We did the 8 night Eastern Caribbean Itinerary on the Navigator of the Seas February 4, 2012 -- February 12, 2012. We are a couple in our mid-40's (no kids) and this was our 11th cruise. After looking at several options for a February getaway, this cruise won out because it was a good price and easy for us to get to. I wasn't 100 percent thrilled with the itinerary (St. Martin, St.Kitts, San Juan and Labadee), but it turned out to be a great trip and one of our best cruises ever. The Navigator is not a new ship, but still looks great with just a few signs of wear and tear. We found the service on this ship to be top notch and found the crew to be very friendly.
We flew into Fort Lauderdale via Southwest on Friday afternoon and stayed overnight at the Embassy Suites. A taxi there was about $16. Our room wasn't ready when we arrived, so we went to get some lunch at Joe's, located in the Publix shopping center right behind the ES. The front desk called to let us know that our room was ready before we finished lunch. We checked into our room (with a view of the port!) and rested for a bit, then ventured down the manager's reception. The place was packed with cruisers! For dinner, we went next door to Carlos and Pepe's for decent, if a bit overpriced, Mexican food. After dinner, we headed to Publix for diet sodas and sunscreen, returned to the hotel. It was very quiet and we slept well. Embassy Suites is a great pre-cruise hotel and we will stay here again.
Saturday we got up around 8 AM and walked down to the 17th Street bridge for a good view of the ships. On the way back, we decided to stop at Panera for breakfast rather than fight the crowds for the free breakfast at Embassy Suites. Figured we'd be fighting crowds enough in the coming days :- ) We ended up getting a cab to the port around 11 AM. Traffic in the port was pretty congested and the Navigator's pier is the farthest away, so it was about 11:30 before we arrived. We were on the ship in about 40 minutes, not too bad. We were delayed a bit as they wanted to hand inspect the two 12 packs of sodas we carried on.
We headed straight to the Windjammer, were we found the food to be above average all week. It's still buffet food, but it was pretty good with lots of variety. We never had a problem finding a table for two, although we might have had to walk around for a few minutes. Rooms were ready at 1 PM. We were pretty tired so we took a nap until our luggage came around 3:30 PM. I rushed to get unpacked before the muster drill at 4:30. I really like to be unpacked before the muster drill!
We had an inside cabin on Deck 10, which happened to be where the suites were. Consequently, our stateroom attendant also took care of the suites and she was excellent! Dinner the first night was a little slow, but our waiter and assistant waiter were great all week. Food ranged from OK to excellent. We were unexpectedly pleased with the fried offerings...they always came out hot and fresh.
We loved having two sea days at the start of the trip. This really gave us a chance to rest up and get into vacation mode. We didn't do much other than read and sit on deck 4 and look at the ocean. The Super Bowl was Sunday, so they moved the first formal night from Sunday to Monday. We didn't care about the Super Bowl, so we did the 7 PM Ice Show on Sunday night. It was good, but not as good as the one on the Mariner of the Seas a few years ago.
Our first port was St. Martin and we headed out to Orient Beach. It was very windy, but a nice day. We got a front row chair and umbrella at Orange Fever and stayed there until about 3:30 PM. We had one of their pizzas and some jalapeno poppers for lunch...pretty good and reasonably priced. They also had $10 buckets of Carib beer (7 for the price of 6), as well as a full assortment of frozen concoction options. It seems that most people don't spend the whole day here. There was a morning crowd that paid for their chairs/umbrellas and an afternoon crowd that pretty much took over the chairs vacated by the morning crowd. It did get very crowded in the afternoon. All in all it was a great day on a beautiful beach.
