Anyone who knows us knows that we love to cruise! It is one of the most relaxing things on earth for us. Before this summer, we have cruised six times on Carnival Cruise Lines. Three times on the Carnival Ecstasy (May 2006, October 2006, March 2011), two times on the Carnival Triumph (May 2012, October 2014), and once on the Carnival Magic (March 2014). After our last cruise in October 2014, we had some encounters that made us decide we wanted to try a different cruise line. Carnival is known for catering to the party crowd, and we were wanting to try something a little quieter. This summer during my time off for the year, we squeezed in two cruises, one with the kiddos and one alone to celebrate our ten year anniversary. For our family cruise, we booked again a 7 day cruise on the Carnival Magic. Our cruise on the Magic went to Cozumel, Mexico, Montego Bay, Jamaica, and Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. For our anniversary cruise, we decided to splurge and try another cruise line. After looking, we decided to give Royal Caribbean a try and booked a 7 day cruise on the Navigator of the Seas. Our Navigator of the Seas cruise went to Cozumel, Mexico, Belize City, Belize, and Roatan, Honduras. We were looking forward to both cruises and to getting to try a new itinerary and a new cruise line! Embarkation Carnival: We purchased the Faster to the Fun excursion. In our opinion, it is well worth the dollars for FTTF. FTTF allows you to board with priority group, priority tendering at any ports that have tendering, a separate line with customer service and priority debarkation. We tend to arrive at the port around 930am. C parked the car and the boys and I checked in our luggage. We swiftly got through security and got checked in. It was around 11am when they started loading wedding parties. We were on board and sitting on the lido deck around 1130am. Above left: The boys always take picture by the map of Galveston while we wait for C to come back from parking. Above right: S is super excited that we are on the boat. Photo is taken in the lido deck. Royal: We had read on Cruise Critic that Royal doesn’t start allowing anyone into the terminal until 10am. We left a little later than our norm, and were in the short line for security at the terminal around 945am. Promptly at 10am, they opened the doors and waited to move through security. Security was rather quick, as was check in. We were given a boarding number and asked to wait until our number was called to board. They began boarding around 1030am with priority passengers. After all priority were called, instead of calling the zone cards, the employee called “anyone who is checked in can board.” Needless to say, it was a minor chaotic situation as people began rushing and pushing ahead to get on the boat. We were in the line to board around 1050am. Above left: Waiting to board! Above right: A photo of our view of the boat as we waited in line to get on the boat. Although we got on the boat quicker with Royal, boarding was much more chaotic and disorganized with Royal than our experiences with Carnival. Ship Carnival: The Magic is our favorite ship that we have sailed on with Carnival so far. We like how big and spacious it is. I like how they have a big splash pad area for the kiddos. The boys love the water park area. There are multiple pools and hot tubs on the boat. This boat has a lanai addition on the fifth floor that is nice. There are a couple hot tubs that are over the water, and a nice area to walk or sit and enjoy the view on the lanai. A couple draw backs that we found is that the elevators are always backed up on Carnival almost anytime a day. You might be waiting awhile to catch an elevator that has room for you to join on. The upkeep and decor of the ship look quite cheap and gaudy compared to that of Royal. We have also found that people don’t seem to feel the need to comply to the rules about smoking on the ship, and saw multiple people throwing their cigarettes over board from the lanai when sitting on our balcony in our state room.
Above: Panoramic view of the lanai from our balcony.
Royal: Our immediate reaction after entering the boat was, “Wow! This is fancy!” Navigator of the Seas was much more elegant than any Carnival ship I have ever been on. At one point during the cruise, I looked to the husband and said, “This ship makes Carnival look like the WalMart of cruise lines.” This boat felt about as large as Magic. One thing we noticed is that the elevators were fairly easy to catch and were rarely so full you would have to wait and wait. This boat also had many swimming pools and hot tubs. They had some different activities such as the rock wall and flow rider. The upkeep on this ship was superb. We were very pleased with the condition and lay out of the ship.
