This is my fourth cruise review and it is somewhat different than many. I tend to write about our vacation as a whole and not just the amenities of the ship. If you are looking for hard facts about the Navigator, this is probably not the review for you, but, if you wish to read on member's cruise journal, feel free.
I am giving one member's opinion only, not a loyalist, nor a flamer, but just a view from someone who loves to cruise and vacation with his family as a get away from everyday life.
My wife and I planned this 5th cruise for us and 2nd for our adult children for the same week we cruise every year, with full knowledge that it is hurricane season. When we first cruised 4 years ago, it was for our 20th wedding anniversary which is in mid-August. As I have a tendency to do some basic research prior to purchasing anything, I discovered a number of cruise boards which allowed me to experience cruising with some additional knowledge of what to expect and having the luxury of your combined tips. This I found to be of great assistance.
The original research led me to find that cruising the last week of August (or at least the week prior to Labor Day) offered better rates than mid summer. The other advantage was that when we arrived home, we would normally have an additional two days before having to go back to work. My wife is an educator and only has the summer and school vacations to travel, thus we tend to be on ships with a larger contingent of children.
Anyway, we planned the August 28th sailing of Navigator of the Seas, Eastern Caribbean itinerary from Miami. We had sailed her the same week last year, and were very fortunate to upgrade at the pier to an owner's suite, 1320, the Bora Bora Suite. This year, we were traveling with our children, son, 21, and daughter, aged 19 and out of high school (the general excuse for bringing them along again). We live in New England and normally fly from Boston.
We had flown many airlines in the past, and armed with the wealth of knowledge of these boards, we decided to check flights into Ft. Lauderdale versus Miami. There was a substantial difference between the two for these dates and we settled on Song Airlines. Our flight was direct from Boston to Ft. Lauderdale. We usually fly down a day in advance to avoid stress and potential delays, and did again this time. Our flights were direct, non-stop and were less than $700 for the four of us. Song Airlines was wonderful experience. They planes are standardized and feature leather seats and the new 5" Satellite TV screens which offer music, 15-20 channels of television, trivia contest between flyers, and a GPS tracking of the plane's progress. It was a pleasant way to kill time on the flight. The airline does not provide food gratis, but does offer a nice selection of sandwiches, salads, and cheese offerings for sale along with snacks. Basic beverage service is included. The flight crew was humorous ala Southwest, with their commentary. We were very impressed, more so when considering the pricing and would most definitely fly with Song Airlines again.
I had utilized Priceline (am a strong supporter for hotels through Priceline) and secured two rooms at $51/room. Our reservations were for the Sheraton Yankee Clipper on the beach (3*). As a Starwoods Preferred Guest, I had called in advance and requested adjoining rooms, one with a king, the other with two doubles, and non-smoking to boot. Priceline does not guarantee any requests will be met, but I always make the attempt. Being a frequent guest at any hotel booked through Priceline is really easy to do on the internet and can help upon check-in, so worth trying.
We arrived mid afternoon and took a cab to the Sheraton. It took a few minutes to arrange the rooms that we had requested, but the entire time, the clerk and bellman that was assisting us were truly wonderful examples of good customer service. In fact, throughout our brief stay, their entire staff was excellent. The Sheraton consists of three buildings, and directly on the beach on Ft. Lauderdale. I had read where the hotel was very old, moldy and in need of major updating, but we found it to very adequate. We were assigned rooms in the south Tower, which is connected to the main building by a skywalk on the second floor. Our rooms were on the tenth floor overlooking the intercoastal waterway and the ocean over the beach! The accommodations were very updated, spacious and very appealing to us all.
We decided to all go down to the beach for a late afternoon swim. The hotel provides beach towels, but does not include beach chairs and umbrellas. It was close to 5 PM so this was no bother to us. The water was very warm and soothing, and we watched a parade of different boats and ships coming back to port as we swam. After a while, we headed up to one of two hotel pools. This pool overlooked and was adjacent to the beach and boasted two bars, misters to keep cool and a large deck with chairs and tables. My gang enjoyed the first of the week's adult beverages. This was a very nice way to start the week's vacation.
After a while, we decided to head up to our rooms to shower and head out to dinner. The hotel and the south tower in particular, are right across the street to a stop on the water taxi, which tours the intercoastal with numerous stops along the way. We were headed to Los Olmos Boulevard and the Riverside location downtown for dinner. The ticket office was closed, however, you can purchase tickets on board. The water taxi was large enough to hold 30 - 40 people, mostly enclosed with large windows with the air conditioning on, or you could sit aft with the windows opened. The tour took approximately ½ hour and the captain and mate provided informative commentary the entire time. We learned of many of the names of the homeowners who lived along this beautiful area.
