This was our 12th RCI cruise and our 4th on a Voyager (Eagle) Class ship, having sailed on all Navigator's sister ships: the Voyager, the Explorer and the Adventure of the Seas. The Navigator is the "spitting image" of the other three; in fact, berthed in the Port of Miami next to the Explorer, she could only be differentiated by her name. Even though, the Navigator is 1,000 tons bigger, thus making it the largest cruise ship afloat, the increase in size is only due to larger balconies, a difference not easily discerned. We eagerly anticipate each new cruise experience and this voyage on the Navigator was one to remember, not only for the wonders of a new ship, but also to visit once again with old friends and make new acquaintances. Captain Leif Otto Bang commands a bright, eager to please staff with Hotel Manager Raimund Gschieder orchestrating the superb service. Cruise Director Jeffrey Arpin sets the pace for a lively and enjoyable time aboard, and Chief Purser Jorge Lynch makes sure all sails smoothly (more about these integral men later).
The Navigator of the Seas is quickly located in port, just look for the BIGGEST. This time we saw the twin biggest! (Docked one after the other were the Navigator and the Explorer.) The aqua blue glass superstructure and the almost all glass exterior with the Crown & Anchor atop are the identifying characteristics. Be prepared to literally look down upon other ships in ports of call, since, this ship is tall: We did dwarf the Nordic Empress and enjoyed an aerial view of her in Cozumel. She is one of the older and the smallest of RCI's fleet, but quite charming with her gigantic Chess Board Game on deck and vestiges of former glory. Captain Bang speaks fondly of her.
It was an advantage to have sailed on the Navigator's sister ships and be familiar with her deck plan; comparisons and differences quickly become obvious. The Navigator's decor is elegant. There is nothing glitzy about her (no glaring neon or overly decorated areas). She is outfitted beautifully with fine woods, cleverly carved and in interesting combinations. We enjoyed her stunning grandiosity and stylish simplicity with attention to detail, a perfect combination of "beauty & practicality."
EMBARKATION As Diamond Members of RCI Crown & Anchor Society, we know well the hospitality RCI so warmly extends to repeat cruisers. Boarding was simple, since a special lounge is set up for members with seating, refreshments and a priority check-in. We arrived at the port 12:30pm and, with a minimum of security checks, were on board by 1:00pm. We went immediately to the dining room to check on our table assignment and saw a familiar face, Asst. Maitre D' Apolo Coelho who arranged for a table for two, then we were off to the buffet - - a very nice spread!
THE SHIP This 650 million dollar wonder took 18 months to build; she is 1,020 feet in length; tonnage of 139,000 tons; cruising speed of 22 knots; she can accommodate 3,835 guests (this voyage had 3,400) in her 1,557 rooms on board. Her crew numbers 1,256 and all of this on a ship with a draft of only 28 feet! These are staggering statistics, but all soon to be surpassed by the already under construction Queen Mary II by Cunard Line (150,000 tons), and the race to bigger and better cruise ships keeps on going. A hint to cruisers: Whenever on board a large ship, it is best to pick up a the deck plan early.
Deck 2 forward has the ground floor of the Metropolitan Theater, the Conference Center and Category I ocean view staterooms.
Deck 3 forward is the main level of the Metropolitan Theater, midship is the Centrum with Kirkland's "Aquatica," reminiscent of his other works on the Voyager and Adventure, a 5 deck high suspended bubble sculpture, best seen from below as the artist first conceived it. Moving toward aft is the first floor of the Dungeon Nightclub decorated with gargoyles, shields, halberds and stain glass windows. Midship is the Studio B Entertainment Complex, with the Ice Rink and Interactive TV Studio, a stage and three bar stations. In the aft is the first level of the three tier dining room, the "Nutcracker." Category H ocean view cabins complete this deck.
Decks 4 & 5 are Public Areas only.
Deck 4, the Promenade Deck, forward holds the balcony of the Metropolitan, a well-designed multilevel theater with elegant simplicity, except for the strikingly ornate curtain which depicts a dancing girl in various poses. Going midship is the Schooner Bar with its traditional odor of ropes, items of ship memorabilia and, by now, the familiar Ebbing collages of sails and sailor's knots framed with brass portholes. Next is the entrance to the second level of the Dungeon, flanked by two snarling life size guard dogs made by Ridgeway Sculpture of fiber glass resin, but very bronze looking. Inside is the Dungeon's Balcony, where the portraits of the "Executioner" and the "Executioner's Wife" (observe her hands!) can be admired. Midship is the Casino Royale with a New Orleans Jazz motif (nice and roomy not jammed with slots). Aft is the gorgeous Bolero Bar with its gigantic glass flowers by Zsiba-Smolover studio (USA), whose work we remembered from the Grandeur. Very nice to just sit or stroll around or up the glass and chrome staircase to Deck 5. Aft is the second dining room level, the "Coppelia."
