We booked this cruise rather on the spur of the moment - we live locally, know all the ports well, and looked on it as an opportunity primarily for an on-board getaway. The Brilliance of the Seas delivered a first-rate experience across the board.
Embarkation went smoothly (being in a Suite helped, as at our arrival time, about 3:00, there was a substantial line. Even so, it did seem to be moving fairly well for all passengers), and within 20 minutes of being dropped at the port, we were in our starboard Grand Suite.
First impressions were extremely positive, and they remained so throughout our week. I'm a little mystified by reviewers who say that this ship isn't well-maintained - everything we saw sparkled, every corner was spotless, and the ongoing maintenance of little things that did crop up was around-the-clock (a call to fix a toilet problem was taken care of within five minutes, for example). Even the Windjammer, which must be a nightmare to keep clean given its heavy use, was immaculate, with tables quickly bussed and order generally maintained.
We spent most of the days moving between late breakfasts in the Windjammer (although we enjoyed room service as well!), long mornings in the Solarium (adults only, a policy blessedly respected throughout the cruise), a theoretically lighter lunch back up in the WJ, and then afternoons enjoying the balcony in the Suite. I really can't say enough good things about the GS itself - well-laid out, spacious, and with an amazing amount of storage space. We are two large guys and we didn't travel light - but the closets and drawers available weren't half full. The bathroom storage, which includes large medicine cabinets as well as drawers, was especially welcome, and overall the amount of storage made it easy to keep the stateroom tidy and pleasant. The bed was firm and comfortable, and sofa and easy chairs equally so. The balcony had a lounger and table with two chairs, all in a nice faux-wicker. The curtain dividing the bed from the sitting area (and balcony access) beautifully accommodated an early riser and a late sleeper. The bathroom was the size of a standard hotel bath, with two basins, tub, and a fine shower. Our stateroom attendant, Nina, was great - prompt, thorough, and thoughtful.
We really appreciated the various perks available to Suite passengers - the Concierge Lounge especially, but also the reserved sundeck up front (off of Deck 12), the reserved space in the WJ (especially nice on the more crowded day at sea), and the little extras like good Gilcrest and Soames toiletries, the Captain's reception in the Colony Club, pool towels in the room (no queueing or worrying about returning them), chocolates on the pillow, etc. I would say they definitely were worth the little splurge. The Concierge Lounge is small but comfortable, and current Concierge Edson Rosa is a thorough professional, as is his sidekick, bartender Norman. The contintental breakfast was always a quiet place for a first quick coffee, and the evening canapes and cocktails were a nice way to meet other passengers, with good quality hors d'oeuvres and good label liquor (Finlandia vodka, etc.).
Dinners in the Minstrel Dining Room were on the whole excellent - this isn't top-flight gourmet dining, but careful choosing (with excellent advice from our waitstaff) made for few complaints. Especially good were the prime rib, mixed grill, and many of the starters, especially one night's creamed wild mushrooms. It's always fun to have traditional choices like escargot and shrimp cocktail; we steered away from some choices, such as the cold fruit soups. Desserts lacked sparkle some nights, but we were always happy with ice cream on the evenings when nothing from the menu appealed. We had a table for two on the MDR's upper level, but ended up chatting several evenings with our neighbors - we didn't miss being at one of the larger tables, where service didn't seem quite as personal (or quick - we rarely had to wait more than a few minutes between courses - really excellent pacing even on the busiest nights).
We attended several of the shows and thought it a pity that they weren't more crowded - the two production shows (a Tango evening and a generic song-and-dance show) were great fun, and lead singer Charyn Cannon is simply wonderful, a real talent (a couple of her colleagues can more charitably be described as trying their best, but on the whole it was all pretty polished). The non-production nights featured tribute acts (Beatles and Elton John); we passed, but heard mostly satisfied comments from those who went. All of the other musicians were terrific, and it's fun to so many live-music choices scattered around the various venues, especially the Centrum (the soaring main lobby).
