CRUISING IN GRANDEUR AROUND THE MED
A multi-million dollar facelift makes cruising on the Grandeur of the Seas different class
IT is 7am. The Grandeur of the Seas is entering the Bay of Naples. On the starboard side is the world-famous volcano Vesuvius and on the port side the rugged Italian coastline. Nine of us are jogging on deck ten. The sun is about to rise and the temperature is 28C. It’s tough going completing two miles – eight times around the deck – as the humidity level is high. However, the view is stunning. It’s unlikely I’ll ever have a more memorable place to run. Less than an hour later we’ve docked and hundreds of us on the 2,446-capacity ship walk into town, women for retail therapy and men running the gauntlet of the street trader and the enthusiastic taxi men always eager to negotiate. We were spared the pushy salesmen in the other ports we visited but, for some, that is part of the allure of cruising.
What to see:
Part of the appeal of a cruise is waking up in another port. We called at five ports and the French city of Marseilles which was the only place where we had to take a bus as the ship was docked a distance from the town. The quayside fish market was disappointing after all I’ve heard about it but, if you are prepared to walk, then this bustling port is an ideal place to wander. A little train can take the strain for those less energetic. Typical French architecture, wide streets, atmospheric buildings and, for the ladies, a great shopping experience, with world-wide brands to the fore, make this an ideal stop-over. Take a brolly as we were caught in a horrendous cloudburst when the streets were flooded in seconds. One hour later the sun was out and everything was back to normal. Corsica was our next port of call, 210 miles south-east of Marseilles, and we docked at the capital, Ajaccio on a sparking day. The train trip of around 90 minutes takes you in and around the West Coast town – there seemed to be statues of Napoleon on every street – but this excursion went further, along the coastline and through several resorts, perfect for people tempted to plan a holiday here. It ended at Napoleon’s, four-storey, birthplace. Naples was next. We docked in scorching temperatures but, as I’d been there before, we decided to go walkabout, firstly to the main shopping streets, and then, when it became too hot, meandering back to the ship through narrow and shaded side-streets. Off the beaten track, Naples has a charm. Men playing cards, groups of locals sitting chatting, washing lines from one side of the street to the other, people rowing – loudly – and wonderful little shops selling everything from pastry to pizza to hand-made souvenirs. We picked up several gifts at decent prices because we were off the main track and the walk opened my eyes about the busy city. Sicily was next with Catania, underneath Mount Etna, chosen. The town has a long, eventful history and is now one of the main economic, tourism and education centers on the island. The fruit market is a delight – huge tomatoes and watermelons – but the noisy fish market is brim full of characters as well as a staggering array of fish. It was a highlight and the pavement cafes offer an ideal place to sit and watch the world go by and the huge outdoor market – food, including cheese and meat plus shoes, at staggeringly low prices – is a magnet for locals and tourists. Malta was out final destination with Valetta the harbour. The capital is home to around 7,000 people and it is easy to see why the 16th-century Baroque architecture made it a World Heritage Site. We took a short taxi ride from the dock to the centre – five minutes – and then wandered. The car-free streets made this a joy to stroll around and the shops – including several well-known brands – were augmented by local traders selling a range of goods, including jewellery. A local market was also available with keen prices.
Facilities on board are second-to-none. A recent, five-week, $48m refit has doubled the number of restaurants, Grandeur of the Seas is the eighth ship within Royal Caribbean International’s 22 strong fleet to undergo planned revitalisation. The re-furbishment included increasing the dining options onboard which have nearly doubled with the addition of five restaurants They include: Giovanni’s Table: An Italian trattoria featuring Italian classics served family-style Izumi: Featuring a sushi bar with hot-rock cooking Park Café: An indoor/outdoor gourmet market featuring salads, sandwiches, soups and pastries (No additional cost) Chef’s Table: An exclusive and private experience co-hosted by the executive Chef and Sommelier for a wine pairing dinner of five courses. Chops Grille: Royal Caribbean International’s signature steakhouse featuring a menu of prime cuts. The speciality restaurants onboard incur an additional cost – guests have the option of choosing from several different dining packages which range from $50 to $120 per guest – all the main and buffet restaurants are included within the price of the cruise. And they are good. Surprisingly, the Windjammer Restaurant proved the most consistent, topping the main dining room. The range of food served from early to late was stunning. The crew – made up of over 50 nationalities – made sure of that. From breakfast to dinner, they had something to excite the palate. Freshly-cooked omelettes were a speciality (with eight fillings to pick from) and the Chinese chef made them into a work of art. The fruit and cereal collection, plus cold buffet (with salmon) was enough for anybody, even those with allergies. Yes, soya milk was available along with a choice of wheat-free bread. The League of Nations crew in the kitchen made lunch a constant draw. Chinese stir fry, Italian hunters stew, roast brisket and roast pork (with apple sauce) and a huge array of salads. They were superb. The soup, made with home-made stock, was consistently good and my particular favourite was minestrone. It was packed with flavour. And the sweets. There were normally around four plus fruit and were eye-catching. They normally tasted as good as they looked, particularly the almond cake and banana and coconut slice. Service in the main dining room was slick. We were fortunate. Kenga from St Vincent provided a wealth of information as well as being a quick wit. Advesh from Delhi was quietly efficient but also had a keen sense of humour. My niece didn’t want a sweet one evening. Not to be left out he placed a plate at her position with the word nothing discreetly iced on it. A nice touch. You had to watch your waistline, but jogging around the deck helped with that. The constant supply of coffee, teas – including speciality – and water on deck nine made it hard to complain.
The quality of the cabins – with ensuite – was spot on. They were not big but more than adequate with cunning cupboards and more than enough storage space. Little things count and, in the evening, the cabin attendant normally created a sculpture from the linen. One night a monkey, the next an elephant. The en suite shower room was equipped with a surprisingly strong flow of water. The only disappointment was the lack of stations on the TV and the daily updates on the ship video channel were memorable by their mediocrity.
A new baby and toddler nursery has been incorporated as part of the refit as well as a giant outdoor cinema screen. The Centrum – a giant atrium in the centre of the ship – has been transformed into a major entertainment area featuring a range of daytime activities, nightly shows and aerial performers. Sadly, the live showtime performances in the Atrium area failed to live up to the billing. It was the same in the superbly-equipped, on-board theatre. The entertainment, apart from Scottish singer Brenda Cochrane, who knew how to work an audience made up of several different nationalities, was disappointing. The well-equipped ships gym has all most need for a decent workout and the classes were tailor-made to suit participants. I know, I did one about keeping the body in shape.
We had one major gripe – the price of drinks. It was OTT and other passengers, who had cruised with other companies, were not amused. Think again Royal Caribbean.
Easy, flight from Glasgow to Palma and a 20 minute bus trip to the quayside.
We loved life on board and would do another cruise, mainly because of the variety of stop-overs and the food.