Confessions of a First Time Cruiser
I didn't want to do a Caribbean cruise, or a cruise to anywhere else for that matter. My idea of a vacation is to travel some place and then spend my vacation there, not spend my vacation traveling to some place. I'd be bored, I wouldn't have good photo opportunities, just not my thing. My wife, Monique (a.k.a. "Q") wanted to go on a cruise. She'd done two cruises and wanted me to try one.
After much cajoling, Q talked me into going on a cruise to Cozumel, Grand Cayman Island and Jamaica aboard Royal Caribbean International's ship Navigator of the Seas.
We took our trip in September, 2014. Did I like the cruise or was it as big a bore as I expected it to be?
I have provided the following trip report on this cruise to offer my opinions and help you plan for your own Caribbean Cruise vacation.
Preparing for the Caribbean Cruise Vacation
Our Itinerary - I'm a planner. This is contrary to the cruise mentality, where your choice of cruises defines where you'll go on some days, and you look to the ship's schedule of activities each day for the rest of the time. This really took me out of my comfort zone.
One aspect I was able to plan was our excursions. We had three destination ports, which allowed us three opportunities to select excursions or activities that we would participate in.
Many of the excursions in Cozumel, Grand Cayman Island and Jamaica centered on SCUBA diving, snorkeling or zip lining. I'm not much of a swimmer and the idea of careening through the forest on a wire at 427 miles per hour just didn't appeal to me so most of the excursions were of little interest. I was more interested in opportunities to sitesee and shoot photos.
After much conversation we decided to treat each destination in a different way. We had several reasons for this.
In Jamaica we decided to hire a private tour company. None of the Royal Caribbean excursions in Jamaica visited the Blue Hole in Ocho Rios. The Blue Hole is a dramatic, remote tour destination and much less visited than the Dunn River Falls. This sounded like the ideal place to visit to shoot pictures and have a good time. Since none of the Royal Caribbean excursions went to the Blue Hole, we were forced to book something with a local excursion company.
Grand Cayman was a different story. Royal Caribbean offered several excursions to places we wanted to see, most notably Stingray City. We could have found a local company to do this tour for less money, but there was another factor we had to consider.
Jamaica and Cozumel were dock ports, meaning the ship pulled up to a dock, dropped a gang plank and everyone walked off. Grand Cayman is a tender port. That means the ship stays off shore, and small ferry boats transport passengers to the shore and back again (shown right). This is time consuming, when time for visiting a port is already extremely limited. If you don't get back to the ship in time, it leaves without you. So - if you spend an hour waiting for a tender boat, then transport in, you've lost a big chunk of time for your visit.
Royal Caribbean wants you to book your excursions through them, because they get a cut of the excursion price. So, they offer a reward for buying their excursions; if you get an excursion through Royal Caribbean and the tour doesn't get you back to the boat on time, the boat will wait for you or they will transport you to the next port so you can catch the boat there. Also, if you get a Royal Caribbean excursion at a tender port, you jump to the head of the line for tender boats. No waiting, just get on the boat and travel to shore right away.
Given that Grand Cayman was a tender port, we decided to book our tour through Royal Caribbean. Ultimately, Royal Caribbean contracts this out to a local tour company but it's still an Royal Caribbean tour and we were protected.
The last port was Cozumel. We looked at the available excursions and didn't find any that appealed to us. We decided just to wander around the island a little and not schedule any excursion.
After making these decisions I felt a little better. I was confident I'd have photo opportunities in Jamaica and Grand Cayman at least.
Any other preparations I needed to do centered on researching the cruise itself.
Researching the Caribbean Cruise Vacation - As always, I devoted a lot of time to researching the trip.
Once we knew our destinations, we wanted to look at what attractions and excursions were available. I found that Trip Advisor provided me with the most thorough reviews of all the service providers to transport us in Grand Cayman and Jamaica. When you can pull up a list of tour providers in Jamaica, for example, and find companies with 100+ reviews, virtually all positive, that gives you confidence in hiring them to drive you around. Ultimately we went with the Royal Caribbean excursion in Grand Cayman, but we did hire a private company in Jamaica based largely on the reviews at Trip Advisor.
We used Trip Advisor to research attractions as well. Through Trip Advisor we looked at different things to do in Jamaica; the Dunn River Falls is the number one attraction, but many reviews said it was over crowded. It was then we discovered the Blue Hole and after researching it at Trip Advisor, decided to make that our main destination. We also discovered Scotchies Restaurant, renowned for its authentic jerk chicken. The dozens of excited reviews about Stingray City at Grand Cayman reinforced our decision to make that our excursion as well.
How important is Trip Advisor? Well, the excursion company in Grand Cayman handed out papers with a link to their Trip Advisor profile and asked us to leave reviews for them. The owner of the company we hired in Jamaica told me how important those reviews were as well. This is an outstanding resource and it's free. Make sure you write reviews when you get back, especially to promote the places or services you liked!
The other resource I used was CruiseCritic.com. This is probably the largest of the discussion forums available for cruisers. It includes everyone from first time cruises to people who have done more than 100 cruises.
Let's start with the good. If you have any question about a cruise, you can get it answered there. The knowledge and experience of CruiseCritic's membership is incredible. CruiseCritic has many, many different forums so you can post very specific questions and get the response you need. For example, if you're going on a Royal Caribbean cruise, any question you may have about the ship would be irrelevant to people who cruise on Disney or Carnival. So they have separate forums for each cruise line - putting you in touch with folks who know about the company you're cruising with. They have first time cruisers forums, and photography forums, and many others as well.
Want to learn about the current captain of your ship? Just ask. Curious about what your stateroom is like? Post it - chances are, you'll hear from people who have stayed in your room or very close by and they can tell you all about it. It's an amazing collection of knowledge and a large percentage of the membership is GREAT about trying to help. If you are planning your first cruise, you MUST use this resource.
Now, the bad. While most of the users at CruiseCritic are very friendly and helpful, a portion of the population (a minority) lives to criticize and belittle other users. Also, I was amazed at how much some folks wanted to gripe over nothing. For whatever reason it has become quite fashionable to nitpick every little detail of a cruise and blow it up to crazy levels. I saw a lot of the same behavior on the NOS during our cruise as well. People don't do this with restaurants and tourist attractions, but for whatever reason cruise lines are expected to be absolutely perfect in every detail. I posted about this on CruiseCritic and I got several responses from others who had made the same observation.
So, all that being said here's how you use CruiseCritic:
- Spend some time reading threads. You'll learn a ton and get many questions answered.
- Search the forum to see if you can find threads where your questions were already asked.
- Post questions in the first time cruisers forum unless they relate specifically to your cruise line.
- Ignore snarky responses as best you can.
- Remember that 8 out of every 10 people on CruiseCritic is a postive participant and you should enjoy your discussions with them.
