Being from Florida, DH and I prefer cruises that go somewhere cool and this itinerary really fit the bill. We were really looking forward to escaping the summer heat and to make a long story short, this cruise was absolutely wonderful. ... Read More
Being from Florida, DH and I prefer cruises that go somewhere cool and this itinerary really fit the bill. We were really looking forward to escaping the summer heat and to make a long story short, this cruise was absolutely wonderful. The ship is just the right size for us and was well maintained and the staff was friendly and attentive.
Now for the details.
The cruise sailed from Harwich, England, and I have to say the port was very nice, well organized, and we had no problems with it. A warning for anybody unfamiliar with that port, though, is it's located on the other side of London from Heathrow (and I think from Gatwick too, although I'm not sure) and it's a couple hours drive to get there. I probably would try to avoid sailing from that port again, just because of the time and expense of getting to it from the airport. But if it was the perfect itinerary then I probably would do it anyway.
We arrived at Heathrow the day before the cruise (I don't have the courage to fly in the day of a cruise, and didn't have enough vacation time to come earlier and sightsee) and arranged for private transportation to Harwich with TotallyDriven. We were originally going to have a car to ourselves but shortly before sail date I saw a message on CC from another couple looking to share a ride so we ended up splitting the cost with them. I highly recommend TotallyDriven, btw, as they were very accommodating and handled our last minute changes with ease.
We stayed the pre-cruise night at The Tower Hotel in Harwich and it was everything I dreamed of - a miniature Downton Abbey. The reception area, dining room, and pub were beautifully decorated and outside was a terrace adorned with flowers and a fountain. I wished I was getting married so I could have it there! Anyway, I have bad knees and had requested a room on the first floor and we were given a lovely corner room with plenty of space and lots of windows. It was an easy walk (even for me) to the scenic waterfront area and we enjoyed it very much. The hotel arranged for a taxi to come for us the next morning to take us to the port.
The day of departure our taxi arrived and we were taken on the short ride to the port. It was around 11 am and it wasn't too crowded yet but we were directed to have a seat until our line (we're Platinum) was ready. After a short wait we were called to check in and it went smoothly and up the gangplank we went.
Our cabin was a D2 balcony and we were very pleased with it. The last cruise I got DH to go on (DH and cruising is a whole other story in itself and not part of this review) we spent a week in an E1 and I have to admit the slightly larger D2 was well worth it. Especially for a 12 night cruise. I knew the showers on Brilliance had shower curtains rather than the fixed "tube" door that we had on Jewel, but it turned out to not be so bad. It didn't "cling" to me like others have complained about, and I liked how it would give when I hit it with my elbow. Still a really small shower though.
The food was about what I expected, some was really really good, some was good, some was just OK, and some things I didn't like. We ate dinner in the MDR every night but one, since we like getting to know our tablemates and sharing stories about our day, and the first few dinners was absolutely fabulous. After that they were good, but nothing I'd get really excited about. Breakfast, lunch, and one dinner were eaten at the Windjammer and I have to say I'm not overwhelmed by it. Not that the food is bad, for the most part, but it's monotonous. Same 'ol, same 'ol. This has been my experience on every RCCL ship, though, and is not a critique of Brilliance in particular. We never did try any of the specialty restaurants, but maybe next time we will.
We didn't go to any shows so I can't comment about those, but our tablemates had mostly good things to say. During the cruise a group of passengers had been working with a crew member (Cruise Director maybe?) on doing the dance from Thriller and I did make it a point to go and watch them put on their show towards the end of the cruise. It was really good.
As for the ports, we stopped at Bergen, Alesund, and Geiranger in Norway, Klaksvik in the Faroe Islands, and Reykjavik in Iceland. All were docked, with no tenders involved. The weather in most locations was good, with maybe some misty-type of rain but mainly clouds and intermittent sunshine. Temps ranged from highs in the 50's and 60's to lows in the 40's on deck in the evening. Seas were mostly relatively calm with a couple of rough days that had a lot of people looking for seasickness remedies. Luckily DH and I didn't have a problem. I actually kind of enjoyed the rough seas since that's what the North Atlantic is supposed to look like.....
Bergen was the largest town we stopped at, not counting Reykjavik. The only excursion we did was a 1.5 hour Panoramic tour thru RCCL (a last minute decision) and we were a bit disappointed. The only panorama we saw was a peek through some trees of the harbor from a small hill - otherwise it just drove around town and pointed out a few sights. Not worth the cost, but a way to see things without too much up-hill-and-down-hill walking. We did get the driver to let us out toward the uphill side of town and walked down, looking at some shops on our way. I was planning to take the funicular to the top of the mountain where I was told there was a lovely park with great views and trails, but there was a huge line waiting for tickets so we passed it up. I was told later the line moved pretty quickly so that's one thing I regret not doing.
Alesund was next. A lovely town with beautiful buildings and a canal through the middle of it. A lot of these towns seemed to have burned down in the early 1900's and were rebuilt of stone in the current fashion so they all are in the same style. We did an excursion through RCCL that took us on a long bus ride through the countryside to drive on The Path Of The Trolls - a very steep and winding road down into a valley. At one point we stopped at a roadside stand selling locally-grown strawberries and we bought some and shared them with the other people on our bus. They were really good. We enjoyed the drive a lot, since nature and scenery is more our "thing" than cities. We stopped for a provided lunch at a local restaurant where we had a buffet with salmon prepared at least 5 different ways. Very good, of course. Overall we liked Alesund and thought it was a lovely and quaint town. Unfortunately by this time I was certain I had a bad cold.
