Life On-Board- My First Experience Cruising
Oh boy have I been dreading this blog, not because I didn't enjoy my first time cruising, but because I have SO much to say, and I am nothing if not thorough! Hopefully you will stick around for this extremely lengthy piece, but if cruising really isn't your thing, I understand! This was my first time cruising, so if you have been out at sea many times feel free to leave a comment letting all of us newbies know some tips and tricks! The layout of this blogpost is going to be such- picture tours of different parts of the trip with stories of my experiences there and then a final review/roundup at the end! Feel free to comment or message me if you have any questions- I would love to talk cruising with you!
THE SHIP: NAVIGATOR OF THE SEAS (Royal Caribbean)
Jonathan and I looked at a lot of cruise lines, in particular: Carnival, Princess Cruises, and P&O Cruises. However, we decided pretty whole-heartedly on Royal Caribbean after a bit of research. The price for our cruise was certainly competitive and there were loads of options for sailing from the UK (a must for us) without compromising any of the luxuries. After we decided on the cruise-line, it was time to look at destinations for our honeymoon. Our first thoughts were that we would do a Mediterranean cruise because it sounded romantic, but after a lot of research, we actually thought that a Baltic cruise would be the best option for us. We like unique locations, are not really big beach people (or warm-weather people in general), and the idea that we would be right within walking distance from the city centres of a lot of ports of call was a big selling point. With that in mind, we saw that we would be on`The Navigator and were thrilled! It is still a very large cruise ship, so there would be loads of activities and such to do on board, but it wasn't a mega ship where service would be compromised because it was almost TOO big. We would highly recommend this ship, but keep in mind that it might not be what you are looking for. If you are intent on not having any children on-board, or might still be overwhelmed by the large amounts of decks, there are always smaller or more adult-friendly versions out there for you to try. Definitely do your research!
Welcome to Deck 2- Portside where we barely spent any of our time! That is not to say that we did not love our room, though! We were just so busy checking out all of the ports and trying all sorts of new things throughout the ship, that we didn't have much time to just chill out in our room. We optioned for a window view as it was our honeymoon, and we decided to splurge a bit- we certainly did not regret it. The last photo that you see in this cluster was a view that we caught while leaving St. Petersburg. There are many moments, at least on the Baltic cruise, where you are closer to land and stunning views than you would think, and if you have a window then it is pretty hard to miss any of it. There is also something really surreal about waking up in the morning, opening your curtains, and looking at the country you arrived in earlier that morning. If you are not bothered about those things, it is definitely cheaper to get an interior room, and if you are as busy as we were, you probably won't miss the window at all. As for a balcony, I say go for it if you have the money to spare and if you like the comfort of your own room. I was plenty happy to go up on deck for sail-aways, so I did not miss not having a balcony, but to each their own! This ship also has automated windows where it shows a live-stream of the view outside on a screen and rooms with interior windows where you look onto the Royal Promenade. In my opinion, those rooms are definitely not worth the extra money!
So, details about our room: The bed was absolutely massive and super comfy! The thing that is really nice about these beds is if you want them to be separated, that is a possibility. They really cater the room to work best for you. There is PLENTY of storage. There is a large wardrobe with hanging space and shelves (however, there are limited hangers, so bring extra if you have a lot of clothes you want to hang up), there are loads of drawers and cabinets around the desk area, there's a safe to keep all of your important documents and high-priced electronics, each person gets a decent-sized bedside table, and make sure to check if your mirrors open up for even more shelving space in the bathroom and desk area. We didn't necessarily over-pack for the trip, but there is definitely enough room for you to do so, if that is a problem you run into. With cruising, one of the benefits is that you don't have a luggage allowance, so you can indulge in "extras" and your suitcases should fit right into your wardrobe when you are finished!
We had a sofa in our room, which to be honest was used most of the time as a dumping ground to put stuff on if we didn't have time to organise it, but if you spend a lot of time in your cabin, it might be nice to have that option. The TV swivels to either point at the couch or the bed, so you will be comfy no matter where you decide to relax and watch telly. Our favourite thing to watch on the TV was the Morning Show where the Cruise Director, Rob, and the Activities Director, Daniel talked about all of the happenings on ship that day and also had hilarious jokes and banter. Trust me when I say that your cruise will be 10x more enjoyable if you make it a priority to get familiar with some of the staff- Rob and Daniel made our night every night at Midnight when we would snack and watch the new show! My husband even went up and said hello to Daniel one evening and had a short chat. How cool is that?
