DH and I continued to take advantage of my “temporary retirement” by booking one of our complimentary cruises for the week before Christmas. The cruise departed from New Orleans, and I loved visiting NOLA again.
This cruise was on Royal Caribbean (RCI), which is unusual for us. Most of our comp cruises are on NCL. However, RCI has a deal with one of our local casinos, so we were able to get a room on the Navigator of the Seas. Actually, it was more than a room. We got a junior suite. Now, in terms of square footage, a junior suite on a cruise ship is roughly the equivalent of a regular hotel room, but, for a cruise ship cabin, it feels HUGE. We had a walk-in closet. Seriously. Two people could fit in there to change at once. We had a bathroom with normal amounts of space and A BATHTUB. A bathtub on a cruise ship! Crazy, huh? I took two baths in it. It was wild because the water moves while you’re in the tub if the ship is in motion.
Sailing on this ship had some definite differences versus our usual NCL experiences. Each difference had some good and bad to it. Overall, the dining and entertainment were fair to poor. The service was good. The ship layout and design was good. The cost of onboard stuff was average (less for activities and drinks, more for premium dining). More details on this are below.
- It felt like there were fewer activities, but the activities that we went to were *much* better attended. We actually had two or three tables of Bridge players, including some that were our age! The mini golf course was better than the ones we’re used to seeing. It looked and felt more like actual mini golf. There was no extra charge for mini golf, nor for ice skating. Actually, for activities, an extra charge was rare. We did do the martini tasting (more on that later), and the charge was less than $10 per person for that. You got three taster martinis and one full martini. NCL, by comparison, charges $15-20 for that activity.
- The buffet and dining room had straws! On NCL, I always have to either bring my own straw or go to a bar and ask for a straw. Frequent readers know that I always want a straw for drinking, so this made me really happy. But, the best food we had at the buffet was on the first day. Every day after that, it got worse. The steamed rice was consistently so salty that it was best used as a condiment. The burgers were inconsistently cooked; sometimes you’d get well done and sometimes you’d get medium rare. The selection wasn’t great. The buffet is big, but they repeat the same stuff in three places. Even at breakfast, the selection was lousy. (They did have one awesome cookie on the buffet as the “cookie of the day” for two days that I fell in love with. It’s called a Ranger Cookie. Apparently, it’s a standard recipe, so I’m going to make some the next time I’m feeling industrious.) One annoyance is that the buffet doesn’t have self-serve beverage stations. You had to go get iced tea, juice, water, and coffee from beverage server stations around the buffet. This meant, annoyingly, that your beverage would probably have melted ice (since they mass prepared them), and you couldn’t adjust. I generally do half iced tea, half water, with lots of ice. That wasn’t an option except by asking the server for all the components. Also, during breakfast, like NCL, they don’t have iced tea readily available. Some servers would still pour it for you (it was right behind them, after all), but most wouldn’t. And, since you had to ask for everything, doing my DIY iced tea in the morning was a pain, since I had to ask for cups of ice and a cup of hot water. Finally, I really didn’t like the chairs in the buffet area. They just weren’t comfortable. They were faux wicker, with armrests, and a thin vinyl cushion. The effect is that there’s all these things creating pressure points while you sit. Also, they were so deep that, if I wanted to sit with my back against the rest, my knees were past the edge such that my legs splayed out. They had some different barstool chairs that I opted for instead most of the time. I will say, though, that the bussing staff were really great, and the buffet design in general was good, I think.
- As for the dining room, I had dinner there every night, and I had lunch there once. It was never impressive. The food quality wasn’t great. Our entire table learned quickly that whatever entree our server recommended was fairly likely to be the only really good entree of the group. The appetizers were usually fine, but the main courses and even the desserts ranged from fair to terrible. At one point, three days in, a person (who never introduced himself, possibly the head waiter) came by and asked if we were enjoying everything. DH took this opportunity to say that things had been disappointing. The guy took notes and came back later to say he had spoken to the chef, who sent his apologies. The next day, after our waiter awkwardly asked us who we were, we returned to our cabin to find a bottle of wine chilled along with an apology note. All of that was nice, but the quality of the food didn’t change. On the last night dinner, one of our dining companions ended up with really undercooked chicken. (I also got undercooked *fried* chicken from room service on the second time I used it. BTW, room service never took less than an hour.) On one night, a shrimp scampi entree was served with the shrimp still in the casings. They were relatively small shrimp, and even our waiter couldn’t manage to get the shrimp out using a fork and knife without making a mess and practically destroying the shrimp. All of us at the table resorted to using our hands to peel the shrimp, but even that was a disaster given the slippery sauce. Plus, it was just a stupid choice. You want the scampi sauce on the shrimp, not stuck to the inedible shell. Even standbys like steak and lobster (on the one night it was served) were of a quality you’d expect to see at a mid-priced chain restaurant, which is to say not great. Now, again, the service was great, albeit a little sassier than we were used to (in a fun way, though). The food was just far below what we’ve come to expect.
