Was just on the 12/10-22 cruise from Baltimore (BAL) to St Thomas, Dominica, Barbados, St Lucia, St Marteen. 3 days at sea at each end. 3rd or 4th time on Grandeur (most recently March '16). Also Enchantment (FL & BAL pre and post stretch), Freedom, and have sailed NCL (3x) and HAL (2x). We prefer "smaller" ships (but have not experienced anything really big, so could be lack of 1st-hand knowledge).
Ship is "old" but seems well-maintained. The inside public spaces are cramped on the 1st and last at sea days as it is usually too cold outside. This trip, it was cold on days 1 & 2 and last day, rest of time people could spread out all over ship. (In contrast, the stretched Enchantment has an additional lounge that really makes a difference.)
Embarkation - we stayed in a local hotel with parking privileges and a shuttle (cheaper vs. the cruise terminal lot). Lucked out on getting a room as Army-Navy game was same day! No traffic issues getting to terminal and check in line kept moving. I think we were in our cabin by 2PM with bags by the door. The elevated gangway remains out of action after Carnival Pride hit it last spring, so we boarded via Deck 1. The strings duet (Rosario Strings) was playing in Centrum and wife & I got in some dances (and met a few new dancing cruise friends in the process - more below). After unpacking, we made quick trip to Windjammer (not crowded as most people were now in their cabins unpacking). Return trip was very easy - Baltimore must be the easiest disembarkation port and hotel shuttle was right there when we left building. Car was fine and we were on way home in minutes.
Cabin - see cabin review section. We like Deck 3 and had an exterior cabin (1st time for us on this ship) just aft of the forward stairs and elevators.
Dinning: We prefer MDR for all meals and were 1st sitting. Changed tables after 2 nights (why sit at a large table if everyone is going to keep to themselves?) when we met another couple who invited us over (there was room and matrie de was able to accommodate). We are not foodies, menu and prep was usually good to excellent, I'd say 2 dinners were adequate. Made some use of Windjammer and Park Café for midday or late night snacking. Wife continues to love fruit bar at breakfast and Tutti salad at lunch. Details:
- Lamb shanks 2 nights, were excellent. I think there was duck at least once and roast turkey at least once (tablemate who had it liked it). Lobster tails 2nd formal night - heard one guy had 12! Menus seemed not as extravagant as past years, always found something we liked and often split an extra appetizer or entrée. I like meat medium-rare-medium; I was fine with the mr-medium-well offering. Medium rare was definitely to the "might moo" end. Other diners had similar opinion. Wife thought there were fewer cold soup offerings than on other trips, and split pea seemed to be the default special soup.
- We usually ate in MDR (wife likes being served and tablemates; we have not bothered with specialty or My time). Occasionally visited Windjammer for extras or to see what they had. Mussels in WJ on 1st day not repeated (pity - they were really good). Food in WJ usually seemed OK, nothing fancy (excluding the mussels). Food in MDR seemed better on at sea days vs port days. Ship ran out of bananas and when they were all going soft, there were a lot of "with banana" items on dessert menus that were executed well.
- MDR service generally good except consistently slow on delivering 1st iced tea & coffee. Refills were usually efficient. M'd was able to switch us to another table to be with a couple we met (people at assigned table were OK, but staring at themselves/travel companion and not into conversation). New table had a great mix of new and experienced cruisers and age range. Very efficient without overdoing it table service at dinner. They were always able to get us through dinner in time for 7PM show without rushing us, even on the day we were late! (St Thomas). We did not find the 5:30 1st seating to be a problem with limiting our other activities, and making 1st show left most of the evening open for other activities.
- Did not use any of the specialty dining or my time or room service. Izumi seems to be the best executed (friends went there for lunch and raved about it). There were several offers for reduced cover at Giovanni's and Chops.
- Bar service generally good - Usually at R Bar next to Centrum. I had faster service going to bar vs. having a waiter take order. Not a big drinker, what I did have was fine.
- Did not use Voom internet and could have sent/rcvd text messages if we wanted to. ($0.50 to send and $0.05 to receive). Waited instead to use free wifi in bars and shops at ports and ignored the world rest of time. [It's a vacation folks! I can tell my FB friends we were gone when we're back.]
- Shows: We always went to the 7PM show. The ship company is very good, wife really enjoys them. 2 female singers and 1 male, all with great voices. [Male singer Wade was in charge of our station for lifeboat drill and was very good at commanding our attention and communicating, especially finding the missing cabin numbers!] One night was series of performances by most of the onboard music performers - very well done! (alas, meant minimal live music that night for rest of ship.) 1st and last night shows were single rather than 1st & last seating so were packed. Other shows were busy but you could find seats if you looked and were not too picky. We were always able to find good seats. There was no aerial act in Centrum (saw it used in March), We heard (RUMOR) there were insurance and certification issues and a performer had been injured on another ship, resulting in these aerial shows cancelled fleet-wide.
