Royal Caribbean Cruise Taught Me (aka RCC Taught Me): Navigator of the Seas Review

View from the ship on the last night.
The sun has set on summer. Yesterday was the first day of school. Boo. I now have some time to reflect on my experience on Navigator of the Seas. Not that cruising needs much reflecting. It's pretty straight forward: eat, swim, relax, play, sleep, repeat. But here's fives things that surprised me:
1. CULTURE: The social vibe of the cruise depends on where it sails out. I didn't realize this until I sailed out of Texas on the Navigator of the Seas. I would estimate that around 60% of the people I met on board where Texans. So friendly and chatty! And the barbecue ribs I ate on the pool deck on the 5th day? Amazing. The head chef knows Texans take their BBQs seriously and didn't disappoint. I liked experiencing a little flavor of Texas onboard.

2. ACCOMMODATIONS: We stayed in an interior room #6465. No windows, no balcony! I wouldn't recommend this room when traveling with children. I learned quickly that my kids need 3 hrs more sleep than me: 1.5 hours in the morning and 1.5 hours at night. What did I do with my time in a pitch dark 150 sq ft room? Luckily Royal Caribbean gave me unlimited wifi so I could chat with Rob and go online, but those 3 hrs each day were rough. I understand the lure of booking an interior room because of the price, but I would have given anything for a balcony to sit out on while my kids slept. So grateful my parents spoiled us with a balcony room on their retirement cruise! It was heaven.

3. PREPARE: Get your legs waxed! Unless you're a gymnast, shaving your legs on board is nearly impossible. It was comical how wet I got the bathroom each day. Royal Caribbean has a spa on board with waxing services if you forget. Do it! My biggest regret!

4. CREW MEMBERS: Salt of the earth. Best service I've ever had in my entire life. They go out of their way to make your stay on board amazing. My room was cleaned twice a day, my kids were adored at the child watch programs, and the waiters gave it their all. I don't know how they have so much energy to keep going day in and day out. It was incredible to watch and exsperience.

5. OFFSHORE ADVENTURES: Book your excursions a week ahead of cruising. I waited until I got on board and the line was huge! I wish I booked it online the week before my cruise. I'm so glad, however, that I booked the simplest excursions. While in Mexico, I booked an excursion to a water park called Playa Mia. It was easy, the kids loved it, and it was all inclusive. Since the ports are less than a day long, I gave up trying to explore the countries in depth. If I wanted to do that I would stay for a week, not a few hours. We swam with stingrays in Grand Cayman, zip lined in Jamaica, and flew down the water slides in Mexico. We did just enough to exhaust ourselves!

Overall, I'm sad it's all over. I would relive summer of 2014 again in a heart beat. Here's some pictures of our adventures on Navigator of the Seas. The ship has everything!
Owen about to go under. It should be noted the pools onboard are filled with salt water. I liked it, but my kids eyes burned if they didn't wear goggles. 
Oscar's outfit cracks me up.  I still can't believe cruises have massive rock climbing walls on board. 
Some good jams on the speakers next to the mini golf course. Ella couldn't help but dance in the middle of her game 
Even match!
Continuing reading to see my favorite pic of the summer and a video of Ella playing at the coolest place on board . . .


3 Ways to Escape the Crowds On A Fully Booked Cruise: Featuring Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas

I know everyone doesn't share my love for cruises. Perhaps boarding a giant boat with 5,000 guests and employees sounds unappealing. Especially to someone trying to get away from it all. Totally reasonable. But I like to thank NYC for teaching me how to find peace and quiet in densely populated areas. And what are cruise ships? Small cities on sea! Last week, I used those skills to fool the kids into thinking we had Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas all to ourselves. With little effort, I think I convinced them it was our own personal yacht. Here's how I did it . . .   

1. Night Swimming. I don't know what everyone else is doing at 11pm, but they aren't swimming. We had the pools and hot tubs practically all to ourselves. There was relaxing music playing on the speakers, the moon was bright, and the warm sea air felt perfect. There was even mesmerizing images of the night sky playing on the movie screen above the pool. We played until 1:30am. Best part? No breaks for sunscreen application. The kids and I kept this schedule up by taking long afternoon naps. 

