This was my first cruise, ever, a gift from my son and daughter-in-law or years of babysitting and because they knew I had lived in Bermuda as a child and have always wanted to return. Because my husband was not at all interested in going on a cruise, my 12-year-old granddaughter accompanied me. I had never had any interest in cruising and wasn't even sure at first whether I wanted to go.
Embarkation from the Baltimore cruise terminal couldn't have been easier. We arrived early because we had to drive up I-95 from the Fredericksburg, Virginia, area and knew that anything could happen on 95 to delay a trip. As it was we were the first passengers to arrive. We handed off our bags outside and went inside to wait. At 10 am the check-in counter opened. Our cruise had 3 large wedding parties and those groups were checked in first. Then us - up to the desk, show our passports and Set Sale Pass, get our Sea Passes and go sit in a different section of the waiting area until the wedding parties had boarded. We entered at the Centrum elevators, checking the 3rd deck first to see that our cabin was not yet available. We looked around the ship a little and had lunch in the Windjammer. When our cabin was available we unpacked, and then went out again to tour the ship some more, including a tour of the Spa where we made an appointment for my granddaughter to have her hair styled the next day for formal night. The muster drill was next and after that we went to the pool deck to watch the ship get underway and listen to the calypso band, The Hot Spices. I particularly enjoyed their music all week.
The public areas on Grandeur are beautiful, with ample comfortable upholstered seating everywhere. We enjoyed sitting in the Centrum lounge areas, watching the sea. This ship is all gold and glass art deco and bright as a new penny.
Our cabin was a small interior one in the bow on the 3rd deck, but quite adequate. There was ample drawer and closet space. Our mattresses were most comfortable and we both slept soundly each night, lulled by the rocking motion of the ship. Since the cabin was forward of the forward elevators, it was a quick trip up to the pool deck and the Windjammer but a much longer walk to the Centrum or the dining room. I decided that next time I'd reserve a cabin located between the two sets of elevators. One thing that surprised me was that we never heard a sound from the passageway or the cabins on either side. The cabin attendants make up the room twice a day, in the morning and in the evening. We didn't have any special requests but our steward, St. Clair, greeted us the first day and explained how to ask for whatever we needed.
The Great Gatsby dining room far surpassed my expectations, in decor, service, and food. Our waiter, Mihaela from Romania, was one of the gems of the cruise, an absolutely delightful person. We were at a 6-person table but 2 chairs were never filled. The other couple made for charming dinner companions. We had 2nd seating and found we preferred it. Traveling with a 12-year-old I was not planning on any late evening activities after dinner. We ate every dinner except for the night we were in Bermuda, and one lunch in the dining room. I wasn't so impressed with lunch. There is a set menu all week with a special of the day added each day. We liked the Windjammer as well. We ate all but one breakfast and all but two lunches there, plus some afternoon drinks and snacks while we were on the pool deck. Sure, there were items we didn't care for but that's the point of having so many different offerings on a buffet - everyone can find something they like. You certainly won't go hungry on Grandeur. We never found the lines too crowded and always were able to find seating. We tried breakfast from room service on the last day at sea. I think I would have enjoyed the food better in the Windjammer but service was speedy and cordial. We also allowed ourselves to be tempted by the Ben & Jerry's/Lattetudes in the Centrum on deck 6. It was pleasant to indulge in something cold and sinfully chocolatey while watching the waves roll past as we sat in the nearby lounge area.
The first day at sea was rough and windy. We spent some time at the pool deck so my granddaughter could swim but as the morning wore on it became too uncomfortable. I did enjoy the pool deck area all week, though. Plenty of table & chair seating, under roof, for older arthritic ladies like me who wouldn't have an easy time getting up and down from the deck chairs. As I said earlier, the band was a delight, hearing the Caribbean accents and the steel pan transported me back to my childhood when the Trinidad steel bands would visit Bermuda. I bought the group's CD in one of the Centrum shops but it isn't studio quality. The Windjammer was right there so we could get tea or water and snacks.
Corne, the stylist at the Spa, did a wonderful job on my granddaughter's hair. Expensive, as expected, but a delightful treat for her. After that we dressed for the formal night dinner and went to the Centrum to have our pictures taken. Again, expensive, but I was so pleased with the final results that I bought 3 prints. I also ordered the DVD of the trip but probably won't do that again.
Because of the rough seas in the Atlantic, we arrived late in Bermuda, although the Bermudians told us that Grandeur is always late, creating a problem for the morning shore excursion schedule. Leaving the ship via the Bermuda customs building was a breeze. The day was warm and sunny and nothing but fair weather clouds in the sky. We spent the afternoon in the Dockyard. The Royal Navy Dockyard had just been shut down when we lived in Bermuda, and I had never even heard of it back then, so I wanted to see it. We ate lunch at the Frog & Onion Pub, which I had decided on after visiting their website. I recommend it. We hit the Craft Market, the Glass Factory, the Clayworks, and the Clocktower Mall. I was particularly pleased with watercolor prints from the Craft Market and some beautiful matted photos I bought at Clocktower mall. I had planned to go back out to the evening festivities that start at 8 pm, but we were bushed. We caught a nap and ate supper in the Windjammer. I was told by a lady at the Clocktower Mall that there is a shuttle from the wharf around to the Clocktower and back but we never saw it so hiked back lugging all our packages. If I do the dockyard again I'll find out about the shuttle. There are plenty of websites with information on the Dockyard and links to the different businesses there so you can get a good idea of what you might want to do in advance of the cruise.
