What a great cruise!Embarkation at Baltimore could not be easier -- you park your car only a few yards from the ship, check in and walk onboard.
The Grandeur is showing her age -- stains on the rugs, numbers rubbed off on the elevator buttons, dents in the doors -- but she is still spectacular and classy.
And I can't say enough about how wonderful the crew is -- always ready to help. There are lovely, smiling people in the shops ... the waiters get to know you by name and bring you what you want without asking ... the guest services people go out of their way to assist you.
The food is wonderful, both in the Great Gatsby restaurant and in the buffet -- plentiful, delicious and a great variety. The only flaw here is the same lunch menu every day with a daily special -- many of the offerings are very spicy. The lobster we had on the 2nd formal night was the best I've had in 15 sailings. The fruit soups are yummy, too.
Another brilliant touch is the Cruise Compass daily program. There is a tear-off to takewith you in your pocket, so you don't have to stuff a whole 4-pager into your shorts. I assume RCCL has this feature on all ships, and it is just great.
The rooms were decent. We had 2 adjoining rooms on deck 3. At the beginning of the voyage, the air conditioning worked poorly, but by the end it was perfect. There was a slight problem with flushing the toilet due to inadequate water pressure, but this didn't happen too often.
The ship was "ruled" by bands of roving teens, but I've come to expect that. After all, where are they going to go? This is their "mall" for 10 days.
If you are going to try the rock climbing wall, being in good shape (which I am not) is a definite plus. It is really strenuous!!!
The entertainment was just so-so. The cruise director, Drew Devine talks too fast. The comedians onboard were not terrific, just OK. The best act of all was the acapella group, Mosaic. They were amazing! Unfortunately, I was not impressed by the production shows, especially the 2nd one, "Broadway Rhythm and Rhyme." It was a bastardization of Broadway, modifying just about every number to a disco beat!
The ports: Freeport: Not impressive at all. Freeport is NOT Nassau. Oil refineries, decaying boatyards, decaying hotels -- not at all pretty. We took the semi-submersible submarine shore excursion, but it was just OK. You can see the same fish snorkeling, and it's hot down there.
Coco Cay: Shall we call this Hot Coco Cay? They really should supply umbrellas in the sweltering heat. But the good points are, the buffet has a big selection and the water is gorgeous. Go get extra hamburger buns and feed the fish!
Key West: A nice port. I enjoy its funky attitude. Luckily, the weather was cloudy, so we could walk the streets in comfort.
Cozumel: If you don't mind the natives trying to lure you into their shops every 5 feet, there is good shopping. My husband had gotten a bad sunburn in Coco Cay, so we couldn't return to our favorite beach, Mr. Sancho's -- a place I highly recommend.
Port Canaveral: We didn't make it here on this particular sailing because the captain wanted to avoid Hurricane Katrina. However he handled it, it was done brilliantly, because we got around the storm with miniscule rocking. You could hardly feel any motion on this ship. So, anyhow, we had a nice day at sea -- which I prefer anytime to a day schlepping through DisneyWorld in 90-degree heat.
One special feature I could appreciate on this ship was the crew's sense of being a family. The entire staff, right up to the captain, goes by a first name basis. And the nice part is, they make you feel like a family, too.
We just returned from a lovely cruise to Bermuda aboard Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas. After enduring reports of crashes (into the pier at Costa Maya), blown engines, missed ports, hurricanes, etc..we were quite delighted to pull up to the port in Baltimore to see our ship glistening in the sunshine on the morning of July 17th! We arrived around 11:00a.m. (after a short 1 hour drive from Delaware). It was very easy to get to the port. We were directed to drop off our luggage and then to head to our parking spot (which was right next to the ship!) Parking was $10/day or $50 for the 5-night cruise, paid in cash in advance. After the very short jaunt from the car to the terminal we were checked in and ready to board in as little as 10 minutes. We did have to wait about another 10 minutes before we were allowed to board the ship. So, from our car, to our cabin was perhaps a 25 minute stretch! When we arrived at the cabin, it was not ready to receive us (it was only 11:30 a.m. afterall and they say the cabins are not required to be ready until 2:00 p.m.).
We were in Cabin 8588 which is an aft junior suite right in the middle of the back of the ship facing the wake. It was a nice size cabin with plenty of storage space and a comfortable bathroom (for a ship, that is) with a bath tub and with nice toiletries provided (shampoo, shower gel, lotion, lip balm) and two luscious robes. The balcony was very large. It had two upright chairs, one lounge-type chair, and a coffee table. Anyway, we dropped off our carry-on stuff and headed to the Windjammer for Lunch. The buffet was the usual stuff. Not great, but not bad either. We toured the ship. It was in very nice shape. We felt it was clean and we really liked the layout. This was my 16th cruise, but first one on a Vision-class ship. Most of my cruises have been on larger, newer ships. Grandeur is a very elegant ship and was aptly named. We met up with some friends from Cruise Critic in the afternoon which was the beginning of a fun week!
We had early seating in the Great Gatsby Dining Room and had a lovely table right beside the Captain's Table (which he never appeared at). We were seated with our Cruise Critic friends which made for a very pleasant Dining experience! (Thanks Pam and David! We loved getting to know you both!) Our Dining Room crew was pretty good. Tomas the waiter was a bit of a clown. He was efficient though. Silvia the Asst. Waiter (waitress I should say) was delightful but not terribly skilled in her craft quite yet! She was fun to be around, but she was forever spilling water and iced tea when she tried to fill our glasses and made for some good laughs! She's a sweet girl though and will get better at her job in time! She tried very hard to please us! We just smiled and said, "thanks" and wiped up the puddles of water or tea from our laps when she walked away! The Dining Room food was very good (excellent at times). A few times I did have to order from the alternative menu, but only because I just wasn't in the "mood" for the selections they had to offer on those nights.
The entertainment during our week was pretty good. There were two production shows which were terrific and a couple of other variety type shows with comedians, magicians, etc. All were good. We saw some game shows and attended one of the art auctions. We had a good time but these events tend to be the same from ship to ship. We skipped bingo, pool games, theme parties, etc. Others certainly seemed to enjoy them though. We lounged around the ship a lot. There are plenty of spots to do this both indoors and out. We never had a problem getting a lounge chair either although there were quite a few "saved" chairs despite the signs explaining how this practice is not allowed. One HUGE complaint I had was that they NEVER opened the retractable roof from over the solarium and it was SWELTERING HOT in there! I couldn't be in there for more than 5 minutes without starting to have difficulty breathing from the oppressive heat and humidity! I agree that those roofs are great on a rainy day or in colder climates, but geez, it was 90 degrees outside and about 290 degrees inside that oven of a solarium! We asked them why they didn't open it, but didn't ever get an actual answer. Oh well, we just didn't spend any time in there (which was a disappointment because the solarium is usually our favorite spot).
After one full day at sea, we arrived on the morning of day 3 in Beautiful Bermuda and docked at King's Wharf. I had read so many reviews where people suggested that a cruise that only docked at the Wharf would be a waste of time. We were very pleasantly surprised to find that King's Wharf was a delightful port and you could easily access any part of the island you wanted. It was very picturesque at the wharf (in my opinion the prettiest of the three possible docking areas in Bermuda.St. George's, Hamilton, and King's Wharf). It was a lovely area which incorporated both history (the old Naval Fort) and local culture plus all the fun of the snorkel park, water excursions, easy access to the bus/ferry system and much more! The evening we were there they also held a Festival right at the Dockyard which was very enjoyable with live music, Gombey dancers, local vendors, etc. We really loved King's Wharf and would definitely consider it as a great destination in the future.
On our first day in Bermuda, we did the Wildcat Adventure Tour. This is a speedboat which sails around the entire island in 2 hours, stopping along the way for sights of interest. Unfortunately, after about 15 minutes, the Wildcat blew it's bearings and slipped a belt (or something like that.I'm not a mechanic!) anyway we then floated in to St. George's to pick up replacement parts, but got the added bonus of a closer look at St. George's along the way. We continued on with our tour only to find that we had lost our navigational capability and could not sailing into the more treacherous waters on the southshore side of the island (boo hoo, no Horseshoe bay!!!) So, we turned around and sped back toward Hamilton and toured around that bay for a while. We were disappointed that we didn't get to sail along the Southshore beaches, but it was still a nice tour all in all.
