Our cruise party consisted of Mom, Dad and 3 sons ages 12, 15, and 18. This was Mom and Dad's 8th cruise (3 on Celebrity and 5 on RCCL) and the sons 3rd cruise. The boys previous cruises and our most recent 2 had been on the Freedom ... Read More
Our cruise party consisted of Mom, Dad and 3 sons ages 12, 15, and 18. This was Mom and Dad's 8th cruise (3 on Celebrity and 5 on RCCL) and the sons 3rd cruise. The boys previous cruises and our most recent 2 had been on the Freedom of the Seas sailing out of Port Canaveral (Eastern and Western).
The only thing that keeps our cruise from being rated excellent is the embarking at Port Everglades and the ability to receive timely bar service (more about that later).
We drove down from Greenville SC on Christmas Day afternoon, spending the night (free points stay) in Daytona Beach at a Residence Inn near the racetrack. We then drove the approximate 3 1/2 drive on down to the port on Saturday morning to board the ship.
From my understanding, Terminal 19 that we used to board the ship is not used that often. The NS was only doing about a 2 month Holiday rotation from its regular Port home (Houston).
We arrived around 11:45AM and found the security to enter the docking area to be quite heavy. It took about 15 minutes to just clear the 1st line of security. We proceeded over to the area to drop our luggage and encountered some rude people who had left the vehicle there unattended and were engaged in a long conversation with some baggage personnel. What should take 2 minutes took about 10 minutes.
The parking garage for Terminal is not convenient to the ship. It was called Mid Terminal Garage and was about a 5 minute drive through a bunch of security. We parked on the 4th floor and then had to take a shuttle van back to the ship. We were already looking forward to this exercise when left the ship the following Sunday after the end of the cruise--not. We knew then that it would be a pain to lug all of our luggage on a shuttle and get it up to the 4th floor of the garage. The amount for parking was $120 dollars or $15 a day.
When we exited the shuttle van....the line was snaking out of the one story Terminal 19 building. We got in the line and it moved very slow. After about 30 minutes we had made it to the security scanning machines. After getting through that....my 15 year old had a prescription bottle of quarters that triggered the machine and led to a bunch of unnecessary questions...we then saw what we faced. RCCL was way understaffed to load a ship of this size. The way they had broken out the lines had our group - Deck 2 was in the very longest line. And to make matters worst they were funneling the wheelchair folks through our line. It would have made much more sense to have those folks with the Diamond Line that was non-existent most of our 1 1/2 hour wait. When boarding the Freedom both times, it took about 20 minutes from when we entered the line to when we boarded the ship. If this was my first exposure to cruising, I would have been ticked.
Needless to say, once they were herding us over to take our boarding pictures we were in no mood to smile at them. The only good news was when we stepped on the boat around 2:45 PM the cabins were ready so we were able to drop off the kids shoulder bags in our room and change into our swim suits from our pool bag.
Our cabins were outside #2252 and #2254 that had an adjoining door. Our 3 sons slept in one room and the two of us had the other room. Of course, when booking you have to show an adult in each room. We need the adjoining room and having the 2 bathrooms is a must.
We headed up to the Windjammer and had a late lunch. We had no trouble finding a table. Please let me make this very clear, we found the food on the entire ship to be a solid 92 out of a hundred. There were tons of choices in the Windjammer. We had breakfast there everyday. We had lunch there except for the 3 days that we were on Labadee, StKitts and StMaarten. For those who do not care for the food, your opinion is respected but I would like to know what you have to eat when you are not cruising.
After lunch we explored some. We were so relieved to see that the pool area looked great (we had seen the pictures) and that without the kiddie area that the Freedom has seemed to be somewhat larger pool-wise. We walked through the promenade mall area and did feel that it was somewhat shorter and not as wide as the Freedom. The Flow Rider area was smaller also but the 12 year old was more than fine with it.
We participated in the life boat drill and were fortunate to not be standing in the direct sunlight. After that we watched us sail away, the kids took off to make friends and explore. And Mom and Dad found soft comfortable chairs in the Solarium. This is were we spent all of our at sea days and the time when we were in port. Loved the comfort of this area. I go up early each day and got us some chairs (not just toweling them either). I would take a nice nap there before the family found me for breakfast.
To just go through the general list:
We were concerned when we booked a ship class less than the Freedom Class but this ship was great. It was clean. The staff greeted you. It was in great condition. The amenities was very similar to the Freedom in the areas that mattered to our kids and us.
The dining (I covered the Windjammer) was very good. We had late seating (our preference so we can enjoy the ship without having to stop for dinner) at a table for 10. The family we dined with were great. A family of 5--mom, dad, 20 and 25 year old son and daughter along with the daughter's boyfriend made for a fun dining experience. They were seasoned cruisers (Diamond) and thought that the ship was great also. We did compare notes each night and had a few of the same complaints (mainly bar service). We enjoyed our meals and our waiter Imade was the best waiter that we had ever had on a cruise. His assistant was shaky but that was a point of humor between us and our tablemates. The cool thing was that Imade took care of everything (drinks, extra desserts, coffee, etc) that we needed.
We dined at Giovanni's Table on San Juan night (just us parents)....the boys ate at Johnny Rocket's. The steak I had at GT was amazing. Wife loved her food, also. The only negative was that one of our appetizers was not close to being warm....but we just let it slide. The boys loved being on their own at Johnny Rockets and had a blast from the reports we received from them. While we all enjoyed our upcharge meals we really do not see a need in the future to leave the MDR for our evening meals. Our table mates passed on dinner that night also.....they ate and drank a bunch in San Juan as planned. Pretty much everything we had in the MDR was delicious. Again, not sure where and how the complainers eat at home but we loved the food.
