Before I begin this review, I must offer a disclaimer that I have previously sailed on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Grandeur of the Seas several times in recent years. She is a favorite ship of mine for many reasons and I had certain expectations of her before I even boarded. While the ship is older and getting ready for a full dry dock sometime in 2017, there are certain repairs and modifications that were ongoing during the voyage that took away from the ship’s usability and enjoyment. It did not ruin the cruise but it certainly didn’t enhance it either.
This particular cruise was a 9-day late June cruise round-trip out of Baltimore, where the ship is home ported throughout the year. Baltimore is an easy departure port with lots of folks choosing to simply drive to the pier. There is ample parking there and there are numerous local hotels offering Stay, Park, and Cruise packages making it easy to drive in the night before and be delivered to the ship the next morning. This particular cruise had an unusual twist. It was an off-season Canada / New England cruise that called on Boston, MA, Portland, ME, Bar Harbor, ME as well as St. John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia. While this itinerary is common in the fall, only a few lines offer the itinerary in summer. Since I love all of these ports and I had never sailed there in summer, I was sold!
Shortly after arrival at the port of Baltimore, we checked our luggage with a porter and entered the terminal. Greeted by friendly check-in personnel and a small security line, we were through the embarkation process and onboard in about 30 minutes. Awesome! Once aboard, the usual lunch offerings at the Windjammer and Park Café were offered. Lunch was satisfying and enjoyed in the ship’s Solarium, a covered pool area that also houses the Park Café. Cabin were made available to guests at 1:30 and as soon as the announcement came, folks scattered to check out their digs for the next 9 days.
Since Grandeur was built before the days of numerous balcony cabins on ships, balcony and better cabins tend to be a little pricy and not as readily available unless you book in advance. I booked this cruise 4 days before she sailed so I settled for a comfortable oceanview style cabin on Deck 3. Again, this ship is older but the accommodations were quite nice. The only real complaint in the cabin was a sink drain plunger that didn’t operate properly. You could seal the sink or you could remove the plunger, nothing in between. Also, water saving faucets were installed in the sinks years ago and they are so stingy with water, you are lucky to rinse the toothpaste out of your toothbrush. Also, there no refrigerators in interior and oceanview cabins. These are minor annoyances but could use improving. The carpet was newer and the furniture was in good shape although the night stand drawers opened and closed on their own depending on the motion of the ship.
With two sea days to start the trip, there was plenty of time to explore and see all this grand lady has to offer. Let’s start with the food. I have commented in other reviews that cruise ship food, overall, has suffered in the past decade. It’s not quantity – there is food everywhere and just about all the time. It is the quality that has suffered. Grandeur is no exception although the specialty restaurants, Chops, Izumi, and Giovanni’s Table, offer a great alternative to the main Dining room, are reasonably priced, and are quite good. I started the cruise in Chops, the casual steakhouse found aboard most Royal Caribbean ships. I dined here three times over the voyage and had the Everything Tuna, the Filet Mignon, and the Surf and Turf combo of Filet Mignon and the most delicious lobster tail I can remember having at sea. Service is typically good and the views of the ocean are excellent. Great appetizers and desserts round out this recommended dining experience.
Izumi is another Royal Caribbean staple found on many of the ships and it is done particularly well on Grandeur. It is in the upper level of the Viking Crown where the views are spectacular. The specialty is sushi and sashimi but there are other choices like the fabulous Hot Rock dishes where an extremely hot rock is brought to your table and your entrée is cooked and simmered before your eyes. This is a wonderful tableside presentation of food and makes the night even more special. A selection of Saki is available and the appetizers and desserts were excellent. This is an easy recommendation for at least one night’s dining on Grandeur.
Giovanni’s Table is a mixed bag for me. It is not billed as a gourmet dining establishment but rather family style Italian dinner. It delivers on family style but I found the food quality and presentation to be average at best. Again, it is less expensive than Chops or Izumi so I wasn’t expecting too much from this restaurant but I went there twice and left feeling just OK each time. They ran out of their famous dessert cannolis on my second visit which wasn’t a deal breaker but it had been one of the highlights from the first visit so it was a disappointment they weren’t available second time around.
With 6 of 9 nights accounted for with specialty dining, you might be wondering about the Great Gatsby Dining Room where the majority of guests dine most nights. I went there on three occasions and left unimpressed each time. That is not to say the service is bad or the staff isn’t trying. Just the opposite. These waiters and assistants can’t do enough for you. They are attentive and are doing their best to balance the demand for food and service with what the galley can prepare for them. The first night escargot, a favorite was brought to the table by a waiter holding a napkin to protect his hand from the heat of the metal plate. The escargot was not even warm. In fact, the plate was cold to the touch. Now the flambe marks across the top of the plate indicate this dish was piping hot at some point, just not when it was served. After informing the waiter of the problem, he returned only to tell us there was no more and the kitchen was now closed. Keep in mind this is while they are letting you know how important it is to rate them “excellent” on the comment card at the end of the cruise… The escargot was just one of several such lousy food incidents in the Great Gatsby Dining Room. Fortunately, there were numerous hot hors d’oeuvres available in the Concierge Lounge enjoyed by Royal Caribbean repeat cruisers who have achieved a status of Diamond or above so I never went to the Great Gatsby Dining Room on an empty stomach so leaving without feeling particularly satisfied was not that big of a deal. However, if I was counting on a gourmet meal each of the 9 nights I was onboard and only ate at the Great Gatsby, I would have been mightily disappointed.
