This is a review of our cruise on the Grandeur of the Seas, March 18 - 25, 2012, out of Colon, Panama and the travel to and from the cruise. A bit about myself. This was my 16th cruise in the last 12 years. The lowest level cabin I have ever stayed in was a balcony but most have been suites. I am Diamond on RCCL and we stayed in the Royal Suite on this cruise. I am in my late 50s, live in the South, and go on a cruise to relax and do a few excursions. I do not generally go to any shows or participate in activities like bingo or games. But hopefully I can give you a good overview of this ship and general information on the ports we visited. I was traveling with 2 friends of a same age and background.
This cruise is what they call in Immersion Cruise. As I wanted to see part of the Panama Canal without the huge cost and time to do a transit on a cruise ship, this seemed the best for me at this time. There were 3 ladies total on this trip. Two of us flew from Atlanta to Ft. Lauderdale on Thursday afternoon. We stayed at the Marriott Spring Hills Suites. I have stayed here in the past and would do so again. The hotel is nice and clean other than some of the carpets in the hallways, which is fairly typical, provides a shuttle to and from the FLL airport as well as a shuttle to the ships sailing out of that port. They have a full bus with a trailer behind that allows them to pick up or deliver a large group of people as they put the luggage in the trailer. We used this service both coming and going to the airport. On the night we arrived we had dinner with my TA of 12 years at a great Greek place not to far away.
Friday morning we were picked up by the 3rd person in our group who lives in the Florida Keys. We went to the Miami airport to fly to Panama City. We arrived in PTY mid afternoon and got a taxi to our hotel, the Country Inn & Suites in Amador. It sits right at the mouth of the canal entrance on the Pacific side and you see all vessels entering or exiting the canal. Of course at night, you really only see the lights on the ships. This hotel was clean, tile floors which is typical of the tropics, and the people were extremely nice, especially at the front desk. When we arrived we had 2 separate rooms booked, one for 2 of us and one for the other lady. When asked if these rooms could be near each other, the manager on the desk said if we would be willing to wait about 30 minutes for them to clean a suite with 2 bedrooms we could have that for the same price. That suited us very well so we waited in the lobby for a tad under 30 minutes in a nice sitting area then were given keys to this suite. It had a large kitchen, bigger than many apartment kitchens I have seen, a nice living area with a sofa, love seat, and arm chair in a U shape configuration. The first bedroom to the side had 2 queen beds with a bath that had a door to the bedroom and to the living area. The second bedroom was smaller but had a king bed and a private bath. The balcony is small with no chairs but decent enough to step out for a short while. All of the balconies in this hotel were the same as far as we could see. The pool was on the ocean side and a very nice size. It has an hourglass shape with a small arched bridge going over the middle. There were many tables with chairs and umbrellas and many lounge chairs too. There is a TGI Fridays attached to one end that is accessible to the hotel directly. We ate both of our dinners there as we were just not up to traveling out again to dine.
The only bad glitch on the whole trip came the Saturday before the cruise. After reading the boards here on Cruise Critic and seeing the tour group called My Friend Mario recommended, we booked a partial canal transit with him and were to be picked up that morning at 8:45. He called about 20 minutes prior to arrival and that was when we found our phone was not working. The desk put a note under our door with a time stamp of 8:26 and I was in the lobby to call him back at 8:30 as we saw the note come under the door. Bottom line, he said that the boat sailed early and there was nothing he could do but he could take us on Sunday. Since that was the day we left on the cruise we just said no and I hung up. Before I leave this topic, the couple that I had been chatting with on these boards also had him booked for that day and he called them and said that the boat had a broken propeller. When we met on the ship and discussed this we both realized (after seeing the boat in the locks later that day) that he probably just overbooked and since we were at hotels that had no others to be picked up we were the ones that he dumped. I have posted warnings on the Panama board and will monitor to pass this information on again. After getting my temper under control, I asked the desk manager about a trip to the Miraflores Locks as I had seen other postings about that being a good trip for the day. He strongly advised it and a taxi was not very much so we went there. We all agreed after going to the visitor's center at the Miraflores locks that we probably were much better off. I had seen one of 2 ships enter the canal before we left that had to be one of the boats we would have been on for the partial transit (obviously with no prop issues) and they were packed with no sitting room. But the Visitor's center has a great viewing deck, a short film on the building of the canal, a museum, a restaurant, two snack areas, and someone explaining live about the ships in the locks at that time, in both English and Spanish, explaining how traffic moves in the morning versus the afternoons and evenings, and is walking around to answer questions if you wish. We had a great lunch in the upscale restaurant with an outside porch right by the locks and just had a wonderful day. There were plenty of taxis available so getting back to the hotel the next day was not a problem.
