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Douglas King

Age: 43

Occupation:Computer Programmer

Number of Cruises: 4

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Navigator of the Seas

Sailing Date: July 8th, 2006

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

Just for some background, this was my fourth cruise, the second for my wife and the first for my step kids (daughter age 10 and son age 14). My wife and I had taken the Carnival Miracle last summer so some of my comments compare the Navigator of the Seas to the Carnival Miracle (because both cruises are fresh in my mind).

My family and I flew from Dallas (DFW) non-stop to Ft. Lauderdale on American Airlines. There was bad weather in Ft. Lauderdale so we circled for about a half hour and then were diverted to Fort Myers (where we had to refuel). After about another hour in Fort Myers, we took off and finally made it to Ft. Lauderdale 2 ½ hours late. This kind of scenario is why I always leave a day early for a cruise. We could have missed the cruise if we had flown in the day of the cruise. We found our luggage with no problems and then hired a private car through Tri-county Airport Express (you don’t have to reserve this in advance) and made it to our hotel in about 45 minutes. We stayed at the Holiday Inn near the Miami Port. The location was nice as the Bayside Marketplace was right across the street. We had a decent room with a bedroom and separate living area. The hotel was quiet and we didn’t have any noise issues that I’d read about. The hotel is nothing great but functional and close to the port. It’s worth staying at if you’re just looking for an overnight stay prior to a cruise.

We went to Bayside to look around and ate at Bubba Gump’s which was fairly good. I had fish and chips and there was way too much food. We were tired after the flight and delays so we called it a night.

Day 1 – Saturday, 7/8 Embarkation
I woke up fairly early (at 8 am) and immediately looked out the window for a view of the Navigator. She was at dock and was a beautiful sight to see. We had breakfast at the Holiday Inn and I can quite honestly say that it was one of the most awful breakfasts I’ve ever had (terrible tasting thin pancakes, lousy bagels, and lumpy oatmeal). Avoid this breakfast at all costs!

We checked out of the hotel a little after 11 am and arrived at the dock around 11:20, dropped off our bags with a porter and headed inside. Outside the port terminal were numerous signs stating that check in would not occur until 2:30 pm but they were incorrect (so ignore them). We quickly passed through security and then I asked for the line for suites. We had a Jr. suite and I had read that sometimes they allow priority boarding for Jr. suites and sometimes they don’t. We had no problems at all in the suites line with checking in, so add Miami to the list of ports where Jr. suites get priority check in. The ship was already boarding (it was a few minutes before 12) so we passed most of the people in the normal line, had our picture taken and walked onto the ship.

We explored a little bit and headed to the Windjammer as we were starved. The Windjammer was supposed to open at noon but when we got there, it was still closed. Apparently, a health inspection was taking place and it didn’t open until 12:40 or so, at which point there was a long line of hungry cruisers waiting to get in. Once the doors opened it was a mad rush to get food. Food stations were overcrowded and there didn’t seem to be enough tables for everyone. This was the one negative of the Navigator. The Windjammer doesn’t seem to be built large enough to handle the volume of passengers on board. We ate here several times during the cruise and every time but one it was very difficult to find a table. The food quality was mediocre and it seemed cramped and over crowded trying to get through the food lines. We found the buffet on the Carnival Miracle to be superior in terms of layout, quality, and variety of food. The pizza was much better on Carnival and we also missed the Reuben sandwiches that can be found on Carnival. The positive of this scenario is that the Navigator scored 100 on its health inspection score (which is supposed to be very difficult according to Captain Bang).

After lunch, we explored the ship a little more and then headed to our cabin. One of our 5 bags was already there (the others arrived shortly thereafter) which was nice. We had cabin 9584 which we really liked (and was a Jr. suite as I mentioned earlier). It had abundant storage space (including a walk in closet) and we were able to unpack all of our clothes (for 4 people) and store the luggage under the bed. There was plenty of space to walk around in the room even when the couch was made out into a bed, and the balcony was large and could seat three. The bathroom had a tub and two medicine cabinets and was small, but pretty good sized for a ship.

It soon was time for the muster drill (my least favorite part of a cruise except for disembarkation) and following that we started to sail out of Miami Port. Prior to leaving the Carnival Triumph and Imagination both sailed by us which was fun (people were waving and yelling back and forth). Cars honked at us as we sailed out of the harbor from a nearby highway which was fun as well.

