This was me and my girlfriends first cruise together and we were majorly excited for this, mainly as this was my 30th Birthday as well so we hoped this would be a special holiday/vacation and for 95% of the time ... Read More
This was me and my girlfriends first cruise together and we were majorly excited for this, mainly as this was my 30th Birthday as well so we hoped this would be a special holiday/vacation and for 95% of the time it was! More on that in a minute...
Before we went on this cruise, my girlfriend was diagnosed with having Fibromyalgia so any variety of movement (walking, going up stairs, moving etc) was a challenge so she could do short bursts of movement before getting sore/tired/achey so I will also factor in accessibility into the equation
FYI, this will be a detailed review as well (i.e. long one) so I will separate into sections like others have to make this easier to digest: -
We were flying from Edinburgh to Southampton via Flybe on their Bombardier propeller planes - I am 6' 3" and a bit heavy built so I had my reservations about this plane however I will say that my fears were not founded at all, plenty of legroom even for my tree-trunk legs!! Slight turbulence on the way south but otherwise perfectly adequate flight, certainly more enjoyable than other "larger" planes I have been on. As a side note, the Special Assistance both through the Airports as well as Flybe were excellent and we now know anytime we go to an airport we will always request this - had we not done this, she would've been killed before even getting on the plane! If you have a Chronic Pain condition, I seriously recommend looking into Special Assistance if you can get it - if you put pride aside temporarily, it will help you out in leaps and bounds!
Our flights and transfers were organised through Royal Caribbean (as per current promotion at the time) when we arrived at Southampton Airport, we were greeted by the Royal Caribbean rep who advised us what would happen, when and how. Very nice chap! Once everyone was accounted for, we boarded a bus and headed towards Southampton port - traffic that day was really busy compared to normal apparently but otherwise OK journey.
Once we arrived at Southampton, we waited to be escorted through (my girlfriend is disabled so we were using Special Assistance to help us through, everyone was nice). We approached the desk, checked us in and after 15 minutes tops we were on board. One slight note was the woman at Southampton Port checking us in was very pushy with the whole credit card angle - me and my partner do not own (or want) a credit card and she was really pushing this agenda, which I found very odd!! It's like an Asda/Walmart clerk heavily pushing an Amex card on you for no good reason whatsoever - her face turned a funny shape when we advised we didn't own a credit card. Maybe I should've asked for a loan of hers!!
Once we were onboard, we headed straight for Cafe Promenade for something to eat - was glad I did because seats were a bit of a challenge had I been 5-10 minutes later than I was (which is to be expected considering 3000+ guests trying to converge to the same location at the same time for the same reason!). The Royal Promenade was a nice touch, quite liked the layout of it, how everything is within spitting distance of each other (close but not too close). The shops, bars and Guest Services were all on Deck 5 however the speciality restaurants were spread out all over the place (Didn't even find Izumi until day 8 of the cruise as it was on the highest deck at the rear of the ship near the Cosmopolitan Bar - I'll have to remember for next time)
We found the ship to generally be very good (we say this not as a negative reflection but purely because we have nothing to compare it to) in terms of navigating about, finding where places were and which end of the ship you had to be to get to the locations/cabins/restaurants etc. Once you orientate yourself (took me about 2 days) you get into a habit of knowing where to go and how to get there - if you forget then you can use the Digital Signs at both ends of the ship near the elevators to help you on your way. Despite my girlfriends mobility problems, getting about the ship was not too much of a problem and everything was within easy reach meaning she very rarely got tired or felt like she was pushing herself too much - plus we noticed others on scooters and other mobility devices so very accessible friendly in my opinion.
In our experience, we did not find a problem using the elevators - some times like shows finishing or breakfast/dinner time (i.e. key busy periods) wait times were a tiny bit longer but you're on holiday so what's the rush? We weren't in a rush to get anywhere so we weren't overly bothered. My girlfriend found it particularly good using the elevators as well - plus the floor of each elevator had a plate with today's day on it that changed with each day that passed which was a cool wee touch!
