Day 5, The Changeover
We woke up early on our last morning aboard the Carnival Ecstasy. We decided to skip breakfast and just get drive thru on the way to Tampa. The VIP debarkation area was in the Chinatown Lounge at 7:15. The crew walked us off the ship and we were in the parking lot within fifteen minutes. It was a very easy process. The Radisson had two shuttles waiting on us, so there was no wait there either. This was definitely one of the fastest departures from Port Canaveral that we've ever had. It was a great cruise overall, very relaxing and enjoyable.
After leaving Port Canaveral we had to make a stop to pick up my wife's parents before heading on to Tampa to embark on the Brilliance of the Seas. We had fairly light traffic until we got into Orlando. No surprise there, O-Town is usually a traveler's nightmare. It seems to only exist to prevent anyone from getting anywhere in a reasonable amount of time. But we eventually collected the in-laws and made our way to the Port of Tampa. It was time for round two.
For anyone wanting to the check out the pictures of this cruise, follow the link below:
Day 5, The Brilliance, Tampa, 12/16/13:
For those wondering why this review starts at day five, it's actually a continuation of a back-to-back review that started on the 12-12-13 sailing of the Carnival Ecstasy from Port Canaveral. As a quick recap, it was a great little four night cruise. We did a day at Sandals in Nassau and enjoyed the wondrous beauty of Freeport from deck of the ship. That pictorial review can be viewed at this link:
We booked this sailing of Brilliance to celebrate my wife's thirtieth birthday. It also marks a few important events for us with Royal Caribbean. It was exactly five years ago that we took our first cruise with RCI aboard the Monarch of the Seas. I remember not being totally sold on them back then. Monarch was a great ship, but not so superior that I saw Royal becoming my cruise line of choice. That first impression of Royal Caribbean can be found here:
But on the advice of some folks in that thread we decided to try one off the newer Royal ships. We took a cruise on Freedom of the Seas the next year and were thoroughly impressed. My "wow factor" was well documented here:
So five years later we're officially Royal Caribbean fans and will be moving up to Diamond Plus after this cruise. Several factors have contributed to that aside from the awesome ships. Royal's past guest program is well beyond most of their competition. The perks and nightly events (for Diamond level and above) make you feel very welcome and foster a camaraderie that you don't see on many other cruise lines. We've met many new friends during Crown and Anchor events and see lots of folks over and over again.
We got to the terminal around noon, Beth dropped her parents and I off while she left the car at The Parking Doctors. She caught their shuttle back to the terminal and we headed inside to check in. Then it all sort of fell apart. My wife booked each of her parents into two rooms along with me and her to get the senior discount on both cabins. The pier check-in agent just couldn't figure out how to put people from different cabins on the same expense account. Even after another agent came over and explained it to him, he just couldn't get it. What's normally a five minute affair turned into twenty minutes or more. We eventually got checked in, but it was a painfully process. Thank goodness for the priority line.
Upon boarding the ship I was immediately impressed with the new look given to get during her renovations. I'd been on two of Brilliance's sister ships (Radiance and Jewel), but neither had gotten the new renovations.
The Brilliance's lobby had been totally redone with the new R Bar design that I'd previously seen on Enchantment of the Seas (insert review). The look was very modern/elegant and much better than the old decor. Even the staircases and elevator lobbies had been made over and looked excellent.
The old Champagne Bar had given way to the new Vintages. I don't care about champagne or wine, but the new look is certainly an improvement. Up at the top of the ship there were more changes. What used to be the Crown and Anchor study had apparently turned into some sort of weird establishment that uses chains, ropes and leather harnesses. My hopes were dashed when I found out that it's just an area for staging the new atrium acrobatics show.
Other changes up top include the big LED screen above the main pool and the replacement of the old Solarium Cafe with the (much better) Park Cafe. The port side of the aft Windjammer porch is now a Rita's Cantina, and the former Seaview Cafe is now a for-fee Izumi Sushi (boo!).
