We are a couple from Cape Town, South Africa and this was our second cruise with Royal Caribbean. We have been to the Caribbean on Sovereign of the Seas, and now decided that we would try Europe, although we have been to Europe more than once before.
Please don't make the same mistake I did: by browsing too much on the Internet beforehand, I knew exactly how the ship looked inside and out before we embarked, and in the end of the day the surprise was not that big. I knew the ship was new and beautiful, and all my expectations were met.
Embarkation was a song, and we were in our cabin after 20 minutes if even that long. Our inside cabin was lovely and spacious for two people. There was more than enough storage space. The only complaint was that the cupboard opposite the bathroom door was very dark even if you switch on the light in the passage.
The cabin was number 4537 on Deck 4 amidships, unfortunately located near the entrance used by all the staff on Deck 4. They slammed the doors every five minutes and although I complained about it, nothing was done. So try to get a cabin far away from the linen rooms, staff entrance etc.
Our stateroom assistant Jo-Anna was very friendly, did her job well, and was very creative making towel animals. All the staff members were extremely friendly throughout the ship.
One complaint about the ship I cannot overlook -- and I noticed that everybody was complaining about it -- was the air-conditioning in the passages and the public areas. It was extremely cold. Outside were lovely summer temperatures and inside it was like an icebox. I read in previous reviews that people complained that the public areas were too hot, but now they are too cold! In the Windjammer cafe, it was so cold that we always looked for a table on the sunny side of the ship.
Although the ship has two swimming pools for adults, I felt that the outside pool was too small for the number of people on the ship. The solarium is beautiful and peaceful with the sound of running water. The decor is also very peaceful on the eye.
In the dining room we had the same problem as the last time we sailed with Royal Caribbean. We were allocated a table with people we could not understand at all. We in South Africa are fluent in English, but we were allocated a table with a Portuguese couple, a Danish couple and a Norwegian couple. Nobody was speaking English and the Portuguese couple could not understand anybody, as well as the Norwegian couple. The previous time we were with Filipinos and a honeymoon couple in their early 20s, although we are in our early 50s. I think Royal Caribbean could match their tables better. They have all our information, so why not make an effort to match people with approximately the same age group and language? We learned that there were 23 South Africans on the ship -- not that we particularly wanted to be seated with them, but that would have been better than a bunch of people you could not communicate with.
The food in the Windjammer was not as good as on the Sovereign of the Seas. We love chicken, but it was always served either with a chili covering or in a sauce that looked so bleak and unbecoming that I never tried it. We never saw grilled chicken or chicken in a nice crispy batter. The variety on the menu in the dining room was also not very large, and sometimes I really had to battle to decide what to order. Food was never an issue with us, but it is really worth mentioning that the food on the Brilliance is not that brilliant!
Also, I noticed that the waiters in the dining room serve the main course for all the people at the table at the same time. That was agony, because we had to wait until everybody was through the menu before we received our main course. The other people ordered everything on the menu, whereas we only ordered a starter and then the main course. The fact that we could not communicate with a soul at the table made the waiting worse.
The itinerary was very good, and the shore excursions were worth the money except one: Panoramic Rome was a rip-off!
We drove from Civitavecchia and after 15 minutes the bus made a toilet stop where we wasted 20 minutes. I feel if you go on an excursion and cannot wait 90 minutes (the duration of the trip to Rome) to go to a toilet, stay on the ship! When we arrived in Rome, we drove past the Arch of Constantine, the Coliseum, the Victor Emanuel monument, and were dropped off at St. Peter's for only 30 minutes. We never got to the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, or the famous via Condotti. Luckily we have been to Rome before, but if not, I would have been very disappointed. They could have cut out the toilet stop and stopped briefly at the various sites, even if it was just for a photo. We would not take photos at all, because the bus was moving all the time.
The first morning after Barcelona, we docked at Villefranche -- and what a surprise! It is a wonderful, picturesque harbor town situated between mountains. We took the Nice and Eze excursion, which was very nice, especially Eze. I still wonder why people always rave about the Promenade de Anglais, because it is the most horrible beach -- there is hardly any sand, just uncomfortable gray pebbles. We didn't have enough time to explore Villefranche, but will if we have the chance in the future. We left Villefranche at 11 p.m., and the lights of the town up the mountain and the reflection in the water was spectacular while the band at the pool played and people danced the night away as the staff prepared for the midnight buffet.
The day in Livorno we stayed on the ship, because we have been to Pisa and Florence. We had the ship to ourselves! It was wonderful to wander around and the perfect time to take pictures of the ship.
The day in Naples we took the Capri-with-lunch excursion, which we enjoyed up to the point where the guide dropped us for two hours in a part of Capri where there were just a lot of cheap souvenir shops. She said we would be taken to the section where there is more up-market shopping, but that never happened. We were also supposed to be taken to a point from where we could view the rocks for which Capri was famous, but that also never happened.
The next day was at sea and very relaxing. It was also our first formal night and everybody was dressed up. We liked the way Captain James made announcements from the bridge. He always made it very informative, especially the day he deliberately sailed close to the volcano Stromboli with its active crater.
Day 6 at approximately 11 a.m. we sailed into Venice, and what a spectacular view from the Viking Crown Lounge! Everybody was standing on the top deck of the swimming pool, and it was extremely hot outside, but we were clever enough to enjoy the view from inside the air-conditioned lounge. We were fortunate that the ship docked on the Grand Canal a few minutes' walk from St Mark's Square. The captain reported that from May to October the ship was only allowed to dock there twice, and this was one of the times!
We took the "Gondola by night" excursion and enjoyed it very much. Venice by night is very beautiful with the lights reflecting in the water. Every gondola got a bottle of bubbly and everybody was very cheerful. We walked back from St. Mark's square, where lovely music was played. The Brilliance of the Seas is a wonderful sight at night viewed from one of the bridges on our way back with all its lights on. It looks so majestic.
The next day we explored Venice on our own. It was very hot, so we stayed on the ship that afternoon after being in the sun the whole morning.
The following day we arrived in Dubrovnik surrounded by mountains and cypress trees. The water was aquamarine and another cloudless day was awaiting us. We took the panoramic Dubrovnik tour, which gave us an idea of the damage done during the war, and viewed parts of the old city within the city walls. I found the city itself to be very bland. Everything is gray, and I cannot remember seeing anything colorful.
Next day we visited our favorite Greek island, Corfu. We once stayed there for two weeks, and it was still as beautiful as ever. We took the Paleokastritsa, Lakones and Kassiopi excursion, which was very informative and scenic. We had time to take a small boat to visit all the caves with the bluest and clearest water I have seen in my life. In some places we could see purple crystals in the water. What a sight! We had lunch in Kassiopi, a fishing village at the north of the island. We then drove to Kyrkyra, Corfu's main town, where we had time for shopping. There were lots of people and I feel the time there was just too short.
Our last stop was Rome, on which I have commented before.
Our holiday was a blast, seeing that the weather was perfect, the ship lived up to our expectations, the excursions were good, and we met wonderful people.
I noticed that a lot of people don't make use of the excursions. They just take a taxi into the various towns and walk around by themselves. That is not a way to see the real picture. If I would have been dropped in Corfu and just went to Kyrkyra I would not have liked the island -- but that way you didn't see anything of the island. A lot of people form their opinions from just minimal sightseeing, and that is unfair.
Disembarkation was as easy as embarkation and we will definitely, if given the chance, sail with Royal Caribbean again.