We had the pleasure of taking the Brilliance of the Seas repositioning cruise as it headed from drydock in Hamburg on a cruise from Southampton to Barcelona with stops in Le Havre, Vigo, Lisbon, Tangiers, Corsica, Villefrance.
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We had the pleasure of taking the Brilliance of the Seas repositioning cruise as it headed from drydock in Hamburg on a cruise from Southampton to Barcelona with stops in Le Havre, Vigo, Lisbon, Tangiers, Corsica, Villefrance.
We are in our late 50s and this was our 11th cruise and our third cruise to Europe. The other 2 Europe cruises were on Celebrity to the Baltic and the Mediterranean. We also cruised with Celebrity to Bermuda and NE/Can. We've cruised on Princess (Alaska), HAL (Panama Canal) and Carnival (NE/Can). Our previous RCL cruise was the Explorer holiday cruise from NJ to the Eastern Caribbean. As you can see, we've cruised on a lot of cruise lines. Brilliance compared favorably to our other favorite ship, the Constellation. We also loved the Explorer of the Seas
We are avid walkers and in good weather we walk several miles a day after dinner. Whenever we can, we do ports on our own. We love to experience the ambiance of the different cities/countries we visit. We've done ships excursions and while we can still handle the walking, we've decided to do as many ports as we can on our own or with an independent tour guide. This is nothing against excursions - we hope to be cruising for many more years and we will take excursions when we feel we can no longer walk for hours and miles or when the time and distance to an attraction does not allow us to have at least a one hour cushion for on-board time.
Ship - Without going into all the details of the ship, the ship was in great shape. It may have been, spruced up in drydock. We had an inside cabin on deck 8 and the chair and sofa appeared to be new. The bedding was the new hotel style bedding that I like so much - a blanket with a duvet cover that can be washed, as opposed to worn bedspread. The price of the cruise went down several times after we booked to $1,130 for our deck 8 inside. We had no problem getting a price adjustment. For a few days there was a deck 6? Balcony guarantee for $20 less. We decided to stick with the inside and we did not regret that decision. We had a nice quiet cabin at the front of the ship. Between the windy, overcast weather and the limited sea days, we would probably not have used the balcony.
The solarium area is like a fantasyland. I just love the dEcor (although on this cruise the single whirlpool in the solarium was almost always full). There is also a small food area here but we never ate here. Too many ports and too few lunches.
Entertainment - I judge the theatre by the comfort of the seats and the leg room. Both of these are more than adequate on Brilliance. There was a new group of singers and dancers. They did a great job on the 2 production shows. One was a Tango show and the other a Swing show. Both of these shows were different than the shows we saw on Explorer in Dec. The other entertainment was typical cruise ship. We always enjoy this and never miss a show. One day they showed a movie in the theatre instead of a show. This was a little disappointing, but it was fun for us because we never go to the movies.
Dining - Our usual routine is to eat breakfast in the Windjammer, no lunch and an early dinner. We chose traditional early seating and we were seated with 3 other couples who could not have been nicer. This is why we enjoy traditional seating so much. By the end of the cruise they felt like family. There was also anytime dining on this cruise and we did not hear any complaints. One couple from our table asked permission and went to anytime dining one night with a couple they knew from a previous cruise. They said it went seamlessly.
The food was good. Our only complaint was the lack of choices. They've now added the 3 alternate selections as well as the vegetarian dishes to the main menu so there was even less selection than before. I love salmon and the salmon was cooked perfectly. I ordered it many times and it came out with different sauces, mimicking one of the other meals. By asking for a piece of salmon on the pad thai, or sharing one of the vegetarian meals with my husband (along with the salmon or chicken), I was able to always have something different and delicious. The comments from our tablemates were that the food was good, but not fabulous. The large shrimp on the menu one night was replaced by a lobster and medium shrimp meal. 2 people ordered prime rib which covered the entire plate.
I don't have much to add about the windjammer. I had a well made omelet every morning that filled me up for the entire day. There were plenty of choices and food, including lox, smoked fish, cheese, pancakes, French toast, hot & cold cereal and lots of fruit. We always found a place to sit, even on port days when everyone ate at the same time - although several times we shared a table.
