Departure was November 26, 2013, from Baltimore, MD, on this ten-night “Eastern Caribbean” itinerary (Baltimore / Labadee, Haiti / San Juan, PR / Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas / Philipsburg, St. Maarten / Baltimore).
We had a terrific cruise, with only a few bumps along the way.
This was our sixth Royal Caribbean cruise since 1987, our nineteenth cruise overall since 1977. It was our first cruise on Grandeur. We live in northern VA, so we’re able to drive to the port of Baltimore, only ninety minutes from home. On this cruise, as on our two prior (on Enchantment) out of Baltimore, we decided to upgrade our cabin with the money we’d have spent flying to the departure port,… this time to one of the Owner’s suites on deck 8 forward.
The Baltimore cruise terminal is an easy access off of I-95. You get your car in line to drop off your checked bags with the longshoremen, then move to the line to pay for parking, and finally you park and wheel your carryon bags to the terminal building. This cruise our wait winding through one of the two security lines inside the building was about an hour, which was much longer than our two prior departures. Because the weather was cold and rainy, with a worsening forecast, we guess everyone got to the terminal building early to avoid weather-related arrival delays. Once past the security point, check-in was quick, friendly, and efficient, and the walk into the ship was easy.
Grandeur looks terrific for a ship put into service on December 13, 1996. She benefitted from the fleet-wide upgrades when she was in dry dock last year. It also looks like she had even more fine-tuning, sanding, and painting in the outdoor public areas while the crew was aboard for the six weeks she was in dry dock in Freeport after the fire in the rear mooring area earlier this year. She is pretty much spotless. We were a bit apprehensive about the “Stinky of the Seas” reputation Grandeur has received in some reviews because of overpowering sewer gas smells reported in cabins and in corridors. We never smelled any sewer gas anywhere while we walked about the various decks and public areas of the ship.
Our Owner’s suite was very spacious, with plenty of walk around space, a nice bed, cushioned chairs and sofa, big closets, a double-sink marble-topped ceramic-tiled bathroom with shower and tub, and a wide balcony with two large cushioned day lounges with glass-top side tables. Possibly the only deficiency was three random days when we didn’t have hot water either in the shower or at the sinks. The major annoyance of this suite was all of the thumping, pounding, and heavy rolling noises on our ceiling from the Windjammer Marketplace galley directly above the suites. We thought what we heard beginning at 4:00 AM until after 1:00 AM in the morning every single day must be what it’s like to live under a bowling alley or a basketball court. Rubber-wheeled service carts must not be in Royal Caribbean’s galley budget. We compared notes with passengers in other suites as we passed in the corridors, and they confirmed they were disturbed by these annoying ceiling noises, too.
Our cabin steward, restaurant staff, and bar servers were very personable, friendly, helpful, and accommodating. We couldn’t have been more pleased with every crew member.
For the most part, the variety and quality of the food in the Windjammer Marketplace (“WM”) was as good as we’d experienced on our two Enchantment cruises. The big exception was the pastries and breads we’d always enjoyed and raved about in Enchantment’s WM were always stale at breakfast and lunch in Grandeur’s WM. Maybe there’s a bakery staff cutback on Grandeur, and they have to start making the breads and pastries earlier than before? Who knows? The WM this cruise was almost always crowded, and finding a table was difficult most of the time. A bit surprising because it’s identical in size to the WM on Enchantment, but Grandeur doesn’t have the additional cabins added by Enchantment’s “stretch”. The staff did clear tables efficiently, so that helped.
The Main Dining Room (“MDR”) was a disappointment. We had elected MyTime Dining when we booked our cruise because we’d really enjoyed it on our Enchantment cruises. We like having a table for two for supper. These smaller tables are grouped closely together on Grandeur, and you get an opportunity to meet couples at the adjacent tables, with different people most evenings. That was all good. Unfortunately, it seemed the MyTime Dining servers were understaffed. Service was slow. (I know, “What else have you got to do? You’re on a cruise.”) We consider ourselves low-maintenance diners. We are so grateful to have someone waiting on us, cooking for us, cleaning up, etc., we never complain. To cite an example, the understaffing resulted in us waiting one evening with menus in our hand for more than twenty minutes before anyone came to our table greet us or to take our order. We were at “the invisible table”. It also resulted in our hot (temperature) food being served warm, at best. For every supper on the whole cruise. The “new” fleet-wide menu seemed to have fewer choices. Overall, we concluded our MDR suppers were disappointing. We enjoyed our conversations with other diners, but the food and service was not as good as we’d experienced on Enchantment. We always anticipate our MDR service, food variety, and serving temperature will at least be what we’d find in any everyday shore-side chain restaurant. Seems a reasonable expectation.
One night we ate in “Chops”, one of the extra-charge specialty dining venues. It was terrific! The ambience, service, food variety, taste, and serving temperatures were excellent. Better than the best shore-side steak houses we have ever enjoyed. We highly recommend “Chops”.
We enjoyed lunches in the Park Café, which is a bit hidden back in the port-side corner of the covered pool area. We had very nice sandwiches, salads, hot meals, and desserts. It’s worth finding this Café.
