Arrival We selected this itinerary for our spring break cruise with our two teenagers, our second RCL cruise, 17th overall. We flew down the morning of departure to New Orleans, arriving at the airport about 11:40am. We had arranged for a limo with an agency we found on the web boards, and a white stretch limo with a bottle of champagne was waiting for us by 12:15 in the parking garage across from baggage carousel number eight, as they had said it would be. While the emails from the vendor indicated we could pay by credit card, the driver would only take cash. The limo is cheaper than a taxi for four. We arrived at the Juliett St Terminal with 9 bags about 12:45, and whisked through embarkation process in 20 minutes. They did have us fill out a SARS virus questionnaire. We were aboard by 1:10pm, with sailing scheduled for 5pm, so had plenty of time to explore, check dining table assignment, and have lunch before the scheduled 4:30pm life boat drill. We purchased a soft drink sticker for my son for $23 for unlimited fountain drinks. We also purchased a 12 drink, nonalcoholic, card for my daughter for $21 which included "smoothies", which are her favorite. Our bags arrives about 3:30pm
Cabin Grandeur is in fine shape, showing no wear, in our opinion. We were assigned two adjoining balcony cabins on deck 7, starboard side, just aft of midships. Each cabin had a queen sized bed made from two twins but were very comfortable. They each also had a sofa bed that opened into a double. There was plenty of storage of two people per cabin, but four would have been tight. Lots of small shelves, cabinets, and a mini-refrigerator, dressing table, coffee table, and two chairs and a small table on the balcony. The balconies are very private, with no observation at all from above, and from the adjacent balcony you would have to lean or peer to see the next balcony. The standard bathroom had a shampoo dispenser in the shower, but no other amenities. The one drawback to the location was that the cabins were located over the Schooner Bar and they played music and vocals there until about 12:30am which could be heard in the cabin.
We were assigned table for four, as requested, table 136 on the main floor of the Great Gatsby dining room. It is a large two level room, the main floor on deck 4. The lunch in the Windjammer Café on deck 9, the pool, solarium, and spa deck, was typical buffet fare, but had the addition of a taco bar, a sandwich or wrap bar, and a dessert buffet. The Windjammer is a light, airy room in the front of the ship overlooking the bow, unlike most other ships where the buffet room is all the way aft on the ship. I liked the arrangement.
Lifeboat drill in mandatory, and they repeatedly announced they were checking cabins to ensure everyone was on deck. Due to late arrival on the pier of some supplies, the ship sailed about 45 minutes late, at 5:45pm. As daylight savings time had arrived the week before, the first two hours of the trip down river to the gulf was in daylight. The old Commodore Lines Enchanted Isle is still moored, rusting, downriver.
Food My impression on my first RCL cruise about 4 years ago was that RCL had great physical plant, layouts and mediocre food. For the first half of the cruise I felt the same. I expect cruise food to have a "wow" factor, and things I don't cook at home. The basic lunch and dinner menus for the dining room are contained in the Welcome directory in the cabin, so we could see what to expect and could plan our wine accordingly. We bring our own champagne for cabin consumption and wine for the dining room, were we gladly pay the $8 corkage fee, when/if they charge it (5 of 7 nights this week).
The lunch in the Windjammer Café on deck 9, where the pool, solarium, and spa are also located, was typical buffet fare, but had the addition of a taco bar, a sandwich or wrap bar, and a dessert buffet. The Windjammer is a light, airy room in the front of the ship overlooking the bow, unlike most other ships where the buffet room is all the way aft on the ship. I liked the arrangement. For dinners we were assigned a table for four, as requested, table 136 on the main floor of the Great Gatsby dining room. It is a large two level room, the main floor on deck 4.
