OVERALL The Navigator is a beautiful ship. Her crew was very friendly and polite and we would gladly sail on her (and her sister ships) again. As context for this review, we sailed on the Ruby Princess - a similar-sized ship - just before this cruise, so we've included a few comparisons to that experience.
SHIP LAYOUT & DECOR For anyone who has sailed on a Royal Caribbean ship before, the Navigator's layout will be familiar. In general, we found the layout intuitive and we were able to figure our way around within a day or two. We were on the Voyager of the Seas - a sister ship in the same class - two years ago, which probably helped. In particular, we appreciated the grandeur of spaces such as the Royal Promenade, the Dining Room (Nutcracker, Coppelia, and Swan Lake), and the Theater. There's definitely a wow factor to Royal Caribbean's design. Even the lounges and informal dining places had aspects that made us pause for a moment just to take a look, discuss, and even take a picture to show to family when we get back. When strolling down the Royal Promenade during a evening, look up. There is a piece of art that that expands and contracts every now and then. It was quite interesting to watch. We liked the intuitiveness of the layout and the dEcor in this ship better than the Ruby Princess. The prints along the stateroom hallways helped make an otherwise boring walk more interesting. Though the Navigator was bigger than the Ruby Princess, the walk from one side to the other felt a lot easier. The number of multi-story open spaces on the Navigator were also a welcome contrast to the cramped feeling we sometimes experienced on the Ruby.
STATEROOM We had a stateroom at the very front of the ship on deck 7 and found that it had many benefits. First, it was great to see where the ship is headed when we're sailing and when docked, the ship was frequently facing an interesting part of the part. For example, we were greeted by a rainbow over Naples - much better than a view of another ship that's docked right next to us or a view of the terminal. Also, because the room is not the standard rectangular shape, the angled end with the window effectively gave us a little extra room. Just a few extra square feet or so, but it made a difference for our enjoyment.
FOOD AND DINING Copellia Dining Room - The Navigator of the seas has one three level dining room that is themed after ballets. At the far end from the entrance, there is a beautiful grand staircase, which combined with the tasteful dEcor, beautiful chandeliers and piano playing in the background, made us feel like we were truly dining in style. The piano music is live. The pianist plays from a grand piano on a landing near the top of the grand staircase between the second and third decks. Unfortunately, the view of the piano was obscured from much of the dining room, so many guests didn't appreciate the live aspect. The service and friendly, though it can sometimes take a while, usually about an hour and a half to two hours for the whole service. Since we're on vacation, we weren't on a rush and allowed ourselves to just enjoy the traditional dining service as well as the excellent company of our tablemates. For a 12-day cruise, we found that there was good variety in the meals and that the food arrived hot. The food presentation wasn't as nice as our preceding Princess cruise, but the flavor was equally good. We do wish that Royal Caribbean would just serve the cold soups in a glass - we're fans of the cold soups, but it's really almost like having a smoothie. Windjammer & Jade Restaurant - In general, we liked the layout of this area. It made it easy to pick and choose. We were on the Voyager before, and the entrance to the buffet in the Navigator was significantly nicer. The glassed in, curved dining area in the aft of the ship made for a nice view as we were sailing or while in port. We rarely ate there, however, as we much preferred the other dining options. Chops Grille - We enjoyed dining in Chops Grille. The service was attentive, but not overwhelming. And they truly did have amazing steaks. The way the food is served is similar to Ruth Chris' Steakhouse, you order the meat and the sides are served to be shared. The 10 oz. filet was just delicious and was as tender and juicy as some kobE steaks that we've had before. You get to choose among three sauces, a bEarnaise, a peppercorn, and one other that I don't remember. We asked for a small dish of each and they were all good. One glaring omission was that there was no lobster option, which is common on most steakhouse specialty restaurants. However, we found the extra jumbo shrimp to be an even better option than lobster; the meat was sweeter and the three shrimp provided more meat than an average-sized lobster tail. The broccolini and mushrooms sides were both very good. We only went once so we didn't get to try the other options which were other cuts of steak and a free range chicken. Brasserie 30 - This is the dining room's lunch service and it was our favorite lunch option. The variety during lunch is not as extensive as dinner -- options here were repeated during the course of the cruise. However, the big reason to go here is the salad bar, which is set up in the middle of the dining room. Servers are stationed there to prepare a salad for you, and you get to pick from a variety of ingredients, including: greens (romaine, spinach, or spring mix), meats (prosciutto, chicken, shrimp, smoked salmon), cheeses, other veggies (carrots, asparagus, roasted bell peppers, onions, mushrooms) and of course, dressings. At no point was I disappointed with the resulting salad. While Royal Caribbean does not do a mid-afternoon tea time—a nice aspect of some cruises—we appreciated being able to sit after lunch and mingle in the dining room over an after-lunch tea. While servers prepped the empty tables around us for dinner, they also kept stopping by to refill our water or offer coffee so that we could finish lunch time conversations. However, if you were in a rush to get somewhere, just let the servers know and they can get you in, fed, and out in about 30 minutes or less. Cafe Promenade - The cafe that's right on the forward end of the Royal Promenade is a nice way to get a snack or a quick meal if you're trying to get out. For breakfast, the it has fruits (usually oranges, apples, and kiwi), donuts, muffins, apple strudels, raisin bread, and various rolls. For lunch, it serves pizza, empanadas, sandwiches, fruits (same as breakfast), and a variety of desserts. Our favorites here were the empanadas, kiwi, and the scones. The best aspect of the cafe is the location in the center of the ship. It's a great place to see friendly faces any time of the day or night and serves as a prime social spot.
