Brilliance of the Seas: Maiden Cruise
Royal Caribbean International
Royal Caribbean International are the number two cruise line in the world, so we can always expect their newbuilds to be at the cutting edge of the industry. After all, at the time of writing (August 2002), RCI already operate the worlds biggest cruise ships, Adventure, Voyager, Explorer and soon, Navigator of the Seas.
BRILLIANCE OF THE SEAS is the second in a series of four ‘Radiance’ class ships, the first being the acclaimed RADIANCE OF THE SEAS. At 90,090 gross tons she does not break any records for her size, but never the less she is a very big ship i.e. she is twice the volume of the Titanic! This remarkable vessel is truly a floating resort, yet is still capable of transiting the Panama Canal. This is an essential capability for a ship that will sail both in the Caribbean and Europe.
For the technically minded, GTV BRILLIANCE OF THE SEAS (Gas Turbine Vessel) utilizes state of the art Gas Turbine engines to generate electrical power. This power drives two Azipods propulsion units suspended from the hull. The two water screws pull the ship through the water, rather than pushing it. The Azipods can be rotated through 360 degrees, making this ship extremely manoeuvrable. There is rarely any need for assistance from tugs. There are no drive shafts, little vibration and minimal pollution. She can achieve a very respectable service speed of 24 knots.
Even more mind blowing, is the fact that these ships do not need to weigh anchor. A computer controlled satellite ‘positioning’ system can instruct the bow thrusters and pods to keep the ship accurately positioned within three feet! The onboard currency is U.S. Dollars, with the usual cashless system in operation. A pretty blue plastic credit sized card is your room key, your onboard payment system, and your ID card. It even has which evening dining sitting you have been allocated, printed on it, main or second sitting. Externally the ship has a vast amount of glass, including glass elevators with sea views. Externally all these windows make the ship look rather like an office block, but internally you are never out of touch with the sea, which is quite an achievement on such a big vessel. There is a promenade deck, but it does not wrap around the ship entirely. The bow area is off limits. However, the views from the ‘sky deck’ and the millions of windows are excellent, so it is no real loss.
There is a helicopter pad on the bow of the ship, which is reassuring. Unfortunately, it had to be used during our cruise to transport a serious ill passenger by Royal Air Force helicopter back to Britain.
It is important to note that I was aboard this ship for her inaugural cruise from Harwich to the Norwegian Fjords. The ship had only been completed a couple of weeks before. You could still smell the new carpet, the fresh paint and the glue! It is almost unimaginable to conceive of the mammoth task that it must be to get such a vessel and 850 crew up and running. The staff were a new team, so some teething problems with the levels of service were to be expected. However, after a few hiccups on the first day, the standard of service was good.
Wow, where do I begin? This ship has no lack of places to eat drink or just sit and relax. The entertainment, beauty and sports facilities are varied and also very extensive.
In terms of décor this ship has somewhat of a split personality. Some of the public rooms are glitzy, upbeat and Las Vegas like, while others are tasteful, tranquil and hark back to earlier period in maritime history. There are many large spaces, but also a number of intimate ones too. The different spaces, with their different décor, generate very different atmospheres. There really is something on offer to please everyone.
I’ve decided that the only possible way to review a ship this big, is to take a methodical approach and describe the ship deck by deck.
Decks 1 to 3 are crew quarters and passenger cabins. The real action starts on deck 4. An obvious starting place is the Atrium (or Centrium as RCI like to call it) located towards the centre of deck. It rises all the way to deck thirteen and has six glass elevators. It is rather too glitzy for my liking, resembling my local shopping mall, but nevertheless quite awesome. The various tiers of the Centrium feature a number of small public spaces, which are most welcome on this big vessel.
Stretching from the ground level to the ceiling in the Centrium is a curious work of art which resembles a white tornado, although once again the scale is very impressive. The lower level resembles a Hotel Lobby and to confirm this there is the ‘Lobby Bar’, a number of comfortable chairs with tables and set of illuminated stairs leading to the next deck. These stairs prove to be irresistible for the professional photographers selling formal portraits. There is also a so called ‘Guest Relations’ desk on the Lobby level, so I assume that the maritime tradition of the ‘Purser’ has finally been abolished? RCI also have an interestingly named ‘Explorations’ department. I must admit that its role puzzled me until it was explained to me that it was the ‘Excursions’ department!
