This was our 8th cruise, second time with Royal Caribbean. We traveled with my in-laws (in their 80's), and our two children (9 & 13).
Embarkation: We arrived in Barcelona on the day of embarkation on an early morning flight. After going through a very organized customs check in Barcelona, we went to the bank within the airport to exchange our money. The best way to withdraw/exchange money in Europe is to use your atm. The fees are minimal. We found a van/taxi driver to take us to the port. We were able to board the ship by 11 a.m. The check in process was extremely easy and quite organized. Once on the ship we were able to go and have lunch in the Windjammer buffet. Our staterooms were not ready until later that afternoon. We had an ocean-view stateroom. It was quite lovely and clean. Didn’t meet our stateroom attendant, and rarely saw him throughout the cruise. There was actually one day at sea he didn’t clean the room.
Day 2 -Cannes: This was our first port. We didn’t have any formal plans for this port. This was the only port with a tender. Once we left the ship, we were stopped by a tour guide who offered a tour with another couple from our ship. Making it a total of 8 in our party. He took us to the medieval town of Eze. We didn’t make it to the top of the village since my in-laws (both in their 80’s) were with us and couldn’t make the climb. We had lunch in Eze at a nice little restaurant that served Italian food. We stopped in Monaco at the National Cathedral where Prince Rainier and Princess Grace are buried. Gorgeous church. Our driver also made brief stops in Monte Carlo (casino) and down the lower Corniche. We were back on the ship by 5 p.m.
Day 3 – Livorno (Florence) & Pisa: Our plan for Florence was to take the train in (it is an hour from the port) to the city on our own. Our plans changed when we left the ship and we were approached by a taxi/van driver. We agreed on a price and he ended up driving us to Florence. He was simply a driver, not a tour guide. He took us to view different mountain sites, with fabulous views of the city before we finally made it in to Florence. We had reservations at the Uffizi Museum. Thank goodness we reserved tickets online before the trip. This museum should not be missed. Tourists were waiting in line for up to 3 hours. I didn’t reserve the Accademia (David statue) because I didn’t think we would have time to do both. I was right, although I wish we could toured both museums.
Florence was very crowded with wall to wall tourists. And it was the first day we had warmer temperatures. Loved the Uffizi and it was worth seeing all of the magnificent art. Most of the museum was on the upper floors, so we climbed, and climbed up narrow, high staircases leading to the museum. We didn’t realize there was an elevator (hidden one) until after all the climbing. This led to not so happy in-laws (with me in particular)! After spending most of the day at the Uffizi, we met our driver at a designated area and made the drive to Pisa. Not sure it’s this is worth the visit. Hubby said we came this far, we should see it. Aside from the tower and baptistery, there was nothing of interest. It was extremely crowded. We stayed here a ½ hour (to simply take pics) and got into the van and returned to the ship.
Day 4 – Rome: This was our favorite day. We pre-arranged a private tour with “Rome in Cabs.” Our guide was Andrea (male). He met us at the port at 8:30 a.m. and we made our way to Rome (90 min. away from the port). Our first stop was the Colosseum, then Circus Maximus, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and finally the Vatican. This included the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Remember to wear a blouse with sleeves and a skirt hitting the knee (or below) or they will not allow you to enter the Vatican/Sistine Chapel or St. Peter’s Basilica. They are very strict about this. I was turned away at St. Peter’s because I forgot my scarf in the van. My shoulders were exposed. Also, men need to wear pants. My husband was offended by this, since he said Christ accepted EVERYONE. Can’t argue with that! In between the major tour sites, our guide took us for pizza at a local restaurant near the Trevi Fountain. My husband is still talking about it! Best pizza we have ever had!
Day 5 – Naples: This was another beautiful port. We had plans to meet my cousin who lives in Naples. We decided to take the ferry (a few blocks from where the ship docks) to Capri. The ferry was quite luxurious and inexpensive. Capri is gorgeous with breathtaking views from anywhere you go. It was filled with cafes and high-end designer stores. We ate lunch at a quaint Italian restaurant on the island. Absolutely the best pasta we have ever had! We spent the day walking around in Capri before heading back to Naples. We walked around a bit more around the center of Naples, mall, etc. Lots of traffic, and crazy drivers. The buildings are gorgeous.
