Navigator Of The Seas
One of the babies of the Royal Caribbean fleet (hardly at a weight of around 142,000 tonnes but small in comparison to the newer Royal Caribbean ships). Navigator has become entrenched as one of the most loved ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet and to be honest it is not difficult to see why. The ... Owner
The American owner, Royal Caribbean, are giants in the field of large scale cruising, they have been pioneers of bigger and bigger ships with extravagant new features previously unseen at sea. Oasis of the Seas is even split up into districts (similar to New York) and has a full size carousel at its heart. Do not thing that just because the name features 'royal' that your vacation is going to be quiet and subdued, it won't be, what you can expect is bundles of fun usually surrounded by crew with a tireless desire to please.
Navigator has consistently followed the same route for at least the last three years during the summer season, demonstrating the ever increasing popularity of the eastern Mediterranean as a cruise destination. The summer itinerary departs from Civitavecchia which is the port for Rome and includes full day stops in Messina, a port for excursions to Mt Etna and Sicily, Athens, Kusadasi, which is the port for the ancient ruins of the city of Ephesus but it is also a lovely port town itself and Chania which is a charming coastal town on the Greek island of Crete. My one must see place on the whole cruise would have to be the Parthenon in Athens, it is a truly magical experience even in over 30 degrees of heat. Prices during the summer start at around five hundred pounds per person for an inside cabin although this does change depending on when you book.
During the winter Navigator covers the western Caribbean with cruises departing from the American port of Galveston in Texas, to be brutally honest this is not ideal for European guests as it is difficult to get to from the UK. Navigator's itinerary is interesting, it includes a relaxing three days at sea as well as full days in Cozumel in Mexico, Belize City in Belize and Roatán in Honduras. It can be done from the UK but be prepared for an organisational nightmare. In my opinion there are some far better cruises to the Caribbean which depart Fort Lauderdale or Miami, both of which have international airports. Prices start at around five hundred pounds.
Accommodation And Staterooms
There is a vast array of options with regard to accommodation, these range from expansive suites complete with full balconies through to inside cabins for those on a lower budget. I have found that whilst many of the staterooms lack the finer touches of the five star cruise lines such as Celebrity Cruises and Silversea this is more than made up for by cleanliness and the personalities of the stateroom attendants who always seem to have a smile on their faces despite unsurprisingly having to deal with some very uncompromising passengers. All of the predictable features are present such as the towel animals which appear magically on the beds every evening.
Balconies are well segregated from the neighbours but it is once again the small touches which are not quite top level, for instance the sun beds are rather uncomfortable and in my opinion the balconies have too much furniture on them. The size of the table on many of the balconies at suite level actually means that to get out of the doors from the room you have to squeeze through a narrow gap, not great when you have just had a three course meal. That said despite the small issues I love nothing more than to sit on the balcony at night reading a book and listening to the sound of the sea and waves in the warm Mediterranean air. Cruise lines such as Cunard have found a simple yet sophisticated way around the problem by using very chic wooden sun beds with super comfortable cushions tied to them, these are an absolute treat to lie on and would be better in my view.
The 'interior staterooms' as Royal Caribbean call them are cosy and all have enough room for a double bed. They also have a small but functional bathroom along with plenty of wardrobe space for the evening suits or dresses. These cabins are ideal for those sort of people who typically like to be outside and surrounded by people constantly rather that those who prefer to retreat to the quiet surroundings of a balcony.
One area where the cruise industry has traditionally fallen down is with the solo traveller market and Navigator does little to overcome this barrier. Newer ships are tending to have a small number of cabins for single travellers but this does not seem to be something which Royal Caribbean has embraced and consequently those intending to travel on their own will need to pay for double occupancy. On several cruise ships staff pay the utmost attention to single travellers especially at meal times in order to make them feel comfortable but on the odd occasion that I have seen solo travellers they seem to be treated the same as those in large groups. This is a matter of personal preference but to me it would be nice if the staff could spare the time to initiate some form of conversation, little things like that can really enhance a holiday a lot and make it feel as though you are not staying in a chain hotel but rather a more personal environment, no doubt many will disagree with me on this issue though.
Prices Onboard Expenses
Many cruise lines have become notorious for charging relatively cheap fares to go on the cruise but then making the onboard prices for things such as drinks very expensive. For me the biggest scam that I found on Royal Caribbean and Navigator is the drinks packages and especially the soft drinks package. Normally when you ask for a Coca-cola or any other soft drink you get a full can but when you use the drinks package to get a drink it does not come from a can but instead a different source, showing that it is from a cheaper un-branded kind of soft drink. These kinds of things can be found in many hotels not just on cruises but I personally found it really annoying, the staff make no attempt to cover it up either. Other costs onboard are reasonable and in line with the competition, I am told that spa treatments are actually cheaper than on some of the British cruise lines such as P&O Cruises and Cunard.