CURRENCY EXCHANGE - I started with 200 euros that I had gotten from my credit union at work. I intended to use my on board credit to get additional euros. I had called RCL and they said you could do this. I went to the currency exchange desk and they had nothing to do with the on board credit. Then I went to the guest relations desk and they said what I had to do was get cash from the casino (for gambling only), and that cash would come out of my OBC. If I did not use all my OBC, I could get the remainder in cash from the guest relations desk on my last day (which is what I did). So we took the $100 U.S. dollars we had brought with us and went back to the currency exchange deck to get euros. I took another $100 out of the casino and converted that to euros later in the cruise. On the last day of the cruise I went to the guest services desk and got the $200 remainder of my OBC. The only thing we had charged to our on board credit was the tips and the money from the casino. For those who are wondering we had $200 for booking on a cruise, $200 stock holders, and $100 returned fuel surcharge since we had booked before the surcharge was added but paid a few weeks before they rescinded the charge for booking before the surcharge was added.
PORTS - SOUTHAMPTON - We had a non-stop Continental flight that arrived at Gatwick at 6:30 in the morning. We had arranged for sedan pickup with Smiths for Airports out of Portsmouth. We decided on the car service because on Sunday we would have had to change trains and we wanted to enjoy, as best we could, our day in Southampton. The car was 77 pounds plus tip or $160. The driver was at the airport to meet us and we requested the scenic route which he was all too happy to drive on the early Sunday morning with no traffic. The only glitch, if you can call it that, was that we were planning to pay by credit card but the limo office was closed. So the driver stopped at a bank ATM machine and we withdrew pounds to pay him. An hour and a half later we were at the Novotel. They held our bags in a locked room and we were off for our day's adventure.
There is a free 90 minute walking tour of the Southampton walls. I found out about this from the Southampton web site. We walked from our hotel along the waterfront to the start of the tour. We got there in plenty of time. My estimate is a 20 - 30 minute walk. It was a great tour and it would have been worth paying for. We had 2 guides, a trainee and an experienced guide and there was plenty of commentary. The tour ended at the Titanic Museum but we were too tired to do a museum. We walked around for several more hours, checking out restaurant menus while enjoying the ambiance of Southampton. We spent some time at the harbor enjoying the children playing and watching the activities in the harbor. On the way back to the hotel we passed a Leisure World which had a casino (we did not go in because you have to register and we knew we would not be gambling), a cinemaplex, a bar with music and a restaurant. We also checked out a pub/restaurant next to Leisure World and decided to eat there. At this point, we were only a few blocks from our hotel, so we checked in, brought our bags to the room, and returned to eat. We both had the roasted menu special which for me was half a chicken, Yorkshire pudding, fries, potatoes and 2 vegetables. My DH had the roast beef. Dinner was 6.5 pounds each. We returned to the room, read for a little while and then slept for 12 hours.
The next morning we had breakfast at the McDonalds next door for a total of 3 pounds (2 oatmeals and an OJ). We just wanted something light since we would have lunch on the ship. We then went to walk into town in a different direction. As we turned the corner behind our hotel we saw 2 people wheeling their luggage out of the port. We also saw buses of people pulling out. We spoke to the people wheeling their luggage and they had been on the Brilliance cruise out of Hamburg. They said it was a 10 minute walk from the ship and a very easy walk. They were walking to the train station which was another block away. Since we had a good map, we were happy to show them the direction to the train station. (Do not bear right behind the Novotel, continue across the street and walk straight to get to the train station. The coach station looked like it was farther and more uphill). So we made the decision to not take a taxi but to walk to the ship. We enjoyed a few more hours walking around town, checked out the walk to the ship, and returned to our hotel room to check out. One positive of walking is that my DH was able to use the 10 pounds and change that we had left towards the hotel bill so we did not have to carry around those extra pounds and figure out how to exchange them. At 12:30 we headed to the ship. We had no problem. There was no line, and by 1:30 we were on the ship, our carryon bags had been dropped off, and we were having lunch in the Windjammer.
LE HAVRE- Early the first morning we docked at Le Havre. We had arranged to join another family on an independent tour of the Normandy beaches. We used a guide named Eric with Normandy Town and Country Tours (firstname.lastname@example.org). Eric is from England and has become a D-day historian. We left the ship at 7:15 to start a 2 hour drive to the Airborne Museum. As we stood in the center of the town square in front of the church (pictured in the Longest Day movie), Eric told us the story of the Paratrooper's arrival. We could picture the scene of that fateful night. We then visited the Airborne museum and a short visit to the church. We decided to skip a sit down lunch and instead bought take out lunch from a Patisserie in town.
We then headed to walk through the area where we could see the remnants of the German artillery and the allied bombing. Next was a visit to Omaha beach. As we stood over the beach, Eric told the story of that fateful day. As we stood there we noticed several cars pull up, look around for a few minutes and then head to the gift shop. It was great to have a tour guide who brought the history to life.
