The September 9 Eastern Caribbean cruise on Navigator of the Seas was our honeymoon and the first cruise for both of us. Although we were new to cruising, we were very deliberate in selecting cruise company and ship, and the research paid off. We're both 33 years old, child-free, and while we're occasional social drinkers, we are in no way partiers. We wanted a cruise that had all of the good stuff and none of the bad stuff.....fun but not insane, all ages but not a horde of kids, lots of activities but the flexibility to relax in peace and quiet when we want. And, for the most part, Royal Caribbean and NOS were exactly what we were looking for.
Boarding was fast considering the quantity of people at the port. We got in our first line at 11:45 am and were on the ship shortly before 1pm. The lines were long, but the employees kept things orderly by batch processing the flow.....letting each area fill up to a certain point then halting the flow so people wouldn't get trapped on escalators or pinned into corners. It allowed the lines to really be lines instead of random milling about, which decreased the number of queue jumpers, especially going through security. Of course there will always be queue jumpers, especially those who came off the elevator and felt they were so special they didn't have to walk to the back of the line. (Note to those who somehow feel magically entitled: You're not. Be an adult, find some manners, and wait your turn in line). We had our pre-printed Set Sail, and I certainly recommend using one. Once we got through security, our line for the registration desk was significantly shorter than those who just had the RC booklets. We received our Sea Passes in no time and were in line for ship.
We had a fabulous balcony cabin, 8630. It was just past the hump, which we felt was a perfect location. The only thing on our floor besides cabins was Royal Caribbean Online, which was rarely used and very quiet, so there wasn't a lot of extra foot traffic on our floor. We were really close to the elevators, but enough rooms away that we never picked up any noise from them. And the location of the online lounge meant we had neighbors on both sides but not across the hall. And having cabin floors above and below us instead of public areas further increased the serenity of our area. We were so impressed with location of our room that we plan on booking the same room on our next NOS cruise.
The room itself was wonderful. Even though it was not yet 1pm, the room was already cleaned and ready. And it was mega-cleaned; everything sparkled with cleanliness. Not a smudge, hair, crumb or any indication that anyone other than us had ever been in the room. The linens didn't just look clean, they looked brand new. In fact, the whole room seemed new; it lacked even the gentle wear and tear that you find even in the most top notch hotels. The bed was made up as a king bed, and had I not read on here that it was really two single beds made up as one, we never would have known. The framed artwork on the wall was a real watercolor and not a print. Yes, the room is small, but laid out so smartly that we never felt cramped. And yes, the shower stall is a very small cylinder, but it had sliding doors instead of a shower curtain, the shower nozzle itself was more than high enough for my 6'4" husband (which rarely happens), and the tile throughout was immaculate. We loved the balcony so much that we'll never be interior cabin people, even if it means paying a smidge more. The chairs and table on the balcony were inexpensive and looked sun-bleached, but even then, they were uber-clean, in good repair, and very sturdy.
We dropped off our carry-on bags and, as we headed out of the room, we met Wilma, our cabin attendant. She was rather pretty, with (I think) a Jamaican accent, and very pleasant overall....huge smile, knew our names, very welcoming. And she was like that every time we saw her. Yes, she told us what hours she was available, but they were more than generous and we didn't mind. We are the type of people who find more satisfaction knowing that RCCI gives their employees breaks than forcing people to be on 24 hour call. We asked her to remove the items from the mini fridge so we could store the pop and water we brought with us, and she said she'd get right on it. (Had we known she would simply take the items from the fridge and place them in one of our cupboards, we would have moved the items ourselves. We just didn't know). We decided right away that if she kept the cabin as clean as when we first got in, we would give her a generous tip above and beyond the RCCI recommended guidelines. (And yes, she did, and yes, we did!)
Side Note on Wilma: Throughout the trip, Wilma seemed to have a sixth sense about our movements. No matter when we went to breakfast or how long we stayed at the meal, the bed was made up and the room cleaned by the time we got back. The same with dinner; the bed was always turned down when we got back, with mints and the Compass on the pillows, a different towel animal every night, and a fresh cleaning. This happened every night, including the last night. She did us well from the first second to the last.
We had a light snack at the Windjammer, explored the ship, had muster, and were up on deck for sail-away. Even though cruises sail out of Miami all the time, lots of people driving by were honking and waving. Apparently the people of Miami aren't as jaded as we've heard. We even got some waves from some people in the ultra-rich houses on the private islands.
After sail-away, we went back to our room, and our luggage had arrived, sans one piece. The DH took a quick trip up the hall to the luggage distribution area and came back right away with the missing piece. It simply hadn't been distributed yet. Unpacking was a breeze; empty suitcases went under the beds, and there was more than enough space (and hangers!) in the closet and drawers for all our stuff. And we didn't exactly pack light, either.
