Christine and Richard
Number of Cruises: 14
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Brilliance of the Seas
Sailing Date: November 11th, 2002
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean
Easily lured to the sea, a call from a
former cruise companion convinced us the Brilliance of the Seas would be an
ideal venue for sailing again with her and other past shipmates. A hectic period
prior to this adventure did not allow enough time for our pre cruise routine of
reading guidebooks and travelogues, listening to local music and sampling native
recipes. We relied on memory and intuition to guide us to Caribbean sights,
sounds and cuisine.
Sunny and warm, Miami offered a welcome retreat from a cool mid-Atlantic autumn. The Inter-Continental Hotel was our weekend home. What a surprise upon entering our room to see before us the lovely Brilliance of the Seas glistening gold in the reflective light of the setting sun. Dwarfed by the Explorer of the Seas, we watched as she set sail for a two-night cruise to nowhere before returning to Miami for our Circle the Caribbean voyage.
A balmy Saturday evening beckoned us to Bayside Market Place, where we settled into an outdoor table at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company Restaurant and Market (http://www.bubbagump.com/). Yes, we veered from our normal dining pattern by succumbing to this chain. However, frosty mugs of Sam Adams and comforting drunken shrimp and Cajun sausage with mounds of country-style garlic mashed potatoes were perfect choices for two very tired and hungry travelers.
We were treated on Sunday morning to warm and flaky, made-to-order croissants at Le Café (http://www.baysidemarketplace.com/go/restdetail.cfm?MallID=163&StoreID=2137018974). With fresh squeezed orange juice and steaming cups of café au lait, we were transported to Paris. Thus fortified, Lincoln Road Mall was our next stop. The antique and farmers’ markets extended for blocks. One was amazed by endless selections of enormous and inexpensive fruit and vegetables. Our kitchen begged.
We were enticed by the unfamiliar stone crab and were soon seated al fresco at South Beach Stone Crab Restaurant (http://southbeachstonecrab.com/). Here the very trendy Lincoln Road procession passed by as we enjoyed a luncheon special of oysters on the half shell. We started with a delicious dozen and before long learned they were from our own Chesapeake Bay. Stone crab followed. Simply boiled, chilled, cracked and served with a mustard sauce, these claws were exceptional. Creamed garlic spinach was just the right accompaniment. We will never again be satisfied with Maryland blues or Alaskan kings. We shared a second platter of jumbos before rolling back out onto the street. Timothy – the owner – was there to offer tips and advice on enjoying this delicacy. Shortly, he will be opening a new South Beach Stone Crab Restaurant at the Las Vegas Venetian.
Ocean Drive presented an interesting diversion. Here one marveled at the Art Deco buildings and the broad expanse of beautiful white beach. After a brief pause at a colossal sand castle, which included a reproduction of the Eiffel Tower, Ocean’s Ten Restaurant at the Edison Hotel (http://edison-hotel.com/dining/) was chosen for our afternoon beverage break. This outdoor retreat surrounds a small swimming pool. We were astonished when a nearby patron slid into the water for a few impromptu laps, while a bespectacled canine observed the scene from the flat bed of a passing pickup truck.
Notwithstanding the day’s eating frenzy, dinner awaited us at Lombardi’s Ristorante (http://www.lombardisrestaurants.com/locations/miami/index.shtml). The oven hot focaccia and mixed green salads wetted appetites for the subsequent risotto di mare. This luscious dish was heaped with melt-in-the-mouth calamari, mussels, shrimp and baby scallops. A long stroll back to the hotel through Bayside Park was enhanced by the spirited Latin sounds of the Bryan Gonzalez Grupo Milenio at the Bayside Arena Stage.
Brilliance of the Seas
We awoke Monday to discover the Brilliance of the Seas once again in port. We departed early for the pier and found the embarkation process at the Crown and Anchor lounge to be quick and efficient – 20 minutes from curbside to cabin.
A beautiful addition to the Royal Caribbean fleet, Brilliance of the Seas has many of the design features of the Radiance of the Seas, making orientation easy for us. We were particularly taken by her artwork. The Centrum sculpture – “Spiral Light” by Warren Seelig and Sheryl Gibson - was intriguing with an evening play of colorful illumination against its sweeping coil of ethereal steel mesh. Other noteworthy pieces included “The Minstrels’ Gallery” in the Minstrel Dining Room, “Spoons” in Latte-tude Coffee Bar, the Pacifica Theater curtain – “Inferno,” the Schooner Bar’s “Wyoming” and “Prussian” model ships, “Light Strokes” at the Pool Deck, the Solarium’s “Baby Elephant,” and “The Seagull has Landed” at the entrance to the miniature golf course.
Greeting us upon arrival, our cabin attendant, Budi (Indonesia), was friendly and efficient throughout the voyage. His individual way of keeping the cabin comfortable and sparkling clean made the 204-square foot stateroom appear palatial.
It was with great anticipation that we awaited our reunion with Rusty (Philippines) in the Champagne Bar. We met Rusty aboard the Radiance of the Seas in 2001, where this mixologist extraordinaire won us over with his bartending skills and amiable personality. We were delighted to be sailing with him again and quite impressed that so many months later he still remembered us by name and our drinks of choice. He and his assistant, Frieda (Chile), welcomed us warmly every evening to their cozy hideaway.
