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Gwen

Age: 43

Occupation:Homemaker

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Navigator of the Seas

Sailing Date: 03-28-2009

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

I took the Navigator of the Seas Western Caribbean cruise with my husband and two teenage daughters. It far exceeded all of our expectations.I have included lots of tips for Royal Caribbean first-timers. This is information I learned the hard way and hope that you will you find them helpful.

The food was good to fair, but the dining room staff was exceptional. For evening meals, the appetizer selection was quite odd, for example "Pear Soup." The kids ended up eating Caesar Salad every night for lack of any good choices of appetizers. There were 4 to 5 Chef's Entrees each night, such as Filet, Lobster, Shrimp, and Duck, which were usually very good. For picky eaters, there were 3 Alternative Choices that were on the menu every night - Chicken, Sirloin (cheap cut), and Pasta, which were not very good. In addition, children can order chicken nuggets, fries, pizza, etc. to be prepared special. We were all disappointed with the desserts, but later found out that if we added a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it always made it better! We ate most breakfasts and lunches at the buffet, which had much variety, because we didn't want to have to go back to the room to get dressed. A couple of days, we ordered room service for breakfast (complimentary), and that was really nice. Because we were on a family vacation and wanted to reconnect, we asked for a table for 4, but instead received a table of 12 & we were not pleased, and didn't have any luck getting it changed. You may want to secure your preference by phone prior to departure.

We had two balcony rooms on Deck 8 which adjoined. That way, we all had plenty of space and two bathrooms; as well as privacy for the parents! Deck 8 also has the Internet Cafe, for people who need to check e-mail (for a fee). The rooms were quite comfortable, with plenty of storage room, and my husband spent much peaceful time on the balcony with his book while waiting on me to get ready each day. The bathrooms were snug, but had plenty of room to get around, and the showers had excellent water pressure. We had a noise problem with our neighbors on the other side one night, and after laying awake from midnight to 1 am, we finally called security. Someone was knocking on their door and requesting them to quiet things down within 5 minutes. We never had a problem again and appreciated the security staff's quick attention to the matter. Our stateroom attendant was fantastic, and from what I heard, they all are.

My husband and I loved the nighttime shows. These included Comedy Show, Ice Show, Broadway Show, Motown Show, Ballroom Dancing, and Comedy/Magician. In addition to these shows were Dance Parties and Parades on the Promenade, Casino, Karaoke, Game Shows, Bingo, and more. There were about 17 bars, believe it or not, most of which provided live music throughout the evening. My husband and I did not appreciate the fact that children were allowed in the bars and in the casino. They would run around and act silly, while we were trying to enjoy some adult time. Our kids enjoyed the poolside band and pool games, which went on all day poolside on the Days at Sea. Speaking of the kids, there were many scheduled activities for all ages all day long, but our 2 teenage girls said they were "lame." They found a fun group of kids on the first day, and they met up at a certain time each day and made up their own itinerary. There was rock climbing, ice skating, golf, inline skating, basketball, and more to entertain them. Of note, a parent must present in person to sign release forms for all of these activities. I suggest you go on the first day to each activity station and sign the form for your child. That way, they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, throughout the whole cruise. Our cell phone texting did not work on the ship, so we left notes in their rooms and vice versa, so we always knew where each other was at all times.

A friend who used to live in Grand Cayman gave us some excellent advice. Instead of paying a fortune and booking the ship's excursion there, we simply exited the tender, hung a right, and at the end of the street is the Eden Rock Dive Shop (edenrockdive.com). They have all the equipment you need for rental plus lockers, and you dive or snorkel right off their shore, at a very reasonable price. They also have guides for rent, if you need one. Along the same street are the many stores for shopping. In Jamaica, we did the Aerial Exploration and Bobsled - I highly recommend. We took a 5 minute ride to the Aerial Lift area, and it took about 15 minutes to go up the mountain, where there was a pool, gift shop, and restaurant. We then bobsled back down, which took about 15 minutes, as well. Views from the lift were awesome. On the bobsled ride, you controlled how fast or slow you wanted to go, so it's appropriate for adults, as well as kids.

Some tips that you may find useful: (1) We packed a 24-pack of bottled water in a suitcase, kept them in our refrigerators in our rooms, and saved a tremendous amount of money in the process. We were always thirsty and dehydrated, and it was nice to be able to grab a cold water bottle whenever we needed it. (2) If you're going to play Bingo, do it on the first night, when it's the cheapest – after that, the price climbs and climbs each day. (3) Try the adults-only solarium for some quiet pool time, away from the loud main pool. (4) The alcohol in the shop on the Promenade is super cheap, sometimes half price, and duty free. You can purchase liquor and they will hold it until the departure day for you. (5) Spa prices were double what we pay at home. Wait until the final day at sea to book your appointment, because prices drop drastically. (6) Take your own family pictures before dinner each night and save the $20 each and long lines that the ship photographer provides. (7) We realized that the complimentary ice cream on the pool deck would open around 11 am each day, and stay open until it ran out. You could also go into the buffet area and get ice cream, as long as it was open. You had to pay for Ben & Jerry's and their freezer broke during our trip. Complimentary pizza, sandwiches, and desserts could be found on the Promenade 24 hours a day! (8) The coffee in the restaurants and room service was absolutely horrid. We found that the coffee in the complimentary coffee shop on the Promenade was great, so we'd get a to-go cup there before we proceeded to breakfast. (9) If you don't mind not having a window to the outside, the rooms whose windows look down on the Promenade are cool for kids, because they can look down and watch the parades, parties, etc. from their room without being in the chaos. (10) You can check the menu for dinner each night outside your dining room to see if you want to make the effort to dress up or eat at the buffet. (11) As noted previously, sign the release forms for the activities your child wants to participate in the FIRST day. That way, they can do whatever they want throughout the entire cruise without having to drag you along with them.

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