Two Night Pre-Inaugural Cruise December 11-13, 1996
I don't often write a full "review" of a cruise or cruise ship. As most of you regular SeaLetter readers know, I am more inclined to let others describe and praise the ship itself while I add a funny anecdote or two, a few interviews with crew and staff, and accessibility comments.
However, I am going to depart from my norm with the Grandeur of the Seas and write from my "heart" and personal feelings. Two warnings before you continue to read:
From the moment I stepped from the gangway into the Centrum of the Grandeur of the Seas around 3:00 PM on December 11, 1996, I was bowled over by the elegance and pure beauty of this ship. When it comes to dessert, for me it had better be chocolate. When it comes to cruise ships, I am the "vanilla" type - glass, brass, crystal, wood, peaches and cream. And, the Grandeur of the Seas' "hardware" comes about as close to my "perfect 10" as I could imagine ANY ship could come.
I loved the etched glass, brass, marble and light wood in the Centrum. I loved the cabin decor, from the pastel window treatments to the peach towels and washclothes in the bathrooms. I loved the artwork, from the Shakespearean paintings hanging behind the information desk to the full wall "Showboat-like" oil on the stairway near the Great Gatsby Dining Room. I loved the shopping area with the black and white marble flooring and wood and glass "store fronts." I loved all the wood, brass and large windows in the Windjammer Cafe, and the wood flooring and nautical lamps in the Schooner Bar.
Please, come along with me for a tour of the Grandeur of the Seas. . .
We enter the ship on Deck 4, Main Deck, directly into the base of the Centrum. Designed by Njal Eide of Oslo, Norway, the Grandeur's Centrum is the largest of all Royal Caribbean atria and ascends 7 decks by way of two glass elevators to the base of the Viking Crown Lounge on Deck 11. The lower three levels of the Centrum are connected via twin marble and brass staircases which curve upwards from the marble floor and raised marble piano platform. Forward of the Centrum is the Champagne Bar, an intimate bar decorated in pearwood, etched glass and inlaid wood panels. To the port side of the Centrum is the Champagne Terrace which flows from the bar into the Centrum with chairs and lounges upholstered in muted greens. This entire area is accented with potted palm trees, marble sculpture, a large water cascade and smaller water fountains.
Forward of the Champagne Bar on Deck 4 are the Category F Outside Staterooms, and the Categories L & N Inside Staterooms. We will discuss the cabins later. Aft of the Centrum is the lower level of the 2-story Great Gatsby Dining Room which is actually "midship" with the galley further aft. This dining room is gorgeous, decorated in an art deco style with warm light wood complemented by deep green, mauve and pink upholstery and window treatments on the 20' high windows, many small and large tables all spaced further apart than most other cruise ship dining rooms, a "Gone With The Wind" sweeping staircase which descends to a marble piano platform with a waterfall as its backdrop. The second story of the Great Gatsby is of mezzanine proportions leaving the center of the dining room uncovered which gives this whole room a feeling of spaciousness. I was impressed by the peace and quiet of this room. You can actually have an intimate conversation with your tablemate while dining with 1,171 of your closest friends. You will find water fountains, marble planters and lots of greenery here, too. Oh, and a new "thing" for Royal Caribbean - the Great Gatsby Dining Room is entirely non-smoking.
Rhett Butler has just appeared to take us all in his arms up the Gatsby's staircase to the upper level of the dining room. As we proceed forward on Deck 5, Promenade Deck, we come to the second level of the Centrum, surrounded by more comfortable seating (all non-smoking on this deck as far as I could tell) where you can have a drink or a rest while you gaze through floor-to-ceiling windows, past the outside promenade to the sea. The promenade itself is wide, wood-decked and goes all the way around the ship - another big plus in my book. On the forward side of the Centrum you will find the Information (Purser's) and Shore Excursion Desks. Proceed forward on the starboard side of the ship and you will enter Casino Royale. Look down and you will find yourself standing on an inlaid glass floor gazing at tons of pirate booty beneath your feet! Casino Royale is the Grandeur of the Seas' one concession to "glitz". Glass pillars and a neon chandelier highlight the center of the room where you will find the gaming tables, and I found the colorful sculpture, or whatever it is, of the Pharaoh at one entrance to be a whimsical reminder of just what goes on in this place. I actually walked up to a slot machine, dropped in 3 quarters, pulled the handle and came away with a $187.50 jackpot, which was, of course, donated back to the Pharaoh the next night.
