CruiseMates' Readers Cruise Reviews

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Navigator of the Seas by Toucan Eastern Caribbean July 19, 2003

[This is a detailed report of our Eastern Carib cruise aboard Navigator of the Seas, July 19-26, 2003...the 33rd voyage for this ship. It will only be of interest to those, like myself, who are novice cruisers that want to get all the information possible prior to cruising.]

Pre-Cruise info: We made our own travel and hotel accommodations because we were combining our cruise with a visit to my parents in Vermont. Consequently we flew from Phoenix to Manchester, NH...Manchester to Miami...Miami to Phoenix. Each of these trips involved a stop in Atlanta (needless to say we were flying Delta!). I want to recommend using E-Tickets to anyone who has not tried them. We were able to by-pass long check-in lines and use the electronic kiosks with no waiting. Instead of a myriad of paper tickets to keep track of we had a single six-character Delta booking number to input at Phoenix, Manchester and Miami. Boarding passes for each person and for both legs would then be printed out; you then proceeded to a (MUCH shorter) line to have your checked bags weighed (keep in mind a 50-lb. limitation/bag unless you don't mind paying an additional fee...your bags will be heavier on return so give yourself some leeway). Overall, I give Delta high marks for this system.

We used Priceline to reserve hotel rooms in Miami; we'd never used this kind of bidding service before, and we were VERY pleased with the results. (I'd recommend reading the info at biddingfortravel. com if you've never used this service before.) I had learned that the closest hotels to the Port of Miami were located in the Downtown sector, so I bid $35/nite for two nites at a 3-star hotel. I got back a message in less than a minute indicating that no hotels would accept that bid at that time, but Priceline would check again immediately if I was willing to raise my bid by $9/room/nite. Consequently we got the Marriott Biscayne Bay property for $44/nite. We took a mini-van from the airport to the hotel as we had a total of nine pieces of luggage. The meter fare on arrival at the hotel was $18.25 and there was an additional charge of $1.50 for a toll which the driver paid enroute. He seemed satisfied with $30 to cover the fare, tip and baggage handling. We arrived at the hotel at about 11:30pm on Thurs. July 17. Although there was no guarantee, the hotel had no problem giving us connecting rooms and we were treated throughout our stay as if we'd paid the rack rate for this excellent hotel. Friday morning we were able to see the Majesty of the Seas before its departure on a three-nite Bahamas cruise. Since we had never visited Miami before, we planned to find some kind of tour for the full day we had on Friday. However, this hotel offered shuttle service to both Bayside Mall ($1/person each way) and South Beach ($3/person each way) so we decided to do our own in the morning and South Beach in the late afternoon and evening. The South Beach shuttle drops you off and picks you up very near the 5th and Ocean intersection which makes both the beach and restaurant-filled Ocean Blvd. easily accessible. Back at the hotel we made arrangements for another mini-van to take us to the port the following morning at 10:30. It was quite a sight to see Navigator of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas and Carnival Triumph from the hotel on Saturday morning! The trip from the hotel to the port would usually take about 10 minutes, but on July 19 the streets were jammed with people who were paying their respects to Celia Cruz. We got to Pier 5, where NOS was docked, shortly after 11:00. Which brings us to....

DAY 1 Sat. - Embarkation.