- Give back when you return. Post a review of your trip. Answer questions based on your new experience. Be one of the good 8 and not the bad 2.
And no matter what, under any circumstance, you should NOT ask any of these questions:
- My wife doesn't drink very much. Can I just buy one drink package and give her a drink occasionally from that package?
- What ways have you found for sneaking booze onto the ship? Do Rum Runners work?
- Can I access the Internet or my phone while on the cruise?
- Do I have to pay the automatic 15% gratuity that Royal Caribbean adds to my bill?
- How come photos / internet / drinks / etc. cost so much?
Want to know the answers? Do a search at CruiseCritic for these questions and see the responses they received. Then you can send me a thank-you email for saving you the beating.
About the Navigator of the Seas
The NOS is a beautiful ship, 1020 feet long by 214 feet high, with a total of 14 decks. It just went through major renovations in early 2014 and their hard work really showed.
The decor throughout the ship was exquisite. The artwork, the lighting, all were fantastic. The elevators were very nice as well, although they weren't air conditioned. They got pretty stuffy at times.
The cleanliness of the ship matched its decor - the crew does an amazing job of keeping this oversized party barge looking clean at all times. Seriously. I went into a public bathroom at 1:30 in the morning and it was spotless. I never saw glasses or bottles laying around, trash on tables, etc.
The ship has a spa, three swimming pools, gymnasium, multiple hot tubs, a walking track, a mini golf course, a rock climbing wall and a Flow Rider (a place to do surfing on board). I don't know how many bars there are on ship - we did test most of them though. There is a casino, a couple theaters, a shopping area, several restaurants and more. There are a remarkable number of places and activities to check out on the ship.
Our Panoramic Oceanview Stateroom - Our cabin was on Deck 12 - a panoramic oceanview stateroom. It has a massive window taking up a whole wall so you truly do have a panoramic view throughout your trip. Cruiseship rooms are very small but this one wasn't too bad at all. I'm a big guy and I had no problem taking showers in the bathroom, for example. The room had a sofa and plenty of drawers, closets and shelves and a safe for storing your valuables. The cabin included a refrigerator, which seemed marginally functional.
The panoramic oceanview is a new kind of room added to the Navigator in January, 2014 (I think the Navigator may be the only ship to have them right now), and most people don't know about it yet. As cruisers see photos of these rooms and learn how nice they are, the panoramic oceanviews will become very popular and hard to get. In September 2014 we looked at a cruise scheduld for May 2015 and all the panoramic oceanview balcony rooms were already booked - eight months in advance.
An Overview of Our Caribbean Cruise:
Here is a brief walk-through of our itinerary:
The cruise starts with embarkation day, which is the day you get on the ship and shove off to sea. The process we experienced was as follows:
- Drove to the cruise ship terminal and pulled up to the baggage handlers curb. We turned our bags over to a handler, giving him a tip, and then drove off to the parking lot.
- Once parked, we wandered around a bit trying to figure out what to do. We finally saw people getting on shuttle buses and followed them. The shuttle took us back to the terminal.
- We entered the terminal and went through the security section, where we and our carry-on items were x-rayed.
- From there we entered a long serpentine line that led up to the customer service agents. The agents reviewed our documents, asked a few questions, took our photo and created an ID card (Royal Caribbean calls these Sea Pass cards).
- Once checked in we were able to walk onto the ship.
- Embarkation runs from 11:30 to 3:30 - sounds long but imagine processing 3,000 people in that amount of time. We entered the terminal at 11:30 and were on the ship a little after 12:30. We went to our cabin - they weren't supposed to be ready until 2, but we found ours was ready for us so we dropped off our carry-on items.
- From there we headed to a large buffet dining room called the Windjammer for lunch.
- At 2:00 people were told they could go to their cabins. We went back to the room and were delighted to see our luggage had been delivered. We changed into swim suits and sat in the hot tub for awhile.
- At 4:00 all passengers assembled for muster (pictured right). This is an emergency response exercise where passengers report to an assigned spot on the ship, as if they were going to board life boats. Some ships require passengers to wear life vests for muster; ours did not. We formed up on deck and got into lines, then waited for the few dumb asses who thought muster was voluntary to show up. Finally we were released from muster drill and went back to our cabin.
- At 5:30 we went to the Sapphire Room (also called the Main Dining Room or MDR) for dinner. There are two seatings for dinner - 5:30 and 8:00. You can also pick "My Time Dining" where you reserve your own dinner time each day. We went with the early seating, which worked out well for us.
- After dinner we were free to wander the ship and take in some of the activities going on.
Day 2 (Monday) was an "at sea" day. We were a bit worn out from embarkation - Q was overcoming a bout of pneumonia and was pretty weak - so we took it easy. Our room steward had left a daily schedule of events, activities, sales and other information about what would be happening on the ship that day. Royal Caribbean calls this sheet The Compass. We didn't do a lot on Monday but enjoyed sitting on deck and wandering around the Navigator.
Day 2 was a Formal Night, meaning you're supposed to dress up for dinner. Some people wear evening gowns and tuxedos. I wore a suit and Q had a nice colorful dress (pictured right). Others choose not to dress up for formal night and it's too bad - this is a nice tradition and people should play along in the MDR or eat dinner in the Windjammer that night. That evening we met the captain and got into the first of several sales battles on the Promenade deck (more on that below).
Days 3-5 were port days in Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Jamaica. We'd leave the ship and enter the port early in the morning, spend the day doing our activities in port, then return to the ship in late afternoon so we could head out to the next location. (I cover the excursions in another part of this trip report.)
We were always back in time for dinner at 5:30 and in the evenings we checked out a musical production show and a comedy act. We also took part in more sales battles each evening. These were the best days of the cruise for me. Many people stay on the ship during port days; I just don't understand that.
Days 6 and 7 were travel days back towards Galveston. Day 6 (Friday) was another day of rest. We were pretty beat from the excursions. We did go to a martini making class at our favorite bar and attend another comedy show that evening. Day 7, the final day, we had fun on the ship all day. In the afternoon we packed up our bags and put them in the hallway for the baggage handlers to pick up. That evening we attended the Farewell performance and a late night comedy show.
Disembarkment Day - Time to leave the ship. We got up for an early breakfast in the Windjammer, then returned to our room to collect our carry-on items. We reported to our designated place on the ship to wait for our turn to leave.
When our turn came we walked off the ship and into the terminal, which was mass chaos (pictured right). We finally found our luggage, grabbed a porter and exited the terminal through Customs. Texas also collects a tax on alcohol purchases, so if you're walking out with your booze purchases in one of those obvious boxes you'll get pulled over and popped for more money to the Texas government.
From here Q remained on the baggage pick-up curb with our luggage and I shuttled to the parking lot for our car, which I drove back to pick her up.