Seasoned cruisers always seem to moan about the cost of the organised tours that depart from the ship while it is in port. Navigators tours are always of good quality and I found the staff on the shore excursions desk to be extremely helpful in planning tours, almost all tours have some late availability which is superb if you forget to book the tours before you go. Most of the staff will be able to give you insider tips on what you want to see in different places and also how to avoid the queues which is great so do not be afraid to ask around if you have never been to the places before. I typically avoid commenting on value for money because what one person believes to be good value is often expensive to someone else but let me put it like this, you will not find better organised more reasonably priced shore excursions with any other cruise company.
Modern cruise ships have many standard amenities such as several swimming pools and plenty of space for sun loungers and Navigator is no exception. There are some facilities on Navigator that can only be found on a select few Royal Caribbean ships such as the rock wall on the sports deck, this can be mis-leading because the temptation is to think that you can try your hand at rock climbing at any point during the day but in reality on port days it rarely can be accessed for more than two hours during the entire day, on sea days this does increase to around four hours but considering the number of guests on the ship this can lead to considerable queues. Certainly do not expect to be able to learn how to rock climb in your own time, spectators seem to annoyingly delight in you falling off and the sight of people waiting to attempt the wall can make you cautious of taking up space for too long.
Having been on Navigator Of The Seas twice I found that the golf simulator was a great facility on the first cruise but unfortunately it was out of commission the second time around. It had become a storage room for the staff on the sports deck and for me this was disappointing but I was told that it should by now be up and running again. It is far from the most modern of simulators but it does have an adequate selection of courses and can be especially entertaining during choppy seas!
Ice-skating rinks are more and more popular on cruise ships these days but Navigator was one of the first to include the facility. Typical seven night cruises usually offer two or three different performances with two shows per night. To a certain extent the entertainment plan has been cleverly scheduled because the ice-skating shows do not clash with theatre shows, very often they will alternate instead. However this means that if an ice-skating show happens to be cancelled due to choppy seas there is no space for it to be put on again on another night. Cruises also offer the opportunity to try you hand at ice skating when it is 30 degrees outside! The instructors are fully qualified and very easy to get on with, this activity is ideal for families and it does to cost any extra money.
Another feature of the ship that is common to almost all large cruise lines is a large and hence always busy spa, my advice would be to use it one one of the port days if at all possible as it will be much more of a heaven of calm than it is on sea days. The spa is well equipped but not all that modern although it does offer all of the new treatments and some classes on things such as natural remedies, if that floats you boat (sorry but I had to put that in).
Children are very well looked after by what Royal Caribbean call their 'Adventure Ocean Youth Programme', the activities include something for everyone although there is no obligation for the children to attend, they can drop in and out of it when they want to. A full babysitting service allows parents to get some quality time together if they would like to although there is a cost for the service which is paid for by the hour.
Royal Caribbean say that they have 'Broadway-style shows' but to me this is an exaggeration, the shows are good but not world class like they are on the real Broadway. Many shows feature part-time singers who also hold other positions on the ships which is not the international style of entertainment that the cruise line markets. Whilst Royal Caribbean is American in many ways the theatre acts seem often to try to reach out to too many different cultural backgrounds, indeed 1950s American groups are regularly followed the night after by Spanish Flamenco dancers which leads to a lack of cohesion and flow in the entertainment schedule.
The main restaurant is set over three different decks and each layer of the restaurant has its own individual name which come from three famous ballets these being Swan Lake, Coppelia and The Nutcracker. Which level you are allocated to depends on what type of dining you want, the first possibility is assigned time dining when you can choose to start your meal at either 6:00pm or 8:30pm. I personally prefer to avoid this option as tables for two are extremely difficult to get and although sharing with other people sounds great in practice it can be an uncomfortable experience if you discover you have little in common with the others on your table.
My recommendation is the Royal Caribbean My Time Dining which means that you can begin your meal at any time between 6:00pm and 9:30, this is ideal for families who do not want to stress about being at the restaurant at a set time. I also discovered that the My Time Dining part of the restaurant has more tables for two than the other pars of the restaurant so couples and small groups of friends might also like to consider this option.
Royal Caribbean has never been world renowned for the quality of its food and Navigator Of The Seas is no exception to this generalisation. The food is perfectly adequate but does not match up to that on P&O Cruises or Princess Cruises. The two best restaurants on the ship are Chopps Grill, a steakhouse which has a rather more relaxed atmosphere than the main dining room and Portofino which is and Italian restaurant serving apparently high end cuisine. Both restaurants are good but will not world class.
