Tasty cuisine, comfortable state rooms, highly affordable budget options and entertainment and facilities galore, Brilliance of the Seas is a taste of Carnival-type entertainment cruising in the Gulf.
Self-levelling pool tables in the Colony Club, a rock-climbing wall on the funnel, an Adventure Ocean water park on the Pool Deck and a helicopter pad at the bow… Brilliance of the Seas is all one could possibly expect from a four-star ocean-going resort and is operating out of Dubai through the winter.
Brilliance of the Seas is the 20th vessel to sail under the Royal Caribbean brand and is the second the line’s Radiance-class vessels. At 962 feet (293 metres), with a beam of 105 feet (32.2 metres), the 2002-launched Brilliance of the Seas displaces a whopping 90,009 gross tons, making her one of the largest cruise ship’s currently operating out of Dubai (beating MSC’s Lirica by a good few tens of thousands of tons!). But, Brilliance is relatively small in comparison to Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class vessels, such as the Allure of the Seas, which was launched in 2010 and is more than twice the size of Brilliance at 225,282 gross tons.
If one has not stood next to the two ship’s and made a direct comparison however, it is easy to forget that Brilliance is smaller than her flagship fleet mate. She is a massive ship, carrying 2,502 passengers with all her berths full and offering passengers an astounding 33 different public rooms and facilities. “These ship’s are amazing assets in their ability to house diverse experience”, Royal Caribbean’s president, Adam Goldstein, told Bob Dickinson of Carnival Cruises in 2006 and Brilliance perfectly reflects this reality, without being too large that one forgets they’re at sea…which is a travesty on many of the world’s mega-cruise ships, Allure of the Seas included.
Royal Caribbean’s focus on diversity is also reflected in her shore excursions, during this Med cruise there were no less than 158 shore excursions offered in total, with over 30 often provided in the various ports. The large number houses extreme diversity, from exploration of ancient ruins or historical palaces, to adventure-based tours, such as a hike up Mount Vesuvius, which dominates the beautiful Naples skyline. Many shore excursions also included the option to explore cities and towns outside of the port of call, such as the Herculaneum ruins outside Naples and the Italian capital, Rome, an hour’s drive from the port of Civitavecchia.
Goldstein added that “the rock walls and ice-skating rinks and now the surf machines…set us apart [from other cruise line’s]”, which is indicative of the way in which Royal Caribbean has distinguished itself, by offering a diverse range of entertainment and activity options on one single ship in a way that few offer line’s do, and certainly none sailing from Dubai this cruise season. Aboard Brilliance, guests can play billiards on self-righting tables down aft on Deck 6, climb a rock wall on the back of the funnel, engage in mini golf or try out volley ball and basket ball on full-sized courts on the Sports Court way up on Deck 12, aft, but forward of the golf simulators.
It is this big-ship cruise experience, packed with a diversity of options for activity and entertainment that makes Royal Caribbean so particularly popular with families. “Larger ships allow us to offer a diversity of experience that is multifaceted, not only for quite different kinds of guests, but also for multigenerational family travel,” says Goldstein. Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas has been said by Cruise Critic.com to have one of the best children’s clubs currently at sea. The Adventure Ocean program for children and teens in five different age groups uses the ship’s extensive facilities to offer an age-appropriate entertainment program that is indeed world-class.
Kids from 3 to 5, 6 to 8, 9 to 11, 12 to 14 and 15 to 17 years have free run of two state of the art playrooms and a teen disco, as well as a computer lab, PlayStations and Adventure Beach with a waterslide and pool. Kids even get their own Daily Compass delivered to their cabins every night! These facilities and child-care services are even available on port days, so one doesn’t have to drag their bored 11-year-old with them while trying to take in the splendour of the Royal Palace in Naples or the immense historical significance of the Colosseum in Rome.
An 11-night cruise in the Med proved barely long enough to truly experience all that the ship had to offer, so guests will be hard-pressed to exhaust their options for entertainment and fun during the ship’s 7-night Dubai-based cruises in the Gulf. At Cruise Arabia, we like the traditional pre-dinner drinks, followed by engaging entertainment in one of a ship’s lounges after dining and Brilliance rose to the task fantastically, with the Centrum Lobby Bar quickly becoming a firm favourite of most passengers following dinner, though it filled swiftly because of this and has space for just 60 guests. A three-piece band here played up-beat dance tunes throughout the cruise, included the cha-cha and mambo for those brave, or talented, enough.
