Brilliance of the Seas Cruise Review by alanoconnor: Great Cruise, But......
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Great Cruise, But......
We joined the Brilliance of the Seas at Harwich after a super-quick check in. The gangway crew made embarkation/disembarkation every bit as joyless as at any airport. Of course it's important that they get it right, but why so grim and officious? The ship seemed to be a slightly bigger version of the "Grandeur", which we had really liked. The cabin was our first with a balcony, and even though we didn't get many chances to sit out (the Baltic isn't called the Baltic for nothing), it lent a great sense of light and space. The ship is very well appointed, and spotlessly clean. The Windjammer Restaurant is a huge improvement to the one on the Grandeur in terms of layout and available seating, and the Solarium and Park Café were a godsend in poor weather.
We had booked "My Time" dining, having found it to work well on the previous cruise. When we turned up for dinner on the first evening, we were rudely directed to the Minstrel Restaurant on deck 4 for set time dining. We More had failed to notice the amount of detail listed on the Sea Passes, and a mistake had been made in the booking. Our fellow diners at the table for 8 turned out to be great company, so when we complained to customer services about the error, it was only to make the point. They were extremely apologetic, and offered to re-instate us, and assured us that the gratuities wouldn't be charged twice! In fact, customer services were the best we have come across on any ship, unfailingly polite and helpful.
The emergency drill came as something as a shock, and a definite drop in standards. Our muster station was an Italian restaurant, where a crew member called us "my family", put on his lifejacket, and assured us that if the unthinkable happened, he would guide us unerringly to our lifeboat. Our lifejackets were still back in our cabins, and we left the ship at the end of the cruise without ever having had to put them on. On the Grandeur, the drill was done properly, with lifejackets on and at our boat stations. The Concordia hasn't even been recovered yet, and already standards are slipping.
The dining experience was good, in spite of the crippling drink prices, but the evening when the crew turned it into a show, with singing and flambéed dessert never arrived. Our waitress, with a roll of her eyes more expressive than any words, explained that this was down to "Health and Safety". Entertainment was excellent, and when watching a show in the Pacifica Theatre, we almost forgot that we were on a ship. The orchestra pit was on a lift, scenery was moved by remote control, and sound and lighting was as good as in any west end theatre. One show in particular, with the 9 piece band augmented by a classical trio, and with excellent singers and dancers, was stunning. In the Schooner bar, Manda Vincent sang and played piano- everything from her native Irish material to James Taylor in a voice like Janis Joplin! In the Centrum there was a very good trio, a fabulous Spanish guitarist, and a very good singer whose usual beat was the King and Country Pub.
The trips ashore were at the mercy of the weather, but it stayed dry for the entire stop in St. Petersburg. The trips are gruelling, but unforgettable- be prepared for long delays at passport control- one couple waited 2 hours to get through, and missed their trip. Tallin sparkled in the sun, and Helsinki was very enjoyable too. Copenhagen was a disappointment apart from Tivoli Gardens, and Stockholm was a washout- on a good day it must be stunning. We were looking forward to our trip to Visby, the only tendered shore trip. For some reason, a Swedish customs team came on board, and every passenger had to come to the dining room in groups to present their passports, whether they were going ashore or not. Between this and the tendering operation being delayed by ferry operations in the area, a whole morning was lost. We gave up at 11.45, and went up to the Solarium- a lucky choice as the weather turned bad and people were returning to the ship by early afternoon. Nobody could explain why this farce was necessary, but we were assured that there would now be no passport check at Harwich. Big Deal.
We had arrived at Harwich by car, and car park transfer passengers were the last to disembark. There was a very long delay, caused by a back-up in the terminal (even without the passport check!) and the transfer left us with our luggage facing a walk of several hundred yards to our cars, luckily in dry weather. We are now pretty much hooked on cruising- this was our 5th, and we've worked out that no cruise line has everything. Thomson has old ships but good service, entertainment and drink prices, while Royal Caribbean group has a ship for everyone, from the small and luxurious Azamara ships to the Quantum class leviathans. More and more Britons are finding the courage to opt out of statutory tipping, a demeaning process as it's made to look like a complaints procedure, and I don't think many people added an additional tip to the 15% drinks gratuity already in place! Royal Caribbean cruises are, I think, good value, but gratuities and drink prices need to be addressed. All in all, an enjoyable cruise. Less
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Cabin review: Brilliance of the Seas 9218
Well appointed and spotlessly clean. There was a button on the phone for maintenance, and the service was very quick. We locked our safe door while it was still open, and a technician arrived with a little box and jump started it. The TV had a good range of channels, and we were able to keep up with the World Cup and Wimbledon. There was lots of storage space, and the cases could be slid under the king size bed. The balcony was great, even in iffy weather.
Port and Shore Excursions
Didn't use the transfer service as we were on a trip, but believe it was chargeable. Copenhagen is undergoing major building work, I think 17 new subway stations, and it's chaos. General impression was that it's a little shabby, apart from Tivoli Gardens, but the people we met were very friendly.
A shuttle bus took us to the centre of this pleasant and cosmopolitan city. It rained on and off, but the waterfront and it's market were very enjoyable, with plenty of boat trips for those with more time to spend. Good eating and shopping, a beautiful Cathedral- a must for a future city break.
Very busy, but absolutely stunning. They've banned all photography, which was a disappointment, but so many people couldn't find the "flash off" button, or just didn't listen, that it led to a blanket ban, as the flash degrades the amber.
This was the first stop of the day, so not too crowded, the sun shone, the palace and the grounds were beautiful. For us it was the highlight of the tour. It was incredible to compare the palace to photographs of what the German army had done to it.
The tour took us there at the busiest time of the day, and it was impossible to see anything at all. It was an exhausting, unpleasant experience, with the constant fear of losing sight of the guides "lollipop" A major disappointment. We spoke to an American couple who had booked a minibus tour independently, and it was a group of only 4. It gave the guide much greater flexibility, and they visited the Hermitage when it was relatively quiet, though I think it was very expensive indeed.
Peter & Paul Fortress
Very impressive indeed, and quite compact as regards walking.
A wonderful, if tiring experience, which swept away all preconceptions of Russia and her people. The Neva River was awash with every kind of river traffic, including boats preparing for a Regatta and wedding parties having pictures taken on the banks. The cruise liner quay and terminals are set in a landscaped area which can be reached by car and on foot, and which the locals call "Area 51" It was mutual- we thought we were in another world too! Absolutely unforgettable.
Royal Palace was gloomy and uninteresting. Got screamed at by ceremonial soldier for sheltering from the rain under an archway meant for official cars. Welcome to Sweden. Dropped out of the walking tour through the old town due to the rain, and took shelter in a cosy café, where not only did they accept Euros, but gave change in Euros, and provided free coffee top-ups. It saved the day. Traffic congestion very severe here also. The 3 stars are all for the café and it's warm welcome.
Stockholm Old Town Tour
The approach through the thousands of small islands would have been sensational on a good day, but it was grey and wet. The same could be said for Stockholm itself- the weather makes or breaks the day, and I think it is probably a beautiful city.
The easiest port of call in terms of accessibility- it was a 20 minute walk to the old town. It's chocolate box pretty, with a very interesting museum of photography. We had lunch in the main square, in an Irish bar run by a guy from Glasgow. As in every other port of call, the people were friendly, and put us to shame with their language skills.
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