This was our first Eastern Mediterranean Cruise, having done the Western Itinerary in 1999 (two weeks from Amsterdam, Holland to Genoa, Italy and seven ports in between). This itinerary was probably the most "port intensive" of all of our cruises (five ports in seven days!). You have it from us, sailing throughout the Greek Isles can be both delightful and dramatic. The trip included a close up of Stromboli, the active Italian volcano that juts straight up out of the Tyrrhenean Sea and sports fumaroles and red lava flows at the top with tiny villages at the base: How can people live so calmly on a rumbling volcano? Passing through the Strait of Messina, brought to mind the Odyssey of Ulysses and his adventure in this tempestuous sea, with the threatening monsters Shylla and Charybdis, facing each other across this strait. But, for us, the sea was calm and the view of Calabria and Sicily marvelous. Nevertheless, with a little imagination just sailing through this historical sea is impressive.
The next most significant memory is sailing through the caldera of Santorini, which demarcates the original boundaries of this remnant of an island (Whatwas once a near perfect circle of an island is now a mere crescent). We were lucky that our cruise week coincided with a full moon on the Aegean Sea. What a sight: just spectacular! If you haven't done this itinerary yet, book it now, because it is all you could possibly dream it would be. Since the Grandeur is the sister ship of the Vision, which we described in our last review (June 6, 01), we will skip the ship descriptions and specifications which are almost identical, rather, here we'll focus on service and itinerary.
June 20th we flew Alitalia Airline from Miami-Milan-Rome; unfortunately the plane change in Milan was a difficult one, which made us long for the direct Miami-Rome flights of old! We did not use the cruise package, but instead we rented a car (Avis), which we picked up at the airport and spent ten days in the Samnium Mountains (South Central Italy) before returning the car just a few blocks from the pier at Civitavecchia, the morning of embarkation. Since the Grandeur was berthed directly behind the new terminal, embarkation was easy. A crew member was prompt in taking Vincent's wheelchair aboard where the documents were processed within minutes. The new RCI ticket packet is simplified and handy.
We met Hotel Director Tony O'Prey at check-in. He makes passengers feel at home immediately and continues to do so until debarkation. What a courteous person he is -- Thank you, Tony for all your kindnesses! We were in our spacious stateroom in less than ten minutes (approximately noon). We went straight to the Welcome Aboard Buffet, where a crew member carried our trays and assisted us through. The food was good and the dessert table excellent. We were happy to return to the Grandeur after four years and were full of anticipation for this exciting trip.
The Grandeur of the Seas was built at Kvaerner Masa Shipyards, Finland and launched on Nov. 2, 1996, as the dedication placard in the Viking Crown Lounge reads. It looks just like the Vision of the Seas: it's white with aqua/green glass on the top decks, characteristic of all RCI ships, and has the sleek shape of an oversized yacht. The major difference between this and other RCI Vision class ships is in the interior decor and artworks. RCI has made extensive use of wood and other fine appointments on the Grandeur which makes it worthy of its name.
The two deck high Gatsby Dining Room is a good place to start: The 20's era flapper statue in the middle of the grand staircase evokes images of Zelda Fitzgerald with its swaying fringed outfit. The far wall has a two deck high water fall and the other three walls are hung with paintings depicting "Roaring Twenties" party life. This dining room has the most comfortable chairs, with arms rests and lumbar support.
The Centrum is both a handy reference point and a place that is in constant movement with dancing, singing and even cooking demonstrations. The ship's decor is pleasant and subdued, with unique pieces of art almost everywhere. The style is consistent throughout the ship, with more traditional artwork (no abstract or futuristic motifs), indeed appropriate for this itinerary. There are several pieces of sculpture that merit mentioning: Deck 5 has four huge translucent white marble Urns, lit from within, with swans and birds incised on them flanking the entrances of the Palladium Theater, which has crystals hanging along the front of the stage and on the ceiling. Deck 6 by the Centrum has a resin bronze boy with cap, camera and tour book by Clinch entitled "Where the Heck?" Deck 7 in the library has a larger than life bronze man on a chair with cigar in hand and newspaper over his face called "Snoozin" also by Clinch, appropriately positioned on the side of one table. We were pleasantly surprised when we discovered it. In the Viking Crown Lounge are a series of life size Steel Vikings statues by Walenty Pytel and a Viking Ship by T. E. Skelinen.
Other artwork worth mentioning are the large murals in the stairways representing Spanish scenes of matadors and senoritas, and a collage with a ballroom scene near the theater.
We were in Superior Ocean View Stateroom #7102 port side, wheelchair accessible. It was furnished with a queen size bed; a sitting area with sofa bed, upholstered chair and a large coffee table; mirrored vanity/desk area, a huge bathroom with additional railings and a 4'x4' shower. This cabin has tons of storage in closets and drawers, more than adequate for four people on a two week cruise. The far wall is glassed with a sliding door to the verandah with two chaises, two chairs and a table. The color scheme was similar to the Vision, with muted tones of gray, blue, lavender and pink.
The Grandeur is scheduled for dry dock this fall and in several areas refurbishing is needed-- upholstery etc. But, all in all, she is a beautiful ship.
Food is available round the clock-- The Windjammer and the Gatsby Dining Room have fixed schedules and the Solarium has pizza (not very good) but they serve excellent hot dogs, burgers and fries which are available most of the day and evening (the European cruisers all wanted to make sure that the beef was U.S.; they are still living with mad cow fear). Snacks are served in all of the bars, lounges and the Casino from 11:30 pm to 12:30 am and the bars are open from 9:00 am to 2:00 am the next morning. Room service is 24 hrs. per day.
Usually we ate breakfast in our cabin and it was punctual, hot and abundant (omelets were fine, bacon crisp, coffee hot and rolls and croissants fresh). Unfortunately, we did not personally meet the Executive Chef, Martin Grabenhofer (Austria), but read of his extensive culinary background. RCI has the best meats afloat, we also had succulent salmon and the salads were innovative (Boston Mimosa, Waldorf and especially Ensalada del Chef with orange segments and mixed greens). At lunch we had the Philadelphia Cheese Steak and the Tuna Melt Sub served on great, crispy French bread. The International menus were nicely varied but we particularly liked some Greek fare: Santorini fruit salad with Ouzo, Spanakopita (spinach and feta cheese pie) Beef Souvlaki skewers, Mousaka and Yiaourtini (yogurt cake with orange liquor). There were terrific ices, sherbets and ice creams; memorable chocolate cakes and delicious cookies. However, even though the Chef had trained in Venice, the pastas were not up to those we had enjoyed for the past ten days while in Italy, prior to embarkation. We are finding it harder and harder to order pastas on board RCI ships, since al dente is rarely achieved and the sauces just don't taste Italian. Even a simple dish like spaghetti Carbonara was ruined by adding a cream sauce, that's a no-no! The spaghetti were neither Carbonara nor Alfredo, but somewhere in between. However, we have to admit most non Italians didn't notice a difference.
The gala meals are always the best and this cruise was no exception: We dined with Staff Captain George Paraskevopoulos (born in Australia of Greek parents and a graduate of the Mercantile Academy of Greece). He was delightfully candid about life at sea and hosted a dinner with escargots, soupe a` l'oignon, Caesar salad, Surf and Turf (lobster tail and filet mignon), blackened salmon and velvet chocolate cake. He toasted his guests with water to emphasize SAFETY at sea, but ordered fine wines for the rest of the table (more later). Great food, gracious company, and all under the watchful eye of Maitre d` Massimo (see service).
