Review of Navigator of the Seas, Transatlantic voyage April 6 through 21. 15 days, with stops in the Azores, Toulon, and Livorno on the way to Rome.
The cruise port in New Orleans is very close to downtown and the French Quarter. Access is very narrow, but we arrived early enough that there were no crowds. Our baggage was collected immediately. The baggage handler asked for a tip (which I was prepared to pay) before he actually handled all of the bags. (I tipped $5, for which he took the bags from the taxi and put them in a nearby cage to be rolled onto the ship.)
Check-in was relatively quick. We waited a short time in line, entertained by a couple complaining that Florence and Rome had not been located near enough to the ports. I observed that it was very inconsiderate of Romulus and Remus, but that went way over their heads. The actual check in process with the staff was as fast as I have ever seen. There were airline-like security checks. We had purchased two bottles of wine, but security did not care. We could have brought two bottles in each bag. Security did check one of our bags quickly because my laptop charger and some other electronics were in there. That was about 15 seconds. I also had an extension cord and a Belkin cube tap so I could have extra outlets for charging. There has been some commentary about cruise ship restrictions on these things, but security here did not care. We boarded the ship in short order. Having arrived just after 11, the cabins were not yet ready, so we toured the shop a bit, found a table in the pool area, and had lunch from the Windjammer.
At 1, the cabins were ready and we went to see our cabin and drop our carry-on bags. We had a junior suite, no. 1394. This is an aft cabin, so it has a slightly different configuration from standard junior suites, and it has a very large balcony. The room itself was very nice and spacious. Our suitcases went under the beds, which had been pushed together per our request. The bath, with its tub, was also very nice. The cabin has a walk in closet, but one difference between this and others we have had is that the closet is long and narrow, and while there is a clothes hanger running much of the length of the closet, towards the aft end the closet is narrower than the hangers. Nevertheless, with clothes for a 3+ week trip, we had plenty of storage space. The room has a stocked refrigerator, which we emptied and used for our wine, etc. There are few outlets, but with my Belkin cube tap and with a universal adapter for the European outlet, I had enough power outlets for a laptop, camera battery chargers, Kindle chargers, etc. Given the proliferation of devices which need charging, The Belkin cube tap (which includes a surge protector) is a necessity.
The balcony is large and had two loungers, two chairs and a table. It has somewhat of an obstructed view because of the ship superstructure in the back. It is fully covered by the Windjammer. On the Navigator, the Windjammer is enclosed, so our dreams of dropping food from the Windjammer to waiting arms below were dashed. Because the balcony is enclosed, it had no wind whatsoever. On the other hand, if you want to sun yourself (not generally our thing), on an Eastbound TA the balcony is in the shade until late in the afternoon.
We did not find the walk to and from the cabin difficult. We tend to walk everywhere and use the steps as much as possible.
Our cabin steward was Reynaldo. The cabin was always clean and bed made promptly. We requested ice and we had a fresh ice bucket twice a day. The cabin comes with towels for two, but with trips to the gym and pools, we needed more, and after one request, the towel rack was always stuffed with towels. We had robes. Towel animals appeared from time to time.
Despite having checked in early, our bags did not arrive quickly. We had been told that as suite guests our bags would be promptly delivered, but only two of our 3 checked bags arrived by 4 p.m., the nominal sail time. At that time we did the muster drill, and from the deck we could see my wife's bag still in a cage on the dock. Along with lots of other stuff. The ship sailed about an hour late, with the excuse that there was more to load than for its typical 1 week voyages. (Hadn't anyone figured this out?) My wife's suitcase arrived around 7 p.m.; others in our area were delivered after 9 p.m. Supervisors came around inquiring what was missing; they were suitably apologetic and kept offering the canned excuse that there was a lot to load given the 15 day voyage. Since the length of the voyage was a running excuse, let me note that the Navigator sailed with just over 2900 guests for its approximately 3800 beds. Transatlantic sailings don't attract children, and there were a lot of singles on the ship.
Let's move on to the ship.
Spa and Exercise Facilities
There is an exercise area, indoor Jacuzzi and gender specific saunas and steam rooms. The indoor Jacuzzi was nice, and large to even swim short laps. Given that it was sometimes cool outdoors, this was a nice touch. However, on a couple of occasions it was not heated enough. The paint was peeling. (Navigator is going into dry dock for refurbishment.)
The men's sauna and steam room were OK, although on one day neither was very hot as some system failed, they cooled off, and had to be started from scratch. The men's room has lockers, and to get keys you need to go upstairs to the spa check in. Some of the lockers are not for the height challenged (they are over 7 feet off the ground) and on multiple occasions after getting a key, you find that someone has put stuff into that locker without securing a key. (Just clothes.) More trips up and down the stairs, but exercise in any form is welcome.
