March 2015 - 5 Night Western Caribbean (Tampa Roundtrip) Cruise on Brilliance of the Seas
Truly an amazing trip with some of the best service ever!
We just got back from our 5 Night cruise on Brilliance of the Seas, and I must say that any concern about service going downhill in the past few years that I may have had was completely squelched! This was the first cruise for my 7-year old daughter, and it had been 10 years since my husband and I cruised. I had read in some reviews that service has gone downhill in that time, but I saw no evidence at all of that. In fact, I actually don't have a single complaint about the service on the ship at all! Embarkation: We cruised out of Tampa, and though embarkation was not lightening fast (we were there at 11 with everyone else), it was smooth and the folks were very friendly. Upon arriving on the ship, we were greeted by multiple crew members. There were crew at embarkation making reservations for the specialty dining venues, so we went ahead and made our Chops reservation. My husband then went immediately to the dining room to make our "My Time" dining reservations for the week. Helpful hint: Do this immediately! We were in some of the first groups on the ship and went immediately to do this, and the 6:30 time slots were already gone. We ended up with 6pm, which was actually perfect. Helpful hint #2: Go with early reservations, if possible. We never had to wait for a table, but we did notice lines each night as we were leaving. If folks are waiting for the previous diners to leave, it could cause a delay with the later seatings. Helpful hint #3: Do NOT try to go without reservations! There is a very good chance that you will not get a table, have to wait a very long time, or end up at a shared table with another group.
Food: Windjammer food is fair to good. It's buffet for thousands of people though...don't expect fine dining! They have a good selection each day with some staples all the time (burgers, hot dogs, pizza, salad, etc). We actually did not eat in the Windjammer a ton because there were just so many other much better options. Park Cafe at the Solarium pool is awesome! We loved the roast beef sandwiches, couscous salad and coconut ranger cookies. They are almost always open, so definitely try that as a quick lunch option over the Windjammer. We only tried Izumi once for lunch. They no longer charge a cover, but all sushi is a la carte. They do offer complimentary edamame and soup. The sushi is freshly made and very good. If you're just really wanting sushi, definitely give it a try. Otherwise, I think I would save my money next time and have lunch in the dining room for free. Dining Room food was always very good. We enjoyed dinner each night (except for Chops one night, see below), and we also ate there for lunch 1 day and breakfast each morning. The thing that elevates the dining room though is the service. Our waiters for dinner were the same each night, even though we did My Time dining. We secured the same table and wait staff by making reservations for the entire week on the first day. I definitely recommend this. Our dining room team consisted of Denisse and Sabri, and head waiter, Ivan. Quite simply, they were amazing! Denisse made recommendations each night for her faves, and I often changed my mind on ordering based on her recommendations. Though the dining room was full each night, we were always treated as if we were the only ones there. Even better was having the opportunity to get to know the wait staff, talk to them about their homes and families, and working on the ship. My daughter loved this group, and she still talks about missing them every night. We had a complimentary specialty dining credit from booking, so we took advantage of that by having dinner at Chops one night while our daughter ate with the Adventure Ocean group. DO THIS! While we really enjoyed the dining room food, the food in Chops is simply impeccable! It does cost an additional $35 fee per person, but the food was better than we get at our favorite date night steak house that is always $100+ for dinner. The steaks are fantastic, shrimp cocktail is colossal and the desserts are heaven. We would have happily booked, even if we had not had the voucher. It's worth every penny! We did not order room service or eat at Giovanni's Table or Chef's Table, so I cannot speak for those. Bar service was always good. We were able to visit several of the bars on ship, and we enjoyed each one. King and Country was my husband's favorite, and it really is a great quiet place to hang out and have a drink. I loved the Schooner Bar with the comfy couches and ocean views. The bartenders at the Schooner were my favorites. Stateroom: We had an ocean view stateroom with balcony (room 7598). It was exactly what you expect from a balcony room. It's tiny, the bathroom is tiny, but it's all you really need. Storage is ample, so we were able to keep the room nice and tidy with things put away which made the small space seem a bit larger. The balcony has room for 2 regular chairs and a small table. According to the deck plans, we were under the impression that this room had a sofa bed, but it did not. The sofa is actually more of a chair and a half, and the 3rd bed was a pullman from the ceiling that required a ladder to access. This wasn't an issue for us, but if you are particular about sofa bed vs. pullman, I would confirm your room choice when booking. One pro to this room were its very close proximity to the elevators. That part was awesome when just needing to run to the room quickly. The con to this were noise. Surprisingly, we didn't have a lot of elevator or traffic noise at all (the elevators are across on the other side of the ship. However, keep in mind that the centrum in the middle of the ship is open from Deck 4 all the way up to Deck 11. Each night, there was a band in the Centrum that played until pretty late into the night. With having our 7-year old with us, we were earlier to head to bed than this. We adjusted fine, and it wasn't a big deal, but if you are one that goes to bed before midnight or 1am and you have issues falling asleep with noise, I would recommend a different stateroom location. We also loved the view from our balcony with being on the "hump". You get a much more panoramic view in this location. Our stateroom steward, Lissette, was incredible. She was so very sweet and gave extra attention to our daughter. Again, getting to talk with her and hearing about her family and home were a highlight for us.
