First things first. After almost two years of reading cruise reviews and looking at photographs, I have decided that it is time to return the favor. This is my third cruise and very first review so please be kind. *smile* I should also make it known that I'm about as far from an English major as one can be. I consider my writing to be in the Classical E-mail style mainly. I will do my best to make this easy for you all to follow, but my thoughts change as often as gas prices. With that said.
Call me Scott. Some days ago, never mind how long precisely, having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.(1) My partner and I departed from Seattle after a busy day of packing. Not packing for the cruise mind you, but packing to move. After dropping off the last load of boxes on the living room floor of the new apartment, it was finally time to pack for the cruise. Exactly thirty minutes later we left for the airport. If that doesn't convey the amount of stress we were feeling, I don't know what else will. We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale with little sleep after a long night of red-eye flights. We collected our luggage and grabbed a cab for the trip to Miami (approx $65.00 including tip). Driving into town was truly a treat. I can't explain the feeling we had as we saw the two massive ships (Navigator and Explorer) docked right in front of each other appearing on the horizon (well, as much horizon as you can have in downtown Miami).
Ok folks, I know that we all have this little itch inside. We love to read about everyone's complaints in these reviews. It's almost like driving by an accident on the highway. No matter how much your aggravated by everyone slowing down to look, you can't help but look yourself. Well, no matter how wonderful this cruise was, I do have complaints. Here's the first one. PORTERS. I don't know what got up this guys rear end that morning but he was about to get my left foot as well. After having to unload our own luggage with help from the cab driver and drag it to the curb, our porter picked it up and moved it the last 1 ½ feet to the cart and stuck his hand out. Lack of sleep was getting to me and I was still trying to mentally prepare myself for the lines that were ahead of us in the terminal. I gave him $6.00 for the four bags he put on the cart (his job). Had he actually done more than talk to the cab driver and helped us with our luggage (his job), I would have been happy to tip him more. As it was, he got more than $1.00 a bag for his lack of service. Mainly because that's what was in my pocket at the time and I just wanted to get inside to the AC as fast as possible. Apparently this was not acceptable for him and he put his hand out to my partner for more money. Confused, we just said that was all the bags we had. He insisted we give him more money. Bewildered, we just walked away hoping we would one day see our luggage again. After sharing this story onboard, we were shocked to hear others similar. Even going as far as porters who were flat out "charging" $10.00 per couple to handle their luggage. This is the first time I have encountered something like this. It was quite a put off esp. since we had still to set foot on the boat.
Once inside we made our way upstairs and through the lines. To our pleasant surprise, we were registered and in line to board the ship within fifteen minutes. Kudos Royal Caribbean! We made our way to cabin 8516 (balcony) to change and freshen up a bit before heading to the Windjammer for lunch at noon. Our cabin attendant was a very pleasant gentleman who was a little confused when we kept pushing the beds together at night after he made them separate. He finally caught on and after that point we really didn't see him much. No complaints though. Our luggage came after lunch (thank God). While Scott was taking a nap (his name also), I unpacked. With the rush that we were in to get out of town, neither of us were really careful about how we packed. We decided to get all the shirts and pants pressed once onboard. This was a HUGE convenience for us. 2 suits, 11 shirts, and 7 pair of slacks came to just under $40.00. We'll do this from now on. We ate lunch and toured the ship.
The ship is very easy to get around. Although, you will realize the shear size of her once you find out that your cabin is on one end and the dining room is on the other. Too far from the food, our first booking mistake. Our experience on the Adventure of the Seas proved to be an advantage on this cruise. The layout and ship schedule is basically the same. The biggest difference we noted was in the balcony. Gone are the steel boxes that once comprised the voyager class balcony. A nice touch. It makes the ship much more pleasant to look at (and we all know that we want the other cruise ships looking at us while we're in port). You can now sit on the balcony and see the ocean without having to stand up and lean over the rail. With much of the external support removed, they did have to install support columns in the hallways outside the cabin doors. Not a huge eyesore, but I did notice them right away. It's worth it for the views from the balcony though, not to mention the columns help keep you upright on your way to the room when you've had one too many coco loco's.
