Brilliance of the Seas is the second Radiance-class ship in Royal Caribbean's fleet. The ship's medium-ish size -- it holds some 2,112 passengers at double occupancy -- allows cruisers to feel they have the best of both worlds: a vessel with ample activities and crew who provide attentive service. The latter is definitely noteworthy on Brilliance: room attendants, entertainment staff, spa attendants and waiters are particularly approachable and helpful.
As with all ships in the Radiance series, passengers are never at a loss for a view: the ship's stunning nine-story central atrium is surrounded by glass, and elevators face the outside. Nearly every public area has a stunning view. Brilliance is suitably named, as the design of the ship is innovatively designed to be easy to navigate. The plethora of outdoor features, such as the rock climbing wall and mini-golf course are easy to find and no reservations are required.
Ship venues are generally not congested. Even the most crowded venues -- poolside in the afternoons and Windjammer during lunch hours -- generally have available seating.
Daytime: The dress code on board is usually "cruise casual" and you'll see plenty of T-shirts and shorts.
Evening: In the evenings, approximately 10 percent of the passengers wear jeans, but most wear khakis and casual dresses. Expect one formal night on which most men wear suits and women don cocktail dresses, with only a few opting for tuxedos and long dresses. One "smart casual" dinner night brings out the dress slacks and blouses.
Not permitted: Baseball caps, swimsuits and tank tops are never allowed in the restaurants in the evening.
There's undoubtedly no shortage of entertainment onboard Brilliance of the Seas. The ship rattles and hums with activity day and night, and passengers find they have run out of time before they run out of things to do. Lively and educational courses such as casino gaming lessons and travel photography are offered. There are elaborate production shows in the Pacifica Theatre and people-watching at Viking Crown Lounge on Deck 13. Those seeking an upscale experience can enjoy sampling wine for a fee at the classes offered at Vintages wine bar on Deck 6.
The Casino Royale is busy at night, but there is room at most of the 12 tables and 195 slot machines. The table games become particularly popular as the cruise wears on, possibly due to the free daily lessons held in the daytime. Those with allergies may wish to give this space a miss, as a smoky stench is a constant here.
Spanning decks 4, 5 and 6, the 874-seat Pacifica Theatre is the main theatre for the ship and boasts the latest in audio and visual technology. There are vibrant colours -- red, purple and yellow -- throughout the room. Views of the large stage are excellent from all seats as there are no obstructions. On our cruise, we had no difficulty finding seating despite arriving shortly before each show. There is only one design flaw: The theatre is accessed by only four narrow corridors, thus creating bottlenecks following the shows.
Royal Caribbean Productions, the line's in-house production company, brings together top-notch singers, actors and dancers to star in three splendid original shows ranging from ballroom dance to a Broadway revue. A nine-piece orchestra accompanies the shows, which are performed at 5 and 9 p.m. in order to accommodate early and late dining times. Check the daily Compass ship newsletter show schedules. If you can't squeeze in every one of the shows, the in-room cabin televisions often offer rebroadcasts.
Don't miss the "Center Stage" variety revue, featuring singers and dancers performing classical, jazz, rock and swing musical numbers. Another offering, "Now and Forever," takes the audience on a musical journey of Broadway, with well-produced numbers from diverse musicals such as The Producers and Mamma Mia. The third show, "Tango Buenos Aires," explores the development of the tango, from its heavily athletic origins to its more refined contemporary format.
Daytime activities onboard are typical cruise fare, such as trivia and top-deck mini-golf, with nothing particularly outstanding other than the line's signature outdoor climbing wall. Passengers can also take in shopping and dance classes, as well as extra-fee bingo and cooking classes. The main pool is a reliable source of daytime entertainment, with a live band and amusing staff-led events such as belly flop and "Man with the Best Legs" contests.
