We sailed with a Cruise Critic group on the Navigator's Eastern Caribbean route 1/18/03- 1/25/03. Our friends Mike and Debbie, also from Louisville, joined us. We were on the Voyager the past summer and couldn't wait to book her new sister! I will compare these two ships in this review. Our friends stayed at the Hyatt the night prior to the cruise. We flew down the morning of, having stayed at an airport hotel in Louisville, then parking and shuttling to the red- eye. Very easy flights.
Arrival: It was in the low 50's and windy when we arrived at the RCCL terminal in Miami at 11:50. We had to wait in line about 40 minutes outside, which was pretty brisk. Once inside, we waited another 40 minutes in line before finally stepping aboard the ship. We headed to our room and met Wickham, our steward, who provided wonderful, friendly service all week. We gave him his gratuity up front, and later handed him another tip for the great job. I recommend tipping everyone up front; they know you won't stiff them and you'll have a chance to reward above average service.
The Ship: On for the tour. Right away, we saw many changes in the Navigator that we liked better than the Voyager. The art work in the atrium is stunning! The library is now separate from the computer terminals, which makes it a bit more peaceful and relaxing. After the Norwalk scare, we noticed more cleaning. The smell of bleach became overwhelming at times and burned my sinuses. The Fitness facility had better machines. They used all Lifestyler bikes, elliptical trainers and treadmills. These machines read your heart rate and have other fun features such as workout programs.The weight machines were also very nice- much better than the Reebok machines on Voyager. The temperature of the gym was cooler, which was pleasant for aerobics.I used the jogging track outdoors once- it was too windy most of the time. 5 laps to a mile, get there early before people start sitting there.
Bars: Vintages Wine Bar was our favorite addition to the ship. We went for seminars, tastings and other events hosted by an affable and knowledgeable staff .The BIG negative is they allow smoking on one side and at the bar which drifts throughout the bar. There is not good ventilation either. It ruined our first tasting when we tried to distinguish smells from fruits and compare them with wines. All we could smell was smoke! At later tastings, they asked people to refrain from smoking, but it was still allowed at other times. RCCL allows smoking in all bars- here's one where they could offer a smoke-free environment! Boleros: This replaced the Aquarium bar on Voyager. It had warm, rich tones and gorgeous glass flowers on the walls. My favorite artwork on the ship. They had the Rosario strings playing a mixture of standards and Latin music. The dancing was great! This quartet also provided tunes on the Promenade in the afternoons. They were fabulous and much appreciated.
Ixtapa Lounge: Pretty typical rock music. The Stingrays did a variety for the theme nights .They have an excellent keyboardist/singer who is the guts of the group. This lounge also hosted the karaoke nights. They are no longer contests, as the ones held in Pig and Whistle on Voyager.
Two Poets: PeteWickersham played guitar and sang a typical variety. We enjoyed singing with him and he was gracious with passing the mike . He enjoyed the harmony, and was a good entertainer. Cosmopolitan Club: Bigger than High Notes on Voyager. Also, prettier, warmer with a larger dance floor. Excellent jazz Band, the Phil Magallenes Quintet. We only wished they had played a little more swing,; we love that dancing. Pianist was one of the best I've heard on a cruise. Real pro.
Studio B: This is where the fabulous ice show was held. Do not miss it. They didn't "fly" as on the Voyager, but it was more Ice Dancing instead of the competition format. The costumes and music were stunning. On one night, a dance floor was installed, and there was a 50's-60's sock hop. Jeffrey Arpin, the Cruise Director, dressed as 'Big Daddy" and hosted a dance competition, sang and played piano! The Stingrays did the music and the staff danced as well. It was a solid hour of fun!
Schooner Bar: Usually a favorite, we weren't crazy about Matt Yee. I play piano for a living, so I am a bit opinionated. When we do piano bars, we like the crazy stuff, but it's also nice to do some standards and sing alongs. Most pianists pass the mike and make it a group activity. he wouldn't give up the Gilligan's Island stuff. In your face music. Every other song, he'd break into the song from Grease- wella wella wella UUGGHH. That's what you heard over and over and over when you passed through. I found it pretty annoying.
The Dungeon: Very cool, loved the cracked glass steps,gothic-style decor, lighting was something to see. We didn't care for the music, so didn't stay there long.
Food: Windjammer/Jade: Big improvements here! There is a lovely wood-trimmed entrance to this area with Chops and Portofino's on either side. Jade has the first buffet lines. I REALLY enjoyed the food here. I had some interesting Indian dishes, Chinese mixed veggies with Tofu ,and salad with a very spicy Indian dressing. Since buffet food tends to be bland, this is a welcome change. The buffet of the Windjammer is now set up in several stations. It keeps the lines shorter, but also has people going in lots of directions! The food was good- they had a couple of fish and chicken dishes which were tasty and had an excellent vegetable stew. I'm not a big meat eater, but my tablemates raved about the short ribs. At breakfast, you could have an omelet made at the very back line. The fruit was excellent- pineapple fresh, watermelon and cantaloupe sweet. The spicy salsa was great on eggs.