The music from the Lobby Bar echoed throughout the Centrum, finding its way into other public areas that form part of the Centrum, such as the Deck 6 Champagne Bar and the internet cafe on Deck 5. A special mention must be made here of Latte-tudes, the internet cafe, as it is truly one of the best at sea. Unlike many ship’s that tuck their internet cafe’s away in an obscure corner, Latte-tudes is open and spacious, existing as a coffee shop first and foremost with amazing sea views and Seattle’s Best coffee available (US $2.95)…which was especially welcome in the mornings during the first of the day’s email checks. Wireless internet is also available on Decks 4 and 7, as well as at Latte-tudes (US $0.65 per minute throughout).
Brilliance’s outward-facing nature enables wonderful ocean view to be available in most of the ship’s public rooms, especially the Starquest bar and nightclub, all the way up on Deck 13, which features an oh-so-modern revolving mechanism that rotates the entire space through 360 degrees! Because the Starquest bar and nightclub is located just forward of midships, clinging to the main shaft of the funnel, the two-deck Day Spa and Fitness Centre are able to occupy positions way forward on Decks 11 and 12, usually the most prime real estate on any other vessel.
The main entertainment deck aboard Brilliance of the Seas is Deck 6, where there are a number of well-appointed lounges and bars tucked away in various areas, but each with sea views and unique characteristics, so that none felt like space-fillers, forgotten about in the immensity of the ship. There is the Colony Club to aft, which is actually made up of four different clubs, each offering a different atmosphere and experience: The Bombay Billiard Club (self-leveling billiards tables), Jakarta Lounge (backgammon, checkers and chess tables), the Calcutta Card Club (board games and bridge) and Singapore Slings, which features awesome views of the ship’s wake. Reflecting the club’s name, the Colony Club features British colonial-style décor, complete with potted plants and plantation shutters and was the main venue for much of the ship’s main events, such as the formal-dress Captain’s Cocktail Party.
Moving forward, the long and very nautically-themed Schooner’s Bar has the Portofino restaurant and Chops Grille emanating off it, offering Italian and Steakhouse fare respectively. Both are extremely elegant considering Brillance’s mass market appeal, but required reservations before hand, and because they’re speciality restaurants, there’s also a surplus charge (of US $20 and US $30 per person respectively). The food in the Minstrel Dining Room on Decks Five and Four was good to excellent though (salads being the main drawback) and Schooner Bar on Deck 5 proved a grand spot in which to enjoy pre-dinner drinks. This 144-seat bar is very large, so seating was rarely a problem, except during ‘rush hour’, between 7pm and 8pm when most guests chose to have dinner on the My Time free-dining option, and especially during the thirty minutes or so prior to the first and second sittings of dinner, at 6pm and 8.30pm respectively.
Minstrels is also a good locale for breakfast, with hot dishes such as pancakes, waffles and omeletes, treats not offered by the buffet-style Windjammer Cafe, which also provided good and diverse fare, but tended to become noisy and crowded during meals. This was especially the case during lunch, as Minstrels did not serve meals midday (except on the one sea day), which pushed guests to Windjammer on Deck 11 (unless they were prepared to pay for lunch at one of the ship’s many speciality restaurants and cafes, which is perhaps Royal Caribbean’s intention). If you want to dodge the crowds, you should try have lunch early between noon and 1pm, although this is difficult on port days. If Windjammer does prove too crowded, we recommend grabbing an outdoor table at the Seaview Cafe one deck up and then carrying your food over from Windjammer. Although Seaview offers some snacks, paninis, pizzas and pasta, the main buffet restaurant’s food is generally much better.
Many cruisers prefer to be able to eat when and where they want, with no restrictions, much like at land-based restaurants. This is a concept that has been most notably developed by Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), and the My Time dining option brings some elements of this to Royal Caribbean. Aboard Brilliance, or any other ship for that matter, though, there are drawbacks to the option, particularly in terms of the rapport that is essential between guests and waiters in order for the dining experience to reach it’s full potential. When guests eat to the ship’s first and second sitting schedule, one’s table is assigned the same staff each night, which makes the paying of gratuities easier (and more personal) and allows waitrons to learn your needs and expectations throughout the cruise. Another disadvantage is that guests on the My Time option are unable to partake in the waitrons parade at the end of the cruise, a light-hearted affair in which the waiters and waitresses parade through the dining room on the last night of the cruise, while guests wave their napkins in time to the music. Silly, but fun, which is what cruising is all about.