A visit to the shops onboard, located on Deck 5, is a pleasant daytime diversion. The stores are rarely jam-packed, even on days at sea. Most of the merchandise is what one expects on ships: jewellery, liquor, Royal Caribbean logo wear, toiletries, swimwear and perfume. Wait until the last day of the cruise to buy the logo wear: it's usually offered at a 50 percent discount.
For those who can bear its smoky odour, the Casino Royale is a stirring place to spend the evening. For those new to gaming, there are complimentary lessons offered for blackjack, roulette, craps and poker. Dealers are friendly and are ready to assist new players.
The casino has pleasant decor, with beautiful art and a convenient, attractive bar in the middle. Blackjack, Texas Hold'em and slot tournaments are offered during most cruises, with free future cruise sailings as frequent prizes, and select sailings offering prize pools up to $100,000.
For those looking for non-gaming action and beyond the theatre offerings, the nine-story all-glass atrium is a popular nighttime spot. There is live music and dancing every evening. There are also games such as trivia or sudoku contests in various bars and lounges on some evenings.
While the bars and lounges on Brilliance are comfortable and active, the nightlife on this ship is not its best feature. Many of the venues feature somewhat cliched decor and generally unremarkable signature drinks. An upside to this deficit is that the lounges and bars are rarely unbearably crowded, and seating is generally easy to procure in each venue. Royal Caribbean's trademark Schooner Bar is among the most enjoyable venues, and worth a visit for its animated piano sing-alongs. The Viking Crown Lounge also sports an energetic atmosphere and a great view in the evenings, so a stop there is also recommended.
R Bar (Deck 4): This sophisticated bar has a classy 1960s theme, but serves more as a spot for a quick meet-up rather than a relaxing conversation. On days at sea, this space is occasionally used for brief free language classes, which can come in handy at the next port.
The Colony Club (Deck 6): This space houses four smaller themed areas: a casual lounge, centre section, the Singapore Sling bar, and Jakarta Lounge. The latter is a card room seating 59 and has the most memorable decor, with immaculately polished wood and brass work. In totality, the four spaces offer seating for approximately 250. The lounge serves a wide array of drinks suggestive of its four diverse themes -- a particular favourite is the Singapore Sling gin-based cocktail.
Schooner Bar (Deck 6): As the name implies, this 144-seat sing-along piano bar's decor has a maritime theme, with dark wood, marble, sails and ornamental nets. The pianist is occasionally accompanied by a Latin guitarist. Trivia quizzes and sudoku contests are also part of both the daily and nightly schedules.
Bombay Billiard Club (Deck 6): In addition to two self-levelling pool tables, this 15-seat club has a large, wall-mounted television for Nintendo Wii/console gaming competitions. Drinks from a full-bar menu are also served here.
King Country (Deck 6): More than 35 European beers are available by the pint at this English-style pub. The classic rich, dark decor, plus the live acoustic guitar in the evenings, adds to the classic atmosphere. There are occasional lectures here on topics as diverse as stargazing and meditation; check the daily Compass newsletter for more information.
Vintages (Deck 6): This wine bar's eccentric furniture, reminiscent of Alice of Wonderland, is as comfortable as it is amusing. Many passengers order the roasted red pepper hummus from the accompanying tapas menu.
Viking Crown Lounge (Deck 13): This spot is sedate in the daytime, while its nighttime action is energetic and amusing. There are slanted windows to enable expansive outdoor views, and the people-watching inside the club is also outstanding. There is comfortable seating for approximately 93 passengers, a dance floor and live music performances beginning in the evenings and generally concluding around 2 a.m.
Starquest Nightclub (Deck 13): Located next to Viking, this club offers seating for 132, a large dance floor, a revolving bar and live DJ programming. In the daytime, there are free hosted dance classes, such as hourlong salsa lessons.
The main outdoor pool is not the best place for serious exercise, but it's a festive location and has two hot tubs and live music. Staff lead passengers in lively activities such as belly flop contests in the daytime.
