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Trying Royal Caribbean's oldest & smallest ship, Grandeur of the Seas, was better than we envisioned

06 Oct 2023
Allie Hubers

Royal Caribbean is known for having the biggest, most technologically advanced cruise ships at sea. The cruise line's advertisements are filled with families having adventure-packed vacations on Royal Caribbean’s most exciting ships. Everything in Royal Caribbean’s marketing is colorful and upbeat, with the promise of offering a fun-filled cruise vacation for your whole family. 

In fact, the cruise line’s newest ship, Icon of the Seas, will be making her highly anticipated debut in January 2024. The massive ship will take the coveted title of being the biggest ship in the world, clocking in at an astonishing 250,000 gross tons and holding close to 8,000 passengers. 

With all the hype around the newest and biggest ships, you might forget that Royal Caribbean offers cruises on substantially older and smaller vessels. The fleet’s oldest ships can be found in the Vision Class of cruise ships, which offer an entirely different Royal Caribbean experience than you might imagine. 

Currently, the oldest ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet is Grandeur of the Seas, which was built nearly 26 years ago in 1996. Although Royal Caribbean announced in 2019 that the ship would be sold, the pandemic altered the course of these plans. Now, Grandeur of the Seas will continue to sail for Royal Caribbean for the foreseeable future.  

Given her age and size, many are quick to scoff at the thought of cruising onboard Grandeur of the Seas. Who would want to spend their time and money sailing on a ‘rust bucket’ or ‘worn down’ cruise ship?

Well, I took one for the team and decided to book a short sailing onboard Grandeur of the Seas. I was hesitant to spend my time and money on a cruise ship that many wouldn’t even consider sailing on. But, I’ve sailed on Grandeur’s sister ships, Vision of the Seas, Enchantment of the Seas and Rhapsody of the Seas, so I had some realistic expectations about the experience.

After sailing on Grandeur of the Seas, I found this old and small ship to be quite charming, nicely refurbished and well maintained. Others on the cruise shared how the ship holds a special place in their hearts, fondly referring to Grandeur of the Seas as, “Lady G”. 

Here’s how our experience onboard Royal Caribbean’s oldest and smaller ship was better than we envisioned.

While Royal Caribbean has been known for its ship design and advancement, it’s hard to believe Grandeur of the Seas was innovative at one point in history.

Royal Caribbean has been pushing the boundaries when it comes to cruise ship size for decades. In fact, the cruise line has held the title of biggest cruise ship in the world since 2006. 

Most agree that Royal Caribbean’s push towards innovation is one of the biggest contributors to the cruise line’s success. This has undoubtedly helped establish the company as one of the world’s leading cruise lines. 

But, back in the 1990s, innovation looked a lot different than it does today. Nearly three decades ago, Royal Caribbean was building ships for its new Vision Class. These vessels would debut as some of the biggest cruise ships in the world, measuring a modest 73,000 gross tons. While still not tiny for today’s standards, these ships offer an entirely different cruise experience.

Granduer of the Seas

When Grandeur of the Seas was first built, the ship was known for its sleek ship design, which featured a thoughtfully-designed layout. Other features included advanced technology onboard and widespread, panoramic views of the ocean. 

We read many negative reviews about sailing on Grandeur of the Seas in 2023, which had us questioning whether we wanted to book our cruise or not.

Looking online, it seemed as though people either loved sailing on Grandeur of the Seas or they absolutely hated it. Many websites cite Grandeur of the Seas as the worst ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet, such as US News & World Travel.

Many felt the ship was boring and outdated. One person described the ship as, “old and raggedy” on Cruise Critic. Another felt like the ship only catered to an older crowd onboard without much to do. 

“The Grandeur of the Seas is the worse ship I’ve ever been on by FAR. It was rumored that this ship was going to be retired a few years ago and it should have,” said one upset reviewer.

I’ve also heard rumbles from other cruisers that Grandeur of the Seas was the worst cruise they had been on. Even our very own Matt from Royal Caribbean Blog said he considers Grandeur of the Seas to be Royal Caribbean’s worst ship!

Needless to say, my sister and I were a little hesitant to book this cruise. No one wants to spend their time or money just to experience a disappointing vacation. It had also been more than five years since my last time sailing on a Vision Class ship, so I was also eager to see what the current experience was like.

My sister and I booked a 4-night sailing from Tampa to visit Cozumel; our itinerary also featured two sea days. This was plenty of time for us to experience everything Grandeur had to offer, including dining, entertainment, activities and more. 

From the minute we stepped onboard, we were welcomed into the warm and inviting Centrum. 