Next stop was Geiranger. This is a very small town (village, maybe) at the end of an incredibly beautiful fjord. I felt pretty bad so I decided to stay on the ship and sleep for a bit while DH went on the excursion we had booked. Another one we booked through RCCL (I usually prefer private tours but these towns were so small there weren't any other options) and this one went up to Mt. Dalsnibba. He came back with gorgeous pictures of snow and a mountain lake. I spent the morning just wandering on the deck and I have to admit it was a very picturesque place. The fjord isn't very wide and the mountains rose up on either side with mist and clouds floating around. Very peaceful and by the middle of the day I was feeling better - still sick, but not as tired. When DH returned from the tour we took a shuttle bus from the dock to the town and walked around a bit. Very nice little place. The best part, though, was when the ship left and made its way slowly out the fjord. Absolutely gorgeous! The sun was playing peek-a-boo through the clouds and there were waterfalls everywhere. Even though it was pretty cool, windy, and spritzing rain the decks and railings were crowded with people admiring the view and taking pictures. I stayed out until we finally left the fjord and Norway behind (which could explain why it took so long to get over my cold, LOL).
The Faroe Islands were next. They didn't have the big mountains and cliffs that we had just seen in Norway, but beautiful rolling green hills. There are cliffs on some parts of the islands at the shoreline, but we didn't get there. We had booked an excursion but a day or two before we arrived at the islands we tried to change it to another one but they were all sold out so we couldn't change. The one we were on didn't go too far into the countryside but we did see a reconstructed village that showed how the inhabitants used to live, with the sod roofs and everything. That's where we encountered a lady with a Faroese horse and foal. Apparently there are only 77 of these horses left because in the past the Scandanavians, English, and Icelanders would come and carry them away until there were only 4 left. The lady explained they expect the breed will die out completely because there isn't enough genetic variation to keep them going. Anyway, the town of Klaksvik is another small town and we wandered around a bit before the ship left. We would've liked to see more of the Faroes and would return in the future if possible.
Finally we arrived in Reykjavik where we were spending the night. We took a tour with Geoiceland and did the Golden Circle. It was an all-day tour and we enjoyed it very, very much. Most of the countryside is different from anywhere else I've been - very bleak and flat, with mountains suddenly jutting up out of the ground. We visited the Thingvellir National Park, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are tearing apart. I couldn't decide what the land I was standing on actually was, since the plates are quite a distance apart. Anyway, we visited geysers and the lovely Gullfoss waterfall. We saw volcanoes and glaciers, but they were quite distance away. The driver heard us talking about Icelandic horses and he pulled the bus over by a fence where some were grazing and we got out and fed them grass. He was a great guide and I would definitely recommend Geoiceland to anybody wanting to tour Iceland. They have several tours available. We considered going to the Blue Lagoon but just didn't have time for everything, and after I found out it's manmade it lost it's appeal for me anyway.
Our entertainment that evening back on the ship was watching the cars in the parking lot. The way the ship was docked our balcony was facing the port's parking lot and entrance to the ship and in the evening apparently the thing the locals do is bring their cars to the parking lot and do wheelies. It was the strangest thing - about 30 cars or so arrived and lined up in the (empty, because it was night) parking lot. One at a time a car would slowly come out of the line and suddenly go zooming around the parking lot, squealing their tires and putting up big plumes of smoke. They never hit anything or each other, but after a while they would stop and slowly drive away. This went on for a couple of hours. From where we were you couldn't hear anybody talking so we couldn't tell how they decided who would go, it just sort of happened on it's own.
The next day the ship was due to sail at 1 pm so we just wandered around town for a bit. Interesting town and we took some nice pictures. We got back to the ship, ate some lunch and then sat on our balcony to watch sailaway. And waited. And waited. A little after 1 the loudspeaker announced about 6 names of people to "report to the Guest Services desk" so we figured they were people who had left ship and weren't in the system as having come back. The announcement was repeated after about 10 minutes. About 1:40 a local hop-on-hop-off bus pulled up and a couple jumped off and ran for the ship. Of course everybody on their balconies on that side were clapping and cheering for them. After another 15 minutes or so a car came peeling into the parking lot and a man jumped out and ran to the ship and up the gangway. He also got a "welcome" from the balconies. Somebody said later that he got back off before the ship sailed and he wasn't a passenger, but I never saw him leave. We finally sailed about 2:30 and the rest of the missing passengers just got left behind. I'm surprised the ship waited that long. Anyway, we sailed along for an hour or two and then a helicopter buzzed us, flying by real low. After a few minutes it came by again and I realized we had slowed to a crawl. Turns out they were there to drop off medical personnel for some type of emergency onboard. The helicopter never landed but kept circling the ship for a while before a couple of people were finally lifted off the ship in baskets and the helicopter took off back to Iceland. After that I imagine the captain put "the pedal to the metal" to make up for all that lost time.
We arrived at Harwich the next morning and I had booked a RCCL excursion to take us and our luggage on a tour of London on the way to Heathrow. We only stopped one place, at Covent Gardens for a little shopping, but we saw a lot of the major sights. Considering I didn't have enough vacation time to stay and do some proper touring, and considering we were going to have to get back to the airport somehow anyway, that excursion was well worth it. We were finally dropped off at our terminal at Heathrow, got back on a plane, and returned to reality. Read Less