Evenings are also active here. Adjacent to the pool, a large movie screen projects first-run movies and big sporting events. Passengers have an ample view whether they're watching while immersed in the pool or staying dry in the pool deck chairs.
The Solarium offers a pool and two whirlpools, which are open to guests who are at least 16 years old. Because it is located indoors, it tends to be warmer and more humid than the main pool. Since the Solarium is forward-facing, there are some great ocean and sky views available. During foul weather, guests under age 16 may be allowed to use this area if a parent or guardian directly supervises them.
Royal Caribbean's signature outdoor rock walls are staffed with helpful instructors for young and first-time climbers and yield remarkable views at the top. An outdoor basketball court is used for both casual pickup games as well as organized tournaments and a jogging track on deck 12 offers a quarter-mile loop. In addition, while their fitness benefits are questionable, the nine-hole mini-golf course and shuffleboard are favourites for mature passengers as well as families with children.
Sun-worshippers will adore the serenity of the adults-only Solarium, which has a retractable roof. There are three pools and three whirlpools along with steam rooms and a sauna, but many passengers simply enjoy the quiet lounging and don't partake in the other facilities. The daily fee is $15, or $50 per cruise. Occasionally, on port days when there is low demand, there are special single-day rates of $10.
For no-fee sun lounging, there are approximately two-dozen deck chairs on Deck 12. Nearby is the outdoor Sky Bar for some libations while relaxing. There is generally no problem with finding a chair, as chair hogging appears to be rare -- at least it was on our sailing. The deck is a quiet alternative to the lively pool deck, which is located directly below on Deck 11.
Helpful touch screen "wayfinders" are located throughout the ship to help cruisers find their way to bars, restaurants, shops, entertainment venues and cabins. But here are a few main spots to know about. The Guest Services and Shore Excursions desk are on Deck 4, midship. Directly across from these is the ship's card room, featuring cards and board games.
On Deck 5 you'll find the mall-style Shops of the Centrum, housing tax- and duty-free shops for liquor and jewellery splurges, and a number of supplementary retail options where vendors offer designer handbags, watches, shoes, jewellery and sunglasses. You'll also find the ship's art and photo galleries on Deck 5.
The ship lacks self-service laundry facilities; expect to pay $30 for laundry service for a sack of mixed garments.
One of the most convenient features on the ship is the internet-accessible terminals located throughout the ship, including one large area on Deck 4 near the lobby. There are also terminals in Latte-tudes, the coffee bar, and on Deck 7. Teens have their own bank of computers in Fuel. Internet is via the line's high-speed service known as VOOM. Prices for the service vary and are subject to change. To log on, find the network "royal-wifi" using your device, open your browser and follow instructions.
Brilliance has a high-tech medical facility on Deck 1, as well as a helicopter landing pad on Deck 6 for emergency medical evacuations.
Don't miss the free tour of the Deck 11 Vitaly at Sea Spa on your first day onboard the ship. The facility's teak furnishings and other interior appointments are striking yet elegant, clearly inspired by spas in Bali and Tahiti. This full-service spa offers a variety of pricy massages, facials and medi-spa treatments such as chemical peels. There is also a beauty salon offering manicures, pedicures, women's hairdressers, a men's barber and teeth whitening. In addition to massage, there are several other spa treatments, including acupuncture, body scrubs and seaweed wraps. Check the daily Compass newsletter for occasional special rates for services.
Inside the spa you'll find separate men's and women's changing rooms, each with steam and sauna rooms, as well as a separate relaxation area offering free water and tea.
The thermal spa is worth using even if not taking in a service. There are three pools and three whirlpools, and an adults-only Solarium, which has a retractable roof. The facilities are, remarkably, open 24 hours a day. A late-night visit to its coed scented and unscented steam rooms and saunas is sublime after visiting the ship's nightclubs.
