Father, paramedic, and Educational Technologist who enjoys getting away from reality on the seas a few days at a time.
Cruise Lines: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Navigator of the Seas
A coworker and I had agreed to take a short, last minute RCI cruise if we could find something around $200 per person. That’s a tough feat in itself, but it also had to be during certain times so we didn’t use much of our vacation time. After months of searching, this cruise to Cozumel popped up with a heavily discounted inside cabin guarantee rate 30 days prior to sailing. I had never done a guarantee room, nor had I sailed on Empress of the Seas before. I was a little apprehensive because my experience with Enchantment of the Seas in September was poor in comparison to Navigator of the Seas in December. I was starting to believe that one may have to pay more for better service on the larger, newer ships. However, for around $200 per person, we figured it had to be tolerable- especially with an ultimate drink package.
This cruise departed from Port of Miami. We are no stranger to that Port, but it was the first time at terminal F. We parked in the garage adjacent to Terminal G and hoofed it a little ways. Porters greeted us promptly and took care of the bags and we got in line with boarding passes and passports in hand. Less than 10 minutes later, we were going upstairs for a security check. We breezed through that, made it to the counter to have SeaPass cards issued, and were on the ship within 30 minutes of parking the car! It was unbelievably fast and I was starting to like the concept of a ship that holds less passengers.
On board, we entered the Centrum. We already had drink packages purchased and didn’t need to purchase any other add-ons offered when you board, so we moved into the adjacent Schooner Bar. It was busy, but the bartenders recognized that we didn’t have a drink and made a point to ask us what we would like. They were exceptionally attentive to everyone on board and this high level of service continued throughout our entire voyage. The same was true of the Pool Bar and Boleros Lounge. We never waited more than a couple minutes for a drink- even when the bars were crowded. We thought it was nice that the Schooner Bar spanned the entire width of the ship. There was plenty of seating available with ocean views, which was nice compared to the alcoves designated for these venues on other ships.
Specialty Dining Package.
After a couple cocktails, we started to explore the layout of Empress. We ended up walking past Chops Grille, which has a partitioned area for the Chef’s Table. Diana greeted us with a smile as we were perusing the menu. We explained that we had previously enjoyed the Chef’s Table on Navigator and had wanted to try Chops. She told us of a package deal for both, so we signed up. It was a quick interaction, but she remembered and greeted us throughout the cruise. I mention this because it came to be the standard of exceptional service that we experienced on Empress. Everyone made us feel welcomed and appreciated as guests. Nothing was strictly transactional.
Windjammer: Lunch & Breakfast
It was time for lunch, so we headed up to deck 10 to find the Windjammer. It was a small ship, so I was expecting a crowded, rushed atmosphere. Fortunately, I was wrong. We grabbed some fresh paella and shrimp cocktail before sitting at a small table since it was just the two of us. Truth be told, we probably could have sat at a 6-top and no one would have noticed because there were plenty of available seats. Staff was attentive, grabbing plates shortly after we had finished and bringing us drinks as soon as the glasses were empty. The food was excellent, too. Breakfast at Windjammer during subsequent mornings offered similar pleasant experiences with a wide variety of breakfast foods to select from.
As mentioned before, we had an inside stateroom guarantee. Thank you to RCI, who upgraded us to an oceanview stateroom. We were assigned room 3524, which has a port hole and is a little longer than the average stateroom in its category. The layout was typical of most bargain staterooms I’ve stayed in. The drawers were a bit narrow, but there was a lot of closet space. Two of us were easily able to unpack and store everything for our 4 night cruise and use the suitcases as laundry hampers. The shower had hot water and water pressure that I felt was better than mine at home. We never had one plumbing problem. The location of this room was on the shoulder of the hull, so we did get a lot of splashing noise while at sea. We spoke to others on deck 3 and this seemed to be an issue isolated to our room. This can be a negative or a positive, since the sound was actually soothing white noise at times.
Sylvia was our cabin steward. She made a point to introduce herself and also greeted us whenever we saw her. One night, we skipped the traditional dining and opted for odd timed snacks. The room was still impeccably clean because it seemed that Sylvia cleaned it every time we left. Despite that, Sylvia asked us when it would be convenient for us for her to clean the room. We told her that it wasn’t necessary because she had been doing such a great job, but she insisted on making us a towel animal and told us to call if we needed anything. By far, this was the best cabin service received on any ship.
Dinner Options: Dining Room, Chef’s Table, Windjammer, Chops
We only ate dinner in the dining room on the first night. Our table overlooked Empress’ wake, which was awesome. Service was excellent- including drink service- and so was the food. The only reason we didn’t return is because we had specialty dining reservations.