Each day the lunch and dinner menus are posted outside the dining room by morning, and there are a few additions beyond the basic menu. Regardless of the menu, every day options include New York strip steak and Norwegian salmon. The directory had listed no lobster night, no escargot, no beef Wellington or Chateaubriand. But, fortunately, they saved the best for last. Day 4 was a Mardi Gras dinner, with typical Louisiana/New Orleans fare, including shrimp etoufee, gumbo, catfish and fried chicken, followed by an optional terrific serving of Bananas Foster, if desired. We also had escargot, shrimp cocktail and lobster on the second formal night -day 6 after leaving Key West early in the day. Other entrees we enjoyed included Duck ala Orange, strip sirloin and filet mignon steaks with bernaise sauce, rack of lamb and roast lamb, a variety of fish including tilapia, cod, halibut, mahi-mah, salmon and others. Breakfast in the dining room includes eggs benedict every day, and the Windjammer breakfast includes all the usual buffet items plus eggs and omelets to order. No tomato juice for us type 2 diabetics, though. Only fruit juices. There were two midnight buffets, a chocolate buffet early in the week, and the Grand buffet on Thursday, the second formal night. In the end, I was well satisfied with the food. One night the waiters danced with lighted cakes on their heads, another night they marched and sang, and the last night they all paraded to the stairway in the dining room carrying national flags. The Matre De was very visible, stopped by the table every night, and even sampled our wines when I offered him the opportunity. The Wait Staff was efficient, and even perhaps a bit too quick for my taste. But they remembered our preferences for tea or milk, or a fruit and cheese plate for dessert.
We enjoyed room service full breakfast on the balcony twice, and my kids enjoyed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and other snack, including pizza slices from room service. The normal room service 24-hour menu is somewhat limited, but during dining room lunch and dinner hours the full menu from the dining room is available from room service.
Entertainment The welcome show the first night was a comedian and welcome by the cruise director and dancers. The evening shows in the Palladium generally offered a first show at 7pm for those who had late seating at dinner, and another show, at 9pm, I believe, for those who went to main seating so they could attend after dinner. Sunday night was a Review of Broadway musical shows. Monday was another comedian. Tuesday was a show, The Beat Goes On, a musical review of the 50's through the 90's. Wednesday, where the ship remains overnight in Key West, was an Illusionist. Thursday was an impressionist, and Friday they had a matinee show at 2pm, their first ever they said, a Carol King Tapestry musical review. In addition to the usual bingo and casino, ice carving, napkin folding, and cooking demos and wine tasting for those interested, there were multiple venues for dancing from pre-dinner through late night. One we especially enjoyed was the Glen Fox Trio playing in the Centrum Lounge. Most nights when there wasn't a reception planned there, in the South Pacific Lounge the show band played dance music ranging from big band sounds to 50-60's night, to 70'-90's mix. The Viking Crown Lounge had romantic dancing most nights for an hour before it turned into a disco at 10:30. No one under 18 allowed in the disco.
Children There are organized programs for children 6-10 years, 11-14. and 15-17, with a daily schedule of events delivered to the cabins. There is also baby-sitting service available in cabin with 24 hour advance request, and centralized baby sitting in the children's center for the younger ones. As it was spring break for our 13 and 15 year old, there were a significant number of children and teens aboard, but not so many as to be disruptive. The Solarium Pool and Hot tubs enforce a rule that no one under 16 is allowed, despite the nearby pizza/hamburger station. This is a lovely lounging area around the pool with the retractable roof. Water kept at 77 degrees in the pool with some powerful water jets in it. The main, open-air pool was where the children congregated.
Special Events As it was Holy Week, and Passover, the ship had some accommodations for this. A Catholic priest had mass every day in the South Pacific Lounge at 8am. On Friday of Passover there was an interfaith service also in the afternoon.
