February 2016 - 5 Night Western Caribbean (Tampa Roundtrip) Cruise on Brilliance of the Seas
Embarkation and Disembarkation: The smoothest I've ever had on any of the 10 plus cruises I've taken (but to be fair I did arrive early and disembarked early carrying my own bags).
Included Dining: My Time Dining is a silly concept considering one cannot actually get a reservation for when one wants to eat. This cruise line continues the very antiquated two seating times, the 6:30 being a bit too early for me and the 8:30 being a bit too late. And jamming people into large tables of ten people is a sure fire way to kill my cruise buzz. So I mostly avoided the main dining rooms as when I was there, I found the food mediocre at best and the service, while friendly, was rushed. That being said, breakfast was much better in the main dining room and the atmosphere was more relaxed than at dinner. Still, one has to beg, barter and plead to avoid being seated with 8 strangers. The buffet breakfast is horrible with the exception of the make to order section which can be swamped. I never expect much from cruise buffets but the scrambled "eggs" belong on the menu at a run down hospital. The lunch and dinner buffets were hit and miss but I found that RC did a better job than other cruise lines of keeping the food hot. The coffee, by far, was the best "free" coffee I've had at sea. Other cruise lines should see what RC is doing to make a good cup of coffee.
Speciality Dining: Rita's Cantina can hardly be called "speciality" but since they charge for food there, I suppose it is. Think Taco Bell then then let your mind wonder to the worst Taco Bell in the world that has been left on a warming plate for hours. Embarrassing to say the least. This food was not even worthy of being on a buffet much less having to pay for it. Chops Steakhouse was a highlight and I think a bargain for the price. Service was great. Highlights were an inventively plated shrimp cocktail, the crab cake and the very traditional side dishes. My steak was cooked perfectly. The Italian restaurant was more hit and miss. They seemed to try a bit too hard to be creative when I would have preferred a few more simple dishes. The waiter said several times that dishes were family style and served several people but I did not find that to be true. But still, I think the price was fair as the service was good and anything to avoid the mediocrity and chaos of the main dining room. Azume, the Asian themed restaurant, was very good although the prices (a la carte) were comparable to "on land" Asian restaurants so I didn't feel like it was much of a bargain. We spent $120 for dinner for four. I was a bit disappointed that there weren't more specialty restaurants---similar sized cruise ships on other lines have a couple of more. This ship desperately needs a casual diner like restaurant. But all in all, the speciality restaurants made the cruise much more enjoyable. I sure would have hated to have had to go to the main dining room and buffet more than I did.
Service: I, frankly, am trying new cruise lines as my preferred cruise line, has seen a dip in service on my last three cruises. Thankfully, the crew on RC Brilliance were all very friendly and I had zero issues.
Spa/Fitness: The gym was amazing especially for a ship this size. Much of the equipment overlooks the ocean so it's worth a trip there even if you don't feel like working out. I got the Thermal Pass which I thought was fairly priced for what it was. I wasn't expecting a huge spa experience but the heated chairs and aromatherapy room were nice. As expected on ship this size, there was no lap pool as part of the thermal spa experience. The men's locker room (free to use) had a nice sized sauna and steam room so if I ever cruised on Brilliance again, I might skip the Thermal Suite and just use the men's locker room. The showers in the spa were disappointing and need upgrading. Of particular concern was that the spa staff did not have or refused to hand out keys to the men's lockers so one had to be very careful about leaving anything of value. To have people pay for the thermal suite and then not provide a secure locker is embarrassingly bad service. Thankfully, there was zero sales pitch to by products or services. Other spas could learn from that.
Room: I had an inexpensive inside cabin, number 8001. Although the theater stops on deck 6, sound was still very much an issue. The shower was the smallest I've ever had at sea and was nearly unusable. The room had tons of storage, much more than one needs. The bed was essentially a step up from a cot. Room steward was perfect and the room was always very clean.
Overall: I would love to say that I fell so in love with RC that I had found my new favorite cruise line. But the antiquated dining seating and food issues remain a thorn in my side. Still, I may try some of the newer RC ships before I decide if RC cruising is for me.