Traveling with a Danish friend, her family and a couple from Louisiana, our group of ten had cross referenced our reservations to enable us to dine together at the same table. We had also requested a specific table in the dining room and were deeply disappointed to know we could not have it on this sailing. Yet, we were together, and for that we were thankful.
Our table in the Minstrel Dining Room presented unique challenges for our servers. We were blessed with Farouk (head waiter – Turkey), Sonia (waitress – Brazil) and Carolina (assistant waitress – Chile), who all handled well the gratuitous and recurrent criticism of a hospitality specialist among our dining companions. It was awkward for us to witness his treatment of our very qualified and professional servers.
How embarrassed we were to learn our table was a topic of conversation among dining room staff. Bryce Clarke – Dining Room Manager – finally intervened. A private meeting with Leigh Hesling – Executive Chef – was scheduled for our tablemate. At that meeting, an invitation was extended to our entire table to join the Executive Chef on a private tour of the galley. For more than an hour one afternoon, we accompanied Leigh through the various galley departments. From the bakery, to stations for soups, appetizers, salads, main courses and desserts, he covered every element of food preparation. His detailed description of the wait staff’s role in the food service process was enlightening.
As Bryce’s attempts to pacify continued, he became a frequent visitor. One evening, we told him of our exceptional dining experience last year aboard the Radiance of the Seas at the table of Margarita Winkler – the ship’s doctor. Bryce told us that Dr. Winkler would be coming aboard in Miami as the Brilliance’s doctor on the day we were to disembark. It was sad to know we would miss seeing her by just one sailing.
We were accustomed to an evening ritual of musical chairs in the Minstrel Dining Room. However, one night Sonia uncustomarily assigned our seats. Carolina whispered to Christine that there was an extra place for the Dining Room Manager. We were utterly amazed when Margarita Winkler appeared on Bryce’s arm to take the place of honor at our table. The five of us who knew her from the Radiance of the Seas were overwhelmed. Bryce had asked her, and she had agreed, to come aboard a few days early to spend some time with us. For this very special occasion, the Executive Chef and Bryce had arranged an exclusive menu selection – filet mignon from Chops Grille. Margarita joined us again on the final evening of the voyage. This reunion was made possible by Royal Caribbean and is testament to its dedication to customer satisfaction. Spending quality time with Dr. Winkler was indeed a highlight of this cruise holiday.
While others in our party enjoyed the informal Windjammer Café for breakfast and lunch, we opted to take those meals in the Minstrel Dining Room, where the menu selections were varied; the food was quite satisfying; service was excellent; and open seating allowed us the luxury of meeting many other fellow passengers. We did visit the Windjammer from time to time for an impromptu conversation and a refreshing beverage.
As Diamond members in the Crown and Anchor Society, we were again offered the services of the Concierge. Brett Goad was informative and attracted a loyal crowd. However, we were dedicated to Rusty and the fine ambiance of the Champagne Bar. We saw Brett for tender passes and for clarification on a lunchtime dining arrangement. The Concierge Club is a wonderful benefit of membership, which we plan to use on future voyages.
The Ship Shape Center was an afternoon haven. After a shocking body composition analysis by Sharon, Christine was determined to negate the potential adverse effects of dietary choices at sea. Armed with an Elemis de-tox kit, daily pedaling on a recumbent bicycle and miles of walking onboard and ashore, she managed to control her weight during this holiday.
The presence of Mary Campbell (Group Coordinator) and Louise Earwicker (Loyalty Ambassador) on the Brilliance’s Guest Relations team was an unexpected surprise. They, too, were aboard the Radiance of the Seas with us a year ago.
Captain James MacDonald, as master of the vessel, was the ultimate host at three social events. His enlightening talks on the current fleet, upcoming additions and cruise itineraries were likely the reason the Explorers Court was always filled beyond capacity during Louise’s limited hours for assisting passengers with future bookings.
Rebecca Thomson came aboard with us as the new Cruise Director. It was a delight to observe her bubbly and friendly personality. Becky has an amazing ability to address passengers by name at all times, which adds a warmhearted and individual touch to everyone’s cruise experience.
Often we were unable to pull ourselves away from dinner in time to enjoy live performances in the Pacifica Theater. However, we did not miss the energetic Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers in “Turn the Beat Around,” “Let’s Dance” and “Latin Groove.” The very talented husband and wife team of Marty Allen and Karon Kate Blackwell were aboard, as was the incomparable Judy Kolba, who fills the theater and the ship with a never-ending abundance of belly laughs. We were also very pleased to have the familiar tinkling of ivories by David Curtis in the Schooner Bar. His memorable Broadway and other popular tunes encouraged impromptu sing-alongs.