2. Speciality Dining. While Royal Caribbean offers complimentary dining options, the speciality restaurants are more intimate, the service is unreal, and the food is unique from everything else on board. It's a small price to pay for what you get. For example, I took the kids to Giovanni's Table for lunch. For only $15 each we got a three course meal. One night I went to Izumi Japanese Cuisine and only paid $18 for a plate of sashimi. It was Texas size portions with NY restaurant quality standards. While Navigator of the Seas has four speciality dining options, ships like Quantum of the Seas have even more choices, including one with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. This is definitely the place to be if you want a break from the buffet crowd.
3. The Quiet(er) Deck. The only thing keeping me on the crowded afternoon pool deck was an amazing reggae pop band. I don't even like reggae music! I was shocked how good they were. As soon as they broke down their instruments, I needed a break from the crazy pool deck. I wanted something quiet, outdoors, and with an oceanview. We strolled around the ship until we found the perfect spot on Deck 4 next to the shuffle boards. There's less foot traffic, no speakers playing music, and views of the ocean. I pulled a chair to the edge, put on my head phones and read travel magazines. My kids played shuffle board. It was the slower pace we were craving. I wish the Navigator of the Seas had an actual quiet/relaxation outdoor area on the ship. I would be all over it.  

But that's is just me. Many people go on cruises for the social aspect of it all. They meet family and friends at the pools, the bars, and their dining table. That's fine for a while, but it's good to know there's ways to escape. You can get it all with a little planning and effort. 

We're wrapping up our summer of cruises. The first Royal Caribbean cruise was sponsored by my parents for their retirement party. Congratulations Fran and Dad! The second one was sponsored by Royal Caribbean themselves. They must have found out about my love for cruises. This is the first of two posts I'll be writing in exchange for my stay on Navigator of the Seas. Tomorrow I'll be writing about our favorite (and not so favorite) parts of the trip. 
A serene yet dramatic session of golf during the magic hour.
Night Swimming deserves a (semi) quiet night
Deck 4: Our so-called quiet deck.


This Bathing Suit Changes Everything: Best Swimsuit EVER

i swear i look just like her under my cover up.
Earlier this year, I wanted to lose weight before my family reunion cruise. I started at 145 pounds and my goal was to be 125. Super skinny! Tina Fey recommends everyone experiences skinny at least once in their life. This was going to be the summer I crushed bathing suit season. I joined Weight Watchers and eventually lost 10 pounds. Then I quit Weight Watchers and ate everything in sight. That was fun.

I kept putting off bathing suit shopping because I thought I still had time to lose the weight. A week before the cruise started, I weighed myself: 145 pounds. The exact weight I started at. The same weight I've been since I got married. Since I was in college. Since I graduated from High School. I've always always always landed back at 145. A size 8. Not skinny but not curvy. Just a little lumpy in some areas and droopy in others and fabulous in others. And with that attitude, I went bathing suit shopping. Alone and online. I found this swimsuit at Anthro and took my chances. Even had to buy expedient shipping because I procrastinated so long.

I tried it on and I'm convinced it's the best swim suit in the universe. I have never felt more confident and comfortable walking around the beach until I got it. I've wore it ten days straight and plan on wearing it until it disintegrates. I'm hoping the purple one goes on sale soon so I can buy it too. The ruching does wonders for my squishy belly and the deep neck line? Frumpy mom no more. I'm sure there are knock-off versions at TJ-Maxx, but unless I have to, I hate shopping in actual stores. I'm lazy. Here's the details: I'm 5'5", weigh 145 and ordered it in size 8. It fits perfect.

Turns out I crushed bathing suit season without being stick thin. I never thought it was possible. All I needed was the right suit. The only proof is this excellent footage Ella took while testing out my waterproof case. Nothing but quality entertainment over here.

