We booked the 1 night pre-cruise package and air through Royal Caribbean. Our flight to Miami was early AM, so we had the entire afternoon and evening in Miami the day before the cruise. We placed the ship tags on our luggage and checked it at the airport before departure. RCCL handled it from there. We didn't see it again until it was delivered to our cabin. A representative from Royal Caribbean met us at the gate when we got off the plane and put us on a bus to the Hyatt Regency in downtown Miami, a very nice hotel. Upon check-in, I requested a nonsmoking room, high up, with a view of the water so we could see the ships come in the next morning. They were very accommodating and gave us a very nice room on the 16th floor, with a small balcony, facing the water. Friday night, we went to Bayside Marketplace and had dinner (and a few creamsicles) at Lombardi's, an excellent Italian restaurant. If you're looking for a place to eat in Miami, I recommend this restaurant. On Saturday morning we were able to check-in for the ship right in the lobby of the hotel, and received our boarding passes right there. No lines, no waiting, no fuss. At approximately 12:30 a bus took us to the pier and we boarded immediately.
We had a category H stateroom on "A" deck. The cabin was on the small side, but that's what we expected. We also booked the "Crowning Touches" package, so there was a bottle of Dom Perignon on ice waiting for us in the cabin. A quick word about the Crowning Touches package - at a cost of $400 per couple, it is an excellent value. For each couple it includes 2 RCCL robes (to keep), a bottle of Dom Perignon, a facial or full massage in the spa for each of you, an 8x10 formal portrait in a silver frame, pre-dinner canapes and post-dinner petit fours delivered to your cabin each night, a champagne (Moet White Star) breakfast in bed, and an invitation to the bridge. After the standard life boat drill, departure was delayed for about an hour due to some delayed airline flights. We set sail shortly after 6:00 PM.
The Ship: Our first afternoon on board was spent exploring the ship, and what a ship it is!! The first thing we noticed upon boarding was the Centrum which is just beautiful. It starts at deck 4 and goes to deck 9. All the on board shops, as well as the purser's desk and shore excursion desk are located off the Centrum. The dining room has 2 levels on decks 4 and 5, and there are 2 pools on deck 9, one of which is in the enclosed solarium. There are also 4 hot tubs by the main pool and 2 more by the solarium pool. You could always get into one. The shipshape center and spa is adjacent to the solarium. The layout of the ship is great, and it is easy to get around. The main show each night is in the 2 level Palladium Theater. The Windjammer is spacious, and never seemed crowded despite the number of people eating there. The casino is a decent size, although I would have preferred another blackjack table instead of all the slot machines. There are also plenty of lounges for other activities or to find a place to relax with some music, and there are plenty of bar waiters around if you want a drink. Deck space is plentiful and deck chairs by the pools and on the sun deck were always available, despite the few inconsiderate folks who "reserved" them. We also enjoyed lounging in the chairs on the sides of the promenade deck. It was nice and quiet there, and not the least bit crowded. For the stargazers, there is an observatory platform complete with star charts rising above deck 10. And of course there is the RCCL signature Viking Crown lounge at the top of the ship. The Viking Crown is the site of the disco each night.
Food: Throughout the week, we had breakfast (and an occasional lunch) in the Windjammer and never had difficulty finding a table. The food was excellent, varied, and plentiful.
We ate dinner in the dining room each night. The food was varied and just superb, and the service was better than excellent, maybe the best we've ever had. Our waitress and assistant waitress were just incredible, almost as though they could read our minds. And they gave new meaning to the word quick. When salads were served, the assistant was no more than 10 seconds behind with the dressings. If a main course or dessert called for a sauce, she was right there again. I never had to request a second helping of anything; they were right there to offer it, as though they knew I wanted more. They even brought me a third lobster tail without me asking.
There are late afternoon snacks and ice cream served in the Windjammer, and hot dogs, fries and pizza is available most of the day and into the wee hours in the solarium.
There are no more daily midnight buffets. One night there is a buffet by the pool and on the second formal night they have the Captain's Gala Buffet in the dining room. On the other nights, the waiters walk around the ship with trays of hors d'ouvres and canapes. Personally, I don't miss the midnight buffets and actually like this arrangement better.
