Having just completed the short inaugural on the new Liberty of the Seas, I was a little apprehensive about taking my next cruise on a ship that's eleven years old. I'm happy to say that, for the most part, my concern wasn't justified.
My wife and I, along with our two children (15 and 12) went with another couple and their two children (5 and 7). The itinerary was Baltimore, a day at sea, a day and a half at King's Wharf Bermuda, day at sea, and then back to Baltimore. Here's the scoop:
Baltimore & Embarkation - We drove from our home in Indiana (near Cincinnati) to Maryland; stopping for an overnight in Hagerstown, which is about two hours from Baltimore. We stayed at the luxurious Red Roof Inn Hagerstown/Williamsport. Actually, the rooms were newly remodeled and they were working on the building's exterior. In the morning, I woke up with the room spinning...apparently it was food poisoning from the previous night's excursion to Ruby Tuesdays (future visitors may want to avoid the White Chicken Chili; tasty but potentially lethal).
The port of Baltimore is about as convenient as it gets. Take I-95, look for the signs for the port, pull off the highway and you're there. Folks leaving their car at the port need only pull in, drop off luggage, pay ($10/day) and park. Checking in and boarding the ship took only about ten to fifteen minutes; no problems at all.
Grandeur of the Seas - As mentioned, the ship is eleven years old; and although she does show her age here and there, she is still a very warm and inviting vessel. Her public rooms are in good shape and most of the carpeting is new (earlier this year, she was dry-docked for a sprucing up). I will say that if folks are use to going on nothing but new (or newer) ships, they may be a little disappointed with Grandeur's obvious signs of aging. They may also have issues with the fact that the ship doesn't have all the bells and whistles that most of RCI's newer ships have. Amenities such as ice skating rinks, in-line skating tracks, Johnny Rockets, golf courses, flowriders, etc., are non-existent. The only familiar features that Grandeur boasts are a rock climbing wall and a Ben and Jerry's ice cream stand.
The ocean liner fanatic in me was pleased to see that the Great Gatsby Dining Room had a 1930's theme; I found myself walking through in the middle of the night, my camera set on sepia, and imagining the likes of Noel Coward or Marlene Dietrich gliding down the grand staircase.
The ship's exterior and deck spaces are in good shape; although the textured rubber decking could use a good power washing. The teak decking is in excellent shape all over the ship. Overall, Grandeur of the Seas is, despite her age, still a lovely ship with many years of life left in her; let's hope RCI keeps her that way.
Cabin - We had an inside cabin, 3575 to be exact. Pretty typical layout, a bit tattered but still comfortable. Bedding was of extremely high quality. A shampoo dispenser was in the shower but no lotion, bath gel, or conditioner. Soap was disappointingly similar to those small bars one would find in a Motel 6.
Service - Throughout the ship, everyone was very pleasant and, for the most part, very helpful. Our waiter was excellent; he took very good care of the children and made sure that the younger ones were served first to keep them busy. Our waiter's assistant, while very kind, was obviously new. She tried very hard to please and, in the end, I really can't find anything to complain about as we always got everything we ordered (eventually, that is). Our room steward did his job well but, that's about it. Service in bars and lounges was excellent.
There was one major issue with service and that was with the housekeeping department. When we boarded at the beginning of the cruise, I noticed an area on the promenade deck where folks from the previous cruise would sit their empty glasses and coffee mugs. Many of the glasses (about fifteen of them) were filled with wet cigarette butts; it was really very disgusting. Over the next four days I said something to at least three different employees and no one bothered to clean it up. I even approached two members of the housekeeping department who were walking on the deck and pointed the mess out to them. The last straw was when, on the fourth day, I saw a waiter standing at the rail about a foot away. I went up and said, "You know, this mess has been sitting here since the last cruise and it's really gross". He shook his head in agreement and said, "I know, it's terrible". And then he walked inside. I took out my camera, snapped a picture and headed for the Purser's desk. I showed the photo to the gentlemen behind the desk, Edison, and he asked that I show him where the mess was outside. He made one phone call and it was cleaned up within fifteen minutes. What really irked me was that I know that, for at least four days, dozens of crew members had to walk past the mess and not one of them took the initiative to clean it up. If I saw it, they saw it, and other passengers saw it.
