This was my 5th Cruise, and 4th with Royal
VoyagerOTS - Western Caribbean from Miami
Constellation - Southern Caribbean from San Juan
BrillianceOTS - Westbound TA from Barcelona
SplendourOTS - South America Round the Horn from Valparaiso
I have recently moved for work to Houston, and since moving here I had been eyeballing a return to cruising after work had kept me from cruising for a number of years (since 2008). Being a loyal Royal Customer, and having Navigator based in Galveston looked great despite the fact that I had visited the islands on the itinerary before, yet the point of the vacation was more about cruising for me than destinations.
In a spur of the moment, I booked this cruise the Friday before we were supposed to depart on Sunday the 22nd, so the haste in planning made the trip seem sort of unreal at times, plus added a certain amount of stress as I did not take any real time from work off, it was a slow week due to Xmas, but nonetheless, I had to be "connected" the whole week.
Having booked 2 days prior, of course we did not get booklets or luggage tags, and I could not complete online registration (which I had done in most of my previous cruises and found to be extremely easy). I also had never even been South of the "loop" here in Houston, so I had to do a little research on Galveston.
In all previous cruises I had flown into the port of departure, so I had never experienced driving to the port, parking, etc. nonetheless,parking was easy enough, though I should have pre-booked a $45.00 lot I had seen on the internet which is just across the street from Terminal 2, instead I chose to wait till I got to the port to see where I wanted to park and ended up paying a little more to be on a lot a little bit further away. However, they do offer a shuttle, the staff was courteous, and my car was safe the whole week.
After a short shuttle drive from the lot, we found ourselves in the long lines and sort of controlled confusion of Terminal 2. There was a huge line spiraling to the outside of the building, and there was very little staff going around pointing people in the right direction. Most everyone was a little more prepared than us and at least had their tags, in which case porters were getting the bags from the passengers quickly, leaving them to stand in the long line with their carry-on items.
I went to look around for someone to get me tags, since I knew I had to make sure our bags made it on board. I had no printed cruise documents as all I had gotten was a confirmation, so I just had that information in my BlackBerry, thankfully getting tags was a breeze, the port staff have printed manifests with them, so they were able to check my booking and get me generic tags. With that done, i deposited our luggage with the porters and went to stand in line.
Once we got closer to the main door of the boarding hall, staff was on hand directing Crown & Anchor Society upper-tier members to a quicker line. Thankfully I am Platinum, so we were able to skip the winding general check-in line. Once inside the building and in the C&A line, we went through security (where another manifest check had to happen since we had no docs.) and on to the check-in line.
Again, after security, the general line twisted and turned inside the building, and despite the fact that there were easily around 40 check-in positions, the line seemed to be endless (more on this later). Thankfully for us, there was only one other party ahead of us for check-in, so within a couple minutes we were being checked in. As I had not filled out the Credit Card Charge information, we were sent to the Port Steward (or something like that), we had to battle the crowds checking in in order to get to the other side of the building, I guess in an effort to fit more people within the great hall, the port authorities have left very little room between the counters and the queue.
Once with the Port Steward, I completed the necessary forms, signed over my AMEX, and were soon quickly given our SeaPass cards (felt completely unreal to me, that at last, I was once again holding onto one of these!). I was pleasantly surprised at the quickness of it all, and even asked again "are you sure we can now go onboard?", the answer was yes and soon we were getting off the gangway on the outer promenade of NavigatorOTS on Deck 4!
Overall, I was very happy with the check-in procedure at Galveston. Parking had been easy to find (and there are what seems to be like a dozen lots flagging you down as you come down the highway), the Terminal was a bit chaotic, but thanks to my Platinum Status, we were able to move through it all quickly and were soon on board. Nevertheless, T2 at Galveston does seem very inadequate to handle a ship of Navigator's size (she may not be the biggest anymore, but she's still larger than most ships out there). We were over 30 minutes late upon departure due to guests who hadn't boarded yet and were still standing in line on the gangway (probably with some others still at the check-in counters).