Access to the thermal spa is $15 for a 24-hour pass, or $50 per cruise. On port days when there is low demand, there are occasionally special single-day rates of $10.
To work off those calories consumed at the Windjammer buffet, the fitness centre offers both traditional weight equipment as well as the latest exercise machines. A variety of classes, such as kickboxing and aerobics, are offered for $10 per class. The posted age minimum to use the facility is 16. On our cruises, the gym was never too busy to find plenty of equipment to use, but we did notice midmornings on sea days were particularly busy.
Those who wish to exercise outside can take fitness to new heights on the top deck (13) with the line's signature rock wall, which offers spectacular views at the top. On Deck 12, the jogging track offers a quarter-mile loop with ocean views. There is also an outdoor basketball court, used for both pickup games and planned tournaments.
Dining on Brilliance of the Seas is diverse, interesting, tasty, convenient and adaptable for passengers with special dietary needs.
Minstrel Dining Room (decks 4 and 5, aft): The ship's main dining room spans two decks and has a gushing waterfall as its focal point. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and operates on an open-seating plan for breakfast and lunch.
For dinner, passengers can choose the line's signature My Time Dining and pick a specific reservation time in advance (between 6 and 9:30 p.m.), but can then change reservation times daily or even walk in without a reservation. The My Time Dining option requires pre-payment of gratuities. Otherwise, passengers can choose traditional dining, which means choosing either an assigned 6 or 8:30 p.m. dining slot. If opting for the set times, arrive early to avoid lines. Regardless of the reservation option, be sure to select as far ahead of the sailing as possible, as popular times (such as the 6 p.m. seating) fill quickly.
Minstrel's food is flavoursome and the menu changes daily. Those on special diets can generally find suitable entrees. The vegetarian artichoke-filled crepes au gratin, for example, are a must-have, regardless of one's dietary preferences.
Special dietary needs aside, there are several renowned courses at Minstrel. At breakfast, passengers can enjoy the cooked-to-order omelettes and Belgian waffles. Diners generally opt for light and quick fare for lunch, such as the tomato bisque and panini sandwiches. At dinner, popular appetizers are the chilled shrimp cocktail and crab-stuffed mushroom caps. Among the well-liked main entrees are the roasted lamb shanks au jus as well as the San Francisco cioppino. Desserts of note are the Key lime pie and the berry cobbler.
On select sailings, the restaurant offers a midnight buffet once per cruise. The night is announced in the ship newsletter, Compass. Restaurant employees can also answer questions about the schedule. Extravagant ice carvings are presented alongside a diverse seafood display, and the desserts are impeccable. The Black Forest cake, in particular, is not to be missed.
Windjammer (Deck 11, aft): The ship's top-deck buffet is a good place to grab a quick breakfast or lunch before a shore excursion. As with the buffets on its Radiance-class sisters, there are several themed stations at lunch and dinner (pasta, light-eating selections, salads, etc.), thus eliminating a single long line of hungry passengers, as diners are dispersed to the separate stations. In the evenings, the casual setting is somewhat transformed to a restaurant atmosphere, with a more quiet ambience.
Windjammer is open for breakfast from 6 to 11 a.m., lunch from 11:45 a.m. to 3 p.m., and dinner from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Among the breakfast selections are cheesy scrambled eggs, simple yoghurt parfaits and pancakes. Among lunch and dinner options are Chinese stir-fries, fried chicken and vegetarian enchiladas.
The food is delicious for buffet fare, and selections change throughout the week, with the curries especially a hit with passengers. Lemonade, ice tea, coffee and water are offered at no extra charge; wine, beer and sodas are also offered for sale.
Park Cafe (Deck 11, midship): Those who find even a buffet restaurant too formal will appreciate the tasty fare at Park Cafe, as well as its casual pool-area location. The deli-style eatery offers made-to-order salads and sandwiches, paninis and a variety of gourmet pastries and coffee.
