BRILLIANCE OF THE
MAIDEN TRANSATLANTIC VOYAGE
Harwich, England to Boston, Massachusetts
September 8-15, 2002
By Mary &
Vincent N. Finelli
The Brilliance of the Seas is
the second of the Radiance Class ships being constructed by Royal
Caribbean International (RCI). We sailed on her sister ship the Radiance
of the Seas, so for us it was simple to find our way around the
ship and interesting to make comparisons in the decor of the two
ships. They are easily spotted in port with their abundance of green
tinted glass and the Crown & Anchor symbol atop the all white
The Brilliance of the Seas at
90,090 tons (Panamax) is the largest ship to ever visit Port Harwich,
the same port from which the Mayflower originally set sail in 1620, a
little known fact. The Brilliance was built in Germany at the
Meyer Werft Shipyards. She is 962 ft. long; beam is 106 ft. with a
draft of 26.7 ft., and she boasts a cruising speed of 25 knots. She
can accommodate 2,501 guests, but this sailing she carried 2,060,
mostly Americans, 700 of whom were between the ages of 25 and 45. Her
Captain James MacDonald (Canada) proved to be a wonderful sailor in
both calm and high seas (more later).
We booked the Air/Sea package and
flew from Miami to London on American Airlines. Arriving on Sept. 7th,
we stayed at the Royal Lancaster Hotel overlooking Hyde Park. This
classic European style hotel, located minutes from the center of
London, is newly decorated and renovated with marble baths, etc. The
doorman wears a canary yellow morning coat and top hat, pure "Old
World." We arranged for a private tour of London by "Chunky
Black Cab," and were fortunate to be driven by a local, who was
excellent in pointing out all the sights and adding colorful lore.
While touring, we saw the gates of Buckingham Palace open and
Prince Philip ride by in a motorcade.
On Sept. 8th, we transferred by coach
to Harwich. The English countryside is much like New England and it
was entertaining to see on the road signs the names of the original
towns which are the forerunners of so many New England towns,
including Mary's home town of Sudbury, Massachusetts. The pilgrims
certainly maintained their heritage in the "New World."
Two conditions figured into this less than smooth embarkation. First,
Harwich has never embarked such a large ship with so many passengers.
Second, the Brilliance is new with a mostly new crew. The
railroad tracks run within ten feet of the port entrance and incoming
busses must wait for trains. The port crew directed passengers, but
did not assist with wheelchairs. Lines were long, but as Diamond
members of the Crown & Anchor Society we went to a separate desk
and check-in took about 15 minutes.
I.D. pictures were taken and then we
faced what looked like Mt. Everest to someone in a wheelchair: a
steeply inclined ramp to get to the boarding area. The security guard
stopped the line and assisted us up. Then, we faced another steep
incline at the gangway! A Harwich port attendant pushed Vincent up
that one. We have met so many kind people since using a wheelchair,
that we have learned to totally ignore those few rude people. We are
positive that in the future embarkation will be much smoother.
Once on Deck 4, there were no crew
member to escort us to the cabin. After waiting 15 minutes, we decided
to manage the wheelchair and hand luggage on our own. We were on Deck
10 (the Bridge deck) in Suite 1068 and our first impression was
"beautiful!" We went straight to the dining room to check on
our table assignment, which we found unsatisfactory, but no change was
made. We need a table for two right near the entrance in order to
avoid disturbing other diners when maneuvering the wheelchair.
However, once in our suite Hotel Manager Helmut Leikauf (with whom we
had sailed on the Radiance's Maiden voyage) called to welcome us
aboard and he left us the number for Julie of Guest Relations. One
call to her and the table change was arranged, so we were finally off
to the Bon Voyage Buffet.
SHIP'S PUBLIC AREAS
Over all, this is a very tastefully decorated and comfortable ship
with the extensive use of light (Minstrel Dining Room) and dark woods
(Colony Club). On this ship there is a great attention to detail, with
many art works enumerated in a 34 page book titled ART: THE
COLLECTION, Brilliance of the Seas (not as extensive as
"THE ART OF THE COSTA ATLANTICA", 221 pages book); it is
still a thoughtful collection including whimsical works (what Captain
James describes as postage stamp art, tiny 2"X2" pieces
centered in oversized 2'X2' frames on Deck 10), "The Seagull has
landed" by Kinloch, Deck 13, two "Baby Elephant"
bronzes by Manley on Deck 11 in the Solarium, "The
Fishermen," two life size figures, pole fishing in the shaft of
the ocean facing elevators and a lot more throughout the ship. There
is much to see and enjoy aboard this ship.