The tone and ambiance is set by the Captain and his crew follows his lead: Captain Carlos Pedercini (Argentina) is RCI's youngest captain, receiving his Master's license at age 28 and at 36 he is a serious Master of the Grandeur; he wears his honors well. Staff Captain George emphasized the strict protocol and attention paid to safety by RCI with its Tricolor Alert System (Red, Yellow and Green) requiring specific staff duties at all times. Sleep easy cruisers, the Bridge is in capable, cautious hands!
Tony O'Prey, Hotel Director, is an affable capable man with one mission: He makes sure everything is done with flair and that the passengers are pleased. We were happy to see that there is a Chief Purser aboard, Julie Hansen was caring and totally efficient and responsive to cruiser's concerns which she followed up personally. Fortunately RCI has not attempted to run other ships as it did the Radiance of the Seas, where an experiment assigning ship hotel management to independent administrators, breaking the chain of command from the Captain on down. Initially this experiment resulted in failure. We have not followed the situation on the Radiance, but we feel that common sense will prevail at the top of RCI management and the tried-and-true system with the Captain, as the sole master of the ship, with the well established chain of officers and crew, will remain as the one and only valid system in the whole fleet.
In the Gatsby Dining Room we found the service outstanding under the direction of Maitre d' Massimo Barbiero (Italy). We could trust his honest assessment of the menu and were happy with his specific suggestions: Fine food, fine service, and a delightful atmosphere (in part due to the trio of musicians who played there nightly). We had a table for two at the top of the Grand Staircase overlooking the Salon and the Captain's table. Our Waiter Ajini Khalil (Tunisia) was attentive, but not hovering, just perfect. Asst. Waiter Rodrigo Estay (Chile) was smiling and friendly and Head Waiter Jayaraman Iyer (India/France) was also a knowledgeable sommelier.
Lunch in the dining room was always interesting with Waiter Vincenzo Caraglia (Italy); he sought out Vincent to discuss Italian soccer, Formula I Auto Racing, etc.-- friendly and prompt service.
We felt right at home on our second cruise aboard the Grandeur. The Repeaters Captain's Cocktail had an excellent Canape Buffet, free drinks and friendly faces. We met many nice cruisers and staff. Social Hostess Chez van Straaten (S. Africa) was both bright and gracious. Her parents were on board for a 28th wedding anniversary and a second honeymoon to revisit Athens. We know where Chez got her charm.
Cruise Director Kyle Dodson (Texas, USA) heads up an active group which runs everything from daily Bingo to dance lessons and games. This cruise had several evening shows worth mentioning: Los Pampas Gauchos gave a literally hair raising routine (you've got to see it to believe it!). Judy Kolba gave a combination Singing/Comedy routine that we heard was hilarious (sorry, we did not catch her). Day Three's RCI production of "Starstruck" with its tribute to the silver screen and dazzling combination of live performance and film projection, with the RCI dancers deftly jumping in and out of the giant screen was breathtaking. The dancers' timing was perfect to achieve this wonderful special effect.
Dominic Allen was the ultimate entertainer with both his vocal and instrumental expertise. The audience loved him. The Celeste Trio had a wonderful female vocalist accompanied by her husband Marcangelo and percussionist Mr. Leyette. They were everywhere from the lounges to the Centrum and had a very demanding repertoire and great reception. Last, but not least, Naki Ataman (Turkey) performed his special U.N. Tribute to 24 Countries (Theme "Around the World in 80 Days"). The audience honored his piano virtuosity with a well deserved standing ovation.
As usual, RCI's Entertainment is worth seeing and hearing.
PORTS OF CALL
The main reason for this cruise was the itinerary and we are happy to say that our expectations were met, but the less than one day taste of Athens left us longing for more. Next time . . . and there will be a next time (God willing!), we will approach this cruise differently. We'll fly first to Athens for a three day stay and take a cruise back to Venice, Italy. Sounds good to us. We are now at a point in our lives that whenever we check off a vacation destination, we must add another one in order to keep that list going.
Civitavecchia, Italy: This is an engaging home port for Italy, where ferries to Sardinia (a trendy vacation spot) leave daily. We took a ride up into the mountains as far as the beginning of the Tuscan Hills. If you are interested in Etruscan Necropoles and Museums visit nearby Cerveteri and Tarquinia; Civitavecchia is a an excellent starting point. Of course Rome is a short one hour bus trip. Definitely extend your cruise vacation either before or after or you will regret it.
Katakolon, Greece: Greece comprises over 1400 isles of which only 169 are inhabited. This small town on the western coast of the Peloponnese (Greece's largest peninsula) has as its main attraction the famous archeological site of Ancient Olympia, where the Pisans first held their Olympic Games about 1,000 B.C. The contests reached their heights in 6th century B.C., but were banned in 394 A.D. The modern revival was in 1896 and Greeks are enthusiastically building and planning to host the games in 2004 in Athens.
Ioanna, the tour guide through Olympia was knowledgeable, humorous and made history come to life. The Doric architecture was massive in the Palaestra (wrestling school), the Prytaneum (where winners were honored) and the Temple of Zeus (not one of its original 25 columns still standing, this was the site of the gold and ivory statue of Zeus listed as one of the seven ancient wonders of the world). The Temple of Hera (which is better preserved) once held the statue of Hermes by Praxiteles (circa 350 B.C.) which is now across the road at the Olympia Archeological Museum.. The first olympic stadium which set the distance for races and gave its name to all stadiums to follow was truly awesome. The start and finish lines still exist and are white marble and its sloping grassy sides held 30,000 spectators. The ruins of Olympia reveal a well organized sports center of gigantic proportions in ancient Greece. We gamely started out to tour these ruins, but soon realized it was hard with a wheelchair on unpaved ground. Sean, a fellow cruiser courteously took over and pushed Vincent through the entire site -- An Olympian Effort! Efcharisto`(Thank you).
This tour (excursion KKA1 on the ship's list) is a must. Although the ship's 11:00 am arrival makes this tour in the summer uncomfortable from the heat of a high noon sun and we barely made it back to the last tender at 5:30 pm, it was an afternoon to remember. After this visit, we will never view the modern Olympics again in the same old way: The spirit of the old Olympians is with us.
Santorini, Greece: Aaah! This is the Greek Isles of postcards and travel guides. White washed buildings on cliffs with blue cupolas. This volcanic island erupted in 1450 B.C. and there remains only a crescent shape with the island of Nea Kameni in the center of the caldera. Very impressive and evocative of Geology 101. Sailing through a caldera! The ship anchors off Skala and the blue/white town of Fira` can be accessed by climbing the over 600 steps of the Serpentine Path (we don't think so), riding a stubborn donkey (no way) or our choice "the cable car."
Fira` was destroyed by an earthquake 1956 and rebuilt maintaining its former charm of houses built into the mountainside. The narrow streets are uneven cobblestone and no cars. We visited the Archeological Museum, but the tour of the day was Ancient Akrotiri and Santorini (excursion SOA1) which we did not take due to the wheelchair. Akrotiri is famous for its wall paintings (not frescoes since they are painted on dry walls) but fortunately for us the best of these we saw in Athens at the National Museum, including "The Fleet", "Boxing Children", "The Fisherman" and "The Spring Fresco" (misnomer).
Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey: Here we were steered wrongly by the ship's Shore Excursion desk. Because of Vincent's wheelchair we were told to catch a cab-- to the tune of $100. The driver knew little English, and refused to leave us at the top of Ephesus and pick us up in the bottom, as promised. We suggest cruisers, even those with wheelchairs, take the ship excursion KDC1: Ephesus Ruins and house of the Virgin Mary. We found out later that a lady in a wheelchair had no problem with this tour and loved it. Next time we'll know better.
Piraeus (Athens), Greece: Athens is seven miles from the Port of Piraeus. Best tour here is the ship's PRA1 the Acropolis and Athens sightseeing. We opted for PRB1 the National Museum and sightseeing which meant viewing the shopping district. Next time we would like to see more of Athens which may mean staying over either at the beginning or ending of our cruise.
Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy: Rome was the final city on this itinerary and this is such a monumental city that it requires an extended stay. It's our favorite city since Vincent is a graduate of University of Rome and knows it well. Fond memories of our family stay there for a year in 1980 - '81, during Vincent's sabbatical appointment at the Catholic University, give it a special place in our hearts. We do Rome by ourselves, but we suggest that cruisers use the ship's excursions since the "Eternal City" is one newcomers may need a guide to tour.
Debarkation as usual was simple, Vincent's wheelchair was escorted all the way to the luggage area and out of the terminal. It was the end of a Grand cruising experience.
It is very hard to improve on a great cruise, but we are making the following suggestions in an attempt to make a great cruise greater:
1. If the itinerary could be arranged so that the arrival times for Katakolon and Santorini would be early morning as were the times for the other ports, cruisers would not be starting out on excursions at high noon, the hottest part of the day. Some of the ruins are unbearably hot at that time. At present, arrival at these two ports is 11:00 am. In our opinion they should be changed if possible to 8:00 am.
2. Once again RCI should hire a chef with expertise in Italian cuisine who would improve the sauces and pasta dishes thus attracting more lovers of true Italian cooking.
This was my sixth cruise, and my first cruise on Royal Caribbean. I have previously sailed on the Carnival Destiny (never on Carnival again), the Dawn Princess, the Ocean Princess, the Celebrity Galaxy, and the Norwegian Sea. Overall, this was a great cruise. We took an early flight out of Atlanta (7 AM) to get to San Juan early in hopes of an early boarding. We arrived in San Juan just after 11 AM and quickly found the Royal Caribbean representative. We waited a short while (20 minutes) and were taken to the bus where we were immediately taken to the pier. We proceeded immediately to registration and were walking onto the ship in minutes. We dropped our carry-ons in the cabin and went up to the buffet area to have some lunch. We reached this area just before noon. This was the quickest and earliest that we have ever been able to board. Our luggage arrived by the early afternoon. The cabin was a category C, Superior Ocean View Suite. We were on deck 8 near the center back. The room was clean, but was showing some wear and tear.The wood work in the room was in need of refinishing and there were some stains on the upholstery on the sofa and the carpet. Everything appeared to be in working order in the room and there was so much storage that my husband and I could not fill it all up. There were no extra amenities being in a cabin categorized as a suite. There was no robe or hair dryer in the room. We did have a safe and a bathtub. Our table in the dining room was in the center area just in front of the waterfall and the live music and just two tables away from the Captain's table. We were seated at a table for 8 and had great table mates. Our service from Ali was great. He had been a waiter with RCI for 15 years. His assistant waiter, Mario, was very well trained. Special request were granted immediately and preferences were remembered the entire week. The food was good and cooked to order. The decks of the boat were kept clean. On the sea days, there was a big shortage of deck chairs. Some people gave up looking and just put a towel on the floor. Announcements were made about people saving chairs, but most of the chairs were actually occupied. The deck servers didn't make many rounds on the upper side decks. It was only after the main pool area started to clear that they started appearing upstairs taking drink orders. Our first port was Aruba. We took a shore excursion on the catamaran Pelican. They had an open bar with liquor and soft drinks for the entire trip. It took us for a snorkeling trip to a reef and then to the wreck of the Antilla. The crew was very friendly and helpful. After the snorkeling, we docked near the Holiday Inn for a lunch buffet and time on the beach. The food was barbecue ribs and chicken with the fixings. The beach here was beautiful with long stretches of white sand. We boarded the catamaran and headed back to the ship. We spent the afternoon walking around in town. We were back on the ship for relaxing and dinner. We stayed in port until 1 AM. Our next port of Curacao. We spent the morning walking around in town. We had lunch on the ship and then took a cab over to Princess Beach Hotel for the afternoon. We used the beaches and chairs free of charge. We didn't see any other people from the ship. The trip to the beach was $12. Our cab driver made arrangements to come back and pick us up and wouldn't let us pay him for the trip over until our return trip. We were in port here until 6 PM. St. Martin was the next port. We spent the morning walking around in town. Be sure to stop by the Belgian Chocolate store for some great chocolate. We had been St. Martin on a previous cruise and had originally planned to take a taxi over to Orient Beach for the afternoon as we had on the previous trip, but we had enjoyed the catamaran excursion on Aruba so much that we decided to take another catamaran trip. After lunch on the ship, we boarded the Golden Eagle catamaran. We had about an hour sail over to the island of Tintamarre, which is an undeveloped island. There was a nice beach with an area for snorkeling. The island is known for a light tan mud which people rub all over to get softer skin. There was an open bar for this whole trip that included liquor, soft drinks, and beer. They even served you while on the beach. The crew members were dressed in swimsuits with black bow ties. They were extremely friendly and helpful. It was amazing to watch them walking all over the upper and lower decks of the catamaran carrying trays of drinks while out on the open choppy water. St. Thomas is always an enjoyable port. We spent the morning walking around in town. Royal Caribbean has a hospitality area in town with plenty of air conditioning, sofas, and clean bathrooms. They also have a cash bar and food available for purchase. On a previous trip we had enjoyed a shore excursion on the Leylon Sneed over to Trunk Bay. We had enjoyed the trip before and decided to take the same excursion. It is a large replica of a Chesapeake Bay oyster boat and offers more stability on the open waters than some of the smaller choices. They also spend an hour and a half anchored in Trunk Bay giving you plenty of time to snorkel or spend time on the beach. They have some smaller zodiac boats that they use to ferry the non-snorkeling passengers to shore and back. After snorkeling, they served complimentary rum punch and fruit punch. They had a cash bar with soft drinks and alcohol available after snorkeling. They also put a crew member in the snorkeling area to handle any problems with equipment that might come up. We never went to any of the entertainment in the Palladium Theater. Our table mates said that they enjoyed the shows and that they were very good, but we don't often frequent the ship's entertainment. We did sit in some of the lounges. The entertainment here was usually pretty good with the exception of a piano player/singer named Ringo and a constantly out of tune alto sax player. The casino was generally pretty busy and active. For breakfast every morning, we ordered room service with the pre-printed cards. It always arrived on time and was as ordered. There was no room service breakfast available on the last morning. We went to the main dining room that day. We went to the buffet area every day except for one. The food was generally pretty good. The snacks served in the buffet area from 4-5 PM were always good. There were desserts, sandwiches, salads, and ice cream available. Colored tags for luggage on debarkation were passed out based on location of cabin only. You were called to disembark by your flight numbers. We had a 1:55 flight from San Juan. Our flight was called at 9 AM. We loaded up on a bus and went over to the overcrowded San Juan airport to wait for our flight. We enjoyed this cruise very much. We loved the ports visited on this cruise and liked that we were always in port until at least 6 PM. On previous cruises, we have sometimes left port at 3 or 4 PM. The RCI ship was generally the last ship in port at all the stops. The Grandeur is a nice ship with the sea days on deck being the only time that you felt crowded. We still like our cruise on Celebrity the best and found Princess and RCI to be pretty close. We would consider cruising with RCI in the future.
