7/6-19/6 SCAN RUSSIA Firstly i would like to say, overall it was a great holiday, and we would cruise RCCL again,but there were a few niggles that detracted. Had i not cruised before I am not sure whether i would use RCCL again for such a long trip. It has certainly not put me off RCCL but it has pointed out how different each cruise and ship can be to each other and where niggles and issues happen how they are handled does make a big impression to the trip. This was our second RCCL cruise, previously cruised on 'Grandeur'
BOOKING PROCESS - directly through RCCL and we opted for free parking, A minor issue adding C and A points but was resolved a week before sail away. Customer services responsive and polite all the way through. Was a good first impression and put us in a good frame of mind for the trip.
APPLICATION OF DEAL - painless and Harwich International Port car parking was flawless - they get 5/5.
BOARDING - A fully booked Cruise, combined with a notification about Norovirus impacted boarding times slightly and it took about 90 minutes to board 'Brilliance', a lovely looking ship, inside and out, make sure you walk all the way around deck 5 - you can get to both the bow and the stern, we were well informed through the process, drinks were available and the security scans not overly onerous.We went aboard and headed for the WindJammer where we ran into our first niggle - compared to the 'Visions' the WJ is ackwardly designed, lots of big tables, lots of empty single chairs but nowhere to sit as a couple in the WJ (put it down to boarding day blues but discovered that the WJ was virtually always like that).
STATEROOM - ready on time, spacious compared to Grandeur and appropriately clean and tidy (Full points to our SA Diwa) aside from an issue that was fixed promptly involving the toilet on the Visby port call , we regarded the stateroom size and layout as an asset to the ship. Take a nightlight and clock as the interior staterooms are black as night if you dont. YES THERE IS A KETTLE AND TEABAGS - NO THERE IS NO INSTANT COFFEE.
GETTING AROUND THE SHIP - 'BRILLIANCE' has a twin access centrum and foward lobby system of lifts and stairs, expect quite a lot of walking if you are Fwd or Aft. Being a full ship lifts were often full and stopped at every floor, we usually went down stairs and uplifts, slightly over capacity for a 2.2k pax ship..
MAIN DINING ROOM - AKA 'MINSTREL' (DINNER) - We opted for MYTIME dining second seating, and were pleasantly surprised by the food and the service of Alla and Mario, we were lucky enough to have great tablemates as well and dinner became a real highlight of the day. A far cry to our previous experience of MDR on 'Grandeur' in 2012. In fact we enjoyed ourselves so much we canceled Giovannis table to stay with our table mates.
CHOPS GRILLE - Did not disappoint, pricey but worth it and the service was 5 star
IZUMI - While the food was good, the service was inconsistent and why on earth RCCL have shoved this upstairs behind the back of Ritas and next to the waterslide.... i will never know. Its competent but a slow wine service (which improved markedly when 4 Officers came to dinner) did detract.
WINDJAMMER - Disappointing because it was massively over subscribed , poorly laid out and never changed the menu once in 12 days/Nights - what happened to the WJ theme nights?? no icecream either. - the food if you could get somewhere to eat it was okay - think British pub or 3 star resort buffet...you got the idea. A big 'niggle'
SEA VIEW CAFE - Very good, the roast beef rolls are as good as other CC members say.
RITAS CANTINA - didn't seem to be functional by accident or design - In spite of all the stuff on the website....one of the 'niggles'
ROOM SERVICE - tried it three times EPIC FAIL, never came the first time, second time we received stone cold breakfasts, gave up,DW attempted lunch.....cold again! our table mates from deck 7 had a similar experience, RCCL don't advertise it if you cant supply it, BIG 'Niggle'
BARS SERVICE - Was very good, I had a soda package and was served as diligently and politlely as everybody else. Don't count on poolside drinks service, most of the bars are run solo.
ENTERTAINMENT - DAYTIME 'HelloClo' is an absolute star who embodies the RCCL 'WOW' factor, no wonder she is a legend. The Entertainment team as a whole worked pretty hard but compared to 'Grandeur' there was virtually no interaction from any of the senior officers or hotel management. I accept that the place of the Navigation Master is on the bridge but what happened to the 'pax versus crew' soccer or quizzes, the Captains cooking demonstration (hosted by the staff captain whom we never saw at all), this affected the degree of activities available by approximately 20% less than on the smaller Grandeur. We seemed to be divorced from the operations side of the ship completely except for the mid day briefing and constant reminders about Norovirus. No Officers walks for wishes, parades of flags or anything like them on this trip and the welcome and farewell (no master present) lasted between them an hour. Disappointing.
ENTERTAINMENT - NIGHTTIME ,Music gigs were good as were the Showtime Headliners ( be realistic folks we are on a SHIP after all).
NOROVIRUS - unfortunately this deserves a special mention, first 4 emails the night before we left for Harwich. Then EVERYWHERE FREE you go you get 'Spritzed' - The MDR, the WJ, the Casino...the shops....on and off the ship...at any given time there are maybe 12 hospitality staff on 'Spritz' duty through out the ship....interestingly it would seem that PAY venues such as IZUMI, CHOPS etc seem to be 'Spritz' free....call me a cynic...
When we did hear from Captain Manolis, he tended to spent 2 minutes on navigational and weather information and 5 minutes reminding us about personal hygiene...its a buzz kill, did anybody get sick?...maybe a few...but on a 12 night trip with 2200 passengers...people are going to get sick...and a lot is self inflicted, not Norovirus.... Please RCCL REPLACE the crew you put on spritz duty....the staff just seemed to be running around the whole time.
COMMUNICATION - The Cruise Compass was quite unreliable, activities would be rescheduled at short notice or cancelled, more alarmimgly the port call times varied in 3 ports from the itinerary...never in the passengers favour either. Stockholm and Visby didnt even get port guides...we berthed at Freihavn in Stockholm which proved an expensive nightmare to get into the City....had we been informed it would have made our lives a lot easier, because we would have booked a ship excursion and not the astronomically priced HOHOs by the dockside - big niggle.
VIsby was lovely for maybe an hour - once again the communication issues proved problematic....RCCL got a good deal on non Schengen emigration procedures here??, Swedish emigration were very efficient...but the tender process was painful and chaotic and aside from a lot of churches...didn't seem to be much there...potentially should this be a 10/11 night itinerary?? or maybe Oslo??
Lovely ship with comfy spacious cabins, and attentive SA's a fair amount of deck space, a good MDR and team. The musics pretty good as are the shows. The port calls are good (with the exception of Visby) and interesting. Marred by a few annoying design features (overcapacity for class), communication issues. An experience for the ports rather than the cruise experience I think.