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With a transatlantic cruise to Europe
Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), June 7th 2015

On May 4, we check in on the Brilliance of the Seas, a 4-star-plus cruise ship that will take us from Tampa in the US, to Zeebrugge in Belgium. Twice a year, the cruise ships move from Europe to the Caribbean and vice versa. In the spring they go for the summer season to Europe, and in the autumn, when it gets too cold in Europe, they sail back to the Caribbean for the winter season. Since the vessels have to be moved in those periods, good deals can be made for this transatlantic journey. For little more than the price of an airline ticket, we could get a 15-day all-inclusive cruise that takes us across the Atlantic back to Europe.

When we arrive at the cruise ship terminal in Tampa and start with the check in process, it soon becomes apparent that we are among the 10% youngest people on board of the ship. There are some families with children, some couples about our age, a group of students from the University of Florida, but especially a lot of old people, many of whom have difficulty walking. We noticed that many Americans use tools such as walkers and electric carts to get around. This happens often at ages that people in Europe are still walking well. Perhaps this has to do with the expensive medical insurances in the US, making people to opt for a cheaper ‘tool’ than for example a new and expensive hip or knee. We were also shocked by the huge number of fat Americans aboard. Some of them couldn’t eat in the restaurants because the seats are too narrow. They had to take their meals in the bigger lounge couches just outside the restaurant.

Us on the upper deck of the Brilliance of the Seas

We opted for an inside cabin on a lower deck. These are the cheapest cabins of the ship. They are smaller and do not have a window or balcony, but for backpackers like us, they are still huge and luxurious. The cabin is equipped with a double bed, a desk, a couch, a television, a few closets and a bathroom with a shower, toilet and sink. The room is cleaned on a daily basis, and if desired, provided with fresh towels. To keep everyone busy on board, there is a wide choice of activities organized by the cruise company. Many of them are obviously aimed at the older fellows. Consider activities like cards, towel folding and bingo. But for the younger generation there is also a varied choice such as salsa dancing and wall climbing. And if you do not want to participate in organized activities, that’s also fine. There are plenty of ways to entertain yourself. Swimming, gambling at the casino, fitness, miniature golf, billiards or just relaxing in one of the many bars or on the deck is possible at almost all hours of the day.

The food on board is good and well organized. There are several ways to get your stomach filled. There is a large informal buffet restaurant for those who want the most flexibility, and a more formal restaurant where you will be served and which is more formal (clothing requirements). Both restaurants are included in the price. If you want more exclusivity, you can also choose one of the paid restaurants. Among them is an Italian and Mexican restaurant. We do not know if the food is better, but it is certainly much more exclusive and quite pricey. These restaurants are especially popular among the more traditional cruisers who still see a cruise as something for the richer and chic people and for that reason go to the more exclusive corners of the cruise ship.

Posing with a pair of tasty Murphy's Stouts in Cork (Ireland)

However, the all-inclusive principle does not apply to alcoholic beverages. If you like wine, beer or a cocktail once in a while and want to buy a beverage package, the cruise may be just twice as expensive. An all-inclusive drinks package costs US $ 55 per person per day! This package can’t be bought for one or several days, but only for the entire duration of the cruise. If you wish to book a beverage package for a 15-day transatlantic trip, then the cruise will you cost you an additional US $ 825 (Euro = 750) per person. And that's more than double the initial cruise price. Of course, we did not consider a beverage package. Abstinence was not that difficult for us. And if you really ‘need’ some alcohol during the cruise, you can refill ashore during one of the stops during the cruise.

Our cruise only had a few stops during the trip. We started in Tampa, and it took two full days to sail to Norfolk in Virginia, on the east coast of the US. From here, we started the seven-day crossing to Cork in Ireland. We were unfortunate that the weather was not that good. Sun was rarely there and the waves were sometimes between 5 and 6 meters high. The ship shook sometimes for hours and some of the less mobility elderly people had difficulties to walk through the ship. They were standing with arms linked to each while waiting for the elevator, to avoid falling over like dominoes. The company distributed free medication to those in need to avoid becoming seasick. That’s how they prevented large groups of people getting ill.

The second stop was Cork in Ireland, a picturesque town which is the perfect place to enjoy a Murphy's Stout. Then it was another night sailing to Cherbourg in France, where many Americans cruisers booked an expensive excursion to some of the D-Day beaches where the American invasion was launched in June 1944, with the aim to defeat Nazi Germany. The next morning we arrived in the Belgian seaport Zeebrugge, for us the end of the cruise. The actual cruise ended one day later in the harbour of Harwich (England), but for us as Dutch people, it was much more convenient to disembark in Belgium.

We have experienced the cruise as a nice option to cross the Atlantic. If you have the time and do not find it unpleasant to sit more than two weeks on a ship, it's an interesting way to start or end your trip to/from the US. For us, the crossing by ship was an attractive alternative to flying. We decided to book only the cruise with the standard all-inclusive facilities. So we did not book a beverage package, we had no botox treatments, no land excursions and no internet access. In that case the price of the cruise is quite attractive. However, if you're cruising with all the facilities mentioned above, then it can be a pretty expensive business.

Our cabin on the Brilliance of the Seas
View on the central hall of the cruise ship
Getting sweaty in the fitness room of the Brilliance of the Seas
Rough weather halfway the Atlantic Ocean
One of the two swimming pools

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