We chose this cruise to celebrate my father's birthday and mine. I was surprised by how many other people on the cruise shared a Christmas Eve birthday with my dad. It made it even more fun. I have no idea if anyone else has a Christmas birthday because there was no Happy Birthday singing in the MDR on Christmas Day. I don't know if it was because they were instructed not to, or because they just didn't know. Anyhow enough about my reasons, and more about the experience.
I would certainly take another cruise on the Brilliance, and wouldn't mind it being another Christmas Cruise. It was the most festive Christmas. I had a wonderful time. I will explain the "4" rating which is only for minor bumps in the road.
We arrived in Tampa on Sunday 12/22 and had a lovely dinner at Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City. We stayed at the Hampton Inn/Home2Suites a few blocks from the port. It was so close, we almost could have walked. I wish the hotel offered a park & cruise package. I didn't see one offered, but do know that other guests from the hotel did take a shuttle to the port. There is a lot of fun stuff to see in Tampa. I wish we had arrived a day earlier so we could have enjoyed the city.
It was by far the easiest embarkation I have ever experienced. It took no more than 20 minutes from the time we parked our car to the time we set foot inside the ship. A quick trip up the elevator to the Windjammer and we had our first meal. We explored for a few minutes before the announcement that cabins were ready at1:00 if not a few minutes before. Dropped our stuff and headed out to explore. While not the largest ship, there was plenty to do. I enjoyed the smaller more intimate feeling of the ship.
Crew: Not knowing the expectations of others, I am completely surprised by other reviews that talk about disinterested staff and lack of enthusiasm. Everyone we encountered was helpful, friendly and enthusiastic. We felt so welcomed by everyone. Lots of great holiday music and a festive attitude all around, from guests and crew members alike. There were quite a few crew members trying to get people to purchase dining packages, but they were very polite and didn't push the issue if you told them no.
Cabin: Cabin was a balcony cabin on the 7th deck pretty close to the Centrum (7594) Travel companions in 7592. Cabins felt pretty small, but we had a nice size balcony which was enjoyed more frequently than I usually enjoy it on a cruise. If you have room in your luggage and don't mind bringing them, you might want to bring a few extra hangers if you are an overpacker or like to have all of your clothes hanging. There is not much storage space. Being so close to the Centrum, it was a bit loud at night. We were generally out and about most nights until after Centrum activities were over, except the first night when the seas were a little rough. If you are a light sleeper or noise bothers you, I would advise to find a cabin a bit further away from the action.
Casino/Centrum: I didn't notice the smoke smell from the Casino in the Centrum, but it was absolutely suffocating once in the casino. I couldn't walk through the casino. I had to either go up a deck or down a deck and walk to the forward stairs or elevators if I needed to get from an area aft of the casino on Deck 6 to an area forward of the casino. I didn't notice too much smoke in any other area of the ship.
Dining: The Windjammer food was pretty tasty. It is what it is so there's not much to say. The Unlimited Dining Package was not applicable for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day because they had special holiday menus. Not being able to use the unlimited package for two nights made it inefficient to purchase a package. We dined in Chops on the first night of the cruise. Had a wonderful server, Viseli (sp?) from Turkey. He has a wonderful personality and is a top notch server. I had the goat cheese salad, which is a classic I always look forward to when I go to Chops. It did NOT disappoint. My father said his filet was tough, which is so unusual for a filet. I had the same thing, a petite filet, and mine was just fine.
We had breakfast in MDR on the first morning at sea- Day 2 of the cruise/Christmas Eve before we headed out. Both of us had Eggs Benedict. It was loaded with spinach. If you like spinach, you would love it. If you don't, you may need to deconstruct. There was easily enough spinach on one half of my husband's breakfast to make a small salad. Our first night in the MDR on Christmas Eve was good. Food was better than I have had in a while on some of Royal's ships. Christmas Dinner was edible, but that's about it. The Caesar salad was watery and the lettuce was not crisp. The turkey dinner was supposed to have stuffing/dressing which was nowhere to be found. The roasted root vegetables included beets which tasted like the dirt from which they were dug up. The turkey was decent. The mashed potatoes edible and the other vegetables were fine.
Night 4 was in Giovanni's Table. Our server was a bit rushed, despite the fact the restaurant was practically empty the entire night. I don't think more than 4 table were sat during our entire meal. The food was good. I very much enjoyed my bucatini with Bolognese sauce. By far the best part of my meal. The tiramisu was enjoyable.
Night 5, the final night, we returned to Chops. I had the petite filet again which was just as enjoyable as night 1. The rest of the family had the rack of lamb. They all report that it was exceptionally good.
Plenty of entertainment on the ship. I found the production shows to be a little lacking in terms of talent, but the entertainers were engaging enough. Lots of activities to keep everyone from children to the aged entertained. We very much enjoyed the entertainer in the King & Country pub, where we spent the majority of our evenings. Without fail, that venue gets more and more crowded as the week goes on no matter which ship we sail.
Service was great everywhere we went.
Ports and Shore Excursions: We had two ports- Key West and Cozumel. We purchased the Conch Train Tour through the Shore Excursions department with Royal. It was by far the most disorganized and unenjoyable experience we had- not the tour itself which was redeemed by a fabulous driver on the Conch Train. His name was Wilson. But getting off the ship and into town was a complete disaster. Whoever had the "paddle" to lead us off took off really fast and no one knew where to go or how to get off the ship for the tour. Our group was separated into several small splinter groups as people tried to figure out what was going on. We were given stickers for the regular trolley tour and told we had to get in the trolley to be taken into town for the tour, despite the fact there were conch train vehicles coming to the pier to pick up folks. Our group was separated into at least 3 groups to get into town. Once in town, we had to ask others where to go to get on the Conch Train. There was no direction whatsoever. Once we finished the tour, we were told we could take a trolley back to the ship but were not told that we had to go to a different location to be taken back to the ship, which was about 3 blocks from where we were dropped off when we first go into town. Would recommend you just do your own thing in Key West. Tours were a debacle.
Did our own thing in Cozumel. Had brunch at Palmera's and shopped for some souvenirs.
None of the bumps in the road were enough to spoil the cruise but they did bring my overall rating down a touch. The biggest problem with the shore excursion. I would definitely go on the Brilliance again. If you are looking for a great way to spend Christmas with the family without the stress of cleaning and prepping for visitors, this is the way to go.
Brilliance was BRILLIANT.
Cabin was nicely appointed but felt a bit small. Balcony was a great size and very comfortable. Decent view. Cabin attendant, Florina, was fabulous. The sweetest and best attendant ever.
Needs a few more hangers in the closet. Storage space at a premium, but a great cabin. If you are a person who needs a CPAP or needs to have an outlet for something by the bed, you will have to get an extension cord or get something else with extra outlets to put on the desk. No outlets available at bedside or by the sofa.
No problem with the actual Conch Train Tour vehicle or operator once we got into town and got on the vehicle. Poor rating is because of the way the tour was handled by Royal Caribbean and the process of getting people organized for the tour. It was a disaster. Only reason I am giving it two stars is because we did finally make it to our tour, despite the seeming goal of the excursion staff and port personnel at the pier to thwart plans.View All 256 Conch Train Tour Reviews