NAVIGATOR OF THE SEAS: OUR MEDITERRANEAN ADVENTURE
My girlfriend and I, both in our early 20's and recent university graduates, took a fantastic Mediterranean cruise on Royal Caribbean's beautiful Navigator of the Seas on May ... Read More
NAVIGATOR OF THE SEAS: OUR MEDITERRANEAN ADVENTURE
My girlfriend and I, both in our early 20's and recent university graduates, took a fantastic Mediterranean cruise on Royal Caribbean's beautiful Navigator of the Seas on May 19, 2008. We sailed out of Barcelona and visited Cannes, Florence and Rome.
We started planning our European trip back in December 2007. My girlfriend had certain desires for the trip, as did I. She wanted to visit a few specific cities and well, simply, I wanted to go on a Mediterranean cruise. Not just any cruise, but a Royal Caribbean cruise. Who can blame me! Ever since Summer 2007 I've been completely hooked on cruising with Royal Caribbean. Within a period of less than 12 months I will have taken four cruises. Three great cruises on Royal Caribbean and one mediocre cruise on Carnival.
After lots of hassling with picking dates to fly and dates to sail, we finally found the perfect combination that would allow us to spend lots of time in Europe before and after the cruise. Along with the perfect timing of the sailing date, we also chose this specific cruise for several reasons: the amazing itinerary; the time of year to visit these great classic cities, the price of the cruise; and most important, the fact that we had sailed on Navigator of the Seas in November 2007 and absolutely loved it!
In case you want to know why we loved Navigator of the Seas, here is my Cruise Critic review from the November 2007 sailing: http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=35111
After months of anticipation and extreme planning, including endless hours on Cruise Critic, we finally flew to Madrid on May 13th to begin our 3-week adventure. We stayed in Madrid for 3 nights before taking the Renfe AVE train to Barcelona on the 17th. This was going to be my first time commuting on a 'real' train. I've taken dozens of metros and city trains, but never a 'real' train from one major city to another. The amazing thing was the short amount of time it took to get from Madrid to Barcelona. It's usually a 7 or so hour trip but the AVE train accomplishes it in 2 hours and 30 minutes going at speeds of over 200mph. We chose the early-afternoon train because it travels direct without making any stops. This explains how it can make the trip in such little time. We spent the 17th and 18th in Barcelona before the "big day" on the 19th.
DAY 1 - EMBARKATION IN BARCELONA
On the 19th in the morning we took a rather inexpensive taxi to the Moll Adossat at the Port of Barcelona. This is where the Navigator of the Seas was patiently waiting for us. As we crossed the bridge that links Barcelona with the cruise terminals we got our first glimpse of this gigantic cruise ship. Of course Navigator of the Seas was the biggest cruise ship in port that day, and without a doubt the most impressive. It was cool realizing that the last time we had seen the ship was back in Fort Lauderdale and now we were seeing her again thousands of miles away in Barcelona.
We arrived at the terminal at around 10:50am and made our way through the security checkpoint with our luggage. Whenever my girlfriend and I cruise we only take standard carry-on luggage. Sometimes several pieces of carry-on luggage, but as long as we don't have to check bags we're satisfied. It just makes things easier. Once through security we quickly checked in at the counter and received our Sea Pass cards. In my opinion, definitely the quickest and most efficient check in staff. We then made our way to a line of people that was waiting for the escalators to be turned on that would lead us to the ship's promenade deck for embarkation. The terminal staff started the embarkation process at around 11:20am and my girlfriend and I were literally the third and fourth ones to get on the ship.
Once onboard we went up to the 9th deck to find our stateroom. The doors leading to the staterooms were still closed since they were preparing the rooms, but that didn't stop us. We simply opened one of the doors and made our way to our assigned stateroom, which we discovered had just been prepared minutes earlier. We introduced ourselves to our stateroom attendant Bobby and he helped us get settled in. He was extremely courteous and helpful. After unpacking we grabbed a bite to eat at the Cafe Promenade and then the Windjammer. We also made our reservations for Chops and Portofino. Thereafter we visited the Solarium and enjoyed the jacuzzi all to ourselves. When we got bored with the outside jacuzzi we made our way to the huge jacuzzi in the spa and enjoyed that all to ourselves as well. Soon after we returned to the Solarium jacuzzi and stayed there for a while before finally returning to the room to get ready for the all-mighty muster drill.
