Live from….Navigator of the Seas: A First Look at “Virtual Balconies”

February 13, 2014 | By | 29 Comments

Image courtesy Royal Caribbean
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.

    Comments

    29 Responses to “Live from….Navigator of the Seas: A First Look at “Virtual Balconies””

    1. Mindy
      February 13th, 2014 @ 2:32 pm

      No thanks, I couldn’t give up having a real balcony no matter how much it saved.

    2. Joe Russo
      February 13th, 2014 @ 2:34 pm

      There is nothing “balcony” about this except for the fake railing. Why not call them “virtual oceanviews” or better yet just get an oceanview cabin which looks like it could be cheaper than just having this big TV in the room.

    3. TBone2K
      February 13th, 2014 @ 3:03 pm

      $35 for chops? I thought it was $30. Is the extra-charge porterhouse the same one that used to be one the regular chops menu?

    4. Lyn Cathey
      February 13th, 2014 @ 3:08 pm

      So what do you do for a virtual ocean breeze? Turn on the hair dryer?

    5. sean monts
      February 13th, 2014 @ 3:14 pm

      I thinks it’s a great idea. I love the balcony room, but hate the fact that when I leave the door open I get the humidity of the ocean and the fight of the AC trying to cool it down. So the “climate controlled view would be up my isle (pardon the pun). In my humble opinion this room will be such a hit, it will find it self on many RCI ships in the near future.

    6. Bryce
      February 13th, 2014 @ 3:19 pm

      The fee for Chops depends on the ship and packages offered at the time.

      I think this is a nifty amenity, but if it were the same price as OceanView, I’d go for OceanView. Any less, I’d definitely spring for it. It’s not designed to “FAKE” you into thinking it’s a real balcony, but neat regardless!

    7. Tress
      February 13th, 2014 @ 3:23 pm

      we took an inside cabin on our last cruise to save $$. We have always had a Balcony cabin, the inside cabin was not as bad as I thought it was going to be. So I would definitely try out the Virtual Balcony. Looks like a great way to save Money and have a cool experience.

    8. Paul
      February 13th, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

      Can’t wait to see for myself, set sail on Navigator of the Seas, Feb. 23, 2014.

    9. IanJ
      February 13th, 2014 @ 3:49 pm

      I think it’s a great idea, though I agree with the previous poster that it’s more like a virtual ocean view. How does the price compare, not sure I’d be willing to pay more than the lowest priced ocean view, especially when you can switch your tv (on most ships) to the outside camera view.

    10. Sandy
      February 13th, 2014 @ 4:02 pm

      Balcony staterooms are too expensive for our budget, and honestly, I don’t mind the inside cabins. I think I’d be up to give this a try. I like the idea of having the ocean sounds lulling me to sleep and being able to see the morning light from my inside cabin

    11. David Thomas
      February 13th, 2014 @ 4:23 pm

      Sorry but nothing comes anywhere near an actual balcony/terrace – which ever way you ‘look at it’ it is a large wall TV! if my budget did not stretch to a real balcony I would just go regular Inside. What next = ‘Virtual Cruises’ from home?

    12. Dean Paul
      February 13th, 2014 @ 4:33 pm

      I like the virtual idea, but when it is standard on all inside cabins then I think it would be affordable. I mean $300.00 less than a real balcony. Not a big savings. Nor would I pay additional for the porterhouse cut after I already paid $35.00 just for the privilege of eating in Chops.

    13. Marie Allen
      February 13th, 2014 @ 5:30 pm

      You are so lucky balcony cabins in and around Australia are not 300 more try $1,000 more and in Europe around the same we have had balconies on many ships and a ocean view and just last September an inside only problem with inside no natural light other then that very quite and cosy balconies not much good in Northern Europe too cold have fun cruising bye

    14. Sam Van Sant
      February 13th, 2014 @ 6:11 pm

      WOW, sooo much negativity! For so long I always wanted a balcony cabin, because I could go outside for a cigarette. I have stopped now, and hope I will not start again…but back to topic..I would give it a shot! I like the white noise idea, and the view from the monitor. I really think this is a great idea. The cruising industry is changing, style, pricing, etc. Roll with the waves and just enjoy and QUIT complaining I say!

    15. Chris Davis
      February 13th, 2014 @ 6:47 pm

      An extra 200 to 400 dollars over a standard inside? Sorry, I have to disagree with it being worth the premium. It’s clever, but the reality is that it’s just a TV mounted to the wall.

    16. Matt
      February 13th, 2014 @ 7:39 pm

      I’d rather have the real thing and not a fake. Having looked at the deck plan of this ship I particularly don’t like the fact that there are only 2 sets of elevators on the ship,forward and aft,making the ship rather too big and a lot of walking,the Quantum of the Seas that is. I’d rather have another bank of elevators on the ship but the name of the game is lets cram them in,more like a bunch of rats and like the NCL Breakaway which was built at the same shipyard..no thanks.

