Grandeur of the Seas Cruise Review by frestuff: First and LAST cruise on RCL - Did we get on the sacrificial cruise?
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First and LAST cruise on RCL - Did we get on the sacrificial cruise?
Underwhelmed by Royal Caribbean - Grandeur of the Seas 8 night Bahamas, January 31 to February 8 2014
I have to say that I don't really know why other people would have given this ship anything above a 2 star on their reviews. I rely a lot on reviews before making purchases. I know that there are many people out there that do the same and so I would like to include as much information here as possible with the intention of providing helpful information for others. Reviews are mainly based on opinions but I will be providing facts here that are just plain basic that you can form your own opinions.
I don't know if we ended up on the sacrificial cruise ship or that maybe our cruise was a fluke but there are other reviews from previous cruises that reflect what we have seen and experienced. I'm just not sure about the other cruise reviews that highly rate the Grandeur of the Seas. I wonder how overly frozen spongy fish, the lack of attention to details and the lack of More consideration for sanitation and the health of the passengers - things that are a matter of FACT and not OPINION - would be anywhere near acceptable to anyone.
Overall, we had a good time at Coco Cay and Key West. We were able to spend time as a family and get away from the daily routines. We loved that we escaped the snow and ice storms that hit PA that week. Our lives were not totally ruined by this cruise. We made the best of our time and had the relaxing vacation that we hoped for. However, that still does not negate the facts about the issues that we had with the Grandeur of the Seas. RCL still has the responsibility to their passengers to provide them with good food and good service.
First, let me give you a little BACKGROUND about us:
- Family of 4
- are in our late 30's and our children are 9 and 14
- Working middle class family, we like to find the best deals and are interested in the value that we receive back.
- This is our second cruise, the first one was on the Carnival Pride 7 night Bahamas cruise in March 2013. We are
new to cruising and are trying out different lines at this stage. This is our first RCL cruise.
- I wouldn't say our Carnival Pride was the best cruise, but we enjoyed it overall (here is the link to my blog review of our Carnival Pride cruise last year, http://familysmarttravel.blogspot.com/2013/04/carnival-pride-cruise-from-baltimore.html)
- What we liked the most about our first cruise was the food and the service that we received from our dining room team. This is the main draw for us to go on more cruises.
- Prefer to leave from Baltimore or nearby PA ports, don't want to fly anywhere
- not ready to spend a ton of money on a Disney cruise, we would rather stretch our dollar and go on more cruises for now
- We enjoy relaxing vacations, we don't drink except occasional wine or mixed drinks, we don't party, we don't really gamble.
- We like traveling, exploring, and learning about different places
EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS CRUISE
We really liked the dining and enjoyed the food on our first cruise, which was the most important aspect for us for this cruise. We enjoyed Nassau and Freeport on the first cruise but wanted more beach time and looked forward to the Coco Cay and Key West ports of call with RCL. And that's pretty much it, we didn't really get to go on a lot of shows and events on our first cruise because we'd rather relax and not have to run around too much like we normally do everyday.
We were not too concerned about:
- activities, shows, and events
- excursions offered by RCL (we prefer to do our own thing and booked our own excursion on the first cruise)
- demographics of passengers (I guess Carnival has a reputation for being a party ship). It didn't matter if the ship was full of old people or young people, as long as people were not rude and inconsiderate.
Below is our experience on this cruise:
ISSUE: WATER WAS YELLOWISH-BROWN FOR ABOUT 5 HOURS
My daughter came back to the room around 12:30 and took a shower. The water turned yellowish-brown on her while she was still in the shower. I didn't believe her at first but then saw it for myself. I called the front desk and was told that they were aware of the issue. I asked if this was safe (thinking that this could be contaminated water that my daughter just took a shower in) and was not given a yes or no answer, only that they are working on the issue. We were told to use the bottled water in the room to rinse my daughter off. I called later on to ask for more water because the ones in the room were not enough and was given some resistance to have more of the $3.95 bottled water sent to our room. The water was still brown around 6 a.m. and black particles were then present in the water after they told us that the problem has been fixed.