FITNESS CENTER The fitness center had a good number of machines and rarely felt crowded. Also, unlike the Ruby, it had plenty of lockers for people to use. Two improvements would help quite a bit, though: (1) The weight machines could use a little greasing. The movement was not horrible, but the machines were not moving as smoothly as they could; and (2) The hours of operation should have been modified to accommodate the itinerary. We usually enjoy spending time the sauna or jacuzzi after the gym. Our itinerary was port-heavy, though, and the sauna and jacuzzi were only open from 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM, so we did not end up using them at all. An extra couple of hours on both ends would have been very helpful, especially since after a long day of walking, it would have been nice to be able to relax in the sauna or go in the hot tub without having to be outside.
ENTERTAINMENT AND ENRICHMENT Production Shows - production shows are one of our favorites aspects of cruising and we have yet to be disappointed with a Royal Caribbean show. We had seen one of the shows before ("All Access" must be popular among the fleet) but just having it performed by a different group was still very enjoyable. Ice Show - the ice show is definitely worth seeing. It's amazing how this group of 10 individuals do a choreographed routine that includes jumps, spins, and flips on a moving ship. The show is almost always packed, so arrive early (at least 30 minutes early) to get a good seat. Enrichment Programs - there were more enrichment program options on this ship than most Royal Caribbean ships we've been on—but were nonetheless disappointing. Aside from the towel folding, napkin folding, and fruit carving demonstrations, the main enrichment options were port information and some basic language classes. The port information is a bit of a joke—a sales pitch to funnel you toward partner companies on shore. The language class (Italian) was good for teaching people some basic words (months, days of the week, et al.), but impractical. We think people would have benefitted more from useful phrases such "where is the..." (dovE), "I'd like..." (vorrei) or "How much..." (cuanto costa). Let's face it, how often are we really going to be asking about the day of the week while in Rome? To give them credit, they did teach "buongiorno", "ciao", and "grazie" in one class.
COMMUNICATION We were generally satisfied with the internet access available on the ship. The cost was 65 cents per minute, but there were packages that made it cheaper. Perhaps it was because we largely used it very late at night or when most people were away because we're at port, but we didn't have too much trouble using the internet. For those just checking e-mail, it was helpful to use outlook, if your computer has it, to access and send via gmail. This allowed us to draft e-mails and notes in advance (without being logged in). For receiving, we would just do the send and receive, and then read e-mails after we were logged off. This made it possible to go through e-mails with just being logged on for 2-3 minutes. For those who are members of the Crown & Anchor Society, it was nice to get $5 of free internet as a gold member through the Ultimate Value booklet. Just bring the coupon to the customer relations desk.
HEALTH Unfortunately, during the cruise, there was an outbreak of the norovirus (enough that the Captain wrote a letter that was distributed to all passengers). The outbreak happened soon after Egypt, which we've heard is not uncommon. However, the ship's policy for sanitizing hands was not particularly sensible if the purpose was to limit getting other people sick. For example, at the Windjammer, a handful of staff were specifically assigned to greet and enforce passengers using the hand-sanitizer—only at the front door. It was not uncommon, though, to see people sneeze, cough, or pick something off the floor with no sanitizer or sink to be found near the buffet or dining area. It's also unclear why hand sanitization is required to enter here, but not at buffets hosted by the captain or in the dining rooms.