After lunch on the ship, we grabbed the public bus to Horseshoe Bay (we were going to see it one way or another!) It was an easy ride to the beach (about 20 minutes). It cost $4 per person each way. We walked down the steep hill at Horseshoe and were awed by the stunning beauty ahead! I've been to many beautiful places, but this is right up there near the top for out and out beauty! The water was very rough though and made for difficulty trying to swim! The undertow was quite dangerous! We managed to survive it though! We spent the afternoon splashing in the waves and wandering from one beautiful cove to the next! The walk back up the hill at the end of the day should be reserved only for the athletes though! Hubby and I made it, but in retrospect, we should have paid the $1 and taken the little van that was available to drive us up the hill. Sometimes it's better to just admit it when you are licked! We were stubborn though, and once we got to the top of the hill..we were drenched in sweat and miserable. The bus ride back to the dockyard was much more crowded and felt like it took a lot longer. I don't think it actually did though.
After Dinner on the ship, we headed out to the Dockyard Festival for the remainder of the night and visited all the cute shops right there at the Clocktower Mall at the Dockyard and enjoyed the music and dancers. It was a beautiful night. The ship was all lit up and the moon was full overhead. The Dockyard was abuzz with excitement and the ship was alive with activity. It was really and awesome evening.
On the 2nd day at Bermuda we did the Restless Native Catamaran Tour. This was a leisurely and educational tour around the harbor near Hamilton. We learned a lot of Bermuda history as well as a bit of marine biology of the undersea life in that region. We eventually anchored in shallow water in a private cove and spent an hour or so snorkeling in underwater caves and over various reefs. It was very nice. The tour staff was very knowledgeable and entertaining at the same time. They also served hot, homemade chocolate-chip cookies that were cooked right onboard the catamaran and rum swizzles, lemonade, and/or water. It was really a nice tour and I highly recommend it. It lasted about 3 ½ hours.
After a quick lunch on the ship, we headed back out to explore the Maritime Museum right there at the Dockyard. It was very interesting and we could have spent more time there but did have to get back to the ship to prepare for our departure from lovely Bermuda.
The following day was another leisurely sea day. We went to a towel-folding class, a swing-dance class, learned a few "tricks" at the magician's class, and relaxed with a good book in the Library. We had no trouble filling our time throughout the week. Whether we were active or inactive..we were enjoying ourselves on the beautiful Grandeur of the Seas! There were a few "snafu's" throughout the week, but nothing that tainted my cruise experience.
Disembarkation was as easy as embarkation. We waited for our tags to be called in the Viking Crown Lounge (for Platinum and Diamond Members) where they had coffee, juice, and pastries. They started disembarking the self-assist passengers at about 9:00a.m. (those were the folks who carried their own luggage off the ship). We had white tags and were the first called for the "regular" disembarkation to pick up our luggage from the warehouse. We were in our car heading home by 9:45a.m.
My husband and I booked a cruise on Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas just 10 days before it was set to sail on February 5, 2005. It was my first cruise, and my husband's second cruise, and we were excited with the prospect of this last minute, desperately needed vacation. We are happy to report that Royal Caribbean did not disappoint.
The Grandeur of the Seas was departing out of New Orleans for 7 days with stops in Cozumel, Mexico, Grand Cayman Island, and Costa Maya, Mexico.
We traveled from Georgia to New Orleans the day before the ship was to set sail to visit with family in the area. The ship departed the same weekend as Mardi Gras, so we were able to get in a few parades before boarding on Saturday which was a lot of fun.
It should be noted, however, that if you book this cruise the week of Mardi Gras that getting to the ship by car may be more difficult. We had locals taking us so it was not a problem, especially once you get to the pier area, but many streets are blocked atvarious times due to parades so give yourself extra time and check the route you plan to take to the ship. Also, children in New Orleans have the entire Mardi Gras week off from school, while children in other parts of Louisiana also get at least three days off. As a result, many locals take the opportunity to go on vacation during this week each year, and many of them cruise since the port is so convenient to them. We had many more children and families on the cruise than we expected since it was not a typical holiday or Spring Break time of the year. We did not mind and barely noticed them, but it is worth mentioning for those who might want to avoid this issue altogether.
EMBARKING: Easy, Easy, Easy. From the time we were dropped off, checked in, and went through security, we were on the ship within 15 to 20 minutes max. The process was a breeze. Each passenger's documentation is checked and each is then issued a Sea Pass card that allows you to charge every purchase on the ship. It also is your pass off and back on the ship.
PEOPLE: Our ship had a great mix of people of all ages. From a few college kids, to twenty and thirty somethings, to young families, and retirees, it was a very diverse crowd.
SHIP APPEARANCE: For a nine year old ship, it was in much better condition than I expected considering the number of people that have passed through it over the years. The ship was very, very well maintained. If you looked close enough and paid enough attention, you definitely could see some signs of age and an overall on the current fabrics couldn't hurt, but the overall appearance of the ship was great.
CABIN: By the time we booked, only interior staterooms remained, therefore we booked a larger interior stateroom on a higher deck, mid ship in Stateroom 7605. The stateroom was not huge by any means, but it was spacious enough for my husband and me. We had no trouble finding enough room to store all of our belongings, plenty of drawers, cabinets, and little nooks and crannies, while also not feeling like we were on top of each other when we were getting ready. We were hardly in the stateroom anyway, so to us, it really did not matter. The room was in good shape and well maintained. With the ship being 9 years old, there was some normal wear and tear, but you really had to be looking for it. Our cabin steward, Newton, was incredible. He introduced himself immediately when we passed him in the hallway, knew which cabin we were in, and made sure that all of our needs were met throughout our trip.definitely a pleasure. We also enjoyed being towards the middle of the ship since as a result; we had easy access to one of the central staircases.
FOOD: Great Gatsby Dining Room: We were very impressed with the food in the main dining room. Prime Rib, Steak, Lobster, Shrimp were all offered on the menu. Be sure to always also check out the "Daily Alternatives" listed on the menu too. The food was presented beautifully and tasted delicious. The main dining room never disappointed us, and our servers were amazing.the level of service was outstanding. They also offer breakfast and lunch in the main dining room which is great alternative since the Café can get very busy. Windjammer Café: The other options on the ship for food were ok, but not as impressive. Food is always served, buffet style, in the Windjammer Café. We typically ate here for breakfast and lunch. There was always plenty to choose from in the Café, but over the course of the week, we noticed the menu did not vary too much. I am definitely not complaining.I understand the difficulty in anticipating food for up to 2000 people and keeping them all happy. But just expect a typical buffet, with decent food and plenty to fill you up, but with some of the menu items being great, and others just so so. The Windjammer Café did host a BBQ for lunch on the pool deck on Thursday, and the ribs and chicken were wonderful! Again, just some things were better than others, but you really should not have trouble finding something to satisfy you unless you are a really picky eater. Also, remember there is always the main dining room as an alternative. Solarium Café: Pizza, hotdogs, hamburgers, and fries are served here throughout the day. All are ok, fries were wonderful. Expect long lines in the afternoon after everyone returns from port. Room Service: Overall, room service was great, but we did experience some spotty service a couple of times, especially toward the end of the cruise, they could have just been busy. It is available 24/7 with a wide menu including almost all of the menu items offered each night in the main dinning room.
ACTIVITIES/ENTERTAINMENT: Daily lists of activities are delivered to your stateroom each evening for the following day. There is always plenty to do on the ship with an enthusiastic team of cruise directors leading the way. The main Cruise Director Tom was hilarious and very entertaining. There were various parties such as the Bon Voyage Party, Captain's Cocktail Hour, and Evening Pool Deck Party, as well as many activities such as a couple of Art Auctions, Bingo, Shopping Info Sessions, Pool Games, Karaoke, Trivia, etc. There were also new to video movies available at all times in your cabin, a library, and a game room, all in addition to the ship's casino. In the afternoon and evening, there was also live entertainment available in the main Centrum and the two lounges, in addition to the main show in the Palladium Theater each evening. We did not make it to every show, but were more pleased with the individual acts over the larger production shows. STAFF: Overall, we were incredibly pleased with the level of service we received from all of the RCI staff. Everyone from the Cruise Directors to the Wait Staff to the Cabin Stewards was friendly, warm, and saw to our every need. The only surprising disappointment was the staff at the Purser's Desk. We had to interact with this desk two or three times over the week, and each time our questions were not answered.other passengers in line were often able to help me more than the staff at this desk. For instance, 1) we failed to turn in our request for tip vouchers by the deadline of Thursday evening. Tip night was Friday night and we went to the Purser's Desk Friday morning. There was no explanation as to why we could not charge tips to our Sea Pass account at that time, even though you could charge anything else up until the time you walked off the ship. It really made no sense to us, and the Purser offered no logical explanation. The only option we were given, by a fellow passenger, was the ATM which charges a large fee for use. Luckily, we had enough money from our spending money left to tip our staff appropriately. 2) They were unable to answer custom allowances for the US, how do they pull into a US port every week and not be able to recite this information in their sleep? 3) A wine package that was to be included in our fare was not in our cabin upon arrival as promised. The Purser said he had no record of it until I showed him my email confirmation. He then said all he could do was make a "request" to room service but there was no guarantee. I called room service myself, and they straightened it out in a few minutes. I thought the Purser's desk was to be the source of all answers, but I found not one there.it was really bizarre for a guest relations counter. Our interactions with the Purser's desk, although frustrating, should NOT take anything away from the rest of the amazing RCI staff who were wonderful and really doing the job of actually carrying out all the services on board. Many never even have to interact with the Purser's Desk, so I would not let it deter you from booking this cruise; we just found it odd and frustrating that the service everywhere else BUT the Purser's Desk was amazing.
