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Brilliance of the Seas 12-night Mediterranean/Greek Isles 10 June 2008 Booking. We booked the cruise in August 2007 during a half-price deposit special offered by Royal Caribbean (RCCL). The cruise was booked through with a travel agent.  While there is no discount from the cruise line's published prices, we did get a $200 stateroom credit, complimentary travel insurance, and free gifts on board. As we booked prior to the imposition of fuel surcharges, they were not applicable to our reservation. We booked a cruise for early June, as the Mediterranean weather in July/August can be very hot and humid. Most of the tour guides we had on the shore excursions cautioned against cruises in July/August for the same reason. Euros. The Euro is widely accepted. Consider taking an ATM card along to get cash rather than exchanging Dollars for Euros. Most banks charge a nominal fee for ATM use (1%) rather than the 3% or more you will pay for exchanging currency. I carried an HSBC ATM card linked to an on-line savings account, which has no fee when used at the many HSBC ATMs in Europe. We even found an HSBC ATM near the port in Kusadasi, Turkey. Pre-cruise. We booked our own travel to Paris, France from Los Angeles on mileage tickets. In Paris, we stayed in the Montparnasse area in a Holiday Inn which was renovated last year (free points room). The hotel was excellent, and we enjoyed the 4 days prior to the cruise sightseeing in Paris. We traveled by train from Paris (Gare de Lyon) to Barcelona (Estacio de Franca) on TGV (high-speed rail) and Talgo (day train). We purchased our train tickets in advance from Rail Europe, the agent for Eurail in the US. We overnighted at the Eurostars Grand Marina Hotel, on the Moll de Barcelona at the foot of Las Ramblas. We booked the hotel over the internet using the Grand Marina Hotel's web site. The hotel was terrific. Our room was outstanding - comfortable, large, and modern, although the bed would definitely be considered firm. We had breakfast at the hotel buffet, which was excellent both in taste and selection. We took a cab from the hotel to the ship (about 8 Euros plus the 1 Euro/bag surcharge). The Ship. Brilliance is a Radiance-class vessel (90,090 tons). We had previously sailed on her sister ships, Radiance of the Seas (2005) and Serenade of the Seas (2004). Brilliance had recently undergone an 18-day dry dock in Hamburg, Germany primarily for installation of a new diesel generator for docked operations. She was also given new carpeting in public areas and freshly painted. Given that Brilliance is nearly 6 years old, the ship was in good condition except for some corrosion of the aluminum window frames surrounding the Centrum. Cabin. Our cabin was 9518, a category E1 stateroom (starboard). The stateroom was in excellent condition with the new more comfortable bedding introduced in 2006. The heavy duvet was too warm at times; it would be great if Royal Caribbean offered guests the alternative of a light blanket. Food. RCCL ships sailing in Europe all apparently use the same menus. This, we learned, is related to the fact that most food is ordered from the U.S. 8-weeks in advance and shipped to Europe. Given the cost of food in Europe, we can understand why. Due to a shipping strike in Barcelona, the ship was short of a few items like spinach and lettuce early in the cruise, but they were resolved by Day 3. Food in the dining room was good; no lobster, but the large shrimps were very good. Breads, pastries, and desserts were the best we have had on any Royal Caribbean ship - also no shortage of good chocolate desserts! Service in the dining room (Romeo from India and Sertac from Turkey) was outstanding. Day 1 - Barcelona. Embarkation was quick and efficient. We had printed our Set Sail pass before arriving at the cruise terminal, so there was little delay in boarding. Royal Caribbean offered priority boarding to higher-tier Crown & Anchor members and suite guests, which was a nice touch. Baggage service was also quick and efficient - we had our bags within hours after boarding. Staterooms were ready at 1 pm, and the Windjammer Buffet was open for lunch. I purchased a soda package (diet Coke addict) and signed up for both Royal WiFi using the $7.50/person credit provided in our Crown & Anchor coupon book and the $10/day ($120 for the cruise) in-room CyberCabin service. Internet service on this cruise was a bit spotty; CyberCabin (modem-speed) has worked better in the past. I finally got my company Virtual Private Network (VPN) card to work. Royal Caribbean has a firewall that blocks TCP/IP connections. If you use a VPN card (my company uses Cisco VPN), use UDP/IP instead of TCP/IP. There was also GSM/GPRS service on the ship for GSM (Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile) calls and BlackBerry service, although there were times when GSM/GPRS service was not functioning but the internet service was working. Fortunately, the internet service worked well enough for me to get some of the lingering work tasks done that I had brought with me on the trip. We got 2 bottles of champagne and a bottle of wine courtesy of our travel agent, along with a free framed photo. The cruise line told us that we should've gotten