Deck 5 forward is the outside prow, accessible from the side exits of the Mayan style Ixtapa Lounge or the Connoisseur Club (Cigar Bar with wood, leather, smoke, love seats and arm chairs and a Black Jack Dealer table). Midship is the Royal Promenade: An exclusive feature of these voyager class ships. This is a 5 deck high Euro style street, connecting the forward and aft centrums, boasts Bars, Boutiques, Sidewalk Cafe`, etc., etc....This atrium, longer than a football field, is comparable to a town center, where people stroll by, sit at sidewalk cafes, eating ice cream, or just watching the performances of jugglers, mimes or musicians. It definitely is the heartbeat of the ship. An eye catcher here is the blue restored Type 35 Bugatti (by the Norwegian Greve).
All the way aft is the third level of the dining room, the "Swan Lake." The three levels are linked by a huge, curvy, arched staircase with the focal point being a bronze statue of a ballerina "en pointe" ready to jete` off --- very nice. The colors of these rooms are beautiful from deep blues to celestial blues, from pale gold to warm burgundy and all complemented by an impressive central chandelier (cleaned with a "cherry picker") and the many hemispherical chandeliers surrounding the open center of the rooms. Antiqued mirrors on the walls reflecting the many crystals and lights created optical illusions as when the chandelier behind our table appeared to have blue crystals. Elegant rooms like these need little or no ornamentation. Indeed, we feel that the collage style portraits of dancers were an unnecessary addition to these rooms, they didn't enhance the beauty, rather they detracted it. Instead, by contrast, the authentic beaded costumes (of Clara and Captain Kracko from the "Nutcracker") displayed at the entrance foyers truly added to the ambiance.
Decks 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10 are mostly devoted to staterooms and suites, the majority of which have balconies. There are twenty-six wheelchair accessible staterooms, sixteen have ocean view (ten with balconies), nine inside and one with bay windows overlooking the Royal Promenade. Additional attractions on these decks are the following: Business Services (6), Library (7), Internet Hub (8) and finally the Concierge Club (9), an elegant room with an amazing collection of Amazonian Indian feathered headdresses (Kayapiz, Rio Xingu & Tapirape tribes are represented). The Concierge Roy Ellis can do anything you can do . . . . only better and faster!
Decks 11, 12, 13, 14 & 15 are again public areas.
Deck 11 forward has the Shipshape Fitness Center & Spa with machines galore and a wonderful hydromassage pool. Outside, in the Solarium, there are two huge whirlpools and a salt water lap pool - - - go early, 8:00-9:00am and the place is all yours. This Solarium is artfully decorated with beautiful horses, reminiscent of the Explorer, from the Barsanti Studios (Italy) and a lovely life size Venus of white Carrara marble stands at the steps to the pool. The enameled resin flags from the Palio of Siena were unnecessary and more of a distraction than enhancement; similarly, Parkinson's still life mosaics (fruit, wine and foods) would have been more at home in the Windjammer than out here. This whole area is made truly beautiful by amazing live plants including topiaries and miniature heather in bloom. The Barsanti mosaics depicting the Tuscan hills are excellent, especially in their perspective from an artistic point of view.
Midship on this deck is the main pool area with two swimming pools, four whirlpools and plenty of deck chairs for sun bathers. Toward aft there are the two specialty restaurants, Chops Grille (portside) and Portofino (starboard) where upscale dining with impeccable service is available for a nominal fee ($20). Close by is Jade (Asian fusion or Pacific Rim cuisine), a novelty for RCI. Finally, the Windjammer completes this area of many dining options with numerous buffet stations helping to reduce lines. We have heard that this is the preferred style of eating for most cruisers; however, we still like to sit down in the dining room and be served at the table.
Many cruisers commented on the interesting use of wood and clean lines throughout the ship. In fact, this is most evident in the Chops Grille, where we admired a quiet dark wood paneled room with a stunning magnolia tree in its center. We dined there as guests of the knowledgeable General Manager Raimund Gschnaider, who was helpful in sharing ship details with us. Cruise Director Jeffrey Arpin (witty, urbane and clever) rounded out our group. This alternative dining option is a definite must: veal chops, Boston Clam Chowder and Mississippi Mud Pie prove that passengers on cruises should never diet. The excellent dinner and the pleasant company made the evening for us. Thank you Raimund, thank you Jeffrey for the interesting conversation and a great evening!
