Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas is Really Grand - Multigenerational Cruising at its Finest
Grandeur is Really Grand
(Why Cruising is a great vacation, whether for multiple family generations or just for grownups)
by June Santini
I’ll admit it: I was pretty excited to go on a cruise to the Bahamas on Grandeur of the Seas. I was also a little nervous. On the one hand, well, it was a cruise to the Bahamas! On the other, I was a little unsure about being stuck on board for a week with only limited options to get off the ship and to choose enough things to do on the ship to keep from getting bored. I was particularly interested in finding out about whether or not cruising is a good choice for a family vacation. (Hint: It is!) And full disclosure here: I didn’t bring any kids with me, I brought my sister, but I’m a pretty nosy person and I talked to (okay, interrogated) lots of families with various ages of children. I also interviewed staff and toured the facilities. I’ve raised four children of my own, and we traveled extensively with them when they were young, so I do know a thing or two about the little rascals and what makes them happy or bored.
People have said to me, “Why would I want to bring my kids on a cruise?” I’ll tilt my head to one side, lay one finger aside my cheek, look up to the sky and say, “Hmm, why would you?” Then, I’ll stare them down and tell them all about the fun activities, the time together, away from electronics, as well as the fun shows, the interesting ports, and how there is literally something for every type of person on a cruise. Bring the kids, bring Grandma and Grandpa, bring the neighbors: It’s probably the best vacation ever. Cruising is everything you look for in a beach or resort vacation, except it’s on a luxurious ship.
Grandeur of the Seas leaves from the Port of Baltimore and has several cruise durations and destinations: 6- and 7-night Bermuda, 7- or 8-night Bahamas, 10-night Eastern Caribbean, 10-night Western Caribbean, and 8- and 9-night New England and Canada. (Click here to find the trips planned for 2015.) Our cruise was a 7-night Bahamas cruise.
My sister and I arrived at the Port of Baltimore a couple of hours before we were required to be on board. We had built extra time in to our travel plans just to be sure we wouldn’t be late. The Cruise Maryland terminal was bustling with activity. The lines to pay for parking were long, but we zipped through the cash lane instead of waiting to pay with a credit card. Parking was $15.00 a day. Helpful attendants directed us where to drop our luggage; we parked and did a little happy dance. Our adventure was about to begin! Passport checks, TSA and health screenings were fast and easy, and once we made a brief appearance at the ticket counter, we were on our way up the gangway.
Tips and Requirements
- Passports are recommended, but not necessary. As long as your cruise starts and ends in a US port, you’ll just need a driver’s license and a certified copy of your birth certificate. Your kids will just need their certified birth certificate. (That all applies if you’re a US citizen; check with your cruise line if you’re not.)
- Don’t bring too much in your carry-on. Because you have to carry it. Toiletries, valuables, medications, and a bathing suit are useful. Don’t worry about bringing things to keep your kids entertained in your carry-on. There’s plenty going on all around the ship and you can also take them to explore and learn their way around.
- All kids are issued a muster station bracelet before boarding. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this can help staff return your child to you at any time; it only tells to which muster station staff should escort your child in the event of an emergency.
- Everyone will be issued a SeaPass card. This is your onboard id, room key, and charge card. Anything you want to purchase will be bought with this card. You’ll settle the bill on the last day. You can ask that your children’s card be deactivated for purchases so that you don’t have any surprises at checkout! It’s also a good idea to bring lanyards for the kids and yourself. They do sell them at the gift shop, but why pay that much more for them?
- Strollers are okay to bring. Notify RCI before you cruise if you require a play yard in your cabin. No need to bring your own. Highchairs are also available, no reservation needed.
- It took us about forty-five minutes from the time we pulled into the parking lot until we were on board. It was only another fifteen minutes until staterooms opened, so we decided to wait and drop off our carry on in our stateroom before we headed to the Windjammer café for lunch. You can certainly head straight to the café if your kids are starving or if you are on board early.
A short time before sailing the ship holds a muster drill. Everyone on board reports to their muster station and is accounted for. The staff demonstrates how to use a lifejacket. This is a time to be cooperative and pay close attention. And while it could be alarming for kids, the best thing is to tell them calmly and matter-of-factly that everyone is practicing what to do in case of an emergency. Avoid making jokes to them about the ship sinking. Because really, there’s no need to create anxiety. The drill is short and the staff is friendly and courteous about directing passengers.
Will I find enough things I like to do?
There is something going on all the time on Grandeur. Plenty of shipboard activities will keep you as busy as you want to be. Daily Bingo and Trivia contests are practically sporting events. Classes in arts and crafts, and lectures about topics relating to your ports of call may not be exactly your cup of tea, but they are someone’s! Contests on the pool deck are quite entertaining as are the deck parties. We saw a very entertaining belly-flop contest, in which the amount of splash made was almost as important as the size of the belly making it!
