London, England Sunday, September 8, 2002
At 11:00am we checked out of our hotel and got one of the little black cabs to take us and our luggage to Liverpool Street Station. It took a long time to get there because there is so much construction going on in London and many of the streets were closed off. The driver was getting pretty fed up with it, and could be heard muttering under his breath.
A special boat train was scheduled that day that was heavily discounted for the cruise passengers: it only cost 15 pounds for each of us. Everyone on it was going to the ship, but there was NO storage place for all the big suitcases people had! We had four bags, and ours were small in comparison to many others. Everybody piled their bags right against the door, which is a serious NO NO. They had to add four more cars to accommodate everyone. It took about an hour and fifteen minutes to get to Harwich once we finally got going.
Our First Day
It feels SO good to get on a cruise ship! The excitement returned instantly when we boarded the Brilliance of the Seas. She was the newest cruise ship operating then. She is very impressive, and absolutely gorgeous inside. The first thing we noticed was the beautiful woodwork and the striking glass windows which could be found everywhere! It is bigger than the first cruise ship (70,000 tons) we ever sailed on and, of course, smaller than the (140,000 tons) Adventure of the Seas, which we were passengers on last December. We were very happy with our cabin (#7558), which was located on Deck 7 towards the aft of the ship. It was spacious; we had more than enough storage space. The love seat was a very pretty blue. The bathroom was small with a circular shower with just a curtain, not a door. The balcony had two comfy chairs and a little table.
We went exploring while waiting for our luggage, and Brian videotaped briefly. We took a moment to make reservations for Chops Grille, which is an alternative dining room located on Deck 6; it costs $20 per person. Since Wednesday night was going to be "English Night," in the dining room and we had just spent two weeks in the British Isles, we decided to make Wednesday our "Chops Night."
We enjoyed a late afternoon lunch in the Windjammer Café. The Windjammer is where you find the buffet-style dining options on the ship. There are floor to ceiling windows looking out, and the food is quite good. Then we had to get back to our room to grab our life jackets for the outside deck muster drill. It was the most organized drill we have ever done and I was impressed when we sailed away from the port on time at 5:00pm. All of our bags still had not arrived when the drill was over, so we briefly explored the ship a bit more before our evening meal in the two-level Minstrel Dining Room.
We chose the early seating, so each night our dining time was at 6:00pm. Thankfully, dress for dinner was casual on this first night. We found our table for six on the lower level by the door and near the kitchen. It wasn't a great location, because we didn't have a view of the gorgeous dining room. Our waiter, Mustafa from Turkey and his assistant, Claudia from Chile, were really nice and attentive to our needs. We were joined by Jane and Paul from Raleigh, NC. They were an elderly couple who had done 23 cruises. They were very tired that night because they had just flown in from the States that day. The other couple arrived a little late after we finished our first two courses; Bruce and Adriana were in their early 30's and from Connecticut. We visited a little bit with our tablemates while we dined on really good cod with a saffron stuffing and crust.
After dinner we made our way to the Pacifica Theatre, which is located on Decks 5 and 6. Here we briefly met Clodagh O'Connor, our Cruise Director from Ireland, and we all got our first glimpse of this ship's entertainment staff. The short Welcome Aboard Show was pretty boring until the comedian came on stage. His name was Neal Austin and he was hilarious; he was very geeky-looking and he used magic and lots of props in the vein of a more talented Carrot Top.
After the show, we wandered around some more and visited the Shops of Centrum on Deck 5. Brian picked up a bottle of Grand Marnier to take back to the room; it cost an extra $9.00 to have the bottle in the room. We also discovered that the ship has a movie cinema that seats about 50 people. The remaining bags were waiting for us at the cabin. By the time I was done unpacking, it was after 11:00pm and I was pooped. Brian pre-ordered room service for our breakfast in the morning through the TV and we went to sleep with the balcony door wide open to enjoy the sound of the sea.