Though muster drills are boring, especially after doing them a few times, they are indeed extremely necessary and we take them very serious. However on this cruise the muster drill took boring to the extremes. Being an international sailing, the muster drill was held in what seemed like four or five different languages. It was the longest, most boring time you could ever imagine. To make things worse, the drill did not start on time since many of the international guests were not aware of the strict requirements to attend. I did see something quite funny while at the drill. Next to our muster station in the aft of the ship they have a door labeled specifically for the use of the crew only. It appears to lead to a staircase or service elevator. We constantly witnessed guests coming out of that door to find their muster station. It seems likely that when the time came for the drill, some guests picked any staircase or elevator they could find without paying much attention to the big signs explaining they were for crew only.
After the muster drill we returned to our stateroom to get ready for dinner. We had the late 9:30pm seating but had made a 6:30pm reservation at Chops for the first night. We had never tried the specialty restaurants onboard so we figured we'd give it a shot. And in the end we definitely regretted it. I'm aware that literally thousands of Cruise Critic guests brag about their awesome experiences at Chops, but we were one of the few that didn't enjoy it. I'll start with this. Yes, the food was quite good. Nothing over the top, but good. It was definitely comparable to the dining room food, which in my opinion is really good for the most part. The part that led to the bad experience was the service. Since we were the early birds that night, Chops was pretty empty. There were maybe five or six other couples at most. However, right after we ordered one of the ship's officers and a female guest entered Chops and were seated in a large booth in the back of the room. Thereafter the service got horrible as the Chops staff seemed to ignore the other couples and literally spent the entire time catering to the officer, who was not the Captain by the way. A megaphone would have come in handy that night to get the staffs' attention. Every time we needed something, the waiters were over at the officer's tabling chatting. When we finished our entrEes I asked our waiter nicely if she could please clear our table and she refused. She said she was busy and she'd do it later. She of course rushed back to the officer's table. Not the type of service we were expecting. The only real advantage of eating there was the view of the Mediterranean coastline as we sailed to our first port of call, Cannes, France. We wanted to enjoy our cruise on a positive note so we decided not to complain about the Chops issue and just write it off as a lesson learned. In case you're wondering, I had the French onion soup, the mushroom caps, the t-bone steak, and we tried every desert on the menu, while my girlfriend had a French onion soup and the fish entrEe.
When we finished at Chops we hung out around the ship for a little and then made our way to our regular dinner seating to meet the guests at our table. We ended up with the coolest table on the entire cruise. We were four young non-married couples, and all American. We all got along great from the start. Even though we didn't eat a thing, my girlfriend and I still ended up staying all the way through desert chatting it up with our new friends. We also were very impressed with our waiter and assistant waiter. They were really nice and efficient. After dinner we headed back to the room to get a good night's sleep as we would be waking up early for Cannes the next morning.
DAY 2 - CANNES
Waking up early at home: horrible feeling. Waking up early on a nearly billion dollar cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean: exciting for obvious reasons. Once awake, we quickly headed up two floors to the Windjammer for breakfast. We got there so early that we had to sneak in and wait at a table by the aft windows for a few minute till the official opening time. The guy who always greets guests entering the Windjammer on Navigator of the Seas tried kicking us out for being early, but someone stopped him and told him to let us stay since we weren't bothering. After breakfast we got ready and then made our way up to the pool deck to wait for the distribution of the tender tickets to get to Cannes. As everybody was waiting in the huge line on the pool deck, I faintly heard an announcement over the PA system talking about guests not needing tickets if they went down to the tenders right away. Since the PA wasn't too clear out on the pool deck, I was second-guessing if I had heard the announcement correctly. Since the same thing happened on our November sailing, I figured I must have heard correctly. I told my girlfriend to run for it and we literally ran down the stairs all the way from the pool deck to the first floor and we were indeed able to board the tenders without tickets. It was funny cause when we ran all the other guests in line on the pool deck were looking as us as if we were crazy. Unfortunately they all remained waiting in that long line. Eventually after about 15 minutes of waiting on the tenders for more people to show up, we began seeing people who had been on the pool deck begin to board the tenders. We ended up leaving to Cannes about 10 minutes later.
