TRANSATLANTIC : NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA to HARWICH, ENGLAND BALTIC COUNTRIES: RUSSIA, FINLAND, ESTONIA, SWEDEN, DENMARK, & NORWAY BACK-to-BACK May 3 - 19 & May 19 - 31, 2003
When a doctor prescribes fresh air and rest --- go cruising. This 28 day back-to-back cruise was all relaxation and new and fascinating ports. These were our third and fourth cruises on the Grandeur of the Seas, which makes 14 RCI cruises. We've experienced the health benefits of one or two week cruises before; however, we found four weeks' health benefits to be increased exponentially! That's it. . . . do what the doctor orders!
Since we've written and published on the Grandeur before, concerning her common areas and art work, this review will concentrate on service, food, recreation and primarily the many new ports (for us) during the 28 days.
EMBARKATION We flew into New Orleans May 2nd and stayed overnight at the Hilton Riverside on the Mississippi River. New Orleans was in full bloom with the scent of magnolias every where. This charming city needs no introduction, since her fame is epic. From our hotel window, we saw the Grandeur sail in at4:30 am, all ablaze in lights, she is really glorious. After a five minute cab ride to the pier, we waited with other Crown & Anchor members for priority boarding. The computers were down for a short period, after that glitch, boarding was quick and easy. Our friend, Hotel Director Tony O'Prey (New Zealand), was on the dock and we knew we were headed for a great cruise.
Departure was delayed to accommodate late flights.
THE SHIP Captain Michael Lachtaridis (Greece) has reason to be proud of his gorgeous ship, which is 916 ft. long, with a 106 ft. beam, a 25 ft. draft and has a gross tonnage of 74,000. She carries 2446 passengers and a crew of 760; however, on the first leg of the cruise, there were 1,600 passengers; 850, or more than half of them, were repeaters and 200 were either Platinum or Diamond members of Crown & Anchor Society. Actually the Grandeur is perfect in size -- stable in the water and easy to circulate. Thanks to Mr. O'Prey, her condition is excellent, from the Viking Crown Lounge (Deck 11 with its life size Viking Armored Warriors) to the elegant Great Gatsby Dining Room, South Pacific Lounge, Casino Royale, Palladium Theater and her five deck tall Centrum with balconies. The crystal canopied Solarium is where Vincent spent his early mornings in the hot tubs. Great for a healthy rest!
Captain Michael soon became a favorite of the passengers through his daily announcements at noon. The messages were repeated by the smiling passengers who enjoyed his humor (i.e. "Well, I must congratulate my navigators, because after four days at sea, they have found Bermuda. It's not easy you know, because it is a small island in a vast ocean")! We had smooth sailing all the way, with many days of flat seas and felt safe in the hands of our capable Captain, even when the ship was surrounded by thick fog. His humor is refreshing, but his "steering" (not driving) is legend.
Decks 2 & 3, and the forward half of 4 are all staterooms. The Gatsby Dining Room is aft of Decks 4 & 5.
Deck 5, forward is the main floor of the Palladium Theater; next is the Casino Royale and midship is the Purser and Explorations desks, while aft is the balcony of the Gatsby.
Deck 6, forward has the balcony of the Palladium (Watch out for columns, when choosing seats, since some block the view of the stage.). Midship are the Boutiques, Photo Gallery, and Elevators (Birdcage style). Toward aft is the Conference Center, Schooner Bar and the South Pacific Lounge.
Decks 7 & 8, are all suites and staterooms, except for beside the elevators where the Library, Card Room and Computer Center are located.
Decks 9, 10 & 11, are all Public Areas: Deck 9 forward has the Windjammer Cafe (buffet dining), midship is the main pool, solarium and toward aft the Ship Shape Spa. Deck 10 has the Youth Centers forward, the jogging track, and the upper level of the Spa. Deck 11 holds the beautiful multi-level Viking Lounge with a wonderful view of the sea.
FOOD & SERVICE The Hotel Director Tony O'Prey has a very well trained staff which insures excellent quality of food and service. In the Great Gatsby Dining Room, we had table 18A for two, with top notch service from our waiter Habib El Abed (Tunisia) and his assistants Helena Maslejova (Slovakia) and Decima or "Dee". The meals were nicely paced and everything the proper temperature, considering this station was the farthest from the galley. Maitre d' Yusuf Cavdar (Turkey) kept a close eye on everything, not only at the Captain's table (where we dined elegantly and deliciously with Captain Lachtaridis), but also at every table in the restaurant and in the Windjammer. Asst. Maitre d' Anna Frankowsa had a memory for details that made every meal pleasurable; she always went the extra mile.
The TransAtlantic crossing had menus aimed to the American passengers' taste, while the Baltic trip had new menus to accommodate the many British and European passengers. These menus had numerous offerings and variety including vegetarian dishes and calorie counting Ship Shape items: Appetizers: Escargot, Spring Rolls, Grilled Portabellos, San Padre Crab Cake, Festival of Fruits (with Lychee nuts) etc.... Soups: Roasted Sweet Potato Soup, Crab & Shrimp Bisque, Thai Lemon grass Soup, N.E. Clam Chowder, etc.... Salads: Caesar's, Boston Mimosa, Oak leaf and Escarole, Cobb Salad, Titanic Salad (a` propos) etc.... Entrees: Filet Mignon, Duck a L'Orange, Sesame crusted Salmon, Pasta and Shrimp, Broiled Lobster, Lamb Gremolada, etc.... Desserts: Baklava, Chocolate Profiteroles, Apple Pie, Berry tart (or any tart, pear, apricot, all were great), Caramel Custard, Swan Puffs, etc... etc... etc...
The food in the Windjammer was varied and fresh, but we prefer the dining room because trays are hard to handle for us. On board there is great ice cream and cookies (Macadamia nut, Oatmeal raisin, Pecan sandies, Chocolate chip, etc...), all fresh daily. We also lunched at the Solarium with Pizza, Hamburgers, Hot Dogs and French Fries.
Room Service is terrific on board, 24 hour, fast and fresh. We had full American Breakfast daily served in our stateroom --- what a way to start the day! RCI aims to please, and we feel that almost everything exceeded our expectations.
CABIN During the transatlantic crossing we had Stateroom #7108 with balcony, and excellent service from Cabin Attendant Colbert Bodden. He placed a Chaise Lounge on the balcony for Vincent, and he kept our cabin spotless and homey.
During the second stage of our trip, throughout the Baltic Sea, we were in wheelchair accessible Stateroom #3606, a large airy ocean view room with a huge bathroom/shower (8'X8') equipped with safety rails etc. This cabin was in beige and pastels with one picture of a lakeside garden on the wall. Simple, but nice. Roy Slate, our cabin steward, was exceptionally polite and took great care of us. Thank you, Roy!
ENTERTAINMENT The entertainment on board is in the capable hands of Cruise Director John Blair; he gives "110% effort." His show "A Tribute to Neil Diamond" should not be missed. Other headliners whom we enjoyed were as follows: John Christie in "The Best of R & R;" concert pianist Craig Dahn, a student of the great Liberace, in red sequined jacket and shoes, he played a Pagliacci air that was memorable; Italian tenor Renato Pagliari had a wonderful voice, but we wished he had sung more operatic arias than pop.
The RCI Singers and Dancers were exceptionally good in "Tapestries: A Tribute to Carol King." The murder mystery "Lethal Libations" was funny and engaging. Social Hostess, Katrina Blair (Mrs John Blair), was excellent and so was John. This couple goes all out to entertain the passengers and their efforts are appreciated. There are many other games like the usual bingo, contests, athletics, etc..., going on every day. There is something for everyone.
PORTS OF CALL Most of these ports were new to us and we enjoyed the lessons in geography and history. We flew into New Orleans from Miami on May 2nd. We don't like to fly in the same day as departure, if we can help it. We had supper at Mother's (Home of the "Poor Boy") and loved the ambiance of this great city --- Jazz and the French Quarter.