We handed off six bags and $12 to a porter and watched as they got loaded onto one of several large containers for transport to the ship. Then we began the process of clearing security. Given the number of people involved this was not as bad as I had expected. You even had the option of skipping the first "Welcome Aboard" photo op if you wanted (although it wouldn't have saved much time to do so.) The only delays seemed to involve people who either didn't have the required documents or had packed them in their checked luggage! (It will save you some potential hassles if you obtain a passport rather than relying on birth certificates.) We were able to complete the process, obtain our Seapass cards (which serve both as your onboard payment card and as your stateroom door key) and board the ship by about 12:30. We located our cabin and left our carryon bags there before proceeding to lunch in the Windjammer Cafe. (Our cabin was located on Deck 7, Aft, and was very convenient to the Windjammer and the dining rooms. Forward cabins would be more convenient to the entertainment venues.) After lunch we started to get familiar with the ship. Although NOS is the largest cruise ship afloat ('til next year) it's quite easy to find your way around. I did miss having the pocket-sized cards provided on our only previous cruise (Grandeur of the Seas, June 2002) which showed the ship's layout. However there were much larger versions of these cards located on every deck near the elevators. I'd suggest beginning on Deck 5, the Promenade Deck, which is the easiest way to get from one end of the ship to the other. After much oohing and ahhing (it really is a beautiful ship!) we proceeded to find our dining room and table (it's indicated on your Seapass Card. We had asked for Main (early) seating and a large table, but found we were at a table for six. Had no problem switching to a table for 10, but this would not have been the case at late seating...on this cruise there was MUCH more flexibility for early seating (unless you wanted a table for two...these were "officially" unavailable at either seating.) We continued to check out the various amenities until it was time to don our lifejackets and proceed to the mandatory muster drill at 4:30. When it was time for dinner (6:00) we found that switching tables was decidedly premature. We had already finished appetizers and were working on salads feeling very uncomfortable being the only three people at a table for 10! To make matters worse, my daughter (Danielle, 17) found that the table to which we had originally been assigned was occupied by a couple with a teenage daughter! Although we finished out the this dinner at the large table (two other couples who already knew each other eventually showed up), we made arrangements to return to our originally assigned table for future dinners. We really enjoyed the other couple for the rest of the cruise dinners, and the girls had a great time too. After dinner, the Welcome Aboard show took place in the Metropolis Theater. Cruise Director Jeff Martin introduced himself and there were a couple of production numbers from shows which would be seen later in the week. A juggler, Kristian Kristoff, did his routine and he was followed by comedian Craig Carmean...who was hilarious. The show was followed by a Bon Voyage parade at 11:00pm. in the Royal Promenade. The parade was very colorful and much more elaborate than I would have expected. After the parade my wife (Nancy) and I decided to call it a day (after just one more tasty treat at the Cafe Promenade!) and Danielle was meeting another girl she had met online prior to the cruise...they ended up "hanging out" together much of the rest of the cruise.

DAY TWO - Sun. - Nassau, Bahamas Our stay in the Bahamas would be a short one. We arrived at 7:00am and all had to be back onboard by 1:30pm. We preferred to have a leisurely breakfast in the Windjammer, so didn't leave the ship until about 9:30. We had no formal excursion planned for today and intended to visit the Atlantis resort on our own. (People who planned to shop in Nassau were mostly disappointed to learn that most stores and shops close on Sundays.) A good tip for anyone who plans a similar outing...when you are approached on the pier by taxi drivers, ask them if they are ready to leave "right now." Most have minivans and want to fill them up before departing, so if they hesitate to answer or say something like "very soon," just keep walking. When you find one who's ready to leave immediately, the fare to Paradise Island is $4.00, and there is a $1.00/vehicle bridge toll. I got no objections to my offer of $15 for the three of us in either direction....there is also a water taxi to Paradise Island, but I have no info on that. The Atlantis resort is very impressive and well worth seeing. You are able to see the hotel lobby and shops and, of course, the casino without fee. There is some impressive sculpture and a full wall of aquarium with many tropical fish. For a $25/person fee you get to see more of the aquarium, called "The Dig." We just wandered around the free areas; outside there would be security personnel a little ways down various pathways leading toward the pools and beaches turning back people who did not have either room keys or wristbands indicating they had paid a fee. Although we hadn't planned to do this, we eventually wandered down a path on which the guard must have not been paying attention, and we were able to stroll around most of the grounds and beaches without being challenged. They have some pretty impressive water slides which go underneath a glassed in area with sharks swimming overhead. There is another "lazy river" type slide in which you float in an innertube through a large plexiglass tube with sharks on all sides, above and below you....pretty cool. Nassau itself is pretty easy to navigate on foot, but there are also cabs and horse-drawn carriages available. Back on board, this was the Captain's Welcome reception and first formal nite of the cruise. LOT'S of picture taking going on tonite which would be posted in the Deck 3 Photo Gallery the next day. Pic's were $19.95 and $9.95 depending on size. There were also special "pacs" available at various prices. You could have as many pics taken as you were willing to stand in line for (various backgrounds). There were also pictures taken at dinner of you and your tablemates. The show tonite was "Now and Forever," with the RC Singers and Dancers performing selections from a number of fairly recent Broadway musicals....The Producers, Dreamgirls, Fosse, Contact, Mama Mia etc. Good voices and dancing. This was also the nite for Craig Carmean to perform in late nite Adult Comedy at 12:30am. This was also a very funny show, and no language as bad as most highschoolers have heard (and used) daily. This was also the first nite of competition in the Karaoke Idol search in the Ixtapa Lounge (Deck 5). This competition was limited to those 18 and up and winners were chosen on each of three nites in the categories of Male Vocal, Female Vocal and Duo. The three nitely winners faced off in the final on Friday nite. Sunday was also the first opportunity you had to reserve Ice Dancin' show tickets. These are free, but you must collect tickets for your group for one of the four performances (one each on Monday and Wednesday and two on Tuesday when there is no other show offering.)

