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I sailed on Royal Caribbean's worst rated cruise ship. Here's what it was really like.

29 Sep 2023
Allie Hubers

The saying goes, “Age is just a number,” but is this really true when it comes to cruise ships?  

Allie sailing on Grandeur of the Seas

Last weekend, I set sail on Royal Caribbean’s worst rated cruise ship: Grandeur of the Seas. My itinerary was a quick 4-night sailing to Cozumel, but this was more than enough time to experience everything this old and small cruise ship had to offer. 

I’ve heard many cruisers state that Grandeur of the Seas is the worst ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet. This perception is likely due to the ship’s old age and lack of modern amenities. In fact, I avoided sailing on this ship for many years because of this! 

Needless to say, Grandeur of the Seas’ reputation precedes her… and clearly not in the best way.

Worst cruise of my 23 cruises,” shared one reviewer on Cruise Critic. 

Another said the ship was a “nightmare” and the AC in their cabin did not work, leaving them to sleep in the heat.

Welcome to 1996. Ship is an old, rusty, rundown bucket. Cabins desperately need refurbishing,” wrote another reviewer. 

And it’s not just rumors that Grandeur of the Seas is the worst ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet. According to US News & World Reports, Grandeur of the Seas was ranked the worst Royal Caribbean ship of the entire fleet. “While the ship boasts a rock climbing wall and six whirlpools, it lacks some of the modern amenities found on other Royal Caribbean ships, like a surf simulator and waterslides,” the review states. 

Additionally, Cruise Critic ranks Grandeur of the Seas with a below-average score of 3.9/5.0. The editorial review says, “The lack of top deck attractions poses an activity challenge for families; cabins feel dated.”

Some sailing on Grandeur of the Seas might feel catfished by Royal Caribbean; after all, the cruise line’s advertisements showcase new ships with tons of things to do onboard. Boarding Grandeur of the Seas is a stark contrast and I can see how this could lead to some disappointment.

While the cruise ship is far from tiny, measuring 73,000 gross tons, the onboard experience is vastly different than Royal Caribbean’s newest ships. During my short cruise, I had plenty of time onboard to see if the rumors were true. Here’s what it was really like to sail on Royal Caribbean’s worst rated ship. 

Grandeur of the Seas, which debuted in 1996 as part of the Vision class, is the oldest ship in the cruise line’s fleet

Royal Caribbean is known for building some of the biggest and most innovative cruise ships in the world. Most of the cruise line’s ships are filled with adrenaline pumping thrills, such as waterslides, zip lines, skydiving simulators and ice skating rinks. The newest cruise ships are so large that Royal Caribbean had to divide the ships into separate neighborhoods!

However, Royal Caribbean’s oldest cruise ships are a far cry from being big or innovative. You won’t find any onboard thrills on a Vision class ship, except for a rock climbing wall at the ship’s aft.

Grandeur of the Seas represents an entirely different era of cruising, one of intimacy and simplicity. Back in the 1990s, cruise ships were considered modestly sized and the onboard experience centered around relaxing on the pool deck with a drink in hand.

The ship went through a major refurbishment in 2012, costing $48 million to add new restaurants, onboard internet, Diamond Lounge, Concierge Lounge and entertainment venues. 

Back in 2019, it was announced that the ship would be sold to sister-brand Pullmantur Cruises, retiring Grandeur from the Royal Caribbean fleet. These plans were eventually reversed during the pandemic in mid-2020, presumably a financial decision.

Now, Grandeur of the Seas will be sailing for Royal Caribbean for the foreseeable future. 

While I’ve sailed on other Vision class ships before, I set my expectations very low for this weekend sailing

I’ve been cruising with Royal Caribbean for almost 20 years and I have sailed multiple times on Vision class ships. My very first Royal Caribbean cruise was onboard Enchantment of the Seas back in 2005. Although I was just a kid, the cruising experience still wowed me. 

I later sailed on Vision of the Seas in 2012 for my first European cruise with my family. The tiny ship whisked us from Norway to France, England, Ireland and Scotland. Seeing Paris was my lifelong dream at 16 years old - and Vision of the Seas made it happen!

