Monday, March 31, 2014

Navigator of the Seas Review

Navigator of the Seas Review 3.23.2014

Just The Facts
Ship:  Navigator of the Seas
March 23-March 30, 2014
Captain: Frank Martinsen
Entertainment Director: Mitch Merucci
Ports: Galveston-Cozumel-Galveston
Weather:  Mixed

This is my 17th Royal Caribbean cruise and first on the Navigator of the Seas although our 4th cruise with Captain Frank.  We booked this cruise very early in order to get our favorite aft cabin on deck seven. We are traveling as a couple and looking forward to sailing on Royal Caribbean again and the new features on the Navigator since she has recently come from dry dock.  We are very pleased that Royal Caribbean again has a ship sailing year round from Texas.

Day One--Sunday—Embarkation
Oil slick in Galveston Bay
The night previous we received a warning of potential fog in Galveston, but it was vague as to if it would actually happen. Early in the morning I checked the port web cam and there was only a slight fog and I’d seen them sail in worse so we left the Ranch at 6:20 a.m. about our usual time.   I checked the web cam again an hour later while on the way expecting to see cruise ships, but there were none.  That was a concern so we stopped at the McDonald’s in Navasota to use the internet.  We discovered the port was actually closed due to an oil spill in Galveston Bay,  it really wasn’t a fog issue at all.  About the same time we started receiving text reports from Royal Caribbean NOT to proceed to the port.  Wish we would have known this earlier, so we called our cruise friends in Cypress, TX and diverted there arriving about 11:15 am.  We discovered that there would be a long delay with the arrival of the cruise ships so we decided to make a day of it with our friends.  We drove to Tomball to eat at Goodson’s Cafe, home of the “Best Chicken Fried Steak in Texas”.  I must say they live up to their reputation, it was one of the best I have ever had and it was a huge CFS.  The sides were also great and the Banana pudding was wonderful.  We returned for an afternoon nap and await updates on the ship.  I discovered I had a friend on board the Navigator and they had some internet from their anchorage just outside Galveston so I had good sources of information.   A recorded telephone message from Royal Caribbean woke me from my nap and I heard that the ship was to hopefully arrive at 6:00 pm and that we would board late that night.  Being concerned about the late boarding and expected chaos at the terminal area we decided to leave our car with cruise friends in Alvin and they took us to the pier.  Thank goodness for our friends today.  We arrived about 11:30 pm, checked our bags, and got into the line to get in the line for the terminal.  Once we got into the building at 12:30 it went quicker through security and check-in and we boarded at 1:00 am.  We went straight to deck seven and our favorite aft balcony cabin and thankfully our bags were there waiting for us. We went up to the Windjammer for pizza then returned to the cabin to unpack and settle.  It was 2:30 a.m. when we hit the bed, a very long and interesting day.

Day Two—Monday—Galveston, Texas
The Beautiful Royal Promenade
A short restful night for tired people as we were awakened by Captain Martinson’s announcements just after 8:00 am.. Basically he told us that the port of Galveston is closed until further notice.  DW had ordered her usual Room Service breakfast in bed the night before and I went to breakfast in the Sapphire dining room. I had Melon, Eggs Benedict, & Bacon.  It was very good.  This morning we went to explore the ship, it is very beautiful with a great Promenade, but since we are in port the shops, several bars, and the casino are closed. It’s still cool outside, so we went by the new Diamond Lounge located on Deck 14, it’s large and very nice with an outdoor area as well.  In addition to the Diamond Lounge serving complementary cocktails each evening, they have preloaded on our Sail & Sign Cards the cost of three cocktails that can be redeemed at most ships bars between 4:30 and 8:00 pm.  We went to the Windjammer buffet for a nice lunch then to the cabin for a much needed nap and cabin time.  The television choices are not that good, but we do have internet since we are in port.  At 6:30 we went to the Metropolis Theater for the production show: Now and Forever featuring a selection of contemporary Broadway Show Tunes.  The twelve member Navigator Singers and Dancers were very good as well as the live Orchestra.  After the show we had wine in the Schooner Bar using our Diamond credits on our S&S card (what a brilliant program) until time for dinner. The Captains reception was scheduled this evening, but the Captain and staff were in meetings with the USCG concerning our status.  We had just settled into our two-top table on deck four (middle) of the Sapphire Dining Room (MDR) when the Captain came over the ship-wide speakers with the announcement everyone had been waiting for all day.  It was not good news, the cruise has been cancelled.  Because the USCG would not give an answer as to when the port would reopen, RCCL made the call, the correct one I believe.  Passengers will receive a 100% refund and 25% off their next cruise.  They can also stay on board until Sunday if they wish or leave at any time.  Passengers and the MDR wait staff were shocked, but the Captains Gala Dinner was a wonderful meal, I ordered: Escargot Bourguignonne, Artichoke-filled Crepe au Gratin, and the Pan-fried Silver Corvina Fillet  entree.  For dessert I had the BBB Creme Brulee.  This was an excellent dinner, but everyone was discussing their travel options.  We walked around the ship and it seemed to be a somber mood although all the activities and venues were full.  We retired to discuss our options, but the plan was to go home early.

