There's undoubtedly no shortage of entertainment onboard Brilliance of the Seas. The ship rattles and hums with activity day and night, and passengers find they have run out of time before they run out of things to do. Lively and educational courses such as casino gaming lessons and travel photography are offered. There are elaborate production shows in the Pacifica Theatre, and people-watching at Viking Crown Lounge on Deck 13. Those seeking an upscale experience can enjoy sampling wine for a fee at the classes offered at Vintages wine bar on Deck 6.
The Casino Royale is busy at night, but there is room at most of the 12 tables and 195 slot machines. The table games become particularly popular as the cruise wears on, possibly due to the free daily lessons held in the daytime. Those with allergies may wish to give this space a miss, as a smoky stench is a constant here.
Spanning decks 4, 5 and 6, the 874-seat Pacifica Theatre is the main theater for the ship and boasts the latest in audio and visual technology. There are vibrant colors -- red, purple and yellow -- throughout the room. Views of the large stage are excellent from all seats as there are no obstructions. On our cruise, we had no difficulty finding seating despite arriving shortly before each show. There is only one design flaw: The theater is accessed by only four narrow corridors, thus creating bottlenecks following the shows.
Royal Caribbean Productions, the line's in-house production company, brings together top-notch singers, actors and dancers to star in three splendid original shows ranging from ballroom dance to a Broadway revue. A nine-piece orchestra accompanies the shows, which are performed at 5 and 9 p.m. in order to accommodate early and late dining times. Check the daily Compass ship newsletter show schedules. If you can't squeeze in every one of the shows, the in-room cabin televisions often offer rebroadcasts.
Don't miss the "Center Stage" variety revue, featuring singers and dancers performing classical, jazz, rock and swing musical numbers. Another offering, "Now and Forever," takes the audience on a musical journey of Broadway, with well-produced numbers from diverse musicals such as The Producers and Mamma Mia. The third show, "Tango Buenos Aires," explores the development of the tango, from its heavily athletic origins to its more refined contemporary format.
Daytime activities onboard are typical cruise fare, such as trivia and top-deck mini-golf, with nothing particularly outstanding other than the line's signature outdoor climbing wall. Passengers can also take in shopping and dance classes, as well as extra-fee bingo and cooking classes. The main pool is a reliable source of daytime entertainment, with a live band and amusing staff-led events such as belly flop and "Man with the Best Legs" contests.
A visit to the shops onboard, located on Deck 5, is a pleasant daytime diversion. The stores are rarely jam-packed, even on days at sea. Most of the merchandise is what one expects on ships: jewelry, liquor, Royal Caribbean logowear, toiletries, swimwear and perfume. Wait until the last day of the cruise to buy the logowear: it's usually offered at a 50 percent discount.
For those who can bear its smoky odor, the Casino Royale is a stirring place to spend the evening. For those new to gaming, there are complimentary lessons offered for blackjack, roulette, craps and poker. Dealers are friendly and are ready to assist new players.
The casino has pleasant decor, with beautiful art and a convenient, attractive bar in the middle. Blackjack, Texas Hold'em and slot tournaments are offered during most cruises, with free future cruise sailings as frequent prizes, and select sailings offering prize pools up to $100,000.
For those looking for non-gaming action and beyond the theater offerings, the nine-story all-glass atrium is a popular nighttime spot. There is live music and dancing every evening. There are also games such as trivia or sudoku contests in various bars and lounges on some evenings.
While the bars and lounges on Brilliance are comfortable and active, the nightlife on this ship is not its best feature. Many of the venues feature somewhat cliched decor and generally unremarkable signature drinks. An upside to this deficit is that the lounges and bars are rarely unbearably crowded, and seating is generally easy to procure in each venue. Royal Caribbean's trademark Schooner Bar is among the most enjoyable venues, and worth a visit for its animated piano sing-alongs. The Viking Crown Lounge also sports an energetic atmosphere and a great view in the evenings, so a stop there is also recommended.
R Bar (Deck 4): This sophisticated bar has a classy 1960s theme, but serves more as a spot for a quick meet-up rather than a relaxing conversation. On days at sea, this space is occasionally used for brief free language classes, which can come in handy at the next port.
