This is Pam and my eleventh cruise together and our first on RCCL. We have sailed the Ecstasy 96, Galaxy 99, Mercury 99, Sea Princess 00, Millennium 01, Zenith 01, Grand Princess 01, Summit 02, NCL Star 02, and Maasdam 02.
In order for my review to have meaning to you, I think it is important to try and understand what type of person and cruiser Pam and I are. I am a type A vacationer who likes to snorkel, sail, and walk and look in shops. I rarely use the casino, and I am not a big bar/disco person, so bars are not high on my list. My wife and I cruise to dine, meet other people, and to see the ports and relax. We are not big sun worshippers because Pam is very fair skinned. Service is important, but I do not expect people to be perfect all the time. I am not, so why should they have to be? I just expect them to try and give their best effort. I also understand the difference between 5-star cruise cuisine and I don't confuse or compare it to 5-star restaurant cuisine. The ship has to feed 800 to 1700 people per seating where a restaurant only feeds 200 a night.
Please take my review as a critique and not complaining. This is My Humble Opinion that represents my tastes and biases, and with that said, here is my humble opinion of the Brilliance of the Sea.
Preface We booked this cruise in March of this year when we were on the Summit. We like the Radiance class ship and we love the eleven night itinerary with Aruba. This will be my first RCI and will mean I have sailed the major lines and I wanted to see how the new RCCL ships compared to Celebrity, HAL and Princess.
Our booking price a year in advance on the Celebrity Summit was $2181 per person. by the time we got to the cruising date, the price had dropped to $1490 per person for our category D. Thanks Lori!!
Pre-Cruise We always leave at least one day before the cruise in the event there are airline issues (weather or mechanical). We flew American Airlines and went through Chicago on our way to Miami.
The weather was artic cold in Indiana when we flew out on Sunday. Lows that morning were close to 10F with wind chills under 0F. The day was sunny across the Midwest and the entire Eastern US. However, we did encounter issues that support our reasoning for going a day early.
We arrived at the Indianapolis Airport at 5:45 AM for our 7:15 AM flight. It was on American Eagle to Chicago O'Hare. The line to check in was not bad, but Pam and I got through fast because I am Platinum with American. We checked four bags. Two of them were 30" Pullmans with the heaviest weighting in at 47 pounds. At Indy, they don't measure the units and they didn't give the bags weight a second glance. If they were golf clubs or the bag looked like a casket, they might check the weight, but not on standard luggage.
Boarding went quickly and the plane was completely full. They had to de-ice the plane because it was the first flight and there was frost on the wings. by 7:30 AM we knew something was up. Three times the engines roared and then went quiet. Finally, the Captain came on and said that they could not get the number one engine started. They had tried three times and it wouldn't fire. After talking with the mechanics and trying two more times, they decided that the igniter was frosted over and not firing. The mechanics brought out a vehicle and climbed up to the engine to defrost it. Thirty minutes later if fired and we were off in the air one hour behind schedule. If that had not solved the problem, it would have been a long day.
A couple behind us were going to Fort Lauderdale for a cruise today. They were told they weren't sure if they would make the connection. I am not sure if they did or not, but I'm sure they were stressing.
We ended up with a two-hour layover in Chicago instead of a three-hour one. Our plane to Miami boarded on time, but there was an issue there. American used a standby crew to board the plane, but we ended up having to wait 5 minutes for the flight crew to arrive. Thank goodness the Captain was there and did all the pre-flight checks. Even when you think you have a perfect flying day, anything can happen.
Just when we thought the fun was over, we found out that one of our four checked bags was lost. Thank goodness the bag only contained our snorkel gear, collapsible cooler, water bottle carriers, one pair of dress shoes, our sandals, and cosmetic type items. At least I had my wine and all of our clothing.
Miami I used Priceline to get a room for the Sunday night stay. I have never stayed in Miami so it was a crapshoot so to speak. We ended up getting the Renaissance Miami Biscayne Bay Hotel on Biscayne Blvd at $75 for the night. I wasn't sure how close it was to the pier but we would find out. Upon arriving in Chicago, I called to see if they offered a shuttle service from the airport to the hotel. Note that they do not have a shuttle services. You either have to rent a car or you have to take a taxi. We elected to take a cab. It is a 10 minute ride from the airport to the downtown area. It costs about $18 before tip.
The Renaissance used to be the Wyndham hotel. It is an older property and it is in okay shape. For $75 for one night, it was fine. The room had fairly new carpet and it was in good condition. The bathroom was nice and it included a coffee maker with both coffee and tea. The towels were thick and new. The show was one of the very best I have had at a hotel. It had exceptional water pressure and the water was hot. The room did not have a safe but they did have safe deposit boxes at the check in counter. The beds looked uncomfortable when we arrived, but they ended up being very comfortable. A little soft but we slept well. Warm down filled blankets kept you warm. One note the rooms were cool and they don't have heat so we shut the fan system off.
As we stated there is not much by the hotel. We recommend that you go down to the Bayside Market place. The hotel has a shuttle that will take you to the Bayside Market place. We arrived down there about 4:10 PM and it was loud with music everywhere and very busy. I can't imagine it on a Friday or Saturday night.
There are many shops and lots of restaurants and snack type shops. The Hard Rock is also part of the market area as is Bubba Gump, and Hooters if you are looking for national chains. If you are sensitive to cigarette or cigar smoke, be aware that a very large majority of the people smoke and many of the restaurants have seating outside where smoking is permitted so you will be inundated with smoke about everywhere. This made enjoying the market very difficult for me because I am very sensitive to the smoke.
We ate dinner inside at Lombardi's. It is an Italian restaurant. I had the Chicken Parmesan, Dixie had the cheese pizza, and Paul and Pam had the Angle Hair pasta in a marinara sauce. The cheese pizza is about 12" and can be split. The pollo parmesan was well prepared and it came with a side of spaghetti. The major issue that we all had was with the size of the drink glasses and the service. The ice water and ice tea glasses were only 10 oz glasses and were filled with ice, which meant that after 3 or 4 drinks they were empty. The problem with the service was our waiter spent most of her time talking, dancing outside to the music or eating instead of waiting on us. Again, all I expect a server to do is give me their best effort, but when I am her only table and she can't keep my drink glass filled, I have a problem with that. One other note, Lombardi's charges a 15% gratuity no matter what size party you have and they leave a space for a tip on your credit card receipt that you sign. Be careful or you could end up double tipping. IMHO, it wasn't worth 10% tip. Food was very good, but service was very bad.
After walking around, we ended up coming back to the room by 6:30 PM. The lost bag finally found its way to our hotel room at 10:30 PM. Another reason to go in a day early.
We got up around 7:30 AM and started getting ready. We walked across the street where there is a Sonic and Burger King. The Burger King is open for breakfast. After breakfast at Burger King, we came back and finished packing. We headed downstairs to start our trip to the pier at 10 AM.
The trip to the pier was painless. It took about 5 minutes and cost $4 per person.
Embarkation: (D) We are always anxious to start our cruise so we like to board as soon as the cruise line will allow us. I like Celebrity in that they will normally let you board at 11 AM even if the rooms aren't ready. You can drop your carry-ons in your room and then go to the public deck until they are ready at noon or 12:30 PM.
