OVERVIEW: My partner and I have recently returned from an Atlantis Events gay charter cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's "Navigator of the Seas". This was our second cruise with Atlantis, our first one being in March of 2003 on Norwegian Cruise Lines "Norwegian Sky" - now renamed the "Pride of Aloha" and working out of Hawaii. In comparison there were many similar things and many different things. Keeping in mind that this was a charter cruise by Atlantis Events our experience aboard the Navigator of the Seas would be different than your usual sailing.
EMBARKATION: Our arrival at the pier and the time it took to get on the ship was extremely quick and efficient. It only took about 20 minutes from the time we arrived at the pier to embarking the ship.
THE SHIP ITSELF: Royal Caribbean's "Navigator of the Seas"
Absolutely Incredible! We knew that this was one of the largest cruise ships in the world and we had read much about it and seen other peoples photos of it prior to sailing, but once you are at the pier yourself and look up and see how massive it really is and then get aboard to explore it for yourself, you are totally amazed. It is said by Royal Caribbean that if you stood this ship on its end that it would be as tall as the Empire State Building. There are so many areas of this ship that it literally takes you several days to see it all. There are so many venues to go to and it is absolutely breathtaking to see what Royal Caribbean has done in designing and building these ships. There is so much attention to details. The 8.5 million dollars of artwork alone throughout this ship is incredible. I took so many rolls of film of the ship itself as I thought it was so magnificent. You would think that with roughly 3200 passengers and 1100 crew that there would be too many people at times, but we never felt this way whatsoever. We never even encountered any problems finding deck chairs around any of the pools/hot tubs. There are so many places on this ship to see, from the main Promenade in the middle of the ship which stretches as long as two football fields, to the Casino, the Dungeon bar, the Spa facility, the pools and the various hot tubs, the gym, the saunas and steam rooms, to the outdoor mini-putt, the rock climbing wall, running track, volleyball courts, and the many beautiful lounges, bars and dining rooms throughout this amazing ship - it is all yours to get out there and discover.
ITIENRARY / PORTS OF CALL: As this was a charter cruise, it was a customized itinerary departing from Miami. Our first full day was spent at Sea. The second day we arrived early afternoon in San-Juan Puerto Rico. St. Maarten was the port of call for the next day, and then another day spent at sea, followed by Royal Caribbean's private destination - Labadee, and then one final day at sea before returning to Miami.
San Juan: Our stop in San Juan was a short one, a late departure from Miami, and rough seas on our trip south, made our arrival in San Juan around 3:00 p.m. - a little later than was originally expected. We had an opportunity to walk around old San Juan and explore the beautiful cobblestone streets and all the old architecture, and visited an old cemetery right on the edge of the ocean. We made our way back to the ship for out dinner around 6:00 p.m. The ship then set sail for St. Maarten at around 10:00 p.m.
St. Maarten: Our morning arrival into the port in St. Maarten sailed us right beside Cunard Cruise Lines "Queen Mary 2" - the largest cruise liner in the world. It was anchored out in the port harbor as it is simply so large that it can't actually dock in some ports of call. St. Maarten is one of the best "Duty Free" shopping islands in the Caribbean. After departing the ship we made our way via Water Taxi to Phillipsburg where we spent most of our morning doing jewelry shopping. After spending our hard earned cash we hurried back to the ship to get ready for our afternoon shore excursion - The Rhino Rider adventure. We traveled by bus to a small inlet where we were briefed on the afternoons activity. We then boarded our small inflatable type boats with 25 HP motors and set off through the harbor and out to the Ocean. Unfortunately our boat was a lemon, and we weren't able to keep up to everyone in our group. They replaced our boat and off we were again. The second boat we had was somewhat better, but we still weren't able to gain the same kind of speed as the rest of our group. We traveled along the coast line of St. Maarten to a place called "Shipwreck cove" where we had an opportunity to do some snorkeling, which was very enjoyable. Later we traveled over to another side of the island and stationed ourselves in the ocean right at the edge of the runway for the St. Maarten airport, where planes actually landed right above our heads - quite an incredible sight. We then made our way back to the Rhino Rider base. This excursion was not as much fun as we had expected as the boat we had didn't operate properly, and the ride on the ocean was really quite rough.
Labadee: This is Royal Caribbean's private destination, a peninsula on the tip of Hispaniola, Haiti. This was by far one of the nicest stops of our cruise. We were the only Royal Caribbean ship in Labadee that day, and the private destination was totally ours for the entire day. You have to tender in from the ship at this port of call, but the tender boats are huge and carry several hundred passengers at a time. We didn't sign up for anything in Labadee, other than renting floating beach mats for the day. This place was really beautiful - the beaches were pristine, and there were lots of beach chairs, places to explore, and all of the food and drinks were brought off the ship and a huge BBQ lunch was prepared. There was a Haitian Market that was pretty high pressure sales, but you could really bargain with the vendors, and we came home with some really nice crafts, which we paid very reasonable prices for. If you weren't into the high pressure sales, there was a smaller area where set prices were available for similar kinds of items.
OUR STATEROOM: We had booked a Deluxe Outside Stateroom with a Balcony on level 6 of the ship. Our stateroom was very nice and was large enough for the two of us. The room's amenities were good and we had enough room for all of our belongings. This stateroom was a very nice upgrade for us, as we had previously had an interior stateroom on our first cruise with NCL. Being able to go out onto your balcony to have breakfast or to watch as the ship pulled into our various ports of call was very nice. It was also very nice to sleep with the balcony door open listening to the ocean at night.