Deck 2 has 27 Category Q
staterooms including one wheelchair accessible #2023; there are 14
wheelchair accessible staterooms onboard.
Deck 3 is all staterooms in
categories H, N, O, P with two wheelchair accessible units.
Deck 4 forward has the lower
level of the Pacifica Theater. Staterooms are forward with three more
wheelchair accessible units. Midship is the Centrum/Lobby and aft is
the Minstrel Dining Room with the beautiful 2 Deck high mosaic
depicting Renaissance musicians performing for an applauding group on
a balcony, exquisitely done by American artists J. and M. Moul.
The columns in this dining room are
draped and the corridor has three untitled oils by American artist
Lace Bencivengo that we appropriately called "Tiny Bubbles."
Deck 5 is totally public
areas; forward is the main level of the Pacifica Theater, with a
subdued atmosphere except for the stage curtain "Inferno" by
American artist Steve Rundle, which is an explosion of color. Toward
midship are the Conference Center, Art Gallery, Photo shop, Onboard
shops, Latte-tudes Coffee Bar/Internet Stations and, on the portside,
the Centrum Elevators (six beautiful glassed cages overlooking either
the ocean or the Centrum). The mechanics of using one call button for
all six is not user friendly. Many times they are all stopped on the
same deck for long periods of time, or while full, they stop on every
deck needlessly like the "local." Perhaps, the engineer who
designed this system could divide the controls for two independent
groups of 3 elevators each, thus eliminating long waits. Also when the
button is pressed on one side of the lobby the elevator on the other
responds and the door will invariably close even before the passenger
can reach it. Needless to say, we met many passengers while waiting
Deck 6 forward is the balcony
of the Pacifica Theater, with last row seating for wheelchairs
-- and a good view of the stage. Going toward aft is the Cinema (this
week's fare was A BEAUTIFUL MIND and MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING). Then,
there is the Video Arcade, and the Casino Royale. Across the Centrum
are the Champagne and Schooner bars. We like the nautical ropes, sails
and wheels of the latter. On this deck is also the wonderful Chops
Grille with Mrs. Leikauf as its able manager. The food and service is
wonderful here, well worth the $20.00 fee; the 10 oz. veal chop and
the Mississippi Mud pie dessert are winners. Right next door is
Portofino, where service under the able direction of Manager Gianluca
Maglianella is top of the line. Check out the wall art which is an
Italian Market scene, more appropriate for a trattoria than an upscale
restaurant. Gianluca's table side preparation of pasta is very
enjoyable. The "Murder Mystery in Portofino" night was
entertaining: family style dining with guests participating in solving
a "Who Done It." Naturally, the butler did it! The cost for
the dinner and show is $49.50 per person.
Toward aft is the Bombay Billiards
Club (with self leveling pool tables which were constantly bobbing up
and down (during the gale force winds of the North Atlantic Ocean)
while the billiard balls were perpetually still. Incredible! All the
way aft is the Colony Club with Asian Indian influence. The stage
curtain is a procession of spangled elephants. Surrounding the Colony
are three separate areas: The Calcutta Card Club, Singapore Sling's
and the Jakarta Lounge.
Noticeable artwork on this deck is
located in the Schooner Bar, the Scoreboard Bar and the Casino. Worthy
of mention are the ship models in the Schooner Gallery, "The
Wyoming," "The Prussian" and "The
Connecticut," all famous sail ships of yesteryear. In the Casino
at the entrance there are two ornate and colorful peacocks and a
statue of "Goddess of Good Fortune" (Zsiba Smolover, USA).
Impressive are the Gaytee Stained Glasses ceiling and panel (Michael
Hope, USA) in Art Nouveau of the 1900 Parisian style. At the
Scoreboard Bar appropriately there are three "Sport Figures"
representing football, basketball and baseball, as well the
"American Sports Mural" (Andrew Reid, New Zealand), an
interesting modern interpretation of athletes in motion.
Decks 7, 8, 9 and 10 are all
staterooms, mostly with balconies, among which are the remaining eight
wheelchair accessible units.