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Travel Reads: AFar Magazine

This image by Peter Bohler is amazing in AFAR's August/September print edition.
My computer screen isn't doing it justice. 
I picked up the latest issue of AFAR magazine at the airport last week and fell in love. Their hand written titles by Penman Ships are gorgeous. This article about a cynical man's trek to the miracle waters of Lourdes, France made me cry. This article about a girl's search for her violin's maker in Germany made me gasp. The authors and photographers make me feel like I'm their travel companion across the world. When I got home, I went to the website expecting to get the same warmth and intrigue I got from the print edition, but it fell flat. The photos I stared at in the print edition, are tiny thumbnails on the website. I clicked on them to enlarge, but it didn't have the same affect on me. I did like a few things on the website. It's cool that they posted images that didn't make it into the print edition here and there's some really good travel tips in the highlighted section. But overall, AFAR is best enjoyed in print. I just subscribed. I can't wait to see where the next issue takes me. 
Photo by Christian Kerber.

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The Best of Cruising: Photos With Husbands

Putting Rob in his place.
It looks like I have horns growing out of my head. 
Nothing makes me happier than cruise photography. Where else in this world can you go for poses and back drops like this? I discovered it last year with my sisters (it's one of my favorite posts ever) and again last week on a family reunion cruise. We spent an entire evening hopping from one booth to the next. In the end, we had a huge stack of photos to choose from. It was hard to narrow it down, but here's our best shots. I won't be surprised if they use our photos for promo material. We take it to another level.
The big mystery: Where is Rob's hand in this picture? Somebody's getting felt up and it's not me. 
I've said this before and I'll say it again: Cruises are a country and culture all within itself, and the best way to experience it is to say yes to everything. Leave all inhibitions and snobbery off the ship. Take disco dance lessons on the lido deck, order four desserts at dinner, and, most of all, pose your heart out for the photographers. It's the closest thing us normal people will ever get to feeling like super models. Nothing beats that.
I couldn't have been more proud of Owen (in the shades) when I saw this picture.
He has cruise photography in his blood.
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2014: The Summer of Wide Open Spaces

This has been the summer of wide open spaces. Every week I drag the kids out to the widest spaces NY offers. So far my favorites have been the Great Lawn, Governor's Island, and Nickerson Beach Park. Sing it with me!
The song is too good to be called a guilty pleasure. It's an actual pleasure. It resonates with me today as much as it did in 2000. Probably even more now. Give me some wide open spaces and room to make some big mistakes. Starting with using Dixie Chicks songs to add deep meaning to my life. What ever happened to them? They wrote some powerful stuff. I relate to the chubby sister with all the talent. ha
I was playing frisbee (aka AEROBIE) with Oscar and tossed it around some dudes neck. Even if I tried for a million years I wouldn't have been able to do that on purpose. The guy was not amused. Which made it even more hilarious. 

I would live on Governor's Island if I could. It's the car-free island of my dreams.
I made them do this. 
And finally, Nickerson Beach Park. It was worth the $30 entrance fee. Great beach, playground, and skate park. There was even beach cabanas and camping spaces for rent. I enjoyed it's sweet small town vibe. The perfect place for 10-13 year old kids to spent their summer roaming around and causing trouble. I would love to look into it in the future.
 In case you need supplies for next year's Gay Pride Parade, they sell these towels at Big Lots.  
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Best Weekend Getaway out of NYC: Windsor, Vermont

We spent Fourth of July weekend Tipi camping, rafting down the Connecticut River, and wandering around the Path of Life Sculpture Garden in Vermont. In other words, we out did ourselves. It was such a great weekend. I didn't want to come back to the city. Urban life has been losing its allure for me lately. It felt so good to run free for a few days without constantly being monitored with rules and regulations. Any chance I get, I find myself escaping NYC. We've played the role of city people for almost 4 years now. Might be time for something new. Really new. Out of the country new. Rob keeps suggesting London. I'm leaning towards the English countryside. Seeing my kids run around this summer is convincing me it's time. They need room to stretch out. I think I do, too. 
The garden was stunning. It's broken up into 18 mini gardens that brought us through the path of life. It sounded too "New Age" for my taste at first, but I enjoyed it tremendously.  
Keep reading for more pictures taken by my shitty camera.
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