The Centrum is a glass-covered atrium at the heart of Grandeur of the Seas and features multiple places to sit, most of which offer beautiful views of the sea. My sister and I found the Centrum to be one of our favorite places onboard during the cruise. We never had an issue finding a place to sit, even during boarding day. 

The first morning, we sipped on our coffee while watching the ocean pass by. I had forgotten this design feature on Vision Class ships - and it's one of the best aspects of Grandeur of the Seas. The glass panels allow so much natural light. You won’t forget that you’re on a cruise ship, unlike Royal Caribbean’s biggest ships. I find that on Oasis-class ships, it’s very easy to forget that you’re sailing on a cruise ship because it’s so massive and the indoor spaces lack natural light. 

In the evenings and during sea days, the atrium transformed into an entertainment venue for shows and live music. I remember my cruise on Vision of the Seas featured an aerial, acrobatic show in the Centrum, which was stunning! During our sailing, there was no atrium show offered and it appears these shows are no longer running on Vision-class ships. This is a shame, as it was a unique entertainment option and utilized the expansive space. 

Our sailing seemed to host a rowdier crowd, perhaps because Grandeur of the Seas offers cheap sailings.

One of the biggest surprises for this sailing was how rowdy our cruise was. Everyone was there to party! Honestly, you could have fooled me that this was a Carnival cruise with how many people were on the cruise to let loose and have a good time. I’ve never seen so many tables filled with empty beer and booze glasses!

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I was surprised to find a party crowd onboard. While many people worry about cruising during spring break, I had never thought about bachelorette and bachelor parties looking to cruise before the fall wedding season begins. My sister had just returned from a cruise the week prior, and she also found many wedding parties onboard celebrating the bride and groom. 

As such, the bars were constantly packed and I felt like the bartenders could not keep up. Everyone seemed to have the drink package, which kept the bartenders scrambling. Since Grandeur of the Seas only has a few bars overall, this meant they were always packed! 

But, the ambiance onboard was also very energetic with a younger demographic onboard. All of the interactive events - like the Love and Marriage Game Show and karaoke - were very fun and entertaining with this crowd. 

I envisioned that Grandeur of the Seas might attract an older crowd, but this wasn’t the case at all. Perhaps this is because our sailing was very cheap, around $466 each. For locals, this is a cheap getaway and the dates would be perfect over the weekend. 

I was particularly concerned about our stateroom’s condition, which we envisioned would be very outdated.

Last summer, I sailed onboard Carnival Ecstasy, which was the oldest ship in Carnival’s fleet at the time. The ship was built in 1991 and our cabin was very outdated. The worst part was the bathroom, which featured blue, squishy flooring and a toilet that was so close to the wall, we had to sit sideways. 

We had booked an inside cabin guarantee for this sailing and ended up in cabin 3505. Our stateroom was located at the very front of the ship on Deck 3. Inside cabins are typically barebones, although you have everything you need for a comfortable stay.

My sister and I were pleasantly surprised by the cabin’s good condition. The stateroom was 142 square feet, which is relatively small. The beds were very comfortable and we appreciated having a loveseat for additional seating. There was plenty of storage between the vanity’s drawers and the closet; we had more than enough space for our 4-night sailing.

The bathroom was the biggest surprise - in a good way! I was surprised to see the bathroom with light woodwork and white flooring. Most of the older ships that I’ve sailed on from the 1990s have colorful, yet outdated, bathrooms for their staterooms. For example, I sailed on Norwegian Sun this spring, which is one of Norwegian’s oldest cruise ships, and our bathroom was lime green!

The shower was the worst part of the bathroom, as it was oddly shaped like a trapezoid. The clingy curtain made the shower feel even more cramped.

Of course, it was also relatively small and we noticed there was little counter space to share near the sink. Because our bathroom also lacked any shelving, the counter became cluttered quickly. Honestly, the bathroom in our stateroom was in great condition and exceeded my expectations. 

The food onboard Grandeur of the Seas did not leave us disappointed, much to the contrary of others. 

One of the biggest complains we saw online was about the food onboard, with many complaining about the Windjammer’s quality and selection. “The food tasted like it was prepackaged. Horrible food selection,” stated one review.

During this sailing, we dined one evening at Giovanni’s Italian and then the other three evenings in the main dining room. Our specialty dining experience was excellent - my sister and I both loved our meals. We heard from many others onboard that the main dining room had a rough evening on the first night, with many people complaining about the food.

When we tried the main dining room for the first time, we were hesitant to see what others were talking about. However, we had delicious food and great service. Our neighbors, who did not like their meals on the first night, said the second night was much better. We also liked our meals on the other evenings in the dining room. 

