5-Day Cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas
In March of 2023, I did a cruise with my husband on one of Royal Caribbean’s “older” ships, the Grandeur of the Seas. What the Grandeur lacks in size, in comparison to RCCL’s newer mega-ships, it makes up for in charm, attention to detail and a more adult-centric atmosphere. Leaving out of Port Miami, this cruise was a perfect quick getaway that brought us to two great stops - Key West and Labadee, Haiti - Royal’s private destination.
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First things first! If you are new to cruising and need to take a flight to reach your cruise port - I HIGHLY recommend flying to your destination the day before the cruise departs. I am from the Midwest, so I know, especially during those winter months, that flights can get delayed and canceled very easily. If you fail to show up to the port to board on time, the ship does not wait for you. Then you are out the cost of your cruise, or you will need to pay to catch a flight to the cruise’s first port stop - if that’s even an option.
So, for this cruise, my husband and I flew in a day early and stayed at a hotel in Miami. (FYI, we flew into Fort Lauderdale and flew out of Miami. We just happened to find better flights/prices doing that. They are within half an hour of each other, so a viable option if you find a good flight deal!!) We stayed at the Hilton Blue Lagoon Hotel, which is actually VERY close to the Miami airport. It was about a 12-minute Uber ride to the port. We stayed in a corner suite that had a beautiful deck overlooking the pool and Lagoon area. The room was showing its age a little bit, but it was clean and very spacious. There was a separate sitting room, the deck, a very large bedroom, floor to ceiling windows and a bathroom with a separate room for the shower/tub and toilet.
One thing my husband and I prefer (need??) to do when we first reach our destination after time stuck in the airport, is exercise. This Hilton had a nice and fairly spacious gym. There was several bikes, ellipticals,and a handful of treadmills. There was also a nice free weight area, with yoga mats and a few strength machines. The gym overlooked the pool area, so we enjoyed a nice workout before heading back upstairs to put our swimsuits on!
The pool area was very nice, with plenty of chairs available to scope a spot. There are towels available and a poolside bar and restaurant. We ordered food, which I would say was “pretty good” on the scale of pool hotel food! But beware- there are iguanas EVERYWHERE and they are very brave and reminded me of puppies trying to come up and beg for food. One even jumped in my husband’s lap and tried to steal his quesadilla- LOL!
There are some nice paths to walk around the hotel, where you can enjoy the scenery and the lagoon. It was in the '70s here, so much nicer than it was for us at home! We spent all afternoon outside, it was a great, relaxing day. So much nicer than stressing if you will make your cruise on time.
Within walking distance, there are several restaurants and a grocery store. On Royal Caribbean, there are some allowances for things you can bring on board as far as wine, bottled water or soda. Check the Royal Caribbean website for the most recent updates. But stopping at the grocery store here would be a great idea, since you would never be able to fly with all that liquid!
For dinner, we found a Cuban restaurant called Casa Juan. It was a smaller hometown-feeling restaurant, the servers were so nice, and the food was delicious!
The next morning, the day of our cruise, we got Starbucks which was inside the hotel. We were able to get some quick breakfast sandwiches and coffees.We sat outside and had our breakfast, while we watched planes coming into the Miami airport. (We thought it would be super loud at the airport, but it really wasn’t!)
We had an early boarding time (10:30 a.m.) - so we ordered an Uber a little after 10am to bring us to the port. Pro tip: on the Royal Caribbean app, you can start the check-in process up to 45 days before your cruise. At this point, you can start uploading things like an image of your passport and choosing a check-in time, which will all make your time getting on the ship quicker and easier! We always grab the earliest check-in time we can, because hey, we already paid for the cruise, why not maximize our dollars as much as possible?! You can’t get in your room until usually around 1:00pm, but the Windjammer buffet, some bars, the pool area and the gym are always open when you get on board!
This port is very easy to navigate. We gave our suitcases to the porters (I always give them a tip, I believe it insures me against my suitcase ending up in the ocean!) and then we keep a “day bag” with us, with a change of clothes and our swimsuits. Port check-in was quick, when you are staying in a Suite or you are a certain Loyalty class with Royal Caribbean, there are preferred check-in lines that are much shorter. From curb to ship, was less than 15 minutes.
When we get on the ship, we like to do a quick tour just to start getting acclimated to the layout. Then we (of course) had to check out the ship’s gym. For the Grandeur being an older and smaller ship, I was pleasantly surprised at the size of this circular gym. There was never a want for a cardio or weights machine, and there was a group fitness area with mirrors, bikes for cycle classes, mats and lots of free weights.
