brilliance of the seas - royal caribbean international - cruise ship review & photos

Grand Princess - Princess Cruises - cruise ship review and photos

The Port of Amsterdam once again played host to a brand new cruise ship when Royal Caribbean International (RCI) brought their 90,090 ton Brilliance of the Seas to the Dutch capital on July 6th, 2002 - just one day after the ship was officially handed over to the cruise line. Newspapers heralded the arrival of the ship with its panoramic elevators, golf course and Indian-themed Solarium, and crowds lined the Amsterdam waterfront when Brilliance of the Seas majestically left the cruise terminal for a short cruise up and down the North Sea Canal that evening. 

Brilliance of the Seas is second in a series of four identical ships, and younger sister to the highly acclaimed Radiance of the Seas. That ship called at Amsterdam in March, 2001 and created quite a stir in the cruise industry because of its many innovative features. With the Radiance-class, it is obvious RCI have managed to create ocean-going resorts that combine the best of all worlds. Brilliance and her sister have mega-ship facilities like rock climbing walls and golf courses, yet they are small enough to transit the Panama Canal. Turbine propulsion through Azipods make these ships amongst the most quiet and vibration-free, with a brisk service speed and excellent sea keeping qualities as an added bonus. As Brilliance of the Seas is in many ways a carbon copy of Radiance of the Seas, I did explore the new ship from top to bottom in search of the subtle changes in design. I hope you will join me on the virtual exploration of what I personally consider to be one of the most beautiful cruise ships ever constructed!

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"Ooohs" and "Aaahs" are definitely in order when first entering the nine-deck high Centrum, the ship's heart and soul. Wherever you go on Brilliance, you will always pass the Centrum and know exactly where you are. Music of the combo playing deep down on deck 4 fills the whole atrium, while six panoramic elevators zoom up and down, providing stunning views of the atrium or the world outside through walls of glass. If there ever was an ideal place for people watching, the Centrum must be it.

Spanning the full nine decks is "Spiral Light", a magnificent stainless steel piece of art that resembles a "white tornado". It was devised by Warren Seeling and Sheryl Gibson and is meant to "softly energize and visually illuminate the ship's Centrum space". At night, Spiral Light is subtly lighted to create different atmospheres, while the 3-deck high white wall directly over the Champagne Bar serves as a projection screen. When I was on board, the RCI logo and a word of welcome to Brilliance of the Seas was projected and the result was stunning.

The upper levels of the Centrum house a number of interesting smaller rooms. You will find an Internet Center here, replaced from its previous location on deck 5 by the new "Latte-tudes" Coffee Bar. There is a  small library, a business center and Concierge Lounge for suite passengers. And the higher up you get, the more exciting the view down into the abyss of the Centrum.  

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Brilliance of the Seas has no less than 577 balcony staterooms, and my friend Ilona and I were happy to occupy one of them. Our stateroom 8164 was located all the way aft on deck 8 and with a third stairtower missing, there was some hefty walking involved to reach it. Mind you, the fact that all cabin corridors are themed after world cities did help keeping us entertained while trekking towards our cabin!

It must be the ultimate luxury to occupy a balcony cabin. After all, what can be better than dressing for dinner with the sliding door open, watching the world glide by? RCI is famous for their cabin design, and Brilliance is no exception. There is storage space everywhere (it will take you some time to discover some of the more hidden cupboards!), and the decor is quite elegant yet functional. A large TV with good in-cabin programming will keep you entertained, as does the refrigerator with mini bar. The bathroom is small, the shower could do with a little more power and it's hard to find your clothes in the unlighted wardrobe, but the cabin truly feels like a home away from home and is very comfortable indeed. Especially if you are the very first passenger sleeping in a bed made with crisp linens that have never been used before!

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Ah, the Windjammer! The scene of many happy nutricious moments on our cruise on Radiance of the Seas... Looking completely identical on Brilliance, the Windjammer Café on deck 11 aft is home to a huge free-form buffet and open most of the day. A wide, marble-clad passageway leads from the stairtower to the buffet, with many food islands. Two beverage stations are constantly manned with staff pouring coffee and tea, and the grill counters serve up everything from omelettes in the morning to burgers in the afternoon. There is always room to move, hardly any lines and the staff is wonderful.