We arrived at our location and we had a choice of Dan Marino's Restaurant, Hooter's, the Ugly Tuna and a few other dinner choices. After a decent dinner, we headed back to our hotel. The moonlit boat ride back took a little longer, but was highlighted by the shimmering lights of the waterway's illuminated homes and the bonus fireworks along the way!
We awoke after a comfortable sleep full of anticipation for our week ahead. We took advantage of the Sheraton's buffet breakfast ($52 for the family) which was typical buffet fare, but convenient and easy. I must say that the staff again, proved to be very hospitable. After breakfast, we gathered our luggage and waited for our transportation down to Miami and the Navigator.
I had previously booked with www.limosofmiami.com for a town car for a reasonable rate (ballpark $65-$70 plus tip) to pick us up at 9:00 AM. At 9:05 AM (note my impatience). I called Eric of Limos of Miami and he informed me the driver was running a few minutes late. I must interject here to mention that this particular weekend, the MTV video awards were being held at the American Airlines Arena in Miami this particular weekend (unknown to me when I booked) and rides were hard to come by. Anyway, Eric informed me that he had upgraded us without cost and we were to expect a stretch to be along shortly. I had told the kids and the bellman to be on the lookout for a Town Car. A few minutes later, an enormous SUV stretch pulls up to the front lobby. The driver got out and came into the lobby and asked if I was his customer, and the kid's eyes lit up! Again, another nice way to start the week.
I would highly recommend Eric and Limos of Miami to anyone and plan on using him again next year.
My wife likes to tell how we asked to stop along the way to get a few last minute items to bring on the ship. The driver graciously found a local Walgreen's for us. What a scene to see us putting our shopping bags in the back of this tank sized limo! As you can see, we are not use to this method of transportation and we all got quite a boot out of the experience.
We arrived at the Miami Cruise Terminal before 10:00 AM to beat the crowds (and to upgrade at the pier if you wish). A porter took care of our larger bags, but the four of us always bring in our carry-ons and backpacks with a few days clothing and toiletries, just in case a bag doesn't find itself to our rooms. We were sitting comfortably in the outer lobby of the terminal waiting to go through security and the boarding process. We decided at last minute to defer the upgrade process, for we had secured very good cabins, the much talked about 1388, a D1 on the aft corner, and an inside promenade room for the kids.
1388 has been discussed many times on the boards and is a fine cabin. I was more impressed with the room in the cabin than the balcony. There is plenty of space, however, there is a major support beam and much of the balcony is in shade. I would book the room again, but would not be disappointed if I did not get it. From the forward elevators it is approximately 225 steps to the cabin. It is a great way to walk off those extra pounds.
Our room stewards were Randy and Jason, both very efficient! Our cabin was ready when we boarded at noon, and as we walked every morning and were out of our cabin by 9:00 AM at the latest, our cabin was always well made up before noon time. Each of our stewards was very personable and always had a smile to share.
Our kids had a promenade room overlooking the "bridge" where most of the entertainment occurred. Being in their late teens and early 20's, a tidy room is not their most important concern. Kenneth and Cynthia went far overboard in their kindnesses to the kids. Again, these two hardworking crew members always had a warm greeting for us and the kids, as did every member of the housekeeping staff we encountered.
We were on the ship and had dropped our bags at our rooms by Noon (there was a delay in clearing the ship) and enjoying lunch at the Windjammer shortly thereafter. We took the kids on a tour of the ship and actually just waited to sail away, as the weather was cloudy with a few showers. The ship was slightly delayed due to the thunderstorms, getting underway around 6:30 PM.
During our tour, we entered the dining room, first level to find our table 307. We always request a large table, to be able to meet some new friends from around the world. We were somewhat disappointed to find out it was only a table of six, so we would only be joining two others for the week. We were however, very pleased with the location just a few tables over from the first level staircase, between the Captain's table and the stairs, where the dining room staff often sing and dance for you throughout the week.
The first evening at dinner we were happy to meet our tablemates from the UK who were holdovers from the previous cruise. They were celebrating a long awaited belated honeymoon by spending two weeks (they thought!) on the Navigator. There are some tablemates who may have been disappointed to dine with a family, but these kind folks were very social, enjoyable tablemates throughout the cruise. We had hearty discussions nightly and shared bottles of different wines every night.