This really wasn't a huge inconvenience, but the fact that not everyone was probably even checked-in at least an hour before departure, seems to bring up the fact that the staff might just have a very tall order to fill. Also, the rest of us who were already on board, had to stand at our muster stations until everyone was on the ship. It seems the crew were not even allowing on-coming guests even the chance to leave their stuff and were directing them to their muster stations right as they set foot off the gangway. We saw many people joining our muster station a good 30 minutes after we had been there, with all of their carry on items with them.
Thankfully, it seems along with Navigator's improvements during Drydock, there will also be some improvements to the Terminal as mentioned by Capitan Claus during his "Capitan's Corner" on the Last Day at sea (more on Claus later).
From the outside, Navigator is clearly different from his older sister, Voyager (primarily due to the fact of the newer generation, off-hull, glass balconies), but once I stepped off the gangway on the outer promenade off Deck 4 (one of my favorite spaces of the Ship), it was like a blast from the past, and this is were I felt right back on Voyager.
Having experienced Voyager before, I was expecting no surprises from Navigator, and this ended up being true to the bone. I had previously been very open to trying out all different ships within the same class, but now that I have finally tried it, I have found that I'd rather prefer sailing on different classes all the time. Simply, the "wonder" of stepping into a new ship just wasn't there for me, it felt like deja-vu.
Nevertheless, Navigator has kept up well with the times, and the ship still looked like the modern marvel that it is. I think the Voyager-class was such a game-changer, that these ships will continue to be the backbone of the RCI Fleet for years to come as they are still light years ahead of some of their competitors. Seems like RCI has the curb on grandiose innovation.
During my first years cruising, I had the privilege of going on some of the industry's "leading ships". Sailed on Voyager when it was the "Oasis of it's day" in 2001, then the award-winning and standard-setting Millennium and Radiance class ships in 2002 and 2006 respectively. So in 2008 when we chose to sail on SplendourOTS (an older and smaller ship by far) I knew I wasn't in for any surprises, nonetheless, the Ship still offered me a chance to discover new spaces, and to see what "Classic Cruising" was all about. On Spendour it was in a way kind of great to have a limited number of spaces to "wander into" as each night was filled with a different kind of activity. Plus the use of the Centrum itself, proves to be a great experience. A feature that gets overlooked with the amount of inner, open space within the Voyager-class.
On Navigator, there were no surprises, and no new spaces to find. It definitely felt like a "throw-back" cruise of sorts. With so many innovations that have taken place in the industry within so little time, even for me, the rules of cruising have definitely changed, and Navigator will be changing with them, but just not during this cruise. (More on Innovations later).
In the end, by 2pm (after having left Houston at 12 noon), I was happy, and a bit surprised, to find me at the Pool Bar, on a cool 60 degree afternoon, on board NavigatorOTS with a "Bud Light" in hand, ready to head off into the Gulf of Mexico bound for Jamaica! But.... my holiday spirit had not caught up to my body...
*** Note that due to Texas "Blue Laws", Alcohol consumption on board NavigatorOTS while in Galveston, restrict the number and types of liquor/beer that can be served until out at International Waters. I saw a lot of people complaining they couldn't get the liquor they wanted, or the type of "Cruise Drink" they desired due to these restrictions. It was not till around 7:00 pm (after our failed 4:30 departure that was close to 5:15ish) that full blown alcohol started to flow through the bars. RCI might want to prepare better for this and stock the bars better, as we saw people being turned away because they were out of different wines/liquors/beers during the restriction at different bars throughout the ship.
I like getting the most bang out of my buck, so I'm always in the Interior Stateroom (have always felt there's so much to do on the ship, why waste your time on a Balcony!), so off we went to 8357 on Navigator. Cabin is normally appointed, I still love the "Round, Space-Tube" shower, and the beds were perfectly comfortable. The water pressure on the sink could have been better, but so long as the shower pressure stays nice and strong as it is, then I can live with that!
I was traveling with a friend, and on my hasty booking I had chosen the "2 separate beds" option, but from experience, it seems that button doesn't really work even if you book weeks in advance! No matter though, I knew it was just a matter of finding our Stateroom Attendant and it would be solved before we came back from Dinner, so no biggie on RCI here.
