My husband and I just got off our honeymoon cruise on Grandeur of the Seas. We're both experienced cruisers with Diamond status on RCCL. We'd never sailed out of Baltimore before. I didn't keep day-to-day notes, so let's do things by topic instead:
Small but effective. This was by far the least busy port I've ever embarked at. It hosts only two cruise ships, if I recall correctly, and as a result the facilities are small and streamlined. We hopped out of our shuttle, dropped off our luggage with some very helpful porters, and were on the ship ten minutes later without ever having to wait or sit down. As usual, the staterooms were closed off until a bit after 1pm. When we arrived at our room then, two of our four suitcases were already waiting for us, but by dinnertime that night, we still only had two suitcases. A call to guest services informed us that they were holding our other two suitcases in the "naughty room" behind the purser's desk; though we didn't have any contraband, they required us to come down, open our suitcases for them, and demonstrate that the wine-bottle-shaped things in our suitcases were indeed the two bottles of wine RCCL allows us to carry onto the ship. The staff handling this were all very nice and the matter was handled quickly and with no accusations, but we found it a bit odd - the only thing I can think of is that perhaps the padded sleeves our bottles were in made them look enough *not* like wine bottles that they needed to verify it.
We booked an interior guarantee stateroom and were put in 3519, deck 3 forward. Sadly, if this were my first RCCL cruise, I'm not sure I'd be returning to the line, solely because of how unpleasant our stateroom - especially its bathroom - was. I'm not particularly room-snobbish, and I'm quite used to the usual kind of "you can brush your teeth, pee, and shower at the same time" cramped bathroom on cruises, but this bathroom was nearly unusable.
Let's talk about the shower first. The shower was, to my eye, half the size of a comparable stateroom shower on ships like Explorer or Allure; rather than a circular or curved stall with sliding doors, Grandeur's shower was a narrow rectangle about 4 feet long and two feet wide, with the shower head on the narrow end and one corner chopped off, all edged by a shower curtain (oh, yeah, Grandeur still uses shower curtains, some of which are six inches too short and some of which are six inches too long, none of which appeared to be waterproof or hung on a curved curtain rod and all of which *really* wanted to get up close and personal with you). Area-wise, imagine cutting a circular-style shower in half, then shaving off the rounded part. It was physically impossible for me to wash my hair inside the shower's boundaries because raising my elbows made me wider than the shower, and I heard the same thing from every woman I spoke to onboard. Most of us eventually hit on the same solution: pushing aside the fabric shower curtain and using the entire bathroom as a shower stall. Luckily for us, the non-shower portion of the bathroom has a drain. With a few days' practice, one perfects the art of leaning sideways to wash your hair or shave your legs, then using your towel and the bathmat to squeegee the pool of shower water down the outer drain when you're finished showering. There was nothing about this shower that made me think a human had been put into it at any point along the design line, to see if it was actually usable.
And now, the toilets. Yes, those famous Grandeur toilets did not disappoint, as long as "did not disappoint" means "were every bit as bad as I'd heard." My husband described our stateroom toilet as a random-number generator. You would close it, push the flush button, and then at some random time point ranging from immediately to five minutes afterward, the toilet would flush. The average time seemed to be about 45 seconds between button pushing and actual flushing. Our room steward told us about this on day one, and we assumed she meant that there was a problem that was being fixed and she wanted to warn us in the meantime. Nope, this is normal on Grandeur. When I advised guest services the next day that our toilet still seemed to malfunctioning, Cara (a lovely woman who worked hard to help people out in any way she could!) replied that unfortunately, that was just how the ship was, due to low vacuum pressure. Cara did promise to ask maintenance to take a look, and it seemed like the flushing got a bit more reliable after that, but at no point during the week did the toilet flush normally.
The bathroom sink, like many in the fleet, has a tap that sits too low to the sink bowl to actually fit hands under, and the water pressure in it (oddly, given how blastingly strong the shower pressure is) is very low. Not the hugest deal, but in combination with everything else it rendered the bathroom essentially useless for all three of its main functions: shower, toilet, sink. In contrast, toilets and sinks in public washrooms on the ship had none of these problems - their toilets flushed on command, and their sinks had adequate pressure and hand room. All bathrooms on the ship, both in my stateroom and in public areas, were prone to exuding unpleasant odors at random times, ranging from stale urine to "I could swear there's raw sewage flowing across this floor right now, if the smell is any indication."