Service: As stated above our waitress, Rita from Hungary, and assistant waitress, Annie from Romania were fabulous. The head waiter, Markus from Austria, came over to our table at least two or three times each night to make sure everything was to our liking, and to discuss how we spent our day and what we were planning for the next day. The wine steward was very nice, and arranged for the champagne that came with our Crowning Touches package champagne breakfast in bed, to be served at dinner instead. We shared it with our dining companions, a lovely couple from Ireland and their 18-year-old daughter.
Our cabin steward, David from Barbados, was excellent - very friendly, accommodating and efficient. We would see him in the hallway every morning and every evening, and he always asked if we had everything we needed, and inquired about how we were enjoying the cruise.
The bar waiters are never very far away if you want a drink. They make their presence known, but are not pushy.
Activities and Entertainment: There is so much to choose from, you can't do it all. We decided to skip the shipshape activities this time around since we already have plenty of shipshape paraphernalia. We also skipped the daily bingo because we never win, and skipped the art auctions because we have no room to hang anything else.
There was the usual assortment of pool games and one of my favorite activities - horseracing. This year I was finally a successful bidder in buying a horse. The bidding was very light, almost nonexistent, so my son also bought a horse, and a friend bought another. We had a lot of fun dressing up, showing off, and naming our horses (Nag of the Seas, Teen Rebel, and Lady Grandeur), but alas, we all lost in the owners' derby. The belly flop competition was held just prior to the horseracing; so I opted to skip that, but I coulda been a contender.
The nightly entertainment was pretty good, but with so many other things to do and so many other lounges with music on board, the Palladium Theater was never crowded. Bowser (of Sha Na Na) had a very good show and brought back some good memories.
The band by the pool was High Seas. They were pretty good, but by the end of the week some of their repertoire got a little old.
The kids and teens each have their own lounges on deck 10. The youth programs on RCCL are really great. They kept the kids so occupied, that it was hard to believe there were a few hundred kids and teens on board.
The casino is open when the ship is not in port. There are plenty of slot machines and a couple of tables for each of the traditional casino games.
Itinerary: Labadee, Haiti - a very nice private peninsula. Nice beaches with warm, calm water for swimming, but not much in the way of snorkeling. There is a local crafts market where the Haitians sell their wares. There is some very nice stuff, and some real junk. The people are very pushy and can be annoying. It reminded me of walking through a straw market in Jamaica. Every price is very negotiable, and they expect to negotiate. If you show some interest but start to walk away, they will come down dramatically. We purchased some hand carved items at a fraction of the original asking price. One suggestion, don't take out your wallet. Put some cash in a pocket or in one of those water wallets and you can always claim you have very little or no cash. If they see a wallet with cash they won't leave you alone.
San Juan - We hired a taxi and took a tour of old and new San Juan for a few hours. Most of the sightseeing tours offered by the ship can be done considerably cheaper if you do it on your own. My son went off on his own with a shore excursion to go horseback riding. It was his first time on a horse, and he really enjoyed it. After our tour, we did a little shopping in old San Juan and then stopped off at the Crown & Anchor Club for a cold drink and a little relaxation before heading back to the ship. The club is a really nice setup and I must commend RCCL for the idea.
St. Thomas - So much to do and see, and so little time. We took a taxi to Coki beach for some sun and snorkeling. It is a nice small beach, with very good snorkeling. There is also restrooms, snacks and bar service. Afterwards, we stopped downtown for some shopping. A trip to St. Thomas wouldn't be complete without some shopping. Without going into detail, just let me say that prices on jewelry, perfume and cosmetics are fabulous.
Cococay - RCCL's private island in the Bahamas (a.k.a. Little Stirrup Cay). Cococay is much nicer than I expected. While my son went parasailing, we explored the island and stumbled upon Blackbeard's grave. After a barbecue lunch, we walked along the shore and found a nice shady spot on the second (or third) beach. Snorkeling here was really good, but not really necessary. Just wading out into the water, waist deep, we could see a lot of fish. While I was ashore, a rather large stingray swam right by my wife, inches away. She called out to us, and we could see it from the shore. We spent the rest of the day relaxing on the beach sipping coco locos.
Debarkation: The chaos I expected never happened. We retrieved our luggage with no problems, and since we had booked our air through RCCL, we were able to check our luggage with Continental Airlines right there at the pier. We then boarded a bus with only our carry on bags for a quick ride to the airport.
Conclusion We had a fantastic time, and heartily recommend the Grandeur and the eastern Caribbean itinerary.