The Colony Club (Deck 6): This space houses four smaller themed areas: a casual lounge, center section, the Singapore Sling bar, and Jakarta Lounge. The latter is a card room seating 59 and has the most memorable decor, with immaculately polished wood and brass work. In totality, the four spaces offer seating for approximately 250. The lounge serves a wide array of drinks suggestive of its four diverse themes -- a particular favorite is the Singapore Sling gin-based cocktail.
Schooner Bar (Deck 6): As the name implies, this 144-seat sing-along piano bar's decor has a maritime theme, with dark wood, marble, sails and ornamental nets. The pianist is occasionally accompanied by a Latin guitarist. Trivia quizzes and sudoku contests are also part of both the daily and nightly schedules.
Bombay Billiard Club (Deck 6): In addition to two self-leveling pool tables, this 15-seat club has a large, wall-mounted television for Nintendo Wii/console gaming competitions. Drinks from a full-bar menu are also served here.
King Country (Deck 6): More than 35 European beers are available by the pint at this English-style pub. The classic rich, dark decor, plus the live acoustic guitar in the evenings, adds to the classic atmosphere. There are occasional lectures here on topics as diverse as stargazing and meditation; check the daily Compass newsletter for more information.
Vintages (Deck 6): This wine bar's eccentric furniture, reminiscent of Alice of Wonderland, is as comfortable as it is amusing. Many passengers order the roasted red pepper hummus from the accompanying tapas menu.
Viking Crown Lounge (Deck 13): This spot is sedate in the daytime, while its nighttime action is energetic and amusing. There are slanted windows to enable expansive outdoor views, and the people-watching inside the club is also outstanding. There is comfortable seating for approximately 93 passengers, a dance floor and live music performances beginning in the evenings and generally concluding around 2 a.m.
Starquest Nightclub (Deck 13): Located next to Viking, this club offers seating for 132, a large dance floor, revolving bar and live DJ programming. In the daytime, there are free hosted dance classes, such as hourlong salsa lessons.
The main outdoor pool is not the best place for serious exercise, but it's a festive location and has two hot tubs and live music. Staff lead passengers in lively activities such as belly flop contests in the daytime.
Evenings are also active here. Adjacent to the pool, a large movie screen projects first-run movies and big sporting events. Passengers have an ample view whether they're watching while immersed in the pool or staying dry in the pool deck chairs.
The Solarium offers a pool and two whirlpools, which are open to guests who are at least 16 years old. Because it is located indoors, it tends to be warmer and more humid than the main pool. Since the Solarium is forward facing, there are some great ocean and sky views available. During foul weather, guests under age 16 may be allowed to use this area if a parent or guardian directly supervises them.
Royal Caribbean's signature outdoor rock walls are staffed with helpful instructors for young and first-time climbers, and yield remarkable views at the top. An outdoor basketball court is used for both casual pickup games as well as organized tournaments and a jogging track on deck 12 offers a quarter-mile loop. In addition, while their fitness benefits are questionable, the nine-hole mini-golf course and shuffleboard are favorites for mature passengers as well families with children.
Sun-worshippers will adore the serenity of the adults-only Solarium, which has a retractable roof. There are three pools and three whirlpools along with steam rooms and a sauna, but many passengers simply enjoy the quiet lounging and don't partake in the other facilities. The daily fee is $15, or $50 per cruise. Occasionally, on port days when there is low demand, there are special single-day rates of $10.
For no-fee sun lounging, there are approximately two-dozen deck chairs on Deck 12. Nearby is the outdoor Sky Bar for some libations while relaxing. There is generally no problem with finding a chair, as chair hogging appears to be rare -- at least it was on our sailing. The deck is a quiet alternative to the lively pool deck, which is located directly below on Deck 11.
Helpful touch screen "wayfinders" are located throughout the ship to help cruisers find their way to bars, restaurants, shops, entertainment venues and cabins. But here are a few main spots to know about. The Guest Services and Shore Excursions desk are on Deck 4, midship. Directly across from these is the ship's card room, featuring cards and board games.
On Deck 5 you'll find the mall-style Shops of the Centrum, housing tax- and duty-free shops for liquor and jewelry splurges, and a number of supplementary retail options where vendors offer designer handbags, watches, shoes, jewelry and sunglasses. You'll also find the ship's art and photo galleries on Deck 5.
