The 1,950-passenger Grandeur of the Seas, launched in early 1996, is one of Royal Caribbean's oldest (and smallest) vessels, but you'd never know it from the ship's sleek public spaces: a grand Art Deco-inspired dining room, the glitzy Palladium Theater and a sweeping six-story atrium.
You can thank a 2012 refurb for the ship's new lease on life. Royal Caribbean has spent millions of dollars to add favorite Oasis-class features to ships lacking in dining variety, balconies and all the latest bells and whistles. Post-makeover, the ship now sports updated cabins, including flat-screen TV's and shipwide Wi-Fi. Specialty dining venues (including steak, Italian and Asian restaurants), an outdoor movie screen and a redesigned atrium all give passengers more ways to enjoy their time onboard. Digital "Wayfinder" signage, large touch-screens posted by the elevators, let you browse daily activity schedules and restaurant menus, and find directions from here to there (or to the nearest bathroom) -- all in multiple languages. They're fun to play with and incredibly helpful when you can't remember whether you're forward or aft on the ship.
As for the ship itself, passenger flow is excellent. The hub of the ship is the Centrum, the six-deck atrium, with a bar and dance floor at the bottom and balcony-like walkways flanking its upper levels. Its main level is used for everything from art auctions and song-and-dance-and-aerial-acrobatics performances to cooking classes and silly games. The genius of this area is that you have to pass it to get anywhere on the ship, so even if you don't mean to stop, you get sucked into the action below and find yourself watching or joining in the fun.
Grandeur's size will never be the main draw, as it's too big to be truly intimate, but too small to compete with even Voyager-class attractions. But, with the new additions, it is a good choice for Royal Caribbean fans who simply can't stomach a 6,000-passenger vessel, but want at least some level of choice.
The guest services and shore excursion desks can be found on Deck 5 in the Centrum. Right above on Deck 6 is the photo gallery, where you can view and purchase pictures taken by the ship's photographers. Thumbs up to the machines that show you all photos of you when you insert your cruise card; thumbs down to the costumed crewmembers hounding you every day to take photos with them. Around the corner are the art auction desk and a mini-gallery and the Pets at Sea station (where, for a fee, you can stuff and accessorize a plush animal toy).
On Deck 4, adjacent to the R Bar, is the "Royal Caribbean Online" Internet lounge, which offers real-time access to the Web, 24/7. The ship is now outfitted for Wi-Fi, bow to stern, but some spots onboard may get better reception than others. You can pay for Internet as you go for 65 cents a minute, or purchase a package: $35 for 60 minutes, $55 for 100 minutes, $75 for 150 minutes, $100 for 250 minutes or $150 for 500 minutes. To use Wi-Fi on your own laptop, you must first sign up for an account at the Internet cafe. A library is also located on Deck 4's starboard side.
Conference rooms are located near the dining room on Deck 4 with a medical facility on Deck 1.
The 2012 refurbishment saw a refresh of all furniture, carpet, upholstery and linens in the Grandeur of the Seas' 975 cabins. Two categories of inside cabins range in size from 137 to 145 square feet, while standard outside cabins measure 152 square feet. Standard balcony cabins (called "superior oceanviews") are 192 square feet with 39-square-foot balconies. Balconies are each furnished with two chairs and a small table.
Standard cabins are comfortable and practical, and even the smallest feature a tiny sitting areas with sofas and coffee tables. Storage space is generous, with hanging racks and shelving in the closets, drawers and more shelves in the desks/vanities, and nightstands. Cabins feature flat-screen televisions, phones, safes and hair dryers. In-cabin TV's have a fairly expansive listing that includes CNN, Fox News, CNN Headline News, ESPN, TNT, Cartoon Network, Travel Channel, Turner Classic Movies and three movie channels.
Bathrooms have decent storage, though the showers only have one shelf and a clingy curtain. Toiletries are limited to hand soap and a mystery substance (shampoo? body wash?) in an unmarked dispenser in the shower.
Cabin service was exceptional, unobtrusive and thorough. Cabin stewards create imaginative towel-people and creatures as part of turn-down service.
