Saturday, February 16, 2019

NCL Breakaway B2B Cruise Review

NCL Breakaway Cruise Review

B2B February 17 & 24, 2019

Just The Facts
Ship:  NCL Breakaway
Ship Captain:
Cruise Director: 
Ports: New Orleans (3), Isla Cozumel, Mexico (2), Harvest Caye, Belize (2), Puerto Costa Maya, Mexico (2), Belize City, Belize.

This is my first cruise on the NCL Breakaway, 6th time sailing Norwegian Cruise Line, 4th cruise sailing from NOLA, and 140th & 141st cruises overall. The ‘dear wife’ (DW) and I are sailing with the Snoozemates on their 10th annual February group cruise.

Saturday / Travel / February 16th / Day 0
A good cruise friend stayed at the Ranch Friday night and the three of us were off about 9:15 am headed south using some pretty Texas blue highways. We had a very nice lunch at the Ranch Hand Cafe near Cleveland, Texas…my second time at the unique country cafe. CFS is specialty, but I had the Hawaiian Chicken.  The sandwiches looked really good.  We continued and joined the Interstate highway system in Beaumont and had an uneventful trip although I didn’t enjoy the interstate as much as the rural Texas blue highways.  Soon we crossed the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge and arrived in Gonzales, Louisiana about 6:10 pm. to stay overnight at the LaQuinta.  They have opened a new burger place next door named Mooyah with a good selection of hand crafted hamburgers.  The fries are great and identical to Guy’s...all was good including the shake.  A good travel day.

 Sunday / Embarkation / February 17th / Day 1






Saturday, January 12, 2019

MSC Divina Review - January 10, 2019

MSC Divina Cruise Review  January 10, 2019

Just the Facts:
Ship: MSC Divina
Ports: Miami, USA - St. Johns, Antigua and Barbuda - Basseterre, St Kitts & Nevis - Road Town, British Virgin Islands - Pointe−a−Pitre, Guadeloupe -  Philipsburg, St. Maarten - Miami, USA.

I’m cruising as a solo. This is my 3rd cruise on the MSC Divina, my 9th MSC cruise and my 139th cruise overall.  I do have some good cruise friends sailing.

Thursday January 10  / Travel-Miami  /  Embarkation / Day 1
MSC Divina Atrium
I am flying into port on the day of embarkation so travel begins very early.  I left the ranch at 3:45 am for the drive to Waco, TX and the 4:50 am boarding time for the flight to DFW.  I arrived about 4:40 am and was through the TSA screening and at gate one at exactly 4:50 am.  Soon we were off to DFW airport where I arrived in time for my 7:10 am flight to Fort Lauderdale.  The flight was uneventful arriving about 11:00 am local time. I arranged transport through SAS transport to the Port of Miami arriving about noon. I went through security and had a short line to see an agent and receive my MSC Black Loyalty Club member sail card. Unfortunately they had not begun boarding as there was a delay in debarkation of previous cruise due to fewer Border Agents because of the government shutdown.  We did begin boarding about 1:00 pm.  They did allow the Black Card guests to board just after the Yacht Club.  I met two long time cruise friends and we went to the buffet on deck 14 for a nice lunch after boarding.  I had Tacos from the Mexican station and the Guacamole was wonderful.  After lunch, about 2:30, I went down to my cabin on deck 5 for a much needed nap.  Having an interior cabin this cruise has an advantage as it is very dark and great for day time napping, I did not wake until they began announcements for the safety muster.  Safety drill was uneventful, they scan your card at the muster station and demonstrate the life jackets.  When I returned to the cabin my luggage was there…always good to see as I had everything in one bag this trip.  I met my friends at the Divina Bar about 6:30 pm for cocktails then we went to dinner in the Black Crab Dining room (MDR) on deck six.  Our other friends and clients sailing were there so it was very nice to see everyone.  We have a very nice eight-top table with a nice padded tablecloth (pun on Carnival) and proper silver service and good waiters. For dinner I ordered the Tomato Soup, Classic Niçoise Salad and the beef Short Rib entree.  For dessert a Snickers Cake (yes it tasted like the candy bar) and Catalan Cream.  All but the soup was very good as was the service.   After dinner I retired to the cabin for needed rest after a very long and busy day.  It's nice to be aboard the MSC Divina.

 Friday January 11  /  Day at Sea  /  Day 2
MSC Divina Atrium
Smooth seas overnight with just enough movement for a very enjoyable nights sleep. The bed is ideal and very comfortable. I have four nice pillows, so very adequate.  I awoke about 7:40 am and knowing friends were meeting at 8:00 and the fact my cabin is on same deck as the MDR I was able to meet them for a proper breakfast. I ordered Eggs Benedict with a side of bacon & fresh grilled potatoes.  I was served Hot Milk that is not always easy to get on other cruise lines but very common on the Divina.  After breakfast I unpacked and finished cabin set-up converting 220 plugs to 110 and a charging station for my laptop and iPhone, put up magnets, and stored luggage for the duration of the cruise.  I upgraded my internet account and began this review as well as some internet work. I’m disappointed that there are so few TV stations available and no regular American networks, but that’s really to be expected on an international ship.  I went out to atrium and ran into friends so my computer work turned into a Bloody Mary gathering time.  I did get an excursion changed so all would be on same time frame.  We met a great bar server that really took care of us and it was fun on our Atrium day.  This is the Captain’s Night so we were back in the Divina Bar for our complementary cocktails before the feature show.  The 7:00 pm show in the Pantheon Theater was The Show Must Go On a tribute to the rock group Queen and featuring the Dancers, Feature singers, the Opera singers, and Aerialist.  A new show to me and very worthwhile.  The Captain and senior staff were introduced before the show…a new thing is that they now allow drinks in the theater…a no no previously.  After the show a quick stop at the cabin (convenient location to theater) then to the MDR for dinner.  It was a very nice Captains dinner, I ordered a Shrimp Cocktail, Eggplant Parmesan, Lobster Ravioli (as starter), the Beef Tournedos entree, and Key Lime Pie & Rice Pudding for dessert.  The entree was excellent but service was slow.  After dinner I enjoyed listening to Classical Interludes in the Atrium that featured a wonderful French Torch Singer who did some of my favorite tunes.  I retired afterward and turned our clocks forward one hour.  It was a great day on the MSC Divina.

Saturday January 12  /  at Sea  /  Day 3
The Amazing Mask
Smooth seas overnight and I again slept very well.  I awoke at 9:15 am so overslept the MDR meet time for breakfast.  About 10:15 I went up to deck 14 and the buffet.  They have a wide variety of choices for breakfast.  I had various types of eggs and bacon with a hot waffle.  I then had some cabin time to review options for today and future excursions.  I again ran into my friends in the atrium so we were able to coordinate that we were on the same excursions since MSC had made some time changes on many including the ones we were taking.  A few Bloody Marys & a Prosecco from Jay our new favorite Divina cocktail server…then time for some Pizza and beer on deck 14.  MSC is well know for the quality of their pizzas.  Our waiter from the recent MSC Seaside cruise was working and we visited, he prefers the Divina over Seaside and has been on her six years.  A nice plate of chocolate covered strawberries and a bottle of Prosecco was delivered to the cabin this afternoon as a part of the Black Card benefits.  I went to Un Pacio all’Opera Classical Concert at 3:15 in the Pantheon Theater, it was a very nice show and something only found on MSC cruises. It was then time to prepare for the evening beginning with the Black Card member reception at 5:15 in the Black & White lounge.  The reception was nice, they served cocktails and more.  They even delivered a round of Hugo’s to our table.  The Captain and staff did a toast and one of the feature entertainers performed.  Soon it was then time for the 7:00 pm show in the Pantheon Theater, tonight it is The Amazing Mask. I had seen this show twice previously and it was a most impressive production with singing, dancing, acrobatics, and more.  I had a great view from row two center for this spectacular show.  I love my cabin location as I can pop in after the theater shows before heading to the MDR for dinner.  Dinner was again good, I ordered: Juniper & Gin cured Gravlax, Kolokithokrftedes (Zucchini fritters), Penne Pasta with Vodka, and for my entree the Cocoa-dusted Pork Tenderloin with bliss potato & grilled asperagus. For dessert Galaktoboureko (Greek custard pie).  All good and Tenderloin very good.  Service was slow again tonight, it was quite busy previous night but not tonight so not good.  I retired after dinner to cabin.  It was another busy and fun day at sea on the MSC Divina.