DAY THREE - Mon. - Sea Day

We discovered that the phones provided a good means of keeping track of each other when everybody wanted to do something different. You could leave a voicemail message from your room for anyone who called. If noone answered the phone in your stateroom, the system automatically went to voicemail and the caller could leave a message. Not as good as the two-way radios some people were using to keep track of each other, but nothing extra to carry around either. Seadays can be as relaxing or as active as you like. There are too many fitness, sports, health and special interest activities to list; trust me, you'll not be bored! On the other hand, if you want to sit back and relax, there are many places to do that onboard. Pool deck chairs were hard to come by...despite the daily Compass reminders that saving the chairs wasn't allowed, a lot more seemed to be occupied by towels, books, magazines, etc. than by bodies at any given time. No problem getting chairs on Deck 4, which is also a weather deck, if you just wanted to enjoy the sea breeze with a book (or nod off). It was difficult to get an elevator very quickly on Seadays (or any day at mealtimes or when lots of folks were returning to the ship from excursions.) Climbing and descending the ladders (stairs to us landlubbers) was a good means of working off a tiny portion of the calories we were adding each day. The Shipshape Center (Deck 11) seemed to offer a number of machines to work body parts I'm not even familiar with. The theme for tonite was Country Western with Italian fare at odd combination! I didn't note anyone actually wearing Country Western attire. The showband played that kind of music late nite in the Ixtapa Lounge (another reason to retire early)! The Headliner at tonite's show was comedian Blair Shannon who put on a funny show and who has an excellent voice.