Speaking of Izumi, it looks very nice inside and I would consider eating there if they didn't price gouge. You have to pay five bucks per person just get in, and then you have to buy the sushi ala carte. I wouldn't mind buying the sushi rolls, but I'm not going to pay money to have the opportunity to spend more money. Entry should be free if you're paying per item. What's odd is that Rita's Cantina is setup same way, but doesn't have a cover charge.
We were able to immediately drop off our luggage in the cabins. We had ocean view cabin #3596. The location right off the aft staircase was very convenient. Our view was definitely of the ocean, it was only about twenty feet below our window. The room itself was in good shape and had a small sitting area.
My only complaint about the room is regarding the bathroom. The shower curtain was too short and water would spill out onto the floor. There was also a noticeable odor of mildew at times, probably due to the constant wetness from the shower. All this could be solved (and SHOULD be solved) by Royal Caribbean adding the sliding shower doors to all ships that don't have them. They're much better at keeping the water in and don't molest you while you're shampooing.
Shortly after boarding I attended the unofficial Cruise Critic meet and mingle and met lots of nice folks that I had been counting down with on the roll call. After the muster drill we went upstairs to the Viking Crown Lounge for the cocktail party. Part of the VCL had been converted into the new Diamond Lounge, and the old Hollywood Odyssey Lounge had been repurposed into a Concierge Lounge. The cocktail party was very busy and entire VCL was being used as a combination DL/CL.
We went to the main dining room for the early seating dinner. The food was good, and they did have escargot in stock. The service was pretty slow, taking nearly two hours for three courses. Unfortunately by the time we got back upstairs they were nearly done serving drinks. We did get to meet up with lots of folks in the DL/CL that we'd cruised with before. It was great to see so many folks again that we'd met on previous cruises. We also met many new folks that I'm sure we'll see again.
After the lounge closed down we hung out with L.T. and Patrick at Rita's for some tacos and margaritas. We then ended the night at the Colony Club watching karaoke. It was a good first day, if a bit hectic at times.
Day 6, The Brilliance, Key West:
Since our evenings are a bit busier on Royal Caribbean, we decided to get our exercise done early. The ship's gym was actually pretty busy for 7 a.m. We had breakfast in the main dining room, and I immediately missed Carnival's Eggs Benedict. As with previous RCI cruises, the eggs were overdone and the hollandaise sauce had way too much lemon in it.
There was some brief relaxation before our arrival into Key West. The Carnival Imagination was docked at the Navy pier, which put us at the downtown pier, and that was fine by me. The downtown pier is much more convenient since most of the attractions are within easy walking distance. We had lunch in the Windjammer before leaving the ship. I was immediately disappointed that Park Cafe was closed for lunch this day.
We eventually left the ship and headed into Key West. We made a few stops before getting some pizza at Mr Z's. After a few more shops we went back onboard. We watched sail away from the cocktail party in the Viking Crown Lounge then had the formal dinner in the dining room. Our serving team along with other servers sang Happy Birthday to my wife and brought her a piece of carrot cake per her request the night before. Service was faster than the first night and we were out of there by 7:15.
We stopped back in to the Diamond Lounge for one more drink before the cocktail party ended. I then relaxed in the room while my wife went to the casino with her parents. Later in the evening she was treated to more birthday cake at Tim's. It had been a pretty good birthday for her.
Day 7, The Brilliance, At Sea:
After two days of waking up early and nearly constant activity I was in need of restful slumber. We slept in and got some delicious breakfast sandwiches at the Park Cafe. After breakfast I spent some time in the Solarium pool and Jacuzzi, and caught up on this review in the VCL.
With awesome weather and calm seas, it would have been a prefect day to open the Solarium's glass roof. But like every other RCI cruise that I've taken, it remained tightly shut. I really don't understand the point of installing retractable roofs and then never retracting them, even in the most perfect of weather. Carnival will open and close their pool area roofs several times a day as the weather dictates. I wish Royal would do the same.
On the topic of pools and Jacuzzis, it's really the only area where the otherwise nearly-prefect Radiance Class ships come up wanting. They carry around 2500 people, yet have only three small hot tubs. The older and smaller Carnival Ecstasy that we just debarked had four (and one upon a time had six). Thankfully the pools are heated on the Brilliance, which reduced the number of folks wanting to be in the tubs. In fact, the Solarium pool was only about ten degrees cooler than its adjacent Jacuzzi.