It was soon time for dinner so we headed for the Nutcracker Dining Room (there are three dining rooms but it’s really one big 3 story dining room) and we had our own table for four. Vipin from India was our waiter and his assistant was also from India. They were wonderful and took great care of us all week. They remembered our names (and addressed us by name when ordering) and what we liked to drink and made dining there a true pleasure. We found the dining room on the Navigator to be superior to the Carnival Miracle both in décor and food quality, although both had great service. I tried two entrees most nights and usually had 2 appetizers and 2 desserts (I’m on vacation so I figured what the heck). My step son had steak every single night (the top sirloin was fairly decent actually).

After dinner we went to the welcome aboard show. It was pretty good and the cruise director Graham Seymour was humorous (he usually did a comic routine at each show and even sang one night). The entertainment was solid although not spectacular. During the week, we attended one of the production shows called Now and Forever (where they sing various Broadway songs), a comedian named Troy Thirdgill (hilarious), and a comic magician named Chad Chesmark (average) in addition to the welcome aboard show. I’d call entertainment a draw between RCCL and Carnival. After the show we retired and day one of the cruise was over.

One final note for day 1: I had trouble falling asleep as the bed wasn’t that comfortable (I could feel springs pushing into my back). My wife mentioned this to Clover, our room steward and she said they were replacing mattresses and bedding on the ship, but they hadn’t gotten to our deck yet. Clover said she’d ask about getting a new mattress for us but wasn’t sure if they’d do it or not. The next night the bed was much more comfortable as she had added padding and it made a huge difference (they must have told her no about the mattress so she took it upon herself to do something to help). I really appreciated her making the effort to do this for me.

Day 2 – Sunday, 7/9 At Sea
Today was a day at sea, and I got up at 8:45 am to head down to wait for ice show tickets. They were handing them out at 9:30 at the entrance to Studio B (the ice rink area) and when I got in line around 9 there were about 10 people in front of me so it wasn’t too bad. Next, we grabbed some breakfast at the Windjammer (overcrowded as usual) and then headed up to play mini golf. The golf course is 9 holes and it can be tricky with the wind. After that we changed into our swimsuits and went to the pool. The adult pool area looked much more relaxing than the regular pool but we of course couldn’t go there as we had the kiddos along! The regular pool was very crowded so we just dipped our feet in and relaxed. After hanging out by the pool for awhile, we decided to play Bingo. The crew member running the Bingo was pretty annoying (and told dreadfully bad jokes), but it was still fun and we were one number away from winning in two different games. Alas, we did not win though. We skipped lunch today since we had a fairly late breakfast.

Tonight was the first of two formal nights so we got dressed up and had some photos taken. Other passengers seemed to dress up (I didn’t see any jeans this night) with most men (including myself) opting for nice suits rather than tuxes. After dinner we went to the Captains reception and had our picture taken with Captain Bang. He seemed to be a nice fellow and the kids thought this was fun. We went to the show and then returned to the room to find our first of many towel animals waiting on the bed. At 11:30 pm, they had an underwater parade on the promenade so we checked that out (They have two parades during the week, one is an underwater theme and the other is a Mardi Gras theme). The parade was fairly good with performers singing, walking on stilts, etc. I wouldn’t call it a must do, but it was fun and worth the effort.

Day 3 – Monday, 7/10 Labadee
The Navigator arrived at Labadee this morning. My wife and step son had a 9 am parasailing excursion and the tickets notified us to catch the first tender ashore. We had room service for breakfast and headed down to deck 1 to catch a tender. I was expecting to have to get a tender ticket but that wasn’t necessary. We just walked right aboard the first tender with no problem at all (this was a few minutes after 8). The only port where tender tickets were required was Cozumel. The tender ride was short (less than 5 minutes) and we came ashore. Royal Caribbean does a better job of tendering then Carnival as it seems more organized and the tenders are larger.