With the hopes of being on they ship by noonish, we made our way to the pier at around 10 AM. We arrived at 10:10 AM and there were still people disembarking from the previous cruise. We were dropped off outside between piers 3 and 4.
There were porters waiting to take our checked bags. Before the porters would take them, a RCL staff person had to check our picture ids and then highlighted our room tags.
We then went in to pier 3. We had to wait there until about 10:30. At that time, security checks your id and tickets and lets you go up the escalator to a waiting area. The waiting area is small and there are about 100 plastic chairs to sit in. One corner is roped off and the metal detectors are there.
At about 10:45, they line up the current emerald and diamond past passengers along with upper level suite guests and they go through the metal detectors first. After they were done, they then called the standard guests per row to go through. We were through pretty quickly. They don't take your wine so there is no problem bringing that.
After that you go to a long room that has the check in lines. Suite and Diamond and Emerald past passengers go to right to a lounge area to check in and wait the rest go through roped of turn style and wait for available.
Here is where it got crazy and down right stupid. To board the ship you have to go up another escalator after check in which is to the right hand side of the check in booths. Picture this. On the back, you have the check in lines from far left to almost far right. In the far right is the lounge for the suite and high level past passengers. The escalator to board the ship is in the middle of this far right wall.
The problem was at first all the standard passengers were congregating in front of the escalator and the suite passengers were going into the standard line because the signs weren't marked right. After 45 minutes, the lined the standard passengers up along the wall away from the escalator and moved the signs. Behind the queue lines for check in there are seats that encircle the polls that support the roof and there were two close to the escalator. People were sitting there. Finally, at 12:15 PM, they started to let people go up the escalator to board. They took the people from the round seats. This started an up roar by those that were in the line by the wall. Finally they told us after about 30 people in the line forced their way up the escalator in protest that those were suite people.
Finally, when they got everyone in line calmed down they started to take us over to the escalator. Well that was a fiasco because we had to cut in front of those coming from the metal detectors that were going to stand in line to check in.
In short, suite people ended up in the standard line, check in people ended up in the line of people that had checked in and were waiting to board, the signs were mismarked and misplaced, and there was a lack of supervision and organization. You would have thought that this was the first ship that RCL had ever sent out of this place.
Finally, we made it up to the boarding gang way. Just before you go down the gang way, they take your picture. Well you can stand in line to get your picture taken, or like others, you push past to the right side to bypass the pictures. This caused the second uproar by guests as they saw people cutting in front to the NEXT line where they form two lines to get your picture taken in case they need to validate you at a boarding. Now the fun really begins because these two units are malfunctioning. To add insult to injury, they realize that they didn't start boarding the suite and high level past passengers that were in the lounge yet. In that group, there was a wedding party, so they are coming up and forcing through the line first to make their wedding, the picture systems are malfunctioning. Oh, what a process.
We were finally on board by 12:40 PM and went down to our room which by this time were ready and dropped of our stuff.
The Ship() The Brilliance is only about 9 months old. It made her debut in 2002. She is 90,000 gross tons, and she looks just like all the new 90,000 ton ships on the outside. She is 962 feet long and 105.5 feet at the beam. At double occupancy, the maximum number of passengers is 2501. The Brilliance is one of the faster ships and cruises at a max speed of 25 knots.
The main public decks are deck 5, 6, 11, 12, and 13. You board on deck 5 mid-ship and from the minute we boarded, I found that I loved the ship. They do not use the solid woods like they did in the early 90's and before, but RCI has managed to make Brilliance a beautiful ship with the touches of wood, brass, and polished metals.
The ship is easy to navigate with the only unusual point being there is not an aft stair well and elevators for the passengers. If you are in the aft of the ship, then you have to walk all the way mid-ship to go up or down.
The hall way carpets are bright with a nautical theme to them on the pax decks. On the public decks, RCI combines a wonderful touch of carpets, hard wood, and marble floors to accent the decor of the room, area, lounge, or restaurant you are in.
The artwork is very good. It is not as strange as the artwork on the Millie class Celebrity ships. Are large majority of the art is based on marine type settings or of ships and ship masts, etc. Again, they complement the environment that they are in.
The stairwells are functional, but the layout can make them narrow depending on what floor you are on and the floor you are trying to move to.
The focal point of the ship is the Centrum. It starts at deck 4 and shoots up to the bottom of deck 12 where there is a glass window that opens up and you can look down 8 stories or walk across it. If you are afraid of heights or of falling, walking on it may not be for you.
Many events are held on the Centrum deck 4. The Centrum bar is located here and a three-piece band plays every evening. It is a very crowded area between first and second seating. Many people dance on the small dance floor to the music of Tammi Novak Trio.
During sea days, they hold many seminars such as cooking with the chief, vegetable carving, and ice carving on the 4th floor Centrum. Get there early for the cooking ones because the few seats fill up 30 minutes before the event starts. After the seats are gone, people stand behind the seats or line the rails of deck 5, 6, 7, and even 8 and 9 to watch the fun.
On deck 4, contains the conference rooms. The glass elevators start down here and starboard side is the shore excursion and management desk.
You enter the lower level of the Minstrel Dining room on port side of the ship only. You also enter for breakfast and lunch at this level. The artwork in the hallway leading to the dining room is really interesting.
Deck 5 is the main entrance to the Pacifica Theater. When leaving the theater after a show, you pass through a hall into the photo gallery. The photo gallery is one of the biggest I have seen at sea and it can be very crowded here before and after a show with people trying to get through.
After the photo gallery, you enter the shopping court. It is a relatively narrow hall considering that there is a large counter in the center where the RCI staff are selling sale items such as costume jewelry, watches, T-shirts, etc. When you throw in the crowds trying to go to and coming from the theater, it is a real traffic jam. The shops are nice, but it is the same merchandise that you see on all the ships except that the name says Brilliance and Royal Caribbean.
After the shops, you enter the Centrum area. The starboard side has Latte Tudes coffee shop and seating for that. There is another small seating area on the fore side of the Centrum. During the evening, this is blocked off for photographs about every night. They change the back drop each night, but it does add to the confusion. There is a very neat stairway that is lit up green that descends to the 4 floor where the dancing occurs. On formal nights, that stairway is blocked for formal pictures. This is the best bet for good formal pictures IMHO.
Moving to the aft on deck 5, you can enter the upper level of the Minstrel Dining room on both sides. Like the deck 4 entry way, the art work is very interesting with marching minstrels playing various instruments or just dancing that are fashioned out of colored stones.