A few notes on dining aboard Brilliance: in the Minstrel Dining Room and Windjammer Cafe there is no sommelier available and the wine selection is fairly poor. The Windjammer does have an onsite bar, which proved of great use in that one didn’t have to order wine, beer or soda from the waitrons. The mass market-quality wine came in airline-style bottles at US $6 a pop, all-in-all rather tacky, but then Royal Caribbean doesn’t pretend to be a luxury line and other wines are available from the nearest bar, but can take a while to appear. The complimentary coffee and tea station available throughout the day in Windjammer is a nice touch for those who prefer not to wait for lunch or dinner to have some tea and don’t like to pay for refreshments in the various other cafes and restaurants.
Brilliance of the Seas featured the near-universal three dress codes during the cruise, formal (evening gowns and tuxedos), smart casual (dresses and pants combos and jackets) and casual, which is generally an as-you-like option. The formal nights are regarded as a chose for some, especially aboard a ship like Brilliance, but are a nice way to touch base with the Golden Age of ocean travel, when dressing up for dinner was de rigueur and the evenings were a parade of elegance and sophistication. After a long day in port, however, the casual dress code is most welcome indeed as all one generally wants is a hot shower, a bite to eat, perhaps the evening show if it can be managed and bed. On nights like this, slipping into a bed with crisp clean sheets and listening to the gentle, reassuring hum of the ship as you fall asleep is the nearest any cruise-lover can get to complete contentment.
Younger cruisers and the younger-at-heart, on the other hand, will let nothing stop them from squeezing every last ounce of fun out of their cruise and aboard Brilliance, there is a lot to get out indeed. While the Centrum is the heart of the ship in terms of its bars, cafes, lounges and retail outlets and is a spectacular place in which to spend time, the immense two-level Pacifica Theatre is the show capital of the ship. During the Med cruise there were a number of lavish big-number cabaret shows, as well as less over-the-top performances ranging from an illusionist to acrobats.
The ship’s two main venues for after-the-show music and dancing are Hollywood Odyssey and the Starquest Disco, which appeal to very different tastes and are both located way up top on Deck 13. Those looking for late-night jamming to a range of upbeat tracks will enjoy the Starquest Disco, which also held themed events, such as 70s night, Elvis Night and an 18-to-20-plus night with a DJ. Hollywood Odyssey on the other hand was a little gem where a classical guitarist played relaxing tunes and seats seemed to always be available. Another option for movie buffs was the Scoreboard Cinema, which seats 40 people on Deck 6, just aft of the Pacifica Theatres upper-level.
The movies here, like on the ship’s in-cabin entertainment system, were uninspiring and out-of-date. Moving aft again, the Scoreboard Sports Bar will win points of approval from smokers as it is one the ship’s few indoor smoking areas. The ventilation system needs upgrading though, but the sports events shown on large screens are welcome. Smoking is also allowed in the casino, which was busy most nights of the cruise, but did offer several non-smoking nights as well for gamblers who don’t partake in slowly killing themselves, which will be a great option for UAE-based cruisers, who tend to eschew the habit.
Days at sea aboard Brilliance were filled with traditional diversions for those who managed to exhaust the ship’s range of sports and adventure facilities, with napkin-folding, beading, dance classes, bingo, cooking demos and other pursuits held in lounges around the ship. The pool area on Deck 12 was particularly popular given the time of year and region in which the ship was sailing. Live music is played by a three-piece band and the cruise staff were fantastic up here, hosting various competitions and contests. All in all then, most passengers spend very little time in their cabins, but the staterooms aboard Brilliance are nonetheless fairly spacious and very comfortable.
Pool Deck with Starquest Disco in background
Brillance’s cabins come in four basic categories, with differentiations within: inside cabins, outside cabins, balcony staterooms and Suite/Deluxe stateroom options. The fourth category of cabins come with a personalised concierge service and access to the exclusive Concierge Club aboard ship on Deck Ten, just off the Centrum. Standard inside and outside cabins are 165 feet and 170 feet, so the only real difference between them is that the outside cabins have picture windows, or portholes (if closer to the waterline). Balcony staterooms are more diverse, they range in size from 179 to 204 square feet (in categories that go from “deluxe” to “superior”), but in all types, the balcony is 41 square feet.