The bedroom portion of the stateroom was less terrible, though I wouldn't go so far as to label it adequate, either. The room was cramped, which is par for the course, but I did find it a bit odd that it was *so* cramped that there wasn't enough room to walk alongside the bed without dodging protruding furniture. I had assumed these rooms were designed so that everything fit alongside each other, but in this case it didn't quite work, and more than once either my husband or I got up during the night and bodyslammed either the television (which is on a swivel arm) or the corner of the dresser (which projects into what would otherwise be the walking space next to the bed). The bed itself was little more than two cots; the mattresses were about an inch thick and dipped in the middle, funneling both people sleeping in it toward the center of the bed, where we had to fight it out for sleeping space (I usually won!). We asked for a mattress pad, which we got, but it was a scant improvement. I woke up most mornings with serious back pain. Our larger suitcases did *not* fit under the bed for storage.
There was adequate closet/drawer space and plenty of hangers for our clothes, but there was extremely limited shelf space for smaller items. Two cabinets alongside the vanity mirror looked promising, but one was occupied by the contents of our minibar, which our room attendant "took away" by putting the stuff inside it (it had started out sitting on the desk, taking up about half the space there). This left one cabinet of four small triangular shelves for everything else we owned (the bathroom had one shelf next to the sink, entirely taken up by the ship-provided drinking glasses), which didn't work out terribly well.
Our stateroom attendant was friendly but slow - about half the days we were on the ship, our stateroom wasn't made up in the "morning" until 1-2pm after we left it around 8:30am. Multiple days, we were unable to get room service lunch because the room hadn't been made up yet and we didn't want to be there and prevent her from making it up when she did come around.
Here, things improve significantly. Let's start with what I can't talk about: the Windjammer. Other than sticking our heads in one day to see the Coke Freestyle machines there, we didn't use the Windjammer the entire week. We ate most of our breakfasts and lunches in the Main Dining Room, where the staff during those periods ranged from absolutely fantastic (we had one lunch waiter during the week who saw us on Day 2, then not again until Day 9 and somehow remembered our drink and bread preferences from the first time to the second) to solidly adequate (the worst thing I can say is that service was slow).
Dinners were also in the main dining room, where we got lucky enough to have what must have been the best team in the dining room. Our headwaiter, Denise, blew us away with her attentiveness. We had previously joked that we didn't know what headwaiters did, if they did anything at all, but Denise made it her job to make our week as comfortable as possible. When she found out that we had wanted a two-person table for dinner but hadn't been able to get one (they were in such heavy demand that week that we waited in line for a table change for more than an hour the first afternoon, only to be apologetically told there was nothing left), she made sure that any time she saw us for breakfast or lunch in the dining room, a 2-top was prepared for us. When we mentioned that we were thinking about doing dinner in specialty restaurants, she took care of making the reservations for us at the best time she could talk out of the restaurant staff, and got us a 10% discount on the restaurant cover charges because they were booked through her dining room. Our assistant waiter, Wilson, was also fantastic - I had begun to think that the days of waitstaff memorizing guest preferences were past, but Wilson nailed it every time, from my nightly Diet Coke to the onion rolls I adored to the new San Pellegrino water that appeared in front of my husband every time one was finished. He also entertained our section with magic - I'm still trying to figure out how he got the chain to loop around the ring in one trick!
The MDR food was quite good; while it didn't rival the transcendent experience we had at Giovanni's Table (husband is *still* raving about their steaks - even better than the ones at Chops!), the food was tasty, hot, and as we requested it. The waitstaff didn't bat an eye at special requests or our habit of ordering multiple items from each course. We particularly enjoyed both lamb dishes (lamb shank one night, lamb chop another), and the banana creme brulee dessert (offered every night) is a great addition to the menu. Every pasta I tried throughout the week was overly salty; I suspect they were salting their water too much.
All dining room service was far from speedy, but it wasn't the worst we've had. If you don't mind slow meals with spaces between courses, you'll be fine.