Labadee is Royal Caribbean’s private beach paradise and features beaches, water activities and a few water excursions. I explored Labadee while my wife and step son did the parasailing (which they really enjoyed). I went to Hideaway Beach (more secluded than the other beaches), and to Dragon’s Breath Point, and then worked my way back past the market and to Columbus Cove Beach. After the parasailing we all hooked up and went to Dragon Tail beach for awhile to swim. The water was nice and clear but there were some rocks on the ocean floor so aqua socks are a good idea. Anytime I got anywhere near a beach, a local would ask if I wanted beach chairs. Royal Caribbean made it clear that these chairs are free but the locals want to carry the chairs for you in exchange for a tip.

At 11:15 my step son and I went over to the wave runner desk to check in for our 11:30 tour. We saw an instructional video then walked out to the dock. We were assigned a wave runner and a number from 1 to 10 based on how fast we wanted to go and previous experience in driving a wave runner (I had none). We ended up being #9, only ahead of an older man and his young child. We were instructed to follow in the wake of the wave runner ahead of us but no closer than 100 yards back. There were 3 or 4 stops along the tour where we would regroup and one of the guides would tell us information about Haiti. We went near the Navigator, to a beach (we were just offshore and locals paddled out in kayaks to try to sell us stuff), and one or two other stops. We started off and the other riders (who all seemed pretty experienced) took off pretty fast. I tried to keep up but eventually kept falling behind and had to have the guide in the back lead me to the next stop (there was a guide in the front to lead the way and one in the rear to help stragglers). At one point, the older man passed us so we ended up number 10. I finally got the hang of things on the last stretch and got to drive full throttle which was a blast. The tour was a lot of fun and I can definitely recommend it.

After the wave runner tour, we had the barbeque lunch (which RCCL provides) and it was mediocre. Then we went shopping at the artisan’s market (like a normal gift shop) and the flea market (where you haggle) which was high pressure. We did buy a few things and got ourselves out of there. The prices are very cheap for souvenirs at both shopping locations so it’s worth taking a look, and they will personalize items at the flea market (they carved the kids names into a flute and wooden sword). It was time to head back to the ship for the normal evening activities of dinner and a show.

Day 4 -Tuesday, 7/11 Ocho Rios
We docked in Ocho Rios, Jamaica so it was easy to just walk off the ship after breakfast in the windjammer. We had a river tubing safari excursion booked today through the ship so we found the staging area for the tour and waited a few minutes in the hot tropical sun. We were broken up into little groups and boarded mini buses (ours held 10 people) and drove for about 40 minutes to the launch area along the White River. The road was mostly rough and barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass (some of the road was unpaved). At the launch area, they gave us some free punch and a paddle and there were a couple of vendors (very low pressure though) for us to look at while we waited for the rest of the buses to show up. Finally we launched one by one into the river, which was slightly cold, but crystal clear. The river was 90 percent shaded by tropical trees so the heat wasn’t a factor at all. The tubes were nice and had a bottom to them. My step daughter was apprehensive about doing this activity as she doesn’t swim very well, so she had trouble launching. She had thought she could share a tube with my wife but it wasn’t allowed. She got scared and didn’t want to do the tubing anymore but the tubing company was extremely nice and gentle with her. Their top guide Ovan promised her that he’d hold onto her tube the entire way down the river and he guaranteed that she’d have a good time. Also, one of the vendors named Junior saw my step daughter crying and came over and gave her what he called a good luck necklace. He also spoke kindly to her and calmed her down. Thus we continued with our adventure. The tubing was fun. Most of the river was calm but there were 3 or 4 rapids which were a blast. They take your pictures at various points along the river. By the end of the tubing my step daughter was smiling and asked if we could do this again! It turned out to be a very enjoyable excursion and I recommend it if you’re looking for something a little different. When we got out of the river, there was an area with shops (including sale of the photos they took of us), restrooms, and a snack bar. Also we took the same bus back to the ship so we could leave our valuables on the bus while tubing which was convenient.

We did some souvenir shopping near the dock and then got back aboard the ship. After dinner we had the ice show. It was actually better than I expected as they had a variety of different performances that we all enjoyed. It wasn’t Olympic quality skating but it still was good quality and I felt they put a lot into the show.