EXPECTATION: I think that this could have been handled more professionally. There also should have been an announcement made about it so that passengers could take their own precautions. I surely would not have wanted to use the water to brush my teeth until an hour or so later when the system has been flushed through more thoroughly.
ISSUE: TOILETS DIDN'T WORK A COUPLE OF TIMES
The toilets would not flush a couple of times. At one point, it was not working for several hours. We called the front desk and were told that they would send maintenance down, but no one ever came. Our steward even called maintenance because he would not clean the bathroom and he couldn't get a quick response from them either.
EXPECTATION: Maintenance should have been sent down to fix the problem as promised.
ISSUE: NO INDOOR POOL FOR KIDS
There are only 2 pools and one of the pools is in the Solarium that is supposed to be for adults only. What are kids supposed to do when we are still in the colder areas? The Carnival Pride at least had a retractable roof that they closed in the pool area so that the kids were still able to swim when it was cold outside.
I was told by other people that there were kids swimming in the Solarium pool the night before. I didn't want to cause trouble and so I went to the front desk to ask. I was told that children are allowed in the Solarium pool as long as they are supervised by their parents and that they were more concerned about babies in diapers in the Solarium, which was not the case for my 9 year old son. I asked if this was only for when it is cold outside but was told that this was all the time. (this is of course a bit confusing since their info and the signs in the Solarium state that kids under 16 are not permitted in the Solarium pool).
With permission from the front desk, I supervised my son while he swam in the Solarium pool. I made sure that he didn't splash anyone or caused any issues and he was well-behaved the entire time, just enjoying swimming in the warm water. He received a couple of looks from adults there, some of them purposely stood in front of the 'no children under 16' signs and shook their heads. No one approached me to say anything about it, which I would have preferred so that I could explain to them that my son is permitted to be there. It was still uncomfortable. I think that it is very poor of those who were standing in front of the signs and not wanting kids to be in there (when barely anyone was really in the pool). Would these adults, I wondered, want to go swimming outside in the cold? Would they want their children or grandchildren to be outside in the cold pool just so they can have their adult pool to themselves?
EXPECTATION: The fact that children are permitted to swim in the Solarium pool with supervision should be clearly communicated to all guests so that people don't get dirty looks from some cranky adults. Or provide an alternative for children to have some pool time while we are in the colder areas. We are at sea for 4 days and most of those days are cold in the winter time. Children are paid passengers too.
ISSUE: DRESS CODE RULES SHOULD BE APPLIED TO ALL PASSENGERS AND HANDLED IN A PROFESSIONAL MATTER
No shorts, barefeet, tank tops, or hats are allowed in the dining room. We were in Nassau and my husband was wearing shorts when we went to dinner (totally forgot about the shorts). We got to the hostess desk and one of the host staff just stared at us from a distance and did not acknowledge us. He proceeded to go towards the back of the dining room where the main hostess was to fetch her. She told us out loud that there are no shorts allowed in the dining room, in front of other people in the line. My husband did go back to the room and hanged and then went back to have dinner at the dining room. He called the front desk to politely complain about the way the hostess handled the situation. The front desk took his information and assured him that it will be communicated to the dining room manager. We never heard anything back from anybody.
A couple of nights later, we noticed two other people in the dining room, sitting at their tables, wearing hats. My husband addressed this to the dining room manager, Denice and also told her about the earlier incident about his shorts. Denice apologized and told him that she wished he would have told her about it then so that she could have addressed it right away. Apparently, the front desk never said anything to Denice. She explained that the hostess should have sat our family, instead of sending us away, and then privately let my husband know about the dress code so that he may change and come back. This would have been a more acceptable approach.
EXPECTATION: I would have expected the host staff to be more professional. I also would expect the staff to apply the rules to all guests. Rules are rules and we respect that, but it needs to apply to everyone.