The blue-and-teak nautical look (with these incredibly comfortable chairs!) gives the room a warm, inviting feel. The views of land and sea from the walls of glass are incredible, as is the amount of food some people manage to digest! 

Further aft, there is an inviting glassed-in section called "Windjammer Alfresco", with comfortable seating. Overlooking the ship's stern is an expansive outdoor dining section with the rubber-like decking found in many outdoor areas on Brilliance

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Royal Caribbean Int'l sticks to a fine tradition with Brilliance of the Seas by cramming the ship with a priceless collection of  original pieces of modern art. Everywhere you go on board, you will stumble across art, lovingly exhibited, well lighted and always labeled. Other than on Celebrity ships, which feature some very extravagant expressions of modern art, the objects on RCI ships are always low-key, friendly  and understandable.

Especially noteworthy for ship freaks (like me) is the forward stairtower, featuring some interesting artwork related to the days of ocean liners. Here you'll find photo collages with a lot of "Cunard red", and one landing even sports a special tribute to Titanic! Although Brilliance of the Seas is basically a carbon copy of sister Radiance (give or take a couple of design changes), the art work makes her look and feel very different. All in all I would say that the artwork on Brilliance is perhaps slightly more modern, with an emphasis on photography.

When Royal Caribbean first started, the cabin corridors on their ships used to have Norwegian street names. And while that is no longer done, I was thrilled to discover that the artwork in all cabin corridors on Brilliance is themed after major world cities. Beautiful old photos of London can be found on deck 8, while you will stumble across old Roman prints depicting Rome or colorful collages of Miami on any of the other decks. Too bad I didn't have more time to discover them all!

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In 1995 Royal Caribbean introduced its first seagoing Solarium on Legend of the Seas. Designed specifically as an indoor/outdoor pool area, the two-deck high Solarium is covered by a glass roof that can be opened or closed depending on the weather conditions. The area on was such a success that it was included on all Vision-, Voyager- and Radiance-class vessels, albeit in an "open-air only" version for the warm weather giants in the Voyager-class.

For the ships in the Radiance class, the design of the Solarium was further refined to incorporate a larger pool, resulting in a wonderful space. The African themed Solarium on Radiance of the Seas, with three huge stone elephants standing guard over the pool, was admired by all. And now it seems British Stephenjohn Design got a bulk discount when ordering the stone elephants, as they are back on Brilliance! Someone dressed them up, gave them earrings (?) and voila - Africa tuns into India!

It is not as simple as that though, as a closer look reveals many little details that are very different from the safari-theme of Radiance. Once again, the designers have gone to great lengths to adjust all decorations and art work to the Solarium's Indian theme, and they must be commended for creating an area that is lively and at the same time elegant. And those two little kneeling elephants on each side of the pool are of course adored by everyone!

The possibilities to have "fun in the sun" are virtually endless on Brilliance of the Seas. With the Solarium pool traditionally attracting a quieter, perhaps more sedate crowd, the midships Main Pool is THE place to be for the sun worshippers. Here, pool games, a resident calypso band and two inviting bars add a lot of liveliness. The nicely sized main pool is complemented by two Jacuzzis, while many more lounge chairs can be found one deck higher overlooking the action at the pool.

Further aft is a children's pool with water slide, a full-sized basketball/volleyball court and of course the miniature golf course, aptly called Fairways of Brilliance. But the "pièce de résistance" is the rock climbing wall, perched aft on the funnel. All are free of charge and amongst the great features that make Brilliance of the Seas a favorite amongst active cruise passengers.

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It might be July, but the Dutch summer is showing its gloomy side. So let's get back inside and check out another highlight of Brilliance of the Seas: the Minstrel Dining Room. Spanning two decks in height and with a seating capacity of 1,104, this is a huge room! Entrance to the dining room is via four wide corridors on decks 4 & 5. If your table number starts with a 4, you're on the lower level; otherwise you're on the balcony overlooking the buzzing center section. Colors here are predominantly golds, royal blues, greens and a splash of red. Seating is at tables of 2 - 10, but there are just a handful of tables for two.  