Above: The view down towards deck five.
Muster Station As required by law, everyone on board the ship has to participate in the muster drill about thirty minutes before the ship sails. During this, you go to your muster station and the workers go through what would happen in an emergency. It’s a pain, but it is simple and easy enough. Carnival: This time our muster station was in the main dining room. It made it nice because you could sit and enjoy air conditioning. In the past on some of our Carnival cruises, we had to wait outside under the life boats. It was definitely nice to have a muster station inside. As to what is norm, the muster drill did not start on time due to people not following the rules and having to wait for them to arrive at their muster station. The muster drill went quickly and we were soon allowed back to enjoying the ship! Royal: On the Navigator of the Seas, the muster drill was a nightmare! Out of eight cruises, this was by far the worst muster station drill. All I could think about while waiting was how thankful I was that our children were not with us on this cruise! Our muster station was outside under the life boats. Not only is it hot, but they pack you in like sardines out there so you feel a bit claustrophobic on top of it all. We arrived promptly to our station and waited. And waited, waited, waited. Sweat dripping, feet and back hurting. I look down at my watch, and notice we have been standing here for thirty minutes and still it has not started. 45 minutes after the time everyone should have been to their muster station, the drill finally began. I imagine there could have been some issues going on behind the scenes contributing to the delay, but this was by far the worst drill, standing like sardines in 100 degree heat. State Room On both our cruises this summer, we booked balcony state rooms. Our first five cruises, we booked oceanview state rooms and loved them. Then we tried a balcony for our sixth. It is hard to go back after having your own personal balcony! Carnival: We booked a balcony state room on the sixth deck, upper. Everything with our room seemed nice and standard. We had a kings sized bed, and the boys had a couch that folded into a bed as well as a bunk that was set up. We soon found out at 11pm on the first night of the cruise that things would become interesting. Out of no where, the room began vibrating and all we could hear is “boom, boom, boom.” The hubby and I tried trouble shooting, but could not figure out what was directly under us. C called guest services to ask what was under our room, and we discovered we were under the vibe nightclub, and they don’t stop hopping until 2-4am. The next day, since they could not change our state room due to being full, Carnival gave us close to 20% back from our cruise price in on board credit, as well as a letter to redeem 15% off our next cruise. My other slight dislike with a balcony on the Magic is that unlike a lot of other ships, the Magic has the lanai addition on deck five that extends out slightly over the water. What that means is that when you have a balcony room on deck six, there is no privacy. You can see all sorts of things going on below you, and they can see above on your balcony. If we cruise again on the Magic before it leaves Galveston, I would definitely look at booking a cove balcony room for that reason. We all enjoyed the balcony for many reasons. Our 5 y/o gets overstimulated with lots of people, and often will ask to go back to the room. He can watch cartoons, and I can sit and read on my balcony, which is seriously one of my favorite things about cruising. Overall, the stateroom itself was nice. Opinion of the location: awful. Above: The boys enjoying the balcony. Above Left: The boys snuggling in one of the beds. Above Right: The outside of our state room. Just don’t book this room! Royal: We booked a balcony state room on this cruise on the 12th deck. It was near the spa, and by the door that exited out to the outside jogging path. Our room was amazing on Navigator of the Seas. We had a king sized bed, with a couch. The room was nice and spacious. We found the balcony to have much more space as well, including a table where you could enjoy meals on your balcony. We did find the room to be rather warm, despite having the a/c as cold as we could get it. Our room steward was great and got us a fan for the room and it helped immensely. Another draw back was that when you would go out to the balcony, it would shut off the a/c inside until the balcony door was locked. That made it a bit frustrating when one of us wanted to go on the balcony and the other did not. However, I understand why they have it that way to make things more energy efficient. The room decor was very nice and updated on this ship. We definitely loved our room on this ship. Above Left: I enjoyed reading on the balcony. One afternoon, it included reading Midwifery