Johnny Rockets is a distinctly American 1950s style diner on the upper decks of the ship. Some will say that it is a bit too corny or stereotypical but for me it is one of those places that you have to do at least once. There is a cover charge of about $5 per person and the restaurant is open most of the time that you would want to eat, although you cannot get breakfast there. Johnny Rockets is seen as a casual alternative to the main restaurants because there is no dress code even on the formal nights. Do be aware that everything comes with fries and they are immediately filled up once you finish the last lot and what's more if the view out over the great ocean is not enough the waiters also dance to the music from some of the notorious 50's hits.
Most of the guests on Navigator originate from the United States and this can lead to people thinking that they will be constantly surrounded by people with a different accent. In reality it really does depend on where you cruise departs from, summer cruises from Rome have the greatest number of guest nationalities with the most common being Americans closely followed by Italians and Spanish. British passports are not rare especially during the school holiday time. Winter cruises welcome a large majority of American guests because they depart from The US but a small proportion of European guests are present. You can expect to hear a wide variety of languages but the main language of the ship is English but many announcements are also in Italian. In my opinion the fact that Royal Caribbean only have announcements in two languages is far better than rival cruise line MSC who operate in a staggeringly annoying seven languages, even short announcements can go on forever.
On a typical seven day cruise there will be two formal nights. I must be honest at this point and say that the thought of being strangled by a shirt collar that is too tight and feeling torturously uncomfortable all evening is not really my thing. There certainly are ways around the formal nights but you may feel a little odd, I found that it was just easier to comply with the dress code for a couple of nights rather than cause myself extra hassle by trying to get round them. The fact that most people are dressed in formal wear made me feel far less conspicuous. Dress for women on formal nights is usually a long dress. The other nights typically have a more casual theme and whilst you do see men in suits, a tie and open neck shirt with sleeves is the norm. During the day almost anything goes but remember that none of the places you visit on Navigator Of The Seas will be cold, so my advice is stock up on the shorts.
Navigator Of The Seas does have its faults but I have awarded it five stars simply because of the amount of fun that I had. Holidays are all about enjoyment and for me the little things are unimportant as long as you have memories that last for a lifetime. Navigator has not only given me great memories but it has also become entrenched in my heart. With the fun loving Royal Caribbean attitude it would be difficult for this not to happen.
Thanks for reading. :)
This review may also appear on Ciao under the username chrisbriers567.
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I used to use the Greenline 757 Luton-London service frequently several years ago, and found it to be a great service. Now things have changed. Last Friday we waited at bus stop 8 at Luton, where the service is advertised. After waiting an hour for a service that should have been every 30 minutes, we (and others with us) ... asked an Easybus driver if he could give any advice. Greenline have now 'lost the contract' for Luton airport, and now rely on a very poorly-advertised minibus transfer to a business park in Luton, from where you take the actual Greenline coach. Despite eventually finding this link, the Greenline driver was rude and made it clear he couldn't care less about our concerns.
This is a big step backward, and we only found this out after asking around several other bus drivers at Luton. We opted to come back via train instead - too much hassle and unreliability.
When phoning today to claim a refund of the cost of our tickets, customer service was abysmal, argumentative and failed to see how they had screwed up so much. I'm disappointed that having previously been a good company, I'm moved to write a review on this site to advise fellow passengers to choose an alternative - EasyBus, connect to Luton station or just take the train all the way, and save the hassle.
I hope that EasyJet exert some pressure on Greenline to sort themselves out, as it's put us off using Luton Airport in the future.
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We're a long time past the Golded Age of rail when travelling the tracks was a chic and sophisticated thing to do. Way back in my student days I vowed that as soon as I could afford not to, I'd not be using trains ever again and I've pretty much stuck to that. The only time I now use trains is to get into London (where I am far too ... polite a driver to ever survive) and when I need to get between Amsterdam and Antwerp - something I do every couple of months.
Europe has a number of famous high speed trains but I would guess that one of the less well known is the Thalys. The train runs from Amsterdam in the north, through Brussels and on to Paris. Side lines can get you to the French Alps and to Cologne but the main route is back and forth between Paris and Amsterdam. I take this train only between Amsterdam (either Central Station or Schiphol Airport) and Antwerp. When all goes to plan, the journey should take around an hour from Antwerp to the airport and just a few minutes longer to Central Station. Driving the same route takes more than twice this time, or considerably more when Holland does its rush-hour trick of turning into Europe's largest car park.
