DeedeeG
Second Mate

Hometown: Born and raised in NY, lived in Boston for 15 years and now live in Jacksonville, FL
Joined: 04/20/2014
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About DeedeeG

I'm a professional and recreational writer, and cruise enthusiast. For tips on cruising, visit my blog, Musing About Cruising, at musingaboutcruising.blogspot.com.


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Navigator of the Seas

April 2016 - Navigator of the Seas to Caribbean - Eastern

Oasis Lite: Review of Navigator of the Seas

Okay, perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to call Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas “Oasis Lite.” But, particularly after the 2014 refurb, this Voyager class ship does share some of the same features that make it a good alternative to its can-be-overwhelming Oasis of the Seas sibling. 

 

Here’s a bit of the similarities and differences:

 

On the spot. Oasis has three “neighborhoods” to Navigator’s one. What they both have in common is the Promenade, the ship’s hub and site for parades, the ‘70s theme party and other events. It’s also is the home of the only 24-hour nosh spot, the Promenade Café, with its free sandwiches and sweets.

 

On our Navigator trip, we admit to missing Oasis’ greeny oasis, Central Park. Also absent was the kids-friendly Boardwalk, with its full-size carousel, fun-house mirrors and candy shop.

 

On the move. Navigator emerged from its month-long dry dock with a FlowRider, the popular surf-making machine on Oasis. And like the bigger ship, Navigator has a rock-climbing wall, ice skating rink and miniature golf.

 

On your plate. The main dining room and Windjammer buffet fare is pretty much the same on both ships, and both have the Brasserie 30 and “Tutti” salad bar in the MDR on sea days. The bread stuffs on both ships were great—from the pumpkin seed-studded rolls to the breakfast breads with dried fruit and sugar sprinkles.

 

Navigator’s Windjammer had some surprises, such as a featured dish served up (somewhat oddly) front and center in the buffet’s entranceway. One day it was bagels with flavored cream cheeses. Another, it was a massive fruit cobbler in just about the biggest pan you’ll ever see. The last night—I suppose to make parting less painful—the buffet sprouted fresh raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.

 

Oasis has some extra specialty restaurants. The for-a-fee eateries they share: Chops Grille (steak), Giovanni’s Table (Italian), Sabor (Mexican) and Izumi (Japanese). Both have a Ben and Jerry’s, and Starbucks, but on Navigator, they’re so small that you’ll miss them if you blink.

 

On the stage. No comparison here, sad to say. The one spectacular show they do both offer is the ice show, and what a show it is! (Though the actual production is different.) Continuously changing sets, elaborate costumes, and with many of the same jumps, twirls and whirls you’d see on land. On Oasis, you sign up online before the trip. On Navigator, you’re assigned a show by your muster station.

 

Beyond the ice show, only Oasis class ships have the eye-popping aqua shows and Broadway-quality musicals. Navigator has the typical cruise ship entertainment—comedian, singers and two production shows. As with most, the production shows were entertaining, but not memorable.

 

In the Plus Column

What else can you look forward to on Navigator? In Windjammer, the wait staff roam, offering water/juice/ice tea at lunch and dinner, and sometimes, cookies, too…Because it’s smaller, finding a table in the buffet is easier, so is getting on and off the ship…its size allows it to go to more ports…it’s faster to learn your way around…balcony chairs recline, the night table has a closed drawer and the closet has a few shelves (you’ll find none of these on Oasis).

 

So, in short, if you’re not ready, willing or able for a trip on an Oasis ship, Navigator of the Seas is a good alternative. -- Musing About Cruising

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Oasis of the Seas

December 2015 - Oasis of the Seas to Caribbean - Eastern

When Bigger is Best: a Review of the Oasis

You notice it most when you’re in port. Oasis is big. It commands attention. And it dwarfs every other ship.

 

But what does big do for the cruiser?

 

Big means better entertainment. Like its sibling, Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas has top-flight entertainment, starting with the full version of the musical Cats (see tip below). It has a colorful and lively ice show with former championship skaters. An extensive DreamWorks parade. In short, it has shows and events you just won’t see on any other ship. And some productions, like the aqua show with its mesmerizing high divers, you won’t see on land, either.

 

Big means more activities. Only a ship that’s 1,800 feet long (five football fields!) can have a full-sized carousel (rides are free), wave-making machine for surfing and boogie-boarding, 82-foot long zip line, and two rock-climbing walls with multiple levels of difficulty.

