We're going on a cruise My husband and I work very hard like most two family income couples. We both have stressful jobs that require a lot of responsibility and time away from our family. We have two sons in college and most of our savings has gone into ensuring that they don't graduate with a massive college debt. With my oldest daughter graduating next year from high school, we thought that we all needed a treat this Spring. We thought of spending a week in Key West but after airfare and hotel, we were looking at a substantial amount of money. My daughter suggested a cruise and I began to research it. I obtained prices from several websites, but all the options and decisions soon began to jumble together in my mind, so I called a local travel agent who specializes in cruises. My husband wanted to see Grand Cayman, my daughter thought Jamaica was important and I needed to get back to work on Monday so we needed a Saturday to Saturday cruise. The TA returned my call that same day with two options: A Carnival cruise out of Port Canaveral and Royal Caribbean on the Grandeur of the Seas. We knew enough about Carnival to not want to take that option, so the Grandeur was the obvious choice. Jamaica wasn't to be on our itinerary, but all of our other criteria were met. We booked right away and called the girls from their bedrooms. "We're going on a cruise!"
New Orleans We arrived a day early to New Orleans. Since we drove from Indiana straight through, we were pretty exhausted once we arrived around 8:00 AM. I had booked a room at the Wyndham French Quarter through Price Line for $59 and had called ahead to request an early check in. We only had to wait about 30 minutes before we were handed our room key. After a short nap, we were ready to see New Orleans. I'd been there before, but my husband and two daughters, 17 and 13, had not. Their impression was that it was dirty and pretty much overrated but were none-the-less happy to say that they'd been there.
Embarkment We arrived at the Port of New Orleans at 10:00 AM. I'd heard (and read) that there was limited parking so we wanted to avoid finding another lot and dragging our eight suitcases. They are two small side-by-side lots, one for each cruise line that they service. The Royal Caribbean lot was still full since the Grandeur had only arrived two hours previous, so we were told to wait down the road until it was 90% empty. We waited in a line of about 15 other vehicles for only 30 minutes and then were able to park. We were told by the porter that we would not be able to get on the ship until noon. After presenting our birth certificates and ID's (I had a passport and it was definitely the easiest), we proceeded through security which only took minutes. We then proceeded through jet ways and various corridors thinking the eventually we would be taken to a waiting area before we were allowed to board the ship at noon. To our surprise we were taken right to the ship at 11:05 AM.
First Impressions Our first impression of the ship was that she is indeed a grand lady. The Centrum was beautiful with its seven stories of glass and polished brass. We dropped our carry ons in our cabin and proceeded to the pool deck on deck nine. It was a bit early for lunch so we were glad that we had thought to wear our swimming suits under our clothes. My daughters and I did, that is. My husband was sorry that we hadn't listened to us as it would be hours before our luggage arrived. The temperature was around 72 degrees and coming from the cold and snowy Midwest, it felt like heaven.
We had requested Main Seating for the dining room and noticed at embarkment when we received our Sea Pass cards, permanent marker had crossed off Main and indicated that we had been switched to second seating. We are definitely not night people and didn't feel that having dinner at 8:30 was for us, so I went to the dining room to inquire as to why we were switched. The first person I saw was the maitre' d, who showed me the waiting list for Main Seating, on which we were the first cabin listed. My husband started to stress over not having his bathing suit and not getting our first choice of dinner arrangements so it was Mom to the rescue. They were unloading luggage on our floor and I saw ours stacked in a corner. I asked the attendant if I could take our luggage and she said it was no problem. Before I had our clothes put away, there was a knock on the door and an envelope left for us from the maitre' d. It seems that a spot had opened up for us in Main and all was well again.
We found the Windjammer Buffet quickly right there on the pool deck and had a surprisingly good lunch. It is, of course, buffet food so we didn't have great expectations, but everything was hot and plentiful. My daughter and I had been exercising and watching our food intake in preparation for this cruise. We both decided that we would enjoy our vacation and not stress over every little bite of food as we had for the past six months. I had my first of many desserts there in the Windjammer and it tasted so good!