The Windjammer buffet was more hit or miss. The first day, my sister had some pasta and pork that tasted very bland. I enjoyed my hot dog, but it’s hard to mess up a hot dog! We went back a few other times throughout and agreed the quality was hit or miss. I found there to be ample selection, but some items tasted better than others.

We also tried the other complimentary dining spot onboard, Park Cafe. This was located in the Solarium and served up pizza, salad and sandwiches. We grabbed lunch and snacks here during the cruise, and we thought the food and selection was decent. 

Overall, the highlight for us was specialty dining - as it should be when you pay extra for an elevated dining experience! However, we enjoyed our dinners in the main dining room even though this seemed to be a point on contention for others. The Windjammer was not our favorite - and the design of the space also lead to a hot and stuffy atmosphere. We did not spend much time in the Windjammer because of this. 

You won’t find dazzling entertainment onboard, but there were still plenty of activities and things to do.

You might be used to Royal Caribbean’s ships being filled with waterslides, zip lines, surf simulators and endless onboard thrills. However, Grandeur of the Seas is nothing like this. The top deck features one main pool and a few hot tubs. Nearby is the adults-only Solarium, which has another pool and hot tub. There is also a rock climbing wall on the aft of the ship.

But, I still think you can find plenty of things to do onboard. The entertainment staff is running activities and hosting events shows all day. You can find trivia, movies and game shows throughout the day, The sea days also feature the Men’s Belly Flop Competition and Sexiest Man competition, which are a hoot on the pool deck. 

In the evenings, entertainment is more limited when it comes to production shows. Some evenings only had one showtime for a certain production. We were able to see a comedian one night followed by a singing and dancing production by Royal Caribbean’s singers and dancers. Another night featured an impersonator as the headlining act. 

We enjoyed all of the shows onboard Grandeur of the Seas and never felt like we were bored. Were these shows absolutely jaw-dropping and life-changing? Not exactly. But, we still felt engaged and entertained.

I can see how a longer itinerary could feel more limited in this sense. A smaller ship is more limited in general for entertainment - and Royal Caribbean is known for having some of the most unique shows at sea (ice skating spectacles and high-diving shows, for example). If you’re looking to see the best of what Royal Caribbean offers for entertainment, you’ll want to sail on a newer and bigger ship.  

You might not find much pizzazz onboard, but Grandeur of the Seas shines with her simplicity.

I wanted to keep an open mind about our Grandeur of the Seas cruise. In all honesty, I’ve never disliked any of the 38 cruises that I’ve been on. My parents used to always say, “If you can’t find something you like on a cruise, there’s something wrong with you and not the cruise!”

In general, I’ve found this to be true. I prefer to focus on the positive aspects of a cruise experience, even if the ship is old and small like Grandeur of the Seas. 

Even still, I had low expectations for what the ship’s condition would be, along with what kind of cruise experience this ship would offer. Reading so many bad reviews had me and my sister a little hesitant about whether we would feel that our time and money spent was worthwhile. 

My sister and I were mostly looking to relax and enjoy being pampered for a few days. We wanted to have fun and sip a cocktail by the pool. In fact, this was one of the most relaxing cruises I’ve had in a while. I took a nap every single day - and I actually came back feeling refreshed. I’ve sailed on some cruises where I feel like I did so much that I needed a vacation from my vacation, but this was not the case.

Having a more simple cruise was just what I needed. There was no pressure to do everything and see everything because Grandeur of the Seas is more about just enjoying the sea life. Sometimes it is nice to disconnect from reality on a cruise and take advantage of the many quiet spaces onboard.

This was another lesson to take reviews with a gain of salt. I was impressed with Grandeur’s overall condition - honestly.

I anticipated that Grandeur of the Seas would be in similar condition to my recent experience on Carnival Ecstasy (with broken mirrors, rust everywhere and duct tape on the windows), but this was not the case. I would even argue that Grandeur of the Seas was in better condition than my last Royal Caribbean cruise on Jewel of the Seas over the summer.

We could tell the ship had been maintained very well - and we could even hear the constant maintenance throughout our cruise. There were not obvious signs of rust or wear and tear unless you were purposely looking for them. In general, the ship did not look its age. 

Would I want to do a transatlantic cruise on Grandeur of the Seas? Probably not. For a longer sailing with more sea days, I would want to be one a bigger ship with more modern amenities available.

For a short getaway, I thought Grandeur of the Seas was perfect. I would definitely book another cruise onboard without hesitation, although I would probably look for a port-intensive or destination-focused sailing. If you are looking to make Grandeur of the Seas your moving hotel while spending most of your days in port exploring, I think the ship’s size and age is perfectly suitable.

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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