Monday, September 9th
Exploring, Meeting the Captain, Seeing a Show
We awakened at 7:40am to the tranquil sound of the ocean through our open balcony door. The noisy neighbors woke us up a couple of times, but the sound of the waves put us back to sleep. We grew tired of waiting for our breakfast to arrive. Brian had pre-ordered for delivery at 8:00am -- at 8:50, we gave up and went up to the Windjammer Café and had a fabulous omelet.
We went to the Colony Club for some mid-morning line dancing, but the floor was too crowded to do any serious dancing, so we gave that up. (Haven't there been any new dances since the Electric Slide?) We decided to watch the dancing, and play checkers instead. In the same lounge, they had some tables made of nice dark wood with inlaid board games on them. The India motif Colony Club is a richly-wooded lounge located at the aft part of the ship with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out the back. There is also the peaceful Calcutta Card Room located just off the Colony Club with a lot of different games available to play. At the entrance was the Bombay Billiards Club where two pool tables were equipped with stabilizers so the balls wouldn't roll around with the movement of the ship; I think I read somewhere that Royal Caribbean paid $40,000.00 for them. The tables were not open for play right then, so we went up to Deck 13 to play a round of 9-hole miniature golf.
Our chosen lunch venue was the Seaview Café on Deck 12. We thought this was going to be the Brilliance of the Seas' version of the fantastic "Johnny Rockets" of the Adventure of the Seas. We ordered a strawberry shake and it was the worst shake we have ever had -- definitely nothing like our beloved Johnny Rockets. Later in the cruise, we would find that the food here could be quite good at times. This time, however, we left and headed for the Windjammer Café, where we had a salad and sandwich wrap.
While I caught up on this journal, Brian went to the spa to schedule massages for us. They were booked for the entire cruise already! Only the real expensive package treatments were available. It was obvious that they were trying to sell them instead of the basic massages, since the same treatments were included in the $300 packages. So we decided to stroll the ship, and we stopped off at the Schooner Bar for two glasses of cognac, which cost us a surprising $13. The Schooner Bar is probably the nicest bar, in our opinion; it is located just outside the Colony Club and has a nautical motif with really dark woods and décor like ropes, sails and even a ship's wheel. It smelled so good here -- kind of a nice mesquite smell which they must pump into the room. Across from the bar in the middle was a piano area with leathered bar stools for sing-a-longs. We left here with our cognac glasses and returned once again to the ship's liquor store to buy a bottle of fine cognac. We usually don't do this kind of thing, but the cognac in the Schooner helped us to realize that this could turn out to be our last vacation if we didn't lighten our bar tab.
Tonight was the first of two formal nights on this cruise. At 5:00pm, we got dressed in our tighter-than-should-be dress clothes and headed to the Captain's Cocktail Reception in the Colony Club. It was a pretty sedate, though well-attended party, where Captain James MacDonald told us a bit about the Brilliance of the Seas. I filled up on some great shrimp hors d'oeuvres and free champagne. A couple from Texas shared our table with us. At dinner, I had an excellent shrimp cocktail for my appetizer, while Brian had roasted vegetables with goat cheese. After supper, we went to the Casino Royale and gambled for the first time since we had boarded the vessel; we usually get there a lot sooner. We lost $37 playing blackjack.
The show at the Pacifica Theatre was called "Close to You." It was a tribute show that featured a collection of Burt Bacharach songs. It started out really well, but got kind of so-so in the middle and stayed that way until the end. The singers and dancers were really good, though. We recognized one of the dancers because Brian had bought the Grand Marnier and Cognac from him in the liquor store. Most of the entertainers have day jobs around the ship to make a little extra money.
After the show, I was ready to call it a night. We had been in bed for about 45 minutes when Brian decided we should go for a swim! I gave in and we headed up to the Solarium pool area, but there were young people (18-20) in the pool and hot tub. We didn't feel like joining them, so we braved the cold and wind and got in the hot tub in the main pool area. The water was not hot enough, but we stayed in it for awhile. Brian was even crazy enough to dive into the pool for a few minutes. It was extremely cold getting out of the hot tub. We dried off very quickly and headed up to the Seaview Café for a late night snack that we didn't need.
