Ed & Jodi Kocher
Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Grandeur of the Seas
Sailing Date: November 30th, 2001
Itinerary: Miami - Cozumel - Grand Cayman - Montego Bay - Aruba - Curacao - Miami
My wife and I are in our late thirties. This was our third cruise – first on RCCL. Previously, we had sailed on Premier’s “Atlantic” for a 4-night cruise, and a 7-night cruise on Disney’s “Magic.” This was to be our 10th Anniversary trip and we originally were scheduled for a 10-night Hawaiian cruise on Vision of the Seas departing 9/23/01 from Honolulu to Ensenada. Unfortunately, the events of September 11th caused us to delay our plans, so we decided to take a 10-night Circle Caribbean cruise instead. We had been to Hawaii several times in the past, but had never been to any of the destinations on this cruise. And, although we were not on the ship for our anniversary, we were not to be disappointed with the cruise itself, and we would definitely do it again if given the chance.
About our Fellow Passengers
RCCL’s brochures state that their average passenger age is in the early 40s. On our cruise, I would have to say the average age was about 55. I suspect the fact that we were on a 10-night cruise, and the fact that the cruise was during the school year helped to increase the average passenger age. There was a total of 1732 passengers on this cruise. There were 8 honeymoon couples; a few families with children ranging from infants to teens; about 50 or so couples in the twenty to thirty something age group; and maybe another 100 couples in their late forties or early fifties. The rest of the passengers were recently retired seniors and older. Most passengers were pretty laid back. Not a lot of loud partying – just the way we like it. If you like to relax on your vacation, this cruise is for you. If you like to saddle up to the bar the minute you get on the ship and not stop drinking until you arrive back in Miami, I would suggest a different cruise line.
Arrival, Embarkation and Security
We arranged our own air as RCCL wanted almost $300 per person and we were able to get non-stop flights for less than $175 each. We arrived the night before departure. I strongly recommend arriving the night before any cruise departure. Although it adds about $150 to the cost of the vacation, the money spent is well worth the peace of mind in knowing that you’ll be on time for your ship’s departure. We had rented a car from Alamo upon arrival in Fort Lauderdale, and when we returned the car to Miami the next morning, we used Alamo’s free shuttle bus to the Miami Cruise Terminals. The ride to the ship took about 30 minutes. We were left at the far end of the outside curb where all the taxis and private cars drop their passengers. It took me several minutes to locate a porter, and I was only successful by going to the departing baggage belt with cash in hand to find a porter who had just dropped off a load of bags and had an empty cart. If I had not done this, I probably would have waited for quite a while. Other passengers told me they waited up to 45 minutes for a porter to come their way. Don’t be bashful about going to get a porter at the baggage belt. It could save you a half-hour or more.
After getting our luggage taken care of, we were sent to the entrance of the terminal building where we were required to show our cruise ticket and photo ID. Only then were we permitted to go upstairs to the security checkpoint where security was visibly tight – there were Reservists with M-16s at the checkpoint, throughout the Terminal Building, and at pier-side. After getting through security, we waited in line for about 30 minutes to check-in with an RCCL agent. Once we reached an agent, the check-in process went quickly and smoothly. We were given our Super Charge cards (combined on-board charge card and room key) and then went upstairs to the gangway. At the gangway, we were asked to stand in front of a podium-like box where our security pictures were taken. Each time we re-entered the ship at any port of call, our pictures were displayed on the computer screen for the Sergeant at Arms. Although the pictures of us were horrible – our passport pictures were far better – I’m sure they were effective at keeping unwanted persons off the ship throughout the cruise.
Upon entering the ship, we were met by a member of the cruise director’s staff and were provided with directions to our stateroom. Fifteen minutes after getting to our stateroom, our Cabin Attendant knocked on our door to introduce himself and to give us our excursion tickets that we had ordered on-line. We then went to the welcome aboard buffet and upon returning to our stateroom about an hour later, all our bags were present and accounted for.
Total embarkation time: Approx. 1 hour and 15 minutes. Overall, the check-in process was good, although it was the slowest experience of any previous cruise. The longest portion of time was spent standing in line waiting for a check-in agent. I suppose that RCCL could have had more agents on duty to decrease waiting time, but overall the line seemed to move along pretty quickly.
As this was a “special” trip for us, we had reserved a Category C “suite”. We were assigned stateroom 8454 on the starboard side, just aft of the rear lifts on Deck 8. This proved to be an excellent location as it was amidships (less up and down motion when under way) and, being close to the lifts and stairway, it made for easy access to/from our room – no walking down log corridors. The room was nicely decorated with natural woods and soft peachy beige colors. Very warm and pleasing color tones. I had ordered a sunflower bouquet for my wife and when we arrived at the stateroom, the flowers were already on the coffee table.
