We went on Navigator of the Seas out of Southampton on a Western Mediterranean cruise from May 13-27 and then from May 27-June 3 on a Northern Europe cruise. Funny about weather. Although the Mediterranean was smooth as glass for most of our first two weeks, the temperature was much higher in Oslo than in Spain and Italy.
We took the Southampton bus from the Heathrow station between terminals 2 and 3. It was fast and easy and we found the driver and other staff to be very helpful. The bus station is close to the dock, but just out of the distance I would want to roll my bag, so we took a cab.
We stayed in Southampton for a few days before the cruise at the Holiday Inn right by the dock. It was simple to drag our bags over to the ship. We took the Red Funnel ferry to the Isle of Wight to visit Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s summer residence. This was probably our favourite tourist attraction of the whole trip. We also walked a lot in Southampton and thought the food was quite good. The British people we met on our cruise laughed and said we’d probably spent more time there than most British people who just use Southampton as a parking lot before they get on the ship.
First, the ship. We were on Deck 9 in a balcony cabin – 9756. We’ve done a few cruises in Grand Suites lately and were worried about the size. No worries, though! We loved the cabin and even after 3 weeks we weren’t feeling cramped. No noise, smell, or service issues as reported by other cruisers. The only major thing we noticed since our last cruise was that the bag of laundry deal now excludes jeans! We had to ask for our bathrobes but the steward was quick to get them for us.
On the first cruise, our fellow cruisers were, overwhelmingly, older people from Britain. Over a thousand had Diamond status and beyond. The Diamond Lounge was extended into the adjacent Cosmopolitan Club from 4:30 – 8:30, with crew checking ID. I spoke to some new cruisers who were surprised by this and felt like second class citizens. There were a few families with very young children, but generally, a quiet lot.
The Windjammer was so busy they sometimes opened Giovannis for seating. I wasn’t particularly in love with the design that has Windjammer covered all the way to the back. It was very hot in the window areas.The food was good, though. On our last two cruises, they had removed smoked salmon from the breakfast selections, so I was glad to see it back.
Chops, Giovannis, and Izumi were great. Good service and great food! The ship had just changed Sabor from Mexican to a Spanish tapas menu and we LOVED it. We were hesitant but everyone at our 8:30 seating in the main dining room had tried it and were impressed. As they had suggested, we asked our waiter to bring selections until we told him we were full. The Main Dining room was fine, but I was disappointed that the bread selection is no longer warm and presented to each diner. It now sits in the middle of the table.
The Spa was as expected. Very nice service but lots of sales pressure. I was surprised to receive sales calls from the Spa on my cabin phone. It’s okay to get email messages on the cabin TV, but really, who wants a sales call while on vacation?
Ports of Call – Cruise #1
I kept the info from the excursions desk that describes each of the port areas and how far it is to town, how to get shuttles, etc. I will add those to the information for each of the ports in the appropriate area of Cruise Critic. I want to say that EVERY city, except maybe Gibraltar, was spotlessly clean and we never felt unsafe. Although we were surprised by the cost of public toilets, the toilets were clean and safe.
Gibraltar – okay for a short stop. We walked and enjoyed a light lunch but it was very busy everywhere.
Alicante – beautiful city. We did the wine tasting tour and they stopped at a church designed by a student of Antoni Gaudi. We enjoyed both and especially the beautiful countryside along the way
Rome – we bought express train tickets through RCCL and then did Rome on our own. We found the guide to be very helpful in getting us set up to see as much as possible.
Florence- did the same thing as Rome. People we spoke to went into town in Livorno and said they wished they had arranged a tour of had gone to Pisa.
Marseille- we’ve been to Provence several times on land, so took the shuttle and walked the old part of the city, which is quite compact. Not a lot to see. We wished we had arranged a tour instead. Plus, the shuttle was 20 Euros each return. Ridiculous and due to traffic rules, we were still blocks away from the fish market areas. Not a big deal to us, but people with canes were very upset.
Barcelona – love love love! If you take a shuttle from the ship, the downtown “Las Ramblas” area is totally walkable and entertaining. There are lots of little side streets and probably the best window shopping of our trip.
Lisbon – we did a wine trip to an area very close to the coast and they stopped at a tile making factory. There were many people on our bus who had been to Lisbon before and said the excursion was one of the best they had done.
Vigo – Another short stop where we just walked the city. There are lots of hills and lots of cobblestones and so we got our exercise, but it was quite a wonderful surprise.
End of cruise number one. Back to Southampton. Had a coffee, got back on board, and had the same cabin.
Night and day as far as our fellow passengers. It was half term break in Britain and this cruise was packed with families – lots of tweens and teens. We were told there were over 1000 minors on the cruise. There were also almost 2000 first time cruisers, due to a big promotion run in Britain. There were also far fewer Diamond members but surprisingly some entire families with Diamond status. The Diamond Lounge host did speak to a few kids who came in with shorts and flip-flops after 4:30 and they returned properly dressed. All that said, we had a blast! It was so fun to watch the kids form groups, hang out (everyone we saw was on their best behaviour), and especially, use the sports facilities. The pools, Flow Rider, climbing wall, and basketball court were very popular.
Hamburg – this was such a lovely city. I was expecting a port town with not much more than the famous red light district, but it was so much more than that. They have so much innovative architecture, green initiatives. and more canals than Amsterdam! Be sure to get up early so you can follow the long trip in on the river. We did a canal tour that took us through lovely residential areas for miles and miles.
Oslo – I have been up the coast of Norway but not to Oslo, so this was much anticipated. Like Hamburg, be sure to get up early to watch the passage through the fjord and to see all the islands along the way. This was the most northerly city on our cruise, but also the warmest day of our trip! It was around 30C. People were jumping into the harbour swimming and the parks were full. We took public transit up to the ski jump, which has been built as a piece of sculpture that shines out over the city. My grandfather was a world champion ski jumper from Norway, so this was very much of interest. The little commuter train winding up the mountain was a treat in itself. I love the Jo Nesbo detective books, so I got to see far more of the residential hillsides than I thought I would. The ski jump and museum are well worth the trip up, and if you can’t manage the hillside climb from the train station, there are ship’s excursions that will take you.
One note of caution about the Hop On Hop Off bus company in Oslo. When you get on the bus at the docks, they go counterclockwise through downtown and then the parks, the maritime museum area, and back to the ships. This means that when you are at the maritime museums, every single person trying to get back to the ships will already have a seat on the bus, and due to time constraints, few people will be getting off. We saw some very panicked faces! I asked, and they don’t run any going clockwise to alleviate that situation. Public transit is easy to use in Oslo and it might be easier to do that and then to take a cab back afterward.
Brugge – absolutely stunning. I have so many friends who have been and they always rave about it. We took an “on your own” tour that got us to the edge of the city and situated with maps, then we also did a canal trip on our own. We left at 1 and you could hardly move it was so crowded, so go early.
Back to Southampton. We dragged our own luggage off, took a 10 pound cab ride to the bus station and then a very fast bus into London’s Victoria Station.