Arriving at Barcelona, the quick check-in afforded by my Platinum membership of Crown & Anchor was impressive. Within 20 minutes of arriving at the port, I was nicely seated in the Windjammer for a much needed coffee and one of Royal Caribbean's choc-chip cookies. Having booked late, all that was available for single occupation was an Outside Guarantee cabin, so I didn't expect much even with the huge single person supplement.. but I didn't anticipate spending much time in the cabin due to the usual wonderful entertainment previously experienced on both Explorer and Navigator of the Seas.
Thankfully, I was upgraded from a porthole deck3 to a window deck4 cabin, with great views of the waves as we hit rough weather south of Barcelona. The ship travels well and although I would usually request decks 7 - 9, I actually now much prefer the views of the sea on deck 4 !
The first evening, I and my 2 travel companions went for the late sitting dinner on 4th floor main restaurant. We were seated with 2 charming fun Americans in their early 30s. The table however was less than ideal being situated between the kitchen doors and the first serving station. We sat with heavily laden trays being carried over our heads and narrowly survived several splatterings from dropped trays and crashing glasses that our adjacent table were not so lucky to avoid.
During day2 I requested and achieved the 5 of us being moved to a 5th floor table in a great position by the windows, joining a British couple in their 70's who too were charming and turned out to be very good travel companions.
Our waiter at the new table tried hard to please, he was a really sweet guy, but was poorly trained and missed at least one course (usually more) for one person every evening but the last. His assistant worked her socks off trying to compensate for his inadequacies and received the benefit of her hard work on gratuity night. The waiter's work shouldn't be so difficult now Royal Caribbean have reduced the dinner from the previous 4 courses + table salads to 3 courses and just 3 table salads in eleven nights. One night I asked for a small green salad after the starter course, I was presented with a quarter of a head of lettuce, un-cut, undressed and likely unwashed, served on a side plate... this unbelievable offering was greeted with hilarity by all at the table. The artistic and creative colored fold out menus on previous trips have now sadly been replaced with mock leather folders holding laser printed paper menus.
To recap, on our table we had Richard (27) Gary (45) Derrick and Erika (32) John and Shirley (70) and me Jonathan (50). We all chose late dining so we could relax after a day in port or at sea, perhaps use the gym or steam area or have a quick aperitif.. then go for dinner and later see a show before visiting a bar or retiring around 1am. This was not to be the case. There were 10 shows in the 11 day cruise. Virtually all the late dining shows were pre-dinner at 7.15pm!! and one night as there was a staff party taking the entire 13th deck, there was no entertainment at all for passengers!! This meant that after dinner unless you were travelling with a partner and enjoyed ballroom dancing or Karaoke there was nothing to do after supper. The quiz night was a mere 12 questions, the Mr & Mrs show rushed, fake and unfunny lasted 45 minutes, and the cruise director appeared only at the end of the shows to come up with a funny one-liner disappearing to join his family travelling along, as it was his last week on-board.
There was some entertainment in the Schooner Bar. This is a beautifully crafted yacht-club style bar that usually has great jazz and piano bar entertainment. This time the entertainer could only be described as adequate, allowing even more Karaoke style entertainment by deluded guests.
Due to the lack of planned entertainment by Royal Caribbean, and boosted by a polite smattering of applause on the short Karaoke night, two of the passengers in particular were convinced they had vocal talents that were in demand. Sadly this was not the case, and we spent many nights trying to avoid this bar hopping double act as they moved among the venues looking for a bored band, piano player or microphone to assault. Screeching poor tempo offerings were everywhere, yet the Cruise Director who should have controlled this was nowhere to be found. Surely it was his job to gauge opinion on-board and create entertainment where there was none?
The on-board library was a god-send on this trip, however, being a 'family' library many titles were obviously deemed inappropriate for the under 14s so no adult themes however mild were evident on the shelves. This turned out NOT to be as much a problem as could be envisaged as for another reason, even retiring at 11pm to my cabin out of boredom, there wasn't that much opportunity to read.
On the second night there was a frequent banging, actually more of a bonging, which woke ma around 2am. I called Security at Guest Reception and they investigated but found nothing. On day 3 there were other complaints made by adjacent cabins I was advised when notifying my cabin steward. On night 4 choppy seas again and the return of the bonging. I called Security at 2.30am and soon they were at my cabin door. Together we investigated deck 5 above to discover the causes, but short of it being a lifeboat cable hanging loose, there was little evidence of where the noise originated. The Pacific Theatre immediately above my cabin appeared locked and in darkness. The 5th night saw rough seas again, and again the recurrence of the noise at around 2am. I got up and checked the metal gate to the helicopter deck also above my cabin. Though this didn't appear to be secured properly, once tightened the noise still continued. Throughout the holiday, little sleep was achieved on rough sea nights due to this constant intervention around 2am - 3.30am.