We thought the decor of the ship was really nice - I wouldn't use the word modern at all but at the same time it's not "Thy Quaintest Ye Olde Ship Hath Sailed These Waters" style either - just somewhere in the middle, wee nod here and a wee nod there in terms of styling so a good mix up of design over the ship I felt anyways. I like the design of the ship from the outside - weird thing to say however I did like the look and design of the ship from outside the ship (when she was docked in port) and she came out impressive when taking photos of her whilst in port!
In regards to the restrooms onboard, they are at either side of each end of the ship, near the elevators (and Main Dining Room as well as Metropolis Theatre). This may be a new thing for me to adjust to however I found it slightly weird that in order to go the toilet/restroom when you are eating at a restaurant that none of the restaurants have a toilet/restroom within the actual restaurant itself - I think this may very well be a cruise ship thing but just a weird thing to adjust to personally so if it's your first time going on a cruise ship, be prepared to walk to a toilet if you need to!
The ship itself is very clean - we always seen people cleaning the ship, keeping it in tip top condition regardless where we went. Top decks where the sun loungers were always had a space or three but for good reason - the weather didn't exactly permit for it!! However saying this we were thankful for the secluded Solarium on the day where the sun was out and was warm but the wind was so chilly it took away the warmth! The Solarium was one level below Top Deck and was secluded from any sidewinds so in a way was sheltered from the winds so it was warm within the Solarium - did not try the pool however heard it was cold so glad I didn't do that!
We visited the NextCruise desk on Deck 6 aft and booked another cruise for December 2017 with the lovely Vitor Gomez (sales manager onboard and also the man who did the Lecture/Presentation about Alaska in the Metropolis lounge, where bingo was also held) but did not visit the Library or the Art gallery so nothing much else to report venue wise on the ship.
Every day there was activities on the ship - FlowRider, Rock Climbing Wall, Bingo, Films, Kids clubs, Crazy Golf, Sports Court as well as the Studio B Ice Rink and Metropolis Theatre. If anyone says there's nothing to do on the ship then the problem is with them and no-one else - I kept all the Cruise Compass papers and can easily show the breadth and scale of what you do on the ship. Yes there are activities that are chargeable however they only account a small selection of activities on offer (like less than 20% or so, no more than that) so it's really impossible to be bored on this ship.
We did the Bingo (waste of money because I didn't win of course!), we also did the Royal Caribbean Next Cruise plug on Alaska (looked nice to go to!) and we also attended the theme nights at the Royal Promenade like 70's Party night so there was plenty to do on the ship and the Cruise Director Rob was a delight to watch - funny, witty and nice guy. Finally we even dabbled with Lady Luck at Casino Royale and, yet again, Lady Luck was nowhere to be found but I still had fun there regardless. Bit smoky but not too overpowering - however I did not miss having to smell cigarette smoke in any public place so a casino is somewhere I don't tend to visit often
Having never been on a cruise before, I had nothing to compare this to (apart from on land Hotel and Restaurant service) and it is simply worlds apart - Everyone we spoke to was absolutely brilliant! Sylvain at Guest Services was an absolute joy to interact with and sorted out all our problems (we did have a few - I'll cover this at the end of this review). Dennis our Stateroom Attendant was excellent, helpful and always had a smile! Quite surprised his face didn't hurt after all that smiling but, all jokes aside, it just felt like they genuinely liked their job and wanted to help and make your holiday as enjoyable as they could make it.
I will comment on the service in the restaurants within the Dining section but overall majority of people we spoke to were nice, happy to speak to us and very friendly!