We enjoyed the ship provided. The food was fine but the setting is really nice. We rented 3 mats here from RCCL @ $17 each....the same mats were $14 each about 18 months ago. The 18 year old did a RCCL provided Waverunner shore excursion for $98 and they would not allow his 12 year old brother to ride on the back so Mom went for $98 plus little brother for another $30. I was against this because I know that Waverunners can be had for $50 or so dollars all over the Caribbean and the 2nd rider is free but lost out in the discussion. I think that it takes gouging to a new level.
Our 2nd stop at San Juan we did not arrive until after 2:00PM which limits the amount of daylight. We walked with the boys to the San Cristobal Fortress.....$5 for 3 of us with the other 2 free. Really amazing views from there and a really large place. We walked back through Old San Juan and before you knew it, darkness had fallen. Some light shopping and we were back on board by 6:30PM.
Third stop at St.Kitts, we had arranged for a tour with Gray's Island Tours. $48 per person and we had Mr.Thenford Gray, himself, directing our tour. There were 17 of us on the tour and it was OUTSTANDING. We were treated to a play by play about St.Kitts island history by a smart, humorous, and entertaining gentleman that you will ever meet. Our stops included Romney Manor, Brimstone Hill Fortress, an amazing mountain top stop to see where the Caribbean Seas and Atlantic Ocean meet, and ended at a beach at South Friars Bay. The information and good times that we experienced on this outing exceeded our expectations. Mr.Gray is a treasure. His knowledge of the plant life in the gardens at Romney Manor was borderline genius.
Fourth stop was St.Maarteen at Phillipsburg. We chose to do a tour with Bernard's Tours. We had done this about 3 plus years ago on the 1st cruise with the kids. Our tour guide this time was Mailman and he was outstanding. Couple quick stops at a seaside location with great views, a location with about 25 or so iguanas, then an 1 1/2 at Orient Beach where we got 2 chairs and an umbrella for $10 at LaPlaya seaside bar. The boys and Dad rode a banana boat here for $15 each. Our chairs came with 2 tasty fruit punches.
We then headed to a ocean side open air market in Marigot. We chose to grab some amazing French pastries at the Mailman recommended Sarafinas. They were amazing. Last stop was at Maho Beach at the Juliana Airport to see the planes land and take off. This is an amazing site. The 1st time we visited the boys talked about for weeks. This stop was really good. We saw 4 smaller type planes and 2 decent size planes land while we there. We missed the big Dutch Airbus because it was running late by about 30 minutes. We did see it as we were driving out of the area. No matter great time was had by our family. We were very entertained by Mailman with running commentary about the island. There were about 15 of us in a very well air conditioned 22 bus/van. Complimentary Carib beer, water and soft drinks, along with Mailman's own special brew of rum made the day even better. We chose to be dropped off at the ship after 5 or so hour tour. High recommend.
Our cruise included 1 full at sea day on the front end and 2 full at sea days on the back end. Those days were enjoyed just lounging in the Solarium and hopping in and out of the pools.
A highlight was experiencing the New Year's Eve Celebration happening on the Promenade. There was a countdown clock, great music, lots of partying, etc. We had a great view from one of the small balconies on the 7th floor overlooking all the fun. Best NYE ever for our family.
Kids all made their own friends and headed out each night to hook up with their groups.
We bought 1 soft drink beverage package $8 per day or so and 1 non-alcoholic drink package $22 per day or so. That one included the Starbucks drinks, frozen drinks at the pool, fresh squeezed OJ, soft drinks, bottled water and a few other bottled drinks. At times at the pool bars, it took a long time to get served and the bartenders were chippy when you ordered a non-alcoholic frozen drink or soft drink. They should take that up with their bosses....we were just playing by the rules. No biggie but RCCL needs to stop this behavior.
The shows were a mixed bag. We do not like the production shows. If they sang some songs from the more popular Broadway shows that might make it different but no thank you to Bob Fosse. We did enjoy the ice skating show, the Vox Audio singers, The Love and Marriage Show was decent this time mainly due to the older couple, Voices 3 (Tenor singers), the comedian Carl Banks was outstanding both the regular and adult shows, and Chuck Gunther a comedy juggler was very good. The comedian Chris Bliss was very average, both his regular and adult shows. Good news is that we saw Carl Banks late in the week so that removed Chris from our memories. We did not care at all for the cruise director.....probably the worst that we have ever experienced.
Some things about cruising today that we wish would change.....somewhere to catch a free movie on board besides on the big screen over the pool. The times never worked for us. And does RCCL think that anyone really wants to pay $12 for an in room movie in their cabin. Taking time away from the flow rider so you can upcharge folks to use it is very poor and are two things that come to mind. No waiters carrying sail away drinks due to the selling of the drink packages is missed, too.
We did love the overall friendliness of the staff on this ship. The folks in the Windjammer were so on the ball. Love the chance to grab a slice of hot pizza after midnight.
We experienced nothing bad on our cruise except for the boarding issue and a few snarky bartenders.
We had a great cruise on the Navigator. An overall grade would be say 92...very good just short of excellent.
Debarking was not fun (but it never is) but we did roll off our own luggage and even after having to take a shuttle over to the garage (which means hauling very heavy luggage on and off said shuttle) we were on our way home by 7:30AM.
Next cruise is March 26 on the Brilliance of the Seas and then our old friend Freedom of the Seas on December 18 and we can't wait. Read Less