NAVIGATOR OF THE SEAS
April 14-26, 2007
By Mary & Vincent Finelli
Pliny once wrote, "Home is where the heart is." and over the past month or so our hearts have been at home in many distant places. On board the Navigator of the Seas our home away from home was the extremely comfortable wheelchair accessible Cabin #7604. For twelve days, we were made to feel as comfortable as at home: we had breakfast in our room daily, and slept on the newly upgraded mattresses and bedding which rivaled what we call our mattress at home -- "the most comfortable in our known world." The Navigator is one of the five Voyager Class ships of Royal Caribbean International (RCI). These were once the largest cruise ships afloat. However, in 2005 Cunard's Queen Mary 2 held that title for a mere year, until in 2006 when the RCI Freedom of the Seas was launched and regained the title "Largest Cruise Ship in the World" for RCI.
The Navigator sat majestically in the port of Miami, Florida. This would be our third cruise on board her, and thus we were very happy to see Captain Leif Otto Bang as her Commander, since we have sailed with him several times. He has been with RCI for over thirty years, but his maritime career spans over 48 years. Very soon his extensive experience was evidenced, when he canceled our first Port of Call, Bermuda, due to high seas and a tempest in that area. He changed our route to a more southerly course, thus sailing us to calmer seas and the opportunity to visit the Azores instead. An Atlantic crossing is a wonderful experience, since it always includes 5 or 6 sea days conducive to enjoying ship board life.
We arrived at the Port of Miami at 12:30 pm on a Saturday. Our luggage was quickly taken, and we had a short wait inside before we were ushered to a fast track check-in lane. Once we received our boarding passes, we also received wheelchair assistance. We were on board by 1:15 pm which is quite good considering over 3,800 passengers were all embarking at once! There were the RCI famous huge, delicious cookies, coffee and lemonade on hand. These are always welcome to tired and hungry travelers. We immediately went to the Dining Room and encountered Asst. Maitre D' Ali Matjani (Kosovo) who created table #38 for two, near the entrance to the Nutcracker Dining Room on Deck 3. Very happily, we were off to the Welcome on Board Buffet in the Windjammer on Deck 11.
Boat Drill was at 3:30; it was short and informative. We returned to our cabin on Deck 7 and relaxed until dinner at 6 pm which is main seating. Our cabin was a short distance from the rear elevators which are near the entrance to the dining room. We usually select a cabin in close proximity to the areas that we frequent during the cruise: the Library, the Concierge Lounge, the Dining room, etc.
We have written two reviews on the Navigator, so rather than boring the readers, we will refer them to those reviews for a deck by deck description of the Navigator's decorations and art work (1/25/03 and
12/3/05; find them here
and here). The very cordial Hotel Director Georgio Katikkis (Cyprus) kindly gave us a "Fun Facts" page of little known interesting information about the ship. The ship registry is Nassau Bahamas with call letters C6FU4. It was built in the Kvaerner Masa Shipyards of Turku, Finland in 2002 ; it took only 18 months to complete, at a cost of $650 million dollars. It has a gross tonnage of 138,276; length is 1,020 ft.; beam is 157.5 ft. and her draft is a mere 28 ft. She has 15 decks and 1,557 rooms on board. Her crew numbers 1,256 from 65 different countries, and she carries approximately 3,835 passengers. Her six Diesel 12V46 generators produce 75,000 megawatts of power and her cruising speed is 22 knots (25.3 mph). The Navigator of the Seas' Godmother is Steffi Graf of tennis fame.
The Navigator has fresh water production through reverse osmosis and desalinization by steam of 14,000 metric tons per 24 hours or 259 liters per person! By far the most interesting figures regarding this ship involve the feeding of the more than 5,000 passengers and crew on board. Executive Chef Troy Swindle, whose long, impressive resume includes both the American Express "Hall of Fame" and the Conde Naste 2000 "Best Leisure" award, runs this department well. Each week he oversees the preparation of over 105,000 meals; 300,680 desserts; 234,000 appetizers and over 69,000 steaks. In order to accomplish this the Navigator consumes 37,000 pounds of beef, chicken and pork; 7,900 pounds of fish; 28,000 fresh eggs; 118,000 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables and 8,000 gallons of ice cream; not to mention 5,800 pounds of cheese and 18,000 slices of pizza.