A pianist or trio are often to be found playing in playing in the Lobby, against a waterfall. In fact the ship has a number of waterfalls in key areas which are all very attractive. Many are enhanced by the use of light and other interesting optical effects.
There are a number of small Internet-access areas on several different tiers of the Centrium. Unfortunately to send and receive E-mail’s, you are required to set-up a web based E-mail account, such as ‘Hot Mail’, if you do not already have one. This is a real nuisance, because as you are setting it up, the clock is already ticking and the charges are mounting up.
At the bow of deck 4, as with most modern ships is the Pacifica Theatre. This is a rather traditional design which cleverly feels much more intimate than its 1000 seats capacity would suggest. It stretches across three decks and in fact reminds me of a bigger version of the SS Norway’s Saga Theatre. There are excellent sight lines, with few columns to obscure your view. It has comfortable upright seating, rather than the slouchy type. The seats are well tiered so you do not spend the entire show looking at the persons head in front. The theatre even has its own bar at the rear, so the waiters can easily serve you.
My only complaint is that the décor is a bit over the top with alternating coloured seats of red and yellow. However, this does generate an upbeat feel to compliment the loud and upbeat production shows such as ‘Latin Fever’ and ‘Turn the Beat Around’. Perhaps this is RCI’s attempt to appeal to a younger clientèle?
At the stern of deck 4, is the main dining room, the Minstrel dining room. This room is two decks high.
Deck 5 accommodates the upper tier of the Pacifica Theatre at the bow and the upper tier Minstrel dining room at the stern. In between is the photo gallery where you can buy the professional photographs and a shopping arcade comprising of six shops. There are also several conference rooms on this deck.
When guests leave the Minstrel dining room after their meal, a bottleneck can occur as they file through the photo gallery and through the shopping arcade, to the theatre. This may not be a design fault, but a clever marketing ploy? This level of the Centrium accommodates Latte-Tudes Coffee Bar (get it?), but unfortunately the cups were made of paper and there is an additional charge!
At the bow of deck 6 is the third and final tier of the Pacifica theatre. Nearby is a small cinema, utilizing video projection rather than real film projection – progress I suppose? The Seats are raked very steeply indeed, so there are no problems with your view being obstructed by people’s heads.
Working our way to the stern of the ship, there is a video arcade, and the ‘Scoreboard’ sports bar. The sports bar is circular with high stools, there are wall to wall monitors not surprisingly showing sporting events. The décor here is of the ‘Ronald McDonald’ school of naval architecture.
The Casino Royale is reasonably large and of course has the obligatory Las Vegas style décor of black and glitz, with the usual sensory deprivation techniques of having no clocks or windows. Although I’m not a gambler, they seemed to have packed a lot of equipment and tables into the available space? In fact, the gaming tables looked a little too tight for comfort? The Centrium tier on this level has a small Champagne bar. However I was far too nervous to even look at the prices.
Making our way towards the stern we pass the two alternative restaurants Chops Grille and Portofino. At the stern we come to the piece de résistance of the ship, (well one of them anyway) the Colony Club.
The Colony Club is a very tasteful area indeed, consisting of a number of interlinking smaller spaces. In fact it is one of the more attractive lounge areas I have ever seen at sea.
First we enter the nautical themed Schooner Bar. The décor comprises of lots of wood, brass, ropes, barrels, a model ship and a ships wheel thrown in for good measure, just in case you have not grasped the maritime connection. In fact the smell of wood in this whole area is wonderful, assuming that it’s real?
The Colony club itself is essentially an entertainment lounge with seating, a stage and dance floor. It is decorated in a British colonial style, with lots of dark woods and images of India. It is served by the attractive Singapore Slings bar. There is also a seating area called the Jakarta Lounge, and a side room, called the Calcutta Card Club, with suitable card tables.