I've taken the Thalys five times now and I signed up for a 'Thalys Card' and an online account so that I can book my own tickets. I travel this route for business and I'm not really supposed to do direct bookings but our UK-based travel agent can't book the Thalys and if I use the agency in Belgium or the Netherlands, I get stung with a lot of additional charges. I made a case to the procurement person in charge of travel and she agreed that it was OK for an exception to be made so that I can now book directly on line. I like to have the control to check out the prices and pick the best combination of departure time and service levels. On one occasion I was able, by booking in advance, to get the first class carriage for less than half the price of second, simply by delaying my departure by an hour.
Most of my journeys have been in so-called 'Comfort Two' on semi-flexible tickets and a couple have been in 'Comfort One'. If you know your dates well in advance cheaper tickets may be available if you want to travel at lower demand times and if you book at least two weeks before. Mostly my tickets have been booked just a few days (or sometimes hours) before travel. The semi-flexible and Comfort One tickets both come with free onboard Wi-fi although you shouldn't be surprised if the first time you use it, it takes you half the journey to work out what to do. There are instructions on-line and in Comfort Two you need a special code which is printed on your ticket. If you don't qualify for free wi-fi, I would suggest to think carefully before paying for it as the service can be really rather rubbish.
In Comfort two the carriage is configured four seats across in two pairs similar to a plane but with the exception that some of the passengers will inevitably be going backwards. I've never yet managed to get seats together with a colleague although if the train's not too busy, people are quite flexible about moving around to let others sit together. However several times I've had to throw someone out of my reserved seat and on one occasion I came up against two French women who refused completely to give me my seat. This can be an issue on this particular train. There are probably not two countries more culturally different than France and the Netherlands and there can be quite some tensions when you throw the two nationalities together. As a poor Brit observing this, you can't help sometimes thinking their parents should have taught them some bloody manners.
In Comfort One you get a lot more space as well as a free meal and drinks with a hostess service. The legroom is much more generous and the seats are configured three across with an individual seat on one side of the aisle and a pair on the other. Comfort One also offers you free newspapers and is altogether more like travelling business class. Once when I took this ticket type, it cost only about a third more than the Comfort Two ticket which seemed like good value even though I didn't take the free meal, only indulging in a couple of coffees and a friendly chat with the hostess. Another time when booking a few weeks in advance, I got Comfort One for less than Comfort Two so it's well worth hunting around the website to see what bargains you can find. The seats in Comfort One are larger versions of the red and purple seats you find elsewhere on the train. There are power points for charging your computer or phone and the wi fi didn't seem to need a code in that class.
Comfort One also offers some extra goodies that weren't relevant to me such as on-board taxi booking for Paris and Brussels and access to special lounges in Amsterdam, Schiphol and Rotterdam
Comfort Two can be a bit of a squeeze and on one trip I had to sit from Antwerp to Rotterdam with my suitcase squeezed in front of me because there was absolutely nowhere left to put it. After Rotterdam I was able to get space on the luggage rack but the first half of my journey was rather uncomfortable. In this class there's a trolley service selling food and vouchers for the wi-fi for those whose ticket doesn't include the service. There's also a bar carriage somewhere in the middle of the train although I've not used it.
Prices are very variable depending on how long in advance you book and how much flexibility you need. If you are willing to commit to a particular train, a standard Amsterdam to Antwerp single could cost you 39 Euros whilst the same journey in semi-flex would be 70 Euros in Comfort Two or 74 in Comfort One. For a fully flexible ticket, you'll pay 93 Euros in Comfort One. There are special fares for young people (under 26), the over 60s, under 12s, kids travelling with adults, people with mobility impairments and their carers and for groups. I'd love to say it's complicated but compared to the trains in the UK it's both cheap and much easier to understand. I recommend anyone thinking of taking a train in the UK to just hand over their credit card and give up hope. These were prices I found back in April when I first wrote this review but may vary in the summer months when demand is higher.
My first two Thalys experiences were late. The first train was nearly an hour late which is pretty poor on a train journey that only lasts an hour. We got stuck behind a Fyra (the local not-quite-so-high-speed-train) which had broken down. The service was so bad on the Fyra that they've now withdrawn the service completely which is a shame as we're now restricted to a Thalys only once every two hours.
As an alternative to flying, the Thalys is very nice and if you can get a Comfort One ticket at a good price - i.e. on a Semi-Flex fare where it's barely more than Comfort Two - it's well worth considering it as an alternative. A no-flex fare from Amsterdam to Paris booked well in advance could be as low as 35 Euros and once you've added in all the time to go to the airport, hang around getting security checked and standing in lines and then gone through the hassle of collecting your luggage and travelling into the city at the other end, the journey time of three hours and 20 minutes competes well with taking the plane.
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