Although I would not really call our stateroom a “suite” it was by far the largest room we ever had on a cruise ship. I never felt the need to squeeze around furniture to move about the room, and never felt cramped at all. In fact, when we first entered the room, my wife said that the room was huge and that it felt like a “real” hotel room instead of a cabin on a ship. I estimate the overall dimensions of the room at 22 feet long and 10 feet wide, plus a 4 x 10 foot verandah. While I’m convinced that the occupants of the Royal Suite had much better digs, our stateroom was just about the perfect size for what we needed and expected, and certainly far better than the Category D staterooms on the deck below us – Category D cabins are at least 3 feet narrower. It had a good-sized bathroom with a bathtub/shower (with extremely good water pressure); a double-width closet with a high hanger bar on one side and high/low hanger bars on the other side; two twin beds pushed together to make a very comfortable oversized queen bed, a pullout queen sized sofa-bed; two comfortable chairs and accompanying ottomans; a coffee table; a desk/vanity with chair; a mini-refrigerator; an electronic safe; closed-circuit television (CNN, TNT, Retro-TV, ESPN, multiple live NFL Football games on Sundays, Ship’s Course channel, several free movie channels, Ship Information channel, Excursion Information channel, etc.); a volume control for the in-room announcement speaker; three electrical outlets (both 220 and 110 volt); and a hair dryer was in one of the drawers – I was told that this is a recent addition to the Vision class RCCL ships.
Every review I read prior to this cruise advised that there was plenty of storage space in RCCL Vision Class staterooms. These reviews were absolutely correct. You could easily store enough clothing for a 14-night cruise for two people, and still have plenty of room to spare. In addition to the ample-sized closet, there were no less than 16 drawers, a full height cabinet by the stateroom door, a large cabinet over the safe, and both the vanity in the room and the vanity in the bathroom had hinged side mirrors with small shelves behind them. Even the ottomans were hollow by design to provide extra storage space. The only negative thing I have to say in this regard is that in order to get your empty luggage under the bed, you have to lift up the bed a little. If the beds were just three more inches off the floor, you could simply slide the bags underneath without having to struggle a little. Whoever designed the storage spaces for these staterooms deserves a round of applause. Well done RCCL.
Overall Level of Service
I am not being paid by RCCL to write this review, but I must say that we felt that the service was exceptional. We were always greeted with a smile and a “good morning” by every crewmember we came into contact with. When we asked questions or advice from members of the crew we were always taken seriously and we never had the impression that the crewmember had given the same tired answer to hundreds of people during our cruise – even though I’m sure they had. With the exception of the omelet station and on embarkation/disembarkation, we never had to wait in long lines. If a photographer offered to take our picture or a bar waiter offered us a drink and we politely refused, they graciously accepted our request and left us alone.
I only had one slightly bad experience with a crewmember, and to an extent it was my fault. I had asked a crewmember who had an “American” sounding accent if she was from the States – she advised me in no uncertain terms that she was a Canadian. At the time I was a little surprised by her rebuke, but in hindsight it’s kind of funny. The crew was made up of over 100 nationalities. This young lady from Canada was the first crewmember I suspected might be from the USA. Evidently she didn’t like my assumption, and I can certainly respect her sense of national pride.
In the overall service category, on a scale of 1 to 10, I would give the crew a 9+. These people knew we had paid good money to take a vacation on their ship, and they seemed to reflect that fact in the way they provided their services.
The Ship - Overview
Grandeur of the Seas is a beautiful creation of the shipyard that built her. She is decorated with lots of natural wood, exterior glass walls, and a large collection of artwork is displayed throughout her. Although she is now five years old and showing the customary wear and tear of any ocean-going vessel, she is in fantastic shape, and regular maintenance procedures were observed during our cruise.
At more than 900 feet in length and just over 100 feet of beam, she is a large vessel. But the size is not overwhelming when on board. The layout is excellent – even though you have to pass through the casino to get to the Theatre (certainly not a mistake on the part of the marketing group). After just a few hours on board it would be difficult to get lost. For the rare time when you might become disoriented, each elevator lobby contains a two-dimensional layout of the entire ship, complete with the ubiquitous “you are here” sticker. There are six lifts amidships and three more forward. The only time we experienced long waits for a lift was when the ship first docked at a port, and again just prior to sailing. Otherwise there seemed to be plenty of lift space to go around.
Upon entering the vessel at embarkation, you find yourself at the bottom floor of “The Centrum” – a large 5 story atrium running all the way to the top of the ship with two glass elevators running up and down one side. Each balcony level within the Centrum has a sitting area and some levels have public rooms adjacent to the Centrum – Pursers’ Desk, Excursion Desk, Shops, Card Room, Library, Internet café, etc. The bottom level of the Centrum has a large lobby area complete with a waterfall and a marble staircase/presentation stage that, during the cruise, was used for entertainment, dancing, cooking and vegetable carving demonstrations, and “art auctions”. This level also has a champagne bar where patrons can order their favorite champagne by the glass or by the bottle.