One of our pleasant surprises was that when our waiter introduced himself, we found that Gilberto from Costa Rica, was our waiter on last year's cruise! He was very happy to see us again, as were we. He and his lovely assistant, Rowena from the Philippines were simply outstanding. We all joked, danced and generally had a great time all week. There were many hugs and pictures when we departed.
Gilbert has two children and a wife at home in Costa Rica. He was able to arrange his contract to be home for two months when his youngest was born. He has been aboard ships for twelve years now and in his experience, he feels that the Navigator is the best ship for crew. Better accommodations, inexpensive internet (his lifeline to home), food, and the ability to get off ship weekly to call home were his reasoning. Rowena's husband works in the galley.
The Head Waiter did make an appearance every night to say hello. The team the entire week never mentioned surveys and ratings, they didn't need to, they were excellent! As you may know, the survey results dictate how many tables and diners the team serves. The highest number is 18; I believe that Gilbert mentioned the lowest was 12. Their pay is obviously affected by the number of diners who will tip them for the week. What is difficult is that many times, if the food is not up to someone's tastes, cruisers base their evaluation of the serving staff on what happens in the kitchen, which the server has no control over. Our food choices for the week were good. Understand that I am not a gourmet, but enjoy food. The beef was not as good as the Majesty in April, but the cold soups, the salads and the presentation was very good. The portions were plentiful and seconds were easily obtained from Gilbert and Rowena. The shrimp scampi utilized a smaller shrimp and the rib eye steak was not the best cut, but overall it was good.
In the last few months, I have been reading reviews of Becky, the Cruise Director on the Navigator. We first met Becky in 2001 when she was on the staff of Jeffrey, our Cruise Director on the Explorer of the Seas. Jeffrey was our first CD, and every other has been compared to him. When we first met Becky, she was full of energy. Nothing has changed, she still is. This cruise was to pose quite a challenge for her with the churning Hurricane Frances threatening to disrupt our cruise itinerary for the week.
In speaking with Becky, we had thought she was the Assistant Cruise Director under Jeff, she was not. She was a member of his staff. He was so impressed with her that he had written a letter to RCCL insisting that she should be fast tracked to a Cruise Director. She had been a dancer and is obviously very comfortable in front of a crowd. We were introduced to her on the welcome show with her consistent "Hello Love" and playful kick! Little did we realize just how much of Becky we would see during this week?
Immediately the first night, we were told that our first port of call, Nassau would be missed due to Frances and its potential impact. From day one, the main goal was to get a stop in St. Thomas if at all possible. So we changed our plans for the morning in Nassau and enjoyed the rest of the evening.
Our first of what was to become many days of sea was typical of our week. We pre-ordered room service for breakfast for 7:00 AM. Room service always calls to inform you that your order was on its way, and usually would arrive within 5 minutes of the call. After a nice breakfast (yes the coffee is strong!), we headed up to jogging track to do our walk. Every morning at 8:30 AM they do a walk a mile and give out shipshape bucks which you can turn in the last day of the cruise for T shirts, lanyard, small beach bags and the like.
My wife was determined to get a shipshape T-shirt this week, but she had forgotten her accumulated shipshape bucks at home, so I knew for sure I was going to be walking every morning to help her get it. I thing the T shirt was 14 or 15 shipshape bucks. She eventually got the shirt with many bucks to spare. We were joined by the same 10-15 people every day for the walk, and there were numerous joggers out along the way.
After our walk, we would head down to the solarium pool, the adults only pool area. Most mornings we were here by latest 10:00 AM and there were usually adequate chairs available. The chairs immediately adjacent to this pool only numbered 30-35, and we noticed the same crowd their almost every day. There seemed to be two distinct crowds, the early risers who were out between nine and ten, and the late risers (late partiers) who would saunter down at noon or so, expecting a chair by the pool. No matter what you feel about saving chairs, you can't expect a chair right next to the pool when you arrive at noon. I did notice this trend however, like us, many end up going to lunch and leave the pool for the day, freeing up chairs. We would typically leave between noon and 1:00 PM and be done for the sun for the day. I can't comment on the main pool area, we just never sit there.
The deck patrol was very active in removing young toddlers from the pool. The first few days there were many instances where parents would bring young children with them into the pool. Usually the deck patrol would quietly inform them that the solarium was for those older than 16. Most were just unaware and would leave and go the main pool area. A few however, wanted to be shown where it was posted and were quite angry.