Deck 12 is a haven for exercisers, since forward is the upper level of the fitness center, midship are the Sky Bar and the jogging track, and the whole rear of this deck is devoted to teenagers: Disco Fuel, the Living Room, Club Ocean, and an open air Back Deck (complete with with four huge prickly pear cacti). The demographics of RCI passengers with an average age in the forties ensures that this area is well utilized since many families are onboard with children of all ages. All having fun!
This is where Johnny Rockets is found, the 50's diner all decked out in red naugahyde and chrome. It's a great place for a lunch of excellent chili, hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, ice cream floats and shakes, and that good old fashioned Rock 'n Roll. Look for the Slovakian cousins (real cousins!) Roman Lucko and Adrian Holka. They served, sang, danced and charmed their way into our hearts: Juke box magic!
Deck 13 aft has the 200 feet above sea rock climbing wall, a sports court, an in-line skating track, a sun bathing area, and a nine hole mini golf course "The Navigator Dunes."
Deck 14 forward has the Viking Crown Lounge, high above the ship, it offers the best views of the ocean and the sports deck below. Here are located the card room, Crow's Nest, the Cosmopolitan Jazz Club and the 19th Hole Bar. In the Corridor leading to the Cosmopolitan is a gallery with Gottlieb's photo prints on glass of the great ones: Louis Armstrong, Ella Fizgerald, Charlie Parker, etc. In the area outside the 19th Hole Bar there are the funniest caricatures aboard --- overlooking the basketball court, are two larger than life size figures, a tourist couple in all their "unathletic" glory, the "Beloved Passengers" by Daddona (American). Picture this: flowered shorts, striped shirts, bulging paunches, very entertaining! Actually this is the best view of the Sports deck, standing alongside these two characters.
Deck 15 holds only the Skylight Chapel. The closest thing to heaven on board. It seats 60 and is often utilized for weddings.
FOOD & SERVICE The food on board the Navigator is similar to that on all RCI ships. This line has reached a high level of homogeneity or equality of fare among the ships. Cruisers can be sure that the offerings and quality, designed for American palate, are tempting. Meats are exceptional and served as ordered, say "medium rare" and that's what comes! Portions are regular, not too large or too small; however, we still could do with less, so many times we share to avoid wasting food.
General Manager Raimund Gschaider explained the new and more stringent innovations of the Outbreak Prevention Program (OPP) and about some of the additional sanitary precautions being taken to avoid transmitting any infection brought on board. For instance breadbaskets are no longer placed on tables; instead, the bread is served with tongs by a waiter. Dining room staff and other crew no longer shake hands with passengers; they politely apologize that stringent rules are for safety of all. Ice buckets are no longer placed automatically in staterooms; however, if you ask for one, it will come "hot" from the sterilizer with fresh ice. Ill passengers are isolated immediately to avoid any possibility of transmission. Common areas, door handles, elevator buttons, rest rooms etc. are constantly being sanitized. At dinner with Captain Bang, we joked about the necessity for "Elevator Etiquette," like standing aside to allow passengers off; moreover, in these days of Norfolk virus, we also need "Sanitary Etiquette," like covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing. Passengers need to wash their hands often as a protection for both themselves and others! Whatever new procedures RCI has implemented, they seem to be working.
We found the food to be presented neatly and appealingly - - - - salads were crisp, soups were hot, and entrees cooked perfectly. However, the best meal on board was at Captain Bang's table. Mary, seated on the Captain's left, had ample opportunity to ask questions and he proved to be both intelligent and jovial. The Captain had spent most of the 18 months it took to build the Navigator at the Kvaerner Masa Shipyards in Turko, Finland. He knows his ship intimately. The conversation with the Captain and the other guests at the table made this a very enjoyable dining experience. We were also pleased to have at the table Ms. Debbie Nylund, an RCI Environmental Officer, whom we had previously met on the Radiance. Vincent enjoyed once again chatting with her about environmental activities aboard ships and other interesting topics.
Mary asked the Captain: Since the Navigator, after all, is the largest cruise ship afloat, and carries over (what some captains still refer to as) 5,000 SOULS, how does he sleep at night under all that pressure? He answered simply, "I sleep like a baby. It is 'trust' which allows me to do so. I know my bridge mates personally and for many years. I have the utmost confidence that whether I am on the bridge or in bed every regulation and procedure is followed strictly." We slept well that night, too! We had a terrific meal of Sun Ripened Pineapple Delight, House salad of escarole and oakleaf lettuce, and vine ripened yellow tomatoes (with Florida orange dressing), Lobster Tail Royale (with garlic butter, paella rice and broccoli florets), which Vincent pronounced "Excellent!" Mary opted for the Rosemary Roasted Chicken (au jus, with pearl onions and polenta fingers) all exceptional. Desserts are great on RCI, and this meal was no exception: An Almond Meringue with Tutti Frutti or the souffle from the main menu. Delicious! Service at the Captain's table was top notch by Asst. Maitre D' Apolo.
