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Copyright © 1995-2002 
Linda Coffman

Brilliance of the Seas
Northern Europe
July 18-August 3, 2002

by Pam Murphy - Part Four

Friday July 26

We don’t dock until 10:00 AM and our tour doesn’t leave until 12:45. I have been looking forward to sleeping in, but here I am up at 7:00 AM, sitting on the balcony with the sun shining and a great breeze blowing.  Because it is early it is very quiet sitting out here, usually there is a lot of noise from the above decks. This is our 10th cruise and this is the first time that we have experienced such a noisy balcony. We are probably getting so much noise because of the location of our room which is close to center of the ship and much of the activity on board – a good location because of its closeness to the elevators.  The room itself is very quiet -- the noise is only when sitting on the balcony.  We have heard some horror stories about people with very noisy rooms on deck seven on the starboard side (which is our deck and location). Supposedly quite a few people have been unable to sleep and had their room changed. One woman I personally talked to has a vibration and noise in her ceiling that keeps her awake at night – she has called to have this taken care of but they tell her that the area the noise is coming from is sealed and they don’t have access to it.

We dock outside of Dublin and there are shuttle tickets being sold into Dublin .  We decide to buy a one way ticket ($4 per person) so that we can remain in the city after our tour and then get ourselves back to the ship.  This is a very busy commercial port and not at all scenic.  

Our guide welcomes us in Gaelic with ‘a hundred thousand welcomes’.  Dublin is a city of many moods and landscapes. There are medieval churches and imposing castles, graceful Georgian squares and lantern-lit lanes, broad boulevards and crowded bridges, picturesque parks and pedestrian walkways, intriguing museums and markets, gardens and galleries. In my opinion this tour was not worth the money.  We actually saw very little of the sites of Dublin – I only know all of what we missed since we have been here before.  Last year we went with friends on the hop on hop off bus tour of Dublin .  Our friends organized the day and we saw far more for a lot less money with them.  Dublin Castle is nice but nothing all that impressive.  The Book of Kells is something to see but I am sure glad that we didn’t have to wait on line to view it – you look at the pages and that is it.  There is an interesting display explaining the Book of Kells which is worth while.  This tour could easily be done on your own.  

Jim and I then stayed in the city on our own.  Yep, you guessed it – for me to shop. It is time to return back to the ship, so we line up for the transfer bus.  On line with us are four of the ship waiters, all from Turkey.  Each is wearing a silly Irish hat (oh, is Jim ever jealous – he is lusting after those hats for his ugly hat collection.). We snap a photo of them and get their names so that we can get copies made to send to them.

We board the ship and immediately take a shower – then relax on the balcony – oh, yes, this is definitely my favorite part of cruising!  

There is a message waiting for us, from Sharon on the ship, that our flight home has been changed from leaving at 2:55 PM to 10:00 AM and they will not be able to transfer us to the airport on time to make the flight.  Wonderful, now what do we do?  Sharon is very helpful and tells us that she will arrange for a private car to pick us up for the flight home.  Of course, this is a lot more expensive than the ship’s shuttle to the airport but it seems that we don’t have a choice in the matter.  We call our travel agent at On Line Vacations (American Express Travel) and are told that we are pretty much on our own on this one.  

Dinner tonight is at Portofinos, where we have 8:30 reservations. Once again the food is delicious and service excellent. This really is a very gracious dining experience.  

Stop at the photographer to pick up that portrait from last night and surprise – you can’t tell that Jim’s fly was unzipped!

After dinner there is an Irish show but pass that up in order to have some time to just sit and read.  With all the touring, really enjoy this quiet time – but naturally Jim doesn’t pass up the chance to meet his cigar buddies. Tonight the Concierge joins them and he and Jim start talking. Guess he took a liking to Jim because he gave him a card for admittance to the Concierge Lounge to use for the rest of the cruise.  From what the concierge explained this is an area for the big spenders and it is his job to take care of them – they serve drinks free of charge here and also have hors d’oeuvres set up.  (Once we returned home, I found out from Tony, who had use of the lounge as a Diamond Club Member, that this lounge is for the people in certain suite rooms and for members of the Diamond Club -- we fit into none of these categories.  He also added that a Continental Breakfast is served here and that it is a place to meet some very nice people.  Unfortunately, we never bothered to go there and we obviously missed out on something quite nice.)