Our Cabin Since our cruise was during a prime Spring Break week, our cabin selection was limited. Our TA recommended a lower deck towards the center of the ship and cabin 3600 became our little home-away from home for seven days, little being the optimal word here. We expected it to be small and weren't disappointed. With two teenage daughters and a combined 25+ pairs of shoes, we weren't certain how it would all fit, but somehow it did. Sort of. My 13 year old took the four small drawers of the twin night stands for her clothes. The 17 year old took three drawers of the desk and the remainder of her 20 shirts was stored in a suitcase under a twin bed that she pulled in and out as needed. My husband and I shared the three 18" dresser drawers and the three very small drawers hidden in the closet. The closet had about three feet of full length hanging space and another three feet of upper and lower rods. Our hanging clothes seemed to fit just fine, and believe me there was a lot of it!
Reading message boards on several websites before we sailed, I had purchased several of the suggested items that seemed to be essential for any cruise and was really glad that I did. The over the door hanging shoe organizer turned out to be a real life saver for small items like body lotion, chap stick, disposable razors, etc. The shower (small but very comfortable) had four shelves for shampoo and bar soap. The medicine cabinet had plenty of space for cologne, hand cream, tooth brushes and tooth paste. The long drawer in the desk served as our make-up storage. All in all, everything found a home and we were very comfortable in our cabin, despite that fact that we had over packed. The only negative thing about our cabin was that the girls slept in pull-down berths that were stored up in the ceiling. We requested that the lower beds be pulled together into a queen bed, but our cabin steward said that this would make his job much more difficult in making up the upper berths. My husband and I haven't slept in twin beds since we were living with our parents. The first couple of nights seemed awkward, but days filled with snorkeling and activities had us falling into bed at night and after a few days we didn't seem to notice overmuch.
The Dining Room Our cabin was a comedy act around 5:00 each evening. Two girls taking showers, blowing dry their hair and applying make up within a 156 square feet while trying to avoid Dad, was comical! Once they both had a hair drying going and our circuit breaker filled off and we had to call maintenance to get us going again. We settled into a routine eventually and ended up enjoying our ritual each evening. Table 63 was located in the upper floor of the dining room and situated next to a window. Unfortunately it was tucked back in a corner also and right next to the galley entrance. Our first instinct was to ask for another table, but since we were lucky to have Main Seating, we decided to give it a try. We sat with a nice couple from Minnesota. They had two charming children aged 8 and 11. I was hoping for a little older children more the age of our own, but again this turned out to be just fine! We really enjoyed getting to know our new friends and soon it was like we'd know each other for years. Here's where I talk about our waiter and assistant waiter and tears are forming just thinking about them. Yogesh Parab (he told us to call him Yogi) from India was our waiter. His little mannerisms became instantly endearing to all of us. From, "Now for yum yum time" to announce the dessert selections to knowing what we each preferred to drink before we even arrived, Yogi was a true pleasure. The one draw back to the early seating, we discovered, was that we weren't that hungry after the huge lunches at the Windjammer or the late lunches fit into the shore excursions. We never missed a dinner though, because that would mean missing Yogi.
Miothan, from Nicaragua, was our assistant waiter and also a pleasure to be around. He filled our water constantly and kept our bread plates full. My daughter loved the variety of breads each night and Miothan also knew when she was ready for another roll or slice. One night I asked Miothan how long he had been in the cruise industry and he told me that he was in his forth year. He said that he worked six months and then took a six week break. I mistakenly suggested that he must not have a family and the tears in his eyes assured me that indeed he did have a family and missed them terribly. I found a new admiration for these servers after that as I tried to imaging being away from my family for such extended periods of time.