The second night we attended the Chef’s Table for dinner. It was great, but unexpectedly offered the exact same menu we had at the Navigator of the Seas Chef’s Table in December. Therefore, we got to compare. Some of the courses were better, while others were not. Nonetheless, Josef provided excellent service throughout the multi-course meal with five glasses of wine included in the price. I stand by my previous recommendation that you must try the Chef’s Table for a unique culinary experience that is a great value.
The third night we returned from Cozumel still full from fajitas and Coronas, so we skipped our assigned dinner and visited the Windjammer shortly before they closed. They had a great selection of food and the excellent service we came experienced there continued into the late night hours.
The final night we finally got to try Chops. In a word, WOW! Melt-in-your-mouth cuts of meat with perfectly prepared sides. I’m not one to skip dessert, but I just couldn’t do it after finishing my meal because it’s so good you just can’t stop eating. We had Josef again, who provided exemplary service through multiple courses of dinner. Diana had us seated immediately- despite arriving slightly earlier than our reservation time.
Itinerary and Excursion.
For our purposes of an impromptu escape from work, the itinerary and ship was ideal. We had two days at sea and one day in Cozumel, which we got to explore in a Jeep with a tour guide named Pancho. I booked our excursion directly with CozumelJeepAndSnorkelTour.com and we saved a lot of money versus going with an equivalent RCI excursion. There’s always the risk that you may not make it back on time if you book privately, but we had plenty of time to spare. Also, they ensured me that we would customize our tour and Pancho came through. He showed us the typical stops they make and we altered it to our liking. For example, we didn’t care to hit the beach while red flags were out, but we did want to learn about Mayan culture. So, he told me how to get there and let me take the wheel throughout Cozumel. He also took us to Tortuga Beach Club for lunch, where we had some delicious fajitas compliments of Pancho.
During the sea days, we mixed it up. We sat by the pool one day enjoying some Coronas. We tried to watch a movie on the big screen, but the audio was of poor quality because a few speakers appeared to not be working. We also did some trivia and cheered on other guests at karaoke. Either before or after breakfast, we would make our way to a Cuban coffee kiosk located inside Boleros Lounge for an iced Café con Leche, which was enjoyed while sitting on the deck listening to the sea breeze.
Empress of the Seas does not have many of the modern technologies and venues that newer ships do. There’s no Flowrider. You won’t find a basketball court or mini golf course. Riding the carousel is not an option, nor is going down any slide. What you can do- and what Empress effectively forces you to do- is relax and mingle with friendly staff and other guests in a more traditional cruise experience while enjoying delicious food and quality cocktails.
We set sail on the Carnival Liberty while our four elementary school aged kids were out on Spring Break. We planned the trip in advance and took advantage of the Early Saver rate, so three of us per inside cabin amounted to just under $500 per person (including taxes and port fees, but without gratuities) for our 4 night cruise to the Bahamas. Given it was still “Spring Break season”, this was a very reasonable rate. This was the kids’ second cruise, but first on Carnival, so much of their comparison is against the Royal Caribbean Enchantment of the Seas from September 2016.
We sailed out of Port Canaveral for the first time and found it to be a great port with plenty of parking and helpful staff. We arrived in the terminal right at our selected 1130 timeslot. Unfortunately, after checking in, there was still about an hour wait until they started boarding anyone. When the finally did, the assigned zones made the process move very quickly. We will choose a later timeslot next time.
On board, we were pleased to find that the ‘Funship 2.0 food’ like Guy’s Burger Joint and Blue Iguana Cantina were open along with the Lido buffet and 24 hour Pizza Pirate. With such variety, the initial rush of embarkation was tolerable as there wasn’t overcrowding in any one particular area. We tasted the burgers and had tacos within 30 minutes of boarding while waiting for our staterooms to be readied. True to multiple reviews, Guy’s Burgers are pretty amazing. The little ones- especially my 6 year old son- found cheeseburgers for lunch (and sometimes dinner) to be one of the best parts of the trip. Though my 6 year old daughter can eat Moe’s daily given the opportunity, she wasn’t very fond of Blue Iguana’s limited selection and only ate there once the entire trip. Later in the cruise, I tried Sushi at Sea and had a delicious roll freshly prepared for under $10. It is well worth it and great quality if you love sushi.