For our cruise, the Centrum was decorated for the holiday season with Christmas trees, poinsettias and a Hanukkah banner. I understand that the Centrum is a signature feature on all RCCL ships built in the past ten years. It provides an excellent first impression when entering the ship and it adds to the feeling of space on board. For a first time-cruiser, the Centrum is surely a wonder to behold.
All swimming pools and whirlpools on this ship are filled with chlorinated salt water. The pool deck consists of two distinct sections: The Main Pool Deck and The Solarium Pool Deck.
The Main Pool Deck is located on Deck 9 between the amidships lifts and the forward lifts. This area has 4 whirlpools and the main swimming pool, plus the requisite poolside bar. Each whirlpool is covered with a small gazebo type roof while the main pool is out in the open. Freshwater “rinse off” showers are located next to the whirlpools. The Main Pool is for adults and children, although anyone under age 16 is not allowed in the whirlpools. Parents please note that infants and toddlers who are not toilet trained are not allowed in the pools, even with a “swimmy diaper.” Plenty of deck chairs (without cushions) are available and about 1/3 of these are located under the sundeck roof so non-sun worshipers can hang out by the pool and not get too many rays. On sea days, the chairs that are exposed to the sun fill up fast, but Pool Attendants are told to remove towels from any chairs not occupied for more than 30 minutes. Fresh towels are in constant supply and the area is kept relatively neat and clean. The Main Pool deck is divided into smoking and non-smoking – smoking on the starboard side, non-smoking on the port side.
The Solarium Pool Deck is located on Deck 9 just aft of the amidships lifts. The Solarium is a relatively unique concept. It is an indoor pool with a sliding glass roof that covers the entire area. While many reviews we read prior to our cruise suggested that the roof was always kept closed for the entire cruise, we found that most of the time during the day it was open, and was closed each evening. The whole area is decorated in Romanesque marble complete with columns and gold leafing. Personally I thought it was overdone, but nonetheless the area was very inviting. The Solarium Pool deck contains two whirlpools that are restricted to adults only and a swimming pool that has a whirlpool bubbler in the center of it. All deck chairs in this area have plush cushions and the whole atmosphere is much more quiet and relaxed than that of the main pool. This area also has two “rinse off” showers and a bar – which seemed to be closed most of the time. At the rear of the solarium is the world famous Solarium Café which serves pizza, hotdogs, hamburgers and french-fries. Soft drinks, beer and ice cream are usually available for purchase at a makeshift bar conveniently set up right next to the café’s counter. My opinion is that the pizza was kind of crummy, but that didn’t stop my wife and I from having a slice or two each evening. Of course with all the other food on board, if you don’t like the pizza, you certainly won’t go hungry.
Salon, Health Club and Jogging Track
Being a desk-jockey, I can’t say that I spent any time in this area. However, it did appear that anyone having a “health attack” during their cruise will not be disappointed with the facilities. The Salon and Health Club are located on Deck 9 just to the rear of the Solarium. Power walking is permitted on the Promenade (Deck 5) during most daylight hours, and unlike other Vision Class ships that I read about prior to this cruise, the Promenade does circuit the entire vessel. However, jogging is restricted to the Compass Deck (Deck 10) so as not to disturb the guests in their staterooms below the Promenade. If you’re a die-hard jogger, I would suggest doing so early in the day before the deck chairs on the Compass Deck fill up and block the jogging circuit. The Compass Deck also has a few shuffleboard courts, Ping-Pong tables and a very small miniature golf putting box.
Located on Deck 9 forward, the buffet served meals almost constantly between the hours of 6am and 9:30pm with short breaks in between meals to clean up and change the menu. It is attractively decorated and offers panoramic views while dining.
We ate all our breakfasts in the Windjammer and the food was pretty good. The menu offered a wide variety of items including the All-American healthy breakfast of bacon, sausage, potatoes, pancakes or French Toast, and a cooked-to-order omelet station. For those who are more careful about what they eat, there was plenty of fruit, breads and cereals. Orange juice, grapefruit juice, coffee and tea were also available. During breakfast, tables in the Windjammer can be hard to come by – especially those next to the windows. Although you were not offered any sort of real service in the buffet, the staff was very quick to clean the tables just as soon as they were vacated.
We ate about half of our on-board lunches in the Windjammer. The menu varied each day and the quality was pretty good – the deserts were awesome. Beverages included ice tea and lemonade. The only drawback was that if you wanted a soda during lunch in the Windjammer, you had to go to the pool bar and purchase it. When eating in the dining room for lunch (and dinner, for that matter) sodas were complimentary.
