Royal CaribbeanBrilliance the Seas7 Day Mediterranean Alecia Strohm
Occupation:Senior Catering Sales Manager
Number of Cruises: 4\
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Brilliance of the Seas
Sailing Date: NOT FOUND
Itinerary: NOT FOUND
Brilliance of the Seas
7 Day Mediterranean Cruise
OVERVIEW: About us, my husband and I are in our low/mid 30’s, married for 3 years with no kids yet. This was our first time over the pond, and it will certainly not be the last.
I booked our air, transfers, precruise stay in Rome and cruise itself directly with RCI over the phone. I was nervous after everything negative I heard from others, but I did not experience any problems during precruise planning. As far as the ports themselves, we did everything on our own, or hired private drivers. I found this to be the most economical way to see the best of each city.
We flew Delta and left Orlando at 3:55pm on May 27, 05 and after a short layover in Pittsburgh, we landed in Rome at 10:10am on May 28, 05. The seats were a bit uncomfortable and small for such a long flight. We tried to buy upgrades at all of the airports, but apparently RCI gets such a discount on the seats we were ineligible for any seat changes.
PRECRUISE TOUR IN ROME: We were greeted at the Rome airport by the tour operator that handled the logistics for RCI. Once you exit the baggage claim area, you will see all of the tour operators holding signs. Within 30 minutes we were on a bus and on our way to the Crowne Plaza St Peters Hotel. We got to the hotel about 11:30am and our room was ready for us. There was a Hospitality desk in the lobby from the tour operator to greet us. They had a welcome kit that included: instructions for us, a map, schedules for courtesy transportation and an order form to buy tours through them. We were also given a time for the next day for our transfer from the hotel to the pier. We were instructed to leave our bags outside our door in the morning as they would be picked up and transported for us to the ship.
A nice surprise in the room was one standard outlet in the bathroom, so we did not need a converter for our electronics.
TOURING ROME: The best advice someone gave me to overcome jetlag was to stay on local time once we arrived. So after checking into the hotel, my husband and I decided to take a cab to the center of the city and just explore. We walked around for a couple hours and saw the Quirinal, Palazzo della Consulta, Victor Emmanuel Monument (not to be missed), Trevi Fountain, Coliseum, Arch of Constantine, Circus Maximus and the Forum, all on foot. We had lunch outdoors at a lovely little restaurant we stumbled across. Around 4pm between the jet lag and heat I was getting tired. We took a cab back to the hotel so I could rest.
In order to see more sites in the morning, my husband decided to go back into town and rent a scooter (the preferred way to drive around Europe and lots of fun!) for the next day while I took a nap. For dinner we just stayed at the hotel because it was raining.
The next day, we did not have to meet the bus for the transfer to the pier until 2pm, so we had plenty of time on our own. Breakfast in the morning was complimentary with our package, which I did know when I booked. A nice treat before we spent the next few hours navigating the city on our scooter. It was the only Sunday of the month the Vatican Museum is open, and we thought if we got an early start we would be fine, but NO… By 7:30am when we got there, the line stretched for more than 6 city blocks that we could see. We went on to St. Peter’s Square which also had a long line to get into St. Peter’s Basilica. We took pictures at the square and watched the Pope give a blessing on large screens in the square. We then went on to Piazza del Popolo, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain again (I did not have a coin to toss in the day before), and the memorial of Giuseppe Garibaldi (we only saw this because we got lost, but it had a fantastic view). After returning the scooter, we had pizza and gelato before taking a cab back to the hotel to catch the bus.
EMBARKATION: The bus ride to the port was scenic and seemed quicker than the 90 minutes we were told it would be. We did have a slight delay at the pier because the check-in facilities were very informal. To control the flow of people, we had to wait for a bus in front us to check in and then we were on our way. Just two more lines and we were on the ship! We were on board by 4pm. Because they had collected our luggage at the hotel in the morning, our bags were in our room waiting for us.
The muster drill was at 5:15pm, so we had enough time to unpack and freshen up before we donned our fashionable orange life vests. After the drill it was off to the Bon Voyage party on the pool deck at 6:30pm. Now, we are officially on vacation as they say!
THE SHIP: There has been a lot written about the ship already, so I’ll just highlight a few things, especially our cabin! We had an aft deluxe balcony on deck 10, #1102. At first I was worried because we were right under the Windjammer and on a much higher deck than we ever have been. We experienced very little disruption from above us and let me assure you, the cabin was perfect! A nice touch was full sized shampoo, shower gel and lotion in the bathroom as well as a loofah sponge for the shower. Our balcony was large enough to accommodate 2 chairs, 2 lounges and a table, and still have room to move around! The cabin was also wider than the standard Balcony rooms. The worst thing about the cabin was the long walk from the elevators in the center of the ship. But that is why I felt no guilt about having dessert nightly!
