So, we just got back from our cruise with a preschooler and an infant, and thought I'd pass along some pros/cons/tips for the Brilliance of the Seas, 12 Night British Isles Cruise. I wish I knew then what I knew now, so hopefully this helps anyone interested.
I chose to book with AAA and there really wasn’t anything good about that experience. I would definitely go straight to Royal Caribbean based upon my experience. In short, I ended up having to do A LOT personally to correct my travel agent’s mistakes, in addition to paying more for my trip, along with poorer service than just going direct to RC. Here are some of my lessons learned:
• Don’t buy travel insurance UNTIL you check with your credit card company you are planning on using for the cruise. Even after bringing up my card’s benefits to my travel agent, she still talked me into buying the insurance through RC. When I called my credit card to double check and found out that my coverage was all that and better, it was too late to cancel.
• Get your flight through RC if possible. Even if you are going in a day early, if you are in a foreign land, this will give you the peace of mind that both your luggage and you get to the ship on time, or be covered if not.
• Definitely double check with the airline directly after booking the flight through whomever you use. We called to confirm and found out they had all of us in separate rows, even thought that violated the airline policy due to the ages of some of our travelers. I have to say, United Air stepped up and helped us correct what our travel agent messed up.
• Understand the trade-offs between booking a “Guaranteed” room as opposed to one through the current sale. This was not explained well to us and we went with the Guaranteed Room. This meant we paid less in the front end. However, we were put on a bottom floor and missed out on the bonus cruise dollars, that would have made up for that savings we saw from the guaranteed booking. If you are planning on spending some money on the boat, its better to shop the sales.
• Get the balcony of you can afford it. The lock is up high, out of reach of children, and if safety is still a concern, have the room attendant remove the outside furniture. The added storage space for strollers and such alone is worth it! Aside from the fact you will wish you had it when you’re on board.
• Oh, and if you are traveling with small children, be sure to tell the folks before your international flights. You will get to board early no matter your assigned group.
• There’s a lot of interesting stops along this cruise, and I feel the ship excursions are the way to go (as opposed to looking to alternates offered from different sources), especially when traveling with children and after a decent amount of online research.
• Children 3 and under are free for excursions. There definitely were some excursions where both the adults and children were better off with the kids at the Royal Tots and Adventure Ocean, but the fact you didn’t pay extra was cool when we chose to bring them along. So be sure to book them along with yourself, even if you are unsure, at the time of your excursion booking.
• Book your excursions in advance. They often come at a discount and sometimes the popular ones do fill up by the date of that particular stop. I’d even go so far as to say even if you’re on the fence about one, still book it in advance. Of course, do your research, but the fact of the matter is, you will likely want to do it when that date comes along and better to have paid less and be assured a space. You can always cancel up to 48 hours prior to the excursion.
• The downside of the excursions RC offers is that are still done by a 3rd party. So, if you have a problem, RC will not provide a refund. They will inform you they will pass it along to the excursion company, but that’s the extent of their “help”. They are NOT your advocate. We had an issue on one and still haven’t heard anything, 3 weeks after the cruise. With that said, I think more often than not, you will have a good experience. Just recognize RC assumes little to no responsibility when you have problems on an excursion.
Child Care / Children’s Programs
• I can’t say enough good things about my experience with Royal Tots and Adventure Club. My preschooler loved it and we felt very secure with their care for our infant.
• I was a little scared about the hours and the available spaces getting filled prior to our cruise, since you couldn’t do any pre-booking for those services. However, there turned out to be no need for concern. They have this down and it is really easy to use. Go to the open house on your first day on board and get it set up. There will be space for your child on this particular cruise.
• Order diapers, wipes and baby food ahead of time to be delivered to your room. Call RC directly to do this. This service is buried in their website and is glitchy from my experience if you try to do it online. The reps on the phone are, by and large, super helpful and will get it done for you. And if you get someone from RC on the phone who seems reluctant or unknowing about this service, politely end that conversation and call back later. You will get someone who can and will help you. But the fact of the matter is it will save you a ton of luggage space and their costs aren’t much different than a target in the States.