Anthony (Tony) originally from Jamaica and transplanted to Miami, was our Head Waiter. Some of the discussion boards that I read suggested that many times you don't see your Head Waiter until tip night. This couldn't have been further from the truth on the Grandeur. Tony was there every night ensuring our satisfaction, flaming Bananas Foster tableside or marching around the dining room during one of the many entertaining numbers the wait staff performed. Tipping Tony was supposed to be optional, but we found after a few days that it really wasn't. Tony did as much to ensure our dining pleasure as anyone. On the last night, Tony told us that he would be leaving the ship the following day for shore leave and expressed how excited he was to see his two children. We think of you often Tony and hope your are enjoying your much deserved rest!
Even our bar attendant, Ian, was prompt and congenial. My daughters ordered virgin strawberry daiquiris each night and soon our young tablemates followed suit. Ian brought them each night with a smile.
Day at Sea Our first full day on the ship was spent at sea. Although we looked forward to our planned excursions, we really treasured our days at sea, three of them in total. After an early breakfast in the Windjammer, we hunted up four lounge chairs by the pool. This was a little disappointing. The ship's policy was that saving pool chairs by placing a towel on them and not returning for hours was prohibited. Nonetheless, each morning at 9:00 we had to search for chairs together and more times than not ended up on an upper deck from the pool. One morning at 9:00, there were about 15 people by the pool and every other 200 chairs had a towel on them. It made it tough on us who choose to follow the rules.
The Compus was dutifully delivered to our room each night and I would lay in bed with a highlighter pen marking the things that I really wanted to do the next day. The girls did the same with their respective teen activities. By the third day, I was tired of watching the clock to make sure I didn't miss a class that I'd decided to take, so I stopped planning so much. I was, after all, on vacation.
Let me just tell you that Bingo is outrageously expensive. For $35 you get six cards to play five games. To get a three-card pack will cost you $25. The fifth game each day was the "jack pot" game. To get the jackpot, you needed to cover your entire card within the allotted amount of numbers called. In short, it was nearly impossible to win this jackpot until the last day of Bingo. Some lucky lady won over $9000 on our ship, but the odds were not good seeing as probably 300 people were playing. In total, I spent $120 playing Bingo and I can think of many things that I'd rather spend that money on now!
Cozumel I had taken the advise of some well intending poster on a discussion board and planned our Cozumel excursion independent of the cruise line. In this instance, it worked out okay. All those taking our Clear Kayak and Snorkeling tour were gathered in an area on the dock in Cozumel and taken by taxi to the reef, which was part of the nature preserve. Our group instructor, Oscar, was funny as he taught us all how to snorkel and use our kayaks. We kayaked first over some beautiful coral reefs but didn't see many fish. The sun was hot though and the day clear, so we all enjoyed the experience as Oscar pointed out underwater caves and sea urchins. Next, we donned our snorkeling gear and made our way into the ocean. The current was very strong and my husband had to assist our youngest so he wore himself out quickly. Our oldest daughter, much to our surprise, took to the fins quickly and was constantly at the front of the group right behind Oscar. The snorkeling was wonderful as we saw an abundance of colorful fish and coral.
After the snorkeling, each visitor was allowed two free drinks from the cabana. My husband decided on Margaritas and both girls got virgin daiquiris. It was later when we realized that waiter had left out the "virgin" part of my oldest daughter's drink. After she lapsed into a fit of the giggles and saying "I thought it tasted a little funny," we figured it out. She didn't mind, of course, and there was nothing we could do about it at that point, so we just gave her the "drinking before you are 21 lecture" and went on from there.
On the return trip to the pier, we paid our taxi driver an extra $6 to take us to the far end of the shopping area, where we knew we would find Ponchos Backyard. This quaint authentic Mexican restaurant served one of our favorite lunches of the trip. My husband's mahi mahi burritos were out of this world. It was well worth the trip and we would go there again should we ever be in Cozumel.