Sunday January 13  /  St. Johns, Antigua  /  Day 4
Mystic Catamarans in port
Very smooth seas again overnight and I was up very early by 5:00 am so caught up on blog and internet time.  The MDR opened at 7:00 am on this port day and I went shortly afterward and was seated at a share table straightaway.  I ordered three eggs with ham, bacon, & hash browns and a fruit plate.  It was very good as well as my hot milk.  We docked about 9:00 am and at 9:45 met my excursion Catamaran Cruise & Lobster Lunch, the same tour I did when here previously on the MSC Seaside.  We walked off the ship at exactly the meet time and walked the short distance to the Mystic Cats.  Not overly crowded and it was a nice sail around to the west side of the island.  The water is beautiful and the scenery is spectacular.  We could see the mysterious island of Montserrat and even Nevis in the distance.  We stopped at Turner’s Beach for an hour+ then re boarded the Cat for our Lobster Lunch.  It was fine and the bar was free flowing for the rest of the cruise. We then sailed to a secluded beach for another hour of beach time before sailing back to St. John’s and the ship.  Easy to get to my cabin on deck five from gangway on deck four…I like it.  I took an immediate nap and slept until 7:15 pm missing tonights Frank Sinatra tribute show in the theater.  It was a good rest though.  I made it to dinner @ 8:30 in the MDR, I don’t always do dinner on excursion days but the nap helped.  It was Caribbean night and the menu was weakest of the cruise.  I ordered Shrimp Tails Guadeloupe-style, Virgin Island Salad, Creamy Creole Pasta (as starter), and the Jamaican Style Beef entree.  For dessert the Red Velvet Cake.  Dinner was just OK actually, but our service continues to be slow, I had hoped it would improve with fewer guests dining, but no it didn’t.  I had cabin time and updated blog after dinner but retired soon as I have another excursion tomorrow.  It was a nice first port and first excursion day.

Monday January 14  /  Basseterre, St Kitts & Nevis  /  Day 5
Sunshine's Bar on island of Nevis
Again very calm seas overnight and I slept well…I again woke very early at 5:00 am but I had 8 hours counting my late nap yesterday.  I went to the MDR for a nice breakfast this morning with eggs, bacon, ham, potatoes, hot milk, and more.  My excursion met and left at 8:45 this morning, I’m doing a Catamaran Snorkel and Nevis beach tour.  A larger group with some familiar faces, but a very nice ship. I was able to stake out a nice seated spot with a table too.  We sailed to about 40 minutes and anchored off a cliff area and ship wreak for our snorkel spot. I snorkeled to the wreak seeing a great sea turtle and various nice fish…it was much better than I expected it to be. Once back on board they served a Caribbean lunch:  Slaw, Rice & peas, Jerked Chicken, Hot Dogs, and drinks. Not as good as the Lobster yesterday but more filling perhaps.  We then set sail to Nevis for a beach break.  I was considering the half hour tour to Hot Springs and Alexander Hamilton’s birthplace, but ended up taking the short walk to Sunshines.  This is a well known beach bar to Rag sailors, Charters, and Yacht-ees.  I did have their signature drink the ‘Killer Bee’ it was different and very good (hit link for recipe).  Soon our Cat started the one hour return sail to Basseterre with complementary drinks, music and dancing arriving about 3:30 pm.  It was a nice sail, better than previous day IMHO.  I was in the cabin and began process of cleaning sand from shoes, etc. and again decided to take a nap.  Just as yesterday I slept until past 7:00 pm.  The show tonight was a small Opera adaptation of Verdi’s La Traviata with the feature opera soloists and Divina dancers.  I did make it to cocktails and then the Black Crab restaurant.  Dinner service was again very slow in fact I finally was able to bring it to the attention of the Matre’D and he witnessed the first appetizers arriving at 9:22 or 52 minutes after sitting at the table.  That being said it was a very good dinner, I ordered: the Moules Mariniers (mussels), Asian Salad, Rigatoni Meatballs (as starter), the Roast Pork Loin entree, and Schwarzwaelder KirschTorte (Black Forest gateau) & Crêpes Suzette for dessert.  The Rigatoni Meatballs and desserts were excellent.  After dinner I listened to the Torch Singer in the Atrium until retiring to the cabin.  It was a very interesting, tiring, and fun day on the Catamaran excursion.

Tuesday  January 15  /  Road Town,  Tortola,  British Virgin Islands  /  Day 6
Two gangways for guests in Tortola
Again very smooth seas overnight and I slept very well.  I was up early enough to eat in the MDR when it opened at 7:00 am for another great breakfast.  I returned to the cabin and relaxed as I have no excursion today.  There are nice beaches here but this is really a great jumping off point for visiting some of the smaller islands in the BVI…including Jost VanDyke and the famous Soggy Dollar Bar or the famous Baths natural formations.  I’m doing none of those today to relaxation is the plan.  I did get off the ship long enough for my cabin attendant to clean but returned in time for a nice buffet lunch in the Calumet & Manitou restaurants.  A wide variety of choices today too. I then had cabin time, booking some travel, and updating blog.  I did a walk about this afternoon then to the Divina Bar for cocktails.  I had drinks with my French friends who had been on my past two excursions…nice surprise…and Jay my favorite bar server speaks french.  At 7:00 pm I went to the production show: The Witches of Paris in the Pantheon Theater and sat in my seat on row three.  It’s actually about the 7th time I have seen it including it’s predecessor show based on magic.  Very high energy show including the Divina Singers, Dancers, Aerialists, Acrobats, and more.  All leading to a finale of the Can-Can and all acts together on stage. A really good show.  Again a quick stop at the cabin on the way to dinner in the Black Crab MDR. Either the Maitre’D fixed the service problem as requested or my friend in Geneva who reads my blog assisted, but the service issue set right. We had our appetizer 16 minutes after ordering and all of three of my starters within the time we received our first last night (52 minute).  Also the ice, bread, tea, & water were on the table when we sat. Thank you MSC as the situation was effecting the overall cruise experience. Dinner was also very good, I ordered:  Pork Liver Pate ‘Strasbourg’, Porcini Mushroom Ragout (vol-au-vent), Shrimp Fettuccini Alfredo (as starter), and the Costeletas de Porcoa Salsicheiro (Grilled Pork Chop) entree. For dessert I had the Peanut Butter Pie and warm Apple Strudel.  All was very good and the service excellent.  I gained thirty minutes of life as I was out of the MDR by 10:00 pm. Time for cocktail and music.  It is 1980’s night and many guests are dressed for it as well as entertainment team.  Lively bars tonight and as alway unique entertainment each evening in the Black & White lounge.  It was a nice restful day on the MSC Divina.

Wednesday  January 16  /  Pointe−a−Pitre, Guadeloupe  /  Day 7
Carbet Falls - Guadeloupe
Smooth seas continued and another relaxing night. I slept very well until after 8:00 am and then went to MDR before it closed at 9:00 am.  I have gotten into the habit of a good MDR breakfasts.  Sat with two ladies from Switzerland and a couple from Ireland.  After a nice breakfast I visited Guest Services and had some cabin time and relax before an afternoon hike.  I went to the Calumet & Manitou buffet at noon and had a nice selection of various international dishes…it’s like a world tour of food eating on MSC.  My tour, Scenic Drive and walk to Carbet Waterfalls met at 1:15 in the Pantheon Theater. My friends are also on this excursion.  We had a very full bus and were off through Pointe-a-Pitre to the western island of Basse-Terre and the Parc national de la Guadeloupe.  Once we entered the park and began the interesting drive on the narrow winding road up the slopes of the volcano La Soufriere we were in a tropical rainforest.  Once we reached the fall reception area it was a short walk to see the lower falls, but a 30+ minute walk to the main upper falls viewpoint.  Lots of steps up and down but a fairly nice stone pathway all the way.  The view is amazing.  I love waterfalls and have seen many and these are best I have seen on a tropical island (including Hawaii). I  had promised myself after doing the long waterfall hike in El Yunque in San Juan several years ago never again, yet I just did it again.  This is it though!  We returned to the bus for the drive back arriving at the ship just before the 5:30 departure time.  My legs and knees were really sore but I made it to the Production Show at 7:00 pm.  This is Italian night and the show was a cabaret of various popular Italian songs and tunes. It was a great show and the Italian guests really loved it.  The Black Crab MDR was really full for our Italian Night dinner but our table service was once again excellent, I discovered that it was the Restaurant Manager that saved us from our previous bad service problem.  Thank you very much…dining is such an important part of the cruise experience.  I ordered very Italian tonight:  Arancini Sicilian-Style, Lasagna Bolognese, Risotto Mari a Monte, the Chicken Brest Parmigiana entree, and for dessert: Lemon Delight and a Kiwi Sorbet.  Very Good dinner.  I even had a evening cocktail while listening to music in the Atrium.  I hobbled back to the cabin, took Advil-PM, and retired for a much needed rest.  It was a great day on the MSC Divina.