We noticed this cruise that the bar staff was not as aggressive as in the past pushing the frozen foo foo drinks. Yes they were around, as were the waiters offering bar service, but they did not seem as frequent which is a blessing. Again, they were always pleasant and smiling.
Our adult children had an entirely different perspective, enjoying the nightlife later and sleeping in later each day. They would show up anytime between 10:00 AM and noon each day. On the first night, they met two wonderful friends from Scotland. The young aspiring businessman, Ross, and his Dad, Dave were resplendent in their formal kilts on formal evenings. Laura had just passed her nursing boards and was to be certified as a Registered Nurse upon her return home. They were also traveling as family with Gran, who enjoyed her Bingo all week! Ross and Laura were to join us many times all week, and was a true pleasure to meet such fine young adults. They will share many e-mail for a long time, I'm sure.
Our kids had two basic rules, dinner with us every night as a family, and check in with us when in for the evening. They pretty much established their own routine for the week, and I as the Dad, enjoyed their presence very much.
With so many activities to partake in, we decided that we would take the new program of Explorer Academy, which offered lessons in dancing, skating and the like. We chose the salsa dancing lessons. The first class was held in the Ixtapa Lounge with members of the entertainment staff. 4 to 5 of the dances showed up and were shocked by the large number of cruisers who showed up for their first lesson. Subsequent lessons were held in Studio B, the ice skating rink to accommodate the crowds. It was a lot of fun, and also a shipshape activity (had to get those bucks for wife's T shirt). Everyone had a blast as did the staff (or at least they made you thing they did).
Realizing just how long I am rambling, I will summarize the rest of the cruise rather than bore you with a day to day account.
I had mentioned CD Becky and how visible she was during the cruise. We were so fortunate to have as our Captain for the second year, Capt. Rick of Canada at the helm. With a major hurricane simmering, he did a daily update, not only over the PA, but on the closed circuit television. He would show us the nautical charts, our locale, the distance to the hurricane and the proposed route we would be sailing. He was in constant communication with the National Hurricane Center, Royal's corporate headquarters and his own team to decide how and when we would proceed. But, in addition to that, he seemed to be everywhere on board. He is very social and approachable, always having a moment for a hello, or a picture. I was very impressed with him and his presence on board. He gave cruisers a sense of confidence all week. Each afternoon at 5-6 PM, Becky would be on the bridge interviewing the Captain, sort of a RCCL CNN Weather Channel. These short updates would then air constantly until the next update. This first day, we knew we would be impacted by this storm.
Becky's emergence occurred at the Love and Marriage Show. She could not have picked better contestants. Although this show was advertised as having an adult theme, there were many children in attendance. After the show, I'm sure many parents were sorry that they allowed the kids to attend! There were many comments and innuendos that were not appropriate for the younger crowd, but the for those of age, it was simply hilarious! Becky antics and reaction were priceless, and many on board saw a different side of her than have been mentioned on this board.
On the topic of children, most on board were well behaved. There were some, I'm sure that were not, in fact, it was rumored (totally unsubstantiated) that a family was put off for a child's defacing of artwork. There was one trend however, that we were not totally pleased with. There were many very young children, under the age of two, who were all over the ship at all hours, and when I say all hours, I mean after midnight, and many at 1:00 AM in a number of adult lounges. The only time it affected us was when visiting the Cosmopolitan Lounge at the top of the ship late night. The daily planner specifically states that children under the age of 18 are not allowed after 10:00 PM. The only drawback with the kids, who were there after midnight, is that this a locale where jazz was being played and a few times the kids were whining, crying and generally just exhausted. The parents seemed to be clueless. I know that this is a family vacation, but, young kids in an adult lounge after midnight just doesn't seem appropriate. To each their own I guess.
Hurricane Frances did delay our cruise. We did not get into Nassau, San Juan or get to Labade. Antigua was substituted as one port, and we enjoyed a morning on the beach at Long Bay. The surf was somewhat higher, but still pleasant.
We also got into St. Thomas. Our original plan was to take the Red Hook ferry to St. John, but with the effects of the hurricane, we decided that Meagan's Bay was a better option. Meagan's Bay is $5-6 cab ride per person from the dock. When you get to the beach, the area to the right is much more congested, while the left area is much more private. We witnessed a wedding on the beach. The weather was very nice and there was a noticeable increase in the swells as a result of the storm. Body surfing was the order of the day. This beach day locale does offer a snack bar, showers, lockers and rentals of beach accessories.