- Acts: Ventriloquist was super and did a very cute number with 5 volunteered kids from audience. Temptations tribute group OK (a Motown trib group in March was worth going back for the 2nd show). Piano player (a Liberace protégé), magician and comedians were good-OK (enjoyable or funny at the moment, nothing remarkable next day) and I've seen the juggler on a ladder guy before (so for me, "meh"). I think some performers pushed limits on embarrassing audience volunteers, fortunately all were great sports about it.
- Staff: Bobby (cruise director) is a good MC, he does not try to do a stand-up monologue and keeps things moving. Has a decent singing voice and some good moves at the 70's party. He was very funny at the Not So Newlywed game (and is there always someone who decides to answer "Trojans" to the condiment question?). Tanya was out of action for 2 days but quite with it for the rest. She did a good job keeping things moving and has a very quirky British sense of humor. Kelly is a big plus for us - she has formal dance training and did a great job on the dance classes for the at sea days. The cabin TV "morning show" with Bobby & Tanya seems loosely scripted and slightly chaotic in a fun sort of way. A running gag seems to be switching between today/tomorrow/yesterday (show is recorded the evening before but pretends to be same day).
- On board Activities: We attended a few events. Primarily the last 2-3 of the lectures (missed the port history discussions but got the folk tales and oral traditions and piracy discussions) - lecturer was a good speaker who used a lot of anecdotes to tell stories about the topics. We made all but one of the dance lessons (see below). Skipped the port talks and most of the other chats. Wife attended a few of the zumba/aerobics classes and liked them. I skipped out on the gym (small - too busy on colder days at sea) and the running track this time.
- Music & Dancing: Wife and I are big dancers. Met a lot of dancers on this cruise (a very cute jitterbugging pair in matching outfits, a former dance instructors couple, another dance instructors pair, a former cruise dance host, and several enthusiast couples with a wide variety of different styles - we had fun showing off to each other and sharing "how do you do that" moments.) and we may organize a "reunion" trip. This aspect of cruise was a highlight and helped make the cruise for us! I can recommend Grandeur for dance types noting limitations below.
We were happy to find a group from Bali last March playing in Centrum almost every night and hoping for similar this time. A group from the Philippeans this trip - "Real Time Band". Good music and usually danceable with a few minor caveats: Limited songs list (The March group was much more versatile. Real Time played a lot of repeats which shows when you have 2-3 sets a night an play all but 2 nights. I hope they expand their play list for their longer cruises). Band didn't always stay on a steady rhythm (important for dancers when not free-styling) but we could adapt. Cha Cha played on the fast side (so we danced rumba so not a big deal) and only a few "weird but I will sit and listen through it" songs. If you want lots of jive/lindy/big band swing, however wait for the ships band nite. You can dance WCS or hustle usually enough, and WCS useful when floor gets crowded with free style and hug dancers. Band breaks generally short (15 min sometimes), so worth hanging around. They did their job and generally kept Centrum busy. even well into their last set on last night of cruise.
Ships band played in Centrum one night (2 sets) and were excellent. Wish they used South Pacific for more seating and a larger and better dance floor. The calypso band was good on pool deck and played a few shows in Centrum.
Rosario Strings (string duet) also excellent and we met a few new dance friends dancing to them while boarding was underway.
Several party shows (10-11) in Centrum - we were able to get main floor seats by showing up after 1st show, dancing to Real Time and moving up as people went to dinner or left. Staff in an Elvis suit one night and 2-3 of the Village People another night. Bobby as Travolta's 16th cousin once removed for disco night (he does a mean white disco jacket) and Tanya has a cute poodle skirt bit for R&R night.
DJ Bosco stunk IMO and not just my opinion. He seemed to be tied to a playlist he could not or would not change. While beat mixing and fade-out/in were fine, song selection seemed poor. Songs were mostly ancient or "what is he playing?" R&B night was disappointing - was all hip hop (sorry RCL, not the same). The night the Temptations tribute group did a show, they missed chance for a Motown night in Viking Crown. No one ever got their request played that I knew of. Checked out VC during some of the Real Time band breaks in Centrum and there was often NO ONE DANCING. Sorry, DJ's job is to keep floor filled, not to empty the floor and lounge. He played long sets of too many songs of same style (you don't play 5 salsas in a row) at too-fast tempos you cannot dance to other than hop back and forth. When you are down to a couple from Columbia that grew up dancing Samba and Salsa and then they walk off, YOU HAVE A PROBLEM! I'm hoping this is a one-off. The DJs on Grandeur and other RCL ships have been competent to great, and if they can't play a request, there is a good reason.
