Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Navigator of the Seas
Sailing Date: May 28th, 2005
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
Embarkation and onboard:
This went pretty smoothly. I had researched this trip, excursions, etc. quite extensively for months before selecting anything. Even though it was recommended to take a flight the day before to have some leeway, we decided that we didn’t want to deal with hotels, shuttles, rent-a-car, and instead elected to fly in on a “redeye.” We arrived in Miami at 7am…unfortunately, our luggage did not. We still had plenty of time though, and were reunited with our suitcases by 8:30am. Had a light breakfast at airport café, then easily hailed a taxi van to carry the four of us (me, DH, 18 yo son, 13 yo daughter) and our mountain of luggage to the Port of Miami (flat rate of $21 plus tip for driver). Porters were waiting at curbside to collect our bags and take them to the ship. Our tipping philosophy is simple—if someone provides a service for a task we would rather not have to perform, especially with a pleasant attitude, we are quite happy to tip appropriately. We waited for about an hour in the terminal, the boarding process was painless, and we were having a buffet lunch in the Windjammer by 11:30. The buffet wasn’t crowded at that time, but does get quite congested by noon, and is VERY crowded every morning between 9 & 11:00. We are early risers and beat the rush most days. The dining room breakfast and lunch are less harried. Room service is another good option if you aren’t a morning person, and actually want to sit and eat your meal while it is still warm. The food in the Windjammer/Jade is alright—not great, not terrible, with a decent selection. Husband and I have far different tastes than our teens, but we all found something to eat. We were in a balcony stateroom on deck eight, port side. No adjoining balcony to our right, so pretty good view and some extra deck room. Stateroom was decent-sized, although the first thing we did was move the little coffee table onto the deck to give us some walking room since we were four to the cabin. Was pleasantly surprised by the amount of space for clothes—lots of shelves and drawers. Was glad the shower had a door, rather than curtain. However, I am a petite, slender female and it felt claustrophobic at times, especially when trying to maneuver to shave legs, etc. The junior suite wasn’t available when we booked, but would definitely recommend upgrading if possible. Our stateroom attendant was Raul, and we had him clear out the contents of the mini-fridge the first evening. Our large suitcases fit under the bed quite nicely. Our suitcases didn’t arrive outside our door until 5:30 (dinner @ 6pm), but Raul told us the dress code is very relaxed on the first night. We wore shorts/capris, as did most of the other diners on the first evening.
Meals: Oh my. We had heard that the food is often nothing to write home about these days on cruise ships. I don’t know what those who wrote those reviews are used to consuming, but our dinners in the dining room were delicious. We are accustomed to fine dining, and were not disappointed by what we were served. The presentation was understated, but still pleasing and elegant. One negative—the lettuce in the salads was not very crisp, and while the Caesar and vinaigrette dressings tasted fine, they were tossed in with a heavy hand by galley staff. Ironically, the wine list featured primarily California wines—most from vineyards we are very familiar with. Our wait staff was superb! By the 2nd evening, our waiter (Gilberto from Costa Rica) and assistant waiter (Ruben from Chile) knew what beverages the kids liked, and had the drinks placed as we were laying our napkins across our laps. Their recommendations were right on target, and we couldn’t have asked for better service. Although again, I had read several reviews stating the head waiter usually isn’t a presence until the cruise nears its end, our head waiter (Claude from Belgium) introduced himself on the first evening, and came by our table nightly to chat and inquire how our meal suited. On the 2nd evening, he learned my daughter enjoyed pasta dishes. He told us he had some “chef” training and liked to prepare Italian food. On the Venetian-themed night, he prepared a special spaghetti and meatball platter (not on the menu) for my youngest. This type of personal attention from most of the staff was present, and appreciated, throughout our cruise. We did take the Milano’s (and others) suggestions regarding tipping the recommended amount at the beginning of the voyage, with extra on the last night, appropriate to the services provided. Perhaps this was responsible for the wonderful treatment we received…whatever the reason, we felt absolutely pampered! While my husband and I are awake and ready to go by 6-7am, our teenagers are typical of others their age, and enjoy a later wakening. On most days, DH and I had a light breakfast and coffee at the Café Promenade on Deck 5—very quiet early in the AM. Some mornings, we ordered breakfast delivered by room service for the kids (order must be placed outside door by 3am). We didn’t make reservations at either of the two specialty dining establishments, but heard from others on our sailing that they were worth the extra fee. We have a Johnny Rocket’s in the city we reside, so did not visit that eatery while on board. Although we also enjoy a Ben & Jerry’s within walking distance of our home, my daughter did purchase a couple of scoops during the trip. Enjoyed the after dinner wine-tasting & chocolates at Vintages. Took another online suggestion, and ordered room service sandwiches the night before excursions that were scheduled to run into lunchtime. Items fit easily into the now-empty refrigerator in the stateroom. The only complaint I have regarding the food service on this trip was the woman who answered the phone/took room service orders. She was blatantly rude and argumentative on three separate calls. I don’t think this was just our perception, as the smilingly apologetic response we received when we asked the room service waiter about the availability of a certain item was “I am so sorry, I don’t know…but don’t worry or be afraid to call and ask--it’s her job.” We did note her behavior on the guest satisfaction survey turned in at the end of the voyage, in addition to all our positive experiences with the rest of the staff.
