Embarkation - All went smoothly, although a little slow, due to the extra security. RCI is doing something new however, for Platinum and Diamond 'Crown & Anchor' members. We say "new," because we may have been the first ones (experimental group?), or maybe they have done this since they opened the new terminal . They have a special room set aside at the terminal; I believe it's called the 'Crown and Anchor Room.' We arrived for embarkation early, as did about half of all who were sailing, and were directed to this 'special' room, for 'special' treatment and had all the paperwork completed and our cabin keycard in our hands about 3 minutes after we arrived. We were then directed to the stairs leading to the gangway. We passed a very long line of people who, we thought, still had to register, or didn't have a clue what line they were in. We bobbed and weaved our way to the stairs, when we were stopped by security and almost accosted by an angry mob. They thought we were "cutting in," and since they had been standing in line for "hours," they were ready to attack. No one understood (or cared) that we just were doing as we were told. So we meekly walked all the way to the back of the line. All-in-all, we still boarded the ship around 12:15PM.
Preface - First of all, we have to say, we've cruised on the Grandeur of the Seas in 1997 and have done this exact same itinerary sailing the Splendour of the Seas in 1999. So, this was meant to be, and was, a totally relaxing cruise.
Overall Impression - This was a wonderful cruise, but then again, out of the 15 we've been on, we haven't hit a bad one yet. The Grandeur had just had a 'spiffing up' in October, so she looked shipshape, fresh, clean and sparkling. We had lots of sunny warm days (9, I believe) 1 cloudy day, comfortable nights, and only a couple of minute showers. The seas were relatively calm with a couple of light rock and roll nights. But for anyone contemplating this cruise, or any other cruise, these weather and sea conditions shouldn't be taken as the norm. However, we find that this time period is ideal sailing for us. Both the staff and entire crew were very friendly and cooperative, with no false airs about their pleasantness toward the guests. We were always greeted with a friendly "Hello," and a smile, and we believe they were genuine. The ship was only 3/4 of capacity and was dominated mostly by seniors, with just a handful of young adults, and the fewest number of children we've ever experienced. This ship and cruise would be ranked right up there as 'one of the best' and we'd strongly consider repeating it. Actually, we tried, but the Cruise Consultant on board wasn't available most of the time, and her computer, with a direct link to Miami, was down the entire cruise. We did find out that the new Brilliance of the Seas will be taking over this itinerary in 2002.
Cabin - C8088 - Bridge Deck - category C - stern cabin - We've never had a balcony cabin at the back of the ship before, but now believe that is the place to be. We spend a good amount of time, day and night, on the balcony. It's especially enjoyable after the shows and casino, looking at the stars and the moon and listening to the sound of the Caribbean Ocean rushing pass us. Our stern balcony was large, measuring 12' X 12,' with 2 straight back chairs, 3 chaise lounges, and 2 small side tables. Starboard and portside balconies for category C are approximately 6 1/2' X 11 1/2.' On the way back to Miami (the last 2 days at sea), we did have sun most of the day out there. The cabin was roomy with lots of storage space, some of which we didn't even use. Like the balcony, there was plenty of room to move about in comfort and relax, with 2 easy chairs, 2 hassocks (also used for storage) a sleeper sofa, coffee table, 2 beds made into a queen, refrigerator, safe and generous sized bathroom with tub. We could have called this cabin "home" on a longer cruise; it was that nice. The cabin could have been even roomier if one of the easy chairs were removed. We did do some rearranging. We have heard and read that there was excessive vibration and noise in the aft and stern cabins. There was very little of both; you could hear/feel it once in awhile, but one could simply say that a ship is a moving vehicle. The biggest disadvantage to having our cabin, is that it is above the galley, so you smelled food being prepared all the time. Even after you've just completed a 5 course dinner, and you walk out onto your balcony, you get the aroma, and you say, "Wow, does that smell good!" or, "When do we eat again?"
Passengers - If we were young adults, which we aren't, I would definitely say this was a geriatric group, so this particular sailing was not for the younger generation. Probably 75% were seniors, 20% middle aged, and only 5% younger families and younger couples, and we'd guesstimate 10% were not from the states. Being 'people watchers,' we observed many passengers, and found them very demanding and constantly complaining about something. From the moment we boarded the ship, there were people demanding an upgrade (until they found out they had to pay for one); complaining about not getting off the ship early enough at the ports of call; the hours set for breakfast, lunch and dinner; food; service, and it went on and on. We found it amusing, especially when you heard something like " .... and I never saw my cabin steward until the third day." That's not the same as "..... my room hasn't been made up in three days." All this was, we're sure, detrimental to the staff and crew. We couldn't have disagreed more with these complainers. Again, it was a perfect, or as near perfect a cruise as we've had so far. They just seem to get better.