We had first seating in the Nutcracker dining room, which we very much liked. Everything was in fabulous shape; it's hard to believe that thousands of people go through these ships every week. Our main waiter, Nilesh (from India-a veteran of many cruises with three weeks to go until his vacation), and assistant waiter, Nuncio (from Portugal newbie only three weeks into his first cruise) were very on top of things, and we rarely wanted for anything. Water was refilled when the glasses were only half empty, napkins were placed in my lap for me, and shellfood was shelled for me. On one night, Nilesh didn't want us to miss out on the best dessert, so he brought us what we ordered as well as a third dessert for us to split. We were at a table for six, but we wound up dining with only one other couple, who were a great match for us. They were similar in age and occupations, so we had a good time with them. There was a third couple at our table the first night but asked to be changed after finding out (using perfectly fine English, I might add) that none of us were South American and that we all had careers instead of being independently wealthy. I kid you not. Needless to say, we were more than fine with them moving to another table. :)
Side note about Nilesh and Nuncio: We usually ate breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer, and both men went out of their way at the Windjammer as well. They always said hello and asked if they could do anything for us, even if we weren't sitting in their section. And their helpfulness didn't seemed forced, or a pushiness to get a big tip. They were genuine and friendly the whole time.
I know other people have complained about the food, but we thoroughly loved it. In both the Windjammer and main dining, I might add. (We never made it to Portofinos or Chops). We ate dinner in main dining every night, which I expected to dislike because I tend to dislike "gourmet" restaurants. I've eaten in a few such restaurants and they tend to think that overly spicy = gourmet. But almost without except, the food on NOS was fabulously seasoned without being overdone. The lobster tail in main dining was one of the best ever; very soft and flavorful. Yes, I've had other lobster tails (and read the reviews here!) and I was actually surprised by how good it turned out. In fact, I enjoyed every dish I had in main dining except one; I sent back the risotto primavera. The DH liked it, but it had too much saffron for my taste. Nilesh was somewhat distressed, and the only way I could talk him out of bringing me another dinner was by promising to eat two desserts. And for a buffet meant to feed thousands of people, the Windjammer/Jade did really well. I enjoyed a snack of sushi every night at Jade, and the french fries were always hot and fresh. Yes, there are some foods they rerun every day (hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, lunch meat, cookies), but there were also new main dishes every day. And for you buffet-bashers, that's how a buffet is supposed to work. Something new every day for the adventurous (it's up to you whether you like it or not), and something familiar for those less inclined.
Side note about the Windjammer: We found it to be well maintained and thoughtfully laid out. Lines for food were never long since you could get food on both sides and the back, and we appreciated the conveniently placed hand sanitizer stations. Tables were cleaned up promptly and, although crowded, we never lacked for a seat.
We had stops at San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Nassau, and, being novice cruisers, we booked excursions at each port. In the future, we will probably split our options and do half ship excursions and half on our own. San Juan was okay, although nothing very exciting. We had heard less-than-pleasant things about the island, but everyone we met was really friendly and we didn't see a single beggar. We noticed a fairly heavy police presence, which may have been a factor. In St. Thomas, we took the Ultimate Island Adventure, a blend of tour, beach, and shopping. The tour was okay, and Magen's Bay was gorgeous. White sand, aqua water, and totally warm. The only problem was that we had 2 hours allotted for the beach, and it rained for 1.5 of those hours. And not just rained...we're talking total downpour thunderstorm. We were willing to keep swimming in the rain, but our beach bag was getting soaked, and once the lighting started, we were done. Everyone crowded under the covered picnic areas and waited for the two hours to end. A lot of people didn't wait for their tour buses and took cabs back because the only place it was rained on the island was at the beach. In St. Maarten, we had the St. Maarten Beach Rendezvous, and it was a highlight of the trip. It was over 4 hours at Orient Beach, which we spent swimming and Jet Skiing. It was completely sunny, warm, clean, and fabulous. We had a hard time leaving the water for lunch, and leaving St. Maarten in general.
And then there was Nassau, which we hated. We had the Breezes Resort excursion, and this one will earn RCCI a letter of complaint from me. We were looking for another beach day like St. Thomas and St. Maarten, and wound up in a tacky hellhole full of partiers. The only reason we booked this excursion was because it was the ONLY excursion that specifically listed that it had Wave Runners, which was one of the things DH really wanted to do. (Other excursions simply mention "water sports", which is a little open-ended). Anyway, it took forever to get to the "resort", which was more like someone plunked a Super 8 motel on a beach. All of the resort people were in the 3 pools instead of the ocean (there's a clue right there), and the pools were just ringed with ash trays and empty drink glasses. The outdoor bar was covered in a skin of bees. The resort had an outdoor stage situated between the pools and the miniscule strip of beach, and was blaring Madonna over the loudspeakers. They only stopped the music when they brought people up on stage to have a beer chugging contest. The beach was dirty, with cigarette butts mixed in with dead jelly fish. There were wave runners, at almost triple the price of Orient Beach, and very poorly maintained. We wouldn't ride the rickety wave runners, we wouldn't swim in the filthy water (lots of floating junk), and we couldn't even sun bathe because the ruckus on the stage was too loud for us to even think. Within 10 minutes, we decided to leave and take a cab back to the ship. The excursion was $78 a person, and a total waste of money.