• I thought the dining room was top notch and the buffet was hit or miss. My Time Dining was the way to go. But go ahead and book times in advance if you have a handle on your schedule, even with the MTD. There’s a lot to be said for having the same attendants through-out. And if your waiters seem a little off that first night, don’t give up on them. They’re in the dining room for a reason and will get to know your family and take good care of you.
• Definitely book a specialty dining package in advance. If you’re on a cruise for this long, you are going to want some variety. And even with the sales you will see once on board, it will never be as cheap as it is before the cruise. I didn’t get to go to the Giovanni’s or Chefs table, but Chops Grille was awesome, and they were great with the kids. We also went to Izumi, but I did not like the food or the service. Here they tell you to bring your kids, but from all appearances they really don’t want you to. Once we were seated we rarely saw our waiter and he was curt and unhelpful when we did see him. And he was the waiter featured on the videos about the restaurant on the boat! And when it came down to it, the sushi was just not good. So the service definitely wasn’t something I would say I would put up with for the food.
• If you have interest in the Mystery Theatre Dinner, book it in advance. It will not be available when you’re onboard. Plan for an adult dinner that night if you decide to sign up. Get the kids an earlier meal and then take them to the childcare for a couple of hours. We didn’t do this but wish we had.
• I’ve been to the spa several times on different cruises and talked to a few different travelers about their experiences on RC, and the consensus is it’s just OK. Here again, buy in advance to get the savings if you want it, but temper your expectations. Massages aren’t great, and they will try to sell you the lotions when you are done.
• In fact, there’s a lot of hard selling and up selling going on at the spa. For instance, if you want a steam in addition to your massage (like you would get at a typical on land spa), you will pay extra.
• In our case they really pushed this “great consultation” from a trainer who will develop a diet and fitness plan for you for around $50 for a couple. In short, it was an hour high-pressure sales pitch with a guy trying to sell us seaweed pills, who would not discuss diet and exercise, and who wouldn’t take no for an answer. We had to just get up and walk away. My advice is don’t expect to find anything better (or even close to as good) for your health on the boat, than you would find through true health professionals back on land in the US.
• Prices are likely more expensive when compared to spas you have been to in the past, so just recognize that higher price is not indicative of the quality of service. You pay a premium bc your trapped on a ship with no other offers. That doesn’t mean you won’t find the masseuse you’ve been waiting for all your life. I just wouldn’t get your hopes up.
• Although this is a British Isles cruise, don’t expect to see anything from the British Isles in the cruise shops. We were surprised to see only Baltic and Russian souvenirs in shops, even on the special sales days. It was explained to us that this is because the ship spends most of its time in the Baltic and only goes to the British Isles once a year.
• Don’t believe the cashier that you can send your EU tax reimbursement form from home. You cannot. Global Blue informed me of this when I inquired once back in the States. You need to go through 2 lines at the Amsterdam airport to receive a refund and be prepared for a circus. So, if you want that money, plan to get that done before you get on your plane.
• Be careful about the digital photo package. We bought it and still don’t have our pictures. I’ve called and emailed Royal Caribbean numerous times, and they tell me it is a third party who does that, and they have no control. And the third party is virtually impossible to get ahold of, and pretty nasty when you do. They do not have an email or direct line you can contact an actual person. I’ll update this part once it is resolves, but it is a problem with Royal Caribbean and their complete decentralization of everything. I have found accountability is scarce with RC when something goes wrong. Id say buy the actual pics if you really want to, but definitely stay away from the digital packages.
Royal Caribbean in General
• I think there’s two types of crew members on Royal Caribbean ships. Those who bend over backwards for you, and those who will do anything to avoid helping you. No in between. I never heard more people telling me that’s not their job and that they don’t know who can give me the answer. Even on postage to send a postcard! So, remember, if someone doesn’t help you, come back later and a different person will. This may be personality driven as different people connect with different people. So, you may have a good experience with someone I had a bad experience with. I think the main thing to keep in mind, don’t get upset when this happens bc it will happen, just try someone else later. It will work out:)
N/A Didn't have time for anything.
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