Traveled via Amtrak from Boston to Baltimore. Bright sunny day to match our hopes. Some stunning views from the train during our seven hour trip. Arrived at Penn Station right on time. A short $7 taxi ride to the Holiday Inn Express on North Gay St. Gorgeous, brightly lit lobby with stately corinthian columns leading to the desk. Check in went smoothly. Staff were friendly. Room was more than adequate and clean. The laundry facility was appreciated after our lengthy train trip.
With the morning came the snow. It accumulated slowly but accumulate it did, up to three inches by the time we boarded the Grandeur. The hotel comp breakfast had good variety and the seating was in a wing of the lobby which allowed us to appreciate again its stateliness.
The hotel van took us and a second couple directly to the cruise port. Tip was expected since this was beyond the one mile range of its regular service. The check-in went smoothly enough, though we had to walk back into the cold to board the ship. First impressions weren't good. The ship was cold and no effort was made to remove snow from the decks. The Windjammer cafeteria was packed so we had to eat our lunch on the cold deck - we ate quickly.
Our cabin on deck three was available a few minutes late, and was small but adequate. At last we began to warm up. As the temperature rose so did our opinion of the ship in general. The broad wooden Promenade circles the whole deck leaving plenty of room for lounge chairs. The colorful Centrum was impressive, beginning amidships on deck four and towering up to deck nine. Much entertainment takes place in the Centrum which fine except that it is really not the best venue for music and dance, rather, the South Pacific Lounge at the stern seemed a better area for events of this nature. Unfortunately, its lovely panoramic window views and extensive seating and dance floor were dedicated to bingo, art shows, and part of it was usually reserved for the exclusive use of Diamond Club members (85+ cruise points).
The Schooner lounge, with its lovely starboard side ocean views, was used for various activities during the day and the piano lounge in the evening. The pianist was so-so, best with his Elton John songs.
High praise for the main dining room, the two level Great Gadsby Dining Room. Fixed seating on the first level at which there was live music during meals. The center of the dining hall was open so the music could easily be heard on the second level as well. The service was excellent. Seating was rapid and so were the courses. Our assistant waiter seemed to anticipate my needs before I even voiced them. The variety of choices was excellent, the quality and temperature of meals was good. If something wasn't right or pleasing, the wait staff was eager to correct the problem.
The entertainment receives a split evaluation. The performers brought on board for a single day were excellent. They included singers, a comedian, a pianist among others. Production shows by on board performers are uneven at best. Performances seems to merge into one another. This is no reflection on the individual staff performers who are energetic at the least, and often quite talented. It's the shows that lack originality and, often, focus.
There were three main singing ensembles that performed throughout the cruise. Of those, one shone above the others, the Rosario Strings, two performers from the Philippines. The violinist is a virtuoso and often had to perform an extra tune because of the standing ovations. He was personable and very talented.
The ports of call included Labadee, San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Maarten. Labadee is the RCCL 200 acre leased peninsula in northern Haiti. This must be a good profit center for the cruise line, there's a fee for almost everything. Labadee boasts the longest over water zip line ride (5 lines). Cost is almost $100 for a 90 second thrill down a hill and across the water. It was fun to watch and experience, I'm sure. We camped out on Adrenaline Beach. Upon entering the water, the first few yards were covered with chunks of coral which were a little tough on the feel. Once in the water, though, it was delightful for swimming and floating about.
At the entrance to San Juan harbor stand the centuries old El Morro fort. Imposing and picturesque. Walking the streets of the old city is a treat and a taste of the old world.
St. Thomas for us meant a delightful water ride to St. John and Truck beach. Touted for its fine snorkeling we were disappointed on that score because the wave action stirred up too much sand. But the beach and the water provided a wonder water experience. The drive to and from the beach was gorgeous.
St. Maarten has a delightful boardwalk along the shore for more than a mile. Restaurants servicing cheap beer to full dinners line the street. The streets just behind the beachfront area feature jewelry and assorted tourist fare.
The three sea day trip back to Baltimore was quiet enough, no storms and relatively quiet water according to the captain. The third, and final, sea day saw conditions deteriorate. Temperatures dropped quickly and we endured a rainy period which, surprisingly, lifted before the end of the day.
Departure went smoothly and quickly, right on schedule.
All in all, we enjoyed the experience enough to book it again next year - on the Grandeur again.