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TA 1106
TA 1106

Cruising on the Brilliance of the Seas

Barcelona, Spain - Villefranche, France - at sea - Malaga, Spain - Lisbon, Portugal - at sea - Madeira (Funchal), Portugal - at sea (6 days) - Miami, Florida

 
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Rating (out of 5):    Ship    Food    Service    Itinerary

This was our first trip transatlantic cruise. We had originally booked a Mediterranean cruise (the last cruise of the season for the BOS), and it was followed by a transatlantic repositioning cruise. The TA cruise was so reasonably priced that we signed up for it as well. You can see the Mediterranean portion of the cruise in a separate diary. We had expected the Atlantic in November to be cold, stormy and quite bumpy. Were we wrong! Apart from a little roughness on one of the days, it was mid-70's, sunny and glass smooth seas. It was just like being in the Caribbean (except a little cooler).

Day 1 (Tue, Nov 7) - Boarding in Barcelona

Because we had just completed the prior Mediterranean cruise on the Brilliance, this wasn't really a boarding day for us. We just popped into town while the crew moved our stuff to our new cabin. When we returned from our tour, we had been moved into our new location. We checked that all of our stuff had indeed arrived and then headed up for lunch in the Windjammer. After lunch we wandered the decks for a while. Then it was time for the lifeboat drill. RCI does the drill outside on deck, right at your muster station. For some reason, Princess does the whole thing in a bar (or theatre). Maybe Princess doesn't really have lifeboats ...

After muster, we headed up on the top deck for the Cruise Critic informal meeting. We met all the folks that we had been chatting with online for the previous year. Judy brought pins with flashing lights for all, and Tony had made up name cards for everyone. It was going to be a fun cruise!

Sail away was at 6 PM, just as we were heading to dinner. It seemed strange walking around the ship and not recognizing anyone. After 2 weeks on the previous cruise we were always running into folks that we knew.


Day 2 (Wed, Nov 8) - Back to Villefranche

Today was "back to Villefranche". We had visited the port 4 days earlier on the Mediterranean leg of the cruise. We had joined with Beth and some others for a private tour of the area. It was a nice sunny day, great for photos. We were picked up by our tour guide (Sylvie) right at the tendering dock about 9 AM. Our first destination was Nice, just 3 km away. It was great to see Nice again and we went back to the flower market. For the kids, we bought small ceramic dishes that were rough in the center and were for grinding garlic cloves.

After a nice walk along the seawall, we boarded the van and headed north through Vence and on to a small winery. The drive through the mountainous countryside was wonderful. In Vence we stopped for a quick look at a school decorated by Henri Matisse. At the winery, we walked along the edge of the vineyard and then went inside to taste some wine. The wine maker had both red and white wines. One of his specialities was a red wine that was aged for 6 months in clear glass jars outdoors in the bright sunlight. The wine had a browny tinge to it, but tasted quite nice. He also had olive trees, but the crop had been destroyed that year by insects or disease (I can't remember which).

Then we headed back to St-Paul-de-Vence. We stopped at this quaint little "village perche" and had lunch at a wonderful outside cafe. The two specials were spaghetti and ravioli - very French! Apparently this part of France was once part of Italy, so I guess it made sense. After lunch we wandered into the walled the village and walked right to the cemetery at the far end. It was a maze of twisting alleys and walkways (no vehicles, of course), much like the village of Eze (from our previous day in port). The shops were all very touristy now, but it was easy to imagine people living there centuries ago.

After St-Paul, we headed west through the mountains towards Monaco. On the way we passed many small villages, including La Turbie where we could see the large Roman monument "Le Trophee des Alpes" in the distance. We passed through several tunnels in the mountains and finally arrived at a pulloff overlooking the country of Monaco. After a stop and some photos, we headed down the hillside into Monaco. The sun was just starting to set, so we didn't have much time to explore. We passed the large casinos of Monte Carlo and stopped near the Royal Palace at the Cathedral. We went inside the huge church and saw the graves of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace.

Then it was time to head back to the ship. It was a short drive along the coast to Villefanche where we caught the tender back to the ship. The ship didn't leave until 10 PM, so we had lots of time to see the coastal villages in the evening sunset and lit up at night. Provence is a wonderful place to visit!


Day 3 (Thur, Nov 9) - A Day at Sea

Today was our first day at sea for this leg of the cruise. The Cruise Critic welcome get together was held in the Viking Crown Lounge. There were over 100 people there. It was the largest CC group we've encountered so far. It is great that some of the cruise lines support these unofficial cruise groups by providing a nice get together party.