Sunday we used Panama Travel Corporation as recommended by my TA. They responded quickly when I emailed them a couple of months prior to the cruise, the driver called us about an hour before he was to pick us up (11:30) to see how much luggage we had to ensure his car was big enough, he arrived a tad early, was extremely nice, gave us a great history of Panama other than just the canal on the drive to Colon, which took just a bit over an hour, and was great overall. You do have to pay ahead of time for this service but I had no problems with that as I felt we would then be assured of being picked up and all emails were extremely professional including the driver's name when I confirmed the pickup a week before I left.
We arrived at the Grandeur of the Seas right at 1:00 as I had requested. It was an easy process to get our bags to the porters, of course with the expected tip, then we went inside. Since this is not a port with a lot of RCCL traffic, it was not as nice as their setups in FLL or MIA but it was laid out as you expect with several lines for people to check in and a separate line for Diamond and Suite guests. There was one group of women ahead of us who had not filled out the "illness" form you were handed as you entered and they did not move out of the way to let others up to check in. This was the only time I felt that RCCL did not do right as they just ignored us and grabbed people from the general line to put at the agents waiting for them. We were the only others in the Suite line at that time so it irked me some, but we still only waited about 5 minutes then were taken up. While checking in to our cabin, a woman appeared in full uniform and was there to escort us to the Royal Suite. Carolina went with us through security and walked us all the way to the suite, even though most rooms were not open to the general masses yet. That happened about 15 minutes after we arrived.
A few notes on this Royal Suite. I was in it in 2003 for a Transatlantic cruise. I also know that this ship goes into dry dock the end of April so would not have been surprised at some slightly shabby areas. Not so in the suite. The lighting was all new since I last used it and had much better controls. The sofas in the living room appeared to be very new. The Jacuzzi tub was working better, the lavatories that are rose glass and have been carved on the underside had been replaced as one of them had some chips when I last used this suite, the bedding was new or not very old, and everything was spotless. The only thing that was not perfect was the baby grand piano, which uses discs to play music, did not seem to be hitting all of the notes when you used it that way. However if you just sat down and played it worked fine. We had a good steward but I was saddened to hear that Mary Joy, the steward that I had in 2003 was still working on this ship and still had this suite but was on her last week of vacation. She was due back next week. I would have enjoyed seeing her again as she was wonderful. That being said, we were well taken care of on this cruise. When we arrived we had the normal bottle of bubbly, a fruit basket and a 2nd one as well sent by our TA, and a dozen red roses on the dining table. During the week we were given two bottles of wine, a white as we embarked and a red a couple of days later, a bottle of non alcoholic bubbly after they found out one of us did not partake, and every night after there were some type of goodies from the chocolate dipped strawberries to other hors d'oeuvres. Just nice to have.
Now I would like to talk about the Immersion part for a short while. If you go on this cruise and expect to be in a majority of English speaking people, think again. There were only 100 USA citizens on board and 50 from Canada. We found that out at the first reception. But if you go with the attitude that we went with that we wanted to enjoy the ship, the ports, and hopefully the people, you will NOT be disappointed. All of the crew speaks English and several times when they found that we did they would be relieved. For most English is their 2nd language and Spanish is a 3rd, 4th or distant 5th. They all speak Spanish but find English much easier. We were at a table for 12 with 13 seats as we were 3 to make if off slightly and all 5 of the other couples were from Panama. The waiter, Ercan and his assistant both spoke in both languages and you were given menus in the appropriate language. Four of the couples had someone who could speak English and we could speak a tad of Spanish. Over the week we thoroughly enjoyed our dinners, conversing and translating to each other. No one was inhibited and we all tried which made it a delight. And the impression I got for most of this cruise was that all of the people that boarded in Panama or Columbia were this way. If I met someone in the hall generally they would greet me in Spanish, I responded in English and we would all smile. I have to say having sailed out of San Juan I was expecting a raucous crowd and shame on me. These people across the ship were enjoying themselves but were just doing that, not super loud or in your face, the ones that had children made them behave, not something you see in the USA today, they dressed up for formal night, and were very friendly. At the end of the cruise I realized that I had not heard a lot of complaints and whining and even in a different language you can pick up on that. The lines at the Pursers desk were small, no one tried to break in, and all were patient. People from the USA could definitely take lessons in behavior from this ship's passengers. Of course I encountered one USA family who give us all a bad rep and acted snooty. Boo to them.