HOWEVER, the ladies steam room was closed. Broken. According to the spa staff, they expected to have it fixed in a day or two. It wasn't. Then the story was that it would be fixed in the Azores. It wasn't. We ran into several couples who were double platinum or whatever who had sailed the Navigator on its Caribbean route earlier in the year, who reported the steam room was out of commission then. When my wife asked the staff, saying it's never going to be fixed, they agreed, and said it would not be fixed until dry dock, but they had been told to say that a fix was imminent.
The Navigator does not have a thermal suite, so there are no co-ed steam rooms and saunas.
There were always adequate deck chairs. The weather was not hot, so there were not a lot of swimmers or sun seekers. The outdoor running track was adequate. Often one of the outdoor pools was closed for maintenance.
Let's move on to meals. Given our balcony, we had breakfast in the room most mornings. Service was generally good, with the meal arriving at or before the ordered time. We were able to order things not on the pre-printed menu (like lox to go with the bagels.) HOWEVER, when in port at Toulon, delivery was way late. For us and lots of people. On a morning when it makes a difference. I don't recall the precise times, but if we had asked for 7 to 7:30 delivery, it arrived at 7:45 a.m. After several calls. And incomplete although that was quickly remedied. (I had called to make sure they had our order; if they didn't, I would have simply gone to Windjammer.) A supervisor called us that evening to confirm that the problem had been resolved to our satisfaction (it had) but again offered the excuse that the kitchen was not prepared for as many people who ordered room service on a port day. Like that had never occurred before. And, on a ship traveling 900 light from capacity.
We tended to eat lunch in the dining room, opting for the large table option. You meet interesting people that way. The dining room offers a salad bar where you pick what you want and the staff makes up the salad. Uniformly good. There are also a few buffet items; we tried a few and were not impressed. There is also a menu which changes somewhat daily. Those choices tended to be good. HOWEVER, the dining room opened at noon. If you arrived at noon, and promptly ordered, telling the waiter you had something planned at 1 or 1:30 (a class, exercise, walking group, etc.) it was impossible to get out before 1, and usually not before 1:15 p.m. Not the waiter's fault. The main courses are simply not ready. (Yes, I know, I should have gone to Windjammer if I'm time pressed.)
Dinner was in the main dining room late seating. We had a table for six, which is good for conversation. Our table mates were diverse, which is something we enjoy on cruises. One couple was German and Austrian, living in Canada for many years. The other couple was Puerto Rican, living in South Carolina for many years. Both of the husbands were engineers. One of the great things about cruising is meeting people with entirely different life experiences and views.
Our wait staff, Gezik and Neal, were great. My wife likes lemon with her water, and a plate of lemon slices arrived as we were seated every night. When she has Caesar salad, she prefers it without cheese, and that's how it came.
We had a 12 bottle wine package. Whatever we selected was always in stock. Our leftover wine was stored or we took it with us. If we stored it Neal had it back for dinner the next day. We knew the wine selection in advance and it was good.
The menu included about six regular items (salmon, strip steak) and about six rotating items. My wife likes salmon, but after three attempts gave up as the salmon had no taste. The way it is prepared is that after lunch it is seared on both sides to seal it, and stored in the kitchen until dinner, when it is baked. (No open flames in the kitchen.) It is not marinated in anything, ever. Sauces are sometimes offered, but they did not help. The salmon was not seasoned, either.
Eventually, on a fifteen day cruise, the menu got repetitive and boring. That goes for appetizers, dinners and desserts. The kitchen did make us some souffle's on request, but, alas, our tablemates did not want a souffle every night.
There was only one lobster night, and that was a lobster tail. That night was also prime rib night, so RCI got to offer two higher cost items on the same menu to reduce demand. (And if you don't think that's true, take the all-access tour like I did.) I prefer lobster tail to lobster, but, interestingly, the headwaiter thought that lobster tail was simply the tail of a Maine lobster. It's not, and after we had this discussion, he came back one night as we were leaving and said that the executive chef had confirmed that lobster tail was a separate species of crustacean. Maine Lobster was available, at an increased charge.
Food service on the ship, like all cruise ships, is getting more restricted. What we like to do, for example, is to have a snack on our balcony at 5 or so, along with whatever wine was left over from the last night. However, the Windjammer is now only open specific hours, and closes about 4:45 p.m. And at that time, hors d' ouerves are not out. At 6 there will be sushi (unlabeled), meats, cheeses, etc. There is the Promenade Cafe, which is always open, but its food choice is limited. The ship also has a Johnny Rockets as an extra charge restaurant. We refrained, since the extra charge approximates what we pay at home for Johnny Rockets. Unlike some ships, this Johnny Rockets was not open for breakfast. It was largely empty, as I suspect its clientele are typically from the teenager crowd, lacking on this trip.
We went to Portofino once, for a murder mystery dinner. The show was great, and the food and service were excellent. We did not try Chops. We wholeheartedly recommend the fun of the murder mystery dinner.
Coffee service was always available. The ship serves Seattle's Best, which is fine with us. Starbucks is available for an extra charge at the Promenade Cafe. Frozen yogurt was available at three different stations whenever we wanted it: chocolate, vanilla, sometimes strawberry, and a combination. The ship also offers Ben & Jerry's for an extra charge. We refrained.
