Returned two days ago from a five night, New Year's sailing aboard the Brilliance. My 14th cruise, and my travel mate's 19th (For both of us being under 25, I'd say we're doing quite well!). We enjoy cruising with Royal Caribbean for the consistency in their product - well maintained ships, decent food, good activities, and very friendly staff. We've also cruised with Holland America, Carnival (ugh), and Norwegian (my personal favorite).
I guess I'll just go in chronological order of the cruise - please bear with me here as this is my first cruise review I've written.
Embarkation in Tampa went rather smooth. Considering my friend was a diamond member we were able to bypass the lines, thankfully. Next thing I know, we're on the boat. My first impression of the boat was rather standard and perhaps a bit boring. I was certainly underwhelmed by the centrum. Royal Caribbean usually included a grand staircase from deck five to four in the centrum, however, Brilliance did not have that. Not only did that make the Centrum appear far less exciting, but that staircase was a nice convenience for descending right into the Centrum. Oh well. Not a huge deal at all. We packed and went up on deck for a little bit. Then came the muster drill. My friend and I had two different muster stations. Mine was outside next to a lifeboat, his was in a theater. So while I had to stand, packed like sardines for thirty five minutes, my buddy was able to sit back in the theater and just get through the drill quite easily. Once again, not a big deal, just nitpicking.
Next thing I know, we're sailing. Tampa is always a fun port to depart from, and as a pilot it's always fun watching the activity at Peter O' Knight Airport as we sail past (;
Since we had made reservations for Chops that night at 8:30 we had a fair amount of time to kill, so we decided to grab a snack at Rita's Cantina behind Windjammer on deck 11. What a joke this place was. It was desolate except for a stone-faced bartender. Menus were placed around at a few tables. We sat at the bar. After looking at the menu, and being stared down by the bartender, we had to ask him if we could get food. He gave us a very annoyed yes. We ordered the nachos, and he said okay and stormed off. Twenty minutes later he came back with our cold nachos. We didn't complain though, as they were fine and I did not want to test the bartender/waiter/cook(?) (plus we're not the complaining type). Anyway, we made some light conversation with the man, and his replies were quite unpleasant. We finished up and got out of there. That was the last time we went to Rita's on the trip.
Finally it was time for Chops. The food was outstanding. Certainly one of the best steaks I have had. The service was relatively okay. I'm not sure of the woman's position, perhaps manager of Chops, Helga, seemed to be annoyed with every guest in there. Our group did not complain about a single thing and we were all in outstanding moods, so I know it wasn't us who had upset her. It was by now I started getting the impression that the crew on this boat were not like the rest of Royal Caribbean. They wanted nothing to do with the guests.
After dinner we had met our room steward, Yara. Now she was awesome. Always in an amazing mood, always happy to see us, and talk with us. She was a blast of fresh air.
The next day we were in Key West. Not a super exciting port. We did some walking, some shopping. It was fine, nothing special. We hung out by the pool afterwards and the staff around the pool deck and at the Sky and Pool bars were, as usual, extremely unhelpful, unfriendly, and borderline rude. Ugh.
We ate in the MDR with the late seating this night. The food was better than most other Royal Caribbean ships. So that was a very pleasant surprise. Our head waiter, Lincoln, was perhaps the coolest man I have ever met. He was very fun and friendly. The assistant waiter, Alfredo, seemed to just 'smile-and-wave'. Not as friendly or conversational.
The next day, day three, we were at sea. Seemingly normal sea day. Decent weather, just hung out by the pool. We did play trivia a few times this sailing. The activities person doing the trivia, I can't remember her name, probably shouldn't be in the activities department. She just wasn't having any fun with it. The good news is though I won the gold medal twice, so I mean, come on now. That was fun. Ate at Giovanni's Table this night. Great food again. The waiter was awesome. We had a very elderly woman in our group. The staff at the restaurant offered to bring her lunch in her stateroom while we were in Cozumel the next day. We took them up on it. What a wonderful gesture by the staff. Good food as well.
The next day, day four, we were in Cozumel. My fifth time in Cozumel this year alone. As usual we negotiated a cab to take our group of 16 to Buccanos. A beach club. I just want to take a moment to say if you are in Cozumel and want to go to the beach and snorkel, lounge, drink, swim in the pool or the water, jetski, etc. I cannot recommend Buccanos enough. They are an outstanding beach club about ten minutes from port. We paid twenty dollars a person to get in. Great beach with amazing snorkeling. Beautiful and very clean facilities and bathroom, and very very nice Mexican beach fare. We got a seafood platter as we do everytime, and it was just wonderful. If you're in Cozumel, go to Buccanos, you won't be let down.
Back onboard we spent some time just hanging out at R Bar, the bar located in the Centrum. Great bar, with good staff. By the end of the cruise we had thoroughly befriended Adrian and Andrei, the two main bartenders there. Compared to the rest of the very unfriendly crew, these few needles in the hay of friendly staff was great.
The next day, day five, was miserable. 14-16 foot seas for the majority of the day left the ship in a state of depression. I spent a bit of time in my cabin that day just watching TV and dozing in and out of sleep. Most of the members of my party had gotten sea-sick, I managed to avoid coming down with the worst of it. Nothing special about this day. Most activities were cancelled.
Debarkation was okay. For some reason, they funneled us through the theater before we could get off. That was pointless. Then when we were off, there were only two customs lines open, unless you got a porter, then you got your own line. What a joke. That line took about forty minutes, just to show one of the two agents our passport and give him our card. Whatever.
Okay so that's the play-by-play - here's the basics to take away from it:
Absolutely terrible staff. Everyone we had talked to agreed as well. There were a few wonderful members, but they were few and far between. That's not the Royal Caribbean I have come to love. No, that felt like a joke.
Stateroom was very standard, nothing special, no complaints there except that they should replace the shower curtain with sliding doors as it seemed like our bathroom was soaked after every shower.
The food was wonderful, especially in the specialty restaurants.
The ship was generally well maintained, no serious issues. Would've liked the centrum to be less cramped. The centrum shows were just a waste of time and really crowded that space up.
Did I mention how unpleasant the staff was?
Overall it was a fine time, just didn't feel like the Royal Caribbean I knew and loved. Will I sail with them again? Yes.
We sailed with the Brilliance because we sailed with the Jewel earlier and fell in love with the ship. We figured because the Brilliance was in the same class, it'd be the same. Nope. Decent ship, but it certainly isn't the Jewel, which to me is the best ship in the fleet.