Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Clause if you believe or perhaps you are a newbie to RCI! With a fare too good to be true and not having to fly, we booked a last minute inside guarantee on Brilliance of the Seas out of Dubai during the holidays. We will be three star Mariners on our next HAL cruise and have also sailed Celebrity but we're looking forward to an RCI experience...... especially having had the sea call me on the new shell phone......I love that ad! We used our usual online agent and to my surprise within the week our RCI reservation was assigned a Superior Ocean View Balcony Cabin on deck nine, mid-ship! I kept checking every day waiting for it to be a mistake. We have never booked a guarantee before in any category and this good fortune probably doesn't happen often.
For those of you contemplating a cruise on Brilliance but concerned about it being an older ship lacking the bells and whistles of the bigger classes, don't delay. The ship was in great shape and looked festive with all of the holiday decorations. There were no plumbing issues, the carpets and furnishings looked fine, and all of the surrounding glass sparkled from the continuous cleaning.
Liked a Lot:
being able to see the pre-booked reservations that you make on the RCI web site for your specific cruise; being able to view your account from the cabin TV
quick response from the RCI dining team regarding my wait-listed MTD status (thanks for the tip CC)
the planner on Day One that lets you know in advance the formal nights, drink of the day, activity times for the week, special sales each day; the inclusion of all of the port information in the first daily compass, providing information even if you were doing a port on your own instead of a ship tour
The Captain's sense of humor and friendliness of the crew. Always being greeted with smiles and doing everything they could to make you comfortable
The outdoor seating area by the Seaview Cafe deck 12 that seems luckily undiscovered
Seaview Cafe panini sandwiches-wish it was open earlier than three pm
The layout of lounges in the Colony Club; being able to go from the Champagne bar to the piano bar, and dance floor without the music overlapping
Solarium was a peaceful pool retreat with an exotic Indian theme, wooden loungers with thick pads to relax on, the convenience of both a bar and cafe
Room Service-arrived on time and with everything you ordered!
Entertainment -a wide variety through out the day and into the night; classical music, Latin music, big band orchestra or R&R to dance to, piano music to sing along with, classical guitar, disco and karaoke; theater shows included guest singer Tracey Shield performing like Celine Dion, Rat Pack tribute, and Tango Buenos Aires
Dining & Drinks
Chops Grill-Great and worth the money; excellent service and they even decanter your wine by the glass; the steak melted in your mouth and was cooked as ordered; sides were good also-mushroom and leek combo, potatoes with prosciutto & cheese, onion rings, green beans or buttered asparagus; desserts included mud pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for us chocolate lovers;
Portofino-originally reserved the Wine & Dinner series but unfortunately not enough people so it got canceled. We substituted a regular dinner reservation and enjoyed it very much; really liked the variety of breads to get you started; we ordered veal saltimbocca which was good though a little salty; desserts were very rich-I had a double dark and white chocolate dessert which was heavenly but best shared
MDR-we were able to switch from the early seating to MTD and liked being able to reserve ahead of time; The staff did a superb job of handling this style dining and we always got a table for two without waiting and in the same section though didn't have to request it. They easily accommodated guests configuring the table sizes from 2-6. Even the larger oval tables for eight appeared more conducive to conversation than the huge round tables you so often see in banquet settings; our waiters Alex and Alok were a great combination and it helped that they were also able to serve you the wine as you didn't have to wait for a wine steward; the special holiday dinner offered traditional turkey which was very good; nice assortment of breads each night, delicious lentil and sun-dried tomato soup, excellent presentation; food was hot; stayed away from the steak(Chops reservation anyway) but have to say I ordered sea food three times and twice it was overcooked and once it was cooked to perfection but full of bones! As was my husband's and the gentleman at the table next to ours. Need to schedule more filet lessons
Windjammer-typical cruise buffet; no problem finding a table, friendly service and hot food, some items really good (danish pastry, sweet & sour Indian dish, cooked to order omelets) others take or leave but you won't go hungry
Drinks-Drink of the Day was $6.95; Bottle of Heineken was about $5; we thought bottles of wine outside of the wine package were slightly higher or what you might pay in a larger city in the US (but less than a hotel in Dubai!) Most cocktails were in the $7-$8 range but Margaritas and the like were a sobering $10-$11. The drinks were all good---not watered down; enjoyed the revolving bar at Starquest and the live entertainment every night at the Lobby Bar; medium size bottled water in your room was $4----yikes!
Liked a Lot Less:
Sun lounge chairs crammed together-we didn't like the design of the pool area and placement of the chairs on the outside decks at all. An average amount of towels covered vacant chairs but not excessive however the chairs were so close together they took economy class to a new level. Many of the chairs were also lined up on the upper decks against the wall and often had a ceiling overhang that blocked the sun or ventilation fans blowing. There was a special area designated for either suite or diamond guests but the area wasn't utilized much whenever I walked by. There is also a lot of deck space allocated to the water slide and sports activities which I guess that "prime real estate" aspect depends on your interests......but you do have the solarium alternative to escape to.
Cabin- Showers-sure are tiny! Spoiled by the HAL shower/tub combo in all of their balcony cabins so no thumbs up here; plenty of storage space and hangers, comfortable beds (liked the curved edges) and the sconce lighting with a reading light; needs flat screen TV, built in international plug adapters, and some new balcony furniture but I'm sure these will be taken care of in a future dry-dock and not a major concern
Odds and Ends:
A good balance of service throughout the ship. Waiters were available when you wanted a drink but didn't pounce on you as soon as you finished one or before getting settled in a new venue. Photographers unobtrusively captured candid shots or were scattered at various places in the ship to take your photo without having to be scheduled in advance. With the beautiful decorations even we couldn't resist buying an 8x10 for $19.95.
