My wife and I (both in our early ‘50s) just returned from the 8/23 sailing of the Navigator of the Seas from Galveston to Cozumel, Grand Cayman & Falmouth, Jamaica.
Overall, this was a very exception cruise. It was our third cruise (Norwegian Jade & RCL’s Splendor of the Seas were the others, both in Europe), and the ship was much bigger than those first two. We were a little worried that it would seem more crowded, but to be honest, the feeling was about the same. The pool was packed on sea days. The shopping areas get packed at night. But our anxieties were misplaced…it was populated with lots of people but VERY rarely did it particularly merit notice. The passengers were mostly American and mostly from Texas. A sprinkling of folks from around the world filled in the rest (I heard Spanish, Hindi, German, French and others I didn’t recognize). It was a friendly group with better elevator manners than some others.
The ship was renovated in early 2014 and overall it looks GREAT. To really find signs of wear, look UP. The ceilings in many of the public places like the main dining room were a bit grimy. But for the most part, it all looked quite shiny! Now, for specific categories.
EMBARKATION: Galveston port is a chaotic mess. We were in port with the Carnival Magic, also taking on passengers, so the drive up to the terminal took awhile. Once I unloaded my wife and our luggage, a porter from RCL came to us almost immediately, and whisked away our bags, but first took the time to actually ask us if we had our passports and other documents. Nice touch. Then taking the car to the Port of Galveston parking was another traffic jam challenge, and then you have to wait for a shuttle to take you back to the terminal. Of course, it was very hot outside. My wife waited for me at the terminal and said it was even hotter inside the big metal building than standing in the shade outside. I would say from time we arrived at the port area to the time I was reunited with my wife after dropping the car was 45 minutes. My biggest complaint is that the port doesn’t have enough signage. You really are left to your own to figure out how to manage.
We got there at 11:15, and most of the passengers from the cruise before were gone, but it was still chaos. Our past experiences have been Barcelona and Civitavecchia…both of those were a complete breeze, BUT I wasn’t driving either. Once reunited, y wife and I checked in and were on the ship in 20 minutes, most that time spent waiting on Deck 4 to get our Sea Passes scanned. Overall, not too bad. Once onboard, we got a drink at the nearest bar and then began to explore, including a stop at the buffet. (No other dining options on embarkation day.)
STATEROOM: We were in 8298, a balcony room. Our luggage arrived by our cabin by 5pm, if not sooner (we weren’t there to see it delivered.
The balcony is very small, the smallest we’ve had. 2 chairs and a small table, with room for almost nothing else. We just like to go out there to look out at the surroundings and to sit and read, so our purposes were met. The carpet and walls out there could have used some renovating, I suppose. The room itself, while small (SHOCKER!!) was clean and efficient. We actually had plenty of storage space. The bed was comfortable. The little table/dresser area was handy. Note that there are two outlets built into the dresser, and that’s IT for outlets. You can’t get at the one behind the fridge (I’ve done that on a past cruise). So bring cords or something to expand your options. The fridge was not terribly cold. The closest was nicely sized (again, for a cruise ship). Bathroom was small, but I like that RCL has actual useable counter space at the sink AND some actual shelves in the mirror. We were fine with this. The shower is a small round tube. (Same as we had on SPLENDOR). It is certainly tiny but perfectly utilitarian. The carpet in the room looked pretty new.
Bernadette was our stateroom attendant, and she was perfectly friendly. We didn’t see much of her, but she was always great when we did. She did NOT empty our mini-bar as requested, but always kept us stocked with ice and extra towels, as requested on day one. I’ve had flashier attendants, but she was more than okay.
COMPLIMENTARY DINING: We had My Time Dining, and we got off to a rough start. We went there at about 1pm to make our dinner reservation for that night (7 pm). When we showed up, they seemed almost unprepared to see us and the table we were given was not acceptable. Carts with dirty dishes went past us constantly. We could practically have handled the water jug refills for them! Also, our waiter that night was not very friendly or helpful and I’m not sure we ever saw our assistant waiter. Just not off to a good start AT ALL. After dinner, we asked for new seating and the lady who helped us was not very helpful. “Well, you may have to sit with others.” Nope, no go, we said. Then she gave a non-specific reply that left us not feeling very good about things.
The next morning, we went back and spoke to a young man from Slovenia who was a bit more reassuring. And they obviously put some notes about us in their seating software, because after that, everyone was super aware of us (they probably said we were “picky” or something….which I don’t think we are overall). But we got a nice table and a much better waiter (Umesh) and assistant (Rohan) than before. After that, aside from a couple of nights were the host staff was a bit harried, we had great service.
