INTRO: Navigator of the Seas (NOTS) Thanksgiving Cruise to Falmouth, Grand Cayman (NOT!) and Cozumel. I want to share our reflections of our (DW and I 45, DS 16 and DD 14) first RCCL cruise in 8 years. We drifted away from RCCL due geography and timing and are very pleased to report that the line was as great as we remembered and has not cut very few corners during this time (at least compared to Carnival, NCL and Celebrity).
Weather did not cooperate for us on this cruise: Departure day, our first sea day and Grand Cayman were windy, cold and wet (we could not call on Grand Cayman). Two of the other days were either just cold or just wet. We had perfect weather only for Jamicia. This cruise could have been a washout if not for the exceptional entertainment and restaurant staff.
This was also RCCL’s first cruise out of Galveston in 6 months and NOTS turned over a third of the crew after an extended summer in Europe. There were more than a few kinks to be worked out during the first few days and the shore side staff was downright discombobulated at both embarkation and debarkation.
We drove to Galveston and slept on the island the night before. DW and I enjoyed an underpublicized, adults only. resort 10 minutes from Falmouth and we did the Nachi Cocom thing with our teens in Cozumel. All of us enjoyed great bar service through some form of pre-paid package and our Dining Experience was our best in over 10 years.
I’ll do a day by day, but I wanted to post a few more highs and lows for folks who just want the cliff notes:
Terminal 2 in Galveston is no where near as nice as Terminal one which is occupied by Carnival.
Dining Room, hallways to staterooms and cabins are definitely ready for refurb.
Illusive Casino Staff.
RCCL pier in Cozumel had trouble handling FOTS and NOTS together (can’t imagine if OOTS or AOTS was there)
Poor AC throughout the ship.
MDR experience on par with “the good old days”
Falmouth better than MoBay
Ship never felt crowded – kids were kept out of adult only hot-tubs.
GREAT Thanksgiving Experience (including Football in Studio B and Tasty Turkey)
HAPPY and enthusiastic crew
Confirmed proof that real people (DS) win “Free Cruise Bingo”
Day 0 (McAllen Tx to Galvestion) – My work had me out of town till late Friday night – DW picked me up at the airport at 12:30 AM and we did not get home till 1:30 AM. Was up by 8am to start packing and send the dogs to the Kennel. Incredibly, we were on the road by 10:30 and, near as I can tell, we did not forget anything (though we over packed as usual). We made it to the Galveston Hampton by 5pm. We have a pretty good overnight bag system and we were able to leave 8 of 10 bags in the car. I stay in a lot of Hamptons, and the one in Galveston is one of the nicest. Weather was terrible, so we ended up going to see the new Hunger Games movie at DD’s request and picked up a couple of things we wanted for the cruise at the Walmart just across the street.
Day 1 (Embarkation) – Love using the Galveston web cams to see the ship come in – was expecting NOTS to be late with the weather, but she backed in right on schedule with the CCL Magic (our last cruise) close behind. Hampton and the other Hilton properties have a park and shuttle package for $45 – but as much as we pack, we prefer just dropping the bags at the pier (and its much faster at debark). We had a great experience with Galveston Park and Cruise last time on Magic but we thought the “Park and Cruise” right across from Terminal 2 would be a better bet for this trip. This turns out not to be the case as you can only cross Harborside drive at 25th street - so Galveston Park and Cruise is your best bet for either terminal. TIP: Avoid traffic on Harborside Drive around the Terminal – approach via Kepner/22nd street from Broadway and pull right in to the terminal. I have spent a lot of time on this thread: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1951525 discussing expected hiccups at embarkation due to crew turnover and the fact that this was RCI and Navigator’s first cruise of the season from Galveston. We were expecting a lot worse and the issues we encountered were largely comical - except for two things: 1) DW and I had a beverage package and it was not on our card - we had to visit 4 places once on board before the issue was finally resolved (and it would have taken longer if I did not have a printed confirmation in hand). 2) Pre-Ordered Bon-voyage flowers never came and have not been credited as of this writing. TIPs: If something goes wrong with your check-in, ASK for priority embarkation. The Embarkation line at the front of the ship was MUCH shorter than the one at the stern. Unlike Carnival, RCI will not let you sneak in to the cabin areas to drop your bags, so carry on only what you will be comfortable schlepping until 1pm. We always arrive early and tip our porter well - and we ALWAYS have our bags before the boat drill and this time was no exception. There was a parade immediately after the boat drill on the promenade - we headed there by way of the aft stairs in the MDR (to get to deck 5) and we scored a table at “Two Poets” which provided an unobstructed view and great service (all cruise). We had late seating dinner and great tablemates - our waiter was the best we have had in many, many years. The post dinner welcome aboard show was very promising. DW and I did the Casino for an hour or so before bed and came out ahead – I played on “their money” the rest of the week. (DW was not so lucky).
DAYS 2&3 (at sea with not so great weather). These days kind of just blended together and we followed the same morning routine both days, on time room service, hot-tub in the solarium until lunch. Lunch in the MDR was great on day 2 and we did the Windjammer with the kids on day 3 as a lead in to the Ice show. Our ice show had wonderful guest performers from Russia where the woman magically changed costumes in front of us – no fewer than 10 times. Main review show on formal night was OK - the top lead singers were weak. Show on night 3 was the man of 10,000 voices which was more entertaining. Plenty of live entertainment. DW and I also did the Rasul mud bath (85 bucks for an hour per couple in the spa) – it was fun even though there were a lot of things wrong with the facility.