Grandeur offers six types of suites. The Junior Suite (at 248 square feet with a 62-square-foot balcony) is essentially an expanded balcony cabin with a larger sitting area (sofa plus comfy chair) and a bathroom with a bathtub. Grand Suites (353 square feet, 108-square-foot balcony) are even bigger, with more distinction between the sleeping and sitting areas and a larger foyer area. The Owner's Suite (518 square feet, 112-square-foot balcony) has a separate living area with a queen-size sofa bed and several lounge chairs. The Royal Suite (1,087 square feet, 162-square-foot balcony) has a king-size bed in a separate bedroom, a large living room with a queen-size sofa bed, a baby grand piano, and a whirlpool bathtub.
Two suite categories are intended for families. The Family Junior Suite (470 square feet with 75-square-foot balcony) sleeps six with two sets of twin beds (one set in a separate room, and others, which convert to queens) and a double sofa bed in the living room. The Royal Family Suite (487 square feet with a 58-square-foot balcony) features two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with a shower, the other with a tub), and a double sofa bed and a Pullman bed in the living room. It can accommodate up to eight people.
A Concierge Lounge, carved out of the Viking Crown Lounge in 2012, is open to all suite passengers and Diamond-Plus Crown & Anchor loyalty program members. Amenities include continental breakfast (served daily from 8 to 10 a.m.), hors d'oeuvres and petit fours served in the evening, a self-service bar (no fee), movies and CD's to borrow, and business services (faxing and copying for a fee). A concierge can assist passengers in making reservations for specialty dining and shore excursions, spa and salon appointments; pre-ordering wine at dinner; and arranging private parties. Diamond Crown & Anchor members have their own lounge in the back corner of the South Pacific Lounge, with similar services.
Wheelchair-accessible cabins come in several categories: insides (258 square feet), outsides (262 square feet); balconies (350 square feet with 39-square-foot balconies); and suites (347 square feet with 74-square-foot balconies). These cabins features open bed frames, wider entry doors, space to turn, lowered vanities and closet rods, and bathrooms with wider doors, roll-in showers with fold-down benches, grab bars, raised toilets and lowered sinks.
The hub of the ship -- and its entertainment options -- is the Centrum, which got a full-on makeover in 2012. Its lowest level is Deck 4, where the R Bar serves up classic martinis in a setting that's supposed to be 1960's mod decor. The bar and additional comfy seating surround a small dance floor and bandstand. That's where all the action takes place, including art auctions, cooking demos, ballroom-dance classes and late-night themed dance parties. The Centrum space soars up to Deck 8 with a windowed ceiling on the pool deck above, and the upper reaches have been outfitted with stage lighting and rigging for aerial acrobatic performances (think high-flying bungee swings). The performances, some of which are publicized in the daily programs and some of which are serendipitous, vary in quality; if you go to only one, make it the farewell spectacular.
The ship has a few main lounges. The Palladium Theatre has excellent sightlines, seating on fixed banquettes and drink holders on armrests. Expect several performances by the ship's singers and dancers, as well as specialty acts. (Think Beatles tribute band, comedian, magic show and performances by aging celebrities.)
The clubby yet whimsical Schooner Bar has floor-to-ceiling glass windows that look onto the outdoor promenade one deck below. There, the floor by the bar is actual teak decking, varnished and polished to a rich, glossy mahogany sheen. Several tables feature ersatz bits of masts and rigging sprouting from them like transformed umbrellas. A piano with singalong seating is there for evening entertainment and trivia game purposes.
The South Pacific Lounge, located at the stern, is the ship's secondary performance venue, but it's strangely off-the-beaten-track, as you must walk through the Schooner Bar to get to it. It plays host to art auctions, bingo games, dance lessons and dancing to live bands, karaoke and various presentations, from future cruise sales to shopping talks.
The most recognizable public room on Grandeur of the Seas is Royal Caribbean's signature Viking Crown Lounge. With the addition of Izumi and the Concierge Lounge in the same space, the area feels less open and more chopped up than before. It's still a lovely spot to watch sailaway from indoors, and it's also the late-night disco venue.
Casino Royale on Deck 5 has slot machines and all the requisite card tables (poker, blackjack, craps, etc.).