Dining Room: Food was good to very good. Lobster on Friday was superb. Many ordered two. We were booked with a group and were originally given first seating with them. The four of us from Louisville had our cards hand- marked , and we were changed to second seating on the third tier by the door at a table for 10! We got a very strange explanation when asked how this occurred. We spent a couple hours with Raj, our patient Head Waiter, trying to get it right. Many in our group were really irate! They've cruised extensively, and had never encountered such a mess. There was a large group of senior citizens who switched seats and made it difficult to rectify the situation. However, on the second night, 8 from our group were seated together on the second tier, albeit alongside the senior group. That was fine, they were very nice and we made some friends in that group. Our waiter, Tamer, was wonderful as was his assistant Richard.
Chops: We had a group of 13 at two separate tables. We arrived, got water, then waited 10 minutes for a drink order and bread. Terrible! The service was spotty all night. The filet was wonderful, and they brought all the sides on the menu served "family style." Really enjoyed that. Captain Bang's daughter was having a birthday there that night, and they shared the cake with us! The Adventure Ocean kids above us made a lot of noise during dinner.Sounded like elephants.
Portofino: Perfect service from Eva and Ernest. Food very good- atmosphere excellent. Loved the truffles after dinner!
Cafe Promenade: Loved the daily sandwich specials. Also had sweets, fruit and pizza. The Navigator is serving Seattle's Best Coffee now; what an improvement!
Entertainment: Poolside: The Mega Four was an outstanding band. They did all the standard Marley covers, plus a wide selection of Caribbean and standards. Excellent musicians; really got the party going.
Metropolis Theater: RCCL Singers and Dancers- First show, Now and Forever, was our favorite. Featured Broadway numbers. I didn't write down the names of everyone, but Stephanie Pope was featured female singer. The featured young man was an excellent entertainer, too. Stephanie is pregnant, so I doubt she'll be there very long! We heard Phil Tag, comedian, who was good and did the late adult show.Also enjoyed Don Friesen. Our favorite act was Two Funny Guys= two Argentineans Mario and Daniel who were gut- busting funny! Singer/Pianist Bobby Avron, known as the "Voice of Happy Days" proved he had many other skills, including impersonating all the popular male singers you could imagine. A real ball of energy!
Parties: We had our Cruise Critic party on Monday at 11 am. We put faces behind the names we'd seen on the Internet all those months. It was a lively, friendly group and we made many friends. (Linda and Joe from New Hampshire gave us a tour of the Royal Suite- that was something to behold! ) The Captain, his wife and family came to the party, as well as Jeffrey Arpin, the cruise director and Genie Lee, the social host. Several others on the staff attended as well. During the week, many in our group attended dinners together, had a put-putt tournament and a "White Shark" gift exchange .On the final night of the cruise, the four of us participated in the talent contest. Me on piano, Mike aka "Michelle" on lead vocal and Rick and Debbie on backup. Despite us, there was some good talent that night! This was the friendliest cruise I've been on- both passengers and staff. It was our 5th cruise, and it was a bumpy ride! The weather all over the nation was bad, and it affected the seas. The waves in the pool were soaking the deck during our "Under the Stars" dance! The towel monkey was swinging so hard, he was hitting the ceiling.
Ports: Nassau, San Juan, Labadee, St. Thomas: We did this cruise for the ship, not the ports. I can add little or nothing to what has been written. In St. Thomas, we took a cab to Red Hook (20 min) then took a 15-min ferry to St. John. That's where the beauty is! We parked at Cinnamon Bay this year. It has a restaurant, showers and facilities as well as lockers and snorkeling gear. It was too rough to snorkel, though, but you could SURF! Shopped a while in Cruz Bay- very quaint- before taking the ferry to Charlotte Amalie (45 min). We walked approx. one and a half miles through the shopping area downtown back to our ship. In Labadee, we just beach walked and enjoyed the barbecue. I swam a mile in the ocean there. Easy swimming, but the water isn't clear or pretty, and there are no reefs or fish to see. We stayed on the ship in the other ports.. Debarkation: We were in the second group (purple, blue, gray). We sat at the Cafe Promenade enjoying snacks and coffee.until called The Voyager did not offer that; what a welcome change. We were called at 10 o'clock, and by 10:30 were in the cab. Very smooth and efficient. Miami airport was a total zoo! We curb-checked, which helped a bit. The security line wrapped all over the airport and there was mass confusion about where to go. The staff could not handle it. It took us over an hour just to get through security! We spent a leisurely hour in the airport, then returned home to snow and record cold. We picked the right week to travel!
Conclusion: This was our favorite cruise so far. RCCL staff once again impressed us thoroughly. The Navigator is a stunning ship, and the changes between her and her sister ship, The Voyager, are welcome. We can't wait to book the Mariner next year! Any comments or questions, feel free to email us at LLindaC@aol.com