Activities: What a variety of things to do on this ship! We enjoyed the well-outfitted gym (not very crowded from 6-8am) on several mornings. We played mini-golf a few times, although the wind makes for some interesting shots. We all inline skate at home, but didn’t try the track onboard—looked pretty narrow. The guys played in a dodgeball tournament, winning “shipshape” dollars to exchange for merchandise. The youngest enjoyed the arcade…but be forewarned, the games are pricey here. We wanted to climb the rock wall, but signups took place on the hour, and we were always somewhere else on the ship, and didn’t especially want to wait in line—enjoyed warm and sunny weather all but the last day. The pools were smaller than our backyard one, but not cold like I had read on some boards. They are saltwater and VERY crowded on at-sea days. Was easy to find a lounge chair if you didn’t need to be close to the pools. One plus (for us), or minus, depending on personal preference: the pool bars close after dark, so the pools and hot tubs are virtually deserted in the evenings. DH and I had the entire Solarium pool/whirlpool area to ourselves one evening after dinner. While I enjoy the occasional pedicure or massage while not on vacation, just didn’t feel the need to spend the money for spa treatments at sea, especially with so many other things to do. Ship is a cash-free system with everything charged to Seapass account (easy to check transactions on TV in room). Cashed traveler’s checks at purser’s desk or casino before shore trips (many local merchants accept credit cards as well).
Shows: Having never been on a cruise, didn’t have a comparison here, but did enjoy the production shows. The comedian one night, Nick Lewin, was very entertaining. The ice show is also a must see. The rink is tiny, but the performers still do the jumps and acrobatics they do in a larger venue. Ken Rush was the cruise director and did a great job. We didn’t stay up for the welcome aboard parade on the first evening, but DS did and said it was worth watching. The theaters are comfortable and the timing worked out well for us most nights (we had main seating for dinner).
Labadee: Were pleasantly surprised by this stop. This is RC’s private “island” (a peninsula) on Haiti. We were on the second tender and on the beach in short order. The beaches are lovely, but we tend to avoid crowds and went to the last (“hideaway”) beach—just follow the signs. This is a very poor country, and while the lounge chairs/hammocks are free, the local staff rushes to position them and carry for you, hoping for a tip. The chairs are heavy and were carried quite a distance to the spot we desired, so didn’t mind tipping for the service. The water was very clear at this beach, and snorkeling was okay—nothing spectacular. Saw some fish and a small octopus. RC requires that all snorkelers (even if you bring your own gear, as we did) wear an inflatable vest (it doesn’t have to be inflated) for a $6 rental fee. Additional benefit of being away from the masses—this wasn’t enforced where we were. The BBQ provided was okay, and we also had to try a “Labadoosie” beverage. Didn’t even attempt the local market, as others on beach shared their experiences and confirmed what I had read—VERY high pressure sales. On the way back to ship, passed the first beach and Aqua-park—looked like everyone on the ship was there…don’t know how people were swimming with it that congested!
Ochos Rios: We didn’t book anything through the ship. We had wanted to experience Dunn’s River Falls without having to go with a group (Did I mention my aversion to large crowds? *grin*). Easily found a taxi (use ones with red plates), with “no problem Horace” as our driver. Don’t remember how much the fare was, but was reasonable and we paid for round-trip transportation. A pick-up time and place were arranged and we paid the entrance fee ($15 a person) to enter the recreation area. We were very disappointed as we were herded into groups and told everyone must climb with a guide. I like climbing, but just really hate not having my hands free when I do so. We attempted several times to separate from the group, but were actually told at one point, “you all look the same to me, so stay together, otherwise I won’t know who to get tip from.” There really wasn’t an opportunity to just enjoy the beauty of the falls with two groups of 40-50 climbing simultaneously, and being pushed/pulled to “hurry.” The final straw was when the guide repeatedly splashed water into my daughter’s face (she wears contacts) because she wasn’t moving fast enough for his liking. We exited the water at that point, with the guide trailing our steps, shouting “you tip me now.” Wish I could say this was isolated behavior, but this attitude from the locals continued at every place we stopped. The shops at exit weren’t as high-pressure as I had read. The shopkeepers on the island had most merchandise priced higher than it is on the boardwalk shops of coastal CA (example--$20 or more for baseball cap), and when we haggled, we got comments like “why you so cheap, you can afford it.” Must state, we were dressed simply in shorts, T-shirts, and flip-flops--no jewelry, nor name-brand accessories--so must conclude this assumption was simply because we were tourists. My daughter was looking for a spaghetti-strap sundress for Caribbean night at dinner. One shopkeeper pulled out a dress with sleeves and muttered, “why you need thin straps, this is better” along with insults towards my child (which thankfully, she did not hear). We went to Magaritaville for lunch and then back to the ship. Based on this experience, we will likely never return to Jamaica.
