Okay, background information about us: we're 40-something DINKS (for those not familiar with what a DINK is "double income, no kids", we have lots of hobbies and stay active and absolutely love cruising. Our main activity while cruising is scuba diving so all 7 of our cruises have been to the Caribbean.
We drove to Miami from northern Florida and stayed at the YVES hotel. Great boutique hotel just a few minutes away from the Port of Miami. No on-site parking but just a block away was $25 all night parking which we used while we stayed at the hotel. They offer a "free drink of the day" to all guests (1 per guest) it was a rum and coke for us. For the cruise we used the parking garage at the Port, we looked into off-site long term parking, but most seemed sketchy and you had to leave your car keys behind. Also, though they provide transportation to and from the Port, you'll have to wait for it, you just can't get in your car and drive away.
Okay, the cruise. We checked in as soon as possible around 11:30 a.m., this is the busiest time to check in as everyone, like us, wanted to get their vacation started asap. It took about 45 minutes to check in, due to the LONG line of guests, nothing against the cruise terminal. We were in a regular terminal, no "tent" and the air conditioning worked well. No snag check in, immediately boarded the ship, no waiting in a lounge. Rooms were not ready until 1 p.m., but considering that the ship disembarks the previous cruised just that morning, that is an amazing turn around time. When we did get to our room our luggage was already waiting for us...INCREDIBLE!
We have been on the Navigator once before in 2009, and enjoyed the upgrades such as the touch screen info TVs on each level and the flow rider. We did not dine in any of the specialty restaurants so I have nothing to report on those. For the age of the ship and how hard it works (constantly cruising) it is in really good shape.
Sail away had not hitches, my only complaint about the first day is about my fellow passengers who took up tables in the Windjammer and did not make room for others to sit and eat (so many people just sitting at the tables chit chatting, not eating). The crew however found us a lovely seat in Giovanni's for lunch and even got us an ice bucket to chill our bubbly that we brought for sail away. Immediately I was impressed by the hard working crew.
We usually opt for an interior cabins as I mentioned, we're active, we do not hang out in our cabin, it's where we go to sleep and clean up. Our attendant, Katherine, was great! I think she tidied up after us every time we left our cabin. The water in the shower was super hot (which was great after the cool, rainy day in Aruba) but the sink water did not get so hot, which is fine for brushing teeth, but for my partner did not get a good shave with luke warm water.
The food was good, several meals in the main dining room were utterly amazing (lamb chops, lamb shanks, escargot, lobster and the prime rib are highly recommended). The cheese plate was not impressive, we found that they served better cheeses in the Windjammer at dinner, but as soon as we asked our head waiter about a better cheese selection, we got an amazing cheese plate every night from that point (and enough cheese to feed the entire table of 6 plus leftovers). Service was good, however, beyond the waiters' control, one night dinner took forever, not sure what happened in the kitchen that night. Oshando and Nadia (our waiter and assistant waiter) worked hard each night, I cannot imagine having that much energy all day long for 10 months at a time. Two thumbs up for this duo.
I will say that the food quality may have gone down a notch, but it is still way better than what we usually cook at home. I think cruise lines (not just RCI) are pushing the upgraded specialty dinning spots so they are decreasing the quality in the "complimentary" dinning room (though our cruise ticket includes this, and since we paid for a ticket, it is not really complimentary).
We did not eat too much at the Windjammer mainly because of my complaint above. TOO many passengers just take up seats and not eat, they finish their meal and continue to sit at the table to chit chat, drink coffee, read a book and we could never find a place to sit to eat. When we did eat at the Windjammer the selection was broad and the food good, especially the Indian curries. I do suggest visiting the Windjammer prior to dinner in the main dinning room (second seating people of course) for a nice cheese plate or other small appetizer that is not available in the main dining, they did have some yummy things in the Windjammer for dinner.
For those who do not know, the 3rd floor of the main dining room offers both breakfast and lunch (lunch on sea days only) so you do not need to ever eat in the Windjammer. You are given menus to order from and you sit randomly at a table with other cruisers. We ate here a lot since we could always get a seat immediately.
The ice show is a MUST see, what an amazing job with that show "Ice Dancing". The production shows were not as good, they have definitely waned since our last RCI cruise in 2011. All of the comedians were great, but modern, so if you do not like curse words, topics of race, sex, nationality, they are not for you. These were not your Bob Hope types of comedians. The juggler (Davis Lucas) was fantastic and the two other performers/singers were highly entertaining and accomplished; Marcus Terrell and the Serenades and Finis Henderson (very talented man).
Service was great, anything we asked for, we got. Crew always said good morning/afternoon. No issues with service. We even saw one crew member down on his knees with a toothbrush type tool cleaning the floor molding area.
