Navigator of the Seas Review By Pete Larson
Sail date: 12-13-2003: Voyage # 54 Western Caribbean: Labadee, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel Nautical miles sailed: 2,040 Ships Captain: Leif Otto Bang Cruise Director: Jeff Martin
We are a couple just turning 40, traveling with 19 family members and friends. This was our 3rd cruise, (second with RCI) and our children's 1st. (ages 21 & 18) We booked 13 months in advance through an Internet travel agent, and had great prices. The price of the cruise never dropped below our booking price. I booked our airfare direct with the airline, and bought travel insurance through CSA.
HOTEL We flew in 2 days prior, and stayed at Holiday Inn, South Beach. This is a decent hotel, with great prices and a nice beach/pool area. There are 2 restaurants in the hotel; one is OUTBACK, which was good. There is a SUBWAY right across the street. This is a nice area within walking distance of Lincoln Road Mall, which is full of outdoor cafes. (most are Italian) The boardwalk is right outside the hotel, and runs North. It doesn't connect to the South Boardwalk. You can catch the Electro wave shuttle outside the Jackie Gleason Theatre, and ride around SoBe for 25 cents per ride. Driving and parking in SoBe is a nightmare. I suggest renting a bike over at Lincoln. You can even rent a Segway Human Transporter! There are many other choices for public transportation as well. You can also rent YamahaWaverunners on the beach at $65 per half hour.
TIP # 1: Everyone in Miami wants your money. Everyone in Miami wants a tip. Even the "Sandwich Artist" at SUBWAY has a tip jar! The cabbies, the porters, the concierge, the guy in the bathroom, the bartenders, waitresses, bellhops...etc. Bring lots of small bills with you!
EMBARKATION We arranged 2 SUPER SHUTTLE'S to take us to the Port of Miami at 10am. They arrived on time, and the charge was $55 for each shuttle. (+ tip) They transported all 19 of us, and luggage with no problem. Upon arrival at the Port, the porters were fighting over us immediately. Our porter was very nice, and wanted $60 to toss our luggage in the bin, and get it to the ship safely. (that was just one shuttle with 9 people!) He was very helpful, and was tipped $40 from our shuttle, and more for the other shuttle. Not sure of his final take, but he got more than $2 per bag from us. One suitcase was damaged upon arrival as well. Not sure who did it. I don't like the porter situation in Miami. We entered the Port and waited in line to pass security. Have all your documentation & ID ready. They would not allow boarding until 11am. Check-in and security went fast and smooth. We boarded within minutes of checking in.
TIP # 2: If you are in a group, and your children are switching to other rooms, you must see the Pier Coordinator near check-in to have the rooms switched before boarding the ship. They will update which room # each person will actually be occupying. This is done after you set up the Sea Pass accounts. (they will print new cards)
BOARDING: You have to see it to believe it! OVERWHELMING is all I can say. Seeing Navigator and Explorer end to end is a real spectacle. WOW! This ship is gorgeous! Off to the Windjammer for a quick lunch. They buffet was great!
TIP # 3: Get onboard early, and tour the ship. You can get photos of the public spaces with no other people in them. You can take Spa tours and make appointments for things as well. Bring tip money for the porters, but don't pay what they ask! ($1-2 per bag)
THE SHIP: The layout is nice, the dEcor is beautiful, and the public areas are plentiful. We always take a self-tour of the ship after our boarding lunch. There were many places I never made it back to during the week! You will find your way around pretty easily by day 2 or 3. This ship is in top-notch condition...and still looks brand new. There is a pool open 24 hrs a day. They are all salt-water pools. Hot tubs are fresh water. There is a mineral spa in the SPA / Gym. It is very hot and has different massage vents. You can use it free of charge. Also free, are most activities such as Rock Wall, In Line skating, ice-skating, and mini golf.
I thought a ship this large would be more stable than smaller vessels...it isn't. I didn't see too many sick people, but the ship definitely moves around a lot. My wife took Bonine and had no problems. You will feel the movement though. Come prepared.
