Cruise Ship: Brilliance of the Seas
Cruise Destination: Mediterranean
Cruise Dates: May 26, 2007
Guest Contributor: Sharon
My husband and I were on the May 26th Barcelona/Barcelona cruise of the Brilliance of the Seas. A little about us - we are professionals in our early 30's - no kids yet - 2 prior cruises in the Caribbean on Celebrity. This was also our first time to Europe. With frequent flyer miles we arranged a free flight into Heathrow and stayed one night at the Paddington Hilton. What a wonderful town! Not nearly enough time. Then purchased tickets on British Airways to Barcelona where we stayed at the Barcelona Hilton for 2 nights. We spent one day catching up and the other day traveling around the city on the Bus Turistico. Went to all the sites and Las Ramblas. Ate at a couple of restaurants by the hotel in the financial district. Because we were out of the area of the main city, we missed out on some of the charm of Barcelona but with a couple of free rooms. . .
We boarded the Brilliance of the Seas about 11am on the 26th. We had every intention of checking in, dropping off luggage and going back into town but since we love cruises, we found ourselves by the pool bar and meeting friends from San Francisco. First impressions of the Brilliance - nice, but no Celebrity Galaxy or Century. Not as clean or nicely maintained as the Celebrity ships. We quickly made friends with our pool staff bartenders - Lukas from South Africa (only second week at sea), Allan and Marcio. We met another couple and looked forward to the next week ahead!
We were seated at the late seating - 9:15pm. We prefer the late dinner so when we get home from the day ashore we can relax or have a drink before rushing to dinner. One note, all the brochures and info stated 2 formal nights, 4 casual and 1 smart casual. There were actually 2 smart casual nights, not 1. Dinner was OK for the week. Again, hate to compare but not nearly up to the standards of Celebrity. We had to hail down the drink server and always ask for water instead of the assistant waiter just re-filling.
This was the only disappointing part of our trip and because of it, we will probably not sail RCCL again. To give a glaring example, my husband ordered two appetizers on the final night of the cruise: risotto and soup. Only the risotto came. I'm sorry, but if you can't get the orders right ON TIP NIGHT, something is very wrong. Anyway, we spent most of the evening in the casinos and exploring and making friends. There is no craps table but we were more than happy with the slots, roulette, blackjack and Caribbean poker. We did purchase the RCCL 12 drinks for $39.99 card which was very easy and a good deal.
Also, we found MANY Americans. We thought it would be mostly Europeans and were pleasantly surprised. The ship is considered an American ship and accepts USD in the casinos. You can cash in Euros for USD but you cannot exchange USD for Euros as they are not allowed to carry. All tipping was in Euros for the tours so be sure to get some at one of your ports or before embarking.
Ports: Think HOT. Any later than the end of the May and these ports would be so hot, I would not want to visit. Most ports were upwards of 35 degrees Celsius at mid day. In some ports we had our own arrangements through local tour guides. The excursions were great and the ports were fun places to visit.
- Villefranche: We spent the day riding the train to Nice. Nice is a wonderful city to visit. While many of the smaller ships can gain entrance into Nice's commercial harbor putting Nice within walking distance, many more larger ships anchor in Villefranche, France leaving the independent traveler with the problem of getting to Nice if that is there choice of destinations.
- Livorno: We took the ships tour to Pisa . Great shopping, restaurants and lots of color.
- Rome/Civitavecchia: Tino was the driver provided by Driver In Rome. He did an excellent job getting us to the must-sees which included the Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and Coliseum (admission 11 Euros). On our drive to the city, Tino asked if we'd discussed having a private guide at the Vatican (admission 12 Euros). We agreed it would be a good idea, and Tino was able to book a guide who spent two hours leading us through the museums rooms and explaining some of what we saw. Our guide also accompanied us through St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel before taking us back to Tino for our return drive to the ship.
- Mykonos: The tour to nearby delos is worth it. delos was revered by both the Greeks and the Romans as the birthplace of Apollo and served as a major trading port to several ancient civilizations. Wear sunscreen and a hat ---no shade. The tour goes until lunchtime and you can either return to the ship for lunch or eat out. We had already decided to eat "local" whenever possible to get as much of the experience as possible. Afterwards, there is time to visit the shops or the beach; the ship doesn't sail until late.
- Kusadasi: Booked the Ephesus trip with Denizhan (Emailfirstname.lastname@example.org), a local Turkish man who I thought very knowledgeable about Ephesus. So we had the tour guide for ourselves which is much better than a huge group. Denizhan brought us to local restaurant, which we asked for. The food was reasonable and nice. We enjoyed the tour very much and highly recommend Denizhan to everyone.
- Santorini: We took an open tender into Santorini at about 11am, rode the gondola to the top and spent some time wondering around Fira before the heat got to me. Having been to Santorini a good number of times, I elected to return to the ship and take advantage of the fact that everyone was in port and I could have the Brilliance all to myself. That is exactly how it worked out. I lounged by the pool and did a little work in the afternoon before logging some time in the solarium and eventually getting ready for dinner. There were actually very few people at dinner as many had chosen to stay in Santorini and dine because of our 11pm departure time.
After dinner I attended the evening's show, which featured a guy that I had seen before named Bob Arno. Bob is a pick pocket and watching him practice his trade is indeed a very real awakening. He simply removes watches, wallets and whatever he wants, at will from a suspecting audience. I highly recommend that you attend his show if you ever get the opportunity.
- Athens/Piraeus: We used Spiros Taxi Service (www.athenstaxi.net). First stop was the Acropolis so we could get up and down the hill before tour buses began arriving. Next was the changing of the guard at Parliament. The ticket purchased for the Acropolis (12 Euros) included admissions to other sites (Ancient Agora and the Temple of Zeus) so we visited those as well. The balance of the day was spent visiting Cape Sounion's Temple of Poseidon (admission 4 Euros) and included a stop for lunch at a seaside restaurant on the way.
- Naples: The shopping is great on Via Toledo, a 10 minute walk from the ship (there is a huge old castle by the ship, walk up the right side of it into town). Leather items are a great buy, such as non-designer leather purses for 10 E, and designer ones for 60E. Get a city map from the tours desk. The tours are good, to Pompei and Herculaneum, and the Isle of Capri. There is no tour to the Mt. Vesuvius crater, but you can do that on your own, which we did ... 20 minute 30E taxi to the Herculaneum ruins (at the current town of Ercolano), 30 minute 5E minibus ride to the crater parking lot, and lastly a 30 minute walk from the parking to the crater on a fairly well inclined cinder/ash path. At the top a mandatory 6E guide is required to accompany you along the crater edge. If you don't want to go further than the parking lot you still have lots of good views, and a small cafe serves beer, pop, and bottled water. Taxis are also available from the Ercolano train station, near the ruins, at a set cost of 36E to take you to the parking, wait about an hour for you to do the crater, and take you back down. If you really want to save money doing Vesuvius, you can take the Circumvesuviana train from Naples (10E taxi from the ship to the station) to the Ercolano-Scavi stop for under 2 E each way. Trains run every 30 minutes, and a schedule is on their web site.
This is not a cruise for anyone who wants to rest. But if visiting a variety of ports with multiple points of interest is what you seek, I highly recommend this ship and this itinerary. I saw something new each day.