The in-house news show hosted by Paul the Cruise Director was a clever way to inform you about what was going on and what you needed to know.
There were two formal nights and one theme night. The White Night had many crew and guests donning Middle Eastern dress and posing in the Arabian tent and around the camels. The obvious good time being had relinquished my impulse to call the Cultural Wizard when I spotted them with a drink in hand!
Port Tips-This Middle East itinerary is a great way to explore a part of the Gulf region. They are all industrial ports so factor that into your "view expectations" while sitting on your balcony in port. Friday is the holy day and except for the malls most things will open later in the day.
Visiting the mosques-in Abu Dhabi all women will be given an abaya to put on and a shayla for your head if you don't have a scarf. Men will be provided a khandora if wearing shorts; in Muscat women must have long sleeves to your wrists and a head covering. Men need long pants. You will remove your shoes before entering the mosque. I didn't wear socks in Muscat, it was not a problem (though I would have felt better if my toenails weren't painted red.) In the shopping areas it is respectful for women to cover shoulders and knees---think short sleeves and capri pants, though in Dubai people digress!
Dubai-add a day or two pre or post cruise if this is your first visit. There is so much to see and do here even after you shop! The cream colored taxis with different colored roofs are plentiful, metered, and inexpensive. You will see many lined up at the port entrance; HOHO busses were also at the cruise terminal as were free shuttles to a couple of the malls....I believe one was Dubai Mall but not positive; there were also many 4x4's waiting to take people on their scheduled desert dune bashing experience (if you are prone to motion sickness you may want to take some medication before hand)
Abu Dhabi-Free shuttle to the Marina Mall where you can get a taxi if not on a scheduled tour; Sheik Zayed Mosque is beautiful and free tours are given in the morning;
Falcon Hospital is an interesting alternative if you have been to Abu Dhabi before. The staff is welcoming and provides a lot of information, you get to see falcons being treated in the "spa" and even have one perched on your arm for photos
Muscat-Free shuttles to the port gate in Muscat were provided. There is a large sign outside with posted fares to different places. Gives you an idea for your taxi negotiations; Some drivers will interpret the rate to be pp.
We agreed to pay 15 OR for both of us for a roundtrip to the Grand Mosque and have the driver wait for us. He had wanted 20 rials for the 30 minute ride each way. He explained areas as we drove through the city, after our visit he brought us to a reception area in the mosque for tea and dates, took some pictures for us etc and in the end we felt he earned the extra amount and tipped him the difference
You can walk to the Mutrah Souk in about 10 minutes from the port gate;
Bait al Zubair and Palace area are about 3km from the souq. If you are energetic you can walk to it in about 50 minutes along the beautiful sea promenade or corniche. The four buildings offer a wealth of information about Oman, there's a beautiful jewelry exhibit for the women and handsomely crafted swords and kanjars for the men, a cafe to order coffee or tea and try the Halwa sweet treat of Oman, stop in the gift shop where you can also spritz yourself and make a splurge purchase of Amouage, the Rolls Royce of perfumes of the world made in Oman.
If your ship is docked overnight, check to see if there is a performance at the new Royal Opera House http://www.rohmuscat.org.om/ It is a beautiful building and offers not only opera but ballet, symphony, jazz and other performances. The new season begins mid January through March and tickets sell out quickly so if you are interested, don't hesitate.
Fujairah-plan a tour, dhow cruise or stay onboard and enjoy the ship; the shuttle to LuLu's is like a trip to Carrefour or Walmart SuperCenter
Passenger mix was at least 75% Europeans from all over the continent, some North Americans and everyone in between. Daily program guides were offered in a variety of languages. A number of children and teens on board and an equal number of activities to keep them busy; yes, even Santa came aboard Christmas Eve
Embarkation-moved along quickly
Passport Retrieval-effortless; also US citizens- ship arranges Oman visa/ charges $13 to your sea account-probably others too but not sure which countries so won't comment
Disembarkation-Our tag number gathered in the Schooner Bar at 8 am and I was home making coffee at 8:30 am after a 10 minute taxi ride-as close to a Florida perk as you can get!
Cabin 9602-convenient and quiet location easily accessible to stairs and elevator; plenty of storage-liked combination shelving and hanging space in closet, also a lot storage surrounding the desk area which was a real plus, sofa sleeper which would be good if traveling with children, length of cabin made it feel a little bigger; balcony small but comparable to category; bathroom storage adequate; showers were very, very, small-think showering in place with an awful shower curtain that enabled water to easily flood the floor, bring your own toiletries as soap/shampoo combo not the best for your hair but there probably isn't room to mount two!; really liked the sconce lights by the bed which also had a small reading light on it; needs updated international plug adapters and mounted flat screen TV
Very organized. We took a taxi in and there were porters waiting to take your bags as soon as you got out of the car. Short walk into the terminal. We arrived in the large tent- like building and there was a UAE money exchange facility if you wanted to change currency. Line moved along quickly. On disembarking, very orderly, smooth and quick. Luggage was lined up and easy to find. Many, many city taxis were outside waiting. There is a 20 dirham surcharge when exiting the port but not upon return. HOHO buses were at terminal, 4x4's if you had booked a tour or desert safari, free shuttle to the mall-I've read Dubai Mall but can't say for sure as I didn't use it