We mustered at 4:30ish and to our relief our muster station was in the Ixtapa lounge. The last thing we wanted was to stand in the Miami heat and humidity with a hundred other people around us all wearing life vests. Huge difference this made. Our muster drill was almost enjoyable. At 5:00 pm, we made our way to the pool deck to meet our fellow Cruise Critic passengers for sail away. What a difference these people made in our cruise. I have sailed with other cruise critics prior to this cruise and based on my experience, I wasn't expecting much. Just a few weeks into chatting on the boards, I knew this group was going to be different...AND DIFFERENT WE ARE! We had been talking multiple times daily for months and basically knew each others inseams by the time we boarded. The best I can remember, there was over 86 of us onboard. 30+ of us were members of the core group (The Purple Ribbon Cruise Critics). Like that guys? I took the liberty of naming us. =) I can't say enough about how wonderful these people are. As the Explorer of the Seas sailed by us, the two ships took part in a sort of mimic game of blowing horns. It was cute. We ended up cutting the party short so that folks could get ready for dinner.
It was at this time that I went to the spa for my scheduled facial. Wonderful as always. The Spa is one of my favorite parts of the ship. I had an hour long oxygen and galvanic stimuli facial and it cost $100.00 plus tip. Note, you receive a $20.00 discount for booking services the first day following the spa tour. The young lady was very polite and not pushy about pushing her products. Although she did make it sound like space would collapse in on itself if I didn't purchase what she recommended. Well, that's the last thing I wanted! This was the first day of the cruise, not the best time for space to collapse on itself. I ended up with a total bill including tip over $400.00.
O wata goo siam, O wata goo siam.
Also, I wanted to make a note here for you all. On previous cruises I noticed the spa hosting discounted specials towards the end of the cruise. They would be listed in the Compass. This time there were spa specials, but not really discounted. Just different packages that weren't advertised in the spa service menu. Whatever..It's time for dinner.
The food on this, my third Royal Caribbean cruise, was good. Not great, but good. I've noticed a definite attempt at cost cutting. I'm not saying the food was awful as others have portrayed it. Just lacking what it used to. The dining room was fabulous as was the service. Brent was one of the best...no, THE BEST waiter I have ever had. However, there was a definite exception to Chops. The food was incredible! The service on the other hand was lousy. I don't expect that to be the norm. There ended up being a party of 18 that was consuming every available resource the staff had. Including patients. Chops was definitely well worth the $20.00 charge. Shoots, there were people in our party that ate more than $20.00 in appetizers! *wink wink* I can't leave this topic without bringing up the infamous Ranch Steak or Surf and Turf. It was great! In fact, I didn't hear anyone in our group think otherwise. We were all surprised. I ordered it only for the kitsch value. I wanted the t-shirt that says "I had the Ranch Steak and survived!". I have included a picture in the photo album.
The production shows were very good. The Voyager class ships have HUGE theatres and are able to do so much more than the Vegas style review (although, there were a few headdresses on the stage). The 4 main singers have voices that could blow you out of the water. The only problem I have with these shows are the fact that they give psudo rolls to the dancers. I know I of all people don't need to tell you this. You can't make a male dancer act like a straight man no matter how hard you try. Just give up! The ice dancing show was pretty good. It seemed to me that the Adventure of the Seas show was better by far, but still, you can't believe what they can do on ice in the middle of the ocean. And that girl and the hula-hoops! My gosh! Will the carnage ever end??? Entertainment throughout the ship was very good. The guy playing requests every night in the Two Poets Pub was awesome and a lot of fun! (FYI, this pub is the only place onboard where you can get Newcastle Brown Ale). The hired entertainers where in my opinion, fare to partly cloudy. The ones I saw were quite enjoyable, others I didn't even want to see. And I can't leave out our Cruise Director, Jeff Arpin. He was the best I have ever seen. Very funny, although I get the feeling his routine never changes. His punch lines were very well rehearsed. But still, he was able to make me laugh every night.