Unfortunately the tasteful Colony Club is exclusively used for very un-tasteful entertainment such as Karaoke, talent contests and Mr and Mrs Competitions! I would have like to see it used for the occasional maritime lecture or port talk, neither of which appeared on the entertainment program, much to my disappointment.
You may have already heard of the two amazing self-levelling pool tables in the stylish Bombay Billiard Room? The ship may rock and roll but the table surface and balls remain completely level at all times. The only problem is for the player, who has to avoid miss-cueing a rising and falling ball!
Deck 7 comprises almost entirely cabins and suites, apart from a business centre with computers, fax and photocopier etc. Decks 8, 9 and 10 are also mainly accommodation; after all they have to fit those hundreds of cabins in somewhere! However, the Centrium tier of deck 9 houses a small Library and deck 10 has a very small, but attractive seating area called the Yacht Club.
Deck 11 comprises purely of public rooms. At the bow we have the Massage, thermal Suite, Spa and Hair Salon. There are Women’s and men’s steam room and saunas which are beautifully decorated. There is also a Thermal Suite with saunas with excellent views of the ocean. There are various charges to use these areas.
Adjacent is the solarium, with its indoor salt water pool. This is another wonderfully attractive room. The theme of this room is Indian and it comes complete with three giant 16 foot high India Elephants overlooking the pool with cascading water and lush vegetation. There is also a whirlpool and shower both designed to look like little Indian temples. The glass roof can be retracted in sunny weather. Words cannot do this room justice; it needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. Additionally, to ensure that you are never too far away from food and drink, the solarium has a beverage centre which also serves Pizza, at no extra charge.
If you walk amidships, on this deck, you find yourself in the open air, but a very long way away from the sea! Located here is the obligatory outdoor pool and two whirlpools. The design of this area is not unlike many new ships. There is a balcony (deck 12) primarily full of sun-loungers, overlooking the pool. Both pool level and balcony of course have their own bar, called the ‘Sky Bar’. Live music often takes place near the pool.
Working towards the stern we encounter the Windjammer Café. Deck 12, has both inside and outside public areas. At the bow, we have the shipshape fitness centre. The fitness centre is extensive and has a full range of instruments of torture, including a space for aerobics etc. Needless to say that I did not use any of the facilities. In fact I began to feel fatigued just touring the gym. I’m more into keep-fat than keep-fit!
At the stern of this deck is the children’s area, including a games arcade, and junior disco. Further aft is an outdoor pool dedicated to children with its own water slide. A life guard was present whenever it was open. There is an outdoor sports court, which mainly seemed to be used for basket ball when I was observing. Additionally on the open deck there is also outdoor jogging track, table-tennis, and that traditional maritime game, shuffle-board. A charming little room called the ‘Country Club’, once again in a colonial style provides the sporting equipment such as bats and balls.
At the very stern, there is a golf simulator for the serious golfer. The final public space on this deck is the small Seaview Café
Phew, at last our tour has reached deck thirteen, the uppermost level of this leviathan. This accommodates the RCI trademark Royal Viking Crown. This room doubles as an observation lounge and the Starquest discothèque. Its décor is rather over the top, with lots of glitter and stars, but it works well for this lively night spot.
The room had a dance floor and a revolving bar. To be precise, the bar stools and counter revolved around the stationery bar staff. This can be quite good fun. I managed to order a drink, only to find myself leaving the bar tender behind. He did not reappear until I had done a full revolution, by which time he had forgotten who I was! The chairs were particularly interesting in this lounge; in fact are many amazing designs of chairs throughout the entire ship.
The rock-climbing wall was behind the Viking crown, up the rear of the funnel housing. I had a go of this and found it to be great fun. A safety helmet and rock boots are provided, there is no charge. For a novice the wall is more difficult than it looked. There was a slight overhand, which caused me to fall off about half way up! However, I was in safe hands and was being belayed by an instructor.
The final public amenity is a nine hole mini-golf course, which is particularly good fun for the family. This is a free facility.