TIPPING: The last night in the cruise is tip night. On RCI, your Stateroom Attendant, Dining Room Head Waiter, Table Head Waiter, and Table Assistant Waiter are all to be tipped. You can find the suggested tips on RCI website. On the morning of the last full day, you will receive envelopes in your cabin for each of these people mentioned above. RCI gives you the option of charging the recommended tips to your Sea Pass account or simply paying cash. If you choose to charge the tips to your Sea Pass account, vouchers will be delivered along with your envelopes to put inside. At this time, you can also add additional cash if you wish. RCI will give you a form in your cabin early in the week if you choose to charge to your Sea Pass account.it must be handed in before the deadline or you will not be able to obtain vouchers. Regardless of which way you choose to tip, tips are handed out on the last evening of the cruise. We left ours for our Stateroom Attendant in the room and handed out the rest in the dinning room at the end of dinner. It is a little awkward, but everyone else is doing the same thing.
We had a great time on RCI and would not hesitate for a second to sail with them again
We just returned from our cruise on the Grandeur of the Seas. The ship was in great shape considering its age. It is big enought but yet small enough so that you don't get lost in it.
Just a few highlights...
Embarkation was great in New Orleans, went smooth and fast, we were on the ship by 12:00, we couldn't get into our staterooms though until 1:30.
Deluxe inside room, very roomy, had alot of space for storage. Bathroom to us was smaller then usual, especially the shower.
Food...in the dining room the food was fantastic! Service great! Buffet in the Windjammer needs alot of improvement. Drinks were good and not terribly overpriced.
Stores...shopping on board wasn't as good as on other ships, not much selection. Booze is cheap and we found that it was cheaper then on the islands.
Pools...there are 2, and plenty of hottubs for all.
Shows..were great with the exception of the last night at sea.
Ports...first was Cozumel, to us we were not there long enough, it would have been nicer to have more time there. We did hit Carlos and Charlies. Other then that we just did some shoppingand didn't do any tours or sight seeing since we have been there numerous times before.
Grand Cayman....we were disappointed on how long it took for the people to get off the ship, we used tenders and it took a long time. Unless you were on a tour, you were one of the last ones off. I know that some didn't get off until 1:00 and had to be back by 4:30. we booked the Captain Bryans Catamaran Snorkel and Stingray Island tour, it was only $34 per person, and there was only 10 of us on board, it was great!!
Costa Maya....the water there is so beautiful.....crystal clear. It was pretty crowded at the port site where there are shops and a pool. we shopped and then took a taxi to Majual. There we ate and had a drink by the beach, we were going to swim but ran out of time. We did do some local shopping with the people who live there. If I had to do it again, I would have done the beach break with the ship, I heard alot of good things about it. My husband did the ruins tour and really enjoyed it.
Disembarkation went smooth!!! The whole trip was great, we met alot of nice people from all over. The crew and staff were great.
After 37 cruises, number 38 was my first sailing from New Orleans. I have been to New Orleans before, but never for a cruise departure. I think it is a great port city and if you are sailing from there you should consider either a pre or post package.
We opted to take a later flight on our return and purchased the ship's post-cruise shore tour in New Orleans that ended at the airport. This was a great choice! We learned on the way in that a taxi from the airport to the pier is $28 plus tip for two people. The post tour cost $38 per person and included a two-hour tour that went around the city and to the cemetery and garden district. It also included 2-½ hours of free time in the French Quarter before we had to re-board the bus to go to the airport. This gave us just enough time to go to Café Du Monde, Central Grocery, and do some shopping while not having to worry about our luggage. If you are interested in this tour, it is for people with flights after 4p.m.
Check-in at the pier in New Orleans was pretty busy when we arrived. If you are a Platinum or Diamond past passenger with Royal Caribbean, there's a separate check-in line. Also, if you are interested in getting a paid upgrade at the pier, the person to see is the pier coordinator. Most of the sailings from now until the end of year are not sold out, so if you are interested in upgrading, you must check in first and then get in the line for the pier coordinator.
The cabins are very nice on this ship. There was plenty of storage space. The bathrooms are small (but that's nothing new). The balcony cabins have small refrigerators; regular outside and inside cabins do not. The cabin has a small 13-inch television that showed ESPN, CNN, TBS, movies on two channels, the report from the bridge, the shore excursion talks, and my favorite -- the view from the bridge with music. The cabin also has a safe. I was not crazy about the safe because instead of a combination they wanted you to swipe your credit card to open and close it. Thus if your roommate does not have the same card as you, then you have to be there to open and close the safe. (There is no charge to use the safe.)
The more I cruise, the more I see this area change. The cruise lines have realized people are looking for alternatives and freedom in dining. Although I signed up for the second seating, I only went to the dining room for dinner twice (both on formal nights). As it turned out, 8:30 for dinner is very late and 6 p.m. is too early for me, so we found ourselves wandering by the Windjammer buffet around 7-7:30. We quickly found out the menu in the Windjammer is almost the same as the dining room -- soups and all -- and you can sample and take as much as you want. Also, the food was hotter getting it this way then in the dining room. There are waiters and waitresses in the buffet to bring water, coffee and desserts, and take away plates. There is even a carving station there every night.
The only reason we went to the dining room on the second formal night is because the Windjammer did not have lobster. They list both menus (one for the dinner buffet and one for the dining room dinner) outside the Windjammer every afternoon so you can compare and decide. We only had room service once for breakfast; it was quick and they got everything right. This ship does not have any paid alternative restaurants. The only other food was the hamburgers and pizza in the solarium area; however, starting in the next few weeks they will unveil a new Ben and Jerry's and coffee house area that will have a charge.
Cozumel is one of my favorite ports, and the best shopping port on this itinerary. The downtown has some construction going on, but all the stores are open and happy to see you. Lunch at Poncho's Backyard was great as usual.
Grand Cayman: It has been years since I was in this port. The shopping is overpriced, and other than rum cakes there is not much to buy. Seven Mile Beach is nice. This is a tendering port. They call tender numbers for about the first two hours of the morning. If you are not in a hurry to get off, after a while they announce that tender tickets are no longer required. I recommend finding a shore excursion that interests you so you will have something to do.
Costa Maya: We kept referring to this as Disneyland for cruise passengers. The ship docks here and after you walk down the pier you are in a purpose-built area for cruise passengers. The area has two pools, beach chairs and umbrellas, stores and markets, an Internet café, and some restaurants. We did left this area to go by taxi into the town of Majuhaul for $3 per person one way. But forget it -- it is a one-street town with very aggressive people trying to get you into their shops and a small beach area with bars. Next time I would just stay near the ship. There seemed to be some biting flies or fleas around, so some bug spray might be a good idea too.
The days at sea at the end are relaxing. We had great weather on the first day at sea and could lie in the sun and walk around the deck. The last day was windy and overcast as we approached the U.S.
The ship offers some craft sessions, bingo, and cooking demonstrations. The wine-tasting was well done and informative. It costs $9.95 but if you are a past passenger you will find a coupon for it in your booklet. The onboard Internet café is 50 cents a minute! It is not compatible with AOL, so if you are on AOL, make sure to have an alternate email you can use. The Internet café in Cozumel was $3 for 15 minutes and in Costa Maya is was a better price too. Also, in Costa Maya at the Internet café they had phone service to call the U.S. for $1.50 per minute. Since this is the last port before two days at sea, it is a good time to call home.
A word about tipping: Royal Caribbean does not add this to your bill automatically like Carnival and Princess. They offer you the chance to charge tips to your bill and receive vouchers to hand out. The problem is when you start eating in two different areas. The tips are not pooled like on the other lines, so if you tip in the dining room, the waiters in the buffet don't get tipped. When I went to the desk to ask if I could buy a voucher for the cabin steward, since I wanted to tip all the different waiters that served us directly in the dining room and in the Windjammer, I was told that you could not separate out the cabin steward for a single voucher -- so I just ended up tipping everyone in cash. The tipping system seems like such a mess to me and I am sure some service people are loosing money.
