Number of Cruises: 6
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Grandeur of the Seas
Sailing Date: December 4th, 2004
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
My husband and I sailed on the Grandeur with our 9-year old son out of New Orleans. We've been on 6 other cruises and this was our third with our son. Our main goal on this vacation was R&R and for our son to celebrate his 9th birthday. We were not as concerned about the ports and the luxury of the ship as we simply wanted to chill out after a very busy year.
Sailing out of New Orleans was a real pleasure. Embarkation and debarkation took less than 10 minutes. Port staff was very helpful and friendly (very different from our FL and PR sailings). We were concerned about the parking situation in New Orleans as we had read about the construction in the area and the limited space available. One of the message boards recommended parking at a local tour operator's site and we found this was a great recommendation. Parking was the same cost as portside ($12 per day) but we were in a secured lot and the staff at Michuu Pichuu dropped us off right at the door and picked us up as we requested- a very friendly and professional team. We look forward to taking other cruises out of New Orleans.
We had been on the Adventure of the Seas on a previous vacation and knew this ship would not have the same 'wow' factor as the bigger ship. Wow factor aside, The Grandeur was immaculate and very attractive- particularly the Great Gatsby Dining Room and the Palladium Theatre. We booked an inside stateroom with an upper berth for our son and were very comfortable. The cabin was slighly smaller than on the Adventure of the Seas or on the Celebrity Century but it did the trick for us as all we do is sleep, shower and change in our room.
The first night was a bit chilly on deck (I forgot to pack a jacket for my son) but we were still able to enjoy the hot tub which has become a family ritual with us before retiring. The first day at sea welcomed bright sunshine and warm temperatures- perfect for sunbathing. Our son enrolled in the Adventure Ocean program and could not wait to go each day. With some time to ourselves my husband and I explored the ship and spent some time in the sun complete with Pina Coladas in hand.... heaven.
Breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer was adequate. The salad bar is good along with the hot items provided lots of choices. By the end of the cruise we were pretty overdosed with Windjammer food and took to eating breakfast and lunch in the main dining room. If you're not in your bathing suit the dining room food quality is much higher and the service more relaxing. Service in the Windjammer was nearly non-existent with service personnel merely busing tables. On previous cruises the waiters often carried your tray, found you a clean table and brought drinks- not so on this cruise. You pretty much had to fend for yourself. Alternative dining choices on this cruise were much more limited than on other cruises we've taken. Late afternoons and late evenings there was always pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers in the Solarium pool area but little else. They have an ice cream (Ben and Jerry's) and coffee shop on the Promanade deck but it was not open on our sailing which was a bit dissappointing.
Day 2 - First port was Key West which was substituted for Grand Cayman which was decimated with the hurricanes of the past summer. We largely booked this cruise because of the destinations of Grand Cayman and Cozumel and were disappointed we couldn't swim with the stingrays. After speaking with others on board, RCL did us a favor as there is really nothing to do in Grand Cayman until they rebuild. Key West is not my favorite port as there is no beach and snorkeling is not desirable due to poor visibility. Since it was my son's birthday he picked the Aquarium and Shipwreck Museum which were actually better than I expected. We did not book these through the ship as we would have paid at least another $10 per person. The Aquarium is the oldest 'attraction' in Key West and was surprisingly good. We had a very informative tour and my son was enthralled with the touch tank. The Shipwreck Museum across the street was hokey but fun for a 9-year old. We did a bit of shopping and hopped back on board for a nice afternoon swim.
Day 3- Cozumel. We love Cozumel for the three S's- Swimming, Sightseeing and Shopping! We rented a convertible Beetle portside ($30 for the day through Executive) and headed to our favorite beach -San Francisco Beach which is a short 10-minute ride from the pier. There's a beautiful beach with clean changing rooms, water trampoline and water rock wall - all free. We rented two chaises and umbrella for $5 which was well worth it. We also like Mr. Sanchez Beach which is on the same route but San Francisco beach has better snorkeling and there is a reef on the right side of it. My son enjoyed the water trampoline and the rock wall (he finally made it to the top) and had a great time snorkeling in the swimming area. San Francisco Beach also has a lovely pool, jetski rental, banana boat rides and parasailing. We had lunch in the restaurant (just so-so but fit the bill) and left in late afternoon for a quick drive around the island and a quick shopping trip. In contrast to the soft beaches and shallow waves the northeastern part of the island has rocky coastlines and crashing waves. The coastline is spectacular and you can drive for miles without seeing anyone or anything but nature.... As you come back into town the interior of the island is desert and very desolate - you soon reach town and we completed the requisite T-shirt shopping. We had a bit a trouble finding the rental car return portside but finally found the correct entrance and dropped the car with 30 minutes to spare for some portside shopping which was also quite good. Back on board we missed our early seating at dinner so grabbed dinner in the Windjammer.
Evening entertainment was OK. The comedian, magician and juggler were all quite good. The production shows were not as good as we had seen on previous ships but it's free entertainment.
