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Tom OggReviews at aol.com

Age: Baby Boomer

Occupation:Self Employed

Number of Cruises: Lots

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Brilliance of the Seas

Sailing Date: December 3rd, 2004

Itinerary: Deep Western Caribbean and Panama Canal

Tom Ogg
CruiseReviews at aol.com


The Brilliance of the Seas Group

The Setup:
I was the group coordinator and seminar leader for a group of 37 travel professionals on a 10-day Deep Western and Panama Canal cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s beautiful Brilliance of the Seas.


The Brilliance of the Seas

Summary in Advance:
WOW!  If you haven't cruised on one of Royal Caribbean's Radiance class ships yet, make it your next cruise. I think they are the best of the best in the mass market fleet. Without too much detail, I am going to let the pictures do the talking. Have a GREAT cruise!

The Brilliance of the Seas was launched in July of 2002 and is one of four Radiance class ships in Royal Caribbean's fleet. At 90,090 gross tons, she is much smaller than the Voyager class (142,000 tons) but her features and design are superior to any other class of ship, in my opinion. She is simply breath taking.

 
Inside Cabin 3073

Cabin 3073:
I was located in an inside cabin (3073) and was pleasantly surprised when I entered it. Most inside cabins make use of every available square inch and tend to be very compact indeed. This cabin appeared quite large and my first impression was “wow”. Many people believe that inside cabins are somehow less desirable than outside, or ocean view cabins. I actually prefer inside cabins, as they are so much easier to sleep in, as when the door is closed and the lights are out, it is extremely dark inside. All the way in the back of the cabin is the sleeping area. My bedding was configured into a queen size bed, but the mattresses separate into two twin beds as well. A large mirror hung over the bed and there was a nightstand on either side of the bed for storage. There is also a lamp affixed to the wall on either side that offered both a small reading light, as well as a traditional lamp. The cabin’s telephone is located on one of the nightstands.


A Typical Hallway on the Brilliance of the Seas

In the sitting area there is a large sofa and coffee table with a lamp affixed to the wall serving the sofa. Across the cabin is the entertainment area featuring a refrigerator hidden behind a cabinet door. The television resides right above the refrigerator on a pullout shelf that swivels so that one may turn the television screen so that it may be seen while lying in bed. A safe with two additional shelves make up the balance of the first cabinet. A large desk/make up counter dominate the area between the entertainment area and the beginning of the closet area. There are three shallow drawers on either side plus a wide, but shallow center drawer. The desktop was quite ample for all of my electronics and there are two-110 volt American outlets and two additional European outlets. Best of all, the cabin is wired for Internet access with a modem cable jack right next to the additional telephone jack. The desk offers two tall narrow mirrors on either side that conceal additional shelving for miscellaneous items and between two large make up lights is a very large mirror. Closets line the balance of the cabin on the same side with two large hanging areas and a floor to ceiling shelf in the center. All in all, there is a considerable amount of storage space in the cabin.

The bathroom door is across from the closets and reveals a well-lit sink and counter top with a 3-sided mirror. The mirror on the right hides three large shelves for storage of toiletries and other items. The towels for the bathroom are stored in a rack over the toilet and there is an ample shower with a shower curtain enclosure.

First Impressions
I instantly loved this ship. My overall initial impression was very positive. I loved the wood, the textures, the carpeting and inlaid woodwork, simply everything about it. Of note was the considerable amount of artwork on the ship.

The Artwork on the Brilliance of the Seas
This ship offers some of the most unique and beautiful artwork I have seen on any ship (even luxury lines). If you would like to see pictures of just some of the art, click here.

A Tour of the Ship
Investigating the Brilliance of the Seas takes a long time as it is so unique and interesting, you just can't take it all in the very first time you see it. Let me take you on a tour of the ship.


The Main Elevator Bank

We will go to the main elevator bank and board the two elevators that will take us to deck 13 and the entrance to the Starquest Disco.


The Entrance to the Starquest Disco

Deck 13
The elevator lets us out in front of the entrance to the Starquest Disco, the Brilliance of the Seas disco, bar and observation lounge. This is the home of the Viking Crown Lounge and the main part of it is the Starquest Disco. We met in the disco on a couple of occasions and it was a perfect place to meet.


The Hollywood Odyssey

Another part of the Viking Crown Lounge is the Hollywood Odyssey, the ship's cigar club and bar. We had our welcome aboard cocktail party in this room and it was quite nice. On sea days they also use this area for specialty seminars, coffee tasting and other special events.


