Eastern Caribbean Cruise December 1997
My wife, Margaret, and I cruised the Eastern Caribbean on the Grandeur of the Seas during the first full week of December. We began our cruise a day early by arriving in Miami on Friday. We stayed at the Miami Hyatt Regency in Downtown Miami. This is the standard hotel in the RCI hotel package. Not much to say about Miami; just grateful that I don't live there. Coming from Houston, I noticed that most restaurants were considerably more expensive. We asked the concierge at the hotel for a restaurant recommendation for dinner. He recommended Mario's Palio Ristorante (Italian) which was only 5 minutes from the hotel. While the food tasted fine, after we got back to our hotel Margaret became terribly ill from the meal (vomiting, etc.). Therefore, if you don't want to start your vacation on a sour note, I would definitely stay away from Mario's.
Getting to the ship on Saturday was easy. We were able to check in at the hotel and avoid the lines at the pier. We were transported to the pier by bus and were in our cabins by 11:30 am. The cabin was a standard outside cabin. Nothing fancy but it did have more than adequate storage space. Compared to the Sun Princess, this room was very similar.
After lunch (buffet in the Windjammer) we toured the ship. It is a very pretty ship and is well laid out. Stairways are plentiful; I couldn't tell you about the elevators since neither of us used them during our cruise. The Grandeur does have an excellent fitness center and a jogging track (once around is one quarter of a mile). I missed having a jogging track on the Sun so this was a nice luxury. The two-level dining room (Great Gatsby) was also very nice. Beware that there are a number of tables that you would not really want to sit at if you want a good view (people watching) of the action in the dining room. Also note that there are very few (maybe four) tables for two. If this is important, then you need to request one early. As for the lounge (South Pacific) and theater (Palladium), these were well laid out and provided ample seating. There were really no bad seats in either venue. However, the smoking sections in the South Pacific Lounge are not very well thought out which results in too much overlap between the smoking and no smoking sections. Thankfully, the Palladium was all non-smoking.
As for the all important question of food, for us it was a big disappointment. The menus always had a vegetarian entrée but there really wasn't much variety throughout the week. There were several meals in which we ordered just sides of vegetables. The biggest disappointment for us was the desserts. We may be vegetarians but we really enjoy sweet desserts. We always have a big appetite for desserts especially after climbing stairs, working out in the fitness center, and walking into town. These desserts were not sweet. My wife makes much better desserts. The Baked Alaska was a huge disappointment. I have had real Baked Alaska before and this was nothing but packaged ice cream. Princess knows how to make a Baked Alaska! Overall, the food on the Grandeur is just not as good as on the Sun Princess. I didn't go on the cruise to enjoy gourmet cuisine but I expected better than what we were served.
As for the dining room service, it was fair. Our waiter, Regidor, really never listened to us. He always tried to outguess us on our orders. Most times he would bring us something that we did not order because he thought we would want it. If I wanted asparagus that evening, I would have ordered it. I did not appreciate him bringing me something that I clearly did not want. He always acted surprised when I left it. The assistant waiter was fine but I thought it was funny that on the nights that we had wine he would bring us iced tea and Diet Coke since that is what we would have at lunch. I don't think he really understood more that a few basic words of English. The high point of the dining room service was the wine steward. We typically order wine on most nights so we really enjoyed having our wine steward, Bal. Bal did a great job. He was head and shoulders above any of the other employees who waited on us. He would always come to our table and spend time talking with us, even on the nights that we did not order wine. The ship has a respectable wine list with a couple of bargains (Opus One at $89 and Lafite at $99). From what I can remember, the wine list on the Sun Princess had more selections but had fewer bargains. As for our head waiter, we rarely saw him except on the last night as he was working the tables for his tip. Obviously, he was wasting his time with us. Overall, we found the dining room staff unaccommodating compared to our experiences on Princess.
On the second to last evening our waiter came around to each table to beg for excellent ratings. Since I have experienced this on other cruises, I was not surprised. However, on the last night when the surveys were to be turned in, he again begged for an excellent rating. At that point we had already turned in our survey so really did not want to hear the same speech again. I told Regidor that I completed the survey honestly and fairly and I did not share with him my ratings. Lucky for him that I had turned in the survey or I would have downgraded his service from "fair" to "poor". Instead of begging for an excellent rating near the end of the cruise, I would rather have the waiter come to me on the first night of the cruise and explain that he wants to achieve an "excellent" rating and to let him know when he is falling short.
The entertainment on the Grandeur was excellent. The show by "Rain" was a great impersonation of the Beatles. By far this was the best show that I have ever seen on a cruise ship and would rival any seen on land. Unfortunately, Rain only performed one night. I would have really liked to have seen them a second time. As for the other shows, they were definitely much better than any that we have seen on Princess. RCI really has their act together with the entertainment.
Our cabin steward, Ivanah, did a good job keeping our room clean. However, the special touches such as making our pajamas into animals was missing. One night she completely forgot our mints and compass newsletter for the next day's activities.
Grandeur of the Seas in Coco Cay
As for the ports, I will not spend any time discussing St. Thomas or San Juan since most cruisers have been to one or both ports. Nothing new for these ports but a real plus for RCI was the Crown and Anchor Club located in both ports. This was especially useful in St. Thomas as we needed a place to regroup after our shopping. The two RCI private islands, Labadee and Coco Cay were both good. Without a doubt, Labadee is the prettier of the two. There are the usual "toys" on each island to amuse you. I chose to find out what it feels like to fly. I tried parasailing and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a little pricey but it is something that everyone should do once just to have the experience.
Throughout the cruise, we had wonderful weather. Highs were in the 80s with no days of rain except for a very brief shower on St. Thomas. This resulted in very calm conditions and smooth sailing. This was the first Caribbean cruise that we have had nearly perfect weather. Maybe December is a good time to cruise the Caribbean or maybe we were just lucky.
The disembarkation process was held up by customs for almost 2 hours but luckily we were not in any hurry to get to the airport since our flight did not leave until late afternoon. I don't know if this is typical for RCI but we found the process disorganized.
The tipping had recently been increased from the information provided with our cruise ticket. The recommended 7 day tip for the cabin steward and waiter is now $49 per couple which is $7 higher. The assistant waiter's tip worked out to almost $28 which was up $3 from the previous guidelines. I do not know if the other cruise lines have increased their tipping guidelines as well, so you may want to check prior to your cruise. One observation on this ship versus the Sun Princess was that the waiters did all the work on the Grandeur while the assistant waiters merely refilled drinks. On the Princess ships, the assistant waiter is responsible for also going back to the galley and bringing the food to the waiter. On the Grandeur the poor waiter was responsible for getting the food. It seemed like the assistant waiter had a "cush" job. This is definitely not the case on Princess.
In summary, this was not our best vacation or our worst. Would we sail on RCI again-- probably not. We are both very active and we find that after about five days we are ready to do more than just the typical shipboard activities. Days at sea were particularly boring to us this time. We will probably forgo crusing for a few years and take more active vacations. When we do decide to cruise again, we will probably try Carnival's nonsmoking ship. It really got old trying to dodge all the smokers on the ship.
If anyone has any specific questions regarding the ship, please contact me at the email address below. Happy sailing.
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