Thursday January 17  /  Philipsburg, St. Maarten   /  Day 8
Finale - Con te partirò
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well, I’m sure the Advil-PM helped and I feel good considering all the walking yesterday.  I slept past MDR dining time so it was up to the Calumet & Manitou buffet for breakfast about 9:40 am.  I found the fresh omelet station and had a very nice Western omelet with bacon, potatoes and hot milk.  It was very good.  It’s a clear and sunny day and most are off the ship although a lot are staying on board especially for an MSC cruise.  I visited frinds on deck then cabin time to update this blog and rest the legs.  A walk about on outside decks and I have a very nice buffet lunch.  A bit about the lunch buffet: Pizza is always good on MSC with a very large pizza station and ovens at entry so it’s easy to eat on deck or inside.  You can watch prepare the pizzas and toss the dough.  About four or more staff working it at busy times…no waiting for Pizza.  They have a carving station with nice meat selections…large salad area, large fruit station, large bread area, an ethic area, as well as all the international selections.  I met friends on deck 15 outside bar for sail away, the MSC Magnifica was also docked and they did departure horn blasts to each other, it was nice.  So were the Pina Coladas.  Time for the short production show Voices featuring the singers and dances.  It was a good show and they ended it with Con te partirò with the three feature singers and two opera singers…it was brilliant.  I love my cabin location, just below the theater so easy to refresh before dinner.  Dinner and service was very good.  Mediterranean Theme tonight, I ordered:  Beetroot Carpaccio, Iceberg Salad, Seafood Linguine (as pasta starter), Roast Corvina (fish) as an entree.  For dessert a Banoffe Pie (banana) and Pistachio ice creme.  It is the big White party on pool deck tonight and most were wearing white this evening. Guests having a great time. I retired to the cabin for some reading and rest.  It was another great Day on the MSC Divina.

Friday  January 18  /  Sea Day  /  Day 9
Captain at MSC Loyalty Party
Smooth seas continue and I slept very well overnight.  I went to the MDR about 9:00 am for a very nice breakfast and had another interesting table of guests. Service has been great each morning in the MDR.  It has been a very nice cruise…one reason is only 76 children on board this cruise, there were over 700 last cruise. It can become a problem due to the ChildrenSailFree promotions.  Although there are not as many scooters for seniors on MSC there can be too many prams.  Also 500 fewer guests this cruise than last…makes a difference especially in the buffet area.  So I am very lucky on the cruise date selection.  I did some online work this morning then went to the Atrium about noon   where I saw friends and we ended up drinking our complementary bottle of Champagne and visiting for a while. Thanks Adrian a great bar server at Divina Bar for opening the bottle and providing glasses.  Cabin/Nap time followed and BTW (by the way) the TV has not been turned on since day one, kind of nice.  At 6:00 pm I went up to the Black & White Lounge for the Loyalty Club party, they offered Prosecco or Rum punch and some hor’dorves.   Similar to the Black Card party but they had a photographer taking photos with the Captain and I did that since they offer a complementary photo to Black Card guests.  I met friends next door in the premium Restaurant Eataly at 7:00 pm.  Dinner here was good, I ordered:  Alla Carbonara, La Tagliata (beef sirloin), and La Zuppa Inglese Golosi di Salute (English Trifle).  Dinner was very good and a nice presentation with the steak cut into squares and best mashed potatoes of the cruise.  This is a Loyalty Club benefit so meal, wine, and water included, just left a cash tip.  Thanks you MSC.  My body said go to bed since I usually do after late dinner seating, but it was only 9:00 pm eating a bit earlier.  Lots of activities including a tribute to Tina Turner production show, the beautiful lounges on deck seven playing live music, various shops open, and more.  It was a slower but fun day on the MSC Divina...thanks again for dinner MSC.

Saturday  January 19  /  Day at Sea  /  Day 10
Treasure Island and Grand Finale
Again smooth seas overnight and another good nights sleep. I woke about 7:00  am and got on the internet early to check mail and messages before the wifi begins slowing down once everyone logs-in today.  Since I was around early I went to the MDR again for breakfast.  It was very good…I ordered my usual fruit  bowl and eggs to order with a side of bacon, ham, and hash browns.  Then picked up a photo from the photo area...very busy on last day...but my photo was only taken the previous night...then back to cabin to do some Travel Agent work.  Before lunch I walked about the pool decks and they were absolutely packed with people on this last sea day…a lot of speedos in this European crowd too.  I had a couple more hours of cabin time before cocktails about 5:00ish in the Divina Bar then moved to the Garden Bar on deck 14 to watch the sunset.  The production show was Treasure Island and it was very good.  It included the MSC Divina singers, MSC Divina dancers, the Acrobats, the Aerialists (two types), the Strong men, and even some Magic.  A big production show much like a circus with music.  Following the shoe was a farewell finale with entire cast an also MSC Divina crew. And of course the entertainment staff’s traditional farewell message.  A very entertaining evening.  Dinner was good.  I ordered: the Creme of Curried Pumpkin Soup, Pasta and Tomato Basil, and the Cordon Bleu entree, for dessert: Tarte Tatin (confit apple) and Creme de Clafoutis aux Cerises (baked custard w/cherries).  After dinner I returned to the cabin to pack my bag.  It was a very nice final sea day on the MSC Divina.

Sunday  January 20  /  Miami, Florida  /  Debarkation

We arrived very early in Miami and I am doing the self debark program.  It was to begin at 7:00 am but it did not…the U.S.C.G. delayed clearing the ship thus delayed ship debark.  The Border and Customs guys were doing a great job.  The result was some initial backup but once we were cleared it progressed fine.  I was through customs by 8:15 am and purchased the MSC airport shuttle and was on bus by 8:30 a.m .  Very short wait to fill bus and at airport by 9:15 am.   A bit of a wait to check bags, then to go through TSA but maybe an hour total.  I was eating Street Tacos by 10:10 am in Terminal D. at MIA.  Flight to DFW boards at 1:15 pm. and arrived at 3:45 local time.  Flight to Waco @ 5:00 and home at the ranch by 6:45 pm. Long but fairly easy ravel day.

Ship
Maiden Voyage: 2012  I  Gross Tonnage: 139,400 tons
Passenger Capacity: 3959  |  Crew: 1325  I  Length: 333 meters
Max Cruising Speed: 27 knots  I  Avg Speed 23 knots
Installed power: Diesel (40,000kW)  I  Propulsion: Twin propellers
Godmother: Sophia Loren

Cabin
I have cabin 5039 a port side forward interior located on deck 5, not a full guest cabin deck as it the Atrium deck (mid ship) and the MDR-Black Crab Restaurant  located aft.  The cabin is just one deck below theater and one deck above the port gangway.  A great location. It is well decorated and somewhat spacious cabin for an interior.  It has a push button safe, twin/king beds, large mirrowed headboard, two night stands with lights, a small refrigerator, small table, large upholstered chair, seat at dresser/desk, and TV with interactive features.  There is a very large four door wardrobe with a set of drawers a set of shelves and large hanging area with two doors.

Crew
Our MDR waiters were not efficient and very slow in beginning but really turned it around by mid-cruise as they knew we were unhappy. My cabin steward was wonderful. Overall the crew is more friendly than past MSC cruises, there were some exceptions, but it’s a very different environment from most cruise lines. Most cocktail servers provided very good service. 

Dining / Food / Bars / Entertainment

Entertainment is the strong suit of MSC with very elaborate production shows and live music in most all venues. In addition to the production shows they have a ‘fun’ event scheduled every night night at 10:30 pm in the Black & White Lounge (large venue/lounge located deck 7 far aft).  The MDR dinners are good to very good, Buffet food is good to excellent.  The Calumet and Manatou Buffets were great as mentioned, but always very busy as they have no real alternate choices (as a Deli or Burgers joint). The pizza station, taco station, and salad bar were excellent.  Eataly was much improved from my previous visit there. The MSC Divina has some very beautiful lounges and bars with live entertainment, I tried to visit most.

Black Card
— I received a dinner in a specialty restaurant, a Chocolate ship, two private Cocktail Parties, Champagne & Chocolate strawberries, a logo gift of a pen, photgraph, and more.   Good program.

Comments - MSC Cruise Line
MSC is very different than the usual American cruise lines and if your looking for the same experience it will be much different.  You may like the differences or you may be unhappy with the differences.  As an experienced cruiser I love different.  If you don’t like change or are not flexible you will probably NOT like sailing a European cruise line. I like MSC and the Divina very much.

MSC Pluses
Beautiful Public Rooms, Top quality MSC Production Shows & Entertainment, Quality and Beautiful Themed Bars, Large Cabins, Hot Milk readily available on buffet and MDR,  Attentive bar servers, Good MDR Breakfasts, Smoothest sailing ever.  They are really working on better customer support.

Highlights of the Cruise

MSC Production Shows
Two Excursions on Catamarans
Bar Servers
Black Card Benefits





Monday, October 22, 2018

Liberty of the Seas Review - 21 October 2018

Liberty of the Seas Review  

October 21, 2018

Just The Facts
Ship:  Liberty of the Seas  /  Class and Type:  Freedom Class Cruise Ship
Maiden voyage: May 19, 2007  /  Tonnage:  155,889  /  Length: 1112 feet
Cruise Director: Marc
Ports: Galveston - Isla Roatan, Honduras - Belize City, Belize - Ilsa Cozumel, Mexico - Galveston
Weather:  Very nice typical fall Caribbean weather

This is my 4th time on the Liberty of the Seas, 28th Royal Caribbean cruise, and my 138th cruise overall.  I am sailing solo. I only booked a few days before sailing and it was a good value, enough that I had to do it.