The Brilliance of the Seas Rock Climbing Wall

Moving aft from the Viking Crown Lounge on finds Royal Caribbean's signature rock climbing wall on the aft side of the funnel. It never seemed crowded to me and it was more private than on most of the Royal Caribbean ships.


The miniature Golf Course

Across the bridge from the rock wall is the miniature golf course. One can simply show up, grab a club and ball and start playing a round of golf. From here we will head down the stairs and go to the very aft fantail of deck 12.


The Country Club

Deck 12
On the port side of the ship one finds the Country Club, home of the Brilliance of the Sea's golf simulator. This was a very popular spot with the golfers and it actually gave you that "country club" feel.


The Interior of the Seaview Cafe

On the starboard side of the ship is the Seaview Cafe. If this were a Voyager class ship, this is where Johnny Rockets would be located, but on the Radiance class ships it is the home of the Seaview Cafe. The dining venue offers salads, sandwiches and other tasty treats and is available without reservations. It offers both indoor and outdoor seating and is a great place for a light lunch.


The Brilliance of the Seas Sport Court

Forward of the Seaview Cafe is the location of the ship's Sport Court. It offers a full basketball half-court and can be used for other sporting activities, as well. While popular with teens, it never really seemed to be too busy.


Adventure Ocean Youth Area

Forward of the Sports Court inside is the location of Adventure Ocean, the youth area on the ship.


Adventure Ocean Video Games

There are a good number of video games that were very popular with the children on the cruise.


The Ocean Adventure Kids Pool

The outside area surrounding Ocean Adventure features a great children's pool that was not only safe for young children, they simply loved it.


The Ocean Adventure Kids Pool Slide

One of the most popular features of Ocean Adventure seemed to be the slide at the Ocean Adventure kid's pool. There were constantly kids going down the slide having a great time.


The Brilliance of the Seas Main Pool Area

Moving forward from the Ocean Adventure complex, we get our first view of the main pool area. At first blush it seems somewhat small for this size of ship, however, deck 12 offers a considerable number of lounge chairs for those wanting to lie out in the sun.


The Sky Bar

The Sky Bar was indeed popular. Overlooking the pool area, many folks relaxed in the lounge chairs on deck 12 and used the services of the Sky Bar.


The Crown and Anchor Lounge

Moving inside one sees the Crown and Anchor Lounge, home of Royal Caribbean's loyalty program. This lounge is absolutely breathtaking. It seems to literally float several decks above the lobby connected to the rest of the ship by narrow walkways to gain access.


The "Spiral Light"
Looking Trough the Glass Porthole in the Crown and Anchor Lounge

In the very center of the Crown and Anchor Lounge one finds the unique glass topped area where you can look directly down at the Centrum lobby of the Brilliance of the Seas. It is this sort of effect that really sets the Radiance class ships apart from all others. Don't miss a visit to the lounge. Also, take advantage of Royal Caribbean's loyalty program and sign up to become a member of the Crown and Anchor Society. Their loyalty program is the best in the business.


The ShipShape Spa Entrance

Moving past the pool and entering the forward section of deck 12 presents us with the entrance to the ShipShape Spa.


The ShipShape Spa Beauty Salon

The spa offers a full compliment of spa services and there is also a beauty salon,


The ShipShape Spa Relaxation Room

an excellent relaxation room,


The ShipShape Spa Massage Rooms

several massage rooms,

and a complete fitness facility.


The ShipShape Spa Stairwell

From here we will head down the stairway right behind the Relaxation room down to deck 11.


The Entrance to the Solarium


The Brilliance of the Seas Solarium

Deck 11
From the bottom of the stairs we will make our way aft past the locker rooms and enter the fabulous solarium.

As you can easily see, the solarium is a visual treat (not to mention a treat for all of your senses). I found that the solarium was relaxing beyond belief.


The Solarium Bar

The Solarium Bar served the entire area of the Solarium and was never crowded. Continuing aft through the Solarium will deliver you to the Brilliance of the Sea's main pool area. On the other side of the Solarium is a small sandwich dining venue for those looking for smaller portions and sandwiches, pizza and other treats.


The Pool Area

The pool area was heavily used during this cruise and finding a lounge chair by the pool became difficult after lunch on sea days. Royal Caribbean has a policy requiring that folks do not reserve lounge chairs for folks not by the pool and the towel policy requires that folks are responsible for their towels when they leave, as they are charged against their room if unaccounted for. These policies make the best of what could be a difficult situation. In addition to the pool there are 2 Jacuzzis that are also heavily used.


A Pool Side Bar B Q

During sea days, the Brilliance of the Seas hosts pool side Bar B Qs that are excellent making it possible to simply hang out by the pool the entire day.