RCI operates a traditional dining system on this ship. You are assigned a table and a time (6.30 or 8.30pm) in the main dining room, the ‘Minstrel’. There are four other venues for dining, but I will start with the Minstrel.
The breath-taking Minstrel dining room recreates the feeling that you are dining onboard one of the great transatlantic liners, such as the Queen Mary. The Minstrel spans the width of the ship and is two decks high. It has a grand staircase descending from the upper level to the lower. Under the staircase is a clever illuminated waterfall and small stage for piano accompaniment, or maybe violinist and pianist.
At the far end of the room is a two story mural depicting court jesters. Massive roman style columns support the decorative ceiling. Cleverly, you do not feel that you are sharing your meal with a 1000 plus, other guests.
Although the dining room was staffed by a new team, for this inaugural cruise, by the second evening they had largely got their act together. However, the wine waitress was unable to provide many of the wines on the wine list, much to the disappointment of many passengers. Curiously RCI always seemed to be able to find the most expensive choices. There is little excuse for this.
The food was of a good standard. The choices included vegetarian and low fat options. The menu included American favourites like Prime Rib and Lobster tails. The salads and vegetables were all well prepared. It was also nice to see some more unusual options such as the Indian specialities, very popular with Brits such as Aloo Gobbi and Chicken Massala.
The alternative dining area is the Windjammer Café. This provides the ships casual buffet style dining and is available for breakfast lunch and evening meal. The decor is very pleasant; in fact it is not unlike an upscale motorway service station, in the most positive sense.
There are a number of food-islands, offering steak, sushi and Salads, and everything in between. There are also two beverage stations called ‘Thirst Quenchers’. However, Soda’s will cost you money. There is also a self-service ice cream machine. There are numerous tables and large picture windows so you can always dine with a view. As with many ships, doors lead to a large outdoor ‘lido’ style seating area over looking the ships stern. There is also a 24 hour self-service tea and coffee machine.
Once again the selection of food was wide and generally hot. Unfortunately, the plates and cups in the Windjammer Café initially look like real china, but on closer inspection they are in fact made of plastic. A small point maybe, but I personally do not associate ‘luxury’ with ‘plastic’.
This ship has two alternative dining rooms, Chops (Grill) and Portofino (Italian). Both are attractive and intimate rooms. Chops has an open kitchen where you can watch the various meats being cooked. However, passengers are required to book in advance and pay a $20 cover charge per person. I have heard very good reports about the food in these restaurants. However, if RCI want me to review their alternative dining rooms they, will have to drop the additional charge, first.
The Seaview Café is perched high on the stern of the ship so it does justify its name. It is open for late night food. Although the fare is mainly fish, salad, burgers and deli-style sandwiches, the menu if a little broader and more interesting than similar facilities onboard some other cruise lines. It has both inside and outside seating. However, it can only accommodate a very small fraction of the passengers onboard, but many never ever find it, anyway.
The food in the Seaview Café is free, but It has a beverage station which charges for tea and coffee. However, there is a stairway that leads you directly down one deck to the Windjammer Café, when you can obtain a free tea or Coffee and bring it back to the Seaview Café. A bit of an oversight on RCI part, I feel?
I ordered breakfast room service each day. There is no extra charge for this. The egg omelettes were particularly good and actually arrived hot to my amazement. Unfortunately, they never ever got my order exactly right. One morning I had a teabag, milk and a cup, but no hot water. Another morning, I got the hot water, but no cup or teabag. One morning they forgot to bring anything, until I reminded them. However, they put their mistake right efficiently. The good news is that the cups and saucers provided by room service are real china, unlike those provided for use in the windjammer.
There is not always a midnight buffet on this ship. However, two exceptions were the Chocolate extravaganza and the Gala midnight buffet, which took place during my seven night cruise. I personally could not stomach chocolate at midnight, but obviously hundreds of other passengers could!
This ship has lots of cabins (or should I say staterooms?) as you would expect. A high proportion of them have balconies. There are essentially eleven variations of cabin, from inside cabins at 165 sq. ft. to the awesome Royal Suite at 1001 sq. ft. It is furnished with a baby grand piano and a 215sq. ft. balcony, which is bigger than most of the cabins onboard. Unfortunately the price for the Royal Suite matches its square footage. Most of us will be looking at something a little more humble.
