Grandeur of the Seas 7 Night Eastern Caribbean Cruise
This was our second cruise, the first being a western Caribbean itinerary in February 1997 onboard Royal Caribbean International's Majesty of the Seas. We selected this cruise to complement the western Caribbean one taken in 1997, and to escape the typically very cold Canadian prairie winters. We were also very fortunate to have my cousin, Phil, and his wife, Corrie, from England, join us for the week. The following is a chronological review with a summary of our impressions.
During the flight, we discovered that several of our fellow passengers were destined for RCI's Sovereign of the Seas and Splendour of the Seas. We landed in Miami about 12:30 p.m. and were met at the terminal by RCI staff who attempted to sort everyone out. To our surprise, we learned that we were travelling with the guests going to the Sovereign of the Seas and that we would be going to the pier before being taken to our hotel, the Marriott Biscayne Bay. This added another hour to the journey and by the time we arrived at the Marriott, we were dog tired. However, the beautiful hotel and efficient check-in revitalized us and we soon forgot all about the airport problems.
We awoke early, had a light continental breakfast in the hotel and then went to the RCI registration desk. There was no line up, the process went very smoothly (in spite of our uneasiness at relinquishing our passports for the week) and we were on our way. After a short trip to the Port, we encountered the Grandeur - what a sight! We got through security and quickly posed for the customary boarding photograph. We entered the ship on Deck 4 to the sounds of a string trio called the Rosario Trio. We were met by cruise staff as well as stewards who offered to escort us to our cabin. Unfortunately, the steward who offered to help us got mixed up and started taking us aft instead of forward on Deck 4, which is where our cabin was. After laughing about knowing where we were going after only being onboard a few minutes, we parted company and quickly found our outside cabin, 4036, near the elevators and stairway.
Our Cabin & 'The Drill'
We immediately noticed how much bigger the cabin was compared to the Majesty of the Seas. There were two beds, framed by a large window, a chair, a sofa, table and dresser/mirror which also housed the television. The closet was immediately behind the door, but the difference this time was the inclusion of several built-in drawers. The dresser/mirror concealed a safe which had to be locked with a credit card; while not always convenient, we appreciated the fact that we would not have to go to the Purser's Office to secure valuables. The washroom was about the same size as the one on the Majesty, with just enough room to turn around, and yes, it was equipped with the famous "suck-the-life-out-of-you" toilet. We quickly noticed that the room had an adjoining door; we somehow missed this when we booked the cruise and found out later just how annoying it can be, especially when your neighbours are loud or noisy. Our advice: do NOT book an adjoining room unless you have family or friends next door.
We found that there was ample room to store everything and the drawers in the closet made the chore a little easier. We stored our luggage in the corners of the room and under the beds.
We then got our Cruise cards validated, ordered a "Wine and Dine" package, and did some exploring. There was a very good steel band, The Caribbean Four, playing on the Sun Deck, and we stopped to listen for a while. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the Windjammer Café and then met Phil and Corrie who had been looking for us. We talked about what shore excursions we wanted and put the order in right away.
We attended the compulsory mustering at 4:30 p.m. It was no better organized than on the Majesty the year before. We were herded into rows below our muster stations, women in front and men in the rear. It was difficult to hear the crew and the room numbers being announced; we were never sure if everyone was accounted for.
Out to Sea
At 5:00 p.m. we went out onto the Compass and Sun decks to observe the departure from Miami. The Grandeur did a 180-degree turn and headed down the channel trailing the Splendour of the Seas. We passed the RCI terminal, the docks, and Miami Beach on the port side, and finally reached the open sea. A few pilot boats circled the ship and gradually, in a setting sun, Miami faded in the distance.
After dinner, Phil, Corrie, Val and I went for a stroll around the ship on the Promenade Deck. At one point, we even passed a hard working Jeff Martin, the Cruise Director, working in his office; he took time to smile and wave for our camcorder. The rest of the evening was spent just enjoying each other's company, and taking in the warm breeze. It was a perfect end to a busy day.
Monday started out overcast and very humid. We went for a walk around the Promenade Deck, took some photos and video and then went to the Windjammer Cafê for breakfast. In the afternoon, we attended some Shipshape classes (fitness) and dance lessons. We spent the rest of the day visiting with my cousin and his wife, catching up on the family news, took a few dips in the pool and hot tub, and just relaxed.