We chose not to eat any of our dinners in the Windjammer as we preferred the full-service dining room. However, passengers who do not want to eat in the dining room always have the option of eating at the buffet. Reasons might include not wanting to dress up for dinner, or arriving from a portside excursion late in the day. The dinner menu in the Windjammer always included at least two or three options from the regular dining room menu.
Prior to this cruise, I read many reviews that said the food in the Windjammer was not very good. I found that during most meals we ate there, we always found something to our liking. While I wouldn’t rate the food quality a 10, keep in mind that this is a cafeteria style buffet, and it’s certainly a while lot better than the university cafeteria that most of us remember from our younger days.
Great Gatsby Dining Room
The main dining room is a two-story facility with seating for approximately 1200. The lower level (Deck 4) covers the entire width of the ship while the upper level (Deck 5) is a balcony that overlooks the center of the lower level. Floor to ceiling windows are found throughout the dining room on both levels. For this cruise we had requested a table for two, and were we assigned a small table on the second level right next to the grand staircase. We had a view of the entire dining room with the waterfall and bandstand on the far end. Each evening a trio of musicians provided dinner music – although they played the same tunes every night.
Our Head Waiter, Waiter and Assistant Waiter were all fantastic. The Headwaiter doted on the children that were on board and it was obvious that he really liked kids of all ages. Our Waiter provided us with her menu suggestions each evening and although this seemed somewhat rehearsed, there were a few times when she advised us to avoid certain dishes. The service was very attentive even though we were as far away from the galley as you could get. On the first formal night, we were given an anniversary cake by our wait staff (which, by the way, was absolutely delicious) and they sang happy anniversary for us. We found that by the end of the cruise, we wanted to take our servers home with us. These people work very hard for a living – seven days a week for six months at a time – and they genuinely enjoy providing great service. When ordering dessert one evening, I made a remark about not being able to decide because everything on the menu looked delicious. I finally settled on one item, but a few minutes later our waiter filled our table with all five items from the dessert menu. Needless to say we were somewhat embarrassed but eternally grateful.
The wine menu was pretty extensive considering you’re in a closed environment. We found several good bottles of wine that were priced in the $20 range. The menu changed every night. Every menu offered at least six choices for an appetizer, one salad, and at least five choices for an entrée. In addition to the regular menu, they always offered a Caesar salad, a New York Strip, and some sort of chicken dish. There was only one evening that I found myself ordering from the alternate menu, and the steak I ordered was delicious. A healthy menu is featured each evening for those on a diet – though I wonder why anyone on a diet would go on a cruise. The food ranged from adequate to very good – mostly on the very good side. A few items were not seasoned to my taste, but a little salt or pepper seemed to improve them. Overall we were quite happy with the quality of the food served in the dining room, and most of the desserts were to die for. Again, several reviews we read prior to this cruise had really knocked RCCL’s dining room food quality. I suppose if you are used to eating at five-star restaurants every night, then you might find yourself disappointed. Otherwise, I can’t imagine anyone having a legitimate complaint about the food, especially with the wide variety of menu offerings. Mind you that I usually eat to live, while many cruisers live to eat – at least while they’re on vacation. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate the food quality an 8 and the service a 9+.
RCCL’s Suggested Dress Code vs. Reality
I am adding this section to try to dispel a few myths and to comfort any first-time cruisers that may panic about the evening dress codes. On our cruise we had two formal nights, two “smart casual” nights (although we were told there would be three nights like this), and six casual nights.
For formal nights RCCL suggests that woman were cocktail dresses and men wear suits and ties or optional tuxedos. The reality for formal nights is that about half of the passengers really dressed up (i.e., wedding reception attire), while the other half wore a suit or dress that would commonly be worn to a nice restaurant. On formal nights I wore a blazer and tie with darker kaki slacks, and my wife wore either a simple black dress or a business suit. If you really like to get in a tux and dress to the nines, go for it. Otherwise, if you have something that is acceptable, don’t worry, you’ll be fine. I should point out that we had the Main seating for dinner. I suspect that during the second seating, more people may have been wearing formal attire.
On “smart casual” nights, RCCL suggests dresses and pantsuits for women and jackets and ties for men. The reality here is that while some people dressed as suggested, at least half of the passengers wore what most companies in the workplace today accept as neat casual. I wore Dockers and a nice sport shirt (i.e. polo) and my wife wore slacks and a blouse.
On casual nights RCCL suggests sport shirts and slacks for men and sundresses or pants for women. Casual nights brought out the widest variety of attire. A few of the men wore a sport jacket without a tie. About half the passengers wore the attire suggested by RCCL. The other half wore very comfortable but neat clothing. On most casual nights both my wife and I wore nice blue jeans and a nice shirt (i.e. polo, collared shirt, or tropical shirt) The only hard rule is no shorts in the dining room for dinner, and no bathing suits in the dining room during breakfast or lunch.