less booze and other food gifts instead, but they were impacted by the shipping strike in Barcelona. This voyage offered Royal Caribbean's new "My Time Dining" option. By signing up for this option and prepaid gratuities, one can make reservations (or just show up) to dine between 6 pm and 9:30 pm in the dining room. Fortunately, the traditional set seating was also available. We stayed on traditional main seating and shared a table with a great group of people who really made the cruise extra special. We hope that Royal Caribbean keeps the traditional set seating alternative. Although Royal Caribbean surveys each passenger prior to boarding regarding their health status, there was a norovirus outbreak on this cruise. The crew handled it with professionalism and care, handing out hand sanitizing cloths, performing expanded cleaning in the ship, and on a couple of days serving food in the Windjammer. On one day, even the singers and dancers were helping out in Windjammer handing out desserts. From what we were told later in the cruise after the outbreak was contained and all restrictions were lifted, the number of cases was much less than 5% of the passengers. We understood that passengers who were quarantined to their cabins due to illness were compensated by the cruise line for the missed days, shore excursions, etc. We even noticed officers eating with guests in the Windjammer at lunch to provide reassurance. All in all, we were impressed by the handling of the situation by the officers and crew. Day 2 - Villefranche. Villefranche is on the French Riviera between Nice and Monaco. We were in port (tendered) from 10 am to 7:30 pm. We took an afternoon tour of Monaco and Monte Carlo. Our guide (Vera) was very good. The advertised duration of the tour was 3-1/2 hours; our tour was more like 4-1/2 hours long. We visited the Rock of Monaco including the church where Princess Grace was married, the Royal Palace, and the Casino of Monte Carlo, designed by Charles Garnier (architect of the Paris Opera House). We highly recommend this excursion. Our tablemates took the tour which included the village of Eze. They enjoyed that tour as well. The evening entertainment was an ABBA-like group called Abbacadabra. We had previously seen a similar group (AbbaMania) in California. Abbacadabra had better singers, but AbbaMania had the ABBA moves down better. We saw the only "bad guest" experience of our entire cruise at breakfast on Day 2 in the Windjammer. A female guest was complaining about the temperature of her oatmeal and that it got cold while she walked from the buffet to her table. She then proceeded to demand that the Waiter fetch her some raisins, as her cereal (which he had the kitchen heat up extra hot in the microwave for her) would get cold again if she had to walk to get the raisins herself. It was absolutely appalling. The waiter (Neiver) was very gracious considering her bad behavior, and we enjoyed talking with him on other days during our lunches in the Windjammer. Day 3 - Livorno. Livorno is a port city about 15 miles from Pisa and about 45 miles from Florence. We were in port (docked) from 7 am to 6:30 pm. We took a morning tour of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the only tour which allowed you to climb the 294 steps to the top - on all others, you just see the exterior of the tower from the Field of Miracles. We thoroughly enjoyed our tour and our tour guide (Simona). Most of our tablemates went on tours to Florence, which they enjoyed. We left exploring Florence for a future trip to Italy. The evening entertainment was the first of three production shows, "Now and Forever" featuring songs from the contemporary Broadway scene. The production cast on Brilliance was hands-down the most talented group of dancers we had ever seen on any Royal Caribbean ship. The choreography of the numbers was outstanding; including some incredibly complex Bob Fosse dance sequences. Day 4 - Civitavecchia. Civitavecchia is a port city about 90 minutes north of Rome. We were in port (docked) from 7 am to 6:30 pm. We took an all-day tour called Exclusive - the best of Rome. It included the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Square, the Basilica, Colosseum, lunch, and Trevi Fountain with a driving tour past other sights such as the field of Circus Maximus. Our tour guide (another Simona) was excellent. President Bush happened to be visiting the Pope that day, so the tour had to be rearranged numerous times to deal with security-related closures. Crowds at the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, and the Colosseum were horrendous. Apparently, this is quite normal for the summer. We tossed our coins in the Trevi Fountain, and then enjoyed lunch at a Marriott hotel (part of the tour). Other tables had problems with service, but our lunch was great - refills on champagne and wine and a great group of people to talk with. From lunch, we returned to St. Peter's Square and the Basilica. Crowds had diminished significantly, and the afternoon was much more pleasant than the morning. As the tour was a full-day experience, we had planned a dinner at Chops that evening at 7 pm which worked out perfectly. The price had gone up since our last cruise ($20/person to $25). If you like