Again, the internet made it possible to meet dozens of fellow passengers in advance. Royal Caribbean and Cruise Critic enhanced that experience by hosting an onboard event, which was organized by Mary Campbell. The light refreshments and easy conversation were welcome. This and two other privately arranged social gatherings offered perfect occasions to match screen names to faces. It was a pleasure for us to sail with these interesting people and because of them to find so many familiar and friendly faces both onboard and ashore. A souvenir photo by the ship’s photographer is an ideal keepsake.
Ports of Call
As our main goal in holiday travel is to enjoy local cuisine, our time ashore was often spent seeking special dining opportunities. Three very good finds enhanced this cruise experience.
Richard was feeling a bit under the weather after a few very busy days. Key West, Florida, was not a new destination for us. Yet it was with regret, we remained onboard and bypassed its festive atmosphere.
At the International Cruise Ship Terminal on Cozumel, Mexico, the Brilliance of the Seas was once again beside the Explorer of the Seas. An hour’s stroll into San Miguel was along the coast and very scenic. One was amazed by the number of cruise ship passengers in such a small town – an inevitable occurrence with nine cruise ships in port. Our destination was Pancho’s Backyard (http://www.loscincosoles.com/panchosbackyard/home.htm). Located at the back of Los Cinco Soles store, Pancho’s Backyard was a tranquil retreat from the crush of tourists. Seated near a rippling fountain in one of several courtyards, we delighted in the simple menu of homemade specialties. We both chose filete di pescado a la Veracruzana and were quickly sated. The careful blending of ingredients with spice and the accompanying basket of hot tortillas were just right.
Our aim in George Town, Grand Cayman, was to have lunch at the Hyatt Regency on the shores of Seven Mile Beach. The award-winning Hemingways (http://grandcayman.hyatt.com/property/hotelinfo/dining/dining_info.jhtml?id=0&ssnav=0) offers open-air dining overlooking the beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. Our friendly and knowledgeable waiter – Andy Roberts – walked us through the intricacies of the Caribbean inspired menu. We started with mixed salads topped by tropical fruit and honey vinaigrette. Richard moved on to blackened Chilean sea bass with a plantain and potato mash; gingered apples accented the flavors. Seared coconut crusted tuna prepared rare on a bed of spicy pad thai – Christine’s preference – was a lively contrast of sweet and hot. This two-hour dining experience was very memorable. Perhaps a future stay at the Hyatt Regency will satisfy our appetites for more.
As this was our third call on Ocho Rios, Jamaica, we opted not to go ashore this time.
Brilliance of the Seas shared the pier in Oranjestad, Aruba, with the condominium cruise ship – The World. An interesting concept, but totally under subscribed. We were told only 47 cabins were occupied when she set sail from Oranjestad. We were amazed by the amount of development in Oranjestad since our last visit eight years ago. A brief walking tour of town introduced us to the local iguana population, new casinos, time shares and shopping arcades. Christine spied Gandleman’s and picked up a Prima Classe map bag – surprisingly, the only item on her shopping list.
Joining past cruise and dining companions, evening in Aruba brought us to a long-awaited dinner at Madame Janette’s (http://www.madamejanette.com/index.html). Our group of four was greeted promptly and seated at a great garden table. Nearby, soothing sounds of a classical guitarist entertained. The extensive menu presented too many appealing options, making decisions difficult. We all began with Caesar salad. The main course for three was Almond Grouper – generous fillets crusted in almonds and served with a light spinach sauce. The other chose Burgerloin – butterflied beef tenderloin, which had a stuffing of sautéed onions, mushrooms, and cheese; it was served with Béarnaise sauce. Steamed rice and potato gratin were offered family style. Lured by the Belgian chocolate cake, a generous slice came with four forks. Coffee at the end of the feast was accompanied by crisp speculaas. We enjoyed a brief chat with Sabine Hartig – manager and charming hostess.
Our walk from the cruise terminal into Willemstad, Curaçao, took us across the famed
Queen Emma pontoon bridge. The floating market offered varied and appealing produce selections. The tropical fruit was particularly tempting. We noted many types of seafood sold from the tiny vessels’ decks. The public market provided a glimpse into the island’s culture. Arts and crafts vendors, herbalists, butchers, shoe repairmen, new and used clothing merchants, a post office and others all shared space under the domed structure. We explored several side streets throughout the Punda before sitting down for a refreshing beverage at Vienna Ice Café. The alarm sounded on the pontoon bridge during our return to the Otrabanda, but we made it across before it was moved to allow an approaching ship to pass.
Disembarkation / Conclusion
Reserved for the exclusive use of Diamond and Platinum Crown and Anchor Society members, the Star Disco was a comfortable departure lounge. A continental breakfast was served, and lovely downtown Miami was the backdrop to the end of another relaxing and enjoyable Royal Caribbean voyage. Disembarkation by color was executed quickly; baggage claim was efficient; and transportation was readily available on the pier.
We ended our holiday with a long wait for an afternoon flight out of Miami International Airport. It afforded us the chance to think back upon the past two weeks and realize what a very unique experience this had been. We are no longer the active travelers we once were. It was enough for us to have been able to spend quality time with old friends, as well as to make the acquaintances of so many other fellow passengers. Onboard one of the most beautiful ships at sea, this cruise was truly satisfying, and for that we are very grateful.