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Nancy Norris

Age: Baby Boomer

Occupation:Travel professional/writer

Number of Cruises: 30+

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Brilliance of the Seas

Sailing Date: December 3rd, 2004

Itinerary: Panama Canal/Caribbean

I was attending a conference in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, so I flew from Cleveland on USA3000 on Tuesday. I was part of a travel professionals group that would be attending a seminar at sea on a Panama Canal cruise aboard the Brilliance of the Seas. As the cruise was sailing from Miami on Friday, I enjoyed a leisure day of sun and relaxation at the Marriott Marina pool on Thursday and anticipated a relatively easy transfer from Fort Lauderdale to the Port of Miami on Friday morning. I left the hotel in Fort Lauderdale about 11:30 and shared a cab with one of the other members of the group for the trek to the ship. Traffic was exceptionally heavy so it took almost an hour to get to the port at a cost of about $60 plus tip. Sue, a very good friend from Cleveland would be my traveling companion for this cruise. She had decided to fly to the port the day of the cruise, so I had made plans to meet her onboard.

Once we arrived at the pier, we were quite surprised to discover they had not yet begun the embarkation process. Greeted by a very lengthy line that spilled out onto the sidewalk, I knew this was not going to be a smooth and quick procedure. I was to discover later that the situation was created by a problem with immigration clearing passengers of the previous cruise and once embarkation did begin, was exacerbated by only one security scanner functioning. Clearing the security line well over an hour after we arrived, the next stage of the process went much more smoothly. As diamond members of the Crown and Anchor Society we have access to priority check-in and within minutes were issued our SeaPass card and boarded the ship about 2:00 PM.

First Impressions:

--There were 2 formal nights, 2 smart casual and 6 casual nights on the cruise. Optional attire on 3 of the casual nights were: Caribbean themed, ‘50s/’60s attire and Country & Western dress.
--Very friendly and accommodating staff (particularly at guest relations).
--Physical layout of inside cabin is perhaps best utilization of space provided on any ship.
--There were a few maintenance issues, but response time for problems was excellent and there was also follow-up.
--No laundry or ironing room is a definite negative. (Recommend you bring along a travel steamer which is permitted; travel irons are not.)
--Suggest you pack a nightlight (particularly for an inside cabin) and alarm clock
--Overall physical components of ship rate a definite 10.
--Consensus of group: Food was rated 6-7 in main dining venues and 9-10 in the Specialty Restaurants.
--Special requests for food and services were graciously provided (don’t be afraid to ask).
--Be aware that bottles of wine are overpriced and the Wine Package is NOT a good deal.
--Pool tables were great.
--Spa services given a very high rating by those who used them. (Hint: If you are looking
for a special romantic package – try the Couples Massage Class.)
--Demographics of this Panama Canal cruise was definitely a bit older than the typical RC Caribbean passenger load (of course this is true of most cruises longer than 7 days).
--Definitely make a point of working towards Diamond status in the Crown and Anchor Society. It is so worth the effort! For me, it’s on to Diamond Plus!
--Recommended shore excursions in Aruba: – Town and Country Tour good and reasonably priced at $34 pp; DePalm Helmet Dive/Snorkeling Adventure excursion very good and worth the hefty $99 pp; Atlantis Submarine excursion good but pricey.
--Shore excursion tips in Panama Canal: Two Ocean Railroad Journey was great; Embera Indian Culture Tour excellent; Grand Tour of Panama not good for anyone with any difficulty walking – lots of climbing and steep stairs and definitely not worth the money; Locks by Ferry fascinating and worth the money ($154 pp)
--Recommendations for Puerto Limon: Although this activity must be done on your own as it is not a ship sponsored excursion - Zip Lining/Canopy Ride Tour at Almonds and Corals Outstanding even in the pouring rain – get there early to avoid large groups – rated 10+. (Check out the special Crazy Monkey Canopy Ride review at: El Farro Restaurant good choice for lunch; Rain Forest Canopy Aerial Tramway through Nature Reserve exceeded expectations (a definite 10); Tabacon Hot Springs great experience and well worth the money, but it is a long, long ride and unfortunately time is very limited at the springs.
--Shore excursions in Grand Cayman (be aware that Grand Cayman was undergoing hurricane recovery so these evaluations are based on what was available): Seaworld Explorer Submarine Tour good; Turtle Farm Trip was okay at best; Rays and Reef Combo which includes a trip to Stingray City was phenomenal.

Overall Impressions:
In my estimation, the Radiance Class ships are perhaps the most beautiful ships afloat and the Brilliance is no exception. Although they are large ships, they have a small ship appeal and a welcoming coziness. A supportive staff compliments the tastefully decorated and elegantly understated surroundings, making the Brilliance one more shining star in the RCI fleet. Other than the elevator situation, I would be hard pressed to find glaring flaws in the design of the ship. Easy to navigate and wheelchair friendly, this was a wonderful ship from stem to stern, and I would definitely look forward to sailing her again. As a side-note, the holiday elves were very busy during the night. When we arrived on the ship, there were no Christmas decorations evident; but by Day 3 we awoke to beautifully decorated trees and garland strewn artistically around balconies, stairways and as window dressing.

Final Assessment:

In the final analysis, all things considered, these are the grades that I would assign to the Brilliance of the Seas on this particular sailing:
Appearance: A+ (Absolutely stunning!)
Staff/Service: B+ (Very friendly, courteous and helpful. There were a few service personnel that were more interested in socializing with their fellow crew members than assisting passengers, but overall very accommodating and pleasant. Special kudos go to my assistant waiter Stephano, the group coordinator, Rusti at the Champagne Bar and everyone at the guest relations desk.)
Food & Dining: B- (Traditional Dining Venues); A (Specialty Restaurants)
Entertainment: B (Production shows weak, but overall quality of entertainment staff was good.)
Activities: B (Although there were a variety of options and plenty to do, as this was a Panama Canal cruise more lectures/presentations geared to the unique aspects of this itinerary would have been a pleasant addition for many.)
Stateroom: A (Excellent utilization of space and tastefully appointed inside cabin)
and ports; interesting and diverse ports.)

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