When we first booked the cruise we realized that we were going to be in Cannes during the international film festival, the Festival de Cannes. We also realized that all Festival activities and events were off limits to the public so we figured that the only way to enjoy our time in Cannes was to secure full access passes to the festival. After pulling a few strings, we were able to secure these nearly impossible-to-get passes. As soon as the tender got to the Old Port in Cannes, we were the first ones to get off and we immediately rushed over to the Palais de Festival, the official headquarters of the film festival. There we picked up our passes and enjoyed a truly memorable day. We were able to get into all of the exclusive areas of the Festival! We even attended two VIP parties in the afternoon. The only downside was that we had to be back on the ship by about 5:30pm. This meant that we couldn't experience any of the famous nightlife of the Festival nor the red carpet action that we constantly see on television and in the magazines.
We ended up taking a tender back to the ship at around 4:00pm. We usually prefer to go back a little early to avoid the craziness that occurs on the tenders as sailing time approaches. After returning to the ship we rested for a while and then got ready for the formal dinner. I was really happy to finally be eating in the dining room after the previous night's unfortunate experience at Chops. Also, after not eating anything in the main dining room on the first night, I was excited to finally be able to do what I always do on cruises: order everything I want on the menu. I usually average about two appetizers a night, two or three entrEes, and about three deserts. After dinner we walked around for a little and then went to sleep. This cruise had a very port-intensive itinerary so we had to go to sleep early every night to be able to function well and enjoy the coming day.
DAY 3 - LIVORNO (FLORENCE)
Overnight we had sailed from Cannes to Livorno, Italy. Livorno is the port city for Florence and Pisa since both are inland. To really experience the splendor of Florence in the time allotted, we had pre-booked the Royal Caribbean excursion Historical Florence and Accademia Museum. This was the only excursion offered that guaranteed a visit to the Accademia Museum, or Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze as it's also known, home to Michelangelo's statue of David. There was no way we were going to visit Florence and not stand before this incredible statue. After breakfast in the Windjammer that morning we finished getting ready and then headed down to the Ixtapa Lounge to meet up with the group for our tour. As soon as every one was there, we all headed down to the first floor to exit the ship and board our bus to Florence. There were literally dozens of big charter buses lined up in front of the ship. Since there's really not much to do in Livorno, it seemed like most guests had opted to go on one of the many excursions offered by Royal Caribbean.
The journey to Florence afforded us the opportunity to catch unforgettable views of the surrounding scenery of Tuscany. From a distance we got to see the town of Pisa, including the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa or as it's known in Italy, Torre pendente di Pisa. We also drove past some of the huge Tuscan mountain ranges that have provided the marble that's been used for some of Italy's most famous statues, including the statue of David we would soon visit. The only negative thing about the bus ride to Florene was that even though we were only a small group of about twenty people, we stopped for three long bathroom breaks in a period of one hour. These stops ultimately delayed our arrival in Florence. This was really upsetting as we had paid to see Florence, not to be parked at local gas stations for extended periods of time.
When we finally arrived in Florence, the bus dropped us off a few blocks away from the Accademia Museum. Our group made its way to the museum and once there waited outside for a few minutes as our tour guide picked up our tickets. Being on a tour proved to be so valuable as we got to skip the huge lines outside and get right in. Once in the main hall, there in front of us stood the famous statue of David we had anxiously waited to see. It's actually a bit bigger than I had expected it to be. It's truly amazing how skilled Michelangelo was as he was able to duplicate in marble nearly every feature of the human body. The only disappointment at the Accademia Museum was that they don't let you take pictures of the statue. Ironically, in the Royal Caribbean television commercials they show guests taking pictures of the statue and make a point of promoting that fact. Either way, I still shot a bunch of really good pictures of the front of the statue without getting caught. Just as I was starting to take pictures of the back of the statue, one of the museum's staff members finally caught me. She politely asked me to put the camera away and that was it.