This was followed by a visit to the American cemetery where we saw the graves of 10,000 young men.
We then visited the German Bunker Museum. I chose to walk around the small residential area for a half hour while the others toured the museum. I enjoyed my walk. It is always interesting to get a feel for how others live. My DH and the others said the museum was very interesting.
We had planned to go to Bayeau but we ended up skipping that site because of the time. Instead, we made a short stop in Honfleur. Eric walked us around town for about half an hour. We returned to the ship at 6:30 from our 11 hour tour. We washed up and headed straight for the dining room. Because of the light turnout, we had been told they would serve dinner in the dining room up until 7:30. The dining room was maybe 25% full.
Our tour cost 550 euros for the 6 of us. We gave the driver 200 euros for the 2 of us. This was about the same price as the ships excursion.
DAY AT SEA - Our first day at sea was busy with 2 great history lectures by Dr. Jim Brodman. There was a lecture on the history of Vigo and another on the history of Lisbon. The lectures were excellent and these gave us a good background for our planned visits to these cities. We played trivia (and won for the first time), went to our meet and mingle, and spent several hours reading and/or sleeping in the solarium. The weather was windy and in the mid 60s. This was also our first formal night. My husband wore a tuxedo. We saw that while everyone dressed neatly and in jackets, my husband was in the minority in a tuxedo. He did not wear his tuxedo again. Our dinner table made a pact that the gentlemen would just wear button down shirts (and ties if they chose). At this point my husband decided he was not going to bother with a tuxedo anymore on cruises since he was very much in the minority, even on this cruise with a good number of people from the U.K. Instead he will bring a suit.
VIGO - We had a short day of 10 am to 6 pm and we decided to do Vigo on our own. I went to the Vigo websites and found 3 - 100 minute walking tours. I emailed the tourist office twice in English and once in Spanish and got no response. So I printed the walking tours in color (easier to read) and figured we would use these if we could not hook up with the tours when we reached Vigo. From the pictures on the walking tour maps and the websites I could tell that Vigo was the type of place we love to explore.
When we got off the ship we bypassed the long line at the kiosk visitor information center and headed for the information center that was about a block away. They in turn pointed us to the information center for the free walking tours which was another block away. We were told the tours were full, but we were also told the starting times and places. We were hoping maybe our names were on the list since I had sent the emails. As it turns out, getting to the start of the walks took longer than expected and we did not arrive at the beginning of the first tour until well after it had started. We walked up the hill in the park to the start of 100 minutes of nature. That walk is very uphill and not for the out of shape. We had some fabulous views at different points in the park on the way to the top of the park, as well as some interesting hard scape. The good news was that once we were at the top of the park, the rest of the day was downhill. When we exited the park, we were not sure where we were and we walked down a street (with no side streets so no street signs). It turns out we were on the far side of the park from the city. This street gave us an interesting perspective on real life in Vigo. We never felt unsafe. I will add here that we are very careful with the amount of money and what we take off the ship. We do what we can to keep from being targets of pickpockets.
We found our way to the start of the 100 minutes of culture tour (well after that tour had started) and we followed our map. We saw many interesting and ornate old buildings. This took us through the business and shopping areas of Vigo. This ended near the old church that is uphill near the port.
From here we continued back, to visit a few sights on the 100 minutes by the sea tour. There is an interesting area where it says the fishermen used to live. Then we headed back to the ship for a few hours of relaxation in the Solarium before dinner.
LISBON - Lisbon was our next adventure. We headed out bright and early. We had decided to go to the Monastery and to the Tower of Discoveries. Our plan was to take the train. The tricky part was to cross the street (you have to head slightly to your right and mostly forward until you come to an underpass. That actually puts you in an area where you can buy tickets to the train. We weren't sure how to do this, but we watched a local. You press the name of the stop you wanted to go to (Belem) and it tells you how much you owe. The machines give change, but we did have Euro coins to purchase our tickets.
The train arrived promptly. Not every train went to Belem so we had to let one train pass by. We arrived at 9:00 which was an hour before the Monastery opened. We headed to the Tower of Discoveries and took some marvelous pictures. The other couple we met on the train headed towards a bakery. They had heard this bakery made a delicious pastry from a secret recipe of the monks. I met them later and they said their pastry was wonderful. We visited the Monastery and also the cloisters (4.5 euros each). Although the cloisters were interesting and spectacular architecture, there was not a lot to see. We only spent about 30 minutes in the cloisters.