May 3, 2003: New Orleans, Louisiana. Departure was delayed to accommodate a late plane with cruise passengers. We sailed down the Mighty Mississippi River and all was lovely until we passed "Gnatville." Vincent innocently opened the balcony door and bugs swarmed into the cabin. We attempted swatting them for 10 minutes, but quickly realized we needed help. The Purser sent up an exterminator, but, even after playing cards for an hour in our pajamas in the Card Room down the corridor, we still could not return to sleep there. We slept in another stateroom, thanks to the Purser, but, most of all, we learned a lesson about "Ole Man River."
May 4, 5, & 6th: Days At Sea, we had a wonderful rest and sailed 1,727.8 Nautical miles to Bermuda.
May 7 & 8th: Overnight at King's Wharf Naval Boat Yard, Bermuda. Arrival: 4:00 pm (The QEII left early and we docked at 3:00 pm). Departure: 1:30 pm the next day. From King's Wharf most guests took the ferry to Hamilton to see the Harbor Fest. The Clock Tower and the stone masonry were interesting. Pink sand beaches and English gardens make this a beautiful island. Available Shore Excursions: Scenic Bermuda by Rail and Bike ($67), Glass Bottom Safari ($36), Eco Tour by Kayak ($53), Trolley Tour ($25).
The next four days were at Sea.
May 9, 2003: While sailing East there was a thick fog surrounding the ship all day. Visibility was only one quarter to one-half mile. Sail on!
May 10, 2003: the fog lifts. May 11, 2003 Happy Mother's Day. May 12, 2003, there are dolphins following the ship.
May 13, 2003: 1,948.8 nautical miles to Punta Delgada, Azores (Portugal). Arrival: 7:00 am. Departure: 2:00 pm. Tours available: Fire Lake & Ribiera Grande, 3.5 hrs ($37); Village of Sete Cidades & Wine Tasting, 3.75 hrs ($44); Sete Cidades & Crater Lake for 3.5 hrs ($37) is the tour we chose. We visited beautiful volcanic mountains and a crater lake. There were many "happy" cows, as the Tour Guide called them, and stunning flowers growing wild (calla lilies, ginger and hydrangeas, etc). The white buildings are trimmed with black lava rock. The side walks are mosaics made out of black and white rocks (a preview of Lisbon's side walks). The tourists were happy too, after sampling the local fruit "brandies" and wines.
May 14, 2003: At Sea and this was the first time we saw white caps on the Atlantic Ocean. There were dolphins again following the ship. It was 788.9 Nautical miles to Lisbon, or a total of 4,457 from New Orleans.
May 15, 2003: Lisbon Portugal. Arrival: 7:00 am. Departure: 12:00 noon. Available Excursions: Tour of the city 3.75 hrs ($46) was our choice, with an excellent overview of the city and historic information; a must see is the Monument of the Discoveries with Prince Henry the Navigator leading the column. Other tours included Hiking for 4 hrs ($79), Biking for 4 hrs ($89) and Jeep Safari for 4 hrs ($89).
May 16, 2003: At Sea.
May 17, 2003: Lisbon to Le Havre, France is 914.6 Nautical miles. Arrival: 8:30 am. Departure: 10:30 pm. This city is excellent as a starting point for tours throughout central France and Normandy. Available Tours: Taste of Paris: 10.5 hrs ($111). Be prepared for two long rides and a short time in Paris. Beaches of Normandy: 10 hrs ($154), historical site of W.W.II. Mont St. Michel: 10 hrs ($165). This Abbey was built on a rock by the sea and has a charming village with cobblestone streets etc.... Alabaster Coast, Entretat & Fecamp: 5 hrs ($64). Scenic Chalk Cliffs and the Home of the famous Benedictine Liquor invented by Monk Bernardo Vincellio in 1510. There are many other tours: Versailles, Chateaux & Gardens of Normandy, Honfleur (where Monet painted) etc.... We opted to stroll around Le Havre, playing native with two baguettes tucked under our arms! We enjoyed window shopping and seeing what the French are really wearing and buying this season (Lots of khaki and beige with lace, romantic and fluttery for women and sporty with zippers every where for men). Le Havre to Zeebrugge, Belgium is 195.1 Nautical miles.
May 18, 2003: Zeebrugge, Belgium. Arrival: 10:00 am. Departure: 7:00 pm. Available Tours: Brussels Sightseeing, 8 hrs ($130); Antwerp: 8.15 hrs ($130); Ghent & Belgian Chocolate: 4 hrs ($69). We chose to visit Brugge on the advice of several Belgian passengers we met on board. We had a wonderful day; we took the Blankenburg train into town (only 20 min. & handicapped go first class with special assistance in the train stations). We took a local tour from the town center, and ate in the Market Place Square in the De Beiaardier (The Bell ringer), where a young 21 year old Chef Kristof wowed us with grilled shrimp salad, filet mignon and Belgian waffles like we never had before! Then, of course, we shopped for Belgian lace and dolls.
May 19, 2003: Zeebrugge to Harwich, England 103.9 Nautical miles. New Orleans, to Harwich, 5,679.1 Nautical miles. Arrival at Harwich meant disembarkation for most passengers, but not for more than 70 passengers, which Captain Lachtaridis dubbed "Frequent Floaters." We sailed on to the Baltic Sea and the Nordic nations. Harwich "Sail Away" was marvelous with a troop of kilt clad bagpipers in the McCallister Tartan (red with thin blue and green lines). Their show lasted for over an hour dockside. More about Harwich on our return.
THE SECOND LEG OF OUR JOURNEY May 20 & 21, 2003: At Sea. The somewhat shallow Baltic (especially after the deep Atlantic Ocean) proved to be very calm and flat throughout this trip.
May 22 & 23, 2003: St. Petersburg, Russia (overnight). Arrival 3:00 pm. Departure 6:00 pm, the next day. Sunrise 5:32 am, Sunset 10:49 pm (c. 17 hr. day). This city on the Neva River was founded by Peter the Great "as a window to the West" in 1703, and was celebrating its 300th year anniversary, with a spruce up for a visitation by many world leaders which occurred the days we were there, with President Putin hosting formal receptions. The "White Nights" of Russia are amazing. This phenomenon we experienced throughout the trip with days lasting up to 18 hours! When traveling with the ship tours no visa is necessary, but if going off alone a visa is necessary. There was a band at the port to greet the ship and it set a wonderful musical background.
Available Tours: Pavlosk & Classical Concert, 3.5 hrs ($98); St. Petersburg Ballet, 3.5 hrs ($69); White Night River Cruise, 3 hrs ($69). We took the Hermitage Museum Tour 3.5 hrs ($56), but it was much too short for such an incredible place (5 linked buildings with more than 3 million exhibits). We got an overview at a rapid pace of numerous pieces of art collected at a rapid pace! Each display room had an elderly dour woman keeping an eye on the collections; but sadly, they did not speak any foreign languages, nor seem to be able to indicate directions or know details about the art work.
May 24, 2003: Helsinki, Finland. Arrival 7:00 am. Departure 6:00 pm. Sunrise 4:24 am, Sunset 10:10 pm (c. 18 hr. day). Helsinki is home to the Kvaerner Masa Shipyards (builders of many RCI ships including the Voyager Class ones and birth place of this ship, the Grandeur of the Seas). Helsinki's Senate Square has government buildings designed by C.L. Engell to resemble St. Petersburg. Among several available tours, we chose the City of Helsinki Tour, 3 hrs ($40). The most interesting sight was the Rock Church, carved out of a stone and with a copper tube ceiling which accounts for its wonderful acoustics. Annually it attracts over one million visitors to its religious services and concerts. While visiting we enjoyed the Bach Toccata & Fugue played by the church organist. It's quite impressive. We learned how to say "Good bye" in Finnish "Hey, Hey." But we wish we hadn't, because both the people and the area are beautiful.