Day One—Sunday—Embarkation
Liberty of the Seas - Staircase
I have enjoyed the leaving later and arriving later at the pier scenario on previous Galveston cruises so did so again.  There are so many VIP’s that it now actually creates problems at embarkation…so the later arrival is a much smoother process. I left the ranch about 7:45 am and headed south to Galveston arriving at EZ Cruise parking about 12:30 and I was shuttled over to the Liberty of the Seas fairly quickly. I was after the initial boarding rush and zipped through security and check in and was on board about 1:15 pm. Arriving after 1:00 pm  allows you to go directly to the cabin.  After dropping my bag I went up to the Windjammer and this too is an ideal time as most tables are full of guests until the cabins open so there were a lot of available tables at 1:30 pm.  I had Roast Beef from the carving station and a plate of Cuban Chicken, Green Beans, and Mashed Potatoes.  Then a selection of desserts as I visited with with a Matre’d about the specialty dining packages.  I actually decided to do the Ultimate Dining Package that includes all three premium dining rooms for both dinner and lunch.  This will be different but as a solo a good time to try the new concept.  I will let you know how this goes during the week in this review.  Since I rolled on my bag at embarkation I went back to the cabin to get set up for the week.  I have a interior mid-ship on deck 2, not my favorite location but it was only cabin available with my late booking.  There is a lot of room and storage especially for just one guest. I purchase the surf Zoom internet package ($55 with discount) but not working well so far.  Safety drill began about 3:30 pm.  My muster station is C12 located outside on deck 4 but I checked-in then sat in the lounge.  After dismissal it was easy to walk down the stairs to deck 2, easy as all the elevators were packed as usual after drill.  I finished cabin set up and about 5:00 I went up to the Diamond Lounge on deck 14 that also took up all of the Olive & Twist Lounge.  Beautiful views as we were sailing away from Galveston along with the Carnival Vista.  The Cosmopolitans made by Michael and Hugh from Jamaica were very interesting.  The Captain even came by and greeted all the Diamond guests.  I met some regulars and another travel agent with the same offer I have on this cruise.  About 8:00 pm I went down to Chops Grill on deck 11 for dinner.  They have a great menu and good variety of appetizers and desserts that I will have the opportunity to try this week.  I ordered the Colossal Shrimp Cocktail and the large NY Strip Steak.  Excellent.  I passed on dessert as the steak was so filling.  I returned to the cabin went straight to sleep after a busy and satisfying day.

Day Two—Monday—at Sea
Ship is Decorated for Halloween
Rolling seas although my location has the least movement on the ship. It was a very restful night. The weather is beautiful today with blue skies and scattered clouds.  I slept very well until 9:00 am in my nice dark interior cabin then went up to the Windjammer for a light breakfast about 10:00 am  I two small fried Eggs on toast and fruit.  I met my cabin steward Ruel from the Philippines and explained my ice needs and he soon brought a robe and some D+ goodies.  I worked on this review and caught up on some scores and NCAA rankings on the internet.  At 1:00 pm I went to Sabors fine Mexican food on deck 4 aft.  I ordered the Guacamole and bacon-wrapped stuffed Jalapeños as starters and the Barbacoa Tacos.  They served Caja De Dulces for dessert, my favorites were the flan, chocolate banana chimichangas, and crème brûlée.  DW would have loved the chocolate crepes.  It was siesta time following that lunch, but I walked the Lido deck on the way back and the pool areas were very busy and active.  Great weather and everyone happy.  Cabin time and watching news until time for cocktails about 6:00 pm in the Diamond lounge.  Not near as many people in the Lounge this evening as is the norm on the second night.  Tonight is the Captains night dinner but I had reservations for Giovanni's Table at 7:30 pm.  I had dinner with another travel agent and they really treated us well at Giovanni’s.  Basically it didn’t matter what we ordered at appetizers or pasta dishes because they brought almost everything on the menu.  I was glad we had choices as some were better than what I actually ordered.  My entree was Filetto di Manzo Rustico, the grilled beef tenderloin, but my favorite was the Pancetta di Maiale (porkbelly) appetizer. With the various pasta dishes and even an extra entree, Gameroni al Forno e Funghi (Jumbo Shrimp), to split there was more than enough to enjoy.  The finale was a selection of desserts, my favorite the Pannacotta.  Some of the ship activities today included:  two Ice Skating Spectaculars, the 3D Movie Jurassic World, Bingo, the headliner show featuring “Two Funny Guys”, Karaoke, Games Shows and more.  I enjoyed watching the Welcome Show on cabin TV from my big bed with four new pillows.  It was a great relaxing sea day on the Liberty of the Seas.
 
Day Three—Tuesday—at Sea
New Friend in cabin
Smooth seas overnight and it looks like another perfect beautiful day.  We are sailing through the Straits of Cozumel this morning and Cancun is very visible on our starboard side as we sail south into the western Caribbean.  I slept very well and went by the MDR about 8:30 and was greeted by a super long line so I just went up to the Windjammer for breakfast.  I had three freshly fried eggs on toast, bacon, corned beef hash, and mixed fruit.  A nice walkabout around the ship and guests are really enjoying the pools and outer decks again today.  I haven’t spotted the ships dogs as yet so I need to look around more as they are in past locations.  I went to Chops for lunch today, and ordered: the Colossal Shrimp Cocktail, Wild Mushroom Soup, NY Steak Salad, and the Key Lime Meringue pie.  I also just made a blanket reservation of 8:00 pm each night for the rest of the cruise.  More options for variety of dinners at Chops Grill.  They delivered some h'ordorves to the cabin (only so-so) and at 4:30 (Diamond card time) I went up to the Bar and got some Diet Cokes for the cabin.  About 6:00 pm I did go to the Diamond lounge for some cocktails with bartenders Michael & Hugh.  It was quiet, but I still prefer the Olive & Twist lounge with the view and actual bar to the actual small Diamond lounge.  At 8:00 I went to Chops and had a nice meal: Crispy Goat Cheese Salad, Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, and the Prime bone-in Rib Eye Steak.  The meal was very good and filling so I skipped dessert.  There were a lot of activities on the ship today including:  Public Ice-skating sessions, the 3-D movie The Incredibles 2, Late night Comedy, and the feature show Saturday Night Fever, a great show I have seen several times.  I retired soon after dinner, It was a nice easy sea day on the Liberty of the Seas.

Day Four—Wednesday—Isla Roatan,  Honduras
Calm seas overnight and I slept very well.  I was up very early and did some European bookings on MSC and other business while the internet is less busy.  I went up to the Rembrandt Dining room (MDR) for breakfast since they open early on port days.  The Waffle Station was good and I ordered Eggs Benedict.  Lots of productive work and breakfast all by 8:00 am.  Time for a nap already?  Guests were leaving the ship for their excursions on the island by 8:30 am so soon afterward I went up to the Solarium swimming pool and pretty much had the pool to myself for an hour.  I had a nice lounger and spent the morning enjoying the views and sounds of Roatan.  The MSC Armonia is tendering guests today, so two ships in port.  About noon I went to the Windjammer and noticed several crew members at the Jade location…hmmm…could it be?  Yes a Mongolian Grill set up.  I had a nice large plate of beef/chicken with lots of vegetables for lunch.  It was very good.  About 1:00 pm I left the ship and walked through the improved port area of Coxen Hole and towards old town of Coxen Hole.  I stopped at the same Bar (and restaurant) I last visited to enjoy a few nice local Port Royal beers. I returned to the ship about 3:00 pm and relaxed and soon we were sailing away from Coxen Hole. I went up to the Diamond Lounge about 7:00 pm for a couple of apéritifs before dinner again at Chops Grill. Tonight I ordered the Wedge Salad, the new Grilled Black Pepper Bacon (excellent), and the Prime Bone-in Rib Eye Steak with Baked Potato and Asparagus.  No dessert.  Lots of activity for a port day including:  two more Ice Show Spectaculars, Jazz Cabaret, Love & Marriage show, 3-D movie (repeat), Trivia, music, and more.  It was a wonderful day today in Roatan and on the Liberty of the Seas.

Day Five—Thursday—Belize City, Belize
Liberty of the Seas anchored off Belize
Fair seas overnight and I slept well and longer.  We were anchored off Belize by the time I got up and around and went to the MDR for breakfast.  It was chocolate breakfast morning, but I went with a country breakfast:  Two small waffles from waffle station, three eggs fried over easy, bacon, ham, hash browns, whole milk, and toast.  It was great.  I did some work in the cabin until Ruel came by to clean the cabin, so I went on deck for a while and I noticed that the tenders had no lines.  When I returned I decided to at least tender over to Belize City for a while and did so. The Carnival Breeze is also here so it was really crowed at the port area. I didn’t stay too long and soon returned on another tender…the sea breeze and weather was nice, but many thought it hot and humid.  When I returned about 1:30pm I went to direct to the Windjammer for lunch. I had Roast Beef from the carving station, Mashed potatoes, Mixed vegetables, Asian Chicken, and Bread Pudding for dessert.  Then rest time in the cabin.  The afternoon weather was great especially if you were in the pool.  Guests are happy. I enjoyed a couple of aperitifs in the Diamond Club before dinner.  A friend joined me for dinner in Chops Grill tonight...I again ordered the Wedge Salad and the new Grilled Black Pepper Bacon served together.  I had the NY Strip Steak as an entree with creme spinach and french fries.  First time for dessert and I had the Ice Creme Sundae and split a Key Lime Pie with meringue.  All very good.  Some activities on the ship for this port day included: Trivia, headliner Tom McTique, 3D Movies, and more.  It was a great day on the Liberty of the Seas and Belize today.

