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Grandeur of the Seas

With my cruise to Cuba 🇨🇺 behind me it is now time to add one more country to my list of visited countries, and possibly it will be the last addition for a while, Bermuda 🇧🇲. It’s a short cruise, only 5 nights, but I’m doing back to back this time round, with 9 nights to New England and Canada 🇨🇦 (where I’m hoping to get some relief from the relentless tropical 🌴 Caribbean sun). 

The sailaway from Baltimore was a long one, but with a sunset at around 20:30, it meant we could enjoy the views around the Chesapeake Bay for quite some time. 

It was near sunset when I was sitting in the Centrum, watching the cruise director staff and guests participate in games, I glanced over at the windows to see many guests gathering to enjoy the final solar performance for the day. And what a spectacular sunset 🌅 it was. 

 Can’t do this on  Quantum  or  Oasis  class

Can’t do this on Quantum or Oasis class

The Grandeur of the Seas may be old, but like the other Vision class and Radiance class ships 🛳 you can really take in the views from many places from within the ship. You know you are at sea. 

Another benefit of these smaller ships, within the first few hours of the cruise, I had found 4 staff whom I had met from different ships on previous cruises. And for me that is a true highlight. 

I was on the Harmony for 3 weeks when I finally ran into one of my favourite bar lasses from my time on the Explorer. I had no idea she was onboard, and I didn’t see here again.  

The more I cruise, i increasingly find myself attracted to the smaller ships. And it concerns me that Royal Caribbean haven’t  announced anything to replace Vision or Radiance class vessels. 

(My Majesty of the Seas post is written, I just need to proof read it some more and make those final touches before I can get it posted). 

Bigger and better? Or Practical and Soulless?

My friend sent this article from Bloomberg to me, highlighting the changes in the cruise industry in its efforts to modernise and attract a younger market.

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Gone are the days when entertainment at sea consisted of a lounge act near the mini casino and shuffleboard on the lido deck. As Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. build ever larger vessels and try to lure younger guests, they’re unleashing an arms race to deliver ever more-elaborate onboard activities.

BLOOMBERG - BILLION-DOLLAR CRUISE SHIP BRINGS GO-KARTS AND LASER TAG TO THE HIGH SEAS

In addition we see cruise lines moving away from all inclusive packages, and start charging for various activities and dining. Royal Caribbean has a few specialty restaurants requiring payment (and I can't help but feel that Harmony of the Seas has been designed to really push guests to specialty dining, the Windjammer buffet is one of the most limited I have encountered).  They are also charging guests on some cruises to use features like the North Star

As one of the officers confessed to me the other day, one of the problems with the larger ships is "throughput". How can RCI give all guests a chance to experience all the features onboard.  Norwegian has addressed this by introducing fees.

“What they’re trying to do is minimize the crowds,” said Stewart Chiron, who runs the online travel site cruiseguy.com. The cost “is not going to dissuade you from going. It may dissuade you from doing it 20 times.”
— Bloomberg - Billion-Dollar Cruise Ship Brings Go-Karts and Laser Tag to the High Seas
 The  North Star  viewing platform over Auckland Harbour. On some cruises it costs money.

The North Star viewing platform over Auckland Harbour. On some cruises it costs money.

To long time cruisers this feels like (to borrow the American phrase) "nickel and diming". But how else do you provide everyone a chance to use the facilities? One option could be coupons; Royal Caribbean's Seapass already comes pre-loaded with the "coupons" for food and drink available to that guest, there is no reason it couldn't be extended to the activities and shows on board. But of course coupons don't increase revenue, and at heart every cruise line is a business with shareholders, revenue is what they do this for. 

My concern is that in search of the "wow" Royal Caribbean (and the other cruise lines) are losing the romance. Go-Karts and Laser Tag, how often do you want to do that? How often can you go down the same water slide? How many times can you ride the Flow Rider before you are asked to get off to allow other guests a chance? How many times can you escape the same Escape Room? Not only is throughput limited, the law of diminishing returns  begins to apply. Then ships with the "Wow" become ships with the "been there! done that!" And the arms race of developing attractions and excitement just gets taken to the next level. All at the cost of what was at the core of cruising, personal relationships.

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The smaller ships, limited by physical capacity, rely on the emotional experience to generate great memories. The physical rush of laser tag, go karts, or big water slides is so temporary. But emotional connections are longer lasting, richer and more meaningful.

The romance and character of smaller ships is getting lost in this new age. I wonder if there will be space in the future for a cruise line dedicated to some of the old experiences of cruising, with less emphasis on the superficial and more on the heart and soul. I can only hope, but I am not holding my breath. 

To Davy Jones Locker with Oasis Class
 Doesn't matter what ship you are on, sunset at sea is awesome.

Doesn't matter what ship you are on, sunset at sea is awesome.

Any reader of my blog will know that the Oasis of the Seas was the ship that inspired me to cruise with Royal Caribbean. When it was launched in 2009 I was completely taken by the sheer size of the ship. The number of guests, the gross tonnage, the activities, and the facilities were all incredibly amazing. Jump forward nine years, and five cruises on board three Oasis class ships (Oasis, Allure, and, Harmony), I can safely say that I am done with this class of ship.

Everybody is entitled to their opinion, and there are many people who love these ships, I just happen to be one that doesn't. The ships are just too big, they are impersonal, lack intimacy, character and charm. All the activities require reservations, and if you're late, too bad, so sad bye-bye, you aren't getting in. With the exceptions of Ocean view, and Ocean balcony rooms, the deck five running track, and decks 15 through to 17, you would never know you are on a ship. And one of the reasons I like to cruise, love to cruise it Is to be on a ship. 

