We have just got back from a 13 night transatlantic on the Navigator of the Seas (Fort Lauderdale to Rome). There were 3 of us, myself, my wife, and our 3 year old daughter, and we got a good deal on a Grand Suite (1278). This was our 10th cruise, and our daughter's 4th, previously we have cruised on QE2 (x2), QM2, QV (x2), IoTS, Voyager, Mercury, and the Seabourn Spirit. We are Brits (only around 60 of us onboard).
The ship called at Tenerife, Mallorca, Corsica, and finally Rome.
Check in was quick and efficient, as suite guests, we did not have to queue and were on board within 10 minutes. Non suite guests seemed to be checked in quickly also. We received our gold coloured sea pass card (only GS and above get this) which carries a number of privileges (discussed later). Also in FLL that day was the Equinox, which was also doing a transatlantic, although a more northerly route to us.
We checked in at 12:45, but our bags did not arrive until around 5pm. The lifeboat drill was held outside, and seemed to take aged. Many people were complaining that they needed to sit down.
3 days prior to check in, we received an e-mail from Karen (the Concierge), introducing herself and outlining the perks of travelling in a suite.
The suite exceeded our expectations, looking much better than in the photos on the RCI website. It was very clean and spacious; with a flat screen TV, Bose hi-fi, DVD player, video player. Also, there was a coffee maker and a kettle (on the Navigator, only suite guests get a kettle). The bathroom was spacious, with a double sink and a bath with shower over - plenty big enough for us. I preferred the suite to the Queens Grill suites on the QV as it was more open plan, we could utilise the space more effectively with our daughter. The balcony was very nice (as the suite was double the width of a standard balcony cabin), and had a sun bed and also a rattan table with 2 chairs - very nice for having breakfast on the balcony when coming into Corsica. The double sofa turned into a bed where our daughter slept. There was also a full dividing curtain separating the bedroom area from the rest of the suite.
We also had a complimentary bottle of Evian (only one though), and a leather bound folder which highlighted the suite perks, and contained the full menu for the day for breakfast, lunch, dinner, extended cocktail and wine menu that was afforded to suite guests. The dinner menu was updated daily.
Our suite steward was excellent (we have been lucky never to have had a bad room steward) - the room was made up whilst we were at breakfast, and turned down when we were at dinner. Ice, coffee, tea etc. topped up twice a day (or as requested)
Basically, the main suite perks were:
1) Reserved seating on the pool deck, ice shows, main theatre, therefore we never had to worry about having anywhere to sit, or having to get to the shows early to guarantee a good seat
2) Use of the Concierge Lounge (deck 9) where there was a coffee machine, continental breakfast, afternoon sandwiches and cakes. Also, Karen was there at certain times during the day (and always contactable by phone) to give any help and advice and answer any queries - suite guests therefore never needed to queue up at guest relations as Karen could take care of everything. In addition, she had the keys to the DVD and CD library.
3) Free bar and nibbles in the Ixtapa lounge from 4:30pm to 8:00pm - the lounge was open only to Suite guests and (I think) C&A members that were Diamond and up. Unfortunately, children were not allowed in here, so we only used this facility twice
4) Behind the scenes tours - we went on a tour of the bridge (you could also tour the engine control room and the galley, but space was limited and we did not sign up early enough), and also were invited to a reception where we went to the staterooms of the Captain, Chief Engineer, and Hotel Director - lots of free drinks and a very nice food presentations being made available
5) Invitations to 2 suite only receptions with senior staff, again with lots of free drinks and a very nice food presentations being made available
6) Quality toiletries (well, the same Gilchrest and Soames that you get with Cunard), and chocolates on the pillow (nice ones)
7) Someone knocked on the door one day with a very nice cheese plate - not sure if they only deliver this if you are in as we only got this once, but it was excellent.
8) Breakfast and lunch in Portofino’s - you could avoid the crowds in the Windjammer and eat here, where tables were laid out properly (table cloths, nice cutlery etc.), and waiting staff, however you needed to go to the Windjammer to get your own food (there was fruit, cereal and pastries in Portofino’s for breakfast though).
