My wife and I took a scheduled nine night cruise on Grandeur of the Seas out of Baltimore leaving May 16, 2008. It was supposed to leave May 15 but because the previous cruise encountered unusually high seas and went one day longer, ours was shortened by a day. St. Thomas was cut out which was no problem for me because that is a shopping port primarily, but my wife would have preferred another port to be cut. Anyway, to me, being on a cruise is great and this was no exception.
Embarkation: We live a half hour away so we did not have to stay in a hotel overnight. We got into our car around 1, parked our car at 1:30 and by exactly 2 we were through the check in and seated at the Windjammer Cafe on Deck 9 for a nice buffet lunch. We have checked in now on two cruises in Baltimore and it has to be the fastest, friendliest and quickest check-in that we have gone through and we have embarked in Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Philadelphia. They don't come close to Baltimore for ease of getting on a ship.
The Ship: The Grandeur is like many other Royal Caribbean ships we have sailed. Other people in their reviews give a much better description of all the amenities than I could here. I will talk about my favorite features and less than favorite features.
Favorite Ship Places: The Internet room with plenty of computers available. On some ships, I have had to wait for a computer. Not so here. Plenty of computers always were available. The rates have come down, too. I got a package for $55 at 37.5 cents a minute. I think that's the lowest rate I have found yet. The ability to use Wi-fi in most public areas for my laptop was nice (although I wish the Internet could be accessed by my laptop in my stateroom like on newer ships like the Carnival Liberty).
The Library was quiet and featured many books for all tastes.
Deck 5 had more than enough lounge chairs for relaxing and looking out to the ocean. On some lines like Carnival and NCL finding an empty lounge chair on deck at different times of day can be challenging.
The Low Fat Yogurt Machine on deck nine worked great and had my favorite flavor, vanilla.
Two Not So Favorite Places: The swimming pool deck area (9th level) seemed too crowded. You have to weave in and out through lounge chairs to get from one end to the other. The Purser's Desk on Deck 5 needs a bit more attention, too. The configuration is fine. It just seems like I always had a five or ten minute wait to get to ask my questions at the Purser's Desk. Maybe I just chose the wrong times to ask my questions, so it's not a big deal. I wish too, the daily newspapers printed via satellite did not run out of copies for the US news edition by the evening. Again, not a big deal. I should have gotten there earlier to get my copy.
Activities: The Ship Shape Program has now been renamed Vitality. But the system is still the same. You participate in recreational activities and you get points that you can redeem for merchandise. My wife and I are avid walkers and dancers so we were able to earn 3 T-shirts and a backpack by the end of the cruise. I know this is no great bargain, but it was fun having a reason to to get out there and have fun.
The line dancing and ballroom dancing were both a blast. The ballroom dancing teacher (Bill) and his wife were very knowledgeable and took the group through steps in a way we could easily learn. Both are great teachers. The line dancing by the pool on deck nine was always done so you could laugh and have fun while you were doing it. The activities staff, while small in number, were great to interact with.
Service: The service in our room was very good. The cabin steward was very friendly and left us alone when we were in the room. She seemed to know our schedules as you would expect, so she never got in our way, yet always was accessible when we needed her. She left us extra chocolates which made us happy campers.
Dining: We prefer to dress casually the entire trip and eat at a quicker pace that what formal dining affords. I do not bring along a coat and tie and this saves luggage space. So we did not eat in the formal dining room, but rather up at the Windjammer Cafe each night. We were very happy with the selection and the meals. The most important thing to us is that we got to eat at our pace (quicker than in formal dining), have the portions and choices we wanted and did not have to dress up. I realize for many that formal dining is a highlight and I certainly respect that. For us, we prefer a different style and the Windjammer Cafe with its wide selection, friendly staff and wonderful views, fit the bill perfectly with us. Maybe a couple of times, it would have been nice if staff were quicker in cleaning tables, but overall we were pleased.
Shore Excursions: We went on one shore excursion from Royal Caribbean. That was the Cave and Mangrove Exploration. We boarded a speed boat for a thirty minute or so ride from the boat. We circled islands filled with pelicans and large shorebirds. We got rum and coke along the way from the boat operators. It was fun and interesting. We stopped at two caves and explored ancient Indian writings. There was nothing that unique about the caves. The authentic writing was just in two spots. It was interesting and made for a relaxing afternoon. I would definitely recommend it.
Ports: San Juan, Puerto Rico was the most interesting. You walk off the boat and you are right next to the fort area of the city. I recommend exploring the fort near where the boat docks. Shopping has expanded a great deal and well know brand outlets like Coach, Ralph Lauren and Dooney and Burke can now be found. It is safe to walk around and we did not get bothered by anyone asking for a handout, like we have previously in some other Caribbean ports.
Samana, Dominican Republic: We did the Cave and Mangrove Exploration shore excursion here. On a previous cruise to Samana, we took a city walk which was also wonderful. I would say Samana is not a great port for walking around the city on your own. I would definitely sign up for an excursion here.
Labadee, Haiti: I think this is the best cruise-owned private stop I have experienced. Plenty of beach to roam and find an uncrowded spot you can call your own. We found a shady spot near the shore and enjoyed swimming and the music; the Barbecue was tasty; we shopped for crafts; and then found a hammock to relax some more. I did not like all the begging by craftspeople to buy their stuff in the Artisan Market. You just have to say no and not stop to talk and you are o.k. The craftspeople are a little aggressive, but given their situation on living on Haiti, I certainly understand.
Disembarkation: We carried off our luggage and were off in a matter of minutes when the first announcement top debark was made. We were on the second floor and the gangway was literally just a few steps away from our room. We were off the ship at 8 a.m. and home by 8:30. Couldn't have been easier. You give me a choice between a cruise close by and one with the hassle of flying these days and I will choose the home port any time. And in our case, Baltimore is a perfect place to begin and end a cruise.