There are three marvelous features of this class ship: the four deck high Royal Promenade, the Ice Skating Rink and the Rock Climbing Wall. First the Royal Promenade is an elegant street which runs through the center of the ship with windows of inside cabins overlooking the tiled and marble paved street below. There are Logo shops, The Two Poets Pub, a General Store, a Perfume shop, the Connoisseur Club (fine cigars etc.), Ben & Jerry's and even a Champagne Bar in this friendly area. This is where Capt. Bang has his Welcome Cocktail party and, throughout the cruise, there are always parades and musical entertainment here. The second unique feature is the Ice Skating Rink with Olympic quality ice shows by an international cast. Finally, the Rock Climbing Wall offers the height of exercise for those inclined. It towers 200 feet above the sea! Other features are a Sports Court for basketball and volleyball, a mini golf putting range, an in line skate track a
nd one of the nicest outdoor Promenades at sea, replete with many chaises for relaxing and reading, or just watching the sea.
Of course, the ship's major asset is its mammoth size, which affords all passengers areas for listening to live music, or sharing a quiet conversation. There is the open stack library, which has no specific hours unlike many other ships, rather this is open 24 hours per day. There are many areas such as pool side or the Solarium which are constantly busy, yet they are sufficiently large enough to accommodate those passengers who love aquatic activities and those who just want to relax.
During this crossing the sea was more active than usual, and the weather less favorable than any other crossing we have made --- but as Captain Bang states "She (the Navigator) weathers it well and is most tolerably stable." He is still in awe of the wonder of his ship. Great skipper!
SERVICE & FOOD
Service under Hotel Director Georgio Katikkis is tip top. Passengers are accommodated with a smile. All our questions or needs were simply and quickly met. RCI even has a telephone system which allows passengers to utilize "Cingular Wireless Maritime Service" as long as passengers have service with one of more than 220 worldwide carriers. We used it and called our family from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Calling to the USA was as simple as dialing 1+ area code and the number and the charges are much less than those of the traditional ship to shore calls. Calling to other countries meant dialing 011+ country code, city code and local number. Needless to say we tried immediately and got through to the USA. However, the next few days, we had no such luck. We were told that it was due to the satellite positioning.
Of course, most passengers connect Service with the Dining Room, and we must say that under Maitre D' Yonel Altun, we had terrific service. We were served admirably by our Waiter Mursel Metin and his assistant Christian Chavez. They were fast, friendly and helpful. Always available was Head Waiter Joao Oliveira, who ensured that we had anything we desired. He had pasta made just for us at lunch (Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncini). He made us feel special! Very often we were served by Asst. Maitre D' Ali Matjani, who was a font of dining information along with 2nd Maitre D' Gianni Nana. Our meals were delicious, pleasant and very enjoyable. After so long on board we were family.
As usual, the highlight of the crossing was dinner with Captain Bang and this meal was a most enjoyable one. Mary was seated by Mr. Rolfe and thoroughly enjoyed his conversation. This well traveled gentleman and his wife had dined with us and Captain Ringborn on the Radiance of the Seas and we had a lot to discuss. The table was strewn with sea glass jewels and appetizers included onion focaccia, shrimp ceviche, and prosciutto e melone. There was Cream of Cauliflower Soup and Beef Consommé Royal garnished with truffles. Entrees included Southern Buttermilk Fried Chicken with gravy and mashed potatoes and roasted corn (we felt like we were back home in Savannah, Georgia with our son and his family); Black Angus Sirloin Steak Oscar topped with crab meat Béarnaise sauce with asparagus spears; and finally the Chef's signature entree: Thai Style Shrimp with ginger, lemon grass and stir fried vegetables. Dessert was the Captain's favorite ice cream and fresh mountai
n berries served in an almond brittle tulip cup--a
delicious end to a delicious meal.