Poolside Entertainment

Most days saw a group entertaining by the pool and their music was excellent. In addition to the entertainment, there are the usual pool side games, dance lessons, and ice carving demonstrations. The horse race yielded some excellent income for the winning team. The pool Bar was quite active during the cruise and offers a good number of stools to enjoy as the day goes by.


The Entrance to the Windjammer Cafe

Moving aft still, as we leave the pool area and go by the main elevator bank we enter the Windjammer Cafe. This is a real treat! The wood flooring, paneling, ceiling treatments and furnishings give on a feeling of being on a large, but opulent sailing vessel. There are a number of food stations serving breakfast and lunch and I found the food excellent.


Various Views of the Windjammer Cafe

The Windjammer is open for Breakfast and serves many selections. There is a fresh omelet station where omelets and eggs are prepared to order and also a station where breakfast meats (usually ham) are carved. The drink station is unique, as coffee and juices are poured by staff rather than being self serve. At first I didn't like this set up, as well as the more traditional self-serve, but I grew to like it much better.

Lunch found many selections once again. There is a traditional buffet, a sandwich counter, a pasta station, a salad bar and a dessert area. It is very easy to get around and I never found the Windjammer to have a crowded feeling to it, as one usually finds in ship's buffet venues.

While I never took dinner in the Windjammer Cafe, many in our group did and said it was a wonderful casual alternative to the main restaurants. It was also very popular with families. All in all, I would give the Windjammer Cafe on the Brilliance of the Seas top honors. From here we will head back aft to the main stairwell and walk down to deck 10.


The Yacht Club

Deck 10
Deck 10 is all passenger cabins with the exception of the Yacht Club and the Concierge Lounge. The Yacht Club is simply a small meeting place where folks can relax and chat. However, if you look closely at the picture, it gives you an excellent idea of how the entire ship is furnished. Note the inlaid wood flooring, the exquisite wood paneling and wood moldings and the unique detail in the ceiling. The furniture is first class and every where you look there is art, flowers and elegant touches.


The Entrance to the Concierge Club

One of the major benefits of being a Diamond Member of the Crown and Anchor Society (10 or more cruises on Royal Caribbean) is the ability to use the Concierge Lounge on Royal Caribbean's Radiance and Voyager class ships.


The Concierge Lounge Interior

There is a full bar and both hot and cold appetizers in the evening. The Concierge on the Brilliance, Mr. Chris Hou was attentive and greeted everyone with a warm welcome as they entered. He remembered my wine choice after the first night and served me a glass of Chardonnay upon entering the club. While I did not partake in the morning treats that were offered, a continental breakfast was offered along with specialty coffee drinks every morning in the club. This is a huge benefit.


The Concierge Club Sitting Area and Computer

There is also a computer connected to the Internet for your use in the club and while you need to use your onboard Internet account, it is a very private way to conduct your online business. From the Concierge Club we will head back to the stairwell and head down to deck 9.


The Brilliance of the Seas Library

Deck 9
As we pass by the main elevator bank from the stairwell, the library makes its residence here. While seemingly small, everyone was able to find books of interest and it was never crowded. The balance of deck 9 is entirely passenger cabins.


Business Services

Deck 8 and Deck 7
Deck 8 is entirely passenger cabins, as is deck 7 with the exception of the Business Services where one can conduct business on the Internet and with the off line computers, as well.


The Card Room

Deck 6
Aahhh, deck 6. This is the epitome of the beauty of the Radiance class ships. We will start the tour in the very aft section of deck 6 in the Card Room that is tucked away in a corner of the Colony Club.


The Entrance into the Colony Club

The Colony Club is the ships alternative entertainment venue and is the scene of many of the themed parties on the Brilliance. The Captain's Welcome Aboard party and Crown and Anchor parties are also held here.


The Colony Club Dance Floor

There is also dancing available most evenings in the Colony Club and you can see that the dance floor is very generous.


The Self Leveling Pool Tables

The Colony Club is broken into several smaller areas each offering a unique environment. The self leveling pool tables were a blast to shoot pool on. We enjoyed them one evening for the entire night.


One of the Colony Club Bars

The Colony Club bars were awesome. They give you that "local pub" feeling even though you know that you are on a ship in the middle of the ocean.


A Colony Club Room

You can see the unique character of the Colony Club. It was one of my favorites on the Brilliance. Moving forward from the Colony Club we enter the Schooner Bar. Let me say here and now, I love Royal Caribbean's Schooner Bars more than anything. They are creative and impressive. The Schooner Bar on the Brilliance is the best of the best.