This is a basic outline of how the trip worked. Experienced cruisers will view all that as a waste of time but I think newbies will probably find it helpful. I had no idea what the process would be, particularly on the first and last days, and I would have liked to have this information before we arrived.
Tourist Attractions on Our Caribbean Cruise:
Grand Cayman Island
Stringray City - North Sound, KY1-1207, Grand Cayman
This was by far my favorite experience from our Caribbean Cruise.
Everyone has a mental image of a stingray, which probably comes from those awful movies from the 1960s where blood-thirsty devil rays attack hapless swimmers, or perhaps from the death of TV personality Steve Irwin.
The creatures are certainly intimidating to look at, gliding through the water silently with the long, barbed tail following behind. I must admit, when I first stood in the water and saw several of them approaching I had a moment of dread, where I really questioned my decision to get into the water.
Stingray City is a sand bar at Grand Cayman where you have the opportunity to get into the water and have these amazing animals swim all around you. The water is very shallow. Q is only 5'4" tall and you can see in my photos that she had no trouble taking part in the excursion without any swimming involved. The tour guides had life vests available for anyone who was nervous about getting into the shallow water.
The stingrays are not shy; they'll glide over your feet, through your legs, brush up against your stomach. You can touch them and hold them; a guide left a stingray in Q's arms and walked away and the ray just stayed in her arms for several minutes. Several people participated in the tradition of kissing a stingray. Q gave a smooch to one stingray (pictured above right). I faked it for the camera but decided to skip this particular activity. LOL
The stingrays feel really different, hard to explain. The best I can describe it, they feel like the shiny foam floatation devices you sometimes buy for your pool, but with a layer of fine oil to make them more slippery.
Then you get to feed a stingray, which is a really strange feeling experience. The mouth is on the underside and the stingray sucks the squid from your hand - it feels like a vacuum cleaner with a beak.
The guides teach you a great deal about the stingrays - how to touch them, how they live, what NOT to do with stingrays. They explain what happened with Steve Irwin, which was a terrible accident followed by Irwin's bad decision to remove the barb he'd been stuck with.
The stingrays are safe, gentle creatures - don't step on them and don't grab them from behind and you have absolutely nothing to fear. Even if you did step on one, chances are that they wouldn't sting you. When they sting, they lose their barb; for this reason the barb is used only when the animal feels completely threatened and without an escape.
The water is incredible, the colors are amazing and I was completely enchanted by the stingrays. Q said that when I was holding a ray I was giggling like a little kid. It was that cool. I would happily go back to Grand Cayman just to do this again.
MarineLand Private Tours -
27 Walkers Road, George Town KY1-1110, Grand Cayman
Marineland Tours did our Deluxe Stingray City tour in Grand Cayman and they were awesome.
MarineLand Tours' boat has a set of stairs on the back that allow you to walk down into the water (pictured right), and that was much better than jumping in. Even old codgers like me were able to step down into the water - which was amazing, by the way - with complete comfort.
The young lady at the pier was really helpful, and the Captain, Burt and Mike on the boat were terrific. They were funny, friendly, helpful, informative and they took the time to make sure EVERYONE had a chance to touch and hold a stingray. We watched all three of the guys patiently help a girl with Downs Syndrome so she got to take part as well. They really did a wonderful job of making people who were often scared feel much more comfortable and worked to get everyone involved.
We contracted MarineLand as a cruise excursion thru Royal Caribbean . . . if we go back and Royal has someone else doing this tour, we will book with MarineLand privately - they could not have done better.
Guy Harvey's Island Grill - 55 South Church Street, George Town KY1-1101, Grand Cayman
After swimming with the stingrays we needed a place to eat. A guy from the tour group recommended Guy Harvey's restaurant, so that's where we went. The place is adorned in Harvey's aquatic artwork, which is stunning. We sat on the second floor balcony and enjoyed the view of our ship as we ate. I had chicken alfredo, which was pretty good. My wife had a jerk chicken sandwich, which she enjoyed quite a bit. The price was not too bad for a tourist area restaurant and all in all we enjoyed the experience. The place has free wifi as well.
If you go here, be sure to stop by Guy Harvey's gift shop and art gallery just across the street. It is packed full of his beautiful artworks with items available in all price ranges.
Guy Harvey Gallery and Shoppe - 49 South Church Street, George Town KY1-1101, Grand Cayman
After eating at Guy Harvey's restaurant, we wandered over to his gallery. This is a terrific place to visit - you can get souvenirs that aren't the usual junky trinkets, at all price points. Then go upstairs and enjoy the gallery of art. A portion of all proceeds goes to Harvey's marine life foundation as well. Harvey's artwork is all over the Cayman Islands, even in the tender boat that transferred us from ship to shore, and when you see it you'll understand why.
You will find items for sale in prices ranging from $3 to $8000, so there is something here for everyone.
If you want to get a meaningful souvenir or gift, something that really says Cayman Islands, this is the place to go.
Courtney Taylor Private Tours -
Exchange | Corn Peice Street, Ocho Rios 12345, Jamaica
We contacted several private excursion operators to arrange a small group excursion during our visit to Jamaica on September 18, 2014. We chose Courtney Taylor tours after reviewing the price quotes and reading the terrific reviews at Trip Advisor and CruiseCritic.
We requested a tour that would take us to the Blue Hole, Scotchies restaurant and then the beach - this was not a pre-designed itinerary listed on his site, but Samantha, the person who responded to our email, said they'd be happy to create whatever itinerary we wanted for the day. There were two other couples in our group, and they wanted to go tubing rather than visit the beach. No problem, as the Jamaicans say, Samantha told us that the driver would drop the other couples off for tubing, then take us to the beach, then pick them up, then pick us up. Wow, that's a customized tour!
Courtney himself was our tour guide (pictured to the right). He picked us up in a spacious, clean van that gave us a comfortable ride for the day. He first drove us to the Blue Hole . Along the 75 minute drive he talked about Jamaica - the language, how the country was structured, its foods, etc. (Turns out Courtney was formerly a teacher, so educating his guests about his country is a natural for him.) Lots of fun and he had a great sense of humor.
From the Blue Hole we drove to the river for the tubing, dropping off the other couples. Then Courtney drove us to Mammee Bay, a private resort community, and left us to enjoy an hour on the beach. Courtney promised to return to pick us up at 1:30 and he was right on time.
By this time we were starved so we went to Scotchies for their famous jerk chicken and pork.
After lunch Courtney took us back to the ship, arriving well in advance of our scheduled departure time.
I went through the whole itinerary to give you a sense at how much you can customize your excursion with Courtney Taylor. Just tell them what you want to do and they'll quote you a price. Want to change it up a bit when you get there, do something different? No problem. They really want you to enjoy your visit and will work to get you where you want to be. Courtney was terrific - friendly, knowledgeable, helpful . . . he couldn't have been better.