Day Six — Friday — Cozumel, Mexico
Jerry's Flag
Smooth seas over night and I slept very well…too late for the MDR in fact.  I’m not in a rush today as my barbers shop doesn’t open until 10:00 am.  I had a banana from my fruit bowl and left the ship about 9:00 am..  The Oasis of the Seas is docked next to us at the International Pier and it's a beautiful day in Cozumel.  No dogs at security so they were checking back packs manually…don’t bring fruit into Mexico.  After cueing in the taxi line I was in San Miguel about 9:40 so I stopped for a nice breakfast at Palmeras, I had the Americano plate as it had more variety than the Mexican plates: Two eggs, Pancakes, French toast, milk, sausage, and bacon.  It came with assorted Pan Dulce and Salsas so it was Mexican enough.  ($190 Pesos or $10USD)  I went to the Antonio’s Barber Shop where my friend Martin has been cutting my hair for over 9 years now…when I return in February it will be ten years.  After my new style I went to my Cozumel HQ at Woody’s Bar & Grill.  Table 7 was available so I’m a happy camper...especially once I got a nice Mexican coca-cola and Guacamole & Chips. Woody's has the fastest internet in town, good food, and my favorite Mexican beer: Bohemia. I wanted and needed a Pedicure and found a spa online just a few blocks away from Woody’s and recalled a spa I tried near there several years that I was not impressed with, but the photos seemed different so I gave them a try.  Zensi Spa was wonderful.  Nice and clean, nice staff, and the price was right @ $20USD.  I will make a visit here a regular thing along with my haircut.  I took a taxi ($8) back to the pier about 3:45 and the lines at security were super long because of the large number of Oasis guests.  I appreciated the fact I brought my personal cabin fan when I got back to the cabin to cool off from the humidity.  After a few hours of rest and relaxation I went up to the Diamond lounge for my apéritifs about 6:50 pm.  Then to Chops a little early for my dinner.  I ordered the Goat Cheese Salad, the Grilled Black Pepper Bacon, and the Shrimp appetizers.  My entree was the Bone-in Rib Eye Steak with Fries and Creamed Spinach.  All very good and I again skipped dessert.  Some activities on the ship today included:  Arts & Crafts, a Sudoko Challenge, Music Trivia, and Liars Club.  I retired after dinner for TV in the cabin.  A great day in Cozumel and on the Liberty of the Seas.

Day Seven--Saturday--at Sea
Some rolling seas overnight but negligible movement in my cabin location and I slept well.  It is overcast today as we sail north in the Gulf of Mexico.  I went to the MDR for a nice breakfast, a repeat of previous one although I waited for fresh hot waffles at the waffle station.  The eggs, ham, bacon, toast, potatoes were all good.  The highlight was seeing my Facebook friend Joy Santos who was our server.  She was my server a few years ago for dinner, but I had not seen her this cruise since I'm not eating dinner in the MDR...so a nice surprise.  After breakfast I had a walk around and enjoyed the sea breeze.  Cooler today so not busy in the pools.  I changed into Oklahoma Sooners football Hawaiian shirt and went to Lido to listen to a band perform.  It’s getting cooler and very windy out on decks so the Promenade was packed with shoppers and guests.  About 1:00 pm I went to Giovanni's Table for lunch, that completes my three restaurant lunch rotation.  I ordered the  Insulata di Rucola (arugula salad) and Pancetta di Maiale (porkbelly) appetizers to be served together and excellent.  Then the Bucatini Alla Bolognese pasta with the Polpettone (large stuffed meatball) in Pomodoro Sauce…another great combination.  Just a small Pannacotta for dessert.  After lunch it was cabin time for NCAA football.  I only purchased the Zoom-surf internet package, but it worked better than the Zoom-stream I had on previous Liberty cruise.  I was able to follow my Oklahoma game through GameCast pretty well.  I can watch the OU replay tomorrow.  About 7:00 pm it was off to say farewell to friends made in the Diamond lounge and final Cosmopolitans for the cruise.  Final dinner tonight in Chops was good, I ordered: the Goat Cheese Salad, the Grilled Black Pepper Bacon, and the Shrimp appetizers.  My entree was the NY Strip Steak with Fries and Creamed Spinach.  All very good and I again skipped dessert. I retired after dinner to do some packing and watch some of World Series game 4 and catch some football scores.  Activities on the ship today included:  the production show-In The Air, Battle of the Sexes, Dreamwork’s Parade, 3D Movie, and more. It was a busy and great final day on the Liberty of the Seas.

Debarkation—Sunday—Galveston
Smooth seas overnight and we were docked very early in Galveston.  Good weather for debarkation cool enough to roll bags to EZ Cruise Parking if you wish. We were delayed as ship wasn't cleared until they found some passengers wanted by authorities.  I was among the first off once we were allowed off and walked straight through to cutoms without a wait anywhere.  Out of the bldg. about 8:30 am. I took the EZ Cruise shuttle to the car and I was on my way about 8:50 am. (Galveston Raceway gas price $2.45) and off the island about 9:10 am. I took I-45 to I-10 West, to 290, to Highway 6 to Bosque County.  Home at the ranch about 2:00 pm.

Cabin
I have cabin 2609 an interior cabin mid-forward on deck two on port side.  The room is a standard+ size interior with: key pad safe, hair dryer, refrigerator (empty), large chair, full chair at vanity/desk, nice sliding shower door, and good lighting. Another great feature was the flat screen TV that could be adjusted to view from anywhere in the room.  Very well designed.  The air conditioning & water pressure worked well, but I’m glad I brought my personal cabin fan for circulation.  Longer wait for elevators as you are the end of the line, but great location on port days when you enter on deck one from the piers.

Crew
Overall very good. My cabin steward Ruel was very adequate I always had ice and clean cabin.  I didn’t have an MDR wait team, as had a different waiter (usually) each night.  The bartenders Hugh and Michael in the Olive and Twist Lounge were fantastic.

Food

I purchase the Ultimate Dining Package upon boarding that covers dinner and lunch at all the premium restaurants on board:  Chops Steakhouse,  Giovannis Table (Italian restaurant), and the new Sabor Mexican restaurant.  Very different experience. The Windjammer is the buffet area and the quality of food was good.   Room service now charges a fee for cabin delivery other than continental breakfast.  Johnny Rockets Soda Shop is a good alternative for lunch or afternoon snack…not near as good as Carnival’s free Guy’s Burgers. Lunch in the Main Dining Room has the same menu each day with one special item that does change daily. I believe breakfasts were the best meals in Windjammer but especially in the MDR.  There are several ice crème and yogurt machines on Lido deck. 

Highlights of the Cruise

The Unlimited Dining Package: Chops Grill especially
Diamond Lounge and Bartenders & Friends in Olive and Twist Lounge
Cozumel was productive
Roatan was a bit different this year





Sunday, September 2, 2018

Brilliance of the Seas - Transatlantic Cruise - September 2018

Brilliance of the Seas - Transatlantic Cruise September 2018

Just the Facts:
Embarkation: Amsterdam, Netherlands -  September 1, 2018
Ports: Waterford (Dunmore) Ireland - Dublin, Ireland - Belfast, Northeren Ireland - Cork (Cobh), Ireland - Ponta Delgata, Azores - and Tampa, Florida.
Ship Launched:  December 1, 2001  -  Capacity:  2500 guests  -  Tonnage: 90,090 GT

We are in Amsterdam at the end of our European Adventure so no travel needed.  I’m cruising with my Dear Wife (DW) and good cruise friends.  This is my first time on the Brilliance of the Seas, my 27th Royal Caribbean cruise, 7th Transatlantic, and 137th cruise overall. 