The Schooner Bar


More Pictures of the Schooner Bar

Check out the various areas of the Schooner Bar and I am sure you will agree. This is one of the most spectacular bars on any ship. I loved its attention to detail and the use of wood in the flooring, walls and ceiling. The bar just invites you to lounge around and take everything in.


Chops Grill

The entrance to one of the specialty alternative dining venues, Chops Grill, is located in the Schooner Bar. Chops is a wonderful restaurant serving steaks and other chop selections. There is a $25 service fee for dining here, but it is well worth it. Excellent service, a great presentation and the overall ambiance makes Chops Grill a very special dining choice


The Portofino Restaurant.

The Portofino Restaurant is the Brilliance of the Seas other alternative dining venue. A group of us had dinner here on one evening and had the time of our lives. Chops is great, but our group liked Portofino better. Don't miss it. Again, there is a $25 service fee for dining in Portofino Restaurant.


The Champagne Bar

Moving forward past the stairwell we enter the Champagne Bar. This is a beautiful bar that offers wine and champagne by the glass or bottle. I enjoyed a glass of wine here on more than one occasion and thoroughly enjoyed it.


Casino Royale

The Brilliance of the Seas offers a huge casino with many slots and a good number of gaming tables. Forward of the casino is the Sports Bar, cinema and other small rooms before you arrive at the upper entrance to the Pacifica Theater.


The Pacifica Theater

There are shows every evening of this cruise and I understand that they are great. Many in our group attended the shows, but I tended to simply enjoy the dinner crowd I was with and then turn in . I didn't make it to one show.

Deck 5
Walking down the stairwell outside of the upper entrance to the Pacifica Theater, we arrive at the lower entrance. If we head aft we come to the art gallery (home of the ship's on board art auctions) and then the photo shop and gallery.


The Photo Gallery

The Photo Gallery was a very popular spot and was well located so as not to cause any congestion on the ship The photographers were always available, but not invasive.


One of the Conference Rooms

The ship's Conference Center was on the port side of the ship and was state-of-the-art for a cruise ship conference facility.


The Shopping Arcade

There are many shops on the Brilliance and they offer a wide variety of products.


Just One of The Stores on the Brilliance

There seemed to be sales every day in the shopping arcade. I think shoppers will be very happy with what they find.


Royal Caribbean Online

Royal Caribbean Online is the Brilliance of the Sea's Internet Cafe. I would strongly recommend that you get "in-cabin" access for a flat fee with unlimited useage, as the computers in the Internet Cafe are much slower than broadband access.


Latte-Tudes Coffee Bar

I loved Latte Tudes Coffee Bar. The served "Seattle's Best" coffees and their specialty coffee drinks were excellent and reasonably priced.


The Minstrel Restaurant

Moving aft still we arrive at the entrance of the Minstrel Restaurant. This restaurant is simply beautiful.


More Views of the Minstrel Restaurant

There is a huge mural overlooking the restaurant that is simply stunning (click on the middle picture to see it) and every view within the restaurant is awesome. We experienced nothing but excellent service and dining.

Deck 4
Heading down to deck 4 is another visual treat. The lower level of the Minstrel Restaurant dominates the aft portion of the ship and the forward portion of deck 4 is all passenger cabins.


The Lobby Bar

However, the main lobby of the Brilliance is very stunning. In the center of everything is the Lobby Bar. This is a hub of activity and is also an excellent meeting place. There is always something going on and it is easy to access.


The Centrum

While this shot is somewhat fuzzy, it gives you an idea of how stunning the Centrum is on the Brilliance. Note the Christmas decorations that made the entire ship feel very festive. The Tour Desk and Guest Relations Desk are both located off of the Lobby Bar.

Deck 3 and deck 2
These decks are all passenger cabins.

The Cruise:
Friday, December 3rd, 2004; Miami, Florida

I had been attending a cruise conference in Ft. Lauderdale and decided to simply grab a taxi from the Ft. Lauderdale Marina Marriott to the port of Miami. The total cost of the taxi transfer was $68.00 (I paid the driver a total of $75.00 including tip). We arrived at the cruise terminal at approximately 1 pm. (HINT: By the time we arrived, there was a considerable line to clear security and check in took about 1-½ hours. I would strongly suggest that you arrive around 11 to 11:30 am to board the ship.) Once processed, we were allowed to board the ship. After depositing my carry-on luggage in my cabin, I went to Guest Relations and reconfirmed the group’s activities for the cruise, delivered the “Welcome Aboard” flyers to the group's cabins and made my way to the Windjammer Café for a late lunch.