After our beach day at St. Thomas, brief shopping and a new opal bracelet for the deserving wife. Daughter spent the day with her new friends from Scotland shopping.
The rest of the cruise was all sea days! Instead of arriving back to port on Saturday, we did not arrive until Monday AM. RCCL did their best to arrange phones with direct lines to the airlines to facilitate rescheduling of flights. We were not able to get through by phone, but with internet connection, we were able to get a new flight for Monday noon to Boston. Unfortunately, the two nice ladies in front of us were not able to get out until the next day. Song airlines did eventually refund my newly booked flight due to the circumstances and honor my cancelled flight instead, a savings of over $500. I did have travel insurance if it had not. I also booked a Priceline Hotel while onboard in the hope that we may have arrived into port Sunday night. I knew the risk of using Priceline and their no refund rule; however, I will try to submit to travel insurance.
I was surprised by the varying opinions on the cruise lines response to the crisis while onboard. Many were still very opinionated and disappointed that while we received two extra nights onboard at no cost, many were looking for additional onboard credit and a discount on a future cruise. I for one felt RCCL did an outstanding job of trying to meet the needs of the passengers at all times. Was a credit and discount necessary, I don't think so? An act of God is beyond all control and all of us know that when we travel at this time of year, we are taking a risk. Please, if you do travel at this time of year, use a travel insurance policy, the peace of mind is well worth it.
While onboard, we did again book Navigator for next summer (same week) and for a four night in April on Majesty. We were given $100 credit per cabin for Navigator and $50 onboard credit for Majesty. With our Platinum status after this past cruise, we will also qualify for another $100 credit for the balcony on Navigator as well.
Final thoughts and maybe should be a separate post, but I must describe my interaction with Jack from Montreal. He is the RCCL ambassador, having cruised now 113 times with them. Jack is easily recognized with his well coiffed white hair, sunglasses and typical Royal Caribbean T shirt of the day. Well tanned, considered good looking by the ladies who were always surrounding him, my wife says he is my cruising idol!
Jack is a 60 something retiree from Montreal who after a very successful career as a high-end ladies fashion salesman, has made his retirement one as the ultimate cruiser. He commands his own table across from the Captains table where he sits alone. The reason he dines alone (when not at the Captains Table for dinner or with any of the many staff at Breakfast and Lunch) is that he feels that is would be inconsiderate for him to be seated with tablemates when he gets up to say hello to it seems most passengers, which he does all meal long! At dinner and virtually anywhere he is to be found on the ship, all you can here when he passes by is "Hey Jack, how are you!" His standard line when he meets anyone is "How are you enjoying yourself, is there anything I can do for you!" And this man can.
He is on a first name basis with virtually all the crew members, from the Captain on down. He normally books and inexpensive cabin, and upon completion of the embarkation process, he is upgraded to the usually the best cabin available. And he does indeed deserve it. While sailing with us, he was on his 112th cruise, and he had decided to stay on again for his 113th! He started cruising in 1984, and now cruises at least one week a month. Don't try to get him off a RCCL ship though, he won't. Others have tried unsuccessfully, including one of Royal's sister companies, Celebrity. Jack was offered at one time the Royal Suite at no charge on a Celebrity sailing, but he refused. He is the face of Royal Caribbean.
The day before our sailing, he arrived in Miami a day early. His normal hotel stay is at the Hyatt downtown (like many of the Priceline bidders!) where on of his many friends is the general manager. He spent most of the day Friday at the corporate headquarters of RCCL visiting more of his friends who work inside.
In talking with him, he favors the smaller ships for their intimacy. His favorite itinerary, and he's done them all, was Hawaii. He was hard pressed to reveal either of those facts, for he loves all the ships and as he says, "the itinerary doesn't matter; I rarely even get off the ship".
For someone who loves to cruise, having a few minutes to talk with Jack was an honor and pleasure. And if you are a single lady or a group of single ladies traveling together, keep your eyes open for Jack. You just may be the one who can crack this confirmed bachelor, and who knows, once a month cruising wouldn't be a bad retirement at all!
Thanks again Jack for your kindness to my son on this cruise. You are a gentleman and a joy to speak with. And I thank this board for the opportunity to share some of our cruise highlights of a memorable Hurricane Frances Cruise of 2004! Read Less