The Captain's Welcome aboard reception was held on Sunday, the first formal night, with mixed drinks and light appetizers served by roaming waiters. Photos/portraits are available only for about three one-hour periods, an hour before the two dinner seatings and one hour after. Lines were shorter than we had experienced on other lines. The Crown & Anchor Society/Repeaters Reception was held on Monday evening, with champagne for all and hot and cold appetizers from self-service buffet stations. The Crown & Anchor Society Platinum and Diamond level reception was held on Thursday from 11:45am-12:30pm in the Viking Crown Lounge, and offered champagne, steamed shrimp, hot and cold appetizers, and even a free "smoothie" for my daughter. These were easily the best such events we have attended in 17 cruises. The Captain, a 37 year old Argentinean, is personable, mixes a lot, and has sense of humor. In addition to his shipboard experience, he also has helped in the construction/outfitting of Voyager class vessels. Repeaters/Crown & Anchor Society members also receive a coupon booklet for free wine tasting, a 2 for 1 drink, spa and shop discounts, bingo cards, and the casino. I was surprised at how few tuxedos were worn on either formal night, less than I have observed on any of our 17 cruises except on Royal clipper. The first one was listed as "Formal Desired", the second as "Formal/Suit and Tie." There are far more tuxedos today on Carnival Spirit class ships than on the Grandeur last week. We enjoy, especially my wife and daughter, dressing formally once in a while, and even my teen-aged son seems to feel special dressed in his tux. They also have a flower cart available every night before dinner. I prefer to have corsages made up for my wife and daughter, and they readily accommodated me when I stopped by the purser's desk to inquire. I found our later that the head housekeeper made them up: a single red rose with baby's breath for my wife and a similar one for a wrist corsage for my daughter. A little duct tape added to the installed safety pin and wrist ribbon tie---a newly discovered additional use of duct tape.
Grandeur, homeported in New Orleans, tries to continue the theme, focused on the Louisiana Bicentennial, by offering daily Louisiana based classic movies, zydeco dance lessons several days, a Mardi Gras theme dinner, and a late night Mardi Gras dance party. We brought our beads and masks, but few others did. The late night get together was a disappointment, as it was mostly line dancing and reggae music from the pool band, and a taco buffet bar, no less. The staff tossed a few beads and masks but that was about it for the late night Mardi Gras event.
A personal observation I made was how receptive the staff was to special requests. Whether it was my request for corsages, or a special request for a birthday cake for my about to become a teen daughter, or a request to accommodate us for late delivery of an invitation to our cabin, or to make an adjustment on our account, the staff seemed generally eager to please us. Ports Calls Progresso: Arrived in Progresso at 8am. We went ashore about 10:30 and rode a free shuttle bus down the 3 mile length of the pier into town. We visited the local indoor market which included butchers, a fish market which included sharks, a local version of a food court, and general shops. Across the street was an open tourist market next to the local library, where the shuttle bus drops people off. T-shirts were 5 for $20, necklaces $4, and so on. They accepted US currency and gave change in USD. We then walked to the beach, which is just east of the long pier. It is on the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, so the prevailing winds are a bit stronger and the water is churned and sandy. Fine for body surfing but not suitable for snorkeling at all. The beachfront is lined for blocks with restaurants and bars, and on the beach are tented areas where food and beverage can be served by the restaurants. There were plenty of lounge chairs and no one asked us for any rental fee in the several hours we were there. We ate at one of the restaurants, name in Spanish: The Old Man & the Sea. They have bathrooms and changing areas in the restaurant, and they accept Visa cards. There are many roaming vendors, but they are not persistent and move on if you show no interest. We paid $34 for 4 beers, 2 large bottles of coke, nachos for two, grilled marinated shrimp, and a chili cheeseburger. The last bus to the ship left at 4pm, and the ship sailed at 4:30.
