The Brilliance of the Seas is the second of the Radiance Class ships being constructed by Royal Caribbean International (RCI). We sailed on her sister ship the Radiance of the Seas, so for us it was simple to find our way around the ship and interesting to make comparisons in the decor of the two ships. They are easily spotted in port with their abundance of green tinted glass and the Crown & Anchor symbol atop the all white ship.
The Brilliance of the Seas at 90,090 tons (Panamax) is the largest ship to ever visit Port Harwich, the same port from which the Mayflower originally set sail in 1620, a little known fact. The Brilliance was built in Germany at the Meyer Werft Shipyards. She is 962 ft. long; beam is 106 ft. with a draft of 26.7 ft., and she boasts a cruising speed of 25 knots. She can accommodate 2,501 guests, but this sailing she carried 2,060, mostly Americans, 700 of whom were between the ages of 25 and 45. Her Captain James MacDonald (Canada) proved to be a wonderful sailor in both calm and high seas (more later).
We booked the Air/Sea package and flew from Miami to London on American Airlines. Arriving on Sept. 7th, we stayed at the Royal Lancaster Hotel overlooking Hyde Park. This classic European style hotel, located minutes from the center of London, is newly decorated and renovated with marble baths, etc. The doorman wears a canary yellow morning coat and top hat, pure "Old World." We arranged for a private tour of London by "Chunky Black Cab," and were fortunate to be driven by a local, who was excellent in pointing out all the sights and adding colorful lore. While touring, we saw the gates of Buckingham Palace open and Prince Philip ride by in a motorcade.
On Sept. 8th, we transferred by coach to Harwich. The English countryside is much like New England and it was entertaining to see on the road signs the names of the original towns which are the forerunners of so many New England towns, including Mary's home town of Sudbury, Massachusetts. The pilgrims certainly maintained their heritage in the "New World."
EMBARKATION Two conditions figured into this less than smooth embarkation. First, Harwich has never embarked such a large ship with so many passengers. Second, the Brilliance is new with a mostly new crew. The railroad tracks run within ten feet of the port entrance and incoming busses must wait for trains. The port crew directed passengers, but did not assist with wheelchairs. Lines were long, but as Diamond members of the Crown & Anchor Society we went to a separate desk and check-in took about 15 minutes.
I.D. pictures were taken and then we faced what looked like Mt. Everest to someone in a wheelchair: a steeply inclined ramp to get to the boarding area. The security guard stopped the line and assisted us up. Then, we faced another steep incline at the gangway! A Harwhich port attendant pushed Vincent up that one. We have met so many kind people since using a wheelchair, that we have learned to totally ignore those few rude people. We are positive that in the future embarkation will be much smoother.
Once on Deck 4, there was no crew member to escort us to the cabin. After waiting 15 minutes, we decided to manage the wheelchair and hand luggage on our own. We were on Deck 10 (the Bridge deck) in Suite 1068 and our first impression was "beautiful!" We went straight to the dining room to check on our table assignment, which we found unsatisfactory, but no change was made. We need a table for two right near the entrance in order to avoid disturbing other diners when maneuvering the wheelchair. However, once in our suite Hotel Manager Helmut Leikauf (with whom we had sailed on the Radiance's Maiden voyage) called to welcome us aboard and he left us the number for Julie of Guest Relations. One call to her and the table change was arranged, so we were finally off to the Bon Voyage Buffet.
SHIP'S PUBLIC AREAS Over all, this is a very tastefully decorated and comfortable ship with the extensive use of light (Minstrel Dining Room) and dark woods (Colony Club). On this ship there is a great attention to detail, with many art works enumerated in a 34 page book titled ART: THE COLLECTION, Brilliance of the Seas (not as extensive as "THE ART OF THE COSTA ATLANTICA", 221 pages book); it is still a thoughtful collection including whimsical works (what Captain James describes as postage stamp art, tiny 2"X2" pieces centered in oversized 2'X2' frames on Deck 10), "The Seagull has landed" by Kinloch, Deck 13, two "Baby Elephant" bronzes by Manley on Deck 11 in the Solarium, "The Fishermen," two life size figures, pole fishing in the shaft of the ocean facing elevators and a lot more throughout the ship. There is much to see and enjoy aboard this ship.
