Royal Caribbean recently opened bookings on its biggest ship ever. When it launches in 2024, Icon of the Seas will be the largest cruise ship afloat and loaded top to bottom with everything from an ice rink to multiple splashy slides. The 21-deck-high ship will tower over the 12-deck-high Grandeur of the Seas, the smallest ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet. So who’s going to want to cruise on the littlest ship? Me — and possibly you, too.
First, let’s clarify what “little” means when it comes to the cruise line known for its record-breaking ships. Grandeur of the Seas is by no means a small ship, carrying 1,992 guests at double occupancy (2,440 passengers at maximum occupancy). It’s actually quite large, measuring 73,817 gross tons and stretching 12 decks high (11 of those are for guests). Though it launched in 1996, the ship has been extensively refurbished and continually maintained. It boasts a rock climbing wall, kids club with nursery, and spa and fitness center.
I recently cruised aboard Grandeur and found plenty of people who enjoyed this smaller size of Royal Caribbean cruise ship. On my sailing, Grandeur was at full capacity, but I learned that the larger ship (belonging to sister company Celebrity Cruises) parked next to us in Cozumel was not even close to capacity. That means Lady G, as Grandeur is often fondly called, must be doing something right.
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Here’s what I loved about the smallest ship in Royal Caribbean’s current fleet — and what you might enjoy as well.
Grandeur of the Seas is intimate
Grandeur of the Seas gives off a feeling of intimacy as soon as you step on board. Clustered seating areas scattered around the circular four-deck-high Centrum beckon you to sit and chat or enjoy the live music often playing there. The adults-only Solarium with a bar for refreshments was my go-to quiet spot because I never had to wait for a free lounge chair in the calming space. The small size also makes it simple for crew members to get to know guests. By day two, the server at Park Cafe (also in the Solarium) already knew that I’d want a cup of fruit to go with my two slices of pepperoni pizza.
It’s also effortless to meet fellow cruisers on board smaller ships. It’s like the difference between a visit to a playground at your local park and a visit to Disney World. You’ll see the same people day after day aboard a smaller ship, making it far easier to strike up interesting conversations.
The main dining room experience is a highlight of the cruise
A meal in the main dining room is always a cruise experience not to be missed. From service with a flourish to a menu inviting you to try more than one entree, meals in the main dining room are an iconic part of what makes a cruise fun. But among today’s largest mainstream ships, these gala dinners can be the first thing that falters.
I did not find that to be the case with Grandeur. My husband and I enjoyed the food and service so much that we missed it on the nights we dined elsewhere. We lingered over lunch in the main dining room on sea days and had ample time for a waiter-served breakfast even on our port day. Unlike recent cruises on larger ships, we found ourselves considering the main dining room as our first choice for all meals, rather than our last.
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Spur-of-the-moment specialty dining is possible
If dining in the main dining room is like settling into your longtime favorite restaurant, enjoying the treat of a specialty restaurant on board is the equivalent of a once-a-year birthday or anniversary night out at the fanciest eatery in town. But unlike with those popular restaurants at home — or the alternative venues on Royal Caribbean’s bigger ships — reservations for Grandeur’s extra-fee restaurants were not hard to get.
We dined at Giovanni’s Table and Chops Grille and both were delicious treats that lived up to the standards we’ve found across the Royal Caribbean fleet. The best part is that unlike on bigger ships where most specialty dining venues fill to capacity, Grandeur’s small size means you can almost always get a reservation, even at the last minute. Our Giovanni’s reservation required nothing more than a quick stop by the restaurant during the lunch hour on the same day we wished to have dinner. We got the exact times we requested at both restaurants — no need to eat overly early or late to get a table.
It’s easy to get around the ship
Grandeur’s small size and easy navigation make it a good choice for several types of cruisers. New cruisers don’t have to worry about getting lost and travelers with mobility challenges will find that the majority of the ship is accessible and distances between cabins and public spaces are relatively short. The ship’s smaller size also simplifies things for families with children. It’s easier for older kids to find their way around, and far simpler for parents to find them when they need to. As for the tiny tots onboard, every step that parents can save while carrying or walking with little ones, or pushing a bulky stroller, is an improvement to the cruise experience.
I especially love that Grandeur has a traditional outside promenade along the sides of Deck 5, perfect for guests without balconies (on decks 2-4) seeking a nearby quiet place to step outside for fresh air or to watch sail away. The promenade has deck chairs and shade. Even though Grandeur’s promenade doesn’t complete a full circle around the ship, you can still walk laps by cutting through the stairwell lobbies. Unlike some lines, Royal Caribbean has kept outdoor promenade decks on all its ships, though on some of its newest ships, they have morphed into spaces with limited views that are less inviting for simply hanging out than the classic promenade on Grandeur.