The big question that I had when getting on board was regarding the bathrooms. I wondered how they would work on a ship, and if they were going to be impossibly small to get into. It turns out that they are small, but not impossibly so! The shower is a comfortable single stall shower (they do provide an "all-around" product, but i'd suggest bringing your own!), the sink had a decent sized counter space on either side, so I never felt like my products had to stay crammed in a little baggy on the side, and the toilet is very much like an airplane toilet with the air flush. There are signs all over to make sure to be careful what you put in the toilets. My favourite is a picture of a kid putting a toy truck in the toilet with a red cross through it- is this a common problem? You really do have to be careful, though! There was talk of people that brought their own plush toilet paper from home for comfort, but it doesn't dissolve like the stuff that they provide, and if you plug up a toilet, they are all connected, so everyone will know! That sounds like my actual worst nightmare.
The final thing that I want to talk about in regards to the room was our wonderful stateroom attendant, Lenord! (AKA our housekeeper). This man made it a priority to welcome us from day one and talked to us every single time that he would see us. He made his rounds twice a day, so our room was always super neat, tidy, and well-stocked with necessities, and he was genuinely such a fabulous guy. On our second night, when the waves were really high, Jonathan did not feel well, so we were staying in our rooms for that evening. Lenord knocked on the door to see if we needed anything and we got to chatting. I mentioned that it was our honeymoon, and a few days later he had arranged for two towel swans to be made for us and gave us a "Happy Honeymoon" card. Every day he told us how lovely it was to see a young couple in love and it made our trip that much more special. Here's a little tip for you- when they ask about your day, make it a point to ask about theirs as well. Lenord opened up a bit about his family and the excursions that he went on and it was so wonderful to know more about the person we were speaking to every day!
Let me break this down for you so you can understand how it works a bit more on board: there are three restaurants (Cafe Promenade, The Windjammer, and the Sapphire Dining Room) where your meals are covered by your original fee that you pay. When you go to those places, you can eat as much as you want and they don't charge you anything additional because it's already covered. There are loads of other restaurants on board with a wide variety of food choices, but these all require that you pay extra money. My suggestion would be to pick out one or two of those that really interest you, but stick to the main dining areas otherwise!
-Cafe Promenade is truly as it is named, a little cafe along the Royal Promenade deck, nestled between all of the overpriced stores on-board. You might think, why would I want to go there when there is a large buffet and dining room? But, what they don't tell you, is that Cafe Promenade is the only restaurant that is open 24/7. We went to this establishment every. single. night. around 11:30 PM to stock up on pizza, sandwiches, and cheesecakes in a cup to bring back to our room just in time for the Morning Show. It was perfection. Even if you are not usually a late-night snacker, it is nice to know that it is always there. It was a godsend when Jonathan was ill and so we missed dinner.
**** HERE IS ANOTHER TIP- they have FREE motion sickness tablets at the customer service deck for those who are feeling a little woozy on the open waters****
- Windjammer is where we went for lunch pretty much every day, and it was also where we went to breakfast if we were feeling hungry in the mornings (just an fyi, they do have free breakfast room service, you just need to fill out a form the night before! All other room service has a charge!). Windjammer is your stereotypical massive buffet. They have their classics that are always there like burgers and pasta, and they have other things like different salads, soups, and desserts that are changed every single day. This is a place where you really need to be careful to not over eat. I will be honest, though, there were A LOT of people that just ate salads and worked out all of the time on-board (not my idea of a holiday, but it's doable if that's something that you are into). Every night for dinner they also have a theme. They only night that we went was Mexican night because I love Mexican food more than anything and have been craving it something awful since leaving the states. It was yummy, but I would suggest sticking to the formal dining for the evening because there just isn't anything that beats it in my opinion. Some of my favourite foods from Windjammer were the chocolate rice pudding, the Waldorf salad, glazed carrots, and a burger with cheese and grilled onions!
