Background: This was our 6th cruise and 4th with Royal Carribbean (previous ships were Majesty, Enchantment, and Grandeur). Also sailed with Carnival (probably not again) and Princess. Both me and wife are in our early 30's and love cruising. This was our first time in Europe and our first cruise 12 nights. All our other cruises were 7 nights.
Itinerary: 12-night Mediterranean cruise aboard RCCL's Brilliance of the Seas: Barcelona, Spain Villefranche, (Nice), France Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Italy Naples, Italy At sea Venice, Italy ( 2 days) Dubrovnik, Croatia Corfu, Greece At sea Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy At sea Barcelona, Spain
Air Transportation and Pre-cruise package: Our air and hotel was arranged through RCCL (we have always let the cruise line pick our hotel and flights and have always been happy with the results). We flew Delta from Minneapolis on May 9th to Cincinnati to JFK in New York to Barcelona, Spain. Total flight time was 12 hours. Cruise representatives meet us outside of customs at 8:30am on May 10th and took us to our hotel. We stayed at the Silken Gran Havana. The staff at the hotel let us check in early about 11am, instead of the usually 3pm. The hotel staff spoke english and were very pleasant. The hotel was nicely located and we were able to walk everywhere (La Rambla, Gothic quarter, Church of the Sacred Family and the water front). Our room was on the top floor (6th floor) with a balcony. The room was small, but didn't really matter to us, since all we used it for was sleeping and watching some tv. The bathroom was marble and was very nice. The only downside of the hotel was that the room was not soundproof as the brochure indicated. We stayed 2 nights at the hotel.
Embarkment: Cruise representatives meet us at the hotel at 10:30am on May 12th and we left for the pier. After about 20 minutes we arrived at the pier. Since all our paperwork was already filled out before we left the hotel, embarkment went smoothly. Waited in line for about 20 minutes, had our picture taken, and boarded the ship.
Overview of the ship: Very nice and clean ship, artwork and glass is everywhere. The ship is less than one year old and is of the Vision class of ships. The elevators face outward and have glass on them, so you can see the ocean or port of call when traveling in them. The ship was very clean and I can't say anything bad about this ship. It met our expectation completely. The Schooner bar was a favorite hang out as was the Viking Crown Lounge (also called the Starquest Disco).
Stateroom This was our first balcony cabin (room #7624 on the aft side of the ship). Normally, we get an outside cabin with a window, but since this was for 12 nights we decided to spend a little extra money on a balcony. The room size was standard Royal Caribbean, but had lots of storage and closet space. The balcony was nice, since I could sit outside watching the ship coming into and leaving port. Our room steward was very friendly and quickly cleaned our room whenever we left for the day.
Dining There were many places to have a meal on this ship and food was always available. The choices included: dining room, windjammer café, seaview café, Chops steakhouse and Portofino's. We ate breakfast in the windjammer café every morning, except on disembarkment when we ate in the dining room. The food in the windjammer was better than on other RCCL's ships, with the exception of the yogurt. It was terrible. Lunch was good in the windjammer also, the salad bar was fresh, burgers and hotdogs were very hot (temperature, not spice). The desserts were ok. Some of the less popular desserts from the night before in the dining room appeared in the windjammer. We never ate at Chops or Portofino's for dinner. We always ate in the dining room. This was due to having a great table of companions. We had second seating at table #405. Second seating starting at 9:15pm, instead of the usual 8:30pm. There were six of us. Me and my wife from Minneapolis, MN, another couple from NYC, and another from Detroit. All of us were in our mid 30's had previously cruised and it was our first time in Europe. We had a blast each night at dinner and frequently got together outside of the dining room. The cruise line did a good job at matching us up. The food in the dining room was very good. I especially enjoyed the chilled soups. The chocolate desserts were sometime to rich for me, but tasted very good. All my steaks were cooked to my specifications and I never was disappointed with the meat selections.
