December 3, 2005
This was our return to Royal Caribbean International (RCI) Navigator of the Seas; we first sailed on her in 2003. At that time, we published a review detailing her many amenities and the beauty of this Voyager Class ship. Then the Navigator held the title "Largest Cruise Ship" in the world. When the Cunard Queen Mary II was launched in 2004, she took the title with a record 150,000 tons. RCI will again hold that title in May 2006, with the launching of the Freedom of the Seas, soon to become the largest cruise liner afloat at 158,000 tons.
We were happy to see Captain Leif Otto Bang still in command, and to receive such a warm welcome back by both him and Hotel Director Richard Nentwich. This review will center on Gold Anchor Service, since we have already detailed the Navigator's beauty and decorations in the 2003 review. The elegant three deck dining room, with an enormous chandelier, is resplendent in nautical navy blue, maroon and brass decor providing a beautiful setting for an entertaining cruise. The Navigator was decorated with hundreds of live poinsettia plants, trimmed Christmas Trees and then festooned with bows galore. These natural and classic holiday decorations were much appreciated by the passengers.
The port of Miami is easily accessed; however, to embark approximately 3,500 passengers (and all their luggage) in less than four hours could be a logistical nightmare. RCI is up to the task and once security had concluded its work, then the lines moved along quickly. Boarding time is 2:00pm and we were on board and assisted to our stateroom in about thirty minutes. Recent US federal cut backs to the number of security personnel has made the process slower all around. There is a specific check-in counter for Crown & Anchor Diamond members and passengers on wheelchairs which makes boarding very quick. We checked our Dining Room reservations -- a table for two near the entrance to the Coppelia Dining Room -- perfect! It is better to do this soon after boarding, in order to avoid waiting in line at dinner time. All set, we went to the very crowded Windjammer Cafe' for the welcome aboard buffet. This is probably the only time that it is so busy, because so many hungry passengers descend on it simultaneously. There were many staff who helped with the seating, trays and beverages; even so, we usually avoid the buffet because of the wheelchair. Yet, many Americans love a buffet and some even avoid the dining rooms altogether, not us. We enjoy the exquisite dinners and service provided in the dining room as do so many other passengers. This is what makes cruising so much fun. Cruisers can enjoy the ship or exotic ports in the day time, and then in the evening come together at dinner and talk about their adventures of the day.
The Navigator is a 138,000 gross tonnage, 650 million dollar wonder with 1,557 staterooms which can accommodate 3,835 passengers -- on this cruise there were 3,600 and a crew of 1,256. Her length is 1,020 ft., beam is 157.5 ft. and her draft is only 29 ft. All this and a cruising speed of 22 knots. The purser's desk provides a handy ship's deck plan, which folds to a neat playing card size.
The Voyager Class ships, the Voyager (1999), Explorer (2000), Adventure (2001), Navigator (2002) and Mariner (2003) all have the distinctive feature of the Royal Promenade. This city street within the ship is almost 400 ft long and four decks tall. There are cabins overlooking the mall of boutiques, cafes and pubs. It is the center of action and the place to stroll, window shop or just sit and have a coffee or an ice cream. (See our 2003 review for a deck by deck description of the Navigator's 15 decks). The other unique features are the ice skating rink (the site of Olympic quality skating shows) and the rock climbing wall. The Navigator is just as lovely as when we first sailed on her three years ago. Mr. Nentwich keeps her pristine!
FOOD & SERVICE
Service is labeled "Gold Anchor Service" and when things go well as they do on the Navigator ---- we have only praise and no complaints. When passenger needs are anticipated and met, then it is smooth sailing. Loyalty ambassador Cindy Dangel provides special assistance for Crown & Anchor Members and information on future cruise savings. There is also Concierge Patricia Isaacs, who can provide assistance to all your needs with speed and grace. She is lovely.
The Navigator's elegant three tier dining room forms an exquisite dining setting with its slender, tall white columns, and intricate double curving staircase framing its enormous central chandelier with matching round crystal chandeliers throughout the dining room ---- Magnificent. Service in the dining room is top notch. The Head Waiter Ali Matjani was efficient and our Waiter James D'Sa (India) and his Assistant Nikola Vucetic (Croatia) were very cordial and made our evenings truly enjoyable.
Food on the RCI is very good and aimed towards the American palate. The menus have been down sized literally. There are fewer offerings, but better varied. The "Always Available" section covers fish, fowl and beef. We had a long talk with the new Executive Chef Johan Petutschnig (Austria), who was scheduled to take over the following week. We discussed the large portions and the many food venues. On board are Johnny Rockets, two upscale restaurants, bars, ice cream shops etc. The crew on this ship is very approachable, well mannered, and efficient. Specialty dining in the Portofino and Chops Grille is excellent ($20 per person dining fee). The first evening there was a Murder Mystery Dinner, a fun/dinner show with audience participation.
Dinner with Captain and Mrs. Bang was our dining highlight. Fine food, fine conversation and a dessert to remember: "Captain's Delight" which is a goblet filled with wild berries (strawberries, blue berries, raspberries, and black berries) topped with freshly made ice cream. It was a night that ended with the dining room staff singing and dancing for the passengers.