After lunch, we did a little shopping. I had seen several pieces of Tanzanite jewelry on the ship and fell in love with the beautiful deep purple color. Thanks to our shopping guide, Tito, and the shopping class that I took on the ship, I knew that Tanzanite came from Tanzania, Africa and there is only one mine existing that producing this gem. Since it's endangered, buying a piece of Tanzanite is a real investment. I had received several coupons from this shopping class and spotted a 1 carat pair of Tanzanite stud earrings from Diamonds International. My husband, the wonderful man that he is, dickered with the sales lady and purchased the earrings for me. We paid $190 for the pair and felt that we made a wise purchase.
During lunch, my husband looked at his watch and told us it was 1:30. We didn't have to be to the boat until 3:30, so we thought we were doing fine on time. After we bought the earrings, I asked him again what time it was and again he said it was 1:30. We realized that he had pushed the alarm button and it was actually 3:30 and we were 3 miles from the ship! We tipped the taxi drive to step on it and we arrived back at the pier in 10 minutes. Unfortunately, the ship was quite a ways from where the taxi let us off so we ran the rest of the way. I was very relieved to find a long line waiting to board the Grandeur. We were 20 minutes late and I was already trying to figure out how we were going to get to Grand Cayman!
Grand Cayman Before our cruise, we sat down as a family and voted on the excursion that we would take in Grand Cayman. My choice was to go swimming with the Rays in Sting Ray City, but alas, I was outvoted by the more adventuresome members of my family. They decided on the Jungle Runner Snorkel Tour. In this excursion, two-man boats were taken through the mangrove jungle and across the bay to a floating snorkeling platform where beautiful snorkeling would then be found! Let me tell you what really happened!
We tendered into Georgetown, Grand Cayman as our designated time of 9:45 AM. Our tour was to begin at 11:15 AM and last 2 ½ hours. I had to admit, I was excited about the Mangroves and took my new digital camera in preparation of seeing multi-colored birds and hopefully other types of wildlife. There are two pier in Georgetown that the ships use to tender. We were taken to the East pier where we were held in a small group until our tour operator guide could meet us. We were told that he was at the other pier gathering his guests. At around 11:00 he finally made his way to our location and told us that the bus was full from the other pier and that we would have to wait until it returned in about 30 to 45 minutes. As no one else seemed to think this was a problem, I spoke up and expressed my displeasure that we were wasting our limited time on the island. He told us to shop at the nearby stores and return in 30 minutes. We walked across the street and did have time to purchase a few mementos, but hurried back to our meeting area. Our guide returned to tell us that we had to wait until the last group returned on the boats since they didn't have enough boats for all of us. In exchange for our wait, we were going to be taken to the Run Cake Factory of a tour. One couple asked for their money back and promptly left the tour, but the four of us, plus two other couples stayed. We told him that we were not interested in the Rum Cake Factory tour and were finally boarded onto a bus and taken to our excursion site. One of the other couples for from another RCI ship (I think it was the Splendor) that left GC at 3:30. The last tender for the Grandeur was at 4:45. We felt that we had plenty of time to a little bit of shopping before the tendered out to the ship.
Once we arrived at the excursion location called Rum Pointe, we received our snorkeling gear and declined instruction since we had just learned the day before. We were then asked to sign a document that stated that we would pay $500 in the event that we tipped our little boat over and that we would obey the rules. I made sure that my oldest daughter understood what she was signing as she would be driving the boat that we shared. We were then taken to our cute little two-man boats and helped aboard. The short story to this adventure is that our boats were unfortunately in poor working condition and through a series of break-downs and a trip to the marina for oil, we never made it to the mangroves. We only had 20 minutes to snorkel in murky, unremarkable waters. In an attempt to make up some lost time, we were taken over bone-jarring three foot waves in the middle of the Bay. The couple from the Splendor had left two young children on the ship and at 4:30 PM, we weren't sure if they had held the ship for them or not since they were an hour late for the last tender. Eventually we did discover that they had held the ship since they had booked the excursion through RCI. We had no time for shopping but did make our last tender.