ISSUE: DISORGANIZED MEET AND MINGLE
We received an invitation to the meet and mingle that had the wrong date on it. We went to the Viking Lounge on the day printed on the invitation but the outside door was locked and no one was in the room. We went to the front desk and was told that they made a mistake on the date and were sent back to the Viking Lounge to check to see if anyone was there. We went back and the room was still dark with the outside door locked.
We received a call from the coordinator who told us that they moved it to another room. She apparently waited by the elevators to let everyone know and since we only checked the outside door, we never saw her. She told us that they did the prize drawing but not to worry about it because we didn't miss anything. The price was a bottle of wine, which she didn't think was great anyway.
EXPECTATION: They should have sent another invitation or called each of us (there were not that many signed up) to let us know about the corrected date and place. They could have also put a sign up on the outside entrance to let us know where they were, and let the front desk know so that they can inform everyone when they stop by there. There were so many ways to correct the error, if only they tried.
ISSUE: UNTRUTHFUL SECURITY STAFF AT COCO CAY
Our kids collected some seashells and found some really cool corals washed up the shore. When we were leaving the island, the security staff told us that we cannot take seashells. The reason for this, they said was that they do not know if Baltimore would allow us to take these seashells into the US. They are concerned, they said that we could possibly get fined for bringing shells in from outside the US. My daughter found a tiny block of coral with 3 shells attached to it, it was so unique which is why she loved it so much. She was obviously upset that she could not take this tiny piece of memento home.
It was inconsiderate of the security staff to do this to kids. It's not like they are bringing home some exotic things that are rare to the island. One of the passengers who also got his stuff taken away joked that we'll probably see these in their gift shop.
EXPECTATION: Just tell us the truth that you just don't want us to take seashells, don't make up some story about your concern for us because it's obviously a lie. They are seashells, it's not that important, but it is important to the children because it was connected to their experience of walking around the shoreline and finding them.
- we took home two gigantic conch shells and a ton of seashells from Nassau on our last cruise without any problems
- how could Baltimore officials distinguish between seashells from Coco Cay vs. seashells from Key West? they are seashells for goodness sake!
- so if we purchased these seashells from markets in the Bahamas or from RCL, we would be allowed to bring them in to the US?
ISSUE: POOR ORGANIZED (AND SANITIZED) BUFFET AT COCO CAY
We got to the buffet about 5 minutes before 11:30 when it opened and were able to get food. The line was super long within 10 minutes and it took forever for everyone else to get their food.
My husband went around 1 and turned right back around without getting food after seeing how nasty the buffet was. There were no utensils on most of the stations and he watched people scoop rice out with their bare hands onto their plate because there were no utensils, as the RCL staff stood there and watched.
EXPECTATION: Would it be so much trouble to maintain the buffet and replace the utensils? There should have been several stations and separate lines for them instead of making guests wait for so long just to get food. These are your customers, they paid for the food and the service, give them the food and service that you promised in a timely and clean manner.
ISSUE: ICE CREAM MACHINE CONSTANTLY BROKEN
The ice cream machine was constantly out of service throughout the cruise. There were also times when one of the two flavors was not available.
My daughter pulled a cone from the dispenser and the first 2 or 3 fell into the catching tray so she got a new cone. She said a staff yelled at her (although she couldn't understand what he said), but he was clearly upset that she did not pick up the cones that fell into the catching tray to use one of them instead of getting a new one.
EXPECTATION: There are not that many choices of treats on this cruise, really it's only the ice cream machine, this should have been maintained and stocked appropriately.
Staff should not be yelling at guests, no matter how old they are. The catching tray is not that clean, don't expect guests to pick up dropped cones to use them.
ISSUE: DRINK DISPENSERS AT THE WINDJAMMER DID NOT WORK, CUPS WERE DIRTY
Staff filled drinks and laid out the cups on trays. The drinks in the cups got watered down by melted ice after sitting there too long. You couldn't not taste the iced tea. We have also gotten drinks in dirty cups several times.
