I am a first-time cruiser who wants to shoot you straight about what to expect if you have never been on a cruise before. As I read through review after review, I felt like I really didn't get a good picture of what to expect. ... Read More
I am a first-time cruiser who wants to shoot you straight about what to expect if you have never been on a cruise before. As I read through review after review, I felt like I really didn't get a good picture of what to expect. Everything was either really negative or cruises are the best thing ever invented. I believe that most cruise ships probably fall somewhere in the middle. And most experiences will probably be somewhere in the middle.
So here I go, hopefully I can give some other first-timer some helpful hints of advice.
First of all, don't follow the check-in begins at 2 PM advice. We got to the port at around 11:15 am. The place was already hopping with activity. Check-in for us was a breeze--only took about 20 minutes from cab until we were sitting down to eat lunch at the Windjammer.
First bit of advice--make sure you do the online check-in paperwork. It doesn't take very long and will save you a little time getting onboard. You will need to print off a couple of sheets of paper at the end and sign your name explaining how your account will be paid. Remember to pack a light bad if there is anything you will need before 4 PM or so. Hopefully your luggage will arrive by then.
We were able to check in to our room a little after 1 PM. I think our luggage arrived around 3 PM or so. We had gone to check the boat out and when we returned our luggage was waiting outside.
Lunch will be cram-packed on day 1. I believe the Windjammer is the only place open for lunch on day 1. So expect some lines and some waiting. We enjoyed the view in the back of the Windjammer looking back at Miami and parts of South Miami Beach.
The room was actually better than I expected--and even a little roomier. We had a balcony. I would vote for this at all cost. I can't imagine an interior room or one with only a water view. The balcony makes your room feel much bigger than it really is. Also, you have a place to step outside and enjoy the weather, water and views. Pay the money--get the balcony.
Hair dryers are included in the room. Bathroom is small--especially the shower. But hey, you are on a boat. Did have those sliding doors instead of shower curtains that many others have mentioned. Can't imagine how it would work with a curtain??
Plenty of storage room in closet and under bed to stow away luggage. Also had about 6 drawers to put things around desk area. Wife loved the lighting around desk when it came to fixing hair and makeup. Mirrors would move a little on sides to give you a full view. Also have full length mirror on one side of room, too. Big plus for me, bed was comfortable. Not great, but not bad. As I mentioned, better than I expected.
A/C worked pretty well. I like things cool. Our room was always able to get cool enough for me.
Now...on to the real nuts and bolts of the trip experience. Let me make a few comments about some of the basic necessities on a vacation in a tropical climate--pool and lounging. Pool areas are just okay. If you expect to be able to get in the water and paddle around--forget about it. First, the pools are very small--especially when you think about there being 3500 people on board. Second, the kids will take the larger pool over after about 11 am. There is an adults only pool/section. But that pool is really small.
I guess the lounge areas are okay. The earlier you get out the better likelihood of getting a prime-time spot. Once you get up in the day, it will be elbow to elbow everywhere. I was not a big fan of this. It is also weird to think about the walking track going around the main pool deck area. At first, you may not think this is a big deal. But if you want peace and quiet, there is none. If you are on this deck, you will constantly have people either running or walking by you as you try and relax. Not a big fan of this either. I always ventured to areas away from the track.
Lounge chairs are pretty (okay) comfortable. Definitely two classes of chairs on boat--padded and not. get a padded one, you are loving life. Get a regular one, not so great. Maybe my expectations were too high.
I guess now is the time to interject my previous vacation experiences to compare. My family often goes to Destin/Ft. Walton area of FL to get some R & R--staying at beach front condos. I also had one great trip to All-inclusive in Mexican Riveria. We are definitely not luxury travelers--but not econo-line travelers either.
I was hoping the pool area and lounge chairs would be better. Like I said, maybe my expectations were too high. I love to go on vacation and sit and lounge either by the pool or in it. Cruise ship does not make my top-10 list for this. Now, the views were stunning, the accommodations were not.
Okay, let me move on the the food. We ate in the Nutcracker dining room each night. We were in a group of 8 and had a large table close to the windows. Once again, views were great. I thought dinner always took way too long to complete. Normally took our party over 2 hours to complete meal. Granted, I didn't mind socializing with my friends. But 2 hours and 15 minutes is too long for dinner...period. Food was good--nothing spectacular. One of the cheesecakes one night was fabulous. A scallop appetizer one night was excellent. Besides that, nothing really above-average. Now, clearly, the food is not bad. I don't understand how folks get on here and say the food is bad. No way under any circumstances. You can always find something decent to good to eat on ship.
