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Lisa Totin

Age: 34

Occupation:healthcare administration

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Grandeur of the Seas

Sailing Date: September 4th, 2004

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

First, I'll give you the good points, but then please read the rest of my review to understand why I returned disappointed with my vacation (the first time I've ever been disappointed with any type of vacation!).

GOOD: The wait staff is great. You couldn't ask for more.
GOOD: The food, in general, was good, varied, and bountiful. The late-night chocolate buffet and the magnificent midnight Grand Buffet are not to be missed, even if you just go to look. We didn't actually eat at any of the late-night events, but we did take pictures of the ice and food sculptures in the Grand Buffet.
GOOD: The children's program was outstanding -- in 9 days, I barely saw my 10-yr-old who normally prefers family time with us because he often choose to stay in the kids' area and participate in their activities, even at mealtime.
GOOD: The ship itself was very clean, attractive, well designed, and easy to navigate.
GOOD: Our balcony stateroom was enough space for the three of us, including our luggage, although drawer space (if you're the type to unpack) was tight and it's difficult to maneuver a large suitcase around the cabin (if you're the type to keep your clothes in the suitcase during a trip).
GOOD: The spa rivaled anything on land for massage, facial, or nails. I live in a major metropolitan area, but I had the best manicure of my life while on the Grandeur. Both service and products were top of the line.
GOOD: The casino was open during the day and late into the night.
GOOD: Bingo. I don't normally play, but it wasn't just old ladies and the bingo staff made it fun.
GOOD: The entertainment. The resident piano player was talented, fun, and knowledgeable in every genre without being cheesy. The production shows were way better than I expected when I reluctantly agreed to attend them. Guest entertainers were total pros. Movies (on the TV and in the ship's theatre) were relatively recent and varied. Satellite TV was generally good in content and reception.
GOOD: Daily newsletters, delivered the night before, were well-organized and easy to understand to keep track of the day's events.

Now the BAD:
Royal Caribbean is an anomaly to me. Some aspects of their operations were top-notch; other things left a terrible taste in my mouth. Please note that I have no complaints about inconvenience caused solely by weather. We booked this cruise with full understanding of hurricane season, and we left port knowing that Hurricane Frances could cause us some foul weather, delays, or port substitutions. I don't blame Royal Caribbean for the rough seas or the number of people who got seasick (including my husband and son). I do, however, have several concerns about things that Royal Caribbean could control -- things that detracted from our vacation and things that seemed so contradictory to their obvious effort to provide quality service -- stupid things that I'd forgive with a fledgling company that was still trying to work out "kinks" in their system. I'm not sure that I can forgive such dumb, distracting oversights from a company as established and seemingly reputable as Royal Caribbean, so I'm not sure that I'd ever cruise with them again. For example, upon arrival in our balcony stateroom, we found a bag of trash, left from the previous guest, in the closet while the rest of the room was spotless and prepared correctly for our party of three (husband, wife, and child). Mealtime brought other contradictions. Evening meals in the main Great Gatsby dining room were absolutely great from start to finish (food, presentation, wait staff), but breakfast was another story. The quality and timeliness of delivery were poor; pancakes, for example, that could best be described as "chalky" and orders took forever to arrive from the kitchen! This forced you to use the buffet-style Windjammer if you had planned any kind of morning activity, and the Windjammer had its own set of contradictions. The Windjammer's cooked-to-order egg station was a great unexpected touch, but it caused frustration for us more often than comfort. With only 2 cooks with 2 burners, guests lined up by the dozens for their eggs, often forcing you to settle solely for the pre-cooked buffet offerings, and the only egg offering on the line was a practically-inedible scrambled egg "mass" that scooped up like ice cream and tasted like paste. I stood in line for almost 30 minutes one morning to get an omelet -- I took the French toast on the buffet when I didn't have the luxury of so much time on days when I scheduled tours, spa visits, and a photography class, but I would much rather have a fresher, more protein-oriented meal that didn't need syrup. I didn't like starting so many vacation days by compromising on my breakfast simply because the facilities (the Great Gatsby and the made-to-order line) weren't adequate to provide for all the guests in a more timely manner. Of course, I became a little grouchy about these things when I was awaken one morning at 7:30am by the sound of pounding and metal scraping against metal directly under my cabin as maintenance work (not repairs) was being done. Again, this seemed completely out of character with other efforts to provide us with a fun, relaxing vacation.