Top ratings for Courtney Taylor tours - if we go back to Jamaica, I won't bother to contact anyone else for price quotes.
Blue Hole - Ocho Rios, Jamaica
We went to the Blue Hole as part of a tour with Courtney Taylor tours. It took over an hour to travel from the Royal Caribbean dock to Ocho Rios, and the last segment of the trip covered roads that were pretty much dirt alleys, but once we arrived at the Blue Hole we were amazed at the beauty of this place.
The water is a light turquoise color, and is surprisingly deep; we learned just how deep when one of the guides took a running jump off a cliff and dropped 40 feet into the water. LOL
The main waterfall is fed by a series of other falls that come from a spring. I had fun shooting long exposures of the falls (see right) but some people climbed up those falls with the help of the fearless guides.
The guides play an important role at the Blue Hole as the steps are steep, slick and potentially treacherous. We thought all the guides were fantastic. They were friendly, helpful and patient, guiding each individual to as far in the falls as they wanted to go. We watched them help an older couple with limited mobility and they couldn't have been nicer to them. I've read ugly comments about the guides at Trip Advisor and I couldn't disagree more. I saw no hounding for tips, no pressure to go farther than you wanted to go. They were all polite, friendly and extremely helpful. They made it a lot safer than it potentially could have been.
Devroe was our guide and he was the nicest young man. Devroe led us first to the top of the main waterfall. After that we backtracked to the other side of the main pool; a smaller pool had a rope swing and some diving ledges. Our guide Devroe leaped from a ledge (see right). Another did the swing. A third climbed into the canopy of trees above the pond and dropped - these guys are nuts! But it looks like they have a blast. They helped a couple courageous visitors jump and swing as well.
Blue Hole is a great place to visit in Jamaica. The stairs around the Blue Hole are steep, sometimes slick and phyically demanding, so keep this in mind if you have any mobility issues. The location is remote so there is very little in the way of dining or drinking facilities around. But I thought this was a wonderful destination and something off the beaten path, something most other people don't see.
We went to Scotchies as part of our tour with Courtney Taylor tours.
We went to Scotchies for their famous jerk chicken and pork. From the food perspective, we were not disappointed. We had the pork and it was fantastic, very spicy. I added the hot sauce in spite of Courtney's warning ("the sauce is hot going in . . . hot coming out!") and it was great. I told my wife "my lips are burning from this sauce - I want more!" The other couples had the chicken which is more mild than the pork and they said it was terrific as well. Good pricing for food - my lunch, my wife's lunch, two orders of their bread, soda and two beers was $21.
The downside of Scotchies was the employees. Almost without exception they came across as angry, hostile - unfriendly doesn't cut it. They looked like they were just plain mad at us. I heard two of them talking and heard the word "Americans" . . . and the tone of voice was completely disdainful.
I spoke later with other cruisers who had visited this restaurant and they felt the same way, so it wasn't an isolated experience or observation by us. Only one employee smiled at us, the young lady who was clearing tables.
I can't explain this; just be advised that if you go you will love the food but you might not like the friendliness of the service.
Beaches - We spent an hour on the beach at Mammee Bay. This is a resort but we had no involvement with that aspect of the property; we just enjoyed their beach for a short time.
If you are on a private excursion and you want to see the beach, this is a good place to ask for. The water was incredible, the colors were beautiful and the beach was almost empty. We had it to ourselves for part of the time. As you can see by the photo to the right, it's beautiful.
There is a coral reef only a few feet from the shore so you can wade in and see all the little fish swimming around.
The beach is part of a gated area so it is also a very safe place for tourists to go.
Random Observations on Our Caribbean Cruise
I'm going to provide a long list of random observations. Remember:
- I'm a first time cruiser, and in large part I'm speaking to other people who have never cruised before.
- My cruise was on Royal Caribbean and its ship, Navigator of the Seas. Different cruise lines and different ships handle things differently. ALWAYS verify that something you read here is accurate for your particular cruise line and ship.
What kind of cabin should you get? There is no right answer to this. It's a balance of how much you want to spend versus how much extra space and view do you want in your room. The least expensive rooms are interior cabins, with no views at all. It's a place to sleep and change clothes. Moving up the ladder you have oceanview staterooms, that have windows looking out of the room. Then there are balcony rooms, where you can step out of your room and enjoy the sound and sight of the sea, right in your room. Going up from there they have junior suites and suites, which I - being one of the impoverished, unwashed masses - don't know anything about.
They also have rooms for families, for handicapped passengers, etc.
If you're a light sleeper or don't want noise, choose your cabin wisely for your cruise. An indoor cabin overlooking the bars or directly beneath the kitchen might have noise problems. Likewise, people experience varying levels of motion (and motion sickness) at different parts of the ship. Look on CruiseCritic for recommendations about cabins for your ship.
TIP: Check the prices for all the room types when you book. Here's a good example why: we looked at prices for a cruise in May 2015. The panoramic oceanview was $40 less expensive than the balcony room. However, the balcony came with a $100 on-board credit (meaning your account was given a credit of $100 to spend as you'd like on the ship). The oceanview room only had a $50 credit. So . . . the balcony room was actually $10 cheaper than the oceanview. Pricing gets really complicated and changes a lot, so don't just assume . . . check the prices for all rooms to know exactly what the best deal is for you.
TIP: If you book your room well in advance, keep checking the price of your room. If they run a sale and the sale price is less than what you reserved, you can call the cruise line and get the discount. This holds true until you make your final payment, which is due no later than 75 days before your cruise. (That's Royal Caribbean's policy, anyway.) Keep checking for sales and watch for opportunities to upgrade to a better stateroom as well.
Electrical Items - Check your cruise line FAQ to see what you can bring aboard. Items like hair dryers, clothing irons, extension coards, curling irons, etc. are frequently forbidden.
Special Needs - Do you have specific needs or limitations? Be sure to choose your cabin accordingly and let your cruise line know. I have sleep apnea and use a CPAP machine. I notified Royal Caribbean about this and an extension cord and a gallon of distilled water were waiting for me in our cabin when we arrived. I spoke with a woman whose daughter had autism and other physical limitations and she said the cruise line had gone out of their way to facilitate the daughter's needs. Look in your cruise line's FAQ about special needs, disabiliities, etc. and find out how to communicate your particular requirements in advance of your trip.
Embarkation - A bit chaotic at first. There were no signs or instructions in Parking Lot B as to connecting with shuttles. People were standing by their cars or wandering around. We asked employees and couldn't get a clear answer. Finally found a spot on the long side of the lot closest to the road where shuttles were collecting people. The terminal was crowded but Royal Caribbean did an excellent job of getting people through. Security line took about 15 minutes. The next line, a massive serpentine line with at least 8 layers, only took 30 minutes to get through. They had 40+ agents working to process everyone and they did a great job.