As we continue forward of the casino, we walk between more marble sculptures, over inlaid marble floors, through a wood-walled, vaulted ceiling grand entrance into the main floor of the Palladium Theatre. I would call this room again "art deco" with beige, gold and ruby-red color schemes, mahogany and back-lit crystal pilasters and seating in "rows" rather than in banquettes or table and chair arrangements. Each individual "seat" (although most are attached and cannot be moved independently) has armrests and a drink holder. Apparently, the theater has all the technical stuff it needs to stage full musical production shows. From an illuminated cast glass floor featuring theatrical masks of Tragedy and Comedy we can make our way up the winding stairway to the balcony which brings us to Deck 6, Mariner Deck. Traveling aft past the forward set of elevators, we enter the Boutiques of Centrum, a collection of 7 shops all surrounding a central "Market Stall" designed by SMC Design of London. The flooring in this area is of black and white marble and the shop exteriors give one the feeling of being in an upscale boutique mall. Surrounding the central elliptical display (which is a cabinet made of folding panels which fold out during business hours to create the "market stall" from which an assortment of jewelry and cosmetics is sold), we find Aromatique, the perfume shop, Facets, the jewelry shop, Marco Polo, china and gift shop, Regalia for formal and fasion wear, the Harbour Shop which sports liquor and sundries and Cruisin', the logo souvenir shop. Continuing through on the port side, we enter the Photo Shop and Photo Gallery as we proceed back to the Centrum itself.
Aft of the Centrum on the port side we enter the Singing in the Rain Lounge which adjoins the Conference Center midship. This area can be opened up to become one large conference area and was set up for the Trade Show in this fashion during my cruise. Floor to ceiling windows line the port side and the decor again is comprised of mahogany and pearwood walls. Seating is in small groups of upholstered chairs surrounding cocktail tables - another great place to sit and have a drink and gaze out at the sea.
Directly across from the Singing in the Rain Lounge on the other side of the Conference Center, we find one of my favorite places - the Schooner Bar. This is an informal pub, very nautical in decor with hardwood floors, sculptured and authentic maritime art and rigging, ship models and integrated sofa/bench seating. The entertainment area features a piano, and this room corresponds to "piano bars" on many other vessels. The starboard wall is again faced with large windows decorated with draperies that look like sails. This is a great place for an afternoon or before or after dinner cocktail, and the bartenders make the best strawberry coladas I've ever tasted!
Moving aft from either the Schooner Bar on the starboard side or the Singing in the Rain Lounge on the port side, we enter the South Pacific Lounge - the lounge that would be the main show lounge on many older and smaller cruise ships. There is a small stage here for an orchestra or other entertainment, and a dance floor. The Captain's Cocktail parties are held in this lounge which seats 575 and spans the entire width of the ship. Although only one deck high, the seating, upholstered in greens, blues, turquoise and beige tones is tiered, and the room is again flanked by large windows giving this area a very open and roomy feel. Art and decor are very much "South Pacific" with outrigger boat models hanging from the ceiling. The room is divided in the middle between smoking and non-smoking sections, so if you are sensitive to smoke, sit on the extreme sides of the non-smoking area on the starboard side of the room.
Proceeding forward again through the Schooner Bar we come to the Centrum again and central bank of elevators and stairway. Up one deck to Deck 7, Commodore Deck, and we find the Library on the starboard side of the Centrum and the Card Room on the port side. These two rooms are mirror images of each other and similarly decorated in brown and beige hues with floor to ceiling windows and sliding glass doors opening out to private terraces. Seating in the Library is on couches, armchairs and settees upholstered in leather, while the Card Room is furnished with attractive and weighty card tables and chairs. Both areas will appeal to those of you looking for solitude, quiet and relaxation!
The rest of Deck 7 contains Category D Deluxe Outside Staterooms with veranda all along the length of both sides of the ship with Category K Larger Inside Staterooms in the center. There are 8 Category C Suites at the very stern facing aft.
From the Centrum on Deck 7, we will now proceed up one deck to Deck 8, Bridge Deck. On the starboard side we find the Crown & Anchor Study, and the Explorers Club is directly across the Centrum on the port side. These rooms are similar to the library, decorated again in a nautical theme and private areas to relax in comfortable seating and gaze out of floor-to-ceiling windowed walls. The bow of this deck contains the Bridge and Radio Room, which I was all set to tour but due to a "tender delay", was not able to be onboard at the pre-arranged tour time. On a 2:00 PM tender back from CocoCay, a trip that should have taken 10 minutes, I had my one big moment to rub elbows with Marvin Hamlisch for an hour while we tried to fight choppy seas and come alongside the Grandeur of the Seas. That night, during his show in the Palladium Theatre, Marvin told the story a whole lot funnier than I even remember it! Anyway, by the time we were aboard at about 4:00 PM, I had missed both the Bridge and Galley tours set up for the media on board.