Day Three—Tuesday—Galveston, Texas
Dancing on Ice - Navigator of the Seas
We slept much better overnight and the weather was warmer with some sunshine.  I again went to the MDR for a repeat of Mondays breakfast.  We spent the morning on the internet making queries and getting news about the seriousness of the Oil Spill.  There are four cruise ships effected: Navigator of the Seas, Carnival Magic, Carnival Triumph, and the Caribbean Princess out of Bayport.  The USCG allowed the Navigator and Magic to sail through a portion of the oil slick in order to debark passengers late Sunday and the Triumph on Monday morning.  This meant that the ships hulls had to be decontaminated so that was being done this morning starting with the two Carnival ships since they had not cancelled their cruises and intended to sail when they could.  About noon we went to the MDR for a nice lunch, the large Salad Bar they set up at lunch is excellent, but I ordered the Pasta special.  After lunch we went to the 2:00 pm ice show.  They opened the seating at 1:30 for ticket holders so we were able to walk direct from the MDR on deck three across to the ‘Studio’ and got great seats.  The show was Dancing on Ice and it was very good.  They had ten skaters, great routines, and colorful costumes.  When you sit within the first few rows you feel as though your right on the ice with them.  Several of the ice dancing sets followed the movie theme of the ship, it was a very enjoyable show.  We had a walk on deck to check the progress on the Carnival ships and the Magic has now sailed since they opened the port this afternoon.  The Triumph was being cleaned and would sail soon.  A bit disappointing that they were leaving, but we are getting a full refund so no real complaints.  We had decided that we would leave the ship on Thursday and were making plans to get our car when there was another ship-wide announcement from Captain Frank.  His voice and tone sounded much better than last night and the news was good:  ‘We will be sailing to Cozumel tomorrow’.  Fantastic News!  Royal Caribbean decided to give us a cruise experience and basically it’s a free cruise since we will still be receiving our full refund.  Soon afterward we had cast off from the pier so that they could clean the ship’s hull then docked again so folk off for the day could board.  We went to the Diamond Lounge for wine and celebrate our good fortune.  We had reservations for Sabor the new premium ($25 pp.) Mexican restaurant. This is the first Sabor in the fleet and promoted as modern Mexican food.  It’s really Tex-Mex food, they made Guacamole at the table and we ordered: Queso Fundido, Chicken-stuffed Jalapenos, Pork Carnitas, Carne Asada, Tres Quesos Quesadilla, Calabacitas (roasted vegetables), and a small tray of dessert samplers. It’s very good food and would be very popular on European or Florida sailings, but honestly Texans will not be impressed as it’s really not anything special compared to a typical good Mexican restaurant in Texas. 

Day Four—Wednesday—Sail Away
Beer Tasting selections in Two Poets Pub
A good nights sleep overnight and we again have cooler cloudy skies.  DW had her room service and I went upstairs to the Windjammer for breakfast.  They have a very efficient egg station, you place your egg order and receive a number, that gives you time to get ham from the carving station, potatoes, or bacon, etc. I had a nice omelet.  I noticed some travel bags in the passageway on the way to breakfast so I guess a few people returned to the ship this morning.  Sail away was at 10:00 am. and we watched from the balcony as we finally left Galveston harbor. It was really nice to be underway, I did see several oil cleaning barges on the way out of the harbor.  Since we are now 12 miles out we went down to the Promenade and the shops were now open, it was very busy with liquor tastings, sales, promotions, etc.,  We had been restricted on better liquor and beers while in port due to restrictive TABC laws so it was nice to stop at Two Poets Pub and have a proper beer.  I had a Haegaarden from Belgium.  We then went up to the Windjammer for lunch, I had some Sweet & Sour pork and a minute steak with potatoes.  We are sailing into a high wind and the seas are a bit rough and it clouded up with some rain, but the temperature is climbing as we sail south.  At 3:00 pm I went back down to the Two Poets Pub for a Beer Tasting. The Beverage Manager who presented the tasting was very knowledgeable and we sampled five beers: Stella Artrois, a Red Hook IPA, Haegaarden, Newcastle Brown Ale, and a Le Fin Du Monde.  It was very enjoyable.  We had cabin time and ordered two Cheese Plates and two Fruit Plates from room service. The Past Guest party was held at 7:15, and they had two Ice Skating shows but we passed on them as we were having a lazy day and watching movies.  I went up to the Windjammer for dinner and I had forgotten how good the food is there in the evenings, I had a nice sliced Roast Beef with horseradish, and some very good Pork Chops with Mashed Potatoes.  The ship was really rocking this evening so I let it rock me to sleep.