May 25, 2003: Tallinn, Estonia. Arrival 7:00 am. Departure 6:00 pm. Sunrise 4:27 am. Sunset 10:17 pm (c. 18 hr. day). This former USSR country is now the best port for shopping. Norwegian wool sweaters ($20 and up) and Russian collectibles are in abundance. This has a fairy tale like old town section, but there are also vestiges of the USSR too, with the huge housing projects for Russian workers, who settled here during the Soviet domination. Tours: We took the Panoramic Tallinn by Coach, 3 hrs ($28). We saw many turreted castles, the "Tower of Fat Margaret" and a very modern downtown. The Manor Houses of Estonia Tour, 6 hrs ($84) and the Countryside Cycling & Old Town, 5 hrs ($67) are two other popular tours.
May 26, 2003: Stockholm, Sweden. Arrival 9:00 am. Departure 6:00 pm. Sunrise 3:54 am. Sunset 9:36 pm. (c. 18.5 hr.day). All along the way sailing into this capital city were many pairs of swans, lovely little islands and beautiful trees and countryside! Every passenger remarked on the beauty of this city and said it was the most beautiful among the ones visited on this cruise. Tours: We took the Stockholm and Vasa Museum Tour 3 hrs ($46). We had read (over 40 years ago in Life magazine) about this remarkable Flag ship Vasa of the Swedish Navy which sank on the first day of her maiden voyage --- August 10, 1628. The beautiful oak warship was raised 333 years later and restored to its full glory, marvelous wooden sculptures and all. No one should miss this, it far surpassed our imaginations. There were many other tours, but none of this unique character. Seen from port is a beautiful castle with a green copper roof, many tourists mistake it for the King's palace. In actuality, it is a home for the elderly and the Swedes are proud of the exceptional care they give to them. Rightly so!
May 27 & 28, 2003: Copenhagen, Denmark (overnight). Arrival 7:00 pm. Departure 6:00 pm the next day. Sunrise 4:08 am. Sunset 9:34 pm. (c. 17.5 hr. day). Copenhagen is the quaintest of all ports, with neat brick boutiques right at the port. Tours available: Tivoli Gardens by night ($18); Walking Tour 3 hrs ($36); Biking Tour 3 hrs ($57); City of Copenhagen 3 hrs ($39) was our choice of tour and it was nice. We saw the "Little Mermaid" in the bay (a tribute to Hans Christan Andersen) and the Amalienborg Palace (which is actually four "identical 18th century palaces").
May 29, 2003: Oslo, Norway. Arrival 9:00 am. Departure 6:00 pm. Sunrise 4:12 am. Sunset 10:09 (c. 18 hr. day). Sailing into the fjords was lovely, at times both sides of the ship had beautiful country side in view. This is the home of Sonja Henie, three time Olympic figure skating gold medalist and nine time World's champion. It is also where the first ski jump was constructed in 1892! Tours: We took the Oslo Highlights City Tour, 3 hrs ($40), which had a foggy start. We went to the Hollmenkollen Ski Tower which was used in the 1952 Olympics. The fog lifted and we just saw the top of the jump; looking up at it we had vertigo, we couldn't imagine skiing off it! This "Viking Capital" has an interesting Vigeland Park which contains a large number of granite and bronze statues by Gustav Vigeland. We plan to tour it on our next trip to Oslo. God willing. Hiking and the Nordmarka Forest, 4.5 hrs ($52) and Hadeland Glass Works & Viking, 5.5 hrs ($76) are other interesting tours.
May 30, 2003: Harwich, England and Debarkation which was easy. First to depart the ship are those with flights on the same day. Next, were those with connections to London like us. A 2.5 hour bus ride took us directly to our Hotel Royal Lancaster on Hyde Park. We had stayed there before and its a great location with wonderful service. We had Fish n' Chips at the nearby Archer's Pub, and it was so good that we returned on Sunday for a traditional British dinner of Roast Beef, spring vegetables, oven roasted potatoes and Yorkshire Pudding!
June 2nd we flew back to Miami, and our trip came to an end, but the memories are still bright. Now, that we have crossed off so many wonderful destinations, we have to add new ones to our future list of places to go and things to see: maybe, the South Pacific.
SUGGESTIONS 1. We have been truly blest with so many fellow cruisers helping with the wheelchair at times. We appreciated those who held the elevators for us, etc. We thank those in the restaurant who provided tables near the entrance. RCI provided cards to reserve the front seats on buses for disabled. However, there were still those few obnoxious people who elbow people out of the way and occupy front seats. Therefore, we suggest that front seats on the tour buses should be reserved for those people with mobility problems.
2. Another suggestion is in regard to the Italian dishes served on RCI ships. We have already suggested in other reviews that if the line wishes to offer Italian food, RCI should hire an Italian chef to train others in the "art" of Italian cooking and the use of proper ingredients. Again on this ship, with the exception of once or twice, the pasta dishes did not meet our expectations, mainly for the use of strange spices, not common in the Italian Cuisine. The food, otherwise, has been very good with flashes of excellence and with plenty of choice on the menu.
This has been a great cruise. We have already booked two other cruises on RCI ships, one in October on the Explorer and the other in December on the new Serenade. Happy Cruising!
This was our second cruise. Our first, in May 2001, was also with Royal Caribbean -- a 10-day trip from Athens to Barcelona. If you read my "Member Review" for that cruise on the CruiseMates web site, you'll learn that we weren't too impressed with the service. I'm happy to report that we found the March 2003 cruise on Grandeur of the Seas to have better service all around (an interesting observation, given that we paid a heck of a lot more money for the 2001 cruise than this one).
On the Grandeur, the crew seemed more attentive to the details. For example, our cabin seemed to be transformed every time we left it, with new towels, fresh ice, etc. We felt like our cabin steward was a magical elf, rarely seen except for the welcome results of his perfectly timed efforts. In the dining room, the waiter, assistant waiter and headwaiter learned our names the first night, and anticipated our preferences (beverages, desserts, etc.). Neither of these descriptions could apply to our 2001 cruise on the Legend.
The food was consistently excellent; the only disappointment was that the "medium well" steaks weordered for the children arrived quite rare. Bar service in the main dining room was very slow, both in finding find the pink-coated waiters, and finally receive your libation.
Our children (6 and 8) were delighted with Club Ocean, the children's program. They wanted to attend every available moment. The children's counselors appeared qualified and energetic, and we left the children in their sparkling-clean facility with confidence. The check-in/check-out procedure was a little cumbersome, often requiring the parents to stand in line. Our 8-year-old turned nine at the end of the trip, and he felt some of the activities in the 6-to-8 age group were too "baby-ish" for him, but he wanted to keep going back anyway.
Entertainment was also greatly superior to our experience on the Legend in 2001. We attended almost all of the shows, including the magician, comedians, and musicals, and found them to be pretty darn good. (On our previous cruise the comedian was so awful that we walked out.) The opening night show was especially entertaining, as it showcased several of the performers from throughout the week.
The Grandeur of the Seas herself was in good condition. The carpets were kept quite clean, the only exception being the spots below the door hinges in our cabin. We checked into a clean cabin, with no fingerprints, hairs in the cupboards, or previous passengers' shoes under the bed (all problems that we found in our previous cruise.) The bathroom mirror was a little aged, the lining was warped inside the bathroom cabinets, and our first set of drinking glasses included one with an obvious lipstick mark.
If you're a family of four considering squeezing into one normal cabin, I can assure you that it's not too bad. The drop-down bunks are pretty comfortable, and the cabin steward hides them again each morning. You can put skinny suitcases under the bed, and you can also ask your cabin steward to take your empty suitcases away for the week. There were 11 drawers in the cabin, only three of them large, and a full-length closet rail. Pack some of your garments on wire hangers to make better use of the closet for a party of four. Each of the four beds has its own reading light, allowing the parents to read after the kids go to sleep. We found that as long as everyone put their shoes in the closet, there was enough floor space for all of us to change for dinner without elbowing each other or embarking on a "He's in my way!" negotiation.
