We have family living in Dubai so it was a perfect opportunity to stay with them for a few days before joining the ship. Se we arranged our own flights to and from the UK and booked a cruise only. We booked a cabin on Deck 7 and were a bit apprehensive about the "obstructed view" aspect but in fact when we got to the cabin this was no problem whatsoever.
Check in at the pier was a dream - 25 minutes from start to finish and when staff saw that we were returning guests we seemed to be given an extra friendly welcome. Whilst at the pier we signed up for a 7 bottle wine package. We found our cabin very easily. It was quite small - OK for a week but you would not want to be there for more. However, there was plenty of storage shelves and drawers. Comfy bed with 2 huge pillows each. Small shower room serviced twice daily. Our room attendant was Romeo and he serviced the cabin well enough. There was a kettle in the room but all you could have was tea - no coffee is supplied (we enquired at reception). How bizarre and mean is this??? They even supply cream (for the coffee which you can't have!!!). The hot water supply varied and twice when I got up in the middle of the night there was no hot water at all.
Whilst waiting for our cases, we went on a tour of the ship. Of course, we soon remembered the layout from having been on the Serenade. However, they had dispensed with the large lounge/bar at the front of the ship and this is now a gym/fitness centre. Overall we thought the decor a bit tired - the whole place needed brightening up. Cases arrived in due course and we unpacked in plenty of time to get showered for dinner. I was really impressed with the compulsory lifeboat drill as you had to give your cabin number to the crew member so they could check that everyone was complying with the drill requirement. This does not happen on a lot of ships we have been on.
We had chosen My Time Dining. This worked perfectly and we only had to wait once for a table. We don't like having dinner at 6pm and certainly not second sitting where you are not getting anything to eat until at least 9pm. We found the food in the main restaurant OK with plenty of choice. Service was good and they keep your bottle of wine in store for another night it you have not finished it.
We had breakfast in the Windjammer. This place could do with some attention. Firstly there were flies buzzing around in some parts of the restaurant and there always seemed to be a stale smell of food/cooking. Second there are no trays so people have to keep walking backwards and forwards between their table and the service counters. In my opinion this created a clutter of bodies!! The fresh fruit was very good but overall we did not think that the food was as good in this restaurant as in the equivalent restaurant on the P&O Azura. This was especially true in the middle of the afternoon. The afternoon tea spread on the Azura was great - on the Brilliance it was poor - especially the cakes which tasted like cardboard and had plastic - type cream. We never ate here for dinner. Full marks though for the coffees. In fact we liked the fact that you could get coffee, tea and water on tap 24 hours a day for no extra charge. This is good.
We ate once in the Portofino and once in Chops Grille. Both meals were excellent - lovely food, excellent service and a nice ambience. OK you pay something extra but we thought this was worth the money.
Being Crown and Anchor members we were invited to a function where the Captain addressed us all. This was a big occasion and included canapes and free drinks. We were very impressed with this.
The ports of call were Fujairah, Muscat and Abu Dhabi before arriving back at Dubai for a full day in port. Our family had queried why we were going to Fujairah as it is just a commercial port. Well it soon became obvious - we went there to take on fuel for the ship. The place was a dump. Muscat in Oman on the other hand was lovely and we had 2 full days there although one would have been enough. We did an interesting half day walking tour arranged by the ship. Abu Dhabi is a commercial city and really the only thing worth seeing is the Grand Mosque - and this really is worth a visit. We did not get off the ship on its full day in Dubai as we have been there several time and decided to "chill out" on the ship instead. The weather throughout the cruise was variable with lots of haze (not unusual in this part of the world at this time of the year) and it was also quite cool in Abu Dhabi. I would not choose to do this cruise earlier in the year than our date as this weather can be very cool.
And now for the things we did not like:
1. The price of drinks on this ship are OUTRAGEOUS. £5 for a pint of beer and
£65 for 2 bottles of average wine which we bought in one of the bars and took to our cabin. Of course, all drinks prices have 15% added for service. This is well over the top. For example the service we had for the 2 bottles of wine was the waiter fetching them from the store and handing them to us. We weren't the only people commenting unfavourably on the price of drinks. As a result a lot of the bars were almost empty. This was never the situation on P&O Azura as the price of the drinks was reasonable and no 15% added. On that ship, the bars were very busy. RCI should understand that on this cruise they are catering for the British and Europeans, not Americans and we will not pay over the odds for stuff. If RCI lowered the prices, they would actually sell more drinks!
2. RCI offered a taxi service from the ship to the airport on disembarkation day. Cost?? US$35 PER PERSON!!!! We did the trip by taxi for 65 Dirhams (about £11.50) for the 2 of us and our luggage. This was roughly a quarter of the price RCI were charging. What a rip off by RCI.
3. We had a dispute about 2 items on our bill. Fortunately we check our account on a regular basis and these 2 items occured on the first day of the trip. It then took us 4 DAYS to resolve the problem and to have them removed from our account. This involved us going down to guest relations on each day. No one was interested in helping us and the guest relations staff were next to useless until the last day when we really kicked off and one of their staff actually got the dispute resolved. As he said, we were on vacation and don't need the aggravation. How true but basically it was down to us to run around to bars and speak to managers. What sort of customer service is that?
4. A minor irritation - RCI have withdrawn the daily news bulletin available to guests.
So, from the above you will gather that some aspects of the cruise were very good, some appalling and some inbetween. Would we go on RCI again? Very doubtful and not on this ship unless it has had a make-over and freshened up.