I love sitting in the Schooner Bar watching the ocean as I have a whisky, or play trivia or both. I love getting to know the crew and my fellow passengers, I love walking up to the evenings entertainment and finding a seat, I love sitting out on the helipad with a  cup of coffee watching the stars at night. 

 Wooden shutters on the  Enchantment of the Seas , so much more charm than the grills used on  Oasis  class.

Wooden shutters on the Enchantment of the Seas, so much more charm than the grills used on Oasis class.

Sitting in the Schooner Bar on an Oasis class ship, is like being in a bar, next to a food court, in a shopping mall. With activities occurring there often interrupted by the events happening on the Promenade, and for the more popular activities seating can be very limited. The lido deck, is a mass of melanoma seeking, speedo wearing hordes. The Promenade Deck is the smallest shopping mall in the world, with all the commercialised hum, and none of the benefits. The outdoor movie theatre is for those who like watching things from an alternative angle, you sit in a seat with your body facing one direction and your head turned slightly a different direction. Who designed this mess?

The Oasis class is a ship for people who actually don't like cruising, they don't like the movement of the sea, they just want to drink, be entertained, and see some new places. It's a big floating hotel, it's an amazing feat of engineering, the logistics of feeding, and supplying the ship mind-blowing, but it's just not for me.

Personally I'd love to see them sunk and turned into  artificial reefs and wreck dives, they would be the most amazing wreck dives in the world. Currently Royal Caribbean have no plans to build smaller ships, nothing has been announced to replace Vision or Radiance class, and they are definitely two of Royal Caribbean's best sized ships. Vision Mk2 or Radiance Mk 2, that would be some exciting news. 

I have 1 more cruise on Harmony, then 2 on Oasis at the end of July, and that's the end of Oasis class for me. I will make exceptions, somebody buys me a ticket, I win a cruise, or an amazing itinerary, so never say never, but still no more future Oasis class bookings for me.

  Radiance of the Seas  one of my favourite ships, even though it's old and has shwoer 

Radiance of the Seas one of my favourite ships, even though it's old and has shwoer 

Dune Dinner Safari

Please forgive the delay in posts. The internet on the Mariner is almost unusable for most things. But to write, edit and post with my blog provider is impossible.  

We are now a few nights out from Dubai, making our way through the pirate infested waters of the Gulf of Aden. This is another story. 

Back in Dubai we shared the cruise port with our sister companies ship the Celebrity Constellation.  

 The Celebrity Constellation in Muscat. 

The Celebrity Constellation in Muscat. 

The Constellation is a very similar size to us, and many on board both ships decided to the Dune Dinner Safari. Combined with the guests staying in hotels there were about 400 of us enjoying the sand dunes, entertainment and views in the desert 🐪 outside Dubai. Far more than I expected. I thought it would be a more intimate experience, around 40 people (which my driver Rasheed said was a more standard number of guests). 

Apart from waiting in the car park at the cruise terminal for too long, the whole excursion was fantastic. It was a beautiful afternoon as we drove out from Dubai. Taking in the views of the Burj Khalifa and other amazing buildings.  

On the outskirts of town we drove past a camel race track, a camel market, and a camel hospital. The Dubai freeway system had minimum and a generalist maximum speed limit of 120 km/h but I was told that you could do 140 without incurring too much of a penalty.

After arriving at the entry to the desert all the land cruiser is pulled over to air down.    many of us took this opportunity to stretch our legs and climb the nearest dune. The more sensible of us removed footwear and climbed in bare feet. Many of us, including myself expected the sand to be scorching hot, But we were happy to find the sand was not just comfortably warm but it also had an amazingly fine texture that was wonderful to walk in. 

After the four wheel drives had aired down, all the guests bordered the vehicles and we had out to the dunes. It was very clear that the drivers were very comfortable and confident in themselves, their vehicles and the other drivers. With all the drivers performing daredevil manoveuvers to entertain the guests.  

Along the way some of the 4WDs had to pull over to allow for the more motion sick prone traveler an opportunity to relieve themselves of their afternoon meal.  (I was going to insert the “puking emoji” but you got the idea).

Close to sunset we pulled over once again to allow everyone the chance to enjoy the sunset over the desert.   however it was very close to sunset and we all have to scramble to the top of the nearest dunes  to get to see the sunset in time.

It was very much worth it.  

 I just made it. 

I just made it. 

Arriving at the “Bedouin camp" aka  tourist trap in the desert, many guests joined the queue to ride the camels.  I headed straight to the camp to find my position to enjoy my dinner and the belly dancing. 

The belly dancer was fantastic, they should r The belly dancer was fantastic, I should really be called hip dancers, wow could she move them.  

Beer and wine were included in the package, And it all went rather well the simple and traditional meal. Considering the large number the catering was quite well done and the food was reasonably tasty.

After dinner I headed to the hookah lounge, for an apple flavoured smoke. Unfortunately my vehicle companions wished to return to the ship so I couldn’t fully enjoy my time in the lounge, staring at the stars ⭐️. 

The drive back to the ship would’ve been quite uneventful if it had not been for the alcohol fuelled conversation in the car. Had me blushing for most of the kilometres. 

Overall it was an excellent excursion and a try highlight of this journey.  If you have a chance, do it.