Since our flight was at 7:45 a.m., we decided to stay overnight at the hotel at the airport in Pittsburgh. I used Priceline.com and got the Hyatt Regency for $29.00. It was a great room and so convenient the next morning to just step outside the hotel's door to the people mover at the airport.
Security was very tight at Pittsburgh International Airport. Gary and I had a total of four checked bags and two carry-on pieces. Of the four checked bags, they opened and examined two of them before the bags were taken from us. We then proceeded to the security checkpoint before going over to the gate. Gary was taken aside and wand-ed all over. I do have one tip for travelers: wear tennis shoes, they do not make you remove them, but they do have you remove hard-soled shoes. We had a non-stop flight to Miami. Except for a couple of scary moments, the flight was good.
We arrived in Miami around 10:30 a.m. and took a taxi to the Hyatt Regency Downtown. The cab was a flat rate of $20.00 from airport to downtown Miami. Again, we used Priceline.com and were able to get the Hyatt Regency Downtown Miami for $50.00. I later learned that others in our group obtained the same hotel for much less (in the $20.00 range). But, even at $50.00 the hotel was a bargain. Very nice room with a balcony (small, but I was able to enjoy sitting on it in the morning before we embarked).
At 6 p.m. we met with a nice group of folks we had been corresponding with via the Internet for a cocktail party at the bar at the Hyatt. It was great meeting everyone before we embarked. A bunch of us decided to head to Bubba Gump's in the Bayside Marketplace for dinner. It was a great chance for us all to get to know one another. Gary and I sat with Philip and Gary from Texas and really enjoyed their company.
EMBARKATION As the Hyatt does not have a shuttle to the ship, we took a cab. I believe the cab fare was $10.00. The Port of Miami is very close to the Hyatt. We arrived at the pier at approximately 11 a.m. We stood in line less than a half hour before we embarked. The check-in process was painless and Royal Caribbean International's (RCI) staff at the pier was excellent. While standing in line, a representative handed us a paper stating our cabins would not be ready until 2 p.m. (I believe) but we were free to go to the Windjammer Café for lunch and then explore the ship. Unlike Celebrity, Royal Caribbean did not have representatives greeting us and offering to escort you to your cabin (probably because they did not want us to go to the cabin that early). Gary and I did go to our cabin (9616, category D) to drop off our carry-on luggage and the cabin was ready.
We then went to the Windjammer for lunch (my first impression of the food was very positive). I will talk more about Windjammer a little later. After lunch, we set out to explore the ship. There were very few people onboard so it was a great time to explore.
THE SHIP Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am the world's biggest Celebrity Cruise Line fan. My favorite ship up until now has been Celebrity's Millennium. Key words there."up until now". Brilliance of the Seas is unbelievable. This ship is absolutely beautiful. I never thought I'd find a ship that could match Millie, but this ship exceeds her. Don't' get me wrong, Millie is still a first-class ship.but there is just something about Brilliance! I think what I loved most is the décor. Brilliance has so much glass and wood. Seems everywhere you go on this ship, you can look out and see the water! The artwork is very pleasing to the eye also. Gary described his first impression as a "sensory overload". Everywhere you look, there is something new and pleasing to see. The Centrum is the prettiest I've ever seen.
We had cabin 9616, category D. This cabin really wasn't bigger than others I've had but the layout of the cabin made it seem much larger.
There are many smaller, intimate spaces on Brilliance, which I liked very much. Royal Caribbean achieved this very well. I've sailed on Golden Princess in the past. They attempted to create these small, intimate places but only managed to have the ship appear "chopped up". I'm very impressed with how Royal Caribbean managed to do this.
There is always one place on the ship that becomes my favorite. On Brilliance it was the Colony Club (aft, deck six). Just walking to the Colony Club is an experience all it's own. I love the areas you have to walk through to get there. You walk through the Schooner Bar; pass the specialty restaurants and the pool table area on your way. All of these areas are just beautiful. The Colony Club has comfortable chairs and couches of which some face the all glass back wall looking out to the water. Our first experience with the Colony Club was at night with a full moon outside. What a spectacular sight! I also found my way to the Colony Club mid-afternoon. It was pretty quiet back there and always bright and sunny. I'd use the excuse that I was going back there to read, but always ended up napping on one of the couches. Activities such as bingo, trivia and dance classes are also held in the Colony Club.