Backed by a cascading waterfall and a small stage with a grand piano, the stunningly beautiful center section of the Minstrel Dining Room mostly resembles one of the grand ocean liners of yesteryear. The draperies around the columns add a further elegant touch, while at the same time reducing the noise level. This is what a grand dining room should look like, and it was never more fun to descend from the grand staircase in formal wear, knowing you look goooood! The colorful mosaic mural in the aft section of the room adds color and vibrancy to the room. My formal dinner on board was very tasty and service was good from our Portugese waiter and friendly Australian assistant waitress. 

RCI does not offer open seating dining, and therefore everyone here eats at the same time (main seating at 6.30 pm, late seating at 8.30) and at the same table throughout the cruise. However, open seating for dinner is available at the Windjammer Café and at the two a la carte speciality dining rooms. And while Brilliance of the Seas passes my childhood home on the banks of the North Sea Canal, let's discover the exquisite Schooner Bar & Colony Club. 

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Aft on deck 6 are two of the most popular public rooms on Brilliance of the Seas. Directly accessible from the Centrum is the Schooner Bar, the signature bar found on all RCI ships. The smell of tar is now complemented by a full display of life on a sailing ship, as the wide corridor leading to the bar area is designated as a small museum. As in all Schooner Bars fleetwide, the atmosphere is definitely nautical, with many paintings of sailing vessels, figureheads and some beautiful scale models in glass cases.

The Schooner Bar is always busy, as it serves as the throughfare to the Colony Club, Portofino and Chops Grille. This is the place to order a pre-dinner drink before heading to one of the speciality restaurants. And here you will stand in line before shaking Captain Thomas Wildung's hand at the Captain's Cocktail Party. All in all a lively place, with a terrific atmosphere.  

Directly aft of the Schooner Bar is the large Colony Club, modeled after a traditional exotic retreat like the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Lots of teak wooden flooring, oriental carpets, leather smoke room chairs  and some beautiful paitings set the tone for this, the innovative secondary entertainment area on board.

The Colony Club is designed in such a way that it is in fact a combination of smaller public rooms. There's a lobby-like area at the entrance housing two big-screen tv's (hidden from view when not in use) and the much talked about computer-controlled pool tables. Then there is a bar area to starboard, with some high tables with built-in chess sets. The main  lounge area is sunken somewhat to make sure everyone gets of good view of stage & dance floor. All the way aft, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows, is an exquisite bar area. With its super-comfortable chairs and couches, this is a great place to curl up with a book during the day, too! Finally, a card room is set to port side, which can be closed off if required.

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Perched high atop the ship is the delightful Seaview Café. Open until late, it serves as Brilliance of the Seas' snack bar, serving up convenience food and some nice salads and seafood specialities. Oh, and let's not forget the milk shakes! Food (but not drinks) in the Seaview Café is included in your cruise fare. When entering the Seaview Café you simply order at the counter, take a seat and the food (plus any drinks from the full-service bar) are brought to you by a waiter.

Outside is an expansive outdoor seating area. New on Brilliance of the Seas is an extra stairway leading directly down to the Windjammer Café. Take it from me: nothing can beat sitting at the Seaview terrace after an exhausting day ashore, munching away on a french frie or two!

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Thankfully, RCI brought the disco back to the Viking Crown Lounge with the introduction of Radiance of the Seas. A star studded elevator foyer (pictured above) leads the way to the Starquest Disco, walled with glass and with a incomparable view the is upstaging the somewhat garish decor of the room. The large circular rotates at night, and a large stainless steel dance floor drove the dance fans to the Starquest Disco in masses during our one-night preview cruise. Standing room only!

Next door within the Viking Crown Lounge is Hollywood Boulevard, a smaller club-like retreat mainly used for karaoke. It has a nice bar and some great views through large windows. The glass cases display movie artifacts and seating is comfortable in deep red velour couches and blue comfy chairs.

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Spanning three decks, the 874-seat Pacifica Theatre is the main showlounge of Brilliance of the Seas. Access to the room is by means of four rather dull corridors leading from the forward stairwell. These become *very* crowded when the show ends and everybody is ready to rush to wherever the Midnight snacks are served. But apart from that, the Pacifica Theatre is expertly designed and boasts the latest in audio/visual technology. Views of the large stage are excellent from most seats as there are no pillars to be seen anywhere. 

