My wife and I have learned a great deal from our first three cruises. Our intention was to apply those lessons learned to create a cruise experience that would be perfect. This cruise lived up to those expectations, with only a few exceptions.
TRAVEL TO EMBARKATION
We booked our flight through Royal Caribbean's air travel partner with connections getting us to Rome early on the morning of the ship's departure. In hind sight, I was concerned that we would miss a connection, face a delay or lose baggage along the way. However, everything went just fine. We also booked transfer to the ship through Royal Caribbean. We were met at the baggage claim and had an easy bus ride to the cruise ship terminal with time to complete any additional paperwork for embarkation. Our baggage was processed and delivered to our stateroom about an hour before the ship left port. There are less expensive options for transfer to the cruise ship terminal including taxis and trains, so you should explore those options. If you do choose to incorporate an extra night or two in Rome prior to embarkation, be aware that crime is very high. Pickpockets preyed on multiple passengers of our cruise. Take every precaution possible to guard against theft.
Our bus arrived at the cruise ship terminal early, about 10:15 am. The check-in agents were ready to go, but the ship still needed a few minutes to prepare for our arrival. We were processed and allowed onboard before 11 am. There were only a few facilities available onboard, but the waiter at the Two Poets Pub was very happy to see us. We gathered a group together and had a great time getting to know our fellow passengers. Our stateroom was accessible before 1:30 pm, long before the required drills and getting underway at 5 pm.
Navigator of the Seas is not the newest ship in the fleet, but it clearly is well taken care of. The facilities were clean and well maintained. It was rare to see a burned out light bulb. As with any cruise, there is something to do no matter what your taste. This ship was no exception.
Frankly, I was a bit disappointed with the food for the most part. The breakfast and lunch offerings in the buffet were average, at best. The dining room food service was exceptional - we had a great waiter. However, the menu was disappointing. Prior to the cruise I had located a menu that was apparently a current one-week schedule of food service for the line. Every night on this menu matched up with what was offered with the exception of Thursday night. Instead of the petite filet with shrimp the menu offered a slow roasted prime rib, which was also offered on Sunday night. The prime rib tasted a little off and the waiter even noted that it didn't look quite right. There were positive exceptions to the food. One was the outstanding Grand Mariner Souffle for desert. Another was the great steak dinner in the Chopps Grille. It was well worth the extra charge. On the negative side, the beverage service in the dinning facility was the worst I have ever seen. The first night we were never offered beverage service. We had to ask for a cocktail waitress on subsequent nights. On at least two occassions we had to seek out the waitress at the end of the dinner to retrieve our sea pass cards. Never once were we offered a second round of drinks, nor an after-dinner drink. Given that we had invested in the pre-paid premium beverage service in advance of the cruise, this was a great disappointment.
PRE-PAID PREMIUM BEVERAGE
We opted to pay in advance for the "all you can drink" beverage deal. It was not cheap - about $50 per person per day - but we think it was worth the expense. There were two down sides to this, however. First, I was led to believe we would be receiving one of the travel mugs used for non-alcohol drinks. Soft drinks were included as part of the package. However, we did not receive those mugs and were given a cold shoulder response when inquiring about the mugs. Had I known this in advance, we could have taken mugs from a previous Royal Caribbean cruise. Second, the aforementioned poor service for beverages in the dining room limited our opportunity to enjoy the premium beverage service. We did make up for it in the pub.
PORTS O' CALL
MESSINA AND TAORMINA, SICILY
Having lived in Sicily for a couple of years, I was looking forward to getting back to see the changes since I last visited in 1996. We took an excursion for a self-guided tour of Taormina. It is about an hour drive by bus to Taormina. Along the way you are treated to some great views of Mount Etna and down to the coast. When visiting Taormina there are really only two streets to remember. Corso Umberto is a shopping mecca. There are some restaurants, coffee shops and scenic views along the way, but be prepared for high end shops. At the end of Corso Umberto you can take a small alleyway down to the Greek Theater. You will have to pay five Euros per person to visit the theater, but I believe it is well worth the money. Take some time and bring your camera for some great views.
KUSADASI AND EPHESUS, TURKEY
After a day at sea, our next stop was Kusadasi with an excursion to the ancient city of Ephesus. Our primary objective in this stop was to explore the ancient ruins of Ephesus. My wife had been there before and was anxious to revisit. It was an amazing place, but it was very crowded. There are plenty of amazing sites, but getting photographs was often a challenge due to the large number of visitors and the rapid pace of our tour. On the way back to the port, we stopped at a rug factory. The rugs are beautiful and you have the opportunity for a great deal, but they are not cheap. There are plenty of shops in close proximity to the port offering everything from Turkish delight to "genuine" fake watches. Be sure to bargain, but be aware that no matter how good your bargaining skills you are likely not going to get the best of the deal.
Our original schedule included a stop in Athens, but planned protests to mark May Day required a change in the schedule. Instead we stopped in the Greek island of Mykanos. Having been to Athens on multiple occassions, I welcomed the change to Mykanos. We did not book an excursion, but instead opted to explore the small town near the pier. You can catch a bus into town for three Euros or it is about a two mile walk. We took the walk, but I would advise against doing so. The roads are narrow and traffic makes the walk an adventure. We took a taxi back at the end of the day for 10 Euros. The village is beautiful. It is painted white, much like Santorini. There are multiple cafes along the waterfront with a maze of walkways leading back to shops and restaurants. It was quite windy on the day of our visit - gusts of about 45 mph. But once you walk back into the shops you don't even feel the breeze. There were excursions offered to an archeological site for those seeking a greater adventure.
SOUDA BAY AND CHANIA, CRETE
The final port visit was the island of Crete. The ship docks in Souda Bay near the western Crete town of Chania. There are a few shops in Souda near the pier, but there is also a bus for three Euros into Chania. Having lived in Chania in the mid-90's, I booked a taxi excursion to revisit some of my old haunts. The area has grown in the last 15-20 years and some of my old haunts had really changed. We made our way back to the Old Harbor and that is the area I would recommend for those taking this cruise. The Venetian Harbor is beautiful and offers a variety of shops and cafes. There is a maritime museum on one end of the harbor. You can take glass bottom boat rides. Or wander a few blocks to Leather Alley where you can get some great deals on all types of leather goods or find bargains on locally produced items like olive oil or honey. A nearby archeological museum provides items of interest about the Menoan period. My wife enjoyed this stop more than any other and now wants to book a week stay in Chania for a future trip.
Along with pre-paying for the premium beverage package, we also pre-paid for our photos. We acquired all the prints and a CD-ROM of all the images to take home. This allowed us the freedom to pose for virtually every sitting and to not worry about sorting through the good and bad photos. In hind sight, I might choose to only get the CD-ROM and not the prints in a future cruise. Using the CD-ROM, I have been able to print out photos at home and can use them at photo retailers for additional prints. That part worked out well for us.
We were in a deluxe balcony stateroom. The room served us quite well. My wife is a smoker and the balcony afforded her easy opportunity to engage in that habit. The room was forward, starboard side on the seventh deck. That allowed easy access through two flights of stairs to the shops and pub on the fifth deck. Getting to and from the buffet aft usually required going down to the fifth deck, walking aft through the prommenade and then up the elevator. All things considered, I would book the same stateroom again.
We have enjoyed all of our cruises to date, but this was the best yet. I would only hope improvements are made to the beverage service in the dining facility and to the dining room menu. It would be nice to have surf and turf available on at least one night of the cruise, but to get that requires a $34 up charge. On the other hand, if you are willing to pay that up charge, you can get the surf and turf any night of the week.