DRINKS: Well the drinks on the ship were certainly not short of alcohol. One of the bar tenders actually joked with me a couple times "do you want it, unleaded, leaded or super leaded" The bar service and the quality of the drinks was really quite excellent, and if anything, sometimes they were a little on the strong side (not complaining) Of course we had a number of the "drinks of the day" and kept the souvenir glasses. We did purchase the soft drink package while on-board which gave us unlimited soft drinks. The cost for this was $48.30 US each.. I'm not sure if we really got our monies worth out of them - maybe we should have only got one pass and shared it.
We did not "smuggle" any booze on board this time, but heard of others who did. Some people who purchased alcohol at duty free stores on some of the islands didn't have their purchases temporarily confiscated upon boarding, while others did. Those who had alcohol confiscated had them returned to them on their final day before disembarking the ship.
DINING: As this was a charter cruise Atlantis Events made some changes to the manner in which the ship would normally operate. They changed the normal dining arrangements, whereby there was open seating at all meals throughout the cruise. When booking the cruise we had been previously assigned a dining time which we were able to ignore and were able to dine wherever and whenever we wanted during the times that the dining rooms were open - This was similar to NCL's Freestyle dining concept. Our opinion of the food itself and the table service on the Navigator of the Seas was less than that which we experienced on our NCL cruise. The overall food quality on this cruise was good and the desserts themselves were very good. The quality and quantity of the food on NCL seemed to be somewhat better, and the service at the tables was definitely better on NCL.
We were unable to eat at either Portifinos, or Chops as they both booked up so quickly. They would start to accept reservations in person starting at 10:00 a.m. each day, and on many days the line up to make reservations started very early in the morning. We did hear from various people that the food and the table service in these areas were excellent, and well worth the additional $25.00 per person. One individual I spoke with said that his dining experience at Chops was probably one of the best meals he had ever had in his life.
We did manage to eat at Johnny Rockets, and coming from Canada, we had never eaten at a Johnny Rockets before. It was really good, and we enjoyed the old fashioned "diner" experience. The nominal $3.95 surcharge for this restaurant was not a big deal. We could probably have eaten more than one hamburger though. I made up for it by having both a milkshake and a delicious desert.
There were no formal dinner nights. The only stipulation which was made was that no tank tops or shorts were to be worn in the main dining rooms, or at any of the specialty restaurants. The open seating arrangements were a really nice way to meet new and different people each night.
ENTERTAINMENT: Being a gay charter cruise, Atlantis Events brings on much of it's own entertainment, comedians, hypnotist, drag queens, entertainers, disc jockeys, sound systems, lighting, laser shows etc. Names such as Shann Carr, Jim David, Andre Kelley, Bruce McDonald, Edie, Miss Richfield, Matt Yee, Pam Ann, Rudy Galindo and Pamela Stanley were among many of the entertainers on this particular cruise. RCI did have some of its own entertainers on this sailing, but the majority of the entertainment was provided by Atlantis Events.
In their usual tradition, Atlantis usually brings on board a "Star" entertainer, and on this particular cruise they had two main attractions - Mario Cantone (comedian) and Deborah Cox in concert. Both of these stars put on two shows in order for all guests to have an opportunity to see them as the venues were simply not large enough to seat all guests at one time.
There were many different Theme Parties on this cruise - Dog-tag, Classic Disco, and Beach Ball afternoon T-dances, Mardi-Gras Party, Island Magic Party, and of course The White Party. Many of the late night parties lasted till the sun came up the following morning.
The laser light shows at the parties which were held at night on the outdoor deck area were truly a sight to see.
SPA SERVICES: Our word of advice for utilizing the spa services on a gay charter cruise - book early. The spa services on gay cruises are usually very popular and as such they don't start to accept bookings until after the pre-departure boat drill takes place at your original departure point. There was a HUGE lineup for people wanting to book Spa Services. We booked a couple's massage treatment which was quite nice.
SHIPS PHOTOGRAPHY: Royal Caribbean's ship photography department seemed to thoroughly enjoy capturing "The Largest Gay Cruise in History" in photographs for everyone. Not only did they take your usual welcome aboard pictures, the ports of call pictures, and the formal pose pictures, but they really got into photographing everyone in their various costumes during the various theme parties. They were really creative and took lots of time with everyone wanting pictures. We purchased 3 pictures, and a couple of the ship itself. We purchased a "Cruise in Review" DVD of our cruise. It could have had a little more substance and more footage from our own cruise, but it wasn't too bad. At one of the ship's shops we also purchased a DVD copy of Royal Caribbean three hour documentary "The In-depth Story of How They Build The World's Largest Cruise Ships". This is a fascinating and informative documentary - well worth purchasing.
DISEMBARKING: During the cruise, they ask you to complete the survey on your interactive television in your stateroom. They ask what time your flight leaves, and they use this information to issue you specific colored luggage tags. As our flight departed Miami after 3:00 that day, we were issued Lavender colored tags (one of the last ones to be called to depart the ship)
On the day of departure they really want you out of your staterooms by 7:00 a.m. and they want you to wait in any of the Public Lounge areas until they call for departure by the luggage color tags. We had to wait until almost 10:30 a.m. before we were called to depart the ship. Once out of the ship itself, it took a fairly long time, to go through Customs as there were only a handful of immigration agents. If you go on a Royal Caribbean cruise and want to get of the ship early - make sure you advise them in the survey that your flight leaves before 11:30 a.m. and then you should get White luggage tags and you'll be able to depart early.