A warning before you start: My reviews are long. This one may be longer than most because it was an 8-day, port intensive itinerary. I divided it into sections to help the reader find the information they need a little faster.
We left for Fort Lauderdale from Atlanta at around 3:30 am on the day of our cruise. Spring break traffic was pretty heavy all the way down there except for I-10. The almost constant rain did not help. We got stuck in traffic about 15 miles from our exit to Park n Fly. We eventually got here. As always, the shuttle driver at Park n Fly was waiting to help unload our car and take us to the ship when we parked. We got to the terminal a little before 3. The upside of such a late arrival was virtually no line. We were checked in and on the ship in about 30 minutes. The downside is we were among the last to get our luggage. It arrived well after 7.
The common areas of the Navigator are nice and well appointed. The atrium has a beautiful sculpture that extends all the way up to the upper floors. The ship is a little hard to navigate for me, mainly because there are no aft elevators and apparently, I booked an aft cabin without realizing it. There does not seem to be an official mid-ship on the Navigator. You're either forward or aft. It took a misguided attempt to try to get to the Windjammer (which the map says is aft but it's really more midship) by simply walking to the back of the ship and going up, to realize that there are no aft elevators or stairs. As a mostly Carnival cruiser, this is odd to me because every ship we've been on has had forward, midship, and aft elevators.
I also kept turning the wrong way to get to the forward elevator from our cabin. In a forward cabin on Carnival, the forward elevators are usually behind us. On this ship, they were in front of us. The elevators were slow in the mornings, evenings, and on sea days. When one finally came, it was usually crowded. The layout and slow elevators means this is a walking ship. If you book a cabin at the very back, you will have quite a long walk to the aft/midship elevators to get anywhere on the ship. If you're like me and find the cabin numbering confusing, it may mean more walking to get back to one of the two opportunities you have to cross to the other side of the ship if you find yourself wandering around on the wrong side. All of my confusion could be because I am so used to Carnival ships. But, I did not have issues navigating on the Indy. Around the 3rd day, we started calling this ship, the Conquest class ships of Royal Caribbean. The crowding and the layout really reminded us of the Carnival Valor, Conquest, Glory, and Sunshine.
The promenade area is very similar to the one on the Indy. The pizza shop was hard to find, mainly because they don't mention it at all as a food option in the Cruise Compass. One of our Cruise Critic roll call members told me that it's there, but at the very end of the promenade in the Cafe.
Where the Navigator is showing its age is the cabins. Our cabin, 8562, was nice but there was obvious aging in the bathroom, mostly. Other than the age issues, the cabin is fine. We slept really well each night.
When we registered our son for Adventure Ocean, The counselor provided us with an overview schedule for the week that didn't provide important details like what time certain activities were going to take place. This made it difficult for me to plan our days. Like on the INDY, their scheduling of certain activities at night made family dinner a challenge if we weren’t eating dinner between 5 and 7.
The counselor said that free arcade night was 7 to 8 that first evening. My husband took our very excited son. They came back and reported that many of the games marked as free did not work. Some did not play at all and others did not function properly. The Mario Kart game only turned left which meant going in circles for the entire race. We loaded his card with arcade credit for him to use the rest of the cruise. On our day in Labadee, we spent about an hour in the arcade after dinner. The games are expensive, averaging about $1 per play. We swiped our card on the Sonic game 3 times. Each time, it removed a credit but never played. We learned which games to avoid. Games would be working one day and not working the next. Annoying. But, when we called the help number, they put the credits back on our card.
After eating dinner on our day in St. Maarten, it was too late to drop our son off at Adventure Ocean for the Pirate Parade, so we watched the Family Movie on the top deck, Big Hero 6. We've already seen it but it is a very good movie. The big screen on the deck is probably mounted too low. It's hard to find a spot where you have an unobstructed view of the screen. We settled on the area in front of the Sky Bar. Nope. Balcony bars running all across the screen. The Sky bar is also a smoking area so once the smokers showed up, the party was over. It seems you have to sit on the same level as the pool on either side of it to get an unobstructed view of the big screen.
When he did go, our son had a great time at Adventure Ocean. We skipped our planned beach day in St. Maarten because he wanted to go to Adventure Ocean. I attempted to pick him up twice but he was having so much fun, he wanted to stay.