WONDERFUL!!! This cruise exceeded my expectation! Please forgive the rambling nature, and length of this review. I'll submit this review in a couple of parts. Southern Caribbean, out of San Juan, visiting Aruba, Curacao, St.Maarten and St. Thomas. Booked thru Cruise.com. We went with 2 other couples. They booked category "D" cabins w/balconies, we booked category "K"(larger insided stateroom)on the same level(deck 7). Day one: Checked our luggage curbside, out of BWI on American Airlines, we booked air deviations, early flight into San Juan, out of Baltimore, non-stop. Arrived San Juan at 11:30am. Very smooth flight. The RCCI rep met us as we stepped out of the plane and led us to the shuttle bus to the terminal. Waited about 15 minutes, then took the 20 minute ride to the cruise terminal. There were 3 other ships at the terminal. The ship looked huge, and beautiful! It was sunny and 85 degrees. We waited in line, for about 2 minutes, and it took another 5 minutes to activate our supercharge card, and another 2 minutes to board. What a wonnderful ship! Everything was clean, and we were greeted and given directions toour cabins. (Our luggage arrived while we were checking it out.)
The cabin was smaller than the one that we had on Carnivals Sensation, but it was layed out much better. Plenty of room for storage. I purchased a romance package,($99.00),to surprise my wife. It includes champagne waitinng for you in the room,(it was), a champagne breakfast, delivered to your room on a day of your choosing, a tray of petit fours, after dinner on a day of your choosing and a formal portrait that includes an engraved silver frame. Great deal..as the champagne alone, if purchased separately, would've come to $90.00!! We cracked open the bubbly and unpacked then took off to check out our friends cabins and explore the ship. IMHO the category D balcony's aren't worth the almost $1,000.00 extra that our friends paid. The room was slightly larger than ours, but the balcony is small and not very private. Our friends agreed and won't be booking a balcony on the next cruise. Like I said before, the ship was sparkling. They have 2 pools and 6 hot tubs. The pool towards the bow, which was covered by a retractable roof was nice too. We went to the Windjammer cafe, in the back of the ship, and ate lunch. The food,in the Windhjammer was very good, not great, but that's what we expected,so we were happy with it. The theaters are well laid-out and there are plenty of bars. We went to the duty-free store, at the terminal and stocked up on liquour. Great prices, but the prices in St. Maarten were better. There was a sign that said each passenger could bring aboard one 6-pack of beer. So we did, along with sodas and water.(tip: buy bottled water and sodas in town, they're cheaper). We gave our liquour purchases to the RCCI represantive, and no, contrary to what anybody says, RCCI DOES NOT ALLOW YOU TO CARRY LIQOUR ON FOR PERSONAL CONSUMPTION FROM SAN JUAN! My one, and only complaint, was the RCCI's policy for carrying beer on board changed within 5 hours. We were allowed to bring on our 6-packs at 4:00pm, but at 9:00 pm, the RCCI representative would not let anyone bring beer on board and told us that if someone brought some aboard earlier, then they must've snuck it on. We even told 'em about the signs that clearly permitted you to do so, but to no avail. We had to exchange the beer for sodas. Thank goodness we got some beer earlier. It turned out well in the end, 'cuz you could bring back as much beer as you could carry from the other ports, besides, if a 12-pack can't hold me for a day, then I have problems!! We went back to our cabin, and met our cabin steward, Alejandro. This guy was perfect...he was outgoing and friendly. He kept the room perfect, and kept my collapsible(sp?)cooler full of beer on ice. He was very informative and helpful, we tipped him above and beyond the recommended amount. We dressed for dinner and, again, we were pleasantly surprised, given the negative reviews on food. I lived in Europe,(Italy),for 4 years and have eaten world-class cuisine in many different countries, so I know good food when I get it. Our waiters name was Sinan,from Turkey, and the assistant waiter's name was Vikas,from Bosnia(?). They were attentive, courteous, prompt and friendly. The food ranged from great to excellent! The portions were just right and the food was served at the proper temperatures and consistencies. After dinner, we got a couple of frozen drinks and explored the ship some more. We hit the Viking Crown lounge for some dancing, then called it a night. End of Day One. Day Two...coming soon!
Grandeur DAY 2: At Sea Woke up around 7:00am and went up to the Windjammer for some coffee & a croissant. The weather was spectacular, warm and sunny with a slight breeze. Took my coffee to the promenade deck,(5),and drank it in peace. (hint: the promenade deck is almost always empty with plenty of chairs, morning,noon and night)Went to wake up my wife, Frannie, and we rousted the rest of the gang and went to breakfast in the Dining room, which is open seating.(It's casual for breakfast and lunch) Our tablemates were very friendly. Got the Eggs Benedict, which was pretty good, although the hollandaise sauce seemed to be missing something, but I put a little salt and pepper which seemed to help. I also got the smoked salmon,bagel, cream cheese and bacon; very good! The service was excellent and breakfast didn't take to long. I suggest doing at least one breakfast in the dining room. We went upstairs, put some beers in ice buckets and headed for the pool. By this time it was around 9:00-9:30, and the notorious chair-savers were out in full force. There was actually room around the pool, but we prefer to lay out on the deck over-looking the pool, where we can enjoy the ocean breeze. Our friends joined us around 10:00am, or so, and there were some chairs next to us that were saved, but unoccupied for an hour. We tossed the towels into the used-towel bin and our friends took the chairs. (No one showed up to claim 'em). After 10:00am, the downstairs pool deck was quite crowded, w/people strolling around in vain attempts to find chairs, and the situation was the same up top where we were. (hint: get your fanny in a chair by 9:30, or fuggedaboutit!) The played the typical various pool games which looked fun. (Side Note: Cruise Director Greg Maxwell, despite posts that say otherwise, was just fine, funny and entertaining) Spent the better part of the day relaxing and reading. We stayed on deck and watched the sunset....beautiful! The seas were rather calm, but, this ship moved and rolled a LOT more than Carnivals Sensation, I don't think that they were using those vaunted stabilizers, probably trying to save on fuel. The movement didn't bother us, but we did hear a few comments about it. Nothing you can't handle with a dramamine and a beer! Went up to our cabins and ordered a couple of appetizers to hold us til the late seating. (hint: if you have the later seating, you can order most stuff off of the dining room menu during the early seating hours...order some food and try it to see if you like it...go for it!!) This was the 1st formal night, so it was also time for pictures. We did the pictures and went to dinner. Each night, Sinan, our waiter, would describe each dish and would bring out a plate of some of the appetizers to show them to us, which he did with great flourish(?) Also, the types of breads/rolls each night were different, so the Asst Waiter, Vikas, would describe what types of bread we were getting for the night. After gorging, it was off to the stroll around the promenade to walk off some of dinner. Afterwards, we went to the Viking Crown Lounge and had a few drinks. I think that the drinks are on the expensive side...a round of drinks for 6 people was around $28.00...but, what the heck, you're on vacation,(and we had beer in the cabins!) We headed to the casino, which leads to one of my very few gripes about RCCI. BlackJack tables had $10.00 minimums!!!! That is absurd. Some of the tables stood 1/2 empty, and it was no small wonder. In their defense, they later ran "happy-hour" specials with $5.00 minimums, but this didn't happen too often. They even had one happy-hour with $1.00 minimums, but the tables were crowded. I guess if that's my biggest problem, then I really don't have much of a problem. We played roulette instead, which is fun, but kinda slow. Stayed up 'til around 2:30am then went to bed to get ready for our first port, ARUBA!!!!!
