Overall: We took the Navigator of the Seas (Royal Caribbean) to the Western Caribbean: Coco Cay, Cozumel, Grand Cayman starting November 22nd, 2015. We had about 25 family members, and I was travelling with my wife and three kids staying ... Read More
Overall: We took the Navigator of the Seas (Royal Caribbean) to the Western Caribbean: Coco Cay, Cozumel, Grand Cayman starting November 22nd, 2015. We had about 25 family members, and I was travelling with my wife and three kids staying in two staterooms (#9358, #9360).
Apparently there are hard-core crusiers whose loyalty approaches religious ferver and then there is everyone else. So after my first cruise I fall squarely into the ‘non cruiser’ camp. The constant upselling, the rampant waiting in lines even after paying for ‘premium’ services, and the lack of any luxury put me into the ‘not a fan’ group. That said, my room was reasonable and clean, many of the crew tried hard, and as a family we had several amazing memories… though these were made because we were together, not because of the cruise. It strikes me that cruiselines have to cut prices so much because of competition that they basically lose money on the cabins, and have to recoup it during the cruise. The constant barrage of up-selling and add-ons is really wearying, makes the cruise unpleasant and ugly, and is really noticeable. It removes any romance or luxury from what is really an amazing boat sailing to wonderful places, so just considering the environment, it is telling that they cause you to forget about the sunsets and beautiful water and focus on them.
I’d rate the experience as about a 3.5 out of 10. I should note, generally speaking I prefer exclusivity (and am more than willing and able to pay). I had wanted to upgrade to a suite, but as the room was a gift from in-laws, I didn’t want to disrespect anyone or break up the group. I believe we paid about $2700 per room (x2) plus 18% tipping ($1000), in addition to the $500 airfare (x5), and a hotel rooms in Fort Lauderdale of about $150 (x2). For that we had $500 in room credit, but with various drinks, dinners, excursions were out another $1000. So the total cost was about $10,500 for a family of 5 for a week. Of note: on the first day, I tipped the room steward $40, and two bartenders $20. I also tipped our 2 dining room attendants another $120 at the end of the week.
The good: As many of my comments are negative, let me start with the positive. I hope I’m being balanced and fair, but also giving you insight as to what to expect without any particular axe to grind:
• The room (Balcony Stateroom) was clean and efficient. It was a bit sparse, but highly utilitarian. The steward, Rolly, was unobtrusive, and kept the room very clean, organized, and in towels. That said it was an aluminum box without anything special.
• Another high-spot was our dining room waiter: Apurv (“AP”). AP was funny, engaged, and able to follow through on bringing a cake to my daughter on her birthday (please note: I tipped heavily and paid for the cake). He was also able to handle the various family members coming and going, and a grandmother who was a bit neurotic. Many kudos to him.
• The ship itself is a marvel. I enjoyed walking around and see every floor, every bar, every restaurant and shop. It was pretty cool.
• Finally during an excessive line (more on this) a housecleaning woman, Elena B, who had no business helping us, stopped, asked what the issue was, and then stayed with us (and about 20 others) who were waiting. This is spite that it wasn’t her issue and she could have ignored us – as most of the staff were doing. Many kudos to her.
And now onto the not-so-good:
• Service. Service is horrible, generally speaking. After not buying a drink package, I quickly bought the most expensive option as service was so poor, I figured I need to get the special sticker for attention. I could not be more wrong. Bartenders seemingly slow roll everything, and the constant need to check (and recheck) your ‘seapass’ is maddeningly inefficient. There were times I would wait 20 minutes to get a drink – in spite of having only 2 people in front of me. This has to be a corporate decision as there are never more than 2 bartenders working even at hugely crowded hours (e.g. 1 PM during a cruising day). I went so far as to tip two different bartenders $20 and asked them to remember me, which improved service, but this was on top of paying $67/day for any drink. Also if you just want water or a soda… you have to wait in line. Christ on a stick! I paid, I understand 8 other people who also paid want Pina Coladas. Couldn’t their just be a vending machine where I could insert my card and get a drink/water (there are two hidden machines in the WindJammer, BTW, and so I often resorted to walking up 7 or 8 decks from whatever I was doing to get a diet coke, or water).
