My wife and I recently cruised on Brilliance of the Seas around the Baltic Sea and would make the following observations. It should be borne in mind that this was only her fifth cruise so some teething troubles are only to be expected.
We were in the fortunate position of sailing from Harwich which meant that we could drive there rather than flying and, having arrived early, stopped for coffee. From the car park we could see the ship and boy is she huge. We had visited Legend of the Seas there the previous year and Brilliance dwarfed her. Suitably refreshed we then parked in the long term car park from where porters took our luggage to the cruise terminal. We were still early by about three quarters of an hour but were able to board straight away and were in our stateroom within 15 minutes! Impressive!
We had booked a balcony cabin in grade E1 on deck 7 right at the stern of the ship and noticed straight away the length of the walk from the nearest lift to our cabin door - later measured at about 115 yards. A set of rear lifts would have been appreciated. The cabin itself was fine; lots of cubby holes, drawers and wardrobe space. Bathroom also fine even if the shower cubicle was a little small. Balcony was about 8 feet square with 2 chairs and a table; there would have been plenty of room for recliners. New to us though was the fact that the balcony rail was set back from the sea by about 6 feet of steel flooring and, looking forwards, so were all the others. While waiting for the luggage we went exploring before the majority of our fellow passengers had embarked which proved to be a good move since we had the run of an almost empty ship.This exploration confirmed our first impression of the sheer size of the ship; it would be all too easy to get lost. The Solarium is truly stunning with its Indian theme although the pool is quite small - for that matter so is the external one midships. The show lounge is equally impressive with uninterrupted sight lines from virtually all seats although why its entrance to the upper level on deck 6 is via the casino and scoreboard bar beats me. At least the scoreboard bar is rarely open!
We have cruised with Royal Caribbean before and were hopeful that the food would have improved on Brilliance but were not surprised to find that it hadn't. Basic mass catering given a lot of French names and with insufficient choice. The main dining room is noisy and we found that our fellow dinner companions had all booked through the same travel agency; novel way of allocating guests to tables which might explain why the assistant maitre'd told us that he had changed 800 table allocations! The Windjammer café was where we ate breakfast every day and for that matter lunch. Reasonable choice but tended to get crowded. Our dinner companions had tried the main restaurant for breakfast and lunch once each but opted for the Windjammer thereafter since the service was so slow. Don't miss the ice cream dispenser tucked away in the back left hand corner: great taste, shame the cones are so small! We did not sample either of the alternative dining venues since I consider a nominal booking charge of $20 per person excessive and that is before a tip - yes they leave a space on the charge account for tips to be added. Those we spoke to who had eaten there said how good the food was and you could have as much ( or as little ) as you wanted but it was a $60 meal for two. Similarly to ask $2 to $4 for a cappuccino in Lattetudes when there is free coffee or tea outside the Windjammer all day long is over the top.
We took this cruise since it visited places we wished to visit which is why we take any cruise; it is a means to an end. We could not visit Stockholm as scheduled since the wind speed was too great in the Stockholm Archipelago for Brilliance to be allowed in due to its size. This is a Swedish regulation for which RCI cannot be blamed but should be born in mind if you simply must go there. I have been unable to find the maximum size allowed in with winds over 20 knots which I think the Captain said was the limit. All the other ports of call lived up to expectations and we were pleasantly surprised to find getting on and off the ship no problem with no queues except a small one in Tallinn probably since it is cheap and has lots of shops aimed at tourists. On the subject of queing disembarkation went as smoothly as embarkation. We were off the ship by 8.30a.m. and home in 2 hours. The only possible improvement would be to ask specific colour tag groups to wait in designated areas rather than all milling around in the reception area.
Our enjoyment of the cruise was adversely affected by the number of small problems, which arose, and an overall impression, confirmed by others, that RCI are cutting costs to the detriment of the passengers. For example there was no postcard of the ship in the cabin; it could be purchased from the shops for 50 cents complete with tacky logo. There was however a glossy booklet on all the art onboard; much appreciated but a bit unnecessary. The daily planner forgot to notify us one day of a time change hence we missed a shore excursion. Someone decided to move the daily newssheets from the library to Lattetudes but forgot to tell anybody. The ship ran out of draught beer ( not for the first time since it had happened on the previous cruise ) on the same day that a pitcher special was advertised. Happy hour in the bar meant $1 off cocktails and house spirits not 2 drinks for the price of one as is normal and, as confirmed by the bar staff , usual on other RCI ships. I tried to get hold of the cruise questionnaire during the last day at sea since it had not been delivered to our cabin only to be told that it would be delivered at 5 p.m. By our cabin steward: they really enjoy this task if you believe what I was told: I do not! How RCI expect to get realistic feedback by delivering the questionnaire on the evening of the last day beats me. Overall we were glad that we had taken this cruise; the weather, which stayed sunny and warm throughout, obviously had something to do with this. About Brilliance we remain a little uncertain. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as somebody once said and we believe that Rhapsody of the Seas is certainly far more beautiful. Equally we had heard that the Radiance class of ships from RCI were rated at 5 star; sorry to disagree but they remain as 4 star in our book. We have just received an offer not to be missed to sail on Norwegian Dawn's maiden voyage to New York. Same size ship, different cruise line, same shipyard, different itinerary. Promises to be an interesting comparison!