    17. Hazel Dibble
      February 13th, 2014 @ 8:59 pm

      Would never book an interior cabin after our second cruise – the cabin door lock jammed with mom inside the cabin. It took an hour for the carpenter to get there – if it was an emergency I would hate not to have another way to get out!

    18. mickeymousefan
      February 14th, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

      I have booked the new virtual balcony room for our Aug cruise. I did not book it expecting a “balcony”, but it was less than an ocean view room, so decided to try it. I would agree that it should be called a “virtual ocean view”. It was the same price as a promenade view room, but more than standard inside room. I did not realize that it has the sound piped in… don’t know how I feel about that…so gladit can be turned down/off.

    19. JoePhotographer
      February 14th, 2014 @ 7:05 pm

      It’s still an inside cabin. You can dress it up any ways you like, but it’s still an inside cabin. I like hanging my favorite beach towel, and my swimsuit out on the balcony to dry. I also like the fresh air and the extra space of a balcony. As with many things, I prefer real to alternatives.

    20. Regina
      February 16th, 2014 @ 8:19 am

      Cruising is a great vacation. I would think having the ocean views in an inside cabin would make for a better cruise. That being said, cruise lines should not charge an extra $300 per person. I can understand the up charge but that is way too much. It should be more like $200 bulks for the cabin if that much. I have never stayed in cabin. My family loves the balcony. It is worth the extra.One of my favorite things to do on a cruise is sit on my balcony and enjoy the warm air and hear the lull of the music from the pool deck. I look forward to our cruise on the Navigator in July.

    21. tom
      February 16th, 2014 @ 8:30 am

      The piped in sounds great. It would be a nice option in all state rooms.

    22. Kate
      February 17th, 2014 @ 2:39 pm

      Inside cabins are (almost?) a necessity of ship design. Unless a cruise line decided not to use that space for cabins there will always be some form of inside cabin.

      To that end, this seems like an innovative way to make the inside space more appealing, and for the cruiseline to continue making extra money on what is otherwise the cheapest cabin cateogory.

    23. Francois
      February 17th, 2014 @ 9:13 pm

      There is a lot a negativity here. Don’t worry, nobody is replacing your balcony staterooms by these ones.
      I found the idea fantastic when I read about those cabins on Quantum. But making this technology available on other ships is even greater.
      No doubts, I will continue to to book balcony cabins. Imagine docking in St Marteen in the morning, how butiful it is. You can now see it from an inside cabin. It not fake picture of the ocean piped in. It is the actual sight and sound of the environment on the side your cabin is located. You will hear the forklifts on the dock (Might not see them..) You will see and hear the coming thunderstorm.
      I presume this technology will also be applied on ships sailing to Alaska.Imagine the scenery. I love the idea behind it.

      No other cruise line is as proactive to innovate than Royal Caribbean.

    24. Dk
      February 21st, 2014 @ 6:49 am

      Sitting in my VB now on the navigator. In theory it should be enjoyable, it is smaller than I expected and the picture quality isn’t the best. Camera pics up nothing once sun goes down. Nothing even with moon light. It would be nice to select the view from the multiple cameras but only one view is pre selected. This week our room is missing the sensor so we are unable to adjust volume or turn on or off. Many of the updates are nice with new carpet and reupholstered furniture. Still a fan of the navigator but won’t be rebooking a virtual balcony.

    25. Vic
      February 22nd, 2014 @ 11:06 am

      OK, no sports, CNN or movies, but what about a tuner to select a camera, including the pool and the stages ? Sea can be boring too, and $ 300 is definitely so expensive.

    26. Steven
      March 18th, 2014 @ 3:11 am

      So many negative comments here. How is it I have taken 40 cruises with Royal Caribbean and I have not one single complaint. I just booked a virtual balcony room, we will disembark in 20 days. Very excited to experience this new fun addition to the Navigator. So many of you sound spoiled, ungrateful and are the kind of travelers who bring the experience down for yourself and everyone around you, because you are all wet. Stay home. Gripe at the neighbors children like the grumpy old farts you are.

    27. Steven
      March 18th, 2014 @ 3:18 am

      Dear Joe the Photographer, you are prohibited from hanging your towels and wet laundry on your balcony. This is a fire hazard, as it only takes one other careless traveler to toss a cigarette and it lands on your makeshift clothesline. Please regard the people traveling on the same ship as you with more concern than you have in the past. A fire on the ship could very well be your fault due to your careless behavior. Thank you.

    28. Alan
      May 5th, 2014 @ 8:33 pm

      I’m booked in virtual balcony for inaugural cruise on Quantum!!!!! I’m looking forward to the experience. This will be our 13th cruise. Only time we had balcony was on last cruise to Alaska in July. Nice, but not something I would do on a cruise that has lots of sea days with nothing to see but water. After our first cruise or two, we’ve pretty much stuck with inside rooms – cheaper, and we spend very little time in room, except for sleeping and changing. If we want outside, we to to promenade deck or rear decks on Oasis.

    29. David Collins
      August 1st, 2014 @ 1:04 pm

      Nothing about wheelchair passengers or accessibility for disabled cruisers. How disappointing!

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