DAY FOUR - Tues - St. Thomas, VI

We had reservations for a ship's excursion for the Breathable Observation Bubble (BOB) for which we were supposed to meet on the pier at 8:30am. It came as a shock to learn that EVERYONE on the ship who intended to debark at either St. Thomas or San Juan would have to go through an immigration check which would take place for U.S. Citizens in the Swan Lake Dining Room (Deck 5). I understand some people got lined up for this as early as 6:00am...the immigration officials couldn't even board until we docked close to 7:00am. The line extending the length of the Promenade, looping around to twice the lenghth of the ship reminded me of the congestion in downtown Miami which made it so difficult for folks to get to the ship ontime (we actually delayed sailing for about a half-hour on Sunday to give 43 people on a shuttle stuck in traffic to get onboard the cruise.) Once the process started, it moved very quickly...they had a checkpoint at which those people who had gotten in line without their Seapass Cards or Passports were shunted aside so as not to hold up the line getting to the immigration officials. We got off the ship in plenty of time to meet the BOB excursion group. (TIP: if you want to do this excursion, make your reservations online at the RCCL website well in advance...there were quite a few people I taklked to who wanted to try this, but it was full up.) The BOB was a real blast...especially for people like me who are not good swimmers and have to limit their snorkeling to locations near the boat or from the beach. The BOB vehicle looks like a motor scooter with an oversize hairdryer attached. You go down about eight feet and follow a pre-defined course (there is one experienced diver for every two vehicles to keep you on course and make sure you are OK). You have to put your head underwater for a few seconds to get into or out of the vehicle...the rest of the time your head stays completely dry and you can really see very clearly. At one point you pass over a shipwreck and they put food out to attract more fish and take your picture (assuming you brought an underwater camera...I did...and were smart enough not to leave in onboard the boat...I wasn't). You move along at maybe two mph and stay down for about 20 minutes. Everyone I talked to wished it could have been longer, but noone felt cheated. (TIP: if you have some qualms about trying this, go ahead and reserve it (cost=$99)....if you should decide that getting into or out of the vehicle looks like it would be too difficult for you, they will downgrade you to "observer" and refund $40 to your Seapass account. Nancy did this and the refund showed up by the time we got back to our cabin that evening.) We had six separate groups each spending about 20mins underwater on the BOBs. When you were not in the vehicles you could snorkle from the boat or sit back and relax or sample the ample rum punch provided. We got back to the ship in time for lunch. Nancy and I went out again after lunch and hired a taxi to give us a tour of the scenic spots around Charlotte Amalie...of which there are many. The flamboyant trees were in full blossom and it was really gorgeous. Back onboard, this was Caribbean theme nite. Since I am not of fan of either jerk chicken or dancing waiters, I had made reservations at Chops. (This is one of two alternative restaurants onboard. Chops is primarly a steak house;Portofinos is primarily Italian. Dining at either costs an extra $20/person which includes gratuity.) This was by far the best meal we had onboard. (Frankly, I felt the food in the dining room on NOS was not as good as we'd had on fairness, it could be that I was blown away by my first cruise experience.) Unlike the dining rooms in which the waiter and his assistant had several tables to serve, in Chops there seemed to be one of four serving people nearby most of the time we were eating. Our reservations were at 6:30pm, so we got the extra treat of watching our ship steam out of the harbor while we were eating. Carnival Triumph had also been in port that day and she left shortly after we did. After dinner we took in the Ice Dancin' show, which was also excellent. By the end of the ice show I was exhausted, so I missed Caribbean Street Fair, the Love and Marriage Game Show, the Mardi Gras Parade and the Dancing under the Stars Deck Party. I saw part of the Game Show on TV the next day and it was pretty funny.

DAY FIVE - Weds. - San Juan, PR

Another early rising since we had scheduled the El Yunque Rainforest Tour. This is another excursion that's probably best to schedule through RCCL as you are only in San Juan from 7:00 until 2:00 and the tour takes close to five hours. Nancy and Danielle had wanted to take this tour, and I thought it would probably be tedious and boring but was pleasantly surprised. There were lots of people taking this tour, and, by the luck of the draw, we got an outstanding tour guide, Ed La Boy, and a large comfortable bus. It takes about an hour to get to El Yunque and Ed kept us informed not only about what we were seeing enroute, but also about the history and politics of the island. I was glad Ed was driving as we climbed the mountain...the road is quite an experience! I had been expecting a hot, wet and buggy hike at the highest point of the tour (which is a 20-30min walk along a mostly level trail). Instead, I found it pleasantly cool, no mosquitos at all, and it didn't even rain during the time we were there. This was not the rainy season, so I carted along throwaway ponchos and bug spray for nothing. There was a second stop in which you had the chance to climb up a ranger tower for a nice view and a third stop to view an 85-foot waterfall. You also get the inevitable stop at a souvenir shop. Tonite was the second formal nite and the dinner was the Surf and Turf...the Turf was a bit of a letdown after Chops! The show this evening was another Production Show called All Access. It featured pop music from the 70's to the present.

DAY 6 - Thurs. - Labadee, Haiti

This is the only stop on the itinerary where you need to tender ashore. The tenders ran continuously from about 9:30am to 4:30pm. People either loved this stop or hated it. If you're a "beach person," there's not much NOT to like about Labadee....great scenery, nice beaches and lots of water sports available. You'll need to reserve Waverunners early if you want to use them, and you can't go off on your own in them. They bring food from the ship to barbecue onshore at three different locations, so you're not too far from food no matter which beach you select. You will need to bring cash if you wish to shop the handicrafts. You will also want a lounge chair, and a tip is expected for this service. I enjoyed Labadee although I didn't stay ashore too long (not wishing to become what CD Martin called "Labadee Lobsters.") Although I usually have a hard time floating even in salt water I found it very easy here...perhaps indicating I now displace more water than I did prior to the cruise. Getting back onboard while most were still enjoying the beach also gave me a chance to eat at Johnny Rockets without waiting for the usual line. (Food is free at JR, but shakes cost $4.00). Tonite's entertainment included impressionist Fred Travalena and a Rock Thru the Ages Dance Party. A couple celebrating their anniversary also won the special "Win-A-Cruise-For-Two Bingo ($15/card).