The entry-level deluxe stateroom is the 293 square foot Junior Suite, which has a 66 square foot balcony, a larger living room than the balcony staterooms and a bathroom that includes a bathtub as well as a shower. Almost double the size is the Royal Family Suite, at between 533 and 586 square feet. This suite has two bedrooms off a sitting room and 139 to 193 square foot balconies. For families travelling on a budget that does not allow these suites, however, there are 319 square foot oceanview family cabins, which are essentially standard outside staterooms, but with a small, second bedroom for the kids.
Then there are the elite staterooms for those who want even more space and amenities: the Grand Suite, Owner’s Suite and Royal Suite, at 358 to 384 square feet, 512 square feet and 1,001 square feet respectively. The Royal Suite is indeed immense by contemporary cruise ship standards and is 300 square feet larger than an entire one-bedroom apartment in Jumeirah Beach Residence in Dubai. The Owner’s Suite and Royal Suite also feature larger balconies (57 and 215 square feet).
The staterooms themselves are also packed with extra amenities, such as a bathroom with whirlpool, bidet and separate shower, along with bedroom and living areas that are completely separate from one another like a penthouse apartment. For an extra “wow factor”, the Royal Suite comes with a baby grand piano and arrangements can be made for private performances over candle lit dinner. Who says a mass market cruise ship can’t cater to guests with exclusive tastes?
Brilliance of the Seas is a massive ship operating in the Gulf with a massive personality, she can cater to a wide variety of tastes, is larger enough to offer enough activities, entertainment options and dining experiences to satisfy a broad spectrum of the population and does it all for a very reasonable price. She is indeed a brilliant ship, but guests should bear in mind that there are downsides that come with big-ship cruising.
As we’ve already mentioned, the competition for space in the Windjammer Cafe can at times test one’s patience and the pool area can become extremely busy and noisy during the day’s peak sunning hours. Boarding the ship at the beginning of the cruise takes some time, as does re-boarding after a shore excursion on land and areas of the ship lacking in space, such as the Centrum Lobby Bar and truly tiny Library, can at times feel over-crowded. Indeed, if all ten seats in the little library are occupied the room feels like a doctor’s waiting room.
However, these niggles are not unique to Brilliance of the Seas or indeed any of her comparable or larger fleet mates under the Royal Caribbean umbrella. Contemporary, or mass market, ships cannot offer the same all-round experience as a luxury vessel, as their size is what makes them cheaper to run through economies of scale, so that a 1000 square foot Royal Suite is made affordable in a way that a comparative suite aboard a Silversea or Seabourn vessel never could. Brilliance of the Seas is a ship for those who like bigger ships, don’t take themselves too seriously and want a diverse cruise experience and we love her for that.
Destinations in 11-night Madrid and Barcelona voyage
1 Barcelona (and Madrid) – Depart 5pm (After one night in Madrid and two nights in Barcelona)
Beautiful Barcelona was the departure port for this 11-day festival of activities, excursions, exploration and relaxation, but the holiday experience actually started several days earlier, to the west in Madrid, the national capital of Spain. Located almost exactly in the middle of the country, a tour of the city included the Plaza Mayor, Plaza de Espana and the Royal Palace. The next day, guests were treated to a high speed train ride to Barcelona for more sight-seeing including the Gothic Quarter and the 13th-century Gothic Cathedral, as well as La Sagrada Familia. All in the comfort of an air-conditioned motor coach!
Barcelona is consistently rated as one of the happiest cities in the world, and is it any wonder when the magnificent Gothic Cathedral (Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia) is one of the prominent landmarks?
2 Provence (Toulon), France – Arrived 7am – Departed 5pm
Toulon, the first port of call after leaving Barcelona, provided no less than 17 excursion offers. Located in the Provence region, it has been an important naval base since the reign of French King Charles VIII who, in 1494 began construction of the military port. Because of its history, the city is a treasure chest of classical architecture with 19th century plazas and town squares dominated by beautifully ornate fountains and statues. The 5-hour ‘Aix-en-Provence’ tour to the town of Aix outside Toulon is particularly enjoyable and features much walking through the pedestrian-oriented city with its main Rotonde Square, 17th century chessboard patterned Quarter Mazarin and aristocratic townhouses with wonderful Baroque facades.
Aix-en-Provence is a little town outside Toulon, with much of its 17th century character still intact, such as its Town Hall and market in the square.