And once the sun goes down, there is a different live show in The Palladium Theatre every night. I attended each night and the only one that wasn’t totally and completely appropriate for kids was the Love and Marriage Game Show. It was hysterically funny, and there were plenty of kids in the audience, but this Newlywed Game-type of show did stray a bit into some off-color territory.
The other shows were:
I THINK I LOVE THIS MAN! Tony and I were shoulder-to-shoulder at the muster drill and he was so charming. How could you not love someone who uses the expression hoi polloi in casual conversation? We exchanged the usual “Where are you from?” pleasantries, and Tony told me that he was from Las Vegas and he had been the opening act for Bill Cosby for ten years. Having been married to a classical musician for thirty-one years, I tend to be a bit of a music snob; I went to the show expecting a cheesy lounge singer a la Bill Murray’s interepretation from SNL circa 1980. It couldn’t have been further from that. Tony Tillman is the whole package, the real deal; he can sing, dance, tell jokes, and connect with his audience, both young and old. His musical revue spanned just about every genre and era of music from the 50’s to today. There was something for everyone, including me! He truly connected with his audience. And his ability to perform such a robust, fun show with the orchestra as his only backup was amazing. This show was VERY family friendly; I wouldn’t hesitate to bring a child as young as five to it. The fast paced show should keep them in rapt attention and the upbeat, vaired musical styles will be recognizable to everyone.
Royal Caribbean Dancers and Singers Production Shows
These shows were fun and very entertaining. Broadway style singing and dancing was a hit with the crowd and was again, very appropriate to bring kids. The shows were upbeat, the costumes were well-done and the caliber of the performers was top-notch.
Two evenings featured comedians. They were both very funny and both of their acts were free of foul language and adult innuendo. I wouldn’t hesitate to bring any kid who could politely sit through the 1-hour show.
The Activities staff does a fabulous job of connecting with the passengers and getting people to participate in line dancing theme parties on the deck and in the Atrium. Yours truly was even caught doing the Hustle; I kinda remembered it from the 70’s! Good thing Darryl and his staff were there to show us how! They lead bingo parties and trivia contests, scrapbooking classes and belly flop contests. You can tell that they LOVE their jobs. They are funny and personable and you will think they are your new best friends.
If you really want to be a glutton on a cruise, you can be. No one will stop you. There are three meals per day in the dining room, 24 hour room service, a café near the pool, and the buffet only closes for about a couple of hours each day. But there are also tons of healthful and light options.
Portions in the dining room are not huge, just big enough to satisfy you and leave enough room for dessert. There are always salads available at the buffet and Park café, and there are plenty of gluten and sugar free options. The staff is more than willing to accommodate any special requests and they quickly get to know your preferences. And if you’d like to have two appetizers, or even two entrees, it’s not a problem.
There are plenty of kid-friendly options at all of the dining venues, too. My sister has Celiac Disease and needs a gluten-free diet; our wait staff not only made note of it, they even had the kitchen modify a few things so she could eat them. And once she ordered something which was not prepared on the ship, the staff only served it to her after she assured them she was confident it was gluten-free. They really cared.
And they would do random nice things for us, like bringing an extra dessert just because they knew we would like it, or bringing us bringing us extra lobster when they saw how much we loved lobster. It wasn’t every time; they weren’t pushing extra food on us, it was just often enough to be a special treat!
- You can choose a traditional dining room table assignment whereby you dine each night at the same table, at the same time, or you can choose a restaurant-style flexible time. Just be aware that if you choose the flexible option, you may have to wait to be seated until a table opens up.
- There are dress codes for the dining room, including formal nights. Even on casual nights shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops are not allowed. The daily Cruise Compass newsletter tells you what the dining room dress code is for the day. If you are uncomfortable dressing up, the Windjammer Café is always open for dinner.
- If parents would like an evening to themselves, the Adventure Ocean staff will collect your kids from the dining room after they have eaten. Parents can be seated with their kids and the kids will be served and done within 45 minutes. Then they can happily go off with the youth staff and parents can remain in the dining room for a relaxing dinner. The best of both worlds!
If you’re lucky, your kids may want to spend some time with you. But odds are they will be having so much fun at Adventure Ocean that you may not see them very much! Shandell Howard, director of Grandeur’s Adventure Ocean program, showed me around. Her enthusiasm was quite contagious; it was clear that she and the rest of the staff were genuinely having fun with the kids.
