This is the fourth of five in Royal Caribbean's Voyager Class, among the biggest vessels in the world. With so much to see and do onboard, you may soon wish you had booked back-to-back cruises. Like her sisters, Voyager of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas and Mariner of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas sports some of the industry's most amazing features: a rock-climbing wall, ice-skating rink, mall-like indoor promenade, basketball court and in-line skating track.
Although Navigator of the Seas is definitely a member of the Voyager family, she has her own look and amenities (many of which were repeated on Mariner of the Seas, the last of the five sister ships). This ship has more exterior glass (in balcony cabins) than her predecessors, and such features as a wine bar for appreciation and entertainment, expanded youth facilities, a Plaza area with a variety of dining options (both no-fee and fee), the first Latin jazz bar at sea (mojitos, anyone?) and the first sea-going Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlor (Royal Caribbean has since spread these various concepts across its fleet).
An $8.5 million art collection graces the ship -- with a mind boggling 2,213 art pieces in the public spaces. The Royal Promenade, in essence a seabound mall, is the heart of the ship. It's four decks tall, longer than a football field and anchored at each end by atriums. Anchored by shops, bars and casual eateries, on special nights, the Royal Promenade comes alive with street entertainment such as jugglers, magicians and mimes and at 12:30 a.m. -- at least once on every voyage -- it sets the scene for a fun Mardi Gras parade with music from various parts of the world. Monumental sculptures adorn each atrium, including our favorite work of art onboard, Aquaria, by American sculptor Larry Kirkland.
This spectacular sculpture that spans the 11 levels of the Centrum atrium, has 6,000 shimmering, hand-gilded spheres inspired by the bubbles produced by scuba divers. An assortment of lounges range from intimate enclaves like the Champagne Bar to Vintages (a wine bar in association with Robert Mondavi and Beringer Blass Wine Estates with wine appreciation programs for both novices and aficionados), and the Two Poets Pub.
Other public spaces include an ocean-view, intimate wedding chapel for 60 guests on Deck 15, the Vegas-style Casino Royale (with a New Orleans theme here) featuring nearly 300 slots, eight blackjack tables, three Caribbean Stud Poker tables, three roulette wheels and a craps table. There's also a library, a cyber lounge with 19 computer stations: royalcaribbeanonline -charge is 50 cents per minute (and a flat surcharge of $4.95 per transmission to send a video postcard). Like on all Royal Caribbean ships, there is no self-service launderette, so pack accordingly.
The three-story main dining room -- with each of its three levels named after famous ballets: Swan Lake, Coppelia and The Nutcracker -- is exquisite, with a warm and welcoming color scheme in burgundy and gold, a grand staircase and a bronze sculpture of a dancer. There aren't too many tables for two in the dining room, but those who wish to dine a deux have a variety of options in the alternative dining venues.
For dinner, passengers can choose between assigned early (6 p.m.) or late (8:30 p.m.) dining, or opt for RCI's My Time Dining, in which you pick a preferred mealtime (anytime between 6 and 9:30 p.m.), but can change your reservations on a daily basis or simply walk in when you're hungry. (Note: Those opting for My Time Dining will need to pre-pay gratuities.) The restaurant is open seating for everyone at breakfast and lunch every day.
Cuisine is generally well-prepared, if not innovative. (Royal Caribbean doesn't pretend to be a gourmet-dining cruise line.) Each menu includes healthy fare options, vegetarian dishes (at least one, like vegetarian chili, but sometimes there's an Indian vegetarian dish in addition) and a standard in-case-nothing-else-appeals selection of entrees (rigatoni with marinara sauce, Atlantic cod, chicken breast and black angus top sirloin).
Breakfast and lunch are open-seating, though you shouldn't take that to mean that you can always snare a quiet little table for two. The ship's best-kept secret may be that lunch in the dining room is one of the better meals onboard. The salad bar is staffed by chefs, who create salads according to your instructions; the ingredients (fresh vegetables, meats and cheeses) are fresher and more varied than in the Windjammer, and the heaping plate of veggies can easily stand alone as a full meal, especially for vegetarians. Plus, the Brasserie30 option, which allows you to choose two menu items and finish your meal within 30 minutes, is a terrific choice for those who want to get back to the pool or other onboard activities.