When the rooms were ready, we found our interior cabins spacious enough for three people each. The cabins, like the rest of the ship, are kept impeccably clean. We found our cabins comparable in size and quality to those which we had on Enchantment of the Seas. They were very convenient to access the pools or Lido buffet- both up only one floor- within 3 minutes. Unfortunately, my cabin (#8411) was aft and had an intermittent, but intense, vibration that we initially thought was the motor but later occurred while stationary in port. The door on the safe in my room rattled, but a towel between the safe and cabinet door took care of that. Our other cabin (#8403) offered similar nuisances with the aforementioned vibration and additional noises from preparation in the kitchen above starting around 5 AM. Our 10 year old son preferred the Enchantment cruise overall, primarily due to these annoyances, after he tried to sleep in both of our cabins.
The cabin steward was friendly when we saw him, which was rare, but did leave cool towel animals. I was also disappointed that the room wasn’t serviced while we had dinner at our assigned time. I figured they would use that 2 hours to prepare the cabin for bedtime, but instead they didn’t seem to make it in time as they were down the hall cleaning when we returned. I then felt obligated to leave again, even when I wanted to relax in the cabin for a minute. By the third night I hung up my “Snoozin’” door tag and made the beds myself.
Carnival Hub App.
We connected to the Carnival Hub app for free with airplane mode still on. This is a nice technology, but we were under the impression that we could use it to e-chat with each other during the cruise. Chat is a $5 option that we declined since we were in nearly adjacent cabins and didn’t plan on carrying phones with us for the entire trip. Nonetheless, we were able to use it for free to find out what activities were occurring and times each venue would be open.
The itinerary was subpar. I was told that Freeport is the armpit of the Bahamas. This may be an understatement. We checked out shops at the port. Most merchants were not willing to negotiate, so we ended up waiting until Nassau and getting the same products for less money. The industrialized atmosphere, smell included, made us appreciate the cleanliness and accommodations of Carnival Liberty, so we quickly returned and spent the day in the pool. We then set sail for Nassau. I like it, but we’ve been here before. We left the little ones in Camp Ocean and ventured out to restock our John Watling’s rum and pick up some items from the straw market. The straw market is usually a pain in the rear with pushiness, but this time it was very relaxed and we were able to negotiate mutually acceptable prices on everything we were looking for and then some. Within an hour, we had completed our shopping and were back on board to get the kids from Camp Ocean and have some family time. The day at sea was filled with the Dr. Suess breakfast, parade, and storytime- which will all be very memorable.
Those memories weren’t captured masterfully on film, though. Much to our disappointment, Carnival Liberty didn’t offer an affordable photo package- or any photo package for that matter. Individual photos range from over $10 to over $20. We went through them and found flaws in every one: Ketchup on the face, someone isn’t smiling, someone else looked away. I don’t know if Carnival has heard of digital media, but I’m fairly certain I can get a few perfect still moments from the hours of video I recorded. I plan on saving hundreds of dollars by doing so. Thanks, Snapfish!
We all enjoyed the Dive-In Movies offered in the afternoon and evening times on Liberty. We opted for lounge chairs, but others chose hot tubs or even the pool to relax and watch. Popcorn and blankets were provided, too. Nothing compares to lounging outside with a nice sea breeze- especially when you couple it with popcorn and a movie. We even stayed up late a couple nights and had a late night pizza party after the movie, though some grabbed pizza and ate it while watching the movie. Whatever your preference, it’s possible.
Camp Ocean kids program.
One of our 6 year olds found both children’s groups (Carnival’s Camp Ocean vs. RCCL’s Adventure Ocean) to be equivalent despite spending a lot more time in- and winning prizes in- Camp Ocean on Liberty. Our other 6 year old preferred Adventure Ocean on Enchantment of the Seas and often opted out of Liberty’s Camp Ocean to swim or slide down the Twister slide with her siblings. Our 9 and 10 year olds, having independent sign in and out privileges, both chose to spend little time in Camp Ocean despite making friends on board relatively quickly. The Camp Ocean staff was friendly and kind to all of the kids. While I found the electronic sign in and sign out with photo ID to be a responsible safety measure, it seemed to detract from the personalization we had on Enchantment- where Camp staff quickly memorized every kid’s name and greeted them everywhere on the ship. The process also resulted in lines while parents waited to scan a card before dropping off or picking up children. It’s not necessarily a big deal- except when Camp Ocean is only open for an hour and you spend 20 minutes waiting in line to drop them off. While Camp Ocean is at the opposite end of Liberty from food, the 21 and up tranquil Serenity retreat is just outside of it. It’s somewhat ironic, but convenient when parents need some quiet time by the sea after dropping their kids off for a few minutes.
