Over­hauls part of ef­fort to at­tract new cruis­ers

Nav­i­ga­tor of the Seas gets en­hance­ments

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Travel & Life - By Richard Tri­bou

Keep­ing up with the cruise line Jone­ses takes more than just slap­ping on new paint and chang­ing out the car­pets. Cruise lines now roll out sig­nif­i­cant over­hauls to older ves­sels such as the re­cent en­hance­ments to Royal Caribbean Nav­i­ga­tor of the Seas.

The ship that de­buted in 2002 ar­rived last week to PortMi­ami after a $115 mil­lion over­haul that’s part of an on­go­ing ef­fort by the cruise line to take the things that prove pop­u­lar on new ships like last year’s new Sym­phony of the Seas and find a home for them across the fleet.

“With all th­ese beau­ti­ful new ships com­ing out ev­ery year, cruise lines know pas­sen­gers are lov­ing the new

fea­tures avail­able,” said Colleen McDaniel, Se­nior Ex­ec­u­tive Ed­i­tor for CruiseCritic.com. “Those fea­tures tra­di­tion­ally haven’t been avail­able on older ships, but that’s chang­ing.”

With Nav­i­ga­tor of the Seas, though, it’s not just about cloning the best of its sis­ter ships. It’s about of­fer­ing some­thing new.

The unique fea­tures on Nav­i­ga­tor of the Seas are in your face, most no­tably the long­est wa­ter slide at sea.

Tech­ni­cally a wa­ter coaster, in which two rid­ers take an in­flat­able raft twist­ing and turn­ing for 800 feet, The Blaster is one of two slides added to the ship. The other is also unique to the cruise in­dus­try. Rip­tide is a head­first mat slide.

“There is lit­tle doubt the cruise in­dus­try has em­braced an at­ten­tion-grab­bing market­ing strat­egy, pri­mar­ily of first cruis­ers, and a new batch of wa­ter slides that are longer, faster and less con­ven­tional-look­ing promises to do just that for Royal Caribbean,” said Matt Hochberg, who runs the web­site roy­al­caribbean­blog.com.

Both slides are part of The Per­fect Storm, what Royal Caribbean is call­ing its ships’ wa­ter parks. Wa­ter slides are some­thing the cruise line has only started to em­brace since 2016. The slides ac­com­pany the cruise line’s sig­na­ture FlowRider surf sim­u­la­tor and rock-climb­ing wall. In fact, those wait­ing in line for the two slides will have a pretty good view of FlowRider wipe­outs as the stair­well as­cends from the aft of the ship.

The top-deck slides act as the eye-catch­ing en­tice­ment sim­i­lar to how Royal Caribbean de­buted Sky Pad, a vir­tual re­al­ity tram­po­line and bungee-jump ex­pe­ri­ence on Mariner of the Seas last year, along­side a spate of up­grades pulled from other ships.

“Th­ese kinds of bells and whis­tles make the ships feel spe­cial, and those who’ve never cruised be­fore will be blown away by fea­tures they didn’t know they could get on cruise ships,” said McDaniel.

For Nav­i­ga­tor of the Seas, the line has also de­buted a new fea­ture in­doors, the first stand­alone blow dry bar at sea called To Dry For, a new venue in­stalled on the ship’s prom­e­nade next to things like the English pub and sports bar.

The sports bar is one of those bor­rowed items that’s mak­ing its way across the fleet. Play­mak­ers Sports Bar and Ar­cade de­buted on Sym­phony of the Seas and Mariner of the Seas last year.

This ver­sion has the most TV screens in the fleet — 50 — plus more open space and a VIP Owner’s Box sec­tion.

Mark Boul­ter, who heads up the roll­out of Play­mak­ers across the fleet said it has be­come a crowd-pleaser on each ship.

“You feel like you’re at a sports bar at home,” Boul­ter said, and pointed out that on a re­cent sail­ing with hun­dreds gath­ered to watch the Mi­ami Heat beat the Golden State War­riors on Dwyane Wade’s three-point win­ner, “The place was packed. It just erupted.”

Be­yond Play­mak­ers, Nav­i­ga­tor of the Seas is also only the sec­ond ship to get the tiki bar con­cept Bam­boo Room, seafood restau­rant Hooked and quick Tex-Mex food venue El Loco Fresh.

And yes, there is also a Star­bucks.

It’s the de­but ship for Johnny Rock­ets Ex­press, a quick-ser­vice ver­sion of the burger and shake joint that’s on other Royal ships. It’s also the de­but for a the Lime & the Co­conut, a two-story bar that fits into the brightly col­ored Caribbean-themed pool deck that in­cludes vivid ham­mocks and dozens of mini ca­banas the line is call­ing ca­sitas.

Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver’s restau­rant Jamie’s Ital­ian is also now on board, but with a much brighter venue that’s more like din­ing in the Mediter­ranean than the more rus­tic ver­sions found on ships like Oa­sis of the Seas. Nav­i­ga­tor’s ver­sion of Hooked also seems brighter than the de­but ver­sion found on Sym­phony of the Seas.

Also pulled from Sym­phony and Mariner are a duo of en­ter­tain­ment op­tions, es­cape room ex­pe­ri­ence The Ob­ser­va­to­rium as well as pop-up laser tag ex­pe­ri­ence Bat­tle for Planet Z, that takes place the same spot they put on ice skat­ing shows.

In ad­di­tion, the ship made cabin up­grades in­clud­ing the ad­di­tion of vir­tual bal­conies for in­side state­rooms.

Both Mariner of the Seas and Nav­i­ga­tor of the Seas of­fer shorter cruise itin­er­ar­ies, which are pop­u­lar for first-time cruis­ers that don’t want to spend more for more tra­di­tional week­long voy­ages.

Other cruise lines have also tar­geted older ships that serve the short-cruise mar­ket for ma­jor over­hauls. That in­cludes Car­ni­val Tri­umph, which will trans­form into Car­ni­val Sun­rise after a $200 mil­lion over­haul this year while sis­ter ship Car­ni­val Vic­tory will be turned into Car­ni­val Ra­di­ance in 2020.

“Of course, new cruis­ers aren’t the only ones to ben­e­fit,” McDaniel said. “Vet­eran cruis­ers look­ing for a quick get­away will feel like they’re get­ting treated to a new ship, with fea­tures they’ve grown to love across the fleet.”

SU­SAN STOCKER/SUN SEN­TINEL

The Blaster is Royal Caribbean’s first-ever aqua coaster and the long­est wa­ter­slide at sea. The Rip­tide is where guests will plunge down a head­first mat racer.

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