We had mixed feelings about the entertainment in the main show theater. We ate MyTime Dining fairly early at 6:00 PM, so we always attended the second show. The first comedian, (and we know this is subjective), wasn’t to our liking. The “Divas” Motown singers’ voices weren’t hitting their notes, the house band behind them was “tired”, and the band seemed to just be going through the play list. “Tony B”, the Bobby Darin-like singer, was excellent. He brought his own musical arrangements with him, and he really woke up the same house band that sounded so tired the night before. We could hardly believe it was the same group. The juggler, believe it or not, was excellent. Juggling is juggling, but this guy was terrific, plus he had such a great rapport with his audience, it really made a difference. The house dancers and singers tried very hard at the production show, but they didn’t really have good material to work with. The sound system didn’t help the lead singers a bit. The second comedian on the last night of the cruise was excellent.
We really enjoyed the groups that played music in the Centrum. They were danceable, and easy to listen to, too. The two new “Cirque-like” aerial acts in the Centrum were great, and quite unusual to see on a cruise. A well-executed addition.
Our Cruise Director, Jeffrey Arpin, was the best CD we’ve ever had. He was approachable, enthusiastic without being over-the-top, funny, quick on his feet, and overall a very entertaining fellow. Young Daryl Dyball, the Activities Manager, was a hoot. Jeffrey and Daryl were very entertaining during the daily Cruise Compass preview on the in-cabin TV channel, and they both kept everyone happy at the various events and activities around the ship during the whole cruise.
The weather. Although we’ve cruised in rough seas before, (once in 18’-20’ waves in a small Royal Caribbean ship crossing from NYC to Bermuda following a hurricane across the Atlantic), we’d never experienced the seas we had as we exited Chesapeake Bay overnight on departure day. As we learned later in the cruise in a Q&A session with the Captain, the rockin’ and rollin’ we went through for eighteen hours was caused by 20’ seas, 86 knots (approximately 100 mph) winds, and a barometric pressure drop of 962 millibars (that’s equivalent to a class-3 hurricane in strength). We had green water coming over our balcony railings,… on deck 8! Urp! Royal Caribbean saved restaurant costs for me that day, since I never left my bed. I never got “sick”, but I certainly wasn’t interested in food. My wife was out and about all day, and never missed a meal. Go figure! The next morning, even though the seas were still bumpy, I was up early, hungry, and we were off for a big breakfast. We only had minor water seepage on our carpet along the sliding glass door which required a carpet fan to dry the carpet for a day. The suite next to ours had major water in the carpet, requiring several days of the crew doing water extraction and carpet drying.
Our first stop at Labadee was under gorgeous blue skies and calm seas. Only Grandeur and the larger Independence were tied-up there on this day, so it wasn’t too crowded. (All stops on this itinerary are dockside. No tenders required). We had a blast on the beach and in the water at Labadee!
The next afternoon as we pulled into San Juan, the sky was black as midnight, foggy, with heavy rain. We tied up at the dock, and the rains and winds increased, with lots of thunder and lightning. We stayed on the ship.
Next stop, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. Grandeur was the only ship in port this day. Very unusual. The morning had brilliant blue skies, then some squall lines appeared on the horizon after lunch. We took our planned afternoon sailing catamaran snorkel excursion, and although the sun disappeared behind a thick layer of grey clouds, thankfully the squalls went around us. We sailed, snorkeled, and then consumed massive quantities of rum punch on the return sail to the ship.
Philipsburg, St. Maarten, dawned bright and brilliant. Only Grandeur and the larger Jewel and one smaller non-RCL cruise ship in port this day. We ventured out on our own, taking the water taxi ($7 per person for all day) from near the ship over to the near-by beach along Front Street. We had a great afternoon sitting and sunning in a pair of chairs with umbrella ($12 total) right at the water’s edge. Gorgeous clear ocean water for swimming. Plenty of bars and eateries along the beach, and had we wanted to do so, we could have walked one block to Front Street for lots of shopping opportunities. We could have spent $45 apiece and taken the ship’s excursion over to Orient Beach on the French side of the island, but the beach we found was excellent and much less pricey.
The three at-sea days cruising back to Baltimore saw calm seas and warm, blue-sky days. It wasn’t until late afternoon on the last full day when the temps fell below sixty, and the outdoor pool area began to empty with the chilly breezes.
Debarkation in Baltimore was painless. Getting us off the ship seemed organized, and getting checked past security ashore was pretty swift. We found our luggage in our designated area, and wheeled it out to our car in the parking lot during a brief respite in the rains. Again, being able to drive home from the port is such a blessing for us, and we walked in the door at home about two hours after we stepped off the ship.
We had another terrific cruise! So much so, we’ll sail on Grandeur again, most likely back to Bermuda, or perhaps on the New England Coast itinerary.
I know I’ve provided too much info in my text, and I realize most of what I’ve shared is subjective, but hopefully you’ve found something interesting that might apply to you. Remember, though, as always, “Your mileage may vary”. Cheers!