Daytime dining options are another story. Breakfast onboard is available in the Great Gatsby and is quite good. The Windjammer offers breakfast and lunch options every day and puts out a nice spread even though I don’t particularly care for buffets and only ate one lunch there during the cruise. The Park Café is an excellent choice for healthy breakfast and light lunch entrees although it isn’t open for lunch on port days. There were also a few specialty brunches offered at Chops on sea days. I didn’t go so I can’t comment but I know a few folks who went and said they left stuffed and content!
A cruise isn’t a cruise without entertainment. There is plenty to enjoy on Grandeur in the Palladium Theater. You can see their Broadway style shows and specialty performers on different nights of the cruise. On this voyage, there was a juggler, a comedian, a singer and the performance cast in several numbers. I have to admit to not going to any of these shows as I have seen all of them before but if you are looking for entertainment, there is plenty. One of the acts I did enjoy a lot was the Harmony duo, a pianist and a violinist that had an endless repertoire of classical and contemporary tunes, expertly played. They performed regularly in the Centrum, where you can also watch daring feats of aerial dance several decks off the ground floor. “Seasons” is a show not to be missed in the Centrum. It is spectacular!
Elsewhere in the ship is a casino, numerous shops, a photo gallery, a really good coffee bar with Starbuck’s coffee, numerous bars, an indoor and an outdoor pool, a health club, a spa, and even a walking/jogging track for working off some of that food you’ve been enjoying around the ship. There are groups that meet to play games, trivia, dance lessons, singles get-togethers, and more. It seems there is always something going on somewhere on this ship and it is small enough and friendly enough that you may even bump into the same folks time and time again. You can’t say that about some of the new megaships afloat today.
Speaking of friendly, the staff and crew are some of the friendliest afloat and one of the reasons that Grandeur has such a loyal following of passengers. My Mom sails this ship quite often and seeing as we had cell service the first night afloat, I had her on the phone and video chatting with a few of her favorites as we set sail from Baltimore. They exchanged hugs and kisses over the phone as if they were long last family. That is the kind of friendliness you can expect from this ship. It’s like coming home.
This itinerary is a winner, in my opinion. If you’ve ever cruised Canada / New England in the fall, you know how busy the ports can be when several cruise ships are in port at the same time. Sailing in late June (and again in early August), Grandeur gives you the privilege of being the only ship in port and not competing for resources with other passenger from other ships. Boston is still busy in June because it such a popular place. However, sharing the terminal with one other ship that day meant having numerous busses and other tour operators ready to take you around at your leisure. I walked the city and logged 10 miles on foot and loved every minute of the Boston waterfront on a summer day. I’ve done the same walk in October when it was grey and a bit chilly. Summer wins! The same was true in Portland and Bar Harbor where Grandeur was the only ship in port. While the weather turned a bit stormy in Canada, St John New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia were easy ports to navigate when you’re the only ship in town!
The other highlight of the itinerary was the wildlife seen from the ship. Pods of dolphins were regularly encountered as were quite a few whales who could be seen spouting not far from the ship off the coast of Long Island on the way home. Harbor seals were found in New Brunswick as we entered and left the port. Awesome!
One of the only real complaints I had with the ship was the constant grinding and welding going on in the Viking Crown. There is a large sign and blocked off area on the walking track that explains that the ship is being fit with a scrubber that will help clean the air from the ship’s exhaust discharge. Apparently this project has been going on for months and it is massive in nature. I get that but what I don’t understand is how the noise in the Viking Crown can be overlooked by passengers or how the hot embers that are falling to deck below the workers can be tolerated. It effects passenger comfort and quality of experience. The noise in the Viking Crown is so loud at times, that they actually closed off a section to guests. Even in our Concierge Lounge, we often heard the incessant grinding. This made me give the ship a “not ready for prime time this time” rating. Suite guests, who have use of the Concierge Lounge for their personal use while onboard were most certainly not enjoying this noise. My guess is that there is nothing the line can do about it as the scrubber is installed but they should consider the implications to their top cruisers and suite guests who use the Concierge Lounge on a nightly basis.
So you may be wondering if you should sail on the Grandeur of the Seas. My answer is that you should but you should sail her with your eyes wide open and with your expectation set appropriately. If you are looking for the latest and greatest amenities, you will be disappointed. If you prefer the joys of a smaller ship and excellent service, you will enjoy this ship. If you require gourmet dining and a multitude of specialty restaurants, you will be disappointed. If you are content with typical cruise ship fare for dinner and some really nice daytime dining options, you will enjoy this ship. If you want to see how grand the Grandeur of the Seas can be, I might suggest you wait to sail her until after her dry dock in 2017 is behind her. I know I can’t wait to sail her again once that is complete!