We then went to the right corner of the monastery (as you face the monastery) and caught the #15 tram to the center of Lisbon. While I think we wanted the last stop, we accidentally got off one stop early at the wrong square and we walked the rest of the way. It was a short and interesting walk with shops. It started to shower and continued to shower for the next several hours. We just walked around and looked for the building that belonged to the church steeple we could see over the buildings. This was another interesting church and this took us through another neighborhood. We walked down the main shopping street back to and around the square. We decided to return to the ship. The rain put a little bit of a damper on the day. I had planned to take the #28 tram for a ride around town, but we decided we had seen a lot of Lisbon on the tram from Belam. I had seen the #15 tram go past a ship, so we took the #15 tram back. But it turned out that ship I had seen was the Pristedam that was docked closer to town. Brilliance was docked closer to the bridge. We stayed on the tram after the stop at the Pristedam, but got off as soon as the tram turned away from the water. We backtracked towards a walking bridge we had seen that went over the tracks and then backtracked from there in the direction of the Brilliance.
With a little more planning or a little less rain you could probably do another tourist stop. This is a large city so if you want to see more of the major sites you need to have a plan. While we were lucky it did not pour, the steady light rain kept us from sitting down with our maps and making a last minute decision.
I then had a snack in the Windjammer and spent a few wonderful hours in the Solarium and the whirlpool.
For some reason, this was a formal night. Our table had decided not to dress formal and I was very happy for that. I don't think I could force my feet into my fancy shoes. We dressed neatly and went to dinner and show.
TANGIERS - Another hectic day of touring awaited us. We had planned an independent walking tour with Aziz tours. They had been recommended in the Rick Steves book. We met several other couples from our roll call for the tour. Unfortunately, this was a tender day and tendering was a long and tedious process. Almost everyone on the ship took an excursion. There were only 2 excursions offered. One started at 8:30 and the other at 9:00. So everyone on the ship was up bright and early and ready to go on the first tender which didn't leave until after 9:00 because it took a long time for the ship to be cleared. We were frustrated and upset, but so were the people on excursions. Why make everyone get up so early if you know ahead of time it is going to take hours to get everyone off. Why not stagger the meeting times? As an independent it was even worse. Why make us get up so early to get tender tickets if they know they have 3 hours of excursions to get off first. They could even have told us this when they handed out the tender tickets, but instead they said it would be a few minutes until the ship was cleared for tender 1. (I think this miscommunication may be because there was new crew).
When we finally got off the ship at about 11:30 we were met at the docks by our tour guide. We ended up walking 7.5 miles. We saw the old town, the new town, the souks, the Kasbah and many streets with shopping. We stopped at a carpet store for the carpet show. This was something our group wanted to do, and the other 3 couples purchased carpets. They were wrapped into small packages and they met us at the entrance to the port so that the carpets did not have to be carried all day and the purchasers did not have to pay shipping charges. We also visited a spice shop, watched them make bread at another open front store and weave. The others in our group stopped for a meal. Since my husband and I did not want to eat, the guide took us to the old synagogue. He was able to get someone to open the building for us. This was really a special treat. We walked on the beach where we saw a camel. This 5+ hour tour cost 15 euros a person. It was an interesting day in a place I never thought I would see and I never thought I would go to. I would certainly never go there for a land vacation. At 5:30 we were on the tender back to the ship.
SEA DAY - Another typical sea day. We slept late and attended 2 lectures. We played miniature golf in a strong wind, watched wall climbing and spent several hours in the Solarium and the hot tub. This was an unanticipated third formal night.
CORSICA - Corsica was another tender port and a whole different tender story. There was tendering for the independents on one end of the ship and tendering for excursions on another. This time, we were off the ship immediately, which was a good thing because we were not scheduled till noon (although the ship got there at 11:00). There appeared to be some security problems from France since we had just been to Morocco. RCCL collected all of our passports for the French authorities to stamp. There were rumors that RCCL would not stop in Morocco again because of the security problem. We do not know whether this was the hour it took to clear the ship in Morocco or the collection and return of all the passports in France because we had just been in Morocco.
We walked around Corsica for 3 hours and took lots of pictures of statues of Napoleon. The city is very old and very quaint. It was the one sunny and hot day of the cruise. At 80 degrees we felt like we were melting. When we returned to the ship, we couldn't wait to get into the pool. I don't know how people do this during the summer when it is much hotter.