The Minstrel Dining room is probably the most elegant dining room that I have been in short of the Millie class specialty restaurants on Celebrity. The decor is light cream colors with gold accent which makes the room very bright. Windows line both the port and starboard sides of the dining room on both levels to let light in and to watch the sea go by. The only strange part is if you have a table by the window, people can walk by or stand and watch you eat. The dining room is not on the stern of the ship like the Millie class ships of Celebrity, thus the stern of the dining room has a huge mural made of colored stones that depicts minstrels playing and three spectators dancing or clapping to the rhythm. It spans both levels and is very impressive. On the fore portion of the dining room is a double-sided staircase that winds down and comes together from deck 5 to deck 4. On the landing where they come together just short of deck 4 there is a waterfall and in front of that is a baby grand and room for a three-piece orchestra to play during dinner. Again, this is a beautiful dining room. There are many tables for two and four on deck 5 and some on deck 4. There are tables for 6, 8, 10 and 12. The tables for 10 and 12 are oblong and are too big IMHO. If you are at the end of the table, conversation with the other 6 people that are on the other end is next to impossible. We were at table 514 on deck 5 and it was a table for four. On side of the table had a bench seat that was comfortable. The other side had two comfortable chairs that were in the main walk way. I was concerned about being in the main walk way but I never felt crowded nor was I ever bumped by waiters or other guests. Dining was truly a special experience in this wonderful room.
I would call deck 6 the entertainment deck. This deck contains most of the activities and indoor entertainment. You start out with the Pacifica theater balcony entrance. The Pacific theater is large with fairly comfortable seats. It is not spectacular nor would I call it grand. The views are very good for the most part and the sound is good. The have stationary seats that have slots and a hole to hold a glass on the armrest. There are not tables like the Celebrity ship has. They do serve drinks in the theater and there is a bar for the servers in the back but RCI doesn't push them during the show like Celebrity does.
From the theater moving to the aft you enter The Scorecard sports bar. They have many TVs and a couple of large screen TVs that show ESPN. The only night I saw it crowded was on Sunday nights because of the NFL playoffs they were showing. It was packed then.
You then enter the Casino Royale. It is a large casino that contains the standard cruise casino tables (craps, roulette, black jack, Caribbean stud poker) along with the hundreds of slot machines. I saw 25 cent and $1 slots and video poker, but since we don't like the smoke and we don't gamble, we didn't venture to see if they had nickel slots or $5 slots. It is very smoky in there.
Upon leaving the Casino, you will enter the Centrum. The only item on the Centrum at this level is the Champagne Bar that is on the Starboard side of the ship. It is a nice spot for a drink and to watch the sea roll by during the day. They do serve liquor, but they have more of a selection of wines, champagnes, and ports that most of the other bars. It is a nice place to sit before dinner and listen to the music from the Centrum on deck 4.
As you continue aft, you will move into one of the most beautiful areas of the ship. On the Starboard side, you enter a long hall that will take you to the Schooner Bar. This hall is very interesting and is a great picture spot. They have a large 6-mast schooner on the left and ships wheel that is great for getting a picture of someone acting like they are steering a ship. There are other items with a nautical theme to theme. This leads you into the Schooner Bar. The Schooner as many seats and tables along the windows and a wooden Tug Boat separates the seating areas which is then followed by a piano bar area. Across from the seating areas and across the isle is the Schooner Bar. It is ringed with seats and it was always packed with people. Some we saw there at all hours of the night and day. Please note that most of the patrons that sit there smoke and the ventilation is not good in there so it is almost as smoky as the casino and may be more so.
The on the fore side of the bar is the entrance to Chops Grille and to the aft of the bar is the entrance to Portofino. I liked the decor of Portofino. Chops reminded me of a Ruth Chris in decor and in food quality and type. Chops has dark wood walls and a dark wood wine rack that curve around to the glass windows that face the sea. Many of the tables have bench seats that are light beigish color. The rest of the seating chairs of dark wood with brown padded leatherette.
Portofino has a lighter wood finish with wine racking in it. It also has glass along the port side so you have a view of the sea. There is a center counter running through the center of the restaurant from port to starboard that had very elegant urns on it colored in red, blues, and greens with designs in gold over them. The tables were cloth covered as they were in Chops and there were many that had bench seats that had red seats and brown back pads. The chairs were made of a light colored wood with orangish pads. On the fore wall, is a very nice painting of an Italian vegetable market.
At the very stern of deck six is a beautiful area. The area is designated as The Colony Club and it has five named areas. Some are hard to tell where one area begins and the other begins.
The first area is the Bombay Billiard Club. This is a very interesting area and it contains the well-known, self, leveling pool tables. It is a must even if you don't play billiards. To get the balls, you have to leave your onboard account card with the bar tender at the Schooner Bar and they give you a key. When you are done, you take the key back and get your card.
After the Bombay Billiard Club, you will enter into a large room. There is a central seating area and large dance floor with a stage in the middle of the port side. This is the Colony Club. Many events such as bingo take place during the day. The Captains party and repeaters party are held here as well. At night, the show band Sister Sez plays and that usually starts at about 10 PM. Sister Sez is a good band but the lead singer's voice is marginal. She is a better harmonizing vocalist than a lead vocalist. From 8 PM to 10 PM, it is pretty dead in the Colony Club in general and getting service for drinks is difficult.
Since there are no boundaries per say in this area, the starboard side of the room is denoted as the Jakarta Lounge. There is a bar there and seating. The interesting items in this area is there are bar high tables that have either checkers, chess, or backgammon boards built into them for your pleasure.
The stern part of the Colony Club is named Singapore Slings and they have a bar centered along the stern windows. This is a nice area and the place we would go for drinks after dinner. There are windows that give you a view of the sea and the seating is very comfortable back there.
The final room is offset next to the stage and it does have a door to block the sound. The room is the Calcutta Card Club and as you can guess it is the card room. It is a beautiful dark wood trimmed room that contains about a dozen card tables. The room is beautiful with a view of the sea. It is fairly busy during the day time hours.
Deck 11 and Deck 12 are the busy areas during the days. This is where the sun worshipers go. The aft portion of Deck 11 are occupied by the Windjammer Cafe. The Windjammer is a mixed bag. I liked the design of the buffet. Instead of 4 lines, two on each side that most cruise lines have on their ships, RCI has implemented islands that serve different items. There is two of each type except the Deli that is right in the middle. The islands that are duplicated are on the starboard and port side.
When you enter, you get a big oval plate. One point that I did not like was they do not have trays, this made getting food and drinks very difficult and you would have to put your utensils in your pockets if you didn't want to make extra trips. You have two islands with fresh salads and breads that were very good. The next set of duplicate islands is for hot food that usually had pasta, fish, chicken, and vegetable dishes along with the standard roast beef carving station. The pasta was always good and tender, but in the last half of the cruise the sauces became bazaar (pumpkin cream sauce). They would only have one sauce and many times it was a cream sauce so if you wanted a reduced calorie red sauce, 50% of the time you would not be able to get it.
The 43rd Street deli is right in the middle of the Windjammer. They serve the best wrap sandwiches. They will make one especially for you with what you want in it and they set out sections of ones they have pre-made. There were also deli sandwiches on different breads that they would make for you and have pre-made. These were very good.
In the back were the grills. On the port side, you would get hamburgers and pizza at lunch. In the morning, they would do the made to order omelets. Back in each corner is the Sweet Dreams dessert area. They also have soft serve ice cream (ice milk). It is fair and I thought it wasn't worth the calories.
