Just returned from a two-week Med cruise on Navigator of the Seas.
Most cruise reviews inevitably are built around comparisons with previous cruises, and we are certainly not seasoned cruise-goers, but we did a similar Med cruise at ... Read More
Just returned from a two-week Med cruise on Navigator of the Seas.
Most cruise reviews inevitably are built around comparisons with previous cruises, and we are certainly not seasoned cruise-goers, but we did a similar Med cruise at the same time last year on P&O's Ventura so most of the comments will be in comparison with that one, although whether the observations reflect differences between the two companies or between the two ships I'm not sure.
Overall our family (myself, my partner, and our 13-yr-old son) enjoyed our experience, but there was certainly room for improvement.
Firstly, the check-in. The process employed last year by P&O was, in principle, sound - you come into the checkout building, you get handed a card with a letter on it, and when your letter is called you (and about a dozen or so others) can go and check in.
As it was, it was a nightmare because there were delays with the check-in, we were soaked to the skin due to dreadful weather, and we had nowhere to sit and it took ages for our turn.
With RC, it was more akin to an airport check-in - it wasn't swift, and there was little guidance as to which of the many queues to join, but we got there eventually with no fuss.
Next, the cabin, a deluxe balcony on both cruises. The RC brochure clearly indicates a privacy curtain separating the main bed and the sofa-bed. This was not the case. The cabin was smaller than on the Ventura, and did not have that partial-dividing island in the middle of the room that the P&O cabin had. Also the cabin must have been in a resonant sweet-spot, because when the engines were running, the walls/bed/furniture vibrated like a running washing-machine, making it very difficult to get off to sleep sometimes.
Luckily we had good sailing, both ways across the Bay of Biscay; last year the cabin on Ventura creaked and rattled during the rough crossing which was much worse than the shaky Navigator, in terms of getting a decent night's sleep.
The Navigator cabin looked like it could do with some TLC in places, but it was clean and was tidied every day, and the steward who looked after the room was friendly and efficient. Every other evening an amusing towel animal was left in the room (we loved the monkey swinging from a coat-hanger).
The bathroom was the usual pokey affair, but the shower at least had sliding doors rather than the clinging shower curtain of last year's. The soap bars were replaced when they got reasonably small and the ambiguous shower substance in the dispenser was good enough as shampoo/shower gel and was kept replenished.
The towels were replaced when we left them on the floor, but some of them had yellow stains that their laundry regime clearly cannot remove.
On arrival we had a complementary bottle of fizz (much nicer than P&O's which was undrinkable) and some chocolate-dipped strawberries, which were fine. We received no more room freebies from then on ... we did with P&O but they were a plate of inedible canapés and for some reason a helium-filled "Welcome" balloon which turned up in the second week.
The balcony on Navigator was slightly smaller than Ventura's but was not overlooked by the cabins above, as last year's was.
The muster exercise we still had to undertake on the first day, but it was a more relaxed procedure this time, did not require the wearing of our life jackets, and was not done while people were still getting on board.
The cases did seem to take an age to make it to the rooms this time, with some people complaining that they didn't see their luggage until late in the evening. And this brings me to possibly my biggest bugbear of the whole trip. There were far too many people on the ship.
The number of cabins on Ventura and Navigator are not too dissimilar, I believe, but the Navigator seemed to have a lot more passengers. Everywhere was crowded most of the time when we were at sea, and getting a table in the Windjammer required getting down very early for breakfast or close to midday for lunch. And as for finding a free sun-lounger on deck, well that was nigh-on impossible when the sun was out. The crowdedness inevitably led to more fractiousness and arguments than I witnessed on the P&O cruise, with all the usual spats about reserving sunbeds, queue-jumping, etc.
The disparity in numbers may be due to a difference in clientele between the two companies, with RC attracting more families than P&O - certainly my son reported there being more children in the kids club this time round, which naturally resulted in more contention for the games equipment. Without a doubt we witnessed several incidents of unruly gangs of teenagers running about the place (and let's face it, at that age, given free rein and unlimited sugary food and drink, I think I would have been the same myself) but there was little sense of this being curbed by the staff. I saw lads throwing plastic bottles overboard, waving full cups of fizzy drink about on a blowy top deck, etc. Behaviour that simply was not apparent on the more sedate P&O trip.
Now we get to the difference that was perhaps the most outstanding between the two experiences : the quality of the food. I have heard some complaints about the MDR food on Navigator being poor, but that was not our experience. We had loads of choice, both in Windjammers buffet and in the MDR in the evenings, and the quality was far higher than that of the Ventura, which really was basic at best. A lot of the chefs were Indian on the Navigator and so the quality of the Asian dishes was very high. We had some exceptional dishes in the MDR, with only one or two puddings that were average. The only caveat to this was that the specialty restaurant Sindhu, on the Ventura, served us the best three-course meal we had had in our lives and nothing on board the Navigator could beat it (Sabor had a good go - fantastic Mexican cuisine, but take an appetite with you, as there is a lot to eat).
As for the drinks, the chilled water was in plentiful supply, being replenished continually throughout the MDR meals, and was available ready-poured (with ice) in the buffet (on Ventura the free soft drinks were from dispensers). The Windjammer buffet also had lemonade, apple/orange juice (very sweet) and iced tea.
The alcoholic drinks on the Ventura last year were pretty much pub prices, however on Navigator they are hugely expensive (e.g. $12 for a cocktail) - there are drinks packages you can buy which apply per day per person, but you would need individually to be drinking five alcoholic drinks per day to make it worth your while financially ... a target many were capable of on our trip.
There are several areas on Navigator where drinks are available - pubs, bars, lounges, but many are quite small and the tables filled up quickly. The quality of the cocktails was good though, and the bars seemed very well stocked in terms of beer.
The entertainment on the Navigator was varied. Each night would have a main act; there was a juggler, a hypnotist, an impressionist, several comedians, and a handful of shows, all of which amounted to a variety-style selection. These seemed to go down quite well, but not being into variety acts much, we personally preferred P&O's approach, which included an excellent soul singer who did several performances over four or five days, and a jazz band and a ska/reggae band who were resident for the duration of the cruise, and who would turn up in the cocktail lounges in the evenings.
The shops on board were pretty similar, but the Ventura had one where everyday things (sun cream, shampoo, medicines, etc.) could be purchased whereas the Navigator only had one small area with a small selection of such items. The prices were the big difference again here. Last year I bought a tube of cold sore cream and it cost 2 or 3 pounds, whereas for a small packet of cold and flu tablets on Navigator they wanted over $14.
P&O seemed slightly better at giving out information, especially about what was needed for port stops. Although once or twice they stated that passports would be required for coming back on board (I don't recall they ever where), most of what was said was accurate. RC failed to mention until we had disembarked at Palma that there was a 10 or 15 Euro charge for the shuttle bus to the town.
Finally, disembarkation at the end of the cruise. The Ventura was late getting back into Southampton, but even so the wait to get off was unexplainedly long, with no proper direction from the crew as to where to go or where the end of the queue was - people were standing around for ages around the atrium. The Navigator disembarkation was as smooth as anything.
So there we are - would we sail on the Navigator or with RC again ? Probably yes for both, but with seemingly fewer RC options out of Southampton next school holidays, we may be looking at P&O again. Read Less