All cabins are decorated in a dark wood (effect). For those with a bigger budget, there are five grades of suite to choose from. For those of us with a more modest budget, I can recommend the E grade Superior Ocean View Staterooms at 179 sq. ft. with a balcony of 41 sq. ft. Many of these cabins have two lower beds that can be converted into a double bed. A limited number have an adjoining door.
You get a double wardrobe, with inadequate number of hangers (so bring some of your own), a dressing table, proper hair dryer, double sofa and a little table. Unfortunately the table was hardly big enough to balance the room service tray on, but at least you did not fall over the table when it was not in use. You also get a large TV, safe, telephone and a mini bar stocked with soda, peanuts and water?
A word about the balconies; each standard balcony is equipped with two chairs and a small table. The sliding door is double glazed and effectively keeps out any wind and the rain. Few of the balconies are truly private; in fact most are separated by a translucent glass panel. The floor surface resembles glass-paper. Amorous couples should take careful note!
The cabins all have lots of hidden nooks and crannies, for storage space. These are behind the bathroom and dressing table mirrors. If fact I suspect some passengers never even find them?
The bathroom and shower is reasonably spacious. The shower regulator took a little working out, but an adjustment cleverly remembers how hot you like your shower. The shower pressure was not high, but it was perfectly adequate. This may be to save water, as part RCI’s commendable “save the waves” environmental initiative?
It sometimes amazes me that we can put a man on the moon, but he cannot invent a shower that does not flood the bathroom floor. In fairness to RCI, the shower curtain only caused a minimal amount of bathroom flooding. I’ve seen much worse cases on other ships.
Although I took the inaugural cruise, there had been a press and travel agents ‘jolly’ for two days immediately before the maiden voyage. The first thing I noticed when I entered the cabin was a cigarette burn mark on the edge of the bathroom sink. The sinks look like real marble but they are obviously a plastic material. Although minor, it was sad to see such a blemish on a brand new ship. This is clearly enough evidence to ban smoking on all ships! (I bet they never paid a fare either!)
The cabin TV’s all have an interactive feature called RCTV, allowing you to check your onboard account, ideal for those with a tight budget or a weak heart, book room service, excursions, movies (including the adult variety) or alternative dining. You are unlikely to ever have to line-up at the guest relations desks again!
One major bugbear was that you could not here the ships PA announcements in your cabin. You had to run and open the door. Now the announcement might be some extremely useful information, like the ship was sinking, or something more trivial like the cruise director plugging another Bingo game? Unless you opened the cabin door, you would never know.
Within the cabin there was a knob. It had a speaker symbol, and a high and low graduation, etched on it. Great I though, you can turn a speaker on or off within your cabin, so you can choose if you want to here the announcements. Alas no, it did not do anything! Maybe the electricians forgot to wire it up?
The cabin air conditioning works well and is virtually silent, but of course it usually is on new ships.
The facilities for disabled passengers are excellent. All the cabin numbers, elevator buttons and general signposts have brail on them. In fact when you reached the top of each flight of stairs, the banister end, had brail donating which deck you were on. The fourteen cabins adapted for disabled guests are located near to the elevators. The Elevators are spacious, although I’ve yet to experience a cruise on a ship that does not have long lines for the elevators at peak times. There were no difficult obstacles like water-tight door sills to negotiate around the ship. I understand that one of the ships tender’s had been adapted to accommodate wheelchairs!
The majority of the onboard entertainers were British for this inaugural cruise and were very good. This included ‘the cruise’ singing star Jane McDonald. RCI obviously pay more that Celebrity these days?
I was not so impressed with the production shows. The quality of the singing from each of the casts four main singers varied considerably from excellent to bloody painful. The cruise director was far too ‘Mr. Showbiz’ for my liking. Not mentioning any names, but have you ever noticed how some cruise director’s mouths work faster than their brains? They are never lost for words, they just don’t always make sense!