I had mentioned in the Med cruise diary that we had wanted to be assigned to a table for 8 for dining. We really enjoy meeting other people and that size table seems just right. When we booked the cruise, we specified a table for 8, but were assigned a table for 4 for the Med cruise. Near the end of the Med leg, the Maitre'd asked us what seating we wanted for the TA leg and we again asked for a table for 8. However, when we got our seapass card for the TA leg, we were again assigned to a table for 4. On our first evening of the TA leg, we went straight to the Maitre'd and asked to be put at a table for 8. He gladly complied and led us to a table for 8 where one other couple were seated. Because the ship wasn't full (1,700 passengers out of 2,100 double occupancy capacity), there were only 4 of us assigned to the table for 8. Arrrgh! We just can't win! We talked Beth (who was sailing by herself) into joining us, so we ended up being 5 people.


Day 4 (Fri, Nov 10) - Malaga, Spain

We arrived in port at Malaga at 9 AM. It was cloudless and sunny. Two days earlier, Malaga had been struck by a huge rainstorm that had caused some flooding and overturned cars. There was little trace of it now. We had booked a half day tour through the ship. We met in the theatre at 9:15 and headed out to the bus. There was quite a long causeway from the dock, passing some interesting ships in harbour. We then headed down a main street in the town that paralleled the ocean. We snaked up a winding hill past some new housing and arrived at the ancient Moorish fortification of Alcazaba and the ruins of Gibralfaro Castle. As we walked around the outer walls of the fort, we got a wonderful view over the city of Malaga, including the huge "one armed" Cathedral and the bull ring. In the courtyard was a large display of the major species of trees of the area, including commercial fruit and nut trees. Very interesting.

After leaving the fort, we headed toward the oldest section of the city. On the way we stopped at a large square surrounded by apartments where Picasso was born (the Casa Natal de Picasso). Then we headed to another square in the heart of the old city (Plaza de la Aduana). There was a newly renovated Picasso Museum and the Malaga Cathedral built in the 16th century. We had to wait about 1/2 hour to enter the cathedral at our designated time, so took a walking trip to a huge pedestrian mall a couple of blocks away. The mall was very wide (must have been a vehicular street at one time) and was paved with marble. The mall was lined with stores of all sorts and restaurants, bars, and bakeries. Marvelous!

We hustled back to the cathedral at the appointed time and did an interior tour. The church was huge with many ornate alters along the walls. I can't remember there being any noteables buried there, but Ithere could have been. After touring the church, we headed back onto the bus for the ride back to the ship. On the way we passed some plazas with fountains and statues. A beautiful city! We arrived back on the ship for a late lunch and did activites aboard until we set sail at 5 PM. As I recall, one of the activites was sitting in the sun on my balcony reading a book. Marj captured me on film (er, digital pixals) for posterity.

Leaving Malaga that evening, we joined the crowd out on the upper deck to watch the passage between Morocco and Gilbralter. It was about 9 PM and pitch dark. We could see the lights of Morocco on one side of the ship and the lights of Spain / Gilbralter on the other. It was almost impossible to pick out "the Rock of Gilbralter", as we passed several hills (according to the lights) which various passengers identified as the rock. I presume that one of the hills was the actual location of Gilbralter.


Day 5 (Sat, Nov 11) - Lisbon, Portugal

Due to the distance from Malaga to Lisbon, it was about noon when we we sailed up the Tagus river and under the huge suspension bridge that joins Lisbon and Almada (Ponte 25 de Abril). We had booked a ship's excursion that left at 2 PM. It was another blue sky, sunny day - great for photos. Our bus took us through some main streets of Lisbon, and then up Liberty Avenue to Eduardo VII park that overlooks the city. It was a wonderful view and a very interesting park.

Leaving the park, we drove back through the city to Alfama - the oldest part of the city. It is Moorish in origin and survived the 1755 earth quake which destroyed most of the surrounding areas. We left the bus and walked through the narrow winding streets. We could see the Moorish influence in the old buildings. It was still very much a residential area, without much in the way of tourist shops or modernization.

After a short shopping break, we boarded the bus and headed back to the river front and stopped at Rossio Square. We crossed the street to visit the huge 16th century Jeronimos Monastery Church. The church was huge and very ornate, both inside and out. Inside I was surprised to find the tomb of Vasco da Gama, the great Portugese explorer. Wow!

Next, we walked over to a riverside park to see the Belem Tower. It was after 5 PM, so the sun was starting to set. Being a Saturday, there were lots of families in the park for the afternoon or an evening picnic. Everyone had a soccer ball! Marj had asked the tour guide where she could buy a bottle of port to bring home for Mike, and she was directed to a small hotdog stand. Yes, they sold bottles of port! The tower looked very stately in the setting sun. We then drove along the water front and stopped at the Monument of Discoveries. We wandered around the huge monument looking at the many figures of famous Portugese explorers (and their supporters).

Then it was back to the ship in time for dinner. The ship left at 10 PM and it was beautiful seeing the lights of Lisbon as we sailed down the Tagus and into the Atlantic Ocean.

