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B. Scott Boring

Age: 42

Occupation:High School Assistant Principal

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Grandeur of the Seas

Sailing Date: n/a

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

I have been on a lot of various types of vacations in my life including camping, shore/beach vacations, amusement parks, and Disney World, but none of these compare to a cruise. My wife, two sons (18 and 11), and I just returned from our nine day cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas. It was the most relaxing and refreshing vacation I have ever had, and we are already planning our next cruise.

Since this was our first cruise, we had stars in our eyes, and we have very few criticisms. There were others on our cruise who didn’t share our wonder and excitement, and I hope I never become like them. Let me give you a very thorough review of our experience and the things we learned during our maiden cruise voyage.

First, get a passport. Beginning next year, anyone who cruises will have to travel with a passport. We found entering and exiting the ship in the various ports of call a lot easier with a passport than those who just used a birth certificate. Since you will have to have a passport in 2006, you might as well apply for one now. They are good for ten years for adults and five years for minors.

Second, arrive to the port early to board. We sailed out of Baltimore, MD, for it was only two hours from our New Jersey home in Burlington County. We have family living in Baltimore who took us to the ship and picked us up when we returned. This saved us a $100.00, for we didn’t have to pay the $10.00 per day parking fee at the Port of Baltimore. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL) states in its boarding documents to arrive and begin boarding at 2:00 P.M. We arrived at 1:00 and were permitted to board as soon as we got there. I was surprised to discover a friend of mine whom I taught with on board, and she told me they arrived between 11:00 and 11:30, and they were permitted to board when they got there.

One of the things that really makes the pre-boarding experience a lot quicker is if you data entry all of your necessary information at Royal Caribbean’s website at least two weeks before your departure. You can’t do this until you receive all of your boarding documents and passport information. Once you put in the credit card you will be using for your stateroom charges, your passport information, and personal information for each of your family members at RCCL’s secure site, then you will be directed to print out a “SET SAIL PASS.” Print that document and place it with your boarding documents. (One caveat… Go back to the site after you print to double check that your Set Sail Pass is valid. I forgot to put some emergency contact person information in for my younger son, and it flashed at the “edit your information” link that my Set Sail Pass was no longer valid, and I had to print it again. Once you have all of the correct information in to RCCL, then you will see at green check mark next to each person’s name of your part.) That Set Sail Pass sent us directly to the front of the check-in lines, and we were on the boat within five minutes after we delivered our luggage. The check-in procedure is virtually painless. They check your passports, swipe your credit card, and collect your Bahamas Immigration Card that was sent with your cruise documents, and they issue you your Sea Pass Cards. These cards serve as your on-board credit card, room key, and your pass to exit and enter this ship at each of the ports. I allowed my sons to sign for their own room charges, and after I got my final bill, I noticed a lot of charges for Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. I may have to rethink that practice in the future.

Once receiving your Sea Pass Card, you get your first photograph taken. Get used to this, for you will be photographed at every port and many other times during the cruise. You then pass through a couple of security checkpoints. The first checkpoint is the US checkpoint where you have your carry-on luggage scanned just like at an airport. You then go through RCCL’s checkpoint where you insert your Sea Pass Card, and they take your security photo. You also register your children for the Adventure Ocean program, and they get a security bracelet that they wear for the rest of the cruise.

When we got on board, we went to find our stateroom. We were told the rooms wouldn’t be ready until after 3:00, but our room was ready, so we dropped off our carry-on luggage/backpacks. We loved the interior adjoining staterooms. The interior rooms are pitch black, and we loved sleeping in, especially on sea days. Our stateroom attendant, Valerie, was a sweetheart. She took great care of our rooms, and anything we needed she provided including extra pillows and other sundry items. Also, the animal shapes she made out of the towels were very clever and entertaining.