Day Five—Thursday--at Sea
Navigator of the Seas
A nice nights sleep as the ship was rocking & rolling…I like it.  There was even a thunderstorm during the night but daybreak was nice and sunny...the best weather so far.  DW had room service and I went to the MDR. It is Chocolate breakfast day in the dining room, you could get chocolate éclairs, donuts, cakes, chocolate pancakes, hot chocolate, chocolate milk shake, and more, but I had a nice ‘country’ breakfast (Fried Eggs, Potatoes, Bacon, Corned Beef Hash, White Toast). After breakfast we went down to Promenade deck for cookies and to visit.  We then went to Lido deck and listened to live music until lunch time.  I was in a mood for a salad today to we went to the MDR as they really have the best salads that they prepare at the salad bar they set up each sea day (or home port days on this cruise).  After lunch it was balcony time.  We have a great balcony on an aft corner and this was finally a day we could take advantage.  BTW—I will never book a cruise in March or Spring Break season without a private balcony.  It is an escape from the Kids who dominate the pools and some deck areas.  We went to the Martini Bar ‘R-Bar’ for a cocktail, but moved to the Two Poets Pub for a couple of more cocktails redeeming the ‘comps’ loaded on our cards.  I really like the Cosmopolitan Cocktail they prepare on the Voyager, only a ‘touch’ of cranberry.  It was now time for the 6:30 production show: Ballroom Fever featuring the Voyager Orchestra and Voyager Singers & Dancers.  This was a more dance oriented show and very enjoyable.  After the show we went to the Diamond Lounge for final cocktails before dinner.  Dinner was very good this evening, I ordered the Escargot Bourguignonne, the Royal Shrimp Cocktail, Cock-a-leekie Soup, the Mustard-crusted Roast Beef entree, and a Trifle & Pecan Pie for dessert.  After a great ‘party day’ on the ship we retired to the cabin after dinner.

Day Six--Friday—Cozumel
El Cid Hotel - Cozumel Mexico
Another good nights sleep and today and we have the best weather of the cruise.  We were scheduled to arrive at the International Pier at 7:00 am and were docked next to the Allure of the Seas when I woke up at 8:00 am.  DW had her usual Room Service and I went to the MDR for a repeat of my ‘country breakfast’.    By the time I returned to our balcony the Carnival Sunshine and Carnival Magic had docked at Puerto Maya.  For the second time in two months they had Mexican agricultural inspectors checking for fruit.  This time they were off the ship and could have fined people trying to carry off fruit.  About 10:00 am we walked over to the El Cid hotel and purchased day passes @ $20pp with $12 applied as bar credit. Fortunately we got two loungers under a palapa on the beach area as very soon the place was packed primarily with crew from the RCCL and even Carnival ships. It is a very convenient location for them.  The beach is fine with a great view of the cruise ships,  They have internet, swimming pool, restaurant, access by stairs into the water, towel rental, and more.  They also have an all inclusive option day pass, but ours seemed best for us, we had a Bloody Mary, two Beers, two cokes, Guacamole, chips, & pico de gallo and our bill was only $9 more than our credit.  It was a close & walkable location, but not as nice as the many resort beaches on the island.  We returned to the ship about 3:15, those that have sailed from Cozumel are aware of the ‘drunk walk’ on the pier that may make on returning to their ship. Our aft corner balcony was a great location and the beginning of the ‘tunnel’ created by the two ships.  We ordered and enjoyed our cheese & fruit trays we ordered for sail away.  This was the second scheduled formal night and dinner was very good,  I had a Hearts of Palm salad (special request), the Royal Shrimp Cocktail, Fresh Snow Crab Salad, Fisherman’s Plate with Lobster, Slow Roasted Prime Rib, and dessert was Baked Alaska. The Prime Rib was perhaps the best I had ever had.  After that great meal and the sun we got on the beach today we retired to the cabin for TV, balcony, and to relax this evening.

Day Seven--Saturday--at Sea
Flo-Rider on Navigator of the Seas
Sunny, but somewhat hazy today.  DW had her usual room service breakfast and I again went to the MDR for a full breakfast. We had balcony time and worked on debarkation paper work and this review in the morning. I got a one day internet package today as well. I had lunch in the Windjammer and took a final tour of the ship since this is the last day on board and I still had not seen everything.  The new Flow Rider looks great, but I doubt I would ever try it.  I had a cocktail at the Sky Bar while on my little tour and later one at the R-bar…the new prepaid Diamond cocktail benefit is wonderful. I had cabin, balcony, and internet time this evening as DW was under the weather. Since we skipped the MDR, I went up to the Windjammer for a late dinner and was impressed with the entree choices: Pork Chops, Turkey at the carving station, Minute Steaks (very good), Grilled Chicken Breast, and much more.  Although I didn’t attend the Farewell Show I heard it was well received by guests. 