The seaview café which was located on the sports deck on deck 12 had very good food, especially the onion rings and Cuban sandwich. We went up there everyday for a before dinner snack or 2. I would definitely recommend having at least one meal at the seaview café, just to try it and see for yourself.
Entertainment: There were 3 production shows on the cruise. They were called Now & Forever, Closer to You, and Turn the Beat Around. All three were excellent. The headliners included: Jacqui Scott, Ole' Ole', Jon Courtenay, Graham P. Jolley, Bobby Arvon, Claire Gobin, and finally Hal Frazier. On the overnight stay in Venice, the ship did not have a show, instead they had a movie night and showed, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding". The only show we missed was Jacqui Scott's. The other headliners were good. Claire Gobin was the best in my opinion, she played many different types of music on her violin. Very impressive. The least entertaining was Bobby Arvon. He sang the theme song for Happy Days. The rest of his music was from the 50's. I didn't recognize any of it and we left early, to catch up on our sleep.
Ports of call: Since this was our first time in Europe and the only language we speak is English, we decided to take ship excursions at all ports of call. Villefranche, (Nice), France Took the Best of the French Riveria tour. It was 8 ½ hours and included lunch at a local restaurant. The tour started out bad, since the French government workers were out protesting and had their demonstration in the streets, preventing our bus from leaving Nice. We sat on the bus for over an hour. Finally made it to Cannes, home of the film festival. Had limited time looking around, before we were back on the bus to visit the village of St. Paul-de-Vence. The village was up in the hills, surrounded by walls and had stone walkways and buildings. This was a very picture-perfect setting for some great pictures. We had about 1 - 1 ½ hours here. Our last stop was at the village of Grass to visit a local perfume manufacturer. You could smell the fragrances as we neared the factory.
Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Italy Took the Florence and Pisa tour. The tour lasted 10 hours. In Florence, we toured the Piazza del Duomo, where the cathedral, bell tower, and baptistery housed a copy of Ghiberti's "Gates of Paradise". In the Piazza della Signoria we saw a copy of Michelangel's "David" and the Loggia dei Lanzi. Next we walked to the Church of Santa Croce and finally to a restaurant for lunch. There was only about 30 minutes of free time in Florence, the majority of the time was walking through the city. After lunch, we got on the bus for the trip to Pisa. I learned Pisa, is a historic university town. A short walk later, we were in the Field of Miracles to marvel at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We had about 1 hour of free time in Pisa.
Naples, Italy Took the Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri tour. The tour lasted 10 hours. After leaving the ship, we took a transport boat to the island of Capri. The water was very rough and lots of people had motion sickness on the ride. The ride took about 45 minutes from Naples. After arriving on Capri, we took a funicular to the top of the island. A funicular is a combination cable car/ sky ride up the side of the mountain. It was a very smooth ride and gave great views of the island. We had about 1 hour of free time to visit the Augustus Gardens and stroll the streets of Capri. Additional time would have been nice here. Next, we took a water transport to Sorrento and had a bus tour of the city before lunch. Finally we were off to Pompeii. This is what I had waited to see and I was not disappointed. We saw Mount Vesuvius as we walked through Pompeii. The archaeological site is much larger than I had originally thought. Many paintings and inscriptions are still visible in the city. This is a must see for anyone interested in ancient ruins. Finally, we stopped at a cameo factory, where we saw the art of cameo carving and a chance to purchase some of the handicrafts.