We did get to drop the kids off at Camp Ocean after dinner (8 pm) until they closed (10pm). During one of these times, we snuck over to Alchemy Bar to try prescription cocktails. At Alchemy, skilled mixologists artfully combine fresh ingredients resulting in unique concoctions. We shared two and they were both worth the $13 or so each. While we are talking booze, we did the Liberty cruise without the Cheers Beverage Package. After trying the Alchemy drinks, trying a margarita from Blue Iguana Tequila Bar, sharing a pitcher from Red Frog’s Rum Bar over lunch one day, and trying several specialty drinks that included souvenir glasses, we spent less than $150 combined while sampling a little of everything on board.
Another night after dinner, we checked out the Punchliner Comedy Club. With Camp Ocean closing at 10pm, we only were able to see the PG rated routines, but they were hilarious! We also saw the Just Rock performance in the Venetian Palace on Liberty. It was a very good show that we all (kids included) enjoyed.
I feel like we haven’t discussed food enough. This was a cruise after all. Dinner in the Silver Olympian dining room was good. I latched onto a kale Caesar salad as my recurring appetizer. It was good, but I’d call the portion a sampler. I munched on a variety of breads while anxiously awaiting the main course. On night 3, along with my kale salad, I also ordered the Escargot. To be honest, it wasn’t quite as good as Royal Caribbean’s Bourguignonne, but certainly not bad either. For main courses, I tried the swordfish, prime rib, and something else that I can’t remember- which kind of speaks for itself. They presented modest portions of flavorful food presented tastefully, but nothing was extravagant. The last night, we skipped the main dining room and had food from other eateries on Liberty. Service, too, was just par. We had a couple of waiters assisting us, but not necessarily in concert with one another. The language barriers made ordering a challenge sometimes, but we ultimately ended up with what we wanted. Just like on Enchantment of the Seas, our 6-year old got multiple orders of shrimp cocktail every night as desired. We had to limit her to four plates per night, though!
Dr. Seuss Breakfast
The Dr. Seuss breakfast is well worth $5 per person. Order as much as you want of Seuss themed cuisine served in the Gold Olympian dining room at your preferred time. The kids also get to meet and take photos- or videos if you’re into saving money- with some large feline wearing a hat, a couple of things who shall remain unnumbered, and Sam (he is). Other days, breakfast was a selection of Huevos Rancheros from Blue Iguana or whatever you want from the ubiquitous Lido Buffet.
Later in the afternoon, we participated in the Seuss-A-Palooza Parade which led us to Story Time, which is a play acted out as a classic children’s tale is read on stage. Both were a lot of fun for all 4 of our “Things”. Explanation: We brought along “Thing #” shirts for all of us. Many asked us where we got them and, to our knowledge, they are not available on Liberty. If you want to be similarly festive, we found them on Amazon before we left.
We had a blast. It was a cruise. You have to enjoy a cruise (unless you were on the Titanic). However, I don’t think we’re very anxious to return to Liberty. It actually surprised me when the kids said they would rather return to Enchantment, but that was their unbiased opinion separately from two 6 year olds, a 9 year old, and a 10 year old. If it’s your first cruise or you are looking for a lot of fun for a little money and don’t mind some offsetting things, this one’s for you. Otherwise, spend a little more on a five star voyage.
We had our doubts about RCCL after returning to cruising in September on the Enchantment of the Seas. However, we (along with two other couples) had already booked this Navigator of the Seas cruise. It could have been our last time sailing with Royal Caribbean, but this cruise restored our faith in RCCL by offering an awesome experience with exceptional service.
We were very apprehensive about the Windjammer Cafe, but the Navigator's buffet is large enough so that guests can relax without feeling rushed. Our waiter in Windjammer, Dennis, made us feel welcome from the start. In fact, one couple who traveled separately, arrived later. Dennis kept the drinks flowing until they arrived. The food was typical Windjammer selection of classic favorites spanning various cultures. Dennis answered all our questions. We learned that the Chef's Table we had reserved would be in the Windjammer later that evening. We were all a bit worried about the buffet being the chosen venue for what we hoped to be a unique experience. Fortunately, our concerns were needless.
The Chef's Table was an extraordinary experience of indescribably perfect cuisine paired artfully with wines from various regions. We left the Table thankful, amazed, and pleasantly intoxicated. I recommend that everyone try this if your budget will allow it.
We upgraded to a Junior Suite while the other two couples kept Oceanview Balcony staterooms. Every room was meticulously maintained and without noise disruptions throughout the trip. While we appreciated the combination tub and full size shower and sitting space in the Junior Suite, we travel light and didn't hibernate in the room much. If we didn't get the upgrade at a steep discount, I wouldn't have found value in it at regular price.
