Our second cruise on RCI was even better than our first and the aggressive pricing works for us as well. Compared to Holland America, Princess and Celebrity, RCI has a much higher energy vibe and more activity. While not for ... Read More
Our second cruise on RCI was even better than our first and the aggressive pricing works for us as well. Compared to Holland America, Princess and Celebrity, RCI has a much higher energy vibe and more activity. While not for everyone, we did enjoy the transat and time in Rome.
Back in April 2011, the Navigator of the Seas (NOTS) was shifted from year round service in Europe back to the Caribbean presumably due to business reasons. Since the routing change was sudden, this cruise was significantly discounted at first when we booked. The 14 day crossing left from the port of Civitavecchia for Rome on Nov 6th stopping at Livorno for Florence on Monday, Toulon, France on Tuesday, Barcelona and Cartagena, Spain on Wednesday and Thursday. There would be two days at sea, then Ponta Delgada, Portugal on Sunday the 13th followed by six sea days and ending at Fort Lauderdale on Sunday Nov 20th. Due to hurricane strength winds in Toulon Tuesday night, we were pinned in port till Wednesday morning. See this article on the storm http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/international/2011/11/15/224109.htm
We sailed for Barcelona that morning arriving about 7P where we stayed till Thursday evening. We proceeded to Cartagena Friday, one day late. To make up lost time, Ponta Delgada was dropped and we sailed directly for Fort Lauderdale.
We flew direct JFK to FCO (Rome Fiumicino) on Tuesday night Nov 1st on AA 236 leaving JFK at 8:50P arriving FCO 9:55A. We chose this flight as it arrives later so we would not have to wander around Rome for very long before checking in at 2P. We also had the (forlorn) hope of sleeping more since it left later. Food was usual roach coach fare, but at least they did not charge for it (did not provide an emergency procedures manual for the meal either). Taking a taxi from FCO to Rome anywhere within the Aurelian walls, center city) should cost 40 Euros, but since we only had 50s and the driver feigned having no change, he got a large tip. Do bring small bills to avoid this type of issue.
We booked a room at the SuiteDream Hotel on Via Modena 5, just off of Plaza Repubblica about 800 meters west of Termini, Rome's main railroad station. If you book directly with the hotel instead of through a booking site, breakfast is included in the price and it features cold cereals, hard boiled eggs, fruit, cold cuts and pastries which is quite sufficient for a day of touring. For four days (Nov 2nd to 6th including breakfast and bottled water only in the room fridge, the price was a very reasonable 130 Euros per night including breakfast for two people. Taxes of 2 Euros pp were extra. The rooms came with individual a/c and free wifi and had comfortable beds. Being on a side street, the rooms were very quiet. Bathrooms had basic amenities and the room was spacious for a European hotel.
We toured the usual tourist attractions in central Rome and St. Peter's square. We were unable to find the stop for the 115 bus that takes you to an overlook on the west side of the Tiber for a panoramic view of the city. Note that the Coliseum has high steps to the second level which is tiring. Also, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forums have uneven footing that requires sturdy shoes. The lines for entry to St Peter moved reasonably fast and you do have to clear through metal detectors. The efforts are well worthwhile. We also ventured up Arventine hill to the keyhole of Malta. Look this up; it is well worth the view. Food in Rome was pretty good though expensive; for the two of us, we averaged $50 for lunch and $80 for dinner with a glass of wine. I am sure we could have done it cheaper, but we enjoyed what we had. We had dinner at Hosteria Romana which was recommended by Zagats and Rick Steve's. We also had lunch at Roma Spartia popularized by Anthony Bourdain in his Rome tour. Yes, the Cacio e Peppe was good as was their ravioli. Weather was good for the first three days with rain Saturday night and Sunday, the day of departure. A Cruisecritic member chartered two buses for a group of us to go from Rome Termini with an intermediate pickup point directly to the terminal in Civitavecchia. At $24 each, it was a bargain for direct service to the ship.
Since we had priority boarding, we were on board in about 15 minutes. Luggage arrived about 2P and we sailed at about 6P. While a sailaway meeting was scheduled that afternoon, we demurred due to rain and wind where we were to meet. Note to self, always plan an alternate indoor meeting point for sailaway meetings. The wind and rain were to dog us for three days.
For our first stop, Livorno, on Monday, we shared a private van tour of Florence and Pisa which cost about 75 Euro (approx 100 USD) each. While the price was comparable to a ship tour, we had a private van for seven people and we could determine where we wanted to spend more time. We stopped first at an overlook on the southwest side of the Arno River where we could see much of Florence including the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge with shops built on the sides. The driver took us on a tour of the city to orient us then dropped us off for a few hours. Since this was Monday, the museums were closed. Despite the rain which was heavy at times, we had a good time walking around the city which is compact. Then we went to Pisa and the tower which remains as an object lesson for foundation engineers worldwide. The rain was heavy by then and we returned to ship.