True to its name, the decor of the Pacifica Theatre is ... Pure Pacific, which in this case means purples, reds and yellows resulting in a very colorful room! During our preview cruise, the Royal Caribbean singers & dancers performed "Latin Groove", one of two new production shows. It is clear that RCI is aiming at a younger crowd, as the show was literally mind boggling, with many (loud!) sound effects, some excellent singing and high-energy dancing. I liked the fact that the full 9-piece Brilliance Orchestra was actually musically accompanying the show, and the result is certainly something to be proud of. Wether or not this show goes down very well with the traditional (read: older) cruise passenger is something that remains to be seen!  

On deck 6, an expansive gambling section welcomes all passengers wanting to flirt with Lady Luck. The Casino Royale is actually quite beautiful, with an inviting bar in the middle of the action, and some very nice artwork. Next door is the loud, brashing Scoreboard Sports Bar. Lighting is very bright here, and with the gambling machines on both sides it would not be my choice of drinking holes.

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Brilliance of the Seas has no less than five separate dining venues, two of which are upscale a la carte restaurants. Chops Grille and Portofino are located next to each other on deck 6 and both operate on a reservations-only basis. A cover charge is levied when dining in either restaurant, but talking from experience I can safely say this is an experience worth every penny.

As the name implies, Chops Grille is all about meat, although a juicy salmon steak is on the menu, too. I have fond memories of our lunch at Chops on Radiance of the Seas while navigating Panama's Gatun Lake, so I was all too pleased to see nothing has changed on Brilliance.  The same comfortable chairs and couches, the same fine silverware, and an ever-changing view from the floor-to-ceiling windows. If you make reservations at Chops, don't forget to ask for a table right at that wall of glass!  

Next door, and connected to Chops by a "hidden" door is Portofino, the upscale Italian restaurant. Here, some changes have been made to the decor when compared to its counterpart on Radiance of the Seas. First of all, there is a huge tiled mural depicting an Italian market scene, with similar tiled artwork on other walls. Personally, I think this makes the room look a little less elegant, and more like a French brasserie than an Italian speciality restaurant.

Don't miss dinner at Portofino, even though the cover charge might be a little high. The food is to die for, and service is the best you will find in the RCI fleet. But do schedule enough time, because dining at either Chops or Portofino is a lengthy affair! 

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Let's conclude our tour of Brilliance of the Seas with a look at some other public areas. The most important change in design over Radiance of the Seas is the move of the coffee bar to a new location. When Radiance of the Seasentered service, all eyes were turned to a new concept called "Books, Books & Coffee", basically comprising of a small gift shop, coffee house and Internet Café - all in one room. Sadly, "Books, Books & Coffee" has not made it to Brilliance of the Seas.

Instead, "Latte-tudes" occupies a space directly underneath the Champagne Bar on deck 5. With huge picture windows and a prime location in the Centrum, the new coffee bar should bring in much more revenue for the cruise line. Internet access is possible from four stations, while the bar serves up some great Seattle's Best specialities!

Actually, the Centrum is full of small bars, which once again strengthens it function as social hub of this ship. Apart from "Latte-tudes", there is of course the signature Champagne Bar, again providing great views through a wall of glass. Finally, there is a neat little bar down on deck 4, with a dance floor at the bottom of the Centrum, and a little stage. Nightly, people can be seen dancing here to the tunes of the resident combo.

Located on deck 5 amidships, the Photo Gallery is huge and is looking quite nice with its wooden accents and interesting ceiling treatment. There is a separate Art Gallery to be used for art auctions, and three meeting rooms can be found on port side (where "Books, Books & Coffee" is on Radiance). Further forward is the beautiful Shops of Centrum complex. Along a marble promenade you will find a number of separate shops and last-minute sales counters; the ultimate seagoing shopping gallery!

And this brings us to the end of my Brilliance of the Seas ShipTour. There are still a number of public areas that I have not touched upon, but I hope to cover these if and when I actually get to enjoy a full cruise on Brilliance of the Seas (some wishful thinking is allowed!). I am sure that you will agree with me that Royal Caribbean International once again has a winner on their hands. Brilliance of the Seas not only has the looks, but also the feel AND - most importantly - the crew that will ensure she will be a frontrunner in the cruise industry for many years to come.



All photos and text: © 2002 Bart de Boer -

First published on July 14, 2002 - This revised version published on February 8, 2009

Amenities, decor, charges and services may have changed since this article was written

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