Wednesday was St. Kitts and we did the Fan-ta-sea Catamaran excursion booked through the ship. This excursion promised snorkeling, lunch, beach time and an open bar and technically delivered on all four. After a short walk from the pier, we boarded the Spirit of St. Kitts catamaran and set sail for Shitten Bay for snorkeling. Although not quite as windy as St. Martin, we actually had enough wind to sail! The snorkeling was underwhelming. A few fish and very little coral. After snorkeling, rum punch and Carib beer were offered and many passengers were already quite happy by the time we reached our beach destination on Nevis. Lunch was very good; barbecued chicken, various salads and soft drinks. The bar was also open on the beach. The party crowd stayed in the water near the boat, but you could walk a few yards down the beach for some tranquility. The ride back was quite fun with music and dancing (conga line!) and the crew did a good job of bringing everyone drinks while simultaneously making sure no one fell off the boat. It was a very enjoyable trip, but if your primary goal is to snorkel, this isn't the trip for you. If your primary goal is to enjoy a day on the water with an open bar, this is your excursion!
Our third port was San Juan. We've been here several times, both as an embarkation point and stop, but we'd never been to Fort San Cristobel (the "other" fort) so off we went. This fort is actually larger that the more famous "El Morro", and had lots of interesting tunnels and gorgeous views. We spent several hours here and decided it was more interesting than El Morro. We walked around Old San Juan for a bit, then headed back to the ship as this was a short day with the ship leaving at 1 PM. I enjoyed having a "non-beach" day to break things up a bit.
Our last port was Labadee, and this was our favorite stop. We'd been here several years ago before the dock was built and were impressed with all the upgrades. Once again, we were off the ship bright and early and headed for the far end of Columbus Cove. Our thinking that few of our fellow passengers would walk that far was completely wrong, and we were soon joined by hundreds of our shipmates. We lounged around until 11:30 AM and were first in line for the buffet at Columbus Cove. The buffet on the island was much improved from our last visit, or maybe we just got there earlier before it was picked over? Anyway, we ate, and then headed back to Buccaneer Bay for our Arawaky Snorkel Excursion. There were two snorkeling excursions offered on Labadee. We chose this one because it was a maximum of 12 people and went out on a speed boat, so we thought perhaps this one would go to a better snorkeling spot. We were taken out on a rigid inflatable boat that goes up to 50 mph. It was quite a lot a fun, but definitely not for those with back or neck issues as there are lots of bumps. Eight seats face forward and you must straddle them, kind of like a motorcycle seat. In the back was bench seating that faced to the side. We cruised by an old ship wreck, then we were taken into a bay where we could see the Citadel in the distance, as well as the vacation homes of some wealthy French people. We saw many local fishermen in makeshift boats, which probably explained the absence of any large fish when we did reach the snorkel spot. However, the water clarity was wonderful and the coral was surprisingly healthy. We saw a variety of fish, but all were very small. While the snorkeling was not the greatest, overall this was a very good experience and we were glad we did it. After our snorkel trip, we headed back to Columbus Cove beach and relaxed until the security people suggested we head back to the boat. We were not the last people back, but we were close to it! A very good day!
There was a good variety of activities on this ship, and including some educational lectures. There was a college professor on-board who gave several lectures about the history of the areas we visited. I attended the lecture about Haiti, which detailed the history and current challenges of the country. Several biology presentations were presented by Vito, one of the entertainment staff. Apparently, this bright young man convinced management that cruisers might be interested in learning about the ocean and its creatures while on vacation, and persuaded them to give him some time between leading bingo games to give presentations on turtles, coral and Caribbean fish. These three presentations were all well attended and needed more space to accommodate everyone. Vito's English isn't the greatest, but he's passionate about educating people about marine life and the threats facing our oceans. Most who came to the first presentation came back for the next two. I applaud Vito for convincing RCCL to allow him to do this. There is obviously a desire by many people who cruise to learn more about the oceans they love, so I think RCCL should expand these on-board educational opportunities.
In conclusion, this was one of our best cruises. Though not a new ship, the Navigator has plenty to offer and this itinerary was great. We loved the extra sea day. I would do this trip again in a heartbeat!