At Toulon, we docked at La Seyne-sur-Mer across the bay from Toulon itself. Given the heavy rain, hurricane strength winds and our experience in the rain in Florence, we opted to stay on board. Those who did take tours away from the coast said that they had sunny conditions. With winds gusting to 90+ mph, the captain, Eric Stendal, said that the port was closed and we would stay overnight. Midmorning Wednesday, we did sail out for Barcelona arriving 7P and stayed overnight. We took the ship's tour to the monastery at Montserrat northwest of Barcelona up about 2,200 feet up the side of a sheer rock cliff. The monastery was undergoing renovation but the cathedral area was still quite impressive. We walked around a bit but did not have time to take the cog railroad to the very top of the mountain. You can get to Montserrat by road as we did, cog railroad or cable car. The last two connect to a regional rail line that goes to Barcelona. For $42 pp for four hours, I thought the tour was reasonable. That afternoon, we went back into town using RCI's overpriced shuttle service of $10 pp. We walked up Las Ramblas to Plaza de Catalunya stopping a few places to shop. By the time we got back to the ship, we were starting to feel the effects of a virus that had been going around the ship plus walking in the rain in Florence.
Friday in Cartagena, we took a short walk downtown. Facing the town from the pier, there is a medieval fort on the top of a hill and to the right is the entry way into the fort. There is a fee to enter the fort. To the left of the fort is a pedestrian only street with shops and open air restaurants. There is also a seaside esplanade near the pier area. Cartagena was the site of a battle between the royalists and fascists during the Spanish Civil War which trashed part of the city. After Cartagena, we skipped Ponta Delgada and sailed directly for Fort Lauderdale.
Since we would have topped off supplies on Sunday in Ponta Delgada, some fruits and dairy products began to disappear by day six. Salad greens held up well but lemons and lines showed up only at the bars (no surprise there). Weather for the crossing was OK with some rain and wind from time to time. We did run into Tropical Storm Sean late in the cruise with strong winds and spray which caused the outside decks to be locked and the pools drained and netted. Not having to go north to the Azores, Captain Stendal took us south to the Canaries after exiting the Med and then headed west to Florida. This provided warmer weather and there were some people using the pools and sun deck though the open areas were breezy. Unfortunately, it was too windy t try the rock climbing wall.
The Navigator is the fourth of the five ship Voyager class and unlike the first two ships; the last three had glass balcony partitions instead of steel which made the balconies and cabins brighter and gave the ship an airier look. Like the other Voyager class ships, the signature design of the Navigator is the four story tall Royal Promenade that runs down the middle of the ship on deck 5 between the forward and aft Centrums. The Royal Promenade has "window" rooms that look out onto the promenade from both sides on the upper three levels and a mix of shops, bars and eating venues on the first level. The Centrums are another feature of RCI ships and these extended from deck 3 to deck 12 forward and to deck 14 aft.
Most of the public spaces are on decks 3 to 5 and decks 11 to 14. The main dining room is aft on decks 3 to 5 with buffet options in the Windjammer Cafe aft on deck 11. The bars are on decks 3 to 5 and 11 to 14. For more information on the Voyager class of ships, go to this URL http://voyager-class.com/. At the aft end of the Royal Promenade are the library on deck 7, the internet cafe on deck 8 and the Concierge Club for Suite pax on deck 9. Mary who is a retired librarian noted some deficiencies in the library operation that may be due to cost cutting. For one, there is never anyone from the cruise staff there to check material in or out. Also, not much effort was made to properly shelve books; books that should have been in the collection were misfiled on the paperback exchange shelf.
Another cost cutting casualty is the daily news briefs that we received on every other ship we've taken. These news briefs are an eight page 8 Â½ x 11 brief that offered bits of the world outside the ship. It might have been a feed from the New York Times, the Times of London or the Toronto Globe and Mail. Whatever it was, it was welcome. We didn't have this on the Navigator. The only news channel we found on the in-cabin TV was Fox News. CNN or BBC was not available. Movie selections were Ok with recent runs such as Knight and Day and REDs (Retired, Extremely Dangerous??). Good entertainment on a rainy day.
With the very favorable pricing, we booked a Grand Suite, 1564, forward portside. At about 390 ft2 with a 90 ft2 balcony, the room is double the width of a standard balcony stateroom. As one enters our cabin, to the right ix a dressing area with three closets and a waist high granite topped dresser with six large drawers and a built-in mini-fridge. The closets are to the right against the hallway wall and the dresser is on the left of this area which divides the dressing area from the living room area. There is also a bar setup area with glasses and an ice bucket. Pity, they do not let you bring liquor on board. Also here is a full length mirror.