• Excursions. I scuba dive, with my son. I had to register with the desk. Each time the line was 20-25 people deep. Finally at the last minute (4 PM the day before) I got to the desk at 3:45 and was only #3 in line, so I waited. And waited. And waited. After the line grew to more than 25, I started asking people at customer service. I went to the phone and starting calling various service people. All to no avail. The people at customer service (who were equally besieged) had no interest in helping us. Only when a housecleaning person, Elena B, saw me trying to start the computers and mockingly making announcements to the amusement of those in line, did she come over and ask what was wrong. She called a Manager, and after about 5 minutes, the person “Melanie” came to the desk @ 4:32 (32 minutes late). Instead of apologizing she yelled at us for not having an orderly line to the side. I haven’t been much tempted to punch a service employee as they have incredibly onerous jobs, but this was one time I almost changed my policy and essentially decided Royal Caribbean could ‘suck it’. Even then, just as illustration, it was 4:50 before I was helped for a 3 minute thing. Seriously. I had to wait in line for an hour, just to do something that should have all been done ahead of time (The cruise will say they need to see my PADI card, etc… but we had to fill out all of this information AGAIN – for the 3rd time—at the dive shop).
o Incidentally, the diving in Cozumel was wonderful. In spite of a 50 minute ride in some heavy chop to pick up a random hotel passenger, the 14 of us had 2 excellent guides, and some really excellent cave and drift dives.
• Tendering. In Grand Cayman we got a tender ticket. The process was horrible. Long lines (45 minutes) just to get off the boat, and from the time I left my room to the dock was just over 1 hour 30 minutes. Again, I get there are lines. But Royal Caribbean clearly knows that 4000 people want to go ashore, but have only 2 doors to get people off and away. My advice: avoid any cruise/port where you have to tender. I’m on vacation to relax, have a drink, soak in some sun. Not wait in lines for Royal Caribbean to get their act together.
• Guest Services. We asked for our 2nd stateroom to be decorated on Thursday as it was our daughter’s birthday. It never happened, and hey wires get crossed, and even without said decorations she had a memorable day (again in part thanks to AP, the dining steward). So we paid for it ($47?) and got nothing. My wife tried to go to the Guest Services desk several times but the line was so long, she gave up. Finally on the last day she called (rather than stand in line) and the woman’s reaction was “Why didn’t you tell us?!” While I don’t think she meant to blame the customer, our response essentially, but much more politely should be interpreted “because your lines are so horribly long and inefficient that we’d rather bask in the sun than stand in your lines!” Ultimately we got the amount refunded, but I didn’t appreciate the attitude (which I heard twice, per above).
• Royal Caribbean’s cheapness I’m an MBA and I well understand queuing theory. I also own my own company and well understand costs. But Royal Caribbean took it to parsimonious levels. For instance there is no shampoo in the rooms. Not a big deal, I have my own, but I noticed as I started to suspect that Royal Caribbean was desperately trying to maximize profits. Even things like pens, which you find in every hotel room, became conspicuously absent. When I noticed that they were closing bars, and never really had enough people to service people, I realized Royal Carribean wasn’t trying to supply an amazing experience but rather had sophisticated cost containment strategies in place, and were willing to sustain long queues, angry customers, and knew that people will endure frustration rather than complain. You should realize this when you book. It’s not immoral, but it is annoying.
o Consider the picture ‘package’. They want $147 for 10 pictures, $250 for 20, and ultimately $417 for all pictures. That’s fine, if ridiculous, but they have signs everywhere saying ‘no cameras’ e.g. in the kids area, rock wall, etc…
o Pro tip: If you are travelling in a group use 1 cabin number and just pay the $400+ and get all the pictures.
• Excursions. Simply stated: Book your excursions on shore. The markups RC charge are ridiculous and again, I suspect, due to their need to recoup in other areas. The one advantage is that if you buy an RC excursion on tender days, you can go to the front of the line. Again, the implication being that if you buy through them, you can get reasonable service levels.
o Pro Tip: Heck you can follow the Royal Caribbean people to the excursion and do it yourself for $100s less. And there are always numerous people on shore, just past the end of Royal Caribbean’s area who will offer many more things, usually for 25-33% less.
o The Chica Itzen tour. Our boat was late leaving Cozumel as a family was late by 40 minutes returning from an RC excursion. Because of this (the ship waited for them) the captain blamed the family in announcing our late arrival into Grand Cayman… and ‘strong head winds’ (there were amazingly strong head winds). But what I found in talking to them was that Chica Itzen is 3 hours away, and so when you get there, RC says “you have 15 minutes” to explore something that people usually spend a full day at. The family said, “heck no, we’re going to explore for 45 minutes” with the result of being late. While I can certainly find fault with that family’s decision, RC too must bear some blame. And the captain using it as an excuse for our late arrival into Grand Cayman during that evening’s announcements (yet never going more than 16 KPH) seems petty and unfair. Again, I will let the circumstances speak for themselves, as this is conjecture on my part.
• Wifi. My wife got the package because she wanted to continue with work, as she could. The wifi is operable… but s-l-o-w. It is frustratingly slow. Given that you can pay anywhere from $20-$40 / day, I would expect functional Wifi.
o Recommendation: Don’t use the internet. You’ll be frustrated and it’ll just annoy you. Focus on your vacation. Also there are several shipboard terminals if you really need it. Read Less