Port & shore excursions
Le Havre - port was cancelled due to National French Strike (apparently Google advises this is a current past time of the working class French - go on strikes) so didn't go into France at all so this turned into a Spain and Portugal cruise itinerary!! Subsequently we did get a refund of port fees because of this so make sure if this happens to you that you get this as well, for any port cancellation
Gijon - to quote Cruise Director Rob, the port looked like a deleted scene out of Prison Break. It was literally an industrial port near a petrochemical site and we were parked behind a cargo vessel loading copious amounts of sand into its cargo hold! At the customs/embarkation/disembarkation tent just at the port looked like a war zone checkpoint with armed guards getting confused and disorientated (and rightfully agitated) passengers into single file so that getting back on the ship was less stressful than it already was. Me and the missus were on Deck 5 Aft looking at the massive line of people under the watchful eye of the armed Policia Naçional (i think they were) and were quite grateful we weren't amongst them waiting to get on board!
Lisbon - simply the best port in my personal opinion! Best day for weather (30° Celsius that day), best day for doing things. My only experience with the Shore Excursions desk was booking transfers to and from the drop off point in Lisbon. $7 pp return, which I found exceptionally reasonable as the buses were there every 30 minutes so definitely worth the $7 in my opinion. We then got on the Red Hop On/Hop Off tour bus for €20 per person for the Green Line that took us through the town, by the river. By the time it was finished 1hr 30mins had passed at which point we headed back to the ship. Out of the entire cruise, this was the best port visit in my opinion, the weather being the biggest factor to that decision - can't beat glorious sunshine! Plus we sailed out and was waived off by P&O Britannia and its crew/passengers which was a wee treat
Vigo - this was a small port compared to Lisbon and it had a Shopping Mall within 50 metres or so from the port so not bad for doing a small spot of Retail Therapy! There is a Burger King there (seemed to be the only restaurant worth eating at - one of the local restaurants refused to serve anything outside the lunch menu for reasons he wasn't willing to disclose so we got up and got a Chicken Royale meal!!). It may have had good Shore Excursions but the weather was a bit cloudy so didn't want to risk getting caught in the rain so we went to the shopping mall, had a look around and then went back to the ship.
La Coruna - weather was appalling, if anyone booked Shore Excursions on land that day they would have needed a canoe and a paddle it was that wet. This was a bonus port as when we originally booked this, it was meant to be an 8 night cruise however due to a berthing conflict at Southampton on Disembarkation day, Royal Caribbean added on an extra night at no extra cost so not getting off wasn't a deal breaker for us
We were in an Interior Room with Virtual Balcony (Room Number 1587, Deck 10 midship) and this was an excellent choice. The room was adequately sized, the bathroom was plenty big enough and the Virtual Balcony itself was definitely the main reason I enjoyed the room. Also the Virtual Balcony room also played the sound of the ocean being captured by said camera so you got the full balcony experience even though you were in an interior room!
There was 3 times the Virtual Balcony did not work, it simply froze up (unsure if it was due to loose wiring or faulty connections or software locking up) however it was fixed within 24 hours of reporting it so very happy with the room itself. Due to my unique size, I had to shower with the shower doors open to allow elbow room but apart from that it was a lovely room and would book it again no problem. I would rate it a solid 9.5 out of 10
Windjammer Buffet - we ate here only a few times for lunch and primarily for breakfast however we were reminded daily why we didn't like the Windjammer, it was just too crowded, too chaotic and seating was rare! The quality of the food in the Windjammer was a bit "meh" to be honest - not to say it was rubbish, everything was totally edible borderline nice to have however it is a buffet and suffers the same problem all buffets have (stuff drying out, stuff running out, fresh stuff is pounced on immediately etc). We barely saw any wait staff whenever we were there - either they blended in with the crowds or were possibly helping out folk at the other end of the place from where we were sitting. I wasn't overly bothered because the place is a buffet and it performed like a buffet does - every man for themself and if you snooze you lose! Rating 7 out of 10