Tonight we don’t sail until 10:00 PM.  Knowing that we would be in Dublin until late, I had plans of going into Dublin and doing the singing pubs – however as you can see this never happened – relaxing on the ship seems a lot more appealing – will just sit here and watch the sailing. 

Sat. July 27

Greenock/Glasgow, Scotland
Once again I am up early and sit on the balcony to welcome the new day -- the sun is shining and it appears that we are going to have another nice day – how lucky can you get? We dock at Clydeport which is a container traffic port. Today we have a full day tour booked called Landscapes, Wool and Whiskey.  Last summer we were in Scotland and between Glasgow and Edinburgh did enough touring that there isn’t much left that we haven’t seen – it came down to choosing between Iverary Castle or the tour we chose.

The tour bus is packed and not one free seat left – Jim and I aren’t able to sit together.  This is not acceptable so I have them stop the bus and insist on being put on another, which is done.  The second bus isn’t even near to full and is much more comfortable.  Donald is our guide.  As we leave the port we pass much of the same scenery that is familiar to us from last year and this part of the tour is a bit repetitious.  We see the old sugar storehouses, which are now abandoned – the architecture is very interesting and they would make great condos with more than a little refurbishing.  We see the oldest shipyard in the world, the 2nd steamship ever built, an old unused rope factory and storage sheds for aging whiskey.  Our tour takes us across the fertile valley and to the heart of the Lowland region, with its background of hills and promise of the Highland scenery beyond. We see peat on the side of the road, which is actually wet decayed earth.  This area offers an astounding variety of scenery.  There are large areas of fern and we are told that fern contains a small amount of cyanide so animals and other plants stay away from it which allows it to take over areas.  Moss also grows in this spongy wet climate – during war times it was squeezed and the liquid from it was used on wounds.  Both heather and thistle are the emblems of Scotland – the thistle is prickly and signifies that no one touches Scotland and gets away with it.  We pass through many small villages and continuing on through the rural countryside, we enter the small town of Aberfoyle and arrive at the Scottish Wool Center .  Aberfoyle is a village of about 1000 – a fault line runs through Scotland and Aberfoyle lies right on the fault line causing tremors in this area.

Leaving Aberfoyle the road starts to climb as we head toward the beautiful region of craggy hills and sparkling lochs (lakes) straddling the border between lowland and highlands. We pass through Achray Forest and drive through Duke’s Pass with fantastic views of surrounding tree clad mountains and distant lochs.  This scenery is spectacular, including both Loch Ven Achar and Loch Achray with the reflection of the surrounding scenery shown in them.  Today there is no breeze so the lochs are perfectly still without the breeze to ruffle the water. We stop in Callendar at a small country hotel, called the Dreadnought (means for nothing) for lunch.

We continue through the beautiful countryside to Glengoyne Distillery situated on the lovely historic Bane Valley, nestling in the lea of the Campsie Hills from where Glengoyne draws its pure soft water, tumbling down a 50 foot Waterfall.  The reception room overlooks the damn, glen and waterfall and here we taste the Glengoyne single malt whiskey.  Can’t say that I am a big fan of Scotch – it tastes nasty to me!  Then there is a tour of the distillery – Jim and I pass on the tour since we’ve done it before.  

The tour and guide are excellent and this is a very enjoyable day. We return to the ship and as we walk through the terminal there are vendors set up. There are bagpipers playing to see us off – there are also some of the local residents that have come out to wave goodbye.  The Irish and Scots are a very warm and friendly people.  