Here is my list of things to be sure to bring on your cruise to make it more enjoyable: binoculars, walkie-talkies, CD player with speakers and CDs, extra batteries, extension cord and chargers for anything that needs them, and a pillow from home. I also brought a small fleece blankets that fits a twin bed. I read in a review that the blankets were scratchy and I loved having the fleece blanket on top of my bed to lie on. It turned out that the blanket they use in between the sheets is scratchy; we asked the steward to replace it with a velux one and he did, but I was still glad to have my own pillow and blanket. We left the blankets on board and gave them to the cabin steward. Also, bring a travel clock, an air freshener for the bathroom, a water bottle to fill up with iced tea or water from the buffet, and a night light or flashlight for seeing in the room at night to find the bathroom.
As for clothes, be prepared for any kind of weather. Have a jacket or rain poncho or umbrella for rain, a sweater for cool air conditioning and windy weather, sunglasses and a hat for sun, gym shoes or closed-toe shoes for walking or shore excursions, and water shoes for the beaches or snorkeling tours. (You can buy them at Wal-Mart for a lot less than on the ship or in port.) Be sure to have a bag to carry everything you need into port.
If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email. C2Cmarci@yahoo.com
This was our second cruise ever for my husband and myself (55 and 54), both cruises taken this year. We chose Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas because it was leaving out of Baltimore, 30 minutes from our home, and we did not have waste time and money flying to Florida. Our destination was Grand Bahama Island, Florida Keys, Cocoa Cay, and Port Canaveral Florida. (Our first cruise was last April on the brand new Caribbean Princess to Jamaica, Grand Caymans, Princess Cay, and Cozumel, Mexico).
We knew it was hurricane season, but didn't let that worry us. Well, guess what happened?
STATEROOM: We had booked an inside room but were delighted to be upgraded to a larger outside room with picture window. (On the Princess we had splurged for a balcony room, so we cut back this time). There was adequate storage, but we could have used a few more hangers. Bathroom small, but adequate. Flushes were not as noisy as on Caribbean Princess! Lots of medicine cabinet space. In the main area there was a dressing table/desk with large mirror and mirrored -door shelving up both sides, good storage, drawers.. Queenbed with nightstands on either side. Very soft sheets, comfortable mattress, but scratchy blanket! No bedspread at all -- I guess because of summer. Our room attendant left us cute animals made from twisted towels, which was fun.
SERVICES: There is no self-laundry or ironing like on the Caribbean Princess., but the rates for getting shirts, suits, pants done are reasonable. I suggest bringing travel steamer for wrinkles. Internet is 50 cents/minute, which adds up quickly. It is hard to get on and off for less than $3.00. Usually $5-6 if you write anything. On the Caribbean Princess it was 35 cents/minute.
SHIP: First of all, the ship is very nice. The Centrum area is lovely with many curved marble steps with silver and gold lighted railings and appointments. It is an impressive 8 decks high with visible glass elevators moving up and down full height.
The casino is very large, I believe larger than on the Caribbean Princess -- and I loved the entrance floor which looked like buried treasure under glass with coins, jewels, strings of pearls, crowns, and even a skeleton! Hubby lost $40 and I won $50, so we came out ahead!
Public areas are very nice, roomy, with nice comfortable furniture in wonderful fabrics. The South Pacific room is where they had most of the dancing and it was very impressive, very large, with great sofas and chairs on different tiers, tables, beautifully decorated and comfortable. We enjoyed the Duxbury Cadillac band there, usually 50s-70s music, and they were excellent. They did country music one night too.
FOOD: The Windjammer buffet is good, with most everything you could ask for, and out-of-this-world desserts -- but they weren't always open -- when they were closed you could get pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, and fries from the grill in the Solarium (aft). The coffee and tea was pretty good (Seattle's Best coffee) everywhere.
The Great Gatsby dining room covered two open decks and was lovely. The food was excellent, with many choices. If you didn't like what they listed, ask for something else! Want two lobsters? Ask for it and you get it. Want one steak and one lobster, as you wish! Two entrees? Three appetizers? So be it! Our waiter was from Slovakia. He was maybe 25-33 and a little crazy....in a fun way. We joked with him a lot. His name was Tomas (pronounced Tow-Mass). He aimed to please and worked hard for his tips. The waiters sang and danced on certain nights, and it was fun. We had a GREAT bunch of people at our table and laughed a lot.
ENTERTAINMENT: The Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers put on a fantastic musical show. Two of the girl singers were OUTSTANDING. One show was 50's music, one 40s Swing, and one called The Beat Goes On -- 50s - 80s? They had a comedian we did not see, and a juggler we did not see. Lance Ringold (sp), two-time gold medal Olympic gymnast was there on Friday, and did a show featuring films of him in his heyday, then came out dressed as an old man with a walker, then proceeded to show us he still had the goods. He also surprised us by playing piano and singing and by doing an arial hanging silks routine, ala Cirque de Soleil.
PORTS OF CALL: Our first stop was Grand Bahama Island. We took the party boat/shopping trip to Port Lucaya. The boat was fun, music, dancing, complementary Bahama Mamma alcohol or lemonade beverages. The shopping excursion was bad -- nothing I was interested in. Overpriced junk or high-faluting expensive stuff. A bus "tour" brought us back -- "On the left is our oil refinery, here is our used car lot, here is our Winn Dixie...." Bleak. bleak. Bleak. Another tour might have been better. Our next stop was Key West... this was great. I wish we spent two days in Key West...but as we got there, we heard they were beginning to evacuate for Hurricane Charley. Key West is beautiful with LOTS to do. We took a Catamaran Sail and Snorkel and it was very nice. We walked the streets and loved seeing all the culture and shops and quaint scenes. Not enough time. I bought lots of lotions and bath products at Key West Aloe, GOOD STUFF!
Our next stop was Cocoa Cay, Royal Caribbean's private island. It was nice, I was disappointed. The water was not clear, too many people? The snorkeling was hazy, not pristine like we had before. There were lots of fish if you went out where directed, and a sunken plane, and a sunken boat, but the waves were high and we were warned of being pulled out, so we didn't go out far. Our kayak trip was canceled due to high seas expected. The beach barbecue was nice to have, but nothing special taste-wise.
Our next stop was to be Port Canaveral, Fla, but the hurricane was headed right that way, so we went out to sea instead. Charley hit Florida hard...we spent one day at sea avoiding it and then started up the coast toward Baltimore. Charley started getting closer, so the captain turned us around south-east to let him pass, and then we followed him up the Chesapeake Bay to home. We did not hit bad weather, we did not have any seas higher then 4-8 feet....Captain Sven kept us out of harm's way. Sorry to miss Sea World in Florida, but it was closed anyway! We had fun watching Shrek 2 movie, having dinner with new friends, and enjoying dancing and music on the ship. They also played some audience participation game shows in the South Pacific Room (Quest, Newlywed game)...BEWARE! If you are shy or private, DO NOT VOLUNTEER. These were quite racy with very personal and intrusive qestions! However, one funny point..in the game QUEST, the audience divided into teams for a scavenger hunt. One quest was for each group to send up a man with bright lipstick on..each group would send a volunteer and wave their group number for a point. The next asked for baldheaded men, and each group sent a representative for a point. Then the emcee kept one bald man and seated him, and asked for a lady with bright lipstick to come from each group to kiss his head. So 20 women run up, leave their smack on his head for a point. The Emcee asked the man, how did you like that? The man replied, ONE MORE TIME! So the emcee said, okay, all those men in lipstick, come on down! It was hilarious to see the look on the bald man's face as all those lipsticked men ran up to get their points. The bald mans wife was hysterically laughing next to us. But as I warned, that was the MILD part of the show.
All in all, we had a fun cruise. The ship is lovely. The staff was great and aimed to please. Key West is a great town. Grand Bahama Island I could have done without, but perhaps choosing a different shore excursion would change my mind. Cocoa Cay was too crowded and the swimming area was so small, I wondered about sanitation with that many people sharing the water in close proximity- if you know what I mean. We enjoyed the dancing on the ship and got some nice pictures on formal nights all duded up in gowns and tuxes. We even found a quiet little place high over the Centrum where the band music from down below wafted up so we could dance privately...hubby gets nervous dancing in front of people.
Royal Caribbean is a very nice line on which to sail, and the Grandeur of the Seas is a lovely ship with great staff and a captain who puts safety first and a crew who aims to please and pamper.
Questions? Suegee1@comcast.net NO SPAMMERS!
Well let me start by saying that I have been on 6 other cruises Carnival Celebrity ncl & Rcl lines.
Embarking was the fastest I've seen! We got a Limo at the airport although the 1 we booked wasn't there! We got 1 for $40 for 4 people booze included its cheaper that the bus thing! We waited for 5 min online & boarded in another 10.
