We had cruised on the Grand Celebration before the hurricane hit Freeport, having had a great time on that ship, so the next time in Florida we thought to check out the Grand Classica going to Nassau. The first time I took the Celebration, I was pleasantly surprised because truthfully, I had very low expectations to start but was very impressed by the experience. This time, however, my expectations were higher and so I ended up a bit disappointed as it did not live up to that original cruise.
Embarkation was swift and painless and we were on the ship quickly. I found our ship to have very few passengers on board- which I thought would be awesome because I had servers everywhere being helpful. It turned out to be really disappointing because there was no action- there were bars and lounges completely empty in many parts of the ship, the huge dining rooms were very empty as well which was kind of creepy. Every cruise I've been before this one was packed and the crowds get annoying at times, but I think I prefer that to a relatively empty ship.
Once on board, I found I was not a fan of the ship's layout. The sun deck had no live entertainment and only 2 bars, one quietly tucked into the side and the other in the back of the ship which was annoying to access. Servers were all over the place presumably to make up for the lack of bar areas to hang out. The main lounge was in the middle of the ship, with some neat looking lounges tucked into some fairly hard to reach areas elsewhere. I suspect a number of people missed these places entirely for that reason, some better signage would help.
The cabin was huge relative to any other stateroom I have had before, and while cabins aren't a huge priority for me, not being jammed into a room like sardines like other cruises I've been on is something I appreciated. The room was big enough it would have almost qualified as a jr. suite on some other ships, minus the balcony of course. It was updated and well appointed. The only downside is there are only 10 balcony rooms on the entire ship, which are all suites.
The food was OK to good, the buffet was adequate and the main dining hall was good quality. We dined at the Admiral's Club one night as well and it was superior dining in almost every way, which it should have been. What is interesting is that nearly everyone of our group of 6 commented that the dinner's appetizer and dessert was outstanding but the main courses were disappointing. It should be noted 2 of our group had steak overcooked, a big no-no if you are going to upcharge for it. The chefs working there should know how to properly cook a steak.
The entertainment was very good when it was available. I suspect the lack of passengers resulted in not having as many entertainment options, and that is a shame, I thought who they did have was great. There was still plenty to do on this trip, but compared to the Grand Celebration cruise we took which was much fuller at the time, not even close in entertainment, both in quality and quantity.
The service was awesome, best service I've had on any cruise, again, largely due to lack of passengers. Crew everywhere, everyone helpful and friendly, ready to assist with just about anything, just a joy to be around. This is an advantage of having a relatively empty ship I guess, but I took advantage and enjoyed talking to many of the crew, who had time to chat a lot of the time.
The shore excursions were very good and the port of Nassau is fine. The ship heavily promoted the Blue Lagoon, which was a fun excursion. Lots to see and do there, an island with a very nice protected beach including encounters with dolphins, sea lions, stingrays, etc. We just hung out at the beach but the whole excursion was well worth the cost. The return home included some very rough seas but it was handled beautifully.
Overall, the lack of passengers and quirky layout of the ship dampened the overall experience, but it was still a good one. I still think it's a great value and will definitely consider returning when I come back to Florida and want to spend a couple days at sea.