Another thing that I loved on this ship is the way they handle their Internet café. Instead of a room tucked away somewhere with many computers side by side, Brilliance offers several areas with just a few computers each. They are located on Decks, 4, 5 and 7. I used the Internet several times and never had a problem finding an unused computer. The charge was 50 cents a minute.
Although Brilliance is a large ship, you never felt like there were crowds of people. All in all, it is very easy to maneuver Brilliance. The layout is well thought out.
We were still finding new places on the ship well into the second week.
DINING As I mentioned earlier, our first experience with food on Brilliance was the Windjammer Café. The layout of the Windjammer works very well. There are several "stations": one for salads, entrées, desserts, etc. This was my first experience with how RCI handles their beverage stations. They have staff members filling the glasses behind a bar. They always had several iced teas, water, and lemonade, lined up and ready for you to grab on the fly. Sure beats trying to balance your plate and fill your glass at the same time.
We only used the Windjammer for breakfast and lunch. We were very impressed with the quality of the food. One big plus is the egg station. They will prepare eggs anyway you like; omelets, fried, etc. This was something we missed on Golden. There is nothing worse than a fried egg that has been sitting under a heat lamp. If you are a french fry fan, Windjammer makes the best I've ever eaten! I spoke to others who had their dinner there and they were very impressed. We walked through one night before dinner to see what the Windjammer had to offer for dinner. The selections were unbelievable. I heard folks comment that the steak and shrimp were excellent.
We ate dinner most nights in the Minstrel Dinning Room. Our table was #455, a table for eight. The location was not the greatest as it was not in the main section of the room. But we had so much fun with our tablemates that the location didn't matter. Our headwaiter, assistant waiter and Maitre'D were excellent. They were always willing to please!
The food is one area where Millennium wins hands down. The food selection and quality were above average on Brilliance, but on Millie they were excellent. Don't' get me wrong.. I certainly did not go hungry on this cruise. Gary and I are huge chocolate fans and RCI just misses the mark on their chocolate desserts with one exception, the chocolate soufflé, which was excellent. Non-chocolate desserts were wonderful, i.e. crème brulee, and tiramisu!
The Seaview Café is tucked away on Deck 12, Aft and is only open certain hours during the day and late night. What a cool place to have a snack. They cook your food to order, hamburgers, Rueben's, chicken salads and a great crab salad. They also have some desserts.their brownie sure met our chocolate cravings and they make a great milkshake. You do not pay extra for the food in the Seaview, but you do pay for the milkshakes. This place is not to be missed.
Another place we enjoyed on occasion was Latte-tudes. They serve coffee and snacks. A nice place to visit during the afternoon.
We ate dinner one night at RCI's specialty restaurant, Chops. The dining room was very pretty and the food and service was outstanding. We have a funny story about our experience here. Earlier in this review I mentioned how much we enjoyed our tablemates on this cruise. Well, Sunday night we went to chops for dinner at 6 p.m. Gary and I had a table for two. A few minutes later our tablemates, Jill and Steve, walked in and were seated right next to us at a table for two. Of course we laughed and said we just couldn't get away from each other. We talked and talked. The waiter asked if we wanted our tables pushed together but we said no, each of us assuming that the other couple wanted to be alone. Well, as the meal went on, we continued laughing and talking with each other. Finally, we had our tables pushed together and had a wonderful time with them.
THE ENTERTAINMENT This was my biggest disappointment with the cruise. I've heard that entertainment on an 11-day cruise may be lacking. That certainly was the case on this cruise. Gary and I go to every show in the theatre. The first few shows were certainly not what we have come to expect from our past cruises. Again, Celebrity's Millennium takes the prize for entertainment. In the past, we've always looked forward to going to the show after dinner. After the first few shows on Brilliance, we were almost afraid to go to the shows. It also seemed that a lot of the entertainment was geared to a much older group. I heard people say it made them think of the old Lawrence Welk shows. John Davidson performed on the third night. He started out slow, but soon had us all rolling on the floor. He really is very funny. The Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers seemed amateur-ish (a big disappointment). The comedy shows of Wilde and Haines (night 7), Steve Shaffer (night 8) and Blair Shannon (farewell show) were all very good. The Original Drifters entertained on night ten and they were great (Gary and went to both of their shows). So you can see that the entertainment improved towards the end of the cruise. I just wonder how many folks quit going to the shows after the first few. I did notice quite a few empty seats in the theatre as the cruise went on.