My wife is usually concerned about the way she dresses when in group situations as she doesn’t want to feel under-dressed. Even dressed the way we were – which was somewhat below RCCL’s recommendations – we never felt uncomfortable.
The Palladium Theatre and On-board Entertainment
The approximately 1200-seat theatre is located in the bow of the ship on Decks 5 and 6. The seating was comfortable and most seats provided a good view of the stage. There are several seats in the balcony that have columns blocking their view of the stage. Every night we sat in the second row in the center of the balcony. I suggest that guests arrive at least 15 minutes prior to showtime to make sure they get a decent seat – earlier if the ship is at capacity. If you have early seating, all your shows will be staged after your dinner – usually at 8pm. For second seating guests, some shows are staged prior to dinner (around 6:45pm), and some are staged after dinner (around 10pm).
The on-board entertainment was very good, sometimes even excellent. The twelve-piece Grandeur of the Seas Orchestra provided backup music for the headline entertainers and also for the Broadway-style production shows. We felt that the headliners were geared toward the older folks in the crowd, but nonetheless, the shows were all very good. Headliners on our cruise included Los Pampos Grandos, The Coasters (as in “Yakity Yak, Don’t Talk Back”), Craig Dahn (concert pianist), Bobby Arvon (voice of the TV series Happy Days – and a hell of a performer impressionist), Comedian Burt Leigh, and Recording Artist Lenny Welch. On three nights during our cruise, the Royal Caribbean Entertainers put on very good Broadway-style musicals. All but one were excellent – especially the Tribute to Carole King. I still don’t know how the performers danced on a stage that was rolling with the seas, but they were really good at their work and not one dancer ever fell. Considering that the production support staff consists of only eight people, it’s a miracle that these shows are staged as professionally as they are.
Other entertainment included audience participation events such as horse racing, BINGO (the jackpot reached almost $8,000 on our cruise), an “adults only” scavenger hunt, sexiest legs contest, belly-flop contest, ballroom dancing and disco dancing in the nightclub, informal bridge tournaments, arts and crafts, and battle of the sexes – just to name a few. As with all cruised we’ve been on, there is an endless number of entertainment activities to participate in, if you so choose.
The on-board casino is located on Deck 5 between the Centrum and the forward lifts. As mentioned earlier, if you want to get to the main level of the theatre, you’ll have to pass through the casino, so you won’t have any trouble fining it. Like any casino, many of the dealers are very friendly, while some don’t like to talk while they’re working. The casino has a good supply of nickel, quarter, $1, and $5 slot machines, as well as video poker. Table games include roulette, black jack, caribbean stud poker and craps. Table limits are typically $5 minimum and $100 maximum. If you are a beginner, and want to try your luck at the tables, free instruction is offered on the first night of the cruise. On all sea days, the casino has a “happy hour” from 5pm to 6pm. As I like to gamble for entertainment and not to win or lose a lot of money, I took advantage of this on every sea day. During happy hour the table limits are reduced to $1 minimum and $20 maximum at certain tables, and roulette is offered for 50 cents. Tables fill up early for happy hour. If you want to participate, I suggest that you arrive no later than 4:45pm, ask the pit boss what tables will be used for happy hour, and then park yourself in a seat at your desired table. If you are a skilled player, keep in mind that many of the happy hour players are novices. Patience will be required when some fool splits a pair of tens at the blackjack table, or hits on a 14 when the dealer is showing a 6, for example. But hey….you’re not betting $100 a hand either.
On Board Shopping
Neither of us are really big on shopping, so I won’t spend a lot of time talking out this area of the ship. There are several shops located on Deck 6 between the Centrum and the forward lifts. There is a Duty Free liquor shop, a sundry and souvenir shop, a fine jewelry shop, a clothing shop that has some formalwear and name brand labels, a fragrance shop, a gift shop, and a photography shop – in addition to the photo gallery. All charges at any of the shops must be made using your Super Charge Card. Hours will vary by day – most shops and the casino are closed when in port.
Additional shopping can be found on sea days up on the pool deck where some jewelry, t-shirts, etc. are offered for sale. Also, a representative from Park West Galleries was on board during our cruise “auctioning” framed and matted artwork. If you are an art collector, you might find a bargain here. Frankly, I was a little skeptical of the concept.
If you’ve ever been on a cruise before, you can skip this section. If you are a first time cruiser, don’t be surprised to find a photographer who wants to take your picture every time you get on or off the ship. These same people will offer to take your picture several times in the dining room during your cruise, and of course, a friendly “no thanks” will send them on their way. If you want a formal portrait taken, the photographers are set up in the Centrum on all Formal and Semi-formal nights. Remember, just because you have your picture taken, you are under no obligation to purchase the photos. All photos are put on display in the photo gallery each day (on Deck 6), and you have the choice of either purchasing the photos, or discarding them in the unwanted photo boxes found throughout the photo gallery. Typically 5x7’s are $10, and 8x10’s are offered for $20. My personal suggestion is to wait until near the end of the cruise and then review all your photos at the same time. This gives you the opportunity to compare all your shots, making your decision of which photos to buy somewhat easier. If you need photo-processing services for film shot in your camera, overnight processing is provided right on board and the price is comparable to 1-hour processing rates found ashore in the US.