EXPECTATION: Fix the drink dispensers. Guests prefer to get their own drinks fresh and not watered down. Please wash your cups and mugs. The coffee mugs are all stained brown on the inside. If you can't get the mugs cleaned, then replace them.
ISSUE: TABLES AT WINDJAMMER NOT BEING CLEARED
We can see staff walking around but the tables were not being cleared. This happened several times, even when the area was not crowded. We have had to clear our own tables many times just so we can have a place to sit.
EXPECTATION: Tables should be cleared when people are done.
ISSUE: STAFF WIPING TABLES WITH DIRTY RAG AT WINDJAMMER
We watched staff going around and quickly (and I mean quickly, 1 or two light swipes) wiping tables. When we brought this up with the dining room manager and how we expected more precautions in the dining room areas due to the recent norovirus issues, she was surprised. She said that they do have sanitizing sprays and that staff should be using them all the time to wipe tables.
EXPECTATION: Dining rooms should be clean and sanitized.
ISSUE: BUFFETS CLOSED DOWN 30 MINUTES EARLY
We usually ate our breakfast at the main dining room. However, we had to get breakfast from the buffet one morning when the schedule said it was open until 11. We got there at 10:30 and they were already closing down one of the stations and closed down one of the two drink stations.
ISSUE: UNSANITARY PRACTICES AT THE MAIN DINING ROOM
We watched staff wiping up what appeared to be a very crusty fork, with a dinner napkin. It must have been really crusty because he was going in between the spaces to scrape the crust off. He then dropped something on the floor (either the napkin or fork), picked it back up and continued on with the "cleaning".
EXPECTATION: Just wash your flatware if it's that dirty.
ISSUE: POOR QUALITY/PRESENTATION AND UNDERCOOKED FOOD SERVED
UNDERCOOKED. My husband ordered fried eggs that arrived undercooked (the top was still clear). He told the waiter and just opted to get something else. The fact is that that undercooked egg should not have even left the kitchen. It passed the person plating it and even the waiter serving it, without anyone even saying, "wait a minute, this is unacceptable"
BOILED HAMBURGERS SERVED IN MEAT JUICE. The hamburgers appeared boiled and were in a tray with meat juice. All the toppings were separate and there is no way to melt the cheese on the burger because the patties are not hot. At Carnival, they grilled the burgers in front of you and melted the cheese on top. Burgers are pretty easy to make and should be grilled.
MEAT CHUNK STEAK SANDWICH. My husband ordered a steak sandwich for room service. It came 40 minutes later and was a sad looking, pale and fatty chunk of meat on bread. A steak sandwich is not a piece of steak on bread. If anything, entertaining difference in interpretation, it should at least be a piece of steak, not a cold fatty meat chunk.
WILTED LETTUCE.Our shrimp cocktails were served on brown, wilted lettuce one of the nights. Now, shrimp cocktails generally are never hot to wilt lettuce. The lettuce was either reused from another appetizer or they actually cut up wilted lettuce for the bedding instead of just throwing it out and using fresher lettuce.
We got old smoked salmon several times. We eat smoked salmon a lot and know what it looks like and how it is supposed to taste. When smoked salmon is very dark orange and dry looking, it is because it is old. It should not be served to guests. At one meal, my daughter and I got smoked salmon and her's was fine but mine was dark orange and dry. That was a fact to see them side by side and how different they looked. That's a fact and not an opinion.
SPONGY FISH. Fish was spongy at dinner. Fish should be flaky and moist. When fish is spongy and watery, it is because it has been frozen way too long. That was the first night when most of the food was horrible. It seemed that the food was all unwanted leftovers from the last cruise.
TASTELESS SEAFOOD PASTA. Pasta was al dente AND overcooked at the same time. How is that even possible? We go the seafood pasta the first night, it didn't have much sauce and the texture of the pasta was off. All that we can think of was that the pasta was previously cooked, then frozen (probably left over from another night), then blanched or boiled again to heat it up. When pasta is rinsed off too many times, the sauce does not stick to it, which is why the dish did not have flavor (and also because the sauce that they put on was not enough). The seafood was rubbery.