Passport, ID and Credit Cards - Once you've gone through security and the customer service line, you won't need your passport, driver's license or any other credit card or ID - just the Sea Pass card. Lock your other cards in the safe in your room. The only time you'll need to use those items is for excursions, if you lose your Sea Pass or if you need to pay for your account charges. There is an ATM on the ship if you want to withdraw cash for an excursion; expect a transaction fee of several dollars if you pull cash out.
One more reminder - let your credit card holder know about your trip before you go. My bank would not allow me to submit an international travel notice at first, due to high security risks at one of our destinations. We figured out that the problem destination was Jamaica. There is a lot of credit card theft and fraud there so the bank won't accept notices to travel there. Good information to have! I submitted a travel notice to Grand Cayman and Cozumel, which was accepted. I then used the card in those two ports with no problem. I left the card on the ship in Jamaica and used cash there.
Q was sick the week before we left and did not notify her bank about the trip. Her card was frozen the first time she tried to use it, on Day 2 of the trip. Unfortunately, payment to Royal Caribbean for our trip was connected to that credit card. We spent an hour plus on Saturday trying to get her card reactivated so we could pay for our charges, to no avail. Fortunately, I was able to pay for those expenses on mine. It pays to notify the card holder. It also pays to have a back-up card or cash reserve in case something happens.
Bringing Acohol On Board - Royal Caribbean allows you to bring two bottles of wine on board, as of this writing. You can't bring any other alcohol. You are normally allowed to bring soda and water bottles on as well. Check the Royal Caribbean FAQ to make sure this policy is still in place. Other cruise lines have different policies.
People smuggle alcohol on board frequently - or they try to. They put it in bottles of water, in bottles of mouthwash, in plastic bottles called rum runners . . . sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Don't try smuggling anything you can't afford to have thrown away!
If you put alcohol or a forbidden item in your suitcase and they catch it, you'll have to report to Security and get a finger wagging to retrieve your luggage. Cruisers call this "the naughty room."
Drink Packages - ok, here is where things get complicated. You can buy alcoholic drinks on the boat. For Royal Caribbean they ran from $6 to $10 in most cases, with some being more. OR . . . you can buy a drink package. You pay a flat per-day rate and you can drink all the drinks you'd like. For the Premium Package you spend $49 per day plus 15% gratuity and you are get as many drinks as you want that are priced up to $10, and special coffees are not included. The Ultimate Package costs $10 per day more and gives you everything up to $12 and all the premium coffees and teas too. There is also a beer and wine package that is a little cheaper than the Premium Package.
Some enterprising cruiser calculated that the break-even point was around six drinks per day on the Premium Package. So, if you drink six alcoholic drinks per day, you break even on the Premium Package. If you drink, say 11 drinks in a day, you made out like a bandit although you probably won't remember that you did so.
They also have a soda package and other packages. You don't have to purchase these when booking. You can add them up to four days before your trip, or purchase them on the ship after you've left port. Trust me - once you book your cruise you will get daily emails promoting the drink packages, excursions, etc.
We had the premium packages on our cruise and it was very convenient. I definitely came out on top in terms of drinks per day and my wife probably broke even.
That said, I'm not going to get the Premium Package next time. I drank more than I normally would have because I had the package. Hitting the daily quota became a running joke and goal every day. It just made drinking a higher priority than it otherwise would have been. I was kinda like a college student at a buffet - pack away as much as you can while you still don't have to pay any more for it LOL. Drinking became, to an extent, the reason for the trip and that's dumb; I can stay home and drink for less than the price of a package.
Next time I'll get the soda package because I drink a lot of sodas, and buy my drinks individually. I'll have fewer drinks and will spend less than I did on the package, particularly on the days with excursions.
Bars - The quality of bartenders and bars varied greatly. Bars on deck had less courteous bartenders and typically lower quality drinks. I was very disappointed with the drinks in Two Poets - I expected better there. Schooner Bar was better.
The R Bar on Deck Five was awesome - as we said, the R Bar became OUR Bar.
Bartenders Jelena (from Serbia) and Francisco (Dominican Republic) made a great team, lots of fun, and their drinks were tremendous. They use all fresh ingredients and make the drinks right, including some very complicated drinks. They did a martini class which we attended - it was almost a comedy show, it was that entertaining. We went to the R Bar a lot, so much so that every time we walked up Jelena would say to my wife, "Monique, dahhhling, how are you?" LOL We loved her accent.
The bar directly below the R Bar had live music, and it was consistently too loud. There is just no reason to play music that loud. The service there was awful as well.
Guest Services - If you have any problems during your cruise - lost Sea Pass, billing issues, or any of a multitude of other problems - the good people in Guest Services will help you out. We found them to be really nice people, very helpful, and I believe their desk is open 24/7.
Duty Free Shops - When you get off the ship at a port, there will be stores selling a variety of items called a duty free shop. There is also a duty free shop on board. If you purchase from one of these shops you don't have to pay taxes on them through Customs. Bear in mind, you can't buy alcohol at a duty free shop and bring it on board to drink - you must surrender it upon boarding. If you buy from these shops, they may transfer it to the ship for you - the crew will bring all your duty free alcohol to your room later on the last day for you to carry off. Prices at these shops can be very good and you can find things that aren't sold in the US. Sometimes there is no bargain - buyer beware!
Noise - I was amazed at how quiet the Navigator was. Honestly, even standing outside at the back of the ship I couldn't hear any engine sounds. Likewise, I thought our cabin was remarkably quiet but we were up on the 12th deck, far away from the music, bars and Promenade Deck.
The importance of your Sea Pass Card - Your ID card - for Royal Caribbean, it's called the Sea Pass Card - is crucial to your functioning on the ship. You use it as the key to your door. You use it to show what drink packages you paid for. Any purchase you make is done not with cash or credit, but with your Sea Pass card. You need to keep it with you at all times. Don't lose it and don't let anyone else use it. I had my card blow away on the 11th deck one day - my lanyard was flapping around like a loose shingle in a tornado, and before I could grab it the card flew away and off the ship. My wife got me into our cabin so I could retrieve my passport, and I went to Guest Services to have another card issued.
Every transaction you make is recorded on your account. You can view your transactions on your TV in your cabin or go to Guest Services for a printed copy. Cruisers recommend that you review your account a day or two before the cruise ends to make sure nothing was accidentally charged to you. Resolve any questions at Guest Services. Normally, the credit card you used to book the cruise will be charged automatically for any charges you run up on the ship. Otherwise, if you need to pay by cash or with another card, you can do so at Guest Services.