Every evening we had prompt service at our table for two, #423, in the Coppelia Dining Room. Head Waiter Christopher Renford kept a close eye on everything and our Waiter Koray Baysal was affable and quick. His Asst. Waiter Antonio Gordon has a good teacher and is learning the ropes.
Service all over the ship was excellent. We used Room Service for breakfast every morning and it was friendly, accurate and quick.
CABIN We had booked stateroom #7600, but we received our third upgrade in thirty-three cruises to #1268, a Category B Suite, thanks to the friendly Chief Purser Jorge Lynch. It was lovely, and contributed to making this cruise unforgettable.
When entering on the left there is a full bath with double sink, tub/shower (granite, marble and tile abound) Look for a mosaic of the "Wind God." Next there is a desk/vanity, a queen size bed with nightstands in a drapery enclosed alcove and a large screen interactive TV.
When entering on the right there are four mirrored armoires, a full Bar Island with refrigerator, dining area, large coffee table, hide-a-bed sofa, lamp table and two upholstered barrel chairs. The far wall is windows to the oversized balcony and the sea. The draperies and linen in this room are quite nice: heavy woven brocades in blues and gold. There were three framed silk screens of cymbidium orchids and narcissus on the walls.
Our first steward seemed a bit distracted; we later found out he was ill. His replacement Marvin was terrific. The opportunity for a simplified method of tipping the service staff is great. We had the recommended amounts charged to our account and, on the final evening, envelopes and vouchers were delivered to our room. Yet, we always feel free to tip on a daily basis anyone who is helpful and we added cash to the prepared vouchers; after all, excellent service deserves a reward!
ENTERTAINMENT The heart and soul of a ship, as Captain Bang explains, are the people on board. The daily COMPASS is the best guide to activities, and the Navigator has more fun opportunities than any other ship. Cruise Director Jeffrey Arpin has a huge assignment and he executes it with aplomb. He is funny, friendly, and fast on his feet since he travels between so many venues - - - keeping all the balls up in the air. This ship is a "destination in itself." Sports, dancing, music and spectacular shows nightly. The Navigator, like her sister ships, boasts of her ice shows, and she should: "Ice Dancin," with Violetta & Peter Dack and the International Ice Cast lived up to the publicity: EXCELLENT! The regular shows with comedians Rodney Johnson and James Stephens III and the production shows by the RCI Orchestra, singers and dancers are quite good. Perhaps the most memorable single act was the "Duo Iouvilov," a combination of dancing and acrobatics. We didn't think those positions were possible! If passengers prefer to rest in their stateroom, many of these attractions are shown on their cabin's TV.
PORTS OF CALL As frequent Caribbean cruisers, we have seen all of these ports many times over, but every cruise is different and the dynamics are always changing. The weather can change plans, but when on vacation it's best to go with the flow.
Sunday: Sea Day. Monday: Labadee, Haiti Arrival: 8:00am Departure: 4:00pm Tuesday: Ochos Rios, Jamaica Canceled due to high seas Wednesday: Grand Cayman Arrival: 8:00am Departure: 4:00pm Thursday: Cozumel, Mexico Arrival: 10:00am Departure: 7:00pm (delayed for 30 late passengers) Friday: Sea Day
CONCLUSION The more we cruise, the more intrigued we are by the artwork on each ship. Suddenly, we are more interested in what differentiates one ship from another and what gives each ship her "personality." We admire unique pieces of art and frequently recognize recurring themes from ship to ship, especially on those within the same class, e.g. the Voyager class. On recent cruises, we made a point of visiting each ship from top to bottom (or vice versa), to see and enjoy her art collection; it is like Art Appreciation 101 or maybe 102. But it gives us pleasure and we are improving at recognizing common characteristics and styles of certain artists whose artwork is frequently present on various ships of the same cruise line. Sometime the names are not easily remembered, but once identified, we can recalled them as authors of other pieces on other ships. We were told that the art collection on the Navigator costs $ 8.5 million. Surely, she can be compared to a nice art museum.
We enjoy cruising, especially on new ships. The smell of new, the desire of seeing, feeling and comparing the new ambiance with that of other ships are the reasons for booking cruises early on the ships' inaugural season (or voyage). We are ready to book cruises on both the Serenade and on the Mariner for this coming fall; however, we have already booked three cruises on RCI ships, two in May on the Grandeur (back-to-back, transatlantic and Baltic Capitals), and a family reunion in October on the Explorer (Western Caribbean). It'll be nice to revisit both ships; it will be our third and fourth cruise on the Grandeur and our second on the Explorer. It looks like this will be for us another year of intensive cruising. Happy Cruising!