Monday was a warm (80F) and sunny day. We awoke early, had breakfast and then proceeded to a tender for the trip to shore. Labadee is a 260-acre peninsula-shaped retreat owned by RCI, located on the north coast of Haiti. A coastal cruise and snorkeling are offered as shore excursions as well as parasailing, banana raft rides and watercraft rentals of all descriptions. As we had visited this beach in 1997, we elected to just do nothing except swim, tan and enjoy the scenery and company.
We arrived at San Juan about noon. The trip into San Juan harbour is quite exciting as we passed the El Morro castle and then circled around a promontory to the cruise ship pier. We then boarded buses for the "Old and New San Juan Tour." It was disappointing, however, as the driver frequently got sidetracked on issues not related to the tour or the city and we were frequently stuck in traffic jams. We toured San Cristobal castle but it was cut short by the time lost in traffic snarls. We were driven along the north part of the city and stopped for photos of the view towards the Atlantic and San Juan itself. We were finally driven to old San Juan (where the streets are very narrow and the traffic jams were just made worse) and let off. We did some shopping and then stopped in at RCI's Crown and Anchor Club on San Justo Street, about four blocks north of the pier. This modern, air-conditioned rest stop offers rest rooms, complimentary coffee and tea, a cash bar, package check, AT&T telephones and lots of comfortable sofas and chairs. It was one of the highlights of the day, along with the fabulous views of the Atlantic from San Juan as well as the San Cristobal castle.
We shopped at the Cruise Terminal's duty-free shop before going back on board. There was a good selection of liquor, wines, jewellery, watches, and clothing. We spent the rest of the afternoon just relaxing, poolside.
We arrived at Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St. Thomas, early in the morning. We planned only a brief sightseeing trip on the Paradise Point Tram ($10.00), some shopping, and then swimming at Megans Bay. For the shopaholic, Royal Caribbean publishes an excellent guide to St. Thomas which was placed in each stateroom; it was very handy to have, although it was heavily advertiser-supported.
Our return voyage was out in the Atlantic along an area that had just had experienced a storm. The swells were quite high, the winds very strong, and temperatures in the low 70's. We tried to do some tanning, but the Sun Deck, being on the highest point of the ship, took the brunt of the wind and the rolling of the ship. It soon became uncomfortable and we went down to our room. We returned to the Windjammer Café for a light lunch and then watched the horse races. They were hilarious with Jeff Martin, the Cruise Director, emceeing the proceedings.
CocoCay (Little Stirrup Cay)
CocoCay is RCI's second private resort, located northwest of Nassau in the Bahamas. It is a relatively flat island with a mixture of palm trees and other greenery and beautiful sand. It has been extensively developed with bars, souvenir stands, rest rooms, restaurants and other buildings in support of the thousands of passengers who visit each week. We anchored about a mile from the island and took a tender in as early as we could. We spent the day swimming, snorkeling, and tanning. We had lunch at the buffet "Bahama Jack's Café," - it was great.
Our day on the beach was cut short when Corrie complained of irritated eyes. She received First Aid for the irritation but it wasn't helping. Finally, she had to be taken back to the ship where she saw the surgeon. He prescribed some anti-inflammatory drops for her (caused, apparently, by a reaction to the anti-fog spray in the snorkel mask) and she was all right by supper; this was a $US 60 cost that they hadn't counted on, though.
Saturday - Miami
We arrived in Miami about 6:00 a.m. We had to clear U.S. Customs and Immigration at 6:30 a.m. and were relieved to have our passports once again. We joined my cousin and his wife for a leisurely breakfast which lasted until 9:00 a.m., when we were kicked out of the dining room. We bade our farewell, a very tearful one, to our family, and then joined our cruise group to wait for disembarkation. We left the ship about 10:30 and started to look for our luggage. Despite the fact that we had colour-coded the bags with bright ribbon, we walked all over the dock to find the various pieces. We boarded a bus for the Miami airport, after again experiencing a lot of confusion as to what bus was going where, and arrived at the Air Canada gate about 11:30. We arrived in Winnipeg about 8 p.m. local time.
Food & The Staff
We were in the second seating for dinner in the beautiful two-level Great Gatsby Dining Room. Our table was situated on the main level (Deck 4) near the starboard side entrance to the room and consisted of our cruise agent, her husband, her two daughters and their husbands as well as my cousin and his wife, and Val and I, spanning an age range of early thirties to mid-fifties. Our waiter was "Captain" Kirk Williams, from Jamaica; our Assistant Waiter was Sihan, from Turkey, and our Headwaiter was Tony, also from Jamaica. Our wine steward was Tracey, who hailed from the home of Elvis Presley -- Tupelo, Mississippi. Table service was generally excellent from Kirk and Tony, but only so-so from Sihan (language problems); Tracey was always nearby to attend to the wine service or make recommendations on alternate wines or champagnes.