Day 5 - Wednesday, 7/12 Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman is another tender port but we didn’t need to get a tender ticket. We had a Stingray and Island tour booked through Native Way for 11 am ship time. We caught a tender, did some shopping, and then asked for Native Way at the information booth (near where the tenders drop you off). Paula from Native Way picked us up in a mini van and told us that we were going to do the Island tour first. We had a private tour for just the four of us which was fantastic. Paula seemed to know everyone on the island and was full of information for us. We stopped at 7 mile beach (for a photo), Hell, the turtle farm, and the Tortuga Rum Cake Factory. The kids particularly enjoyed the turtle farm as they got to hold a baby turtle. At the rum cake factory, Paula bought us some sodas and patties (pastries filled with seasoned meat) which were delicious. I thought that was a nice touch.

After the land portion of our excursion, we drove to a dock to board our boat to the stingrays. I was a little concerned about time (as it was now 1:30 pm ship time and our last tender was at 3:30 ship time) but they assured me that we would get back on time. We said good bye to Paula and boarded a boat with 6 others and headed out to the stingray sand bar. It was nice being in such a small group as we saw other boats headed back in with close to a hundred or more on board. We arrived at the sand bar and entered the water. There weren’t hundreds of stingrays like I’d imagined but there were enough to make it exciting and fun. The Native Way guides did a good job as they made sure that everyone got to hold a stingray, feed one, etc. The stingrays are gentle creatures (at least these ones were) and I never felt the slightest bit of danger of getting stung. On the way back, they let my step daughter drive the boat which she really enjoyed. The boat got back at 3 pm and we made it back to get on line for a tender at 3:15 pm so it was cutting it slightly close, but it all worked out. I highly recommend Native Way as the tour was cheaper (for both an island and stingray tour) than a ship tour (for only a stingray tour) and we got much more personalized attention (a personal island tour and stingray tour with only 10 versus a ship tour with hundreds).

Tonight, we let the kids order room service for dinner and then my wife and I went to Portofino. I had the lobster and seafood skewer which was very good and my wife tried the filet which was excellent as well. We ended up with six courses and way too much food. They even had a pre-dessert of chocolate covered strawberries and a few other goodies before the actual dessert. It was a very good meal falling slightly short of 5 star but still excellent.

It was also the night for the gala buffet. We went to view it and take pictures and it was really amazing. There were ice sculptures, fruit carvings, an Eiffel Tower made of chocolate and amazing figures made out of butter. We were too tired to wait another thirty minutes to eat the buffet though so we went to bed. I still regret it.

Day 6 - Thursday, 7/13 Cozumel
We arrived at 10 am at the International Pier and had to tender to shore. This was the only port where tender tickets were required (for the first 2 hours or so after we arrived). We had two different dolphin swims booked with Dolphin Discovery at Chankanaab Park. We had a royal swim at 3 pm ship time (for me and my step son) and a dolphin encounter at 4:30 pm ship time (for my wife and step daughter). Since the swims were later in the day we decide to eat breakfast in the dining room then catch a tender after the initial rush to get ashore had subsided. Breakfast in the dining room had mostly the same items available as the Windjammer but they did have Eggs Benedict which was pretty good. The tender was a fairly short 10 minute ride and was smooth sailing. My wife and I had been to Cozumel last year before the hurricane. The first thing I noticed when coming ashore is that the pier of Puerta Maya (next door to where we came ashore) was pretty much gone, although efforts are underway to rebuild it. We did some shopping and then caught a taxi to Chankanaab. Our cab driver was extremely friendly and asked what time we needed a cab back to the pier. He said he’d be there waiting for us when we were ready to return.

We had also been to Chankanaab last year and the place looked totally different. The Dolphin Discovery area has been completely rebuilt with new buildings for both the gift shop and the locker/viewing (to watch the video after your dolphin swim) area. We didn’t go the beach as you had to ride a little cart to get over there, as construction is ongoing. Considering that the park was completely wiped out by the hurricane, they are doing an amazing job in rebuilding.

We checked in for our Royal Swim and were given a short briefing before entering the water. The Royal Swim is an amazing experience. Titan and Amaya were our dolphins and we each got to experience a kiss, a hug, a foot push, a dorsal pull, a chance to hand feed the dolphins, and dance with them. We also got to have a splash fight with the dolphins. It was outstanding and well worth the money. They film and photograph the swim and afterwards they show you the DVD and photos that can be purchased. Lockers are provided free of charge for use during the swim.