Public rooms : The ship was in Great shape! I was worried because I read some very bad reviews Besides the SS Norway It was the nicest ship I've been on! Pool & solarium was great! chairs plentiful by the pool sometimes we stood for 5 min by the solarium. but didn't have a problem! The Dining rooms were very nice even though we were seated by the door.The theater was very nice & spacious! the seats very comfortable! The village people were there even though we missed them. Also the bars Decor were Elegant & the Disco the nicest I've seen on a ship!ALSO there were no bad odors coming from the ship that I read about.
CABINS: Another thing I was worriedabout as the Sq. feet listed was the smallest I've seen BUT the way it was arranged was the best I've seen! we were very comfortable there our cabin was close to the Champagne bar which was a great location also I had a soda pass all I had to do was walk like 15 feet to the bar for sodas in the room. I recommend the soda pass & getting a cabin next to the bar! I didn't think about this when I booked my cruise but I lucked into it!
The only shore excursion I did was the Fiesta party boat in Cox Mexico! It was FANTASTIC! I will do it 2-3 more times as I am a cruise addict & will be there again I am sure!
Dining was excellent! Again I heard so-so reviews about this & I was wondering what the hell they were talking about! The only ship line that I was on that was better was Celebrity & It was a close 2nd. The shrimp in the cocktails were small my only complaint! I had escargot on special order almost every night & My wife & I asked our waiter to see the following night menu every night If we didn't see anything that grabbed us we would just order something special that wasn't on the menu! They always accommodated us!
The entertainment was good although we were too pooped to go to alot of shows!
The value for price was excellent!!!! I cannot stress this enough!! I booked online as I receive their E-mail specials weekly. I got a lg inside for 2 for $500.00 per person & booked my own air!
$500 was allot cheaper than any other cruise I've been on & the cruise was 9 nights instead of 7! As we were repositioning to Baltimore I live in NYC & I know that it is safer to book through the cruise line but what I did was find out what airline flight the ship would have booked me on & booked it myself! Knowing that if the flight was late the ship would wait for the other passengers while on the way home I noticed allot of them. I would recommend booking through a online agency as I found that the prices are alot cheaper as these agencies buy cabins in blocks of 100 or so at a much lower rate & sell them at a profit RCL wanted $900 for the same cruise & cabin.
I would & I am going to go on this ship again I was so pleased with everything this was my favorite ship even though the SS Norway was a little nicer the service was better on this ship the pools Bigger The soda pass is unique. In a 1-6 rating scale 1 the worst & 6 excellent.
I would have rated the Norway as a 5 The Carnival Destiny as a 4 the Ncl sun a 4 the celebrity Zenith a 3 just to name a few for all you cruise addicts out there who might have been on other ships.Now RCL is my favorite cruise line!
If anyone needs help feel free to contact me as we cruise lovers must stick together
We just returned from our 7-day cruise aboard RCI's Grandeur of the Seas. As this was our first cruise, we have no basis for comparison, but since our trip was such a delight, I feel that we would definitely choose RCI again. My husband and I could be happy on Grandeur of the Seas again, but our 8 year old son prefers the larger ships (skating rinks, basketball courts, etc.).
Our party included my husband and I, our 8 year old son, and my husband's mother. We were in cabin 8558, a balcony suite, and I would absolutely recommend that for any size party of 4 or fewer. Having the sliding door and the private balcony just made the trip that much better. Mother-in-law likes to smoke quite a bit more than we do, and for her to do so would have meant multiple trips to the deck or a smoking bar. The convenience was just part of the pleasure - sleeping with the breeze and the ocean sounds was pure bliss!
Food - the Great Gatsby Dining Room was very good, our table mates were enjoyable (there was even aten-year old boy who became fast friends with ours), Damaciano was so attentive and knew our likes and dislikes immediately, making each and every one of us feel special and pampered. The Windjammer had pluses too, especially after a full day of shore excursions, when you were too tired to "dress" for dinner. The food there was ample, if not excellent, but certainly fine for buffet style dining. We tried room service once, just for coffee and juice, but found it very slow. We found out later that you need to order it the night before, but after that I just went to Windjammer each morning, bringing juice and coffee back to the room to get us jump-started before venturing out.
Entertainment - Absolutely wonderful! Comedian Ralph Harris was great - one solid hour of side-splitting, can't catch your breath laughing! We all four enjoyed this, and it was suitable even for our little one (no profanity). The Platters appeared one evening, and that was memorable, but we didn't participate in the "Review" type shows, just because time didn't allow. Heard they were great, though. The usual contests, bingo, game shows, etc. were very enjoyable, as was black-jack. We found the dealers at the Casino Royale to be affable and helpful to everyone. Being able to play in short spurts was profitable to us, as well as fun.
Shore Excursions - We were pleased with most of our excursions, especially Snuba in Cozumel (my husband's most favorite - he would recommend that to anyone who is a veteran snorkeler, but who has not been certified to scuba yet). Stingray City, the one we most wanted to do, was canceled in Grand Cayman due to high waves, so we're very disappointed, but realize it was unavoidable, and don't hold anyone to blame. The one excursion that I would recommend you NOT take is the Jungle Beach Break in Costa Maya. It's quite a ride out there, the beach is just so-so, the drinks (included in the price) were watered down, and basically it was more for adults. There was a beach right there at the pier, along with a swimming pool, restaurants, and shops, so in the future, we would just stay right there, coming and going to the ship as we pleased. However, our dinner-mates took the jungle tour there and were quite pleased with that.
Shopping - We were not prepared for the shopping. Thankfully they review the day before each port what you should look for and where to go. There was a watch seminar on board, which my husband took, that was very informative, and indeed gave him the knowledge to buy a watch in Grand Cayman at a substantial saving. Michael, our shopping guide was very helpful, and I would advise anyone with this in mind to do their homework before leaving, know what they want to shop for, and then listen to Michael or whatever guide they have, before setting out for the merchandise. We will be better prepared next time.
Children's activities - We were pleased with the Ocean Adventure program for our son. I felt very safe leaving him there (believe me that was a big step for me!) He made several friends, and he was never bored. The rock climbing wall was also a favorite attraction for him.
Getting on and off the ship was a breeze. I can't say enough about Grandeur. It was a vacation that I'll never forget. I highly recommend it, and I would say that New Orleans is a great place to start your vacation. We stayed for two days there prior to cruising, and while it's not much of a destination for the kids (we did take a swamp tour, and Nick got to hold an alligator), it's a wonderland for adults who love the fine restaurants and historic sights. We stayed at Loewe's Hotel, and give that a five star rating.
As they say in the commercials "Get out there!" We say do it on Royal Caribbean International. It was great!
We cruised on Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas on a repositioning itinerary, Boston to San Juan, 10/31/03. It appealed to us because it sailed from our hometown. There were 4 of us: my wife, our almost 2-year-old daughter, her grandmother, and me. My main reason for writing is to provide a heads-up to others with very young children: Royal Caribbean isn't for you.
I've had bad luck relying on travel agents, so I tend to research our vacations myself pretty thoroughly in advance. Before booking this trip, I looked up RCCL's website, other cruise websites & reviews, brochures, etc. to get as much info as I could. I noticed that there was a rule that the indoor pool/solarium was adults only, and that the organized Club Ocean programs were for kids 3 & up toilet trained, but couldn't find any other rules regarding diaper-aged kids, so I contacted RCCL directly. I asked if our daughter could at least use the outdoor pool, and use the playroom if supervised by us, and was told yes for both questions. Once on board, we encountered many large, boldly printed signs with stern rules clearlystating that children in diapers or pull ups were not permitted in any pool or playroom under any circumstances, period, even with swim diapers and parental supervision. Ouch. The Club Ocean supervisor simply handed us a bag with a couple of plastic toys in it to use in our cabin, as if this would solve everything for 8 days of sailing.
I'm not criticizing the rule. They can make any rule they wish and I respect that (although we've been to many resorts, health clubs and even public pools that don't have such a restriction. I don't know about other cruise lines). But it was frustrating that while they had no trouble stating this policy very clearly once on board, it is not written anywhere in any company literature available before booking/boarding. Further, their own people seemed to be unaware of this rule when I contacted them. Bottom line: If you have diaper-aged kids, find another vacation. I don't think RCCL wants or deserves your business.
Other comments about the cruise: Food: Fair to good banquet quality food. I was surprised that dinner offerings in the Windjammer buffet were about the same quality as in the main dining room. Service in both the dining room and the Windjammer at dinner (which we found easier with a 2 year old) were both outstanding. They treated our daughter like she was their own. At least the staff actually seems to like kids.