Still, we made the best of our excursion and tried not to stress too much over what hadn't happened and were just thankful that we were together to experience this new adventure. It will be one of those things that we look back on and probably remember most about our cruise. My daughter was in heaven driving the boat (when it worked) and at one point screamed at the top of her voice, "this is the best day of my life!" Let me tell you, it doesn't get better than that for a parent.
Costa Maya We decided not to plan an excursion for this new port. Our other two ports of call had been full of exercise and clock-watching and we wanted a time to rest without worrying about missing the ship. Although we couldn't find a great deal of information about Costa Maya, we were really surprised by what we found. Costa Maya itself is a little village that has sprung up in an attempt to compete with the shopping trade of its Cozumel and Cancun neighbors. A market is situated in the middle of the town square where local crafts can be purchased such as Mexican blankets, pottery and vanilla. On the outer edge of the square, more reputable merchants can be found such as the ever present Diamonds International. I found haggling a fun experience. I bought two marble chess sets for my sons for $25 each when they originally asked for $125 each. The prices are very high, so if you feel timid about haggling over the price, you might want to stay away from the market.
We paid $3 each to take a taxi into the village of Majahaul (pronounced ma ha wall), and authentic little fishing village. Dirt streets and more local merchants hawking their wares and a few make-shift lean tos that served as bars on the beach was about all that we found here. Some may have liked this atmosphere, but it only served to remind us how truly lucky we are to live where we do. I couldn't have missed this part of the trip without any regrets.
Back in Costa Maya, we bought an over priced lunch ($78 for four of us eating tacos and chips), my husband and daughters had fun swimming in the salt water pool. Our ship was originally scheduled to depart Costa Maya at 1:00 AM but we were told this day that we needed to be on board by 6:00 for a 7:00 departure. This was fine with us since we didn't want to miss our 6:00 dinner on board, less we miss our favorite waiter. We found out later that we left early to miss a bad storm and were happy that we did.
That night the seas were a little high, but snug in our little cabin's twin beds, we didn't notice a thing and slept like babies.
Two Days At Sea Thursday and Friday were spent at sea relaxing and building on our suntans. We had purchased several photos so far and it was fun to see the progression of our tanned skin. By the second formal night (Thursday) the girls looked like tanned beauties despite the use of SPF 50 all week.
I entered the Slot Machine Tournament and had a ton of fun even though I didn't make it out of the first round. It was $20 well spent. We watched the Travis Knight magic show and it was wonderful. We didn't see any of the other music and dancing shows in the Palladium Theatre. That's just not us. Others said it was fantastic and I'm sure it was.
Our cruise director, Tom Canosa, and staff were all great. They really worked hard all week! The Love and Marriage game was hysterical!
Like every other evening during the cruise, my husband and I spend an hour or so in the casino after dinner while the girls participated in planned activities with their new friends. The slots were good to me at first and became increasingly fickle as the trip went on. My husband consistently came out ahead in Blackjack. It was a good thing that he was able to support my gambling habit or we would have come back entirely broke.
Tip Night To add your tips to you Sea Pass card or not? We debated about this for days. It is more personal to hand them an envelope with cash than it is to hand them an envelope with vouchers in it that say you tipped the recommended amount. In the end, we did both. We added the four vouchers to each envelope as well as extra cash for jobs well done!
It was a bittersweet night as we said our good-byes to our new tablemate friends, Yogi, Miothan and Tony. We had brought a few bottles of wine with us from our favorite winery in Michigan. Yogi seemed to think that Napa Valley was the only wineries that grew grapes worthy of great wine, so he found our little Michigan wines a novelty. On this last night we presented him with a bottle of Demi Red along with his tip envelope and have his picture to remember the honored look on his face. The girls actually cried when we left the dining room after saying good bye and getting pictures with everyone. It gave my husband and I a warm feeling to know that we had given them something so special that they would always remember.
