Open Road

Take the Cruise That Has Everybody Talking

A seven-day Royal Caribbean excursion offers everything but quiet.

By Catherine Matusow March 9, 2015 Published in the March 2015 issue of Houstonia Magazine

The Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas

It had been a glorious afternoon at sea. My husband and I had strolled the Lido Deck of Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas, thrilled by the endless expanse of ocean and the ease with which step-counts mounted on our Fitbits. The steam room had been revivifying, the enormous hot tub life-changing, especially with strawberry daiquiris in hand. As we stood in companionable silence waiting for the elevator to take us back to our rooms, it seemed like we had found some kind of Gulf of Mexico Valhalla, a relaxation beyond relaxation.

“Why are y’all so quiet?” demanded a woman who happened upon this scene, eyeing the two of us suspiciously from under her visor. At the time, it seemed unthinkable that she’d judged we were in the mood to talk, but that was before I realized that there is one thing that cruisers will not abide, and that one thing is silence.

We were about to give a halfhearted reply when a ding was heard and we boarded the elevator. So did she. 

“What did y’all do today?” she pressed. It seemed to me that she was almost daring me to say “nothing,” at which point her suspicions would be confirmed and she’d notify the authorities that the Navigator was harboring terrorists. And so, I prepared to give a full and complete answer to the woman’s question, even as—ding!—we arrived at her floor too soon. She bolted from the elevator like it was on fire. 

I was suddenly put in mind of a line from a review I’d read regarding the Navigator’s Galveston seven-day sailings. “Many passengers hail from Texas and emanate their unique brand of warm hospitality,” we’d been warned, “meaning you'll be greeted with plenty of smiles and eager-to-chat tablemates for dinner.” As a Lone Star native myself, and therefore in full possession of my own unique brand of warm hospitality, I assumed that these were the nasty calumnies of some cold and clammy East Coast type. And so here I must apologize to Cruise Critic John Roberts. You were right. The bonhomie one endures on cruises out of Galveston makes the crowd on dry land seem like a bunch of tight-asses. I’m serious. The friendliness is positively steroidal. 

“We were just talking about y’all!” screamed another woman on another day, startling us. We’d been on the elevator again, minding our own business, when suddenly the doors opened on deck five, and there she was. Everyone on the elevator, as well as everyone on the fifth-floor landing, began laughing uproariously, for some reason. So disturbed was I by this scene, it wasn’t until hours later that the question hit me: Why in God’s name had that woman been talking about us? Had our desire for peace and quiet made us that much of an aberration?  

The Royal Promenade on the Navigator of the Seas

Having divined that solitude wasn’t in the cards for us—we positively salivated for the dining room’s few two-tops, to no avail—we adopted a can’t-beat-’em-join-’em attitude, gave in to our Texan-ness, and started gabbing along with everyone else. Not that we had much to talk about. After all, the hottest topic on the cruise was cruising itself. Cruisers—be they from Texas or Monterrey or Oklahoma—enjoy nothing more than sharing war stories about the various lines they’ve taken, the places they’ve been, and, always, tips on getting the best prices and scoring upgrades. This being our first cruise, we had little to contribute. 

And so we sat nodding idly while the Kansas couple told us about the more than 20 cruises they’d been on. And they weren’t even the biggest diehards. Some folks never seemed to stop cruising. Several planned to stay on the Navigator two weeks in a row, looping back through Galveston, across the Gulf, and over to Cozumel, the Cayman Islands, and Jamaica all over again. One woman told us she so enjoyed being on board, she didn’t plan to disembark at any of the ports of call. 

We were fans of the Navigator, make no mistake, but this seemed a bit extreme, especially given the plethora of shore excursions on offer. In Cozumel, we enjoyed a Deluxe Beach Break at Playa Mia. In George Town, Grand Cayman, we swam with dolphins, a neat experience, and then wandered the white-sand 7 Mile Beach. 

Dunns River Falls near Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Image: Shutterstock

But our favorite day onshore involved a trip to Dunns River Falls near Ocho Rios in Jamaica, less than an hour from the cruise port at Falmouth. Here, cool, crystal-clear waterfalls, interspersed with jade-green lagoons, fall story after story until they reach the Caribbean. We started at the bottom and climbed up the terraced falls, holding hands with members of our group and helping each other along the way, then tubed down a nearby river. When we got back to Falmouth, we picked up sacks of Blue Mountain Coffee, a painting of a hummingbird, and a fish-shaped wooden platter, then boarded the Navigator once more. 

Friendly faces in Grand Cayman

Image: Shutterstock

Those were the only things we bought to take home, but not for want of trying on the part of the Royal Caribbean crew. At each stop, they plied us with guides to shops in port selling gold, diamonds, and especially watches. As the week went on, the jewelry began piling up on the ship’s Royal Promenade too, all of it suddenly marked down to clearance prices. There were the requisite seminars to help us decide what to buy, just as there were seminars on everything from fighting wrinkles to making martinis. In fact, we could have filled every single hour with a class or activity, but of course there were shows to see, including one by “international recording artist and master musical impressionist Greg London.” This we regretted almost from the moment it started, so much so that we briefly considered taking out our anger on Jeffrey, our cruise director, but then the standing ovation afforded London by all the other cruisers gave us pause. 

7-mile Beach in George Town, Grand Cayman

By contrast, the ship’s captain, known as Captain Claus, charmed the pants off us. “Good morning, dear guests and dear crew,” he would say each day in his Norwegian accent, which never failed to put us in a good mood. We even attended a Q&A with Claus on our last day at sea, finding him self-deprecating, funny, and informative, whatever the topic, be it his wife and children in South Africa or Royal Caribbean’s ships, which apparently recycle everything and run more cleanly than others in the industry. 

It was an interesting talk, especially the behind-the-scenes bits. All week we’d been engaging the Navigator’s crew members, who to a man—and woman—provided spectacular service. One, on board 10 years, told of the dream house he was building brick-by-brick back home in the Philippines; another, finishing her second year, was on the brink of returning to Australia and starting a hair salon; still others seemed destined to be lifers. Like many of the cruisers themselves, they could imagine no better fate.

On our final night, as we entered the Sapphire dining room, the scene of so many good meals during the previous week, it suddenly didn’t seem strange anymore that people might want to take the same cruise twice without debarking, that they might let the ship become their whole world and ignore the ports of call, that they might fill their days with talk of cruises past and present. We’d had an enormous amount of fun on our own maiden voyage, and I for one was ready to talk about it. 

As the maître d’ led us through the dining room, I found myself positively aching to tell our tablemates about what my husband and I had found in a Cozumel market, a carved wooden mask painted with the Texans football emblem; to regale them with stories about Otto, our cabin steward, and Mercy, our favorite waitress; to tell any and all of our 3,200 fellow passengers and 1,200 crewmembers how much we’d enjoyed playing cards in the lounge as T.A. Williams played a sad tune on the piano.   

And wouldn’t you know it? They sat us at a table for two.  

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