VILLEFRANCE - Our plan was to go to Eze. This was another tender day. Which tender experience would we have today. We had been to Villefrance before on a Celebrity cruise and we got off first thing. So we got up early, had breakfast and got on line for tender tickets. This time we had to wait almost 2 hours to get off the ship. At least we were wiser this time. Once we realized we would not get off until after the excursions we went back to our cabin to lie down and read. We were able to hear the announcement for the tender from our cabin.
We walked up the hill and found the bus stop for the bus to Eze sur Mer. There are small bus shelters with the number of the bus and the schedule of the buses that stop there. A few minutes late, but the bus arrived. We asked for a transfer but the bus driver spoke no English. He gave us a receipt. As we passed the bus shelters, we were able to see the name of the stops (so we knew when our stop was coming next) and we got off at a stop called David. There was a place to sit on a wall and wait. We chatted with a German couple from our ship that spoke English. There is nothing to do at the bus stop so I am glad we only had to wait 10 minutes for bus 83 which was right on time. The receipt was not a transfer, but the bus driver accepted it. I think he told us the French word for transfer was composition? The cost was only 1 Euro anyway. The next stop must have been the stop near the train station because many more people got on here. The ride up the hill was very interesting. The bus threaded its way back and forth up the hill.
It was interesting that we planned with 2 other couples on the best way to get to Eze, but we did not get on the same tender. As it turns out, we went 3 different ways but we all got there. One couple took the train towards Monaco but it did not stop at Eze so they had to take the train from Monaco back to Eze. The other couple took the little tourist tram at the port entrance. The tram dropped them off at a bus stop to Eze. They hadn't planned this, but it saved them the walk up the hill.
We got off in Eze Village and stopped at tourist information for a map and bus schedules. We spent the next several hours walking the streets of Eze. It is so interesting to see people actually living in this old town. I think this was my favorite place visited on this trip. This is one of the places where we considered an excursion to avoid the bus changes but the excursion had only a half hour stop in Eze. Yes there were many groups of tourists on excursions. We were able to avoid the groups by turning down different side streets.
When we were ready to head back, it was the midday break for the bus 83 that went down the hill. Instead we decided to take the bus to Nice which was due 45 minutes sooner. There were a lot of people at the stop by the time the bus arrived. We got a seat. Everyone got on the bus because they allowed people to stand.
Nice turned out to be very interesting. We had no plans and we just walked around. We happened to find the old part of town. These were the most narrow streets and just the sort of place we love. We visited a church in the old town and saw the Ministry of Justice. We walked back to the bus terminal to get the bus to Villefrance.
We walked around Villefrance for a while. Villefrance is very interesting on its own. We were looking for and found the Rue Obscure - a covered road where the people hid from bombing during the war.
As you can see there is plenty to do in Villefrance on your own. On our first visit to Villefrance we had visited Villefrance and the fort in the morning and walked to the Rothchild mansion in the afternoon. Next time I guess we will go to Monaco.
Another sea day and then our cruise ended. We had a 10:30 flight. The daily planner had told us to inform guest relations that we had an early flight and we had done this. We did not ask for it, but they gave us self disembarkation which was fine with us. The schedule said self disembarkation would be between 7:15 and 7:25. We were having breakfast at 7:10 when they called self disembarkation. We finished breakfast and headed to our rooms to get our bags. At this time they called the first color. So we walked off the ship with our luggage at the same time as the first group heading for the RCL buses that would take them to the airport. We followed the taxi signs. There was no line. The taxi had a meter. When we got to the airport it said 25 euros. The driver quickly cleared the meter and asked for 30 euros. We decided not to argue with him. There was probably a charge for the luggage anyway, but I hate when I feel that someone is trying to rip me off. We found seats and waited for the Continental counter to open. We checked in and headed to the gate. Since this was one of a group of special gates where you had to take a bus to the plane, we waited in the main terminal until 10 minutes to boarding time. It was a nice plane with a movie screen in the back of the seat in front of me. I watched 3 movies, and they served 2 meals. Back to the real world.
Here is our costs for 2: Cruise + fees $2500 On board credits -$500 Car service to Southampton $160 Novotel Southampton $160 Food Southampton $36 Le Harve tour + museums $325 Vigo $0 Lisbon transportation + cloisters $30 Tangiers tour $50 Corsica $0 Villefrance transportation $10 Taxi to airport $48 Tips $200
Total about $3,100 Add airfare + limo to and from to airport in NJ (Another $1,900) Read Less