TIP # 4: The elevators are a busy place. Many times, when an elevator finally comes to get you...it's already full! Learn to take the stairs more! You will get there quicker anyway. The glass elevators are much more scenic to ride. The view of the Royal Promenade is spectacular!
THE CABIN: We had aft cabin #7688. It faces the ships wake, and has the largest balcony. This cabin is GREAT! The balcony is its best feature. It does take on a little soot from the stacks. Don't walk out there in your socks...they will be black! I found myself wiping the chairs off each morning. It has 2 lounge chairs, 2 chairs and a table. We ate many room service breakfasts here. Much easier than fighting the crowds at the Windjammer on port days. Nothing like a nice hot breakfast on the balcony as we pull into port each day! I laid on a lounge chair to watch the meteor shower and fell asleep under the stars listening to the sounds of the sea. The structure on the back of the ship doesn't obstruct the view much. The balcony is in shade most of the day. If you are looking for sun, it's better on the top decks. It is less windy back there, but there were mornings that were still too windy to eat out there.
I like the re-design of the shower stall. No more curtains, like on Vision Class ships. The room was large enough for 3 persons, and had a drop down bunk if needed. There is a sofa, safe, dressing table, coffee table, big closet, hair dryer, and plenty of storage space. The RCTV is wonderful. You can book excursions, check your Sea Pass account, order room service, movies, and many other things right on the TV.
TIP #5: If you don't like to walk...you won't like this cabin. It is a long way from stairs and elevators to the rear of the ship. (120 steps to be exact) I didn't mind it, but some might. Also, be careful walking down the halls. Cabin attendants and passengers put carts, trays, vacuums, and stuff all over the halls. I found myself navigating around, and tripping over stuff everyday.
TIP #6: There is a charge of $7.95 per minute for using your phone to call shore. Some teens in our party thought they could use a Phone Card, and did. They rang up hundreds of dollars in phone bills calling their boyfriends back home. They thought it would not apply if using a card. It did. Learned the hard way at the parents' expense. Educate your children before boarding.
STAFF: The staff was always friendly. I really liked our cabin steward, Renato, and some of our servers. Great dining room & bar staff. I had one problem with security holding onto one of my suitcases. It made me late for dinner on the first night. Security held it because they saw something suspicious inside. They called me to the GUEST RELATIONS and made me show them what I had. There were 2 little knives in the outside pocket of my checked bag. I needed them to cut the zip ties on the zippers. They needed to see them, and then they let me take them to my room. It was a real joke. The knives in the dining room are bigger! Each of my knife blades was less than 2 inches! I was also stopped by security coming back from snorkeling in Grand Cayman. I had a dive knife in my snorkeling gear. I forgot it was even there, but they picked it up on the x-ray. When showed them it, they let me back onboard with it. (which is weird, because it was much bigger than the knives they saw in my other checked bags being loaded on the ship)
TIP # 7: The GUEST RELATIONS desk (also known as the PURSER) is less busy in the middle of the night. Most of the day and evening, there is a line. Sometimes, a really BIG line. Get your business done early in the cruise. Late in the cruise...you will wait forever! Use the casino as your personal bank to get money or break down bills. The line is shorter.
DINING & FOOD: We were in the very rear (near Port windows) of the SWAN LAKE DINING ROOM. (Top tier) I would have preferred the bottom level, but it wasn't a big deal. The Waiters still sing and dance on each tier. The windows were nice, but you can't see anything outside because at Second Seating it's already dark in DEC. Our waiter was Omar, and he was good, not great. Seemed quiet and shy. I didn't like our table assignments. We had a party of 19 at two tables. My children were split up at two different tables, which didn't please me, and we moved around a bit. The waiters were a little confused, but it worked out. I thought the food was FANTASTIC, and usually stayed with what was recommended by the staff. We had the best Head Waiter ever. She really took care of us.