Day One  -  Amsterdam  -  Embarkation  /  Saturday - September 1st
Hotel in Amsterdam
I slept well at our hotel in Amsterdam and enjoyed a nice Dutch breakfast, breads, cereals, cold meats & cheese, boiled eggs, jams & jellies, etc. about 9:30 this morning. Our group checked out at 11:00 am and we used an Uber (limo van as it turned out) ride to the cruise terminal (€14) arriving by 11:30.  I need to begin using Uber when available. At the Cruise facility we proceeded through the check-in area, security, then customs control as we progressed to boarding the ship.  We were offered a glass of champagne as we came aboard…very nice.  We sat & visited in a Centrum lounge until they opened cabins at 1:00 pm.  We then dropped carry-ons and up to the Windjammer for lunch.  The Roast Beef on the carving station as usual on embarkation day was very good.  Boat/ Safety Drill was held about 4:30 pm and following that our bags began to arrive at the cabin.  We unpacked and it will be very nice to have the same cabin and bed for 16 days following our extensive European travels.  DW and the GF’s went to the Diamond Lounge that took up all of the Colony Club lounge on deck six aft.  It was really packed with guests. I stayed in the cabin and watched the opening game of my Oklahoma Sooners.  They looked great for early season.  I was beginning to feel a little weak and I think I got one of those common 24hr. bugs…so I skipped dinner and went to bed by 9:30 following the game.  We did set our clocks back one hour for the first time of this voyage.  It was an easy embarkation day on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Two  - at Sea -  Monday - September 2nd

I slept fair and it was nice to sleep until 8:00 am.  We will enjoy having no real schedule for the next 16 days. DW ordered Room Service which is her usual cruising morning ritual.  I had her order some fruit for me and that was good as I didn’t feel like going to breakfast this morning.  I rested until 1:00 pm then went to the Windjammer for some food...I tried to eat light.  We then had to take our passports to Irish Customs to get a stamp to simplify tomorrows arrival.  I enjoyed our balcony cabin and updated this review and checked other football scores.  I took another long nap the rest of the afternoon/evening then about 8:00 pm I went up to the Windjammer for sirloin steak that is usually served on Royal Caribbeans first formal night…it was very good and I felt like Popeye eating his spinach…first steak this Texas boy has had in 18 days and I honestly began to immediately feel better.  Really...so I had another, then one more small one.  Still taking it easy so back to the cabin as we have an early excursion tomorrow but felt fine by bed time. Bug eliminated with rest.  It was a very much needed restful day for me on the Brilliance of the Seas.

 Day Three  - Waterford, Ireland -  Monday - September 3rd
Alive and well  at  Kilkenny Castle Ireland
Slept well and great weather clear and only in the high 60’s today.  Our first port of call is Waterford, but we actually tender into Dunmore just east of Waterford.  We have the Castles & Crystal tour booked so we went to the theater at 8:45 to meet group and we were soon off on Bus #9.  The tour guide was Liam and he was a cracker.  Full of knowledge and very entertaining.  We drove 45+ minutes through beautiful country side to Kilkenny and our first stop Kilkenny Castle.  The castle dates from 1195 and had been improved, sat in ruins twice, and improved again over the years.  It is now owned by the local authority and has been wonderfully restored as a historical site and more for the town of Kilkenny.  We then walked through the old town of Kilkenny on our way to our pub lunch at Langton’s Bar.  Langton’s was an interesting place with both large modern dining facilities and an old fashioned small pub.  Lunch was good, the choice was chicken or bacon, I took the bacon knowing it would be ham served with mashed potatoes and chopped broccoli.  Dessert was choice of cheesecake or ice creme and I again made the better selection (luck this time) of ice creme as it was a huge slice of ice creme pie with several flavors and caramel and chocolate sauce on the side.  I also had two halfs of the local beer Smithwick's Draught an Irish red ale.  Very good beer and very nice pub lunch.  We then drove to old Waterford town for our tour of the Waterford Crystal facility.  DW actually remembered the stations and tour we took 30+ years ago, I had no recall of it at all.  It was an interesting tour…as we went through the engraving department of the unique trophies they make I told them that they could go ahead and print the University of Oklahoma on the 2018 NCAA football championship trophy.  The last piece of Waterford I purchased was a replica of the last one won by OU. We were returned to the ship about 4:40 pm towards the end of the tender run so no lines or waiting to return.  A great excursion. The GF’s and neighbors on this cruise were sunning on their balcony on this beautiful day when we returned to the cabin.  We all refreshened and went down to the Diamond lounge for some very nice cocktails.  It was Cosmopolitan night for the group and I enjoyed several.  Snacks were very good too.  About 8:00 pm we went up to the Windjammer for dinner, the wonderful thing about it was that we ate outside in the wonderful weather and enjoyed a late sail away from the Irish coast.  I love that option on the Radiance class ships.  I retired as soon as I returned to the cabin.  It was a great day in Ireland and on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Four  - Dublin, Ireland -  Tuesday - September 4th
Temple Bar - Dublin
I slept well overnight and went to the MDR for breakfast for the first time this cruise.  I ordered fresh fruit,  Eggs Benedict, bacon, & potatoes…all very good.  Another beautiful cool weather day in Ireland as we are docked in Dublin.  About 10:00ish GF’s, DW  & I shared a taxi from the port into Dublin City Center.  We were dropped at the Spire and walked over to the GPO (General Post Office) the site of the 1916 Easter uprising that eventually led to Irish Independence.  A beautiful building still used as a Post Office and now with a museum.  We walked down O'Connell street and across the O’Connell bridge to the old quay pedestrian area looking at quaint shoppes along the way until we reached the Temple Bar, Ireland's most legendary Pub/Bar.  We enjoyed a round or two, enjoyed the live music, then ordered lunch.  They offer a large assortment of sandwiches that were very nice.  A very enjoyable couple of hours in a very unique public house bar.  We then walked towards the high street passing the Molly Malone statue and visiting with a live Molly herself.  We made it to Grafton Street the pedestrian shopping street and the ladies shopped a bit and guys listened to music as there were musicians every 100 feet or so.  The musicians were a surprise to me. We walked all the way to St. Stevens Green and the Fusiliers Arch.  We have covered a good deal of Dublin and decided we had best go easy as we have big excursion tomorrow...so we did an early return to the ship. Taxi back to port and in the cabin by 4:00.  Easy day in port.  R&R until we went to the Diamond Lounge about 6:30 pm for cocktails.  Then up to the Windjammer about 8:15 pm for dinner.  It was Italian night, but I had the minute steaks again.  We again dined outside as we began our  sail away from Dublin.  I was a very nice day in Dublin and the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Five  - Belfast, Northern Ireland  -  Wednesday - September 5th
Giant's Causeway
I slept very well and we used room service as a wake up call as we have an early excursion this morning.  I had fruit plate and pastries from room service as we sailed into Belfast.  Belfast will mean a change in currency today although there has been no mention of passport control entering into the UK from Ireland.  We went down to the pier soon after we were cleared and found our small private group tour straightaway.  We know there will be only 8, but once a half hour from arriving elapsed we were off with just 6 in a very nice van to stay ahead of the bus groups as planned and advertised.  Our driver was Patrick and he was very good.  We did the 40 minute drive straight to the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage site and were among the first to arrive.  After purchasing tickets we went straight to the site walking downhill and enjoying the views along the way.  It is very interesting geological formation and as a geography major I did enjoy it very much.  The basalt forms unique forms as it goes from the land formations into the sea.  We rode the shuttle bus back up hill to the visitors center and enjoyed a snack in the cafe until the others arrived back.  The center is run by The National Trust so it is a nice facility.  We next went back through the town of Bushmill to the Bushmill Irish Whisky Distillery.  We skipped the distilling tour and went straight to the tasting bar for a sampling of three Bushmill whiskies. (€8).  Everyone felt pretty good once we left there.  We called in our lunch order to a local pub in Ballintoy, the Fullerton Arms.  It was a great place and I had the Guinness & Steak pie, DW a very nice salad, and I had a local beer.  The place had memorabilia from the Game of Thrones including door no. 6 of a series of famous carved doors in Northern Ireland.  From there we went to the National Trust’s Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, an amazing location although we observed from the overlook.  If we were staying in the area I would want to cross the unique rope bridge here.  We then began the drive back to Belfast and Patrick took us to the Falls Road area the location of the ‘Troubles’ and current location of patriotic or memorial murals.  They still close the gates each evening on the roads crossing from British side to the Irish side (not a Catholic/Protestant problem as most think, but British/Irish).  I did not know that they still close these gates to this day.  It was amazing to see this area first hand as I remember the troubles in 1969-72.  We were returned to the ship about 3:00 pm for our 4:00 sail away.  A great excursion and day.  We skipped cocktails this evening and went to the buffet a bit earlier, not busy at all during the 7:00 pm hour.  It was Spanish food night, but I stuck with my usual…the Steaks and the Pork Chops were nice tonight.  We watched some BBC or ITV favorites on TV:  Doc Martin and Poldark before retiring.  It was a great day in Northern Ireland today.

Day Six  - Cobh, Ireland -  Thursday - September 6th
Cobh Cathedral  (west view)
Just as it was for the ship Titanic, this will be our final port in Ireland before we begin the transatlantic portion of our sailing.  I slept well and smooth seas overnight.  I went down to the MDR for breakfast: Eggs Benedict with extras again.  Very nice service in the MDR and nice visiting with other guests.  We decided to stay in the nice historic seaside town of Cobh and not take the train to the city of Cork as original plan.  The weather was cloudy but in 60’s so pleasant enough as we went into town about 10:30 am.  We visited shoppes and waterfront on our way to the cathedral midway up the hill above the waterfront of Cobh. The Cathedral Church of St Colman, usually known as Cobh Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic church overlooking Cork harbour from a very prominent position.  One of largest churches in Ireland in such a small town.  Very impressive church from inside and out, loved the mosaic floor with the Celtic knots.  The group wanted to continue up the hill, but I took refuge in the Mansworth’s Bar, one of the oldest in Cobh, and enjoyed a Coca-cola with Colleen.  Soon I was joined by the others as there was really nothing more up on the crest of the hill. After a wee rest we did the other half of the waterfront shoppes, an interesting combination of businesses for locals and tourists.  We stopped at the old White Star Line offices that has been converted into a Titanic Museum, Bar, & Restaurant.  Lunch there was actually very good.  I had a premium White Star hamburger and a White Star lager beer keeping with the theme.  We took photos of the various monuments and visited with very friendly locals.  I was first of our group to return to the ship about 3:15 but I had a nice five hour visit of Cobh.  After R&R in the cabin we went to the Diamond lounge for cocktails…there was a Titanic theme tonight, it has been Irish past several nights, but the GF’s did order Irish whisky, I stuck with Cosmos.  We went to the MDR for dinner tonight, first time for DW and I, this cruise.  I ordered the Maryland Crab Cake, Spinach Ravioli as starter, French Onion soup, the Pork Tenderloin entree, and the Grand Marnier Souffle for dessert.  Dinner was nice.  We retired to the cabin after dinner.  It was a nice day in Cobh and our farewell to Europe today.