We were quite unhappy with the Key West arrival. The ship's itinerary said arrival would be at 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. (different info from different sources). But there were two problems with this. First, that is ship's time (New Orleans time) and not Key West local time, which is an hour later. Second, the INS required an inspection of every single person on board before anyone could depart, requiring an extra 90 minutes; this procedure has been occurring for about four months. Neither of these delays was mentioned in any pre-cruise information. I had booked a 2:30 sailboat right there at the marina, and had to watch from Deck 9 as it motored out of the marina without us. Either one of the problems would have caused us to miss the sailboat. Royal Caribbean should be more explicit about the disembarkation time in Key West. By the way, passengers started getting off at 4:00 p.m. Key West time.
A note about weekending in New Orleans before/after the cruise with young Children: We spent the night before in a nice little hotel in the French Quarter, and the night after in a Marriott Courtyard in the warehouse district only three blocks from the cruise ship pier. Staying in the French Quarter was too wild for young children -- very noisy drunkenness and music all night long, and women lifting their tops to earn beads. Instead I'd recommend the warehouse district - Embassy Suites, Marriott Courtyard, Residence Inn - which is literally walking distance from the cruise ship (given luggage on wheels). It's also walking distance to the excellent Aquarium, and a nice trolley car ride ($1.25) to the beautiful zoo. Take a bus, trolley or cab into the French Quarter to enjoy a horse-drawn carriage tour, beignets at Café Du Monde, and a game of tag in Jackson Square park.
Also a consideration when cruising with young children on spring break: It's spring break for the college kids, too, and they are in "party" moods on the ship and the ports. This didn't dampen our family's experience, but we were often aware that our activities sometimes overlapped when our agendas didn't.
We started our cruise in SanDiego, but due to regulations, needed to get on the ship in Mexico. Our trip took us thru the Panama Canal and ended in New Orleans. We found the people and the programs very good, but wouldn't cruise with Royal Caribbean again because of their lack of care when I was hurt.
Employees were fixing a door, so we had to go around, and I fell on a wet, unmarked ramp. When going to the medical station, I was given one temp. ice bag for my knee, back and elbow pain. We spent much of our 2nd week in the cabin with the leg elevated.
When we arrived home, I had surgery for a chipped bone, and a MRI, and Physical Therapy. When writing to the Cruise company, they refused to pay for the co-pay expenses, and offered me $200 off another cruise. Of course I refused because I will travel on another cruise line who will be more sympathic to injuries .
We are a couple in our 50's who have cruised 8 times, we took our 3 grown children & spouses & 6 small grandchildren- ages 5 mo - 7 years old, all first-timers. We have been on: RCI Nordic Empress, Vision, and Radiance, Grand & Dawn Princess, Carnival Celebration, and HAL Veendam. We sailed out of New Orleans, embarkation was a madhouse ( compounded by the lack of parking nearby). Once on board things were much smoother! The Grandeur is a lovely ship that needs some refurbishing here and there. It has a beautiful atrium area, and the artwork is most impressive. We were in 5 inside cabins, two of which were adjoining quads, which I would recommend highly to anyone travelling with small children. Cabin 7645 & 7647 were unfortunately directly above the South Pacific lounge and the thump-thump-thump of the rock band went on til about 1:00 am. However, the spaciousness of two cabins with up to 8 bunks, and the darkness for kid's naps overcame this problem.
The service we encountered was superior to just about all our previous cruises, especially the cabin steward--Anderson from Trinidad absolutely spoiled us inevery way. The wait staff in the dining room was excellent. Unfortunately, they apologized frequently about the food, which was pretty mediocre. We don't expect fabulous gourmet food on a cruise ship, but we also don't expect food overcooked, undercooked, or lukewarm when it should be hot. All previous cruises food way exceeded this one. The desserts, however, were excellent. RCI gives its passengers lots of options for recreation & entertainment, there was something going on 24/7. I managed to find several quiet hideaway spots- especially enjoyed the "Relaxation Room" which was part of the spa (but you could go anytime, you didn't have to book anything in connection with it) It was a room with a wall of glass overlooking the wake of the ship & a panoramic view of the sea, with soft music & aromatherapy piped in, big comfortable seats, and a wooden box full of quality tea bags, and an always full pot of piping hot water. This is where my day at sea usually started. Heaven!! There was plenty of partying, too. The crowd on this itinerary was more of a party crowd than on our previous cruises (except our Carnival one & it was also out of New Orleans) I guess the largely southern crowd had something to do with that- there were 200 Cajuns on board, they brought their own band! Our kids loved the Adventure Ocean program--it was open 9-12, 3-6, 7pm-10pm, then for $5.00 per hour your child could stay in a group babysitting called "late night". There were organized activites the whole time- we were impressed that the kids get their own daily program. There is no swimming program connected with AO, so you have to take them swimming in the main outdoor pool, but this has a large area of shallow water fenced off from the deep end--great for toddlers. One more very negative thing: there was a pervasive odor of sewage in the Centrum area several times during our cruise, and we found out that there is a flaw in the ventilation system. It very much detracted from the overall ambiance of this beautiful area. We had a great time & would go back tomorrow if the opportunity presented itself, but it would not be our first choice for our favorite.
I'd first like to say to anyone reading this review that you're welcome to send me e-mail, asking about further details of anything I comment about.
Second, for the negative comments (and I've got plenty of 'em!), keep in mind that I'm a fairly positive, easy-going person, always willing to give someone or something the benefit of the doubt....so for me to ding something, it must've really made a bad impression.
Some more background info - This review is for the trip we took on 10/19/02, sailing from New Orleans, on the Grandeur of the Seas. This was our first cruise; my wife and I are in our early 30's.
There's a quick summary at the very end, if you want to skip the details.
So here we go...
THE GOOD - For the most part, the ports of call. Grand Cayman and Cozumel (beach areas) are beautiful. Progreso itself was fairly unimpressive (not counting its huge port area, of course), but this is really just a stopping point to get to all the Mayan ruins that are in the area anyhow, so you're not really there just to visit Progreso.
Progreso was still recoveringfrom the recent hurricanes (Lili, Isidore), but the tour buses (which were very nice, and air-conditioned) are right there to wisk you to your tour, and we didn't have any problems getting to our destination (Dzibilchaltun). Dzibilchaltun is a nice alternative, if you don't feel like spending 2.25 hours (each way) on a bus to get to the more popular Chichenn-Itza or Xumal sites. And if you didn't know it already, it's HOT there. Dang hot. Folks who live in Phoenix all year even say it's hot.
You've GOT to swim with the stingrays in Grand Cayman. Be warned, however, that the group that runs that outfit gets pretty overwhelmed, so it'll take you a good while just to get to the boats to take you to the 'rays. Be prepared for 1-2 hours of standing around, just to catch the shuttles that take you around the island to the boats that take you out. Once you've done it, though, you'll practically forget how long it took you to get there. Until you write your cruise review anyhow.
For Cozumel, we did the 4x4 tour thing; had GREAT guides for this. If you've never taken a small jeep over REALLY rough roads, but you'd like to, this is for you. Since we've done that sort of thing plenty of times, we probably should have chosen to swim with the Dolphins, but live and learn. It was still fun. The beach you get to see is beautiful, the Mexican buffet they give you for lunch is awesome, and the fact that you get to visit the Pee Pee Station (seriously) makes it worth it.
As far as the ship is concerned, our cabin steward was very good, though she did have a couple of misses (which could probably be attributed to a communication breakdown between us and her). The room was always tidied up nicely, and the bed neatly made.
Our lead waitress (Patronia) was very gracious and attentive every evening, and did a great job.
The bartenders made awesome drinks (especially in the casino), and the pool areas were always bustling, but kept very tidy.
The shows were pretty entertaining, too.
THE BAD - Not enough time in port, at least in Cozumel and Grand Cayman. Would've been nice to have as much time at those two ports as at Progreso.