Cabin: Excellent. We had a 2 bedroom family suite Aft, which had a large living room with a glass wall overlooking a huge balcony facing the rear. Highly recommended. Since our daughter had limited recreation options on the ship, we used the balcony a lot and improvised water games with a beach pail and squirt bottle. (Of course, we could do that at home for free!) The cabin, and the ship in general, were in good condition. Itinerary: Boston/Bermuda/Antigua/St. Maarten/San Juan. A nice itinerary if you like lots of at-sea days, which we do. I found the port days rather stressful. In St. Maarten, for example, we shared the pier with RCCL's megaship Adventure of the Seas, plus the nearly as large Brilliance of the Seas, and another smaller ship, the Pacific. All together, this meant that about 7,500 passengers were descending on the Island at one time, total chaos. Just try to get a cab any place. by the way, Bermuda is in remarkably good condition considering they had a major Hurricane only about 5 weeks earlier.
Finally a minor gripe.I know that Main dining room seating isn't necessarily based on cabin price, but c'mon. We had the 2nd most expensive type of accommodation on board, and we were relegated to a dining room table in a dark, low ceiling area in a far corner of the room, next to a noisy busboy station. Couldn't they save those tables for folks paying bargain basement fares for inside cabins? I felt like we were being punished for something.perhaps for bringing a 2 year old on board, Royal Caribbean?
We sailed the Grandeur of the Seas, August 23, 2003, leaving from Harwich England.
We bought air through RCI which included transfers. They were waiting for passengers at the airport, downstairs from the customs area at Gatwick. They will ask to take your luggage and you won't see it again for hours. If you need something earlier keep it with you. The bus ride to the port at Harwich is 2 1.2 hours. Our bus had broken a/c so it was a very uncomfortable ride. Check in at the port went quickly and we were able to get into our cabin at 12:00 p.m. which is when we arrived.
Sunday was a sea day as we sailed to Oslo. The North Sea had 8-13 foot swells so it was a bit rough. We enjoy this though!! There is a lot of ship traffic in the North Sea and Baltic which is interesting. We had our Cruise Critic party at 11:45 which was a lot of fun meeting those we had been talking with for months!
Monday we arrived in Oslo to sunny skies and 65 degrees. We were off the shipat 7:10 a.m. We do all the ports independently. We didn't dock where we were supposed to by the fort, but instead at the ferry terminal. We walked into town and found tram #12 and took it to Vigeland Park & sculpture garden. It went to Frogner and stopped due to construction, but it was only a 5 minute walk to the park. The tickets for trams and buses are expensive, $4.30 per ticket, good for l hour. We ended up using it for 2 hours with no one checking. It was 8 a.m. and the park had few people in it. People on bikes riding to work and a few gardeners. It was so peaceful, a wonderful way to enjoy it before bus loads of people arrived! From the road directly in front of the park we caught bus #20 and rode it to Bus #30 line. The drivers will help you if you ask which stop to get off at. We then took bus #30 straight to the Fram museum. We used our original bus ticket for all 3 of these rides. It would be best to get an Oslo card which covers admissions and transport. We didn't since I couldn't find it that early. You can buy this ahead of time on-line and not worry about wasting time looking for it early in the morning. The Fram opens at 9 a.m. so it's important to go here first. The ships papers said it opened later, ignore this. At 9:30 we walked next door to the Kon Tiki museum. Both these museums are worth seeing. A 15 minute walk from here brings you to the Viking Ship museum which has 3 old Viking ships. This was the least impressive museum of the 3, although it has a huge parking lot so this is where the cruise ship tours come. We then walked to the Outdoor Norwegian Folk museum. This is only a 5-6 minute walk from the Viking museum. We enjoyed it a lot, although some houses were closed.
We then ferried across the bay to the main harbor and walked to the City Hall. City Halls are very important sights in these countries. We were able to see the wood carvings outside and the first floor, but the important 2nd floor was closed due to election day. We were told it had been open in the morning. From here it's a 10 minute walk to the National Museum where we saw "The Scream" and Munch's other paintings. This is a free museum but you must check your backpack in free lockers. We then walked down Karl Jhons Gate, not to attractive, but found a department store selling tourist items. I bought a troll that I loved! Get the paperwork to get the VAT back. They are very good returning it on the ship just before you sail as long as you have the paperwork. They give you the refund in US$'s.
We then went to the Cathedral, then to the Akershus Fortress where the Norwegian Resistance Museum is. It is a good museum, but the English is written in small letters and it's a dark museum, so is difficult to concentrate on. I liked the resistance museum in Copenhagen better. We had walked for 8 hours but had seem so much! This is a very expensive city. Cherries $9 lb., slice of chocolate cake $10, child's t-shirt $30, postcard, $1.25 for one, Ouch!! We sat at the back of this ship on deck 5 to watch our sail away, past beautiful small islands with summer homes on them, don't miss this!
Tues. Sea Day We slept a lot, catching up still and getting ready for the hectic schedule to come.
Wed. Stockholm Heavy rain in the a.m. but cleared at 10:30 am. 65 degrees
Beautiful islands sailing into Stockholm. We arrived at 9 a.m. so had time to enjoy the sail in. There is a Tourist Info Office right at the dock in a small red building. We bought the Stockholm card here. This is a good buy at 220 crown. Again, the admissions add up. We walked in the downpour to Slussen Ferry Dock for the ferry to Djurgarden where the Vasa museum is located. It is an easy, but 25 minute walk to the ferry. Get off the ship and walk along the water toward town. You could take the ships bus to town and if it's summer take a different ferry over, which wasn't running in late august, or take the bus from there. We were dropped of the ferry at Tivoli and walked 5 minutes to the Vasa. It opens at 10:00 a.m. and we arrived at 10 sharp! We spent 50 minutes at this museum which is excellent! We then walked to the Nordic Museum which is right across the street from the Vasa in a large brick building. We really enjoyed this museum, it's different from most with Christmas exhibit, shoes, china, clothing. Quite interesting. Next we walked a short way, 6-7 minutes to Skansen Outdoor museum. Again, this is excellent, but quite large. You can't possibly see everything here in a short time but it's worth seeing what you have time for. We did find the reindeer!! We spent 45 minutes here. From Skansen we took bus 47 (bus stop right in front of Skansen) to the City Hall at the city center. We asked driver to tell us when to get off. He did happily and pointed to us which way to walk! It's past the train station. You must go on a guided tour here and the next was at 2:00 p.m. It was 12:30 so we should have gone to Gamla Stan first. We had to walk back to Gamla Stan and onto the Royal Palace where we saw the changing of the guard. The guards talked softly to the tourists. I had never seen that done before! We went to the Armory to see the large coaches and wooden sleds. We then walked in Gamla Stan, shopping a bit in this delightful area of small streets. This is the Old Town of Stockholm. We walked back to the City Hall for the 2:00 tour. This is a ways, so had to really rush. We had a tour of the Nobel Prize Banquet hall and city hall council meeting room. It was a good tour, although a little long. Back to the Royal Palace for us and a tour of the Treasury with it's small but beautiful crowns and swords. Then we had a bit more time for Gamla Stan, and a walk back to the ship. My legs desperately needed a break after all the walking we did today!
Thursday Tallinn Sunny/rainy 62 degrees
We were very tired after yesterday, but still got off the ship a bit before 9:00 as soon as we could. We docked early here. I wanted a Tallinn card but there is no TI at this dock. Ask for directions to Terminal A where you can buy the card. We got the card that is good for museums, not the one with the tour included. One man we knew on the cruise could never find the meeting point for the tour and was told it's very hard to find. This city is easy to get lost in. To find Terminal A walk from the ship toward town and shortly upon leaving the gated area turn left. You're heading for the ferry terminal D. walk toward it, but when you can see Terminal A turn left towards it. It's not far. 10 minutes at most from the ship. Inside terminal A is a TI and money changing station. Buy and Sell at good, fair rates. They bought US$'s at $14Kroon and sold for $15 which was only a 3% markup. We only changed $20 USD and got 280 EEK. It was all we needed for the day! The 6 hour Tallinn card covered all museum entrances and buses. We never needed a bus. The card was 60 EEK or $4 US. We walked to town, a very easy walk, past Fat Margaret. They have excellent Matryosha nesting dolls at many shops here. Expect to pay around $55-60 USD for a nice stack of 5 though. We walked through the Old town up to Toompea, Tallinns fortified hill. The view is superb!! Postcard girls are everywhere. Buy postcards from them, they are so sweet. We met on from Georgia. She's trying to support herself and eventually follow her older sister to the US. Excellent sites here are kiek in de kok, with a photography exhibit, medieval cannons left over from the Livonian wars, and other interesting exhibits. St. Nicholas Church with WW II ruins behind it, Dome Church, Russian Orthodox Church, Holy Ghost Church with old outdoor clock, Estonian History Museum, Tallinn Town Museum, among others. At each site, they wrote down the # of our Tallinn card. There is still plenty of time to wander and shop. It's easy to get lost here, which we did a lot. The shop selling CD's of Estonia Music was gone, empty shop now. I asked a waiter at Old Hansa, a restaurant many enjoyed, where I could buy CD's. He told us of Black Market ones under the bridge between Old town and New town! Visit a pastry shop for the best cookies! .35 each, for a cake base, fruit filling, meringue and then covered in chocolate!!