Day 6 – at Sea: This was our first day at sea. Since EVERYONE heads to the pool on sea days, I was concerned about the lack of available lounge chairs. There were signs in a few areas about not saving chairs. Also, people have the right to move your things if you are gone more than a ½ hour. We thought this would be the day our 2 children would visit the kids’ clubs. We went up for a peek. They were not interested. There were only a couple kids there who were in their age group (9 & 13). This was the only cruise our kids never went to the kids club. This was also the first of three formal nights. Hubby was upset because lobster was not served. Our waiter said they would not be serving it on this cruise because they “couldn’t keep it fresh, coming from the U.S.”
Day 7 & 8– Venice: RCI handled this port nicely since we arrived at noon and were able to stay here until the following day at 1 p.m. The cruise director made a few announcements about going up to the upper decks to see our ship coming into Venice. Do not miss this! It is simply breath-taking. We stood on the upper decks (11-13) while opera music was playing in the background. Be prepared to do extensive walking in this port. There are lots of steps, up and down canals. The ship offered water shuttle tickets. I think we paid $30 each for unlimited use for the two days we were there.
Day 9 - Dubrovnik, Croatia: We were on our own in this port, no tour planned. Again, RCI charges for bus/shuttle tickets for this port. You will need it, since it is around 15 minutes to the “old city.” This is gorgeous. There is plenty of shopping here and a nice farmer’s market.
Day 10 - Corfu, Greece: You will pay yet again for shuttle tickets into Corfu. This is probably the biggest souvenir shopping area of all the ports. We found a lot of good deals.
Day 11 & 12 at sea: The last two days are at sea. The first day was fine. Second day very windy and rough waters. The staff said this is usually the case on every cruise.
Debarkation: RCI has the debarkation down to a science! They are extremely organized when it comes to debarkation. We have never experienced the ease of leaving the ship until now! We were off the ship by 8:30! This is unheard of on other cruise lines. Perhaps because Barcelona is an international port and guests had flights. Not sure? It was a pleasure.
Barcelona: After the cruise, we stayed in Barcelona for two days. We booked our hotel “AC Diplomatic.” Very reasonable, gorgeous hotel in the center of Barcelona. We paid for the 2-day pass for the “Bus Touristic.” It was fabulous. You can get off and on and see EVERYTHING you need to see in Barcelona (Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, etc.).
Ship: The Brilliance is a beautiful ship. We found the hallways more narrow than other cruise ships. Our ONLY complaint about RCI is the food quality. Again this is our 8th cruise, my in-laws 13th. Between the 4 of us (adults) we felt there was a lot of repetition in the food in the buffet (Windjammer) and in the dining room (Minstrel). I felt the vegetarian choices were fine. It consisted of Indian food or pasta. The quality of the food was not as good as other cruise lines.
One other thing that hubby mentioned was the charges in various ports for shuttles and water taxis. We felt RCI should cover this and not charge the guests. It was a bit much.
Entertainment: The cruise director Gordon and his staff were wonderful. They were funny, entertaining and worked extremely hard. I think because this cruise is port intensive, guests are not as inclined to go to the shows when we have a long port day (Venice, Rome, etc.) . People are extremely tired after dinner. So on these days I noticed the entertainment consisted of a male singer or a female singer and on one night a violinist. The cruise director (Gordon) made a comment after one of the shows, that people were not making it up to the disco (after 11 p.m.). We are young in our 40’s, but after the show (10:30 p.m.) we were tired and were in bed between 11-12 every night. The tango show was excellent. It was far superior to ALL of the other shows.
Be prepared for a "masquerade night" and a "White party." You can purchase masks in Venice for the formal masquerade night.
Service: We give RCI a “10” for the best service on this ship. Our waiter and assistant waiter (Anuj from India) and Milan (from Serbia) were the absolute best. They were the best waiters we have EVER had. They fell in love with our 9 year old son and did everything possible to accommodate him (and us!). Our head waiter (Evangeline) was also exceptional.
Overall I give RCI a high rating for this cruise. I think if they bring the quality of the food up, it would be perfect.