This was our second cruise. Our first, in May 2001, was also with Royal Caribbean -- a 10-day trip from Athens to Barcelona. If you read my "Member Review" for that cruise on the CruiseMates web site, you'll learn that we weren't too impressed with the service. I'm happy to report that we found the March 2003 cruise on Grandeur of the Seas to have better service all around (an interesting observation, given that we paid a heck of a lot more money for the 2001 cruise than this one).
On the Grandeur, the crew seemed more attentive to the details. For example, our cabin seemed to be transformed every time we left it, with new towels, fresh ice, etc. We felt like our cabin steward was a magical elf, rarely seen except for the welcome results of his perfectly timed efforts. In the dining room, the waiter, assistant waiter and headwaiter learned our names the first night, and anticipated our preferences (beverages, desserts, etc.). Neither of these descriptions could apply to our 2001 cruise on the Legend.
The food was consistently excellent; the only disappointment was that the "medium well" steaks we ordered for the children arrived quite rare. Bar service in the main dining room was very slow, both in finding find the pink-coated waiters, and finally receive your libation.
Our children (6 and 8) were delighted with Club Ocean, the children's program. They wanted to attend every available moment. The children's counselors appeared qualified and energetic, and we left the children in their sparkling-clean facility with confidence. The check-in/check-out procedure was a little cumbersome, often requiring the parents to stand in line. Our 8-year-old turned nine at the end of the trip, and he felt some of the activities in the 6-to-8 age group were too "baby-ish" for him, but he wanted to keep going back anyway.
Entertainment was also greatly superior to our experience on the Legend in 2001. We attended almost all of the shows, including the magician, comedians, and musicals, and found them to be pretty darn good. (On our previous cruise the comedian was so awful that we walked out.) The opening night show was especially entertaining, as it showcased several of the performers from throughout the week.
The Grandeur of the Seas herself was in good condition. The carpets were kept quite clean, the only exception being the spots below the door hinges in our cabin. We checked into a clean cabin, with no fingerprints, hairs in the cupboards, or previous passengers' shoes under the bed (all problems that we found in our previous cruise.) The bathroom mirror was a little aged, the lining was warped inside the bathroom cabinets, and our first set of drinking glasses included one with an obvious lipstick mark.
If you're a family of four considering squeezing into one normal cabin, I can assure you that it's not too bad. The drop-down bunks are pretty comfortable, and the cabin steward hides them again each morning. You can put skinny suitcases under the bed, and you can also ask your cabin steward to take your empty suitcases away for the week. There were 11 drawers in the cabin, only three of them large, and a full-length closet rail. Pack some of your garments on wire hangers to make better use of the closet for a party of four. Each of the four beds has its own reading light, allowing the parents to read after the kids go to sleep. We found that as long as everyone put their shoes in the closet, there was enough floor space for all of us to change for dinner without elbowing each other or embarking on a "He's in my way!" negotiation.
We were quite unhappy with the Key West arrival. The ship's itinerary said arrival would be at 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. (different info from different sources). But there were two problems with this. First, that is ship's time (New Orleans time) and not Key West local time, which is an hour later. Second, the INS required an inspection of every single person on board before anyone could depart, requiring an extra 90 minutes; this procedure has been occurring for about four months. Neither of these delays was mentioned in any pre-cruise information. I had booked a 2:30 sailboat right there at the marina, and had to watch from Deck 9 as it motored out of the marina without us. Either one of the problems would have caused us to miss the sailboat. Royal Caribbean should be more explicit about the disembarkation time in Key West. By the way, passengers started getting off at 4:00 p.m. Key West time.
A note about weekending in New Orleans before/after the cruise with young Children: We spent the night before in a nice little hotel in the French Quarter, and the night after in a Marriott Courtyard in the warehouse district only three blocks from the cruise ship pier. Staying in the French Quarter was too wild for young children -- very noisy drunkenness and music all night long, and women lifting their tops to earn beads. Instead I'd recommend the warehouse district - Embassy Suites, Marriott Courtyard, Residence Inn - which is literally walking distance from the cruise ship (given luggage on wheels). It's also walking distance to the excellent Aquarium, and a nice trolley car ride ($1.25) to the beautiful zoo. Take a bus, trolley or cab into the French Quarter to enjoy a horse-drawn carriage tour, beignets at Café Du Monde, and a game of tag in Jackson Square park.
Also a consideration when cruising with young children on spring break: It's spring break for the college kids, too, and they are in "party" moods on the ship and the ports. This didn't dampen our family's experience, but we were often aware that our activities sometimes overlapped when our agendas didn't.