Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas was spruced up during its recent month-long drydock, getting new carpeting, soft furnishings, menus, restaurants, additional cabins and a lot more. But the biggest buzz around the ship’s refurbishment: the first-in-the-industry “Virtual Balcony” cabins.
What’s important about the innovative inside cabin, which features floor-to-ceiling HD display screens that give passengers real-time views of the sights and sounds outside, is that it’s a sneak preview of things to come. The company’s much-heralded new build, Quantum of the Seas, due to launch in November 2014, will have the amenity in 373 of the ship’s interior rooms (on Navigator, it’s in 81 of the 643 standard interior cabins).
I toured a couple of the cabins this week as the Galveston, Texas-based ship sails in the Western Caribbean. The virtual balcony rooms are priced on average about $300 per person less than a real standard balcony cabin, Royal Caribbean says. Looking ahead at upcoming sailings I searched, the per-person cost for these cabins works out to $1,000, compared with $600 to $800 for a regular interior cabin.
The effect adds a lot to the cabin, even if you can’t simply slide open a door, walk outside and feel the breezes and sun on your face. Your view depends on which wall the 80-inch HD screen is affixed. If your screen faces the front of the ship, you will get the view from the high-quality digital camera mounted on the bridge. Facing back, you get the view of the ship’s wake from the camera mounted on the rear of the ship. Curtains can be drawn to conceal the HD screen.
The “balcony” includes a virtual railing, too, and natural sounds associated with the views are piped in (you can control the volume). The experience has been engineered to be as authentic as possible, says Ronnie Farzad, Royal Caribbean’s director of entertainment technology. That’s why there are no plans to have the screen play anything but the camera views; sorry, no movies or sports sent from your TV to your wall. “That would just start to degrade the whole experience,” Farzad said.
So is the premium price worth it? We say yes. The virtual balcony is more than just a novelty; it truly enhances the interior cabin experience by giving cruisers a taste of the outdoors without the true balcony price tag.
For example, a school of dolphins swam past on screen when I was touring the cabins. An occasional (though I’m told rare) bridge windshield wiper passes through the view for the forward-facing cam. After sitting in the room for about 30 minutes, I found that the soft sounds of the waves grew ever more part of the cabin’s environment. When the sound system was shut off, it was jarring; the cabin grew too quite and felt smaller.
I like the idea that you can sleep in a climate-controlled room, but still have ambient sounds thrumming in from the ocean as you cruise throughout the night. That type of white noise can help drown out loud neighbors, early-rising crew or other intruding sounds that can make a difficult slumber.
Or how about those first few days of your cruise when you step out of your cabin and still have to think twice (three times?) about which way is fore and which is aft? That screen gives you constant awareness of your orientation in the ship. We think Quantum passengers will be pleased with their addition.
Also new to Navigator of the Seas:
A FlowRider was added on the sports deck on 13, making Navigator the sixth Royal Caribbean vessel to install the surfing simulator. This is a great upgrade to the sports deck activities. Different sessions are set up for each style of riding. The boogie board setup allows two riders at a time in the chute, while surfers go one at a time during their sessions. The lines were long, and plenty of family and friends gathered in the stadium seating around the simulator to take pictures of the riders.
Giovanni’s Table ($20 fee) replaced Portofino as the Italian specialty restaurant, and the Chops Grille on Navigator is the first in the fleet to offer a revamped menu. Chops ($35 fee) features a range of new items, such as veal chop parmesan and two premium steak selections: 16-ounce dry-aged New York strip steak and 20-ounce dry-aged porterhouse steak. If you really feel like treating yourself, fork over the extra cash for either of these cuts (priced at an extra fee of $18 and $19, respectively), which are incredibly tender, perfectly marbled and flat-out delicious.
Izumi Japanese Cuisine is a new eatery and offers sushi and fusion dishes priced a la carte. Sabor ($25 fee) is the ship’s new Mexican restaurant next to the Schooner Bar on deck 4. The three-level main dining room has been renamed Sapphire.