Whilst my wife and I are experienced cruisers, this was our first Trans-Atlantic crossing. It was our second time cruising with RCI, but our first time aboard a Radiance Class ship. From a loyalty perspective, we are not particularly ... Read More
Whilst my wife and I are experienced cruisers, this was our first Trans-Atlantic crossing. It was our second time cruising with RCI, but our first time aboard a Radiance Class ship. From a loyalty perspective, we are not particularly biased toward any cruise line - we are much more interested in where the cruise will take us.
We flew into Tampa from the UK, spending the night prior to boarding at the Intercontinental. The flights and hotel were arranged through RCI, and all were excellent. We did not choose to use their interconnecting service between airport and hotel, or from hotel to ship. It was way too expensive compared to what was available locally – The hotel offered a free shuttle from the airport, and a low cost shuttle to the ship.
Tampa proved to be an interesting Cruise terminal when compared to the bigger sites such as either Miami or Ft Lauderdale. Right next to the Aquarium, there was very easy passenger drop-off, well marshalled by the local police. We joined at the busiest time of the day (11.30), and lines were long, but moved quickly. The staff for the embarkation were all extremely friendly and very efficient. We were on board and in ensconced in our cabin 7040 just over an hour later. No small feat to achieve such a short boarding time with crowds of that size, and to have the cabin ready so soon before 2pm.
The ship’s staff were unfailingly polite at all times. Our cabin steward was particularly cheerful and exceptionally helpful at all times. Interestingly on a TA (Trans-Atlantic crossing), the majority of passengers are well-seasoned cruisers, and the majority are high on brand loyalty. Our cruise had 204 Cruise Critic members attending the meet and mingle event. The vast majority of the cruisers were at least Diamond or Diamond plus level. This made for a very knowledgeable and sometimes overly critical cruising group. The amount of times I heard “it was never like this on the (insert name of RCI ship here)” or variations to that theme was far too often. If this was too much for me on occasional conversations, I dread to think what the poor crew went through.
Because of the high number of Cruise Critic guests onboard, the Officers decided to put on a private lunch for the CC members who signed up for the Meet and Mingle. The lunch was delicious, as was the free wine. We thought this was a really nice touch which we all appreciated.
This is, after all, one of the main components of a cruise. We have sailed with Royal Caribbean, in the past without complaints. Prior to embarking, I had read a number of reviews that slated the food offering in both the MDR and the Windjammer. I can say that while to food was not exceptional (unless you went to the additional fee restaurants), it was always at least “good”. I am partial to curry, and the curry’s were all without exception incredibly well spiced and flavoured. We did partake in all of the additional fee dining. The Chef’s table was probably the best in terms of value for money and quality. Exceptional food, plus 6 separate glasses of wine. Chops Grill was great, and Giovanni’s was good. Not as happy with the Sushi at Izumi. The sushi was not to my taste, as I do not care much for the sauces, which they seem to like applying to all the sushi pieces. Izumi is also an oddity for the way it is both marketed (it is not) and the way it charges. Izumi is hidden away at the back of deck 12 starboard side (access via the outer deck). The signage does not help in finding the site easily. There is no fee for reserving your table (unlike every other upgraded restaurant aboard), but you are charged for each menu item you order. I would not return to Izumi, but would go to every other site again – especially Chef’s table.
This is a really nice ship, not too big, about 2000 or so passengers. The ship was full for the voyage. Due to the weather for this TA (fairly bumpy, overcast and windy throughout), It was never a problem finding a sunbed. It was easy to find your way around, and had sufficient of the usual shops, and special 'sale' days of various items, bags, perfume, jewellery and the like. The prices were standard shipboard pricing – slightly better than ashore, but not enough to say it was an exceptional offer. This ship has a solarium. It was a really pleasant place to spend time, even if the seas were rough. This was the most popular “outside” area, as it was sheltered from the wind, had a bar and snack area, plus a lovely pool and hot tub. Beyond this area was the gym and spa. The gym (not that we used it) had lots of equipment, and the spa the usual treatments with prices pretty similar to most cruise lines. The ship was well maintained, well run, and for a 13 year old, in really good shape.
Chlo was our CD and Alison her assistant. They did an excellent job. The acts they brought on to keep people entertained (remember, this was a TA. A 15 night cruise, with 10 sea days), were exceptionally good. We were not impressed with the gymnast or the one comedian (there were 3 in total), but loved The Magnets (beat-boxing with exceptional harmonies), Tucker, the 3 sets that the production company put on, and the awesome ship’s band. Really good entertainment!
This was an area where I spent a great deal of time researching all the options available. Drinks packages are actually pretty comprehensive I think, and unlike other cruise lines, not everyone in the cabin needs to be on the same package. I drink moderately, and was not sure that a drinks package would work for me. This was proved correct, even with the number of sea days we enjoyed. If you think that the average drink costs about $8.00, it means that on every single day, you need to drink at least 6 alcoholic drinks. I drank as much as I wanted, of what-ever I wanted (including a nice bottle of red), and never once regretted not getting the package. My wife does not drink, but does go through a lot of soda (Diet Coke). We bought the basic soda package for her, and this proved to be a great deal.
We paid our tips in advance with the cruise fee, and this enabled us to enjoy 'My Time' dining. This actually suited us as it enables us to book a table for 2 (we were on our 25 year anniversary and wanted a little romantic time together without sharing with a table). We were very happy with the arrangements, and the Maître’d was able to book us the same table, at the same night for every night of the cruise. This means were able to bond with our wait staff and enjoy all the trappings of the MDR on the Deck 4, while enjoying My Time Dining for 2 on deck 5.
A bit hit or miss really.
(1) Norfolk VA was our first stop. Deciding on a walking tour, we were surprised by how poorly the excursion was organized, and the lack of enjoyment and value that the tour delivered. It was so bad, we bailed out midway through and went to the nearby Mall. This was a first time visit for RCI, and they were feeling their way into what worked and what did not as much as we were. We were asked for our feedback on the tour mid-cruise. We provided it, and were promptly called, and offered a full refund (without asking for it) – Classy RCI!
(2) Cork (Cobh). An excellent tour to Blarney Castle and the nearby Woolen Mill shop. The tour was good value, with a superb guide who told us jokes and had us singing on the way home.
(3) Cherbourg. A poor trip to Cap d’La Hague and Crepe tasting. The guide was also trying to help the driver navigate the area, as he was new to the locality. The guide was not totally fluent in English (but good enough), and so was trying hard to keep up with where the driver was going (there were many wrong turns), providing an English commentary, and ensure that the coach was happy. It did not work out that well. Cap d’La Hague was a granite peninsular with a few pretty harbours. The Crepes were cold and limited to sugar as the only topping. Not worth the time or money.
(4) Zebrugges (Brugge). Did our own thing and had a great time.
A great cruise that we very much enjoyed. The itinerary was what we signed up, as we enjoy sea days – Not sure we were quiet prepared for just how many very experienced cruisers attended these type of crossings (and how few kids there were). The few problems we encountered didn't spoil it for us because we are positive people generally who can see the funny side of things, even when they are going wrong. We will definitely sail RCI again, and would happily recommend the Brilliance as a great ship to cruise aboard. Read Less