Dinner varied between International, French, Caribbean, Italian and American themes. The quality was very good and the menus included Shipshape low-fat entrees, as well. On some nights, the waiters sang for the passengers. We made it to one midnight buffet but only to photograph the display and meet the culinary staff. The food sculptures and presentation were out of this world.
Sunday, 25 January was Superbowl XXXII and the Grandeur hosted a Superbowl Bash in the Singin' in the Rain Lounge. RCI was a half-time sponsor of the game and had advertised this fact extensively on its web site and on board. The Captain's Cocktail Party was held in the South Pacific Lounge just next to the Superbowl party. Captain Ulf Svensson gave an entertaining talk to everyone assembled. This was followed by wonderful dancing to the ship's orchestra. We had a great time.
Monday was the Crown and Anchor Society Reception for repeat cruisers. It was hosted by Captain Svensson who explained some of the plans RCI had for future ships. We had a wonderful time, enjoying the drinks and hors d'oeuvres and dancing to the ship's orchestra.
On the Wednesday after departing San Juan, our escorting cruise travel agent, Loy, had arranged for a cocktail party for our group in the Crown and Anchor lounge. We had a nice time with all the members of the Winnipeg group, most of whom we only saw intermittently during the week, as they were at the first dinner sitting. We listened to soft music played by one of the ship's pianists and enjoyed drinks and snacks. There was a passenger talent show in the evening but we did not attend. We attended a midnight dance party on the deck just as we were leaving San Juan with music by the Caribbean Four, the ship's steel band. Hundreds of passengers were dancing all sorts of Latin dances, the Dollar Dance, and yes, even the Macarena. As we left the harbour, it was a spectacular sight, with the Grandeur lit up from stem to stern, the lights of other ships, and the lights of San Juan, slowly fading in the distance.
Thursday was the second formal night and it was almost as spectacular as the first. It is really quite something to see everyone in their finest, and it does add a touch of glamour to the whole cruise experience.
The Crew and Cruise Staff
We mentioned our encounter with Jeff Martin, the Cruise Director, on the first evening we were at sea. He was a superb host and very congenial throughout the week at any event he emceed. The cruise staff were fabulous at their jobs and one who stood out was Audrey, a Canadian staffer, who ran the Shipshape and fitness classes.
We have mentioned our dining room staff, but one person we almost forgot to mention was Carlos, our cabin steward. He was from Costa Rica and very efficient. He was always there, it seemed, when we needed him, but out of sight when we were around. Most staff we encountered were pleasant, accommodating and helpful.
The Purser's Office staff were somewhat indifferent when we needed their assistance on embarkation day. They looked and sounded tired, complaining about problems from the previous week's cruise - did we really need to hear that?
Most of the entertainment took place in the two-level Palladium Theatre. Acts consisted of Tony Tillman, a wonderful versatile entertainer, ventriloquist Paul Zerdin, Wild and Haines, a comedy juggling duo, and Scott Record, a comedian. The ship's entertainment company performed four floor shows: the "Grandeur Tonight Show," hosted by the Cruise Director, Jeff Martin; "The Beat Goes On" and "Star Struck," and the "Farewell Variety Show" where Captain Svensson said a few words of farewell to the passengers.
Ballroom dancing was available on the Champagne Terrace (Centrum) to the music of "Celeste," a wonderful British trio, as well as in South Pacific Lounge with music by the ship's orchestra. Popular and disco dancing was offered in the Viking Crown Lounge.
All in all, this was a great second cruise for my wife and I, and it was made doubly so by the fact that my cousin and his wife were with us for the week. The Grandeur was certainly an improvement over the Majesty in the areas of engineering, comfort and amenities. This trip convinced us once again that cruising is the way to go for a relaxing, fun and safe all-inclusive holiday. It is hard to beat the value in what cruise lines have to offer.
Bill is a senior administrator with the Canadian Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food. Val is a Program Manager with Matrixx Marketing Canada, an international customer care company. Both are active on the volunteer committee for the 1999 Pan American Games which are being held in Winnipeg Manitoba Canada this summer. Cruising will resume shortly afterwards! Bill and Val can be reached at: email@example.com.
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