Breakfast-Only Room Service: The only fee-free room service available onboard Brilliance is the continental breakfast option, which includes morning beverages such as juices, coffee and tea for beverages, and bakery selections such as bagels and doughnuts, yoghurt, fruit and cold cereals. This free option is available is only available from 6:30 to 7:30 a.m.
Cafe Latte-tudes (Deck 6, midship); a la carte pricing: This coffee space is a perfect spot to relax with a mocha while reading and planning the day's events. The quiet spot is also a good space for a post-excursion respite.
Chops Grille (Deck 6, midship); $35: An elegant steak restaurant serving choice cuts and enormous baked potatoes, Chops Grille is popular for romantic parties of two, or groups celebrating special occasions. For passengers who forgo beef, seafood and vegetarian options are available with advance notice. Seating is by reservation only.
Giovanni's Table (Deck 6, midship); a la carte pricing: Passengers of all ages enjoy the casual Tuscan atmosphere of Giovanni's. The trattoria tweaks traditional favourites with contemporary accents. Seating is available indoors and al fresco, and the food is served family-style. The focaccia bread and pasta dishes are safe bets, but the braised meats and stews are especially flavorful and memorable.
Chef's Table (Deck 6, aft); $85: Passengers with three and a half hours to spare will enjoy this dining experience spotlighting a five-course set menu of gourmet dishes prepared and personally presented by a senior chef. Every course is accompanied by wine pairings, described by a sommelier. At the end of the meal, diners are presented with an autographed cookbook. Reserve before your sailing, as seating is limited to 16 nightly; Chef's Table may be altogether unavailable on certain nights of some theme and short-itinerary cruises.
Rita's Cantina (Deck 11, aft); a la carte pricing: Located near Windjammer, Rita's serves hearty Mexican fare along with a wide selection of creative margaritas. The jalapeno poppers and hearty tortilla soups are popular appetizers, and the grilled quesadillas are a favourite main course. The restaurant is suitable for families with children in the daytime; evenings, which carries a $3 cover charge, are adults-only with dancing and live guitar music.
Izumi (Deck 12, aft); a la carte pricing: This bistro offers Asian dishes of both traditional and fusion themes. The flawless, delicate presentation of the entrees alone is worth a visit to Izumi. Ingredients used are fresh and flavorful, as is especially evidenced in the sushi rolls and sashimi. Popular hot Japanese items include the Hot Rock meat plates (ishiyaki) and sukiyaki.
Room Service: Delivery is available 24 hours a day, at a cost of $7.95 per order (including gratuity). Non-continental breakfast items include egg dishes and pastries. At lunch and dinner, menu items include burgers, chicken wings, grilled salmon and Philly cheesesteaks, among other items. Orders to Grand Suites and higher will not carry a charge.
Brilliance features 1,075 staterooms in four main types: Suite, Balcony, Outside View and Interior. Most suites offer an oversized balcony and multiple rooms; a select few offer unusual additional amenities such as a baby grand piano. All suites, save for Junior Suites, come with concierge service. Smoking is not permitted in staterooms or on balconies.
Every stateroom offers an interactive flat-screen TV with closed captioning, mini-bar and a vanity table with an extendable working surface for laptop computers, private bathroom with shower, 110/220 electrical outlets, a radio, telephone and a hair dryer. All rooms, save for the three Interior Studio Staterooms onboard, have a chair or sofa. Closet space in staterooms and suites is generally sufficient for four-person parties, each with one midsize suitcase and a carry-on bag. Most bathrooms are small but efficient, with glass-enclosed showers, compact counters, sinks and thin shelves for storage. Eschewing the irritating shower wall dispensers of other lines, Brilliance provides small bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and lotion for all cabin types.
All cabin televisions carry RCTV, the line's interactive television system, which offers a wide range of channels. There are free and pay-per-view movies and news channels such as CNN. The interactive television feature offers a reservations system for room service and shore excursions.