steak, order the 10 oz filet mignon; it was tender and flavorful. The evening entertainment was Paul Emmanuel, a singer. He was entertaining - think Johnny Mathis... Day 5 - At Sea. Our first day at sea was relaxing after the chaos of Rome. We sat out at the pool for a while, and enjoyed the view of Messina, Sicily from our balcony. We even got a glimpse of Mt. Etna smoking after a recent eruption. The evening entertainment was Gary Lovini - described as an entertainer with a difference. Yes, he is a violinist - but he is good and definitely worth seeing. Day 6 - Mykonos. We were in port (tendered) from 1 pm to 8:30 pm. We did not take the only tour offered - to ruins on the island of Delos. Mykonos has a reputation for being one continuous late night party. We only took in the other sights - the confusing maze of streets, the pelican mascots, and the windmills. We returned to the ship to enjoy the sun and pool on-board. The evening entertainment was a funny British comedian by the name of Duggie Brown. Day 7 - Kusadasi. Kusadasi is a port city about 15 miles from the ruins of Ephesus. We were in port (docked) from 7 am to 6:30 pm. We took an early morning tour of Ephesus, and enjoyed it thoroughly. We toured the ruins of the so-called "third Ephesus"; the city was moved several times over the years closer to the water due to silting of the harbor. Ephesus is a fascinating archeological site where the excavated ruins of a city that once supported 250,000 residents from the Roman and early Christian era are well preserved or partially restored. If the so-called Terrace homes are open (they were closed when we were there), you may want to consider touring them (extra cost). We got a chance to walk around the ancient amphitheater where St. Paul once preached. It was in Ephesus where St. Paul spent 3 years and wrote the Letters to the Ephesians. Back in Kusadasi, we bought a handmade Turkish rug, which was absolutely beautiful. We heard a few guests complain about the "eagerness" of the Turkish vendors. Yes, they will give you a sales pitch. If you're not interested, just politely say "no thank you" and keep walking. The hard sell tactics are commonplace in this part of the world; in addition, merchants in Kusadasi do most of their business between May and September. If you like to bargain, Kusadasi is a great place to shop. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Touring Ephesus in the morning is recommended to avoid the mid-day heat. The evening entertainment was the "Big Time Swing" production show. Again, the caliber of the performers on this ship was outstanding. We enjoyed the show, but felt it could've used a little more tinkering to more tightly tie the numbers together thematically. Day 8 - Santorini. Santorini is one of five islands surrounding a sunken volcanic crater. We were in port (tendered) from 7 am to 5:30 pm. We took an early morning tour of the village of Oia, the local Santo winery, ending at the village of Fira. The tour is highly recommended. The wine tasting at Santo winery was a nice chance to rest, sip wine, and look out over the cliffs towards Oia and Fira. From Fira, return to the ship was at your leisure via the cable car (ticket included in the shore excursion) or down the ancient donkey path. We decided to walk down the treacherous path (treacherous because of the donkey-poo covering the entire the trail) back to the port. We understood the cost of a donkey ride as something less than 10 Euros. The evening entertainment was the Love and Marriage Game Show - definitely adults only! Day 9 - Piraeus. Piraeus is the port serving the city of Athens. It is about 10 miles and between 30 and 45 minutes by vehicle to the center of Athens. We were in port (docked) from 7 am to 5:30 pm. We took a half-day city tour and guided tour of the Acropolis in the morning. We saw such sights as the Panathinion Stadium used in the late 1800's for the first modern Olympics, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and the Arch of Hadrian. From there, we climbed up to the top of the Acropolis to see the Erechtheion with its four goddess statues and of course, the Parthenon. It was a very good tour. One usually visits Greece in any month except July and August to avoid the summer heat and humidity which average in the mid to high 90's with oppressive humidity and smog. Our day in Athens was the middle of a freak heat wave, with temperatures at the Acropolis around 100F. We left the organized tour at lunch time at Syntagma (or Constitution) square across from Parliament. We happened to arrive just before the noon changing of the guards with their pomp ceremonies resembling something out of Monty Python. From there, we took a walk through the Kolonaki, the Athens equivalent of Beverly Hills, complete with high-priced shops and outdoor dining. From there, we hiked the tallest hill in Athens (Mt. Lycabettus) to take in the views. We returned to Piraeus by Metro. The Piraeus Metro station is adjacent to the ferry terminal and about 25 minutes walk from the cruise terminal. The evening entertainment was the "Tango Buenos Aires" show featuring Majo and Fernando. They are a couple from Argentina who have produced an incredible show of latin dancing. Their timing, emotion, and speed were