All of the suites, Category C through Royal Suites, along with more Category K larger inside staterooms fill the rest of Deck 8.
We will proceed up to Deck 9, Sun Deck, from the forward stairway and enter the Windjammer Cafe, the casual dining and buffet area which, unlike many ships, is in the bow rather than stern of the Grandeur of the Seas. The Cafe is tiered up from the semi-circular glass walls to a raised marble platform in the center containing a piano and dance floor for late afternoon/early evening dancing. This room again is decorated with lots of wood, brass and glass and has wonderful views from all of the huge windows.
I can't say enough about all the fabulous floor-to-ceiling windows which line this ship on all public decks and in all public rooms. On the Grandeur of the Seas, you KNOW you are at sea, and that is the way I like it. I like to hear the ocean, see the ocean and feel the wind in my face. I like to see the moon and stars at night and the sun glimmering on the horizon at sunset. I am critical of large mega-liners that skimp on exterior deck space and design skinny little promenade decks with cement for decking and solid metal railings painted solid white. In contrast, the Grandeur has REAL wooden handrails. She has REAL wood decking on a wide promenade deck that completely circles the ship, and on all of her upper exterior decks. She has vast arrays of huge windows in the public rooms as well as along all the balconies of the Centrum. All of the exterior facing cabins have either a large picture window facing directly to the sea (no cabins look out on the Promenade Deck) or a private veranda. This is not a ship for those who fear the sea, but it IS a ship for those of us with salt water running in our veins!
Traveling aft from the Windjammer Cafe we come to the main pool and outdoor lounge and seating area. Most of the decking is wood, although you will find some of that indoor/outdoor "green stuff" close to the pool itself. I'm not fond of that "green stuff", but I can accept this minor use of it for what I suppose is safety purposes. A lot of the coping and decking immediately around the pool and whirlpools is what appears to be marble, and I would certainly be careful here if this area is wet at all. Four of the ship's six whirlpools are located at this main pool area.
Continuing aft, we once again pass the Centrum and enter the Solarium. The first thing I noticed was not the soaring pillars reminiscent of a Roman bathhouse, or the glass canopy overhead which, due to its two-piece construction rather than the "stacked" configuration of most retractable domes, allows much more light into this area. The first thing that struck me about this area was the "stone floor" which consisted of Spanish paver-like tiles in a light beige color with highlights of pink. Royal Caribbean describes this area as a "North African Moorish-themed indoor/outdoor public room. . . ." I'll just describe it as thoroughly beautiful with several fountains, lovely landscaping and two elevated whirlpools covered with domes, surrounded by more fountains and plants. There is a buffet area for snacks, alcoholic beverages, sodas and juices when the Windjammer Cafe and Great Gatsby Dining Room are closed, and ample comfortable seating to enjoy it all in. The Solarium is dramatically lit at night to double as a dancing and entertainment area. I'm sure this will be a much-visited area of the Grandeur of the Seas!
Continuing through the Solarium, we enter the Shipshape Spa - the Grandeur's two deck high health club, aerobics area and beauty salon. On the lower level, we find the Beauty Salon, His-and-Hers changing rooms, saunas and steam rooms, along with a varied assortment of private rooms - most with large floor to ceiling windows - where one can get just about any type of massage or "treatment" you can imagine - for a price, of course. We can now climb the interior stairs here to the Aerobics center and weight and exercise room located on Deck 10, Compass Deck. Royal Caribbean states that the exercise area has state-of-the-art computerized equipment including "six cycles, four step machines, four treadmills, two incline benches for free weights and 10 strength equipment stations." The Shipshape Spa is run by Steiner, which holds this concession on many other cruise ships. As I am definitely a "cruise to loaf" type, I did not try out any of the equipment.