MYSTERY SAUCE. The hollandaise sauce on the eggs benedict did not taste like anything. The gravy didn't taste like anything several times. All we could think of that they used the same mystery base (probably flour and water) and put food coloring in it. This was towards the beginning of the cruise (although we didn't dare try them again afterwards). Did they run out of supplies from the last cruise and had to make do with what they had available until we got to Port Canaveral to get more supplies?
BLAND OR SALTY. The food was either bland or too salty. I like salty foods, so it takes a LOT of salt for me to even think that something is salty. I even put fish sauce in my food and so when something is too salty for me, it is salty.
FOOD SELECTION LEFT MUCH TO BE DESIRED. The items on the menu was a joke. The part of the menu that was supposed to be different (not the classics, which are offered daily) were pretty much the same thing, only shuffled around and rotated different days. They had pretty much the same entree, only with different seafood (bay scallops, crab, escargot), prepared the same way swimming in butter. They really all tasted the same with the only difference being the texture from the different seafood items. When you have "SWEET & SOUR VEGETARIAN CHICKEN CHUNKS" on the menu, it leaves much to be desired (yes, that was a real menu item at dinner one night). I don't care that it's not supposed to be real chicken, but "chunks" is not an appetizing word to put on a menu.
The pizza at the Park Cafe was horrible, the dough, the sauce, the amount of basil, the cheese were just all wrong. We had 24 hour pizza on Carnival and the pizza was made to order. We enjoyed doing late night pizza and playing cards at night as a family on Carnival - those little things make a difference.
RCL did not come close to the food selection on Carnival. We actually had a brunch menu on Carnival, which included pastas, fancy French toast, and steak (real steak) and eggs. We even had tea time on Carnival, which was really just having tea and desserts, but it was still something different and fun. Our waiter was surprised (and impressed) when we told him the choices that we had on Carnival. He told us that they actually beefed up the menu recently because of all the complaints that they have been getting about the food selections.
Presentation of the food was overall blah, especially compared to Carnival's dining room presentation.
EXPECTATION: I really expected for the service and food to be excellent. We were so disappointed after our first meal and could not believe it. The food was like an upgraded version of senior living facility cafeteria food - and yes, I have spent many meal times as a volunteer at a senior living facility. I have seen the food there. The difference is that the RCL food is a bit more 'solid' and not pureed.
We talked to the front desk about this and explained to the staff that this was our first cruise with RCL and we wanted to understand what we are missing. Is the quality of food the same for all RCL cruises?
He said (although he is not even supposed to say it) that the Grandeur is really not the ship that would impress guests. He advised us to choose the Oasis class ships next time.
LAYOUT ISSUES. He explained that the layout of the ship has a lot to do with the issues with the food. The galley is in the back of the ship and on the lower level but the Windjammer is on the front of the ship and on the higher deck. The staff, he said must then bring the food from the galley all the way up to the 9th deck on the other side of the ship. They also cannot cart the food in the public areas and use the elevators so staff must be creative and use the staff area and crew elevators to transport the food. Food cannot be cooked at the Windjammer because there is no kitchen on that part of the ship. By the time they transport food from the galley to the Windjammer, the food would have inevitably cooled down.
We really expected a lot more from RCL. At the end of our Carnival cruise, we thought okay we would go on Carnival again. At the end of our RCL cruise, we felt that we would not go on RCL again. We could try another ship, but would that be a guarantee that the food would be better? I don't know if I want to spend a couple of thousand dollars just to find that out.
We ate at Chops and Giovanni's Table. The food was great and the service was wonderful. It's sad that several of the items at the specialty restaurants and the overall quality of the food there were actually what we got at the main dining room on Carnival. Our waiters on Carnival were very professional and experienced. They joked around with us, but were still highly professional. Totally different from the RCL atmosphere. We also ate at the specialty restaurant on Carnival, which was still a couple of levels better than the specialty restaurants on RCL.