Later, my husband and I sailed in 2018 on Rhapsody of the Seas for our honeymoon. It was a magical, port-intensive itinerary visiting ports in Italy, Greece and Croatia. 

Needless to say, I’ve had very positive and memorable experiences on Vision class ships! These small ships often sail on more interesting itineraries for an affordable price. For those who don’t need the glitz that you find on bigger cruise ships, Vision class ships can be a great choice. 

However, I had never sailed on Grandeur of the Seas before and it had been a while since my last Vision class cruise. My recent sailing on Jewel of the Seas - a slightly newer and bigger ship - left me slightly disappointed in the ship’s overall condition. I didn’t want to be disappointed this time around, so I anticipated that the ship would show its age. 

I figured I would see a lot of rust around the ship, including a poorly designed and dated stateroom. I think managing expectations is important when you book a cheap cruise, as I did not expect much from Grandeur of the Seas.

After boarding the ship in Tampa, we were pleasantly surprised by the ship’s condition

My sister and I made our way to Tampa to board Grandeur of the Seas for a weekend sailing to Cozumel. We had two sea days to enjoy the ship as well, which I was looking forward to. 

Once we boarded the ship, I started to look for signs of wear and tear. Given Grandeur’s reputation, I kept a keen eye to look for signs of deterioration and rust. 

To my surprise, Grandeur of the Seas appeared to be in very good condition! Of course, the ship felt older and her overall design was dated. But, it was not near as bad as I anticipated. Certainly there were few signs of rust as we wandered around the ship, but nothing outrageous. 

Not to mention, last summer I sailed on Carnival’s oldest cruise ship, Carnival Ecstasy, and that cruise ship was covered in rust. While we had a lot of fun, the ship was one month from retirement in the scrapyard. It was not surprising that the ship’s condition was subpar, along with most of the decor looking gaudy and outdated. We even saw duct tape on a porthole window!

(Carnival Ecstasy colorful hallway during August 2022 sailing)

The elevators and carpet were all in better-than-expected condition. It seemed as though the ship had been well maintained - it didn't feel like an old ship. Nothing looked extremely outdated or worn-down, which was a pleasant surprise. Based on all of the negative reviews I had seen, I truly expected the ship to be in rough condition. 

Almost immediately, I noticed how many spaces Grandeur of the Seas had to soak in ocean views

We entered the ship on Deck 5 into the center atrium of the ship. The six-story atrium, called the Centrum, is surrounded by glass walls and even a glass ceiling. It’s beautifully designed and lets in so much natural light.

Throughout the cruise, this became one of my favorite aspects of Grandeur of the Seas. There were so many spaces onboard where you could see the ocean and enjoy the views. The first morning, my sister and I sipped on our coffee while overlooking the glass panels in the Centrum. 

On Deck 5, you could quickly access the promenade deck if you wanted to get outside to see the sea views. I saw more people taking pictures with the sunset than ever! In the aft of the ship, we found a stunning view of the ship’s wake on the last night. 

Without all the commotion of a big cruise ship, I felt more relaxed being at sea. There was not pressure to do and try everything possible. Instead, I simply just enjoyed taking in the beautiful sea views and relaxing. 

This short cruise actually reminded me of my Semester at Sea experience in college. I sailed on a ship for four months while studying abroad. Our ship was one third of the size of Grandeur of the Seas and had just a small pool for activities. But, the experience was about the destinations, connecting with others and embracing the sea life.

My short time on Grandeur of the Seas brought be back to that time of being disconnected while living at sea.

We anticipated an outdated cruise cabin, especially considering we had booked the cheapest stateroom onboard

My sister and I didn’t want to blow too much money on this weekend cruise. We were surprised by the cheap prices we found for Grandeur of the Seas. For an inside cabin guarantee, we paid $466 each and this included gratuities, port fees and taxes. 

Read moreRoyal Caribbean cruise ship cabin and suite guide

Some of the reviews mentioned that Grandeur’s cabins were too outdated, but my sister and I didn’t find this a point of contention. Most of the ships we’ve sailed on recently also had outdated cabins, so perhaps we had realistic expectations. 

Again, we had low expectations for what our cabin experience would be like on Grandeur of the Seas. We were assigned cabin 3505, which was located on Deck 3. As with most guarantee cabins, our stateroom was located at the very front of the ship, which wouldn’t be my first choice. But, location is not as important to me on a short itinerary. 