The meals themselves ranged from fine to great. Day 6, by the way, was lobster. We usually got an appetizer each with a third to split. Almost all were very good. Main courses were generally okay, although one night my wife’s pork was very fatty and I had the “classic” menu strip steak which was very average indeed. But most other meals excelled, and the desserts were varied and fun. (Lobster night, the Grand Marnier Souffle was really exceptional.)
We frequently had breakfast in Sapphire (the main dining room) and it was always good without ever being great. The French toast was nice. The bacon was variable. The fried eggs over easy were always runny (a plus). The toast was thin and hard, more like a giant Melba cracker than bread. But we enjoyed it. We ate lunch there one day, and it was very nice. The tossed salad bar was fun. You tell the guy what you want on your salad and he dumps it all into a bowl and then tosses your salad with your dressing so you get a very nice stirred salad…better than you could do yourself without risking a mess.
We used room service twice for breakfast on excursion days. On time both times, and exactly what we ordered.
We seldom went to the buffet after embarkation day, but did try once for breakfast and once for lunch. It was perfectly fine…a cattle call experience, but with nice presentation and a very friendly staff. The food was always perfectly acceptable, and the Jamaican Beef stew as really tasty!
The big disappointment in “Free food” was the 24 hour option. The Promenade Café (part of the Royal Promenade that makes up the middle of deck 5…think of it as the shopping mall) is open all the time, but only has so-so pizza and little sandwiches. Plus a few dessert choices. You go through a deli line for your food. Water and tea available to drink, but no ice nearby. On our previous two cruises, we enjoyed the “anytime” options because on the Jade, you could sit and order from a menu, even at 2 am and the Splendor had a café that was aft, with outside seating perfect for watching sailaways (although I gather that is gone now). In fact, there is no place aft to sit outside at a table. There are some spots with loungers, but I missed having something like the Great Outdoors on the Jade, where you could sit outside either under sun or shade, and have your drink at a table and just enjoy the views.
(Oh, dress code. Casual except for Days 2 & 6, which are formal). On the casual days, yes, there were guys in shorts and flip flops in the dining room. It’s disappointing, but not a total distraction. On formal days, everyone looked very nice, but I saw only one actual Tuxedo. Never bothered me. Take a sportscoat…you’ll be covered, in my opinion. Yes, plenty of men wore ties, but plenty didn’t. But the overall effect was still one of “I’m on a Caribbean vacation, gosh darn it, and wearing a coat and slacks is pretty darn dressy.” And it was!)
PREMIIUM DINING: We had dinner one night at Chops. (We started a tradition on our first cruise of having a “Date Night” where we splurge a bit on the food and wine.) Chops was quite good. The French onion soup is killer…the single favorite think I ate all week. The steak was very good and the side items ranged from okay to great. Dessert was decadent (although they had fewer choices than I would have expected). We got great service and the atmosphere was very intimate. Worth the extra, in my opinion.
We did not try the other venues, although Izumi is on our list for next time. On the Navigator, it is near the top of the ship and has some great views!
BARS: We are not the kind to “hang around in bars”, but we did play some trivia at Schooners. It was a nice spot, but the bar service there was always a bit slow. Bolero’s was right by the door we entered the ship on Day 1, so the first place we got a drink. It was a nice place, but we didn’t spend much time there. We never did anything at the R Bar, but it actually looked pretty nice. Our favorite spot to sit and chill (as far as bars) was the pub. The only place on the ship where you can get a different selection of beer. Still not a staggering choice, but better, with a couple of Belgian Wit Biers which I enjoyed. Most nights, a guitarist played there, singing “classic rock” tunes. He was okay. (Schooners had their “piano man” but we were never there for that.)
If you’re looking for a relaxing bar, try the Cosmopolitan Club up on Deck 14. At night, it is the late-night club, but during the day, it provides great views, comfy seating, no crowds and good A/C! So relaxing.
The ship also has Vintages, a wine bar, but we never went in, and from the looks of it, not many other people went there either. I never saw more than two tables occupied, even though it was right in the middle of the promenade.
The Star Lounge is the bigger club, where Karaoke and other such events take place. In the evening, it’s tough to find a seat there…you have to arrive well ahead of the events. It’s a nice enough space though.
ENTERTAINMENT: We really enjoyed most of the entertainment, which was heavy on comedy. Here’s what we had:
Night 1: One show only. Navigator the Seas orchestra played for about 10 minutes (they are a very tight outfit…should be used more) and then a very funny comedian rounded out the show. All ages show.
Night 2: The “ship’s company” did a ballroom dancing show. There was a guest couple, who have won some dancing competitions, and they were suitably skilled and impressive. But the rest of the show was extremely lackluster. Dancing was sloppy and signing was uninspired. Worst show we saw.
That night, the same comedian did a 10:30 “adult only” show. It was a bit racier, but really not much more than PG-13. Very funny.