Conclusion We've been home for two days and the memories are still very real and fresh. Going back to work and school has been difficult as we only wish that we were back on the Grandeur. Today, we would be in Grand Cayman, tomorrow, Costa Maya. The only thing that makes it bearable is the knowledge that we need to work in order to save up to do it again! It ended up being an expensive vacation, but one that we will never regret.
In conclusion, I'd like to address a few falsehoods that have been portrayed on several of the cruise discussion boards for all of those first-time cruisers out there. Maybe after 20 cruises, we will also become a little jaded to the cruise industry, but right now I think it's important to set the record straight as not to cause "newbies" any concern.
The Quality of the Food Our ship was full to capacity which means that over 6500 meals were served each day. In the Windjammer, we found buffet style food which is designed to feed the masses in an efficient way. It isn't gourmet food and not intended to be. It's good, satisfying food of every possible type that you can think of; soup, salad, fresh fruit, hot entrees and lots of desserts. The dining room served very good to excellent food. Their appetizers were extremely tasty. Most nights I ordered two appetizers, one in place of a salad, for fear of missing something extraordinary. All the soups were very good. The entrees were always well prepared and tastefully displayed. Yes, the Ranch Steak is tough. I knew it would be so I didn't order it but my daughter did several times. It was not thin as many of the boards claim, but about 1" thick. She didn't complain and believe me, she's the pickiest eater that you will ever find. If your waiter thinks you are unhappy with a selection, he'll offer to bring you something different. Take him up on it!
The Service I met a lady by the pool one day and we she told me that she was on her 25 cruise. I asked what her favorite cruise line was as she said that she tried them all. She said that she liked RCI best because they offered the best service. After just one cruise, I'm forced to agree with her. Besides a rude female server at one breakfast in the dining room that rolled her eyes every time we asked her for something, the service was first-rate all the way. You can really appreciate that when you think that these people don't get a day off for six months. My kudos to RCI for their efforts in this area and this is what will keep us coming back.
All the Extra Fees Your vacation will be as expensive as you want it to be. If you stay away from the Spa and Casino, you will save a ton. You can have a wonderful time sticking to the "inclusive" items like meals, entertainment and going on shore excursion at your leisure. If you accept this going into your vacation you won't be disappointed. You can go to Guest Services at any time to get a total of your charges so far. We set a budget for each of the girls as far as beverages and Internet usage. Neither of them exceeded their budget.
Smuggling Alcohol As I said before, we did take several bottles of wine and did pay a $12 corkage fee to have them with dinner. The least expensive wine on the wine list was over $20, so we felt we came out ahead. Besides, we have certain wines that we like. This is perfectly acceptable by RCI and there is no need to "smuggle" wine. Just pack it and take it! Other alcohol is another story. There are signs posted that drinking your own alcohol in any public place is prohibited. There are no longer drink packages to purchase, so your other option is to buy your drinks from the bar or to smuggle it aboard. I have to confess that we took a zip lock baggie filled with travel-sized assorted alcohol. My husband used Sprites from our cabin to make himself a little cocktail before dinner. He also bought at least one cocktail at every dinner. I'm not sure that we would take our own again. I felt guilty all week that we shouldn't have done it and in the end, he had a large liquor tab anyways. Just set a budget and if you can't afford to drink it, don't. If you can, just enjoy. You're on vacation.
Booking Excursions Through the Cruise Line I hope that you can see from our experiences on Cozumel and Grand Cayman that it is always best to book your cruise through the cruise line (and they're not paying me to say that). I figure that we spend a total of $40 more to book through RCI our little Jungle(but there was no jungle) Runner (didn't work most of the time) excursion. It would have cost us over $1000 to fly to Costa Maya to meet the ship had we missed it. Besides, RCI took care of us on that whole ordeal. You're not only paying for the excursion, you're paying from the customer service as well.
And finally to Royal Caribbean International, thank you from the bottom of my heart for the vacation of a lifetime. You will definitely see us again very soon. We're already planning a cruise next winter to include both of our sons. I think we'll need a suite! Read Less