TIP #8: I thought with the coming of Seattle's Best Coffee, that it would be better than before. It's not. Personally, I couldn't stand the coffee. Way too strong and bitter. Being a diehard coffee drinker...I made due with it, but you may want to think about an alternative way to make coffee.
ENTERTAINMENT: ~Royal Caribbean Singers & Dancers -Now & Forever -All Access ~Ice Dancers -Ice Dancin' ~The Original Drifters (Celebrity Entertainers) ~Miguel Washington (Comedy) ~John Joseph (Comedy) ~Duo Iouvilov ~James Stephens III (Comedy) The Broadway type shows are interesting, but not my favorite. The Drifters were great! Lot's of oldies, and the young singer is EXCELLENT! The Duo is really good, and the comedy of John Joseph is OUTSTANDING! I did not see the others. Ice Dancin'...just like everyone says...DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW! It is incredible what they can do on the small ice! This is by far...the best show on the ship. There are also singers, and musicians in the pubs and lounges each night. I enjoyed the guy in the Two Poets Club on the Royal Promenade. (He would play Jimmy Buffett for me) Another nice thing to see are the parades down there. They do a lot in the space given, and it is quite spectacular.
TIP # 9: Get tickets to ICE DANCIN' early for the seating you want. All of the shows SELL OUT. (even though tickets are free)
CRUISE CRITIC MEET & GREET: I met several of our group at the Pool Bar the night before. I spotted someone with a CC lanyard around her neck, and she knew someone who knew someone...and it went from there. We met for the party in the Cosmopolitan Club, and the Social Host was Mikiko. There was cookies and coffee, or you could use the cash bar. A free drawing was held and the prize was a computer mouse. Capt. Bang also came down to speak. He answered questions and even posed for pictures. He is the nicest guy. It was a really great group of people.
PORTS: MIAMI Pre-cruise- See above (hotel) Post-cruise- RCI Everglades tour. The bus picked us up right outside the ship. Our bus had a flat tire that they fixed in about 30 minutes, and we were on our way. We got on the airboat, and the weather was cold for Florida, so gators weren't too active. We did see a few. I liked the airboat trip, but it could have been longer. We were at the airport well before 2:00pm.
TIP # 10: If you have a lot of time to kill before your flight, there is a nice little 'park like' seating area outside, across from the main entrance. There are benches to sit on, and catch some sun, or read. Inside the terminal it's pretty hectic, and hard to find seating.
LABADEE A really nice place to spend the day. This is a tender port, but the tenders are huge. The line really does move quickly. We did the Waverunner tour here, and it was great! The water was pretty rough, so it was hard to go wide open. Lots of fun. The rest of the day was spent eating the BBQ, and swimming at Hideaway Beach. The Haitian Market here is IN YOUR FACE shopping at it's finest. There is loads of nice stuff to buy, but they will try everything to get you to buy something. Use your bargaining skills, and don't be afraid. They are nice people, but they REALLY want you to buy. If you like hand carved things...this is the place to buy.
TIP # 11: There is a little tram to take you around the peninsula, but it never seems to come by. You may end up walking everywhere, but the walk is not really as long as it looks. Bring lots of sun block...this place is HOT, HOT, HOT! You can use your soda sticker here too.
OCHO RIOS, JAMAICA: We booked a tour with Peat Taylor, but he was not our guide. I never saw him. Great tour...but we did not beat the crowds as promised. We waited for 20 minutes in a building outside the ship while they got the bus. Then waited in the bus for 45 minutes in the parking lot for 2 people that didn't show up. I think they went fishing for others to take their place...and found some. I felt a little deceived, and we did not beat the huge crowds of people. We also had to wait over 20 minutes in a downpour for the bus to pick us up at the falls when finished. The falls are very fun to climb. The rest of the tour was very nice. The fern gully was a nice drive, and we asked to go see the Fire Dept, as there were 3 U.S. Firefighters on the tour. (me included) His other tour bus made the falls before the crowds, and they were very happy with the tour. I was still very satisfied with the experience, although disappointed at what had happened. He dropped us off at Island Village for shopping, and MARGARITAVILLE! What a great place. Beach, bar, restaurant, water slide, pool, hot tub, dancing, gift shop, and a great party atmosphere. A perfect end to the day, at the swim-up bar!