9) Extended in suite dining menu - also room service was always on time and as ordered. Everything that should have been hot was hot.
On a 13 night cruise (especially with the first week at sea), these perks were really appreciated, and well used. Especially as the suite was not that more expensive than a D1 balcony cabin (£800 if I recall).
Condition of the Ship
The ship was in very good shape. Some signs of tiredness (some scuffs here and there), and some areas did have an unpleasant odour - the amusement arcade, and the walkway to the Aquanaut’s play area for example.
The ship was very stable (although we did have good weather for the crossing). This was the first cruise that I have not needed sea sickness tablets (my 10th cruise).
The ship was nearly full but felt nowhere as crowded as the IoTS last November - you could always get a seat for a quiz for example, where you had no chance on the IoTS unless you arrived very early.
There were also an impressive number of events where free 'champagne' was made available.
There was no vibration from the engines (something that we have experienced on QM2 and QV), and the suite was very well insulated from external noise. The air conditioning around the ship did not seem to be cold enough and we did find ourselves quite hot in the theatre.
The Captain (Patrick) was excellent, very visible and approachable. Also very humorous. We saw him on a number of occasions having breakfast / lunch in Portofino’s and he made a point of speaking to everyone.
The Cruise Director (Mike) was ok, but we never saw his sidekick. Our best cruise director was John (and Steve as the sidekick) on IoTS last November - Mike just did not seem to do much. The cruise was made up of c80% Americans / Canadians, so this may be what they like (only around 60 Brits).
Dining Room - excellent staff - James (waiter) and Alner (assistant) were fun, knowledgeable and interacted really well with us and our little girl. Aston, the Head Waiter was also excellent, visiting us at least twice each meal - our daughter took a real shine to him.
Bar staff - all very pleasant
Entertainment staff - very good, especially Timmy and Rio ('from Rio') who were a lot of fun running the quizzes
The Navigator catered very well for children. There were about 15 people in my daughter's age group (3-5) and there were lots of free activities every day. It was a real shame that our girl only went to a couple of sessions (she flatly refused any more). The problem is that we (as parents) were not allowed into the play area to settle her, it was a case of dropping her off and that was that. With Cunard, you can go in and make sure they are settled before leaving. As with Cunard we were given a pager in case we were needed back at the play area. There are also a number of occasions where children can have lunch with the staff (with a charge), or dinner (no charge) - but there are financial penalties if you are late, loose / damage a pager, or want your little one to stay after 10pm.
Overall, I would say that Cunard's children's facilities (QV) are more modern and more personal, but still, those on the Navigator were very good and there was an excellent variety in the programme (which was delivered each day to the room).
The Ice Show was, as always, excellent
Some of the entertainers were tailored to the American market - one comedian and a Celine Dion tribute act was not our cup of tea.
Once again, Jonathan Kane was on board (Elton John tribute) and we were not going to go (this was the 4th time he has been on a cruise of ours), but we did see him in the end, and I have to say he was excellent - the Americans loved him and at least 100 of them got up on the stage to dance to Crocodile Rock, the audience participation really made his performance a memorable event (and he had slightly changed his act since we saw him last).
The singers and dancers were good, but very loud, and the band were ok, however not as good as on the IoTS band last November who had the most amazing drummer.
Food was excellent - lots of choice, always hot and very tasty. My wife was very happy that they served English breakfast tea throughout the ship. Another positive with RCI is that tea, coffee, water, iced tea, lemonade and fruit punch is always free in the Windjammer (and in most other places throughout the ship). Also, waiters throughout the ship are more than happy to get you the free drinks - I get the feeling on Cunard that if you want a free drink, you have to get it yourself...no such feeling with RCI.
Very smooth - we had a tour of Rome then to the airport, so were off the ship by 7:30 (so up at 5am). This all went really well.
I would have to say that this was the best cruise we have been on. I would highly recommend a transatlantic crossing on the Navigator and the Suite accommodation and perks were outstanding (especially with a 3 year old and the extra space required). Crew and staff were excellent, although cruise director was only so so.