Today and enjoying a pina colada. Above Center: A view of our state room standing by the balcony door. Above Right: One morning we enjoyed breakfast on our balcony. Food For each cruise, I will go through the food in the dining room, room service and the food court area. Carnival: We thoroughly enjoy eating in the dining room as often as we can. They serve breakfast in the dining room every day. On sea days, they have a brunch menu and on port days they have a standard “quick” breakfast menu. I enjoy eating huevos rancheros off the brunch menu. You can only eat lunch in the dining room on days at sea. Some of my favorite things to eat during lunch were the chicken cesar salad, tomato soup, filet mignon meal and the macaroni and cheese. They serve both meals with bread basket at the table. Dinner is always a nice affair. The wait staff were wonderful and provided great service. Each night, you start off with a starter, entree and dessert. We never miss a dinner in the dining room because we love the service and the food. I will add that our 7y/o has sensitivities to egg, gluten and dairy and they are very accommodating to food sensitivities/allergies. We would order his meal the night before so the chef could prepare it special. Room service was standard for Carnival. You can choose from a variety of sandwiches, salad, fruit, a couple desserts and some drinks. My 5 y/o and I enjoyed ordering grilled cheese from room service. Room service can often take 45 minutes or longer to arrive unfortunately. On Carnival, the Lido deck is where you will find the large variety of food. Magic has a lot of food options on the lido deck such as grill foods, burrito bar, mongolian, indian food, etc. I feel the food is fast food quality on the lido deck. It is definitely not my favorite. However, I was a huge fan of Tandoori, the Indian restaurant on the lido deck. It was only open during the lunch hour, and it was delicious every day. I began craving Indian food to the point that I would order the Indian vegetarian plate in the dining room with my dinner as well just to try it out. We did not eat at any specialty restaurants. Royal: We were excited to be able to compare the food on Royal vs. Carnival. We were disappointed in the breakfast quality in general on the ship. We tried eating in both the dining room and the windjammer for breakfast and we weren’t overly pleased with either. We found it to be below par. They served lunch in the dining room on sea days. Lunch was again below par in the dining room. However, we did thoroughly enjoy the salad bar they offered in the dining room during sea days. You would go up to the bar and have the waiter put your salad together, mix in the dressing and then you would take your salad back to your table. The employees looked very unhappy to be doing this job, but the salad was really good. Dinner was very comparable to Carnival. We enjoyed eating dinner in the dining room. The bread was out of this world delicious. I had a hard time resisting the bread basket for seconds and thirds when it would come around. The meals were generally great as were the desserts. Our waiters were awesome. On Carnival, the waiters provide entertainment while you are eating dessert, and this was lacking on Royal. That was an interesting difference for us. The room service menu was much different on the Navigator of the Seas. You could order similar things as Carnival, but you could also order hot foods such as a hamburger, chicken strips, fish, pizza, etc. The first time we ordered, it arrived quickly and we enjoyed it. We found other than that that the room service was much slower than Carnival. The one morning we chose to have breakfast in our room on our balcony, the breakfast arrived 45 minutes later than the window we had chosen for it to be delivered. Another day we were tired and wanted an afternoon snack. We were told no later than 45 minutes, and it took an hour and a half. The service was definitely slow. On Royal, the Windjammer Cafe is where you will find the large variety of food. As mentioned above, we did eat breakfast there a couple mornings and weren’t overly pleased. We thoroughly enjoyed lunch in the Windjammer. There was a variety of foods to choose from at lunch time, and we found the quality to be good, and above the quality of the food on the lido deck on the Magic. We never dined in the Windjammer for dinner, so can’t comment on that. The only specialty dining on board that we tried was the Johnny Rockets. It was unlimited food for $4.95. We enjoyed burgers, cheese fries and onion rings and shared a milk shake. The waiters/waitresses would sing and dance through 50’s era songs every few minutes. It was fun. The Navigator of the Seas also had 24/7 snacks in the Cafe Promenade. The Cafe Promenade was my favorite place at 6am. I would grab a donut and coffee and sit at a quiet table and read my book and journal. Thoroughly enjoyed