Deck 2 has 27 Category Q staterooms including one wheelchair accessible #2023; there are 14 wheelchair accessible staterooms onboard.
Deck 3 is all staterooms in categories H, N, O, P with two wheelchair accessible units.
Deck 4 forward has the lower level of the Pacifica Theater. Staterooms are forward with three more wheelchair accessible units. Midship is the Centrum/Lobby and aft is the Minstrel Dining Room with the beautiful 2 Deck high mosaic depicting Renaissance musicians performing for an applauding group on a balcony, exquisitely done by American artists J. and M. Moul.
The columns in this dining room are draped and the corridor has three untitled oils by American artist Lace Bencivengo that we appropriately called "Tiny Bubbles."
Deck 5 is totally public areas; forward is the main level of the Pacifica Theater, with a subdued atmosphere except for the stage curtain "Inferno" by American artist Steve Rundle, which is an explosion of color. Toward midship are the Conference Center, Art Gallery, Photo shop, Onboard shops, Latte-tudes Coffee Bar/Internet Stations and, on the portside, the Centrum Elevators (six beautiful glassed cages overlooking either the ocean or the Centrum). The mechanics of using one call button for all six is not user friendly. Many times they are all stopped on the same deck for long periods of time, or while full, they stop on every deck needlessly like the "local." Perhaps, the engineer who designed this system could divide the controls for two independent groups of 3 elevators each, thus eliminating long waits. Also when the button is pressed on one side of the lobby the elevator on the other responds and the door will invariably close even before the passenger can reach it. Needless to say, we met many passengers while waiting for elevators.
Deck 6 forward is the balcony of the Pacifica Theater, with last row seating for wheelchairs -- and a good view of the stage. Going toward aft is the Cinema (this week's fare was A BEAUTIFUL MIND and MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING.). Then, there is the Video Arcade, and the Casino Royale. Across the Centrum is the Champagne and Schooner Bars. We like the nautical ropes, sails and wheels of the latter. On this deck is also the wonderful Chops Grille with Mrs. Leikauf as its able manager. The food and service is wonderful here, well worth the $20.00 fee; the 10 oz. veal chop and the Mississippi Mud pie dessert are winners. Right next door is the Portofino, where service under the able direction of Manager Gianluca Maglianella is top of the line. Check out the wall art which is an Italian Market scene, more appropriate for a trattoria than an upscale restaurant. Gianluca's table side preparation of pasta is very enjoyable. The "Murder Mystery in Portofino" night was entertaining: Family style dining with guests participating in solving a "Who Done It." Naturally, the butler did it! The cost for the dinner and show is $49.50 per person.
Toward aft is the Bombay Billiards Club (with self leveling pool tables which were constantly bobbing up and down (during the gale force winds of the North Atlantic Ocean) while the billiard balls were perpetually still. Incredible! All the way aft is the Colony Club with Asian Indian influence. The stage curtain is a procession of spangled elephants. Surrounding the Colony are three separate areas: The Calcutta Card Club, Singapore Sling's and the Jakarta Lounge.
Noticeable artwork on this deck is located in the Schooner Bar, the Scoreboard Bar and the Casino. Worthy of mention are the ship models in the Schooner Gallery, "The Wyoming," "The Prussian" and "The Connecticut," all famous sail ships of yesteryear. In the Casino at the entrance there are two ornate and colorful peacocks and a statue of "Goddess of Good Fortune" (Zsiba Smolover, USA). Impressive are the Gaytee Stained Glasses ceiling and panel (Michael Hope, USA) in Art Nouveau of the 1900 Parisian style. At the Scoreboard Bar appropriately there are three "Sport Figures" representing football, basketball and baseball, as well the "American Sports Mural" (Andrew Reid, New Zealand), an interesting modern interpretation of athletes in motion.
Decks 7, 8, 9 and 10 are all staterooms, mostly with balconies, among which are the remaining eight wheelchair accessible units.