Tonight we decide on the Windjammer Café for the buffet – this food is getting old for me.  Other people are very pleased with this food but as I have said before, I don’t care for the hot foods.  Once again, coming up to deck 11 is unpleasant – kids are running all over the place with lots of loud voices and playing on the elevators. 

After dinner we attend the show at the Pacifica Theater – tonight a concert pianist by the name of Antonio Salci plays. He is fabulous – I even buy one of his CDs after his performance. After the show I stop at the photographers to get the photo of Jim and I that was taken today. Try checking out the shops but it is a mob scene – will return when it’s not so congested. This mass of humanity is not my idea of a restful vacation so return to the privacy of our cabin. When I return to the room our cabin steward has become creative and has left a swan made of folded towels for us – very clever. Tonight it is cold, damp and windy on the balcony -- so it is a  good night to curl up in bed to read. Up until now there has been very little motion from the ship but tonight I am feeling a bit more movement – nothing terrible just a gentle rocking.

Sun. July 28

At Sea
Last night we turned our clocks ahead, so lost an hour – since this is a day at sea it really doesn’t matter.  It is cold and rainy today so I decide to sleep a bit later -- so much for my idea of a relaxing day reading on the balcony. Jim goes down for breakfast and brings me back a pastry.  

Late morning, I attend a port talk on shopping in Norway which is quite informative – tomorrow we will be in Bergen. Find that we need to divide seven into the Norwegian Krone to get the dollar amount.  At the talk there is a table set up with many of the Norwegian typical souvenirs. It appears that the Norwegian sweaters and the trolls are two of the more popular items. After the shopping talk there is a lecture on the country of Norway with a slide show.

The ship again seems very crowded to me – too many people in one spot -- the shops are especially crowded. Once again it is necessary to schedule the times you visit certain areas avoid dealing with so many people.  This is the first time that we have ever encountered this problem on a cruise.  

This ship seems to have large group of different ethnicities.  We hear about one group who created a problem in the dining room–a man from the group threw a chair and hit a waiter.  We had another ethnic group on one of our tours that had no regard for time and kept the busload of passengers waiting an inordinate amount of time for them.  The tour guide was not at all happy and made an announcement embarrassing them.  Another annoyance is that parents are not watching their children and seem to be letting the kids run wild.  Our first night eating at Portofino Restaurant, we noticed a six year old boy with his parents drinking wine.  The child was very well behaved and dressed very nicely.  The waiter explained to the parents that minors were not allowed to drink on board.  The parents had a bit to say and the child continued to drink the wine! My major problem with the ship is the rudeness of so many of the passengers.  This is not Royal Caribbean’s fault but it makes me wonder if this type of person is attracted to their cruises?  The problem is bad enough to keep us out of the public areas.  People are free to do as they choose but when it starts infringing on the comfort of others, something must be done.

This afternoon a Traditional High Tea is being offered for $5 per person -- we don’t attend.  I’ve tried several times today to sit outside on the balcony but it is just too cold – and anyone who knows me, knows that I don’t chill easily!  This seems to be a perfect afternoon for a nap – with all the touring we’ve been doing, catching up on some sleep is a very welcome thought.

Before dinner we have a cocktail at the Schooner Lounge – Jim likes the bartender and waitresses here.  One of the waitresses is Maria Murphy and Jim immediately bonds with her with their common last name.  They pass each other on the ship yelling, “Hi, Murph!”

Tonight we eat at Chops specialty restaurant.  The service is excellent and Jim feels that he is served one of the best steaks that he has ever had. I order the veal chop which is tough.  We feel that spending the $20 per person is well worth it to have the gracious dining in Portofino and Chops.  Both of these restaurants are decorated lovely and the service is excellent – there are some especially nice waiters/waitresses working here.  At this point, I prefer Portofino to Chops.