I followed some advice and on the first day after we met our Cabin Attendant, and gave her a portion of the tip and just asked for a couple of bathrobes if there were any extras. Within 10 minutes we had 2 robes! We also received very attentive service all week from Aishesha who made our cabin up as soon as we left!
THE STAFF: Overall, we found the service to be exceptional. That is why we keep going back to RCI. The dining room staff did not get too personal with us on the first night. Our server Martina said so many people change tables or seating times after the first night that it is hard for them to keep up. So she waits until the second night to find out how will be with her all week. The CD Bill was not very impressive, but his staff was fun. The captain, Michael Lachtaridis from Greece, had a good sense of humor. I spoke with the ships doctor on the pool deck and he was very friendly. Fortunately for me, that was the only time I met him.
DINING: As far as dining on the ship, there were four different seatings. We were assigned late seating which on our cruise docs said 9pm, but upon check-in, our seapass said 8:30pm, much better. We did not leave most of the ports until 7pm, so for us the early seating would have been nearly impossible. One disappointment we felt was that the shows/activities were not scheduled as well as they could have been. I personally do not like to see shows before dinner, and some of the activities we wanted to participate in were overlapped. The schedule for the week was as follows:
6:00 pm Main seating Deck 4
6:30 pm Main Seating Deck 5
8:30 pm Second Seating Deck 4
9:00 pm Second Seating Deck 5
And the big shows or important activity of the night, were timed as follows:
Day One: (Casual)
6:30 pm – Bon Voyage Poolside
7:45 pm - Welcome Aboard Show Featuring Comedy of Steve Rawlings, all guests
Day Two: (Formal)
7:30 pm – 8:30 pm - Captain's Welcome Aboard Reception: All Guests
9:00 pm - "Everything Old is New Again" Production Show: Main Seating Guests
11:00 pm - "Everything Old is New Again" Production Show: Second Seating guests
Day Three: (Smart Casual/50’s & 60’s)
7:30 pm - Headliner Showtime with Mark Donoghue: Second seating guests,
9:30 pm – Headliner Showtime with Mark Donoghue: Main seating guests
Day Four: (Formal)
7:30pm – Crown and Anchor Party
9:00 pm – “Now and Forever” Production Show: Main Seating Guests
11:00 pm – “Now and Forever” Production Show: Second Seating Guests
10:15 pm – Love and Marriage (do not miss this)
10:45 pm – Karaoke Hour
Day Five: (Casual / Country Western)
7:30 pm Headliner Showtime with Brenda Cochrane Second seating guests
9:30 pm Headliner Showtime with Brenda Cochrane Main seating guests
11:00 pm – The Quest (do not miss this)
Day Six: (Casual / Toga after dinner attire)
9:00 pm - "Close to You" Productions Show - Main Seating Guests
11:00 pm - "Close to You" Productions Show - Second Seating Guests
10:30 pm – 12:30 pm – Toga Party Poolside
11:30 pm – Poolside Chocolate Buffet
Day Seven: (Casual)
7:30 pm - Farewell Show with Magic of Mandy Muden – 2nd Seating Guests
9:30 pm - Farewell Showtime with Magic of Mandy Muden - Main Seating Guests
10:45 pm – Karaoke Hour
11:00 pm – Farewell Disco Party
As far as the food, I was pleased. We ate in the dining room all nights except one. There was a Murder Mystery Dinner in Portofino’s on day five so we reserved for that well in advance (lots of fun, and great food). I thought the main dining room menu offered a lot of variety. But the dessert menu could use some more options. For breakfast and lunch we altered between the Windjammer and room service. Both were fine, but I prefer Windjammer for the variety. I regret not making it to Seaview Café as I’ve heard it was good.
We did buy the Wine & Dine package which is a good deal if you tend to order wine nightly with dinner and are not a true “wine connoisseur”. We paid a discounted price for 5 bottles, and were given a limited menu to order from. If you don’t finish a bottle, they will re-cork it for the next evening. On the last night we still had 1 bottle left so the head waiter let us take it to the Schooner Bar to toast with our new friends.
BARS: I will comment on this as my husband and I tend to be social people. The best place to hang out and make new friends is the Schooner Bar. The staff was awesome and we got to know them throughout the week. Arlene and Steve were wonderful! Eric the bartender would introduce me to other passengers if I was there alone. A true meeting place! We also enjoyed the Champagne Bar on the formal nights. They had hors d oeuvres available nightly before dinner. The sports bar never seemed to have anyone in there, but the pool bars were always busy. Also, Tanya in the Casino was awesome. She really made losing all of my money fun.