Deck 11 forward has the Ship Shape Spa, Health Center, Hair Salon, Outdoor pool and Solarium with bespangled elephants as a backdrop. Aft of the elevators is the Windjammer Cafe and the most used dining area for casual eating. Again many beautiful woods are used in the furnishings. Several pieces of artwork can be found throughout this deck, from sculptures to paintings: Some are beautiful and interesting, others not worth mentioning. We liked the glass and metal sculptures near the pool, "Light Strokes" (Meza Rijsdijk, The Netherlands), and the oil paintings located at the Windjammer Cafe entrance, "Broadside into Valsheda" and "Racing with Valsheda" (John B. Harris, British). Also on this deck, in the Shipshape area, there are relief panels by British artist Kevin Fazackerley: one in ceramic and mosaic representing the Taj Mahal and the others, stylized peacocks, in terra-cotta, mosaics and metals.
Deck 12 has the Ship Shape Fitness Center, Youth and Teen Centers and the Seaview Cafe. The latter is difficult to reach in bad weather (Like the rain and strong winds which we experienced during this crossing.) but normally take the central elevators and stroll aft to the Sea View. Aft on this deck there are also the Basketball Court, Golf Simulators, Kids Pool and Sport Areas. Midship is the Crown & Anchor Lounge where can be found "The Vigilant," a miniature model of one of the ships which raced in 1893 America's Cup.
Deck 13 holds the Viking Crown Lounge and Dance Club with revolving bar and the Hollywood Odyssey an intimate entertainment area. In the Starquest Lounge there is an interesting modern artwork: a UV Sensitive Mural depicting an "out-of-this-world" landscape with special scenic effects of stars, galaxies, etc. (UV/FX Scenic Productions, USA 1997). On this deck there are also the Putting Greens and Rock Climbing wall.
FOOD & SERVICE We feel the food is good, but a bit below our expectation. There are areas such as meat entrees which were excellent, as we usually find on all the RCI ships, and some desserts exquisite and brilliant, appropriately for this ship namesake, the Brilliance of the Seas. But in other instances, such as the Italian dishes, even in the upscale Portofino, there is dire need for an Italian chef. We have been told that they are too expensive; well, at least find a chef who can read an original Italian recipe and precisely follow it. An important hint in the preparation of Italian dishes could be hide most of the spices, especially cumin and curry, which are not conducive to Italian cuisine and never in say a Bolognese sauce! And the pasta dishes were definitely unpalatable to an Italian palate. Overall, the food is generally good, nicely presented, but not as inventive as Princess, Costa and Celebrity Lines.
Dinners in the Minstrel Dining room were served hot and pleasantly at our table #448 by Angelito Buenaventura and Menino Estibeiro. Dinner on Monday, formal night, at Captain MacDonald's table was superb. Social Hostess Natasha Gee met us at the Captain's reception and escorted us to the table where we dined on Shrimp Cocktail, Mushroom Feuillete`, Lobster Bisque, Chilled Pear Nectar, Caesar Salad, Salmon Soufflé, Duck a`l'Orange, Filet Mignon and the Chef's special dessert "Sweet Temptations". . . a sinful chocolate delight. This was a memorable meal and evening, especially for Mary, sitting on the Captain's left, she had ample opportunity to learn the "inside story" of this beautiful ship. The Master's conversation and manners are delightful and we look forward to sailing with him again.
Besides 24 hour room service, which is speedy and friendly, this ship has almost continuous service in the Windjammer with only a half hour break in the a.m. and 1 1/2 hour break in the p.m. for set up. The Seaview Cafe is open during those times. Ice cream, Afternoon High Tea and Latte-tudes Coffee take up the slack.
Service was top notch at both alternative restaurants; Mr. Maglianella and Mrs. Leikauf are superb. General Manager Helmut Leikauf can be proud of the start up team he has.
CABINS We were in Suite #1068 (not wheelchair accessible) Category C, on the Bridge Deck and it is impressive in Navy Blue, Red and Gold. Entering on the left is the large marble bath with tub/shower, single sink and double mirrored medicine cabinets. There is a king size bed with night stands and reading lamps. A wall to wall drape separates the sitting room, which has a hide-a-bed sofa, a plush arm chair with ottoman and a large coffee table. The far wall is all glass and leads to the balcony with table, 2 chairs, and a chaise which was set up by Mario, our excellent stateroom attendant, upon Vincent's request. Thank you, Mario.
