Royal CaribbeanBrilliance the SeasEastern Mediterranean Jane Roberson
Number of Cruises: 5
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Brilliance of the Seas
Sailing Date: June 29th, 2005
Itinerary: NOT FOUND
Brilliance of the Seas
My husband and I planned our European vacation a year in advance. Our travel agent suggested that we fly to Barcelona a few days in advance to rest from our international flight. This is a must because we were very tired. We were booked in a wonderful hotel, Le Meridian, right off the La Rambla. The hotel was beautiful and offered a free breakfast buffet. After doing a tour on our own, we decided that our time would be best spent taking a private tour. The hotel arranged it for us and we were so thrilled. Peter, our guide and driver, showed us the highlights of this beautiful city. Our tour was scheduled for 3 hours but we extended it to 4. Afterwards, we took a taxi to the port to board our ship. Check-in was very quick and easy and we got to our cabin in no time at all. We were disappointed in the size of our balcony stateroom however; we were accustomed to the cabins on the Voyager class. The cabin size, as well as the size of the balcony, was much smaller and our bed seemed to be shorter. This was a problem because my husband is 6 feet 7inches tall! This is not a major problem though because you really don’t spend a great deal of time in the cabin.
I had done some research about excursions and decided to book several through the cruise line and several on our own. For our first port -Nice, Eze, and Monaco- we took a ship excursion. We were most disappointed because of the time that was wasted. Because passengers must be tendered at this port, the cruise line was running an hour late. Only two tendering boats were available for 2200 passengers! Once off the ship, we were taken to a tour bus with 41 other passengers and one tour guide. She spoke to us as we rode, and then told us we could follow her through Nice or go on our own. We thought it would be better to follow her, thinking that she would be able to give us some information about the places we were seeing. She did not do this. We mostly walked through a market and rambled around. Our next stop was Eze. This was a gorgeous village that offers a breathtaking view of the area. We were only given about 20 minutes to climb to the top where you were charged 2 Euros each to view the scenery. Afterwards, we did have a nice lunch at a local restaurant. Our tour continued to Monte Carlo where we were given an hour of free time. We were not interested in gambling or seeing the Casino there so our time was wasted. Overall, I would not spend $320 again for this tour. Instead, I would book a private tour. The second port of call was Florence, Italy. We also book an excursion with RC for $690. This time we were with a group of 11 with one tour guide on a mini-bus. This was better than the day before because we were given individual microphones so we could hear our guide speaking as we walked through the city and museums. This was nice but too much emphasis was given to the two museums. I would have liked to have seen more of the city. We had no free time on this tour but the lunch was in a very nice hotel and was very delicious. On Saturday, we were in Rome! I had made arrangements for a private tour through Romaround. Our driver met us at the port and drove us into Rome to meet our guide, Francesca. Our first stop was the Vatican and the line was already very long but Francesca got us in quickly. She was able to guide us through showing us the highlights. Francesca was very knowledgeable and passionate about her city. We were able to see all the major sights and still have about 30 minutes for sightseeing! She was a wonderful guide. Lunch and admission prices are not included in the price of the tour but your cost is still much lower than the ship’s prices. Our next day was a Sea Day and you will be so happy to have it! We slept in until late morning and than spent the day lounging on the balcony. It is very difficult to get a chair at the pool or in the solarium. Passengers go up in the early morning hours and put towels down and then leave. Even though there are signs stating that this in not permitted, no one is policing the area. (Some of the chairs in the solarium are wooden and are not very comfortable.) (This was the only day we were able to sit on our balcony because of the sea water spray and the strong wind.) By the way, our dining experience was most enjoyable. We sat a table for 10 and had wonderful conversation. Some of our dinner companions were experienced travelers, having been on ten cruises so we learned a lot about future trips. Our two waitresses, Elif and Pamela, were so pleasant and energetic. The food was good but not above average. All the meals we had off the ship were much better.
Mykonos, Greece was our next port of call. This is beautiful and is a place where you don’t need to book an excursion unless you want to visit Delos. If you arrive on a Monday, which we did, you need to book your excursion through the ship for Delos. This is the only way you will get there. (This is not published!) My husband was most upset about this and did complain but nothing was done. He wanted to see the island but, since we didn’t book the excursion beforehand, he was unable to do so. The ship only takes the first 400 that sign up – that’s only 20% of the passengers! Mykonos has lots of shopping opportunities and the prices are very reasonable. Next stop was Turkey, where we had a private tour arranged. We had a driver and a guide that took us to Ephesus. Ebur was also wonderful and was able to weave us in and out easily, even though there were thousands of people there that day. We ended our tour at Turkmen’s Weaving School, where we were treated with a traditional Turkish lunch! This was very interesting. After the tour, our driver took us to the shopping district. Prices here are the cheapest you will find on your cruise. The only drawback is the shop owners are constantly badgering you to buy.
Santorini, Greece was next. We booked a ship’s tour ($59 pp) which included a visit to the Santo Winery and a brief riding tour. This is all you need, if that. Again, this island is beautiful but you could see it on your own. Shopping is great and the beach is pretty. Our next private tour was taken in Athens, Greece. Our guide was also our driver here. Takis was very talkative and informative. He gave us lots of history and dropped us off at our different sites. We were able to see things at our own pace. We also drove to Sounion to see the Temple of Poseidon. On our way, we stopped for lunch in a great place by the seaside. We tried grilled octopus, fried cheese, and several desserts. Wonderful! Our last port was Naples, Italy. Here I booked our last private tour. Our driver was our guide. Augustos was not as talkative as our other guides had been, but he was adequate. We drove to Sorrento to do some shopping. This is a beautiful city and has a lot of character. We wanted to have pizza here but time did not permit. We continued our drive along the Almafi Coast, where you will see the most breathtaking sights! We stopped for lunch in Ravello, overlooking the sea. Our tour ended at Pompeii. This site is massive and you do need some type of guide – electronic or in person. We thought we would be able to see it in an hour-and-a-half but it was not possible. We got a little turned around and had to call our driver to meet us at a different exit. Go prepared if you’re interested in seeing all of Pompeii.
All in all, our cruise was a trip of a lifetime. My husband is an art teacher so he was finally able to “see” everything that he had viewed in his art books. Our private tours were great and next time we will make arrangements for all private tours at each port. We will continue traveling with Royal Caribbean but will definitely ask more specific questions about arrangements in the future. Before I forget, if you are interested in a balcony stateroom, make sure you ask for the seventh deck. The balconies are much larger on this deck than any other. Happy sailing!