The Champagne Bar was a major evening destination, and always had some fun people enjoying bartender Rusti's excellent cocktails. We wandered about a fair amount in the evenings as well, and while the disco and bar in the Viking Crown on 13 seemed rather lightly filled, there were always happy crowds in the Schooner Bar.
We especially appreciated the two smoke-free evenings in the Casino, but never found smoking a big issue anywhere on board, even with a (considerate) smoker on the balcony next door.
We appreciated the (free) spa facilities, with an excellent sauna and nice steam room. It was rarely crowded. We're not gym types, but the gym itself looked fine. We didn't use any of the paid spa services, but the range available looked excellent.
Of the various packages available, we took a box of bottled water for the room, a soda package for my partner, and a five-bottle Diamond wine package. I'd recommend them all. It was nice to have the water in the room (tap water is fine, but can be chlorine-y; living in the region, we're just more used to bottled). The soda package was convenient at all times of the day and evening and meant less dealing with receipts, waiting, etc. I thought the Diamond wine choices fine, and was pleased that the billed Korbel sparkling wine has been replaced with the (better, in my opinion) Domaine Ste. Michelle brut. We liked having the unfinished wine at dinner sent up to the room for later enjoyment.
The passenger mix for this cruise was diverse - lots of older couples (60s and 70s), but also plenty of 30-50s, and some younger people as well. Comparatively few children (which we liked), and most of those who were aboard were well behaved. At the welcome show, Cruise Director Paul Lancaster (a fine and very funny host, by the way) mentioned that there were travelers from over 40 countries on the trip - there were certainly lots of British and Spanish guests, but also many from other European countries, at least one Chinese group, and a lovely group of Nigerians as well. Everyone seemed to get along very well.
The itinerary was definitely not a major concern for us, although we enjoyed the port days as the ship was so uncrowded. Most folks we talked to especially enjoyed Muscat and found Fujairah a little underwhelming. Port access at Muscat (our only stop) was via convenient complimentary shuttle to the port gates, where there were lots of taxis or a short walk to the souq/market area. Muscat, on this cruise, is the one place that travelers will really feel they're in a faraway place - the souq is vibrant and traditional, the people are friendly (if also traditional - I did rather wish that fellow-travelers dressed a little more conservatively in Oman!), and the geography - rocky hills rolling right down to the sea - stunning. The Grand Mosque is a great place to visit, as is the excellent private Bait Al Zubair Museum.
Our day at sea was wonderful - even at its most crowded (and the main pool and Solarium both did get crowded - with a fair amount of the inevitable chair-hogging), there were always quiet corners in places like the library, the Colony Club, and the other little nooks and crannies indoors and out. I actually would have preferred another night and day at sea to the final overnight and day in Dubai (not least because in port, the Casino stays closed!).
I've read posts complaining about the amount of heavy marketing and upselling on RC cruises, but we weren't really bothered by it - they do push photo packages and such, but I never felt like we were being sold on anything we didn't want.
The only bad thing about disembarkation was that it marked the end of our trip. We had a light breakfast in Chops (for Suite guests) and were off the ship and in a taxi within 7 minutes of our scheduled time.
So far it's all raves; any little irritations we had were pretty minor, but just so it's not all praise: we were suprised that the pools were so chilly (perhaps being too used to the bathwater-warm pools in the UAE). Pork selections weren't always carefully noted (the Dubai cruises aren't really marketed to local audiences, I know, but still it felt odd for the region). Food in the Windjammer can best be described as serviceable, although with careful choosing, you can do alright (we loved the corned-beef hash at breakfast, the Indonesian choices at lunch one day, and the seafood pie; less successful were most of the desserts and most of the other "ethnic" choices). In both the WJ and the MDR, soups tended toward the thin and tasteless, with the exception of a fine roast garlic soup one night at dinner.
In short, I can't imagine a better introduction to cruising than we had on the Brilliance. We are demanding travelers, used to good hotels, excellent restaurants, and good service while traveling in Europe and the Middle East, and this ship measured up. We'll be back!