ENTERTAINMENT: We only saw one production show which was as good as expected. We did watch the Newlywed Game and participated in The Quest. Both are not to be missed in my opinion. There were not as many people participating in The Quest as on the Caribbean cruises, but I think it is because of the intensity of the ports on this cruise and the difference in passengers.
NAPLES/AMALFI COAST: We privately hired Francesco Marrapese in Naples and he was great! He is 32 (our age range) and I highly recommend him as a driver for anyone. We were with him from 7:30am until 5:30pm. He was very polite and informative, and constantly concerned that we make it to the ship on time at the end of the day. We started at the Herculaneum where he dropped us off and we spent about 1.5 hours exploring. It was not crowded at all, and much smaller than Pompeii from what I have heard. One of the guards at the property walked us around to explain and point things out for us for a nominal “tip”. Then we drove the Amalfi Coast. We were able to stop in Sorrento, Positano and Ravello. We had about 45 minutes in each town to enjoy and shop. Along the drive he pointed things out to us like the balcony that was used in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, and one of Sofia Loren’s homes. He also knew just where to stop for great photo opportunities. The views were just breathtaking. I’ve never seen anything like it. The cliffs just seem to drop into the beautiful blue water. Each view was better than the previous. We did not have a lot of time at each place, but it was certainly enough to enjoy. After returning to the ship at 6pm, we had time to relax and dress in our formal attire for the Welcome Aboard Reception before dinner. The captain was delayed coming to the reception because we had to leave the port late due to a group of passengers that arrived to the ship late. The hotel director greeted us in his absence for photos.
Messina: I had no particular plans in this port, so we slept in and just walked around the city near the port. When we first arrived we saw a group of school children dressed in costume that were playing a life size game of Chess. Very neat to watch! We stopped in some beautiful churches and did some shoe shopping. Ironically, we had a difficult time finding pizza for lunch, so we headed back to the Windjammer and relaxed on the ship for the remainder of the afternoon. This is a nice time to enjoy the pools. After the ship departed, I found out from my friends in the Schooner Bar that the ship could not sell cigarettes or duty free alcohol at all on this cruise. It was due to some Italian and Spanish laws, and they would start selling again the end of June. I can only assume it was because of the ports we embarked and disembarked at.
At Sea: The day was perfect, with beautiful sunny weather and that we were traveling at a pretty slow pace, no more than 14 knots. Today was pretty packed with activities for us. We were in the 10am Slots tournament, in which I came in 2nd place. Then at 12:30pm I was a judge for the Men’s Sexy Legs Contest. We then watched the Men’s Belly flop competition. After lunch in the Windjammer I stopped in the Schooner Bar while my hubby was in the Blackjack tournament. Bingo was at 3:30pm and just like in the casino, I walked away with less money in my pocket! Tonight before dinner was the C&A party and this time the captain was on time! After dinner was Love and Marriage and as always, it was a hoot! We decided to stay and watch the show. The singers and dancers put on a good production.
Florence: We privately hired Marco with Tuscany Tours as our driver in Florence. He was very knowledgeable of the area and pointed many things to us along the way. We were with him from 8am until 6pm. We started at Piazzale Michelangelo for great photos and views of the city. Then off to Florence where Marco dropped us off and gave us a map. He is not a “guide”, so we spent about 4 hours on our own just walking around in awe of our surroundings. Although we did not go into any of the galleries or museums (due to long lines), we did climb over 400 winding steps to the top of the Duomo. Wow, was that an experience, and not for the weak hearted. Ponte Vecchio was very crowded but we did do some window shopping. I personally did not find any “bargains” on the jewelry that caught my eye. We stopped for lunch and gelato and then met up with Marco to go to the Field of Miracles in Pisa. It was amazing as we drove around a corner and there was the tower! We did not climb the tower because of the timing, but we did buy tickets to go into the Duomo and Baptistery. They only allow so many people in the tower at a time, and the next available tickets were for 4:50pm. Marco felt that would have been pushing it to get back to the ship on time. The one thing that surprised me was that there is an entire street lined with vendors selling cheap knick-knacks in the area. Kind of takes away from the beauty of it all. After 1.5 hours on our own, we were off to the ship. Dinner was a bit different for us tonight. If your cruise offers the Murder Mystery Dinner, I suggest participating. It was $50 pp but champagne and wine were included throughout the evening. Dinner was 5 courses, which had lobster as one of the entrée choices. The characters were quite funny, and believe it or not, my table did not guess “who done it”. This evening after dinner was The Quest (not to be missed). I was surprised that there were not more people participating, considering the room was full.