***TIP- try to get your food at the same time as the other person in your party, otherwise you will just be like a tag team and won't actually have any good conversations over your meal***
-The Sapphire Dining Room was my favourite place to eat out of all of the places we went to. We started off our experience by going to the restaurant every day and booking a table for what time we wanted. They let us know a few days in, though, that if we booked for the same time every night, we would get the same table with the same waiting staff, and that is how 6:15 PM became our dining time, table 514 became our table, and Putu and Sachin became our servers (you can always cancel or move your time if it doesn't end up working, too!). DO THIS! Like I said earlier, the staff become the best part of the cruise, and we adored our waiters so much! Putu and Sachin began to know our quirks and made the dining experience so personable. My husband would plow through the bread basket, so they always made sure to have more on hand for us, and I would devour the creme brulee, so one night when it was a smaller portion than usual, Putu made sure to grab me two! The menu has some things that stay the same every night (under classics) and then there are foods that change every night. This was really nice because I knew they'd always have French onion soup, steak, and creme brulee if there was nothing new on the menu that I wanted to try. (I attached a photo above, if you want to see all the other menus, let me know and I will get them to you!) They are truly there to make your experience as great as possible and I got emotional saying goodbye on the last night. Keep in mind that there are different dress codes for each night- sometimes it is formal and sometimes a lot more casual. They let you in no matter what from my experience, but you do feel kind of silly if you are wearing yoga pants and there is someone next to you in a ballgown. Make sure to check what you should be wearing on your cruise compass!
-Johnny Rockets was the restaurant that we decided we wanted to pay a little extra to try. They are known for their burgers and milkshakes (which is usually right up Jonathan and my alley). You pay a cover charge of around $10 a person and then you can order as much as you would like off of the menu which is a clever idea because there is no way that I could have eaten more than my starter and main, but if you are a big eater, than this is probably an amazing deal! Now, I am not going to say that it's bad, but let's just say that we should probably not have had all of that greasy food on a rough sea day... also, people bursting into random song and dance can make me a little uncomfortable when I was eating. Next time around I think I will just stick to the free burgers in the Windjammer, but I bet there are some people who'd really love it at Johnny Rockets!
ACTIVITIES ON BOARD
I think that we should start with the pool deck, because I think that it dominates most of these photos. The pool deck was probably our favourite place to hang out on board. First of all you get these stunning views. In the second picture of this section, you can see the hills and scenery of Oslo, Norway in the background and it takes my breath away just looking at it now. We would come up here all of the time, not just to swim, but to get a chair looking out the window and watching us sail around the Baltic while diving into a good book or snacking on some frozen yogurt from the froyo machine near the pool. This also really was a great place to swim as well, though. There were two big pools, so we would rotate between the two depending on how busy it was, and there were 4 hot tubs, two of which are open 24 hours a day depending on weather! Even when it was cold and windy, the water is a good place to seek refuge because it always is quite warm. You can rent towels or blankets at the pool desk for free, but keep in mind that it closes quite early, so you might need to bring some towels from your room if you are going for a late night swim. One of my other favourite things about this area is the big screen. Every day there is at least two newer release films that they show. One of my favourite nights was lounging in the hot tub and watching "Darkest Hour" with Jonathan as we sailed away from Copenhagen. It was surreal.
Next is the solarium which is the posh looking pool in the photos that is more covered, has cushioned lounge chairs, and also has warm "mood lighting" that almost looks like little stars. This pool area is for people that are over 16 years of age. It wasn't really a big deal for us because we barely had any kiddos on our cruise (they were still in school and not a lot of people take their kids to Scandinavia apparently), but if there were a ton of kids, I can see why it would be nice to have a pool where there was no unnecessary splashing, etc. Because our cruise was so windy, I feel like this place was always packed full of people who wanted to swim without being frozen to death after getting out of the hot tub. Jonathan and I always enjoyed going later in the evenings when most people were at dinner or had retired to our room because we didn't feel bad about putting our towels and books on a chair to save them in this smaller space!
Next is the Metropolis theatre where we went every single evening (except for the night when Jon was ill) to watch the variety of shows on-board. There were hypnotists, comedians, a singer that used to play Simba on the West End, etc. It is a first-come first-serve basis in that theatre, so we always went early and got amazing seats, but there was always enough to come a little later, so don't feel afraid to sneak in even if the show has just started. Of course, some of the acts were better than others, but it was amazing to have live entertainment on-board. There's always musicians playing around the ship, etc. but there is something just a little bit more comfortable about having your own seat and a waiter to bring you drinks throughout. Not only did we come here for shows, but we came here to meet our groups for excursions, and we came here for special things like the ship's karaoke final, and for a Q&A panel with the captain, chief engineer, hotel director, and other higher ups from the ship. There's always something going on so make sure to check your cruise compass to see if there's a performance in the theatre!