We then set out to explore the ship. We also bought our sons’ soda passes for the cruise. This is a real bargain. Children under 12 get unlimited soda for $4.00 per day. The older son got it for $6.00 per day. Don’t buy one for yourself; just sip out of your kids’ drinks if you need a soda fix. There was free water, ice tea, coffee, and orange juice which is what my wife and I drink anyway. After exploring the ship, we ate lunch at the Windjammer Café. Grandeur of the Seas only has two restaurants to choose from for dining, The Windjammer and the Great Gatsby Dining Room. The Windjammer is exclusively a buffet restaurant with the exception of an omelet station at breakfast and a sandwich station at lunch; however, these lines are usually long, so we avoided those and opted for the buffet. I’ll discuss the Great Gatsby later in this review.

>From what we were told, The Grandeur of the Seas is small compared to other RCCL ships, but we loved this ship because of its size. It wasn’t so big that we couldn’t get where we wanted to be in a short amount of time, but it wasn’t too small that you felt like you were crowded. There were a number of places that you could disappear for some quiet reading time. My favorite place was the balcony outside of the card and board game room. I’d drag a chair from one of the card tables and bring it out to the balcony to read and watch the ocean. My other favorite place was Deck 5 which we affectionately called the Muster Deck, for this was where our muster station drill took place.

We set sail about 5:00, and we enjoyed the trip down the Chesapeake. There was a bunch of set sail activities at the pool deck; which were great fun. The Cruise Director’s Staff which is the Activities Staff were AWESOME on the Grandeur. We befriended many of them, but we especially loved Chris, Katie, and Kelly. They made us feel so welcome and encouraged us to participate in activities that we normally wouldn’t have even thought about, and we had a blast. Chris, especially, took a great interest in us, and he was determined to make sure that we had a grand vacation. He spent so much time with us that I feared he’d get in trouble from his superiors, but I soon learned that this was part of his job, and he did it very well. I hope he didn’t consider us a nuisance with all of our questions, but he is a large part of why we loved our first cruise. One of our favorite activities was the Karaoke Idol competition. My older son and I both made the finals which were held on our last Sea Day on the Palladium Theatre main stage. It was a rush performing in that elegant venue. Even more sweet was winning the competition. Alas, I wish they the grand prize had been another cruise, but it was just fun performing for a very supportive crowd.

Dinner was one of our favorite times of the day. Our waiter, Ronilo, and our assistant waiter, Bruno, were awesome. They took such meticulous care of us and made dinner each night an entertaining adventure. At the end of the week, I felt like we had made two great new friends, but I’m sure they will just move on to their next group of cruisers and forget about us, but we will not forget them. Our table companions, Linda and Janice, were a delight. It was even more delightful to find out they were fellow educators. We so enjoyed their company, and they came out and supported us at all of Karaoke performances. I hope we stay in touch with them.

The Ports of Call were the one area where I had some negative feelings, especially with Freeport, Grand Bahama Island. This island was unimpressive; the locals were nice, but for the most part the two market places reminded me of US flea markets. Most of the wares they were selling were boardwalk souvenir trinkets. If you are in the market for jewelry and china, then Freeport might be to your liking, but I would have preferred to have skipped this port, so we could spend more time at other ports. I’m sure that the Bahamas require a visit to one of its big islands in order for RCCL to be able to make a stop at its privately owned island Cococay.

Cococay was a good stop. In essence, it’s a beach day. We spent time swimming and snorkeling. The ship has a snorkeling and scuba specialist that gives a great instruction on snorkeling techniques. We enjoyed this stop, and the barbecue that the ship sponsored on the beach was enjoyable too. There are tons of water activities at this location; so many you can’t possibly do them all.