Read moreThe 5 best cabin locations on a cruise ship

Our cabin was small, but had enough space for everything we needed. The square footage was right around 142 square feet. Everything in the cabin also felt well maintained. The cabin was outdated, but it felt similar in design and age to Radiance and Voyager class ships. 

The bathroom really surprised us! I fully anticipated to have a very outdated bathroom, but this appeared to be refurbished from the original design. The light woodwork nicely accented the white flooring, with a colorful backsplash.

The biggest disappointment in the cabin was our shower. It was oddly shaped and required the use of a clingy shower curtain. If you didn’t want the curtain to hug you throughout your shower, then you had to deal with wet floors in the bathroom. 

We only had one outlet each to share, which was a pain. I forgot to pack my USB extender, which made it more difficult to charge all of my devices efficiently. But, this was not surprising. Most older ships feature cabins that do not have modern amenities unless a cruise line has prioritized upgrading cabins on an older ship. Instead, maintenance is the priority.  

Overall, the cabin was comfortable and clean. It wasn’t modern by any means, but it certainly didn’t feel as outdated as I anticipated. We slept well each evening, and found ourselves spending more time in our cabin than usual because the ship did not have as much to do. It was a quiet, cozy space to return to each evening.

Many of the negative reviews mentioned that the food on Grandeur of the Seas was lackluster

Talking about cruise food is a hot topic, especially on a Royal Caribbean cruise. What one person loves, another might hate. The recently changed Main Dining Room menus have only added fuel to the fire. As such, food is generally more subjective and I take negative reviews with a grain of salt. 

Grandeur of the Seas has four complimentary dining venues: Windjammer, Main Dining Room, Park Cafe and Cafe Latitudes. There are also specialty dining options: Chops Grille, Giovanni’s Table, Izumi and Chef’s Table. 

The first evening, we dined in Giovanni’s Table to take advantage of our BOGO Diamond Plus benefit. We had an amazing meal, consisting of carbonara, gnocchi, burrata caprese salad and filet mignon. The service was wonderful and we enjoyed the quiet ambiance. 

Read more: The Crown and Anchor perks you should use on every Royal Caribbean cruise

However, we heard from many fellow guests that the dinner in the Main Dining Room on the first night was not good. Since we didn’t dine there the first night, we did not experience this. The remaining three evenings during our sailing, we had dinner in the Main Dining Room. We enjoyed our meals and the service was great! 

The final evening, we witnessed quite the send-off party with waiters dancing around the tables Greek style!

Some even jumped on the table and chairs to dance. It was an absolute riot with everyone in the dining room joining in the fun! I loved seeing the waiters letting loose and having fun as well.

On the other hand, the Windjammer buffet was less impressive

It was strange to me that the Windjammer buffet was located at the front of the ship. The venue was covered with glass, even on the ceiling. While this gave nice views of the sea, the buffet always felt stuffy. We couldn’t sit in there too long without being uncomfortably hot. 

My sister said most of the things she tried in the Windjammer tasted a bit bland, while I had better luck with my selections. Breakfast was better than lunch, at least in our experience. There were plenty of options to choose from, and we never had an issue finding a table. 

In general, the Windjammer was a hit or miss. Normally, I don’t have any issues with the Windjammer onboard Royal Caribbean, but it did feel more inconsistent on Grandeur of the Seas. My sister also agreed that her food seemed bland in comparison to her other cruises. 

The Solarium onboard also featured another complimentary dining option: Park Cafe

I was surprised to see a Park Cafe onboard Grandeur of the Seas, which was located in the corner of the adults-only Solarium. This is where you could grab a snack during off-hours when the Windjammer is closed; for example, between 3pm and 6pm, this is one of the only places to grab food.

Park Cafe was bigger than a typical Solarium Cafe. There were options for soups, sandwiches, pizza and dessert. There was also a dedicated salad bar! Since Grandeur of the Seas does not have Royal Caribbean’s signature Sorrento’s, this was the only place to come get complimentary pizza. 

We grabbed snacks here a few times during our cruise - and everything tasted great! The pizza was nothing to get excited about, but it tasted good. 