Two restaurants with fees are Chops Grille ($30 per person) on Deck 11 in the Plaza area, serving traditional steakhouse fare including steaks and chops, salmon, family-style mashed potatoes, and sinful desserts. Portofino ($20 per person), also in the Plaza area, is the other specialty restaurant. It is a romantic, oceanview venue, serving Northern Italian cuisine -- from an antipasto appetizer pasta first course, meat second course and dessert (we never tire of the tiramisu).
Johnny Rockets, a Voyager-class staple at this point, is on Deck 12, and features juicy burgers, fries, filling chili and thick shakes (my mouth is watering just remembering a late afternoon snack there). There's a $4.95 per person charge to eat at Johnny Rockets -- whether you eat in the restaurant or order for take-out. Beverages (such as the fabulous milkshakes) are available for an extra charge -- and you can even get a draught beer.
The Windjammer Cafe on Deck 11 in the Plaza area, serves buffet-style breakfast, lunch, afternoon snacks and dinner. Several stations including salad/sandwich/soup, meat carvery, entrees, burgers, breads, thirst quenchers and frozen yogurts make it easy to get your choices for a meal expeditiously. As part of RCI's Golden Anchor Standard of service, waiters come around the Windjammer offering coffee, iced tea and lemonade to diners -- a nice touch, so you don't have to be getting up or juggling drinks with your food.
Jade is the ship's no-fee, Asian-influenced buffet area. It's located adjacent to the Windjammer and features selections representing Chinese, Indian and Japanese cuisines (sometimes an eclectic mix of all three). Such dishes as shredded vegetables in lemon sauce, Japanese sushi and Chinese wontons made for a quick, exotic and delicious lunch. As well, passengers can enjoy a pre-dinner sake, tea or traditional cocktail at the Plaza Bar, with its backdrop of cascading water, at the entrance to the Plaza area.
The Cafe Promenade is a good spot for a quick breakfast, lunch or snack. This no-fee sidewalk cafe is great for people-watching (it's located on the Royal Promenade) -- and serves fruits, rolls, sandwiches, pizza, cookies and other goodies as well as espressos made with Seattle's Best Coffee (which is priced a la carte). Steps away, also on the Royal Promenade, is Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop, with 16 of the company's famous flavors. The cost of a small cup of ice cream is $2.50; medium cup, $3.25; large cup, $4. Add $1 for a waffle cone. If you are watching your expenses, next door to Ben & Jerry's is Sprinkles, a free frozen yogurt station.
Royal Caribbean's room service options are available around the clock via 24-hour menus that offer a range of snacks and sandwiches. At breakfast, continental dishes, along with a handful of egg entrees, are available both in cabins and suites. Items off the main dining room menu can be ordered at dinner. There is no charge for room service between 5 a.m. and midnight (though a buck or two gratuity is recommended); late-night orders incur a $3.95 fee.
There are options galore: Broadway-style productions, like Now & Forever featuring the 14 Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers performing music from such shows as Dreamgirls, The Producers, Mamma Mia and Fosse, as well as variety shows are presented in the 1,350-seat, Art Deco-style Metropolis Theater. This show lounge is elegant with such Art Deco touches as stylized, elongated female figures on the curtain, typical wall sconces and skyscrapers in a sunburst pattern on the ceiling.
One of the most unique features at sea -- and found on all the Voyager class ships -- is the ice rink in Studio B; typically there's at least one performance if not more on every cruise. It received a standing ovation during our sailing.
There is piano music in the signature, nautical themed Schooner Bar, and Latin jazz with a side of "mojitos" and other popular Latin drinks beckon in Boleros. The Ixtapa Lounge has karaoke and themed night parties. Smokers will enjoy the Connoisseur Club, a cigar lounge housed within the Ixtapa Lounge. You can sample a pint or two at Two Poets Pub within sight of portraits of such luminaries as Dickens and Thackeray. Or sip bubbly at the Champagne Bar. There is smooth live jazz at the Cosmopolitan Club in the Viking Crown Lounge on Deck 14. Sports fans can head for 19th hole, the sports bar. Not tired yet? Well, a popular late nightspot is The Dungeon, the two-story disco with a decor evocative of Medieval Europe.
Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $12 per person, per day ($14.25 for suite guests). Gratuities can be prepaid or will be added on a daily basis to passengers' SeaPass accounts during the cruise. Passengers can modify or remove gratuities by visiting the guest services desk while onboard. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.