Night 3: An “Elton John impersonator with a comedic twist”. This turned out be really entertaining. Not much singing (5 songs or parts of songs, I think), but great costumes and lots of humor. Big surprise…worth seeing for sure. (Show featured the orchestra…very good again.)
Night 4: No show. The Ice skating venue had two shows, but we had tickets for Saturday afternoon.
Night 5: A comedy duo. This was a very high energy duo who just bounced all over the place, including doing some great mocking of the latecomers. (Why would you ever come late to a comedy show and then try to sit down front???) We laughed a lot.
Night 6: Another comedian. Very funny.
Night 7: The orchestra played as the company did a “salute to Broadway” show. Some of the stuff was very obscure, but this show was much better than the ballroom dancing show. Concluded with a MAMMA MIA medley that was a good capper. The orchestra was excellent again.
At 10:15 pm, the comedian did his adult’s only show. It was VERY R-rated, and often bordered on the offensive. He got quite nasty with a lady who heckled him. Yes, she deserved a good comeback (which she got!), but then he mocked her graphically throughout. I am not a prude at all, but the show made me uncomfortable at times with its nastiness.
We REALLY enjoyed the Ice show. Get your tickets on Day One (distribution started at 3pm for us) and enjoy. Yes, there were some falls, but again, the ship is gently rocking throughout. But the fun-factor was high and crowd was really into it, which helps.
We were back in Studio B on night 6 for the Quest Show. GO TO THIS. Even if you don’t participate, it is a blast to watch. DON’T TAKE YOUR KIDS.
OUTSIDE: As always, there were chair hogs galore on the chairs around the pool (Deck 11). But Deck 12, the area that overlooks the pool, was NEVER crowded. We got some nice tans and never had trouble finding a place to sit.
We also spent a little time (actually on Day 1, before we even sailed) watching folks wipe out on the Flowrider. Go check it out, even if you have no interest in doing it yourself. The basketball/volleyball court was always in use, which was nice to see. The ping pong tables were frustrating because there is always a breeze at sea, so it was tough to get in a reasonable game. Miniature golf was challenging (again, the ship is always listing slightly), so we played one perfunctory round. Do not bother with the golf simulator. I did it, and consider it to have been a waste of my $25.
Observation deck was gorgeous (Deck 5) and hardly anyone was ever there because it gets windy. Deck 4 has the walkway almost all the way round (a promenade of sorts, I guess) and we did play some shuffleboard there. Never any crowds.
SHOPPING; the shopping is extremely typical, with the same watches, jewelry (Tanzanite! Zultanite!!!) and perfume as always, but I did appreciate the overall aesthetics of the Royal Promenade. It is a lovely space. I liked that they changed the lighting from “daytime” to “night” (with a sunset in between). There was also a couple of big events there a couple of nights (Disco Night) and the whole area became party central. It is a nice space, even if you don’t want to shop.
PORTS: We did private excursions (just the 2 of us) each stop. This review is more for the ship, of course, but let me just touch on a few items.
Cozumel: We did an excursion to the ruins of Tulum. It was worth doing, but it does eat up a chunk of your day. Next time, we’ll stay on the island and do some more adventuresome activity there. The shopping “Mall” as you exit the ship is a mazelike zoo of very pushy vendors. Just too much, and very ineffective, because we just rushed through in an effort to get away from the obnoxious vendors. Be prepared for this place…there is no straight-shot from ship to main street; you have to navigate the maze.
Grand Cayman: We did a boat tour. Visited Star Fish bay, Stingray City (Great fun!!) and did some good snorkeling at the reef. All in a 4 hour tour. The island is much more laid back, no crazy salespeople. Ironically, we spent the most money here, buying gifts. This is a tender port. There were 3 ships in that day (Navigator plus Carnival Magic & Breeze). I’ve heard the tender process can be brutal here, but we had NO such experience. Smooth as can be both coming and going.
Falmouth: Another shopping mall here to greet you, but the vendors are much more chilled out and the mall is lovely. And you can quickly walk through it if you so choose. We took a private tour for zip lining, with lunch afterwards at Scotchie’s (in Discovery Bay) for jerk chicken and pork. Go there if you can. I know it’s “touristy” but we arrived at 12:30 and there were few folks there that early. The food was GREAT! And inexpensive. I didn’t know what the currency rate was, so I worried a bit, but our whole chicken, 3 large side items and 2 Red Stripes was $24 USD!!
MISC: The staff, overall, was friendly, but I’d say a tiny bit less friendly than others we’ve had. Nothing bad (expect what I mention above), but there were a few folks (random bar staff or hosts) who just weren’t in to it. Internet service was maddeningly slow. I expected it, but it had been 3 years since we cruised, so I had hoped it might be a little bit better. No dice. The photographers were just as bad as they always are with their cheesy poses.
Yes, minor grips throughout, but considering the logistics of a cruise, and how great so many other things were, I can’t give less than 5 stars.