This is a nice area, but there is a price to be paid. They added serving stations at the expense of seating. During sea days and during the peak time (around 12:30 PM), you probably won't be able to find a seat. If you do find a seat, it will be at a table of four with another couple. The outdoor seating on the stern is nice, but it is very smoky. If you do not like cigarette smoke, look elsewhere. The Windjammer outside sea on fore-port side is non-smoking and nice. The tables are big and they have huge wicker chairs with pads. The problem is that they take up a lot of space so there are not many of them and because they are comfortable, people take them to play cards, read, sleep, or talk so at lunch time it is hard to get one. 11:30 AM to noon is the best bet.
The pool area on deck 11 is nice. There are a lot of lounge chairs and a large teak dance floor in front of the bandstand. There are two hot tubs here and one has a seat lift for handicap passengers. The Poolside Bar is here as well. The lounge chairs were usually not crowded in the morning to about 11 AM. Then it is packed until about 3 PM.
From the main pool going forward, you enter into the Solarium. This is a beautiful room. It has covered dome roof that can be opened, but wasn't on our trip. It is decorated in an African jungle theme. There are many lounge chairs many with padded seats. There is a pool and a hot tub in this area. The fore wall has three large elephant heads displayed with huge tusks. They have a small waterfall between each of the elephants and an arched bridge that goes over the pool. The plants are live in this area and the artwork is very interesting. This is a great place to spend the day if you are not a sun worshipper.
There is the Solarium bar and Solarium snack bar here. The snack bar has pizza and cookies.
As you move forward, you enter the spa area. The decor is very interesting as well. The rooms looked like the normal spa areas on other ships. We do not take advantage of the spa so I cannot say how good the services are or what they cost. Make sure you take a tour of this area just to see the decor and artwork.
Deck 12 has the Shipshape fitness center and it is a nice large facility. The walking track is here as well. There are many chairs and lounge chairs on this level so you can always find a place to sit. Problem with the walking track is that it is busy with chairs pulled out in it and you have people standing looking out over the rail, slow walkers, med paced walkers and fast walkers. It is just hard to get around.
Towards the aft is the Kids Pool area, sports court and golf simulator. The Seaview Cafe is on the aft as well.
The cool part on Deck 12 is the ceiling of the Centrum is the Crown and Anchor lounge. It has the coolest thing. There is a raised glass window on the floor that you can walk on and look down 8 stories into the Centrum. It is a freaky feeling and worth a look and walk.
Deck 13 is only on the aft portion of the ship. It contains the rock climbing the wall and the Fairways of Brilliance 9-hole putt-putt course. It is a nice course and a lot of fun to play. At mid-ship is the Odyssey Lounge (normally known as the Viking Crown) and the Hollywood Bar.
Deck 5 contains the promenade deck. It is a wide deck for the most part until you reach the Centrum glass area and the glass area by the Minstrel Dining room where the glass walls protrude out into the promenade deck. The promenade deck does go all the way around. In the front you can go into the restricted area climb steps to deck 6 and walk around the helipad thus making a full lap. We preferred to walk here instead of on the walking track on deck 12. There are plenty of lounge chairs and chairs on the promenade and you could always find a space. There are a few teak wood areas as you come out of the Centrum on either side, but the rest is the standard all weather rubber covering.
Rooms: (A+) We booked a specific room on the aft of the ship. We were in room 9660 that is a category D. We chose this hoping that the size of the veranda would be something like the Celebrity Millie class aft veranda's.
The room is wonderful. It is roomy enough for at least three people. Four would be crowded, but the room could handle it. For two, it is wonderful. The room itself measures 8'9" wide by 23' deep totaling 201 sq.ft. which is exceptional for a non-suite.
The veranda is large as veranda's go. It measures 9'10" wide and it is 10' 6" deep totaling 102 sq ft. The veranda came with two folding lounge chairs, two chairs and a small table with room to spare. There is not an outside light that makes reading at night next to impossible. On the starboard side, our veranda was separated with a steel structure wall and the other side was a glass partition. There is a rail with top surface of wood about 4' up and glass below it to block the wind and allow you to see through.
The cabin has the standard white-beige colored walls that make the room very bright. The carpet was in good shape and the pattern was a yellow- blue swirl pattern. It also contained a three seat, blue couch and a small stand. Across from the couch was the desk. The desk has a mirror in front of it, 2-220 volt and 2-115 volt outlets. The hair dryer was good and it plugged into a 220- volt leaving you 2-115 volt outlets. This was the first time we did not have to use our power strip. On each side of the desk mirror, are angle mirrors that go from desk to ceiling and they open up and there are shelves to hold small items like perfume bottles, makeup, etc. There are three drawers on each side of the desk chair. Next to the desk is a stocked refrigerator. The TV is above the refrigerator and it swivels and will pull out for better viewing. Above the TV are to doors that hide two shelves for items and the extra large safe. You can't put a laptop in it, but it will hold a camcorder and a camera and other items easily. At the end of the unit, are 5 shelves to store items on.
The closet is good. It has two doors. In the middle are shelves to put items on. On both the right and left of the middle shelves are bars to hang clothing and there is a shelf that runs above the bar and the shelves that contain the life jackets and extra blankets and pillows. There is plenty of room for two. Three would fill it full and four people would be a stretch for storage.
The bathroom is good and it has a nice corner medicine chest to store things out of site. The big problem is the size of the shower. It is only 30" wide and then goes out 15" before it goes out 15" more in a circle. It is tight. I'm 6'1" and weight 185 and it is tight for me. The shower curtain is the normal plastic one but I didn't have the normal problem of it sticking to me. Water pressure was good and for once I was always able to get hot water all the time. On many cruises, the water goes scalding hot to freezing cold in the course of a shower. That never happened once on the 11-nights.
There are two twin beds that can be pushed together in a king format and there are two small nightstands on each side. Then nightstand has a small drawer and a shelf by the floor.
The door to the veranda is a slide door that can be locked in the open position. Since we were on the stern, we would open the door at night and lock it open to hear the wake.
It was very quiet and stable in this room. Only two nights did I feel a little giggle and there was not much vibration either. Part of the reason it is so quiet is that there is not an aft stairwell for guests thus you are a long way to the center stairwell. The only time the long walk to the stair was an inconvenience was when we wanted to go to the Windjammer on deck 11. The extra exercise didn't hurt us at all.
Here are some of the strange things to be aware of. There is not an ice bucket in the room or a water jug. You can ask for an ice bucket though. They do not provide a small pocket size map of the ship. That would be nice to have while you are learning the ship. A couple of hooks to hand shirts in the room would have been nice.
IMHO: This room was great and the veranda was worth it IMHO for two reasons. One, it was on the stern and second the veranda was 10' deep. I still believe that veranda rooms are a waste of money when you only have a 4' deep veranda and you can't get two lounge chairs on them. I know that I am in the minority on the boards on this, but to those new cruisers, I recommend that you save your money and do an inside cabin. Rooms are almost as big, it is about a 40% savings per person for an inside cabin, you really only sleep and change in your cabin. There are plenty of places to lounge around on the different decks. Again, I know that a majority of you will disagree, but that IMHO. Save your money and cruise more.