Passengers with special physical needs should advise the line at the time of reservation; many of the ship's staterooms are accessible, with 14 specifically for people using wheelchairs distributed throughout the class types.
Interior: Located on decks 2, 3, 4, 7, 8 and 9, most of these compact 162-square-foot cabins offer two twin beds that convert to a Royal King (which is slightly narrower than a standard king-sized bed). There are five accessible 201-square-foot interior staterooms located on decks 2, 3 and 4.
Oceanview: Located on decks 3, 4, 7 and 8, Outside View cabins offer twin beds that convert to a Royal King and a 23-inch porthole window. The cabins run from 164 square feet in the Large Ocean View category to 265 square feet in the Family Ocean View Stateroom designation. The latter does not have an additional bathroom, but does offer additional bunk beds in a separate area as well as a separate sitting area with sofa bed. As the category name implies, this room type is intended for family groups of up to six, so a minimum number of four passengers might be required for booking. There are two 268-square-foot Accessible Large Ocean View cabins on Deck 4. Avoid booking stateroom 7506, as it has an obstructed view.
Balcony: Located on decks 7, 8, 9 and 10, balcony cabins are plentiful onboard. They generally fall into one of two categories: Deluxe (167 square feet with balconies ranging from 27 to 41 square feet) and Superior (194 square feet with a 45 square-foot balcony). Some rooms also feature a single sofa bed for a third passenger. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors lead to balconies in both types. On Deck 7, there are four staterooms in the Accessible Deluxe category (271 square feet with a 131 square-foot balcony). Before booking, note that balcony cabins on Deck 7 have obstructed views, with the exception of cabins 7104 and 7514.
Minisuite: Located on Deck 10, each Junior Suite boasts 299 square feet and a sitting area with sofa bed, enabling a comfortable fit for up to four passengers. Some passengers choose to also fit in a rollaway bed or Pack 'n Play. Each Junior Suite comes with a 66-square-foot balcony. There are two 362-square-foot Accessible Junior Suites available, each offering 86-square-foot balconies.
Suite: Located on decks 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11, the plethora of suites are a popular option on Brilliance of the Seas. All of them come with a balcony, separate sitting room and the same standard features as other cabin types. Some suites include complimentary concierge service, which affords access to an exclusive lounge as well as personalized service for help with making reservations for dining and shore excursions.
Suite passengers enjoy priority check-in, reserved show seating, priority tender tickets, spa bathrobes, free pressing service on formal nights and priority departure.
There are five categories of suites onboard: Royal Suite, Royal Family Suite, Presidential Family Suite, Owner's Suite and Grand Suite.
The smallest offering in this class is the Grand Suite. At 387 square feet, this stateroom features a master bedroom and sitting area; some are equipped with standard sofas and others with sofa beds. The large balcony (93 square feet) has room for two loungers and a small dining table with chairs.
The 532-square-foot Family Suite offers two bedrooms, two bathrooms (with bathtub in the master bedroom) and a living area with a double sofa bed. The balcony is 86 square feet and offers two chairs and one small table.
Identical to the Family Suite in size is the Two-Bedroom Suite. There are two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one just with shower, one with bathtub as well as shower) and a sitting area with double sofa bed. The balcony in these suites is a notable 195 square feet, and offers two chairs, one small table and a lounger.
The Owner's Suite offers 532 square feet and features a master bedroom with a shower, a separate bathtub with water jets, a bidet and two sinks. There is a separate living area with queen-sized sofa bed. The balcony is a cosy 68 square feet.
The largest suite -- there's only one -- is the Royal Suite. At 952 square feet, it is the envy of all other suite passengers. The enormous master bedroom has an impressively large closet, and its bathroom sports a large whirlpool tub. The separate living room has a queen-sized sofa bed and the centrepiece of the suite is a baby grand piano. The balcony is an astounding 283 square feet, and offers two chairs, two midsize tables and two loungers.