Back to the cruise. On Monday we were in Cartagena, Columbia. This is the 2nd embarkation disembarkation port for this cruise. Most that boarded the day before got off to do excursions and others left as it was the end of the cruise. Since the new people joining the cruise could not get on until after noon the ship was quite and peaceful. We all took advantage of a rest day after so much traveling and I even indulged in a massage. The spa is the same as on most ship, way overpriced and they try to push the expensive products they carry. I just thanked the girl after a very good massage and said No Thank You and left. Dinner that night was again sharing at our table and getting better at understanding each other. One more thing, the food on this cruise was the best I have ever had on a RCCL ship, bar none. All of the meats were done to perfection and not dried out, the appetizers were wonderful, and the desserts had the most flavor of any I have eaten on a cruise ship in quite a while. I am not a "foodie" but I do enjoy good food and this was what I had at every meal. The buffet was good too and had Latin dishes at every meal. It was interesting to try some different things.
Tuesday was our first sea day and the first formal night. Mid morning we got a call asking if we would like to eat at the Captain's table that night. Of course we said yes. The formal invitation arrived about an hour later. We relaxed and ate a very late lunch as we had early seating for our regular dinner which was at 7:00 and late seating with the Captain was at 9:30. We had a blast. The Captain, Epsen Been, is one of the most personable Captains or people for that matter that I have ever met. He made a point to talk to each of us, either in Spanish for the 3 guesst who had that as their native tongue or in English. All at the table spoke English so that was a touch of class to me on his part. The Security Officer, Guy Cohen, and his companion, Cherry Santos (works for RCCL but on vacation) were also at the table. Guy and Cherry were wonderful to talk to and as I sat next to Guy, we had a great discussion about security as I am involved with my company's security in a very big way. One of the women with me had celebrated her birthday just before we began this cruise and at dessert time they surprised all of us with a cake and singing. We were all served a wonderful dessert of fruits in a pastry shell with ice cream and a slice of cake. A wonderful evening.
Wednesday was Bonaire. All 3 of us did the snorkel with Woodwind tours. Dee and crew lived up to all of the rave reviews on the Bonaire boards. This was the only excursion we did not do though the ship and it was very well organized. I got a new camera for underwater pictures prior to leaving and had a ball with that. We all returned to the cabin to clean up and generally rest before dinner. Sail away was to be about 5:30. About 5:00 the phone rang and I answered and it was Captain Been asking if we would like to come to the bridge. So we hustled to look presentable and across the hall we went as this suite sits directly behind the bridge. We were escorted to the bridge and out onto one of the "wings" on each side used to move in and out of port. This was one of the best highlights of a truly great cruise. Bonaire does not want them to use the engines at all if possible as the whole area is a Marine park so what they do is just let the ropes go and the ship is large enough on the side that the wind just pushes it back out to sea. While leaving port it is like the cockpit of an airplane on take off or landing with no extraneous talking allowed. So we were up on the outside of the bridge, in complete silence, the sun was setting, a couple of sailboats were on the horizon and we just floated out. Fabulous. Dinner with our new friends at our table was great as we talked about the night before and our days activities.