The Staff: (A) I want to start of by saying that overall the staff was exceptional. It was very efficient and friendly service. It was not perfect because nothing ever is, but all most all said hello and smiled. They would great you and wish you a good day. Many made efforts to remember you and your name especially in the lounges. Three days after we ate at Chops, our waiter remember our names when we passed her in the hall.
I will start with the dining room wait staff. This was by far the best waiting staff. Grant was our waiter and this was the last cruise of his contract. He was going back to South Africa at the end of this voyage. He was friendly, funny and very efficient. The one who made the service was Apollo, our assistant waiter. He was the best ever. He had been on the ship since in started and he and one more sailing after ours before he went home. Even thought they were going home and had every reason to relax, they worked their butts off. Apollo knew what we liked to drink so it would always be waiting. Our water glasses were never close to empty because he was always watching over us and filling them. The same was true with the breadbasket. After dinner, Pam and Dixie drink tea. After the first time, he brought teacups after dinner and he knew what teas Pam and Dixie liked and made sure that they were in the box. Apollo also performed the wine steward roll. Our wine glass where never empty. I watched him often and you could see him scanning the tables seeing if we needed anything and trying to anticipate our needs.
Elvis was our room steward. He did a good job. Our room was always cleaned well and on a timely manner. Elvis just got back from time off and this was the first voyage of his new contract. For those who care, we only had towel animals 3 of the 11 nights. For me, I don't care if I ever get them, but many of you like them.
The food: (A-) Food is always subjective depending on each individuals taste. So take my review with that in mind. I think Celebrity food is the best at sea so I was anxious to compare RCI's offerings to that of Celebrity's. Based on other reviews, my expectations where not that high, but I was pleasantly surprised!
The important area to me is the main dining room. That is where I weigh most of my review.
The menu for dinner is posted at the beginning of the day on Deck 5 outside the Minstrel Dining room. Breakfast and lunch menus for the Minstrel are put up at the deck 4 entrance to the dining room.
The menu consists of a fresh bread section and there are usually two types of bread (i.e. sourdough bread and Whole Wheat-Honey Rolls). The Appetizer section has appetizers and soups in it. There were normally three soups with one being chilled and three appetizers.
Next is the Salad section. You can always get the traditional Caesar salad and 50% of the time there is another selection (i.e. Spinach salad) and there are usually three dressings for the standard salads.
The Entrees section contains five entrees and you can always get Salmon and New York Strip steak. The entrees normally contain at least one pasta dish with some type of meat in the sauce (beef, chicken, or seafood), fish dish, chicken, meat dish (steak, lamb, pork, veal, etc.), and a vegetarian dish which could be something like potato pie or could be a pasta dish without meat.
Finally, the last item on the left side of the menu is the sweet temptation section. There are normally three deserts and several ice creams and a sherbet.
The right side of them menu houses Ship Shape section for healthy food, Cellar recommendations for wine, the Vegetarian selection, Daily alternatives and the beverage list.
I did not have an appetizer that I did not like. The cannelloni is excellent as were all the pasta appetizers. The portions are very large in fact twice the size that you really need. The cannelloni is almost enough for a main course.
I did not always find a soup that I really wanted, but when I did have a soup they were always hot and very tasty. I cannot speak for the chilled soups because Pam and I don't care for any chilled soup.
The salads were a little lacking. They were always good except one night the Caesar salads had been setting out a while and were warm and a little wilted. The main issue is that some nights all they had was the Caesar salad. It would be nice to always have a couple of salad selections each night. The offer the Caesar with a low calorie dressing, you have to ask for it with that otherwise you will get the traditional high- calorie dressing.
I have read on the main entrees that the chicken and pork dishes where not good and over cooked. Between the four of us, we never had a poorly prepared dish in regards to it being over or under done. The chicken and port dishes were prepared to perfection and were always moist and tasty. We had the same experience with the lamb and veal dishes. I had also read how great the beef dishes were. I was very disappointed in the number of beef dishes that they had. Other than the New York strip every day (big deal IMHO), they only had Filet on first formal night and prime rib on the last night. The filet was the only beef dish that I had in the main dining room. It was very tender and prepared just right.
The pasta dishes were wonderful. I don't know how they do it but the pasta was always prepared perfectly and served hot. Pasta cools very quickly and it is very easy to under or over cook it. The fact that they can prepare it perfectly for so many people is absolutely amazing. Some of the sauces were not my favorites but the quality of the pasta made even those dishes outstanding. One note, if there is a pasta dish that you like but you don't like one of the ingredients (black olives, clams, etc) ask them not to put it in and they will do it.
The vegetarian dishes were always interesting and tasty.
A note on the Ship Shape menu, they offer the same items that are on the regular entree portion of the menu. Sometimes you will say that is not healthy and that is true. The difference is normally they serve the entree in a different low calorie sauce. If you don't specify that you want the Ship Shape item, you will get it with the standard sauce.
RCI's deserts are very good. The pastries are not in the same league as Celebrity's, but they are very tasty. Some things were good but not what I expected. RCI's definition of a tart is very different than what I would classify. It is more like a custard pie with fruit in it. This did not distract from the quality though they were very good. RCI also have souffle on a couple of nights. They are not as good as Princess', but they were still very, very good. The sherbet is excellent in the dining room and the ice cream has different flavors each night along with the standard chocolate and vanilla. The ice cream is good but HAL's is still the best IMHO.
I still give Celebrity the upper hand in food quality. The Brilliance was very, very good in portion size, temperature, and taste. The main difference is that Celebrity is more risky in their presentation and sauces. Celebrity is more European in their sauces and presentation that gives it a more 5-star taste and appearance. This can make Celebrity's menu more intimidating if a passenger is not experienced in this type of preparation or they are hesitant to try something they cannot pronounce and don't understand exactly what they are getting. On the Brilliance, the menu is very straightforward and most will be comfortable ordering and know exactly what they are getting.
First seating is at 6 PM and second seating is at 8:30. We were usually done by 7:45 and never later than 8. This leaves an hour our more until the show.
We ate twice in the Minstrel for lunch. The food was good but the service was mixed. The first time we were at a table for 12 and it was too difficult for the servers to take care of us. I had tea and water to drink. I never got a refill of either. They were just too rushed. The second time we asked for a small table and got one for 4. The service was much better and the lunch was much more enjoyable.
Lunches were on par with what we experienced at dinner in the Minstrel in quality and flavor. It is a good place to eat and I would recommend it because it was never busy and you always got a seat unlike the Windjammer. Lunch is from noon to 2 PM in the Minstrel.
We never had breakfast in the Minstrel. Breakfast is served from 7:30 to 9:30 on most days.
The Windjammer is an interesting concept. I like the layout of the islands but you pay for it in a lack of seating. I really miss the trays it adds a level of complexity to the whole experience that is not fun in trying to juggle many different items without dropping them vs. having to make several trips.
