Small expedition ships have traditionally fallen into two categories -- hard-core adventure and outsized luxury. With World Navigator, Atlas Ocean Voyages is placing itself firmly in the middle of these extremes, offering value-priced expedition cruises to Antarctica, the Arctic and other destinations, on a ship with thoughtful inclusions and comfortable surroundings.
At 196 passengers, World Navigator is small enough to be able to offer multiple landings to passengers on its polar voyages in regulated areas. While the polar-class ship doesn't have some of the fancy toys like submarines and helicopters that you find on more luxurious vessels, World Navigator gives people plenty of ways to explore, with Zodiacs, kayaks, and even paddleboards. When the ship sails in warmer waters, there's a marina for swimming and water sports.
Lookswise, World Navigator has a glossy European vibe to it, which makes sense when you understand its Portuguese roots. (Atlas is owned by Mystic Invest Holdings, a Portuguese company, and there are definite nods to Portugal in the ship's venues). The walls around the ship are gleaming wood paneling, the floors are black and white marble and the staircases have chrome access. It's a lot of shine, to be honest, and it took a few days for the aesthetic to sink in.
Once it did, we found a lot to like onboard. A favorite was Paula's Pantry, a coffee bar on Deck 4 that also served as a light bite station at breakfast, lunch and into afternoon snack time. We also liked the setup of the Porto main restaurant, which featured mostly smaller tables placed within easy conversational distance of the people sitting next to you. It made the dinners more of an event, and we found that people lingered over meals to discuss their days.
About those passengers: In general, we found that World Navigator attracted people who are usually drawn to more independent styles of travel. We sailed the ship on its maiden Epicurean Expeditions season in the Mediterranean and noticed fewer people taking line-sponsored shore excursions than you'd expect on a small ship cruise, although these were certainly available (In Antarctica, most of the programming and excursions are built into the fare and experience).
The dinners were also drawn out because World Navigator deviates from a traditional cruise in its programming, or rather, lack thereof. You won't find shows, trivia or after-dinner entertainment onboard, save a piano player in the lounge. What you do have on the Antarctica voyages are lectures about topics such as penguins, whales, history and geography from the expedition staff. The Epicurean Expedition sailings in the Med bolster time onboard with cooking demos from guest chefs -- some of whom you've seen on TV -- and at least one complimentary port event that's themed to the area's food and wine.
A final reason for lingering: all drinks, including sodas, specialty coffees and alcohol, are part of your fare, even within the cabin mini bar. There's even 24-hour bar service if you'd like a bottle of liquor or wine delivered to your room, leading one passenger who had been on multiple Med legs to call Atlas a "bad line for alcoholics." You also get a small allotment of Starlink-powered WiFi, although we disliked the method of parsing out internet access by the gig; your free minutes go fast. Included tips make settling the bill at the end an easy experience.
All in all, we found World Navigator a good choice for value-minded travelers who want a solid option to explore the poles and experience something more intimate on a vessel that's able, in the off-season, to go to smaller, less-trafficked ports.
In many respects, World Navigator is a hybrid of a warm and cold weather ship, although what this means is that not all areas of the ship work in all destinations. Polar explorers will love The Water's Edge at the front of the ship on Deck 5, an outdoor area with a heated bench where you can sit amongst the wildlife and icy landscape. And in the Med, cruisers will like the sizable outdoor salt-water pool and hot tubs. (The problem is that both of these spots are essentially unusable in the other locales; the ship might have been better served with a magadrome so the pool can be used in cold weather).
The Dome Observation lounge on the top deck is an example of a space that works, no matter where the ship is sailing. With huge windows, an outdoor area and plenty of plush seating, it's the perfect place to have a drink and socialize -- and then jump up when there's something interesting outside.
An expansive sauna with huge windows on Deck 4 is another delight onboard World Navigator. You can use the sauna even if you don't book a treatment at SeaSpa by L'Occitane, the first spa at sea to solely use L'Occitane products (although we highly suggest you do). The deck plan even manages to squeeze in a relaxation room, unusual on a ship this size.
On expedition voyages, there's a mud room on Deck 3, with lockers where you can store your cold-weather gear (Atlas provides you with a parka that you can keep, as well as boots that you don't). You board your Zodiacs here. On warm weather trips, this is also where you board the tender to go into those smaller ports that dot the Atlas itineraries.
On Deck 4, the Dom Henrique Auditorium is another space that gets more usage when the ship is in Antarctica. While we saw a cooking demonstration here on our Epicurean Expedition, the space really wasn't set up well for everyone in the audience to see. Presentations went better in the Atlas Lounge, also on Deck 4, a spacious bar area that has lots of places to sit and generous bartenders.
You have a nice choice of rooms on World Navigator, and they begin at a decent size. Oceanview rooms, which have a large porthole window, start at 183 square feet. for an oceanview; balcony cabins are a lovely 270 square feet.
The rooms are modern, with the balcony cabins having small seating areas that are slightly separated by decorative metal dividers. The same shiny wood paneling that's in the hallway makes up the décor in the rooms. Since the ships are new, there are plenty of outlets, both American and European, with USB outlets on one side of the bed, as well as in a desk.
Beds are comfy, there's a coffee maker in the room (as well as binoculars), and the mini bar and water are replaced daily. An extra set of drawers would have been welcome, but my friend and I found enough space for our things. Things might get tight on an Antarctica cruise where you have bulky sweaters and layers.
The shower is the real standout on World Navigator. It's quite large, with a bench, a rainfall head and jets, with a gorgeous mosaic tile background. Add in L'Occitane products and you've got one of the better shower setups at sea, especially on a value-priced small ship. We'd install this shower at home if we could.
We'd tell people to avoid booking cabins on Deck 3, as other passengers pass by these rooms on their way on and off the ship. Otherwise, people in Antarctica should note that you'll feel more motion of the ocean on higher decks and in the cabins at the front and back of the ship.
If there's one area where World Navigator could improve, it would be the quality of the food. While this is subjective, of course, we found that many meals just didn't live up to the promise, and we saw several passengers each night sending items back. Despite promoting Epicurean Expeditions in the Med, this cruise line is not one where we'd send hard-core foodies.
That's not to say that the line doesn't try. Although there's one main dining room for dinner, the pool grill 7Aft turns into Josper, a quasi-steakhouse at night, with large cuts like Tomahawks and lobster available, complimentary. The pool burgers at the same grill are fantastic during lunchtime -- just leave room for the get-it-yourself gelato cart. And we found the casual Paula's Pantry coffee bar, with fresh pastries, sandwiches and homemade oatmeal power bars, to be the real star of the ship, both in service and tastiness.
World Navigator draws people who might not have cruised before who are drawn to the ship's value pricing in Antarctica. In the Med, we found that most people chose the line because they liked not only the pricing, but the itineraries that focused on smaller ports and longer stops.
On a small ship, it's fairly easy to meet other travelers; there are no specific meetups for solo or LBGTQ+ passengers. World Navigator does have solo cabins, and the solo travelers we spoke to felt they had a good range of social time and time to be alone, if they chose. The dining tables being close together spark conversation between groups.
World Navigator has an elevator but the ship only has one accessible cabin. People who book on the ship should be aware that Antarctica cruises use Zodiacs to go ashore and even in the Med, World Navigator relies on a tender to get into the smaller ports. These can be difficult, if not impossible, to access with a wheelchair, although on our cruise, we had several passengers with walkers and canes onboard.