Grandeur-Day 3 ARUBA!!! We pulled into port,early, the sun was shining the water was sparkling, everthing looked great. You dock, right next to town, and it looked like there were a couple of other cruise ships there. It was quite windy. On another posters advice, we took a cab to the Palm Island ferry. I think it was around $8.00pp. DePalm Island is a small private island w/snorkelling and facilities, bar/restaurant, chairs etc. Our friends took their handy-dandy collapsible cooler and had the cab driver stop on the way for some beer. We got to the ferry terminal, which is small, the island is probably only 500yds from the mainland, and purchased tickets. $8.00pp, which includes a drink. We were the only ones who got on the ferry. Kevin,(my buddy w/the cooler),got a little nervous, as there was a sign that said "No outside food or beverages allowed", but his fears were unfounded, as no one said a thing. We had,practically, the whole island to ourselves. This is a beautiful island, but the beaches were all covered in rocks, which made for some uncomfortable walking.(hint: where sandals, not water shoes, which were of no use on this rocky beach) The actual snorkelling is done off of a big wooden deck that sits over the water. The negatives about the island were the wind,(which you couldn't control), and the oil refinery across from the island. The smell of diesel fuel permeated the air and you could almost taste it in the water. Evidently, that's not a problem to the marine life, which was varied and plentiful. The surf was way to rough for the women in our group,(not sexist, they're just not strong swimmers), and the water was kinda cloudy. The facilities were quite good, clean bathrooms, and a nice dive shop. The restaurant looked o.k. and the bar was fine. We stayed for a few hours and left. (hint: get the guy in the office above the gift shop to call you a cab before you take the ferry back, as it takes the cab about 20-30 minutes to get to the ferry terminal.) Though Palm island was beautiful,we would not do it again, as the diesel fumes, and refinery, took away,somewhat,from the experience. No problem mon! We took a cab back to the ship for lunch,(hint: eat on the ship, as the food prices on Aruba are very,very,very expensive!)Lunch on the ship was served buffet style,open seating, in the main dining room and was a casual affair and, quite good. We showered and hit the main drag, next to the cruise terminal for some shopping. The street vendors had their typically tacky souvenirs,(which we love),for, surprisingly, decent prices and they would haggle with you,which is 1/2 the fun anyway. We didn't look for jewellry, liquor or anything like that, as St.Maarten/St.Thomas was on the itinerary. We gasped at the fast-food prices,(around $12.00 for a Big Mac meal, $30.00 for a cheese pizza from Li'l Caesars, OUCH!), and we checked out a couple of casinos. Threw away a few bucks gambling, but, in Vegas style,the drinks were complimentary and the casino workers were friendly. Everybody was friendly on this island. We went back to the ship,checked out the sunset,from our friends balcony, showered again,(hey,it was hot), and went to dinner. Once again, the food and service was superb. We got off the ship to walk off dinner. Aruba is especially beautiful at night, everthing is bright and pretty, the cruise ships are lit brightly the marinas are full of boats, etc. It's simply a wonderful, relaxing place. We checked with the security guys, about bringing beer on board, and they said it is no problem, bring as much aboard as you'd like. Beer is $2.00 an 11oz. bottle and you do not get a break buying it by the case. If your a beer drinker, however, $2.00 is still,almost,1/2 of what you pay on the cruise ship. Overall, we spent about $50.00 on beer from the islands, which saved us lots of $$$ for other things. (hint: don't forget your collapsible cooler which you can fill with dirty clothes and check as baggage for your trip home.) In retrospect, Aruba was our LEAST favorite island, yet it was still great!! Next stop..Curacao!
Embarkation We boarded the ship early - around noon. Porters and personnel outside the terminal to help make sure all documents were in order were all very friendly and found them to be very helpful. The lady that checked us in must have been having a really rough day though, or very unhappy in her job. Just acted putout that she was even there. Pleasantly surprised that the cabin change presented no problem. Everything was in order just as we had been told it would be.
The Ship Our Room 3134 was very pleasantly surprised to see room we had. There were four of us in one cabin and with the little sitting area made it very nice size to share with another couple. Our room steward Clyve and his assistant Dick were always very helpful and friendly. It was nice almost like little cleaning elves came in and picked up after we were gone.
The ship is much cleaner (sanitary) than Monarch, with the exception overflowing ash trays. But still glad to see that I was not sharing the ship with roaches as before.
Not a smoker friendly ship at all.Ashtrays very hard to come by in the Windjammer area, not to mention if you can find one it appeared to have never been emptied.
Age limits not enforced. Often there were so many small children (range of about seven or eight years old) in the main hotubs labeled "Adults Only" using them as common swimming pools that adults could not even get in them. Also Viking Lounges was to be for "Adults Only" Always saw small children in there.
Shops Very impressed by the price guarantee, Cabin-mate had purchased cigarettes on board ship then found them at a lesser price in St. Thomas. When we took the ad to the shop there was no problem the just refunded her card the difference. Young man in the jewelry store was very helpful and very pleasant and knowledgeable. Only thing is we were unaware of the fact that every time you made a purchase you had to inform them that you were crown and anchor members to receive the discount. Is there not a way to differentiate the cards somehow to receive this without having to remind them every time?
Casino Once again as far as Royal Caribbean goes all we have it to compare to is Monarch. Again very pleasantly surprised. Most anytime we were in there we found it to be fairly clean and staff helpful except barmaids, they were very hard to come by. Most of the time you had to leave your machine or table for bar service. Upon your return to find your machine had been taken.
Dining Windjammer the biggest part of the food appeared to be recycled, if you enjoyed last nights dinner you were in luck, because you would have the opportunity to eat it again for lunch the next day in the Windjammer. Heard someone sum up Windjammer breakfast really well, Tasted like you were eating the "Grand Slam" at Denny's.
First day lunch onboard in Windjammer, was very tasty, seemed to be recycled bacon and such from breakfast and left overs from night before.
Dinner in the Windjammer was nice, it was nice to have a pleasant meal in nice atmosphere was not sure if I would care for alternate dinning but it was nice. The chef who would take the pasta or steak orders and cook them was very nice and did a wonderful job.
Main Dinning Room we only ate there three times because the service was so bad. This is the first time that we have ever had service like this. We noticed it was not just our table, one evening at a nearby table, a couple had been waiting and waiting for something and finally gave up and shoved their plate's back, shook their heads, and got up and left. Based on our table experience it was probably waiting on a glass of tea. Out of the three nights we ate in there, every meal someone went without a drink even after it was ordered. To try and get a refill without having to chase down the waiter was a joke. One evening one of our table mates even had to get up and get it for himself.