Another issue really doesn't have to do with service as much as an annoyance. Whoever came up with the idea of holding those revolting art auctions in the main atrium should have to sit through 120 hours of Pat Boone singing Heavy Metal. The auctioneer was loud and totally obnoxious; he would constantly slam a wooden gavel on the side of a wooden podium and it would echo throughout the cavernous atrium. Surely a lounge or the theater would be a better place (or better yet, in a lifeboat being pulled behind the ship). What they don't seem to understand is that passengers who want to attend the art auctions will be there (and there weren't that many); folks who could care less have no choice.
Dining - We chose to have breakfast and lunch everyday in the Windjammer. Overall, the food was very good, although the breakfast was pretty much the same everyday. Dinner was, for the most part, excellent. As usual, soups were outstanding and desserts were very good. One evening, the waiter brought out two huge bowls of Caesar salad and placed them on stands at each end of the table and folks could serve themselves, family-style. Pretty nice if you like Caesar salad, albeit a bit on the "Olive Garden" side.
Food was offered pretty much throughout the day and into the wee hours of the morning. Breakfast, lunch and dinner could be had in both the main dining room and the Windjammer. Burgers, hot dogs, pizza and fries were available in the afternoon and late at night in the Solarium. For a charge, Ben and Jerry's ice cream and Seattle's Best coffee were available in the atrium (pastries were also available but you had to buy ice cream or coffee for them to be complimentary). And of course room service was available, at no charge, 24hrs. a day.
Entertainment - Live music throughout the ship was pretty good. The steel drum band that played out on deck was pretty typical of most cruises I've been on and the music in the atrium was varied and, in my opinion, not too cheesy (probably because I can't recall one Jimmy Buffet song,...thank God). Our friends went to one of the production shows and said that it was pretty bad. We went to see some famous Olympian gymnast and, other than being pretty corny, he was fairly entertaining. The DJ in the Viking Crown simply couldn't hold the crowd. On 80's night, people walked in and turned around and walked right back out. He obviously didn't know what tunes were popular in the 80's,....a little AC/DC would have saved the day.
Bermuda - Without doubt, Bermuda is my favorite island destination. Although this was my third time there, I found it to be just as charming as ever. Grandeur of the Seas docks at an area called Dockyard, which is located in King's Wharf. Nearby attractions include a small but very busy beach (which is about a ten minute walk from the ship), several shops, a wonderful maritime museum, a cinema, and several pricey restaurants. There is also a ferry landing directly across from the ship.
With regards to the ferry service: Anyone visiting Bermuda should, without doubt, get a one or two day ferry pass. They are good for ferries and buses which are the best way to get around the island. Adult passes are about $12 for one day, $20 for two. Children's passes are $6 and $10 respectively. The ferry to Hamilton (the island's capital and main "downtown" area) takes about twenty minutes; the ferry to St. George's, which is all the way at the opposite end of the island, lasts about fifty minutes. Hamilton is a very charming area with lots of shopping and restaurants,..but be prepared to spend a pretty penny; practically everything in Bermuda is outrageously expensive ($7 a gallon for gas).
St. George's is a wonderful area with several fantastic beaches within a fifteen to twenty minute walk of the ferry landing and where cruise ships dock. Our favorite is Achilles Bay. It's very secluded, never crowded and you can swim among rocky coves and see some wonderful sea life. St. George's is also the location of the Unfinished Church, a castle-type structure reminiscent of medieval times.
• It takes about eight or nine hours for the ship to get from Baltimore to the open sea. If at all possible, one should not miss sailing through (and thus, over) the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel; it's quite a sight.
• We prepaid our gratuities, which was very convenient. The second to last night, they placed vouchers in our cabin, with each of our names on them as well as gratuity envelopes to put them in. If folks decide to prepay their gratuities after they get on board, it's not a problem.
• The evening show for late sitting is before dinner and the show for early dining is after dinner.
• While in Bermuda, only lemons can be served; no limes. It looked a little odd with lemons sticking out of the tops of Corona bottles. Apparently, if a Bermudian Customs official comes on board and even sees a lime, the cruise line can be fined big time. It has something to do with the term, "Limey".