I went to the Captain's chat where they explained things about the ship and introduced the officers. The hotel director is apparently new to the ship. He has been with RCL for almost 30 years but this was his first time (his actual first cruise) on the Grandeur. I wonder if there had been issues and if they fired the former hotel director and he is the replacement to save this ship. I hope so, I guess. Although when one of the passengers asked what they did with all the leftovers, he responded that there were not much leftover. The lady actually said that there really was a lot of food that she sees being left on the plates every day. She was trying to be polite instead of saying that the food sucks and there is a lot of food being wasted because people can't eat it.
Some people on the cruise said that it's still better than cooking and cleaning after yourself at home. But if I'm paying for the food and service that a cruise should offer, then I would expect that and more. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I actually would rather cook my own food at home if I had to choose between RCL dining vs. home. We are not chefs but we can cook food on our own. The point is that I am going on a cruise to get something different - and better because they should have real chefs on a cruise ship. I don't want to go to dinner wondering how the food would be like this time (and hoping not to be disappointed again). I don't want to wonder whether or not the dishes, cups, and flatware are properly cleaned and sanitized.
The last straw is that when my husband called RCL to let them know of the issues, they really didn't care and just told us that they would forward it along to management. That's a pretty poor way of handling customer issues for a service industry company. Less
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Cabin review: Grandeur of the Seas
Cabin was okay, had some issues with the toilet not flushing a couple of times. The one upper (on your right if you are facing the window) had issues and needed maintenance to set it up and put it away at the end of the cruise.Had some noisy early morning and nights with loud banging. This was new to us as this was the first time we stayed on deck 2. Called the front desk to report the noise (it was definitely noticeable because it was making the walls and floor vibrate). They sent someone down who was rude and pretty much told us we were crazy because he couldn't hear it (it stopped) while he was there. He finally heard it the second time that we called and he had to come back and told us that it was the ship.Not enough explanation- that's the ship? I asked the captain at the Q&A session. He explained that this was the ballasts that they fill with water to balance the ship when there are a lot of waves. Sometimes the empty ballasts come loose and they roll around and make the loud noises. He said that one morning was definitely loud because it also woke him up (his cabin is in the lower deck).That explanation would have made more sense instead of just telling us it's the ship.
Port and Shore Excursions
We were on the first couple of tenders to the island. This is the ideal time to go because the water is still undisturbed and so you can see the sting rays and lots of variety of marine life along the beach. It is also the best time to snorkel (my husband and kids didn't mind the cold, but a spring wetsuit is not a bad idea during this time of the year). The beach along Barefoot Beach is very shallow, but you can still snorkel and see lots of things. The water does get cloudier as it gets later because of all the activities on the beach and it is not as easy to see in the water. My husband was out farther and saw a huge Barracuda that was the size of his leg and sting ray along with other cool fish.
If you prefer a relaxing time at the beach, walk all the way down to the end (follow the signs to the beach and then turn right) to Barefoot Beach (you will see the sign). We were right next to the cabanettes for the rich and special folks. They get driven up there but it's not a big deal for the common folks to walk to.
Barefoot Beach is beautiful and does not get as crowded as the main beach. The downside is that you are far away from the food pavillion, which could be good or bad, I guess depending on your situation. The restrooms and showers are also in the main part of the beach. However, if you keep walking towards the end of Barefoot Beach, you will see a sign for RESTROOMS. Keep going up the path and you will see a little shed to your right, that is the single bathroom with plenty of space to get changed in.
Bring water with you or at least a water bottle that you can fill up with the cups of water that they provide at the pavillion.
If you plan on eating on the island, get there a couple of minutes before 11:30 when the buffet opens or you will wait in line for a long time.
Take the last tender back to the ship (4:15 or so), it is almost empty and you will avoid the long lines.