Our next port was Key West. This was my favorite port of the trip. Key West is a really neat and fun town. There is a lot of history here, and a lot of fun activities are available as well. I didn’t book an excursion through the ship at this port; I found them to be overpriced. Instead I went to www.historictours.com and booked my own excursions. The best bet for transportation is the Bone Island Shuttle. Kids under 12 ride free, and if you book your passage via their Internet site, you can get an all-day adult passage on this bus service for $7.20 per person. You then print out your e-ticket and present it at the Conch Train ticket center in Mallory Square to receive your all-day pass. This is a better deal than the Conch Train and Trolley which are $25.00 per person. I also booked my tickets for several museums we visited including the Ernest Hemingway House, the Pirate Soul Museum, and the Shipwreck Historeum Museum. All of this was cheaper than purchasing the Pirate Soul Museum and Shipwreck Historeum excursion from the ship. Three negatives happened in Key West that dampened our day; first it rained, no, it poured, for nearly 45 minutes. The streets flooded, and we were stuck in a store where we sought shelter which cut into our Shipwreck museum time. I had brought rain ponchos on the cruise, but I had left them on the ship. Also, the Shipwreck museum wasn’t worth the time. It would be better if it were a guided tour, but it is a self-guided tour, and there was a lot to read. Choose a different museum. One other thing…RCCL discourages renting scooters, but this looked like great fun in Key West. I wouldn’t rent a scooter in a foreign country, but everyone was using them for transportation in Key West, and they looked like great fun. The final thing that was discouraging was the lack of time in Key West. We got off the ship about 9:00 and had to be back on the ship by 1:30 and the line to get back on the boat was very long. I wish we could have spent an entire 24 hour period at Key West

.. This was a great port and there just wasn’t enough time spent at this port. I hope RCCL eliminates a port of call, so more time can be spent at this port. I bet the night life in this town is awesome.

Because of a delay by the U.S. Coast Guard in Key West, we were very late arriving in Cozumel, Mexico. We disembarked from the ship directly onto the Water Jet ferry and went to Playa del Carmen where we met our tour guide bus to the Tulum Mayan Ruins. These ruins are impressive; however, they are not nearly as impressive as the Chitzen Itza ruins. The Tulum Ruins are smaller, and you are barred from getting too close. The guides took wonderful care of us, but because of the late arrival to Cozumel, our time at the ruins was cut short, and we did not get to shop in Cozumel. Cozumel seemed like a great port, but because of our late arrival, we didn’t get to experience it.

Our final port was Port Canaveral; we had twelve hours at this port, and we spent the day at the Kennedy Space Center. The tours here are overpriced as well. If you can get ground transportation to Kennedy, you can get the same tour as the ship excursion for $27.00 per person. We have friends that live in the Orlando area who picked us up at the port terminal, and we went directly to Kennedy. We bought the $37.00 ticket which included the Astronauts’ Hall of Fame, and it really wasn’t worth it. We should have just taken the $27.00 ticket. The tickets are good for two days, so if you can find one of those discount ticket places, you can sell your additional day on these passes to recoup some of your expenditure. Food at the Kennedy Space Center is outrageous. We ate in their table service restaurant called MILO’s, and the bill was nearly $100.00 for five people.

The only negative for us was the time spent at the really great ports. I would have preferred more time at Key West and Cozumel, no time at Freeport, and less time at Port Canaveral.

Activities on board were plentiful. My family enjoyed bingo, back stage tours, dance classes, games, themed party nights, the pool party, the chocolate buffet, grand buffet, and the barbecue poolside, swimming, sunbathing, reading, and sleeping. We especially loved the evening entertainment. The comics were good; the magician was terrific, and the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers did great performances. Since I’m a fond lover of theatre, I’d have loved to have seen a stage play. Since the shows tend to be under an hour, they could easily put together a one-act comedy that would be a nice change of pace for the evening entertainment.

We arrived back in Baltimore an hour later than anticipated. We opted to take advantage of the self-assist option to carry our own luggage off of the boat rather than have it sent to the luggage bay to be taken off by porters. This is a great option, for they let the self-assist passengers disembark before any other passengers. Unfortunately, we took luggage on the trip that was not equipped to be rolled but carried. This was a mistake! Next time we will take garment bags that are equipped with wheels, so we can roll all of our luggage off of the boat. We were off the boat by 10:00, and we were about the 300th people to disembark.

We LOVED our cruise, and we would definitely cruise with RCCL again in the future. We came back from vacation relaxed, refreshed, and I finally found a vacation where I don’t need a second week of vacation in order to recover.

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