And how 'bout some snorkeling lessons on the ship, for cryin' out loud? If you're a newbie/novice to snorkeling, don't take any outings that require that; would've been nice to have some intro to that, for us rookies. It's assumed you know how to snorkel, if you choose an outing that does that. NOTE - you DO NOT need to know how to snorkel to do the stingray thing; you're in waist-deep water for that.
Don't get a deck 8 cabin (at least not one with a balcony) in the center of the ship; it's right below the pool deck, and the noise from the band(s) or metal-on-metal screeching from sliding deck chairs REALLY gets annoying....especially if you're pooped from an outing and wanting to crash early, but the band is still playing at 11 PM by the pool....or want to sleep in a bit, but those 8 AM sunbathers are finding primo positioning of their chairs. For that deck, the front or rear of the ship would probably be a better choice.
If you get a cabin with a balcony, naturally you're going to pay more...but that doesn't get you any extra pampering. You get the same treatment rather you get an inside cabin on deck 3 or the luxury suite on deck 8. But at least you get to experience some great sights.
Here's a biggie, though - yes, the bed got made nicely, but the sheets DO NOT get changed every night. Seriously. My wife caught this one.
We had two twin mattresses that got pressed together to make a 'queen', and it has to be one of the most uncomfortable beds we've ever slept on. The mattresses were very worn, and each sagged terribly in the middle (they really needed to be replaced); the huge seam/rift that they created when pressed together was not very conducive to being able to sleep with one's spouse. Sadly, this is what you get when you ask for a queen size bed.
Also, the carpeting was very worn, and really needs to be replaced. The cabin really shows its wear and depreciation.
The ship shimmies and shakes pretty good when moving along, even on really calm seas, especially when going faster than 15 knots (about 17 mph). Don't know if this is normal, but figured I'd mention it, since it was rather irritating, as we experienced it a lot.
The head waiter was a figurehead, and the assistant waiter dropped the ball many times, and could've been much more attentive. He lost a bottle of our wine at dinner one night, and tried to replace it with a cheaper variety to compensate. Totally classless. And they ran out of sour cream on prime rib/baked potato night! So after finishing my prime rib, suddenly the head waiter shows up with sour cream he managed to scrounge from somewhere; when I told him it was too late, I was already done, he insisted on putting sour cream on my potato, even though I told him I had nothing to go with it now, and wasn't going to eat it! Again, classless.
THE UGLY - Prepare yourself.....the food on this ship is, for the most part, AWFUL. Unbelievable you say? I'm serious as can be on this one. No, we weren't sea sick, nor drunk off our ass (maybe that was the problem?); it was just plain old BAD.
With rare exceptions (lobster, prime rib, shrimp scampi, hamburgers, and for some odd reason, eggs - but only when you ordered room service for breakfast), the food was flavorless and redundant. The same type of rice side dish showed up at least 3 different nights with different dishes. Since when do collard greens go with shrimp scampi, too? And who the hell uses a gelatin base for Tiramisu, by the way?!
Stay away from the buffets in the Windjammer; lots of choices that look great, and not a one has any flavor.
Tons more misses than hits with this; and absolutely the worst coffee to be found anywhere.
Ah, but there's more: $1.50 Coca-Cola, $5 beer, $6 mixed drink, PLUS 15% gratuity on EVERY drink order. Yes, even the Coke. And you can't just give 'em your card, and have 'em put it on your tab...they don't have anything that sophisticated and easy to use. No, they write out a receipt, which you have to sign of course, every time you get a drink. Pay $39 and get a drink card (for 12 drinks) if you go; it won't get you every kind of drink, but it'll get most, and save you some hassle. Oh, and make 'em put a date on the receipt! Otherwise they don't...more on this in a second.
Last but not least, the purser's desk wasn't as friendly and helpful as they claim to be. God forbid you have a discrepancy on your bill! We had an overcharge of one bottle of wine on our bill, and the lady at the Pursers desk refused to take care of it; when asked to produce the receipt for this charge, she simply pulled a receipt that matched the charge....and there's no way to prove it's not the one, as it doesn't have the date on it! So we said pull all the receipts with those kind of charges, and she would see that she would have one less than we were charged for, thus proving our case. She refused, and instead blew us off to the RC 800 number, and told us to call it to take care of it. That's quality customer service? Puh-lease.
OVERALL SUMMARY - The excursions were good, the service mediocre, and the food terrible. If we'd been treated a little better, even that would've made a big difference. Our experience was less-than-stellar, so it's pretty much turned us against cruising again; at the very least, cruising with RC. We'll never go back to them.
I've named this cruise...THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY THE GOOD
the ship is beautiful, even thought, as previously stated, there are some wear and tear areas that could be fixed. the cruise director, Tom and his staff were excellent the chief purser and his staff were very helpful the food was exceptionally good in the Dinning Room and in the Windjammer buffet for breakfast and lunch. the wonderful enterainment on the ship.
leaving Ensenada with only 1 engine working. after traveling 2 hours from San Diego (the port we were supposed to sail from) to Ensenda, being made to sit on the bus for over 1-1/2 hours with no explanation or offering us as much as water. missing time in most ports and cancelling Costa Rica.
our cabin #7110 flooding from rain and wind, the water coming in from under the balcony door track and cracks in the door. having to sleep in an inside cabin (I'm cluastrophobic) for one night so the blowes could dry out our cabin's carpet. not seeing the night cliff divers in Acapulco because RCI cancelled both nights they were scheduled (we stayed anexra night so they could repair (replace?) the engine. Jeopardizing our safty by letting the ship sail with 1 engine.
I will say that we had a great time on the ship, we met lots of wonderful people and made some lasting friendships. (Kuki) I even bought a horse and lost by 1 roll of the dice, but did win best dressed (will bring pics on Legend to show you all). We tried to make the best of an unfortunate and very disappoanting situation, and I'm sure anyone sailing on the Grandeur will love the ship and have a great time. Just make sure both engines are working, this has been a problem for several months and hopefully, it it finally fixed properly.
If you have any specific questions, please feel free to e-mail me. Nancy
We started off early morning on the 13th. We drove to San Diego, where our dock was. After some serious car trouble, ;( we arrived in San Diego.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Bayside. It wasn't bad, and we had a good time there. The next morning, we cought first sight of our ship. It was bigger than I ever expected. I started to get excited!! At around 9:30, we got on the boat and our story begins.
It looks like the ship is being renovated. Every other day, some people would tear up the old carpet and put in new. The shows were great. I went to every one. Bingo reached around 20 thousand by the last day, but i was told that it always does. Our waiter, Martin, was awsome. He tended to our every need. We sat with some great tablemates, and the food was great, except for the snails (I forgot the french name!) They were really salty.
Our room attendant was amazing. He always kept our room clean, and made towel animals.
I see alot of people on this site worrying about the small stuff. I didtoo, until I got on the ship and none of it mattered. I thought the cruise was a 9 out of 10 stars. It was great!
Here is my review for the RRCL cruise July 18-30, 2003 on the Grandeur of the Seas from Harwich/UK around the Baltic and Norway. We decided on taking the RCCL Grandeur of the Seas 12-day cruise from Harwich/UK on July 18, 2003 to visit most Baltic States and some Norwegian Fjords.
On arrival in Harwich at around 12:30 pm we parked our car in the assigned cruise parking lot. Our luggage was taken from us at the car and taken directly onboard. We had to board a bus directly to the check in counter. Check In was organised very professional compared to other cruises we have taken. Within half an hour of leaving our car in the parking lot we were in our cabin. I have never experienced this little waiting around on any cruise ! At first I thought, that maybe the boat is half empty, but we found out, that it was sold out, making this first experience even more impressive.
Our cabin was an Aft Deluxe Suite with a Terrace. The only annoying question I asked myself was, why did I pay for this "Suite", as the Deluxe outsidestaterooms on Deck 7 had the same size room and were in no way different inside. The only difference was the little bit larger terrace compared to the balcony. On the whole, this was my most annoying observation.
