We chose the ship for its itinerary, but we could hardly have done better the other way around. The Navigator of the Seas is no longer the biggest ship in the RCI fleet. At 138,000 tons, I think it comes in tied for fourth now. But despite ... Read More
We chose the ship for its itinerary, but we could hardly have done better the other way around. The Navigator of the Seas is no longer the biggest ship in the RCI fleet. At 138,000 tons, I think it comes in tied for fourth now. But despite that, it lacked for nothing...except one elevator wasn't working (out of 16). Having done the Western Med several years ago on the Grandeur of the Seas, we did have something with which to compare this trip. We've also sailed on Princess, NCL, and Carnival. Each line has it's strengths and weaknesses, but I think Royal Caribbean is pretty much our favorite. As for the Navigator as compared to the Grandeur, the Navigator is bigger, which makes it better in my eyes. Beyond that, it's beautiful, inside and out with an art collection on a par with anything afloat. In fact, the whole ship is a work of art.
Thanks to online registration, check-in was quick and efficient, despite a rainy day in Rome. My walking-adverse wife was even supplied with a wheelchair for the lengthy trek from the dock up nine decks to our stateroom. We boarded about eleven, cooled our heels for a bit in the Cafe Promenade, then satisfied our hunger in the Windjammer, which opened an hour early just for us. :-) By that time, our balcony stateroom was ready.
The service aboard the Navigator, in every department was exemplary. The food was good...sometimes great, once or twice, downright spectacular. I will never forget the look on my wife's face when, at Chops (alternative restaurant--$25 cover charge) they set before her a humongous 16 oz. T-bone steak. She ate every last morsel...though little else, as I recall. In the main dining room, third level, we had a table for six, though we never actually dined with that many. Our table mates were a lovely British couple slightly older than we. They were delightful to talk with. Every evening we lingered over coffee for more than an hour after the meal (second seating--8:30 p.m.) sharing cultural differences, travel experiences, and lifetime achievement awards. The service staff just kept pouring (warning, dining room coffee is a bit on the strong side by American standards). Some of the main courses were a little too haute cuisine for my tastes, but I always found something delicious to eat and even tried a couple items I'd never had before. I was never disappointed. Desserts were great, though never big enough :-). I could have had seconds but I would have been too embarrassed to ask. In general, food portions were reasonable--never wasteful. The Windjammer offering was quick and varied, though the breads in both dining rooms were inevitably crusty. Is that a European thing? We've noticed it on other cruise lines too. The Windjammer was great for breakfasts before early morning excursions. On sea days, I had Eggs Benedict and fresh-squeezed orange juice ($3.95 extra) in the main dining room.
Speaking of excursions, we booked all of ours through RCI. There standard of excellence in managing all their cruise sub-contractors was the overriding reason, though they are said to be a little more expensive. We were fortunate in Greece to get there before the labor problems really took shape, though I have the feeling RCI may have thrown their considerable weight around a bit in getting some of the Athenians to stand and deliver despite their issues with the government. We'd done Naples, Pompeii, and Capri on the earlier trip. I fell in love with Capri the first time and wanted to share it with my other love. Alas, she didn't think she could handle all the walking. She was right, as usual. She remained aboard in the lap of luxury and spent her money in the overpriced spa. If you do Capri, be sure to take the chair lift to the top of the mountain...it's windy but memorable...great photo op. The island of Rhodes (Greece) was nice if not spectacular. I climbed another pile of rocks at Lindos. Kusadasi and Ephesus were wonderful. I did the Biblical Ephesus tour, led by a guide whose father was Muslim, her mother Catholic. She knew her stuff. The amusing little bit of Roman theatrics produced on the Ephesus site was a tad hokey but entertaining. The ancient Roman Theater mentioned in the book of Acts was impressive. The souvenir vendors were nothing if not persistent, but downright tame as compared to the pushy Egyptian hucksters I encountered at Giza. Egypt employs a very prominent special police force to keep them in check.