Motion Sickness - We saw lots of people wearing patches, bracelets, taking medicine, etc. for motion sickness. This surprised me because I rarely felt the ship even moving. Our first night we went through a storm and I felt a little motion. The last day there was significant swaying in the evening. But nothing made me feel the least bit motion sick. If you're the least bit concerned, buy some ginger candy before you go. Myth Busters tested out various solutions for motion sickness. According to Myth Busters, Dramamine worked but caused drowsiness and the arm bands had no effect at all. Ginger candy, however, did help to control the effects of motion sickness. It is a natural way to settle your stomach. We found ours at Central Market in Texas - look online if you can't find ginger candy in the stores.
Excursions - I talked about the excursions we did earlier so I'll just make a few summary points here.
We booked an excursion thru Royal Caribbean for Grand Cayman because this is a tender destination, and it worked beautifully. We got off the boat quickly and without getting tender tickets. The excursion (Deluxe Stingray City) was fantastic, my favorite experience from the cruise. We booked a private tour to Blue Hole and Scotchies in Jamaica through Courtney Taylor tours and Courtney did a wonderful job. More on those elsewhere in this report.
This is important, so I'm repeating it. If your ship is docking at a port, it is easier to get on and off so it is safer for booking private excursions. If your ship is tendering, you need to take a ferry boat between the ship and the shore. Takes more time coming and going, and you may want to stick with excursions booked through the ship even though they may cost more. Book an excursion through the ship and the ship will wait for you if the excursion runs long, or you will be transported to the next port. Book a private excursion and run late and the ship will probably leave without you. Lots of people book private excursions at tender ports and have no problem; I just like to be cautious.
How do you know what kind of port you're going to? Look on your itinerary from the cruise line - it should say dock or tender.
When you go on the excursion, take a photocopy of your driver's license, passport and medical cards. If something happens to you in a foreign country, you really want to have that information readily available. Don't take the originals - make a copy before you go and carry the copy off the ship.
Be careful using your credit card in ports. Some areas, like Jamaica, have a big problem with theft and fraud. Check out the CruiseCritic forums on destinations to learn more about where you're going.
It is appropriate to give a tip to your excursion driver or team. When we went to the Blue Hole we also gave a tip to the young man who served as our guide. They all earned it.
Tipping - The cruise line will probably encourage you to pay an advanced gratuity fee of 15% of your bill. This money goes to many of the employees on the ship, although there is no consensus on who gets it. You can cancel this gratuity and pay your own tips if you want, but it is discouraged.
Most cruisers will give an additional tip to their room steward and their waiters in the MDR. These people spend a lot of time taking care of you, so it's reasonable to give them an extra tip at the end of the cruise. Many cruisers link a first-day tip to getting special treatment during the cruise; while this probably is happening it shouldn't. You can make the call on that.
When you order a drink package, that will automatically be charged a 15% gratuity and you have no control over that.
Every time you buy a drink (other than sodas) your card will be swiped and you will have to sign for it. You will have an opportunity to give a tip when you sign. This holds true even if you bought a drink package and have already paid the auto-gratuity charge.
Some cruisers feel your auto-gratuity is sufficent so you don't need to add a tip for each drink. Others think you should give additional tips. It's up to you. We decided to give tips periodically even though we had the drink packages; not every time, but occasionally.
At the end of the trip we also gave a cash tip to our two favorite bartenders, Jelena and Francisco, because they really did a lot to make our trip fun.
Roll Call and Meet and Mingle - Some cruiser will set up a new thread in CruiseCritic's Roll Call forum for each cruise from all major cruise lines. For example, someone organized a Navigator of the Seas Sailing September 14, 2014 thread which was our cruise. All CruiseCritic members who planned to be on that cruise would view that thread and have conversations about the upcoming vacation. Really nice way to meet people on your cruise before you even get there. We found a young couple who was going on our excursion with Courtney Taylor that way. Once you book your cruise, go to CruiseCritic and find your Roll Call - and introduce yourself.
CruiseCritic members and Royal Caribbean will then organize a Meet and Mingle gathering on each cruise where everyone who is on that particular cruise and is active on the forum can get together. In principle this is a good plan. In practice it was a disappointment. The experienced cruisers sat and talked with the other cruisers they already knew, and we newbies just sat there for the most part. We did get to meet the couple we were sharing the excursion with at the M&M, but nothing else came out of it. I would have liked the more experienced cruisers to take a more active role in introducing themselves to the newcomers.
If you get to know people through your Roll Call, the M&M is a great way to connect with them on your cruise. If you aren't connecting through the Roll Call, however, it probably isn't going to happen at the M&M.
Windjammer - Other than the scrambled eggs (really bad) and pizza, I thought the selection, variety and quality of the food was excellent, and ALL of the servers in that area were very friendly.
Sapphire Room (MDR) - The evening dinners were more formal than you might normally have, even though dress code is business casual for five of the seven nights. Overall we thought the food was terrific.
We had two waiters, Jorge and Oneill, and they both took great care of us. We sat with two other couples who were lots of fun to meet and we had a great time.
You typically have the same wait staff and the same dinner seating each night so you get to know the other people, and the waiters learn what you like. This makes their service even better by the end of the cruise.
Johnny Rocket - a fun place, but again, when the waitstaff does their dance routine they crank the music up so loud it distorts. I think the sonic bludgeoning I suffered may have actually caused some internal injury. Loved the strawberry shake and the burger. Long lines at peak time; best bet is to go a little early. Next cruise I'll go back - with earplugs.
Navigating the Navigator - When you board the ship, you are essentially stepping into a 14 story city. Finding places around the ship requires a little help. Fortunately, you have several options. Some people download a free app to their Iphone called Ship Mate, which installs deck plans to your ship on your phone. I installed this but didn't use it because I left the phone in our cabin most of the time. Near most of the elevators, a sign cut out in the shape of the ship gave a summary of everything on each deck, which was more helpful.
Best of all, touch panels could be found by every elevator. You could enter any location on the ship into the touch panel and it would give you step by step directions on how to get there. The screen also displayed a real-time agenda of the various activities taking place around the ship, a restroom locator and more. The touch panels were easy to use and extremely informative.
Shopping - the stores were a little bit foo foo for my tastes, but my wife enjoyed window shopping.
Sales - Have you ever witnessed a shark frenzy, or hyenas fighting over a carcass, or a bunch of piranha attacking an animal?
This is what you'll experience if you go to one of the one-hour sales on Deck Five. It's incredible how much energy you can generate by putting a sale price and a time limit on watches, jewelry, hats, purses and scarves. LOL You can see one of these sales to your right.
We dived in to a couple of these and it was actually a lot of fun, like Black Friday on the Seven Seas.
Ship Photography - ok, I'm a photographer so I am probably more demanding than the average passenger. But I thought the process for having photos taken on the ship was a disaster from start to finish.