Evening found me in the Hollywood Odyssey for our arrival cocktail party. To my surprise, Anna the excellent group coordinator that was on the Mariner of the Seas earlier this year, was now on the Brilliance. It was great so see her and once I did, I knew that my job was going to be easy. She is one of the best group coordinators on any ship. I met the group and enjoyed a wonderful cocktail hour before going into the Minstrel Restaurant for the first of many wonderful dinners. Royal Caribbean has done such an excellent job of selecting their waiters and assistant waiters and the dining teams at our group tables were tops.

Saturday, December 4th, 2004; Day at Sea
I love sea days and this was the first of 5 sea days on this itinerary. After a quick breakfast in the Windjammer Café, I staked out some lounge chairs for the group out by the Jacuzzi. After a few hours a small group of us had formed and had a wonderful day in the bright sunshine. As the afternoon wore on, I decided to enjoy the sunset in the Jacuzzi before returning to my cabin to prepare for the first formal night of the cruise. There were a few Diamond Members (Royal Caribbean’s loyalty program designation for repeat cruisers that have completed 10 or more cruises on RCI) and we agreed to meet in the Concierge Lounge for a quick cocktail before attending the Captain ’s “Welcome Aboard” Party that was held in the Colony Club, a simply fabulous bar and lounge. The Concierge Lounge is one of the major benefits of being a Diamond Member as it offers hosted a continental breakfast (including specialty coffee drinks) for breakfast and in the evening offers an open bar from 5 pm until 8:30 pm.

The Captain’s cocktail party was well attended, however when the Captain was speaking many of the passengers continued talking around the bar area disrupting the experience for everyone else. The Captain even stopped his presentation mentioning the noise coming from the bar, but the people continued to talk loudly. Most folks felt it was quite rude to say the least. We then continued on into the dining room for the “Welcome Aboard” dinner. Four contiguous tables housed our group for the late seating dining and since we had prepaid the gratuities, we were able to jump from table to table so that we could all get to know one another. It was proving to be an interesting and fun group of agents. I was tired from getting so much sun, and since I had a seminar to conduct in the morning, I turned in right after dinner.

Sunday, December 5th, 2004; Day at Sea
I was up quite early and after a quick breakfast in the Windjammer Café, went to Conference Room B to get ready for the first of our three seminars that were to take place on  the Brilliance of the Seas. The Conference Center is a state-of-the-art meeting facility with every conceivable electronic device known to man. We enjoyed fresh coffee and Danish before our meeting and it was replenished for our break. Once again, Anna, the Group Coordinator did a stellar job. I continued on to the Windjammer Café to meet some of the group members for the purpose of answering questions and to talk about some of the ports we were going to visit. It was a great session and really had me enthused about the group. It was another hot afternoon by the pool’s Jacuzzis before turning my attention to getting ready for the evening’s events. The Diamond Members met in the Concierge Lounge for an hour of cocktails and conversation before making our way to the restaurant. In a rut, I turned in right after dinner.

Monday, December 6th, 2004; Oranjestad, Aruba, Netherlands Antilles
We arrived right on time, debarked the ship and entered downtown Oranjestad, Aruba. A small group of us had planned to rent a jeep to explore the National Park, beaches and other natural attractions of Aruba before returning to enjoy the fabled night life in Oranjestad. We negotiate a jeep (well, actually a chick jeep) and started off in our exploration of the island. To give a fair picture of the day, as it unfolded, a lady from the mid west was driving and another was the navigator riding shotgun. I was relegated to the back seat, which I eventually was grateful for.

We drove south from the ship with the plan of encircling the island taking in its more natural wonders and beautiful beaches. After traveling a few miles through small towns and the countryside we found our way to Baby Beach and adjoining Coco Beach. While Coco Beach was inviting, I was not really impressed with Baby Beach. However, I did get a great photo there. Leaving Baby Beach, our plan was to continue north through the National Park, visit the natural bridge and then continue on to the north coast's beaches. Well, our navigator was having a difficult time finding the way, so we ended up driving in circles for hours trying to find our way. We visited Baby Beach several times and drove through the same town a good number of times. We never did find the National Park (or any of the other attractions, for that matter) but we had a great time laughing, as we wandered in circles. At one juncture we had followed another couple from our group that was also looking for the passage to the National Park and thought we were making progress when we ended up at the public dump. That is when the un-controllable laughter started. We then followed a city bus for miles, as the navigator thought it must be a tour bus. I had more fun picking on the driver and the navigator than I would have had if we actually found any of the sights. Once we realized that the "tour bus" we were following was actually heading back to Oranjestad, we simply resigned ourselves to the fact that we would never make it to the National Park and other attractions and decided to head for Eagle Beach and the hotel district.