Day Seven  - at Sea -  Friday - September 7th
Solarium - Brilliance of the Seas
Now we are getting rolling seas overnight as we sail away from the coast, but I slept very well, I enjoy some rocking overnight.  I went to the MDR for breakfast and ordered a ranch breakfast: 3 eggs over easy with ham, bacon, potatoes, and toast.  Very good.  This is our first real sea day and we had not explored the ship so we did so…started on deck 13 Viking Crown Lounge and worked our way down walking all the public decks forward to aft.  Nice ship, larger than last years TA ship Rhapsody, but smaller than the Voyager Class.  Good size…we have never felt overcrowded although the Solarium was very busy with it too cool for main pool.  By the time we reached deck 4 the Minstrel Dining Room just opened so we stopped in for a salad for lunch.  They have the standard RCCL pick your own items/ingredients salad station set up on sea days in the MDR.  DW left early to go to the Cinema we discovered on deck six for a 1:00pm movie.  I stayed and had a nice Carrot Cake for dessert.  I watched the highlights from the series Godless on Netflex and DW went to a second movie this afternoon. We purchased an excursion for Ponta Delgada, it’s getting difficult as we have been there many times.  Cocktails in the Colony Club serving as the Diamond Lounge. Clavin from India has become our default server there.  GF’s went to the MDR as they had Lamb tonight, we went to the Windjammer for dinner.  It was Philippine night with adobo, popular with crew, but DW had a salad as usual and I again had the minute steaks.  Something for everyone.  Some BBC on TV before retiring.  It was a busy day on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Eight  - at Sea -  Saturday - September 8th
Still cloudy skies and rolling seas but calming a little. We turned our time back an hour but I still slept until 6:00 am and then checked email. I went to the MDR for breakfast and ordered an Eggs Benedict + extras, all very good.  DW went to exercise and I had a lazy morning then went up to the Lido deck to enjoy the sea breezes before I settle in for NCAA football this afternoon and evening.  I had lunch in the Windjammer a nice pub lunch style Steak & Vegetable concoction that I put on mashed potatoes.  I watched ESPN’s College Game Day then the Oklahoma vs. UCLA football game.  The cabin was stocked with coca-cola and game snacks to make an afternoon of it…always fun when your team wins.  DW saw several movies today and usual cocktails with the GF’s.  I was content with NCAA football.  After the game I had time to go to the Windjammer before it closed.  It was Chinese night and I did have some in addition to my minute steaks.  The late football games won’t be on until midnight local time so I will pass since we have an early excursion in Ponta Delgata.  It was a fun day on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Nine  - Ponta Delgata, Azore Islands -  Sunday - September 9th
Village view from the parque - Furnas Valley
I slept well and the room service call was our wake up for this morning.  After breakfast we met for our Furnas Valley tour at 8:30 am.  We have been to Ponta Delgata many times and this was a NEW tour just added, it wasn’t online nor on our excursion booklet in the cabin, so we booked it at a fair price ($40pp).  It may be a trial but new tour locations are needed here and we are taking advantage of it.  We were off in our bus before 9:00 am and drove to Ribeira Grande an old town located on the north coastline of São Miguel island.  We saw the Church of Nossa Senhora da Estrela, then had our first (and only) pastel de nata of the day (they were great).  Next stop was a viewpoint over the Lagoa do Fogo and the Furnas Valley.  You could see smoke from many thermal springs and the beautiful lake below in the old caldron of a former volcano.  Next we had a tour of Parque Terra Nostra.  This is a lovely park with extensive gardens and thermal springs with pool, but although the temperature is only in the low 80’s the humidity is about 90% so most of the old timers on the tour were moving slowly by the time we left here. Our next stop was in an area of Furnas where they had numerous bubbling (boiling) hot springs.  Amazing, you would think you were in Yellowstone, but your actually in a an old city.  They are found throughout the Furnas Valley in rural areas or parks, but to see them in a city is very different.  This was the last stop and all were ready to board the air-conditioned bus by the time all viewed the hot springs.  From the bus we saw some beautiful views from mountains to coastline but were happy to arrive back at the ship about 2:00 pm.   Windjammer for all of us as we had worked up an appetite...then to cabin to cool and rest. DW went to a 4:00 pm movie and we all met in the pub on deck 6 forward about 5:30.  First visit and we used the Diamond benefits on our cards to get beer, wine, or cocktails.  A great system for benefits and to get members out to other bars.  We then went back to the Colony Club for more cocktails and eventually to Windjammer before it closed for some late night snacks and more.  They were making fancy desserts involving a waffle iron that the ladies enjoyed.  It was a enjoyable and different day in Port Delgata and on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Ten  - at Sea -  Monday- September 10th
Tango Buenos Aires - Brilliance of the Seas
Still a bit of rolling seas and I again slept very well.  We turned our clocks back an hour and the weather is very nice and warming for us.  I went to the MDR and ordered the Eggs Benedict + extras, also hot milk.  A relaxing breakfast and always an opportunity to visit with guests.  I then enjoyed the best balcony weather of the cruise so far to update blog and check scores.  DW and I walked up to the walking track on deck twelve, 6 laps = a mile, I did two she did her mile.  Breezy but sunny on deck and guests are in the pool today.  We went to the Windjammer for salad, having a light lunch today.  Slow afternoon for us, mostly cabin time…unfortunately we were without internet all afternoon and evening…bummer. Guests have complained about a lack of American news (no CNN or FOX) and our current weather situation…so the CD and Captain had a special weather report that played most of the day on cabin TV.  I believe we will be lucky and slip between the two hurricanes currently heading towards the U.S.  We did go to the Diamond Lounge early as DW and GF’s were going to the show tonight.  The theme in the lounge was Cheers, first time it was not a country or nautical theme, it has been decorated each night.  We enjoyed our cocktails and the group enjoyed the production show: Tango Buenos Aires in the theater…so much that DW attended the second show as well.  It was Japanese food among all the other selections in the Windjammer; however, the popular item was fresh hot Crepes for dessert.  I guess I’ve eaten all the minute steaks, none the past two nights so I had two nice Pork Chops with potatoes and vegetables.  It was a nice outdoor weather day on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Eleven  - at Sea -  Tuesday- September 11th
Ship Art - Brilliance of the Seas
Smoother seas overnight and I again slept well.  The weather is overcast, but still warmer than the Irish Seas.  I went upstairs for breakfast in the Windjammer for the first time this cruise.  As I suspected they seemed to have everything: ham on carving station, bacon (rashers), English bacon, sausage, omelette station, lots of breads, lots of fruit, cereals, oatmeal, and much more.  I even got a hot milk.  By far the primary option for guests breakfast on board the Brilliance of the Seas.  Still no internet in the cabin this morning, but surprise we now have FOX news.  I think the combination of the hurricane hitting the U.S. and no internet forced RCCL to allow some news programs.  The DW wanted me to remind everyone that the Tango Buenos Aires production show is a must see show if you have the opportunity to see it on a Royal Caribbean Ship, evidently this show is being moved to a larger ship.  At noon they held a 9/11 remembrance and veterans gathering in the Centrum with cake and mimosas, it was well attended.  About noon I went down to deck 6 and had internet, then by late afternoon it was working in the cabin…just a part of sailing on a transatlantic cruise.  They had Reuben Sandwiches in the Windjammer for lunch today.  The weather worsened as we are still avoiding the three hurricanes, a bit wet and rocky seas. The Windjammer exceeded expectations again tonight.  At first carving station they had two types of ham, but I knew to look further and at the other station they had Prime Rib, tender & moist prime rib with horseradish.  Amazing and delicious.  They also had Osso Bucco and very nice pork chops among other things.  So many choices.  We’re turning in early tonight since it was rolling seas and raining.  It was a nice changing weather day on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Eleven  - at Sea -  Tuesday- September 11th
Rolling seas overnight and I again slept very well.  The weather was better and warmer than previous day.  Still avoiding three hurricanes and two tropical storms.  We set our time back once again last night and are now only two hours off EST.  I went upstairs for breakfast in the Windjammer for the first time.  As I suspected they seemed to have everything: ham on carving station, bacon (rashers), English bacon, sausage, omelette station, lots of bread, lots of fruit, cereals, oatmeal, and more.  I even got a hot milk.  By far the primary option for breakfast on board the Brilliance of the Seas.  Still no internet in the cabin this morning, but surprise we now have FOX news.  I think the combination of the hurricane hitting the U.S. and no internet forced RCCL to supply some news programs.  The DW wanted me to remind everyone that the Tango Buenos Aires production show is a must see show if you have the opportunity to see it on a Royal Caribbean Ship, evidently it’s being moved to a larger ship.  At noon they held a 9/11 Remembrance and veterans gathering in he Centrum with cake and mimosas, it was well attended.  I went down to deck 6 and had internet, then by late afternoon it was working in the cabin…just a part of sailing on a transatlantic cruise.  They had Reuben Sandwiches in the Windjammer for lunch today.  The weather worsened as we’re still avoiding the three hurricanes, a bit wet and rocky.  The Windjammer excited expectations again tonight.  At first carving station they had two types of ham, but I knew to look and the other station and they had Prime Rib, tender & moist prime rib with horseradish.  Amazing and delish.  They also had Osso Bucco and very nice pork chops.  So many nice things.  We’re turning in early since it was rolling seas and raining.  It was a nice day on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Twelve  - at Sea -  Wednesday- September 12th