When it comes to entertainment, Grandeur of the Seas had simple production shows and activities

Some of Royal Caribbean’s bigger ships have Broadway-style productions, high diving shows and ice skating spectacles. However, you won’t find anything of the like on Grandeur of the Seas.

Instead, everything is relatively simple onboard for entertainment. Each evening, you can find one production in the Palladium theatre. During our sailing, this consisted of a comedy show, an impersonator and a show called Broadway Rhythm and Rhyme. Some shows only had one time, so we were unable to attend one evening because of our dinner time. 

Activities during the day were also limited to trivia, adult coloring, a belly flop contest, volleyball and the sexiest man competition. In the evening, you could attend events like karaoke and game shows. There was also live music around the ship, along with big themed parties in the evenings - like Hush Disco and the 70s party.

We found that the activities were busy, but might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Since the cruise ship had little to do for kids and teens, it seemed like many kids joined into the adult competitions. This could be avoided with activities that were specially designated for adults versus families. 

Considering Grandeur of the Seas only has one main pool available for kids and a rock climbing wall, this ship would not be suitable for children. This is likely why we did not see many kids onboard, as I would guess many would be bored. I’d suggest a Voyager class ship or newer if you want to bring your kids onboard and be confident that they would have enough to do to keep busy.

Regardless, my sister and I had a good time each evening with the entertainment. Nothing wowed us, but we never felt bored. 

Our sailing was packed with bachelorette parties, family reunions and large groups traveling together - and the bars could not keep up

Everyone worries about spring break partiers, but I don’t see many people mention bachelorette and bachelor parties on cruises! During this sailing, we saw tons of people celebrating a bride or groom onboard. This is likely because our sailing was cheap and short, along with the fact that many people get married in the fall.

Because of this, our sailing was one big party! The bars were constantly packed, so much so that I often didn’t want to wait in line to get a drink. Grandeur of the Seas only has a few bars, including the pool bar, Solarium bar and Schooner bar. At any given hour of the day, these were packed.

We also noticed tables of empty drink cups during our cruise. It was as if one person set down their empty drink glass and then everyone followed, although this area was not a place for empty cups. I think the staff had a hard time keeping up with all of the drinking. 

I have never seen the bars be so consistently busy. I think with so many groups traveling together, many people purchased the drink package. The bartenders were doing their best to keep up - and my liver probably thanks me for not having too much to drink!

Overall, Grandeur of the Seas exceeded my expectations and I wouldn’t hesitate to sail onboard again

Because my expectations were low, I was anticipating the ship to be rusty and worn down. I am pleased to say that the ship exceeded my expectations! 

We found the ship to be in relatively good condition for being 26 years old. The service onboard was also fantastic, and we also liked the food and entertainment. It almost felt like we were looking for things to be wrong so we could see what the negative reviews were stating. 

The internet was more reliable than expected - Grandeur of the Seas is even outfitted with Starlink. We were able to stream and FaceTime without issue, even in our cabin. I wouldn’t be concerned trying to get some work done if needed onboard. 

After this experience, I truly would not hesitate to book another sailing onboard Grandeur of the Seas or any other Vision class ship. Sailing on a smaller ship had its perks, such as fewer crowds and easy access to everything onboard. You were never too far away from your cabin or the destination you were heading.

We spent most of our downtime in the Solarium relaxing on the loungers. We never had an issue finding an empty chair, which is very different than Royal Caribbean's bigger ships. In general, Grandeur of the Seas never felt too crowded and most places onboard felt spacious. It was a nice change to not feel cramped, which is often a complaint of the bigger, mega cruise ships.

However, I wouldn’t want to sail on Grandeur of the Seas with too many sea days. There is not much to do onboard and I would probably get a little bored after too much time on the ship. If there was a port-intensive itinerary where the destination was the focus of the cruise, I would be totally comfortable sailing onboard Grandeur of the Seas. 

Allie Hubers has been cruising since she was a tiny toddler. What started as a yearly vacation with family quickly turned into a passion for travel, cruising and adventure. Allie's been on nearly 30 cruises all over the world. She even studied abroad on Semester at Sea, sailing the world on a ship while taking courses for college and visiting 4 continents.

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