We were docked by 6:50 am and it was a beautiful day in Galveston.  No room service on debarkation morning, but a full breakfast menu is served in the dining room (we didn’t go). We were up early to pack as we have a 8:15 am meet time for our self-debark group E. You have to request self-debark on the Navigator and get a ticket at Guest Services the day prior.  They had a group earlier, but I was allowing time for our ride to arrive.  Since we docked a bit early I suspected the debark would as well and it did.  They actually called all the self-debark zones just after 8:00 am. so we went straightway as getting an elevator is always hard to get on a middle deck.  We got down to deck 4 in good shape and proceeded to ‘click’ out and were in customs within 20 minutes.  They did have a TABC booth set up to collect taxes on liquor and cigarettes as we left the terminal.  No pre-warning from the ship as there was from Carnival.  We walked across Harborside Blvd. to the old Sante Fe Train Terminal and shortly met our ride.  After a nice breakfast in Alvin, we were on the highway and at the ranch by 3:00 pm.  A nice debark and travel day.

The Navigator of the Seas is Royal Caribbean's new ‘Texas’ ship being the first to berth in Galveston year round since the Rhapsody of the Seas.  For the past several years we have only had a Voyager class ship six months of the year. At least each time they have changed ships it has been for a newer or larger one.  After Navigator it will be the Freedom of the Seas and following that it is supposed to be an Oasis class. The port already plans for expansion to accommodate the larger ships.  With a large ship there are a lot of people and the pools can be very crowded during peak times and the elevators are always full, but the additional size also means that there is room for the photo gallery, casino, bars, etc. without any one of them dominating an entire deck.  The Grand Promenade is very impressive indeed and must be experienced.  The theme of the ship seems to be Hollywood Movies with movie posters decorating the passageways and stairwells. They have added a Flow Rider, the Sabor restaurant, Diamond Lounge and more during the dry dock retrofit.  I really like the new interactive touchscreen information centers located near all the elevators and other locations.  They have the daily Cruise Compass, guides, maps, and more.  They also have interactive menus at the Windjammer and on all entry floors of the Sapphire Dining room.

Overall very good, but our individual crew contacts such as cabin steward and waiters were not as good as we have experienced on Royal Caribbean in the past.  Just the luck of the draw.  I enjoyed the Cruise Director and the Activity Director’s morning show.  I really admire Captain Martinsen and he really worked hard this week getting the very best for his passengers under difficult circumstances.  He is exactly what one would want in a Cruise Ship captain.  He had already done me a great favor on a previous cruise and his actions this week just reaffirmed my opinion of him.

We have cabin 7688 a corner aft on port side.  It is one of our favorite cabins on any cruise ship.  The room is a standard size, or actually slightly smaller, but the balcony is one of the largest on the ship.  The cabin has: key pad safe, hair dryer, refrigerator, short couch, nice sliding door shower, custom drapes, and more.  The air conditioning & water pressure worked well. It is a long walk to the stairwell and elevators from the far aft, but I needed the exercise.

Our dining room was the Sapphire Dining Room, deck four the middle level of the 3 level restaurant.  It was table 493 a two top table.  The waiters were nice service was just good to average.  The bread and appetizers were very good, and you can order the Escargot, Cesar Salad, or Shrimp Cocktail every night if you wish.  The Windjammer is also very good, the quality of food was excellent.  Best buffet at sea IMHO.  Room service was always good and fairly prompt.  Johnny Rockets was a good alternative for lunch or afternoon snack.  Lunch in the dining room has the same menu each day with one special item that does change daily. There are several ice crème and yogurt machines in the Windjammer.

Cruise Highlights
I enjoyed Dinner & Breakfasts in the dining room, the Ice show, and the two production shows we attended.  We didn’t use many of the public areas of the ship as much this cruise as we used the balcony a lot.  Our favorite public space was the Two Poets Pub.  Of course the highlight is that this was a free cruise.

This was certainly a unique experience this week.  The oil spill in Galveston Bay created major problems for many this week including: cruise passengers, the cruise lines, the environment, commercial shipping, and much more.  I only have good things to say about Royal Caribbean and the Navigator Staff and Crew.  Royal Caribbean really did an outstanding job doing the right thing TWICE in making major decisions concerning the cruise.


Linda said...

Great info. Thank you so much for sharing.

robtx100 said...

Hi Ray,
I met you on the Bloggers Cruise earlier this year. Thanks for the review of the Navigator. Booked for June 7, 2015. Your pics and review just gets me more excited about getting on this ship. Thanks for sharing.

Jeanette Hopkins said...

We will be on this ship the week after you...I hope you post an update so I know what to expect!