PORTS OF CALL Ports of call for this trip included Civitavecchia (Rome), Naples, Piraeus (Athens), Kusadasi (Ephesus), Alexandria, and Messina. Below are select ports where we have some tips for travelers wishing to go on their own (our usual way of touring ports): Naples - It's possible to get to Pompeii on your own. Take a shuttle or a cab from the port to the train station for the Circumvesuviana Train. (We walked it, but it took 40 minutes.) A cab should cost about 12 euros. The train ride to Pompeii takes about 50 minutes. Herculaneum is only 30. Look for brown signs that say Scavi Pompeii or Scavi Ercolaneo depending on which one you're looking for. Kusadasi - If you're not interested in Ephesus, at least get off the ship and enjoy the bazaar that is just outside. Expect to haggle for a good price. Prices are largely posted in Euros, but you can also pay in Turkish liras. The exchange rate provided by shops is largely 2 lirasi for 1 euro. This overinflates the Lira since it's really about 2 Liras for $1 U.S. Dollar (as of May 2010), so we found it slightly cheaper to buy using Liras. This was one of our favorite ports because the people were so friendly. If you're not interesting in buying anything, just say so and you can expect a friendly conversation not related to buying stuff (most of the time). While, here try a hamman, a traditional Turkish bath, complete with a big hairy Turk. There is one just near the Mosque closest to the ship that accepts both men and women - cost is $20 dollars or $15 euro for the bath, with an extra 8 euros if you want a massage (about 15 minutes). Expect to spend about an hour inside. Rhodes - Rhodes is another port where it's easy to just go on your own. The old town is just on the other side of the wall from the port. This part has lots of souvenir shops and little boutiques. If you feel like a beach day, you can go to Faliraki beach by taxi for about 15 euros. At Faliraki, there are also shops, that unlike the ones in the old town, will focus on things for the beach like towels, pareos, and sandals. Alexandria - Most people in Alexandria go shopping at night when it's cool so the markets that cater to locals are open at that time. For a taste of Egyptian culture, go out after it gets dark, but be careful when crossing roads. Expect that for the first three or four blocks, that people will pester you—a lot—offering things such as souvenirs, drugs, and even prostitutes. Just say no and thank you (or "shakran") and keep walking. They'll leave you alone after you're a few blocks into town. We stayed in the crowded parts and you'll notice women in veils leading toddlers as they go shopping even very late at night (we were out at 1AM). Although we stayed safe—even while carrying a big camera around to take photos—we are two guys in our early 30s. Others might want to keep pockets empty or leave items (large cameras, jewelry, etc.) behind that might draw extra attention. Most cruisers will likely stand out as a foreigner no matter what. For souvenirs, there are shops right in front of the port - however, expect to pay double what you would pay outside the port. As examples: the 10 pack of large papyrus bookmarks were only $1 at Qaitbey Fort, while it was $2 (with haggling) at the Port ($4 without haggling at some places); the 10 pack of portcards were $1 at the Sphinx and $2 at the Port, and the keffiyeh (the men's headcover) at the Sphinx was available for $1-$2 while it was $5 at the Port.
GLBT Friendliness One disappointment about Royal Caribbean is that it doesn't post GLBT get-togethers on the Cruise Compass (although it will post it for Friends of Bill W, veterans, red hatters, and others). By comparison, Princess posted the GLBT get-togethers in its Princess Patters and had a member of the cruise director's staff to host. We ended up posting on the bulletin board and got a group that got together every other day in the Champagne bar. This cruise was part of our honeymoon. We received an invitation to attend the honeymoon event and the ship staff treated us like other couples. During the cruise, though, we found two other male-male couples celebrating their honeymoon, who were not invited to the honeymooner event like we were. One couple was quite surprised not have been invited since they even paid extra for the honeymoon package with the decorations, champagne, etc. The rest of the passengers on the cruise were also very friendly. The passengers attending the Love & Marriage Game show cheered loudly for us to participate relative to most other honeymoon couples, but another honeymoon couple edged us out with their dancing skills. SUMMARY We had a great honeymoon on the Navigator and thought the experience faired well relative to both our trip that immediately preceded it on the Ruby Princess, as well as a previous trip on the Voyager. The layout and food were especially enjoyable, while the enrichment activities, jacuzzi/sauna hours, and GLBT-friendliness could be improved with relatively little effort by RCL.