 

Big means more places to call your own. Of the three “neighborhoods” (Promenade, Boardwalk and Central Park), Central Park was the most underutilized and thus, became our favorite. Nighttime, you pretty much have the place to yourself. A glass of wine at the Trellis Bar, surrounded by the (real) tropical foliage and sparkling restaurant lights, is a great way to get away from the bustle.

 

Big means more food choices. There are 25 restaurants—some will cost you, but others will not. The complimentary venues begin with three main dining rooms, where the entrees are adequate (thankfully, lobster tails still grace the menu on the second formal night), desserts are good and the rolls are superb (try the pumpkin seed ones). Along with the usual fare, the Windjammer buffet at night has some interesting Asian dishes, such tandoori chicken and curry specialties; brie; and an occasional surprise or two.

 

Among the other free options are Park Café for breakfast and lunch (paninis and salads assembled to order); Sorrento’s, where pizzas can also be made to your taste; and the 24-hour Café Promenade with sandwiches and desserts (try the wonderful cheesecake pops).

 

Big means more space to walk off your meals. The covered jogging track on Deck 5 spans the length of the ship and has one lane dedicated to runners and another to walkers. Be sure to check out the cute sayings overhead. One mile is just 2.4 laps. And aside from the occasional crew member using the track as a short cut, you won’t have much competition for foot space.

 

Ironically, even with its vast size, Oasis still runs out of room. Comedy is relegated to a small theater, forcing the comedians to do show, after show, after show on a seven-day cruise—a fact they never fail to mention. Our Crown and Anchor event was held on the helipad, in the sun, on a hot day.

 

When big is not the best. Big doesn’t necessarily mean better food. While the food on Oasis is okay, it doesn’t get the same emphasis that you’ll see on some other cruise lines. Royal Caribbean focuses on activities and entertainment and for that reason, perhaps, the crowd on Oasis was decidedly younger than on other cruise line ships.

 

And big means more people and longer lines. For the most part, Oasis has crowd control down to a science. Getting back onboard after a port visit always involved some kind of line, but it moved swiftly. Amazingly, disembarkation took significantly less time than it did when we sailed on Celebrity’s Constellation, a ship half of Oasis’ size.

 

Despite the occasional inconveniences and unremarkable food, what you can count on is that Oasis of the Seas is big on fun. -- Musing About Cruising

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Caribbean Princess

April 2015 - Caribbean Princess to Caribbean - Western

Princess Preferred: A Review of the Caribbean Princess

From the Norman Love truffle pops at the Welcome Toast to the restaurant-like beverage service in the buffet, Princess is filled with surprises that make it my favorite among the mass market cruise lines.

It won’t blow you away with bumper cars or carousels, but what it does deliver is consistently solid service, attention to detail and an eagerness to please.

The recent trip on the Caribbean Princess, our fourth on the line, proved to be as good as the first. With many of the lines noticeably scaling back, Princess is an exception. Here’s some of what made it special:

Ship shape. Princess’ mini-suite is ideal for those who want more space but not at a suite price. It’s essentially the size of a hotel room with two flat screen TVs, a full-sized couch, large counter, and porch furniture featuring reclining chairs, foot stools and a large table. The closets in the mini-suites—as well as the balcony rooms—are the largest we’ve had on any cruise line, and can accommodate three hanging shoe bags, along with a whole lot of clothes.

The staterooms—as well as the public rooms—were immaculate. You’d really have to look hard to find any evidence that the ship was built 11 years ago.

The piazza, the hub of ship activity, this trip featured a pianist, a we-can-play-just-about-anything band and singer, steel drums and a former circus performer who twirled lighted hoops in a blaze of color and grace. The only downside to the handsome piazza is that it can’t always accommodate everyone who wants to be there. Getting a good enough view to take photos of the Mardi Gras party or a seat to eat your International Café quiche can sometimes be all but impossible.

Food; themed and otherwise. Speaking of food, it ranged from fair to good, in both the Main Dining Room and Horizon Court buffet. One innovation in the MDR was Caribbean cuisine, a welcome reminder of where we were. And it was nice to see lobster tail still on the formal night menu.

Horizon Court themed nights were a lot of fun and we found ourselves there more than the MDR. German night was alight with a color-changing, larger-than-life beer stein (in ice, not on ice), landjagger bites and German hams, pretzel rolls, red cabbage, sausages, and linzer and sacher tortes. Italian night, with its gondolier-costumed waiters, served up prosciutto and hunks of parmesan, fennel au gratin and pasta many ways.