On warm-weather itineraries, the pool deck is the place to go for belly-flop competitions, ice-carving demos and a men's sexy legs contest.
On port days, Royal Caribbean offers a vast array of shore excursions. We booked two of them online in advance of our cruise -- a seamless process. On a Bermuda cruise, we did a three-hour bike ride on a hiker-biker trail and a "famous homes & hideaways cruise," both well worth it.
Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $12 per person, per day ($14.25 for suite guests). Gratuities can be prepaid or will be added on a daily basis to passengers' SeaPass accounts during the cruise. Passengers can modify or remove gratuities by visiting the guest services desk while onboard. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.
Grandeur has an extensive children's program called "Adventure Ocean," for kids from ages 3 to 17. (Kids must be toilet trained; they will not be allowed in if still wearing diapers or Pull-Ups.) The children are broken up into five age groups: Aquanauts (3 to 5), Explorers (6 to 8), Voyagers (9 to 11) and two groups of Teens (12 to 14 and 15 to 17). Eighteen-year-olds are not allowed into Adventure Ocean, with no exceptions. In addition, the Royal Babies and Tots program is geared toward the littlest cruisers, ages 6 to 36 months. The three youth lounges -- Nursery, Adventure Ocean and teen disco -- are located on Deck 10.
Adventure Ocean activities, for kids ages 3 to 11, are available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 7 to 10 p.m. On port days, the center will open a half hour prior to the first excursion. Age-appropriate activities may include finger-painting, talent shows, pajama parties, karaoke, sports tournaments and scavenger hunts. Royal Caribbean also offers special kids' programs in science, art, theater and storytelling. Certain events are designated as family activities for parents and kids to do together.
Teen activity hours vary during the day and run from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. for younger teens and from 9 p.m. 'til late for older teens. Think dances and pool parties, video game play, casino nights and sports. The teen disco has a "mocktail" bar, dance floor and video game area. It's located off the all-ages arcade.
Royal Babies and Tots Programming is geared to little kids, ages 6 to 36 months, and it take place in the Nursery. The Nursery's main playroom is outfitted with all sorts of Fisher-Price toys, soft climbing structures and interactive play stations lining the walls. A huge flat-screen TV shows Sesame Street, the Wiggles and Thomas the Tank Engine videos nearly nonstop. A back room has several cribs and a changing station. Typically, the Nursery is open from 8 a.m. on port days and 9:30 a.m. on sea days through midnight.
The babies program works differently than Adventure Ocean. Most of its open hours are reserved for drop-off group baby-sitting, day or night, at a rate of $8 per hour, per child. Staff will change diapers, but you're expected to provide supplies (diapers, milk, bottles, sippy cups, etc.). Parents will receive pagers to be buzzed if there's a problem.
During late afternoon open-play sessions -- Fisher-Price playgroups and Crayola Beginnings art time -- kids can come for free, but they must be supervised by a parent. The room is a wonderful place for little ones to play, and we discovered that if no tots have been dropped off, the staff will allow parents and kids to come in for additional open play time. Families can also borrow bags of toys for the duration of the cruise -- a neat idea so you don't have to pack your toybox.
In-cabin sitting, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 2 a.m., is available through the purser's desk and must be booked at least 24 hours in advance. It's based on availability with no guarantee that a sitter will be found. Minimum age is 1 year; the charge is $19 per hour (for two hours or more) for up to three children within the same family.
Group baby-sitting for ages 3 to 11 is available from the youth staff from 10 p.m. through 2 a.m. nightly. The rate is $6 per hour, per child. (Kids must be at least 3 years old and potty-trained.)
Royal Caribbean provides Pack 'n Play porta-cribs on advance request, but standard cabins do not have curtains to divide the rooms or bathtubs. High chairs with trays are available in both the Windjammer and main dining room, as is whole milk. Royal Caribbean's Babies to Go program allows parents to preorder jarred Gerber baby food, Huggies diapers and Cotonelle wipes to be delivered to their cabins for exorbitant prices.
The main dining room does offer a kids' menu with appetizers, entrees, desserts and even virgin cocktails and frozen drinks. (Specialty drinks cost extra). The waitstaff is extremely accommodating of children and will have a fruit salad ready for them on arrival or entertain them with animals made out of napkins.
