typical of most - small but manageable. Space behind one mirror provided shelves for storage, which was adequate for our needs. The window is large, round, and provides a room with a view.
As a side note, one morning, we found our corridor being used as a major access route to the gangway on the deck below us. We were making our way back to the cabin to retrieve our gear after breakfast and required a crew member to escort us through the mob of guests cramming the entire corridor to our cabin. Something to keep in mind if you are in any of the forward cabins on deck 4.
INTERACTIVE TV: In eight cruises, this is the first one where I had the opportunity to view our account, book shore excursions, order room service and all the other features of this very convenient, easy-to-use service, all from the comfort of our cabin!
DINING: Food quality and selection was very much hit or miss on this cruise and inconsistent, as well. The pizza at the buffet looked and tasted like it had been sitting under the warming lights for a very long time, but the same pizza that came from room service or obtained from the Park Cafe was better. The coffee was some of the worst I've found on any cruise ship. Food, in general, was nothing special, and we were hard pressed to find any buffet selection to really rave about - breakfast, lunch or dinner. The dining room cuisine was better, but not entirely. The prime rib, French onion soup and chicken cordon bleu were superb; the turkey and pork chop were both dry. Our experience in Izumi and Chops, on the other hand, was superb!
THE WINDJAMMER. This is the buffet venue, set up with food stations, as opposed to the cafeteria style I'm used to. This was a great feature, preventing congestion and improving traffic flow. The room is large and attractive, but seats were hard to come by at peak times unless you were willing to share a table or venture to the cool air outside to the patio areas.
PARK CAFE: This little place located in the Solarium was a gem! We loved the sandwiches, pannini and beef pâté. It was a great place to grab a late night snack or a morning coffee. The pizza here, unlike that in the Windjammer, was fresh and tasty.
MINSTREL DINING ROOM/MY TIME DINING: We ate in the main dining room just three out of the seven nights. We did not make reservations ahead and just showed up when we were hungry or before or after a show.
On the first night, we found ourselves with a table for 10, arriving after 8:00 p.m. Our table mates were lovely people, but I would have much preferred a smaller table. This one was rectangular shaped, and being at one end, we didn't really get to know the folks at the other end. Service was prompt and excellent, though, and the staff were very attentive throughout the entire meal, from wine offering to dessert.
The second night, we arrived at about 6:30, we were seated at a table for 4, and two other nice, friendly people joined us. Service on this occasion was way off. After being seated and handed menus, it took a long time for the waiters to appear, whether it was to offer water and rolls or just to introduce themselves. Very strangely, wine was not offered before the meal order was taken.
On the third night, we were seated again at a table for 10, and joined by 6 other pleasant folks. Strangely enough, again, no one asked if we wanted wine or something from the bar.
IZUMI RESTAURANT: My daughter is a fan of everything Japanese, so when we found out there was a Japanese restaurant on board, we had to give it a try. Izumi was a bit hard to find, located in the rear of the ship, outside, behind the waterslide. We didn't know about the set of stairs leading up to it from the deck below, so made our way through a cold, blustery wind to reach it - all while wearing are formal attire. Either way, you have to go outside at least a few steps to reach it. Ultimately, it was well worth the trip. The sushi was delicious, the atmosphere nice, the staff professional and helpful, and the service great. I especially enjoyed the experience of cooking my own dish on a hot rock right at the table!
RITA'S CANTINA: It was the mystery restaurant on this cruise. It's located aft, just behind the Windjammer, but the food counter was always closed whenever we went by.
ROOM SERVICE: This was a pretty limited menu, and the only things that appealed to us at night were the spinach & artichoke dip with tortilla chips. For breakfast, I typically order coffee and pastry, neither of which was very good. The pastry didn't seem fresh, and the scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage were cold when they arrived.
CHOPS: We'd had enough of the main dining room, so chose Chops as our meal for the last night at sea. They couldn't find our reservation, but it wasn't a problem and seated us immediately at a table by the window. The service was superb, the filet mignon melted in my mouth, and my daughter's baked stuffed shrimp were the largest I'd ever laid eyes on. To top it all off, the desserts were heavenly. Clearly, this was the best meal on board and well worth the extra charge.
WHALE SIGHTING: As an incredible bonus on our first day at sea, we spotted a group of breaching whales pass by on our way to Halifax. A spectacular sight to see, I kicked myself for only having the iPhone camera on me.
POOLS: I miss the fresh water pools of Princess. Just the same, I loved both the Solarium pool and jacuzzi in the early morning when it was quiet. The indoor Solarium was popular on this cruise out in the cold Atlantic, and there were always a few people in the pool and the jacuzzi. In the evening, it was quiet and was a great place to hang out, swim, soak in the hot tub or relax with a snack from the nearby Park Cafe. The outdoor pool was empty most of the time, although on a nice day, we were able to relax in the sun, listen to the live band, and witness a Zumba class in action. We didn't attend any if the outdoor movies there - a little too chilly for us.
ENTERTAINMENT. Here is an overview of the shows we saw:
Welcome Aboard Show: We were entertained by funny guy, Don Gavin and the Brilliance of the Seas Orchestra, and enjoyed both.
Jeff the Juggler: Funny and entertaining!