Watch out for dolphins in the water on your way back to the ship - we saw one swimming around
Do the nature trail hike yourself and keep an eye out for iguanas, there was one hanging around on the side of the path near the restrooms on Barefoot Beach
Stay after 3 pm when the water recedes, you will see a lot of marine life including jelly fish, some weird worm looking thing, crabs, and lots of cool seashells and corals.
Also, you will be able to explore the rest of the island to the end of Barefoot Beach during the low time, there's lots of cool seashells and corals to see there too. This part is difficult to access because it is rocky and the waves are stronger before the low tide.
If your kids find seashells that they would like to keep, put them in your pocket or inside your bag where they are not visible because they will not let you take them and give you a sad excuse that they are concerned that Baltimore officials will fine you for bringing them to the US. THAT IS NOT TRUE.
Bring your own snorkel set. They sell very cheap ones for $20 for goggles and snorkel (no fins). I purchased the Seavenger snorkel sets for $29.99 back in August 2013. Shipping was free and I got 10% off by using coupon code 91789 (the coupon is good only at seavenger.com, expires 4/30/2014), and also received a free Quick Spit Anti-fog spray (it was a special offer they were running at that time). The snorkels are a great value for the price. These are not the cheap ones that get water in them if you tilt them the wrong way. They were selling cheap snorkels and masks (without fins) at Coco Cay for $20. The Seavenger snorkel sets are definitely worth it. You can also get them on Amazon.com, but they are still cheaper on seavenger.com after the coupon.
Bring your own floaties and foot pump if you prefer not to spend $12 to borrow their floating mats. It is fun to float around and relax at Barefoot Beach. I got a 2 pack of Intex floating mats at the end of the summer sale for $1.50 and brought a foot pump to inflate them.
Don't forget your underwater/waterproof camera, there are so many cool things to see in the water.
If you are planning on buying the shore excursions that RCL offers anyway, buy them online before your sail date, they are more expensive if you book them on the ship.
We did not buy any of the kids activities such as the water park or slides and my children still had a great time at Barefoot Beach swimming, exploring, and just floating round. We were there for the entire time until the last tender call.
We did our own activities at Key West, here is the link to a blog on the free/cheap things to do at Key West, http://familysmarttravel.blogspot.com/2014/02/free-activities-for-family-in-key-west.html
NOTE that this particular cruise has to go through US immigration checks that do not begin until 9:30 am. Passengers meet with officials in groups according to their Muster Station number between 9:30 and 10:30. Our appointment was for 10 a.m. and it took 40 minutes to go through the process. They do a last call at the end and we would have been better off waiting for that last call instead of rushing through breakfast and still wasting 40 minutes waiting to be seen by officials for less than a minute. Expect to have your Key West visit cut shorter because of the immigration checks as you will not be allowed off the ship before you complete the check, unless you have an excursion previously booked.
We considered renting bikes to get around the island but did not end up renting. It turned out to be a good decision. Walking was not bad for us, even with the heat and humidity. Plus, it would have been a pain to constantly watch my 9 year old ride his bike in the streets. It was not so crowded but it was busy enough with cars and trolleys that I would not have felt safe to have him ride a bike. Plus, we would have had to keep finding a spot to park and lock the bikes for every stop that we wanted to make.
This was our second time at Nassau. It's a port stop that I could do without on future cruises. There just always seems to be something to watch out for with the locals trying to sell you something or extort money from you.
We went to Port Lucaya at Freeport on our last cruise and the atmosphere was so much better and the locals are friendlier.
I guess if you booked an excursion, then there would be more stuff but excursions are over priced and we don't get to Nassau until 1 pm to have it be worth it for us to spend so much money to do something for a couple of hours. Most shops and even the hotel service where you can buy beach passes close at 5 pm (although the hotels will let you stay there after 5).
I considered booking our own excursion at Blue Lagoon but it would not have worked due to the time that the ship gets to port. You are pretty much stuck with booking the ship's excursion, which is super expensive, especially if you have more than 1 person in your party.
If you are looking for free beach that is close to port, Junkanoo Beach is not so bad. We have gone there twice. The water is still clear and not bad for snorkeling.