Most of us had the Ultimate Package with the intention of getting our monies' worth! Bartenders were attentive everywhere we went and additional gratuities were not usually suggested (they simply glanced at the SeaPass before graciously providing the beverage). It wasn't until Day 3 that we found out about the startlingly impressive cocktails crafted by expert mixologists at the R-Bar. Thank you to Ella and Rickardo for your skill and friendly conversation every time we stopped by! If you like ginger, stop in the R-Bar and try a Mule with fresh ingredients. Be careful, though, you'll be hooked!
Dinners and accompaniments in the Sapphire Dining Room were excellent. Our party had discord regarding service there. Aside from a few bar errors, I thought everything was superb after having a chat with our assistant waiter, who seemed lackadaisical our first night there. Subsequent evenings, everything seemed on point: Drinks stayed full, rolls were replenished, and the table was cleared quickly.
Another sore point from September's trip on Enchantment was the discordance of meal and show times. Navigator did a great job of scheduling shows, other events, and meals so that we could have flexibility and not overly crowded events. The ice show, Quest competition, karaoke nights, trivia events, music events, and 2nd comedian all surpassed our expectations. The only negative was the first comedian. He presented a painful monologue with the facade of a comedy show.
Flowrider, Solarium, island tunes at poolside, and more...I can go on an on about the plethora of amenities on Navigator, but you obviously have an internet connection and can research them yourself. They are all as great- if not better- than described. Thanks to all the Navigator crew who made this an awesome experience with exceptional service!
Overall, Enchantment is still a beautiful ship despite being nearly 20 years old. I've read others complain about the condition, but I'd have to disagree.It was a perfect first cruise for our children, but the attention to detail and service excellence I've experienced on previous cruises was subpar. Nonetheless, for the price, we found value in the Enchantment 4-Night Bahamas trip.
We were pleasantly surprised with the spacious interior staterooms, even with 3 people per cabin.
The itinerary's diversity allowed for a cultural experience, relaxing beach day, and historical education- however it also resulted in little time for R&R between activities.
Previous cruises ensured that everything was as promised. Enchantment delivered what was promised, but not without error. For example, we ordered a birthday package for our son 3 weeks ahead of time for $65. While the room was decorated as promised, the cake that was supposed to be presented in the dining room was actually in the stateroom when we arrived- hours before dinner. When we arrived at dinner, the rolls were fresh, but served cool enough to not melt butter. Little things detracted from a perfect experience.
Service was nothing spectacular.
The Windjammer staff seemed primarily concerned with clearing and cleaning tables to ensure turnover of a consistently crowded space. Beverages were not offered at the table and sometimes required a wait for preparation at the beverage station.
Aside from during dinner in the main dining room (where service was exceptional), I was only offered a drink once while on the entire cruise. Otherwise, a bartender had to be asked. While the drinks were prepared quickly, the service was strictly transactional with the glass and a receipt provided and no subsequent conversation. Though I didn't desire an extensive exchange, pleasant small talk would have been appreciated.
Again, the waitstaff in My Fair Lady main dining room made each night's dinner service wonderful. This is not to say that the dinner experience was perfect, though. Bar service was routinely slow. Drinks arrived after appetizers on more than one evening. The food was generally very good, portioned appropriately, and aesthetically presented. I missed the cultural themed nights related to ports of call that previous cruises have offered. Also, lobster and steak cost extra- though definitely worth $15 plus gratuity for a perfectly prepared filet.
received a helpful vote on their Carnival Liberty cruise review - Good cruise for families on a budget.
received a helpful vote on their Empress of the Seas cruise review - This ship rocks! Phenomenal service.
received a helpful vote on their Empress of the Seas cruise review - This ship rocks! Phenomenal service.
commented on a Carnival Liberty cruise review. - "Great review. Thanks for sharing your experience. One of our 6 year olds is tiny and didn't like the water options, either. A splash area/ shallow poo..." read more
received a helpful vote on their Empress of the Seas cruise review - This ship rocks! Phenomenal service.
commented on a Empress of the Seas cruise review. - "I will keep an eye out for your reviews on Havana. I had a friend fly into Cuba for a week and he loved it. Hopefully an overnight stay is enough." read more
commented on a Empress of the Seas cruise review. - "Chops is extra. I think it is $19 for lunch, $30 for dinner. However, you can order multiple appetizers, etc. if you are REALLY hungry. It is a LOT of..." read more