We did not really rely on the Cruise Compass for activities. They tended to be the same every day. On the first sea day, after our dinner in Chops, we picked up our son and headed to the 10:15 ballroom dancing show. We stuck it out for about 30 minutes. With a show called "Ballroom Dancing", I expect more dancing than singing. The singers were amazing. The dancing, not so much.
When we got on the ship, one of the first things we did was start looking for the water park or water slide. Apparently, this ship does not have one. I have no idea how I missed that in my planning. There is a rock climbing wall, mini golf, and the Flowrider. So, what's a parent with a child too young for rock climbing or flowriding to do? We don’t play mini-golf, so Adventure Ocean and the pool are pretty much it. On a sea day, the pool area was very crowded. Your experience will vary depending on the time of day you get there. We went around 10:30 am on the first sea day and there was not an available deck chair to be found. But, one of the pools only had a few people in it so we were able to enjoy it for about 2 hours.
I absolutely loved that this ship had a 1 am curfew for cruisers under 18. We experienced none of the unsupervised kid craziness that was everywhere on the Independence of the Seas. For the most part, the kids we encountered were well-behaved. This was also the friendliest bunch of people we have cruised with in a while. People did not hesitate to strike up a conversation with you or extend the greeting of the day.
The food on the Navigator was good overall. The Windjammer tended to serve a standard breakfast every day. We had no issues with this since we are meat and eggs breakfast lovers. They also offered a selection of breads and pastries, fruit, juices, coffee, and milk. Lunch and dinner offered a variety of entrees and veggies. The sides were pretty standard though. Every day, we saw mashed potatoes, white rice, a flavored rice variation, ziti, and spaghetti. The food quality in the Windjammer was pretty consistent. The broccoli beef (way too much soy sauce - tasted burnt) and the lamb stew (flavors not quite right), were the only two misses of the food I selected during the cruise.
The Windjammer seemed to have a condiment issue, mostly the ketchup, for most of the cruise. They had the large tubs that you pump the condiments out of. They had a hard time keeping them filled. It got annoying playing find the ketchup every time we ate. Every time we found ketchup packets out, we started saving them so we wouldn't have to hunt for ketchup the next time we ate. They also ran out of chocolate chip cookies around day 6 of the cruise. For us, if you're out of chocolate chip cookies, then you're out of cookies. The coconut, cranberry, lemon, and oatmeal raisin cookies that were still available just aren't the same.
We only ate in the dining room one night during this cruise because we just didn't find the menu appetizing on most nights. I called to make an anytime dining reservation around 4 on our day in Labadee. All they had left was the late seating which was fine with us. At dinner, I got the shrimp cocktail and lasagna pomodoro. My husband ordered a Caesar salad and garlic shrimp. Our son ordered the chicken fingers from the kids menu. The shrimp cocktail was great. I did not care for the lasagna. I know it's made with a milder bolognese sauce but I like my lasagna with a hearty tomato flavor. This lasagna was really bland. Our son ate the French fries but only nibbled at the chicken fingers. My husband ate one and described it as tough and chewy. He thought garlic shrimp was ok. We both ordered the chocolate sensation for dinner. It was served with vanilla ice cream. The chocolate mousse cake was not bad but I enjoyed the ice cream more. I am glad we bought the specialty dining package
Dinner in Chops Grille was a wonderful dining experience. We ate there twice during our cruise. We shared our entrees, the jumbo shrimp cocktail and crab cake. The crab cake texture was not what we are used to. It is clearly not a recipe that includes bread crumbs and the flavor was muted but the sauce they served it with elevated the taste. I ordered the strip steak and my husband ordered the filet mignon. Our sides, mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach were served family style in shareable portions. The waiter offered us a variety of options for sauces. I got the red wine sauce which was the perfect complement to the steak. We shared a huckleberry cheesecake for dessert and finished an entire bottle of wine.
Sabor also did not disappoint. The salsa that came with the chips at the beginning of our meal was amazing. We ordered the bacon wrapped chicken and peppers, and the cheese dip for appetizers. Our son got the three cheese quesadillas for his entree. My husband ordered the duck burrito. I started with the red snapper and finished with the short rib mole. The plantain mash that the snapper came with was good but all the flavors seemed to come together when you combined the fish, mash, and mango salsa in the same bite. The mole was delicious. Too bad I was too full to finish it. Everything was delicious. The sides are served family style and they bring all the ones shown on the menu.