I was most impressed that the disco rocked every night and it was not just the younger passengers that boogied! Staff members also seemed to enjoy it too.
I would have enjoyed some port talks and enrichment lectures, especially during the two sea days, but neither was included in the daily program. RCI should appreciate that we don’t all want to play Bingo!
The many works of Art onboard the ‘Brilliance of the Seas’ are worthy of a special mention, as they form an exceptional collection. Most of the art is so accessible, that even a philistine like me understood most of its meanings.
Photographs and sculptures feature more prominently than paintings. Many of the works of art have a historical theme, some with British connections. Geography is also another reoccurring theme featuring images and sculptures of the world’s great cities.
The ‘Country Club’ displays some very interesting black and white photographs of legendary sports men.
On each of the stair-landings there are a series of very large murals, which span a whole wall. For example one has a Titanic theme. This features a profile of the ill-fated vessel ship and images of Rose and Jack, from Cameron’s blockbuster movie.
A second mural shows images of Donald Campbell, his car Bluebird and his heroic land and sea speed-record attempts. His water speed record was of course to prove fatal.
A third mural shows images of Ernest Shackleton’s legendary expedition to Antarctica aboard Endurance in 1914.
Perhaps the most Interesting of these murals, is one dedicated to Cunard. This features some classic Cunard publicity images. There is a profile line-drawing of the original Queen Mary, the image of the classic poster showing a girl waving, entitled “America this year by RMS Queen Mary” and the image of the QM standing on one end comparing her length to the height of the Empire State Building. Some critics have suggested that this is a supreme marketing blunder by RCI, but I think it shows a very strong confidence in their product.
For this maiden voyage, the ship had 1500 Brits aboard, plus 583 others nationalities, American’s being the majority of the ‘others’. This will obviously not be the norm for her Caribbean cruises, where you would expect American guests to be in the majority. There was a cross-section of all ages, although the over fifties dominated. I would certainly recommend this ship as being suitable for all ages.
If you have not been already, you should add the Norwegian Fjord’s to your wish list!
This ship has completely changed my opinion about big ships. Up until my ‘Brilliance’ cruise, my experience was that big ships can be very impersonal and lacking in character. However, I am pleased to report this ship has loads of character.
So for those of you that are also apprehensive about cruising on a big ship, here are a few words of comfort; The only time that I realised that I was on a mega-ship was; 1) In the embarkation hall at Harwich which felt like an airport departure lounge, although we all had the same destination. 2) When I had to walk the endless corridors of the ship or take an elevator to deck thirteen. Many of the larger public rooms created the illusion of an intimate experience. In fact there are a number of genuinely smaller rooms on offer, aboard this ship too.
What are the advantages of such a big ship, you may ask? My reply is choice! This ship has something for everyone. It combines both Hollywood glitz and tasteful décor. You have five dining options, numerous bars and numerous sports, beauty and entertainment facilities. You also have more chance of being able to afford a better grade of cabin than those offered on a smaller ship. Don’t get me wrong, I love smaller ships too, but do not dismiss this remarkable new vessel. The only thing that you can’t do on this ship is to get to know all of the guests on first name terms.
Of course there were some negatives aspects of my experience. For example, the ship is designed with only two stair-towers, when most other big ships have three. This means reaching certain cabins feels like a major hike, but it does keep you fit.
There was an obsession onboard with piped music in public rooms and out-door pool area. In fact it was difficult to escape it. I do not see the point of this when there were a number of very good ‘live’ musicians aboard. I feel that onboard events like Bingo and the ‘cocktails of the day’ are pushed to hard. Several of the advertised 24 hour services closed at various time of the day or night? Now work that one out?
Overlooking these few minor annoyances, the ship is quite simply astonishing. RCI have created a modern masterpiece. The range of facilities, public rooms and décor bombard the senses. After taking the trouble to read this, you can now ignore the text and photographs; they really do not do her any justice at all. You really need to experience her, go book a cruise!
My ‘Oasis’of the Seas’ review: http://wp.me/PfRKD-Bg