The on board experience was wonderful. It was definitely worth getting a room with a balcony for this trans canal cruise. The rooms are serviced regularly. The ship was clean, well cared for with little deferred maintenance. The staff is fabulous and very attentive.
Formal Dining room (Minstrel) was very good and my advice would be to have both lunch and breakfast there rather than the Windjammer (too frenetic) where everyone shovels food, there are no tables and is generally tacky.
The Spa and Gym area were well managed and well worth visiting, although over priced.
The bars and drinks are pricey. Pre-purchased Wine Packages are not the best deal but all that is available. Buy the cheapest as they duplicate ALL the wines on the pricier packages. If you buy the pricier package and order wines on the least expensive package you've totally wasted your money so beware.
Finally, my chief complaint was the excursions. The excursions were terrible! I've cruised enough to know to avoid the ships tours mainly because of the price but also because of the whole group herding issue. However, at some destinations it is just not feasible to go on your own. So it was on this cruise (11/3/11 Trans Canal (Suez) Brilliance of the Sea) in both Rome and Eliat that I chose a ship's tour. In all the other ports I had arranged private tours or just did them on my own. Although for the most part the ships tours I have taken have ranged from very good to just OK, I was surprised when these two tours turned into disasters, particularly the one in Eliat enroute to Masada and the Dead Sea.
Let's take each trip one at a time:
Rome: I took the "Rome on your Own" trip (basically just transportation). Our guide sold us tickets to the Vatican enroute. Because the weather looked marginal, like it was going to rain any minute, I bought the tickets just in case we had a downpour. What a mistake. Not only did this guy make us wait for a half hour in front of the Vatican due to "timing issues" but it took another half hour to actually get the tickets. When you have one day in a city, having some inept guide burn your precious time there is really unacceptable. If I had known this was going to happen, I never would have signed up for these tickets.
Masada and the Dead Sea:
I took this tour at the Eliat port because it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to visit both of these sites. Again, what a mistake. When we got out of the ship we were held at the port for over an hour while two Israeli's grilled over a thousand people. Once we were on the 7 buses going to our destination, our guide (an older sort of inept gentleman) went on and on - on a microphone that was way too loud. As the buses raced to be first to our destination, they ALL stopped at the same rest stop at the same time. The stop had two women's bathrooms, had a line a mile long and stunk to high heaven. Again, we had to spend way to long at this stop which again ate into our time. At this point we were almost two hours late.
Once we were at the destination, the guide again took way too long to get tickets; we had to wait in a huge line before we were crammed on a gondola going up to Masada. The guide then continued to dawdle through the tour eating up time that could have been spent at the Dead Sea. Long story short, a tour that was supposed to include Masada, a lovely lunch and a dip in the Red Sea turned into being the above nightmare. We ended up being rushed through the Dead Sea, were only able to spend 15 minutes there as the sun was setting and another 15 minutes wolfing down lunch at 4:30 in the afternoon. No one had eaten this entire time!!!!!!!!!!
It could have been handled much differently (trading off destinations - taking 3 buses to Masada, 4 buses to the Dead Sea and then switching) and organizing rest stops at places that can accommodate the group. So the moral to the story again. If I had known how many buses were going, I never would have gone!!!!