Cafe Promenade - we ate here a couple of times for snacks to go or to sit in (again if you were lucky to find a seat) and this was the place where you got your pizza fix as there is no Sorrento's on board Navigator, which I was slightly bummed out about but hardly a deal breaker. Pizza was always fresh, the sandwiches and wraps were lovely and the Ranger Coconut cookies were amazing!! I'd buy a crate's worth to go if I could they were that nice to me anyways! Also at Cafe Promenade is where you get your Starbucks fix as well as some Ben & Jerry's ice cream (no Caramel Chew Chew option, MAJORLY bummed out by that but quickly got over that as well). Rating 7.5 out of 10
Main Dining Room - we had pre-paid gratuities before going on the cruise and therefore opted for the My Time Dining option. Initially we didn't eat there primarily because we were too busy trying either the Speciality restaurants or the Windjammer buffet. However our service at the Sapphire Main Dining Room was exceptional! If I could rewind the cruise and eat here every day and not do one Speciality restaurant then I would've been happy with the Main Dining Room - they offered Steak and/or Lobster (which came from Chops Grille so you knew the quality of the product) and why bother paying $35-$40 per person for a steak dinner when you could spend half that and get the money maker (Filet Mignon) cooked to your liking and then to be served by (what would end up becoming) your favourite waiters! Massive shout out to Eri and Bobie, they are the reason I LOVED dinner time and I have to admit, from sit down to finishing up the whole dinner can be had within 30 minutes if you wanted however there was no rush! Plus everything was tickety boo and ran like a well oiled machine. The most impressive part of the whole cruise was that Main Dining Room and the lovely men and women who serve and work there. Rating 10 out of 10
Chops Grille - Excellent dinner (wished I ordered extra portions of the starter!) and lovely service from our waiter Rohan. Decor was dark and warm with ideal seating by the window offering a great view! I had the Black Pepper Bacon starter followed by the Porterhouse entree with creamed corn, cheesy tater tots and mashed potato, followed by birthday cake and Red Velvet cake - was utterly wonderful! Word of caution regarding their drinks offering, the cocktail Citroniti was like moonshine in a Martini glass so hope you don't smoke if you intend on drinking this otherwise lighting up a cigarette could possibly put your face on fire!! They took the drink back and did not charge me, which I found was really nice - no chance of that happening at a land based restaurant that's for sure! Rating 9 out of 10
Sabor - The freshly made guacamole blew my mind both being made in front of me as well as the taste of it, it has totally ruined guacamole I get back home now! The waiter we had (can't remember his name) was very funny and full of charm as well as being very attentive. I had a very tasty starter of Chicken Stuffed Jalapeños, followed by the Pollo Picante Chicken Tacos however I was underwhelmed by the dessert. It was rather bland and tasteless - not what I envisioned to have after having the flavour sensation of the starter and entrée. I also had a cocktail called The Smoky and it honestly tasted like Laphroaig Whisky - essentially liquid tobacco with a horrible smoky/peaty after taste, ended up handing it back and getting a Sol beer which was MUCH nicer! They took it back without charging me so that was nice. Rating 8 out of 10
Giovanni's Table - Lovely lunch, not a fault with it. Lovely decor with lovely seating by the window offering a great view (similar to Chops Grille in it's layout - primarily because it's directly opposite Chops Grille just by the entrance to Windjammer and therefore having a similar floor plan/layout). I had the Veal Meatballs and Foccacia Margherita for the starter, the utterly divine Lasagne for the entrée and then the options of Cannoli and Tiramisu for dessert. All were lovely although slight observation about the desserts was that the Tiramisu wasn't as chilled as I would have liked it and the cannoli shells were a bit chewier than I would have liked. Even still this was the nicest lunch I had during the entire cruise. I wasn't adventurous with the drinks this time, instead opting for some soda as per my soda beverage package. Rating was 9 out of 10
Johnny Rockets - We went here once for lunch on my birthday and for me it was nice but something I would only visit once during my time on the ship, any more than once would encourage a heart attack to come on prematurely!! I opted for the Smoke House Burger that had onion rings and BBQ sauce along with french fries followed by their legendary Malt Shakes, which was the nicest shake I've ever tasted. Burger was a bit greasy however I do like a greasy burger (hence can only do that one time!). Pro-tip in case you don't know, at Johnny Rockets it is a speciality restaurant (i.e. chargeable) however included within your charge is your soft drinks which are refillable so if you didn't purchase a drinks package you need not fret about the cost of soda at this restaurant. Rating 8.5 out of 10
Izumi - N/A due to the fact that I did not find this until Day 8 of our cruise when were wanting to look at the onboard chapel and right there slightly beyond the Cosmopolitan Bar was Izumi. Next time I go on Navigator, I'll make a point of trying her out!
