When Royal Caribbean International’s Navigator of the Seas embarked on its maiden voyage in 2002, she made headlines as one of the largest and most opulent cruise ships in the world. The amenities list was indeed impressive: 15 decks, accommodations for more than 3,100 guests and 1,200 crew members, staterooms with extended glass balconies, and even an indoor skating rink.
Fast forward to 2014, and the Voyager-class vessel is again making waves thanks to a recent stem-to-stern refurbishment that’s lavished every inch of its 138,279 tons with a new level of luxury. My jaw began to drop the minute I boarded this mighty ship — and that was before people started surfing on deck.
Docking in Galveston, the Navigator maintains a year-round schedule of voyages to the Caribbean. And it just may be the only mode of transportation that can compete with the lure of a tropical island.
A customized experience
One of the best things about cruising is that you can tailor the experience to suit individual whims. Want to join a Miami-style alfresco dance party? No problem — DJ Immortal is dropping beats on the Pool Deck. (Remember to wear white!)
Interested in indulging in a fine-dining experience? Check out the tableside guacamole, craft cocktails and signature dishes at Sabor Modern Mexican on Deck 4.
Seeking solitude? Soak up the shimmering ocean view from a perch outside or inside the elegant new Diamond Lounge. Contemplating a midday activity? The rock-climbing wall on Deck 13 can’t be beat.
Which brings us back to the on-deck surfing. One of the most hyped additions to the Navigator of the Seas has been the FlowRider surf simulator. This 40-foot-long water ride sends 30,000 gallons of water rushing under the rider at 30 mph, creating a gnarly wave that’s perfect for stand-up surfing or body boarding. This is something you’ll definitely want to put on Facebook — and now you can with the new shipwide Wi-Fi.
Views — virtual and otherwise
For me, however, it was the alone time with my husband that I was most looking forward to, and the Navigator of the Seas didn’t disappoint. Our beautifully appointed stateroom was roomy and quiet, and the balcony beyond our floor-to-ceiling sliding-glass door was definitely big enough for two.
The scenery from the observation deck has a magnetic attraction, and even views from interior-facing staterooms have some spiffed-up surprises. Imagine: a “virtual balcony” in the form of a high-definition television display that stretches 80 inches from floor to ceiling and projects a live view from outside the ship. The Navigator of the Seas refurbishment outfitted 81 of its interior-facing staterooms with this feature, and the resolution is so crisp you’d swear you were steps away from the open air.
There’s even a view from the stairways, thanks to an $8.5 million art collection on display throughout the ship that elevates these often-ignored areas. (Another plus: The artworks can provide helpful visual clues that make it easier to find your room again, especially if you’re tired from dancing or exercising, or just ultra-relaxed following a decadent spa massage or an agave margarita at Sabor.)
Finally, it’s impossible not to marvel at the spectacular sculpture rising through the ship’s Centrum atrium. Created from thousands of hand-gilded spheres, Aquaria by American sculptor Larry Kirkland is meant to evoke the network of bubbles rising from a diver swimming underwater, but like every moment spent on this ship, the beauty of it is that you can envision it any way you wish.
SECRETS TO SMOOTH SAILING
1. Allow plenty of time to drive across Galveston to the port — traffic can be challenging. One local we met on the shuttle bus from the parking lot to the ship called his gridlocked island “Galvatraz.”
2. Be mindful of dress codes and suggestions. Many of the restaurants and dining rooms don’t allow shorts or tank tops, and even on the sunniest of days, it’s smart to bring a cover-up to the pool deck to ward off any chill from the wind.
3. At the close of your cruise, your departure time is a deadline, not a suggestion. Avoid the rush and clear out of your room well before the appointed hour; we packed up before heading to breakfast and found there was plenty of space in the main dining room foyer for our luggage.
More info: 866-562-7625; www.royalcaribbean.com