We left the stateroom and I hoped I'd see our stateroom attendant right away, it did not happen, but I left a little note on top of the unified bed asking it to be "divorced". After touring the ship, we went back to the room to get ready for dinner, sadly, our bed was still "happily married', no matter, I knew our SA would take the opportunity to "divorce" the bed during turn-down service. Sure enough, while enroute to the Swan Lake Restaurant on Deck 5, Nelson (our SA) found us and after a friendly greeting, he acknowledged my note and apologized noting that whilst he had seen 2 male names on the manifest, he had wanted to "wait and see". I guess good on RCI for keeping an eye out for the LGBT Market, those little details count, and I was not offended at all. As I had thought, he promised all will be fixed during turn-over service.
Cabin was comfortable during the cruise, though the TV System is now showing it's age (and old-timey TV's too!), this will be corrected during drydock. Also, the cabin was a bit noisy, and the ship was quite shaky the whole trip (more on that later!). Nevertheless, it was a suitable accommodation, but for the first time, it left me wondering if the Balcony was really necessary. I think for my next cruise I will definitely try for a Balcony. Additionally, some of Navigator's inside staterooms will be getting a Quantum-Class innovation, LCD Balconies, so that might be workable! Also, as always RCI has a channel showing the ship's stats, position, etc., however, I seem to recall there was also a channel that showed the outside view from the front of the ship in real time, being in an Inside stateroom, I always loved this feature, thus, it was not available on Navigator! That feature was probably the one thing that kept me "connected" to the outside, so may be not having it was the reason why I will now book a Balcony.
As I mentioned before, there was really "nothing" that I was waiting to see, I was conscious that this was Voyager's twin, and for the most part this was true, i was unfair earlier saying there really wasn't anything new. Navigator, being a few years younger than Voyager, does have a few updates, mainly Boleros on Deck 4, and Vintages, on the Royal Promenade. Both, really nice additions to the ship.
Like I also mentioned, the ship is kept close to spotless! There are a few items here or there, but for a "fresh eye", I'm sure the ship continues to awe (as was the case with my Travel Companion who was on his 1st cruise). Overall, Navigator is a top of the line ship, with every amenity imaginable, and is a magnificent first-time cruise experience to get you hooked for a lifetime. Come the drydock, the Ship will have a whole new life ahead of it winning more and more cruisers for years to come, and I can personally say I might even try it again just to see the change.
I really shouldn't complain about anything, this cruise really was perfection as prescribed by booking an RCI Cruise. Ship was beautiful, staff was wonderful, ports were ports, food was satisfying, and you felt you got your money's worth (even me, who not only booked a usually costlier "Holiday Sailing", but bought it 2 days before!), nonetheless, I feel I couldn't be doing the review any justice if I didn't have any opinions, so here goes...
I may be wrong, but I feel there's some work that will need to be done on Navigator as far as propulsion/stabilization systems. Voyager was "unmovable" during my 1st cruise, Contellation was sturdy despite it's hasty itinerary, Brilliance faced the Atlantic with aplomb despite it's tranquil-water background, and Splendour showed it's smaller side, and the daunting journey made her vulnerable. However, Navigator in the Gulf of Mexico and even in the cozy Caribbean, felt at times like Splendour being tossed around in Cape Horn!
The ship rocked pretty much from the 1st day at sea, until the day we were off the ship. The only calm part of the journey was the 1st evening leaving Galveston. On day 3 (2nd day at sea before Falmouth, JA) we had pretty nasty weather, and would be the only day I would really give Navigator a "pass" on her stability, the other days seemed pretty normal, and yet, Navigator swayed. Hopefully this will be corrected after drydock.
Again, maintenance was adequate, but the ship definitely shows its age just a bit. For a more seasoned cruiser, let's just say you can tell "this is not Oasis or Allure, let alone Quantum". For a new cruiser, I think you'll be plenty satisfied, and the fact that Navigator will return to Galveston after its drydock, only goes to show that RCI has a firm bet on the South Central market, and wants to continue awing their audiences. It all started with Voyager in that "long horn" get up years ago, and has now grown to Navigator, and even Captain Claus mentioned the fact that RCI is studying bringing a Freedom-Class ship to Galveston! No matter what, I hope Navigator stays, as with its improvements, it will still be smaller than the pretty similar larger Freedom-Class, but will be closer to Oasis & Quantum in it's veins.