The Ship: The Brilliance is an older ship, but this only shows in size. It's not a mega ship, but for our family and our daughter's first cruise, it was perfect. The ship is truly beautiful with lots of wood and brass details. It makes me think of the older luxury liners that you watch in the movies. The main pool area was crowded and especially so on sea days. The age-old chair savers were out in full force. We spent a little time at the kiddy pool/slide with our daughter, and if you got there pretty early (around 10-10:30), chairs were plentiful. I found a nice quiet spot on one sea day on Deck 13 at the rock climbing wall. Perfect sunning and reading spot, but you did have to walk down to the bar. The one recommendation I would make would be to have bartenders in all of the "chair" locations on sea days. Each location is full, but it's kind of a pain to have to leave your things and go fight the crowd at the bar for a drink. One hint: If you're really wanting some pool time and don't care about time of day...go in the evening after dinner. We went to the pool a couple of nights right after dinner. One night the ACC championship was on the big screen, so we watched it for a while pretty much by ourselves. The bars are closed, but you can pretty much have the whole deck to yourself. It's really nice. The Solarium is lovely, but we only got to go there when our daughter was in Adventure Ocean. It is completely full on sea days with lots of chair saving, so beware of that. Our daughter did go to Adventure Ocean several times, and she really liked it. This cruise had a good mix of folks of all ages (college Spring Breakers to elderly), so there were several other kids her age. She enjoyed the staff and activities, and we always felt very secure with leaving her. The sports courts and putt-putt were fun. The rock climbing wall and water slide are very limited on when they are open (which I think is kind of silly), so you just have to watch your Cruise Compass for that. Entertainment: We really did not do very many of the headliner shows because our daughter was kind of uninterested and we were usually kind of just exploring the ship or hanging out together at night. The ones that we did see were good. They had a pretty good comedian one night, and we heard that the Motown show was great. The aerial show in the Centrum was very good and can be viewed from pretty much any deck. Ports: Quick tip: You are able to get as many pool towels as you need when getting off of the ship in port. They do scan your Sea Pass card, so make sure you bring them back and get scanned back in, or you'll be charged, but this was great for us in Cozumel. We had stops in Key West and Cozumel. Unfortunately, it was Spring Break in Key West, and on a Sunday morning (after lots of Saturday night partying), I don't feel like we got to see the best of that port. There are 2 hop on-hop off tours in Key West...the Conch Train and the Old Town Trolley. We did the Conch Train, which was not what I was wanting to sign up for but did not realize until too late. The Conch Train only has 4 hop off points, but then you have to do lots of walking to get to various points of interest (like Southernmost point). With a 7-year old in the very hot Florida sun, this wasn't the most fun. The Trolley tour has many more hop off points. I did not realize that there were 2 of these when booking, so make sure that you designate. The Conch Train is fun if you're good with riding the whole time and not stopping to see things. In Cozumel, we booked the Dolphin Push, Pull & Swim at Chankanaab Park. This was phenomenal! Though this is a very popular and very crowded excursion, once you are there, they divide you into groups of about 10-12, and you really get a personalized experience with the dolphins and manatees. The only downfall to this is the photography. They will not allow cameras during the dolphin encounter, but you are assigned a "paparazzi" for photographing. The photos are outrageously priced! We did not purchase any, but I do kind of regret that now. If you want photos, I would recommend going in to view the photos, get pricing and then WALK AWAY! They WILL come back for you and drop the price significantly. We were also told that they will only have access to the photos for 30 minutes, but after spending several hours at the pool and beach, when leaving, our photographer came to offer an even lower price, so don't be fooled by that. Another hint is to get your group into the same dolphin group, but when looking at photos, do not let them know how many are actually in your group because they price per person. So, if you have a group of 6, just send like 2 people in. They are going to burn the whole CD anyway, or at least all the photos that you select, so get the better pricing. The dolphin excursion also includes your admission into Chankanaab Park. Definitely plan to spend the day...it's lovely! There is a small burger bar, a very nice pool with swim-up bar, beach with shaded chairs as well as sunning chairs, snorkeling, clear bottom kayak rentals, sea lion show, zip line, etc. It's a really fun place to go. My daughter and I did some snorkeling (her first time), and it was great! Upon getting back to the ship, they had a water and lemonade station set up right outside as we were coming back on, which was incredible. Disembarkation: This process was very smooth for us. We had a very long drive ahead of us, so we decided to carry our luggage off so that we could get off as early as possible. This wasn't easy, but it was definitely doable. Elevators are not your friend on this day. If you're carrying your luggage off, I would recommend trying to get that into a location on the disembarking level as early as possible. General stuff: Honestly, other than a few very minor things, our only complaints on the trip had to do with thoughtless other passengers. Things like our neighbors smoking on their balcony when it's clearly stated that that isn't allowed, people being rude in general, chair saving for hours, etc. I'm pretty sensitive to smoke, so I didn't like going to the casino much (more money saved for me, I guess), and I hated the little walkway by the pool that I coined "smoker's alley". I kind of wish that Royal could put some of the smoking locations in areas that are not so highly trafficked. Perhaps even creating a smoking bar would be a good idea. The chair saving for hours on end is a bit of a pain, but I don't think it's ever going to subside, so resolving to that is what I've come to.