The 90,090-ton, 2,112-passenger ship Brilliance of the Seas is the second in Royal Caribbean's lovely, mid-sized Radiance class (following, of course, Radiance of the Seas; subsequent siblings include Serenade of the Seas and Jewel of the Seas). It sails the Mediterranean in summer and is based in Dubai all winter.
The ship feels practically petite in comparison to its newer, larger Oasis- and Voyager-class fleetmates. However, it has a real contemporary feel and does an excellent job of incorporating some of the best features that have become Royal Caribbean trademarks.
You'll find classics like the Schooner Bar and the Windjammer Cafe, as well as the climbing wall up the smokestack, miniature golf and a waterslide. And there are some surprises: the pretty Seaview Cafe, hidden away high up on Deck 12, and the rather avant-garde Starquest bar/nightclub forward on Deck 13 (formerly the Viking Crown lounge), in which we were childishly excited by the fact that the bar revolves when the bartender flicks a switch.
Another favorite, Latte-tudes Coffee bar, which serves Seattle's Best coffee, feels like a proper Internet cafe, albeit one with gorgeous sea views; it was a top spot for a quiet morning coffee and e-mail check. The Solarium, with its sliding roof, is a perfect place for cooler-weather lounging. This theme of light, space and wonderful sea views recurs throughout the ship, particularly in the elegant, light-filled atrium, with glass elevators whooshing silently up and down. You feel a constant connection to the ocean, unlike on Royal Caribbean's biggest and newest ships, where a lot of the facilities are inward-facing.
Service, particularly by bar and dining room waitstaff, was generally very warm and personable, and announcements were unobtrusive. I actually made a point of listening for the very funny Captain's address every evening as we sailed.
But, Brilliance is, for all intents and purposes, a big ship, and big ships have their downsides, too. There's serious competition for seating in Windjammer buffet at busy times, as well as noisy crowds around the pool and long waits to get back onboard when the shore excursions return. Collecting passports from Reception on the last night was a chore because of the queues, as was minor haggling over my bill when I failed to return a beach towel and was charged for it (not guilty, as I was on a late-returning shore excursion that day). The situation was resolved amicably and swiftly, though.
These niggles aside, I thought Brilliance seemed particularly friendly to first-time cruisers. The daily program was clear, easy to understand and full of helpful tips about planning your day. A very useful planner for the week arrived on the first day, so you could map out the shows and evening entertainment that appealed. We were also given a page about shuttle buses in port -- what time they would run and to where. (All the port shuttles were free of charge, incidentally.) There was a First Time Cruisers gathering before lifeboat drill on the very first day, too.
Brilliance of the Seas Fellow Passengers
The winter Arabian Gulf cruises attract a diverse range of passengers, from young couples to families and retirees. This ship is also popular with groups, whether friends traveling together or those rewarded with corporate incentive getaways. On my cruise, there were Chinese, Italians, French, Brits and Germans, but barely any North Americans, given the destination. This changes in summer, though, when the ship is in the Mediterranean.
Royal Caribbean seems to do groups very well, and I noticed that several hospitality desks onboard catered to different groups -- one Japanese, one Scandinavian and one for the 200 hearing-impaired Brits who were traveling, complete with sign-language interpreters. Private functions were arranged for the Chinese group and the hearing-impaired group without affecting the experience of the remaining guests, as there's enough space for everybody.
Brilliance of the Seas Dress Code
During the day, passengers wear casual gear -- shorts, T-shirts, some slightly more elegant resort wear -- but at night, there are three different dress codes. "Casual" means sundresses or pants outfits for women, and khakis and collared shirts for men. This most often occurs after a long day in port. On sea days, the typical dress is "smart casual" -- dresses or pants combos for women, jackets for men. "Formal" nights, of which there were two on our seven-night trip (which seemed like a lot), require passengers to wear cocktail dresses (ladies) and suits or tuxedos (men). A tuxedo-rental service is available onboard for those who don't want to lug dinner suits along. Regardless of the ship's official dress code, those who eat at Portofino or Chops Grille are asked to go as "smart casual."
There are, of course, many interpretations of the dress code, and formal nights were a mix of really beautiful prom dresses and cocktail wear, with men in tuxes, and people who clearly couldn't be bothered -- including two in the Colony Club in pajamas (yes, pajamas).
There were a couple of theme nights, too, including a White Party on deck and a James Bond night in the casino, although I didn't notice any variation in the usual outfits for that one.
Brilliance of the Seas Gratuity
Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $13.50 per person, per day ($16.50 for suite guests). Gratuities can be prepaid or will be added on a daily basis to passengers' SeaPass accounts during the cruise. Passengers can modify or remove gratuities by visiting the guest services desk while onboard. An 18 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.
Next: Brilliance of the Seas Cabins