Dance classes: Kelly (member of cruise staff) taught at least 1 lesson on at sea days; did a great job of getting total beginners moving while having something for more experienced. Has a dance background and knows what she is doing; taught some dances (Bachatta, 3-count Hustle) I have not seen taught on cruises before. This is not a new RCL, policy, Kelly and Tanya (Activity Dir) told me it just worked out she's on the staff (and is very happy about that).
Other dance-related: Lounges seemed to be over-scheduled with dance shoehorned in. We'd have enjoyed having some time in any of the venues or someplace where we could play or get played music we liked. Several of the dancers aboard have experience running dance clubs and had our playlists with us. I asked Kelly if they thought about having a dance showcase/exhibition/competition along the lines of the karaoke activity; she told me they didn't have schedule space in lounges to make it work. Hope she remembers and they try this on future cruises. South Pacific not used enough for dancing, bingo and art auctions keep taking priority (OK, RCL makes $, I get it, but still...). Centrum OK but small and hard floor.
Compass had a separate section highlighting music and dance times and venues - very appreciated as I could tear out and keep with me.
We are Jewish and attended the lay-led Friday night service before dinner. 45+ people were there (wow!). Ship did good job accommodating us in WJ, and a member of cruise staff (who is Jewish) helped facilitate (including quickly getting more services booklets, wine glasses, and another bottle of Manischevitz when we saw how many people showed up). Thank you, RCL. I know there was a Sunday Protestant service led by a minister who was aboard, don't know if there was anything special for Catholics or other faith groups.
Other: Ship security excellent and unobtrusive. Heard (rumor) two guests removed mid-cruise for bad behavior in one of the bars, and saw two cabins apparently under confinement by security one evening. DO NOT try to sneak liquor on board (2 bottles wine/cabin are OK at embarkation but tell them) and they do not want you taking food off or back on at the ports. We met a couple moving to St Thomas who were able to bring several boxes or extra suitcases with them to start their move, and someone brought 2 bicycles (no idea where they planned to ride them - most of the islands had terrible or narrow roads and crazy traffic for biking and I say this as a very experienced and traffic-aware cyclist). A few kids aboard, most seemed well-behaved. I heard some of the kids activities were under-attended because fewer families on board. I'm sure the current (12/22+ Christmas) sailing has many more families.
Ports - St Thomas: 4th time there. Finally made it over to St Johns and glad we took ship tour - all the afternoon tours were on a 5PM ferry coming back and arrived after the "last tender" time, but they held for us. No issues. St Thomas was planned for docking but there were too many bigger ships in port. We were stuck tendering, but it was to center of town dock, so easy walk to Charlotte Amalie shopping & excursions without the mob scene at the cruise terminals! Friends who went snorkeling/scuba had a great time.
Dominca is lovely but terribly poor. (1st time there) We shared a cab with 2 other couples and driver made it very enjoyable. Go early to Emerald Pool to beat the cruise tours. Bring good walking shoes (be prepared for many steps) and water shoes/sandals if going into the pool. Roads are horrible. Allow plenty of time to get back - traffic seems unpredictable and there's 1 road to the port. (Construction on main road caused a detour onto some really narrow roads and I'm glad we got clear before a construction dump truck tried to force it's way through the other direction!) Go for scenery and beach, not shopping (Crafts I think mostly come from a factory in East Asia). Heard diving at south end of island was great. In spite of being in a rain forest, NO BUG ISSUES. Bring rain gear (poncho or even trash bag with arm and head holes) if you mind getting wet. Nero Beach has semi-black sand, a quick drop off, but minimal surf. 2 places to get food/drinks/wifi at beach.
1st time on Barbados - nice if busy beach, town too busy for my tastes. Most interesting historical site for me is the synagogue. [inside joke - yes, they have a building fund!] Small year-round congregation (50 families) plus winter tourists and snowbirds. Sanctuary is small and well-maintained; there is an adjacent museum ($) with info about the island and congregation's history.
We liked St Lucia (another 1st time) - feels in between the fancier ports and Dominica for beauty vs. congestion and poverty. We were at the smaller of the 2 cruise piers. Organized shopping mostly at the other pier. Small crafts/wraps/shirt market at our pier and a main town market next door (easy walk). Vendors made a big deal about made in St Lucia t-shirts (yes we bought several) and are fine bargaining. We went to a nearby beach adjacent to a small airport (clean bathrooms and free fast wifi) - some surf but drop off was not bad. The snorkel/dive set reported they had a good time, too (forget if it was there or St Thomas where they had the diving with sea turtles).