Besides the main dining, we ate in the Promenade area several times for snacks and breakfast in Windjammer once. Of course, we were off of the ship for almost two entire days on this 5-night trip. I will say this--lunch in Cozumel at Playa Coronas was my favorite meal. Ate lunch one step from the water and had some authentic Mexican food--chips and salsa and chicken/beef fajitas. Extremely good eats!!
You will have no problems finding food to eat. Something will always be open or available.
The entertainment that we saw was good. Didn't take in a lot of the shows. I will also put it this way--I didn't go on the course to seek out entertainment. My wife and I are more in to relaxing, enjoying time alone away from the kids. We both enjoy a good book as much as a comedy show or ice-skating. But if you are in to the shows--this may be the place for you.
There is always some form of action going on--dancing, music, karioke, games, info sessions, shopping, poolside games, sports games, etc.... Almost seems like there is too much going on at times. Almost like you are being moved around from venue to venue and act to act to make sure you don't/can't get bored. I didn't get bored. I don't think you will get bored either.
Now to the last one--service. Here is where I really struggle. Was the service bad--no. But I expected better. I think many workers were not excited about there jobs. For example, if you go up to the bar and ask for a water or soda, forget getting a smile or conversation. Is it because they don't get as big a tip if you don't order an $8 mixed drink?? Great question. Many service people were not very friendly to my wife and me. It was like they were going out of their way to wait on us. Excuse me, aren't I the one that paid for this trip. And paid a lot in my opinion. Maybe you think cruising is a bargain. I don't. Seems pretty expensive for what you get to me.
Anyhow, back to the service. I kept hearing about the Golden Anchor service....Not sure I got that. Another area of concern for me is that I only speak one language--English. Many of the workers speak languages well that aren't English. Thus, communication was difficult at times. Once again, maybe my expectations were too high. It seems like the cruise industry seeks out the US traveler and customer. Most of the cruisers on our ship were US vacationers. I just expected the English to be better from the workers who were in contact positions--desk, bartenders, guest relations, waiters, etc...
Lastly, I will leave you with one instance of poor service. My wife was wanting her normal Diet Coke to kick start the morning. So I notice one of the bartenders at his location next to the Promenade. I also notice that no one is around--usually 4 or 5 people always waiting to be served. Hey, great chance to go get my wife her Diet Coke. As I make my request, the guy tells me he doesn't open until 8 am. I take a look at the clock--7:58! I guess the ship shuts the pre-mix machines off until 8. Maybe they work like bank vaults with time sensitive locks!! BS!! He just didn't want to serve me. I wanted to go back and ask for a drink and see if he opened before 8 am for that tip??? But I didn't, I just walked over and got a glass of water. Gold anchor service at its best.
Okay, I am getting off of topic. I am trying to mention some words of advice to first-time cruisers. In no particular order, I will throw out some other things I noticed: 1. Don't fly in the day of your departure. Why? Ask the lady next to me in the muster drill who had her luggage lost by the airlines. She was not a happy camper. And her husband wasn't either as he had to stand there and listen to her complain about her vacation being ruined. 2. Make out a plan about what you want to do each day--check the Compass. If not, you can become overwhelmed with everything going on. You also need to decide if you are going to be a morning person or a late-night person on your cruise. You definitely can't do both and have any energy. 3. Make spa appts as soon as you get on board if you want certain times. But remember that some of the deals will come later in the trip. Discounts can be had for evening appts and appts on port days. FYI, massages on the beach on port days are also usually cheaper than ship prices. 4. You always run the potential of bad weather on a cruise. My wife got sick one evening when it got rather windy and the boat started swaying one night. Can't really control that on a boat. This did not make for a fun evening. 5. Internet access is very expensive on a boat--55 cents a minute or some type of pre-paid package. Internet doesn't move quickly either (nice way of saying it is slow). 6. Pay attention to the dress codes for your trip. Many folks will always dress up for dinner meals. But you don't have to--the smart casual style is okay, too. Will be one formal night at minimum.
Okay, this is getting way too long. Let me end by saying the Navigator was a nice ship. But I will never participate again. For the money I paid, I could have had twice that experience at a great AI in the Caribbean somewhere. But there is a first time for everything and I learned from the experience. I enjoyed my trip. I enjoyed getting away and spending time with my wife. But I also know that my vacation could have been much better. Sorry RCI, you will not get me as a repeat customer. In order to get me again for the price I paid, the service, the amenities and the food needs to be much better.
Next time, you can find me soaking up the rays at a beachside palapa in the Mexican Riviera... Read Less