The bakery stuff is where Princess really excels. The breads are great—from the sunflower-studded rolls to the cheese-topped croissants to the onion-infused focaccia. The chocolate desserts were excellent, rivaling some of the best bakeries on land.

The ship was as generous with its buffet hours as it was with the food offerings. You can get breakfast until 11:30, lunch until 3:30 (if you miss this, there’s “afternoon snack” from 3:30-5:30, which is a scaled down lunch), and full dinner is available until 11. Late dining was an especially mellow meal, just us, a few other night owls and the crew.

Fun and games. While standard fare, the entertainment was generally good; highlights were a juggler/comedian whose not-G-rated shtick brought on belly laughs, and a magician/comedian with same-but-different sleight-of-hand tricks and fast wit.

In fact, everyone seemed to be a comedian on this trip—including the cruise director, Paul Chandler-Burns. The Brit’s quips shot out like sparks—in an understated, under-the-breath sort of way—and made him the ideal emcee. His banter during the “The Marriage Match Game Show” made it easily one of the best we’ve seen on any ship.

There were several themed parties, the most memorable was the “Love Boat Disco Deck Party” held by the pool. The ship’s singers and dancers, dressed officer-like in white pants suits and captain hats, did the hustle and other moves, while the Movie Under the Stars screen revived scenes from the TV show, interspersing its octogenarian cast members somewhat disconcertedly jiving to a disco beat.

Well served. Service onboard was attentive from the room steward to the well-orchestrated disembarkation. Ironically, some of the best service we had was in the buffet. One night, I was asked by three different waiters within 10 minutes if I wanted any water or coffee.

With the generous room space, great service, varied entertainment with plenty of laughs, satisfying food sprinkled with surprises, and four good Western Caribbean ports (seven days of sun didn’t hurt either), we felt gloriously pampered from ship to shore. And felt that Princess did its best—and succeeded—in helping us “come back new.” --musingaboutcruising.blogspot.com

 

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Celebrity Constellation

December 2014 - Celebrity Constellation to Caribbean - Eastern

A Cruise Review: The Connie Anew

You never forget your first cruise. Like your first kiss, the memory sweetly lingers.

It’s those warm fuzzies that drew us back to Celebrity’s Constellation in December—eight years after she introduced us to a whole new way to travel.

But those were the days of midnight buffets and chocolates on our pillow. They’re long gone and the Constellation is a different place, run by the same—but yet a very different—cruise line.

The Ship: Wearing the Years Well

The Constellation has held up very nicely since its 2002 inauguration. Its upgrade and “Solsticization” in 2013 brought new beds to the cabins, refreshed carpeting throughout, new restaurants, bars and more. It’s a handsome ship, with a commanding marble staircase dominating the Grand Foyer on Deck 3.

One of the ship’s highlights is at the very back of Deck 10, what I call the “Teak Deck” for its upgraded picnic furniture (officially, it’s the “Sunset Bar”). The little patio, like most of the ship (including rooms and balconies), is now smoke-free, enabling all of us to enjoy the view of the stern’s wake without wheezing.

The ship is compact and easy to get around; we had the layout down in a day. Its relative smallness at 91,000 tons gave it an intimate feel, which, after many trips on larger vessels, was a nice change of pace.

The Entertainment: Mixing It Up

There’s been a big change in the daytime activities. Where once there were guest speakers, there are now “Life Enhancement” lectures on health and fitness. “Enhance Your Life Through Exercise” and “Happy Feet for Healthy Life” were some of the offerings.

There are also more pool and game show activities, as the cruise line works to appeal to younger cruisers. An officer vs. guest pool volleyball game made its debut on this trip, joining the usual “Newlywed Game” takeoff, “Battle of the Sexes” and “Liar’s Club,” which—a first for us—featured the ship’s captain on the panel.

Evening entertainment was good quality, albeit standard fare—Broadway-style shows, a comedian, violinist, magician and singer. Off-stage entertainment ran the gamut, from folk music to classical to rock and salsa.

The Food: A Turn Toward Ordinary

Alas, from this foodie’s perspective, quality was sacrificed for quantity. When we first took the Connie, the three-star Michelin winner Michel Roux was running the show and each meal in the main dining room was a gastronomical high. Today, the food is plain at best. Entrees ranged from good (there was a nice crispy breaded pork chop and decent tenderloin) to poor (one steak had a very strange consistency). Desserts are merely ordinary. Instead of the rich and decadent “Opera” pastry I enjoyed on Princess, for example, the Constellation serves up chocolate layer cake.

