Sweet Cruise on Brilliance of the Seas
Sail Date: April 25, 2015
Reviewed: 2 years ago
Traveled As: Couple
Room Type: Inside
Brilliance of the Seas
April 25 – April 30, 2015
Tampa – Key West – Cozumel – Tampa
This was our 17th cruise and 12th with Royal Caribbean. We booked this cruise earlier in April and, as the ship was filling up quickly, we took an interior cabin on deck 7. This was our first cruise departing from Tampa and our first interior cabin in a long time. We are “Diamond” members, which has some nice benefits like fluffy bathrobes, a tray of assorted sweets delivered to your cabin one day, a members’ reception, free drinks during cocktail hour and a number of others I’ll mention later.
Brilliance of the Seas was launched in 2002 and seems to be well maintained but you can see some aging if you look hard enough. We’ve sailed her sister ship Radiance of the Seas, on three previous cruises, and really love this class of Royal Caribbean ship. I had knee surgery earlier this year, and I wouldn’t call the Brilliance small at 961 feet long, but I’m recently free of a knee brace and still wobbling around with a cane.
Saturday – April 25th – Embarkation Tampa
Boarding began at 11 a.m. and we arrived at the pier at around noon. We dropped our luggage with the baggage handlers at the curb and learned parking fees would be $75 for the five-day cruise and that for $20 more, you could valet park. We decided to try that despite my vision of a “Ferris Bueller” moment with a couple of valets hot-rodding around Tampa in our Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. That worked out well. We didn’t need to seek out the parking garage and then hike back to the pier.
Boarding was quick and efficient. Cabins were being cleaned and were not open to passengers until 1:30 so we rolled our suitcase up to the Windjammer to grab some lunch. The lifeboat drill was at 3:15 p.m. and our luggage was delivered prior to then. With the recent surgery on my hind leg, we went down early via elevator to deck 5 because I have to walk down stairs backwards at the moment and I’m S L O W. My ship’s elevator treatise will follow shortly. It deserves its own comments.
The digital safe in our cabin wouldn’t lock so we called maintenance and they had a repairman up to us in about 20 minutes. He was expecting to just replace the safe’s batteries, but ended up escalating the repair several times to where a new circuit board was installed to get it working. He had all the parts with him and had to disassemble the safe to make the repairs. Good job for the maintenance crew.
We were unpacking in our interior cabin when the ship left the pier at 4 p.m. We had no sensation the ship was moving until we left our cabin around 5:00 to head up to the Viking Crown Lounge and the Diamond Club. Next cruise, I will insist to my wife, Joanne, that we get a room with a view.
Prior to the cruise, Joanne had made a 6:30 reservation for us at Giovanni’s Table, the ‘family style’ high-end Italian restaurant for $25 each. I had a vision of dinner at a huge table with people I didn’t know, asking some kid to pass the bread sticks. My fears were groundless, we had a wonderful table for two in the elegant Giovanni’s on deck 6. As a side note, Tampa Bay is a gigantic body of water. Two-and-a-half hours after sailing at 14 knots, we were just passing under the Tampa Bay Bridge as we sat down to dinner.
Family style dining means we had three different appetizers that we shared and the tables in Giovanni’s didn’t have white tablecloths. Caesar salads followed. Most of Giovanni’s staff seemed to be of Asian extraction and joked about the Italian names on their name badges. Our guy was Anthony and we called him Tony. The food was just incredible as was the service and ambiance. I had the grilled rack of lamb that melted in your mouth and Joanne had the veal osso buco. Both were good choices. We ordered a bottle of Tuscan red wine, drank half the bottle for dinner and the staff resealed it and had it waiting for us to finish the next night in the Minstrel main dining room. For desert, the cart was wheeled by and you were forced to select several Italian wonderments.
Looking out the window in Giovanni’s at 7:30, I noted we were still passing channel markers departing Tampa Bay. Yes, it’s a big body of water.