The dessert is served the same way, as a sampler and family style. This works because everyone just chooses what they want. I got the espresso custard and the coconut lime flan. We nibbled on everything else. Chocolate crepes, chimichangas, and cinnamon sticks with dipping sauces. The desserts were not the greatest part of the meal, unfortunately. Good. Not great. We ordered a carafe of red sangria to go with our meal not realizing how large it was. Two adults had a difficult time drinking it all. Overall, a great meal and our wait staff was excellent. I love how they make fresh guacamole for every table.
The Cafe Promenade was by far the most problematic and inconsistent place on this cruise. While the crew was always courteous, the frequent lapses in quality were annoying to say the least. On the first sea day, I went to the coffee shop around 6:30 in the morning to get a cappuccino for my husband. When he started to drink it about 30 minutes later, he said this is just milk. We got dressed and I took the cappuccino back to the coffee shop on our way to breakfast. There was a different crew there and the barista made another cappuccino without comment or complaint. This one was made correctly.
Almost daily, the coffee quality varied. Sometimes, it was brewed perfectly. Other times, it tasted as though it had been mixed with water to extend it rather than make a fresh batch. Room service also delivered coffee that tasted like it had been mixed with water. Honestly, the Windjammer was the only place that provided a consistently good brew throughout the cruise. I started drinking tea if I just had to get a hot drink when the Windjammer was closed. They also ran out of pepperoni pizza midway through the cruise. So, they started making and offering salami pizza instead. Yes, you read that right. Of all the alternate toppings they could substitute for pepperoni, they chose salami.
We got a few of the sandwiches on the second day and were not impressed. Bologna in a muffuletta? No. If you're going to offer a muffuletta sandwich, make it correctly. The rest of the sandwiches we got were just bland. The desserts were much better. The lemon tart was consistently excellent. Unfortunately, the Café Promenade became the place we chose when we absolutely had no other choice.
The staff in the Windjammer was very friendly, helpful, and accommodating. Some of the best service we encountered on the ship was in the Windjammer. For the first time ever, we got a steward that was just meh. When we first got to our room, I really questioned whether it had been cleaned. The carpet was obviously not vacuumed and stayed that way for most of the cruise. She may have vacuumed it once but the debris under the desk chair never budged. She just was not very detail oriented. Our room was missing the glasses and the ice bucket that normally sit on the desk. We asked her to bring us some. She refilled the ice bucket every day but never replaced the glasses with clean ones. I always ended up cleaning them when we wanted to use them again. Sure, I could have asked her to replace them with clean ones but, these are things that are pretty standard on every other cruise we have been on. The fact that I even had to ask for them in the first place was annoying enough. I do have to compliment the captain. Other than the captain on the Carnival Legend, he is one of the most personable captains we have cruised with. He gave updates several times a day which were always informative and interesting.
Day 3 - Labadee
We got off the ship and caught a ride to the beach. We planned to go to Columbus Cove again but ended up staying across from the water park since our son wanted to play there. A local fetched us beach chairs and set them up, for which he expected a tip. I spent the day lounging on a beach chair doing crossword puzzles while my husband and son played and swam at the beach and then played in the waterpark. We headed back to the ship after our son stubbed his toe pretty badly on the waterpark's concrete surface. Half his toenail was coming off and the toe was bleeding so we needed to get back on the ship to attend to it. By this time, everything was closing down anyway. I went to get some food around 1:15 but they had already shut it down. We got back on the ship, got cleaned up, took care of our sons toe, and rushed up to the buffet to eat before they closed at 3. I am not fond of the schedule for the buffet, especially on a port day when people are probably getting back on the ship hungry only to find the only thing available is sandwiches and pizza.
Day 4 - San Juan
We docked in San Juan a little before 1:30. We had prebooked a tour through Shore Excursioneer for a San Juan Bay boat tour. We wanted to book directly with the vendor, San Juan Water Tours, but their cancellation policy was not cruise ship friendly. What if the ship was late or didn't make it at all? There did not seem to be any allowance for those situations at all. Also, the only tour time, we could pick was 3:00. Again, what if the ship was late? Shore Excursioneer offered a cruise-friendly cancellation policy and a 4:00 tour time. Fortunately, our ship arrived earlier than the scheduled 2:00 arrival time.