Overall: Pretty Good! RCI continues to deliver a "consistent" product in my view, they are not as "Gourmet" as other lines, but are steadily increasing the venues on their ships that do offer that experience, nonetheless, the "regular food" meets expectations. Let's just say, it's like going out to dinner at a up-market, chain restaurant (i.e. Landry's, Morton's, McCormick & Schmick's) every night you're on vacation. Some day's it's exceptional, some days it's just OK. We ate in the Main Dining Room (Swan Lake, Deck 5) every night, and it really did not disappoint. Most nights were an overall win, and just a couple times they felt a little short. Nevertheless, it was a great experience as always, and the staff is always charming (more on Service later).
My pet peeve, as it has been with Voyager-Class vessels, the Windjammer. Food is adequate, don't get me wrong, but the passenger flow, and the somewhat limited selection, continue to make this place a disappointment in my book, nonetheless, it was perfectly adequate for quasi-brunches all week (we're late risers, so we always got the tail-end of Breakfast Service). On Sea Days, it can get to be a mad-house, but thankfully, we were always able to find a table, only had to share once. All in all, what I can say to RCI is, try to look at people flow and selection with these new improvements, it really makes you feel "low budget" when in peek times.
Great, Exceptional, Warm, Kind, Friendly, etc., etc., etc., etc. There are not enough compliments for the crew, this diverse, multi-cultural gang of people continue to be the deciding factor on choosing a Cruise Vacation. Without them, any improvement or innovation on a ship would be worthless!
It's true what other reviews said, these people were certainly ready for their drydock time, it seems to me like it's a vacation to them! But perhaps it was the "Holiday Atmosphere", or truly wonderful training and employee engagement results, but the crew was exceptional. Any one you would meet, from bar staff, to casino staff, to the shops, they were all ready to serve.
We bought the Ultimate Drink Package, and made healthy use of pretty much all the bars on board, so I have nothing but wonderful things to say about the staff. All we had to do was roll-up, and they pretty much knew what we were drinking. From the Cosmopolitan Club (Deck 14, Viking Crown), to the Theatre Bar, they were friendly, talkative, interested, and super efficient. Also, they were always friendly enough to allow me to practice the two or three phrases I knew in French, Italian, or Portuguese.
Our Dining Room Staff was also great, we were seated at an 8-person table, but only had a couple for seatmates the whole cruise. We had interesting conversations, and lovely meals. I seem to recall that RCI's Menu was mostly focused on the "Chef's Suggestions" which went along with their nightly theme (different inspirations, i.e.: basil, jasmine, spices, etc.), on this Cruise, however, it seemed that other entree's on the menu were the glowing choices as pointed out by our waiter every night. Most of the times, my choices matched those of our waiter, which I had chosen before he came over to explain.
All in all, the food was pretty good, as I said, sometimes glorious, sometimes just good enough. But our staff really shined, primarily our waiter Kevin from Mauritius, our Asst. Waiter was Alex from Bosnia, but they both made our nights unforgettable, and cruise-worthy as always. There were a few "special" nights, with this being a Holiday Cruise and all with the typical Waiter-singing, and Napkin-waving antics of Classic Cruising.
Nothing to say from Stateroom Attendant other than efficient, friendly, and perfectly sufficient. As far as Cruise Director's Staff, I'll go into detail a little further off, but they seemed adequate enough.
I will admit that I am a little biased as it comes to this, BUT, it might be one of two things, either 1: Despite my bias, it might be true Entertainment was lacking on this Cruise, or 2: Entertainment was sufficient despite the fact that we were on a Holiday Cruise, before another Holiday Cruise, one week before a long-awaited drydock.
In any case, this Cruise, I found that despite the fact that our Ultimate Drink Package drove us to seek a more "beverage-oriented" form of nightlife, I still felt as though not enough entertainment options were offered. I remember in past-cruises (before the age of Drink Packages) that I had longed to be at one venue or another "just to be able to enjoy a drink in that wonderful space", now I had the keys to the Kingdom (I could have whatever I wanted, wherever I wanted it) but no further places to try!
It seems as though we tried every place on board Navigator, but it just seems as though there "wasn't enough" going on. I remember in my past Voyager Cruise, the main bar/lounge (Cleopatra's Needle in Voyager/Ixtapa on Navigator) was sorely underused. This Cruise the only highlights at Ixtapa were two, hour-long Karaoke nights (nothing compared to before when it was a late-night favorite), and only 1 specialty act (Frank Sinatra Tribute which was pretty good), there were no "Orchestra Nights" or other smaller acts there.