that area on the ship. Activities On Board Carnival: One of my favorite things about the Magic is the water park they have for the children. The boys love it. I can get everyone changed, sunscreen on and let them run off and play while I sit on one of the puffy chairs in front of the water park, reading a book as they play. Love it. I get sun and reading time, they get water and play time. It is a win for all. Another one of our 7 y/o’s favorite things was to go to the Red Frog Pub and play checkers. He would ask repeatedly to go. Both boys also enjoyed the library. At the library you can rent out games to take to your state room to play. One thing we all enjoy on every Carnival cruise is tea time. 3pm on sea days, Carnival has tea time where you go and have hot tea and desserts. It is fun thing in the afternoon to do. We missed this on our cruise on Royal because they do not have tea time. The last day at sea, the Magic had a special program and breakfast called “Seuss at Sea.” It was $5 a person. It was nice to go to once, and the boys enjoyed it. However, the breakfast menu was very similar to the brunch menu with a couple tweaks. There were a few characters present to take photos with, and the waiters did a dance at the end. The boys had a good time. We felt it was mediocre and could have been a lot better, but was fine for $5 a person. The Magic also had towel folding fun, which our 7 y/o always wants to go too. It was a fun thirty minute activity. He comes home and wants to make towel animals for several days after. The hubby enjoys participating in the trivia events they have going on through out the days. I always enjoy watching karaoke. Carnival also has plenty of pools, bars and different clubs that have different events. We did take the boys to the piano bar one night for a sing a long. We had fun, and they enjoyed that the pianist played “Ring of Fire” per their request. The Magic does have Camp Carnival, but the boys prefer staying with us on the ship. Royal: Activities were similar on both ships. Royal had trivia events, pools, bars, different clubs. They did not have high tea which was sad. We enjoyed playing a variety of games on board, including scrabble in the library and shuffle board on deck four. We did go to karaoke most nights and enjoyed that. It is just fun watching others sing! I enjoyed the solarium on the Navigator of the Seas. This is the adult only pool and hot tub area. The pool was really nice most days at off times when it wasn’t busy. The pure salt water is refreshing. The pool side loungers are much nicer in the solarium and have cushions. I would go down there to get in the pool, and then read after. I also enjoyed walking on the jogging track in the mornings. I did this a few times. The hubby and I also watched a seaside movie one night. That was enjoyable, watching a movie, enjoying the sea breeze. We had originally intended to go to the ice show, but missed it. I chose to nap instead, which is also glorious on the ship. Since the boys weren’t with us, I am not sure all children based activities that were available. There was also a bridge area over the front of the boat where you could see inside the captain’s area. We thought that was neat to see. There was also a small chapel on the highest deck that had some beautiful stained glass that was unique from what we had seen in the past. Ports I will go through all ports of call for both ships. Both ships went to Cozumel, Mexico. Every cruise we have ever been on goes there, and we aren’t a big fan of that port. We find it to be overly Americanized, and now choose to enjoy the quiet boat instead of getting off the ship. I will not discuss that port. Carnival: Our Magic cruise stopped in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands and Montego Bay, Jamaica. We had a blast at both ports. In the Caymans, we were able to be one of the first to be tendered off the boat since we had purchased FTTF. Once off the tender, we decided to take a taxi to the public beach. For less than $40, we got transportation to and from the beach and entry to the beach. The Seven Mile Beach by far is the most beautiful beach I have ever been to in my life. The water was crystal clear and the most beautiful turquoise water. The boys and I spent our full two hours in the beautiful water. The next time we have a cruise that goes there, I would definitely bring goggles and swim under some of that gorgeous water. Slightly deeper than the boys and I went, some people commented that they could see fishes swimming through the water. In Montego Bay, we decided to hire a private driver and tour the local Rastafarian Village. We booked our tour with Travel Jamaica Tours. Our driver, Errol, was great. He took us on a small tour of the area and set up our tour of the village. We had to take a small hike to get to the village, that included walking through a river. It was fun, and the boys found it