Giovanni's Table was a great experience. We loaded up on appetizers, then regretted it when we got to the entree/pasta course and realized we had almost no room left! My advice is to believe the waiter when he tells you that most people do either a pasta *or* an entree; while you're allowed to get both, you really want to leave as much room as you can for that entree, especially if it's the steak (char-grilled on the outside, perfectly cooked on the inside). The olive ciabatta and the aged balsamic vinegar Giovanni's offers as its pre-appetizer bread is simply to die for. We could eat it all day and never get tired of it.
Chops was good but not nearly as good as Giovanni's; we both had to send back our steaks for being cooked wrong (he ordered rare and got medium-well, I ordered medium and got medium-rare), and mine was still more rare than not the second time around. The sides and desserts were good but not superior. Husband and I both agree that we would do Giovanni's Table on another cruise in a flash, but would need to get a particularly good offer to bother with Chops a second time around. The waitstaff at both restaurants were entirely competent but didn't make us feel particularly special or catered to.
We ate in the Park Cafe a handful of times, but its hours were surprisingly inconvenient for anything resembling meals - it didn't open until 2pm for "lunch" most days, which meant that on port days (when the MDR doesn't serve lunch), the only real lunch options for passengers staying on board were Windjammer or room service. What's the point of having a Windjammer alternative if you don't open it during prime food hours? That said, the roast beef sandwiches at Park continue to be worth the trip there. I enjoyed the tossed salads Park Cafe made on Allure of the Seas a few years ago, but I was disappointed that on Grandeur there was rarely anyone staffing that area of the Cafe, and the salads were no longer chopped or tossed to order (instead, the server just plops everything you ask for in a bowl and dollops some dressing on top). Still good, just not quite as worthy-of-a-special-trip.
We got two different beverage packages (Premium for me, Royal Replenish for husband). These were relatively new plans (added in December or January, I think), and it was clear that not all the bar staff quite knew how they worked, nor had procurement totally ironed out the kinks of how the plans affect demand. When we bought the packages on day 2, we had to insist to the very confused bartender who sold them that yes, the price was pro-rated based on how many days were left on the sailing. After speaking to his supervisor and his supervisor's supervisor, he found out that yes, that was the case. By day 6, nearly all the bars had run out of half-liter bottled generic-brand water (the only size/brand included in the beverage packages) and were having to give us liter bottles by charging us for them, then reversing the charges back to zero. The Coke Freestyle machines are a cool innovation, but even when carrying my purse, the bulky, handle-less, RFID-chipped cup that works in the machines was a pain to tote around. Bartenders only sometimes thought to point out when I tried to order a drink worth more than my package covered, as a result I had a few small charges on my bill that I would have avoided had I noticed the cost beforehand (we got receipts to sign for our drinks about 25% of the time; some places always gave them and some never did). We do still think the beverage packages are worth it, in general, but I'm hoping Royal works out the kinks soon. Getting a bottle of water shouldn't be a huge production that requires you to read fine print about exclusions and the bartender to do fancy point-of-sale footwork.
We rarely visited any bar other than the Schooner Bar, since the casino bar was impossibly smoky and the R Bar was always packed full of ballroom dancers using the Centrum dance floor (until the entire area shut down at midnight - we saw them literally turn out all the Centrum's decorative lights one night at 12:01). We loved Abraham in the Schooner Bar/South Pacific; he always greeted us by name and he did a great job of continually surprising us with tasty drinks we hadn't thought to try that fit within our beverage packages. Oddly, the South Pacific's bar never opened for service, even when events were being held in that lounge (Quest was in there, as was Bingo).
Because we were Diamonds, we spent a lot of time in the Diamond Lounge (which, on this sailing, expanded to encompass the entire South Pacific lounge in the evenings), where the staff was also eager to do whatever they could to make our week enjoyable. The nightly Diamond Event was one of the high points of each day; we had about 600 passengers on our sailing that were diamond and above, but with the expanded Diamond Lounge in the evenings, it managed to never feel crowded. Nibbles and drinks in the evenings took on a homey feel as the same passengers and staff showed up each evening, which we really loved.
We didn't attend most of the headline-type entertainment events on this cruise. Our sailing was very, very heavily skewed toward older passengers (I've never seen so many walkers/scooters in one place!) and the entertainment was similarly aimed toward them; we're not particularly into big band music, ballroom dancing, or do wop musicians, so we didn't bother with those. I had high hopes for karaoke and the Schooner Bar's pianist after experiencing rollicking times with those on other cruises, but due to passenger demographics the performances both those places were also heavy on the Tom Jones and Sinatra and light on the music-made-after-I-was-born.