just incredible. They were joined by the Royal Caribbean dancers who performed some amazing steps as well. It was definitely a "don't miss" experience. Day 10 - At Sea. From Athens, we set sail for Naples, Italy. Sea days on the ship were very peaceful, mostly spent lounging in the warm Mediterranean sun, and attending a variety of ship-board adventures. That day, we took a backstage tour of the 5-story Pacifica theater on the ship, learning what goes on backstage from the stage manager, musical director, entertainers, sound, and lighting directors. It was quite fascinating. Our evening entertainment was Jonathan Kane, performing the only officially recognized tribute show to Elton John. He was fantastic. We could've listened to him for hours. You really DO believe you are seeing Elton John. Day 11 - Naples. We were docked in the port of Naples from 7 am to 6:30 pm. We took a tour that included hiking up Mt. Vesuvius followed by a tour of the ruins of Pompeii. The hike offered some beautiful vistas of Naples, Capri, Sorrento, and the Amalfi Coast. Pompeii was fascinating. We saw the town square, some shops, "fast food" establishments, bakeries, markets, typical Roman houses, and the baths. Pompeii is not without its unusual aspects, including the use of phallic symbols to keep away evil spirits. We also saw several plaster casts of some of the 3,000 people who perished, juxtaposed against the beautiful plaster frescoes which decorated the walls of an ancient market. Our tour guide (Stefania) was great. We got a laugh out of her description of our tour group as "my peoples"... We also got a laugh out of the tour description, which included - "time permitting, you will visit a local cameo factory..." Curiously, the cameo factory visit was between Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii. Amazing how there is ALWAYS time for the Cameo Factory visit! The evening entertainment was Nestor Torres, described as a multi-instrumentalist; he only played the flute. We were not impressed. All of our tablemates at dinner left during the performance. We were not so lucky because we had chosen a seat right in the middle of the theater. Besides the water flowing from his flute during the show, he also made some comment about the Brilliance of the Seas Orchestra being musicians who were, "not seen or heard, only felt." This came across as a rather arrogant comment on the Orchestra. The musicians on Brilliance are some of the most talented soloists we have seen on any Royal Caribbean ship. You could tell the musical director (Dave) is a perfectionist, and this orchestra delivered consistently in all the shows they performed in during the cruise. They were definitely seen, heard, and felt. Day 12 - At Sea. More pool time. We also went to a Q&A session with the Captain, Chief Engineer, Hotel Director, and Chief Environmental Officer as they answered many questions about our ship and voyage. For example, did you know the ship sails at 18 kts or less when possible to save fuel? Evening entertainment was the Farewell Show with Matt Ricardo, a really funny juggler. Day 13 - Barcelona. The first groups left the ship just after 6:30 am. We left the ship around 8 am, and took a taxi to the Eurostars Hotel. The hotel had previously agreed to hold our baggage for the day, as we were leaving Barcelona by train for Paris at 9 pm. We got on the hop-on/hop-off bus (20 Euro/person) and did a self-tour which included the Park Guell (with its Gaudi statues and museum); Mt. Tibidabo with its charming tram, funicular, and stunning views of Barcelona; and Sagrada Familia (Church of the Holy Family) under construction since 1882. We took the English guided tour (offered at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm). It was a nice 45-minute introduction to the Gaudi-designed structure. Just remember - even if you don't like his buildings - in Barcelona, architecture is all about Antoni Gaudi! Post-Cruise. We boarded the evening sleeper train (Elipsos Train Hotel) from Barcelona to Paris (Gare de Austerlitz). We had a private sleeper compartment, which really added to the experience as it had a private bathroom with a much needed shower. Dinner (including wine) and breakfast are included. We arrived in Paris the next morning at 9 am, and spent the next two days touring additional sights, and taking a nice evening walk along the Seine River. We stayed at the same Holiday Inn (again a free points room) in Montparnasse. Montparnasse is served by the Les Cars (airport bus service) of Air France. Buses leave every 30 minutes between CDG and Montparnasse. It is a relatively inexpensive way to travel from the airport (15 Euros each way per person) to the Montparnasse area. Taxis by comparison can run upwards of 90 Euros depending on traffic. As a finale... You know you've had a good time when you are sorry to see the cruise end. This time was no exception. The weather was great (except for the unexpected heat in Athens); the ports and tours were fantastic; we met so many nice people; and the shipboard experience was up to the high level we have experienced on other Royal Caribbean cruises. We look forward to our next cruise (a 4-night to celebrate mom's 86th birthday) in just 3 weeks on Royal Caribbean!

Great ship, great ports!