Also questioned when I chose to order the New York Strip is that what I really wanted?? Wouldn't I rather have something else off the main menu? I asked for New York Strip again and baked potato (I did not think this to be out of the ordinary as it was on the menu) and received the Steak and whatever potato was being served with dinner that night not the baked as asked for.
Entertainment In the Palladium, found the dancers and singers to be a pleasant surprise. The shows were very well presented.
Pool Side All I can say is I wish that I could work the hours these guys do. We heard more canned music than anything.
Entertainment in General Would like to see more of a variety to do on the ship. Also in past cruises it was announced when a new activity was about to start so you did not have to carry your daily paper with you and check it every little bit to make sure you were not missing something.
Cruise Director Greg Maxwell found him to be one of the highlights of the whole cruise. Always went out of his way to speak and to be friendly (you would think he was bucking of a tip he was so nice!) Always had a smile on his face anytime you saw him in passing. Very pleasant man. Great asset to Royal Caribbean!
Service Pool Waiters I never got the man's name, but was one of the best I have ever seen. I believe him to be Cuban, maybe in his 40's rather short and a bit stocky. Again always pleasant, friendly, smiling, and always had a cute saying to go along with that day's drink. In fact when we were at Labadee and everyone saw him coming over with the drink of the day and started to sing a bit, the whole beach applauded that he was there.
Schooner Bar Waiters There were three that we dealt with over the week, a young lady (once again do not have a name) but I do know she was from Poland, and two young men from Jamaica. Both young men were also very pleasant. The one we found to most efficient was Junior Brown. He impressed us with his total attitude and the fact that he took the time to actually look at your name on the card and call you by name. Amazing things to us was that he would remember your name (out of the hundreds that he had to deal with daily)when you came in there and had such a positive and upbeat attitude all of the time. If he took that much interest in people that were not frequent guest in his lounge, I can imagine what he did for the ones who were. Very pleasant young man, once again a great asset to Royal Caribbean.
Room Service Was some of the best service we received onboard. Very courteous on the phone and very prompt. (Although not much to choose from) Only question is tried to order a turkey sandwich. They called back and said out of turkey??? Funny how it was offered for lunch the next day. Food presentation for room service was wonderful. Everything arrived hot and was very tasty. In fact the dinner we ate in our room everyone agreed was some of the best food that we had onboard ship.
Pursers Everyone always seemed to be very helpful was not annoyed to answer any questions you may have. Big difference from Monarch.
Rainy Days... Boy can, and you tell they are not prepared for these! Breakfast dishes had never been cleared from Windjammer tables, there was not one coffee cup to be found nor tea glass, just plenty of left over ones from breakfast. And if you wanted to get in the hot-tub you might as well forget it because there was not one towel to be found anywhere on deck. Once again Greg Maxwell came to the rescue and tried to make light of the situation and announced they would run movies in the Palladium.
Photographers All was very pleasant, just wish that there was a posting somewhere where all they were to be located other than it just generally saying that they were going to be on level five. Same with the pictures with the waiter in the ocean at Labadee. We had seen these pictures before, but I guess as we were on one of the first tenders to the island we missed the chance. The early bird did not get the worm this time! I heard a lot of people express their disappointment in this phot opportunity. Neat idea but need to advertise it more or not just stay at the first beach or wherever he was located. Or possible offer it again in Coco Cay.
Shore Excursions Husband and friend traveling with us booked the scuba excursion, stated that the person that represented Royal Caribbean was rather hateful but that the Dive Master that took them on the dive was very pleasant and it was well worth the money spent.
Ports of Call When we booked the cruise, we were hesitant about the private island thing. Boy we were very wrong! Labadee turned out to be one of the most beautiful places we had ever seen. Found the Beach staff was very helpful and pleasant. Only thing is $8.00 bucks to rent a floaty? My goodness that is a bit unreal. Lunch was very good. Very well prepared and nice variety.
San Juan Very interesting, Rich in history.
St. Thomas Great Shopping!
Coco Cay Pretty much same impression as Labadee, from what we could tell it rained that day. But lunch was very good.
Disembarkation: I must say this is the most organized and speediest I have ever seen. None of the everyone crammed in one room waiting for their color to be called. Nice change.
Overall Impression: Very classy looking ship. Easy to find your way around after the first day or so without having to constantly look for a diagram of the ship.
Food is way over rated and personnel seems to be over worked. One cook said his hours were from 4:30 a.m. til 11:30 p.m. with a 2 hour lunch(said he had been lucky that day). Possibly that is what was wrong with our main dinning service.
Private Islands are wonderful, would do them again. The Market in Hati had enough of the Haitian's and native crafts to give you a taste of it without having to go on into the towns. Beautiful Island.
I know that it was not just our opinions that were like this after speaking with fellow passengers. This was our second experience with Royal Caribbean. Would we travel with them again? Our answer would have to be possibly if we were to receive assurance of better service and quality.
I am 26 years old and my husband and I got married on June 7, 2000 and decided to book a cruise for our Honeymoon. Neither of us had ever cruised before. We got an excellent deal booking about 3 weeks ahead of time and we were booked into a Category "K" inside cabin (the largest interior type cabin) with a guarantee. (We were guaranteed at least that category but there was a chance for upgrade if available). Our travel agent called us two days before we left and told us we had been upgraded to an "H". We had two porthole windows with a large windowsill that was great to sit in and watch the high seas beneath our window. To keep this fairly short, I'll just break down what we generally thought of each aspect of this ship:
The cabin: Spacious and pretty on the 3rd level and in the front of the boat. We always heard the front of the boat is the worst place to be but we loved it, there is more movement and it lulled me to sleep each night. The anchor being droppedcould be frightening if not expecting it. We did not ever feel cramped and we loved our portholes, although we would have preferred a square window. The outside cabins at the front of the boat all have porthole windows as there is more water action near the front of the boat. We were very happy for our upgrade, however.
The service: Our Steward was rarely seen, but we never came back to a messy cabin. He also made wonderful little displays with the MANY pillows on our bed that were waiting for us each time we came back to the cabin. We always had fresh ice and towels and our bed was always turned down with mints and the intinerary for the following day. Our head waiter, waiter and assistant waiter were absolutely wonderful. Our Head Waiter, Apollo, is from Greece (we think). We even requested a dessert that was not on the menu and it was made for us the next night. He was very knowledgable about the ports of call and was just a super nice person. Our Waiter, Idell, was from South Africa and she really made dinner a pleasure each night. She was also very knowledgable of the ports of call and gave us a run down at the end of each night what to expect at port the next day. (we only missed one dinner as we wore ourselves out in St. Thomas and slept through dinner, but we ordered room service at 10:00 and had Lobster & Escargo). Our Assistant Waiter, Ovideu, aka Zorro, was from Romania (we called him Zorro because he looks like Antonio Banderas) . He was also super and always remembered what drinks were preferred and he even remembered that our tablemates liked coffee before dinner and that my husband needs extra lemons for his tea. Our wine steward always brought out our wine left over from the previous night and we never had to wait on anything from anyone. I can't say how many desserts we tried, but there were nights that some of us had two to three desserts! We became friends with two other tablemates. The other two tablemates that we began with were two single women and they did not return after the second night. They had requested to be moved and were obliged. (We assume that they just weren't having much fun with two other married couples). This enabled us to have a more intimate setting each night and become close to our table mates who we continue to keep in contact with. The Cruise Director is an absolute riot, the guy could be a professional comedian, I guess in a way he already is. Last but not least, the Captain is exactly the way I have always envisioned a Captain should be, a Handsome man with a strong, confident presence.