DAY 4 (Falmouth). Our first time at this port – DW and I had planned this as “Our Day” and the kids stayed on the ship. We did an all inclusive at a place that used to be called Pebbles and it was fantastic – surpassing all expectations – way better than Couples or Sunset beach which we have done from Mo’Bay. This was our only excellent weather day. The RCI port facility is very well thought out and we were able to get a cab quickly on the way out and pick up our Christmas tree topper at a souvenir stand on the way back to the boat. There is no formal show in the Theater on Jamaica night- but there are two ice shows that night, a late night comedy and a rocking 70s party.
DAY 5 Thanksgiving (Grand Cayman washed out). We had a family jetski excursion to Stingray City and Rum Point booked through Island marketing planned for this special day. Wife and kids were growing apprehensive about this as the weather was predicted to be cold and wet and we knew the waves would be rough. We were relieved to have a cancelation decision made for us when the ship turned around in the harbor and the Captain announced we would not be making the port of call. We were impressed that the crew put out a new Compass with new activities (this was their holiday too). I was particularly impressed that the dining room, which was supposed to be closed in port, was opened for Lunch. Imagine preparing Thanksgiving Dinner for 3500 when they decide to drop in early for lunch. Throwing a Cowboys football party in Studio B for a ship full of Texas was pure genius and was greatly appreciated by those who attended. Finally, with all due respect to my wife, mom, grandmothers, mother-in law, sister-in-law, and all others who have prepared Turkey for me over the past 45 years – I enjoyed the best Thanksgiving dinner of my life. Everything was great –especially the Turkey which was moist and delicious. The custom menu was a nice touch and a wonderful keepsake. This was our third Thanksgiving cruise and it was the first time we were not disappointed. The 2nd review show (which is normally on day 6) was better than the first.
DAY 6 (Cozumel) – We did Nachi CoCom through Island marketing which was perfect for a family beach day with teens. While getting off the ship was easy enough, coming in a half hour behind FOTS, the pier and terminal were SWAMPED. When we saw the line for Taxis, we walked out of the terminal and walked a block towards town where we caught a Cab for 4 (which was $20 each way with tip). TIP: walk out the exit for rental cars, even if you don’t have one and walk towards the town there are plenty of cabs waiting to shortcut the line. We skipped the show but made it to the Battle of the Sexes and “The Quest after dinner. TIP- If your are planning to take your pants off during the Quest game show wear funny boxers. We also visited the Dungeon, which was a well managed club with a DJ who played music that sounded like… music. There were enough people in there so that it felt like a party without feeling like a crowd.
DAY 7 (Sea) – This day started out cooler but sunnier so we resumed our morning hot tub routine. DS and I did the rock wall which was a nice mini-adventure while DW and DD shopped. TIP – there is no need to was a portion of your day looking through the walls of photos. On the last night, simple swipe your card at one of the Kiosks and the system will pick up every picture of everyone in your party and you can order and pick-up on debark morning! TIP - The four photo package is a great deal as it includes a nice folio, the DVD and some extra stock photos and is priced below the cost of four 8x10s. When we met up on the promenade, I was talked in to Bingo. I don’t like Bingo, is was $32 bucks for a pack of cards (and I had to buy three packs) the Bingo caller was very lame and it was clear that we were indoors for the best sea weather of the entire cruise. But the kids were having a good time with it, and that made DW and me happy. Then, on the last game of the cruise, DS made an “X” and yelled BINGO for a free 7 day cruise for 2. After receiving our certificate - we were so busy celebrating - all of a sudden it was time for the best show of the cruise (the acrobats/gymnasts/ballet dancers) and a great dinner (DS asked for the expensive steak in return for turning over the cruise certificate to DW and me). Then, we had to pack, which would have been a terrible drag if we did not know that we would be CRUISING AGAIN SOON!
DAY 8 (Debark) – for the first time in 21 cruises, we slept in on debark day and showed up at the MDR just before they closed the doors. We enjoyed a nice leisurely breakfast as I was not at all anxious to be dropped of at Hobby for a flight to work on Monday, without DW and family as they proceeded back to McAllen. So we took our time and waited until there was no line at all to get off the ship. When we did wander off, there was a crazy shortage of porters, so we just went ahead and grabbed our own stuff. Only difficult part was where I parked. There are cops at 30th street to keep you from crossing the highway there – why they couldn’t act as crossing guards to save me a 10 block walk in traffic via 25th street is a mystery to me. But staying off Harborside drive, taking a back road to 22nd (like I did on day one) got me back to the curb easily enough. The drive to Hobby was not bad at all and DW and the kids made their way home safely and were home before I reached my hotel in PA.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The RCCL experience is head and shoulders above the current Carnival product – we are so pleased to have the opportunity to cruise them again for free within the next 12 months. There is at least a 50% chance that we will use the certificate to cruise the Navigator again after her refurb (either at spring break or in June). We are also considering great options from NJ and Baltimore and are really excited at the prospect of our first Oasis class cruise!