Tuesday, September 10th
The Beauty of Stabilizers
We woke up to wind and rain. The ship rocked all day long -- a lot! It didn't bother me too much, but Brian was pretty queasy and it made him dizzy to climb the stairs. The captain informed us that we were getting some of the effects of cruising around Hurricane Gustaf. We had breakfast, then went to the cinema to see "A Beautiful Mind." After the movie, we played a game of pool. The stabilizers in the tables were definitely being tested by the rough seas, but it is amazing how well they work.
After lunch in the Windjammer, we decided we had better go through Immigration. The line went on and on, and Brian decided to bag it and come back later. We went to the casino and played blackjack and roulette. We won a little and walked out $56 ahead. We went back to Immigration where the line was even worse than before! So we decided to wait until the next day to try it again.
We spent the middle of the day exploring the various parts of the ship. The Viking Crown Lounge on Deck 13 consists of two bars: the Starquest Nightclub has a revolving bar, and is the ship's disco, while the Hollywood-themed Odyssey Lounge provides live music with easy listening tunes most evenings. The Crown and Anchor Lounge is directly above the Centrum and offers a unique view of the lower Atrium area. This lounge is on Deck 12 and it is the place to go if you enjoy cognac and a fine cigar. The Champagne Bar on Deck 6 is very comfortable and is decorated with a bubbly champagne theme.
For dinner I had a great shrimp scampi, and Brian had the equally good chicken marsala. We couldn't decide what to have for dessert, so we had three between us. I've had better Tiramisu, but it was good. Brian had a creamy raspberry thing that was good, but the warm chocolate cake was to die for -- there was warm chocolate syrup inside the cake.
Wednesday, September 11th
From Tranquility to Magic
We woke up a little after 6:00 in the morning and went for a swim in the Solarium pool. We had it to ourselves for about two minutes; older people are such early risers! But it didn't get too crowded. The jungle-themed Solarium is so tranquil, and it was our favorite part of the ship. The center piece is a wall sculpture of three elephants with waterfalls on each side, observing the bridge that crossed the main pool. Condensation sometimes trickles from the elephants and when it is dark a lighting system makes them appear violet, blue, red, orange, yellow and green. The Solarium also has a bar, a hot tub and many comfortably-padded deck loungers.
We had breakfast, then went to the gym for a light workout and a relaxing sauna. We showered and went to attend the 10:00am "September 11th Memorial Service" that was being held at the Pacifica Theater. It was very tastefully done and tearful at times. The audience participated in the singing of hymns like "Amazing Grace" and "How Great Thou Art."
Latte-Tudes Lounge is a place where you can relax with a coffee, view the sea, or sign onto the Internet. We bought a couple of Mochas from the Latte-Tudes Coffee Bar and went to the room for our Grand Marnier additive. We started watching "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" which is really a cute movie. The captain interrupted with a request for a moment of silence; this was nice, still it was hard to enjoy the movie after that, so we went for a walk and had some lunch. At all times the Windjammer seemed to be packed full of people. It was always easy to get food, but it was also difficult finding any open tables. After lunch we observed, but did not participate in, the Park West Live Art Auction. On previous cruises we have bid on prints, but on our last cruise we really overdid it and bought an original painting which set us back a bit.
At 1:45pm, we thought we would finally beat the crowd for Immigration since it didn't open until 2:00. Can you believe there was already a line that seemed a mile long? This was annoying, so we left and came back at 4:45. They were supposed to be all done by 4:00, but the line was still out the door when we arrived. We had to get in line that time because it was our last chance, since they only offered Immigration for a two-hour period on two days; it was ridiculous to think they expected the whole ship to go through in that time. They brought on two officers who were on the ship for the whole week, but would only work those hours. It must be nice to get a free vacation and refuse to do the work to earn it. If they would have opened Immigration up for 8 hours on one single day, there would never had been any congestion. I don't think the passengers who paid for the cruise should have had all that irritation. This could have been handled much better than it was.