Brilliance of the Seas Cruise Review by masonn18

Trip Details
Brilliance of the Seas 12-night Mediterranean/Greek Isles 10 June 2008
Booking. We booked the cruise in August 2007 during a half-price deposit special offered by Royal Caribbean (RCCL). The cruise was booked through with a travel agent.  While there is no discount from the cruise line's published prices, we did get a $200 stateroom credit, complimentary travel insurance, and free gifts on board. As we booked prior to the imposition of fuel surcharges, they were not applicable to our reservation. We booked a cruise for early June, as the Mediterranean weather in July/August can be very hot and humid. Most of the tour guides we had on the shore excursions cautioned against cruises in July/August for the same reason.
Euros. The Euro is widely accepted. Consider taking an ATM card along to get cash rather than exchanging Dollars for Euros. Most banks charge a nominal fee for ATM use (1%) rather than the 3% or more you will pay for exchanging currency. I carried an HSBC ATM card linked to an on-line savings account, which has no fee when used at the many HSBC ATMs in Europe. We even found an HSBC ATM near the port in Kusadasi, Turkey.
Pre-cruise. We booked our own travel to Paris, France from Los Angeles on mileage tickets. In Paris, we stayed in the Montparnasse area in a Holiday Inn which was renovated last year (free points room). The hotel was excellent, and we enjoyed the 4 days prior to the cruise sightseeing in Paris. We traveled by train from Paris (Gare de Lyon) to Barcelona (Estacio de Franca) on TGV (high-speed rail) and Talgo (day train). We purchased our train tickets in advance from Rail Europe, the agent for Eurail in the US. We overnighted at the Eurostars Grand Marina Hotel, on the Moll de Barcelona at the foot of Las Ramblas. We booked the hotel over the internet using the Grand Marina Hotel's web site. The hotel was terrific. Our room was outstanding - comfortable, large, and modern, although the bed would definitely be considered firm. We had breakfast at the hotel buffet, which was excellent both in taste and selection. We took a cab from the hotel to the ship (about 8 Euros plus the 1 Euro/bag surcharge).
The Ship. Brilliance is a Radiance-class vessel (90,090 tons). We had previously sailed on her sister ships, Radiance of the Seas (2005) and Serenade of the Seas (2004). Brilliance had recently undergone an 18-day dry dock in Hamburg, Germany primarily for installation of a new diesel generator for docked operations. She was also given new carpeting in public areas and freshly painted. Given that Brilliance is nearly 6 years old, the ship was in good condition except for some corrosion of the aluminum window frames surrounding the Centrum.
Cabin. Our cabin was 9518, a category E1 stateroom (starboard). The stateroom was in excellent condition with the new more comfortable bedding introduced in 2006. The heavy duvet was too warm at times; it would be great if Royal Caribbean offered guests the alternative of a light blanket.
Food. RCCL ships sailing in Europe all apparently use the same menus. This, we learned, is related to the fact that most food is ordered from the U.S. 8-weeks in advance and shipped to Europe. Given the cost of food in Europe, we can understand why. Due to a shipping strike in Barcelona, the ship was short of a few items like spinach and lettuce early in the cruise, but they were resolved by Day 3. Food in the dining room was good; no lobster, but the large shrimps were very good. Breads, pastries, and desserts were the best we have had on any Royal Caribbean ship - also no shortage of good chocolate desserts! Service in the dining room (Romeo from India and Sertac from Turkey) was outstanding. Day 1 - Barcelona. Embarkation was quick and efficient. We had printed our Set Sail pass before arriving at the cruise terminal, so there was little delay in boarding. Royal Caribbean offered priority boarding to higher-tier Crown & Anchor members and suite guests, which was a nice touch. Baggage service was also quick and efficient - we had our bags within hours after boarding. Staterooms were ready at 1 pm, and the Windjammer Buffet was open for lunch. I purchased a soda package (diet Coke addict) and signed up for both Royal WiFi using the $7.50/person credit provided in our Crown & Anchor coupon book and the $10/day ($120 for the cruise) in-room CyberCabin service.
Internet service on this cruise was a bit spotty; CyberCabin (modem-speed) has worked better in the past. I finally got my company Virtual Private Network (VPN) card to work. Royal Caribbean has a firewall that blocks TCP/IP connections. If you use a VPN card (my company uses Cisco VPN), use UDP/IP instead of TCP/IP. There was also GSM/GPRS service on the ship for GSM (Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile) calls and BlackBerry service, although there were times when GSM/GPRS service was not functioning but the internet service was working. Fortunately, the internet service worked well enough for me to get some of the lingering work tasks done that I had brought with me on the trip.