The headliner in the Pacifica Theatre that evening was comedian Rick Corso. Sit down front by the stage and arrive late or leave early and you will become part of the act. He had a second show later in the evening that was advertised as ‘Adults Only’ and we didn’t attend but were told by fellow cruisers that it was pretty raunchy.
The Elevator Situation
The Brilliance has a main elevator bank in the Centrum with six cars. One of these was out of operation for service for the entire cruise. This ship class also has a bank of three at the forward end of the ship. While each car might hold 20 Japanese cruisers if there is someone to stuff them in like on a Tokyo subway, 10 typical Americans is a snug, get to know you, passenger load. Put 2,500 passengers on deck 5 and dismiss them all at once from the lifeboat drill and you will wait for quite a while for an elevator if stairs are an issue, like they currently are for me.
Adding to the elevator capacity issue, is the preponderance of cruisers riding electric scooters around the ship. We had a lot of folks riding these things everywhere and one scooter will take up two or three spaces for standing people on an elevator. I asked a crewman if Royal Caribbean supplied these vehicles. I was told there was an independent service that you could tell what model device you wanted and they had it delivered to the ship for you.
Hey, guess what, as we cruisers age, more of us want to or need to take an elevator to travel the decks. Future ships need more elevators per passenger. Ship architects please take note. During the cruise I spent a good deal of time waiting for an elevator car and had the time to get to know the repair guys spinning new cables on the out of service elevator. They were equally greasy and friendly. Good call Royal Caribbean, I’m all for elevator maintenance and your friendly repair dudes.
Sunday – April 26th – Key West
“A nice little drinking village, with a bad fishing problem,” as the t-shirt states.
We pulled into port and docked around noon. Having been there on a number of cruises, we just wandered ashore and shopped a bit and had a beer at the Bull and Whistle bar on Duval Street. Two floors up is the Garden of Eden, clothing optional, bar.
Key West was a fairly brief stop and you had to be back aboard by 5 p.m. as we departed for a sea day and Cozumel. As the t-shirt noted, Joanne saw quite a few “old drunk men” around town on an early Sunday afternoon, praise-the-Lord. Key West is still a wonderful cruise stop.
For conventional dinner dining, we chose ‘My Time Dining.’ We selected this option when we booked our cruise online. A few days after booking this, a Royal Caribbean service person called us to select a time we would like. We settled on 7:30 versus the early seating at 6:00 or the late dinner at 8:30. It’s a nice option and we would always finish dinner in time to make the headliner show at 9:00 in the Pacifica Theatre.
Tonight’s show featured the Brilliance of the Seas, singers and dancers who entertained with themes from Broadway shows. They were very good.
Monday – April 27th – Sea Day
Departing Key West, the winds had picked up to about 25 knots. The seas rose with the wind tearing spray off the whitecaps. The Brilliance was rocking. The ship moved just enough to let you know you were at sea.
We had a very relaxing day at sea. After the prime rib and lobster dinner in the Minstrel dining room, the headliner in the Pacifica Theatre was singer, impressionist, Karen Grainger. With out a doubt, she was one of the best acts we have ever seen aboard a ship. She is wonderfully funny and mimics the styles and sounds of dozens of popular singers. She sang Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” exactly like the original, knocking it out of the park. If you ever get the chance to see her perform anywhere, don’t miss her show.
Notes on Diamond Member Status
Royal Caribbean awards you one point for every day spent cruising with them and double points if you book a suite. As you accumulate more points, you earn increasing benefits and reach Diamond level at 100 points.
On the Brilliance, the Diamond member lounge is a section of the Viking Crown Lounge on deck 13. Each night we would head up there for complimentary cocktails before diner. While it is by no means even suggested, early in the cruise, I slipped the two bartenders $5 each and our concierge $20 as a ‘thank-you’ for their attentive service. We did not have empty glasses for the entire cruise.
A new feature was the ability to enjoy your Diamond member cocktails in virtually any bar on the ship. This was likely due to the growing number of Diamond members not being able to fit in the lounge and if you were traveling with non-Diamond members, you could sit in any bar and have your complimentary beverages with them. This drink-around feature was not available in the Minstrel dining room or in any of the specialty restaurants.