Georgetown, Grand Cayman: Based on web reviews and my own email correspondence with them, I booked Stingray City and 2 other snorkel stops with Captain Marvin’s. Sadly, my daughter woke up with 102 fever, so she and I stayed on the ship. My husband and son did go, and had a great time. There were only a dozen people onboard, and Captain Marvin was present on the boat—sharing lots of entertaining stories and info. They reported that the crew were very helpful, and they saw a 6-foot nurse shark, and green eel (coaxed out by crew member). The stingrays were apparently MUCH larger than those in the pet/feeding pools at Sea World, plentiful, and seemed to enjoy the attention. We were charged for only the two who participated. The guys did a little shopping before returning to the ship, and brought us back souvenirs. The prices on rum cakes were comparable to those onboard the Navigator (a dollar less on the island). All in all, an enjoyable day and one we (DD and I) were sorry to have missed. A side note—this was the more FORMAL night for dining. Daughter wasn’t feeling up to dinner, but I adore lobster and was curious whether it would be served this night as it wasn’t on the first formal evening. Called room service and asked what was available for dinner. The person who answered (not the rude woman) said, ‘lobster, prime rib…there is a menu outside the dining rooms for a full selection.’ We thought “great, we can still have lobster, and not have to leave our sick child in cabin.” When I called to place order (by this time, too late to dress for dinner), the rude woman told us that the lobster was NEVER available by room service and NO ONE would have told us it was (so I either imagined it or am pathological liar?). Also, even though it was repeated back to me correctly, she wrote down our order wrong (was shown ticket by waiter) twice that evening. We finally had our ordered meal (with no lobster!) delivered at 8:30pm. By that point, we just wanted to wrap up a bad night and start fresh the next AM.
Cozumel: Loved this stop! Living where we do, are familiar with both language and culture. Don’t mind working out prices with eager shopkeepers a bit, and this place was much cleaner than most of the border towns south of San Diego and Texas that I have visited. I had booked a three-stop snorkel/snuba tour with Mayan Paradise. They were waiting for us at the designated spot and had our names on a list. This is an important thing to keep in mind—the local tour operators want you on their boats, and so will tell you “yes, yes, this is boat you are looking for” (this happened to others on the same tour, and was attempted with us, but luckily we knew it wasn’t our tour, and the others in our group quickly realized the same). The waters here are absolutely breath-taking, and the abundance and variety of marine life were fabulous! If you don’t scuba, but want great experience, highly recommend the snuba option. Went down about 20 feet and saw large eel, pretty coral, and LOTS of fish. The guide took a family picture with his underwater digital and it was waiting for us via email when we arrived home (small fee). Crew were friendly and eager to please. Went to Chankanaab, Paraiso, Dzul Ha. Can also snorkel these locations from shore without paying for boat trip, if not interested in the Snuba portion. Good shopping, and remember to haggle—it’s expected.
Photos: Every evening at dinner (except last night) were offered portrait op, and also every time leaving the ship (we passed on these, as were dressed for active days—in other words, no makeup *g*). Pictures were decent quality--$19.95 for 8X10.
Debarkation: This was least favorite part of the trip. Had bags outside by midnight (remember to keep out something to wear for trip home). I am also a bit untrusting, so zip-tied the bags before placing them in hallway. We had 1pm flight, so got third color tags. Waited in theater for color to be called--off ship by 8am. Customs line was LONG, but going through no problem. Collecting our baggage was another story. Took over an hour to get all our luggage. Most bags are black, red, or navy. We put our surname initial in white fabric paint on front of bag, and tied big yellow ribbons on handles. Unfortunately, lots of yellow (and red) ribbons on most of the black bags. American has a luggage/flight check-in at the port, so didn’t have to haul our bags to the airport with us. Overall, great vacation, and we are already planning our next cruise with Royal Caribbean.