Royal Caribbean has a unique service provided to Crown & Anchor Members which includes the help of Concierge Carlos Marasigan. This young man got for us the ice show tickets, made restaurant reservations, ordered the Italian Stampa (newspaper) for Vincent, and was always helpful and courteous; in other words he was a real live "Figaro". Carlos was available in the Concierge Lounge from 8-11:30 am daily, where a continental breakfast was served and Vincent frequently had his favorites espresso and cappuccino. Diamond members and passengers in suites are served complimentary cocktails from 5 to 8 pm each evening. The hors d'oeuvres were excellent thanks to Exec. Chef Troy. Needless to say, food and service made our trip one to remember.
Wheelchair accessible Cabin #7604 on Deck 7 is centrally located near the rear elevators. When entering on the right is the huge bathroom, equipped with an oversized shower and safety bars all around. There is a large medicine cabinet. Next, there is a sofa and upholstered chair, and a large coffee table, on which we were served a full American breakfast each morning. Room service is terrific, excellent and punctual. Next, there is a TV, refrigerator, private safe and a long desk/vanity with many draws.
When entering on the left is a mirrored wall and shelf and three wardrobes: one has shelves and the other two have hangers and more shelves. Now, we come to the good part, RCI is in the process of upgrading all the beds to those similar to the Freedom's: Wonderfully firm mattresses, double mattress pads and new white duvets! Excellent!
The room's color scheme is royal blue, maroon gold and pale green. Linen's are new and crisp, the furniture is all light oak, and there are lovely pictures of orchids on the walls. The far wall has windows and a door to the balcony and our excellent Cabin Stewardess Marlene Rambaran had a chaise for Vincent placed on the extra large veranda. Unfortunately, the weather rarely cooperated on this voyage, so he had only a few occasions when he could enjoy the balcony. Rain and raw winds prevented extensive use. But at times the crescent moon was lovely, and in the dark sky, some planets and constellations could be easily spotted. This cabin made a wonderful "home away from home" for twelve days and nights, thanks to Marlene.
We were very happy to once again encounter the very witty and debonair Cruise Director Gordon Whatman. His wonderful voice was soon apparent and his way with a song and an audience is phenomenal. The RCI Orchestra and the RCI singers and dancers are stupendous. They put on several wonderful reviews including the following: "Now and Forever", a tribute to contemporary Broadway; "the Variety Showtime" with vocals by Gordon Whatman; "Ballroom Fever" in the Metropolis Theater which showcased various dances; and the spectacular new show "Once Upon a Time" with fairy tale delights. Excellent!
However, the Highlight of any Voyager Class cruise is the ice show. "Ice Dancing" featured the lovely Marina Karamysheva. We were ecstatic and the International Cast received a standing ovation. Movies on board were quite good and included "Lady in the Water", "Eight Below" and "Click." TV and news were woefully wanting, after two days at sea, the CNN and ESPN channels were not available anymore, but only the mediocre, highly biased Fox News was available. This channel did not go over well with the international crowd on board. Many times we had to dodge comments from fellow passengers on Fox's shortcomings.
PORTS OF CALL
Day 1. Miami, Fl, USA Departs 5:00pm
Day 2. At Sea
Day 3. At Sea (at noon Captain Bang announced a change in itinerary: Bermuda was dropped due to a
Day 4. At Sea
Day 5. At Sea
Day 6. At Sea
Day 7. At Sea
Day 8. Ponta Del Gada, Azores, Arrive 7:00 am Depart 4:30 pm (Beautiful scenery of green hills and mountains of volcanic origin can be seen here.)
Day 9. At Sea United Kingdom (Passport check was done on board)
Day 10. At Sea
Day 11. Port of Cobh, Cork, Ireland Arrive 7:00 am Depart 4:00 pm
(There is the wonderful Blarney Castle to visit and a Museum dedicated to Irish Immigrants and the ships "Titanic" and the "Lusitania.")
Day 12. Brest, France Arrive 7:00 am Depart 4:00 pm (There is a lovely Castle, the Maritime Museum and the Botanical Gardens of rare and endangered plants.)
Day 13. Southampton, England Arrive 6:00 am
This was very simple. We had white tags, which meant we were first priority, since we were flying from London Gatwick Airport. There was wheelchair assistance, from our cabin to baggage, through customs and outside with lavender tags for the two hour bus ride through the lovely English country side, which reminds Mary of her birth place, New England. At the airport, we had excellent assistance by a sky cap: he took us from the bus all the way to check in. The Brits do everything charmingly well and orderly. We were now on the second leg of our trip--Rome and three weeks in Italy. Arrivederci.