Grandeur can visit ports that are off-limits to larger ships
The biggest ships cannot visit certain ports, typically due to restrictions placed on the number of daily visitors or actual docking size restrictions. Grandeur’s small size puts it in an elite class among Royal Caribbean’s ships because it can call in destinations its larger fleetmates cannot. The ship currently has stops scheduled in idyllic ports like Bonaire; St. Croix; Puerto Limon, Costa Rica; and Key West, Florida, all of which place limitations on larger ships.
What it lacks in top-deck thrills, it makes up for in old-fashioned fun
Because Grandeur does not feature an array of rides and slides, its activities team makes its own fun, including egg drops in the multistory Centrum, emotional flag parades with the crew members and well-attended origami lessons. I found more trivia sessions and game show-style events on board the ship than I’ve experienced in a long time. It’s the kind of fun families want to have together instead of scattering across multiple venues all day, only to see one another at bedtime — and you never feel stressed out trying to do it all before the sailing ends.
Cabin choices are budget friendly, with opportunities to splurge
Grandeur has a mere 996 cabins. (For comparison, Icon of the Seas will have 2,805.) Yet its mix of rooms offers plenty of choice for budget-conscious travelers, plus options for splurging on nicer and larger accommodations.
On the affordable side, 40% (399) of Grandeur’s accommodations are inside cabins, providing a bounty of low-cost rooms. I checked a few of these out and though they are small, ample storage makes the tight quarters more manageable. Ocean-view cabins make up the next-largest category, with 381 rooms ranging from Deck 2 porthole cabins to a giant Oceanview Suite on Deck 8. These cabins offer an affordable solution for those who really need to see the light of day. My favorites in this group are the centrally located spacious ocean-view cabins on decks 7 and 8.
Cruisers used to balcony cabins on newer ships will have to book early to snag one of the 127 regular balcony cabins, all on Deck 7. For something bigger, a total of 72 junior suites on decks 7 and 8 include cabins that face aft, with beautiful views looking out over the ship’s wake. This premium location is usually reserved for much larger and more expensive suites on new ships, so aft lovers can find their happy place for less on Lady G. Speaking of suites, Grandeur has 17 well-appointed suites on Deck 8, including four two-bedroom Grand Suites and five stunning Owner’s Suites with bathtubs I could have spent the entire cruise soaking in.
Fares are lower than the line’s averages
It doesn’t take a math wizard to figure out that smaller, older ships have lower fares than the shiny new behemoths. I ran a few searches of seven-night Caribbean cruises and determined that the gap can be as high as several hundred dollars per person between Grandeur and its larger Royal Caribbean fleetmates, depending on the itinerary, cabin category and dates. The average difference is over $100 per person.
Related: 6 ways to get a deal on a cruise
These lower-priced sailings are great for travelers on a budget or new cruisers not sure they want to invest a lot in an untried vacation type. But they can also help loyal cruisers reach the top tiers of Royal Caribbean’s Crown and Anchor Society loyalty program. I chatted with a couple who were intentionally using the Grandeur of the Seas’ cheaper fares to help them move up to the Pinnacle level of Royal Caribbean’s loyalty program more quickly. Their goal is to reach this status before their 87-night segment of the line’s 2023-2024 World Cruise because that level would give them far greater perks on the long voyage. It’s a brilliant strategy.
Grandeur of the Seas is not a ship loaded with splashy attractions, but I found it to have incredible service, fabulous food and value-priced cabins. I liked not having to pay for extras to fully enjoy the cruise because there’s plenty to do — plus space to do nothing, as well.
I’d happily sail on Grandeur of the Seas again — I’m actually eyeing a few of the ship’s longer itineraries scheduled for late 2023. Who else might enjoy Grandeur the way I did? The list includes loyal Royal Caribbean cruisers who don’t utilize all the fancy attractions on board the bigger ships, new cruisers hoping to jump in on a small scale first, and families who can make their own fun or who would enjoy old-fashioned games and onboard activities. Budget-conscious cruisers will love the ship’s comparatively affordable fares, solo cruisers can make use of the ship’s size to meet new cruise friends, and long-time cruisers looking for new ports to explore will appreciate itineraries filled with destinations the larger ships cannot visit.
But Lady G is not for everyone. Cruisers who are attracted to the bells and whistles of the bigger ships — including water attractions, additional entertainment venues, extra food choices and more cabin options — should probably skip Grandeur and stick with Royal Caribbean’s newer ships. In this age of megaships, I’m just glad the cruise line is still keeping some of its smaller ships around for those of us who really do appreciate them.
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