As it was lunchtime we went to eat at the Windjammer Buffet at Deck 9. Expecting some mediocre buffet food, like we had on other cruise lines I was stunned. The food tasted excellent and was not kept in the trays for too long to get watery or tasteless. The staff was very observant and remembered your favorite drink or desert and even got it for you. The only suggestion for improvement I have is, that the plastic covers that protect the food are too narrow to get food by without putting half your food against the plastic edge. Anybody that has used this boat knows what I mean. We used the Windjammer buffet daily, as they served the same food as in the Great Gatsby Dining room. The Windjammer is to the stern of the ship so we had a window table overlooking the direction of travel which we found more intimate than the Dining room were the curtains were shut for a cosier atmosphere sharing with 8 other passengers. If one did not like any of the offered food that day, a New York Strip Steak or Salmon was always available. We had a waiter from Slowakia who reserved "our" table for every dinner and had the drinks and rolls waiting for our arrival. We loved the experience especially after our experiences with Costa.
In the evening we registered our 4 year old child in the childrens centre. The staff of the childrens center, especially Kit Kat Kim and Ross the Boss, were very intentive to the needs of children and our daughter loved it. RCCL did not just build a children deposit box like some other cruise lines, but a a real childrens centre with planned activities, that actually were followed through. Our daughter loved it so much, that we had to drag her out at 10 pm. On days in port our daughter prefered the club against walking with us through cities. You noticed the difference in the staff also. The RCCL club personnel loved their job and it showed.
The evening shows on the Grandeur of the Seas was above the average of our other past experiences. The only suggestion I have is, why not mix the piano and the violin with something else instead of having a violin player playing for one hour and the piano player playing for one hour the next day. These two shows were the emptiest shows during the whole cruise and people were constantly getting up and leaving. It was too heavy for all in one go. If they played the violin for 10 minutes, have some piano for 10 minutes and then do some comedy or else for 10 minutes and repeat with the violin and so on, to make up the hour, the program would not be so heavy and less people would have lost interest so quickly. Everything else was above average, the comedian, the ventriloquist, the juggler, singers etc... just excellent.
The only perceived negatives: My lighter ran out and I tried to get a new lighter or some matches. RCCL does not sell lighters or matches for security reasons ??!!! You can buy anything you want ashore and bring it on the boat, but you can not get it on the boat. Left me a bit puzzled or are land purchased lighters less dangerous ??? The head casino cashier, whom I asked for a light gave me a preach about the dangers of smoking and his personal opinion about smoking in the casino as well. When I told him, that gambling, smoking and drinking would all go together and that a lot of gambling would stop, if you could not smoke in the casino, he said he did not care if he would loose his job. Bit strange for an employee....in a casino.
I also missed a sportsdeck to play some soccer or volleyball as I prefer that kind of sport to sitting on a machine.
Apart from that, we had very good employees, that were proud to work for RCCL. Not one talked badly about the company as a lot of staff on other cruiselines did.
Checkout was also very smooth and relaxed, more so than another cruiseline, that proclaims their checkout to be "Freestyle". Our luggage was already standing color coded in line for pickup. A bus was waiting to bring us to the RCCL parking lot. The ship arrived at 7:00 am in Harwich. At 8:50 am we were sitting in our car. Very, very professional indead !!!!!!!!!!!
Anybody that has cruised on another cruiseline, I recommend trying RCCL. Any first time cruiser please be aware, that if you try RCCL and another company on your second cruise, you might be disappointed with your second cruise or stick to RCCL to avoid disappointment.
We will certainly use them over again and again. Keep up the good work RCCL.
Arrival We selected this itinerary for our spring break cruise with our two teenagers, our second RCL cruise, 17th overall. We flew down the morning of departure to New Orleans, arriving at the airport about 11:40am. We had arranged for a limo with an agency we found on the web boards, and a white stretch limo with a bottle of champagne was waiting for us by 12:15 in the parking garage across from baggage carousel number eight, as they had said it would be. While the emails from the vendor indicated we could pay by credit card, the driver would only take cash. The limo is cheaper than a taxi for four. We arrived at the Juliett St Terminal with 9 bags about 12:45, and whisked through embarkation process in 20 minutes. They did have us fill out a SARS virus questionnaire. We were aboard by 1:10pm, with sailing scheduled for 5pm, so had plenty of time to explore, check dining table assignment, and have lunch before the scheduled 4:30pm life boat drill. We purchased a soft drink sticker for my son for $23 for unlimited fountain drinks. We also purchaseda 12 drink, nonalcoholic, card for my daughter for $21 which included "smoothies", which are her favorite. Our bags arrives about 3:30pm
Cabin Grandeur is in fine shape, showing no wear, in our opinion. We were assigned two adjoining balcony cabins on deck 7, starboard side, just aft of midships. Each cabin had a queen sized bed made from two twins but were very comfortable. They each also had a sofa bed that opened into a double. There was plenty of storage of two people per cabin, but four would have been tight. Lots of small shelves, cabinets, and a mini-refrigerator, dressing table, coffee table, and two chairs and a small table on the balcony. The balconies are very private, with no observation at all from above, and from the adjacent balcony you would have to lean or peer to see the next balcony. The standard bathroom had a shampoo dispenser in the shower, but no other amenities. The one drawback to the location was that the cabins were located over the Schooner Bar and they played music and vocals there until about 12:30am which could be heard in the cabin.
We were assigned table for four, as requested, table 136 on the main floor of the Great Gatsby dining room. It is a large two level room, the main floor on deck 4. The lunch in the Windjammer Café on deck 9, the pool, solarium, and spa deck, was typical buffet fare, but had the addition of a taco bar, a sandwich or wrap bar, and a dessert buffet. The Windjammer is a light, airy room in the front of the ship overlooking the bow, unlike most other ships where the buffet room is all the way aft on the ship. I liked the arrangement.
Lifeboat drill in mandatory, and they repeatedly announced they were checking cabins to ensure everyone was on deck. Due to late arrival on the pier of some supplies, the ship sailed about 45 minutes late, at 5:45pm. As daylight savings time had arrived the week before, the first two hours of the trip down river to the gulf was in daylight. The old Commodore Lines Enchanted Isle is still moored, rusting, downriver.
Food My impression on my first RCL cruise about 4 years ago was that RCL had great physical plant, layouts and mediocre food. For the first half of the cruise I felt the same. I expect cruise food to have a "wow" factor, and things I don't cook at home. The basic lunch and dinner menus for the dining room are contained in the Welcome directory in the cabin, so we could see what to expect and could plan our wine accordingly. We bring our own champagne for cabin consumption and wine for the dining room, were we gladly pay the $8 corkage fee, when/if they charge it (5 of 7 nights this week).
The lunch in the Windjammer Café on deck 9, where the pool, solarium, and spa are also located, was typical buffet fare, but had the addition of a taco bar, a sandwich or wrap bar, and a dessert buffet. The Windjammer is a light, airy room in the front of the ship overlooking the bow, unlike most other ships where the buffet room is all the way aft on the ship. I liked the arrangement. For dinners we were assigned a table for four, as requested, table 136 on the main floor of the Great Gatsby dining room. It is a large two level room, the main floor on deck 4.