We found the internet in Tallinn! A unique experience. We had asked at the TI in town center where it was. She gave us directions of which street to go to. We did, but couldn't find the internet. Asked at the spa, and hair salon on this street. They didn't know. Well, I finally found it, next door to the hair salon. It's a single door, looks like an old Russian apt. building. On the small sign if you look carefully it says internet. The shops right next to it don't even know it's there! Walk up 4 flights of steps in this old building, and down a long, old hallway with many doors. At the end of the hall is an excellent internet center with 5-6 computers. High speed. 30 minutes was $1.50!!! Great after the .50 a minute internet on the ship. It was an easy, relaxing walk back to the ship.
Friday St. Petersburg, Russia!! Partly cloudy 57 degrees
Again, we didn't want to do ship tours. We looked into and got information from Red October and Denrus. Both e-mailed us their itineraries and prices, which were quite high. It was still early and we couldn't find anyone to team up with. Then I saw posts about Palladium and heard many good things about them. You do need to get Russian Visas, but their prices were great for 2 people. $10 hour for guide and $12 hour for car and driver. We decided to go with them for part of the time. They gave us free visa support. We e-mailed our information and they faxed the necessary paperwork. We filled out the application and sent it along with Travel vouchers and a passport sized picture, I cut from a mat finish, photograph I had taken with $100 each and our passport to the Russian consulate in New York via Fed Ex. 2 weeks later we had our passports back with the Russian Visas inside. Follow the instructions and it's not bad at all. It was so exciting, now we could go tour on our own and have total freedom to do what we wanted!! Almost everyone I corresponded with said don't do it, it's to hard. Well, it wasn't hard, but easy the way we did it. We did have to plan ahead a lot though.
We had Palladium pick us up at the ship the first day. They need a gate pass to do this which is $25 a day. We were going to meet them at the port gate, which is very easy to do, but decided to have them get the pass for l day so they could return us to the ship at 11 p.m. that night. A wise choice. We met at 8:30 a.m. but we got off the ship as soon as we were allowed so we wouldn't be behind many people on ship tours going through the same custom lines. There are only 2 lines. We had NO problem with customs. They looked at our visa, stamped the white paper attached and sent us on our way. We waited outside the customs house for 30 minutes for our guide. It would be okay to meet at 8 a.m. if you want. Our driver and guide were excellent! Elena, our guide was so smart, had so many facts to tell us. She has been only married for l year and has traveled a lot outside of Russia. We think she was from a well to do family. The guides must have individual passes for each site you visit, and they must take a test every year to renew their guide passes. We could have not been happier with her services. I had some phrases for her to translate for us into Russian for the time we'd be on our own, and she happily did it. We started out with a city tour covering everything imaginable. We also went into several churches and saw services going on. Quite interesting. Each church was different from the last. We stopped at many sites and took pictures. It rained a bit. Then we drove out to Peterhof, stopping at Chelsma Church on the way. It's a pink and white striped church, looks like a candy cane! Small and quaint. We went inside during the service. In front of this church new drivers were taking "drivers ed" and learning how to do 3 point turns, etc. It was fun to see. We saw very old apt. buildings along the roads, and summer houses with their gardens. They also looked old to me. We saw Peter and Paul cathedral across from Peterhof, a large and beautiful church. We loved Peterhof and it's fountains! Don't miss this, a real highlight. We had plenty of time to walk the gardens and see many, many fountains, and the trick fountains the kids were enjoying. Yes, we got wet here!! There are bathrooms here but you must get the tp in the lobby area first. None in the stalls. Most people didn't realize it and were without! We had local currency and need it to pay for admissions and restroom facilities. After Peterhof we drove back to St. Petersburg where we had Palladium drop us off at the Hermitage. We had bought tickets ahead of time on the internet. This way you don't have to stand in line. It's also good to take pictures with. Elena took our e-mail confirmation and used her guide pass to walk us in that entrance, right to the ticket window without waiting and got our tickets. This was so nice of her, over and above service! She wished us well, gave us some tips on what to see, although I had the Lonely Planet book and had it all planned out. We were here at 1:30 p.m. There weren't many people here since it was lunch time. We checked our backpack. In this area there is also a money exchange desk. We changed more US$ into rubles. The exchange rate was very fair. We had started with $100 US$ amount we changed at our airport bank into rubles. We used the lonely planet map of the museum which I had highlighted all the rooms we wanted to see. It was easy to follow, we felt we saw all of the highlights with no problem, spending about 3 hours here. It wasn't hot, and when we needed to ask the Russian women in the room, guarding it, where stairs were etc. they were very helpful. We used hand signs to communicate! They even smiled! We left the museum and found a bench just outside in a small park by the building and sat and had a lunch I had brought from the ship. We were in St. Petersburg with no guide eating lunch at the Hermitage! It was a thrill! It's important to bring bottled water also. We walked to St. Isaacs next, found it easily, bought tickets, no line. Buy the tickets up the steps on side opposite the Bronze horseman statue. Don't stand in line with the Russians on the street. You must also buy a separate ticket for your camera if you want to take pictures. Do so. Excellent mosaics here but not as good as Church on Spilled Blood. We shopped at the street market across the street next. They were getting ready to close up, but I bargained well and got 2 sets of very nice Matryoshka nesting dolls, hand painted for $50. They started out asking for $50 USD each, but I got 2 sets for that price in the end. They'll bargain if you get more than l. I had wanted 3 so it helped in the bargaining, but ended up with two. They like USD, but the rate is same for rubles or $, no mark up for $. We asked them for directions to the Moya, yes they spoke English well! We walked here following the canal. We felt like we were walking in an older Paris, very simular. We felt very safe, just had to watch for traffic. We went to the Moya canal where the bridge crosses Nevsky Prospect. Here we joined others for a canal cruise. 1 hour for $7. They would wait until the boat was full before they'd leave. There is a small canal side cafe for drinks as you wait. We only waited about 20 minutes. It was a small boat, holding about 20 people at most. The guide was a Russian woman giving the tour live for over an hour of non stop talking. They thought she was quite funny also! We couldn't understand a word, but it didn't matter a bit. We cruised the small canals and the Neva. It was excellent. It was getting cool so they gave everyone a wool blanket, and when it started to rain just a bit, they handed out umbrellas! This was great fun. We had theater tickets later for a folkdance show at Nikolayevsky Palace at Truda Square, 4. This was an excellent show, the best folkdance show we've ever seen! The had many, many costume changes, dances and singing. Even a comedic guy in a costume after intermission, falling on people, including me in the audience! It was great fun. They show was 2 hours with a break for champagne, vodka, fruit, and desserts. Before the show though we went to the Astoria hotel and cleaned up. Then we walked through the city some before going to the Palace. We knew where it was since Palladium showed us the location earlier in the day. It was very close to the Neva river west of St. Isaccs. At 11 p.m. our driver from Palladium picked us up at the palace and drove us back to the ship. The streets were deserted so we were happy not to have to find our own taxi back.
