My wife and I took the RCCL Navigator on the 14-day Transatlantic back from the Mediterranean to New Orleans. A couple of weeks earlier, we had cruised the Norwegian Spirit on a Grand Mediterranean circuit (reviewed separately on Cruise Critic). So my evaluation of the Navigator below contains several comparisons to our Norwegian Spirit trip (generally, we thought our experience on the Spirit was superior to our experience on the Navigator).
The embarkation experience on to the Navigator was fine. We have learned to arrive for our cruise vacations later rather than earlier, and so after we got to the Barcelona cruise terminal at 2 PM it only took us half an hour to get on board the ship. Our interior cabin, 8183, was fine (as discussed below).
Food is an important part of a cruise vacation, particularly when you have a lot of sea days as we did on the Navigator Transatlantic. Unfortunately, our food and beverage experience on the Navigator started out poorly and did not improve much. A rather long discussion of the food follows.
We had a traditional dinner seating arrangement, and we and most of our six tablemates had problems with our food on the first night. The woman to our left ordered the sea bass, and did not like the way it was cooked. Myself, the fellow across from me, and the woman to his left all ordered the prime rib. Their two orders were not delivered up cooked as they had requested, and so they switched orders, but were still not happy -- the man said the meat had "no flavor" (and I concurred with this). Several persons at the table ordered the sweet and sour shrimp soup, and then joked that there was no discernible shrimp in their bowls. My wife had the spaghetti, and said that was OK. But I am thinking, is spaghetti the best they can do for dinner??
At breakfast the next morning, I did not see much on the Navigator that looked appetizing. I like hot food for breakfast if I can get it. The scrambled eggs did not look good, little clumps of egg, so I skipped those. I like biscuits and sausage gravy, so I tried that. The biscuits were doughy, not flaky. The gravy was thin, and the the meat consisted of a few sausage links that had been hastily (and sloppily) sliced into the gravy. Good sausage gravy (like I had on the Norwegian Spirit cruise just a couple of weeks previous) is thick and well seasoned and the sausage is well crumbled and mixed into the gravy. I also like Oatmeal, but the Navigator's oatmeal was thin and watery, again, unlike the Norwegian Spirit Oatmeal which was nice and thick.
Our dining experience the rest of our Navigator trip was hit and miss, with a few more misses than hits. I tried the top sirlion (the steak option available every night), but it was dry and chewey, again, unlike the Spirit, where the steak option they made available every evening was tender and flavorful. Another example was a lobster bisque on the Navigator that was thin and tasteless. And those dishes that were "hits" were not really outstanding, just decent. Example: The escargot. I love escargot, but the Navigator's escargot -- served only one night -- was not superior (unlike what we had on the Spirit) -- it was just, say, a cut above ordinary. We like curry and other Indian food, and the buffet at the Navigator had some of that every day. Again, though, it was not as good as on the Spirit. Also, the Navigator put out some Indian bread (i.e., crispy Papadum) on only one day of the cruise, unlike the Spirit, which put out both Naan and Papadum EVERY day on the buffet. Interestingly, the Navigator's buffet had good potatoes: The fries were usually hot; the breakfast hash browns (think McDonalds style) were usually hot and crispy; and the mashed potatoes were creamy and made from scratch. I had the mashed potatoes at almost every lunch. But do you see a pattern here (good spaghetti and good potatoes??).
The desserts on the Navigator were also hit and miss -- usually there were one or two a night that were pretty good, but figuring out which ones were going to be good in advance was difficult. And some of the desserts were inexplicably bad -- like the tiramasu on Italian Night by the Navigator's Italian head chef. The tiramasu tasted like it was made with gelatin. Uch, no one at the table could eat it.
My wife said I should also say something about the layout of the Windjammer (the Navigator's buffet). The Windjammer almost always had a crowded feel, like you had to weave back and forth to avoid bumping into someone when stalking your food or looking for a table. In comparison, we never had this "crowded" feeling when dining in the Spirit's buffet. Also, while the Navigator's buffet seating area was almost entirely inside, the Spirit buffet seating was a 50/50 split of inside and covered outside (with views off the stern), and that was nice, because we like to eat outside.
Of course, the Navigator does have two specialty restaurants, the Portofino (Italian at $20 cover per person) and Choppes Grill (Steak at $30 cover per person). These prices were higher than the corresponding Italian and Steak specialty restaurants on the Spirit ($10 and $25, respectively). We did not try the Choppes Grill, but did eat at the Portofino in conjunction with a Mystery Dinner theatre presentation (discussed below). The Portofino food was nice: good starters, and some tasty and tender beef.
The Navigator also what I call a "half" specialty restaurant -- a diner called Johnny Rockets. I say "half" because the diner serves basic food -- hamburgers, hot dogs, onion rings, and fries, all for a relatively small charge ($5 per person, beverages extra). The hamburgers and hot dogs at Rockets were fresh, hot, and tasty -- and we paid the extra money and ate lunch at Rockets often. Unfortunately, that also tells you a lot about what we thought of the "free" lunch food in the buffet.
Anyways, enough discussion of the food!! Unfortunately, there were some other less than satisfactory aspects of our Transatlantic on the Navigator.
For example, we found the Navigator's alcohol policies to be irritating, both with regard to alcohol brought on the ship and alcohol sold on the ship.