Our sailing had over 500 kids counted amongst the over 2000 passengers. It seemed like a lot, and a bit overwhelming to me. How could the staff handle that many youngsters? Very well, it turns out. First of all, the majority of the 500 kids are teenagers. Their teen program has staffers who specialize only in teens. There is a special hangout just for kids aged 12 to 17, where they can find dancing, video games, contests, or they can just hang out away from adults.
Younger kids can spend their time in Adventure Ocean, the program for kids ages 3 to 12. Kids are grouped by age, and appropriate, fun activities are led and organized by the staff. (The staff all possess four-year degrees in education, recreation, or a related field.) Royal Babies and Tots accommodates the littlest cruisers, ages 6 months to 3 years. Staff ratios are 1:25 for 5-12 year olds, 1:15 for 3-5 year olds, and 1:5 for babies and tots.
For kids with special needs or for the littlest cruisers, the youth programs do have a pager system; parents can relax knowing that they will be alerted if they are needed. The yoth programs also have their own Cruise Compass, the daily newsletter outlining all of the day’s activities. It is automatically delivered to your stateroom each night for the next day.
Important: Children who are not potty-trained are not allowed in the pool, even with a swim diaper. You can use this tidbit to motivate yourself to get that potty-training done before you go!
I think almost every mom will want to carve out some time for herself to go to the spa. (And maybe even some dads.) The spa is located aft (in the back) of the ship, so you get a nice view of the ocean from the panoramic windows in the relaxing room. Be sure to get there early to enjoy it. You can also make use of the steam room and sauna when you book spa treatments, so plan your time accordingly. Tip: Book spa appointments for port days for a substantial discount!
Ports of Call
Our itnerary included port calls in Port Canaveral, FL; Coco Cay, Royal Carribean's private island; and Nassua, Bahamas. Shore excursions can be booked before you sail or once you get on board. There are excursions to fit anyone's interests, whether it's sightseeing, relaxing, or adventure. Booking an excursion with the cruise line lets you have the security of knowing that the excursion has been vetted by the cruise line and that the ship will not leave without you if you are delayed. Setting out on your own can be less expensive, though, but be careful that you are back to the ship well in advance of departure.
Port Canaveral has lots to do and Royal Carribbean offers excursions to all kinds of local venues, including Disney World, the Kennedy Space Center, airboat tours of the everglades, surfing lessons on Cocoa Beach, and lots more. We took a shuttle to Cocoa Beach and enjoyed the water.
Nassua, Bahamas Perhaps the biggest attraction in Nassua is Atlantis Paradise Island, a resort and water park. There, you can swim with dolphins, play in the uge waterpark, tour the gardens, or relax by the pool. Unfortunately, the day we were there, it rained and most excursions were cancelled. We walked a short distance into town and visited the local shops and the straw market. Be sure to sample some rum cake while you're there! The vendors can be quite aggresive in their sales techniques, so don't be afraid to just keep on walking.
Coco Cay This was my absolute favorite day of the cruise! Coco Cay is Royal Carribbean's private island and it offers everything you could possibly want. You can spend the day on the beach, floating in the water on a mat (that's what we did!), kayaking, playing on the giant water trampoline, kayaking, or parasailing. Lunch is served close to the beach and servers bring frozen concoctions right to your lounge chair. Just be sure to bring beach shoes, the beach is quite rocky.
Tips are included on the bill, which you settle at the end of the cruise. The daily rate, per person, covers all of the staff who regularly wait on you. It is customary to tip bartenders, room service, and bar wait staff extra. It is also a good idea to tip your room steward a little extra at the beginning of the cruise; you'll be sure to get extra great service. Envelopes are provided at the end of the cruise to tip any additional amounts to anyone who went the extra mile for you. We had a bar waiter who paid extra special attention to us and anticipated our needs. We appreciated him so much and let him know at the end of the cruise. You can also just inlcude a dollar or two on any purchases you make for the person who is attending to you. If your kids attend any of the youth programs, you will want to thank the staff at the end of the cruise with a small monetary gift.
Things I Wish I had Known Before I Cruised
- Bring small bills. You probably want to tip the waitstaff a buck or two when they deliver that icy frozen drink to you or when the they drop off your room service breakfast. Having small bills makes that much easier since there are no cash transactions on board.
- Bring a lanyard. You can punch a hole in your SeaPass card and hang it around your neck so that you don't have to carry a wallet or purse everywhere. You'll use your seapass card to pay for anything on board which is not included in your fare.
- Bring water shoes. Beaches can be rocky!
- If you have a lot of electronics, bring a power strip.
It doesn't matter if you've never cruised before or if you're a veteran; Grandeur of the Seas is a great choice. I would go definitely will go back again!
© 2014, KidsOutAndAbout.com
June Santini is KidsOutAndAbout's Multigenerational Travel Reviewer and also Vice President of Operations.