We planned our own flight to Italy, three weeks car rental at the Rome Fiumicino Airport from Thrifty Italy, and the return flight to Miami. This part of our trip included a Gastronomic Tour of Italy (Rome, Ladispoli, Naples, Benevento, Pannarano, Castelvetere Val Fortore, Foggia, Spoleto, Assisi, and Perugia). We enjoyed the drive to Assisi, especially since the entrance to Highway E45 was closed, so we took the very beautiful scenic mountain route through Lazio and Umbria. Needless to say, this was a much longer and slower route, but we enjoyed it: As the saying goes, "We stopped and smelled the roses!" We also enjoy the panoramas with their characteristic towns of medieval and renaissance architecture. In Assisi we visited St. Francis Basilica and were awed by its unique Italian Gothic architecture and the beautiful frescoes of famous Italian Masters, such as Giotto, Cimabue, Lorenzetti, etc. We did not see it all and since this town deserves a longer visit, we promise to return!<
This was truly a gourmet tour. We savored some of the best dishes of regional (Puglia, Campania, Lazio and Umbria) Italian cuisine. Just reminiscing about it makes our mouths water: The large variety of cheeses and cold cuts, so many types of home made pastas with delicious sauces made of locally produced ingredients, desserts out of this world, and characteristic wines of the regions. Some of the restaurants worthy of mention are "L'Angolo Preferito" in Foggia, "La Rosetta" in Perugia and our favorite "Grazia Deledda" in Ladispoli.
When choosing restaurants we always search travel guides or ask the local people for their favorite place, but when possible we take suggestions from our Italian relatives who are themselves gourmets or, as they say in Italy, "buongustai". In Foggia our nephew Matteo suggested "L'Angolo Preferito" (Preferred Corner), a restaurant serving only sea food. Here we ate a delicious sea food appetizer, Troccoli ai Frutti di Mare (home made pasta with mixed shell fish), grilled and fried sea food, all served with a smooth local white wine, and finished with dessert, fresh fruit and caffe` espresso. In Perugia we parked the car in Piazza Italia and there was the Hotel & Restaurant "La Rosetta," we saw a beautiful and inviting courtyard full of people dining al fresco. We lucked out, we entered and had one of the best reasonably priced lunches in Italy: Vincent's choice was Umbricelli ai Porcini e Tartufo Nero di Norcia (a locally home made pasta with Porcini mushro
om and black truffles from Norcia), simply delicious; Mary's choice were Lasagnette Tartufate (Small Lasagna with white truffles) and Vitello Tonnato (thinly sliced veal with tuna sauce), both superb; and our cousin Mario had Lombatina alla Griglia (Grilled veal loin), also delicious. Two days before our return home we invited our Roman friends and relatives to a banquet at the restaurant "Grazia Deledda" in Ladispoli. This is one of our cousin's favorite restaurants and we have had other banquets there many times before so we knew it was going to be good. And extraordinarily good it was! Most of our 26 guests enjoyed the same menu: A mixed sea food appetizer with octopus salad, Risotto allo Scoglio (sea food risotto) Tonnerelli alle Vongole (pasta with clams), Grigliata Mista and Frittura Mista di Pesce (grilled and fried mixed sea food) served with wild greens salad, local white wine, Macedonia di Frutta (mixed fruit cocktail), and Vincent's favorite dessert Pan di Spagna (Italian rum cake) served with P
rosecco (Italian sparkling wine): A superb feast of Italian delectable flavors!
Now we are back home in Boca Raton with a whole wealth of beautiful memories of our cruise and land tour of Italy. There were many kisses and tears as we said "Arrivederci" (until we see you again) to our dear relatives and friends. Maybe in a couple of years we'll go back again, but for now we look forward to our summer trip to New England and several cruises we have already booked for this fall: Liberty of the Seas, Eastern Caribbean, September 15; Caribbean Princess, Eastern Caribbean, October 21; and Jewel of the Seas, westbound transatlantic crossing, October 30. Happy Cruising!