Also, at the main Theater (The Metropolitan, Decks 3,4, and 5), there seemed to be a lack of "Acts". There were the standard, two-a-week, production shows, and then there was a very obscure (even for Cruise Standards) succession of a comic, a variety act, and a fiddle show. Needless to say, we only attended the production shows. Nonetheless, we noticed that there was positive feedback from fellow passengers stemming from the obscure performances at the Theater.
The Latin Band (which played mostly at Bolero's, and at times the Promenade, which were acts meant for the Poolside but were limited to the Promenade due to weather) was fine, but by the middle of the cruise, I felt they were running out of material. No matter their short comings, they were our favorite, and were our main entertainment on most nights.
There was a Caribbean-style, steel-drum band, but I felt they were sorely underused, and this was probably mainly due to the fact that the weather really did not cooperate the whole cruise, so I don't think they really got a chance to fully utilize their main space, which is the Pool Area.
Also, there was a country/jazz quasi-band (I think they were mostly Country, but despite the Ship's Texas provenance, there was still a mix of country lovers, and the more "avant-garde" type, so they also confronted an identity crisis)
Additionally, we had the benefit of having the traditional classic piano stylings of a talented player who would grace The Cosmopolitan (Deck 14, Viking Crown) in the afternoon, and then delight the Dining Room Audiences for both sittings. He was great and always seemed to have even more material to pull from, from classic Piano sonatas, to soaring Broadway Scores, to Pop Favorites and even Disney Classics. A true delight during each and every night at Dinner.
Then there was the NavigatorOTS Orchestra, which as in cruises past, would sometimes play along with the performance at the Theater, but would also often play at the Main Lounge (Cleopatra(V)/Ixtapa(N), this second scenario wasn't the same on Navigator. There were no Orchestra/Big Band Concerts offered at Ixtapa throughout the cruise, we only saw the Band during the aforementioned Sinatra Tribute, and during the last production show. I don't know why this might be, perhaps due to Holiday Scheduling, or may be due to the upcoming drydock, but I felt that such a wonderful entertainment asset on Navigator wasn't used to offer something else to do.
Most nights, the sole headliners after the Theatre were the Latin Band at Boleros, other than that, there might be an odd performance by a Guitarist at the limited-seating PUB, a sole-piano player at the also small Schooner, or the Country/Jazz Quasi Band at The Cosmopolitan, but they would only have an hour set, then off to bed at 11:00pm. The only place that went through past midnight was Bolero's, so it sort of became the hub of the ship (right along with the Casino, which unfortunately has no live entertainment, only pre-recorded, uptempo, modern music).
The NIghtclub. "The Dungeon" seemed to be rather lively most of the evenings after 1:00 am (when Bolero's closes), but as always, there wasn't enough of a "crowd" to make it really feel like a Real Nightclub, nonetheless, Kudos to Navigator, THIS is probably the only space within the Ship I really got to enjoy for the 1st time, since at the time of my trip on Voyager, I wasn't 21 and couldn't go into "The Vault". The design of this space is impressive, spanning 2 decks, with an architecture that will take you back to a Gothic Cathedral.
All i all, I blame these Entertainment shortcomings to the Holiday-Nature of our Cruise, and to the imminent drydock of the Ship, otherwise, despite the limited selection, we still had a fantastic time on board. Having limited spaces, really afforded the cruiser the chance to meet new friends that would come back every night. Last cruise it seemed more like there were "crowds", like "the Casino Crowd", "The Schooner Crowd", etc. This time, it seemed a little more unified due to the lack of variety.
Also, the Cruise Director's Staff, and even the Cruise Director himself, seemed to be a little "afraid of the limelight". In past cruises I felt that the Cruise Director's Staff actually became part of the Social Life on the Ship, introducing acts and their intermissions at each public space, being seen dining in the main dining rooms, hosting the Nightclub, etc., this time, I felt they were missing. Also, I must point to the fact that we didn't attend many of the other "social" functions on the ship (Newlywed Game, Karaoke, Etc.), but there also seemed to be fewer of these, so this ads to my theory of the Cruise Director's Staff to be lacking.