The Gold Anchor Service is most evident in the special attention given to the repeat cruisers: Concierge service, Welcome Back Cocktail Parties with the ranking crew; booklets of coupons which include the following: Free drinks and commemorative glasses; Casino Credits; discounts in the shops on board; Free Internet time; Free Personal Photographs, etc. We are always amazed that ship personnel make a special effort to call us by our names. In short, RCI makes cruisers feel welcome as no other line does. Of course cordiality works both ways; whenever a cruiser has a concern and directs it to us, we always inform them of the proper person to go to for assistance. A problem with the cabin should be directed to the Housekeeper; a problem in the dining room should be discussed with the Maitre D' and so forth. The crew is there to give passengers an excellent vacation, and we commend them on their excellent job. Whenever a passenger needs assistance, a simple phone call down to the Passenger Service Desk will bring immediate help.
Wheelchair accessible Stateroom #6600 has a small foyer, and when entering on the left is the huge bathroom with a nice size mirrored medicine cabinet, and a large 5'x5' shower with safety rails all around. Then, there is an upholstered arm chair and a matching sofa in teal and gold, and a glass coffee table. There is also a TV, private safe, refrigerator, and a desk/vanity with lighted mirror and drawers. When entering on the right is a triple armoire (ample room and shelves), a queen size bed with a teal suede head board, and two night stands with reading lamps. The far wall is all windows with blackout draperies in a foliage and stripe print of teal and gold which matches the bed linens and the carpeting. There are two prints of exotic orchids on the walls. The wood is all light pine; the total effect is very pretty, cool and restful.
Cruise Director Ken Rush is a seasoned (20 years in the cruise industry) M. C., who knows how to warm up an audience and present a show. Good laughs and excellent shows are the hallmark of RCI. The singers and dancers did Broadway style shows and Judy Kolba was a standout headliner: comedy, costumes, and a voice that "shook the rafters," all brought the entire audience to its feet, a standing ovation.
It follows that the largest ships have the most to offer in entertainment; yet, there is plenty of room for quiet, or private times. Strolling the Promenade Deck, we watched a young couple play shuffleboard. We watched sail away from the Cosmopolitan Club on Deck 14, and it was serene, way above the merry sail away party on Deck 12. In the mornings, we picked up the daily newspapers in English, French, Spanish, Italian and German. We took them up to the 19th Hole Sports Bar and compared the slant on the news from country to country. Diamond members of the Crown & Anchor Society (10 or more cruises on RCI ships) and passengers in suites may enjoy cocktails and canapés in the Concierge Lounge on Deck 9. This is a nice way to meet fellow passengers.
The crown jewel of entertainment on board is the Ice Skating show "Ice Dancin" with Dance Captain Danny, who was excellent. We wish that show programs were still given out to the audience as at prior shows. It would be nice to know the skaters by name and country of origin. The quality is near Olympic level and the choreography was beautiful. Lots to see and do on board, including Casino gaming and Bingo, mini golf, rock climbing, skating, inline skating, ping pong, basket ball, dancing, movies, etc.
PORTS OF CALL
Day 1. Miami Set sail at 5:00pm.
Day 2. At Sea
Day 3. San Juan, Puerto Rico Arrive 2:00pm Depart 10:00pm
Entering San Juan is one of the prettiest sights with the view of the two forts dating back to the 1500s: La Fortaleza and El Morro. This island has everything from rain forest to shopping.
Day 4. St. Thomas, USVI Arrive 8:00am Depart 6:00pm
Nicknamed a "Shoppers' Haven," it is especially great for linens, and its Danish influence is still apparent.
Day 5. St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles Arrive 8:00am Depart 5:00pm
This tiny island is divided into two sovereign powers: Dutch & French which have co-existed for 350 years. The ship guarantees more than twenty shops on the island and any purchase may be questioned within thirty days of the sale date. Take an island tour up to Mount Concordia, the view is lovely.
Day 6. At Sea
Day 7. Nassau, Bahamas Arrive 1:00pm Depart 7:00pm
The capital of the Bahamas is connected with a bridge to Paradise Island, where Atlantis is located. This resort hotel offers some of the most interesting sites in the Bahamas, such as beautiful beaches, a nice water park and a spectacular aquarium, the best we have ever seen anywhere.
Day 8. Miami Disembark 7:00am
Longer lines during embarkation have become more tedious and wearisome due to the security clearance (recently the federal government reduced the number of security agents). However, we feel the situation can be definitely improved with better coordination and timing of the security personnel in screening the passengers. We noticed on this cruise that the screening process did not start until after 1:00pm, much later than usual, and the lines grew longer and a bit restless by the time we started boarding the ship.
This was a great cruise and RCI remains for us one of our favorite lines. We have accumulated thirty cruise credits with RCI and plan to do many more cruises in the future. Now we have booked one on the new Freedom of the Seas for October, but we'll be booking more cruises before October. This month we are going on the Costa Magica (Jan. 8th) and on Carnival Liberty (Jan. 29th). We have not yet booked any cruises for the coming Spring and Summer, but we'll do it soon, before Vincent gets cruise withdrawal symptoms.