Thursday was Curacao. I did my own snorkel that day through the ship. Not the best nor the worst that I have ever had but I felt safer going as a single person with the ship's outing. The other two walked all around Curacao and especially enjoyed the Maritime Museum and were talking about it to a lot of people saying if they every came back to do this. The town is painted pretty colors, or at least the part by the port is and is quite easily accessible. The tours leave right at the side of the ship which is also very nice. That afternoon we got to witness something that few get to see. As I boarded the ship I noticed a 3 masted schooner just to the back of our ship and having done a sunset sail out of Key West many years ago, thought it was probably something like that. After we had all returned to the suite and were relaxing, we became aware of something going on off the starboard side, which is luckily our side of the ship. The Captain later told us that the Columbian Navy trains all of their sailors on this type of ship to get a good handle on navigation before putting them on modern sailing vessels. As they trawled out of the harbor, the sailors were all decked out in Red, Yellow, or Blue t shirts, the colors of their flag, and were standing up on the masts, on the bow, down the sides, on the back, and all of the officers were in white uniforms standing at attention on the deck facing our ship. They were playing music over the speakers, probably their national anthem, and all were singing and waving. Captain Been told us later that he had only seen this once before in all of his time in the Caribbean. He came on the wing and blew our horn 3 times as a salute to them. Incredible.
Friday was Aruba. We all three chose to do De Palm Island in this port through the ship. My independent research had indicated that doing it on your own was not much cheaper and I wanted the extra security of transportation through the ship. I never found anyone who was so so on the reviews on this outing. All either loved or hated it. Well we loved it. It is a small island barely off of Aruba and had a ferry going and coming. There is an area with water slides that most families end up staying around. All food and drink are included as well as snorkeling equipment, banana boat rides, and other things. It is clean and the water slide area is away from the back of the island where the general food area is located and the nice beaches with lounge chairs. What I really liked was that there were boarded walks in great condition to all parts of the island and a huge covered area with chairs just behind the snorkel area that was not on the sand. As we all wanted no more sun, that was ideal for us. We settled in and went off and on at various times to eat, swim, snorkel, or just stayed to read and relax. It was fun to watch the lizards that came about looking for food and seeing one climb into an unattended glass for a nip. But they would run off and not bother you and were just not a big issue. The food was just typical fast food but that was fine with us as it was just lunch. They offered many drinks like Pina Coladas and Margaritas but also a large variety of many other hard drinks. The excursion was about 5 Â½ hours from the time we left the ship until we got back on board. Some of that was travel time but we felt we had plenty of time on the island. Dinner that night was the last formal night. All were dressed up and the atmosphere was fantastic. There was dancing every night in the atrium and always some participating. Again not rowdy but people young and old just enjoying themselves.
Saturday was the last sea day and of course the last day of the cruise. We had the official bridge tour, lunch with Guy and Cherry again, and just a generally nice day. We had a lot of visitors off and on over the week, people we had meet and enjoyed being with, and having the nice living area was wonderful for this. The bagtags were delivered late afternoon and we had a great last dinner with our table then came back up for the final packing. Bags were out by 10:00 for pick up and we settled in to enjoy our last night of luxury in this suite.
On Sunday we had transfers with RCCL back to Panama City for our afternoon flight back to MIA. They called our numbers early as we get one of the first bagtag numbers by being in the suite or Diamond or both. We went to the part of the dining room set aside for us but most had left the ship. We were told we did not need to go down before 8 as the busses did not leave until 8:30 or later. But we decided about 7:45 to head on down. Lucky for us. They put about 15 people, all speaking English, on one bus and sent us on our way. We were waiting to check in with AA in the airport when all of the other busses arrived as AA would not check us in until noon for a 3:30 flight and were so glad that we were not in the masses getting off. We had found seats just across from the AA counter and just watched the confusion. The one last thing that marred the trip was that upon arrival to MIA they had closed customs and we had to stand in what I call the "Cattle Herding" area for 30 minutes before being allowed to go down the escalator to the customs area. And it was packed out. All 40 gates were open, only 10 for US citizens, and all had long lines. Boarder patrol was everywhere. Never did find out what happened. It was after 9 before we got back to the Marriott Spring Hill Suites in FLL and we needed to get the shuttle to FLL from there at 6:00 the next morning. Our flight back to Atlanta was fine on Monday and all got home safe and sound.
I know this is long but I hope it gives a good description for those going on or considering this cruise.