The Ship: This ship is just beautiful. This was our first cruise so we really can't compare it to any other ships, but we talked to several people on board who are avid cruisers and they all prefer RCI to other cruiselines and many have sailed on this particular ship numerous times. Our favorite place to be was the Viking Crown Lounge. We loved to just relax with a drink and look out of the wonderful windows (except for Disco nights which were quite popular, but not our cup of tea. My husband is a blues/rock musician and we are not really into the disco thing). Of the two pools, we preferred the Atrium. It was more relaxed with less children and the pool is like a giant Jacuzzi. The other pool was more of a party atmosphere, which I love too, but not all of the time. The only complaint I had in this area was that they didn't enforce the no kids in the Jacuzzis rule. Signs were posted but no one heeded them and no one seemed to care. We love kids, we have two, but there was a reason we didn't take them on our honeymoon! The Schooner Bar was nice but the band that always played ther w as mediocre at best. An elderly crowd usually gathered there to dance. Karioke was also held there, which was really fun to watch but they didn't do it long enough and they require you to sign up before it starts or you can't participate, so if you go to the big evening show you can only catch the end of it and can't participate. There was a very good female jazz singer that performed in the Atrium, alternating with a pretty good trio that consisted of a guitar, a piano and a violin. There was always care of the ship going on, polishing brass and glass, re-varnishing railings, and there were even crew members with little pieces of sandpaper that kept any spot of anything from being on the wooden decks for very long. This is a very clean, well maintained ship. We were on the same path and ports of call as the Norway, which is a really pretty, old ship, so it was always nice to look out at the ports and see that Quaint old ship. It also made for great background in alot of pictures. There was always a place to get peace and quiet and we never had to wait in line anywhere except the omelet line in the Windjammer in the mornings, but that wasn't a very long wait. ONE PIECE OF ADVICE, when you go in the Windjammer, walk all the way around to the other side because you will discover food you didn't know was there so it's best to look at everything first.
The Entertainment: The big shows were pretty good. The Platters were very good and there were several good comedians. We did not attend every show. The sound system in the Paladium could definitely be set up differently. It is very harsh at times and some simple changes would make it sound alot better. The last night of bingo had to be held in the Paladium as the jackpot wasn't won until the final night onboard and it reached over $7000 so EVERYONE, played bingo the last night, even us and we never play bingo. As mentioned before, we didn't go to the disco nights but they were very popular and the Viking Crown was always packed at night. The Grandeur of the Seas Orchestra backed up the big shows and they were really quite good, we were disappointed they never played elsewhere during the cruise.
Ports of Call: Labadee Haiti was a quaint little island paradise. There were several little bands that played on the island. It is ok to buy one of their tapes that they push, there is actually their music on there. There are guys that will carry your chairs anywhere you want them to for a small tip. IT was very nice to be set up right in front of the music, looking at the water, sipping a big frozen drink! BE WARNED THOUGH-The natives in the straw market are very pushy and they can be very pitiful. This is a very poor country and they will do just about anything to get you to buy something. I do not like being grabbed and we would have purchased alot more from them had they not been so aggressive. Definitely take the time to walk over to Dragons Rock as it is a very nice view and makes for great pictures.
San Juan was pretty neat. We rented a motor scooter (the placei s called Wheels of fun and is located near the plaza McDonalds). It was fun to tool arounf Old San Juan on the cobblestone streets on the scooter. It costs $55 for a scooter all day and $5 extra if you share a scooter & require an additional helmet. The people here are very tourist-friendly. There are many jewlry stores in San Juan but if you hold out for St. Thomas there are better deals there. Gotta purchase some Puerto Rican Rum though.
St. Thomas: We actually bought an excursion for this trip and this was the funnest thing we invested in. TAKE THE BUCK ISLAND SAIL & SNORKLE, and if you can, request to be on "The Survival". The owners of this sailboat, David and Judy, live on their boat and they are super guides, It was a beautiful 5 mile sail over to Buck Island, a wildlife preserve that no human is allowed upon except for the occasional serviceman to service the light tower. You know when you snorkle that you are going to see some neat stuff, but nothing prepares you for what you see when you first put your face under the water here. I have never snorkeled and now I am hooked. Judy was an excellent guide in the water. We heard from the others that went on the other sailboats that they didn't have the knowledable guides that we had on "The Survival". When going into town, don't be afraid to hail a taxi. It only costs $2.50 per person to go to downtown in any taxi.
CoCoCay was what paradise is made of. IF you snorkle here, which I also reccomend because you can just get the gear and snorkle all you want, stay at the first beach and swim all the way out to the lifegaurd stands. The one on the ocean side is near a great trench and very deep water with lots of sea life. The next lifegaurd stand over to the right is near a sunken airplane and a whole lot of fish. The nest lifegaurd stand over is near a boat wreck and also many fish. BE WARNED: The water is very shallow and VERY rocky for quite some ways until you get out to the deep water and in the swimming area you annot see the bottom. You will be tempted to guide yourself on your hands here and it's not a good idea as there is alot of fire coral in these waters and it does not feel good if you touch it. I was stung and my wrist swelled up and I felt nothing but stinging pain for two days. Luckily, this was the last port of call for me. When it's time to relax, just walk. You will run into some incredibly beautiful beach areas. We saw lots of Conch and starfish. There are hammocks and when you are laying in a hammock next to these turqoise waters on one of the silent beaches it will truly feel like paradise.
I don't know if this review will be helpful to anyone, but I read several reviews before I went on this cruise and I found them extremely helpful. I am glad that my first cruise was on The Grandeur of the Seas and I would reccomend this ship to everyone!!
We booked the 1 night pre-cruise package and air through Royal Caribbean. Our flight to Miami was early AM, so we had the entire afternoon and evening in Miami the day before the cruise. We placed the ship tags on our luggage and checked it at the airport before departure. RCCL handled it from there. We didn't see it again until it was delivered to our cabin. A representative from Royal Caribbean met us at the gate when we got off the plane and put us on a bus to the Hyatt Regency in downtown Miami, a very nice hotel. Upon check-in, I requested a nonsmoking room, high up, with a view of the water so we could see the ships come in the next morning. They were very accommodating and gave us a very nice room on the 16th floor, with a small balcony, facing the water. Friday night, we went to Bayside Marketplace and had dinner (and a few creamsicles) at Lombardi's, an excellent Italian restaurant. If you're looking for a place to eat in Miami, I recommend this restaurant. On Saturday morning we were able to check-infor the ship right in the lobby of the hotel, and received our boarding passes right there. No lines, no waiting, no fuss. At approximately 12:30 a bus took us to the pier and we boarded immediately.