Deck 11 forward has the Ship
Shape Spa, Health Center, Hair Salon, Outdoor pool and Solarium with
bespangled elephants as a backdrop. Aft of the elevators is the
Windjammer Cafe and the most used dining area for casual eating. Again
many beautiful woods are used in the furnishings. Several pieces of
artwork can be found throughout this deck, from sculptures to
paintings: some are beautiful and interesting, others not worth
mentioning. We liked the glass and metal sculptures near the pool,
"Light Strokes" (Meza Rijsdijk, The Netherlands), and the
oil paintings located at the Windjammer Cafe entrance, "Broadside
into Valsheda" and "Racing with Valsheda" (John B.
Harris, British). Also on this deck, in the Shipshape area, there are
relief panels by British artist Kevin Fazackerley: one in ceramic and
mosaic representing the Taj Mahal and the others, stylized peacocks,
in terra-cotta, mosaics and metals.
Deck 12 has the Ship Shape
Fitness Center, Youth and Teen Centers and the Seaview Cafe. The
latter is difficult to reach in bad weather (like the rain and strong
winds which we experienced during this crossing) but normally take the
central elevators and stroll aft to the Sea View. Aft on this deck
there are also the Basketball Court, Golf Simulators, Kids Pool and
Sport Areas. Midship is the Crown & Anchor Lounge where can be
found "The Vigilant," a miniature model of one of the ships
which raced in 1893 America's Cup.
Deck 13 holds the Viking Crown
Lounge and Dance Club with revolving bar and the Hollywood Odyssey an
intimate entertainment area. In the Starquest Lounge there is an
interesting modern artwork: a UV Sensitive Mural depicting an
"out-of-this-world" landscape with special scenic effects of
stars, galaxies, etc. (UV/FX Scenic Productions, USA 1997). On this
deck there are also the Putting Greens and Rock Climbing wall.
FOOD & SERVICE
We feel the food is good, but a bit below our expectation. There are
areas such as meat entrees which were excellent, as we usually find on
all the RCI ships, and some desserts exquisite and brilliant,
appropriately for this ship namesake, the Brilliance of the Seas. But
in other instances, such as the Italian dishes, even in the upscale
Portofino, there is dire need for an Italian chef. We have been told
that they are too expensive; well, at least find a chef who can read
an original Italian recipe and precisely follow it. An important hint
in the preparation of Italian dishes could be--hide most of the
spices, especially cumin and curry, which are not conducive to Italian
cuisine and never in say a Bolognese sauce! And the pasta dishes were
definitely unpalatable to an Italian palate. Overall, the food is
generally good, nicely presented, but not as inventive as Princess,
Costa and Celebrity Lines.
Dinners in the Minstrel Dining room
were served hot and pleasantly at our table #448 by Angelito
Buenaventura and Menino Estibeiro. Dinner on Monday, formal night, at
Captain MacDonald's table was superb. Social Hostess Natasha Gee met
us at the Captain's reception and escorted us to the table where we
dined on Shrimp Cocktail, Mushroom Feuilletè, Lobster Bisque, Chilled
Pear Nectar, Caesar Salad, Salmon Soufflé, Duck à l'Orange, Filet
Mignon and the Chef's special dessert "Sweet Temptations"...
a sinful chocolate delight. This was a memorable meal and evening,
especially for Mary, sitting on the Captain's left, she had ample
opportunity to learn the "inside story" of this beautiful
ship. The Master's conversation and manners are delightful and we look
forward to sailing with him again.
Besides 24 hour room service, which
is speedy and friendly, this ship has almost continuous service in the
Windjammer with only a half hour break in the a.m. and 1 1/2 hour
break in the p.m. for set up. The Seaview Cafe is open during those
times. Ice cream, Afternoon High Tea, and Latte-tudes Coffee take up
Service was top notch at both
alternative restaurants; Mr. Maglianella and Mrs. Leikauf are superb.
General Manager Helmut Leikauf can be proud of the start up team he
We were in Suite #1068 (not wheelchair accessible) Category C, on the
Bridge Deck and it is impressive in Navy Blue, Red and Gold. Entering
on the left is the large marble bath with tub/shower, single sink and
double mirrored medicine cabinets. There is a king size bed with night
stands and reading lamps. A wall to wall drape separates the sitting
room, which has a hide-a-bed sofa, a plush arm chair with ottoman and
a large coffee table. The far wall is all glass and leads to the
balcony with table, 2 chairs, and a chaise which was set up by Mario,
our excellent stateroom attendant, upon Vincent's request. Thank you,
When entering on the right there is a
walk-in closet with a motion sensor light, good only for people over
six feet tall--Mary had to wave her arm at it each time to activate
it. There are many shelves, cupboards, and drawers for storage. Next,
there is a desk/vanity with lighted mirror, hairdryer and a TV,
refrigerator and personal safe. The furnishing are maple wood
handsomely trimmed with mahogany--very effective, especially the
mahogany arch to the entry. Two numbered prints and a picture of a
reclining woman, reminiscent of Modigliani, complete the decor.