After eating lunch in the Windjammer, we were off the ship by a little after 3. It felt really good not to have to rush off the ship. Now to find Pier #6 using the directions that Shore Excursioneer provided. They describe it as a short walk. If we had docked at the usual pier #4 AND if it wasn't so darn hot, then yes, it would have been a short walk. Pier 6 is to the right of where the cruise ships dock. It does not look like a typical pier. If it weren't for the San Juan Water Tours sign, we would still be looking for it. If you are coming from the cruise ships, there is no Pier 6 sign until after you pass the San Juan Water Tours area. There was no boat there, so we sat and waited until the 3:00 tour returned. We finally get a day in San Juan with no rain and it is hot as Hades. We now see the rain is a mixed blessing. At some point while we were waiting, Mother Nature had mercy on us. Heavy clouds moved in and a nice breeze started to blow.
The 3:00 tour returned a little before 4. When they unloaded, we gave our confirmation print out to the captain. His facial reaction told me that he was not expecting us. He did not say it though. He recovered quickly and told us it would be a few minutes while he prepared the boat. When the boat was ready, he checked us in. He said that Shore Excursioneer had not charged us for the local tax so we paid him the balance due on the excursion with an extra $10 for the taxes. San Juan Water Tours is a very professional operation. Shore Excursioneer is questionable. I think your success with them will depend heavily on the tour operator. I am pretty convinced that they did not confirm our reservation with the operator like they said they did. Either that, or there was a miscommunication somewhere.
Day 5 - St. Kitts
Our ship docked a little earlier than our scheduled arrival time of 10 am. We watched the ship sail past several islands before docking in St. Kitts. The Carnival Conquest and a small Silversea ship were already in port. We were scheduled to meet our tour guides at 10:30. We got in line with the masses to be among the first to get off. There was no rain when we docked but it was raining by the time we got off the ship. It stopped shortly after. We enjoyed beautiful weather for the rest of the day. I had prebooked our tour with Thenford Grey Tours through their website. They were easy to find because there were several people at the port area with signs. After a short wait, we met our guide, Al, and driver, Kasim. We boarded the bus and headed to the mountains for the rainforest eco hike. Our tour ended around 1:30 and we headed back into town for lunch and some souvenir shopping.
Day 6 - St. Maarten
I got to watch the ships sail into St. Maarten. The Regal Princess and Celebrity Summit were already docked. The Norwegian Gem and the Freedom of the Seas arrived around the same time we did. It started to rain while we were watching our ship dock from our balcony. Our plan for the day was to take a cab to Divi Bay Beach. Our son decided he wanted to spend the day at Adventure Ocean instead. So, we decided to make it a shopping day. The St. Maarten port looks a lot different since the last time we were here in 2008. They built a shopping area. I'm not sure. The dock may be new too. Now instead of walking off the ship and being in downtown Phillipsburg, you have to take a cab or walk.
We started at the shopping area around the port. Everyone seemed to be selling mostly the same things at very inflated prices. We took a cab into downtown Phillipsburg because the water taxi always seemed to have a long line. The cab driver dropped us off in the midst of a street vendor area. The harassment/haggling started almost immediately. When I got off the bus, there was a colorful purse right next to me that caught my eye. Without thinking, I reached out to touch it and she pounced. It was a good 5 minutes before I wrested myself away. She was determined that I was going to buy that purse. I don't need another purse. I was admiring it because it was pretty. We wandered around for a little while longer before taking a taxi back to the port.
We did not do much on our last two sea days. Whatever we did is already covered in the activities section. Disembarkation had to be the worst we have ever experienced on any ship. Apparently, they assign you a zone but let you off whether your zone has been called or not. The terminal got so packed with people since they were just letting everyone off that they actually closed the gangway so the crowds could make their way out of the terminal. Guess who was stuck in the line that snaked through the dining room when they closed the gangway? It was a mess. We did not get off the ship until after 10 even though disembarkation had started around 8:00. There was no Park n Fly van waiting for us as there usually is. We called them after waiting 15 minutes. We still waited another 15-20 minutes before they arrived. The driver’s explanation was that it was really busy. Then why did we see other shuttles like 3 or 4 times while we were waiting?
To summarize, I am really not sure what to make of this cruise. On one hand, we had a good time but we have pretty much decided we won’t sail on this RCI class ship again. On the other hand, the lack of a water slide, the confusing layout, the hiccups with food quality in the promenade and food selection in the dining room, the lack of interesting activities, and a below standard steward are all deal breakers when you combine them all in one vacation. One or two issues here and there is fine but this was a bit much for us. We were really looking forward to the Navigator but this vacation was so-so. The ports made this a fun vacation, not the ship. Read Less