As we move forward on Deck 10, we once again arrive at the Centrum. Forward of the Centrum, there is the central "opening" above the Main Pool area. The jogging track runs around the edge of this entire deck and there is much "lounging deck space" up here, too. The forward part of this deck contains the Video Games room, Fanta-SEAS Teen Center, Club Ocean Children's Room and a forward Observatory lined with windows for a fabulous view from two decks above the bridge. No way can I improve on Royal Caribbean's description of the Fanta-SEAS Teen Center:
Red walls provide the backdrop for this futuristic space odyssey-themed area, punctuated with oversized, boldly-colored, contemporary seating and granite table-tops. Fanta-SEAS features a granite dance floor which resembles an observation deck of a space ship, surrounded by walls lined with star-lit panels interspersed with stainless steel panels along with the latest in high-tech night-club lighting. A large-screen TV at the center of the dance floor, held in place by large robotic arms, plays rock videos and live-action dance floor scenes.
Whew. Had I come across an area like this when I was a teen, I probably would have taken up permanent residency. Non-alcoholic beverages are served here, too. Mom and Dad, if you want to see anything at all of your teenagers during your cruise, DO NOT show them where this center is!
The Club Ocean Children's Room is laid out as an underwater submarine station, has a great carpet with lots of fish on it in bold colors, tables and chairs, a big-screen TV, crawl-through tunnels, a slide and one of those "boxes" filled with colorful rubber balls for jumping and horsing around.
Royal Caribbean's "Adventure Ocean" program organizes the kids into four main groups: Ages 13-17 are the Navigators, Ages 9-12 are the Voyagers, Ages 6-8 are the Explorers and Ages 3-5 are the Aquanauts. Activities included "Mad Science", Sports Tournaments and Island Activities such as Hermit Crab Hunt, Treasure Hunt, Sand Castle Contest and Limbo. For Teens, there are such activities as Disco, Island Beach Party, Talent Show and Rock 'n Roll Bash. For Voyagers and Explorers, the kids can try out Human Bingo, Remote Control, Sea Cruise Investigation, Ice Breakers and a Pizza Party. In-cabin TVs have a continuous 10-hour cartoon "loop" which is repeated 24 hours a day.
A professionally trained staff of counselors will supervise activities from 9 AM - 11:30 AM and 6 PM - 10 PM while in port, from 9 AM - 11:30 AM, 2 PM - 5 PM, and 6 PM - 10 PM while at sea. Group and In-Cabin babysitting is also available and you can purchase an "Unlimited Beverage Program" for $15 per person for a 7 day cruise.
Now, back to the Centrum. Lets hop on one of the two glass elevators and journey up to the very top of the Centrum - Deck 11, Viking Crown Deck, to the Viking Crown Lounge. This is a two story lounge with tiered seating areas in the forward section which is "serviced" by a disc jockey on the deck above and turns into the adult Disco at night. A quieter section aft contains a piano bar. The central part of the Viking Crown Lounge provides breathtaking 360 degree views from the upper level. This is another lovely room with furniture and carpeting in shades of blue against walls and dividers of light and dark wood, chrome and brass. All this set against the maginificent windows makes for one of the lovliest adult night clubs on the seas.
We have hit all of the Decks now except Deck 2, B Deck, and Deck 3, A Deck, which contain staterooms only.
Most of us are familiar with the rap on Royal Caribbean's tiny cabins. A Category I outside stateroom on Monarch of the Seas measures 122 square feet and has a porthole rather than a window. The smallest INSIDE stateroom on Grandeur of the Seas measures 145 square feet and has a sitting area with at least an armchair, a large mirrored desk, safe, television and a large mirror where we would all LOVE the picture window to be. Standard inside staterooms are categories Q through M, a total of 249 in all and can be found on Decks 2, 3 & 4. Categories K & L, larger inside staterooms measure in at 158 square feet and can be found on Decks 4, 7 & 8.
Standard Outside Staterooms, Categories F, H & I measure in at 161 square feet and can be found on Decks 2, 3 & 4. All have a large picture window accented by pastel-draped and sheer window treatments, two twin beds which can convert to a Queen bed, a fully-upholstered love seat, glass-topped coffee table and a large mirrored desk area which houses plenty of storage, a safe and television.
114 Category D Deluxe Outside Staterooms are all located on Deck 7, measure in at 199 square feet and include a private veranda with two chairs and table. Inside, is a large convertible double sofa bed, glass covered cocktail table, TV, refrigerator, safe, large desk and lots of storage space.
