To coin someone else's phrase, the Brilliance is Brilliant! An absolutely gorgeous ship!
This was a Cruise Mates Cruise. I'm convinced knowing people onboard before you board is the way to go! We had a pre-cruise party at the Hyatt, well attended, all of us ready to cruise!
I cruised with April this time, which helped me beat the single supplement I get hit with when I travel alone. We had heard about RCI's "pier coordinator," so April and I decided to check it out; we spotted the desk in the very far corner of the check-in area. Earlier, the travel agent had offered us an E3 cabin for $200 more than the outside room we had booked, but we decided to wait. The pier coordinator showed us a chart listing prices to upgrade, which were also also $200 to go from outside to balcony. She listed cabins available, showed us a deck plan, and we were able to get a "D" on 9 -- better than an E3, so we were happy. You also check in at this desk, so we didn't have to wait in a long line. Later in the day, it caused some brief problems relocating our luggage and a bottle of wine from the other cabin, but our room steward took care of it. It was not a big deal considering the better cabin we got.
>From the minute we walked onboard, I was impressed. I love light and airy, with lots of windows, so I knew I was going to love this ship! I was on the Golden Princess in November. It was nice, but the Brilliance is over the top in appearance, inside and outside -- just gorgeous! The art in the stairwells was absolutely super, I never got tired of looking at it! The whole ship is very well done and pleasing to the eye.
We had a category D cabin and it was fine. Twins beds are a little close when it comes to going around to the balcony or bathroom, but not too much of a problem. The closet/bathroom door arrangement is tricky, but Brilliance isn't the only ship with this setup. The bathroom itself has a small shower, similar to other ships, but great water pressure and ease of use. Even with the curtain, we never flooded the floor!
Dining is an important part of the cruise, and the Brilliance didn't disappoint. A few nights the menu items seemed a little "different," but you could always choose from the "always available" items. I was not disappointed with any of my meals and the deserts were good, too. The waiters were eager to please and handled requests for an extra entrée, or baked potato instead of rice, with a smile. There were seven at our table, and everyone seemed pleased with the meals.
We also tried the alternative dining restaurants, Chops and Portofino's, and the food was excellent. I had the best filet mignon ever (and I generally don't eat beef), and the veal was super, too! We had an issue with Chops that was clearly miscommunication and poorly handled, but in the end they credited my account.
The Windjammer Buffet's location, just steps away from our cabin, was my downfall! I could not stay away from the cookies and desserts that were always out. The food in the buffet area was good, and I was so hung up on snacking, I didn't get to try all the lunch items. Seating was never a problem. There were no lines to wait for food, and drinks were easy to get. I still prefer a tray over just a plate, but that's not a major complaint, just my personal preference.
The SeaView Cafe was good, too. I had a great salad there one day, with a side of onion rings. Another place to get food (I found them all) was the solarium pool area, which had good pizza, and deserts and cookies always available. The solarium area was great if you wanted a pool, nice chairs and a little quiet.
I don't know what the answer is for cruise lines when it comes to the towels/ chair-saving situation. I'm not sure what would work; it's definitely a frustrating situation on sea days. April and I separated on some sea days, because it was a struggle to find two chairs together. I was always able to find a chair all the way forward on Deck 12, but a lot of people don't like those because you are far removed from any activity.
As for the ports, we took the Trolley Tour in Key West, which gives you a good overview. You can get on and off at various stops, or just ride for the two hours. It was a good tour; we just hopped onto it on our own, although you could book it through the ship for a higher price.
We took a catamaran snorkel/sail in Cozumel, which included snorkeling and a beach stop. It was nice and worth the price comparable to others I've done.
After we overdid it in Cozumel and got rather sick, we opted to stay on the ship in Grand Cayman. I won't bore you with the Cozumel details, but we slept 15 hours to recover! A friend thought we got lost and was worried when she didn't see us for two days.
In Jamaica, April booked a tour with Peat Tailor; he has a great tour and is very accommodating. Searching the message boards, we never found a single complaint so we decided to give him a try, and it was well worth it. There were 10 of us, and he was willing to take us to Dunn's River Falls, give us an island tour, drop us at various places, and come back and pick us up even before we paid him. Incredible guy, great tour!
In Aruba and Curacao, we just did tours that were there as you walked off the ship. The Aruba driver/guide wasn't great, but we got a fairly good overview of the island (minus the lighthouse). And on our own, we went to Carlos 'n' Charlie's. In Curacao, the guide was great and gave us a great deal of information, a much better tour.
I can't really think of any negatives about the Brilliance, except that the disembarkation procedure was the worst I've seen in 16 cruises. I felt sorry for people that had to stand for long periods of time and weren't prepared for it. Leaving the Golden Princess in November was a walk in the park compared to this process. I was booked on a tour, and it took well over an hour to get off the ship, get luggage, get on the bus and be on our way. I booked the Everglades tour, which was very good.
As I said, cruising with a group and writing ahead of time on the message boards makes the cruise even more enjoyable. Cruising is the best, but even nicer when you meet a great group of people!