I didn't expect much - Royal Caribbean photographers screwed up a wedding they were hired to shoot on the Oasis of the Seas, ruining a young couple's wedding, and then Royal Caribbean really didn't do much to compensate the couple for their failure. Read the ruined wedding photography article before you THINK of planning any event on a Royal Caribbean ship.
Anyway, I had pretty low expecatations for Royal Caribbean's photography offerings in advance of our cruise and for the most part, those expectations were sadly met - and in some cases they actually performed BELOW my expectations.
- The photographers are really nothing more than people who have been taught a few poses and handed a camera. One girl shot a picture and showed it to me so I'd see the glare in my glasses, to get me to remove the glasses. All she had to do was raise the soft boxes to change the angle and there would have been no glare, but she didn't know that. (She should have done that for all the photos, not just mine - I'm not suggesting she reposition her lighting for every subject.) Look at my glasses in the photo to the right to see how those pictures turned out.
- The screens to review your photos are very nice - you can tag pictures as favorites or trash ones you don't like. Unfortunately, there is no way to save that information so if you order a digital package (like 15 images) you will have to re-choose whatever pictures you want on thier wonky, lame software they give you for ordering.
- Using the very poor software, you're forced to make your choices from tiny preview photos that are 360 pixels tall and covered in watermarks.
- Also, if you buy digital prints they're limited to 8x10 resolution and cropped to that aspect ratio. What if I want to print 4x6s or 5x7s? Why not just give us the full 4x6 image and let us crop to our preferences? And if the pictures are only 2400 x 3000 pixels, how does the ship manage to print and sell 16x20 enlargements? Why are they reducing the size of the images before delivering them to you?
All in all, I thought the ship's photography was the worst part of the trip.
My recommendations -
- bring your own camera and take lots of pictures.
- Pose for as many pictures with the ship photographers as possible . . . they will probably take a few good shots and you're increasing your odds. It's free to pose.
- When you review the photos on the ship, write down the ones you want. Unfortunately they don't give you file names; you'll need to group the shots and count ("we want the first and third pictures in the white background shots") or shoot a camera phone picture of each one you want. Then, when you try to order with the horrible software and the postage stamp thumbnails, you can refer to your own notes and pictures to ensure you get the right ones.
- Planning a wedding or other event? PLEASE read the ruined wedding photography article before you even THINK of planning a wedding or any other event on a Royal Caribbean ship. Royal Caribbean hosed this couple and I hope the bad press costs them some business until they get this resolved. You can NOT count on Royal Caribbean photographers.
Entertainment - Loved most of the music on the ship. The piano player . . . if they'd billed him as a country piano player I wouldn't have objected, but a pianist in a bar typically plays all kinds of music. In this case we had two choices - country or western. Even non-country songs were country. Just didn't like the lack of variety.
The comedians were good. The comedy mind reading show was a riot, and pretty amazing too.
We really enjoyed the big production show - the singers from that show later performed on Deck 5 Promenade (see right).
Putt-Putt - that's a pretty tough mini golf course! Next time I'm bringing a 3W with me . . . we had fun playing mini golf on the Navigator. The course is actually very nice, not like the cheesy courses you typically see.
Other Cruisers - I was very disappointed with many of the cruisers, who seemed hell-bent on complaining constantly.
We watched an elderly woman gripe out a bartender because the bartender didn't understand her the first time, then fuss at another employee because everything in the Windjammer was "bad" - and this was early on the first day! People we talked with complained about this or that, because it wasn't perfect. People cut in lines or just walked in front of us with no sense of courtesy or respect. Children ran through crowds, careening off people, and parents did nothing to stop it. One couple literally walked between the photographer and us DURING a photo shoot. Just ignored us and walked through. The photographer made a comment about it and the guy came back to get her name because he was going to report her "smarta$$ remark."
We met a lot of nice folks on the boat but I was amazed at how so many people were self-absorbed and self-entitled, and just wanted to gripe and bellyache. I mentioned before about a small portion of the CruiseCritic population that just nitpicks everything, and apparently I was able to identify those people on our cruise as well. I just hated to see people act that way.
Disembarkment - The disembarkment process on ship was excellent. Assigning different groups to the luggage and having people depart by group worked very well. We were supposed to leave at 9:30 and they actually called us to go by 8:45.
The terminal was chaos. You entered on the right and went 2/3 of the way to the left to find your luggage, then went back to the right to get a porter, then back to the left to pick up your luggage, then back to the right to get in the exit line. Did the federal government plan this process? Signs would have been extremely helpful.
That said - once we got in the exit line it went remarkably fast. From that point it probably took less than 20 minutes to go thru customs, get a shuttle to the parking lot and come back to pick up Q and our luggage.
Use a Porter at Disembarkment - Unless you're one of those greyhound travelers who packs everything into a tiny bag, it's worth it to pay a porter to haul your luggage out of the terminal for you. Don't be cheap - slip the porter $10 or $20 and let him help. Your back and your patience will thank you. You'll probably escape the terminal faster as well.
Surveys - After your cruise, you will receive a survey from Royal Caribbean to rate each aspect of your trip on a scale of 1 to 10. Let's say you loved the room steward and really liked the waiters but you didn't like the entertainers, so you give them a 9, an 8 and a 4 respectively. Proper scores that will reward the employees you liked best, right?
Wrong. In actuality, you just gave all of them a 1 rating.
What CruiseCritic members have learned is that the scale is really 1 OR 10, not 1 TO 10. If you give someone a 10, that's good. Anything less than a 10 is a negative rating. To Royal Caribbean, a 9 rating is the same as a 1. This can affect Royal Caribbean employees' pay, raises, the amount of passengers they're allowed to serve - all on this absurd notion that they must receive a 10 or it is a bad review.
Some employees have begun explaining this to passengers and asking for 10 ratings, which irritates the passengers. Many cruisers complain about it as rating begging or survey begging, and I can't blame them. It's a ridiculous system that forces the employees to make ridiculous requests of the passengers.
No one on the Navigator asked me to give them a 10. The only person who mentioned the survey was our primary waiter, who said that we would be surveyed and asked us to give the dining rating based solely on their performance and not what may have happened in cafes, snack bars, etc. It was a good clarification and entirely appropriate for him to make. I then explained the entire survey situation to the other people at our table with the waiter standing there, listening. Our waiter couldn't say anything but it was obvious that what I was saying was true and he really appreciated me speaking up on his behalf.
When you go on your cruise, ask a few employees about the survey situation to confirm what I've said. Then, after your cruise, do the survey. If you liked the people who took care of you, play the game and give them a 10 or leave their ratings blank. Then, in the final comments, BLAST Royal Caribbean for this vulgar perversion of a rating system and demand a system that allows you to more fairly provide feedback.
It's the fair thing to do to the people who work really hard to give you a terrific vacation.