The first half of the cruise the food and desserts were excellent, but by the end of the cruise the food was bland and seemed to be leftover. The other issue I have is that they serve breakfast from 7 AM to 11:30 AM. I'm sorry, but if you haven't eaten breakfast by 10:45, eat lunch. In normal US society, lunch starts at 11 AM. You say that it is only an extra half hour until 11:30. I will give you that if they had everything ready at 11:30, but they never did. Many times you could not get pizza or hamburgers until 11:45 to 11:55. They would not have serving utensils in place until later
The drink station being two separate islands was nice and they worked hard to have glass already pre-poured with water, tea, and lemon aid so you could just walk up and take what you needed and move on. They would also pour you coffee or hot water for hot tea upon request.
The best deserts at lunch occurred the first 4 or 5 days. If you see something you like, get it and lots of it because you probably won't see it again. The soft serve ice cream is poor to fair in taste. Lots of chocolate and sponge cake deserts.
The hamburgers did not look that appetizing but the pizza was good if you could get it hot. There are usually three or four types (cheese, pepperoni, veggie, and a specialty.) The salad bar portion was excellent in the Windjammer and the deli island was great as well. The wraps were very tasty.
Breakfast in the Windjammer was fair. The French toast and the pancakes were obviously not fresh and from a frozen stock like you get from the store. The eggs were poor in taste. The omelet station produced good results but the line was usually long and it took a lot of time. We normally just had cereals, oatmeal and pastries. In short, normal buffet breakfast fare and nothing to get excited about.
The Seaview Cafe is hidden away on deck 12. We went there for snacks late one night. It is open from noon to 6:30 PM and then from 9 PM to 3 AM. On sea days it can get busy. Some of our group went up there on one sea day at 12:30 PM and were told it would be 30 to 45 minutes before they got their order. The menu is not that hard so I can't imagine why it would take that long. If you do want to eat there, be there right at noon. The veggie sandwich was very good.
Dress code. RCI is takes a different approach. There is really NOT an informal night(s) on the Brilliance. There are two formal nights which are the first sea day and the next to last day. There is one that is called Smart Casual (smart casual is country club casual). Still many people wore jackets and ties on this night. The remaining nights are classified as casual. What can you wear in the dining room at night on casual, anything but shorts and cut off shirts. Yes, blue jeans and tee shirts are acceptable in the dining room at night and on many occasions they let people in with shorts. One note, first night is an exception. This is the first cruise that we did not have our luggage in time for dinner so all I had was shorts and I did have to wear that the first night.
We ate at both the specialty restaurants. Both cost $20 extra per person. Where they worth it, IMHO, No? I have eaten at them and I know that I won't go back. If you are uncertain or you like eating at the specialty restaurants, then by all means try them. If you are uncertain, my recommendation is to save the money. The difference in quality between the Minstrel dining room and the specialty restaurants is minimal and the service we had in the Minstrel was far above that in Chops and as good as we received at Portifino.
CHOPS GRILLE: is a nice place with the grill at one end where they cook your food. We went on Day 4 that was a Thursday on the 11-night cruise. The food was good with the appetizers being the best. The crab cakes were excellent as was the Portobello caps.
You have the option of appetizers that include Shrimp cocktail, Maryland crab cakes, Portobello caps, cheese n onion soup, New England clam chowder, chips salad, beefsteak tomato or traditional Caesar. You can get any combination and you are not limited to one. One note. It states that the Caesar is made at your table, it is not. This is not a big deal, I just want you to know that it is incorrect on the menu. The cheese n onion soup was very good but it is very cheesy.
The Entree section offered Prime rib, filet mignon (10 oz), petit filet (7 oz), veal chop, Colorado lamb chops, royal pork shank, rotisserie chicken, mesquite grilled salmon. The filet was very good and grilled right. The salmon was also very good. Along with the entree, you ordered sides that were family style and served several people. They offered bake potato, home fired potatoes with sauteed onions, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, steamed asparagus, sauteed mushrooms, fried onion rings, and rice pilaf.
For desert, we were offered a choice of chocolate mud pie, apple pie a la mode, raspberry cheesecake, and warm brioche pudding. The apple pie was good, the chocolate mud pie is rich! The Warm Brioche pudding was very tasty.
In short, Chops was good but nothing spectacular like the Celebrity Millie class specialty restaurants. Chops reminded me of Ruth Chris' nothing more. The service was fair and the assistant waiter was not trained in how to open, decant, or pour wine that I would expect of a specialty restaurant that offers fine wines. The service was friendly, but not efficient.
I do not have the menu for there, but it worked very similar to how Chops worked with the same style except Portofino specializes in Italian cuisine instead of steaks. We ate here on Saturday night that was Day 6 of the cruise.
The food was as good as Chops and in some ways I thought it was better. The Shrimp Risotto was outstanding. In fact, RCI has great risotto in the Minstrel as well. The goat cheese with tomato was good. Again the Caesar salad is not made at your table and is identical to chops. The fish soup is very fishy and has a lot of oysters in it. For the main course Pam had the cod and I had the lobster. The cod was good and the lobster was prepared perfectly. One note, I think it is the exact same lobster they serve on the last formal night in the Minstrel so you are not getting any fresher of a piece. The only difference might be that it has a better chance of being cooked correctly in Portofino since they make the dishes to order instead of in mass like they have to in the Minstrel. In truth, the lobster I had in the Minstrel was as good as Portofino.
Deserts were good. They have a berry cup with custard that was excellent. They have an amaretto, orange mousse dish that was great and the Tiramisu was unusual and rich. Very good.
The service here was of a high quality and much better than Chops. Was it better than the service I received in the Minstrel, no it was not?
In summary, please take this with the salt mentioned earlier in the review. This reflects MY personal preferences and likes. Celebrity is still the best food at sea. Is there any room for real complaints on RCI? Only a few minor things, but you can please everyone all the time especially when there are over 2000 passengers. I hurt myself every night and never walked away hungry. I could always find something. The pecan pie is out of this world in the Windjammer the first two lunches. If you do walk away hungry then it is your own fault. They offer a wide selection of food on their dinner menu, and you can always find something at the Windjammer that fits the bill. Throw in the great waiting staff we had and it is a solid winner.
Entertainment (?) As I stated at the start, we are not big on the shows. We have seen so many of them that the production shows all sound the same, we know most of the comedians jokes by heart, and I can only stand the same juggling trick so many times.
We did attend one show on Day 9. We saw the Dangerous Comedy of Wilde and Hanes. It was juggling and comedy. Some of it we had heard before but they did go to areas that many won't. They really made fun of the Captain and his name and it was funny. Captain Wildung must have a good sense of humor since they are still on the ship. LOL They also utilized the passengers on this ship and they made the show especially a young 10 year old (or so) passenger. In the middle of the trick with bowling balls, they scared him so bad that he ran of the stage in the middle of the trick. They tried to get him back on stage but he would come. The resorted to bribery and he ended up coming back up on stage for $10 and they PAID him the ten bucks. It was funny.
The entertainment was: Day 1 the normal welcome aboard show with Moscow State Circus Star Gregory Popovich and comedian Don Friesen.
Day 2 was the music, dancing, and energy of The Gueses.
Day 3 was the South American Cowboy El Gaucho. He is a comedian and I heard that he was very good.
Day 4 was the production show of Closetoyou.
Day 5 was the magic and illusion of Russ Stevens.