The ship’s buffet, the Oceanview Café, runs until 9:30 p.m. at dinner, but compared to buffets on competing lines, seems an afterthought. There are some nice features, such as made-to-order grilling (choice of steak, salmon, chicken and pork), stir-fry and pasta, good pizza and an ice cream bar with syrup and candy toppings. But the desserts seldom varied from puddings or cupcakes.

On the other hand, the breakfast and lunch buffets offered a huge variety. (Although sorely missing was the array of fabulous rolls we once looked forward to.)

The Extras: A Few Still Remain

Some of what earned Celebrity the reputation of a premier cruise line is still there—the welcome champagne at embarkation, iced towels greeting you after a hot day at port, but we find it a changed cruise line, and the Constellation, a changed ship.

Those sailing on the Constellation for the first time will enjoy a smaller ship experience, quality entertainment and a crew eager to please. In short, a good cruise, but not a spectacular one.

--Musing About Cruising, http://musingaboutcruising.blogspot.com

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Allure of the Seas

May 2014 - Allure of the Seas to Caribbean - Eastern

What’s Alluring About the World’s Largest Cruise Ship

What’s the allure of the world’s largest ship? In a word, entertainment. Of the four cruise lines I’ve sailed with, no one does it better than Royal Caribbean.

 

The fare served up on the stages of Allure of the Seas is a refreshing departure from the usual shipboard shows and are worth the effort of scheduling your trip around them.

 

Allure’s full production of the musical “Chicago” was great fun, and the voices were strong and clear. How neat is that—a Broadway-quality show for free! And if you get to the theater super early, you can even get the best seats in the house.

 

Then there was “Ocean Aria,” a diving and acrobatic show that’s so compelling you won’t want to take your eyes away for a second. Adonis-like acrobat brothers wrap their bodies around each other in poses where you can’t tell where one body ends and the other begins. Divers from 90 ft. high fly into the air and amazingly, land gracefully and securely into the Allure’s tiny theater pool.

 

Inside the ship, on the ice rink, professional skaters—one a veteran of “Disney on Ice”—twirl, jump, spin and lift, while on a moving vessel, no less. The “Monopoly” theme lent itself well to playful and colorful sets and costumes.

 

The singers from “Chicago” re-emerged in “Blue Planet,” which had everything thrown in—acrobatics, singing and dancing—all in a celebration of nature. I won’t give it all away, but it included a trampoline, large rings and a human tree.

 

This comes on top of onboard surfing, ice skating, zip-lining, rock climbing and miniature golf. And then there are the three “neighborhoods;” their personalities ebbing and flowing by the hour. There’s the Promenade, the hub of the ship and venue for parades, dance classes and the best people-watching; Boardwalk, where you can ride a full-size carousel over and over again for free or eat foot-high pink cotton candy for a cost; and Central Park, an oasis of real foliage and fake bird sounds.

 

Exciting, yes. But it does steal the show from the real leading lady—the mysterious, fascinating and ever-changing sea.

 

Not as Alluring

The Allure’s weak spot is the food. Some dinner dishes in the Main Dining Room were good (memorable was the shrimp on Italian-theme night), others were disappointing (Chicken Marsala was rendered as fried chicken with a nearly invisible sauce).

 

But what we noticed—and missed—was the absence of beef choices, particularly compared to competing cruise lines.

 

We found that among the free dining options, the Windjammer buffet was often the best choice. Not only did it have a wider variety (shrimp crackers, anyone?), but some standout spicy Asian choices. It was a nice break from the usually bland and unimaginative dining room dishes.

 

Aside from the food, the other area where the ship doesn’t compare well to, say, the Caribbean Princess, is the staterooms. While okay on size, the Allure’s cabins offered less in the way of storage space. The closets are tight and night tables have open slots, which make them minimally useful.

 

Another downside is that the balcony chairs don’t recline, which makes seaside napping a challenge (but nothing that a glass of wine can’t cure!).

 

The Bottom Line

But, hey, you can’t be good at everything.

 

This may seem heretical, given all that the Allure and Oasis have going for them, but Musing wouldn’t recommend these ships for first-time cruisers. Because you’ll be permanently spoiled, and forever searching for the carousel and ice skating rink on every other ship.

 

Check out my blog at musingaboutcruising.blogspot.com.