Several family-friendly dining options are also available. Lunch & Play is offered on sea days from noon to 2 p.m., when Adventure Ocean is typically closed. Counselors will supervise a boxed lunch, movie- or cartoon-watching and playtime for a charge of $7.95 per kid. My Family Time Dining is a free service for families with early seating in the dining room. Kids will receive an expedited dinner service so they can be in and out in 45 minutes, when counselors will pick them up and bring them back to Adventure Ocean for evening activities while parents enjoy the rest of their dinner at leisure. And, Adventure Ocean Dining is a program on select nights to allow kids to have dinner in the ship's restaurants with their peers and youth program staff.
Royal Caribbean will not accept pregnant passengers who have entered their 24th week of pregnancy before or during the cruise. Pregnant women in their first and second trimesters technically need a "fit to travel" note from their physicians.
When Grandeur is homeporting in Columbia, expect a Latin American immersion cruise with passengers predominantly coming from South America, Mexico and the Caribbean. Starting in spring 2013, the ship will sail year-round from Baltimore, with most passengers hailing from the Northeast, especially the Mid-Atlantic States. Because the ship is so family-friendly, it is not unusual for Grandeur to attract many kids during summers. Royal Caribbean typically appeals to people in their 30's to 50's, though you will certainly find many older than that onboard.
A weeklong cruise will have two formal nights, one smart-casual night and four casual nights. Even the longest cruises won't have more than three smart-casual and three formal nights (with the remainder all casual).
When it comes to dinners, it's best to pack for a bit of everything, As defined by Royal Caribbean, that amounts to "casual," meaning sundresses or slacks and blouses for women and collared shirts and trousers for men; "smart casual," meaning dresses or pantsuits for women and jackets for men; and "formal," which means cocktail dresses for women and suits and ties or tuxedos for men.
Days onboard are casual. Shorts are permitted in the Great Gatsby dining room at breakfast and lunch.
There is no self-service laundry on Grandeur of the Seas, nor are irons permitted in cabins.
|Fitness and Recreation|
There's no reason not to stick to an exercise regimen on this ship -- not with two pools, one indoor, one not; a rock-climbing wall and jogging track on the top deck; and an oceanview fitness center.
There's also a very pleasant promenade deck on Deck 5 that's great for walking. Jogging, however, is discouraged.
The main, open, central outdoor area on Deck 9 has a pool surrounded by four shaded hot tubs. The pool is divided, with a shallower area on one end and a depth of five feet at the other. An outdoor movie screen shows films on select evenings. Lounge chairs are your basic plastic and metal affairs. A couple of Ping-Pong tables are hidden away by the entrance to the Solarium.
Toward the stern is the Solarium, with the secondary pool and another two hot tubs. This area is covered by a retractable glass dome, and it's a warm hideaway when the weather is chilly outside. It's also adults-only (minimum age 16). You'll find nicer lounge chairs, tables and chairs for playing cards or eating snacks from the adjacent Park Cafe.
The Fitness Center, on Deck 9 next to the Solarium, is fully loaded with treadmills, elliptical machines, free weights and exercise machines. Open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., the gym offers complimentary stretching and firming classes. Spinning, boot camp and yoga classes cost $12. You'll also find many of the free seminars widely offered on ships today: "Burn Fat Faster," "Eat More to Weigh Less," "Lose 10 Pounds in 10 Days," "Detox for Weight Loss" and "How to Increase Your Metabolism."
The physical layout of the Vitality Day Spa, just above the gym on Deck 10 is a bit bare bones, although the menu of services is robust. There are nine treatment rooms, along with a beauty salon and a fairly austere steam room and sauna. The refreshment bar consists of a bowl of fruit, hot water for tea and cold water. However, there's all manner of services: teeth-whitening; stone therapy; a hydralift facial; seaweed, Swedish and deep tissue massages; cellulite reduction; and a lime and ginger salt glow. There are also special offerings for couples, men, teens and kids. Treatments are somewhat pricey massages from $119 to $265, pedicures for $70 -- but the spa tends to offer special deals during port days.
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