If you can’t leave email and the internet out of your vacation, Royal Caribbean had internet access packages that started at $29 for 24 hours. Yikes! With Diamond status, you get one day’s access for free. If your cruise mate is a member, that’s two free 24 hour periods. You can enter the logons into your laptop, smart phone or iPad, or use the PCs available in the business center in the Centrum on deck 7. Joanne printed out a fellow cruiser’s airline boarding pass for him there. A similar deal exists with the photographs taken during the cruise. Each member gets to pick a freebie from the ship’s photo gallery. I picked a photo of a hot babe at the pool.
There were Spa discounts, Casino credits, logo item discounts and a bunch of other benefits you could access with a Diamond, or even lesser member rankings.
It’s smart marketing to take care of your repeat customers. Royal Caribbean does a good job making them feel special.
Tuesday – April 28th – Cozumel
The ship was along side the International Pier at 8:00 a.m. docked next to the Liberty of the Seas. The Brilliance looked small by comparison. We sailed on the Liberty out of Ft. Lauderdale a year ago and it also stopped in Cozumel. Given that I am still rehabbing my hind leg, we just walked to the shops at the end of the pier and picked up a few gifts for neighbors watching the house and our dog-sitter.
If your health care insurance stinks like ours, consider shopping for expensive prescriptions in Mexico. We found a pharmacy among the shops. Pharmacists there take on some of the responsibilities of your doctor dispensing medicines and you can save a lot of money if you are still working down your deductible.
After dinner that evening, Vox Audio performed in the Pacifica Theatre. The five entertainers create a wide variety of music without instruments using just their voices.
Wednesday – April 29th – Sea Day
Following winds smoothed out the ride as the Brilliance cruised northeast back to Tampa. We sailed out of some light rain by 10:00 a.m. and the rest of the day was sunny. We overheard several passengers say they watched dolphins chasing the ship, but we missed seeing them.
A couple of fellow Diamond members we met earlier in the cruise joined us for cocktails that evening in Viking Crown Diamond Lounge. They lived just a few miles from us in metro Atlanta and it turns out we had common acquaintances and had similar business backgrounds. Small world.
Thursday – April 30th – Tampa
Our time to leave the ship was supposed to be 9:30 however our group was called around 9:00 and customs and immigration was quick. After collecting our bags, the valet retrieved our car in about two minutes and we were on our way. I would use the valet parking service again in a heartbeat.
Our Inside Cabin
A year ago on the Liberty, our ‘inside’ cabin overlooked the Royal Promenade. It was not a true inside cabin, in my mind, as it had a nice view. On the Brilliance in our inside cabin with the lights out, midnight looked exactly like, high noon. Set an alarm for the time you want to get up. I use a CPAP for sleep apnea and brought a 12-foot extension cord. I needed every foot of it to connect to one of the two 110 volt sockets on the dressing table. Our bed had the foot pointing to the cabin door with perhaps one foot of wall clearance on either side. The cabin was snug and also had two additional bunks that could be lowered from their stowed positions over our bed. I honestly can’t imagine four people sharing that cabin but it’s available if you have a couple of kids to keep an eye on. On our next cruise, I’m going to insist on a window at the minimum.
It was a wonderful five-day cruise and the Brilliance of the Seas had one more domestic departure before heading to Europe for the summer months. My observation over the years is that the larger the ship, the less tasty the meals, and I’ve mentioned this on previous cruise reviews. I thought the Brilliance served up some delicious meals regardless of the venue. The crew, right down to the elevator repair guys, could not be friendlier or more eager to make your vacation memorable. There were a variety of musicians entertaining in the Atrium, the Pacifica, the pool area, etc. and they made the voyage memorable. Look and listen for the Fleur de Lis Strings playing around the ship. The pianist and two violinists were just magical.
If this review helps or you have any questions I can answer, please feel free to drop me a note.
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