3 Villefranche (Nice), France – Arrived 7am – Departed 7pm
Nice stands alongside Marseille as one of the principle cities on the French Riviera, the iconic playground of the rich and famous, backing onto the Mediterranean from the Italian border in the east, all the way up past Saint Tropez to Nice. The city is iconic for both its history and its status and is also believed to be among the oldest human settlements in Europe, giving it a degree of diversity that makes it a favourite destination of the cruise industry. Because of the city’s proximity to the sovereign city-state of Monaco, the 19 shore excursions also offered commensurate variety. The ‘Nice and Monaco on Your Own’ tour provided transport to Nice’s major landmarks and the Principality of Monaco, but included two and three hours of free time for exploring in each city respectively.
Monaco is one of the smallest, but most iconic, states in the world. The principality is barely larger than the Vatican, but packed with landmarks, luxury yachts and coffee shops in which to sit and marvel at the fact of simply being there.
4 Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Italy – Arrived 7am – Departed 7pm
Brilliance of the Seas docked in Livorno for 12 hours, providing ample time to explore the historical port city, as well as the nearby Italian cities of Pisa and Florence. Each is famous in their own right: Florence is renowned as the birthplace of the renaissance and has a 15th century skyline sure to delight even those whose interest in history is non-existent, while Pisa is best-known for its eponymous Leaning Tower, it is also home to dozens of other churches, palaces and beautiful bridges. Livorno, where any shore excursion will begin and end, was known as the perfect town during the renaissance and today retains much of its charming character with waterfront cafes, canals crisscrossing the city in the Venice Quarter and several old fortresses and 17th century defenses. For this reason, and because of the 12-hour port stay, a 2 hour boat tour of Livorno and a three-and-a-half hour tour of Pisa proved highly enjoyable, with Florence explored at leisure.
Florence has a particularly beautiful 15th century skyline and is regarded as the birthplace of the renaissance.
5 Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy – Arrived 7am – Departed 7pm
Meaning “ancient town”, Civitavecchia has for millennia been one of the main ports servicing Rome, once the capital of an ancient empire and now the capital of Italy and one of the most iconic cities in the world. Although the Civitavecchia port call’s primary goal is for guests to visit Rome, the little city has many interesting draw cards of its own, such as the Michelangelo stronghold, a fortress built in the 16th century with design queues from the great man himself and the Terme Taurine thermal complex and nearby Ficoncella Thermal Bath, both of which are extremely well-preserved. It’s just as well that Brilliance called in here for 12 hours because the immensity of options for exploring is indeed staggering. The ‘Shuttle & Private Train to Rome & Vatican City’ was nine-and-a-half hours and the independent nature of it provided the ability to explore the major sights, such as the Colosseum and Vatican City, but it was still just a sample of what this immense city has to offer. If we ever return with Royal Caribbean we will certainly take the ‘Discover Renaissance Rome’ tour. The city is the life’s work of an entire empire; it has to be visited at least twice!
Civitavecchia is treated by most passengers as a gateway to Rome, but the city offers some interesting experiences of its own, such as Michelangelo’s fortress.
6 Naples, Capri, Italy – Arrived 7am – Departed 7pm
Once the capital of the Kingdom of Naples, which exited for several hundred years from the 13th century, the eponymous city is today an internationally-renowned destination for its rich history, art, culture, architecture, music, and culinary delights. Brilliance’s 12 hour port stay provided just enough time to get a taste of what this city is all about, with a quick gaunt over to Capri on the island of the same name and a look into the Herculaneum ruins. The tour of Naples included the Castle Nuovo, photo opportunities of the Royal Palace at Piazza Plebiscito, as well as San Carlo Opera House & Church of St. Francis, but was done mostly via the coach with no interior tours…so there’s something to remember for next time.
Herculaneum was an exclusive seaside resort for the Roman elite and was buried in mud by the same volcanic eruption that buried Pompeii in ash in 79 AD.
Barcelona – Arrived 6am
The major cultural centre of Barcelona, referred to as the “Paris of Spain” by Hans Christian Andersen in 1862, was the last port of call as well as the first on this nicely cyclical Mediterranean cruise.
Brilliance of the Seas at a Glance:
Refurbished (most recent): 2007
Length: 962’ (293.3m)
Beam: 106’ (32.3m)
Capacity (double occupancy): 2,112