We had not yet been to any southern Caribbean ports so we were excited about this trip, each port was great.
We were concerned about Labadee, Haiti just because that country has some serious political issues and we could not imagine much from Haiti, boy were we surprised. We are not beach goers normally (though we have beautiful beaches in our home town) laying on the beach and spending a day is just not something we do. The beach at Labadee is beautiful, well kept, clean and with lots of options for the type of beach that you want and lots of chairs for everyone, I cannot imagine someone being disappointed. I personally do not think the cabanas are worth the cost, but that's me. There are more than enough beach chairs and palm trees to find a nice spot in the shade. There were 4-5 lunch huts spread throughout the beach, so there were no lines for lunch. The Indian food was much better than the American BBQ food. Water and juice was available (they brought gallon jugs of bottled water to fill the water dispensers) as well as clean bathrooms and showers to wash the sand off of you. FYI, bring $1, the ladies bathroom have attendants and it is nice to give them a little change for their efforts.
We had perfect weather and a gorgeous day for this port. Great intro to the Caribbean. There is not much reef, so snorkeling was not exciting, this is just a lazy beach location.
In Curacao we rented a car. POINTER, use Budget and rent prior to your arrival, OMG Avis had no cars available and Budget had one clerk to check you in and take you to the car for inspection. It was a slow process about 1 1/2 hours to rent a car. (that is not RCIs fault, they have nothing to do with outside vendors, this is just a pointer I am giving out). The rental agency is in the Renaissance Hotel.
We drove pretty much the entire island, went to a national park: Shete Boka, $6 per person admission and this is not, let me repeat, NOT an excursion for anyone who is mobile impaired, this is a strenuous trek across, sharp jagged rocks. The "beach" is exposed coral and the views were amazing, but bring lots of water, sunscreen and a hat if it is a sunny day when you visit and expect to sweat and get tired from walking.
We ate lunch at a restaurant on a cliff that had a platform for cliff diving. What a beautiful spot it was! Lunch was a bit pricey, we share one entree and had 4 beers for about $36 US dollars. Sorry, I do not remember the name of this place.
We stopped at a supermarket (I love visiting local supermarkets to gain an understanding of the local culture) and it was an Asian supermarket, lol; very nice people. Bought a couple of beers which you have to drink there as they want to keep the bottles for the deposits. They had stools to sit on.
After driving around the island I was not so impressed by Curacao as I was lead to believe it was an amazingly beautiful island, it is, but I think most stay around the touristy part and don't see the grit and grime that is more inland and on the other side of the island. Still a lovely place and worth visiting.
In Bonaire we went scuba diving, this port was our favorite, probably because we went to a dive "resort" and did 3 shore dives for only $43 each using Nitrox! and the dives were amazing, the wall was only 25 feet or so from shore. (I put "resort" in quotes b/c any diver knows that these are nothing like resorts, no cabana, pool, beach umbrellas, full service bars or such, just rooms and a full service dive shop, a place that only divers would appreciate). The dive shop is managed by Dive Friends of Bonaire, they have several locations, we went to the Hamlet Oasis to do independent shore dives, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! (look them up on Trip Advisor)
Loved Bonaire, wished we could have spent as much time on shore here as in Curacao.
Aruba was the final port, we booked a dive charter with SE Fly and Dive, great outfit, they sent a van to pick us up and transport us to the dive shop. The crew was fantastic and the dive master great people. However, the diving in Aruba was not that impressive, which was a bit of a disappointment, THOUGH, Caribbean diving is always amazing, it's just that there are other locations with much better viz, coral and sea life. What was pretty cool were the sunken airliners that we dove, but the viz was bad.
Overall RCI provided a wonderful cruise experience. My only complaint about this cruise and would be what eventually turns me off from cruising are you, my fellow passengers. I have never heard so much complaining and discontentment on any cruise before this one. Especially from the over 65 year old group, 'yall are ungrateful individuals who do not appreciate anything, including waking up each day to live another day. We did meet some wonderful people our age, who were as appreciative of their trip as we were. I also met some nice older people, but in general I found a lot of grumpiness on this trip. Lighten up people, you're on a luxury vacation!
On our next RCI cruise we will bump up to Platinum level, excited for this. I was bummed that the Viking Lounge (Cosmopolitan Club as it is now called) is closed every evening prior to dinner for the Diamond Diamond Plus happy hour. This was our favorite bar to get a pre-dinner drink but because we were not the correct level, we were denied access, boo to this. These levels have their own private areas, move this happy hour to one of those and leave the Viking Lounge open to all, all of the time.
Final note, we ice skated, rock wall climbed boogie boarded and surfed. We love the activities on RCI ships and no other cruise line offers anything in comparison. We had a great trip, cannot wait until the next one.