After a 5-year cruising hiatus, we decided to book a 7-day Western Caribbean cruise with Royal Caribbean. We were both pleased and disappointed with the changes to cruising that have occurred in the interim. Security was noticeably more thorough than on our last cruise, but embarkation at Galveston went smoothly though (at around 11am), and we were able to access our cabin by 1pm. The first disappointment was the lack of a champagne welcome for previous cruising Crown & Anchor members (listed as a former cruiser benefit on the web site); we got a 2 for 1 beer/wine purchase instead. Diamond and above members got actual perks. Being a member is not much of a benefit until after a dozen or so cruises.
The Navigator of the Seas is a mid-size ship by today’s standards; 3100+ passengers. The ship was stable even through some hurricane force winds encountered in the Gulf of Mexico. During that overnight event, the ship leaned considerably but didn’t rock much as the wind was perpendicular and sustained at 70+ MPH for a few hours. We experienced rain at least part of every day except the first day at sea. That limited enjoyment of the exterior sections of the ship.
Navigating around the ship was somewhat challenging due to only two elevator areas and no fore to aft pass through on decks 2 and 3 (and on Deck 4 the only way through was to traverse the ultra-smoky casino). The outdoor promenade deck did not continue fully around the ship. There was a jogging track, but it was located in the congested Deck 12 pool area. Crew did a better than average job of curtailing long term reserving of deck chairs, so we could always find a lounger.
Our morning routine started with a trip to the Café Promenade on Deck 5 for fresh brewed coffee. After wakening fully, we generally took breakfast in the Windjammer Café; we tried room service, but the earliest we could get delivery was 6:30am—by then we were gnawing on the furniture. The buffet breakfast was ok, and there were plenty of choices. Oddly, there is no outdoor component to the buffet seating. The layout prevents long lines except at the most popular stations, but navigating around was chaotic. We never had a problem finding a table however. Even in the buffet, gone is the reconstituted “coffee” we have endured in the past, it is now brewed, although very strong. Lunch was split between the Windjammer Café, the dining room, or onshore.
There are several specialty dining venues on the Navigator, but given our past experiences and the current cover charge averaging around $20-$40 per person, we never tried them. One dinner in the Windjammer as enough; with the same chaos as at breakfast and lunch. The rest of our meals were in the Sapphire Dining room. We were booked with My Time dining, and I must say, it is far superior to the early and late seating we usually experienced. The third floor of the dining room is for “My Time” dining, and you can make reservations on Day 1 for a time and table of your choice for that evening or for the entire cruise if you wish.
We had the same servers and the same table every night. Gone are the long queues for early and late, and service in the dining room seemed more smooth. The food on the other hand was nothing special. The menu featured 5-star named items and descriptions that wine reviewers would envy (Chocolate Pot de Creme = chocolate pudding). The food however was mixed. My salmon entrée was quite good, but my wife’s prime rib was of poor quality. My other fish entrees were fair to good, but my wife’s shrimp ravioli was inedible. The high points were the desserts; the low points were the miserable salads and general scarcity of vegetables. The lobster was good of course, and the last evening’s turkey dinner was great. Service was generally very good, although bread was offered too frequently, even while water glasses remained in need of filling. Dress was very casual, and even on formal night suits or tuxedos were in the minority. The stereotypical Texas cowboy-chic look and demeanor were extremely rare in contrast to what was reported in some reviews on this site.
The Café Promenade is open 24/7 and offers small pastries and miniature sandwiches, so there is always food somewhere. The Windjammer buffet is open several times a day, but had frustratingly varied hours. Gone is the poolside hamburger grill; instead one must seek out Johnny Rockets on Deck 14, and pay a $7 cover charge to get an afternoon hot dog or hamburger. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Starbucks coffee are available for a fee, but if you know where to look, you can find soft drinks, ice cream and frozen yogurt for free most of the day. In the Windjammer and dining rooms, most non-alcoholic drinks were free. Although it was possible to get alcoholic drinks around the pool decks or in the lounges, there were few servers and we certainly weren’t pestered to buy drinks anywhere. Drink prices were high of course.
There were plenty of activities on the ship, including frequent trivial contests. We found these contests to be difficult and the prizes were the cheapest we’d ever encountered. The ship’s stage shows varied from poor to good, and mostly suffered from poor direction and arrangement. The standout show is, as mentioned elsewhere, the ice skating show. Get your (free) tickets early, the space is small and the show is first rate. Music in the lounges was varied, but we really liked the Vibes 4 who performed frequently on the pool deck and in the Bolero Lounge on Deck 4.
Our port activities were OK, but marred by rain on Cozumel and Cayman Islands. Taxis are cheap and plentiful on Cozumel, but finding transportation on Grand Cayman was difficult and expensive. We wanted to go to the Cayman Turtle Farm on our own, but taxis were over $30 one-way. We found an excursion bus for $8 each, but the rain leaked in and the bus was dirty. On the way back to the ship we were able to find an excursion bus driver who mercifully took us back to the ship in a clean, non-leaking bus for only $5 per person. The Turtle Farm was good, but we couldn’t enjoy it much because of the rain. The on-site restaurant was quite expensive. In Falmouth, Jamaica, we took our only cruise ship excursion, Bamboo Rafting on the Martha Brae river. The weather was great for the morning raft ride, and the trip was relaxing and scenic. The only negative was the intense pressure to buy over-priced crafts that the raft pilot claimed he made. There were also several shopping “opportunities” at spots along the river.
Overall, our Royal Caribbean cruise was at least average compared to others in the past. We will likely never use the port of Galveston again as it was too crowded and chaotic. They need a new terminal.
We decided to try an ocean-view cabin this trip in lieu of our usual balcony cabin. The cabin was small (160sq.ft.) , but had plenty of storage. The first disappointment was the safe; much smaller than those encountered in past years. There was no room for my camera, just small personal items like wallets. The window was big enough, but above the head of the bed limiting the view out. The TV was small but serviceable. The bed was extra-firm and not particularly comfortable; the pillows were the thinnest imaginable. The shower was very small, and the toiletries were limited to shampoo in a dispenser and hotel bar soap. Our cabin attendant Howard was extremely helpful and made our cabin experience as good as could be. Cabin pictures are uploaded.