Navigator of the Seas continues the Voyager-class tradition by offering a large number of reasonably priced balcony staterooms (707 of 1,557 fall into this category). Otherwise, there are four other stateroom categories -- suites, outsides, insides and the unusual atrium-view (looking onto the Promenade).
Standard cabins are tastefully decorated in pleasing tones with fine, lightwoods -ours was done in restful greens and beige-with art on the walls. All staterooms come with convertible, queen-to-twin beds; televisions, offering interactive services like room service ordering (though we found it easier just to pick up the phone); pay-per-view flicks and numerous channels. (RCTV does an outstanding job, featuring everything from news and sports channels to a Promenade-cam, which shows the action inside the ship, and the "Retro TV" channel, which features classic sitcoms).
Cabins have mini-fridges that are minimally stocked with soft drinks and juices; the charge for mini-fridge items is the same as in the bars (e.g., $1.95 for soda or bottled water). We found there was plenty of room to stash our own sodas and such (or you ask the room steward to remove the contents). Other features include desk/vanity areas and seating areas with loveseats or full-length couches (some fold out). Cabins with balconies are each equipped with two basic chairs and a small table. The balconies have glass panels.
Bathrooms are basic and only suites have tubs. The showers, however, have those wonderful, half-round sliding doors, a fabulous improvement over icky, clingy shower curtains. Soap and shampoo are provided (suites get mini-bottles of Royal Caribbean's Vitality shampoo, conditioner and lotion). Hair dryers are located in the vanities, rather than in the bathrooms.
Navigator of the Seas offers accessible staterooms in a variety of categories. Features include wider doors, closet racks that can be pulled down to lower heights and accessible showers and toilets. These cabins are set aside for cruise travelers who can prove they need the accessible amenities; the cabins only enter the regular inventory close to the sail date, if they haven't sold out by then.
Suites come in a variety of configurations. The 1,325-square-ft. Royal Suite is the ship's prime suite, featuring an elaborately furnished living room -- wet bar, dining table, entertainment center and even a piano -- and a separate bedroom with king bed and its own balcony. The bathroom is spacious and ultra-luxe and includes a whirlpool tub, separate shower and bidet. The suite's 248-square-ft. balcony is furnished with wicker lounge chairs and a dining table.
The 618-square-ft. Owner's Suites are also quite luxurious, with queen beds and living and dining area. However, these suites are more open, with the sleeping areas separated from the rest of the living quarters by large, rotating, flat-screen TV's (rather than actual walls). The balconies are big enough for a lounge chair.
The 390-square-ft. Grand Suite offers a bedroom, sitting area, bar area and bathroom with tub, in addition to an 89-square-ft. balcony. The 299-square-ft. Junior Suite is basically an expanded version of a standard verandah stateroom, featuring a sitting area with chair and couch, a walk-in closet and a bathroom with a tub.
The 512-square-ft. Royal Family Suite, which can sleep up to eight people, has two bedrooms (a master bedroom and a smaller, inside bedroom with two regular beds and another two that pull down from the ceiling) and two bathrooms (one with a tub, one with a shower). The suite also offers a living area with a pullout couch and a 208-square-ft. balcony with a dining table. A smaller, 328-square-ft. Family Oceanview Stateroom looks a lot like a regular outside cabin but also has a small second bedroom with bunk beds.
All suiteholders are entitled to use the Concierge Lounge on Deck 9. This windowless room features continental breakfast and a cocktail hour. Upon request, the concierge on duty handles special requests for reservations -- alternative restaurants, spa, etc.
|Fitness and Recreation|
One of our favorite areas on board was the Solarium, a pleasant, adults-only enclave themed to Tuscany. It features a pool, fountain, two Jacuzzis, bar and lots of chaise lounges facing the sea, along with greenery, bronze horses, and murals inspired in the Tuscan countryside of Italy. The ship's main pool area features two adjacent pools, four whirlpools and stadium lounge seating. One interesting note: One of the pools and a whirlpool have hydraulic lifts for the disabled.
The fitness center on Deck 11 sports a mirrored, oceanview aerobics area with spinning bikes and free weights (some classes, like spinning and yoga, charge a $10 fee); oceanview gym with 20 Lifefitness treadmills, 14 Lifefitness elliptical cross trainers, six recumbent bicycles, four stationary bicycles, Lifefitness weight machines and steppers, and additional free weights; and a round thalassotherapy pool. A stereo system and television monitors provide entertainment while you work out. The facility features men's and women's locker rooms with a steam room and a sauna.
