This was our first transatlantic cruise and we were not sure how we would react to all the sea days but things turned out really well. This was our 26th cruise on RCCL and our fourth time on Brilliance. We left Tampa on a Wednesday and we had a very easy check in experience. We live in Tampa so there is nothing to tell about travel to the ship. Twenty five minutes after we left the house we were in the terminal. About 30% of the passengers were Diamond or higher so the Priority check in was long. The handicap check in was longer as well due to the passenger demographic being so old. That being said, there was no one in line at the overwhelming majority of the regular slots so we whizzed our way through. We received our bags in a timely manner and were unpacked by muster. The only unexpected thing was the soda I brought aboard. In the past it could be checked but now it had to be carried on. No big deal!
We sailed right on time and it was 3.5 days at sea until we reached Boston. We had some rain before Boston but the first couple of days we were in Florida waters and it was pool temperatures. By the time we sailed into Boston it was highs in the 50's. The day before we arrived in Boston the captain advised us that there was a bad weather system that was developing at sea and we needed to cut Boston short to miss the worst of it. So we left Boston at 3 PM instead of 7 PM and as we sailed east we made some course adjustments to avoid the worst of the wind and high seas. The crew tied down the deck furniture on the top decks and in public areas they secured things that could impact passenger safety. Everyday the Captain made announcements on the PA and he was part of the CD daily tv broadcast so that we would be informed. As it was, we had some 15 foot seas and some 35 knot winds but for the most part they were from directly behind us so the forward motion of the ship cancelled out most of the effects of the wind.There were a couple of days where the sun was out and people were on Deck 11 and sheltered from the aft wind. So there was some sunning time mid atlantic. We had 6 days at sea after Boston and we participated in the Progressive trivia contest. It was super well attended and there were a lot of good teams. We fielded 3 Cruise Critic teams and had a very good time. My wife went to the art auctions to see what was available as a mid day activity.Just about every day we moved the clocks forward at 11 AM so we had a lost hour and a bunch of 23 hour days. It was good for me because lunch came early and all I had was coffee pre trivia. My wife swears by the Chicken Sliders in the main DR and we also had some Park Cafe roast beef sandwich lunches. The food in the Windjammer was ok but we don't eat there that much. There were some reported cases of the dreaded norovirus and so self service stopped everywhere on the ship. The food in the WJ as well as the plates, silverware, and condiments were all served by crew. The ship staff was non stop disinfecting everything and wiping down all common touch points. You could not walk into a food venue or the Concierge Lounge without a spritz of hand sanitizer. The ships senior officers were more visible during our days on board. We were constantly seeing the hotel director, his second in command, and there was a very nice lunch where we sat with the Head of Safety and the International Ambassador. We also had a lot of interaction with the cruise director due to her leading the progressive trivia. I had an issue about some amenities from my travel agent and that led to a trip to Guest Services. The agent that handled my situation was just great and got things straightened out with Miami. She called me back within 24 hours and it was great service. We had a great cabin attendant who kept the room spotless and brought us ice morning and night. The aft D2 cabin was perfect. We have been in this stateroom or one just beside it on every Radiance class cruise. It has a triple deep balcony that is much better than the ones on the sides. We just love that down the wake view!
We also had a very positive experience with our dining choices. I assembled a table of 8 from our Cruise Critic thread and we requested a table location in advance from the MaitreD'. I scouted the DR in December and one of our table mates was on Brilliance about a month before we sailed so he met with the MaitreD' and there you go. No one else was interested in Specialty Dining from our table but another CC couple hooked up with us for Chops, Giovanni's, and the Chefs Table. The food and service were excellent in all three but the Chef's Table was a real indulgence for us. It really was great and we would probably treat ourselves on a future cruise.
We truly loved this itinerary and each stop had something of major interest for us. We had a super active CC board with over 4,000 posts and we all shared tours, rides, etc. outside of RCCL transport and excursions. In Cork we went to Blarney Castle and Kinsale, in Cherbourg we had a whole bus of CC people that went to the D Day beaches, Pointe du Hoc, and the US Cemetary. In Brugges we shared a cab from the ship and then we wandered independantly to see the Madona & Child sculpture. Took a canal boat ride, and shopped for Chocolate.
When we arrived in Harwich we had also teamed up with other CC members who chartered an 18 passenger bus for a ride into London to our post cruise hotels. It was a 2.5 hour ride an traffic wasn't that bad.
The only real negative was clearing British Immigration between Ireland and France. The line was impossibly long due to people not showing up at the right times. We showed up at our time and they made an announcement to come back later due to the log jam.
In London we stayed at the St Ermins Hotel in Westminster and it was just the best. It was walking distance to Big Ben, 10 Downing St., Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, and Buckingham Palace. It was also right next to a tube station even though we did not use the tube. We spent a day touring the Tower of London and rode the Eye. We saw the rest of LOndon from the HoHo bus.