Each day the lunch and dinner menus are posted outside the dining room by morning, and there are a few additions beyond the basic menu. Regardless of the menu, every day options include New York strip steak and Norwegian salmon. The directory had listed no lobster night, no escargot, no beef Wellington or Chateaubriand. But, fortunately, they saved the best for last. Day 4 was a Mardi Gras dinner, with typical Louisiana/New Orleans fare, including shrimp etoufee, gumbo, catfish and fried chicken, followed by an optional terrific serving of Bananas Foster, if desired. We also had escargot, shrimp cocktail and lobster on the second formal night -day 6 after leaving Key West early in the day. Other entrees we enjoyed included Duck ala Orange, strip sirloin and filet mignon steaks with bernaise sauce, rack of lamb and roast lamb, a variety of fish including tilapia, cod, halibut, mahi-mah, salmon and others. Breakfast in the dining room includes eggs benedict every day, and the Windjammer breakfast includes all the usual buffet items plus eggs and omelets to order. No tomato juice for us type 2 diabetics, though. Only fruit juices. There were two midnight buffets, a chocolate buffet early in the week, and the Grand buffet on Thursday, the second formal night. In the end, I was well satisfied with the food. One night the waiters danced with lighted cakes on their heads, another night they marched and sang, and the last night they all paraded to the stairway in the dining room carrying national flags. The Matre De was very visible, stopped by the table every night, and even sampled our wines when I offered him the opportunity. The Wait Staff was efficient, and even perhaps a bit too quick for my taste. But they remembered our preferences for tea or milk, or a fruit and cheese plate for dessert.
We enjoyed room service full breakfast on the balcony twice, and my kids enjoyed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and other snack, including pizza slices from room service. The normal room service 24-hour menu is somewhat limited, but during dining room lunch and dinner hours the full menu from the dining room is available from room service.
Entertainment The welcome show the first night was a comedian and welcome by the cruise director and dancers. The evening shows in the Palladium generally offered a first show at 7pm for those who had late seating at dinner, and another show, at 9pm, I believe, for those who went to main seating so they could attend after dinner. Sunday night was a Review of Broadway musical shows. Monday was another comedian. Tuesday was a show, The Beat Goes On, a musical review of the 50's through the 90's. Wednesday, where the ship remains overnight in Key West, was an Illusionist. Thursday was an impressionist, and Friday they had a matinee show at 2pm, their first ever they said, a Carol King Tapestry musical review. In addition to the usual bingo and casino, ice carving, napkin folding, and cooking demos and wine tasting for those interested, there were multiple venues for dancing from pre-dinner through late night. One we especially enjoyed was the Glen Fox Trio playing in the Centrum Lounge. Most nights when there wasn't a reception planned there, in the South Pacific Lounge the show band played dance music ranging from big band sounds to 50-60's night, to 70'-90's mix. The Viking Crown Lounge had romantic dancing most nights for an hour before it turned into a disco at 10:30. No one under 18 allowed in the disco.
Children There are organized programs for children 6-10 years, 11-14. and 15-17, with a daily schedule of events delivered to the cabins. There is also baby-sitting service available in cabin with 24 hour advance request, and centralized baby sitting in the children's center for the younger ones. As it was spring break for our 13 and 15 year old, there were a significant number of children and teens aboard, but not so many as to be disruptive. The Solarium Pool and Hot tubs enforce a rule that no one under 16 is allowed, despite the nearby pizza/hamburger station. This is a lovely lounging area around the pool with the retractable roof. Water kept at 77 degrees in the pool with some powerful water jets in it. The main, open-air pool was where the children congregated.
Special Events As it was Holy Week, and Passover, the ship had some accommodations for this. A Catholic priest had mass every day in the South Pacific Lounge at 8am. On Friday of Passover there was an interfaith service also in the afternoon.
The Captain's Welcome aboard reception was held on Sunday, the first formal night, with mixed drinks and light appetizers served by roaming waiters. Photos/portraits are available only for about three one-hour periods, an hour before the two dinner seatings and one hour after. Lines were shorter than we had experienced on other lines. The Crown & Anchor Society/Repeaters Reception was held on Monday evening, with champagne for all and hot and cold appetizers from self-service buffet stations. The Crown & Anchor Society Platinum and Diamond level reception was held on Thursday from 11:45am-12:30pm in the Viking Crown Lounge, and offered champagne, steamed shrimp, hot and cold appetizers, and even a free "smoothie" for my daughter. These were easily the best such events we have attended in 17 cruises. The Captain, a 37 year old Argentinean, is personable, mixes a lot, and has sense of humor. In addition to his shipboard experience, he also has helped in the construction/outfitting of Voyager class vessels. Repeaters/Crown & Anchor Society members also receive a coupon booklet for free wine tasting, a 2 for 1 drink, spa and shop discounts, bingo cards, and the casino. I was surprised at how few tuxedos were worn on either formal night, less than I have observed on any of our 17 cruises except on Royal clipper. The first one was listed as "Formal Desired", the second as "Formal/Suit and Tie." There are far more tuxedos today on Carnival Spirit class ships than on the Grandeur last week. We enjoy, especially my wife and daughter, dressing formally once in a while, and even my teen-aged son seems to feel special dressed in his tux. They also have a flower cart available every night before dinner. I prefer to have corsages made up for my wife and daughter, and they readily accommodated me when I stopped by the purser's desk to inquire. I found our later that the head housekeeper made them up: a single red rose with baby's breath for my wife and a similar one for a wrist corsage for my daughter. A little duct tape added to the installed safety pin and wrist ribbon tie---a newly discovered additional use of duct tape.
Grandeur, homeported in New Orleans, tries to continue the theme, focused on the Louisiana Bicentennial, by offering daily Louisiana based classic movies, zydeco dance lessons several days, a Mardi Gras theme dinner, and a late night Mardi Gras dance party. We brought our beads and masks, but few others did. The late night get together was a disappointment, as it was mostly line dancing and reggae music from the pool band, and a taco buffet bar, no less. The staff tossed a few beads and masks but that was about it for the late night Mardi Gras event.
A personal observation I made was how receptive the staff was to special requests. Whether it was my request for corsages, or a special request for a birthday cake for my about to become a teen daughter, or a request to accommodate us for late delivery of an invitation to our cabin, or to make an adjustment on our account, the staff seemed generally eager to please us. Ports Calls Progresso: Arrived in Progresso at 8am. We went ashore about 10:30 and rode a free shuttle bus down the 3 mile length of the pier into town. We visited the local indoor market which included butchers, a fish market which included sharks, a local version of a food court, and general shops. Across the street was an open tourist market next to the local library, where the shuttle bus drops people off. T-shirts were 5 for $20, necklaces $4, and so on. They accepted US currency and gave change in USD. We then walked to the beach, which is just east of the long pier. It is on the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, so the prevailing winds are a bit stronger and the water is churned and sandy. Fine for body surfing but not suitable for snorkeling at all. The beachfront is lined for blocks with restaurants and bars, and on the beach are tented areas where food and beverage can be served by the restaurants. There were plenty of lounge chairs and no one asked us for any rental fee in the several hours we were there. We ate at one of the restaurants, name in Spanish: The Old Man & the Sea. They have bathrooms and changing areas in the restaurant, and they accept Visa cards. There are many roaming vendors, but they are not persistent and move on if you show no interest. We paid $34 for 4 beers, 2 large bottles of coke, nachos for two, grilled marinated shrimp, and a chili cheeseburger. The last bus to the ship left at 4pm, and the ship sailed at 4:30.
Cozumel: We have been here numerous times and love Cozumel. After many trips to Chankanaab we decided to try the beach resort at Playa Sol, which I had not visited in years. The ship arrived at 9am, and the Carnival Holiday and Victory were already there at the new international pier. We berthed at the next pier, closer to town, where Senor Frogs has opened a ½ Senor Frogs, with a pool. The duty free shops here are not as elaborate as those at the newer pier. Taxi for 4 to Playa Sol was $14. Admission, including all facilities, is $8 each, and I had a $1 coupon from their website. You need one coupon per person and the website isn't always up. For those wanting unlimited beer and rum punch and soft drinks, the cost is $30 each, and for unlimited beverage and a luncheon buffet the cost is $37, a bit much in my opinion. I purchased a beer and a rum punch for $8. They take VISA at the gate. Snorkeling was fair, with some underwater manmade Mayan structures where fish congregate. Water is clear, but there were many tiny jellyfish. I felt no sting, however. Lounge chairs are included in the admission fee, but beach umbrellas may be rented for $4. There are showers and restrooms, but no lockers that I could see. We then took a taxi into the far end of town for $20. Visited Diamonds International to replace my wife's engagement ring, which they had ready, after swapping stones, in an hour. We stopped at Viva Mexico to shop and then walked to the new location of Senor Frogs and Carlos and Charlie's at the extreme other end of the waterfront strip. Carlos and Charlie's is now a first floor venue, and Senor Frogs is above it on the second floor. Both are owned by the same family. My daughter had a Yard of virgin strawberry daiquiri and announced that when she grows up she wants to go there and live at Senor Frogs. Wrong! As usual we had a great time and lunch there. They also take VISA. Taxi back to the ship was $10 and we returned to the ship by the 5pm deadline.
