Grand Circle has a lot of rapid repeated travelers, but I'm not going to be one of them. Their style just isn't for me. This all started with an email telling us the ship wasn't going to be in port and directing us to a hotel that had no idea what they were talking about.
First up, lets talk about the ship. Its slightly smaller than the newest river ships at around 160 passengers and our cruise must have been packed to capacity. Its an older ship, I think they said the captain had been on this ship for 10 years, so that makes it older than that. Its is in good repair, but its just not a luxury ship. It feels like one of the really old $399 a week Carnival ships. There isn't much in the way of public areas
The lounge- This is overcrowded to fairly comfortable individual movable chairs and tables nominally set up in groups of 4. In practice its a wall to wall sea of chairs with no room to walk between them. It made it really unpleasant to get seating in the lounge. You had to push chairs around and climb over people to get to seats. They really need to gut it and replace with a more space efficient bench/booth setup. Also during briefings when the whole ship is there its impossible to seat everyone. If you don't arrive early and fight for a seat you end up standing in the hall. They don't have a way to broadcast any of these briefings to the rooms BTW so you have to show up if you want the port info. The bar is also here. They have a small selection of beers, but I hope you like pilsners as there is almost zero variety in styles. There is also a free coffee machine and tea. Iced water is available in a pitcher, but the glasses provided are good for about a swallow before you have to refill. Don't plan on being able to fill up and going up on deck for awhile. They have beer, wine and soft drink packages available. At several points we saw the crew berate passengers.
The Sun deck- The whole top of the ship has seating. There are a number of tables, a few shades and lots of reclining deck chairs up here. There is a bar, but it was never open during our entire cruise. Sure would have been nice to get able to get a drink up there, especially on our full day cruising. Space isn't really an issue here, but people will fight for the chairs up front going through locks, etc. If you want to smoke the only spot on the ship to do so is way in the back up here.
The Dining room- The dining room doubles as the buffet. There are a variety of table sizes here. Seating is not reserved and dining times are not flexible. Every meal there is a huge cattle call and rush to grab the table you want. If you show up a few minutes late expect to dine at the worst table and have your party split up if you are more than 2 people. During the buffet they have salad (With no sneeze guard and people grabbing stuff with their hands) and those large cylindrical trays with the rotating tops for hot food. There is usually a cook doing something like pasta omlettes etc in the center. They rotate directions on what tables are served first for table service. Inside tables near the buffet to the back and the outside one night, opposite direction the next. Service is glacial. Expect 2hr meals. I also don't think there was many meals where someone at our table didn't have something forgotten. Drinks that never show up, skipped for a course, etc, etc. On an ocean cruise these people would have been sacked long ago. If I were treated this way at a restaurant at home there is a fair chance I would be walking out, or speaking with a manager.
Food- Breakfast is acceptable. They have both hot and cold foods and you can eat on your own time as its a buffet and it is far less crowded. Nothing amazing, but nothing to screw up either. Lunch is half buffet, half table service. Nothing on the buffet ever interested me other than a salad. Most of the stuff you can pick up otherwise looks like the finger sandwiches you might get at a tea party. The table service stuff is a little heavy and there are only two choices a day. Lunch takes way too long in general. Dinner is a disaster. There have 3 choices of entree. Meat, fish, veggie. Its theoretically local, but its more like cruise ship unrecognizable dish to reuse as much leftovers as possible. No effort was made to call out local stuff or where it was from. Desert there are two choices. The rest you get what you get. I had all sorts of overcooked, uncooked and plain gross meals come out of their kitchen. Fairly often my wife ended up eating only the sides of her main dish and leaving kind of hungry. There are a few always available choices (hamburger, chicken breast, etc). There is no room service. There is no food available on ship outside of normal meal times. You get hungry? Tough. You didn't like dinner? Tough. Go to bed hungry. Wine, soft drink, or beer is included with dinner. You can also get iced tea.
Tours- GCCL includes at lot of its tours. This is sort of a dual edged sword. On one hand its nice not to have to worry about booked stuff ahead of time or worry about getting ripped off by the cruise line tour rates. On the other hand its a cruise line tour. Most of the tours ended up with lot of 'drive by stuff in a bus' with little actual exploring of the places we were in. In the end I felt like we drove through most of the places we went rather than really visited. The big downside for me was the buses. Our ship was divided into 4 buses. You stick with the same bus and people stand outside early to fight for seats. One bus getting off at small attractions is a big enough problem. The issues is that all the buses were going to the same spots and they didn't space them so you missed the other buses. So you ended up having 100+ people show up at the same spot at once. A lot of the places we went to weren't very crowded.... until we showed up. It made getting people free pictures almost impossible and you always felt like you were fighting peak crowds where ever you went. The whole experience was kind of stressful. GCCL suggests you tip all the local guides and bus drivers as well. The one nice bit was the headsets they hand out for the trip so you can hear the guide without crowding around him. It allowed me to explore a little bit while the guide talked. All the ID cards and radios make you stick out like a sore thumb as a tourist while I like to try and blend in as much as I can.
Rooms- The beds in the rooms fold out of the walls. This wasn't immediately obvious to me before I booked. That means you have to sleep apart from your spouse for the whole trip. The mattresses are the cheap thing spring variety you might find at a summer camp. Seriously think about upgrading to some latex foam ones GCCL. The storage is pretty nice except for the fact that you can't get to two drawers with the bed down. It makes dressing in the morning a challenge as they don't want you folding up the beds on your own. The bathroom is functional, nothing special. No mini fridge in the room, so forget about cool drinks in your room. I resorted to leaving bottles on top of the air conditioning vent to have semi-cool drinks. The small TV in the room does have a HDMI port in the back if you want to bring a bluray player, computer or similar. The CCTV system only shows the front ship cam, no view for the lounge for port talk info.
The beds in the rooms fold out of the walls. This wasn't immediately obvious to me before I booked. That means you have to sleep apart from your spouse for the whole trip. The mattresses are the cheap thing spring variety you might find at a summer camp. Seriously think about upgrading to some latex foam ones GCCL. The storage is pretty nice except for the fact that you can't get to two drawers with the bed down. It makes dressing in the morning a challenge as they don't want you folding up the beds on your own. The bathroom is functional, nothing special. No mini fridge in the room, so forget about cool drinks in your room. I resorted to leaving bottles on top of the air conditioning vent to have semi-cool drinks. The small TV in the room does have a HDMI port in the back if you want to bring a bluray player, computer or similar. The CCTV system only shows the front ship cam, no view for the lounge for port talk info.