The Ice Show! What a treat! Even for me, that had seen the Ice Show before, now I was WOWed (as RCI says), and this was truly a moment to behold. Audiences holding their breath mid-caribbean-sea, is still awesome! I know they do that now at the Aqua Theater, or will do so on "Northstar" or "Two70", but StudioB on a Voyager or Freedom Vessel, is still awe-inspiring.
Arguably, some seasoned travelers might say that "Once you've been to a Caribbean Island, you've been to all of them!", nonetheless, I feel that every Island offers a different view into the sprawling and diverse culture that the Caribbean as a whole offers. Having said that, I can also say that having been to each of the 3 places we were vsiitng (Jamaica, Cayman, Cozumel), visiting again wasn't going to be the highlight of my cruise. Don't get me wrong, there's always new stuff to learn, and new things to explore, but since by the time we made it to Jamaica on Xmas Day (25th) my Holiday Spirit was barely starting to join me, I didn't much care about where we were stopping. It was more about going through the motions.
Needless to say, there's tons to do at these 3 ports, and RCI has a wealth of suitable excursions. They might be slightly higher priced than independent tour companies, but in the end, I wish I would have booked a couple during this Cruise, we were left with seeing hardly anything at any port, in part due to my lethargy, and also due to intimidating business dealings from the locals, and higher prices for last-minute activities.
Through it all, we made the most of it, and RCI did a good job building yet another Caribbean-Type Disneyland (as with other Cruise-owned islands, ports, etc.), and Falmouth does not disappoint as a super cute little port, separated from reality by the gates of their sparkling complex of shops and little eateries.
Cayman is always striking, and we could have been savvier at getting an $8 dollar cab (as our table-mates did) to Seven Mile Beach, instead we were intimidated by a very aggressive local offering the same trip for $40 a pop! Instead we opted for a stroll of the quaint Georgetown, and a drink at generic-old Margaritaville (a version of which, by the way, also stands gracefully at Falmouth-Disney).
Cozumel, which was to be the highlight for my friend, was unfortunately very rainy. Despite this, we made it to a Beach Club, managed a Swim, and a Local "SOL" Beer before the storm hit. Weather was so bad that we were also an hour late leaving Cozumel due to the fact that we had 300 people still coming from across the Channel in Play del Carmen (Their Ferry hadn't been able to sail due to the conditions).
All in all, I can say that we did the most with what we had, and had a good time regardless. If you really want to see the ports, do the research and book in advance, you're guaranteed a great time as we heard from many of our more active shipmates.
OTHER NOTES/NEW STUFF
As mentioned above, since my last cruise in 2008, cruising has definitely changed, we are now used to more ambitious innovations, to ever expanding size, and to seemingly endless wonder. By the same token, the rules have also changed, there are new drink packages, prepaid gratuities, and the changes these represent to "Traditional Cruising".
We pre-paid our gratuities for this Cruise, and it was a total time saver, no more "stuffing envelopes" and "getting cash" on the last day of the cruise. However, there does seem to be a "VOID" that is left there, when there is no actual acknowledgement that these Tips have been paid for.
What I mean, is that in cruises-past, these "handing of the envelopes" sort of signified the end of that wonderful week or two that you were on that cruise, and you thanked the people who had so graciously tended to your every spoiled need. This time however, though far more convenient to not have to stuff the envelopes, and count the money; there were no envelopes, and on the last evening, I felt almost at a loss for words to sort of say "good bye" to these folks.
Also, with these new Drink Packages, you don't have to spend an extra dime on drinking, the gratuity is included, but this, also, like before, leaves you without that moment of acknowledgement of gratitude. In cruises-past, after having sat a certain bar for a number of drinks, you "cashed out" and left a tip accordingly, thus when you returned the next night, or a few nights after, you were treated even better. Now, each drink you order gets charged and the waiter/bar person, gets the same tip. Thus when you come back night after night, it's all sort of the same, and then when you leave, it seems like there was no gratification given. So all in all, may be RCI could introduce "recognition envelopes"? In which you can hand your waiters, bar people, SA's, etc, a sort of "certificate" for what you have already prepaid? Perhaps I might sound narcissistic, but I just feel there should be that moment of guest/attendant sort of bond.
