We took the train from Liverpool St Stn. Direct to Harwich, total journey time approx 90 minutes. Preferred the direct route as the alternative, slower train involves a change at Manningtree and a hike to another platform involving stairs , a tunnel and more stairs. Unhelpful staff at this stop and your now set up for an unpleasant start to your cruise.
Harwich terminal is an antiquated set up, but you are not there for too long. Somebody needs to explain to the people shepherding the queues that priority boarding means just that and excludes asiatic and continental hoards who have no conception of queuing or personal space from the equation.
On board by 13.45, cabins ready, so drop off the carry ons and make for the Windjammer for lunch.
Greeted by staff in the Royal Caribbean manner, smiles and a cheery welcome. Some of the staff remembered us from previous trips and bid us a friendly welcome home.
Not too many upper tier cruisers aboard and the Diamond Lounge, managed by Andrew Feingold the concierge, Samir and Marillia our servers made a very pleasant retreat on a nightly basis. Only one problem was that the coffee machine was inoperable for the length of the cruise, but we were allowed to use the one in the Concierge lounge. Excellent nibbles available and any problems solved practically on the spot. Thank you Andrew and team.
My Time Dining: We were able to secure a table for Four overlooking the balcony for 7 oclock without hassle. Our servers, Andrew and Ivan were great fun and very efficient. Head waiters Anthony and Florina looked after us Royally.
Anthony has actually instigated a great idea which Im sure will be appreciated more by the Brits and those that are accustomed to more spicy food, An Indian Cookery class held in Chops where one of the onboard Executive chefs prepares and cook a 5 course meal by way of demonstration whilst a team of chefs prepare the same meal for all those attending. The meal was very tasty and very filling and for $15 per person was great value for money. Copies of the recipes and prep details arrived at the cabin the following day. I understand that due to popular demand they may be considering moving the venue to Rita's Cantina as demand was so great. well done Anthony and staff great idea, great food.
Copenhagen: Used the RedBusses service here, paid for the tickets on line in advance. (Buy three different HoHo trips and get the Fourth FREE) All went well in Copenhagen, busses right at the gangway no hassle great service.
Tallinn: Did not use the service here, walked the 10 minute route to Black Mary gate and strolled around this beautiful medieval city. In hindsight perhaps should have just used the bus to see the modern part and then gone into the old part! Maybe next time?
St. Petersburg: we had pre booked a private tour for the four of us through Guru Tours, we chose the 2 day comfort tour, which gave us a personal tour guide Maria, our courteous and proficient driver Dimitri, a 6 seater Mercedes air conditioned people carrier. Toured St Petersburg after meeting Maria after clearing Immigration at 08.30. If you think US immigration is unfriendly, brusque and discourteous, wait till you try the Russian style, we just assumed that the officer was suffering from piles and had recently undergone a charisma bypass, with a face like a bulldog that has just licked the piss off of a thistle. No smile just grunts.
In the morning we did a city tour, a stop at the Church of the Spilled Blood, not to be missed, then a 1hour 30 minute drive to Pushkin to see the fountains at Peterhof.
Back on board at around 4. Same immigration officer but my wife wished her a very good day and smiled at her. This time her face grimaced a smile of sorts but we assumed it was wind.
Next morning at 9.00 we did The Summer Palace and the Amber room, followed by lunch in a St Petersburg restaurant, Borsch, Blinnies, Caviar, stroganoff and Salad. Waiting to see how that translates on the credit card probably cleared the national debt of one of Russia's dwindling satellite states.
Then to The Hermitage no queuing, what a magnificent group of rooms and buildings, no wonder the Bolsheviks were jealous.
There were more intense tours but for us old ones we were at least able to walk and even enjoy the night entertainment on board without the need to collapse or require oxygen.
Helsinki: used the prepaid RedBusses service again very efficient even threw in a boat trip into the town square. Value for money. Try the local fish (whitebait / spratt) and vegetable platter on sale in the market place, €10 buys a huge platter enough for 2 to share, delicious.
Stockholm: this is where the fly in the ointment hits home with the bus service the RedBusses service is the most disorganized ineffectual service around. Just to clarify and avoid any confusion. There are 3 HoHo services. One is the Green bus, the second is The Official Tour Bus which is Red and there is the RedBusses service which is abysmal. Dont get caught out as we did, and remember the RedBusses service in all other ports was exceptional but Stockholm is crap.
The Green bus picks up at the gangplank of the ship and i think that The Official Red Bus does also. The RedBusses stop short by some 400 yards and an untidy queue forms this is administered by the guys in Red shirts with Red Busses logos selling tickets. They are obviously on commission and couldnt give a damn if you get on the bus or not. One bus had filled and we were told that the next one would be along in approx 20 minutes. The 20 minutes went by, no bus. The two salesmen had also disappeared leaving a group of somewhat bewildered passengers queuing for no apparent reason. It was then noticed that the busses operated by this company were stopping just outside the gates. So the queuers made their way to join another queue who were waiting at one of the bus stops. Confusion reigned and the atmosphere was getting nasty as tempers frayed. The salesmen reappeared and by this time the group had turned into a mob especially when an empty replacement bus arrived and everybody did a mad scramble to get aboard, the driver was trying to explain that the audio system did not work and he was only going as far as the Palace not completing the tour. By this time i had already cornered the errant salesmen and demanded compensation, we were issued with boat tour tickets by way of appeasement. We did the boat trip utilising the free wifi on board to catch up with emails etc. we returned to the Palace and sought out a bus stop which would return us to the ship. Not easy but we did manage to find one and as the bus progressed on its predetermined route it became apparent that there were more people than spaces on the bus and many were left languishing at the stops for the next bus. This section of the trip was really a nightmare and i would suggest boycotting REDBUSSES TOURS IN STOCKHOLM.
Visby: tendered here. Nice again medieval town.
2 days at sea and was everybody aboard glad, its a draining tour and the respite was welcome.
Which brings me to the downside of The Brilliance. That of allowing kids into the Solarium pool between 4 and 6 every day. There are clearly posted permanent signs stating that children under 16 are not allowed in the hot tubs at any time and that persons under 18 are not allowed in the pool. However it seems that on some issues of the Compass it states that children can use the Solarium pool daily between 4 & 6 confusing. I look at it this way i dont use their pool which is set up for kids why do they use the one designated for adults? go piss in your own pool.
Altogether a wonderful and memorable cruise with great staff, great facilities and entertainment. Would i do it again? At the drop of a hat!