After the Accademia Museum the group made its way to the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo of Florence. This particular excursion didn't include a tour of the Duomo, but we were still able to visit the square surrounding the Duomo and view the grand Brunelleschi dome and Giotto's Bell tower. While in the square we also stopped in front of the Florence Baptistry or Battistero di San Giovanni where our tour guide pointed out the biblical scenes carved into the bronze doors of the Baptistry. Soon after we walked a few blocks to Palazzo Vecchio, the square where the original statue of David stood outside until 1873. They now have a replica of the statue where the original once stood.
From here we walked past the Uffizi Gallert to the banks of the Arno River where we marveled at our first views of the beautiful bridge, the Ponte Vecchio. The bridge really exemplifies the beauty and history of Florence. We walked along the street that lines the river to the bridge's entrance and then spent a few minutes taking pictures and browsing the shops lining the narrow street atop the bridge. After our stop at the bridge we returned to the Palazzo Vecchio and had lunch at a small restaurant in the square. The lunch was included in the price of the excursion. It was a typical Italian lunch with unlimited wine and champagne. We weren't offered any choices or menu, yet everything they brought out was delicious. For desert they gave us a tiramisu ice cream in a small cup. I'm a huge fan of tiramisu and have tasted literally dozens of different versions of it yet an ice cream version was a first for me. It was actually really good.
Following lunch we made our way to the square in front of the Santa Croce Church. We were given about 45 minutes of free time and then told to meet back for the group to continue on to the tour of the church. We took the opportunity to do our souvenir shopping here. We also visited the world famous Vivolis ice cream shop but the lines were too long so we had to skip it. When we finally reunited with the group, we made our way to the entrance of the church. Inside we visited the tombs of some of history's most famous individuals such as Galileo, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and several others. After the church tour we made our way back along the Arno River and reunited with our bus.
Once everyone was on the bus, we took a short ride up to Plaza Michelangelo atop a hill overlooking the city. This afforded us the chance to enjoy beautiful views of Florence. We could see everything from atop the hill. It's interesting to see how the majority of buildings in Florence all have the same color roof tiles. After this we made our hour or so trip back to Livorno. We were so lucky this day as the weather was amazing!! We couldn't have asked for a nicer day. After returning to the ship we rested till dinner. As was the case on previous nights, we went to sleep almost immediately after dinner since we had a big day ahead.
DAY 4 - CIVITAVECCHIA (ROME)
The next morning we awoke in another Italian city: Civitavecchia. This is the port city for the incredible city of Rome or as the Italians call it, Roma. We enjoyed an early breakfast in the windjammer and then made our way to the main theater to meet up with our group for the Rome-On-Your-Own excursion offered through Royal Caribbean. This excursion was basically just a ride to and from Rome. We chose this excursion since the Vatican was closed on the day we were there for Corpus Christi Day. Everything else in Rome can pretty much be accomplished on your own. Once our entire group was accounted for in the theater, we all headed down to the gangway on first deck of the ship and boarded a large air-conditioned and really comfortable bus to begin our hour or so long journey to Rome.
As expected, the closer the bus got to Rome, the more traffic we encountered. We ended getting to Rome about 30 minutes later than planned. Our bus dropped us off in the Gianicolo underground bus terminal and our intelligent Italian guide escorted us to St Peters Square to announce our meeting time and location for later that afternoon. As soon as she let us go, we grabbed a taxi in front of the Saint Angelo Castle on Via Della Conciliazione in Vatican City. Our taxi driver was a relatively old guy with the driving skills of a teenage video gamer. He also knew every curse word ever created. This was a taxi ride to remember as we definitely came close to death at least a half dozen times while he drove us to the Colosseum. He was barely done avoiding one crash, when he had to start avoiding another one on the other side. It was definitely a ride I don't ever desire to take again. But thankfully we survived and he proceeded to drop us off in front of the Forum and Palatine Hill entrance next to the massive Colosseum.