Venice (2 days in Venice) Day 1: Tour of Murano Glassworks, San Giorgio, and gondola ride. The tour took 4 hours. We first visited San Giorgio. A motor launch took us to the island of San Giorio Maggiore, we had time to visit the interior and exterior of the Church of San Pietri di Casell. Next, we went to the island of Murano to visit a glass factory. A demonstration of glass blowing was done. The worker made a horse out of glass in about 5 minutes. We were then ushered into the glass showrooms to shop. There were about 10 rooms filled with very expensive glass. Chandliers, figurines, vases, jewelry boxes. Our last activity was a gondola ride. We traveled six per gondola, for about 30 minutes trough the many canels. It was very relaxing and tranquil as we glided by the many balconied, waterfront homes. Day 2: Tour of Doges' Palace, St. Mark's Cathedral & Glass Showroom. We started at the Doges' Palace, the ancient residence of the Doges', governor of the Serenissima Republic. It is an excellent example of Gothic architecture. We toured the interior and climbed the Golden Staircase, admired the Great Council chamber and the grand painting of Tintoretto and Veronest. We walked through the Bridge of Sighs, that spans the canal between the Doges' Palace and the prison. Next, we went to St. Mark's Cathedral. We saw the haze of blue and gold mosaics inside the cathedral. Finally, there was another glass factory tour. It was very similar to the previous day's glass factory.
Dubrovnik, Croatia Panoramic Dubrovnik and city tour. The tour took 4 hours. We drove through Dubrovnik and the riveria for a panoramic view of the city of Dubrovnik Old Town. It was a very beautiful city and showed very little signs that a war had been fought here. After entering Old Town, we did a walking tour by entering through the Pile Gate and down the main street called Stadum. We visited a 14th centry Franciscan Monastery, which still houses the oldest working pharmacy in Europe. The Rector's Palace was toured next, this palace use to be the seat of Dubrovnik Republic government. Finally, we visited other monuments such as: Onofrio's fountain, the Sponza Palace, and St. Blaise's church.
Corfu, Greece Achilleion Place, Paleokastritsa, and Old Town tour. The tour lasted 5 hours. We started out driving to Paleokastritsa. The bay has been called the "Capri of Greece". I can see why, it was very beautiful. Next, we went to the byzantine Monastery of the Virgin. This monastery is still inhabited by monks. It had a small museum for viewing priceless icons and church relics. The gardens gave a great view of the bay. Next, we went to Achilleion Palace. The palace housed many great statues of ancient Greek history and mythology. Some of the statues we saw included: Achilles dying and the statues of the Nine Greek Muses, and Achilles Victorious. Many statues can be seen in the gardens. Finally, we went to Old Town for independent exploration.
Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy Imperial Rome tour. The tour lasted 10 ½ hours. This tour focused heavily on ancient Roman times and not on the Vatican. The bus ride from Civitavecchia to Rome took 1 ½ hours each way. Our first stop was at the Roman Forum. We walked through Via Sacra (Sacred Way), to the Arch of Titus and the Arch of Constantine. We had a very good guide, who provided explicit details as to what we were seeing. We had about 30 minutes of independent exploration, before we walked over to the Colosseum. We went inside of the Colosseum and was very impressed by it all. Next, we walked over to St. Peter's in Chains Cathedral. We saw Michelangelo's statue of Moses holding the ten commandments. After lunch, we drove to the Vatican City to visit St. Peter's Basilica, the largest church in the world. We saw Michelangelo's "Pieta" and the carved Bernini Pulpit. This church was the most impressive that I had ever seen. After some independent time shopping, we got back on our bus for our return trip to the ship.
Disembarkment: We had to vacate our stateroom by 7:00am on May 24th and wait in a lounge until our color tag was called to disembarkment. We had breakfast in the dining room and then waited until about 9:30am. We located our luggage very quickly in the terminal building and proceeded to the bus for our ride to the airport. The Barcelona airport was a madhouse of people. It took us almost 3 hours to check-in, but only 30 seconds at security. Our flight schedule was Barcelona to JFK in New York to Cincinnati to Minneapolis.. We arrived in Minneapolis at about 10:30pm on May 24th and were home by midnight.
Overview of trip: This was a great trip. We meet some very nice people . The ship was beautiful and fun. The ports of call were all interesting, with lots of things to see and do. I would definitely cruise with Royal Caribbean again and hopefully very soon. I would rate this cruise a 4.5 out of 5 stars.