The ship was still rocking really hard all day even though we only cruised through the outskirts of the storm. We had to turn north to get out of it a little bit, but then had to turn back south and deal with it. We had 45-foot swells and 65-knot winds. This was the worst rocking we have ever felt. I actually walked into a wall at one point! Everyone was walking the halls and swaying from one side to the other. The stairs were really hard to climb and the elevators would shake a bit. A couple of times it actually felt like we hit something and it shook the vessel like an earthquake! Due to the danger, the ship's open decks were closed.
We had reservations for Chops Grille at 6:00pm, but when our reservation card came to our room, it said 6:30. So we went to kill some time in the casino before dining. We should have just gone to the restaurant, because we lost $50. At Chops, we were surprised to find that the reservation card was wrong and that the restaurant had us reserved for 6:00 after all. But it wasn't a big deal being late, because there were lots of empty tables. Our waiters were terrific and very attentive. The bread was a delicious sun dried tomato with a pimento spread. Brian ordered a bottle of red wine and we drank a glass with our appetizers of crab cakes and Portobello cap mushrooms. We each had a Caesar salad before our 10-ounce filets arrived. They were both well done, so we sent them back. The second time, Brian's was a perfect medium, but mine was raw. The third time it was perfect, and we thoroughly enjoyed our meals. I hate sending food back, but the wait staff was very understanding. For dessert, we had a fabulous apple pie á la môde.
We made it out just in time for the Magic Show. The magician (Mark Taylor) was really fast with his hands and used lots of colorful props, and we enjoyed it.
Thursday, September 12th
Dinner Was A Mystery
Even though we are doing as little as possible on this cruise, the week was still going by 'way too fast; we could cruise forever. We awoke at 6:00am, got our swimsuits on and went up to the Solarium pool for a swim, but the pool was closed. Even though it was a 24-hour pool, they closed it for many hours every other day to drain and clean it. So we decided to sit and relax on the padded chairs for awhile in case it opened soon. Two hours later, it became apparent that the pool was not going to open any time soon. It was becoming more populated in our private oasis, so we went to the gym and worked out on the machines and spent some time in the sauna and steam room. The sauna is great, but we couldn't spend the time in there together because they are located in the different genders' locker rooms.
After our showers, we went to Latte-Tudes where they were having a special: 15 minutes of free Internet service with the purchase of a spirited drink. That wasn't a bad deal, since the rate for Internet was 50 cents a minute. We got an Icy Bourbon Mocha, which was minty and delicious! Surprisingly, the alcohol didn't make us loopy at 9:00am.
We made a poor choice and went to the Minstrel Dining Room for breakfast. It took forever and it wasn't very good. Upon leaving the dining room, we checked out the menu for supper that night. There wasn't anything too appealing on it, so we contemplated making other plans. A cooking demonstration was being held in the Lobby Bar. The Chef, Clodagh the Cruise Director, and a volunteer from the audience were frosting a cake. Only the Chef got real whipping cream to make his frosting with, because the other two whipped forever and didn't get anywhere. Clodagh was being a comedian and doing all sorts of funny things with her frosting and cake, which included swigging from the liquor bottle that was an ingredient for the cake. It was amusing.
We decided to eat at Portofino's for supper, so Brian went to see if they had any available times. He found out that they were having a murder mystery dinner theater that night for $50 a person. We thought that might be kind of fun, so even though they were sold out, they juggled things around and squeezed us in after some pleading on our part.
The calmer waters of the day didn't last long. This wasn't bad when you were lying down, as it was a bit like being rocked in a crib. Having amassed a fair amount of dirty clothes, we decided to try the ships laundry service. We had about half a dozen articles cleaned and pressed for about $17. The items were returned to us the next afternoon.
After a nap, we decided to get dressed up for the night's murder mystery dinner show. We wouldn't be able to see the headliner show that night because of the dinner theater, but we did stop by for the beginning of it. It didn't take more than two songs before we left, not because we had to get to the theater, but because he was not very good, in our opinion. We grabbed two double cognacs from the room and headed to the Colony Club for the start of the dinner theater.