Schooners Bar - We went there once and was watching some comic on the piano and he was pretty funny. He then called someone up to play the piano and the fella called his bluff and ended up playing a really good tune that night. Was OK but we didn't fancy sitting around it, looked a bit old fashioned for our liking but others seemed to love the nautical theme about it
R Bar - we sat here for cocktails on a couple of nights and found the cocktails to be nice. They primarily did $10 and $12 cocktails and the waiters did come round asking for orders at your seats which I found to be nice. Seats were nice, if you could get one at night, and spacing was OK as well
Boleros - this bar we only tried once as it was always mobbed, the seats always taken, there was a line there all the time. Either it was a hot spot that I wasn't aware of or they did a special drink I wasn't aware of - plus this is where you unleashed your samba style and moves on the dance floor in front of the house band as well. Nice place to be at if the seats were free
Cosmopolitan Club - if my memory serves me right, this used to be the Viking Crown bar lounge area, Deck 14 aft. Lovely club with lovely views (I believe there is an entrance to the Diamond/Concierge lounge here as well) and the cocktails here were excellent and bar men were great! Our favourite bar on the whole ship!
Children's clubs - Me and the missus don't have any kids that we know of (and if we did they weren't on the cruise with us!) so marking this as N/A due to not having any
Entertainment - We watched the 70's Disco Show (can't remember the title of it) performed by singers Giovanni & Whitney from Florida and they put on a sensational show in my opinion, very talented singers. They certainly had a hard time convincing moody english travellers to join in with the singing along however despite this they were professional and excellent to watch. Whitney in particular dedicated her final performance of that show to her late mother by singing I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston - excellent performance! We then watched Gary Lovini play the violin to some popular music songs and incorporated the mix of American and British by playing American and British classical numbers. He came up and down the aisles playing close to the audience to allow for photos close up which I thought was very nice! The last night involved some dude on a BMX bike (can't remember his name) however his control of it was phenomenal so hats off to him! And to round it off, and in my opinion the best entertainment showing, was the Ice Show at Studio B so pay attention to the Cruise Compass to see when you go as they know it's a highly demanded show to go to so they organise it by Muster Station location (this can be found on the right hand side of your SeaPass Card - for example, mine's was D6) so keep your eyes peeled for this
Disembarkation - Was relatively painless, I asked a Royal Caribbean rep on the ship to help me locate those who are helping those that require Special Assistance. They helped my partner through the port and to the bus. We then rode the bus to Southampton airport in plenty of time - we even got into the Priority Lounge for free due to a system issue meaning the person couldn't take cash for payment so result!! But even still, the Airport Lounge is definitely worth it - peace and quiet for the trip is priceless. Boarded the plane and flew home without any problems at all so really smooth process getting home at a reasonable time.
Observations/Niggles - Before I give my summary on the whole cruise I do wish to pass on some observations and niggles I encountered on my trips (and I score that as a percentage of 5% so despite these niggles I fully enjoyed my cruise!)