This being a sea day on Royal Caribbean, the only place to eat lunch is the main dining room. They put out a great salad bar that can be a meal all by itself. They do of course offer a full lunch menu as well. The salad bar was excellent as usual. After lunch there was more relaxing followed by a trip to the gym.
We had lots of fun at the cocktail party, so much that I skipped dinner and just had a few hors d'oeuvres. They offer a delicious port wine that I apparently couldn't stop drinking. Vishnu (our awesome DL/CL bartender) held up an empty bottle which I alone was responsible for. The atmosphere in the VCL during the nightly party is very festive. Vishnu kept the carousel bar spinning every night. Many of the folks opted to hang out in there versus the actual DL or CL.
I had a fun sing along in the piano bar with Sandy, Sam, Joan and Mark which later moved upstairs to the disco. The night was closed out with some late night pizza at the Park Cafe with L.T. I'd like to tell you it was awesome, but as before, all food tastes good to someone who's had one too many drinks.
Day 8, Brilliance, Cozumel:
We were in no rush to debark in Cozumel. I had a slight hangover. So we had a nice breakfast from Park Cafe before going ashore.
There are three piers in Cozumel for cruise ships. One is the downtown pier, and as the name would imply is conveniently located right downtown. The Puerta Maya pier is owned by Carnival and is the furthest from downtown. The Carnival pier makes up for this by having a nice shopping area with equally nice bars and restaurants. Royal Caribbean pulls up to the International Pier most of the time. The International Pier isn't conveniently located, nor does it have a nice shopping/dining area.
The one good thing about the International Pier is that it's only a few blocks from Carnival's. We walked down there and had some drinks at Pancho's, taking advantage of their free WiFi as well.
L.T. and Patrick also showed us the new shopping area being built across the street from the International Pier. It has apparently been under construction for some time now. There were plans for a Hard Rock Cafe to be one of the anchor stores, but they seem to have fallen through. Hopefully they can finish the complex, it would be nice to have something else to do around the pier complexes.
Back on the ship we got our workout done and went upstairs for the cocktail party. Dinner that night was good and the service was decently paced. I enjoyed the four cheese tortellini dish.
In the evening we had drinks in the King and Country pub for the first time. It's a very nice bar, and seemed to be used more than the sports bar it replaced. They still have tv's in the walls for sporting events, so the area serves more purposes now. We also stopped by the late night comedy show but didn't stay long. I don't know if the ship comics are less funny now, or if my expectations are higher, but walking out of comedy clubs was an ongoing theme this cruise.
Day 9, Brilliance, At Sea:
Our last day at sea started with one last breakfast from Park Cafe. We mostly just relaxed around the ship in the morning then had the salad bar in the dining room for lunch.
We watched the belly flop competition in the afternoon, followed by the crew versus guests pool volleyball game. After some snacks in Park Cafe we got a final workout in before heading up to the VCL. As always, Vishnu took good care of us and everyone had a great time.
We had dinner in the dining room that evening. I had to get the escargot again, since they may not be in stock on our next cruise. Kateryna and Makram had been an excellent serving team overall.
In the evening we again went to the King and Country pub to have pints with some of the folks from the CL/DL. We then went by the Schooner Bar for more piano sing alongs. We eventually ended up in the disco which was much busier than I expected it to be on the last night of a cruise. The final stop of the evening was at Park Cafe for some late night pizza.
We got an early breakfast in the dining room and then made our way to the terminal. The crowds were pretty light, but the card scanner kiosks (the machine that goes ping!) were down. Apparently their solution was just to collect everyone's Seapass cards as they left. This was a problem since we like to keep them as souvenirs. We protested and they eventually gave them back to us after writing our information down. After that, it only took a few minutes to get through customs and out of the terminal. We caught the first shuttle to our parking lot and were on the road by about 7:45.
It had been an excellent cruise and I was sorry that it went by so quickly. The Brilliance is an awesome ship and looks great after the renovations. I look forward to many more cruises on her!
If anyone would like to see the pictorial version of this review, it can be found here: