The first of the Voyager-class ship to get new decor, new staterooms and virtual balconies while sail from Galveston thru 2015
I had a chance to visit and review the newly refurbished Navigator of the Seas last weekend, now sailing out of Galveston year-round. I also had a chance to speak with Adam Goldstein and Richard Fain about recent developments at Royal Caribbean.
Navigator of the seas has been newly refurbished and has begun a schedule of cruising out of Galveston year-round through 2015.
All of the staterroms have received new carpet, drapes and bedding. The colors are light and airy, refreshing and comfortable. The new staterooms feature enhanced ocean views - even for the inside cabins. The suites are sumtious and calling tome to book a cruise right now.
Navigator is the first Royal Caribbean ship to have one of the most impressive new details; "virtual balconies," newly installed in 81 Interior staterooms. These are actually high definition television screens made to look exactly like windows facing the front or rear of the ship, depending on whether your stateroom is located closer to the front or the back of the ship. For example, the stateroom I saw had the virtual balcony on the wall oriented towards the bow and the view came from a camera located on the bridge, where the ship is steered from a forward facing position. The audio also reflected the sounds from the same location.
I talked to Richard Fain, president of Royal Caribbean International, and asked about these new virtual balconies, which I had to admit to him that they were smaller than I expected. He explained to me that the newly installed iterations on Navigator had to be completed in 30 days, which did not leave enough time to build the complete conceptual design we can expect to see for the interior staterooms on Quantum of the Seas. Those rooms will be oriented so they are longer side to side rather than front to back (like on Navigator). Although the furniture arrangement is similar on both ships the rooms are much larger, and wider, on Quantum, especially in front of the virtual balcony. With the larger screens built into the wall (like a real window) and with curtains on both sides of the screen extending clear to the corners the virtual effect is much more convincing.
Fain also told me that Royal Caribbean actually thought of virtual balconies long before they appeared on Disney ships, but that Royal Caribbean decided the effect wouldn't live up to the expectations. They were surprised when the idea became very popular on the Disney ships, and they realized they should have done it sooner.
Actually, the Disney implementation is much smaller, with round virtual portholes that also present animated Disney characters that come onto the screen to "surprise" people looking out the window. Fain said he did not like this idea because it turns the window into a television set, and I agree. Instead of looking at the scenery a person starts watching for the characters, and that is not the point. However, to get the full virtual balcony effect I suggest that you wait to see them on Quantum of the Seas where the implementation will be fully developed.
The virtial balcony in a Navigator interior stateroom
Other New Stateroom Options
Another new stateroom is the “Family Panorama Suite,” on the front of the ship with beautiful floor to ceiling picture windows that run side to side nearly the entire width of the suite. The suite itself has a king-sized bed for Mom & Dad, and single bed (pull out from a sofa) and a small room containing bunk beds. It also has a bath and a half.
New Dining Options
The most exciting new dining option is a brand-new restaurant for Royal Caribbean known as Sabor, serving the authentic cuisine found in the finer restaurants of central Mexico. Items include Oaxacan ceviche with red snapper, spicy chicken flautas and empanadas with chicken and roasted corn.
The most attractive aspect of this new restaurant is the family serving style where appetizers and desserts are presented in large varieties of multiple portions so everyone in the group has a chance to try everything. For example, we received a large tray with eight different appetizers including quesadillas, empanadas and bowls of guacamole made tableside served mild, medium or fiery. Some of the finer entrées include Beef Molé, red snapper and soft chicken or fish tacos. The service charge is $25 per person. The desserts were also presented like the appetizers with several different dishes and enough for everyone to try everything.
Navigator of the Seas is also the first ship to get the upgraded version of Chops Grille, the steakhouse found on every Royal Caribbean ship. The new menu includes selections of dry-aged New York strip steak; veal chop served Parmesan style, slow braised short ribs of beef with Bordelaise sauce and a dry aged steak burger topped with melted Gruyere and pancetta cheese served on a brioche bun. The service charge for Chops Grille is $35 per guest.
Other new restaurants aboard Navigator of the Seas include the Japanese restaurant Izumi with an à la carte menu, and the classic Italian restaurant, Giovanni’s Table. Both are priced at $15 for lunch or $20 for dinner per guest.
An authentic Italian Scooter inside of Giovanni's Table
New Decor and Staterooms
Some of the new staterooms aboard include panoramic ocean view with floor to ceiling glass windows. There are 81 virtual balcony staterooms and same told me that they vary in appearance, with some having wider virtual balconies than others. Apparently, Navigator was used as a testing ground to see what kind of virtual balcony possibilities could be accomplished.
New Outdoor Movie Screen on the pool deck
Comments on Sending Quantum to China
I had a chance to speak with COO Adam Goldstein who discussed the potential for cruise ships in China. We all know the recent decision to send the brand-new Quantum of the Seas to Shanghai after just four months in service in the American market came as a shock to the American market. I noted that the timing of the decision was very close to the day when Goldstein was named as president and COO of the parent company Royal Caribbean International. He replied, "I think that was just a coincidence," with a smile on his face.
There are many cruise lines who have just recently decided to send ships to Asia recently. It almost seems like a rash decision. For example, Costa now plans to have three ships sailing from Shanghai in 2015 along with the Sapphire Princess. Royal Caribbean also plans to have three ships sailing from Shanghai in 2015.
So I asked Adam Goldstein, "Who is this new Chinese market?" Goldstein explained that the Chinese have a tradition of traveling in what they call the "six+one" family group comprised of the grandparents, their children, then the next generation’s married children who typically have one child. They tend to buy groups of cabins and sail together. "At first we called it the Group of Seven," Goldstein said, "then we discovered that the ‘six + one group’ is actually a well-known group of family travelers in the Chinese culture."
I asked him to describe their culture.
"These people are generally very well-to-do, whether they are entrepreneurial or government officials," he continued. They have plenty of disposable income and are largely centered in the Shanghai area of southern China. Beijing, in northern China is the government capital but Shanghai is the commercial and cultural center of China, and it also happens to be on the coast.
Most of the cruises out of Shanghai will be short, three or five days, with some 8-day cruises. When I asked Goldstein about the cuisine and the new "dynamic dining" concept coming to Quantum he said, "Today's Chinese are very sophisticated about world cuisine and the city has restaurants of every kind." This was actually quite different from my experience when I was in Shanghai, but as Goldstein pointed out that was 20 years ago. He said, "They actually like a variety of food as long as they know they still have access to their own comfort foods. Also, with so many dining choices on shorter cruises we hope they will not have a chance to try everything which means they will have to cruise again."