 

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Emerald Princess

December 2013 - Emerald Princess to Caribbean

Caribbean Princess

April 2013 - Caribbean Princess to Caribbean

Allure of the Seas

December 2012 - Allure of the Seas to Caribbean

Golden Princess

May 2012 - Golden Princess to Alaska

DeedeeG's Tips

Philipsburg, St. Maarten - We've been here many, many times and still have great fun. The islanders keep improving the place and if you walk further up the beach (away from the ship), you'll find a new little shopping area with an old-fashioned automat (for those who remember what that is...)
Labadee (Cruiseline Private Island) - With their gentle, clear waters, the beaches are excellent for swimming. And don't be afraid of the shopping--while the vendors are aggressive, the crafts are very reasonably priced and there's huge variety.
San Juan, Puerto Rico - If you make a left after leaving the port area and follow the promenade along the water, it's a lovely view and in short order, you end up at El Moro. If you choose not to see the fort, the view alone is worth the stroll.
Navigator of the Seas Navigator of the Seas - We used My Time dining and went very smoothly. We never waited for more than about 10 minutes, and were always able to get our choice--a table for two.
Oasis of the Seas Oasis of the Seas - The musical "Cats" shouldn’t be missed. To ensure you enjoy the show, do the following before you leave home. We did and it made all the difference: * See the 1998 movie version * Read the plot summary (at Wikipedia or catsthemusical.com) * Download lyrics from free sites like metrolyrics
Cozumel, Mexico - Always enjoy the shopping here--the prices are very reasonable and you can get anything from silver to pottery to onyx.
George Town, Grand Cayman - We always enjoy visiting the little fish market on the sand in the harbor. Loved this sign on a beachside restaurant: "You hook it, we cook it."
Coxen Hole, Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras - We docked instead at Mohagany Bay, Carnival's gorgeous private side of Roatan. The beach and water rival Princess Cays, and offer wonderful swimming, water sports and even a chair lift!
Caribbean Princess Caribbean Princess - The hours of the Horizon Court buffet were particularly generous--breakfast lasted until 11:30, lunch until 3:30, afternoon snack (a scaled down lunch) until 5:30 and a full scale dinner until 11.
Frederiksted, St. Croix, U.S.V.I. - We were the only ship on this sleepy island and enjoyed the pristine water (with full conch shells on the beach!) and slow pace. There aren't many tourist shops, though, and not surprisingly, prices were high.
Philipsburg, St. Maarten - Fabulous port that is not only very attractive but also offers a ton to do. The waterfront is filled with colorful and tropical foliage, a beach, affordable restaurants and bars, and the shopping is varied and has some of the best prices of the Caribbbean islands.
Gustavia, St. Barthelemy - This was a terrific treat. A compact, picturesque harbor with so many gigantic yaghts, it looked like a boatyard. French is both the language and way of life here, and it had the feel of the French Riveria, complete with outdoor cafes, chic shops and pastry. You can leave your wallet onboard the ship, though, as a garden-variety refrigerator magnet will set you back nearly $10.
San Juan, Puerto Rico - One of my favorite ports and this year, I found it better than ever. It was colorful, vibrant, an interesting mix of European and Caribbean ar chitecture, and best of all, everything's walkable.
Labadee (Cruiseline Private Island) - We've been here before and it's marvelous. The water is clear, the foliage is tropical and the shopping's fun. Alas, this trip it rained all day.
Celebrity Constellation Celebrity Constellation - The AquaSpa Café, located in the area of the Solarium, is a hidden gem. This tiny café, which is only open for breakfast and lunch, is oriented toward more healthy fare, and serves (at no cost) made-to-order salmon, Atlantic Char and tuna. It's a great alternative to the MDR and Oceanview Café.
Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas - We've enjoyed going up the long staircase to the pirate's castle and taking photos of the sweeping views of the harbor, as well as the old synagogue.
Ft. Lauderdale (Port Everglades), Florida - N/A We live in Florida, so we drive to the port, pick up the ship and drive home. We don't even spend the night before here anymore, preferring to avoid the traffic and high expense by staying in a nearby town.
Nassau, Bahamas - A colorful and interesting port. We just walk around and take photos of the signs, flowers and people-watch.
Philipsburg, St. Maarten - A great port that has everything--beach right at the pier, once you tender to town, affordable and interesting shopping, casinos and myriad water sports.
Allure of the Seas Allure of the Seas - Make reservations for the shows online before the trip. The standby lines were quite lengthy. Also, see the DVD of "Chicago" at home before seeing the production on the ship. It will help you with the story line and familiarize you with the music, which is quite good.

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