** Footnote: Drink Packages are pretty awesome, but don't get carried away when you see the prices. I had done a little research and had decided may be the "Premium Package" would be enough, but once on board, going from $55 to $65 for the Ultimate Package seemed like a no brainer, but that's 70 bucks at the end of the week! In all, we enjoyed having the UP, and would probably do it again, having unrestricted access to whatever the hell you want is great. Nonetheless, seeing the almost $1000 price on two packages at the end of the week, did hurt a bit. In retrospect, I will budget those $500plus dollars p/p for beverages into my entire cruise vacation budget, for a Wine and Liquor aficionado, it is well worth it.
Also, connectivity (meaning Internet), has never been so important. In 2008 at the time of my last cruise, I was used to social networks, and instant messaging, but I was able to "disconnect" from work. This time around though, the significant "weight" of a smartphone or a tablet are ever present, and RCI has a long way to go in order to provide proper, and fairly priced connectivity. This stands to be at least somewhat corrected upon drydock as Navigator will get Wi-Fi Throughout (currently, most cabins do not have Wi-Fi), and they will reduce costs/offer discounts for Tier Members. This cruise however, I paid two blocks of data ($29.95 each 29 minute session), it was barely enough to cover some email answering (work only, which was a must) and a very brief glance at Facebook/Other Social Sites.
Once on land, I took advantage of T-Mobile's new, inclusive, international Roaming. Apparently, we are entitled to free Data in participating countries (most of the America's, and larger part of Europe/Asia) albeit at low speeds, but it worked sufficiently well that I was able to stay on top of key emails, instant messaging, and a little Facebook. So I had no need to pay for further internet service on the ship.
Calls were also of OK quality, hopefully they will upgrade their "Cellular at Sea" network as well for those that just simply cannot wait.
Having seen the nightmare of coming on board (despite us not actually being in the Nightmare itself!), I was getting ready for the worst during debarking. Even the last night, I bid my less "cruise savvy" (as per my own ignorant assessment) stablemates a "speedy, and expeditious" debarking, fully believing myself that that was going to be quite an impossible feat to complete. Nevertheless, RCI Impressed me once again with a speedy, if not almost perfect, departure. The only thing lacking here, is a little bit more order when picking up bags, then proceeding to immigration/customs, and clearer signage. Otherwise, the process was pretty straight forward. Hear your color, get off the ship, pick up your bags (from a pile of luggage under your tag number inside the empty terminal), and do the "round about" (they seem to make you walk around the entire hall in order to guarantee there will be an orderly queue of people, though we only had a very few people ahead of us).
All in all, we woke up at 7:30, unhurriedly showered and got ready, heard our color around 9ish (we were expecting 9:15 from the list provied). had a little queue getting off the ship and into the terminal, quickly found our bags, made the "round about", just a few more people to pass through customs, and off we were land side probably by 9:35ish. So about a 30 minute process to debark such a large ship, not bad at all.
Off we went to the friendly shuttle, picked up the car rather quickly, and we were probably having IHOP down the highway in Texas City by 10:00 am! Needless to say, after dropping fried off (after IHOP) in the Galleria Area around 11:30, I was home in NW Houston before 12 noon! Impressive.
Through it all, RCI keeps reminding me why I keep coming back. They have a solid product, and they deliver it well. I have grown though, and now in my 30's I do look forward to choosing ships/itineraries more carefully. As far as RCI goes, the Allure and Quantum are not far off in my radar for Next Cruises, they promise the innovation and amazement I seem to have come to expect from RCI Cruises.
But for future me-cruises, I will definitely look at Celebrity's Solstice-Class, in fact, an 11-Night Eastern Mediterranean on Celebrity Reflection shines bright in my Cruise Compass (no pun intended on RCI's on board publication).
As far as repeat-class cruising for me concerned, I think I will try to steer away from it, it was still a wonderful experience, but NOT the experience I have wanted to expect.
I look forward to seeing RCI, Celebrity, (just cause I have a soft spot for them), and all other Cruise Lines continue to flourish and continue to offer new attractions and amazement for us captive Cruisers... There's no Vacation, like a Cruise Vacation.... PERIOD.
Thanks for Reading!