To the left of the entry is a large bathroom with a tub shower, a two sinks and a shelf for towels. The sink vanity has drawers down the middle and hidden trashcans under each sink. The mirror above the sink has storage behind it for your toiletries. Amenities included bath soap, shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and body lube. There is a razor point with both 110V and 220V outlets. The razor point is powered only when the bathroom light is on. Beyond the bathroom door is a small two drawer table and mirror along with various switches and sliders for controlling the lights.
The living area beyond the dresser has a large sofa, two club chairs and a coffee table. The sofa is flanked by two end tables with lamps. Behind the bathroom is a sleeping alcove for a king sized bed and a vanity desk area with six more dresser drawers and a mirror area above the vanity with two hidden storage areas behind the side mirrors. The coffee/tea service setup is on the desk and there are 110V and 220V outlets just below the mirror. The balcony siding door is on the living area side with a light switch for the balcony light to the right of the door. The LCD TV and DVD player are in a low console between the window on the alcove side and the sliding door to the balcony. Our stateroom attendant, Anca Butic (sp?) did an excellent job of tending the cabin.
Booking a full suite (Grand, Royal Family, Owner and Royal) gives access to the concierge lounge on deck 9 which has morning continental breakfast and a cappuccino/espresso machine (when it works) and cookies in the afternoon. Access to the lounge is by the room card. The concierge has regular morning hours. From 5P to 8:30P, there is a nightly cocktail party in the forward lounge on deck 5 (Ixtapa on the NOTS) that is limited to suite pax (also Diamond plus and Pinnacle club members). In addition to complimentary drinks, wine and beer, there are hot and cold appetizers available. Needless to say, our bar bill was de minimus for this cruise. The concierge can be found here during the party. In addition to the concierge lounge and nightly cocktail party, suite pax have access to reserved seating in the main theatre and Studio B for Ice shows as well as a separate seating area on the pool deck. In addition to the regular ice show, there was a special show for suite and diamond plus pax with complimentary cocktails and appetizers.
We had first seating (6P) in the Swan Lake dining room (deck 5) at a table for six. The food in the MDR was the equal of what we have had on Princess and HAL last summer and fall. The meat quality was very good as was the seafood; I normally shy away from seafood on ships but at Jacob's urging, I tried several fish and shrimp dishes and they were better than I expected with none of the fishy/bitter aroma and taste that sometimes accompanies ship board seafood. Service was good although the kitchen was slow in providing the dishes in some cases and the food, while not piping hot, was certainly at an acceptable temperature when served. As Diamond members, we also had access to the D/D+ breakfast area which was very good, but we drifted back to the Windjammer for its greater variety. Lunches in the MDR were also very good with a spec your own salad bar and 30 minute hot entree service (usually faster unless they got slammed by a large inrush of pax at lunch).
The Windjammer Cafe offers a large variety of foods at breakfast and lunch and we often found ourselves eating there rather than the MDR. The first part is the Jade Restaurant which is divided into two sections which are opened at staggered intervals as needed. The hot table section offers Asian entrees such as congee and miso soups, various curries and Chinese dishes and sushi that change daily. Further back is the Windjammer Cafe which offers spec your own omelets at breakfast and spec your own sandwiches at lunch. The breakfast offerings were the same day to day as was many of the lunch entrees. Seating in the Windjammer Cafe area is more available than in the Jade. The table servers come around to offer beverages (both free and extra tariff) and clear away used plates quickly. The self serve soft ice cream machines are at the dividing partitions between the Jade and Windjammer dining areas. Suite pax may use the Portofino Restaurant area for breakfast and lunch. Made to order omelets are available at breakfast along with fruit and pastry items. Nothing special is available at lunch in the Portofino, but it is nice to have a quiet area with white tablecloth service. Cold and hot drinks are provided at the table. There is no outdoor grill for burgers and such; the burgers at the Windjammer looked dry and overcooked. Although there is snack service from 3:30 to 5 P each afternoon, the offerings were the same every day.
Yet another food venue is the Cafe Promenade in the Royal Promenade on deck 5. This is a 24 hour eatery which offers continental breakfast in the morning and light sandwiches, pizza and snacks the rest of the time. If you get it fresh, the pizzas were good, otherwise they were dried out. Seattle's Best coffee, regular and decaf, along with hot water for hot cocoa and various teas and iced water is available at all times. Extra tariff items include specialty coffees and Ben and Jerry Ice Cream. We did not try Portofino's, the extra tariff Italian restaurant nor Johnny Rockets, the 50s diner but we heard positive reviews from other pax about them. When the concierge lounge cap/exp machine was not working (the last few days of the crossing), showing the suite room card will get free specialty coffee service at the Cafe Promenade coffee bar.
We did see some of the shows, but they are the usual cruise ship fare. The Metropolis Theatre is nicely decorated but can fill up quickly unless you get there early. We did not use the suite pax sitting area as we rarely stayed the full time for the shows. The ice shows in Studio B were good but since the skaters were trying out new routines during the crossing, only a few shows were put on. Read Less