Day 4 - Costa Maya. I had read conflicting accounts of Costa Maya- some travelers hate it - some love it. I put it somewhere in the middle. When you dock it has that perfect post card quality. Deep blue water, white sand and a small grove of palm trees are the perfect welcome. When you exit from your ship you have a short walk to the shopping complex (free trams are available) and you are smack in the middle of Caribbean Disneyland. If you think of this as a resort you'll be OK don't think of it as a real town- it isn't. We had three ships in port at the same time and the design of the portside resort requires everyone to pass through a 4- foot entrance which made for major crowding. The shops are new, clean and bright and have the typical souvenirs - nothing out of the ordinary - but bright and colorful. The centerpiece is a large tiled pool with fountains and there are beach chairs on the artificial beach within the shopping area of 30 - 40 shops. There is also a small beach at the side for sunning. It is bright and cheerful. I had enough of shopping after 20 minutes and we went back on ship for lunch and to get our snorkeling gear. We booked the snorkel tour through the ship $55 per person (we normally don't book with the ship). The tour included 53 passengers (it books up fast so don't wait too long) and we took an air conditioned bus to a small pier a few miles away from port to get on a fishing boat to take us out to the reef. On the bus ride we passed through some small neighborhoods- very poor. We walked down a long pier with large gaps(3-4 inches) between the boards past two abandoned and wrecked fishing boats. I got a sense of foreboding when walking the pier but was relieved to see our boat looked clean and in good working order. The staff was very pleasant and the ratio of staff to passengers was good 1-10. They offered us free water and soda and we took a 30-minute cruise out to the reef on pretty rough waters (4-5 foot waves). We had a short talk on safety and the equipment (our guide gave us tricks for putting on our fins and masks I had never heard before) and we were in the water. Each group of 10 or so people had one guide with a flag and we followed them out to some really great coral reefs with quite few beautiful fish. This was not the best snorkeling trip I've ever been on (I have been on about 10 other trips) but it was very good. Since the reefs are fragile the boat does not go near where you are snorkeling so there is a good bit of swimming. There is a small dingy that will pick you up and take you back to the boat if needed. It's pretty hard to get into the dingy so I planned to complete the entire 1.5 hour swim. About 1/2 our group got picked up midway but even my son made it to the end with some encouragement from us. If you have never snorkeled before I would not recommend this tour, but if you have some experience is it is good tour. The staff helped everyone back on the boat and with their equipment and after another round of soft drinks we were back on our way. When we got back to the pier we were informed that the bus was not available but that there would be cabs available at no change to pick everyone up. I thought this was pretty bogus but by the time we got off the pier a line of yellow taxis was heading our way so it was not a big deal although we were crammed 4 to a cab. The ride back was beachside so the scenery was better but the beach accommodations are pretty rustic as well. We got back on board and got ready for two blissful days at sea.
Day 5 & 6 At Sea- We enjoyed movies, bingo, towel and napkin folding demos as well as a cooking demo. We also spent a great deal of time at both the outside pool and the Solarium pool. The Solarium pool is partially enclosed so it is pleasant even on cool or windy days. The lounges are padded and there are two hot tubs. No kids are allowed in the Solarium area and there is very soft spa music playing which makes for perfect relaxation. The outdoor pool is fun with festive music so pick which appeals to you. My husband and I got exactly what we wanted out of the cruise - relaxation. My son had a blast with the Adventure Ocean program.
About Adventure Ocean- Even though we went during school there were over 200 kids on board. Royal Caribbean does a phenomenal job with the kids program (Characters aside - is Disney's really better?). Kids are divided into age appropriate groups and each day have a variety of activities that are sure to please them. My son got a daily Compass (newsletter) that outlined the themes and day's events. Adventure Ocean hours were from 9 AM - 11:45 with a break for lunch and 2 PM - 4:45 with a break for dinner and from 7:00 PM - 10:00 PM in the evenings. My son went every hour he could as he did not want to miss anything. In addition to the daily hours, which are free there is the Late Night- Party Zone which runs from 10 PM - 2 AM and is $5 per hour. Kids can also dine with other kids at 6 PM in the Windjammer if they are tired of the dining room (no charge). Themes included Harry Potter, Survivor, Sports and Science. There were scavenger hunts, talent shows, games and crafts but mostly the counselors played with the kids which made it fun for them. The counselors were all excellent. Kids have to be potty trained to participate but there are private fee-based babysitters for infants and toddlers if needed.
On Saturday we had breakfast in the main dining room and they called our color before we even finished our toast. We found our luggage without delay and were ready to see New Orleans about 10 minutes after leaving the ship.
A word about New Orleans. We should have allowed more time to see the city as there are many family-friendly activities. We did drive around the quarter and shopped in the flea market and French Market which was the best shopping of the trip. We hung out in Jackson Square, heard some great jazz, got our palm's read and sampled beignets. I wish I had allowed more time for a carraige tour ($10 per person) and for the aquarium (there's always next time).
Since we had been on other cruises recently, it was hard not to make a comparison. The service in the dining rooms was fine - but it did not thrill us as we had been thrilled in the past. Our cabin steward was great and our room was always perfect. The ship is lovely but lacked some of the extras we had experienced on the Celebrity Century and RCL Adventure of the Seas. That being said we all had a great time, the logistics in New Orleans were smooth and it was an excellent family vacation value.