After dinner there is a show in the Pacifica Theater with the music of Abba – the performance is very entertaining and the performers work their hearts out for us – sort of feel like we are at the show “Mama Mia”.  Our cruise director is Ken Rush and I have noticed that a lot of people don’t care for him.  Can’t say that he has bothered me to any great extent – he is the normal rah-rah type, that are on many cruise ships.  I can’t say that I have been around enough to be bothered by the public announcements that are so upsetting to others.  The only time when I have had to listen to him is to introduce the shows and at the end of the shows when he tells you about the activities for the rest of the evening.  There have been complaints about his announcements in the cabin but we aren’t getting them – either our speaker doesn’t work or we have it turned off.

After the show, I return to the room and tonight the towels are folded into a penguin – pretty darn creative!  The balcony is now fairly decent to sit on – the temperature seems to have warmed up a little.  It is 10:15 and still daylight – welcome to the land of the Midnight Sun’!

Mon. July 29

Bergen, Norway
Situated on a natural harbor and protected from the North Sea by a peninsula, Bergen is located on the western edge of Norway.  Its climate is tempered by the gulf current which moderates the harsh winters and helps to keep the waterways ice free – in turn this produces wet summers and locally it is said that Bergen’s babies are born with umbrellas. Surrounded by seven mountains and several fjords, it is Norway ’s second largest city with a population close to 220,000 – It has a university, several colleges and many cultural and municipal buildings. 

We have actually seen several oil rigs in the sea while sailing in the area of Bergen .  It is definitely worth being on deck or your balcony to enjoy the lovely scenery while coming into Bergen . Today is overcast but not raining and the temperature is mild.  Our ship docks at Jekteviken and a complimentary shuttle is available to take us into town.  Our tour of Bergen and the Fantoft Stave Church is this afternoon, so this morning we take the shuttle into Bergen to explore.  The shuttle is right at the dock waiting and very easy to use.  There is a guide on the bus who takes us from the shuttle stop into the main part of town.  We use the map that was given to us and quickly get our bearings.

Jim and I wander around the Bryggen and its Torget also known as Fisketorget (Fish Square), which is located at the top end of the harbor where the fishing boats moor.  Here our senses are assailed by the sights, sounds and aromas of this bustling and exciting commercial center. We think of taking the funicular but decide against it since it is a cloudy day and doubt there will be any view.  It takes you to the top of Mount Floyen, where you are 1050 feet above sea level giving a magnificent view (on a clear day) over the surrounding islands.  

It is now time to walk back to the assigned place to pick up the shuttle to take us back to the ship – very convenient. The shuttles run constantly and there is very little waiting time.  We arrive back at the ship and have enough time for Jim to grab some lunch at the Windjammer Café and for me to relax with a diet coke, before we board the coach for our tour – have about an hour before our tour leaves. We board our coach and drive through the downtown area of Bergen and drive past many of the local sites.

Our first stop is to the Fantoft Stave Church located outside the city. Stave Churches are churches from the 13th century made entirely of wood and without nails. They have elaborate carvings which are characteristics of these churches. Unique to Norway , the stave church is one of the most visible examples of the convergence of the country's Christian and pagan cultures.  

Our next stop is at the Old Museum Bergen, an open air museum with more than 40 wooden houses, representative of the Bergen architecture in the 18th and 19th centuries.

We see friends on this tour and they are not thrilled with this cruise.  They ate at Chops and were very disappointed with their meal – none of their steaks were cooked as ordered.  I also felt that my meal could have been better.  They told us that they met a man who was on his 17th Royal Caribbean cruise and will never sail with them again. Since this is our first time on a Royal Caribbean ship, I don’t know if the problems are because the ship is new and still working the kinks out or if this is typical of Royal Caribbean.

We return to the ship and have a message from our travel agent – our flight has been cancelled and we are booked on another US Air flight leaving Amsterdam shortly after noon.  Now the ship will be able to get us to the airport on time with our transfer. Once again, Sharon on the Brilliance is wonderful and even says that she will confirm our flight for us (something that is not her job but a definite favor to us).

Tonight we return to Portofino for dinner – this is my favorite of the two specialty restaurants.  The restaurant is quieter than Chops and the food better. Both restaurants have excellent service.