THE QUEST Anyone who has cruised with RCI before probably knows what The Quest is. I will not ruin it for those who do not. But it is not to be missed. We teamed up with Steve and Jill, our tablemates (Steve takes this game very seriously!) This was probably the most fun we had on the cruise. RCI rates this game as "PG13".I'm not so sure it shouldn't be rated "R". What a hoot! Be prepared to laugh until you cry if you play this game.
EXCURSIONS Since we have never visited three of the ports on this cruise, we decided to do excursions on all of them. We always book the ship excursions because I'm paranoid. I like knowing the ship will not leave without us if we are late getting back to the ship. I know the ship's excursions cost more, but I consider it an insurance policy.
In Cozumel, we did the Tulum Ruins tour. It is an all-day tour and the ship provides a box lunch. We enjoyed this tour very much. There is a lot of travel time involved to get to the ruins, but was worth it once we got there. After the ruins you are dropped off at Xel Ha park. Here you can snorkel; swim with the dolphins or just relax by the water.
In Ocho Rios, Jamaica we did the Dunn's River Falls climb. If you have never done this, I would highly recommend it. It was a lot of fun. After the climb, they take you to Dolphin Cove. We opted to go back to the ship as we had just seen the dolphins in Cozumel.
In Aruba, we did the all-day jeep tour. It was a lot of fun, but be prepared to get very dirty. I wore white because I knew it was going to be extremely hot in the sun all day.what a mistake. I think I'm still finding dirt on my body from that trip. During this trip you are taken to Palm Beach for lunch and some fun at the beach. We snorkeled here and it was awesome!
In Curacao, we did the city tour. It was informative, but I think next time I would go to the beach there instead.
TIPPING You have the option of having the tips added to your account or giving cash to the staff. If you chose to add them to your account you must alert Guest Relations of your wishes. If you chose to do "auto-tipping" you are given vouchers to present to the staff. I liked this very much because you still had something to hand out. And if you wanted to go above and beyond the suggested tip you could add cash to the envelope. On Golden Princess our waiter told us if you gave extra cash to them, they had to put it in a pool for everyone to share. This is not the case on RCI. The extra stays with the person you gave it to, as it should be.
MISCELLANEOUS The staff onboard Brilliance does a great job. I found them all to be very friendly and always had a smile and a hello for you. The Cruise Director, Bobby Brown, was very good. He was always very visible and very approachable. Bouncing Becky Bingo was so funny. That girl never stood still. I don't think I've ever seen someone with so much energy. An announcement was made our last day onboard that Becky was leaving Brilliance to become the Cruise Director on Majesty (I believe). I think she will be an excellent CD. Our cabin attendant, Elvis, was very friendly and he went out of his way to please.
There were daily public announcements made. This is something I usually do not care for, but they kept them to a minimum.
We never had a problem with finding a lounge chair on sea days. But we got there around 9 a.m. and were done by 12 p.m. We also did not sit by the pool; we went up to deck 12 away from the pool activity.
The seating in the solarium was minimal and it was always had to find a chair there in the afternoon.
Since the war began while we were onboard, the Captain made an announcement regarding the "conflict" (as he put it). They also made sure CNN was available 24 hours a day for anyone who wanted to keep current. CNN was on in the Schooner Bar also.
DISEMBARKATION This is the part we all hate most. Since our flight was at noon we were among the first off the ship. They began disembarkation at 7:18 a.m. and we were in the terminal by 7:30 a.m. We have never sailed out of Miami before and were pleasantly surprised at how efficient the process is. Having your bags come on the carrousel makes life so much easier. It sure beats walking into a room with rows and rows of luggage that you must walk up and down in order to locate your bags. This process was much smoother. I believe we were in a taxi to the airport by 7:50 a.m. I've read some reviews where people didn't have a good experience with disembarkation. Maybe since we were first off, it was smoother for us.
MIAMI AIRPORT I mentioned earlier how tight security was at the Pittsburgh International Airport. It was just the opposite at Miami. Security was minimal. Our checked bags were taken from us without any searching and walking through the security checkpoint was a piece of cake. I didn't see anyone being thoroughly checked. However, when we arrived at the airport, there were several dozen police cars parked outside the airport at various points. So maybe we just weren't aware of the security measures taking place.
CONCLUSION I tried to keep this short, which was impossible to do. I'm sure I've missed some things, but would be willing to answer any questions anyone might have.
We had a wonderful time on this cruise. I was privileged to host this cruise for CruiseMates and we met some wonderful people. I hope they had as much fun as we did. I feel we made some new, life long friends on this cruise.