Overall Rating: Excellent
|Destination:||Caribbean - Western|
|# of Nights:||5-6 Nights|
We came in to Tampa two days early and stayed at the Grand Hyatt Resort. Beautiful setting on the bay and wonderful hotel with a top notch restaurant. What really stood out at this hotel was the friendly staff. Everyone from the bell service to front desk to restaurant personnel were so very welcoming and accommodating! Alas, we probably will not stay there again before a cruise because the location is not convenient unless you have a car. They had a shuttle from the airport, which was nice, and one also to the two shopping malls that were close by. We enjoyed our time in Tampa - visiting the Florida Aquarium and taking a Wild Dolphin cruise (saw lots of them!) and would like to return to the area in the future.
Monday we arrived at the port at about 11:30 and made it right through the check-in line with no problems. As is usually the case, the lunch buffet was absolutely jammed but we managed to find a table and had a bite to eat - food was very fresh but there was not the range of variety that we usually see at the buffet - something we noticed throughout the cruise. When the staterooms were available we made our way to our home for the next five days; I immediately took my place on the balcony (my favorite spot) and read the day's schedule. Sailaway was right on time and we watched them navigate the channel from the Sun Deck and then returned to our cabin to find our luggage inside. We met our cabin steward and told him our one main request was that he keep us in fresh ice, twice a day. (And he did!) Whew! Our cruise could officially begin!
The Brilliance is a Radiance Class ship; we had sailed on the Radiance to Hawaii many years ago and loved that ship. We were not disappointed in this one either - beautiful atrium, soaring to Deck 11 with soft lighting on all sides that cycled through the color spectrum. They hold aerial shows in this atrium - not to be missed! On every deck they have small seating areas that overlook the atrium so you can relax and listen to the wonderful live music going on almost all day and into the evening - very convenient.
We signed up for My Time Dining and had made reservations for every night via the internet beforehand. They were quite unorganized the first evening but managed to get it togther by the second night. We were seated in a different section every night but the service was consistently good in all sections. We thought the food was very good with ample variety in the dining room - very well-prepared and nicely presented.
Biggest Unexpected Pleasure and Biggest Unexpected Disappointment:
Let's get the biggest disappointment out of the way: The ports on this cruise were Key West and Cozumel. I have been to both before. In Key West we opted for the trolley ride because my husband had never been to Key West and that is a good way to get a general overview. The shore excursion staff checked our tickets and sent us on our way with a vague sweep of the arm - "Head that way toward the aquarium - your trolley will be waiting." Okay..........actually five trollies were waiting but they were all for different groups and no one was there to tell you which was which..... We ended up in three lines before finding the 'right' line for our tour, and we were not the only ones by far who were confused. If you have been to Key West then you can just picture the chaos and the ensuing grumbling, LOL! Once onboard, the trolley tour was very nice and when we were through we made our way to the Rooftop Cafe for a fabulous lunch of barbecued chicken and fresh mojitos (not part of the tour...we found it on our own!) This little hint of disorganization was just a precursor to the actual biggest disappointment, which came on the shore excursion experience in Cozumel. Prior to the cruise I booked an excursion that was to take us to the San Gervasio ruins and the north side of the island, followed by two hours at the Playa Mia Beach Club. We had never been to the other side or to the beach so we were really looking forward to it. About a week prior to the cruise, I received an email that this excursion was cancelled and they recommended another one called Living Mayan History that was supposed to take us to the north side, to the ruins and then drop us either at town or at our ship. I was disappointed that there would be no beach time, but figured we would see the island as we would have on the other tour. This was one sad little tour! The very nice guide marched us out to the parking lot only to find that our bus was not there. We stood in the parking lot in a line for 20 minutes and then here came this sorry looking bus........very old with dents everywhere and a broken door that they had to manually pull open and closed. We all joked (nervously) but climbed aboard to a very stuffy interior that had been upholstered over every inch of surface space, ha! We quickly realized that the air conditioning was in about the same shape as the bus itself. We were taken to a replica of a small Mayan village where we saw women making tortillas, women making mole, and a small tequila operation. The tequila tasting was very good.........but the main objective was to get us to buy: buy tequila, buy black coral jewelry, buy silver, buy anything! We then made our way to an overlook that had nice views, on to the ruins of a worshipping place (not San Gervasio) and then back to the ship - not even the option to be dropped in town. The kicker was, when we got back to the staging area for the shore excursions, I saw a sign for a San Gervasio and Beach Tour! I asked one of the staff it that tour had gone out and he said yes...... Sigh.....
I realize that the experiences in Key West and Cozumel were with different staff and had different problems, but normally I find the ship tours on RCI to be well-organized and very much worth my time and money. Coincidentally on this cruise, both stops leaved something to be desired.
Now for the Biggest Unexpected Pleasure: The entertainment! The Royal Singers and Dancers on this ship put on the absolute best production show that I have ever seen in my 18 cruises - no kidding!! It was actually more of a compilation of different styles of music, featuring the fabulous ship orchestra and various additional combos such as a string trio and a classical pianist. The Singers and Dancers were very talented and could handle the different musical styles with ease. The best way to describe it is Classy! Classy setting, classy costumes, classy performances. Nice going, Brilliance of the Seas! The pianist and combos also performed throughout the ship during the cruise. The second production show was also well-done, but more typical of the usual offering.
All in all, I rated this cruise as Excellent. The ship is in beautiful shape - very well-maintained - and a delight to the senses. In fact, we agreed that we could do this very itinerary on this very ship again, only this time, we will arrange our own shore activities.