We attended only one production show, the Broadway one, and I can honestly say that it was the most solid cruise-ship production I've ever seen. I'm used to either the singers, the dancers, or both, being, well, a little iffy, but on Grandeur both companies were spot on and they *killed* those show tunes. Performances at the aerial show (which also used the singers and dancers) were similarly solid, though the show was a bit short and the musical selections were less to my taste.
As trivia buffs, we showed up to the thrice-or-more-daily trivia challenges regularly. Darryl's progressive trivia competition was a fantastically good time and about as hard (in a good way) as you could hope for cruise ship trivia to get. Darryl himself was just wonderful; we loved him and would happily sail on any ship he was working on in the future. The trivia rounds led by other members of the cruise director's staff (Freida, Jimena, and Roberto all hosted at various times) were somewhat less organized and sometimes re-used questions or insisted on obviously-wrong answers (Jimena almost had a revolt on her hands one day over a complicated math question). Nevertheless, the trivia was always worth showing up for - those dinky plastic key chains aren't going to earn themselves!
The Quest was not as much fun as it's been for me in the past. While I obviously can't go into detail here, I will only say that under Ricky's direction it focused heavily on a single kind of thing that stopped being funny about twenty years ago.
The casino was a big disappointment. While I don't go on a cruise ship expecting to profit from the slot machines, I've never had them eat my bankroll quite as quickly and steadily. Payouts were horrible, even on the first and second days, and most of the slot machines looked like they might have been original to 1996 - only some of them had bonus games or the extra features that are common on newer slots (though some of the new ones here did have cool 3D screens). The entire room stank of smoke; since the casino is now one of the only places on board where smoking is permitted, smokers would come to the casino just to sit and smoke, even if they weren't gambling. Even the "no smoking permitted" nook smelled. And as usual, the casino is amidships, which means you will, at some point, *have* to walk through it to avoid detouring.
Grandeur is a small ship, and after sailing Freedom, Independence, and Allure over the past few years, I found going back to an older-style ship an interesting experience. Rather than a dozen themed lounges and food venues open at all hours, Grandeur had a scant handful of generalist ones that closed early or only opened sometimes to begin with; rather than acres of deck seating, Grandeur had a few dozen chairs by each pool. On the other hand, rather than "I need to run back to my room" being a half-hour, mile-long experience, it could be accomplished in ten minutes from any place on the ship, and rather than staff being anonymous, they were familiar faces who remembered us as well as we remembered them. The ship was decently-maintained; I regularly saw staff cleaning windows, patching up paint and deck surfaces, and cleaning everything (there had been Noro on the sailing before ours, so they were being extra careful). Waitstaff whisked away used glasses and plates quickly and smoothly, and other than with room attendants, I got the impression the ship was well-staffed for its number of passengers, which has not been the case on larger ships. On the other hand, it's clearly a twenty-year-old ship, and there are rust and dated features in places. Our stateroom still used a corded, touch-tone phone that looked like something out of 1994; the only way to know if you have voicemail is to listen for the phone to ring. The internet center used computers that looked about ten years old and a browser that was so heavily outdated that some websites wouldn't even load properly on it and it is almost certainly vulnerable to serious security issues; swiping your seapass on the keyboards for internet access only worked about 5% of the time, giving an error message the rest of the time.
PORTS: Since we'd been to all these ports before (Labadee, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, San Juan), we only got off the ship each time to poke around dockside. No real commentary to make here.
DISEMBARKATION: Smoothest I've ever experienced. By the time we'd finished breakfast and tossed the last of our stuff into our carry-off suitcase, our disembarkation number had been called. We were off the ship by about 8:45 in the morning.
It's hard to say that any cruise where someone else is cleaning your room and cooking your food is a bad experience, and we didn't entirely *dislike* our Grandeur vacation, but this is the first time I've flatly put my foot down about going back on a ship: I would not go back on Grandeur. Period. The staff was great, but they just couldn't make up for the ship's own limitations. No ship whose toilets don't flush reliably should be taking on passengers, and while I get along with older-demographic passengers just fine, in a ship that's small enough that it only does one type of entertainment as a time, the risk of landing among a demographic whose entertainment doesn't entertain you is just too high.