Day 6 was the singers and dancers again.
Day 7 was the recording artist Lenny Welch.
Day 8 was the singers and dancers doing Latin Groove. This was Aruba day so there was only one show at 10:30 PM for all guests.
Day 9 was Wilde and Hanes as mentioned above.
Day 10 "The best of Las Vegas" Glen Smith.
Day 11 was Russ Stevens again and Izolda Popovich.
Other Topics In this section, I will cover other items of interest.
Tips can be charged to your room account. They send you a form to fill out and return to guest relations. On the last day they send you the envelopes for your staff and receipts to put into the tip envelopes. We did this and we tipped extra via cash in the envelope.
They do charge an $8 corkage charge in the specialty restaurants. The Minstrel it is suppose to charge, but that is up to your wait staff. Our staff did not charge us and we tipped him in cash nicely for the effort.
The Fairway of Brilliance putt putt course is a very nice course and is something you should try. If you are at a sea day, it can be challenging if the winds + speed of the ship exceed 30 knots.
Latte Tudes coffee bar does charge $1 for their pastries. They look interesting, but nothing that I was will to pay extra for. Bring your pastries from the Windjammer they are just as good.
In Curacao, the walk to downtown is only 10 minutes and it is a fun walk. Do not take a taxi it is not worth it.
Disembarkation was not even close to as bad as the embarkation process. You get your luggage tags several days before the last day. The colors are:
White - Miami flights before noon Orange - FLL flights before noon and any other guests with departures before 12:30 PM. Green 1 - Guests with Explorations Tours Green 3 - Deck 10 Portside Green 4 - Deck 10 Starboard Red 2 - Deck 9 Portside Red 3 - Deck 9 Starboard Yellow - Deck 8 Portside Lavender - Deck 8 Starboard Blue 1 - Deck 7 Portside Blue 2 - Deck 7 Starboard Purple 4 - Deck 2 and Deck 4 guests Brown - Deck 3 Port Gray - Deck 3 Starboard
We arrived in Miami by 6:30 AM. They only called two names and that is unusual. The disembarkation process started at 7:35 AM with the White tags. I think this is very unusual so I would not count on that happening all the time. Orange followed at 7:40, then by Green1 at 8, Green 3 at 8:10, Green 4 at 8:20, Red 2 at 8:30 and Red 3 at 8:40.
We had red 3 so I am not sure when the others left and what order. They tell you on the sheet they give you with your tags where to sit. Because of this, leaving the ship was hassle free compared to my Celebrity experiences. You stand in line after leaving the ship to clear customs. This takes a while. Customs scans your passport and has to manually check your birth certificate. From there you go down and turn in your customs form and proceed to get your bag.
Getting your bags was easier if you ask me. Unlike FLL where you go to a big warehouse and search for your bags, at Miami they have different conveyors like at an airport that circulates your bags. Don't bother trying to get off with a different earlier color, your bags won't be there. It is a just in time system. The red tags where just starting to come out when we got there. All the bags came out and we were out of there by 9:15 AM.
We walked over to the taxi area and had a taxi in under a minute. We were at the Miami Airport by 9:45 AM and it would have been sooner if it wasn't for the road construction.
Miami Airport The Miami airport is a zoo and no wonder no one wants to fly. I sure didn't want to after experiencing that.
We were on American. After going through the check in line, they don't take your checked bags at the counter. Instead, they put the destination tag on them and you have to go to one, two or three lines depending on how everyone comes at the machine. It is poor organization because there is not one line and queuing system.
From there, they take your checked bags and run them through the X-ray system. Without much instruction, you have to take your carry on around and stand and make sure that there are not questions on your bag. If your bags are fine the toss them on a cart and take them to the conveyor behind the counter and load them on for boarding. If there are questions, you have to figure out that they pulled a bag and find them. There they will open it and inspect it.
This happened to one of our bags. Three of the four were fine but we couldn't find one of them. Finally, the agent said it must have cleared and been put on the conveyor. We were leaving and we heard someone calling our name. They were going to inspect our bag.
If we hadn't of responded and if we had a lock on our bag, they would have cut the lock and inspected it. This was very unorganized and was a joke.
You then go to the line to security to enter your gate area. The line starts with the normal checking of your boarding pass only. You then wind through the queue. Just before the metal detectors, another person wants to see your boarding pass and photo id. Why?? Why didn't they do all that at the first checkpoint? I didn't and couldn't have went anywhere. Finally, you go through the metal detectors. What a pain and a total waste of our government's money.
Ports of Call KEY WEST -- > On the 11-night cruise, you visit Key West. We arrived at 7 AM that is well before any of the shops open. You have to be back on board by 1:30 PM. I love Key West, but this is a total waste of time. Stores start opening at 8 AM and many don't open until 10 AM. If you are going to stop here, at least stay until 4 PM to 6 PM, otherwise skip any port of call that you only stay that long.
We docked at the main pier and this is a great place to dock compared to the military pier. You walk right off the ship and you are at Mallory Square and Duval Street that is the main drag.
COZUMEL, MEXICO-- > Day four is Cozumel. We have been here 9 times now so I won't spend much time on this. We arrived at 8 AM and all aboard is 4:30 PM. We docked at the International Pier that is south of San Miguel. The cab ride to town is $6 not including tip. It is a long walk to town, and I don't recommend doing it.
Cozumel is on Central time and we did not set our clocks back. Make sure you know that you are on ships time if you ask a local for the time, you will have to add an hour.
The don't miss is the Dolphin Swim (not the Encounter) at Chankanaab Park. You will have to do this on your own because the ship doesn't off it only the Encounter. It costs about $130 per person and the minimum age is 12. It is well worth it because you get to interact with the dolphins and do tricks with them. It is a thrill of a lifetime.
Tulum is great but it takes a long time 8 hours. Someday I will do it but just can't get the desire to be gone for 8 hours.
Xcaret is very interesting as well, but it is like Tulum in that it takes 8 hours and a lot of it traveling time.
The other thing that is fun is the Catamaran Sail, Snorkel and Beach Party on the Fury catamaran. It lasts 3 ½ hours and I drank my monies worth in Dos XX beer when I did it a few years ago.
GRAND CAYMAN -- > Day five is in Grand Cayman. We were one of four ships and it was crowded. I can't imagine it with 7 or 8 ships and a Voyager class ship there.
The only time we tendered was a Grand Cayman and it is a slow process. We had tender ticket 16 and we did not get off until 12:15 PM. Grand Cayman is on EST the same as ships time. so it makes it easy when booking excursions on your own. We arrived at Georgetown at 8:30 and the last tender back left at 5:30.
We booked with Captain Marvin. We have done them before and they are the best. For $35 a person, we did the 1:30 PM Barrier Reef snorkel and Sting Ray City excursion and we were back by 4 PM.
Captain Marvin is down three blocks on the left of the pier. It is an easy walk there. There were only 10 of us on the boat and only 8 of us entered the water. This was great. You take a bus up the island to their slip and take a 20-minute boat ride out to the reef. The Barrier Reef is right by Sting Ray City.
