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Brilliance of the SeasBrilliance of the Seas
Panama Canal 
March 6, 2006

by Steve Napier

Overview: We are a couple who have been married for 21 years and are 51 and 50 years old. This was our third cruise (we only have begun cruising recently and are now hooked) and by far the best experience of the three. Our first was on NCL (Dawn) and our second was on Celebrity (Mercury). Our itinerary was centralized on the Panama Canal with other stops in Aruba, Curacao, Labadee, and Puerto Limon.

Embarkation: Embarkation was a breeze. We had completed the online check-in and already had our SetSail passes so we walked to the designated SetSail line in the terminal and were on way onboard after about 15 minutes. We were extremely pleased with this process after about an hour wait on our last cruise to get on board Mercury in San Diego. The Miami Terminal is set us much more efficiently that the San Diego pier and so this was a great first impression.

Ship: Brilliance of the Seas is just an awesome ship. So well laid out and beautiful in its elegance and fine touches of different types of wood (especially on Deck 6) and glass everywhere. It is hard to explain the little touches that add a great look to a ship but these touches were everywhere. The glass elevators that tell you the floor number, and look out over the ocean are fantastic in my mind. I heard a little grumbling near the end of the cruise that a few were tired of the talking elevators but not me! I never had to pay attention to the floor number, just look out at the ocean and the wonderful view. The main pool is a little small to me for such a large ship, but we didn’t use it. We went to the great Solarium and the nice adult’s only pool with a hot tub and warm showers to rinse off after getting out of the pool. My wife just loved the beautiful ShipShape center where she got massages, treatments of all kinds and exercised in the wonderful worko ut room (I am aware I am using the word wonderful/awesome a lot but it fits!). The amounts of activities available to you are incredible. We never got to everything and we were on a 11 night cruise!

Stateroom: We had a Grand Suite, suite 1052 that was 400 sq. ft. with a 106 sq. ft. balcony. The room was gorgeous and well laid out. It had a large bathroom with twin sinks and a large shower/tub. Since we had a category GS stateroom, we had access to the wonderful Concierge Lounge and the awesome Concierge, Katherine Valenzuela. It was the perfect place to have a continental breakfast in the morning and snacks and free drinks in the late afternoon. Katherine made reservations for us, drinks, conversation and became a great friend.

Dining: The dining options were Great on this awesome ship. Food in the main dining room was very good. Not quite as good as Mercury, but very satisfying. There were many dining options compared to Mercury and we ate one night in the reservation only Portofino alternative restaurant and that was one of the best meals we have ever had anywhere, not just cruising. The Windjammer Buffet area was a disappointment several times to me for the breakfast food (which was a combination of dry or over cooked) or so busy you couldn’t find a place to sit. The Station Concept is a good idea, it is just not big enough or the traffic flow was not designed well enough for the amount of people using the area. Dinner was much better and we had two good dinners in the Windjammer after we got back to the ship late in port and did not want to rush to our early seating in the main dining room. 

Service: Just fantastic! Everybody is extremely friendly and it was announced while we were on the ship that it had just received one of the best ratings for any ship in the cruise industry. This was not surprising after our experience. All of the employees who served us or were associated with our comfort went above and beyond the call of duty. Our waiters were friendly and talked and joked with us and even the head waiter stopped by our table every night. I have previously mentioned Katherine, our Concierge and Grace our Suite attendant was wonderful also.

Ports: Aruba was nice. We just did the shopping thing after we were going to do a tour and decided to just mosey around Oranjestad. Labadee, RCI’s private beach on Hispaniola, was very nice and relaxing and my wife and I did the wave runners which was a load of fun. Curacao, was nice and we hired a taxi to take us around one end of the island. In Costa Rica, we took the outstanding Rain Forest Canopy tour which was of the best experiences we have had on a vacation. The Panama Canal of course was the center piece of this cruise and did not disappoint. What an awesome sight as we neared the canal in the early morning. The locks at Gatun were lit up like daylight, and a set of runway like lights guided the Brilliance into the right channel of the locks. A lighted arrow showed our Captain and the pilot which side of the channel to enter. Of course the decks were full of fellow passengers but we had gotten on deck at 5:30AM to get a prime view. What a great exper ience. We stayed on the Brilliance after traversing through the locks as we wanted to be onboard as we went back through later that day. No shore excursions for us! Anyway, it is an engineering marvel considering that this canal was built in the early part of the last century. If you ever have the chance, go see the Panama Canal. It won’t disappoint.

Entertainment: This was a good experience as opposed to what we were exposed to on the Mercury. One of the production shows, “Tango Buenos Aries” was just fantastic. The comedy of Marty Allen was good and the bands and piano players were great also.

Overall: A great cruise experience overall. I probably sound like I should do commercials for Royal Caribbean, but it was just a fantastic cruise. We are not real picky or bitchy folks so I am sure some other reviews I have read have had different experiences with RCI, but ours was the best vacation we have ever had. We plan on sailing again on the Brilliance in the Mediterranean next year. I would give the entire cruise a 4.5 star rating out of 5. We plan on sticking with RCI for all of our future cruises. We stay with longer itineraries also which skew the demographics of the fellow cruisers to an older group so the teen and kid issue is held to a minimum which we like. Great Cruising!

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