This ship has a lovely Solarium (the adults only pool area) and a nice main pool area with a bar adjacent. The pool area showed a few little signs of aging, but I was happy to see how well-maintained this ship was! We stayed up on deck for when we left port around 3:00pm. It’s a very pretty view, and as you are leaving the bay, you are sailing alongside a highway so you get lots of honks and people waving as you go by!
We were staying a Grand Suite, which has a spacious bathroom with a full tub and double vanity. There is a kitchenette and ample storage and closest space. The deck comes with a table and chairs, along with two loungers. There is a sitting area (which is also a pull out couch) and then the bedroom area with a vanity.
On a Royal Caribbean cruise, you could just pay your cruise fare and not pay another dime. But, of course, there are many a la carte options, shopping, drinks, etc. that you can either book ahead of time (like an unlimited drink package) or Specialty Dining - above and beyond the including venues/main dining room. Our first night, we had dinner at one of the specialty dining venues, Izumi Sushi. We have had Izumi before on other Royal Caribbean ships and it’s a favorite of ours. Grandeur only has the Izumi Sushi restaurant, and does not have the Hibachi seating. I had a delicious poke bowl and my favorite: the Ryu Futomaki Roll. If you ever go to Izumi - please try it, and think of me!
That night, they had the “silent disco” in the Viking Crown Lounge. If you’ve never done a silent disco, it’s so much fun! You wear colored headphones, and depending on which of the two channels you are listening to, your headphones will be blue or green. So you may not be listening to the same music as the person dancing next to you! It was packed up there, and we had a blast!
One of the perks of being in a Suite is you have access to different restaurant venues and perks. One a smaller ship, like Grandeur, breakfast will usually be served for Suite guests inside Chops Grille (which is a steakhouse at night). You can of course still choose to go to the buffet or Main Dining Room, but my husband and I opted to have breakfast at Chops every morning. The servers were wonderful and it’s a much quieter, calmer breakfast experience than trying to wait in line at the buffet!
Our first port stop was Key West, and we did not book a tour here. I’ve been to Key West several times, so we opted to do our own thing. Pretty much all of the area is walkable, so we walked to the Hemingway house and did the self-guided tour. So much fun to see and I pet ALL the cats! There is tons of shopping (just head toward Duval St) and lots of quaint restaurants and bars. You can also head over to the pier area, to look at all the yachts and if you are lucky- see the fisherman cleaning their day's catch, and tossing the remains into the water for the BIG fish waiting down below! Make sure to also go take a look and get some pictures in front of one of the big banyan trees you will see all around!
For our second night, we had dinner in the main dining room. We opted for the later seating - 8 p.m. On this cruise, there were two main dinner seatings, 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Otherwise, you can do “My Time Dining” and pick your dinner time, but then you are not guaranteed the same spot and the same servers for the duration of the trip. Please - if you even THINK you like seafood a little bit, try the escargot as an appetizer on a Royal Caribbean cruise. To me, it is delicious and always a treat on a cruise.
If you aren’t a regular cruiser, I always recommend you try out the shows in the theater. They are free, and to me, always entertaining. Ok, they may not be straight off of Broadway (unless you are on one of the bigger ships!) but it’s fun to do dinner and a show! The music and dancing is always good, and I think I’m also just happy to be on a cruise so I’m easily entertained :)
The next day was a Day at Sea, so we spent most of our day at the pool, there was a great live band and fun games at the pool throughout the day. Later than afternoon before dinner, was the “Top Tier” event. Each cruise you are on, if you are a “Gold Member” or above, you are invited to an event that has a champagne toast and you can hear from the ships crew and officers. They also honor the most “loyal” Royal Caribbean guests, based on the number of night’s they have cruised with Royal Caribbean! It’s always a fun event that I like to go to, and is less than an hour.
Before dinner, my husband and I went to the Suite guests Lounge, which has appetizers and drinks included. We like to go there on some nights… to grab a snack… before dinner! Haha. There, you can also talk with the Suite Concierge, who will help you with any reservations or anything else you need, so you never have to wait in line at the Customer Service desk. We had dinner again that night in the Main Dining Room, and it was formal night so we took advantage of getting the fun professional photos and being all dressed up! There was also a disco party in the Centrum (big central area, near all the shops, with another bar and sitting area, and near the coffee shop).