After we finished, my wife and step daughter did the Dolphin Encounter. My step daughter raved about how fun it was afterwards and how dolphins are her favorite animal now. We bought the DVD’s and photos for both swims and it was now 5:45 pm (the last tender was at 6:30) so it was time to head back. Low and behold our taxi driver was there waiting for us just as he said he’d be (there were other taxi’s around too). I thought it was very nice that he came back for us and he quickly got us back to the pier. We got in line for the tender at 6 pm with plenty of time to spare. I highly suggest booking the dolphins on your own in Cozumel rather than a ships tour because it’s extremely easy to do and saves money.

We had originally planned to go to Johnny Rocket’s tonight but my step daughter wanted to go to Adventure Ocean (she loved it there and spent almost every evening there) so she ate quickly at the Windjammer and we dropped her off. We were in the mood for steak and had missed our normal dinner time so we called Chops to see if they had any openings. We were in luck as they had 8:45 pm open. Chops was excellent and I had a great tasting filet mignon. I found the service to be friendlier here than at Portofino and I also preferred the décor. Both specialty restaurants were very good but I do want to point out that I feel that Nick and Nora’s on the Carnival Miracle is better than either. On Carnival I could get surf and turf with steak and lobster which I couldn’t do on RCCL. Also, the desserts in Nick and Nora’s were out of this world and only very good in Chops and Portofino’s. I also prefer the location of Nick and Nora’s as it is on the top of the ship and isolated by itself, whereas Chops and Portofino are located within the buffet area (although they are separate rooms and are very nice).

Day 7 – Friday, 7/14 At Sea
We slept fairly late as we were worn out from four straight days at port. All of us woke up feeling sad as today was the last day of the cruise. We ate lunch in the dining room and they had a ham and cheese croissant sandwich that was fantastic. I had ordered something else but after tasting the sandwich (my wife had ordered) I ordered one for myself too. After lunch we played ping pong and then went to bingo (the jokes were even worse from the crew member running the games) where the jackpot was over $7,000. We of course lost but that was to be expected.

I had filled out a form to get tips added to our on board account, so vouchers had been delivered to our cabin that I could use to put into the tipping envelopes. Just as a commentary, I really felt strange about tipping the head waiter since we had seen him just twice all week. He did nothing but walk around from table to table schmoozing with passengers and added no value whatsoever in my opinion. He also made me feel awkward when I tried to give him his tip. I tried to hand him the envelope when he came to our table and he said that he’d get it later. I never did end up handing him the envelope (and wouldn’t have tipped him at all had I not gone the prepaid route for tips). The waiter and assistants are the ones who did all the work so I felt great about giving them their tips. We had our picture taken with our waiters and then sadly left after dinner. They felt like friends to me and they had taken great care of the children.

After dinner we packed and put our luggage outside the door, as luggage had to be out by midnight. We had lavender luggage tags which were supposed to be called between 7:30 and 8 am the following morning. We had some ice cream at Ben Jerry’s and then called it a night for the final night on board the ship.

Day 8 - Saturday, 7/15 Disembarkation
We woke up at 7 am and were planning to leave the cabin by 7:30 but we heard an announcement at 7:10 am that lavender could now disembark. We scrambled to get ready and left the cabin five minutes later. Disembarking was really easy as the luggage arrived on carousels just like at an airport. It took us 35 minutes from our cabin to a taxi with the only delay being a wait for passport control. Royal Caribbean definitely has Carnival beat in this area as it seemed much more organized. On Carnival the luggage was just left in a huge room after you got off the ship and people were running every where in a mad scramble to find their bags. As we exited the terminal there was a sign pointing to the right for Miami airport transportation and a sign pointing to the left for Fort Lauderdale airport transportation. We were in a taxi at 7:50 and arrived at Fort Lauderdale airport at 8:30 am for a 1 pm flight. Everything I had read said to not book morning flights after a cruise but in this case I wish I had.

To summarize the differences between Royal Caribbean and Carnival, I feel that Royal Caribbean had a superior dining room, better tendering process, and much better disembarkation. Carnival had a much better buffet and a better specialty restaurant. Entertainment and service were equally good on both ships. I would gladly take either cruise line again. Both the Navigator of the Seas and Carnival Miracle have their plusses and minuses but the positives far outweigh the negatives for both. I think we made a good choice for a family cruise as the Navigator is a great ship for children.

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