We got 2 bottles of champagne and a bottle of wine courtesy of our travel agent, along with a free framed photo. The cruise line told us that we should've gotten less booze and other food gifts instead, but they were impacted by the shipping strike in Barcelona.
This voyage offered Royal Caribbean's new "My Time Dining" option. By signing up for this option and prepaid gratuities, one can make reservations (or just show up) to dine between 6 pm and 9:30 pm in the dining room. Fortunately, the traditional set seating was also available. We stayed on traditional main seating and shared a table with a great group of people who really made the cruise extra special. We hope that Royal Caribbean keeps the traditional set seating alternative.
Although Royal Caribbean surveys each passenger prior to boarding regarding their health status, there was a norovirus outbreak on this cruise. The crew handled it with professionalism and care, handing out hand sanitizing cloths, performing expanded cleaning in the ship, and on a couple of days serving food in the Windjammer. On one day, even the singers and dancers were helping out in Windjammer handing out desserts. From what we were told later in the cruise after the outbreak was contained and all restrictions were lifted, the number of cases was much less than 5% of the passengers. We understood that passengers who were quarantined to their cabins due to illness were compensated by the cruise line for the missed days, shore excursions, etc. We even noticed officers eating with guests in the Windjammer at lunch to provide reassurance. All in all, we were impressed by the handling of the situation by the officers and crew.
Day 2 - Villefranche. Villefranche is on the French Riviera between Nice and Monaco. We were in port (tendered) from 10 am to 7:30 pm. We took an afternoon tour of Monaco and Monte Carlo. Our guide (Vera) was very good. The advertised duration of the tour was 3-1/2 hours; our tour was more like 4-1/2 hours long. We visited the Rock of Monaco including the church where Princess Grace was married, the Royal Palace, and the Casino of Monte Carlo, designed by Charles Garnier (architect of the Paris Opera House). We highly recommend this excursion. Our tablemates took the tour which included the village of Eze. They enjoyed that tour as well. The evening entertainment was an ABBA-like group called Abbacadabra. We had previously seen a similar group (AbbaMania) in California. Abbacadabra had better singers, but AbbaMania had the ABBA moves down better.
We saw the only "bad guest" experience of our entire cruise at breakfast on Day 2 in the Windjammer. A female guest was complaining about the temperature of her oatmeal and that it got cold while she walked from the buffet to her table. She then proceeded to demand that the Waiter fetch her some raisins, as her cereal (which he had the kitchen heat up extra hot in the microwave for her) would get cold again if she had to walk to get the raisins herself. It was absolutely appalling. The waiter (Neiver) was very gracious considering her bad behavior, and we enjoyed talking with him on other days during our lunches in the Windjammer.
Day 3 - Livorno. Livorno is a port city about 15 miles from Pisa and about 45 miles from Florence. We were in port (docked) from 7 am to 6:30 pm. We took a morning tour of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the only tour which allowed you to climb the 294 steps to the top - on all others, you just see the exterior of the tower from the Field of Miracles. We thoroughly enjoyed our tour and our tour guide (Simona). Most of our tablemates went on tours to Florence, which they enjoyed. We left exploring Florence for a future trip to Italy.
The evening entertainment was the first of three production shows, "Now and Forever" featuring songs from the contemporary Broadway scene. The production cast on Brilliance was hands-down the most talented group of dancers we had ever seen on any Royal Caribbean ship. The choreography of the numbers was outstanding; including some incredibly complex Bob Fosse dance sequences.
Day 4 - Civitavecchia. Civitavecchia is a port city about 90 minutes north of Rome. We were in port (docked) from 7 am to 6:30 pm. We took an all-day tour called Exclusive - the best of Rome. It included the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Square, the Basilica, Colosseum, lunch, and Trevi Fountain with a driving tour past other sights such as the field of Circus Maximus. Our tour guide (another Simona) was excellent. President Bush happened to be visiting the Pope that day, so the tour had to be rearranged numerous times to deal with security-related closures. Crowds at the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, and the Colosseum were horrendous. Apparently, this is quite normal for the summer. We tossed our coins in the Trevi Fountain, and then enjoyed lunch at a Marriott hotel (part of the tour). Other tables had problems with service, but our lunch was great - refills on champagne and wine and a great group of people to talk with. From lunch, we returned to St. Peter's Square and the Basilica. Crowds had diminished significantly, and the afternoon was much more pleasant than the morning. As the tour was a full-day experience, we had planned a dinner at Chops that evening at 7 pm which worked out perfectly. The price had gone up since our last cruise ($20/person to $25). If you like steak, order the 10 oz filet mignon; it was tender and flavorful.