International Telephone Calls
Telephone calls can be made from your stateroom at any time, but the cost is rather high at $7.95 per minute. Cell phones will work when within sight of the US shoreline and in many foreign ports, but I strongly recommend calling your cell provider for coverage and rate information before leaving the US. As we were leaving our five-year-old son at home for this trip, we knew that we were going to call home at least once per day, if only just to say high. I did some research prior to our trip and found that AT&T pre-paid calling cards offered the best rates, and getting a connection to AT&T wasn’t supposed to be a hassle either. However, the reality was that in every country except Mexico, the local pay phone companies blocked all pre-paid calling cards – obviously they want you to spend $3 or more per minute using their own services. We first ran into this problem in the Cayman Islands and fortunately our cell phones worked there – about $2 per minute. However, in Jamaica we found ourselves stuck….until we asked the Purser for his advice. I simply asked him where the crewmembers made their phone calls. He pointed us in the direction of a shopkeeper near the pier who let us use his phone for $1 per minute. In both Aruba and Curacao, there were telephone centers right at the pier that openly advertised 99cents per minute back to the States. You go into the store, write down the number you want dialed, they connect the call (using their own pre-paid calling cards…go figure) and they time your call on a stopwatch. When you complete the call, you simply pay them in cash. Compared to MCI’s 5-cent Sundays this still seems expensive, but it’s a lot cheaper than any other alternative we could find.
Itinerary and Ports of Call
Day 1 – Friday
Left Miami a little late – close to 6pm. We were the last of 5 ships to leave the terminal that day. The delay posed no problems for us as we had plenty of time to make our first port of call on Sunday. Evening attire was casual.
Day 2 – Saturday
At Sea. Good weather. Average speed of 16 knots. Smooth seas. Evening attire was formal, and dinner was preceded by the Captain’s Cocktail Reception.
Day 3 – Sunday
Arrived Cozumel at 6am local time (7am ship’s time – we did not change the clocks in Mexico). At this port we took the Tulum Mayan Ruins and Xel-Ha Combination Tour. This tour was almost 8 hours long so we had no time at all to go ashore and see Cozumel, but the tour was excellent. We took the 30 minute ferry ride to Playa Del Carmen in a modern, air-conditioned, two-story passenger ferry – for those prone to sea-sickness this journey will try the soul on rough days. Upon arrival in Playa Del Carmen we were grouped together and directed on a two minute walk to the tour bus. The ride to Tulum was approximately one hour and along the way we stopped for 15 minutes at a roadside shop. Clean restrooms were available and it gave those on the tour their only real opportunity to do any shopping. While driving to Tulum, our guide gave us an historical overview of the Mayan people, their culture, their calendar system, and general information about the ruins. Once we arrived, we spent about 2 hours at the ruins themselves. The tour guide was interesting, informative, and extremely knowledgeable. After completing this portion of the tour, our bus driver offered us a boxed lunch (packaged aboard the ship) and a choice of local beer or Pepsi. We ate our lunch on the way to our next stop in the Xel-Ha National Park. This turned out to be the best part of the trip. The fresh and saltwater lagoons were really spectacular. The entire park was extremely clean and snorkeling equipment was offered at an additional charge. Instead of snorkeling, we took the two hours at Xel-Ha to walk around the entire park. We decided that if we ever come back to the Yucatan again, we would definitely plan to spend an entire day at the park. The tour ended with a half hour bus ride back to the ferry and a half hour ferry back to the ship. On board the return ferry there were merchants selling t-shirts and other souvenirs at really good prices. The ferry arrived approximately 30 minutes prior to sailing at 4:00pm. This was the highest priced tour at Cozumel, but we both feel it was well worth the price. Evening attire was smart casual.
Day 4 – Monday
Arrived Grand Cayman at 10:00am local time and anchored in the harbor. For those of us on a tour, tender service was reserved for us. If you didn’t have a tour ticket, you were required to get tender tickets at the Purser’s Desk starting at 9am. Each ticket specified a tender number, and these numbers were announced when that tender was available. This was done to avoid a mob scene at the Tender Station on Deck 1.