The ShipShape Spa, one deck above, is a serene oasis with an oceanview beauty salon, 14 massage rooms, one dry floatation room, and a relaxation area with sea views. The spa and beauty salon, operated by the ubiquitous Steiner Leisure, Ltd., offered an excellent range of treatments (massages, facials, Ionithermie Algae Detox). There's even a Rasul room, a private steam and shower room, which couples can book to spend an hour slathering each other in exfoliating lotion, mud masks and moisturizers, while steaming their pores open. Service in the spa was outstanding -- and the quality of the treatments themselves was very high.
A couple of caveats: The prices for treatments have risen to breathtaking levels, with a basic 50-minute massage now costing $120 or more. (The industry average is $99.) A manicure is $45; a pedicure is $65. The spa did offer "discounts" on port-of-call days (and as the cruise wound down), but that just brought the prices down to industry-normal levels. In addition, treatment employees will engage, way too aggressively, in the much-loathed "Steiner Product Pitch" at the end of your appointment. The products are also over-priced. Just say no.
Other fitness and recreational facilities include a jogging track (five times around equals one mile); an outdoor sports deck complete with mini-golf and golf simulator; a full-length sports court for basketball, paddle ball or volleyball; a curvy in-line skating track; and of course, the awesome Rock-Climbing wall -- 200 feet above the sea. Are you game? If not, it's fun just to watch! The ship also offers a handful of ice-skating opportunities on sea days at Studio B.
Casual is the key word during the day. There are two formal nights when dark suits and cocktail dresses predominate. Other evenings, most guests don country club casual attire.
RCI's youth programs are second to none, but in Navigator of the Seas they have really outdone themselves, as the Adventure Ocean facilities on Deck 12 have been expanded on this vessel to a whopping 22,000 sq. ft. -that's 6,000 sq. ft. more than on any other Royal Caribbean ship.
Areas include a section for three to five year olds with seven computer stations, a new art studio area and an ocean liner-themed play area; a room for six to eight year olds, that has been quadrupled in size from previous Voyager-class ships, featuring seven computer stations, themed evenings, Adventure Science, including an exploding volcano, and Adventure Art by Crayola projects including making masks from a variety of regions of the world; and a section for nine to 11 year olds, with seven computer stations, five flat-screen televisions and such activities as Survivor Night, conducted by the year-round counselor staff of 14 (which is beefed up with two more for school holiday periods).
Teens have three special areas to hang out in and their program has been divided (sensibly) into two age groups: 12-14 and 15-17. Navigator has a Back Deck, an outdoor area for teen parties with music and buffets. Fuel is the teen disco, complete with dance floor, Internet Cafe with eight stations, four flat-screen televisions and bar for nonalcoholic drinks (a Coke Card for unlimited drinks is $20 for the whole cruise; an Ocean Potion Card is $24.95 for 12 non-alcoholic specialty drinks).
Beyond this, teens also have The Living Room, a place to hang out during the day with games, books, flat-screen television, futuristic furniture and Internet Cafe with seven stations. This last place is so cool the counselors have to politely chase many an adult away! A large video arcade is nearby and so is Johnny Rockets to satisfy the teen appetite with burgers, fries, shakes and other goodies.
Generally, activities at Adventure Ocean cease during lunch and dinner times, but there is the occasional organized meal outing (to Johnny Rocket's, for instance). On sea days, you can leave your kids (ages 3 to 11) at Adventure Ocean for a noon to 2 p.m. lunch-and-play for a cost of $7.95. Plus, new My Family Time Dining (rolling out, fleetwide, by July 2009) offers an option that lets kids finish dinner in the main dining room in 45 minutes, then get escorted by Adventure Ocean counselors back to the kids' club to play (letting Mom and Dad enjoy a more leisurely meal).
Late-night group babysitting in the kids' areas (for ages 3 to 11) is available from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. for $5 per hour, per child. Children must be at least three years old and fully toilet trained (no diapers or pull-ups). In-room babysitting for kids over the age of 1 costs $10 to $15 per hour and requires a 24-hour advance reservation.
While most passengers hail from the U.S., the ship does attract folks from other countries (and publishes the daily "Cruise Compass" in a variety of languages). Mariner of the Seas appeals to a wide variety of ages and a good mix of couples, singles and many families. (With so many kids onboard, the average age is typically younger than 40.) Regardless of age, passengers tend to be very active in spirit.
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