The evening entertainment was Paul Emmanuel, a singer. He was entertaining - think Johnny Mathis... Day 5 - At Sea. Our first day at sea was relaxing after the chaos of Rome. We sat out at the pool for a while, and enjoyed the view of Messina, Sicily from our balcony. We even got a glimpse of Mt. Etna smoking after a recent eruption. The evening entertainment was Gary Lovini - described as an entertainer with a difference. Yes, he is a violinist - but he is good and definitely worth seeing.
Day 6 - Mykonos. We were in port (tendered) from 1 pm to 8:30 pm. We did not take the only tour offered - to ruins on the island of Delos. Mykonos has a reputation for being one continuous late night party. We only took in the other sights - the confusing maze of streets, the pelican mascots, and the windmills. We returned to the ship to enjoy the sun and pool on-board. The evening entertainment was a funny British comedian by the name of Duggie Brown.
Day 7 - Kusadasi. Kusadasi is a port city about 15 miles from the ruins of Ephesus. We were in port (docked) from 7 am to 6:30 pm. We took an early morning tour of Ephesus, and enjoyed it thoroughly. We toured the ruins of the so-called "third Ephesus"; the city was moved several times over the years closer to the water due to silting of the harbor. Ephesus is a fascinating archeological site where the excavated ruins of a city that once supported 250,000 residents from the Roman and early Christian era are well preserved or partially restored. If the so-called Terrace homes are open (they were closed when we were there), you may want to consider touring them (extra cost). We got a chance to walk around the ancient amphitheater where St. Paul once preached. It was in Ephesus where St. Paul spent 3 years and wrote the Letters to the Ephesians. Back in Kusadasi, we bought a handmade Turkish rug, which was absolutely beautiful. We heard a few guests complain about the "eagerness" of the Turkish vendors. Yes, they will give you a sales pitch. If you're not interested, just politely say "no thank you" and keep walking. The hard sell tactics are commonplace in this part of the world; in addition, merchants in Kusadasi do most of their business between May and September. If you like to bargain, Kusadasi is a great place to shop. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Touring Ephesus in the morning is recommended to avoid the mid-day heat.
The evening entertainment was the "Big Time Swing" production show. Again, the caliber of the performers on this ship was outstanding. We enjoyed the show, but felt it could've used a little more tinkering to more tightly tie the numbers together thematically.
Day 8 - Santorini. Santorini is one of five islands surrounding a sunken volcanic crater. We were in port (tendered) from 7 am to 5:30 pm. We took an early morning tour of the village of Oia, the local Santo winery, ending at the village of Fira. The tour is highly recommended. The wine tasting at Santo winery was a nice chance to rest, sip wine, and look out over the cliffs towards Oia and Fira. From Fira, return to the ship was at your leisure via the cable car (ticket included in the shore excursion) or down the ancient donkey path. We decided to walk down the treacherous path (treacherous because of the donkey-poo covering the entire the trail) back to the port. We understood the cost of a donkey ride as something less than 10 Euros. The evening entertainment was the Love and Marriage Game Show - definitely adults only!
Day 9 - Piraeus. Piraeus is the port serving the city of Athens. It is about 10 miles and between 30 and 45 minutes by vehicle to the center of Athens. We were in port (docked) from 7 am to 5:30 pm. We took a half-day city tour and guided tour of the Acropolis in the morning. We saw such sights as the Panathinion Stadium used in the late 1800's for the first modern Olympics, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and the Arch of Hadrian. From there, we climbed up to the top of the Acropolis to see the Erechtheion with its four goddess statues and of course, the Parthenon. It was a very good tour.
One usually visits Greece in any month except July and August to avoid the summer heat and humidity which average in the mid to high 90's with oppressive humidity and smog. Our day in Athens was the middle of a freak heat wave, with temperatures at the Acropolis around 100F. We left the organized tour at lunch time at Syntagma (or Constitution) square across from Parliament. We happened to arrive just before the noon changing of the guards with their pomp ceremonies resembling something out of Monty Python. From there, we took a walk through the Kolonaki, the Athens equivalent of Beverly Hills, complete with high-priced shops and outdoor dining. From there, we hiked the tallest hill in Athens (Mt. Lycabettus) to take in the views. We returned to Piraeus by Metro. The Piraeus Metro station is adjacent to the ferry terminal and about 25 minutes walk from the cruise terminal.
The evening entertainment was the "Tango Buenos Aires" show featuring Majo and Fernando. They are a couple from Argentina who have produced an incredible show of latin dancing. Their timing, emotion, and speed were just incredible. They were joined by the Royal Caribbean dancers who performed some amazing steps as well. It was definitely a "don't miss" experience.