TIP # 12: If you are paranoid about Jamaica, go to ISLAND VILLAGE. It is a gated area of shopping, where the sales are NOT AGGRESSIVE. You shop in stores like in the US. You may not get to bargain, but it is not IN YOUR FACE shopping. There are a couple stands in the center where you can bargain with the locals. You can get JABLUM BLUE MOUNTAIN COFFEE here for about $13 US per LB.
GRAND CAYMAN: Nativeway Watersports is a great tour company that takes you to STINGRAY CITY and CORAL GARDENS to snorkel. Excellent tour and crew. The interaction with the Stingrays is priceless. Coral Gardens is really beautiful. Very nice coral and fish everywhere. I took a different tour of STINGRAY CITY in 1999, but Nativeway was much better. I even bought the video they filmed for us! Everyone on this trip really thought Nativeway was GREAT! They took us to 7 Mile Beach, and dropped us off at Royal Palms Hotel. This is a nice section of beach, with cafe and bar, Waverunner rentals ($65 per half hour), or you can have your hair braided. Admission is $3 per head, and taxi fare to tender dock is $3 per person.
COZUMEL: We took a taxi to CHANKANAAB NATURE PARK. We got big van-taxis for our large group, and they charged us $13 US for the ride, which included the ($10) admission fee. The park is very nice, with an excellent beach. (look for iguanas all over the place) The restaurant food was great, and drinks are plentiful. (try the one in the pineapple!) The wind was VERY strong that day, and snorkeling wasn't allowed until the seas calmed down. Lots to see out there. They even put some statues and such out there to find. We taxied downtown for shopping, and then hit CARLOS & CHARLIES for some refreshments. This is a fun but WILD place! Kids are allowed in, but the behavior is a little wild and risquE, so be prepared. We had a great time, and taxied back to the shopping area near the ship. We hit ½ SENOR FROGS there. Another fun place. Be prepared to drink some shots! (like it or not!) Needless to say, we were feeling no pain when we got back on the Navigator for sail away!
TIP # 13: At C & C, they will come around and blow a whistle behind you. Then they tilt your head back and pour a shot of (Sex on the Beach) down your throat, shake your head, and grab you where you don't expect it. It's pretty funny, so bring a camera! (and your wallet. Shots are $3 each!)
SEA DAYS: This is a great time to sun or go to the SPA. Relax away the hectic pace of the island stops, and listen to the Steel Drum band on deck. Yes...people still hog deck chairs, and block your view. Don't get discouraged...there's always somewhere to sit to enjoy.
TIP # 14: Go to the CORONA DECK PARTY! It's a lot of fun, drinking and dancing under the stars. There is also a big buffet on deck, CORONA beer, and drink specials. Let loose and DANCE!
DISEMBARKATION: Very smooth and easy. I love the baggage carousel! I really hated the old method, wading through a sea of suitcases. It helps to mark your cases distinctly.
TIP # 15: Regardless of what RCI tells you, there is currently an American Airlines bag check in at the pier. Each person over age 18 must fill out there own CUSTOMS FORM. Do it in the line, and they get mad! Have ALL forms, and ID ready!
HIGHLIGHTS: Sunsets Sky watching Sound of the sea from the balcony Steel Drum music on deck Walking around the ship the first time in awe Standing on the bow of the ship Sail away parties & the CORONA deck party!
LOWLIGHTS: The coffee Getting off the ship after a week!
CONCLUSION: I think the VOYAGER CLASS ships are great. They have something for everyone. There are a lot of people aboard, but it only feels crowded during meals, or getting off/on the ship. (same as any other ship) There is so much you can do; a week is not enough time. Don't try to do it all, just enjoy what you are doing! No Problem Mon!