The murder mystery, called "The Toy Makers Gift," was so much fun! We had a ball. It began in the Colony Club, where we were told that a rich toy tycoon had died mysteriously. The five suspects introduced themselves and we had a brief preliminary questioning period. Then we moved into Portofino's to dine and try to figure out "who done it." Angela, the former mistress of the deceased, sat at our table and dined with us. We and the other couple sitting with us asked her questions while we ate. She was totally in character the whole time. The rest of the suspects caused a few scenes in the restaurant to give us a few clues and they went around the room so everyone could question them all. At one point the director and creator of the play sat down and spoke with us a bit. You could tell he was excited about how well the dinner show was progressing. Throughout our dinner courses, we were supposed to figure out who killed the old toy maker, but it was hard to concentrate on solving the mystery while enjoying the excellent lobster and shrimp.
Spoiler's Warning: Don't read this paragraph if you plan to take this cruise, in the event they redo this play. We picked Robert for the murderer. He was once the business partner of the old man and had stolen ideas from him. We were so wrong. Lionel, the gay house boy did it only because Angela talked him into it. But Lionel and Angela both died in the end, right in the restaurant. It was great!
Then Angela sat back down with us (no longer in character) as her real self, Becky Gustafson. She is one of the lead singers from the ships entertainment staff and in our opinion, the best one. We found out she was from Moorhead, Minnesota, which borders North Dakota, so we talked about home. She lives in New York; her goal is to be on Broadway someday and we think she will definitely make it.
Friday, September 13th
Friday the 13th! We slept in until 9:00, but we were rocked and tossed around all night. The waves were still really high when we got up. We had breakfast in the Windjammer and, back in the cabin, watched the "Love and Marriage" game on the TV and were glad we hadn't actually gone to it. It was amusing, but really ran a bit long.
All in all, we spent a very relaxing day and did not do too much. Brian checked the email and we had a couple more of the Icy Bourbon Mochas. We played some blackjack where Brian broke even, but I lost. I played slots again because we had a coupon for $2 in quarters. I put in 75 cents, and in one pull won $36. After a light lunch at the Seaview Café, we went to the Sports Deck and played basketball for awhile. It was still windy and rocky, but the sun was out and the open air decks were available for the first time since we hit that bad weather.
The Minstrel Dining Room offered lobster as an entrée this evening. Mustafa offered us seconds and we happily took him up on it. The chocolate cake we had for dessert was scrumptious. We definitely noticed that everything chocolate on this cruise was just incredible. After a stop at the casino, we went to the main show tonight, called "Turn the Beat Around." It was really good, with my favorite numbers being the Moulin Rouge medley.
We actually stayed awake tonight so that we could go to the 12:15 Late Night Adult Comedy Show. It was Neal Austin, who was the guy we liked so much from the Welcome Aboard Show on the first night of the cruise. I thought since it was so late at night that it was going to be adult comedy, but it was more of the same that he did the first night, and fairly tame. He was good but probably not worth staying up so late for. But since we were up, we thought we might as well check out the Gala Buffet. It was impressive, as have been all the cruise buffets we have seen. I loaded up my plate with some shrimp while Brian stuck to all the chocolate desserts. Everything was fantastic. They had a midnight chocolate buffet a couple of nights earlier that we didn't go to, but I bet it was divine!
Saturday, September 14th
The Last Day!
It's the last day of our wonderful cruise vacation. Sigh. I am always sad on the last day, but the weather has finally straightened out. It was sunny and 79 degrees, with smooth waters. We played miniature golf; a lot of people were enjoying the nice weather and happy to be on the outer decks. The rock climbing wall was even open and plenty of people were scaling it. We should have stayed outside, but went to the casino to lose $200. Brian tried to make me feel better by telling me that it was nothing compared to what we have lost in the stock market. That was supposed to make me feel better?
We went back to the room and got a head start on packing. On one of the television channels we saw that they had the very front of the ship open to the passengers. So we took a walk out there and stood at the very tip of the ship. It was cool, but not as thrilling as on the Adventure of the Seas, because the bow goes out farther on that ship. We tracked down our room steward Dewa, and gave him his tip; we tipped very well because he did an outstanding job. We never saw him with any help and we never had to wait for our room to be done. And even after all the cruises we have done, he made some towel animals that we had never seen before.