The ship lacks self-service laundry facilities; expect to pay $30 for laundry service for a sack of mixed garments.
One of the most convenient features on the ship is the internet-accessible terminals located throughout the ship, including one large area on Deck 4 near the lobby. There are also terminals in Latte-tudes, the coffee bar, and on Deck 7. Teens have their own bank of computers in Fuel. Internet is via the line's high-speed service known as VOOM. Prices for the service vary and are subject to change. To log on, find the network "royal-wifi" using your device, open your browser and follow instructions.
Brilliance has a high-tech medical facility on Deck 1, as well as a helicopter landing pad on Deck 6 for emergency medical evacuations.
Don't miss the free tour of the Deck 11 Vitaly at Sea Spa on your first day onboard the ship. The facility's teak furnishings and other interior appointments are striking yet elegant, clearly inspired by spas in Bali and Tahiti. This full-service spa offers a variety of pricy massages, facials and medi-spa treatments such as chemical peels. There is also a beauty salon offering manicures, pedicures, women's hairdressers, a men's barber and teeth whitening. In addition to massage, there are several other spa treatments, including acupuncture, body scrubs and seaweed wraps. Check the daily Compass newsletter for occasional special rates for services.
Inside the spa you'll find separate men's and women's changing rooms, each with steam and sauna rooms, as well as a separate relaxation area offering free water and tea.
The thermal spa is worth using even if not taking in a service. There are three pools and three whirlpools, and an adults-only Solarium, which has a retractable roof. The facilities are, remarkably, open 24 hours a day. A late-night visit to its coed scented and unscented steam rooms and saunas is sublime after visiting the ship's nightclubs.
Access to the thermal spa is $15 for a 24-hour pass, or $50 per cruise. On port days when there is low demand, there are occasionally special single-day rates of $10.
To work off those calories consumed at the Windjammer buffet, the fitness center offers both traditional weight equipment as well as the latest exercise machines. A variety of classes, such as kickboxing and aerobics, are offered for $10 per class. The posted age minimum to use the facility is 16. On our cruises, the gym was to never too busy to find plenty of equipment to use, but we did notice midmornings on sea days were particularly busy.
Those who wish to exercise outside can take fitness to new heights on the top deck (13) with the line's signature rock wall, which offers spectacular views at the top. On Deck 12, the jogging track offers a quarter-mile loop with ocean views. There is also an outdoor basketball court, used for both pickup games and planned tournaments.
While families with children are in the minority year-round on this ship, they are noticeably more common during winter and spring breaks on the Caribbean itineraries, as well as during the summer for the Mediterranean voyages. Even during these seasons, the ship -- from its restaurant offerings to shipboard entertainment -- primarily caters to the adult demographic.
For babies and toddlers ages 6 months to 3 years, the ship offers the Royal Babies & Tots program. Interactive parent-child playgroup sessions with educational themes are held in varying onboard lounges. Child care is also available at a dedicated nursery; the hourly fee is $6 in the daytime and $8 during the evening. The ship also offers a service that enables parents to pre-order diapers, wipes and cream, and organic baby food to be delivered to their staterooms upon arrival and throughout the cruise.
Royal Caribbean's children's program, Adventure Ocean, divides young passengers into age-specific programs. Aquanauts (ages 3 to 5) conduct simple ocean-themed experiments in order to be deemed "Certified Jr. Adventure Scientists." Participants take breaks from the "certification" process outside to enjoy a kiddie pool and waterslide.
The Explorers program (ages 6 to 8 years) keeps participants busy with themed parties and activities like making gummy candies. Voyagers (ages 9 to 11 years) learn about marine biology with hands-on demonstrations and lively outings.
Children ages 6 to 8 are allowed to sign themselves in and out of the facility if a parent signs a waiver stating the child may do so. Children ages 9 and above can sign themselves out unless parents sign a request withdrawing that privilege.
Teens have an exclusive spot, Fuel, in which they can hang out on comfortable couches and enjoy a juice and coffee bar, dance floor, televisions and computers. The Adventure Ocean Arcade is nearby. The atmosphere is casual and participants can come and go as they please, but there are also planned teen-only sporting events, games and parties.
* May require additional fees