Our group of twelve took the Navigator of the Seas out of New Orleans for a 7-night graduation celebration cruise to Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Jamaica.
We arrived at New Orleans a day early and stayed at the Prytania Park Hotel in the Garden District. It was a pleasant place, with easy 15 minute bus ride to Bourbon and Canal streets. The neighborhood was quiet and there are several places for food and drink nearby. VooDoo Barbecue, just a block away, was particularly a hit -- excellent pulled pork and brisket, along with tasty sides, all for a reasonable price. Down the street was the Blind Pelican, another fine purveyor of pub food and inexpensive buckets of beer.
We went down to the nearby port for boarding about eleven o'clock. Checking our luggage was a bit of a circus. With eleven of us and others in a fairly confined area sorting out our luggage and tags, it did not get us off on a good leg. The porters had blank tags, no pens, and a bit of an attitude. One of my pet peeves is when customers are expected to bear the inconvenience of a transaction for a service provider. IMHO, as a customer, I should not monkey around printing at home, or bumbling with a pen in a luggage discharge area so the cruise line can save a minor amount.
Kudos for the boarding process. Quick and easy. Once done with our luggage, we were on the ship in minutes. Smooth sailing! Rose expertly handled the transaction and we were off. The hits kept on keeping on...everything from lunch to exploring the ship was four-stars. No issues with bringing wine, sodas or water.
Our cabins were outside starboard on Deck 2. They were the standard issue, well-kept, and in good repair. Others have reported a sewerage odor in the hall, and it was evident daily. The toilets were having issues, mainly involving flushing. A maintenance guy was there daily tinkering in the plumbing closet. The problem was never fixed completely. Our attendant Lynea was excellent. Some complained about hearing forklifts and other equipment, as well as carts in the hallway, but I did not hear any such noises.
Dining was "interesting", from wonderful dishes to ...something less. The roast duck, for example, was the best I'd ever tasted. The skin was perfectly crisp, the meat wonderfully moist and tender, with amazing flavor. Then there was the "Stroganoff" mishmash that tasted like something from a Chinese kitchen better wrapped in a tortilla. Some plates had little but a few chips of beef amid the slurry. There was at least one very good offering each night. The trick was recognizing it. One in our party summed it up well: The difficult dishes were done well; the simple dishes were not. Ask your waiter. He knows what he carries off uneaten time after time. Main Dining Room service was excellent. Eduard and Nicolai were friendly, attentive and knowledgeable, remembering our individual preferences, and appropriately calling us each by name. We were well served, never feeling rushed or put-off.
The Windjammer offered good food at breakfast and lunch. Staff reductions were clearly noticeable, but the service actually seemed improved. The food there was uniformly good, hot and well-presented, and our group was very happy overall. The "Egg Harbor" for custom-made egg dishes was well organized and the output top notch for fried eggs and omelets. Tables were generally available at all times, breakfast and lunch. Johnny Rockets was a fun departure, and the food there exactly what you would expect. Excellent malts!
Entertainment was the usual mix of cruise line dancers and singers, and hired acts. I thought the production shows were better than previous offerings. One thing missing in action was the ship's band. Until Wednesday we thought the shows were backed with recorded music as no mention was made of any musicians lurking behind the curtain. Unlike other ships, the band made no other appearances that I recall, which I find disappointing. Music in the Viking Crown and Boleros was untracked one night after the pianists both came ill. It is apparent that RCCL is shifting from an elder/boomer-centric model to something more contemporary. Out are the 50s and 60s in terms of music (except at Johnny Rocket's) and the 70's and 80's are in. If disco and club music is your thing, you're in the right place. Otherwise it's the Viking Crown or Two Poets for an evening of softer music and drinks. Thomas did a fine job as a substitute Cruise Director when the original suffered a knee injury early in the cruise.
Ship activities included crafts such as painting and scrapbooking. Those who participated enjoyed themselves, and brought home some "interesting" work. If you are participating, the classes generally cut off at 25, and if you sign up early, don't expect to lollygag and show up whenever -- your place will be taken. The twenty-somethings with us enjoyed the many sports activities (both organized and casual) and tournaments, as well as the casino play.
We did private/DIY excursions. At Jamaica we met our bus and guide from Marva Shaw's "Know Jamaica Tours." We were very happy with the service provided and recommend her based on the experience. We tubed down river, which included several rapids, then climbed Dunn's Falls before a shopping stop and a Jamaican meal at the Ultimate Jerk Centre before heading back to the ship. The Falls can be strenuous, and progress very slow with crowds - stop, go and wait. Missteps are easy to make on the climb, although it's not particularly treacherous. I stepped in a hole and took a fall, with no harm done. Still, be careful. It costs $20 to walk up or just look along the way from the platforms.
The ship itself has drawn some criticism as being "tired". That wasn't my observation. The ship was in good repair. Like any well-used facility, like any luxury resort, there are signs of wear if one seeks to find them. Nothing I noticed detracted from the trip experience.
Another area that has drawn criticism is the service level and enthusiasm of the crew. IMHO, the service crew performed well. There were apparent staffing adjustments made that somewhat reduced service, particularly the food venues, but the differences were slight if noticeable in terms of personal convenience. Frankly, I recall times in the past where it was common to see crew socializing rather than working. I did not witness service personnel standing around on this cruise. Even the white shirts were hustling tables in the Windjammer.
Disembarkation was very well organized and executed. Customs and Immigration moved the line along, and there was a good system for arranging transportation.
The accommodations, service, and overall ship experience were excellent. The itinerary was good for us, including shopping, beach time, touring, and one new destination. Overall, we were well-satisfied with our cruise vacation on Navigator of the Seas.