As per our tour guide's advise, and the tips in some trusted guide books, we proceeded first to the long but manageable line at the Forum and Palatine Hill. It took us about 30 minutes to reach the ticket window. Our plan was to buy the all-inclusive ticket here which granted admission to the Forum, Palatine Hill, and Colosseum, and then as per the advise we'd been given, make our way to the Colosseum with ticket in hand. This would supposedly get us into a quick line at the Colosseum and we would avoid the two hour or so ticket line there. Sadly, our plan didn't work. The two lines to get into the Colosseum were both extremely long. One line is for buying tickets while the other is for tour groups. We'd been told to get into the line for tour groups but then we realized that line was just as long.
After asking a few people for guidance, we realized there was no way we'd be able to tour the Colosseum and still do everything else in Rome we wanted to do. By the way, in front of the Colosseum they have American tour guides soliciting tourists for "private" tours of the Colosseum for $10 per person plus the cost of admission. This seemed like an obvious scam as they were promising you'd be inside in less than 15 minutes, yet we witnessed the same groups waiting in the super long lines. We proceeded to take as many exterior photos of the Colosseum as we could and then made our way back to the Forum and Palantine Hill. With the ticket already purchased, we entered through a special gate with no line whatsoever. Since we were already way behind schedule, we decided to rush through the Forum and exit at the other end by the Piazza Venezia and the huge memorial to King Vittorio Emanuele II, which is an incredible and massive structure.
From here we rushed through the narrow streets of Rome to the Trevi Fountain. Sadly, it was a cloudy day with occasional drizzles. We soon learned what a light drizzle can easily turn into in a matter of seconds. Once we arrived at the Trevi Fountain we took a few pictures and then it started to drizzle. That drizzle soon turned into a massive downpour. Everybody was scrambling for cover. We ran into a McDonalds and proceeded to put on our ponchos and cover our backpacks in plastic for what would prove to be a daunting walk to the Pantheon in this horrible downpour. When we finally reached the Pantheon, we witnessed literally hundreds of people camped out there to avoid the rain. We entered this amazing and ancient structure and got to witness a unique site. The Pantheon has a giant hole in the center of its dome. When it rains, the water comes right into the hole and pours down into the center of the building. This was a cool scene to see.
When it finally stopped raining we visited the Piazza Navona. Big disappointment as the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini was being renovated and was covered by a bunch of wooden panels preventing you from viewing it. A lot of people proclaim this to be a beautiful plaza yet we found it pretty dull and boring, and not as pretty as other places in Rome. We were getting hungry now so we began searching for a good pizzeria. We finally found one about two blocks from Piazza Navona where they had an awesome deal for only 5 euros. It included two slices of pizza, an arancino rice ball, and a soda or juice. Five euros for all that was a steal compared to the usual prices in Rome. Some places charge 5 euros just for one slice or pizza!
After lunch we returned to the square in front of the Pantheon to take pictures as the sun had returned in full strength. It's incredible when you realize that a structure as unique and impressive as the Pantheon was built nearly two thousand years ago. Nowadays you need big powerful cranes and equipment to create something even similar. Yet back in the days of Ancient Rome, lacking all of our current technological advances, they were still able to build something so impressive. Even more amazing is the fact that it has survived intact for so long.
Since the rain ruined our original visit to the Trevi Fountain, we decided to trek back to the Fountain to retake our pictures, this time without the gray skies. We were fortunate enough that there weren't that many people at the Fountain yet so we were able to take pictures right down by the water. After visiting the Fountain, we began our long but scenic walk to Vatican City. To ensure that we didn't get lost, we would ask for directions almost every two blocks. This way we'd always know if we were still going the right way. The streets in Rome form quite a maze so even one wrong turn could have thrown us way off course. Sadly as we approached Vatican City, the skies began to turn to gray again. The much desired sun was leaving us again. After crossing over the Tiber River we found ourselves in front of Saint Angelo Castle. On the front steps of the castle they were having an exhibition to show off the unique vehicles and watercraft used by Rome's police and rescue departments. It was here that I came upon a police car that every police department should have, a Lamborghini police car.