"Celebration of Live Music", with the RC Singers & Dancers & the ship musicians: A lively blend of jazz, rock and standards. Awesome talent and tops anything I've seen or heard at sea.
Farewell Show: Featured a comedian, whose name escapes me. I did not enjoy his humor nearly as much as the previous two comics the previous nights. The seniors in the crowd were happy - the jokes were definitely directed at them. The staff and performers came out to bid the passengers a fond farewell. Of special note was a performance by Steve, the cruise director. Not only was he a very pleasant host and real people person, but he also did a very enjoyable song and dance number. Well done!
CASINO: The slots were unforgiving to me and took every penny I had. I hope others had better luck.
CINEMA: I peaked in here one day, and noticed a small room with very limited seating for a ship this large, with a lot of folks complaining about not being able to get a seat to watch a movie.
L'ATTITUDES: This was the coffee bar located on deck 5. I made a trip here every afternoon for a mocha latte, an Irish coffee or a frappucino. RCI does offer a coffee card - buy 6 and get the 7th free. Picked up a free cookie or pastry here, as well.
BEVERAGES: My daughter doesn't drink, and I don't drink enough to make any of the packages worthwhile.
INTERNET: I disconnected on this cruise. It was my first cruise on RCI, I had no free minutes, and didn't find any great reason to spend the money.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: On my one and only trip to the Fitness Center on Day 2, I apparently overdid it on the bike and aggravated an already bad knee, leaving it swollen and painful for the rest of the week and slowing me down considerably. As a result, I altered some of our independent plans and booked a couple of last-minute ship excursions, which would require less walking. Weather and the Government's closure of the National Parks also played a role in reconfiguration of my carefully planned itinerary.
HALIFAX: It rained heavily in the morning, and our private motorcycle sidecar tour with Bluenose Sidecar Tours was canceled. For Plan B, we took the free shuttle out of the restricted area at which we were docked and out to the main pier. From there we walked to the Maritime Museum in the rain, spending the morning there viewing the exhibits. The Titanic exhibit was very interesting and nicely done, but I liked the traveling exhibit much better which I saw in Hartford a few years ago. More interesting and emotionally charged was the Halifax explosion exhibit. I did not know anything about this tragic event and found the information to be very informative and moving. Also impressive was the collection of ship models and various nautical articles on display.
The skies cleared, the sun came out and we had lunch at Murphy's seafood restaurant on the boardwalk. We arrived before the mob of fellow cruise passengers came, and were able to get a table out on the covered patio area, far better for viewing the boats passing by. My lobster roll and salad were good and fresh, though a bit overpriced, and I heard others complain about the service. It was a nice day, even though we did not get to Peggy's Cove as planned, but it's the chance I took when I reserved a motorcycle as our mode of transport.
SAINT JOHN, NB: We joined four other cruise forum members and took a full-day private tour of Saint John, Reversing Falls, Bay of Fundy, St. Martin's, and other notable places with a stop for lunch at the sea caves. Split among 6 people, we saved a bundle off the cruise line excursion, and had a minivan all to ourselves.
BAR HARBOR: Whenever possible, I always book an independent tour, but because of the U.S Government's shutdown and closing of the National Parks, our tour to Acadia park was canceled. Wanting to provide something exciting for my daughter, we booked the ship's whale watch. We saw birds, a few seals and some dolphins. But no whales - not a single one. We spent four hours on a huge, packed boat in the freezing, windy air, and when it was done, we wished we had just stayed in town.
By the way, Bar Harbor is a tender port, and RCI has a ticketing system. Simply obtain a ticket and wait in a public area for your number to be called. If you have booked a ship excursion, you don't need a ticket, but be prepared to wait in line to disembark, especially if you're on a tour with a few hundred other people - like we were, and exactly why I will never book another ship excursion when tendering is required.
PORTLAND: We had an early morning horse and wagon ship excursion booked, but at the last minute decided to blow it off. After the long afternoon on the crowded whale boat the day before, we just wanted to chill. Jenn slept in and I went to the Jacuzzi to soothe my aching knee. Later in the morning, I strapped on a knee brace and we went shopping and stopped for chowder, lobster and shrimp at a local restaurant.
DISEMBARKATION: Royal Caribbean has this down to a science. Luggage tickets are issued, wait in the appointed area and at the appointed time, and off we went - very easy.
SUMMARY: I was worried that my 26-year-old daughter would feel out of place on this ship of seniors - many in walkers and wheelchairs. In fact, one gentleman in the elevator asked "what's a young thing like you doing on this ship?" To her credit, she mixed in very well at dinner, providing words of wisdom from a youthful point of view related to topics unfamiliar to the older set - like Facebook and the internet.
Brilliance is indeed brilliant, we enjoyed the ship immensely, and for the most part, the crew were friendly and helpful. The specialty restaurants were amazing, and even though the service was spotty in the dining room (especially the lack of wine service), the food was fine. The food in the Windjammer buffet left us a bit disappointed, but the snacks and specialty coffees at L'Attitudes, and the sandwiches at Park Cafe soothed our late night cravings. Although I think Princess still has an edge over Royal Caribbean for me, I wouldn't hesitate to book another cruise on Royal.