Villefranche: For this port I had no particular plans except to see the changing of the guards and the Grand Casino. Guess what, I missed both! We left the ship just before 11am and immediately caught a cab right outside the tender station to go to Monaco. The drive took longer than I thought so we missed the changing of the guards by minutes! Although the drive was beautiful, the cab cost 50 euro, which is a lot more than a train ride. Once in Monaco we decided to walk around and see everything we could. We ended up going into the neo-Romanesque cathedral and saw the graves of Princess Kelly and Prince Rainier. After that we wandered around in awe of the cleanliness of the city as well as the beautiful views. We then stumbled across the Oceanographic Museum, founded by Prince Albert in 1910. Jacques Cousteau was the former head of this institute and it contains so many artifacts and photos from his diving expeditions. The aquarium contains hundreds of species of fish in such a contained facility that they are able to grow their own coral reefs. As scuba divers, we truly appreciated this museum. We stopped for lunch at a little street side café and enjoyed people watching. To get back to the ship we decided to take the train but it was not easy to find. It might have helped if we knew the French word for train. We asked a policeman on the street and he pointed us in the right direction. The station was quite large and once we bought and validated our tickets it was only about 5 minutes until the 4:30pm train arrived. The ride was quick as we only had 3 stops before ours, but there was no air-conditioning. At 6 euro for the 2 of us, it was much cheaper than the taxi. After spending some time walking around the port for a while, we got back to the ship about 5:30pm. My husband was determined to go the Grand Casino, but I was exhausted. So he dressed in his suit and went back into the port while I stayed onboard for dinner. Since we were scheduled to leave the port at midnight, I worried about him making it back on time. I thought that if he did miss the last tender, at least one of us was there to pack up our cabin. It all worked out and he was back on board by 11:30pm! For those that enjoy gambling, there are a few “Vegas style” casinos around the corner from the Grand Casino with smaller limit tables according to my husband.
At Sea: Our last day on board. This day was not as busy as our first day at sea, but with my hangover that was a good thing. We basically spent the day lounging around as this has been a very intense week. I had my first hot stone massage and it was wonderful. My massage therapist was very kind and professional and she did not try to sell me any product. What a way to end the week! Before dinner we packed our luggage. After dinner we just spent the evening in the Schooner Bar saying goodbye to all of our new friends. We took one last trip around the ship to say good bye to everyone that has made this trip so enjoyable and took lots of photos.
Disembarkation: The next morning we headed to the dining room for our last breakfast on board. Because we booked our transfers through RCI, we were in the first group called off just before 9am. What a nice treat! My mind is a bit fuzzy, because I do not recall going through customs. I do know our luggage was waiting for us and we were very quickly boarding a bus for the airport. As we drove through Barcelona, I wished we had a day or two because it looked lovely from the bus. One more reason to go back. Our flight was at 12:10pm so we had plenty of time to check in, go through security and relax (and shop duty free) before boarding.
After all is said and done, here are my tips and hints:
• Change the date/time to the local time on your digital camera to get the best record from your photos. Bring lots of memory for your camera. We brought our laptop to download the pictures onto daily.
• The currency exchange rate on the ship was the best we found, and trust me, my husband shopped around on this one. They offer it at certain hours throughout the cruise at guest relations. We used ATM’s twice in Italy and were only charged $6 additional form our bank for the transactions.
• The best book I found was “Mediterranean by Cruise Ship” by Anne Vipond. Very informative and easy to read. This is the book they sold in the shop on board.
• Eat lots of Gelato! It is so much better than ice cream.
• American Express was rarely accepted in the ports, so do leave home without it, and bring your Visa or MC.
• Ladies, I invested in some Chico’s Travelers collection and they are the best clothes to travel with. Very lightweight and never wrinkled.
• I used the Space Bags travel set and they worked great. It’s amazing how compact you make your clothes!
• For those flying a long distance, invest in a good neck pillow for the flight.
• For your first aid kit, make sure to include Gas-X or Bean-O. Enough said.
• There is a lot of walking, so were very comfortable shoes, and make sure they are broken in!
• I read terrible things about the public toilets in Europe and envisioned holes in the ground that I had to pay to use. Not so. Many of the toilets were like a standard toilet without the seat. I only had to pay at 3 of them in Pisa, Ravello and Monaco. The most expensive was .50 cents.