St Marteen. 3rd time. America's Cup "race" excursion was canceled by high winds (they may not take passengers out when 26kt +). So we wandered about town, did some shopping, went to town beach and took it easy. Friends on the tall ship excursion had a great time (bigger vessel can handle 30kt+ winds better for landlubbers than a 12m racing yacht). As it was Sunday, many shops opened late morning (but with several large ships in port, town got busy by midday). I did some high-end watch shopping; the Breitling boutique (Little Switzerland) has much better selection and purchase options vs. the independent jewelers. (and the VR demo is awesome, especially if you are into tech and aviation). If you are into Zenith, their only boutique in Western Hemisphere is here (at marina end of the main shopping strip).
At Sea Days: Day 1 & 2 outbound and Day 12 returning were too cold for most folks to go on deck. Made for crowded Solarium and common areas 1st 2 days. Rest of cruise saw nice weather. Some rolling on the at sea days - did not affect us, some folks were bothered by it but nothing excessive and didn't seem to affect activities or events aboard. (Bobby did mention performers would change routines if they thought
Bonus event - 20th anniversary of Grandeur was celebrated with a big party in Centrum, crew talent show (great or at least fun - some of the crew are accomplished amateur performers) and a big Grandeur-shaped cake at the end. Followed by more dancing!
Liquor - we're not big drinkers. Sheridan no longer available in store, I saw it in St Marteen at $19 US/bottle. Prices in shop seemed decent but I don't know my prices for fancier items. I took advantage of daily specials when I did want something from bars.
Other on board shopping - the usual push on cheap gifts and RCL-logo items. Wife likes it; me, meh. Prices on Citizen, Tissot, and Casio G-Shock watches seemed decent vs. ashore but didn't do a lot of price comparisons.
Hope folks on the Christmas cruise have a great time. Wife & I continue to recommend this ship and convenience of Baltimore for a no-fly cruise vacation.
We upgraded from an interior cabin due to some last-minute price cuts. Very nice - felt more roomy vs. interior and we appreciated being able to look outside way more than we expected to. Cabin was very quiet (excellent soundproofing). I like a very dark room and should have taped over the door peephole; curtains are adequate for this time of year in tropics; would NOT suffice for me in Alaska. Location was close to forward elevators and stairs, so a bit of a walk from MDR and Centrum. Cabin was an excellent value.
Cabin service was adequate but not spectacular. Some hiccups on getting room made up 1st sea day (they were assuming many people sleeping in) and had to ask for soap & TP a few times - prior experience has been everything just shows up and happens. Used the door card when we needed room done and left notes from then on and all was fine. Steward did 3 towel art pieces - we always enjoy the creativity and wished he'd made more.
Cabin is very limited in outlets - 2 110V (US standard) and 2 220 outlets (did not use). Bring a multi-port USB charger if you have several devices you need to keep powered.
One mechanical issue one night (forget which - 1st At Sea on return trip?) where there was no water at all in cabin from about 1AM - 4AM (guessing based on who had to get up when). All fine by dawn and never heard what was up.
We met a couple with exterior more forward cabin on Deck 2 - they got to listen to a lot of wave action that we didn't. Another couple had a very far forward on Deck 3 and said they knew when anchors or other mooring was underway - they could clearly hear the chain and machinery.
Easy on-off ship. Stayed in hotel near port with long-term parking and shuttle made embarkation simple and cheaper vs. at-pier parking. Also avoided Army-Navy game traffic.
1st time in St Johns. Lovely island. Ferry returned after "last tender", but no problems getting back.View All 195 St. John Tour Reviews
Nero Beach was quiet and nice. Leave plenty of time to get back to ship in case of road issues or traffic.View All 16 Beach Reviews
Got to emerald pool ahead of ship tours. bring good walking shoes and be ready for steps.View All 41 Emerald Pool Reviews
Nice beach (45 minute walk from ship if you did that way), but very busy. No surf, minimal swells, very easy drop-off.View All 167 Beach Reviews
Visited synagogue - very well worth it for local Jewish culture and history. Town itself is meh - crazy busy.View All 149 Island Tour Reviews
Taxi ride to beach by local airport. Very quiet, most surf/swells of trip but very manageable. Reasonable prices for loungers and trees provided sufficient shade.View All undefined undefined Reviews
Cancelled due to high winds. Did not find out until we went to meet tour. (sigh) I was really looking forward to it, everyone I have spoken to who has taken it loved it. I'm told expect to WORK if you man one of the winches. RCL refunded immediately. Rating is based on quick refund only. Next time!View All 52 America's Cup Regatta Reviews
Walked to town beach. good for a dip in water and watch people.View All 266 Beach Reviews