We made our way through downtown Oranjestad and entered the hotel district. Working our way back down the coastline, we discovered Eagle Beach. Eagle Beach came highly recommended on a number of chat groups, as the best beach on Aruba. While picturesque, it fell way short of what I would consider a great beach. We decided to keep looking and remembered seeing a small beach club just south of town named the Havana Beach Club. With a destination in mind, we took off to retrace our steps to find it and after fifteen minutes or so, we pulled into the parking lot. We piled out of the chick jeep and walked onto the beach in front of the spot. We had found our destination. The Havana Beach Club offers a wonderful beach, excellent swimming, a great bar with its own pool and swim up bar and a good restaurant. I am not sure what else anyone could want. The lounge chairs were free to use, as were all of the facilities of the Havana Beach Club and the folks running it were friendly. The prices were quite reasonable and there was a dearth of cruise people, as the club was clearly favored by locals (primarily Dutch). After a long day in the sun, we decided to return to the ship, change for the evening and then walk back to the Havana Beach Club to enjoy their "movies on the beach" where they show first run movies on the beach for $3.00 per person. You get a lounge chair, the bar is open and the movie is displayed on a large screen right on the beach.

After changing and freshening up, we started walking through Oranjestad and stopped at one of the bars located along the harbor to watch the sun set and enjoy a glass of wine. Silversea's Silver Whisper was in port, as well and departed right at sunset and it reminded me why I like cruising so much. There is something magical about the essence of a cruise. On this day we shared Aruba with folks from Silversea that were now heading on towards their next port or call, while we were heading in a different direction, just the vary nature of the freedom of a cruise experience is exciting. After sunset, we decided to dine at Don Carlos Restaurant where fresh live spiny lobster is the restaurant's specialty. We ordered the largest lobster they had (about 4 1/2 pounds). They brought it to our table live to show us the lobster before taking it into the kitchen. I wanted to get a picture of it, so our "navigator" held it up while I took the lobster's picture. Unfortunately, the lobster moved and she then dropped the poor thing onto the floor. It hit like a sack of cement and emitted a large "splat". Everyone in the restaurant groaned at the idea of this doomed lobster hitting the ground with such force. The cook quickly gathered the lobster off the floor and with its tail flapping as it left the table, we couldn't help but laugh. The lobster returned some 25 minutes later and we enjoyed it immensely. After a short walk we arrived at the Havana Beach Club in time to claim our lounge chairs, set them up, pay the $3.00 and enjoy the movie.

HINT: Unless you know your way around Aruba, forget renting a car or jeep. The maps are useless and you are much better off taking a tour if you want to see the National Park and other sights. The tours are inexpensive, both on the ship and off, and you will have ample time to explore Oranjestad. I would highly recommend the Havana Beach Club, as one of the better beach/restaurant/bar options after exploring Aruba. Note, however that many of the ladies using the Havana Beach Club prefer to go topless. If this is a consideration, then I would suggest Eagle Beach as an alternative.

Tuesday, December 7th, 2004; Day at Sea
After a quick breakfast in the Windjammer, I spent the morning working in my cabin and decided to enjoy the afternoon's abundant sunshine. I met some of the group that had been by the pool all day and managed to find a lounge chair and started relaxing. Days at sea are the best, in my opinion. Just relaxing by the pool enjoying the sunshine and companionship of newly made friends is what cruising is all about. I had offered some of the agents the opportunity to call their family using my in-cabin Internet access and SKYPE, so arranged to meet them in the late afternoon so they could call. While it was generally a bad connection, everyone couldn't believe they were able to call their families from my computer for a pittance of what it would otherwise cost. We had a great time calling people and laughing at their responses.

One of the great benefits that Royal Caribbean's loyalty program (the Crown and Anchor Society) offers to its Diamond (10 or more completed cruises) members is use of the ship's Concierge Club. Located on deck 10, the Concierge Club became my early evening hangout, as they offered an open bar with hot and cold appetizers for the members. While there are numerous benefits, use of the Concierge Club ranks the highest in my opinion. I spent the pre-dinner hour in the Club and then made my way to dinner for another outstanding dining experience with our group. By now everyone was getting along famously and totally enjoying one another. I was bushed from working and then getting so much sun and called it a night.

