I'm still swaying and my head is till swimming from a most distressing last couple of days on board a Navigator of the Seas without fully operational stabilizers. The Med was rough between Valletta and Barcelona on the final leg of our cruise and, sadly, took its toll on a number of guests. I can't recall a more unpleasant and prolonged experience and am still suffering nearly 48 hours later. Trying to pack suitcases in those conditions was an absolute nightmare.
But what about the cruise overall? These are first impressions and my views may moderate over time of course - we only got back last night.
Well, Navigator is a lovely ship of course and impressions were generally positive. However, whilst I wouldn't have had a word to say against Brilliance of the Seas last year, this year's cruise had a number of negatives:
The weather - clearly nothing RCI could have done about this but there were three particularly bad days. There was actually a tornado in Cagliari, which flipped over a bus quay-side before our eyes and meant that we were unable to disembark there at all, reducing our stops from five to four.
Similarly, the first day in Turkey was horrendous. An absolute torrent of rain came down and excursions should most definitely have been cancelled there too but I guess RCI stood to lose too much money so they went ahead and were a total farce. Firstly, we learned a day before arrival that a marathon was taking place in the city so traffic was very restricted. As a consequence, with no prior warning our excursion tour bus stopped some distance from the focal point of the tour and we were all then traipsed around on foot in the torrential rain by our arrogant and disinterested guide Selma for about five hours. My four year-old daughter and elderly mother in law really suffered in these dreadful conditions. To compound matters, Selma wasn't interested in ensuring everyone could keep pace, just in getting her job done and picking up her pay check no doubt. We had booked another excursion ashore in Istanbul that evening but with the rain not abating we attempted to cancel. However, RCI would not allow us to do so. Their inflexibility in such extreme circumstances would certainly make me think twice about sailing with them again. My wife and I even attempted to brave the deluge to avoid wasting a considerable sum of money all together but could only get a hundred yards or so from the ship, despite umbrellas, before we were completely drenched again and had to turn back. We should most certainly have been offered refunds by RCI and will be complaining formally.
The last day at sea we endured very rough seas and here the lack of functioning stabilizers really came home to roost. It was a most unpleasant experience and surely RCI should compensate travellers for such a critical malfunction.
As usual, the food was terrific and the service - at least from the room attendant and all waiting staff - was excellent.
On the down side, Navigator was too smoky - nine of the bars and lounges permitted smoking, which meant that you could smell smoke when strolling along the Royal Promenade - not what you expect on board ship, and surely not sensible from a health and safety perspective. I'm sure there weren't that many smokers on board but it only takes one in a bar.... Smoking was also allowed starboard side on deck so, as there wasn't as much open space on Navigator as there was on Brilliance, it was always apparent. Anyway, it's not an insurmountable problem but if you're a non-smoker, stay out of those bars and remain portside!
On the plus side, the ship looked good - maybe cabin carpets in need of replacement or a deep clean but otherwise everywhere looked first class, as usual. The Adventure Ocean "kids club" was again excellent and my daughter loved it. Even the lack of a designated kids' pool and water slide was no problem. The pool facilities were just fine.
I was a little surprised about the whole Royal Promenade experience. It just seemed an unnecessary gimmick to me, one which the Oasis of the Seas will be taking to even greater extremes it seems with its Central Park tree lined area. The Promenade looked good, certainly, but I didn't notice any greater shopping choice than on Brilliance. The coffee bar was nice and well used, but seemed to be the only place cruisers could help themselves to a coffee (except on the final morning when the coffee machine wasn't working). As I recall, Brilliance has a few such refreshment stations in strategic deck locations.
Despite being a bigger ship overall, the impression I got was that the facilities on Navigator of the Seas catered for no more than on the smaller Brilliance of the Seas, with the consequence that at peak times on Navigator it was very difficult to get a seat in the Windjammer/Jade buffet dining areas.
Further pluses on our Eastern Med cruise - the Mallorca stop was nice, Athens a great experience and Malta a pleasant surprise.
In conclusion, RCI clearly cannot be held responsible for bad weather but in my opinion they could certainly do more to compensate customers for the limitations this imposed on services offered and for the lack of stabilizing functionality on board. Just off for another lie down....
Decent size - double bed and bunks. Great views to the front but location rendered it subject to the rock and rolling of turbulent seas!