We had our scheduled massages, which left us pretty relaxed for the rest of the day. They asked Brian if he would prefer his massage from a girl or guy . . . he had no hesitation in choosing the girl, and I had to go with the guy. The hour went by incredibly fast and I got conned into buying some bath soak, even though I had told Brian he had not better buy anything. We decided that in the future, instead of losing so much money in the casino, we will just schedule a bunch of massages because it is a less stressful way to throw money away.
Our last supper in the dining room was great. I savored the shrimp cocktail, spring roll and prime rib. The apple pie and brownie were excellent, too, of course. We said goodbye to our tablemates, whom we had really enjoyed getting to know. We tipped Mustafa and Claudia more than the suggested tip even though we didn't dine there two nights; they were both terrific. Claudia was shy and didn't talk much, but she was very attentive. We also tipped the head waiter -- she was very visible, and even cut the shells from my shrimp and lobster.
We went back to the room to finish packing and had our bags outside our door by 9:00pm. And this time Brian actually helped! That was so nice of him! Usually I am stressing at midnight, throwing our bags together. We still had half of the bottle of Grand Marnier that we risked packing. It actually made it all the way home to Barrow without leaking on us.
We went to the Farewell Show, which featured a guy who juggled and rode a unicycle. His name was Jody Reynolds, and he was really good. He picked some poor lady out of the audience, humiliated her, and then put her on his back while he attempted to ride the unicycle! He pulled it off without killing her, but the poor girl must have been horrified.
After the show, we decided to spend our final night aboard bar hopping. We stopped at the Schooner for another stout and listened to the piano music for awhile before going to the Colony Club to listen to the last couple of songs that the band Midnight Oasis played. They were really good and we even danced a little for the first time this cruise. Then the orchestra set up. We filled out the comment cards while we listened to them play a few Big Band melodies. We watched the older folks kick up their heels, and some of them were really quite good. Then we headed up to the Starquest Disco where we had more beer and danced to an 80's music set. That was a lot of fun, but the DJ switched to more modern stuff 'way too soon. We did notice that more people would hit the floor when they were playing the 80's music.
After a brief stop in the Hollywood, where we listened to the Celeste Duo, we went to the Solarium to enjoy the tranquility one last time. We sat in a couple of lounge chairs and talked and giggled for awhile: we really miss that place. It is weird that we didn't partake in any of the night life until the very last night. But we don't feel like we missed anything.
Boston, Sunday, September 15th
We finally rolled out of bed at 7:30. We had been awake for quite awhile because the neighbors were very loud, banging things around while apparently doing some last minute packing. I got dressed and ran up to the Windjammer, grabbed a couple of bananas, an apple and two cups of coffee and brought them back to Brian in the room for breakfast. We were supposed to be out of the room by 8:00, but we didn't leave until 8:45. Dewa didn't seem to mind, and we told him goodbye. We also told him about a leak in the bathroom he should probably have checked before the next occupants arrived. He seemed grateful to have the heads up on it.
We went to the Pacifica Theater to wait the morning out. They called our color tag to disembark, but we stayed on for as long as we could -- we were in no hurry to get to the airport where we would just sit and wait for our 7:00pm flight. We didn't want to spend the day at the airport, and the only excursion Royal Caribbean offered was the one we did before when we came through Boston on our way to England. Reluctantly, we had to get off the ship at 10:30. It is always sad to leave, but it's also nice to not have to rush with the crowd for a flight. It was easy finding our luggage, since ours were with the very few bags remaining. They had a free shuttle to the airport, but it was pretty much chaos outside with so many buses and no one knowing which one to take. We managed to get on the right bus and made our way to the airport by 11am.
Leslie Watson and her husband, Brian, are in their mid-thirties and live in Barrow, Alaska. This was their sixth cruise and the third one for which she has written a review. See her Adventure of the Seas review (June, 2003), too. Leslie can be reached at: email@example.com
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