Food was also served for lunch in the Promenade. The displays were enticing.
We, along with a great many other passengers, developed coughs. One member of our meet-and-mingle group developed pneumonia.
RCI personnel constantly urged us to use Purell, which is available everywhere. RCI personnel cleaned things like the banisters regularly.
Cruise Critic and Meet and Mingle
We followed the roll call on Cruise Critic (about 5000 posts) and joined meet and mingle. Did the cabin crawl, slot pull, murder mystery dinner together, book cluib, walking tour. Other activities were organized, We organized one tour with folks we met on meet and mingle.
I took the All-Access tour, with about 10 other people. Cost is $150, although my sense was that I was the only one who paid. Good tour, well worth it. Toured the bridge, with the officers there explaining things. Then a visit to the engine control room, where the engineer on duty gave a 45 minute talk on how to run the ship. That ran over, annoying the environmental guy. Then on to waffles in the crew's quarters. Off to the kitchen, where we saw food storage and learned about ordering stuff, and learned that the chef had a budget per person per day for food. We saw the pictures of every arrangement of food for the staff to use to make up plates, although not all of the arrangements were going to be used on the cruise. We saw salmon being seared and stored, rolls being baked, shrimp cocktail being assembled. Then off to backstage in the theater, and finally a stop for champagne.
There was plenty to do on the multiple sea days. There is entertainment in the evening, ranging from singers, comedians, the Dungeon dance club, the ice show and production shows. The ice show was very good; we understand that the second time it was offered, given that the ship was rolling a bit, the performers missed a few cues, but got rave reviews from the crowd for their spunk.
We entertained ourselves at trivia in two different groups. What kept us attending was our two groups, otherwise we would have dropped out. The questions were prepared and had been used multiple times before (sometimes repeated during the cruise), but every day there were answers which were wrong. Not close calls. The Great San Francisco Earthquake did not occur in 1908 but in 1906. Golda Meir is not the only Israeli prime minister born in Russia; there were 7. The country closest to where the Titanic sank was not Halifax, which, last I checked, was not a country, nor is it Nova Scotia, which is not a country but a Province of Canada. The staff member running trivia took Canada, Nova Scotia and Halifax as correct answers.
I bought the 500 minute internet package. RCI tells you that you need to go to a hot spot. The Solarium hot spot did not work. The internet center on 8 was fine, although as usual for this type of service with high usage everyone's connection slowed. I had a problem once where the connection would not disconnect and kept billing; guest services remedied it promptly. I was able to get a connection in our aft cabin twice.
I have an Apple iPhone 5 and my wife a Blackberry Bold. Service was good for the first few days. (We were just using the phones for e-mail.) Then mine stopped working and my wife's was slow. Guest Services called Verizon, which reported a world-wide problem with the ship system. That lasted about 3 days. (Not an RCI problem.)
We booked a year in advance, paid retail (about $3,800), and got an aft cabin, our first aft cabin. RCI tells cruisers to book early for best selection and price. (We also got a $250 shareholder's credit.) Until our final payment was due, pricing did not change. As soon as final payment was made, RCI began offering a special, book a balcony or better and get a free liquor package, valued at $1650. (We can't and won't drink that much.) Our agent tried to get this deal for us but was unsuccessful, even though a few people on Cruise Critic reported that they had persuaded RCI to extend the deal to them. I wrote to RCI; no response.
Once on the ship, we met a number of people who received the free liquor package even though they did not meet the terms of the offer, including one fellow who got a single for $470, had the single supplement waived, and got the free liquor package. He showed up at dinner every next nicely lubricated.
We left early in the morning to catch a train to Rome. We purchased a transfer from RCI from port to the train station because we wanted to make an early train. Getting our bags was as easy as it could be. About 17 people purchased this early transfer. 16 showed up on time. So what do you do if you are RCI? You hold the bus for the last guy, 20 minutes, inconveniencing the folks seeking to make the earliest train to Rome. No manner of requesting that we leave for the 10 minute trip to the train station made a difference. (We were less concerned as we were meeting our daughter in Roma Termini and had more room in our schedule.)
I wrote to Adam Goldstein about the liquor package offer. I'm still waiting for a response. It's been 3 months.
My wife filed a comment card about the non-working women's steam room (and other matters) very early in the cruise. She was promised a response in 24 hours from guest services. She's still waiting.
My wife was publicly insulted by a member of the cruise director's staff we had not seen before or after. When we saw Keith, the cruise director, later that day, the incident had already been reported to him by others, strangers to us. While Keith said he was "spoken to," my wife has yet to receive an apology.
Next year's trip is booked. That cruise is about $10,000. It's not on RCI. Will we go on RCI again? Maybe. Right itinerary, right price, we might consider it. Biggest downside for me was the reduction in ports. Our 2012 RCI TA had 6 stops; this one had 3. Second biggest downside is the Grand Bazaar approach to pricing. Third biggest downside is the rude treatment by one employee for which RCI doesn't think it should apologize.