We chose the Brilliance of the Seas for the itinerary: Villefranche, Florence, Rome, Solerno, Venice, Ravenna, Dubrovnik. But loved our time on the ship almost as much as the ports.
Dining: We chose the early seating and sat with the most delightful 3 couples we have ever met on a cruise. One was from Northern California, one from Florida and one from Texas. We had a delightful server and assistant who brought each couple an extra appetizer to share of his favorite (if we didn't order it) or another he thought we "just HAD to try". We purchased the wine package in advance and they save your unfinished bottle (if you happen to leave some) and bring it to the table before your seating at the next dinner. We had 3 sea days so 3 "formal nights". My husband wore a jacket and tie and that was dressy enough--no hassles. The food was good; no complaints except my husband should have known better...you don't go to Italy and order pizza in the ship's dining room--it was awful. More
We just came back (October) from a Caribbean cruise on NCL's "your way" cruising and missed having familiar faces at our dining table. I also think because you don't get to "know" your server and they you that you get sub par service. Dining service was my gripe on the NCL cruise and an occasion I looked forward to on this one.
Our cabin: was a simple balcony which was perfect for us. It was forward and starboard so cruising into Venice that afternoon was awesome. Our cabin steward was terrific. I don't think we asked for anything special but he slipped in and out without our noticing and left cute towel animals in the evening. We signed up for the auto-tip feature but left extra for both our room steward and our dining room servers.
Favorite spot on the ship: the Solarium. It is beautiful. I read 4 books on the cruise from the library and the Solarium was my favorite spot to relax, snooze or read.
Embarkation: We did what could have been a foolish thing. We flew from LA>NY>Barcelona the day we were to sail. According to our flight reservation we would arrive at 10 am and didn't have to be on the ship by until 4 pm. It seemed at the time like a good move as we had only one stop and 6 hours after arrival. It worked out perfectly but our return wasn't as lucky and I thanked my stars that we didn't have the return flight nightmare on the way to Barcelona. You really should arrive at least one day ahead. But after arriving at Barcelona airport which was very nice, quick immigration and a 30-minute taxi drive right to the ship.
Disembark and Returning Home: We easily got a taxi but after 25 euros + tip discovered were actually walking distance from the pier. Not knowing where we were going, it is just as well we let him take us. Another reason to go at least one day ahead--to get the lay of the land. Our flight home was a nightmare as we took off on schedule but had a bird strike causing the whole plane to shake and vibrate. The pilot turned around over the Mediterranean and we landed again in Barcelona. We were on the plane about 45 minutes until they decided they couldn't fly and we would have to rebook. We got our luggage and there was only 1 AA customer service agent to rebook 300+ passengers. We were in line 4 hours. Luckily someone in line let me rebook using their iPhone and we were to leave early the next day Barcelona>Paris>Fort Worth>LAX. American put us up and fed us and brought about 30 of us back before 5am. Air France doesn't know how to organize crowds. Our luggage was lost so we spent more time in line in Fort Worth to get a paper for customs. Three international flights came in at the same time so we missed our flight and ended up getting home about 10 pm Pacific time. Our luggage got a vacation to Chicago. If this circus happened in reverse it would have been sooooo costly and I would have been a wreck on vacation. Less
Brilliance of the Seas Cruises to the Western Mediterranean
The other "Brilliant" thing I did on this cruise was use the cruisecritic roll call to meet people to share excursions. We booked with www.shareashoreexcursioninitaly.com and had the absolute best tours in three cities Rome, Florence and Solerno (Sorrento, Positano, Pompeii).
Our new best friends were fabulous and the tour guides and vans were perfect. We went to Pisa first and got some great pictures of the tower in the morning light then went to Florence visiting vistas, churches, and even a leather place where they showed us how they applied gold leaf to leather items.
Alessandro started our tour by treating us to our first Italian coffee and sweet. You can't take a big tour bus in the narrow streets of Rome so Alessandro whipped us though the traffic in our Mercedes van, got our "butt-in-line tickets" for the Coliseum and Vatican and avoided traffic by using little known back streets giving us the most comprehensive whirlwind tour imaginable. Midday he took us to a local eatery for some excellent Italian cuisine. He had a book that I had to buy that showed ancient Rome ruins as it is now with a clear overlay that shows what it would have looked like then.
We used www.shareashoreexcursioninitaly.com again. They changed ports from Naples to Solerno and this tour company tracks the ship so knew to send Stefania to Solerno and not to Naples. Stefania drove the narrow curves of the Amalfi coast like the pro she is. My husband feigned fear and she asked him if he wanted to drive. We shopped in Sorrento, and Positano and went to Pompei to visit the ruins. I'm glad I had seen a Pompeii exhibit at an LA Museum because seeing it as a town put it all into perspective. She also took us to a beautiful spot that overlooked the ocean for a fresh, excellent lunch. At the end of the tour after we unloaded and she left I realized I had forgotten my souveniers in her van. One of my tour-mates had an iPhone (the only carrier that works in Europe vs my dumb Verizon) and called the company. Stephania's boss caught up to her and recovered my bag and brought it to the ship for me. What service! I couldn't recommend them more highly.
We didn't book a tour in Venice but just wandered the streets and canals taking it all in. The ship docks quite a way from the main part of the city so taking a water taxi is recommended. It is easy to get lost but eventually you work your way back to St Peter's or Rialto. One thing we learned is that if you stand and drink or eat you pay less than if you want a table! Interesting. I did a photo collection of "Door Knockers of Venice" because there were so many different ones.
We took a ship excursion in Villefranche to Nice and Eze or as the guide put it "nice and easy". Nice was OK. We were there the day the flower market was closed (Monday) and in its place a flea market to my disappointment. I guess it was interesting but not as beautiful as I imagined the flowers would be. My husband got to see some French Riviera topless bathers but Eze was the best part of this tour for me. Such a photogenic, medieval spot high on the hill top and the ride between was breathtaking along the cornich. But the difference in the excursions was demonstrable. In Nice our guide has to hold up a sign to keep our huge crowd from getting lost, it was hard to hear her and we had the big bus to deal with. She did have a microphone on the bus so we could hear her stories while inside. It worked out great because we booked it as an afternoon as I knew we would be zonked from the all night flight and the time change. You often get a sea day right after you depart your cruise but here we had to wait til day 5 for a sea day.