Wednesday, December 8th, 2004; Panama Canal and Colon's Cristobal Pier
Having been through the canal a couple of times already this year, I opted to sleep in, take a light breakfast and work in my cabin until almost lunch time. The weather was overcast and it was certainly not a pool day, so my time was well spent. After a salad for lunch in the Windjammer Cafe, I decided to spend some time in the Solarium for the afternoon. Since it was totally enclosed, it made a great choice. I was joined by some of the group, as the day wore on. Late afternoon found us docked at the Cristobal Pier in Panama and I debarked to do some shopping for the "Ideas for Prizes" seminar  that was coming up. I wasn't disappointed with the selection and pricing of the items I purchased. Back on board, I fell into my routine of dressing for dinner, enjoying the Concierge Club and then making my way to dinner for another enjoyable meal. Tonight was no exception. I am not sure if it was the work load I had brought with me, or the cruise itself, but I had a difficult time staying up past dinner and tended to retire early.

HINT: If you do not want to stay on the ship all day in Panama, you must book one of the ship's shore excursions. I would suggest that you book it early, as many of the shore excursions sold out and there were some people that wanted to get off the ship and couldn't.

Thursday, December 9th, 2004; Puerto Limon, Costa Rica
A group of us had planned to negotiate for a taxi and driver to take us south to Cahuita National Park, but the weather had not cooperated with our plans. I was up early to SKYPE my wife who was in Florida getting ready to board Oceania's Regatta with a group of travel professionals that she was leading. It was my only chance to talk with her for a good period of time, so I was disappointed when the Internet connection was not working. I decided to try for a prepaid telephone card and a telephone off the ship and made my way to the embarkation deck. I was the first person off the ship and immediately went to the port's communication center. Unfortunately, they were closed and by the time they were to open, I would have missed Joanie. Desperate to call her, I left the port and entered a souvenir shop directly across the street. In broken Spanish I was able to purchase a local international telephone card. The shopkeeper offered me her personal telephone to make the call. I gratefully accepted, but had difficulty dialing the number. She then offered to help, dialed the number and handed me the telephone back. Joanie answered. We talked for almost 40 minutes. When I was done, I returned the telephone to the shopkeeper and offered her $10 for her trouble. She refused to take it and was genuinely glad to have helped me. Her shop is directly across the street, just one down from the corner. She deserves your business when you are there.

After making the call, it started pouring rain. I spent the morning once again, working in my cabin, had a salad and some vegetables for lunch and then located a lounge chair in the solarium for the duration of the afternoon. It was a great way to spend a rainy day. The evening found a large group of us with reservations at Chops Grill, one of the Brilliance of the Sea's specialty restaurant. After visiting the Concierge Lounge I met the others for cocktails and then made our way to Chops for an extraordinary dinner. We had two tables and for whatever reason, our table broke into laughter the second we sat down. We didn't stop laughing until we were the last to leave the restaurant. It was one of the most fun dinners I can remember in recent history. The food, service and overall experience was simply wonderful.

Friday, December 10th, 2004; Day at Sea
I was up before dawn and watched the sun come up enjoying a cup of coffee on the fantail behind the Windjammer Cafe. It reminded me of how special cruising is. Even though there were thousands of people on this ship, it seemed like I was all by myself enjoying the morning unfold. I had scheduled a 2-hour seminar for the morning, so after returning to my cabin and doing some work, I made my way down to the conference center. Once again Royal Caribbean had done an excellent job of preparing the room for our meeting. Anna was on hand to make sure everything was perfect, as always and the meeting went without a hitch. A number of the agents wanted to see SKYPE in action, so I invited them back to my cabin where we spent almost an hour calling people. Everyone enjoyed the interaction and had tons of fun. I made it up to the pool area just as the lounge chair that was being saved for me was about to be confiscated by the lounge chair police. The ladies holding it admonished me for taking so long. I had a quick lunch and then simply enjoyed the day with new friends and acquaintances.

As it was the second formal evening, I dressed early, made my way to reconfirm our group's photograph and then went on to meet our group in front of the reception desk. Everyone had become fast friends by now and the group shot was lots of fun. Most of the group continued on to the early show and some were dining early and returned to their dinner, so a small group of us made our way to the Concierge Lounge for a glass of wine before heading off to another wonderful dinner in the main dinning room. I am not sure what the chefs did to the lobster on this evening, but it was simply tender and delicious. I had two tails. After dinner one of the other couples in our group wanted to talk a bit, so I joined them in the Champagne Bar for a glass of wine before turning in for the evening.