Here are some items I purchased in advance of this trip that I found particularly useful.
Casio Men's MRW200H-1BV Black Resin Dive Watch - I don't usually wear watches. That said, I knew I'd want something for our excursions because my phone would probably be left on the ship. I also wanted something waterproof and I didn't want to spend much for it. This Casio watch fit the bill perfectly.
Belkin 3-Outlet Mini Travel Swivel Charger Surge Protector with Dual USB Ports, 5 Charging Outlets Total - I used this every day to charge Iphones, Ipods, Ipads, Kindles and camera batteries. The cabins have very few outlets so an adapter like this is extremely helpful. I was impressed with the quality of this surge protector as well. It's not cheap and it's not a cheap product. Great deal.
DRY PAK DP-44 Alligator Waterproof Wallet - I put cash and our cards in this lanyard and it worked perfectly, even when we were wandering around in the water. I even tested it by holding it under water in the sink - as they say in Jamaica, no problem. I felt stupid for buying it, actually, but I'm glad I did and I'll use it on future trips as well.
Kanu Surf Men's CB Rashguard UPF 50+ Swim Tees - I found some swim shirts on Amazon that offered sunscreen protection, and they also did the job. I am very sensitive to sunlight and the shirts blocked everything out.
Crocs - Love 'em or hate 'em, they worked very well for excursions and walking around the ship. Some of the deck areas WERE slick and the crocs helped a lot.
Business Cards - When I shoot pictures, someone will often ask if they can have a copy. Planning for this I had business cards with my name, website address and email address made for free thru Vista Print and handed several out over the cruise. I have plenty left for future vacations.
Tripod, Neutral Density Filter and Remote Shutter Release - As soon as I booked the excursion to the Blue Hole, I knew I would have to pack a tripod, neutral density filter and remote shutter release. The Blue Hole had wonderful waterfalls and I wanted to be able to take long exposures to get the ghost effect in the water that you see in the photo to the right.
The neutral density filter cuts out a portion of all light coming into the camera, which forces the camera to shoot at much slower speeds. If the shutter is open for one to three seconds, as I was shooting on this trip, the water moves considerably as the picture is being exposed. As a result, you get a blurring or ghosting on the water while the other components of the picture stay still and remain sharp in the image.
It's impossible to hold a camera still for three seconds, so this kind of photography requires a tripod and a remote shutter release. The tripod holds the camera still and the remote triggers the shutter without any shaking to the camera that the normal shutter release button might cause.
I planned to use the tripod and remote shutter release for sunset shots as well. Unfortunately, we didn't finish our dinner until after sunset each night so I wasn't able to get out and shoot those pictures.
Nikon D5300 - After two decades of shooting Canon cameras, I finally switched to the dark side and went on a trip with a Nikon D5300. I also took four lenses - the 18-140mm kit lens, a 10-20mm superwide, an 18-35m f/1.8 for low light shots and a 100-300mm long zoom.
I don't plan to go back to Canon. The D5300 felt good in my hands, solid and durable. It shot smoothly. The metering was excellent, far better than what I experienced with my Canons. The menu system is a little awkward and the user manual is not good, but the camera itself is a dream.
All the lenses performed nicely. I shot most with the 10-20 and the 18-140 lenses and loved them. The long zoom worked well but there is significant fall off of light in the corners. In the future I'll use that lens only when I need to. The 18-35 didn't see much use, but it produced really sharp photos when I did use it.
Sony DSC-RX100 - There was no way in hell I was going to take the Nikon into the water at Stingray City. Can you imagine swapping lenses on an expensive DSLR while standing chest-deep in swirling water with stingrays circling you?
I owned a waterproof Fuji, but its pictures were so bad I wouldn't use it. Literally, an Iphone takes better pictures than the Fuji. Unfortunately, there are no good waterproof cameras that cost less than a king's ransom, and for me, taking bad photos is no better than taking no photos.
I decided to take a risk and purchase a Sony DSC-RX100. When it was released, this was one of the top non-DSLR cameras on the market. Since then Sony has issued two new versions with additional features, but the original RX100 is still for sale at a discounted price.
Why is this a risk? The RX100 is not waterproof. To protect the camera I would have to rely on a good camera bag, the small size and convenience of the camera and a lot of caution and concentration.
The risk paid off. The RX-100 took wonderful photos, better than I've ever seen from a point and shoot camera. You have to push a lot of buttons to switch around all the settings on this camera and the manual just plain sucks, but I practiced before I left and that caused no problem. In program mode the camera was easy enough to use that Q shot photos of me in the water, having never touched the camera before.
The RX-100 also shot excellent video. I did video in the water at Stingray City and in Jamaica, and recorded an hour long class on Martini-making on the ship (with a tripod, of course). Excellent quality all the way.
The RX-100 did such a good job and was so convenient to use that 70% of the photos I took during the cruise were with it rather than the Nikon. I'm going to keep the RX-100 in my bag as a second camera, or one I can use when carrying the full rig isn't a good option.
I don't suggest you risk a $500 camera in the water, but if you're going to do it, the RX-100 is about the best choice you can make for the camera to gamble with. If I do another trip like this, I'll probably get a GoPro for the water photography - the RX-100 is so good I don't want to gamble with it again.
OverBoard Waterproof Pro-Sport Roll-Top SLR Camera Bag, 15-Liter - I took my NON waterproof RX-100 out to Stingray City, but kept it, my Iphone and cash in the OverBoard waterproof bag I purchased thru Amazon. I bought this bag with the intention of selling it on Ebay when I returned, but it worked so well I just can't part with it.
While at Stingray City, there were periods of several minutes when the bag was literally laying in the water (as you can see in the photo to the right) but everything inside stayed nice and dry. It had back straps so it was easy to carry, and even a hook for a water bottle. A smaller version is available for point and shoot cameras. This was my most speculative purchase for our cruise and it turned out to be a good one. Great quality and great performance.
So - What's My Final Verdict on Cruises?
If you remember, at the beginning of this report I talked about this being my first cruise. I honestly didn't know if I'd like it or not.
Well, on the last day of our cruise we visited Royal Caribbean's Next Cruise office and booked another vacation for the middle of 2015, this time to Cozumel, Belize and Honduras.
I had a great time on the trip. The food and service was outstanding and I loved the excursions.
Having said that, I must add this qualification. If we weren't going to ports that offered good photo opportunities during the excursions, I wouldn't enjoy myself. Just riding around on the ship would have bored me to death after a few days. I'm a photographer and you can take only so many pictures of the ship. Doing the cruise was fun, but the bottom line is that I have to go to someplace worth visiting and photographing to make it something I want to do. Ultimately, the place I'm going to remains more important than the time spent getting there. Going on a cruise is the means to getting there, not the ends itself.
Caribbean Cruise Travel Photographs
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