On the last night but one, we again experienced rough seas off the coast of Malta. 2am was woken by the same noise that this time I was determined to investigate alone and then call security. Anticipating the same on my final night before a day's traveling back to the UK, I wanted to sort this once and for all. I went to deck5 above my cabin where one painting in the art gallery was loudly rocking on it's picture hook, hitting the wood paneling as it rocked from side to side, but this was not the noise I was looking for. This time I entered the lobby between the stairway landing and the entrance to the Pacific Theatre. Here the noise was much louder. I hadn't realized these doors were kept unlocked previously. I then ventured into the semi-dark theatre.. here the noise was very much louder, but still hard to discover what was causing it, so I ventured up the theatre stairs to deck6 for a better view. It was then I found one of the bar staff practicing his juggling, and the noise that had caused so much trouble over the previous week was him dropping his skittles when the boat rocked!!! He was apparently going to be part of an amateur show somewhere on the ship (likely a pre-dinner event) that I was bound to miss anyway!! I immediately called the security after taking a few photos, and the amateur juggler was moved forward in the theatre to the bow of the ship away from the cabins so at least I could get some sleep that night.. it was already almost 4am.
So, what do I think of The Brilliance of the Seas??
The ship is beautiful in appearance but doesn't have the versatility of the Explorer class and bigger ships with the Royal Promenades. Some entertainment is in the central atrium which really doesn't work as a venue unless you are first in-line, seated an hour before the show or are happy to travel up and down in the glass lifts for a better view.
The entertainment was poor! The Royal Caribbean show troop were poorly matched with the male singer/dancer being a good 10cm shorter than the girls, which looked ridiculous. The French lead singer had a great voice but lacked personality and appeared bored. One particular song had offensive un-PC language that offended me in particular. The show orchestra were superb, but scruffy in grubby black trousers and polo shirts. In the Piano Bar (Schooner) the quality was just adequate, though on other ships has been a highlight. Other venues had strange nationalities singing popular classics that were almost unrecognizable... for example... Agadoo Untermycine sounded more like a course of antibiotics than the Frank Sinatra classic it should have been.
Then there was the sadly pathetic Simon.. Royal Caribbean entertainment staff who played the idiot PeeWee Herman style amongst his forced fake British accent and goofy manner. Was this Royal Caribbean or Butlins?? The aforementioned Karaoke highlights also made me wonder!
Would I recommend Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas?
This comes as 2 questions really, and sadly, I can only answer with reservations...
No I wouldn't recommend Brilliance of the Seas unless you are over 60 and like to eat early and ballroom dance, retiring at around midnight latest. And then only if you enjoyed Butlins in your younger days.
"Would I recommend Royal Caribbean" is the second part of the question... If all the budget cuts are across all the ships, perhaps not. I have had amazing holidays aboard Explorer of the Seas with the only complaint being that I had so much to do on the Voyager class ships I came home exhausted but happy.
It seems a shame that on Brilliance of the Seas the early pre-dinner shows and the lack of the odd salad bowl on the dinner table save Royal Caribbean almost nothing, but considerably reduce the satisfaction experienced by the loyal RC traveller. Had the waiter been trained properly, the wasted food would have more than compensated for the lack of salad bowl.
In these days of a world-wide recession, perhaps Royal Caribbean should be looking at ways to offer better value for money rather than scrimp and spoil the cruising experience to save a few cents... If Royal Caribbean are still offering the standards of only a year ago aboard Explorer of the Seas, I would not only recommend it, but encourage anyone to try it... last year was our third consecutive February trip for a party of eleven friends ranging from 26 to 67 years old.. and we were all kept entertained the entire time.
I certainly could not recommend this ship to anyone under 60 or who is young at heart at least in their entertainment requirements, desiring something other than ballroom dancing. (Not to say that some dancers weren't more comical than the head-liner comedian TV reality shows do have a lot to answer for!! ) But if ballroom dancing is your thing, and you want to go to bed before midnight, Brilliance of the Seas is likely more luxurious than the SAGA alternatives.