Rolling seas overnight and I again slept very well.  The weather was better and warmer than yesterday.  We set our time back once again last night and are now only two hours off EST.  I went to the MDR for breakfast ordering fried eggs to order…they were close to correct.  Hot milk, bacon, potatoes, and fruit were good.  Lazy day today, DW did some movies, I did some Bosque Travel work.  They had pork ribs at lunch, unique,  but not near as good as what NCL does with their pool deck BBQ.  I did have some nice balcony time in the afternoon.  The ship does offer a lot of activities during the day: lectures, music, movies, trivia, and games…today they had an Amazing Race.  For a change we went up to the Viking Crown Lounge on deck 13 for cocktails.  You do have a nice view, first a bit sunny, but then rewarded with great sun set.  We enjoyed it as we had to make a dash to the Windjammer arriving just before it closed at 9:00 pm.  It was Cake night…a vast selection of cakes at the dessert station.  As it was closing they cut huge pieces for you to enjoy.  It was a long and lazy day on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Thirteen  - at Sea -  Thursday- September 13th
Again rolling seas overnight and pretty dramatic, you would really roll from side to side in the bed but I slept surprisingly well.  Clear skies and the Captain has done a great job of sailing between the four hurricane/tropical storms and keeping us safe.  This morning I went up to the Windjammer for breakfast.  The pancakes and poached eggs were wonderful.  Another sea day and pretty much the same same as other sea days.  We have TV, food, internet, and various activities to occupy our time.  Cocktails in the Lounge and Windjammer for dinner.  Various ship activities in the evening or cabin time.  Another long and lazy day on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Fourteen  - at Sea -  Friday- September 14th
Again rolling seas overnight but smoother and I slept well.  Again this morning I went up to the Windjammer for breakfast.  Only fresh pancakes and bacon this morning.  Another sea day and pretty much the same same as other sea days.  We have TV, food, internet, and various activities to occupy our time.  Cocktails in the Lounge and Windjammer for dinner.  Various ship activities in the evening or cabin time.  Another long and lazy day on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Fifteen -  at Sea -  Saturday- September 15th

Fair seas overnight and I slept very well.  I went up to the Windjammer for a nice early breakfast.  It’s a college football Saturday so I streamed and watched College Game Day that was broadcasting from the TCU campus in Fort Worth today.  Oklahoma has had three early kickoffs in three weeks  that have actually worked well for me since I’m so far later in the day in time zones…today only two hours difference for kickoff at 1:00 pm Atlantic Time.  The game streamed well in my cabin so I enjoyed the afternoon especially since my team won.  DW did a movie and other activities.  I watched some other streamed games as well until the late feature games were on the cabin/ship television.  I was wearing my TCU hat today and I actually saw a couple decked out in TCU colors when I sneaked out for a snack. It was really nice seeing land today as we sailed through the Bahamian Islands this afternoon.  DW and GF’s did cocktails and the second featured Production show: Center Stage. It was also the farewell show so she also thanked the Captain for avoiding all the hurricanes and tropical storms this cruise.  Something happened that has not happened in my 137 cruises…DW ate dinner in the MDR more times than I did on this cruise.  That doesn't happen as she's not a MDr fan.  I was curious if the Windjammer had anything unique as this was the third and final ‘formal dinner’ night.  They did had Leg of Lamb and I mean huge pieces of meat.  Not my choice but I did have the Peach Flambé featured dessert.  I enjoyed my day of college football on the Brilliance of the Sea. 

Day Sixteen -  at Sea -  Sunday- September 16th
Smooth seas overnight as we sailed in the straights of Florida.  I slept well as I have all cruise.  We turned our clocks back for the final time last night so we are on EST and Tampa time. To date all of our transatlantic cruises have been westbound, but this one seemed much longer than usual, perhaps as we were in Europe so long before boarding, but in future we will probably cruise eastbound and fly home.  Romania seems so long ago before we even get home. I went to the MDR for my final breakfast there, great service and food as it has been all cruise.  The internet was dead slow and some sites were blocked, they offered a one day special for $9.99 that I guess everyone did, but unfair to those of us with packages.  A few days of credit should have been offered, they did so on the Rhapsody transatlantic last year.  I paid off our onboard account and got higher luggage numbers at guest services…no need to be in a big rush tomorrow.  They had a very nice pork schnitzel in the Windjammer for lunch today. Lunches are not as varied as the dinners in the Windjammer.  This afternoon I watched some NFL football and began packing as we are putting out our large bags and not using self debarkation.  We went down to the Colony Club/Diamond lounge and Clavin from Goa was again our server for our final cocktails of the cruise.  It wasn’t as busy as usual…tip evaders is my guess.  Interesting that the Windjammer was much busier than usual…again tip evaders from the MDR is my speculation…skipping their waiters after 15 days.  The final buffet was good, it was Tex-Mex night.  I had some very nice pork chops and they had the cakes again so Black Forest for me.  The GF’s had fancy dessert crepes that were available for the second time this cruise.  We had to return to the cabin to get our bags out by 10:00 pm  then it was rest for debark and watch a bit of the Dallas Cowboys on TV before falling asleep.  It was a very nice final day on the Brilliance of the Seas

Debarkation Day  -  Tampa Florida  -  Monday- September 17th
Smoothest seas of cruise and we were docked very early in Tampa.  I slept very well. We had some snacks for breakfast as we finalize packing this morning.  We said good bye to the GF’s and did leave the cabin about 8:15 for the Lido deck as we have very high debark numbers.  The good news is that the Windjammer was somewhat still open so I had scrambled eggs and bacon…nice. Then enjoyed internet time for an hour +.  Trying to be the last off is much more relaxing than dealing with the crowds.  And the DD, our pickup ride, has it easier as well.  We were at our hotel, Crowne Plaza-Westshore about noon and they both allowed an early check-in and we were upgraded to a nice suite.  Sweet.  After we settled in we drove back to Ybor City area and had a long lunch at the renowned Columbia Restaurant an icon since 1905.  We then looked at the renewal of the Ybor area with many of the old Cigar factories repurposed into condos, trendy bars, restaurants, and more. For future reference I noticed that two new hotels would be very close to the cruise port.  Tuesday will be our air travel day back to Texas.  An end to a long journey through Europe and transatlantic cruise.

Cabin
We had cabin 7556 a balcony cabin located between the Atrium and forward elevators on deck seven on the starboard side.  The room is the standard size for a balcony.  It has the following: key pad safe, hair dryer, small couch, vanity/desk, small standard shower, storage in cabinets and vanity, flat screen TV, and good lighting. Well designed.  The air conditioning & water pressure worked well.  Excellent service from cabin steward Marcina.  You will hear music from somewhere (maybe Pub) on rare occasion in evenings, but not late at night.

Crew
All service people have been excellent, they have an obvious ‘guest first’ attitude and it shows in service and attitude.  My favorite was Clavin from Goa who served us in the Diamond lounge most nights.

Food / Bar
Overall very good food.  Excellent: Cookies, Ice Creme, Breads, Rice, Mashed Potatoes and special entrees in Windjammer.  Amazing that the Windjammer dinners were equal to or certainly more varied than the MDR.  Unique items in Windjammer: Mongolian Grill, Mussels, Minute Steaks, Gyros, Leg of Lamb, Spanakopita, Crepes, Cake Night, special garlic bread every night, special salads and ingredients, and much more.  The Diamond Lounges were always busy but adequate number of bar servers for number of guests. 

General Comments

We really enjoyed the first days of doing very little and relaxing after a busy seventeen days touring Europe.  Got busy doing Ireland for four days, then relaxing balance of cruise.  The Windjammer food was excellent, really exceptional. It was a needed relaxing cruise.


Sunset from our balcony on Brilliance of the Seas

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