Cozumel: We have been here numerous times and love Cozumel. After many trips to Chankanaab we decided to try the beach resort at Playa Sol, which I had not visited in years. The ship arrived at 9am, and the Carnival Holiday and Victory were already there at the new international pier. We berthed at the next pier, closer to town, where Senor Frogs has opened a ½ Senor Frogs, with a pool. The duty free shops here are not as elaborate as those at the newer pier. Taxi for 4 to Playa Sol was $14. Admission, including all facilities, is $8 each, and I had a $1 coupon from their website. You need one coupon per person and the website isn't always up. For those wanting unlimited beer and rum punch and soft drinks, the cost is $30 each, and for unlimited beverage and a luncheon buffet the cost is $37, a bit much in my opinion. I purchased a beer and a rum punch for $8. They take VISA at the gate. Snorkeling was fair, with some underwater manmade Mayan structures where fish congregate. Water is clear, but there were many tiny jellyfish. I felt no sting, however. Lounge chairs are included in the admission fee, but beach umbrellas may be rented for $4. There are showers and restrooms, but no lockers that I could see. We then took a taxi into the far end of town for $20. Visited Diamonds International to replace my wife's engagement ring, which they had ready, after swapping stones, in an hour. We stopped at Viva Mexico to shop and then walked to the new location of Senor Frogs and Carlos and Charlie's at the extreme other end of the waterfront strip. Carlos and Charlie's is now a first floor venue, and Senor Frogs is above it on the second floor. Both are owned by the same family. My daughter had a Yard of virgin strawberry daiquiri and announced that when she grows up she wants to go there and live at Senor Frogs. Wrong! As usual we had a great time and lunch there. They also take VISA. Taxi back to the ship was $10 and we returned to the ship by the 5pm deadline.
Key West: Arrived at 11:30 at the channel. US Immigration reps boarded and spent the next two hours, while the ship steamed in and berthed at the Hilton/Hyatt piers, checking everyone' passports or birth certificates and picture ID's. We were the only ship in port that day. They allowed passengers ashore by 1:45pm and we left about 2:30. We walked around Duval Street, toured the Curry Mansion in where my wife and I had stayed for a week several years ago, visited Fat Tuesday's and Hard Rock Café, then headed to the Half Shell Raw Bar for lunch. We enjoyed fish and chips made from mahi-mahi, a pound of Key West Gold (large steamed shrimp), conch chowder and conch fritters, and an oyster shooter which includes a free glass. The latter is not on the menu and you have to ask for it. With beers, soda's and tips it was just over $50. Half Shell is a Key West institution, on the waterfront, no pretense, but great food. After Key Lime Pie on a stick, we wandered back to Mallory Square for the sunset events preceding the 7:45pm EDT sunset. We enjoyed the unicyclist, the one man band, dog show, acrobats, artisans and food booths. Since the ship remains on New Orleans CDT all week, we returned in plenty of time for our 8:30pm second seating dinner. After dinner we walked back briefly into town with my 13 year old daughter, but she was not allowed with us in Sloppy Joe's or Irish Kevin's, so we were not able to do the night time pub crawl we had looked forward to. The ship doesn't sail until 5:30am the next day.
Debarkation On Friday colored luggage tags were distributed based on your departure flight arrangements. With a 12:20 flight we obtained orange tags. Bags were to be put in the halls between 7 and 11pm. Comment cards were distributed. If you prefer to have gratuities charged to you Sea Pass card, you must submit a form by Wednesday. Otherwise envelopes are available for use on the last night. Comment cards are distributed on Friday, as are customs declaration forms. The ship sailed upriver Friday night arriving about 3am in New Orleans. by the 7am wake up call all bags were already ashore. They asked they we vacate our cabins by 8am. The Windjammer serves breakfast 6:30 to 8am, and the dining room from 7-8:30. by 8:30 the ship had been cleared and the first tags called. We were in the second set of tags, and were called as we finished our breakfast. No one even asked for the customs declaration. Our bags were waiting and we were at the curb before 9am. Our limo was not there, and we had to call the dispatcher, as the number we had went to voice mail. The limo arrived about 9:35 and we were at the airport by 10am for our flight. The embarkation and debarkation are remarkably quick and easy. I was impressed.
In summary, we loved the ship, enjoyed itinerary, and would enjoy the same cruise on the same ship again. What higher compliment can I pay? It is funny how a 2,100 passenger, 7 year old ship is thought of as old with all the new behemoths coming on line. I prefer this size and style of ship. Well done, Grandeur.