The Barrier Reef is beyond belief. The water was rough, but the coral was alive and thriving. I am not sure how because there are so many boats and people and you wouldn't believe how many people stand on the coral to adjust their mask. People really are uncaring and/or stupid. You don't stand on the reef, ever. That is what kills it.
We saw a sting ray there, but the cool thing were the two, huge green eels!! There were divers that went down and brought them up by tempting them with food. The fish are good, not spectacular. The water is so clear that you can't explain it but have to experience it.
After about 30 minutes there, you take a short two- minute trip to Sting Ray City. This is a sand bar out in the middle of the bay. The water is knee to waist deep. There are hundreds of sting rays here and they are tame. They rub up against you and will take food from your hand. The first few minutes are freaky but you get used to them. They are like dogs that want to be petted. You can and should wear your masks, but you don't wear your fins. Take an underwater camera for both places.
The shopping in Grand Cayman is crowded and I don't think the prices are that good. Some love it, but we don't have this on our best list.
OCHO RIOS, JAMAICA -- > Day six is Jamaica. We arrived at the Main pier at 9 AM and all aboard is at 4:30.
I don't care for Ocho Rios or Jamaica. Dunns Rivers falls is fun and you should do it once. The people are poor and all the shops have the same thing. The Islander Village is right by the pier. I recommend shopping there. The Taj Mahal and Soni's Plaza aren't that great. You can walk to Taj Mahal, but the walk to Soni's while short is an experience. I was on guard the whole walk there.
Many people do the Sandles Resort all inclusive excursion for the day on their own. Everyone loves it. The eat, drink, swim and soak up the sun. The funny part (IMHO) is that they say how much they love Jamaica after that. How would they know if they like Jamaica or not, they didn't go anywhere to form an opinion. Walk along main street and then let me know.
We were never hassled about buying drugs. They are not as pushy since 9-11 because there are more police trying to control it, but it is still not one of my favorite places. Since Paul and Dixie had never been here, Pam and I went with them. For Pam and I, Jamaica is a day on the ship.
ORANJESTAD, ARUBA -- > Day eight is Aruba. You arrive at the pier at 8 AM and all aboard is at mid-night. One note, Aruba is on Atlantic time and that is one hour ahead of EST. The ship sets the clock ahead one hour that night after leaving Jamaica so ship time and local time is the same.
This is our second trip to Aruba and I love it hear. It is a desert. It is 20 miles from the coast of Venezuela, South America and part of the Dutch Islands. It is 20 miles by 6 miles that is about 74 square miles.
We rent a car here. Hertz and Avis have stalls at the dock along with a couple local companies. We got a piece of junk 4-wheel drive mini-SUV for $89. Same cost as a ship excursion but we got to go where we wanted and when. They drive on the right side of the road so that helps if you are from the US. Store hours are from 9 AM to 6 PM. So what do you do with the extra hours until we leave at mid-night? Many did the pub crawl in Oranjestad and they were pretty wiped out.
You definitely want to see the natural land bridge. There are some ruins on the way there and the rocky, eastern shore line is great to see. They have a snack shop with food, souvenirs, and bathrooms at the bridge. Try the local beer. The bottles are small, but it is good.
You should have plenty of time to head north after the land bridge. Go to the far northern tip to see the California lighthouse and the California sand dunes. It is really cool. The funny part is that right in the middle of it all is the Tierra Del Sol Golf Course. It looks beautiful.
From there work your way back along the beaches on the west cost. Pull in and walk down to Palm Beach. It is a long, beautiful, sandy stretch of beach. The water is shallow, clear and feels great in the hot sun. Remember, you are only 12 degrees from the equator here. Even in January, the sun was hot and you burn quick.
If you have time go to the south tip to baby beach and see that area. That would be the third item on my list. Some maps show the tunnels and caves like the Tunnel of Love. MHO is don't waste your time on those.
After that we returned our car and shopped around downtown Oranjestad.
WILLEMSTAD, CURACAO -- > This was our first time in Curacao and we were excited to go here. We weren't disappointed. We arrived at the Mega Pier at 8 AM and the all aboard is at 4:30 AM. Curacao is on Atlantic time as well so the ships clock stayed on local time.
Curacao is the biggest of the three Dutch islands. The island lies 35 miles from Venezuela and 42 miles east of Aruba. It is 38 miles long and 7.5 miles at its widest point. There are about 170,000 people on the island and the major industry is oil refining. There are refineries in Willemstad and storage tanks throughout the country. The sad part is that they have the refineries because they don't have the EPA regulations thus less cost. The black smoke that pours out the smoke stacks is disheartening.
The capital, Willemstad, is large. It is about a 10-minute walk to the downtown area from the mega pier and the walk is fun. To get there you have to cross a pontoon bridge.
A must do is to be on the downtown side of the bridge when it has to unlock and open up to let a ship through. It is cool. It is hard to explain, but it is a must do. The architecture is very interesting. The buildings are similar to Aruba and have a Dutch style (imagine that). They are brightly painted and pretty well maintained.
This is an excellent shopping port. You don't have the standard Diamonds, Tanzanite, Emeralds Internationals here. They have great prices on linens like tablecloths, bed sheets, pillow shams, place mats, bun and potpourri holders and wine bottle covers. We bought a nice tablecloth for our 129 inch long table with placemats for $50.
You will have to make a choice most likely. You can spend the whole day shopping or you can see the sites. We chose to shop here and we were glad we did. Next time back, we will see the countryside.
One cool thing is check out the stone people as you are exiting the ship at the Mega Pier. They are pretty cool. You have lots of photo opportunities in Willemstad and it is a great place to get a picture of the ship.
FOUR SEA DAYS -- > The sea days are day 3, day 7, day 10 and day 11. At the end of day 11, you set your clock back one hour to EST.
Things to consider or to do on the sea days based on the Compass are:
Day 3 - There is a fragrance seminar, professional dance class, and horseracing on deck. There is a digital photography seminar in the conference room by the photo gallery that was packed so get there early. Art auction and Wine Tasting. There are other items so check the Compass.
Day 7 - Art auction, Blackjack tournament, photography seminar, belly flop competition, owners cup race, and battle of the sexes.
Day 10 - Digital photography seminar, Bright eyes seminar, art auction, slot tournament, Captain's ship talk, Gala buffet, honeymooners reunite, guest adult talent show, ship hunt, ice carving and Mr. Sexy legs.
Day 11 - Detoxify to lose weight. Yes a great last day seminar. LOL Final Jackpot bingo, international farewell parade during dinner in the Minstrel. Pajama party.
Conclusion This was a great cruise. It is one of my top two cruises. I loved the Celebrity Summit cruise as well. What made this special is it being an 11 night cruise. There is plenty of time to relax and unwind unlike on a 7-night cruise when it just seems like you got on and you have to prepare to leave. RCI blew away my expectations. The food was much better than I expected and more consistent than I had been lead to believe on the boards. The service was first rate and the ship was beautiful with many things to do or places to go if you didn't want to do anything at all.
I would do RCI in a heartbeat on the Radiance class ships and I would recommend it to anyone. Great job RCI.
(Future Cruises: Galaxy 7/03 and Mercury 10/03)