Howdy, folks. I am taking a new cruise next year, which gave me occasion to recall a cruise from last year. In addition to the pictures below, you can see a short video. We left out of Galveston on the Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas and traveled from August 2-9, 2015. The itinerary was a sea day, followed by Cozumel, Belize, Roatan, and two more days at sea. This review is about the ship itself, and I will talk about the ports of call in a future post. The short version: Royal Caribbean isn’t as nice as it thinks it is, but this was still an excellent way to travel with children.
We (me, my wife, and sons then aged 7 and 9) sailed in a Grand Suite. Specifically, we were in cabin 1286 on the starboard side. Oddly, the starboard side was (and frequently is) the side facing the port in Galveston. We showed up shortly after 10, and being in a suite let us use the shorter security line– although at this point of the day, all of the lines were fairly short. We then walked right up to the check-in desk and, by an incredible stroke of fortune, at exactly the moment we stepped away from the desk heard them call boarding for suites. Seriously, it was the best boarding process on any cruise ship ever. It helped to have a suite, of course, although the lines seemed short enough and reasonably orderly.
As we started the longish walk (this was before the Port of Galveston completed their renovations on the new terminal), we were met almost immediately by a member of the Adventure Ocean staff who told our kids what to do. They left that interaction very much looking forward to the week, and indeed it became difficult for Mrs. Abroad and I to tear them out of the kid’s club. Then again, it turns out that let us enjoy a cocktail with one another. It turns out that we actually knew one another, very long ago, before we had children. Talking in their absence for a bit was a pleasant thing, so we mostly let the children hang out in the club when it was open. Below is an image of the room for the 6 to 8 year olds from the open house on Embarkation Day. The rooms tended to be big, open rooms with comfortable benches and a few TVs or video game consoles, and the kids there generally seemed to be both happy and well behaved. Win.
I really enjoyed some of the privileges which came with getting a suite. We got it because there were 4 of us and we needed the space (more on the cabin itself in a minute), but some of the extras which came with the cabin made it worth it. I have already mentioned the fantastic boarding process. Perhaps my favorite part was that the steak house was located just off the buffet, and at breakfast and lunch became a seating area open only to suite guests. That significantly decreased the feeling of crowdedness, and it also meant that there was a waiter available if we needed a drink or other simple requests. The concierge lounge also meant that we had another quiet spot and a person to talk to when we had questions. Hates me standing in line when I am on vacation, so I put a premium on anything which helps me avoid doing that.
The food in the main dining room (MDR) was excellent, although I am easy to please. The first night our waiter was exceptionally slow, which was frustrating– particularly as we told her our children wanted to order from the express menu (called My Family Time dining). However, toward the end of dinner the maitre’d approached us and asked if we would be willing to move to another table as there was a large group who wanted to sit together. We agreed, as we are agreeable people. Our new waiter was superb and served the kids very quickly so they could go to Adventure Ocean and we could enjoy our meal. He remembered special menu requests and made very good suggestions. Aaaaannnnddddd….. we left every night while the people at our first table were enjoying their entrees. The real moral of this story is that if you are unhappy, ask to move after the first night.
There were, unfortunately, two dining related problems. The first is that the food in the buffet was merely “meh” quality. That was particularly true at breakfast. It was always fine, we never left hungry, and sometimes there would be a one-meal-only feature that was pretty good. However, I did not look forward to meals in the buffet the way I did meals in the MDR. Indeed, I should have simply walked downstairs to the MDR to take more meals. I wound up in the buffet because it was much closer to my cabin and because we had a lovely quiet seating area. This led, however, to the second problem- between the Japanese place, the Italian place, the Johnny Rockets, and something else I am sure I am forgetting, it seemed like they spent a lot of time trying to sell me additional food. Indeed, we wound up for lunch on a couple of sea days at Johnny Rockets. The burger there was fine, but I don’t know that I would pay $7 for it when there is food I have already paid for elsewhere. However, it made the kids happy and their outdoor seating is one of the prettiest places I have dined– red vinyl seats and all.
It occurs to me that is the second time I have talked about a physical space on the ship being attractive. That is one of the things which drew me to the ship and which caused me to book another trip for the John Brawley Tophat society on the same cruise line next year. The picture below shows one of the views from the Viking Crown Lounge. There were a lot of glassed in spaces like this around the ship where we could look out and see the sights.
The ice rink was also a great space, and it turned out to be a great show. I am truly impressed with the skill and precision with which people moved on a ship at sea. It also helped that, since we were in a suite, we did not require advance tickets. Rather, we just walked in and were shown to very good seats with fairly efficient service from a waiter.
The Royal Promenade was also a nice space for walking on the interior of the ship. The windows you see to the side are interior cabins. I was never in one, but one of those cabins might be a nice option if you wanted a window to make the room feel bigger but still wanted to save as much money as possible:
Those cabins, however, remind me of our cabin. A grand suite is a good choice for a family of 4. We got some extra space, a great balcony, and an actual tub in our bathroom. That was helpful when cleaning up the boys at the end of the day.
The only real problems I had with the cruise were casino rules and video game rules. In the video game arcade, kids could recharge their cards for more video games EVEN IF PARENTS SAID NOT TO ACCEPT CHARGES FROM THE CHILDREN. That is a horrible policy, particularly as you literally have to walk through the arcade to get to Adventure Ocean. Happily, we knew about this policy, instructed the kids not to do it, and were with them when they weren’t actually in the care of Adventure Ocean counselors. Still, it is a poor choice from Royal Caribbean in supporting parents. The second problem is in the casino where there are a number of rules particularly favorable to the house: Blackjack tends to pay 6:5, the shoes were mostly pretty large, etc. They would also let new gamblers come in at any point in the shoe. I understand statistics well enough to know that doesn’t impact my chances of winning the next hand. However, it slowed things down a lot since somebody would have to buy in, would cash out after playing 1-2 hands, and would then leaver. I didn’t like the casino, but then again they gave me a very large discount on my next cruise when I didn’t lose much on this one.
So yeah, there were some things which bothered me. However, it was still a great experience– that is why we are going again next year and bringing friends with us. Post in the comments section if you have any questions, and I will answer them as best I can.