The bathrooms in all the above staterooms are typically "small" but adequate with a round shower with curtain, nice-sized medicine cabinet and a storage shelf underneath the sink. There are 4 standard inside, 4 larger outside and 4 deluxe outside cabins designed for the physcially challenged. These measure from 251 to 312 square feet and provide wide doors, level access and large handicap-equipped bathrooms with grab rails. The 4 category D Deluxe Outside physically-challenged cabins even have wide, private verandas.
The Grandeur of the Seas offers 94 suites with verandas in 5 categories ranging in size from 237 square feet (Category C) to a whopping 1,033 square feet (Royal Suite). Categories A, B & C are all laid out in similar fashion with progressively "wider" verandas and "larger" seating areas as you go up the scale from Category C to B to A. The bathrooms are all larger and contain bathtubs. The Category A "Owner's Suites" also have a wet bar. Category AA "family suites" are actually two bedroom, two bath suites. Each "bedroom" is glass walled and opens into a common central living area. A curtain can be drawn at night to cover the glass partition and provide privacy. One of the two bathrooms has a tub. These family suites can accommodate up to a total of 8 guests, and have wide verandas going the entire width of the suites. All of the suites are on Deck 8 with the exception of a handful of Category C suites which are in the stern of Deck 7. 2 of the Category C suites are modified for the physically-challenged and are 97 square feet larger than the standard Category C suites.
All of the decor of the staterooms and suites is similar - beige, peach, blue, green, light wood - all very tasteful and "classy". Even the bathroom towels and washclothes are peach - none of that standard issue "hotel white" we see everywhere. All of the staterooms have full length mirrors so you can see what you really look like in that Tux or Gown for the Captain's formal cocktail party. While the dimensions might not actually show it, these staterooms "feel" much bigger than they measure. What a great change in direction for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines!
I didn't describe the Royal Suite, did I? Well, use your imagination - a hot tub with mirrors over it in the bathroom, a private bedroom with a king-sized bed with mirrors over it, a baby grand piano in the living room, wet bar and full entertainment center. Oh, and its own private veranda measuring 139 square feet - larger than a whole lot of cabins on other ships.
None of the staterooms or suites have hair-dryers. Most built-in hair-dryers installed on modern cruise ships have just enough wattage to dry my hair in about two hours, so I always bring my own anyhow.
I know I have taken a great deal of time describing the "hardware" of the Grandeur of the Seas, but, as you can probably tell, I was very impressed with this ship. As to the "software", in many respects it was "typical Royal Caribbean" with consistent good and friendly service, shampoo/lotion/conditioner amenities in the staterooms, and excellent entertainment. One area which was not typical RCCL in my opinion was the food selection and quality at dinner. But only atypical in so far as I found it MUCH better than on my past RCCL cruises. The lobster salad, cream of asparagus soup and veal cordon bleu which I had on "French Night" were all delicious. And, for all of you chocoholics, the Captain's Gala Dinner Menu has a dessert choice of a "flourless chocolate cake" that is to die for!
Of course (warning: disclaimer coming), I was only able to sample two of the dinner menus, and I did not eat lunch on board. I guess it is possible that the other 5 dinner menus and all of the lunch menus could be awful, but somehow I doubt it. Food is such a personal thing, that what *I* like may not be what *You* will like. But, as we cruise addicts know, whatever it is is better than staying home and cooking or "fast-fooding" it!
I found the barbeque on CocoCay also excellent. You can expect barbequed ribs and boneless chicken breasts in addition to the usual hamburgers and hot dogs. The only food I don't recommend are the Eggs Benedict at breakfast in the dining room - that is, until someone aboard learns how to poach eggs. Both my eggs and English Muffin were overdone and hard as rocks and the hollandaise sauce was too thin to be seen. Hopefully, as time goes on, the chefs will get better at making this dish. For those of you who are cholesterol-counting, of course this means nothing.
I have attempted to make the Grandeur of the Seas come to life for you through my descriptions. I truly hope I haven't bored you, but after receiving a note a couple of weeks ago from one of our visually-impaired readers, I have come to realize how important "words" can be to the folks who cannot see the photos.
Even though so many of us differ in our personal likes and dislikes, it is hard for me to imagine anyone not falling in love with this ship as I did. Throughout 1997, the Grandeur of the Seas will be sailing 7 Day Eastern Caribbean voyages round trip from Miami with stops at CocoCay, Bahamas, Labadee, Haiti, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. Outside, Deluxe and Suite space is already very hard to find. As all of the accommodations are more than adequate and comfortable, my advice is to take what you can get and JUST GO!
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please