We had a category H stateroom on "A" deck. The cabin was on the small side, but that's what we expected. We also booked the "Crowning Touches" package, so there was a bottle of Dom Perignon on ice waiting for us in the cabin. A quick word about the Crowning Touches package - at a cost of $400 per couple, it is an excellent value. For each couple it includes 2 RCCL robes (to keep), a bottle of Dom Perignon, a facial or full massage in the spa for each of you, an 8x10 formal portrait in a silver frame, pre-dinner canapes and post-dinner petit fours delivered to your cabin each night, a champagne (Moet White Star) breakfast in bed, and an invitation to the bridge. After the standard life boat drill, departure was delayed for about an hour due to some delayed airline flights. We set sail shortly after 6:00 PM.
The Ship: Our first afternoon on board was spent exploring the ship, and what a ship it is!! The first thing we noticed upon boarding was the Centrum which is just beautiful. It starts at deck 4 and goes to deck 9. All the on board shops, as well as the purser's desk and shore excursion desk are located off the Centrum. The dining room has 2 levels on decks 4 and 5, and there are 2 pools on deck 9, one of which is in the enclosed solarium. There are also 4 hot tubs by the main pool and 2 more by the solarium pool. You could always get into one. The shipshape center and spa is adjacent to the solarium. The layout of the ship is great, and it is easy to get around. The main show each night is in the 2 level Palladium Theater. The Windjammer is spacious, and never seemed crowded despite the number of people eating there. The casino is a decent size, although I would have preferred another blackjack table instead of all the slot machines. There are also plenty of lounges for other activities or to find a place to relax with some music, and there are plenty of bar waiters around if you want a drink. Deck space is plentiful and deck chairs by the pools and on the sun deck were always available, despite the few inconsiderate folks who "reserved" them. We also enjoyed lounging in the chairs on the sides of the promenade deck. It was nice and quiet there, and not the least bit crowded. For the stargazers, there is an observatory platform complete with star charts rising above deck 10. And of course there is the RCCL signature Viking Crown lounge at the top of the ship. The Viking Crown is the site of the disco each night.
Food: Throughout the week, we had breakfast (and an occasional lunch) in the Windjammer and never had difficulty finding a table. The food was excellent, varied, and plentiful.
We ate dinner in the dining room each night. The food was varied and just superb, and the service was better than excellent, maybe the best we've ever had. Our waitress and assistant waitress were just incredible, almost as though they could read our minds. And they gave new meaning to the word quick. When salads were served, the assistant was no more than 10 seconds behind with the dressings. If a main course or dessert called for a sauce, she was right there again. I never had to request a second helping of anything; they were right there to offer it, as though they knew I wanted more. They even brought me a third lobster tail without me asking.
There are late afternoon snacks and ice cream served in the Windjammer, and hot dogs, fries and pizza is available most of the day and into the wee hours in the solarium.
There are no more daily midnight buffets. One night there is a buffet by the pool and on the second formal night they have the Captain's Gala Buffet in the dining room. On the other nights, the waiters walk around the ship with trays of hors d'ouvres and canapes. Personally, I don't miss the midnight buffets and actually like this arrangement better.
Service: As stated above our waitress, Rita from Hungary, and assistant waitress, Annie from Romania were fabulous. The head waiter, Markus from Austria, came over to our table at least two or three times each night to make sure everything was to our liking, and to discuss how we spent our day and what we were planning for the next day. The wine steward was very nice, and arranged for the champagne that came with our Crowning Touches package champagne breakfast in bed, to be served at dinner instead. We shared it with our dining companions, a lovely couple from Ireland and their 18-year-old daughter.
Our cabin steward, David from Barbados, was excellent - very friendly, accommodating and efficient. We would see him in the hallway every morning and every evening, and he always asked if we had everything we needed, and inquired about how we were enjoying the cruise.
The bar waiters are never very far away if you want a drink. They make their presence known, but are not pushy.
Activities and Entertainment: There is so much to choose from, you can't do it all. We decided to skip the shipshape activities this time around since we already have plenty of shipshape paraphernalia. We also skipped the daily bingo because we never win, and skipped the art auctions because we have no room to hang anything else.
There was the usual assortment of pool games and one of my favorite activities - horseracing. This year I was finally a successful bidder in buying a horse. The bidding was very light, almost nonexistent, so my son also bought a horse, and a friend bought another. We had a lot of fun dressing up, showing off, and naming our horses (Nag of the Seas, Teen Rebel, and Lady Grandeur), but alas, we all lost in the owners' derby. The belly flop competition was held just prior to the horseracing; so I opted to skip that, but I coulda been a contender.
The nightly entertainment was pretty good, but with so many other things to do and so many other lounges with music on board, the Palladium Theater was never crowded. Bowser (of Sha Na Na) had a very good show and brought back some good memories.
The band by the pool was High Seas. They were pretty good, but by the end of the week some of their repertoire got a little old.
The kids and teens each have their own lounges on deck 10. The youth programs on RCCL are really great. They kept the kids so occupied, that it was hard to believe there were a few hundred kids and teens on board.
The casino is open when the ship is not in port. There are plenty of slot machines and a couple of tables for each of the traditional casino games.
Itinerary: Labadee, Haiti - a very nice private peninsula. Nice beaches with warm, calm water for swimming, but not much in the way of snorkeling. There is a local crafts market where the Haitians sell their wares. There is some very nice stuff, and some real junk. The people are very pushy and can be annoying. It reminded me of walking through a straw market in Jamaica. Every price is very negotiable, and they expect to negotiate. If you show some interest but start to walk away, they will come down dramatically. We purchased some hand carved items at a fraction of the original asking price. One suggestion, don't take out your wallet. Put some cash in a pocket or in one of those water wallets and you can always claim you have very little or no cash. If they see a wallet with cash they won't leave you alone.
San Juan - We hired a taxi and took a tour of old and new San Juan for a few hours. Most of the sightseeing tours offered by the ship can be done considerably cheaper if you do it on your own. My son went off on his own with a shore excursion to go horseback riding. It was his first time on a horse, and he really enjoyed it. After our tour, we did a little shopping in old San Juan and then stopped off at the Crown & Anchor Club for a cold drink and a little relaxation before heading back to the ship. The club is a really nice setup and I must commend RCCL for the idea.
St. Thomas - So much to do and see, and so little time. We took a taxi to Coki beach for some sun and snorkeling. It is a nice small beach, with very good snorkeling. There is also restrooms, snacks and bar service. Afterwards, we stopped downtown for some shopping. A trip to St. Thomas wouldn't be complete without some shopping. Without going into detail, just let me say that prices on jewelry, perfume and cosmetics are fabulous.
Cococay - RCCL's private island in the Bahamas (a.k.a. Little Stirrup Cay). Cococay is much nicer than I expected. While my son went parasailing, we explored the island and stumbled upon Blackbeard's grave. After a barbecue lunch, we walked along the shore and found a nice shady spot on the second (or third) beach. Snorkeling here was really good, but not really necessary. Just wading out into the water, waist deep, we could see a lot of fish. While I was ashore, a rather large stingray swam right by my wife, inches away. She called out to us, and we could see it from the shore. We spent the rest of the day relaxing on the beach sipping coco locos.
Debarkation: The chaos I expected never happened. We retrieved our luggage with no problems, and since we had booked our air through RCCL, we were able to check our luggage with Continental Airlines right there at the pier. We then boarded a bus with only our carry on bags for a quick ride to the airport.
Conclusion We had a fantastic time, and heartily recommend the Grandeur and the eastern Caribbean itinerary.