- As it was my 30th, my girlfriend went to the bother of pre-purchasing a 4 pack of Red Velvet cupcakes on Royal Caribbean's website so that they would be dropped off at my stateroom in the morning as a surprise for my big 3-0. 8am been and went with no arrival - she then called Guest Services who then transferred her to the team that deal with these requests who told her she needs to give 2 weeks notice for these requests (which she hadn't done however both the Royal Caribbean website and a subsequent phone call to a Royal Caribbean agent after purchasing this did not make her aware of this). She then went to speak to Sylvain at Guest Services who was very apologetic and able to sort something out and, within 15 minutes of this conversation, Red Velvet cupcakes that were pre-packed (read probably on a shelf somewhere as stock for selling to passengers) magically appeared out of nowhere. We were more interested in the resolution however we felt this shouldn't have happened as it was a basic request that required minimal logistical effort to implement but otherwise in the grand scheme of things not a catastrophe by any means
- The only times where I personally would consider the service received by me to be classed as a mulligan was at the Boleros Bar and one of the Guest Services staff members - he had a pretentious and slightly condescending attitude (probably mystified as to why I had the audacity to come onto a cruise ship without a credit card) and the woman at Boleros Bar looked about as a fed up as the passengers at Gijon! So apart from those 2 one time interactions, Service generally speaking was excellent.
- Another niggle I found was the lack of Freestyle Coca Cola Machines on the ship - having to queue at bars for a soft drink was a bit of an annoyance and availability of certain drinks varied from one bar to another and from deck to deck. For instance, Fanta wasn't available at Cafe Promenade but was available at Two Poets Pub. Canada Dry Ginger Ale was only available at Two Poets pub and Coca Cola Zero was varied day to day and bar to bar so it was your donald duck (down to luck) which brand of soda you were drinking each day so I felt that inconsistency was a bit of an annoyance
- The biggest full on complaint I had was with the Spa onboard. I opted for a Bamboo Body Massage (which ain't cheap to me) seen as how it was a special occasion the massage part was nice and enjoyed that. The masseuse went to get a cup of water and then after 5 minutes she came in with literally the back catalogue of Elemis SpaHome products and cue the hard sell!! I was sitting there utterly flabbergasted at what was happening in front of me and, being the wimp I am, I caved in and bought the dry brush just to keep her relatively content. Lesson learned for me is to NEVER step foot into the Spa ever again, almost going to contest the gratuity for the treatment but I wasn't going to allow that to ruin my birthday so it was an expensive mistake I learned that day!
- Finally, the VOOM internet is apparently fleet wide (i.e. on ALL Royal Caribbean ships) however the VOOM internet was utterly pathetic on Navigator - so much so I ended up cancelling the package on Day 2 of the cruise as regardless where I was the download speed did not go above 0.5mbps. In the stateroom, Royal Promenade, Johnny Rockets and on Top Lounging deck was the same result. After speaking with Guest Services about the matter, they simply offered to cancel the package and refund the cost of it to my stateroom account which I accepted. Pro Tip, majorly test that internet package in the first 24-36 hours of boarding the ship because if it's unacceptable to you, the longer you leave it you won't then be able to cancel it and get a refund like I did so be on the ball about that one!
One thing I would like to see, perhaps for those of us using Apple or Android devices, would be to update the Royal IQ app (currently only available to Quantum class ships and Harmony of the Seas) so that you can select your destination on the ship and then the app will direct you like Google Maps Walking directions does and you can follow your app's instructions (Turn Left, get on this next elevator, go up the stairs by the bar etc) along with a diagram showing you how to get there. I've sent this onto Royal Caribbean, whether this will happen or not is another matter but we shall see!
Summary - Overall I loved this cruise and wouldn't mind going back on the ship again. I would just hope that the VOOM internet and Freestyle Coke machines to be installed and I would be a happy camper but I'm knitpicking now. If you book a cruise on this ship, you won't be disappointed - just avoid the spa unless you're getting a complimentary treatment!! Read Less