Day 10 - At Sea. From Athens, we set sail for Naples, Italy. Sea days on the ship were very peaceful, mostly spent lounging in the warm Mediterranean sun, and attending a variety of ship-board adventures. That day, we took a backstage tour of the 5-story Pacifica theater on the ship, learning what goes on backstage from the stage manager, musical director, entertainers, sound, and lighting directors. It was quite fascinating.
Our evening entertainment was Jonathan Kane, performing the only officially recognized tribute show to Elton John. He was fantastic. We could've listened to him for hours. You really DO believe you are seeing Elton John.
Day 11 - Naples. We were docked in the port of Naples from 7 am to 6:30 pm. We took a tour that included hiking up Mt. Vesuvius followed by a tour of the ruins of Pompeii. The hike offered some beautiful vistas of Naples, Capri, Sorrento, and the Amalfi Coast. Pompeii was fascinating. We saw the town square, some shops, "fast food" establishments, bakeries, markets, typical Roman houses, and the baths. Pompeii is not without its unusual aspects, including the use of phallic symbols to keep away evil spirits. We also saw several plaster casts of some of the 3,000 people who perished, juxtaposed against the beautiful plaster frescoes which decorated the walls of an ancient market. Our tour guide (Stefania) was great. We got a laugh out of her description of our tour group as "my peoples"... We also got a laugh out of the tour description, which included - "time permitting, you will visit a local cameo factory..." Curiously, the cameo factory visit was between Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii. Amazing how there is ALWAYS time for the Cameo Factory visit!
The evening entertainment was Nestor Torres, described as a multi-instrumentalist; he only played the flute. We were not impressed. All of our tablemates at dinner left during the performance. We were not so lucky because we had chosen a seat right in the middle of the theater. Besides the water flowing from his flute during the show, he also made some comment about the Brilliance of the Seas Orchestra being musicians who were, "not seen or heard, only felt." This came across as a rather arrogant comment on the Orchestra. The musicians on Brilliance are some of the most talented soloists we have seen on any Royal Caribbean ship. You could tell the musical director (Dave) is a perfectionist, and this orchestra delivered consistently in all the shows they performed in during the cruise. They were definitely seen, heard, and felt.
Day 12 - At Sea. More pool time. We also went to a Q&A session with the Captain, Chief Engineer, Hotel Director, and Chief Environmental Officer as they answered many questions about our ship and voyage. For example, did you know the ship sails at 18 kts or less when possible to save fuel? Evening entertainment was the Farewell Show with Matt Ricardo, a really funny juggler.
Day 13 - Barcelona. The first groups left the ship just after 6:30 am. We left the ship around 8 am, and took a taxi to the Eurostars Hotel. The hotel had previously agreed to hold our baggage for the day, as we were leaving Barcelona by train for Paris at 9 pm. We got on the hop-on/hop-off bus (20 Euro/person) and did a self-tour which included the Park Guell (with its Gaudi statues and museum); Mt. Tibidabo with its charming tram, funicular, and stunning views of Barcelona; and Sagrada Familia (Church of the Holy Family) under construction since 1882. We took the English guided tour (offered at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm). It was a nice 45-minute introduction to the Gaudi-designed structure. Just remember - even if you don't like his buildings - in Barcelona, architecture is all about Antoni Gaudi!
Post-Cruise. We boarded the evening sleeper train (Elipsos Train Hotel) from Barcelona to Paris (Gare de Austerlitz). We had a private sleeper compartment, which really added to the experience as it had a private bathroom with a much needed shower. Dinner (including wine) and breakfast are included.
We arrived in Paris the next morning at 9 am, and spent the next two days touring additional sights, and taking a nice evening walk along the Seine River. We stayed at the same Holiday Inn (again a free points room) in Montparnasse. Montparnasse is served by the Les Cars (airport bus service) of Air France. Buses leave every 30 minutes between CDG and Montparnasse. It is a relatively inexpensive way to travel from the airport (15 Euros each way per person) to the Montparnasse area. Taxis by comparison can run upwards of 90 Euros depending on traffic.
As a finale...
You know you've had a good time when you are sorry to see the cruise end. This time was no exception. The weather was great (except for the unexpected heat in Athens); the ports and tours were fantastic; we met so many nice people; and the shipboard experience was up to the high level we have experienced on other Royal Caribbean cruises. We look forward to our next cruise (a 4-night to celebrate mom's 86th birthday) in just 3 weeks on Royal Caribbean!
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