First, Navigator appears to have a strict policy against bringing any alcohol onto the ship and into your cabin, either at embarkation or at any port stop. I say "appears," because we heard from some fellow passengers that they were able to sneek alcohol on board, while other passengers said they tried but were caught and their liquor confiscated until the end of the voyage. We asked our headwaiter about bringing wine from off the ship and into your cabin, and she said that you could bring a couple of wine bottles into your cabin, but that the Navigator would charge you a $25 corkage fee at the time you brought it on to the ship regardless of whether you drank it in your cabin or in the restaurant. This Navigator policy about bringing alcohol from off the ship compares unfavorably with the Norwegian policy. For example, we bought four bottles of wine in the duty free shop in Barcelona before we boarded the Norwegian Spirit, and Norwegian let us bring the bottles on board and into our cabin free of charge, and charged us a $15 corkage fee only if we brought our wine into the dining room.
Second, we also found that Navigator's wine prices were higher than Norwegian's, including: 1) when purchased as part of a wine package, 2) when purchased by the individual bottle, and 3) when purchased by the glass. We also found that individual mixed drinks (e.g, rum and coke) were slightly higher on the Navigator than on the Norwegian ship. We like to have a couple of mixed drinks before dinner, and the Norwegian Spirit had a nice 2 for 1 special during happy hour in Henry's Pub, but the Navigator had no nice drink specials like this. Our mixed drinks on the Navigator also seemed to be watered down a bit. The end result was that we bought less alcohol, but at a higher total price, aboard the Navigator than aboard the Spirit. And, at least in my mind, this affects how much you enjoy your cruise.
The Navigator did offer a periodic "fill the bag" laundry special, like on the Spirit. My wife really likes these specials. For $25, they will do all the laundry in the bag for you. Interestingly, the Navigator had limits on what type of clothing you could put in the bag, only permitting underclothes, socks, T-shirts, and swimwear. The Spirit had no such limits. Again, the kudos got the Spirit over the Navigator.
And at the end of our cruise disembarkation in New Orleans was irritating -- extremely slow, with a lot of standing in line. We were supposed to get off the ship at 7:30 AM, but stood in line on the ship for awhile, then got off at about 9 AM, stood in line some more, and finally cleared customs at about 10:05 AM. The customer service reps went around saying they were short of customs agents, and that they were trying to hunt down more customs agents, but I think this should have been better coordinated in advance by Royal Caribbean with the US Customs Service. In any event, we have only had two bad disembarkation experiences on our six cruises -- but both were on our Royal Caribbean cruises. Not good, not good for Royal Caribbean.
OK, yes, I can say some good things about our cruise and the Navigator.
Our inside cabin was nice: pleasantly decorated, well-maintained, and fairly roomy as these cabins go. The shower had good hot water and good water pressure. The hair drier worked very well. The soundproofing was very good -- we heard almost no noises from adjoining cabins or the hallway.
The crew of the Navigator was generally pleasant and helpful, including our room steward and our dining wait staff. I know the staff works hard, and we appreciated it -- and we tipped all of our waiters at above the recommended amount.
The port calls, although limited, were all nice, particularly on the European side (Tenerife, Malaga, and Cartegena). All three towns are excellent walking towns, and the ship docks fairly close to the town in each of them. We did the hop-on hop-off bus in Tenerife, and I would recommend it.
It was always pretty easy to find a comfortable chair to sit in somewhere -- The Navigator has a lot of chairs, and I think more of the comfy type chairs than the Norwegian Spirit did. I like to play Poker, and poker on the Navigator was a rip-off, but not quite the rip-off that it was on the Norwegian Spirit (i.e., the Navigator limited the 10% house rake to a maximum of $15 a hand, unlike the $25 max per hand on the Spirit). The Navigator did have some enrichment classes, more than the Spirit did, but I found the woman who gave the enrichment presentations on the Navigator to be repetitive and dull.
As for the evening entertainment, we have been on enough cruise ships now to get kind of blase about the performances -- there is usually very little that you can remember a few days afterwards. On the plus side, we found the Ice Dancing show on the Navigator to be very well choreographed and very entertaining. The acting for the Mystery Dinner theatre was amateurish, but the overall production was fun -- and its fun was enhanced by the fact that unlimited wine was included in the base price ($49 per person if purchased in advance). On the down side, we occasionally like to see a movie. Other cruise lines show movies in a large theatre, or sometimes at night under the stars. Not the Navigator. Instead, they have a tiny "screening room," which filled up quickly the two times we went. Also, the movie selection in your cabin was very limited, unless you wanted to do "pay per view" at $12 (or more) a pop.
In sum, it is hard to give the Navigator a glowing recommendation. In fairness, I have to note that our cruise fare was very cheap -- less than $50 per person per day. It seems obvious, then, that Royal Caribbean is trying to make up for that cheap fare by reducing costs (e.g., for food) and upcharging for certain extras (e.g., alcohol). If you are looking for inexpensive travel, and are willing to sacrifice on the quality of food and perhaps also on your alcohol consumption, you might find this sort of transatlantic cruise acceptable. In the future, though, we will look to cruise with another line (like Norwegian), even if we have to pay more cruise fare in dollars per day.