When entering on the right there is a walk-in closet with a motion sensor light, good only for people over six feet tall -- Mary had to wave her arm at it each time to activate it. There are many shelves, cupboards, and drawers for storage. Next, there is a desk/vanity with lighted mirror, hairdryer and a TV, refrigerator and personal safe. The furnishing are maple wood handsomely trimmed with mahogany -- very effective, especially the mahogany arch to the entry. Two numbered prints and a picture of a reclining woman, reminiscent of Modigliani, complete the decor.
Although this was not wheelchair accessible, it could easily have been if the door had been just a foot wider, since the entry was very wide. As it was, we had to close the wheelchair to get it through the door. The suite was large enough to use the wheelchair while inside.
ENTERTAINMENT There were the usual busy, busy schedules of trivia, dance classes, Bingo etc. The production shows were more than adequate. The headliner Mario D'Andrea, billed as the "Mixed up Italian from Australia direct from Las Vegas" -- as introduced by Cruise Director Clodagh O'Connor -- has a marvelous voice capable of mimicking Dean Martin, Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdink. But, equally amazing was his command of the electric guitar. He had the audience up on its feet. Clodagh is active and bubbly; she never failed to entertain.
PORTS OF CALL There were no ports of call on this transatlantic voyage taking the Northern Route. We went farther north than previously anticipated in order to avoid rough seas due to Hurricane Gustav, which after all did go so far north as to affect the Brilliance's itinerary. We still encountered swells of over 45 feet and gale force winds. Captain James' expertise held the Brilliance of the Seas steady and she proved to be able to take rough weather in stride. Some annoying creaking was heard, but she was admirably steady in the face of rough seas.
Some passengers took British excursions prior to embarkation and others took Boston tours after debarkation. We opted for only one day in London and none in Boston, due to time constraints and the fact that we are originally from the Boston area and were there in March.
This was our first transatlantic crossing in recent years. Even though we encountered stormy weather, we had a very restful and pleasant cruise, with the exception of a sleepless night when the squeaking and creaking were continuous and loud. We thought that there was something moving in the ceiling of our cabin, but we were assured that there was nothing abnormal, it was the same throughout the ship. However, we did not understand why in a new megaship the level of creaking should be so high, when we have encountered very rough seas on smaller ships (Michelangelo, 1968 and Norwegian Dream, 2002) without significant creaking. On the contrary, the rocking and rolling on the Brilliance was much less than what we have felt on other ships.
God Bless the Brilliance of the Seas and may she sail the seven seas safely for many years to come.
1. The water aboard is too heavily chlorinated. Although this is a problem we frequently encounter on ships, some lines have been more successful in controlling the odor and taste of the water by end point filtration, or by other methods which better monitor chlorine levels in the system. Remember the three qualities of water are colorless, odorless and tasteless; without these attributes any ice cubes or drinks made on board are less than optimum in flavor (including orange juice, coffee, tea, etc....).
2. At Harwich, since the terminal is not equipped with elevators, wheelchair passengers should be embarked on Deck 2, as they were disembarked in Boston, to avoid extremely steep gangways.
3. While the meat entrees have been some of the best we have eaten on ships, the Italian dishes definitely do not meet our expectation. We feel that there is an overuse of spices not common in the Italian cuisine and the quality and/or the cooking method of pasta is inadequate. If RCI does not want to hire an Italian chef, it should train the cooks to use authentic Italian Cuisine cookbooks and accurately follow the recipes. It is not too hard to do and the end result will give an edge to RCI in the fast growing cruise industry by attracting those people who are connoisseurs of Italian Cuisine.
4. The number of wheelchair accessible staterooms can be easily increased by installing wider entrance doors, eliminating the step to the bathroom and replacing the bathtub with an appropriate shower unit in some already spacious suites. Frequently on ships, we have encountered physically challenged passengers who were not fortunate enough to have a wheelchair accessible stateroom. Apparently there is an increasing number of disabled passengers, thus the demand for wheelchair accessible cabins definitely exceeds their availability.
Our next cruises will be on Nov. 30, a return to the Golden Princess, and on Jan. 25, 2003 aboard the new RCI Navigator of the Seas.
'Till then, Happy Cruising!