I only booked 2 excursions. So many of the things and places I would have liked to have seen in Bermuda are no longer there, or no longer open to the public and some other are best left to reside in my memory. Still, I was able to talk to quite a few people who shared my memories of Bermuda in the 50's. At 10 pm on the first night in Bermuda we took the Bermuda Triangle glass bottom boat tour (Fantaseas). It was well worth it. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and I learned quite a bit that I hadn't known before. Upon return to the ship we found a buffet party on the pool deck, which I had missed on the Cruise Compass - our 4th meal of the day.
The next day we took the Hawkins Island party cruise, leaving at 10:30 am on the M.V. Elizabeth. Entertainment was provided by a singer/stand up comic who was just awesome and I cannot remember his name. After a tour along the islands of the Great Sound we reached Hawkins Island where we spent a lovely afternoon on their beach which was equipped with all sorts of beach toys, kayaks, snorkel gear. My memory of a lot of Bermuda beaches is that they are great at high tide but at low tide there are rocks, coral, and questionable creatures. We always wore sneakers when swimming. The beach at Hawkings didn't have such a deep drop off - it was very nice at low tide when we first arrived. It's sheltered so no surf to deal with as you have on the South Shore beaches. The weather was again just perfect. My granddaughter and I lunched at a table under a Royal Poinciana tree before taking the boat back to Grandeur. These boat trips leave right from the wharf across the street from Grandeur so you don't have to walk anywhere to get to them. Be aware that Hawkins Island does not take credit cards. After a day exercising my credit card all over the Dockyard I didn't even think to bring cash along to Hawkins, so I missed out on being able to buy any of their souvenir items. Upon returning to the ship it was time for the Sailaway party on the pool deck. We were delayed in getting underway because some of the passengers had overstayed in Hamilton and the ship waited until they were delivered by the ferry.
The last day at sea is sort of a blur now. The weather was getting dreary because Ernesto was racing us up the coast. We did last day things like checking out the Centrum shops yet again, picking up photos, packing our bags which had to be outside our cabin by 11 pm.
The service was exceptional all week long. The wait staff in both the Gatsby and the Windjammer, the cabin attendants, the barmen, everyone couldn't have been nicer or more helpful. These people work very hard, always on the move, yet always pleasant and ready to assist you. If you want excellent bar service on the pool deck and in the dining room, look for Gerard from Granada, one of those people with the gift to remember names after one introduction. We treated ourselves to the drink of the day (alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions) and each day Gerard came looking for us to take our order.
Arriving back in Baltimore, we had Ernesto on our heels, so it was a cold, rainy, blustery day. There is a long wait to get off the ship. We didn't eat breakfast, thinking we'd be docking much earlier and that we might have trouble finding a place to sit in the areas where they call for the various groups to take their turn leaving the ship. Next time we'll have breakfast and just not worry about it. If you're in a small interior cabin you're not going to be in the group that gets called first anyway. Once out of the terminal building, in the rain, I did not know there was a shuttle bus over to the short term parking lot where my husband was waiting for us. We dragged out bags through the rain all the way over there. Will know better next time. Not a problem for those who are leaving their cars at the terminal during the cruise - the long term lot is right beside the terminal building. Plenty of taxis lined up there as well. There are supposed to be porters but I didn't seem them either.
Another tip if you're not an experienced traveler, as I was not. People put colorful things on their luggage so they can identify it at the luggage pickup. We bought some day-glo luggage tags at the Centrum Shops. When we arrived in the luggage pickup in the terminal, a vast expanse of bags, our 3 bags with their green tags had been grouped together and set off to the side where we spotted them immediately.
I never expected to enjoy a cruise so much. Within 2 weeks after returning home I made reservations for this same trip in 2007 and am thinking about future trips on Empress to Bermuda and the Grandeur trip to the Eastern Caribbean. The first time was a learning experience and now I know the ropes better, what to do and what not to waste time on, and, after reviewing my Cruise Compasses at home, I know what I missed the first time around. There's just so much to do, both on the ship and in port. I'm already planning what to do in Bermuda next year and don't think I can stand it until the 2007 shore excursions become available on the RCI website. I plan to try a few more things at the Spa, now that I know from the Cruise Compasses when to look for specials and discounts. I've reserved a cabin midway between the elevator banks so no more long hikes from one end of the ship to the other.