- We did try the Johnny Rockets restaurant. The deal there is that you pay $4.95 and you can have all you can eat from the menu EXCEPT milkshakes. Milkshakes are $4.95 on their own. We went just to get milkshakes, and the price totally caught us off guard. Keep in mind that you could get the martini of the day for that price. A mudslide at the bar, served in a larger container, was only $7. And, unlike actual Johnny Rockets, it’s not like you got the extra shake that was left behind in the metal cup. You got a 12oz parfait glass of milkshake for $5. That’s insane. Per ounce, it’s more than you pay on shore, and you’re in an environment where, theoretically, you’ve already paid for your food. The burgers looked to be the same ones from the buffet. Granted, things were prepared fresh to order, so that should help quality, but, even at that price, it was hard to justify. Some of our dining companions went to the premium restaurants onboard and enjoyed them, but we particularly couldn’t justify it here. They wanted $30 per person for the steakhouse, which is outrageous when, again, you’ve already paid for your food. Plus, there were still lots of upcharge items on the steakhouse menu. The Italian place, which was the cheapest premium restaurant, was $20 per person. By comparison, NCL’s premium restaurants range from $10 to $25, and they frequently have 2-for-1 specials. RCI had no specials for the restaurants.
- I really liked the adult pool area on this ship, called the Solarium. It had a nice sized pool which had partial shade, and two fully shaded hot tubs that were HUGE 16-person circles. The main pool area had two pools and should, normally, have four smaller hot tubs, but two hot tubs were out of service during most of our trip. We saw workers tinkering with them a few times, so we’re guessing they were in need of repair. The pool area also had the best chairs I’ve ever seen on a cruise ship. In addition to normal lounge chairs, they had chairs with a slight downward tilt to the seat, so you were kind of kicked back like a recliner. There were separate ottomans. These chairs were perfect for reading or relaxing while still being upright for conversation.
- Our room steward changed during the trip. [Side note: We found that happening a lot. I think it was the time of year when the employees’ contracts were running out, and, from what we were told by our assistant waiter, the way RCI works is that when your contract is up, it’s up, even if you’re mid-cruise. You have to pay for every day you stay on after that, so employees get off the ship ASAP when their contract expires. I don’t know if the ship gradually became short-staffed or if they work it out to always have substitutes, but for our stateroom, the person who had been working the front half of our floor was suddenly handling our cabin (and presumably the other back half cabins, too).] Either way though, my opinion of the service there was mixed. I never spoke to our steward about it (neither of them), but one section of our cabinet/desk thingie had clearly had coffee or soda spilled all over and down it on the last cruise. When we got in on the first day, I noticed, but being that we were checking in early, I figured it was just an oversight. On the second day, I left the drawers open so it’d be clear that they, along with the front and top surfaces, needed a wipedown. I returned to find the drawers closed again. On the third day, I left the drawers open and moved everything near them in case the issue was that they didn’t want to disturb our stuff. Still, nothing. On the fourth day, I gave up and cleaned it myself. We also found that our steward was using the space under our bed to store random linens (perhaps our next day’s change?). We discovered it because he had moved our suitcases further under the bed to make room for it. DH had trouble getting his suitcase out because it was wedged under the center support. And, on the last day, as I was checking through drawers to make sure DH hadn’t left anything, I found things that weren’t ours that were left behind. Just overall, there was no attention to detail in that area. I have no doubt that if I had called and complained, action would have been taken, but I shouldn’t have to do that for basic cleanliness.
- The entertainment, aside from the ice show, was fair to poor. The main shows were not good. The production quality was really bad, like high school drama club level. The audio in the theater was muddled and booming, and things just weren’t that entertaining. The cruise director was pretty funny and personable, one of the better ones I’ve had in that respect, but the shows themselves weren’t that good. It felt like they were practicing rather than doing a real performance. However, one unique thing on this ship is that it has a permanent ice rink, and they do a show for two nights of the cruise on the rink. That show was really good, and the space was excellent. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house, and the seats had convenient cupholders.
Overall, I can’t say I’m terribly inclined to go on RCI again, even though the ship and service were nice. I’ll do a separate post to talk about the cruise itself and about the trip.