As you can see from the pictures, there is also a mini-golf course, a gym and spa, a flow-rider (which is basically a wave maker where you can learn to surf or boogie board), and the Royal Promenade. We did mini-golf once and I wish we would have gone back and done it again. It is such a fun and easy way to spend some time on a lazy afternoon on-board. We didn't visit the spa or the gym, but from what we saw, it looked like it was always full of patrons using the facilities, and we definitely didn't do the flow-rider because we are not very adventurous when it comes to things like that, but we did see that there was a nice seating area to watch all of the action. We did wander throughout the Royal Promenade and took advantage of some of their deals. My main advice to you is only buy Royal Carribean souvenirs on-board and not any of the ones that pertain to destinations. They had Russian dolls and Norwegian trolls, etc. on ours and I was SHOCKED to see how much cheaper you can get it on shore. They try to sell things to you by saying that it is a good deal to get things on-board since there is no tax, but I bought an amber ring for $65 on board and found the EXACT same one at a market in Tallinn for 15 Euro. I did, however, get Jonathan and I some clothes with the Royal Carribean logo and a water bottle as well. Very cool souvenirs if you want to remember the cruise as well as all of the destinations.
Jonathan and I also went to the casino for a few nights to see how long $20 would last us. Neither of us are big gamblers, but it was kind of fun to go down there and burn some time while waiting for our table to be ready at dinner. We also did some of the other activities on board that we found in the cruise compass. One of our favourite activities to take part in were the on-board scavenger hunts where you would have to look for particular pieces of art, or have to find out how many bars there were on the pool deck, etc. I also went to an art class where we did some collage making, etc. and finally, be aware that every day there are board games and puzzles in the library. There are also books of course, but I brought my own! We spent a couple afternoons up there playing a game of checkers, cards, or chess. There is truly always something going on for you to do, I promise!
P.S. there are art galleries, rock climbing walls, etc. as well, I just didn't get any pictures and take advantage of everything. You can always go to https://www.royalcaribbean.co.uk/our-ships/navigator-of-the-seas/?ship=NV&cid=UKRCBAU_GSHIP_NV_SH&phone=ppcship&gclid=EAIaIQobChMItJasy8i13AIVh7TtCh2K0wEbEAAYASAAEgLsefD_BwE for more information regarding this ship!
OTHER THINGS ONBOARD AND FINAL WRAP-UP
I just wanted to take a quick second to talk about the elevators (lifts) and I didn't know where else to put it! Jonathan and I were all "Oh, we will take the stairs everywhere" when we first got on, but learned that going from deck two to eleven was quite the trip every single time we wanted to get some nibbles. These lifts will keep you sane on board! Not only do they bring you to where you need to go, but they tell you the day of the week (because trust me, you will forget when you are out at sea), and they have a list of what floor everything is on inside the lift so you don't get lost. Just a word of warning, make sure you are on the right side of the ship before you go down or up because on some floors you can't get to the other side! This was also an amazing place to meet other passengers! Don't be afraid to say hello to those you sit by at lunch, on deck, or in the lift! You never know where you could make a new friend!
This cruise was so incredible, I can't even tell you... We felt so taken care of and special because of the attention from the staff. The woman who checked us in for dinner even knew our room number by the end of the cruise, and think about how many people she checks in every single night! We felt like we really made the most of our 12 nights at sea, checking in early, taking part in lots of activities, and seeing all of the shows they had to offer, but we also spent plenty of time relaxing with our books on the pool deck, taking in the views of the stunning places we passed. If you are interested in the destinations that we went to and our experience with ship-led excursions, there are separate blogs for each place, but I just wanted to dedicate an entire blog to the actual experience on-board. If you want to know just how much of an impression was made, we used of the "Next Cruise" desk onboard to book our next cruise in March 2019 to the Norwegian Fjords! I can't wait to look out my window and see Norwegian waterfalls or to curl up on deck and watch the hills as we pass through scenic valleys. It's going to be the experience of a life time, and I am sure there will be even more cruises to be had after that!
If you are interested in cruising or having any specific questions, let me know! I'd love to help!