This was the second cruise we have taken. Overall it was a great time, and I would definitely recommend this cruise to anyone. We booked a Junior Suite, which was a good value compared to similar suites I've seen on other cruises. The extra room was worth every penny we spent on it. I can honestly say that I have spent nights in hotel rooms that were smaller. And, now that I've had a room with a balcony, I will never settle for less.
I read quite a bit about this cruise before we left. Most reviews gave the food mediocre marks. I was hoping that people were just being picky and that the food would be better than our previous cruise experience. However, I have to say that I agree completely with the middling marks on food. You definitely won't go hungry on this ship, as food seems to be served around the clock in various locations. But, if you're looking for fine cuisine, believe me, you're not going to find it in the main dining seating. Our meals ranged from somewhat above average (of all things, I thought one of the chicken dishes was quite good) to barely edible (think of everything bad you can say about a steak, and that would describe the NY strip steak). For the most part the food was not great, not bad, just ok.
Our waiter was very good, and probably could be qualified to work in a better place. The assistant waiter was kind of a disaster. But everyone on the wait staff tries so hard, it's difficult to give them poor marks. Let's just say that the assistant waiter was a disaster in a very endearing way ... an adorable disaster.
If there is one thing I wish they would stop doing is the entertainment routine during dinner. On some nights, they will have a song or dance routine where all of the wait staff try to "entertain" the dinner guests. Clearly, none of the wait staff enjoyed the forced singing and dancing. I, for one, found it forced and uncomfortable to watch and was just glad when it ended.
The Western Caribbean itinerary, overall was good. The first stop at Labadee is basically just a day at the beach. There are not too many activities, but we were just glad to get off the boat after a day at sea. The beach is ok, but the water is only marginally swimmable. There are a lot of rocks, coral, and seaweed that prevent you from venturing very far into the water. With nearly everyone on the boat trying to access the beach, it gets a bit crowded. At mid-day, we took advantage of the lunch and checked out the market. It was very clear that one part of the market was probably owned by the cruise line, while the other part was made available to local merchants. If you see it, the difference will be unmistakable. In the local merchant building, there are more vendors than customers. And, considering how much they swarm around the customers to sell their merchandise, it's easy to see why most customers could be seen making a hasty escape from the building. My advice would be to skip the shopping experience. Spend a few hours on the beach, get lunch, then go back to the ship to get a good seat near the pool. There's really not a whole lot going on in Labadee.
After reading all of the negative comments on Ocho Rios, Jamaica, I have to say that I found the island a pleasant surprise. Maybe my expectations were so low that I could not have been disappointed, but I had fun on this island and I would consider going back. My suspicion is that a small fraction of locals give the area a bad reputation. The reality we observed was that the people were helpful, honest, and friendly. Sure, the cab drivers could come across as a little aggressive, but they're just trying to make money from their only visible source of revenue: tourists. It's really the cruise lines that are taking advantage of passengers at this port of call. The prices of some of the shore tours was exorbitant. Most tours involve a trip to Dunn's River Falls in some way, and charge more than $50 per person. The falls are a five-minute cab ride from the dock. (It's actually walking distance from the dock where the Carnival ship was moored, and I'm betting they didn't mention that to their passengers.) We paid $20 (for two of us) for a cab to the falls, plus some other places. When I saw the falls, all I could see was a couple hundred people wading in the water, waiting for their turn to climb up. We skipped the hike, and I would recommend others do the same. Go find Margaritaville, and bring your beachwear. It's in a nice little complex with shops and bars. Margaritaville is right on the beach, so you can swim while you're there. It was a lot of fun.
I found the online descriptions of Grand Cayman to be sadly inaccurate and understated. Make no mistake about it: This island was ravaged by hurricane Ivan. The evidence is everywhere you look, from trees stripped of all leaves, to building roofs still being rebuilt. The local economy is too strong to keep them down for long. But, they are probably at least a year away from being fully operational again. And, it's probably going to take many years for the foliage to recover. We first went to Stingray City. For the price, I'm not sure I recommend this experience. The cruise industry has really taken over travel to this spot by allowing access mostly via shore tours, and it's the local merchants that have really lost out. Swimming with these animals was fun, but I found the area to be a bit crowded and the experience to be a bit overrated. I'm not sure what a better activity would be on Grand Cayman, but the beach is probably a good option.
Cozumel has to be one of my favorite Caribbean islands. I recommend skipping the whole downtown experience. It's like most other Caribbean islands you've seen, but with a more Mexican flavor. If you really want to see something nice, go snorkeling or diving. There are some great parks for this and you don't have to look very far. We also rented a jeep for a ride around the island. The views are unbelievable, and the beach side bars provide you with a view of paradise with a drink in your hand.
I thought entertainment aboard the Navigator left a little to be desired. If you've ever cruised before, I can't imagine you'll be very impressed by the main shows. I realize they need to appeal to a wide audience, but I really wish everything wasn't so PG-rated. I mean, how many times do you need to see a "marriage game show" to realize they're really not all that funny? That being said, there is much more to do on-board than go to the main shows. There is "Ice Dancin'" if that is your thing, and a variety of bands playing at the numerous nightclubs on-board. My favorite was the jazz band at the Cosmopolitan Club. If you like jazz, or just music in general, it's a must-see. I really was never at a loss for things to do, but I think the main auditorium shows could have been better.
Throughout the day, there are a lot of activities on the ship. I highly recommend the wine tastings. We attended two of them on our cruise. The first is for beginners. At only about $10 per person, it was an outstanding event. We sampled six wines that were of decent, but not great, quality (probably around $8-10 per bottle in a store). The best part of it was that I could ask all the dumb questions I wanted about various types of wine. The host was very attentive, knowledgeable, and seemed genuinely pleased that we took such an interest in her area of expertise. The second seating was for more refined wine aficionados. We sampled four wines of much greater quality (normally $18 per glass on-board, so probably about $30-$40 per bottle in a store), and the cost was about $18 per person. Again, we learned a lot. I emerged a little smarter about wine, and a quite a bit happier for the wine I drank.
Here is what we found to be the worst part of the experience: disembarking. Whatever you do, do the best you can not to be in the last group to disembark. After we had to leave our stateroom at 8:00am, we waited ... and waited ... and waited ... until we finally made it through customs and the port terminal at nearly 2:00pm. I realize that it's not all Royal Caribbean's fault, but there has to be a better way of arranging for people to get off the boat. When we got to our luggage, we found our 4 bags spread out about as far as they could possibly be scattered in the terminal. But, we tried to look past this miserable experience and not let it color our opinions of an otherwise great week.
Overall, I give this cruise a thumbs-up. The crew were professional and polite, the ship was gorgeous, clean and efficient, and we never really wanted for anything. You can be as busy as you want, or relax as much as you want. It's up to you.