This was our very first cruise - a 12 night cruise over Christmas and New Year starting/ending in Barcelona and taking in Turkey, Rhodes, Cyprus, Egypt, Sardinia and Majorca. Didn't know quite what to expect, so was fully prepared to let things happen and take everything in our stride.
Generally, we were very impressed with the Brilliance - a beautifully designed ship with plenty of high-quality things to do. The service and food was consistently excellent throughout the entire cruise. We were particularly impressed with our two waiters in the Minstrel Dining Room, who were called Engin and Ediz. Like all the waiters, they both worked very hard, and nothing was too much bother for them. They were incredibly friendly and made us feel very welcome. We can't commend them highly enough.
We've read some of the reviews on this site which criticise the quality and variety of food available. We disagree. We thought the food on offer in all dining areas - Minstrel Dining Room, Windjammer and (for an additional fee) Chops Grille and Portofino - was simply excellent. Top marks all round.
We enjoyed all the Entertainments provided, particularly in the Colony Club and Pacifica Theatre. Two shows that we especially enjoyed was the Beatles Tribute show and the Swingtime show (playing music from the 1920s and 30s). From the Entertainments staff, we appreciated the efforts of Zach and Amanda (both from South Africa) and Erky (from Turkey - yes, in the spirit of good fun, he promoted himself as such!). They all conveyed hugh enthusiasm for the ship and its activities, which was infectious and added very much to our enjoyment of the cruise.
The ship was kept beautifully clean throughout, and our stateroom attendents kept our statement clean and tidy. We appreciated the gesture of towel origami - every evening, we would enter our cabin to find some towels folded into some entertaining shapes (e.g. a frog, dog or monkey). Room service was generally efficient.
We liked and made full-use of the sports facilities on the top two decks, though the basketball court could do with being full-size. One small issue which is not necessarily the fault of RCL is that the ship is kitted out for fair-weather sailings, and I appreciate that cruising the Med over Xmas will not necessarily guarantee fair weather. However, I mention this because, whilst there are two swimming pools - an outdoor pool, and an indoor pool in the "Solarium", the overcast nature of the weather meant that few people used the outdoor pool or the multitude of sunbeds outdoors. Consequently, the relatively-small "Solarium" and its sunbeds were constantly full. As I say, RCL can not be held responsible for the weather, but the heavy demand for the Solarium is something you should be aware of if you choose to cruise in the Med over Xmas and New Year.
We were very impressed with the Captain of the Brilliance who, via a dedicated channel on our stateroom TV or via a daily tannoy announcement at noon each day, kept the passengers informed on the progress the ship was making. Despite English being his second language, he had a real knack of talking to us in a way which was informative, educational and not patronising. His qualities really came to the fore when a storm blew up in the Med on the return leg of our journey to Barcelona. After visiting Egypt, our next scheduled destination was Sardinia in two days time. Unfortunately, a force 11 "near hurricane" was brewing directly in our path off the toe of Italy. Consequently the Captain had to make a difficult but sensible decision to cancel our intended arrival in Sardinia, and instead shelter off the coast of Tunisia until the storm had passed. However, the way he explained his decision to us via the TV channel was simply excellent, and more than made up for the disappointment of not being able to visit Sardinia. As he said (paraphrasing), "we could take the ship through the storm, but it would be very uncomfortable for everyone and there would be no guarantee that we would make it to Sardinia in any event. Or, we could shelter off Tunisia and ensure a much more comfortable journey to Majorca [our next stop after Sardinia], and extend the amount of time we have in Majorca". Excellent call, Captain!
Now for the gripes:
1) Check-in to the ship took far too long. Admittedly, we arrived when a lot of people were trying to check-in at the same time, but the processing of people was inefficiently done with the net result that the queue took ages to move along. For example, there were not enough people behind the counter to process the volume of people that had arrived. Also, the people behind the counter had to walk up and down a long counter to collect various items to give to passengers as they checked in, which was time-inefficient. We feel that the check-in could be organised much more effectively.
2) The toilet in our en-suite stateroom kept blocking. Whilst one occasion might be forgiven as unfortunate, our toilet kept blocking six or seven times throughout the cruise - as did other toilets in other staterooms on our deck. For the price we paid for the cruise, we feel that RCL could have invested in much better plumbing.
3) The internet access was slow for the price being charged. Whilst there were signs put up warning passengers not to expect broadband-type speeds, I still feel that the price charged ($0.55 per minute) was expensive for the service provided.
4) I could not find any information on the price being charged for use of the ship's mobile phone network, and have subsequently got caught out. On arrival in Barcelona, I received an automatic text message from the local Spanish network provider informing me that calls made within the EU were £0.34 per minute. However, I did not receive an automatic text message from the ship's mobile phone network and I assumed that the rate was the same. I subsequently made a series of phone calls throughout the calls totalling 45 minutes believing that I was being charged £0.34 per minute (a price I was prepared to pay). However, it subsequently transpires that the rate is nearer to $3 per minute, and am now expecting a mobile phone bill of nearly £200 (once currency charges are taken into account). I feel therefore that RCL should advertise the its mobile phone charges much more conspicuously.