At Grand Cayman we decided to take the Stingray City Tour. Although we enjoyed all the tours on the trip, this was by far the best of the lot. A school bus was used for the 5-minute ride to the marina. From there the boat crew started off on the half-hour ride to one of the Stingray City sandbars. Along the way the crew explained what to expect, how to handle the stingrays, and most importantly, how not to handle them. For those who forgot to pack one, underwater disposable cameras were offered on board for $20 – I would suggest buying one before leaving the States at half the price. The colors of the water in the bite were spectacular, especially near the sandbars out by the reef. This is the most colorful water we had seen since our honeymoon to the islands of Tahiti. After arriving at Stingray City, the crew anchored off the sandbar and immediately a swarm of about 50 stingrays surrounded the stern of the boat. The boat had swimming ladders on either side of the stern, and the water was only 4 feet deep – easy on, easy off. Snorkels and masks were provided, but fins and aqua socks were forbidden. We were given one hour to “swim with the fishes.” I swear this was the best underwater experience of my life. Stingrays swam right up to us and rubbed their wings on our legs like a cat waiting for its dinner – which is exactly what they were doing. You could actually pet them as they swam by. A few brave souls even let them lay in their arms and brought them right up near the surface of the water. If you were so inclined, you could feed them squid provided by the crew. One word of warning: In order to fully enjoy this tour you should be comfortable in the water, comfortable with snorkel gear, and comfortable with animals. If not, the stingrays sense your discomfort and actually crowd around you – no kidding…they actually gang up and tease the tourists who really aren’t sure if they want to be in the water with them. When exiting the water, a fresh water hose shower was provided on the stern deck of the boat. Once everyone was aboard, the return trip started. Along the way the crew offered various items for purchase – hats, towels, stuffed plush toy stingrays, t-shirts, etc. Upon arrival at the dock we waited for a few minutes for our bus driver, and just a few minutes later we were back in the wharf area. We had plenty of time to do some light shopping and then returned to the ship for some relaxation and food. Departed at 6:00pm. Evening attire was casual.
Day 5 – Tuesday
Arrived Jamaica around 7:00am. Unfortunately the tour we had selected for Jamaica had been canceled – I assume due to lack of participation. Prior to this cruise I was told by almost everyone I spoke to that Jamaica was not a nice place. They described as being like New York City – it’s beautiful from the plane, but when you get up close and personal…….. The weather was hot but nice and at first glance from the ship, Jamaica seemed to be beautiful. Trying to keep an open mind, we forged ahead to see for ourselves. Without totally going off the deep end, suffice it to say that once we got off the ship we found Jamaica to be an absolute armpit. The shopping was horrible and the local people don’t leave you alone. I must have said “no thank you” about 100 times during the hour we were ashore. Poverty is rampant. 2.3 million people live on an island the size of New Jersey and there is no real industry to speak of. They have a high crime rate – murder count was at 178 for the year when we visited, and illegal guns were becoming a serious problem. We spent less then one hour ashore in a shopping center and then immediately headed back to the ship to spend the afternoon in the Solarium pool. I really want to ask RCCL (or any cruise line for that matter) why they even bother stopping in Jamaica. The passengers that went to Dunn’s River Falls said they had a good time. Everyone else never wanted to see the place again. My apologies to any Jamaicans who might be reading this, but I truly did not like the place. Departed at 6:00pm. Evening attire was casual or Caribbean wear.
Day 6 – Wednesday
At Sea. Good weather. 15-foot seas for the most of the day. Made about 20 knots all day long. Evening attire was “Semi-formal” – I guess that meant smart casual. Set clocks ahead one hour before going to bed to get us on Atlantic Time.
Day 7 – Thursday
Arrived Aruba at 8:00am. For some reason no clearance announcement was made and the wake-up call system was having problems as well. If I hadn’t gone down to Deck 1 to check for myself, I would have never known we could have gone ashore, and we would have likely missed our tour. This was the only serious service issue we had on the entire cruise.
The weather here was somewhat humid and warm, but not uncomfortable. At this port of call we took the Aruba Hike and Snorkel Tour. Our guide met us in the terminal building. Our group included only 15 people. We were loaded onto a converted school bus that had its windows removed – an “open air safari bus.” The bus was painted in bright colors and had two fake Iguanas on the hood. A little corny but kind of cute too. Our guide drove us through town and headed east. He kept us informed the whole time about the various buildings and sites as we passed them. He explained that the climate in Aruba was pretty dry – only about 17 inches of rain per year, and most of that came in Autumn. After visiting Jamaica, we were delighted to find that Aruba has one of the best standards of living of all the caribbean islands. The unemployment rate was less than 4%. Much of this is due to the large petroleum refinery on the island and the fact that the government has done a great deal to promote tourism over the past ten years. The people of Aruba were warm and inviting.