Staff and Crew - This was one of the friendliest cruises we've been on. All members of the staff and crew had a sincere smile and a pleasant 'Hello." The Purser greeted us by name, and we wrote a note to the Captain praising the Purser for his kindly assistance, and the Captain sent the note back to the Purser with a 'pat on the back' comment. Our Head Waiter also referred to us by name, as did our room steward, waiter, and assistant waiter (although he had trouble with his "t's" for one of our table mates). We asked several Head Waiters the very first day about a particular dining room staff member, someone who was our waiter on our very first cruise, and was kind of an influence on our desire to continue to. We did hook up with him back in '97 on the Grandeur, and was pleasantly surprised that he was still in the business, but this time, as a Head Waiter. Of course, all the Head Waiters knew Apollo, and ran over to get him. We hooked up once again, and he is now a Senior Head Waiter. It was fun reliving old times.
Pool Seats - The age old problem of saving or reserving pool lounges wasn't really an issue on this cruise. It happened a few times, but with very few people. Pool attendants placed towels over the lounge arm early every morning and these few "lounge hogs" were quick to take them and place on the back, and one or two more on the seat to make them look used and/or reserved. Then they would place a personal item (cap, book, t-shirt, etc.) to cement the fact that that was their 'place' for the day. This ritual usually occurs between 6:30AM - 8:30AM, but the occupants wouldn't show up until near noontime. We were very tempted to run around and remove towels from the savers chairs , but resisted the urge! The days at sea are tough in that everyone wants to be poolside. If everyone who wanted to be by the pool occupied chairs while there and vacated them when they've had enough sun, there would be more than adequate space for everyone, even if they later chose to return. Fortunately, this wasn't a major problem, since this group of passengers were late risers anyway.
Shows - We didn't attended most of the shows, but they seemed to been pretty good, based on what others have said - spent most of the evening in the casino or out on deck. We also heard that this was a tough crowd to please - couldn't get them excited about much, although everyone seemed to enjoy the Coasters performance.
Food - First, and foremost, in everybody's mind, is FOOD. This is where RCI has to do a little more work. We rated the overall quality as good, but with a lot of room for improvement. We had our dinners at the Main Seating in the Gatsby Restaurant every night, and the service by our waiter and assistant waiter were excellent. What we were pleasantly surprised at was that the headwaiters were very visible, always around, worked, and visited every table every evening. This was the first cruise we experienced the workings of headwaiters. We did lunch in the main dining room most of the time and the buffet lunch in the Windjammer Cafe a few days. We had a hamburger (once) in the Solarium, and found it lacking. Actually, the hamburger offered in the main dining room was far superior to that served in the Solarium. We did do breakfast in the main dining room every other day - no one does Eggs Benedict as well as RCI!! The dining room has open seating for both breakfast and lunch. It was a pleasant surprise to find the wait staff so friendly and accommodating, even though they weren't our "regular" waiter assistant, and headwaiter.
We ate in the Windjammer Cafe (buffet) for lunch twice, but found the buffet menus weren't very exciting to us. However, they must have been for others because there were constant lines, but no real crowding and shoving. Once again, staff members were very friendly here also.
Here are our food breakdown ratings: breads and rolls - excellent, appetizers - v. good, entrees - good (also note, very few beef entrees), desserts - v. good.
Shore Excursions - Having already been to all the ports of call in the past (Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, Aruba, Curacao), we didn't do any tours; kind of went off and did our own thing - mostly just poking around the stores, made a few purchases, and did a couple of beaches, and rented a Jeep in Aruba (from Amigo Car Rentals). But, RCI has done a great job of providing an ample number of varied excursions, so there are plenty to choose from for both first timers and experienced cruisers. Montego Bay is the only port that they didn't provide excursion information prior to sailing. This may have been due to the civil disturbances Jamaica had earlier in the year, so they left it out of their tour publication.
Overall Impression - We'd do this cruise again in a heartbeat. The new Brilliance of the Seas will be taking over this itinerary in 2002. Unfortunately, the onboard Cruise Consultant wasn't of much help - wasn't there, was sick, broken computer connection with headquarters, etc. This was a part-time position, soon to be full-time, so maybe more can/will be done. But, the Grandeur itself, is wonderful, kept up very well, and is neither large to small.