The stateroom attendants were incredibly attentive and the ship scheduled and encouraged us to attend lavish night-time events, like the late-night chocolate buffet, midnight pool party, late-night "grand" buffet, casino events, and production shows that kept us out past midnight on several evenings, but then the maintenance crew started pounding on my cabin floor literally at the crack of dawn. It sounded like they were right in the bed with me! Complaints to the front desk didn't help; the workers finally stopped at 9:30am when they were finished, well after I had given up on any possibility of falling back asleep. I probably could have put these little inconveniences behind me (I'm not one to complain often) but then came the bombshell that shattered my faith in Royal Caribbean: a correction to the itinerary.

Although the published itinerary included 4 stops (Key West, Cozumel, Belize, and Grand Bahamas Island), we only made the first three. Leaving Belize on time, the captain announced that we needed the next 3 days to get back to Baltimore from Belize, so we wouldn't be able to stop anywhere else. I would have understood if we needed to skip the Bahamas or substitute another port as a result of the previous weeks' hurricane damage. I would have understood if we needed to get out of the Caribbean/Sargasso Sea in order to safely avoid Hurricane Ivan. However, when folks suggested safer ports like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or Charleston as the fourth stop, the captain stated that our corrected itinerary had nothing to do with hurricanes. His exact quote was "we don't have time for another stop," and he noted that "this might not have been what you were told [about this trip]." These comments indicate that Royal Caribbean never intended to make a fourth port on this cruise and that skipping a fourth port had nothing to do with severe weather past or present. I believe that many people, including myself, would have been less likely to book the cruise if they knew the true itinerary -- 2 days at sea, 3 very short visits to ports with no direct beach access, and then 3 more solid days at sea.

The sea days were especially wasted since any outside facilities (pool, deck, rock climbing wall, etc) were practically useless except on the days when we were in port. While sailing up and down the cold Atlantic waters, outside facilities were very limited by cool, windy, and sometimes volatile weather. Access to the outside decks was completely restricted one day and the pools were emptied on the southbound journey as we encountered swells of up to 12 feet in the remains of Frances. Again, I know that the hurricane-affected weather is not Royal Caribbean's fault, but it severely limited one's choices for activities that didn't cost additional money.

The sea was calmer on the 3-day northbound route, but the captain reported winds across the deck topping 40 knots at times and the water in the pools (brought in from the sea) was so cold that no one even managed to get in for the last 2 days of the trip home. We were disappointed to find that our "sunny 9-day Caribbean vacation" was actually less than 36 hours in the sun and a few hours in a cold pool. When I think of all the good things that Royal Caribbean did with such thought and effort, it's hard to believe that they miscalculated the amount of time needed to get from Belize to Baltimore. As a result, I have to conclude that they purposefully misstated the itinerary because they knew that experienced cruisers would avoid 3 days on the cold Atlantic waters on the return trip. Therefore, I'm not sure that I could trust them with my future vacations.

Finally, prepare yourself for disembarking when you get home. Whatever time your boat returns to the home port, don't plan to even hit Customs for a couple hours and if you're flying, give yourself enough time to get through Customs, pick up your luggage, and secure transportation to the airport. For example, they insisted that everyone vacate their rooms by 8am when the boat was supposed to dock. We all then sat around in the common areas until after 10:30 before the first group was allowed to leave the ship. Besides being inconvenient, it struck us as a scam to get people to buy more drinks since the ship's restaurants closed shortly after we pulled into port. I seriously doubt, however, that this practice is unique to Royal Caribbean.

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