The following day, was our day in Labadee, Haiti. Now, I have been to Royal Caribbean’s other private location, Perfect Day at Coco Cay. I know cruisers LOVE Perfect Day, but my husband and I are partial to Labadee. The scenery is LUSH, there are multiple beaches to enjoy, good food, and the ocean is immaculate. The morning we started off with a guided tour, that explained some history of Haiti and how Labadee came to be! It gave us a good chance to venture around the area before going off on our own. Labadee has other fun activities, like a zip line, roller coaster and shopping. We spent a large part of our day at Barefoot Beach, the separate beach for Suite and Pinnacle-level Crown & Anchor members (the highest tier for Royal Caribbean loyalty) there were TONS of chairs available. We sat right up front, swam around, and laid on the beach floaties. Since it’s a private area, and on top of that, for Suite only guests, I felt totally safe leaving our bag on our chairs as we swam and relaxed. There is a separate area for Barefoot Beach guests to have lunch. It was delicious and there was a quiet shaded area for us to enjoy. Now if there is one thing I can recommend you do in Labadee- book the jet ski tour! It is one of our favorite excursions to date. The tour guides were fantastic and led us safely on about a 90 minute tour. If you’ve never been to Haiti, to me, it looks like something out of Jurassic Park. It’s mountainous and looks like a jungle. We had a chance to swim in the ocean off of our jet skis and it was one of the coolest things I have ever done! They also split us into different groups, so my husband was up ahead with those crazy fast drivers, and I stayed toward the back with the more… relaxed crew :) All in all to say- if you are deciding between two cruises, and one goes to Labadee- pick Labadee. You won’t regret it!
That night, we enjoyed another specialty restaurant, Giovanni’s Table. This was our first time enjoying an Italian restaurant on a Royal Caribbean ship. The service was fabulous and we left SO FULL. I felt like the food just kept coming. Calamari, caprese salad, my husband had a great steak, and I had fish for my main course. Our server also brought us a tortellini to share which was so delicious. Definitely will be going back to a Giovanni’s Table someday! Royal Caribbean’s “new version” of Giovanni’s, is Giovanni’s Kitchen, on some of the newer ships. I look forward to trying that iteration someday as well!
On our final day we were at sea. It was a little cloudy in the morning, so besides another workout and a slow breakfast, we did some shopping on board and then enjoyed the pool area in the afternoon once the sun came out. For our last night, we ate in the main dining room. The one surprising item I had that I enjoyed, was the Greek salad appetizer. Give it a try if you ever see it on the menu! Another pro tip- on the last night of the cruise, the main dining room always has some “entertainment” in store- so don’t miss it if you are into watching some singing and dancing, and cheering for the whole galley crew!
The night before you get off the cruise, you can choose to either take your suitcases off with you, or leave them outside of your room the night before and they will be brought off the ship for you. My husband and I always opt to take them ourselves. But for us, it’s easy to take them down stairs. We don’t mind, and the wait for an elevator is LONG. First, we will have an early breakfast (and my husband will go for a run on the track). Then, we walk off the ship early with our things, which enables us to take an earlier flight by around 10:30 a.m. Now, most cruisers will advise you against this. Depending on how far the airport is from the port, you will have to allow more time. Also, if for some reason there is a delay with the ship getting into port or passing through customs, you could miss an early flight. But so far- we’ve never had this issue. We were off the ship by 7:30 a.m, and to the airport by 8 a.m. So we actually had ample time to hang out at the airport before heading home. Also to note, if you decide to leave your suitcases outside your room the night before, you will be assigned a time to disembark. Then that last morning, you have to wait for your number to be called to leave the ship. If you are a Pinnacle or Suite guest, you can get priority disembarkation.
We had a fantastic cruise, Grandeur is one of the smallest ships I had been on, but once I was on board, I didn’t really notice. There are definitely much less of the “kids amenities” - none of the water slides, splash pad, etc. But then, you get a much more adult demographic and it’s a little bit quieter of a cruise! But don’t worry, there is still a lot to do and so much entertainment! My husband and I enjoyed the casino, shows, and other fun events on board.
Want to talk all things cruise? If you can’t tell, it’s one of my favorite subjects! Please reach out to me with your questions and to start the fun adventure of planning your next cruise vacation! All aboard!
Need to Know
This trip report is part of our ongoing series on travel by cruise. In need of further inspiration? Check out Caroline Weilert’s trip report, Memorable Family Cruising in the Eastern Caribbean on Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas.
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