Key West: Arrived at 11:30 at the channel. US Immigration reps boarded and spent the next two hours, while the ship steamed in and berthed at the Hilton/Hyatt piers, checking everyone' passports or birth certificates and picture ID's. We were the only ship in port that day. They allowed passengers ashore by 1:45pm and we left about 2:30. We walked around Duval Street, toured the Curry Mansion in where my wife and I had stayed for a week several years ago, visited Fat Tuesday's and Hard Rock Café, then headed to the Half Shell Raw Bar for lunch. We enjoyed fish and chips made from mahi-mahi, a pound of Key West Gold (large steamed shrimp), conch chowder and conch fritters, and an oyster shooter which includes a free glass. The latter is not on the menu and you have to ask for it. With beers, soda's and tips it was just over $50. Half Shell is a Key West institution, on the waterfront, no pretense, but great food. After Key Lime Pie on a stick, we wandered back to Mallory Square for the sunset events preceding the 7:45pm EDT sunset. We enjoyed the unicyclist, the one man band, dog show, acrobats, artisans and food booths. Since the ship remains on New Orleans CDT all week, we returned in plenty of time for our 8:30pm second seating dinner. After dinner we walked back briefly into town with my 13 year old daughter, but she was not allowed with us in Sloppy Joe's or Irish Kevin's, so we were not able to do the night time pub crawl we had looked forward to. The ship doesn't sail until 5:30am the next day.
Debarkation On Friday colored luggage tags were distributed based on your departure flight arrangements. With a 12:20 flight we obtained orange tags. Bags were to be put in the halls between 7 and 11pm. Comment cards were distributed. If you prefer to have gratuities charged to you Sea Pass card, you must submit a form by Wednesday. Otherwise envelopes are available for use on the last night. Comment cards are distributed on Friday, as are customs declaration forms. The ship sailed upriver Friday night arriving about 3am in New Orleans. by the 7am wake up call all bags were already ashore. They asked they we vacate our cabins by 8am. The Windjammer serves breakfast 6:30 to 8am, and the dining room from 7-8:30. by 8:30 the ship had been cleared and the first tags called. We were in the second set of tags, and were called as we finished our breakfast. No one even asked for the customs declaration. Our bags were waiting and we were at the curb before 9am. Our limo was not there, and we had to call the dispatcher, as the number we had went to voice mail. The limo arrived about 9:35 and we were at the airport by 10am for our flight. The embarkation and debarkation are remarkably quick and easy. I was impressed.
In summary, we loved the ship, enjoyed itinerary, and would enjoy the same cruise on the same ship again. What higher compliment can I pay? It is funny how a 2,100 passenger, 7 year old ship is thought of as old with all the new behemoths coming on line. I prefer this size and style of ship. Well done, Grandeur.
My wife has been on 17 cruises, 10 on Royal Caribbean, and had sailed the Grandeur once before. Of my 13 cruises, 6 have been on RCI ships. This was my first cruise on the Grandeur. We both love the Vision class of RCI ships. We've also sailed with NCL, Princess and Celebrity. This was our second "Circle the Caribbean" cruise with RCI, having sailed the 11-day itinerary in 1998 on the Splendour.
We flew to Miami a day early, and stayed at the Best Western Marina Park. As far as I'm concerned, it's a dump. Others will disagree with me, but that one's off our list permanently. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant in Bayfront, and it was just OK. Some friends had driven down from the Tampa area and from Fort Lauderdale, and we met for drinks and dinner. The couple we were cruising late had bad airline connections, and missed their flight from Atlanta to Miami. Routed through Jacksonville, they showed up during dinner. At least they made it!
We got out of the rental van at the port in a driving rainstorm. Check-in was a breeze, andwe were onboard by 11:00 a.m. We went to our room (aft balcony) and put our carry-ons in the closet, and then set out to explore the ship. RCI gets an A+ for boarding!
Although starting to show some signs of wear in the carpets, we didn't find that the carpeting detracted from the overall beauty of the ship. The ship IS a beauty, and is a very classy lady. Everything was spotlessly clean and shined. There is ample information on the ship itself in other reviews, so I won't go into any detail on that subject. The only problem with the ship that we encountered was a real nuisance, and one that I consider fairly serious. Several times during the cruise, a lot of black soot came out of the stack and fell like black snow upon our balcony. We tried to have a sail-away party on our balcony as we left Miami, and the "black snow" was so bad that we had to go inside. It got all over our clothes, and we tracked it into the cabin and onto the carpet. It was horrible! The cabin stewardess did her best to keep the carpet cleaned up, but couldn't stay ahead of it. It fell not only on our balcony, either. As my wife and I were walking laps each morning on the top deck, we encountered a lot of small puddles of water. Each puddle contained a good amount of that same soot! I don'tknow the cause of the soot, but it looked like the product of incomplete combustion. It was a very greasy soot, and did a very good job of staining clothing. Hope they get it fixed soon. We turned it in several times to the Guest Relations (Pursers)Desk, but it was never fixed. We were able to use our balcony most of the time, but on three different days, we got "snowed on."
We used the internet cafe on a daily basis, with no problems. As Diamond Members of the Crown & Anchor Society, we had several coupons for free time online, and used it. Heck, it's a lot cheaper than a phone call!
Out stateroom was, in a word, wonderful. The only problem we encountered during the entire 1-day cruise was the air conditioner's inability to cool the room down to my wife's comfort level. We asked our cabin stewardess if she could get someone to fix it, and the very next time we returned to the room, there was a note on our bed that maintenance had changed out the thermostat....and the room felt like a meat locker - My wife, of course, was in heaven!
Our room stewardess was, by far, the best we have ever had on any ship. AAA+++ in every respect!
The food in the dining room was excellent. We had an outstanding waiter and a very good assistant waiter.....we should have, for our table for six was adjacent to the Captain's Table, and our waitstaff also served that table. Again, AAA+++
Windjammer food was much better than we had encountered on previous RCI ships. The RCI staff must be paying attention to the comment cards and letters they receive, for things had definitely improved. The food tasted very good, although buffet presentation is pretty limited. Oh, and how we love that RCI iced tea! A- for the Windjammer.
VIKING CROWN LOUNGE:
This is our favorite hangout on an RCI ship, and this one was outstanding. Good drinks, good service, and wondererful sea views. What more could one ask?
The entertainment, overall, was probably a good B+. We enjoyed most of it, and didn't get up and leave even once! For me, that's pretty good!
We won more than we lost. Grade? Probably an A.
We absolutely love this itinerary. We missed Key West, since this was a 10-day cruise, but that was no big deal to us. Basically, this was a typical western Caribbean itinerary, plus Aruba and Curaçao with four sea days. Nice. We'd do it again in a heartbeat! AAA+++
As always, the entire ship's staff was courteous, friendly, and totally professional. They all made us feel very welcome on their ship, and the pride they felt in their ship was obvious. They genuinely liked their jobs, and the acted like we were the most important people in their lives..all of them. This, in my opinion, is what makes RCI rise above its competition. The attitude of the officers, staff, and crew was, without exception, outstanding.
You've probably gathered by now that we had a great time. We did. This was our first cruise with another couple, and I must admit that the entire experience was a lot more fun than just cruising as a couple or with a large group. Oh, my, did we do some "hootin'!" We had the best time.....and yes, we'll cruise with RCI again....as often as time and pocketbook allow. Overall grade? A+