I am male, 48 years old. My wife (Nancy) is 42 years old. She is disabled and always in a wheelchair. This was our fourth cruise, following 2 Celebrity and 1 HAL , all to the Caribbean.
Transportation and Parking
We live outside Washington, DC, about an hour from Baltimore. We drove directly from our home to the port. We paid $90 in cash upon arrival at the lot to park for the 9 day cruise. They had some spaces right near the port building that were set aside, possibly for handicapped parking. But the spaces had pylons in them, so we didn't know if we were permitted to use them or not. We ended up parking in a regular space, but knew we could somehow manage to get my wife's wheelchair up to the car after the cruise. (Right now the space next door was empty.)
We had to wait only about 20 minutes to be processed. If we had waited an hour I would have still been happy, as we arrived at the port at about 11:00a and were told to arrive at about 1:00p. Since Nancy was in a wheelchair, we were taken past a large group of able bodied people waiting in a roped off queue.
We were told to wait until our group code number was called. Nancy discovered that some disabled people were waiting by the front gate to get on the ship, and that we were supposed to wait there too. But we were never told this by the front desk employee. I fumbled to get our passports and sea passes in hand. The person at the gate told us to hurry, that they "couldn't hold the group up." I then began forming my impression of how RCCL treated the disabled, as opposed to the staffs of our past cruise ships.
Getting into the ship, there was no one in the area of the elevator to tell us what was up. Again, we were glad to be on board so early (about noon) and already knew (from Cruise Critic) that the staterooms wouldn't be open until one o'clock. We made our way the Windjammer to check out the lunch.
At this point the ship was about 10 years old. It was scheduled to be renovated in a dry dock in April of 2007. I was happy with the ship. It was clean, it was simple. It had an added-on rock wall. It had a theatre, dining room, buffet restaurant. Just a very basic ship at a basic price. In addition, we didn't have to pay for air fare to get to Baltimore.
The stateroom was nice. The steward removed the little end table when he noticed it was in the way of the wheelchair. That was nice.The mattress seemed terrible, but part of that feeling might have been prompted by me reading in Cruise Critic that such was the case. I asked the attendant if we could get a foam pad, but I'm not sure if that did much.
I liked the service, which rivaled that on our previous cruise lines. I am big on service and food, and this ship's service did not disappoint me. I don't usually consider this a part of service. But I thought the customer service people at the front desk were horrible. If you go down there and talk with them, they seem attendant, and the women are definitely eye candy babes that can speak English.
When you call customer service on the phone from your stateroom, they seem to want to help you. But when they hang up, your complaint isn't handled efficiently. For example, if you call customer service, and they tell you that they'll let housekeeping know your problem, you had better call housekeeping yourself. Although housekeeping is not listed in the phone directory, you can get the number if you ask your room attendant.
I didn't partake in many of the activities,. Compared to our previous cruise lines, this ship had poker tournaments and belly flop contests. But I didn't pay attention much. I just wanted to sit by the pool and have a few beers.
I am not big on excursions arranged by the cruise line itself because I never really know beforehand if it will be adaptable to Nancy. So we like to arrange excursions on our own once we get off the ship.
I was underwhelmed with the dining. It seemed that the food in the Windjammer (buffet restaurant) was just a notch above Dennys, and a bit below the Outback Steakhouse. I wanted the food on a cruise ship to be a bit fancier. After thinking about it for a while, I think what made me disappointed was the surprise factor, and comparing it with Celebrity food. I don't want to eliminate RCCL ships because of the food. Next time I will know what to expect, and I will know not to judge it against Celebrity, but more judge it as food alone.
Having said that, the salmon was dry, and ANY pasta dish looked bad, so I didn't try any of it. But all the other food was good. Just nothing much special. Except once I had lamb chops that I could have killed for.
I really didn't like the buffet in the Windjammer. The selections were quite limited. Because the restaurant was at the end of the ship, not the middle, there were only two entrances, not four. The entrances were not very wide. At times it was almost impossible for some people to come and start to get food while others were leaving. Often I tried to get a cup of iced tea while someone was getting a salad, and it took some maneuvering.
For breakfast, there were steam tables holding pancakes and waffles. There was no one attending these trays, and the food didn't look appetizing at all. Maybe it just reminded you of a school cafeteria. Interesting enough, at those same tables, for lunch and dinner, desserts were served. It was almost as if they didn't care if you took extra cheap pancakes. But they were going to pay someone to guard the mouse cake and oatmeal cookies.
The Solarium Grill is the sole place to get a bite to eat when the Windjammer or Great Gatsby is closed, or you don't feel like eating their food. And when you're on a cruise ship, having different options is key. The solarium is an indoor pool with a sliding roof. The grill is basically a hole-in-the-wall hamburger and hot dog stand. We went to the Solarium Grill at 12:15a one night, just to see what they would have to eat. There were a few hamburgers under a light. I had one, and it was terrible. I didn't finish it. The fries were just ok. Such a disappointment. And it just wasn't the right atmosphere for a grill. At night, with the roof closed, the placed smelled like chlorine. Augh!!!
Regardless of the ship, I don't generally like going to shows by the ship's own performers. So we avoided these. They had one show with two comedians, John Joseph and his keyboard player, Johnny B. They were one of the funniest acts I have ever heard, on land or sea. I didn't get to catch the midnight show one time, which was a comedian. I heard he was really good. I think if entertainment was important to me, I would have been disappointed.
We have no kids, and it really is unfair for me to comment here. However, more than once we saw child workers in the Windjammer during a meal. One employee would be taking care of about four or five kids. One unusual thing was that two of the three workers I saw were young men. Nothing wrong with that, except that the men didn't seem that nurturing or into taking care of kids. They prepared the food for the children, then sat glumly at another table while the kids sat with each other. But who am I to judge? Maybe the kids liked it that way.
The men didn't seem to be having much fun, and seemed more like guys who would be working in the lower decks. Maybe they opted for sunlight and babysitting.
Most of the passengers were White, very few minorities. The ages were quite spread out, from low twenties to seniors. The average age was probably mid-40s. There seemed to be a large percentage of people that drove one to four hours to get to Baltimore, coming from Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. There were some people who used wheelchairs or walkers to get around the ship.
Attitude Towards the Disabled
There were disabled people on the ship, who were permanently using assistance, or were just using a device to get around the ship. As mentioned, Nancy uses a wheelchair on and off the ship.
I noticed a distinct laissez faire attitude on behalf of the staff that was consistent and permeating. If you were in a wheelchair, using a walker, or whatever, the staff stood back, or just wasn't present. If you asked for help, you got it. If not, you weren't approached.
There was one except to this. One of the Windjammer managers told a staff member to help my wife. He did, and from that point on gave her some assistance whenever he saw her. That seemed to be a special thing for Nancy, that she had been deemed one of the chosen. The staff had not been trained, I think, to independently help the disabled.
Right before disembarkation, we were sitting in the area designated for the disabled. A member of the ship's activity staff was running around trying to help people, putting elevators on hold, asking questions. At one point he came over to our area and shouted out, "Does anyone here need assistance?" When no one answered, he said with relief, "That's what we like to hear!"
Nancy turned to me and said that she knew he was flustered and overworked. But she thought his comment was an appropriate summary of Royal Caribbean's attitude towards the disabled. It's good if they don't have to help you.
We will be going on the Grandeur again, but this time I will not be surprised by the average food, and minimal eateries. I will enjoy the service. And I will know why the ship didn't cost as much as others. And I what I save on airfare (by driving to the port) I will spend on another cruise. The more the merrier.