Day 6 (Sun, Nov 12) - A Day at Sea

What can I say? Another day at sea. We were participating in RCI's fitness program called "Shipshape". The staff run various activities throughout the day that participants are given Shipshape "dollars" for completing. At the end of the cruise passengers can cash in the dollars for t-shirts, backpacks, etc. We normally did the morning and afternoon "walk-a-mile" event (on the top deck) and the "sit to be fit" excercises in the Colony Club (unless a shore excursion interfered). This earned us 6 dollars each day which adds up fast. We now have two very useful backpacks and several t-shirts. The backpacks are quite small - just perfect for taking a few things on shore excursions.

I also tried my hand at Trivia, but I'm quite useless at that. I know lots of trivia, but never the stuff that gets into the games. We really enjoy walking around the promenade deck. It is generally uncrowded and feels close to the water. Our favorite spot is at the back of the ship looking our at the wake trailing away into the distance.


Day 7 (Mon, Nov 13) - Madeira (Funchal), Portugal

Today was our final port before the long run to Miami. We arrived at Funchal early, docking at 7 AM. It was a cloudy, cool day, not great for photos. We had booked a ship's tour that left at 8:30 AM. After boarding the bus, we drove through the town of Funchal and then up to a hill (Pico dos Barcelos) that provided a great view of the town and the surrounding area. The lower part of the island contains many banana plantations, while the upper elevations are mostly vineyards. It reminded me very much of Hawai'i, with the banana palms, hibiscus, and even plumeria.

After the lookout stop, we headed on to the village of Camara de Lobos (caves of the sea lions). This is the village where Winston Churchill often vacationed, so there were lots of businesses called Churchill's this or Churchill's that. We stopped along the mainstreet and walked down to the sandy beach to see the fishing boats. I think it rained a bit while we were there.

Then we headed up the mountainside to see Cabo Girao, the 2nd or 3rd highest sea cliff in Europe. The view from the top was impressive and you could see straight down the cliff to the beach 1900 feet below. There were lots of stall there selling tourist items and souvenirs.

Finally, we headed back to Funchal where we we did a short walk around the older part of the town and ended up at a Madeira Wine Lodge. We tasted some red and white wines which were quite good (tasted like Port or Sherry). After this we headed back to the ship in time for lunch. After lunch, we walked back along the pier almost into town. It was still cloudy, so didn't take many pictures. There were 3 cruise ships in harbour, including the new Crystal Serenity. Along the cement sea wall, there were paintings and logos of various cruise ships. Cruise industry graffiti! We sailed at 4 PM, well before dinner time. We were now headed across the Atlantic ocean and wouldn't see any land for another 7 days.


Days 8 - 13 (Nov 14 - 19) - Six Days at Sea

Travelling across the Atlantic was amazing. When we booked the cruise, we had never done a crossing of the Atlantic, and our mental image was "the North Atlantic in the winter". We were expecting 6 days of stormy cold weather and rolling seas. We had originally booked an outside cabin reasoning that we would never use a balcony in the cold weather. It was purely fluke that we changed to a balcony before we sailed only because a 55+ price special made the balcony cabin cheaper than staying in an outside cabin.

We couldn't have been more wrong about the crossing. We had mainly sunny weather with temperatures in the mid 70's. Apart from a bit of rolling on the first day, the sea was very calm all the way. The colour of the sea was the same deep royal blue that we had become accustomed to in the Caribbean. We even spotted flying fish. We really enjoyed our balcony. The only mistake, though, was that we got a starboard side balcony, so we were north facing for the duration of the crossing. Next time we'll get a port side balcony and cash in on those beautiful rays!

The time didn't drag at all during the crossing. we had lots to do between fitness sessions, reading, eating and playing cards and dice with our friends Alan and Glenys. We both really enjoyed the relaxing time and didn't miss the frenzy of daily ports. The only downside was the fact that we had already been away from home for almost 4 weeks, and were starting to get antsy to get back home again to see the family and the animals. Ports would have been a better distraction.


Day 14 (Mon, Nov 20) - Miami, Florida

After 28 days aboard the Brilliance, we finally arrived at the port of Miami. We pulled in before sunrise. All the downtown office buildings were lit up ready for the morning crowd. We had decided to do the express debarkation, so didn't have to put out our suitcases the previous evening. We had our final breakfast at the Windjammer Cafe and headed off the ship to our transfer bus. We arrived at the Miami airport well in advance of our flight and so had lunch at Sbarro's. When we headed back to the security check-in area, there were a number of men with huge video cameras nearby. Then several teams of travellers arrived at a special (fake) check-in area. They were filming The Amazing Race! While we were stuck in a 45 minute security queue, the contestants had their own special chech-in area and didn't appear to go through security. That's the way to travel!

Our flight back through Toronto was uneventful and we arrived home in Calgary around 10 PM. We had been away 33 days, so were more than happy to be back home again. The cruise (and the visit to Istanbul) had been incredible and we enjoyed every minute of it. The Brilliance was a wonderful ship in every way and we met so many nice people. It was a cruise that we'll never forget.