Let me begin by saying that we spent months preparing for this trip and, together with the new friends we met on Cruise Critic along with valuable advice from our travel agent, it was a complete success!
The time spent researching and planning in advance is well worth it ... the time on vacation flies by so quickly you'd hate to get home and realize you missed out on something you really would have enjoyed.
We flew into Rome three days early and I'm so glad we did because the city is really magical. The history is rich and interesting, the Vatican is an experience everyone should have - regardless of your religious beliefs - and the people there are so warm, friendly and inviting. I'm also glad we did it because we had time to adjust to the time change (we are from SE USA) so when we boarded the ship we were refreshed and ready to go. (I could write for days about the wonderful things we did in Rome, but since this is a cruise review, I'll stop myself!)
We took the train to the port ... it was easy and economical. Be advised though ... the track for the train is not in the main terminal so you'll have to walk about 10 minutes carrying your own luggage. You'll have to load your own luggage onto the train and when you arrive at Civitavecchia you'll have about another 10-15 minute walk to get to the port. It's not difficult, but be prepared.
Boarding was not as polished as it is at other ports we've been to (Canaveral, Everglades and Miami). After all, it's a cargo port so no pretty embarkation area, no music, no friendly RCCL reps greeting you at the curb. But, don't stress, once you're on the Navigator it will be everything you expected it to be. Disembarkation is VERY early so all of the cabins were ready when we boarded around lunchtime.
Three best things I packed for this trip:
1. Brita water bottle with built-in filter -- fountains are readily available all over Rome and ports on this trip, but having the bottle with the filter made me feel better about drinking it vs. purchasing bottled water (up to $5USD at some places).
2. Tova hiking sandals (another brand is called Chocko's) -- some of the pathways, rocks and steps in Turkey, Greece and Italy were quite slick. Several people I met on the ship fell at some of the sites. Get some sandals/shoes with good traction on the bottom.
3. A small umbrella -- if you go in the summer, it is HOT. Most of the ruins have no shade, so be prepared with sunblock, hat, umbrella, etc.
Three best things about the ship:
1. The RCCL staff really goes out of their way to make the cruise special. Our waiter in the dining room (Leonardo) and his assistant (Carol) were just wonderful. Our room steward was friendly and happily left a bucket of ice in our cabin each night. Simone, the cruise director, was funny and charming and did an amazing job speaking in both English and Italian without missing a beat. (We did have a miserable experience with the guitar player in the Pub, but since it is such a rare exception from what we typically experience on RCCL, I won't go into it.)
2. The entertainment. I have been on many cruises and without a doubt, the best show we've ever seen was on this trip. The group was called the Beatle Maniacs and they were a tribute band. The costumes, music quality, corresponding video clips all proved to be ideal. The crowd was on their feet singing along and dancing. It was really great. The Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers are great ... so versatile.
3. The size. Navigator is big enough to keep you busy for a week (Promenade, Ice Skating, Mini Golf, Very active sports desk, big theater, nice casino, etc.) but also small enough that you don't feel like you're getting lost or walking half a mile to dinner. You make friends on this ship easily and bump into them frequently. At the same time, it's big enough that if you want so have a little space it's easy enough to find a spot.
Quick port reviews:
Sicily - we did a private tour here (thank you Mary!) and that worked out really well because we got to move at our own pace. I loved Messina/Sicily. The views were breathtaking, everything you remember from any romantic Italian movie you've ever seen can be found in Sicily -- mountain views, stunning shorelines, quaint villages with cobblestone streets and winding alleys filled with verandas and little shops, quiet churches on hilltops, the list goes on and on ...
Athens - we did Athens on our own and it was completely do-able. We walked up to the top of the Acropolis and it was amazing. Beautiful, so much history, view of the entire city with mountainscapes in the background. Really, really humbling. We paid $20eu for four people by taxi to get to the center of all the activity (lunch at Plaka then walked to Temple of Zeus and Hadrian's Arch) and walked from there. We skipped the museum but I heard it was very good. It was $12eu for adults to Acropolis and kids under 18 are free (bring your student ID).
Turkey - we did the ship's tour here and I was glad we did because the sites were quite far from port. We visited Mary's House, which was inspiring and I especially liked the prayer/wish wall. We really enjoyed this tour and I recommend it highly. We visited Esphesus which was simply amazing. So well-preserved. At the end of the tour they take you to a "carpet presentation" (translation - sales pitch to buy rugs) but it's in the air conditioning and we got to sit and relax and have a cool drink, so nobody complained. but, nobody on our bus bought a rug either. From there you walk back to the ship. BEWARE ... there is a market area across from the port where everybody goes to buy gifts. The pickpockets there are bold. My husband caught someone opening the zipper to his backpack and when he yelled half a dozen shop owners raced out to the sidewalk to defend the guy. He didn't get anything from us, but we immediately returned to the ship. So, skip the Turkish Bazaar and get your souveniers at the sites you visit would be my advice. Also the shopkeepers are very aggressive. If you touch something and don't buy it, they will yell at you and chase you. So, if you go, look but don't touch unless you're buying.
Crete - The beaches are beautiful. The ride to town is bleak. But there's a good little market area where you can pick up last minute souveniers for good prices. It's a short port stop but a nice little break.
The photographers on the ship were wonderful -- friendly and creative. I was thrilled to get a nice family photo to take home.
The casino is nice and the dealers are helpful. Lots of smokers in there late at night though.
The food was very good, there wasn't a meal we didn't like. Usually, we visit the upgrade restaurants once or twice on a cruise, but we liked our waiters so much that we didn't do it this time.
The drink prices were fair -- I never felt like I was being ripped off and the drinks were strong.
Don't stay up too late on the last night, they were in our room at 6:30am to check the minibar on disembarkation day!
Quest is raunchy but super fun -- don't bring your kids! Some people had kids in there and I was uncomfortable sitting near them.
A note for families with kids ... not too many elementary/middle school aged kids on our ship. LOTS of high schoolers though. The ship had so many activities for them -- they were busy all the time. They loved it!
Also, unlike the Caribbean cruises we've been on ... formal night really means formal night. Tuxedos, Flowing evening gowns, up-do's and everything. The folks in our dining room dressed up (cocktail dresses and suit jackets) for the other nights.
And, finally, regarding pre-pay tips. We did it for the first time and I didn't like it. I felt badly the last night at dinner not having envelopes to leave and worried that my room steward would be disappointed when he went in on Sunday morning and didn't find anything. We ultimately wrote them thank you notes and let them know their tips had been pre-paid. We also left some additional cash for each.
Enjoy your cruise~!!!!
It really is the trip of a lifetime!!