Although this was not wheelchair
accessible, it could easily have been if the door had been just a foot
wider, since the entry was very wide. As it was, we had to close the
wheelchair to get it through the door. The suite was large enough to
use the wheelchair while inside.
There were the usual busy, busy schedules of trivia, dance classes,
Bingo etc. The production shows were more than adequate. The headliner
Mario D'Andrea, billed as the "Mixed up Italian from Australia
direct from Las Vegas"--as introduced by Cruise Director Clodagh
O'Connor--has a marvelous voice capable of mimicking Dean Martin, Tom
Jones and Englebert Humperdink. But, equally amazing was his command
of the electric guitar. He had the audience up on its feet. Clodagh is
active and bubbly; she never failed to entertain.
PORTS OF CALL
There were no ports of call on this transatlantic voyage taking the
Northern Route. We went farther north than previously anticipated in
order to avoid rough seas due to Hurricane Gustav, which after all did
go so far north as to affect the Brilliance's itinerary. We
still encountered swells of over 45 feet and gale force winds. Captain
James' expertise held the Brilliance of the Seas steady and she
proved to be able to take rough weather in stride. Some annoying
creaking was heard, but she was admirably steady in the face of rough
Some passengers took British
excursions prior to embarkation and others took Boston tours after
debarkation. We opted for only one day in London and none in Boston,
due to time constraints and the fact that we are originally from the
Boston area and were there in March.
This was our first transatlantic
crossing in recent years. Even though we encountered stormy weather,
we had a very restful and pleasant cruise, with the exception of a
sleepless night when the squeaking and creaking were continuous and
loud. We thought that there was something moving in the ceiling of our
cabin, but we were assured that there was nothing abnormal, it was the
same throughout the ship. However, we did not understand why in a new
megaship the level of creaking should be so high, when we have
encountered very rough seas on smaller ships (Michelangelo,
1968 and Norwegian Dream, 2002) without significant creaking.
On the contrary, the rocking and rolling on the Brilliance was
much less than what we have felt on other ships.
God Bless the Brilliance of the Seas
and may she sail the seven seas safely for many years to come.
1. The water aboard is too heavily
chlorinated. Although this is a problem we frequently encounter on
ships, some lines have been more successful in controlling the odor
and taste of the water by end point filtration, or by other methods
which better monitor chlorine levels in the system. Remember the three
qualities of water are colorless, odorless and tasteless; without
these attributes any ice cubes or drinks made on board are less than
optimum in flavor (including orange juice, coffee, tea, etc).
2. At Harwich, since the terminal is
not equipped with elevators, wheelchair passengers should be embarked
on Deck 2, as they were disembarked in Boston, to avoid extremely
3. While the meat entrees have been
some of the best we have eaten on ships, the Italian dishes definitely
do not meet our expectation. We feel that there is an overuse of
spices not common in the Italian cuisine and the quality and/or the
cooking method of pasta is inadequate. If RCI does not want to
hire an Italian chef, it should train the cooks to use authentic
Italian Cuisine cookbooks and accurately follow the recipes. It is not
too hard to do and the end result will give an edge to RCI in the fast
growing cruise industry by attracting those people who are
connoisseurs of Italian Cuisine.
4. The number of wheelchair
accessible staterooms can be easily increased by installing wider
entrance doors, eliminating the step to the bathroom and replacing the
bathtub with an appropriate shower unit in some already spacious
suites. Frequently on ships, we have encountered physically challenged
passengers who were not fortunate enough to have a wheelchair
accessible stateroom. Apparently there is an increasing number of
disabled passengers, thus the demand for wheelchair accessible cabins
definitely exceeds their availability.
Our next cruises will be on Nov. 30,
a return to the Golden Princess, and on Jan. 25, 2003 aboard
the new RCI Navigator of the Seas.
'Till then, Happy Cruising!