My wife and I recently took a 7 night cruise on Grandeur of the Seas leaving from Colon, Panama. We are American, have no children, are 28 and 30 years old, and had taken one cruise together previously (it was with Norwegian). We did research before the trip and were aware that this cruise was likely to be some type of Spanish language "immersion" cruise. Notification of this fact from the cruise line came only 10 days before booking, but we weren't surprised. I speak a little Spanish and was okay with whatever level of immersion there was.
Since this "immersion" aspect seems to be an area I am frequently asked about, I'll start there before reviewing the cruise in general. The first choice language of the ship was certainly Spanish on this trip. By that I mean that when you were greeted in the halls or called room service they were more likely start off in Spanish than English. That being said, every staff member spoke English fluently and almost all of them spoke it More
as well or better than they spoke Spanish. On the game shows, production shows, and pool activities, both languages were typically used, but the English translations were typically short and without the nuance of what was going on in Spanish. Especially during events like the Love and Marriage gameshow where Spanish-speaking guests interacted for long periods with a Spanish-speaking host for several minutes before the host tried to translate the whole exchange into a sentence or two.
I found the immersion experience to not be much of an issue for us. It was reasonable to us for the default language to be Spanish since probably 80% of the passengers hailed from Panama, Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, or Argentina. We limited ourselves to shows where the language barrier wouldn't be much of an issue, and enjoyed ourselves even when we didn't know exactly what was going on around us.
However, this immersion experience was not for everyone. We talked to several American passengers who were furious about the fact that the cruise was in Spanish and complained every chance they got about it. I can see how if someone's major source of enjoyment on a cruise is going to the shows, easily interacting with other English-speaking guests, or being able to see foreign ports without ever having to be spoken to in the foreign language that this cruise might not be for you. I highly recommend it though for someone that looks to at least experience a little bit of the language and culture when they travel.
Now back to the other aspects of the cruise. We had family in Panama, so we didn't have a hotel or need to arrange transport to the pier so we had no problems with that. Embarkation and debarkation both went smoothly and more quickly that our previous cruising experiences. The stateroom was much larger than we had on our previous Norwegian cruise, and the attendant did a good job getting into it often without interrupting any of our plans. There were none of the plumbing issues that I have heard complained about on the Grandeur. I was specifically looking for sewage smells in the bathroom and Centrum, and never noticed any.
For dining, we went to the main dining room for all dinners. The food was good and the waitstaff was very attentive. Most of our breakfasts were in the Windjammer and the food there had good variety as well. Other cruisers were rude there, but we expected this since somehow people of all ages, nations and races are transformed into savages at buffets. The activities and entertainment were fine, although we only went to a few because of the language issue. The aerial show in the Atrium was particularly unique and the party-type events had much more energy than typically found on US cruises. I am doing port reviews separately, but we enjoyed all of them including several RCI arranged excursions.
Overall, we had a fantastic time and felt like all of the staff did a great job adapting to the bilingual operation. I recommend this cruise enthusiastically, but only to cruisers that are willing to go with the flow in a foreign country rather than expecting the world to revolve around the English language. Less
Grandeur of the Seas Cruises to the Southern Caribbean
The Best of Aruba Tour was pretty much what we expected of it. The drive gave good information in English and Spanish as we hit the major tourist spots on the island. The amount of time spent in each was appropriate although other groups came through the aloe factory at the same time as we did and that made the line at the gift shop take a long time so we did feel rushed there. The bus was comfortable and you could eat and drink on it. There were stands at several of the stops where you could get water, beer, snacks, or raspaos, so it was definitely nice to be able to enjoy those on the bus since the stops were pretty short.
Bonaire was a beautiful city, but the options were a little sparse if you didn't want to do diving or other underwater activities. We had the morning free and were hoping to parasail, but the side of the island we were on did not offer it, and no taxis were willing to take us to that side of the island. Then we decided we would go to the butterfly sanctuary that the cruise line offers a tour of. Since it was too late to book their tour, we tried to just go out there ourselves, but once again no taxi was willing to take us there. So we ended up wasting a lot of time in the morning.
In the afternoon, we had booked the Spice Beach Fun excursion. The beach was very nice and the water/snorkeling was very beautiful. Unfortunately the excursion description was not accurate. It said there were lockers there for rent and that you could get a massage on the beach and neither of those was true. Highly recommend this excursion if you just want a full service place to relax on beach with food and drinks and see some of the underwater view of Bonaire without making all the boat and scuba arrangements.
The mud volcano was a very fun excursion. The cruise line did not offer it for our trip so we had to book it separately. We got great information about the city on the way out of town and got to see the countryside later in the drive. The mud was such a unique feeling and cool experience. It was relaxing and we could have stayed in there all day. We did stay in the small village at the volcano after we cleaned up to have a very authentic Colombian meal. The guide was also very flexible in allowing us to extend the time of the tour to include a tour of the Old City, and he was full of good recommendations for dinner and drinks later on since we had a late all-aboard.
The buggy tour was a lot of fun! We got to drive the buggies both around the streets of town (and across the high bridge) and offroad. It definitely hit some places that are harder to get to on your own, so the excursion cost was money well spent. The ostrich farm was the one disappointment because there was only a 10 minute stop there. That wasn't enough time to do the tour that the farm offered and it was only on the tour that you could actually get close to the birds. From the area we could actually get to they were more than 100 feet away, so we couldn't even get very good pictures with our super zoom lens, let alone pictures of us with them. The rest of the stops were interesting though, although older travelers should be warned that getting into the caves involved more physical activity than I would associate with the "moderate" in the excursion description. Also, the buggies are two passenger which went well for my wife and I, but you may end up with a stranger if you take this alone or with an odd numbered group.