It appeared that our guide got up a little late that morning because he had to stop and buy diesel for the bus and ice for our drinks. He apologized for having to interrupt the tour, but we all liked the fact that we got to see a little bit of suburban Aruba in the process. Once we were fueled up, he drove us to the far southeast corner of the island to a place called Colorado Point. Here we got off the bus and hiked about a quarter of a mile to the edge of a cliff. Below us was a natural bridge and magnificent views of the surf. Our guide carefully led us down the cliff to an area adjacent to the natural bridge. We stayed there for about 15 minutes to take pictures and enjoy the scenery. We were the only people in the area – much nicer than the more popular Natural Bridge on the north side of the island that attracts several tour busses per hour. After a somewhat challenging climb back to the top, our guide broke out the Pepsi for us and gave some to some baby Iguanas as well.
Our next stop was at Baby Beach. This is a shallow lagoon-like beach with a protecting reef. Here we were supplied with fins, life vests and snorkel gear, and given brief instructions on how to get out to the reef where the best snorkeling would be found. Although I’ve been to much better snorkeling spots in the world, this was a nice beach with more locals than tourists and it was clean and well kept. In fact, while we were at the beach a large group of school children appeared for their swimming lessons. Our guide explained that the beach got its name because the shallow water made it easy for kids to learn how to swim there. All the elementary schools on Aruba included swimming lessons in their curriculum.
After an hour of snorkeling, we were loaded up for the trip back to town. Our guide gave us moroccas and cranked up the tunes. He told us to smile for the cameras as we got back to town. Sure enough, every time we stopped for a traffic light, all the other tourists wanted to take pictures of the bus. We were returned to the ship terminal in time for lunch.
The rest of the day we spent strolling though a shopping mall, and relaxing on our verandah. Evening attire was casual. After dinner we went into town for an ice cream. The ship departed at 12:30am.
Day 8 – Friday
Arrived in Curacao at 8:00am. We took it easy in the morning and then went into town to look around the shops. This island was really cute. It had multi colored houses along the waterfront and a swinging pedestrian bridge across the harbor. We were walking on it when it suddenly began to move and all the locals started running to get to the other side before the were stuck on the bridge for a few minutes while it was open. We ran too and made it just in time. We spent a few hours looking in the shops here and then headed back to the ship for our afternoon Discover Curacao Tour. The afternoon weather turned very hot and very humid.
The tour involved a bus ride through the western harbour district where we made a twenty minute stop at the Curacao Museum – not to be confused with the Smithsonian. We then continued on to the Hotel District and then to the volcanic caves on the north side of the island near the airport. We were given a very interesting 30 minute guided tour of the caves including a brief discussion of stalagmites and stalactites. And the history of how slaves had discovered the caves and had hid there while attempting to escape. At the end of the tour we were then driven to the Curacao Liqueur Distillery where free samples were offered and souvenirs were sold. Finally after a brief drive through town we were returned to the ship about 30 minutes prior to departure. Departed at 6:00pm. Evening attire was casual.
Day 9 – Saturday
At Sea. Good weather. 15-foot seas in the morning reduced to 9 feet by late morning. Made 21 knots all day long. Evening attire was formal.
Day 10 – Sunday
At Sea. Good weather. Light seas most of the day. Made 15 to 18 knots. Spent the afternoon packing, filling out the Opinion Card and getting gratuity envelopes ready. Please note that if you run out of cash, gratuity vouchers can be purchased from the Purser for the RCCL suggested amounts. If you want to give more than the suggested amount, you can “purchase” cash from the Casino Cashier and have it added to your Super Charge account. Evening attire was casual. Color-coded baggage tags were placed in our stateroom while at dinner and all baggage had to be outside our stateroom door by 11:30pm.
Disembarkation is done by the color-coded baggage tags given to us the day before. On the final morning of the cruise, breakfast was available from 6:00am to 8:00am. After breakfast we had to clear out of our stateroom and wait for disembarkation in a public area. We waited in the Solarium for our disembarkation announcement. While it looked like the other public areas of the ship were packed with people waiting to get off the ship, the Solarium was almost deserted. When our color was called we made our way down to Deck 4 to get off the ship. Suddenly all the passengers who had been so polite and friendly for the past ten days were now acting like a bunch of New York cab drivers trying to merge into the Lincoln Tunnel. The process was slow, the Centrum lobby area was way overcrowded, and some passengers got downright rude. This definitely could have been handled better than it was. It seemed that even though the crowd had not yet thinned out, the next disembarkation announcement was made and the crowding got even worse. After standing in line in the Centrum lobby for about 30 minutes, we were able to make our way off the ship. It only took about 2 minutes to clear immigration, about 10 minutes to get our bags from the baggage belt, and 1 minute to clear customs. Before we knew it, we were on our transfer bus back to Ft. Lauderdale airport. We arrived at the airport at 11:00am, just in time to wait for four and a half hours for our flight’s departure.
Unfortunately, I can’t give RCCL high marks for the disembarkation process. Cattle are herded better. It’s really too bad that they had to end a wonderful vacation in this way.
Our overall experience was very good and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves on this trip. We definitely recommend this cruise and RCCL in general and would jump at the chance to take this cruise again.