Just a preface to this review: It has been almost three years since we have cruised RCCL’s Navigator OTS, and our first time on this ship out of Galveston. There sure have been some noticeable changes!
This was a summertime cruise and the seas were glassy calm the entire trip. This was the Cozumel/Cayman/Jamaica itinerary which we had done two other times before.
We used EZ-Cruise parking again. Their parking area appears quite secure and the staff is very nice. However, now the private cruise parking shuttles are relegated to the far-end of the drop-off area – a good 100 yards from the terminal. That is not so bad, but the porters do not walk that far for a tip. They can stay right around the terminal and do more, shorter trips for more income. There is no motivation for them to wall all the way down to the private shuttle drop-off area. If you over-pack (like we did!) you will have to haul your luggage to the terminal on your own.
The lines were very, very long at embarkation. Luckily we skipped them as Suite guests. The front of the terminal seemed quite chaotic with baggage handlers yelling at each other.
THE SHIP: Navigator OTS.
We were in a junior-suite on Deck 10. This was quiet cabin with lots of room and a balcony. An unexpected change is that there is no longer a coffee table in front of the sofa. That leaves a lot of open floor space, and very little horizontal surface to use. When a room service tray is delivered, there is literally nowhere to put the tray! When asked, the staff explained that they had removed the coffee tables from the mini-suites because guests were putting them out on the balcony and they were rusting. I would imagine the sofa pillows have disappeared for similar reasons.
The walk-in closet is very nice and provides plenty of shelving for moving in. The bath has a tub-shower. However, on our cruise, there was a sewage odor in the bathroom off and on for the entire trip. About 2 in ten flushes during the trip would not work (button was not functional). We were told this was due to clogged pipes somewhere in the vacuum system. This appeared to be an ongoing problem with the longest time between malfunctions being about 5 hours.
Overall, the ship appeared well kept. The carpets were clean and common areas did not look worn. The elevator buttons were almost always sticky, but that was likely due to the large number of kids on board this summer cruise.
Dining attendance appeared down compared to several years ago even though ship was booked almost to capacity. We were at the 6:30 PM seating, and it appeared the dining was at around 60% of capacity on our 4th floor dining room each night. Attire is casual on all nights except formal nights. On formal nights, well over ½ the men are wearing just pants and a shirt (no tie). Some wear sport coats or suits, and a few wear a tux. The food portions have shrunk to the point that everyone at our table, and those tables around us, routinely ordered two or three of each course. It is Texas, but even we were leaving hungry with only one of each course! There are now only three courses served (appetizer, main, and dessert). The salad and appetizer have merged. On the positive side, the quality of the food is as good as or better than it ever has been.
Dining Etiquette: Where dining used to be an event, it is simply another place to eat now. Continuously screaming kids banging the table throughout dinner is cute in the Windjammer, but this appears now to be acceptable in the dining room (and I like kids!)
Dining Staff & Performance: To go along with the above, the dining staff has dropped their level of service considerably since we last cruised on this ship. It was not uncommon for the main course to take 80 minutes to be served after we were seated at 6:30 PM. Appetizer and Entrée selections were simply missed or randomly substituted with another item that was not ordered. Not once did a wait staff member drop by the table after the entrée was served to ensure everything was OK, offer ground pepper, grated parm, or ensure the food was prepared properly. The next dining staff visit was always with the dessert menu.
One last item regarding staff is self-promotion. With obvious lackluster performance behind them, the dining room PA system blared out an invitation on one of the last nights for everyone to stand up and show our appreciation for the outstanding service we had received in the dining room. This included a comment that the last cruise did this, so we should, too. About ½ stood and most politely clapped for a few seconds. It was an awkward moment.
Alcohol Add-Ons: No longer does the dining staff pressure-sell alcohol before, during, and after the meal. For us, this is a nice change. Even the hocking of fancy poolside drinks appeared to be quite subdued compared to prior cruises.
Windjammer: The food and service in the Windjammer was actually as good as or better than the dining room. There were some service delays for omelets in the morning, and mad rushes at times when the Windjammer was about to close, but overall it was functioning well. Seating availability was tight at times, but the staff was very helpful in keeping up with clearing tables as they emptied. More than one fellow cruiser said it would be nice if there were someplace on the ship (other than the coffee shop) to get food 24/7 like on other cruise lines. When the Windjammer is closed, it can be pretty slim pickings for food around the Navigator OTS.
With the near 100% implementation of auto-tipping (it is built-in to your cruise billing), staff members do not seem to be as focused on service. They will get the same tip no matter the service they provide. However, they do want you to fill out the “WOW” cards where you can drop a note to management about an outstanding staff member. We still provided an additional cash tip to some staff members who were especially outstanding – and that seemed to be truly appreciated.
Based on our experiences, we found two bar staff members to be downright rude and angry (bad day on Deck 14?), cabin staff (and supporting staff) to be very competent and pleasant, and cuffed (higher ranking) personnel to be very polite and cordial.
In Cozumel, we returned to Chakanaab for a beach day. After a 10 minute wait in the taxi line, we were at the beach in 15 minutes. We used the $2 coupon from the web to save on entrance fees. Snorkeling was good, but not awesome. Food (Guaco & chips) was good, but not awesome (chips were stale). The sand, sun, water, and service were great. We were early enough to get a palapa for shade and that made all the difference.
In Cayman we returned to the Royal Palms. Beautiful sand, warm clear water, and great service. The food was very good. It is just a 5-10 minute taxi ride from the pier. The usual toys are available for rent.
In Jamaica, we hired a private driver (working for Courtney Taylor) and visited Blue Hole and the Turtle River Falls. Everything went smooth and was without worries. A word of warning about shopping in the walled-off Falmouth cruise terminal area:
We (along with everyone else) were rushing through the rain to pick up last minute gifts at our last port before boarding the ship. Some vendors were taking advantage of visitors with enhanced pricing and dubious change practices. In our case, we picked up a Tortuga item that (I later found) was priced 35% cheaper on the ship (my mistake). We purchased a run-of-the-mill t-shirt in this terminal area and it was USD $27.50. That’s OK – we liked the shirt. However, we paid with a USD $50 bill. The shop handed my wife back 12 $1 coins…Jamaican $1 coins. That would seem to a naïve tourist to be $12 change for a $27.50 purchase using a $50 bill. Right? Not so fast.
We were rushing and I didn't realize until we got home that we just received less than 10 cents of USD change for a USD$27.50 purchase with a USD$50 bill! One Jamaican dollar coin is worth less than a penny in US money. Next time, we won’t accept change in Jamaican dollars thinking they are a US Dollar! Shame on us for our ignorance and shame on the vendor for taking advantage of rushing tourists. I expected more in this special RCCL-built shops area with badged employees. We had our guard down.
Getting off the ship went as smooth as could be. 25 minutes from ship to car. Porters are available in the terminal to help with navigating lines and bags. We were on the road by 10:00 AM.
Overall, we had a great cruise on the Navigator. The changes are fascinating to see as RCCL evolves. We now have different expectations for RCCL. Not bad, just different than three years ago. We would do the cruise again – but perhaps after school has started back up.