DAY 7 - Fri. - Sea Day

For us the primary difference between this Seaday and DAY 3 was that we hustled around the ship to take advantage of many of the ship's features which we had omitted up 'til now. This meant Danielle had to scale the rockwall, and she and Nancy also went ice skating. I videotaped everything for posterity. The dining rooms seemed a little less full than usual...probably because this was tip nite. As much as these waiters, assistants and room stewards do to make cruising so enjoyable, I take a good deal of pleasure in making sure they get their tips personally. The Farewell Variety Show included a couple of repeat production numbers, another performance from Kristian Kristoff, and one new performer, comedian Michael Dean Ester. The emphasis in the shows on this voyage was certainly on comedy; surprisingly the material all seemed "fresh." Didn't hear any of the standard cruise jokes. Personally, I thought the "lessser known" comics were the most entertaining. We somehow managed to get dinner, see the show and the Karoke Idol finals (the winner sang the theme from "The Bodyguard," and I doubt Whitney Houston would have beat her! Terrific voice!) and still got our bags packed and set out by the midnite deadline. (TIP; You should probably be doing this daily, but if you haven't done it all so far be SURE to check the status of your Seapass account on your stateroom TV tonite. Our account was fine until the last day when a $20 minibar charge appeared even though we hadn't taken anything from the 'frig all week. A quick trip to Guest Relations {used to be called Purser's Desk} and the charge was removed with no hassle.)

DAY BLAH - Sat. - Debarkation

Prior to this trip we had not flown since the events of 9/11. Consequently, I had made midafternoon return flight arrangements, being unsure how early we'd be able to debark, how long it would take to collect baggage and how congested the airport would be. I had indicated on the departure form provided that we had a flight between 2:00 and 3:00pm and expected we'd be among the later "colors" called. However, it appears that anyone having to make any flight connections, however late in the day, are among the earliest colors called. In fact, we still hadn't gotten out of bed when we heard our color called between 7:00 and 7:30. Seeing no need to rush (everyone was supposed to vacate their stateroom by 8:00), we got to the Windjammer for breakfast, with our carryons, a few minutes after 8:00. The Windjammer, which can be hectic anytime, was a madhouse today, and it took quite awhile to find a place to sit, so we didn't leave the NOS until close to 9:00. We had only purchased a few souvenir items, so clearing customs was no problem, and we were able to find our bags (TIP: the colored cable ties are a big help in this respect) and get underway to the airport by 9:45. Unlike the previous Saturday (sigh) there was no congestion and we got to the airport shortly after 10:00. After we cleared security we found that we were actually too early to check in for our flight...had to wait about 10mins. in order to be within four hours of flight time. So, unless you enjoy hanging around airports, I'd suggest trying to schedule return flights either before noon or after 3:00pm (the latter if you'd like to do one of the post-cruise Miami excursions offered by RCCL. On our taxi ride from the port to the airport we managed to get all our luggage into a standard taxi. The driver asked us for a dollar for the toll, and the fare was $18.00.

FINAL NOTE (Egad, I thought this would NEVER end!)

We took all of our evening meals in the Dining Room (and Chops) and most of our breakfasts and lunches in the Windjammer. However, we managed to get one breakfast and one lunch in the Dining Room, and these were much more relaxed meals. Typically, the dining room will stop serving breakfast and lunch and hour or so sooner than the Windjammer, but if you're not rushed it's a much more pleasant experience. Only the larger tables are used for breakfast and lunch in the dining room, and it's open seating. Consequently, you get an opportunity to meet new people or to break bread with other people you've met by meeting outside and going in together. Despite the length of this report, I'm well aware of how many questions folks new to cruising can have. Bearing in mind that my experience is limited to these two RCCL cruises, please feel free to E-Mail me with any specific questions you may have, and I'll help if I can.

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