On our first day at sea, the pool deck was as expected. Crowded. However, I didn't see any chair saving and if you looked, you could always find two, three, or even four deck chairs together. We were never without a chair. Our favorite spot to sit and read or people watch was the Solarium. This is the "adult" area of this ship. It contains 1 fair sized salt water pool and 2 fresh water hot tubs. There were often times when Scott and I were the only ones in the pool or the tub (a huge benefit to having second seating at dinner). That area was never crowded and you could easily find sun or shade. It was fairly quiet and had great sea views. There was always bar service around if you wanted a drink. I never had to get up and go to the bar myself. I did tip for the service if they brought me a drink (above and beyond the gratuity added to the check). But here his complaint number two. Since my last cruise, Royal Caribbean has taken it upon themselves to add a gratuity line to every receipt you will see. Prior to this you would just have a printed total and signature line. Not a huge deal, but it leads me to believe that they are grubbing for more tips. If a gratuity is added to the check automatically and there is no service (you get it yourself), then no additional tip is needed. I realize this is petty of me, but many people who didn't know better were tipping every time they signed they're name. That adds up fast!
Our first port of call was Labadee, the private island. It was very beautiful. Although, there were a LOT of jelly fish in the water. If you are going to swim, I suggest staying in the area protected by a net. The only problem we heard was if you wanted to snorkel. The net kept out the jellies but also kept out all the tropical fish. Not to mention the water was a bit churned up. What would you expect from a 140,000 ton ship pulling in and dropping of thousands of people. The island was clean, well maintained, and people were friendly. No locals pushing crafts right of the boat. I guess this is a change from prior. All the vendors are stationed in an out of the way location and it's up to you to go to them. My tip to you, if there is anything you think you may need or want, take it with you. Labadee is a tender port so going back to the ship for something you forgot will be more pain than it's worth.
Ocho Rios was as expected. Jamaica, not my favorite island in the Caribbean. We booked the Pete Taylor tour. He picked us up at the pier, took us to Fern Gully, the falls, and drove us around the outskirts of the city for some history. It was fun, and a lot cheaper than booking through the ship. I, however, was not overly impressed with Pete Taylor. People on the Cruise Critic boards speak of him and his tour very highly. I felt he was just like any other tour operator. He had a job, and he did it..End of story. The falls themselves are BEAUTIFUL! It was a bit more work than I expected, but just about anyone can make it up. The water was a little chilly at first but felt good in the heat of the day. We got there later in the afternoon so there were already tons of people making their way up the falls. The guides were very rude and pushy. If you slowed down to help someone or take a picture, they splashed us with water to make us hurry up. Also, don't bother with taking a camera unless it's waterproof. If you climb the falls, you have to release your camera to one of the guides who climb with you. They say they will take pictures for you and return the camera to you once you dry off. We got 1 picture and he lost our lens cap. After being pushed, pulled, yelled at, and splashed, loosing the lens cap was just about all we could take. He put his hand out for a tip and we politely informed him that his tip was paying for a new cap. Leaving the falls was a whole new adventure. I have heard about shopping in Jamaica, now I have seen it first hand. Just trying to get out of the falls and into the parking lot was a nightmare. You can say no, you can keep walking, or you can do as I did and just flat out run. Either way, you will still be grabbed by your arm and literally dragged to see their crafts. If you don't know what shopping is like in Jamaica, I strongly suggest you read up before going. Don't touch, even if it's handed to you. Free means free with a 15 dollar tip. Don't give your name or birthday/anniversary dates. You'd be surprised how quickly you will own something. People got back to our bus with stuff they didn't even know they purchased. =) This was more then enough fun in Jamaica for us so we went right back to the ship for some food at Johnny Rockets and a nap by the pool.
The following day brought us to Grand Cayman. Personally, I feel this is one of the friendliest and cleanest islands in the Caribbean. I've seen just about all of them (southern, eastern, western) and besides St. Thomas, this is by far one of my favorites. We booked the NativeWay tour with a few other cruise critics. Again, this tour offered more than the ships and was much cheaper. We went to Stingray City and the Coral Gardens. The water was warm and clear. The boat ride was smooth and very enjoyable. The guides were fun and had lots of information. Lots of fish and stingrays including the very rare Caribbean Red Stingray (see photo in album). Fellow cruise critic, Captain Becky, took us back to the docks and we boarded the bus back to the ship. You had the option of stopping at 7 mile beach and catching a cab to the pier if you wanted. We went to Hard Rock for some drinks and munchies before a 1 hour of crash shopping. Grand Cayman is a short day and the tenders don't help any. The last tender was at 3:30 and we soon set sail for Cozumel.