Side note on ports: We did some shopping at every stop, just staying in the shopping areas listed on the maps that come with the Compasses. We found the cheapest alcohol prices in St. Maarten's; they were actually $3-$4 dollars a bottle cheaper than St. Thomas, which was also cheap. There are dozens of jewelry stores at each port, so if you are looking for jewelry, bring a credit card or some money. The prices are definitely cheaper than at home, but I'm a smaller gem type of person, and the islands are definitely about the larger gems. I did buy a pair of tanzanite stud earrings for $20, though.
As for the Navigator itself, we really enjoyed ourselves on the ship. There was always more activities than we had time, and we enjoyed the ones we attended. The Love and Marriage game show was quite funny, and I'm bummed that I missed Quest due to some rough seas. The DH went, though, and said it was fun. We practiced our Tae Kwon Do a few days in the fitness center, and found the area to be clean and well maintained.
Actually, anywhere we went on the ship was clean and well maintained. We always saw people out cleaning, fixing, tidying, etc. The pool in the Solarium was closed and without water the first few days on the ship, but the hot tubs were open and clean. We never went in the main pools or tubs; in fact, we barely had time to visit the Solarium hot tubs because we were always doing something. I don't know about chair hogs because we never really tried to lay out.....we preferred to keep walking around. We visited the casino with $60 a piece, and right as I turned to tell the DH that the slots were the tightest I've ever seen, I won $130. He played around with the money pusher thing and managed to get the $50 bill. We each had an alcoholic beverage every night, and while the prices were on par with what we find in bars in Michigan (mixed drinks run approx. $6-$7 around here), there was actually more alcohol than expected. I was completely buzzed after two sips of a strawberry margarita. We played mini golf. And ice skated. And played trivia. And watched the ice show. And watched the comedian (Gary Mule Deer!) Etc.
Overall, we loved it, and can hardly wait to go again! Royal Caribbean and the Navigator are wonderful!
Still, I might as well throw in the few negatives we encountered: 1. Splenda was only available in main dining, and not in the Windjammer and Cafe Promenade. 2. The mini fridge in the room took almost two days to chill a can a pop. 3. The DH is a coffee drinker and he said the regular coffee is undrinkable. So the majority of our Sea Pass tab was his specialty coffees. It could have been worse, but the specialty coffee machine next to the Ben and Jerry's broke half way through the cruise, and the only other place to get a cup (outside of main dining) was in Two Poets. Which wasn't always open. 4. The Breezes excursion. Don't go unless you're positive you can drink $78 worth of alcohol on a hot, humid afternoon. 5. Even though children were maybe 2% of the cruise population, the few that we encountered made a nuisance of themselves. I shudder to think of what it must be like to cruise during summer or spring break. There was the usual....pushing all the elevator buttons, running wildly without looking, cutting in lines, etc. But there was also four boys, all in one family, who chased everyone off of the ice rink with their wild behavior.....skating against the flow, falling for fun, trying to tackle each other. And their parents not only encouraged it, they took pictures! The two staff members checking out skates didn't say anything to them, so my DH summoned another staff member to get the kids (and parents) under control. But by then, everyone else had already left the rink and taken off skates. 6. Smokers on the clearly-marked, ashtray-free side of the ship. Not all the time, but often enough to be really annoying. Especially since smokers were a definite minority of the population, but still have half the ship for themselves. 7. Smokers in the excursion lines right outside of the ship. Everyone who smoked lit up the minute their feet hit concrete, and never mind who got a face full...kids, old people on oxygen, everyone else, etc. And it's not like there are ashtrays on the pier, so it was littered with cigarette butts. 8. People with a sense of entitlement. Look, I read the newspaper article on cruising that advised cruisers to quit being Ugly Americans and just relax and go with the flow. Well, I've got news for you. Us "Ugly Americans" were the best of the bunch as far as manners are concerned. We understand concepts like waiting in line, using an indoor voice, thanking the staff, throwing trash in the receptacles, making our children behave, letting people who waited longest for the elevators on first, walking THROUGH doorways and walkways instead of standing in them, etc. It's not a language issue, people. It's a manners issue. I don't care what country you come from. Oh, and for all of you, Ugly Americans included, I also don't care how old you are or how much money you make. You wait in the line and behave yourself like the rest of us. 9. Disembarking. I'm sure you've read other reviews and yes, it's a nightmare. We had beige tickets, which meant we were supposed to disembark around 7:30 am. How we got beige (the second earliest color), considering we were driving home and not flying, I'll never know. We got up early so we'd have time for breakfast, but we just sat down in the Windjammer when they called our color. 20 minutes early! We each crammed in a roll and ran out, to find that the white ticket holders were still in line and not going anywhere. Why call us early when the people before us haven't even left? We stood in line on the ship for almost an hour (before we started the hour long process of creeping towards customs). And of course various entitled people had to cut in line, which made a slower crowded mess of it all. If you think I'm being uptight about the whole queue jumping business, here's a reason why I'm not.....a group of 8 or so seniors felt they shouldn't have to wait at the back of the line, so they just walked past most of the line and then pushed their way in near the front. But in all of their pushing and fussing, they separated a 10 year old from her parents. Tears, chaos, and irate parents ensued. Read Less