From here we continued our walk on the Via della Conciliazione and finally arrived at one of the most visited sites in the world, St Peter's Square in front of St Peter's Basilica. Unfortunately it was beginning to drizzle while we were in the Square so we decided to just do some souvenir shopping and then proceed to our group's meeting spot a few minutes. When we got there our tour guide was already there taking attendance as people arrived. Amazingly, everyone arrived back on time and we departed without issue. After an exhausting day in Rome, I took the opportunity to catch a good nap on the bus ride back to Civitavecchia.
Compared to the ugly weather in Rome when we left the city, Civitavecchia was experiencing a beautiful day of sunshine. The bus pulled up right in front of the ship's gangway and we made our way back onto the beautiful Navigator of the Seas. After dropping off our stuff in the room, we proceeded to the best spot on the ship: the jacuzzi in the Solarium. Nothing beats a relaxing trip to the jacuzzi after such a long and exhausting day. Some friends from our Florence tour also found their way to the jacuzzi so we all spent a few hours reminiscing about our awesome experiences in Italy. I must note that dinner that night was very special to me. They finally served tiramisu, my favorite.
Spending a day in Rome, Italian pizza for lunch, and tiramisu for desert made this one of the best days of the trip! After dinner we convinced our entire table to come with us to the usually fun and wacky Love & Marriage Show hosted by the cruise director. Our last time on the Navigator of the Seas we had witnessed one of the most hilarious versions of the show. Unfortunately this time around it was extremely boring. The problem was they didn't recruit the right contestants for it. It was way too predictable compared to the bizarre answers given during our November sailing. After the show it was bedtime as we were exhausted!
DAY 5 - DAY AT SEA
On this last full day of the cruise, we finally had a morning to sleep in as this would be a relaxing day at sea. We woke up just in time to catch the last few minutes of the breakfast buffet. After breakfast we chilled out for a little and then went to lunch in the dining room. I absolutely love Royal Caribbean's dining room lunch menu. It was the same great menu from our November sailing. The food was great but we did experience some less than pleasant service from our waitress. Whenever anyone, including myself, would order more than one thing on the menu she would make a mean comment about that being too much food for us to handle and then we had to proceed to remind her that we indeed wanted those items on the menu. When I finished all my items to her disbelief she made another comment about how I ate so much. We just brushed it off and didn't let it spoil our thus far incredible vacation.
After lunch we did something that is definitely bad for your health. We spent about 5 hours in the jacuzzi in the Solarium. However nothing beats the priceless moment when I finally left the jacuzzi. My gray bathing suit was now completely yellow cause of the chlorine in the jacuzzi. Even worse, it smelled like it had been dunked into a tank of chlorine for days. But I didn't care. Gray, yellow, blue, red, it's still a bathing suit and it still fits just as good. After our jacuzzi adventure we got ready for our last dinner of the cruise. It was so sad that in only a few hours we'd be saying goodbye to the ship in Barcelona. That night we had a wonderful final dinner service and then rewarded our waiters with generous and much deserved tips for their hard work. Our table even took a group picture together with our waiter and assistant waiter. After dinner we walked around the ship for a few minutes to explore areas we hadn't seen before such as the dance club before proceeding back to our stateroom and going to bed.
DAY 6 - DEBARKATION IN BARCELONA
We woke up fairly early today and had breakfast in the Windjammer. We then returned to our stateroom and went back to sleep. We were going to be staying in Barcelona anyways so we had no hurry to get off the ship. Essentially, the later we got off, the better. When we finally left our room, we were the only ones left in our hallway. All the other rooms were already being cleaned. We located our stateroom attendant Bobby and gave him his also much deserved tip and thanked him for doing a wonderful job. He was definitely one of the nicest stateroom attendants we had ever had. He wasn't even upset that we were still in our room. If only all stateroom attendants could be like him! We were carrying our own luggage off so we proceeded to the promenade deck and made our way off the ship. We ended up getting off at around 10:00am. As we talked through baggage claim there where still hundreds of people waiting for their bags and for buses to pick them up. We made our way to the taxi stand in front of the terminal. It was raining really bad this morning, so it was a bit chaotic at the port yet altogether much more organized than the South Florida cruise ports on debarkation days. As we left in the taxi we had to finally concede that this was the end to an incredible cruise on the beautiful Navigator of the Seas. Read Less