Tonight the shops have things from Russia on sale.  Stop at the Photo Gallery but today’s picture is definitely not a ‘keeper’. Tonight the production show is ‘Latin Groove’.  The performers have energy plus and the dancing, costumes and lighting are great. After the show, I return to the room and find the towels folded into a man that is hanging on a hangar – a bit gruesome! I spend time on the balcony and Jim does his usual cigar ritual with his new buddies. I am amazed that it is 10 PM and it is still daylight.

Tuesday July 30

Geiranger, Norway
Our ship leaves the open sea near Alesund, a very important fishing port. Alesund has a population of 35,000 and is built upon three islands. It is now considered one of the prettiest of all the fishing towns in Norway. Now the show of magnificent scenery begins. I am so glad that I woke up early so as not to miss a minute of it. Today is clear and the sun is shining. Some distance inland, near the ferry port and resort town of Stranda, the channel divides with a natural flow to the right, ending at the ferry port of Hellsylt and the flow to the left being Geiranger Fjord. We will be docking in Geiranger and then taking an overland excursion to Hellsylt.

We anchor in the most idyllic setting – mountains surround us, seagulls are overhead and waterfalls stream down the mountains.  The vista is peaceful and totally breathtaking in its grandeur.  There are little villages hugging the sides of the mountain. Geiranger Fjord stretches some ten miles inland, fed by numerous gushing waterfalls including the ‘Seven Sisters, the ‘Suitor’ and the ‘Bridal Veil’.  The sheer magnificence of the surroundings dwarfs even the huge Brilliance of the Seas. 

This morning we are tendered into Geiranger where we leave for our Scenic Norway Overland Excursion Tour – our guide tells us to call her Odd, which I assume is a nickname.  She tells us that today is the best day of the summer to date.  Once again we are very fortunate.  We drive through the small village of Geiranger passing several hotels, chalets and a tiny octagonal wooden church.  Geiranger Church is situated approximately a mile up the main road, above the landing area.  This quaint little wooden church is built in an octagonal shape and offers lovely views of cruise ships and the surrounding countryside. 

We continue uphill towards Djupvass Chalet, situated some 3100 feet above sea level. There is a short photo stop at Flydal Gorge where there is a fantastic view of the fjord and ship below.  Fydal Gorge is beautiful and the sound of the thundering waterfalls gives just a hint of the power of the water.

On our journey back to the ship we see something called the Virgin Stone, a round stone with a hole in the center.  A bride must crawl through it but if she gets stuck in the hole she is not a virgin. Guess this is one way to keep the young women on diets!  We stop at the old Postal Bridge, which is 210 years old. We arrive in Hellesylt and make one last stop to see the waterfall here.

It has been a long but wonderful day. The first half of the day was really great but toward the end our stops seemed to be prolonged. Our guide was great and we learned so much about Norway and this particular area from her.

The first thing that I do when we get back to our cabin is shower. Jim and I then order a cheese plate from room service and sit on the balcony with a drink – in my opinion this is really living, being able to relax and view the gorgeous scenery that surrounds us.

Tonight we have reservations at Chops but we are tired so cancel and eat at the Windjammer instead. The shops are having a special sale on amber.  I can’t resist checking it out – there are some very unique pieces on sale.

I decide to return to the balcony to read and take in some more of the scenery.  It is a gorgeous evening to be out. The sunset is spectacular and doesn’t set until well after 10:00 PM . Jim is up on deck with his buddies having his cigar and B&B. I watch the sunset but actually miss the moment it slips below the horizon. Jim and almost everyone else on board saw the sunset and the green flash that is sometimes seen in this part of the world. I must have been engrossed in my book, which caused me to miss it – I could just kick myself since this is a rare occurrence. Not only did he see the green flash but he also saw whales jumping – I’m beginning to think that perhaps I should take up cigar smoking so as not to miss all these things he is seeing!

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