Saturday, December 11th, 2004; Georgetown, Grand Cayman
I was keen on visiting Grand Cayman since it had just reopened to visiting cruise ships after the hurricane that ravished it. I had no idea what to expect, as personal accounts were few and far between. We were up early and grabbed the first tender into the tender wharf. There didn't immediately seem to be much damage which was a relief. We decided to walk a bit towards 7-Mile Beach and after a few blocks, the damage became evident. Downed trees, shrubbery and debris were everywhere. Structural damage to buildings was obvious and the further we walked the more severe the damage. Just about out of town, we hailed a van to take us to 7-Mile Beach. He dropped us at the Wyndham Hotel, which had just reopened a few of its rooms to visitors. Unfortunately, the beach guy at the Wyndham would not allow us to rent lounge chairs (even though the beach was vacant) and made it clear that the hotel's facilities were for the use of the few guests that were staying there.

We decided to find another spot to enjoy the day and started walking up the beach. After a short walk we stumbled into Seagrape Beach, a public beach that offered lounge chairs, a bar and restaurant and other amenities to make for a nice day at the beach. We negotiated for lounge chairs and an umbrella (for one of the non-sun people with us) and settled in for the day. It was hot! Several families from the ship had found their way to the same beach and everyone seemed pleased with the accommodations and overall experience. When it came time to make our way back to the ship, an attendent at Seagrape called one of his buddies to take us back. He arrived and then offered to take us on a tour of the side of the island that had been devastated by the hurricane. He offered to do it for no fee, as he just wanted us to know the real situation in Grand Cayman.

The common thread among those we talked to was the complete dissatisfaction with the British Government who has not lifted a finger to help those in need on Grand Cayman. He believed that the Brits felt that everyone on Grand Cayman was wealthy and didn't need any help. While Grand Cayman is certainly one of the richest economies in the world, the local population is not among that group.

We visited the area where the hurricane came ashore some months prior. It appeared to me that nothing had been done since the day it had happened. There were boats, cars, appliances and debris piled up everywhere. Houses were partially or predominantly destroyed with large parts of some structures were simply missing. The destruction was overwhelming. It was actually quite moving to witness the devastation of what once was, a beautiful community. Somewhat somber, we returned to the main part of Georgetown and to a bar on the waterfront that one of the ladies with us had spent a day enjoying a few months ago. We enjoyed a glass of wine and reminisced about the mayhem we had just seen and felt lucky to have somehow avoided it. We barely made the last tender back to the ship.

A large group of us had made early dining reservations in Portofino (the Brilliance of the Seas other alternative dining venue) for dinner and I hurried to dress for the occasion. Our group met in the Schooner Bar for cocktails before entering the restaurant and taking our tables. I must say, tonight's dinner was superb. The Portofino menu, the service, the presentation and the execution from beginning to end was simply flawless. It was a dinner to remember.

Monday, December 12th, 2004; Day at Sea
It was our last seminar this morning and it went without a hitch. We had a very thorough cruise and port review, a coffee break and then an active round of "Ideas for Prizes". This is a game where travel professionals earn "prizes" for sharing ideas. It is coupled with a scheme whereby they can trade their prizes for other prizes that have been awarded to other agents and it encourages everyone to share ideas to simply protect their own interest. It is usually hilarious and this session was no exception. The group had really become fond of one another. A large group of us went back to my cabin to "SKYPE" some of the folks back home and we had a wonderful time laughing and enjoying one another's company. After a quick salad, I made my way to the pool where a large group of our group members had set up by the Jacuzzi. While I didn't have a lounge chair, I was very content to hang out by the pool's edge visiting with the various people, as they came and went. It was a very fun afternoon. The evening's festivities came all too soon and I was dressing to meet our group in the Starquest Disco for a business card exchange and white elephant sale. We had a great time. I stopped to say good bye to Chris Hou, the Concierge Club manager and then made my way to the last dinner of the cruise. It is always a bitter-sweet dinner, as while you enjoy your new found friends, you also know it may be the last time you ever see them. I really don't care for last dinners on ships for this reason. We acknowledged our waiter, assistant waiter, Maitre d' and wine steward and thanked them for the wonderful dinning experience they had provided us. They had been great!

I was not ready to go to bed yet, so a bunch of us went out about the ship and ended up in the Colony Club where we ran into more members of the group shooting pool. We stayed until the wee hours shooting pool and having a great time. Note that there is no charge for using the self-leveling pool tables and they work great. Unfortunately, I am not much of a pool shooter, so my excuse of the table moving with the ocean's movement went unheard. I slept like a newborn baby.

Tuesday, December 13th, 2004; Miami, Florida
Since I had been on another cruise (the MS Opera) and to a convention before that in Ft. Lauderdale, my airline reservations were returning from Ft. Lauderdale rather than Miami. I needed to make my way to Ft. Lauderdale and found some other souls in the same boat. We shared a taxi up to Ft. Lauderdale where I eventually boarded an American Airlines flight to my home in San Diego.

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