We didn't end up seeing much of Cozumel. Once we docked, we went right to our ferry for the trip to Playa del Carmen. We booked the Tulum tour through the ship, mainly for the insurance in case a ferry was late leaving the mainland. Once on the mainland, we boarded a bus for Tulum. The tour was put together very well and the driver and guide were great. We were very tired though. Most of the info went in one ear and out the other. I fell asleep on the bus more than once. They made a stop at a crafts market for a pit stop and then continued to the ruins. Please keep in mind that most of this tour is spent getting there and getting back. Almost 7 hours and only 2 of them are actually spent at the ruins. That was fine with us though. The Mayan ruins were quite a sight to see. So much history. The views are breathtaking. The only bad part was the heat. I think I lost 3 pounds that afternoon. There is a lunch served on the bus, but if your not a fan of fishy tuna, then I suggest you stop at Subway before boarding the bus. Just watch out for the dive bombing dead birds! Inside story, but very funny. Only in Mexico! Why didn't we take a picture???
Our ferry back to the island of Cozumel was quite a ride. I suggest anyone with even the slightest twinge of motion sickness medicate themselves ahead of time. Both ferries cross open ocean and rock and roll the whole way. Once on the island, we only had an hour to shop. We picked up a few things and headed over to Carlos and Charlie's to see if anyone was left standing. Apparently not! We got back to the ship and took a seat on our balcony to watch everyone stumble back up the pier. Glad we did too! We got to see quite a show. Quite a few of our friends were doing the best they could to get back onboard.but not without offering the entire port side of the ship a show. (Keep your shirts on ladies!)
Another restful day at sea followed. This is always the saddest day of the cruise. Getting ready to say goodbye and packing is such a hard thing to do. We weren't going to go out easy though. At least not without leaving our mark on the ship. =) During the passenger vs. staff volleyball game (passengers won!), everyone started noticing the large amount of water gathering on deck and the sudden lack of water in the pool. What we thought was a lot of water on deck apparently didn't even compare to the amount of water flooding into the 10th deck cabins! I have to congratulate RCI on dealing with this! I'm not sure if the folks in the effected cabins got any kind of compensation, but they did have new carpet down on most of the 10th deck by midnight.
Here's one last complaint I have to add before closing up here. During the cruise critic party I won a diamond crown and anchor coupon booklet in the raffle. I was happy! Little did I know how hard it was going to be to use this booklet. We ended up being denied for various purchases and discounts using the diamond coupons. Since Scott and I are only Gold members, any transaction we wanted to use a coupon for that required a purchase, they would point out the fact that this wasn't our coupon due to the fact that it states GOLD MEMBER on the bottom of your seapass card. We explained more than once that RCI raffled us this coupon booklet at the cruise critic party. We were told both times that they have never heard of a "cruise critic party" and the coupon could not be honored. I wasn't in the mood to put up a fight or take this issue any further. I'm not one to complain to someone about service so I just let it go. My only question is why on earth would they give these things out and then not allow you to use them?
Our wake-up call came way too early. Depression had set in and all I wanted to do was get home so we could finish moving in to the new apartment. There were lots of available places to sit in the public spaces. Our color was called about an hour early and we said goodbye to the Navigator of the Seas. Luggage was easy to pick up. Unlike in San Juan, there is a baggage claim so you don't have to walk up and down endless rows of bags. We cleared customs, collected out bags and got a cab to the Miami airport. Our flight departed on time at 12:30 pm and we returned to everyday life here in the pacific northwest. This was the best of my three cruises and the ship was beautiful. I can't wait for our next Royal Caribbean cruise.
I hope this little review had some info you could use. I tried to touch on a little bit of everything but have left lots out. Please feel free to email me with any specific questions you may have about Royal Caribbean or the Navigator, Adventure, or Monarch of the Seas. I have no life so you will get a quick response. =) SPGryphon@aol.com I also have a sample of photo's from this cruise online for you to review. http://community.webshots.com/user/spgryphon Please note that a lot of them were taken with a brand new digital camera which I never read the owners manual for prior to leaving for the cruise. It was a learning experience. I will also be scanning all 7 days of the Cruise Compass and adding it to the gallery sometime in the next week. I will make a separate post on Cruise Critic when I get the scans uploaded.
Again, that you to all our wonderful Cruise Critic friends for making this such an enjoyable cruise. We have never been so welcomed by such a large group of people before. We sincerely love you all, miss you all, and will cherish our new friendships forever. Here's to the Mariner next year!
(1) Moby Dick by Herman Melville.