Saturday St. Petersburg, cloudy, no rain, 57 degrees
Today we met a walking guide at the port gates. To get to the gate from the ship was simple and free. The taxis usually will charge $10 to go to the gate. They may ask for more, but $5-$10 is usual. If you want to go for free, simply get on the old port bus. The bus stopped right in front of the ship to the left of where all the tour buses line up for ship tours. There is a blue wooden building that is the bus stop. We waited about 10 minutes for the bus to arrive. As we were waiting 2 employees from the ship also came and waited with us. When we asked the purser on the ship where the bus stop would be, they said, no, no you don't want to use the bus, it's very old. We told them we didn't care if it was old, but they wouldn't answer our ?. Just must find it on your own, but it's very easy to spot. We hopped on the bus and 5 minutes later it was at the port gate. It was free. Customs at the ship was again easy, and the Russian customs official even laughed with me at my passport picture, which looks nothing like I do today! And who said they don't smile! You show your passport again at the gate. Keep the blue paper with your cabin # on it that the ship gives you the night before you arrive in Russia. We passed on through and met our walking guide, Olga Stepanova. I had found her on the internet, she is also recommended highly on the Fodders sight. She usually uses a car and driver, but that's not what we wanted. We wanted to tour by metro and bus. We had thought about doing this on our own, but we still had so much to see we decided before we left to use Olga to help us get around quicker. She's a fully licensed guide and I sent her a list of what we wanted to do ahead of time. She charged $10 an hour, a bargain. We walked from the port gate straight out to the street where we crossed the road and she flagged down a mini-bus. It's just a van that is used as a mini bus for people. I think it was #41, not sure though. The 2 people who worked on the ship ended up doing the same thing, but got the next bus. We took this mini-bus for .50 each to the center of the city, to the metro. Rides inside the city are .25. We took the metro to Kuznechnyy rynok indoor market. It's a fruit, vegetable, meat, dried fruits, flower market. We had great fun here. The dried fruit stall had 3 men working in it who were just delighted at us Americans being there. They sold us fruits and told us they were Saddam Hussein figs! They knew they were punching our buttons!! We had a fun time with them though. I got one dirty look from the artistic vegetable stall when I took a picture here, but very friendly cheese ladies. We tasted the nasty, soft cottage cheese stuff. Not good. Olga couldn't figure out why we wanted to go here, but she took us anyhow! She has her opinions, but will comply to what you want. Just insist kindly, she's a pushover! Next we took the metro to Alexander Nevsky Monastery and Tikhvin Cemetery. I guess I made a mistake here when I took pictures in the metro. Greg and Olga were buying tickets, a card for 3 rides and I snapped a couple of pictures. A metro guard rushed out of his office looking for me. Saw me, but didn't know it was I taking the pictures, and left. Then I asked Olga if pictures were ok. They don't like them, but I could if not caught! The metro used to be used as a bomb shelter so they're still protective. The metro is very deep. Olga was great, she didn't talk nonstop, and we got to talk to her about her life, not just about the sites we visited. She's been a guide for 15 years. We found bathrooms at a hotel, nice and clean, then hopped a mini bus again, this time to Peter and Paul Cathedral and Fortress. We drove down Nevsky Prospect with Olga pointing out more sights, which we would come back to later in the day, walking. We had a good visit inside the cathedral seeing the tombs of Peter the great and family, the cells, and the fortress. I got my picture taken in the lap of Peter the Great statue with the small head and big body! Olga really doesn't like this statue, but I told her tourists do! We took the mini bus to the Church on Spilled Blood with the most beautiful mosaics we've ever seen! A camera ticket is very important here. After finishing our day in St. Petersburg, walking and seeing so much, Olga got a taxi for us back to the ship. We didn't want to do the mini-bus back on our own since we would have to transfer to a 2nd bus and we don't know which corners to catch them at. The taxi was only $10 to the port gate, where we again, took the bus back to the ship. A port gate guard came up to us this time and asked if we were Americans. We said yes, and he said he had a $20 US bill and could we give him change for it. We both thought, rightfully so, that it was counterfeit and he wanted to pass it to us, getting real currency. We refused, telling him we were out of US currency, that we had used rubles, which was true. He kept trying, but finally realized we weren't going to give him any $. We were almost at the point of thinking we would have to comply though, so we could go on. When the woman checking our passports here to go back inside the port was looking at them, he came into the office, grabbed them from her hands and threw them back at us. Oh well, we were on our way. We were very, very happy with our time in Russia. I had a list of many smaller things to see here and using Olga really helped us out.
Sunday Helsinki 57 degrees, cloudy
No time for rest, still exhausted, we were off the ship at 7:30 am. Helsinki runs shuttles from the ship into the city for $4 one way per person. No one knows the public bus also goes from the same location, but around the corner for 1Euro each. Just ask the guide at the Helsinki tourist bus there by the ship where to get the bus. We were in the West Harbor and took bus #16. The Helsinki site said it would be bus 15A, but it was nowhere to be found so we stopped bus #16 and this was the correct one. It drops you off on the Esplanade. We later, at the ferry to Suomenlinna, bought all day transportation passes for $4.80 Euros each. This is a great deal since many bus rides are $2Euros each. This pass includes the ferry. It was Sunday and very quiet in Helsinki. We did our own city walking tour, seeing Senate Square and the Lutheran Cathedral, Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Cafe Kappeli, which was quiet, not crowded. It's a pretty, but very small city. We shopped in the Market at the Harbor, buying some wonderful items! Great market. We then took the ferry to Suomenlinna island and the fortress. Boy was this place dead on a Sunday morning. Most things don't open until later in the day. I felt bad for those on tour we met here. They paid $60 for the tour. We ferried back to the harbor and walked to the Swedish Theater where bus #24 is. Easy to find. We took this bus to the end of the line which goes to a wonderful wooden bridge you walk across to Seurasaari open air folk museum. This place is wonderful. Smaller than Skansen in Stockholm, but everything was open, and the setting is so pretty. It's on it's own island. Many families were here for the Sunday morning, feeding the squirrels. After seeing most of the houses we walked to the connecting island which was having an ancient Viking Festival. It wasn't to good. We then went back to the bus stop. Walking over the wooden bridge, some cars drove by carrying people dressed as the wedding party for a wedding to be held in the church at the open air museum. We took bus #24 back to town, passing the Sibelius Monument. We saw it from the bus, deciding not to get off since time was running out and we wanted to still go to Temppeliaukio Church. The church in the rock. We got off the bus and walked to the Railroad station to take a picture of this fantastic building, then walked to the church. We got lost, so again asked for directions from a local who walked us part of the way there. This church has very limited hours on Sundays, so we were very happy to get inside. It's a wonderful sight. We walked back to the Esplanade to catch bus #16 back to the port, and arrived at 2:20. All aboard was at 2:30 so we just made it!
Monday p.m. Copenhagen 60 degrees, sun/clouds/rain
It was a sea day for much of the day, arriving at Copenhagen at 7 p.m. We rested, sure did need it. We wanted to walk to Tivoli. It was raining though so we wisely hopped on the public bus #26 which was at the pier. It would be a long walk for the evening so it was a good decision taking the public bus. We would have missed the entertainment at Tivoli if we would have walked there. You need to get passes to get off the ship so everyone doesn't get off at once. They let a lot of the independent people off at the same time they called the first bus groups. We loved Tivoli! We got a schedule of events as we walked in the main gate at the office to the left of the gate. Magic show, bands, pantomime, acrobats, rides, food, a great place. It's all lit up when the sun goes down. Great fun. We took the public bus back to the ship that evening.
We wanted to walk the city this day so left the ship at 7:30 and walked to the Little Mermaid statue. No one else was there so we got good pictures! We walked onto Nyhavn which we weren't to impressed by. It was early still, I'm noticed it was much more lively around lunch time. It's just a small area. We didn't buy the Copenhagen card here, didn't think it was a good value for what we had planned. The large fountain was disassembled, being redone. We walked to the Old Market, New Market area. Old market was a disappointment, not much here. Stroget was excellent though. Ecco shoe store with $60 shoes!!! I bought 2 pairs. We walked by the stork fountain, the old phone booth and much more, taking pictures. Stopped by the railroad station, then walked to City Hall. They were having a special handwork, art show which we walked through before it opened! Saw the famous clock through the shear curtains, then walked to Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteket museum which opened at 10 a.m. We arrived at 10, it was excellent and not crowded, had a wonderful Gaugin collection along with a lot of sculptor. Next we walked to the National Museum, again excellent. Don't miss the prehistoric section on the ground floor. The entrance is by the lockers, it's the best part of the museum and a bit difficult to find. It has bog people, rue stones and so much more. Walked down the Stroget again, stopping for a Carlsberg Beer rest! We then walked to the Rosenburg Castle. This looks to be far away on the map, but it isn't. Just ask for directions. We toured the castle and the crown jewels, in another area here. There is a nice, big lawn here you can relax on. The 3rd floor of the castle is the highlight, after the crown jewels. From here we walked to a church with frescos, could have skipped this, then onto the Resistance Museum by the fort. This is in a dark wood building, hard to spot at first. We enjoyed this museum much more than the one in Oslo. They won't take credit cards here without a European pin # so don't run out of currency. We used our last to buy tickets here. We walked back to the ship and got our VAT back at the shops across from the ship.
We met Captain Zini's Mother and Father in law on our Deck 8. They were wonderful people, his mother in law was so much fun talking to!!
This was a wonderful trip. So very much to see. We used Rick Steves Scandinavia book and Lonely Planet book also for planning. The best maps are in Lonely Planet. It took a lot of planning, but it was so worthwhile when everything just fell into place! I wouldn't do anything different, but we did come home exhausted.
We spent 3 days in London after the cruise. We saw Mama Mia, and Chicago and did a London walks Pub walk. We went to Brighton for a fun day, also with London walks, and went to Greenwich which is an easy trip and very worthwhile.
Hopefully this review will help some of you plan your ports independently!
Greg and Lorrie