interesting. Our 5 y/o kept asking to do more exploring. Our Rasta tour guide, Micah, was really kind and interactive. He was fascinated with our 5 y/o’s name. We got to meet some of the people of the village, hear their back ground and belief system. They are vegetarians and grow their own food. We got to try some of their fruit, as well as drink fresh coconut water. They believe in allopathic treatments, and grow a lot of their own herbs for remedies. It was definitely a memorable and interesting tour. After the tour, we did a quick stop in at the craft market before going back to the boat. Top Left: The part of the river we hiked. Top Center: Sign at the entrance of the village. Top Right: One of our boys trying the fresh coconut water. Bottom Left: Selfie with our tour guide. Bottom Right: View from the entrance where we waited for the hike. Royal: On this cruise, we got to experience Belize City and Roatan, Honduras for the first time. We were looking forward to experiencing these two new ports of call. Belize City is a tendered port. We had to wait almost two hours before we were on the mainland. We kept wondering what was taking so long, and then we got on the tender. The tender ride is quite long, about 20 minutes approximately. It made sense for the delay. We had planned to tour mayan ruins, but changed our minds a couple days before and decided to just see what was available when we got off the boat. We decided to take a horse drawn carriage ride to tour the city. It was nice to see the city and get a little history. Afterwards, we did a little shopping at the small craft market. We took advantage of the free wi fi before getting back on the tender to get on the boat. We weren’t overly pleased with Belize and could easily stay on the boat in the future, unless we decided to tour mayan ruins which I think would be fun. I was most excited about our time in Roatan. We arrived at 7am and were one of the first of the boat. We hired a private driver for our time in Roatan. We chose to go with Rony’s Tours after doing research and seeing their great reviews. I emailed that we wanted a detailed tour of the island and to get a feel of the culture. Our driver was the cousin of the owner, and was available to take us to do whatever we requested. We told him that we wanted a detailed tour of the island, to hear about the culture and history. He did just that. We started on the tour. An hour and a half in, we stopped at a small cafe for lattes which were delicious. He continued our drive through the town. At one of the highest points in the city, there was an amazing craft market where we purchased several souvenirs for family and a couple hammocks. We continued our tour through the more touristy areas, and then our driver took us to an area restaurant for lunch. We had such a lovely time, and would gladly hire Rony’s Tours again if we should go to Roatan again. Top Left: View of the water from our balcony. Top Center: Shopping at the craft market. Top Right/Bottom Left: Some of the beautiful views we saw on our drive. Bottom Center/Right: The restaurant and food we ate for lunch. It was delicious. Debarkation Carnival: The nice thing about being able to purchase FTTF is you can choose if you want off the boat first or last. We are the sort to be some of the first on the boat and some of the first off. We chose the relaxed debarkation since we had the children and extra luggage. With this route, you place your luggage out the night before and the unload it into the cruise terminal upon arrival where you locate your bags. We get a porter once in the terminal to help with our luggage and get through immigration. Things went smoothly, and we were through immigration by 9am. Royal: Since we didn’t have the boys with us and each had one suitcase and a back pack, we decided to do self assist. On the Navigator of the Seas, you have to go to guest services to sign up. We signed up for group A, which meant we would be getting off the boat around 730am. Things went fairly smoothly with debarkation. We were through immigration by 815 and on the way home. It was nice. We have since figured out ways we could do self assist when we have the boys with us. Final Notes It is hard for us to say which is the better cruise line overall. We definitely felt like Carnival has the feel of being the “WalMart of cruise lines” after being on a Royal cruise. However, things weren’t without down sides on Royal either. Our first two days on the Navigator of the Seas, we totally would have said we would never cruise Carnival again and move to taking more on Royal. However, by the end of the cruise, I don’t feel one way or the other about a cruise line. I could easily cruise either ship again and be happy. Have questions about cruising? Please feel free to ask! Definitely no expert, but we have cruised lots and love it. Glad to share whatever wisdom I can to those looking into cruising!