Okay...Egypt...a dose of third-world...words fail me...adventure is too tame, but the best I can do at the moment. First of all, there's the 2 1/2 hour bus trip over a permanently under construction highway from Alexandria to Cairo. While Alexandria isn't exactly the Garden of Eden, Cairo...I won't go on. There might be ladies and children present. The Pyramids--piles of stone to end all piles of stone...a good place to get your picture taken. The Cairo suburb of Giza intrudes practically right up to the very base of Cheops' pile of stone. The Sphinx was...underwhelming. I thought it would be bigger. Lunch on the Nile was fun. We boarded little sailing boats (I can't recall what they're called, sorry) and nibbled on a very...Egyptian--lunch, short on meat but otherwise edible. By far,this was the most mediocre meal of any shore excursion I've ever been on. But, we were the lucky ones. Another group, eating a little more lavishly aboard one of several Nile River restaurant boats, came down with food poisoning. They all eight ate the meat balls. It scared the Navigator docs to half to death...the symptoms resemble Norovirus. Let's just say we all did a lot of hand sanitizing for the rest of the cruise. Each Cairo excursion ended up at the Papyrus Institute. They were rather chagrined when I asked to buy a small BLANK piece. The printed hunks looked to be cheap, tourist rip-offs. (Except they weren't cheap.) My overall impression? Sorry, Egyptians, but your capital city is a pig sty. A certain unused canal featured a dead horse at one end while children fished for (God knows what) at the other end. And the traffic...I saw one traffic cop and one stoplight during the whole visit. Athens, in addition to its endless graffiti, had a tendency toward such disorder, but Egypt... The trip back to the ship from Cairo was, somehow, TWICE as long as the trip that morning. We got back to the Navigator about 8:30...well after dark. 800 million dollars worth of floating glass and steel never looked so good. One day in that country would have been sufficient. Two was overkill. Touring Alexandria the next day was anticlimactic, with bus rides, mosques, kasbahs and catacombs and...did I mention, bus rides. The new library was impressive--quite worthwhile. The rest was...well...interesting, I guess.
Sea days (four of them) were recuperation days. Am I getting too old for this? The trivia contests, twice a day in the Schooner Bar were fun. I was the lone outsider with a four-man Canadian group traveling together. Being from Ohio, we called ourselves "Oh Canada." We never won anything. Not that it mattered. The prizes were key chains and refrigerator magnets. Come on Royal...get with it...how about...oh, a deck of cards maybe, or a bottle of champagne apiece?! The other entertainment was good, if not great. The ship's singers and dancers were typical cruise ship troupers. The musical guest entertainers were a bit too high brow for my tastes and too ethnic...Irish, Italian, Scottish. The comics were comical. Judging by the entertainment, I think Royal Caribbean anticipated a lot of Italians on board, sailing from Rome and all. They anticipated wrong. The passenger list was mostly American with a generous helping of British, Australian, Canadian, and Latino guests. The total number of Italian aboard would have fit neatly into one inside stateroom.
The staterooms? Nice, clean, neat, well-appointed...we wanted for nothing...well, except for an extra electrical outlet or two would have been nice. (Every cruise ship I've ever been on has had that problem). The attendant was friendly, efficient, and very adept at tying knots in towels. She earned her tip.
The final port was Messina. I chose the excursion down the coast of Sicily to Taormina, an ancient village on the slopes of Mt. Etna that was probably a tourist trap 2,000 years ago when it was first founded. Moreover, it hasn't changed appreciably since. I'm joking. The marvelous feats of Italian civil engineering that allows those huge tour buses to squirm their way down the coast (through 28 tunnels) and halfway up a mountain to a huge bus garage where elevators whisk you up the mountain another eight stories to access the town, are alone worth the cost of the excursion. The town itself features another Greco-Roman theater, sidewalk cafes, souvenir shops, fountains, high-end boutiques, and way too many old churches (even the Italians agree on that point; they've turned one of them into a library). I pigged out on gelatico and almost got left behind...whew!
The worst part of any Royal Caribbean cruise is having to leave the ship behind. It's like getting kicked out of paradise. No problems disembarking. Rain again in Rome. A 10:30 a.m., nine-hour flight back home(JFK). I hate that airport. No airport should ever get to be THAT big. They should raze the whole thing and start again from scratch...one REALLYBIG terminal.
Speaking of really big, it's the Oasis for five days out of Lauderdale come December...if I can pull together $999 per person (balcony cabin) between now and then. I'm hoping the advent of the Allure of the Seas the first of December (2010) will cause a glut of cabins on the Caribbean cruise market about that time. Read Less