Ice rinks, rock-climbing walls, roller blading tracks... there's so much action on board RCI's Navigator of the Seas, the itinerary (a Caribbean cruise) is almost incidental
It's not often you get to watch a dextrous juggler, sing along to a down-home country and western band and marvel at a sinnowy acrobat troupe, just on your way to the shops. But the street entertainment along its Royal Promenade is just typical of the nonstop action on board Royal Caribbean International's 138,000-ton Navigator of the Seas.
She can carry 3,800 passengers and more than 1,200 crew but the ship is so large she almost swallows them up, so that it never really feels crowded - except when they stage a full-blown Mardi Gras parade along the Royal Prom. Stretching 120 metres and four decks high, this is the focal point of the ship, with fancy shops, a general store, wine and champagne bars and an English pub called Two Poets - although not, apparently, as a reference to POETS Day.
Even without the parades, there is always something happening along the Prom, and the best place to watch is from one of the cabins that overlook it. These cost more than some of the cabins with an ocean view but you need to be a bit of a show-off to book one, as Prom strollers can watch you right back.
Navigator still boasts two major cruise industry firsts: Studio B, which doubles as an ice rink and TV studio; and the rock-climbing wall up the funnel. The wall has proved so popular that it has been retro-fitted to all Royal Caribbean's other, smaller ships. Charges for climbing the wall and skating on the ice rink (and roller-blading track out on deck) have long since been dropped, although some remain for Johnny Rockets, a 1950s-style diner where waitresses pause between serving burgers and fries to dance along to YMCA on the jukebox.
There are three impressive main restaurants above one another on three decks connected by a grand staircase. The food is less impressive there, though, than in the casual buffet-style Windjammer Cafe, which is open almost round-the-clock. The Windjammer also incorporates an Asian fusion cafe, Jade, and is next door to the Chops Grille restaurant. Jade is included in the cruise price but reservations are required. Both reservations and a $20 charge are required to eat in Chops Grille and the classy Italian à la carte restaurant, Portofino’s.
If that wasn't enough food, there is also a Continental-style cafe and a free ice cream and yoghurt dispenser along the Prom. If you fancy a Chunky Monkey or some similarly exotic-flavoured ice, then there is a pay-for Ben and Jerry's stand, too.
With all this, and the theatres, bars, nightclub/disco, casino, huge two-tier library and internet cafe, and golf simulator, it is easy to forget that you're actually out to sea. But there is a lot going on out on deck, too. There are large pools surrounded by comfy sunbeds, a classy solarium, jogging track and a sports deck (with basketball/volleyball court) and a miniature nine-hole golf course. And although the spa and fitness centre is indoors, there are great views over the ocean as you work out.
Cabins are larger and better-designed on this ship than on the line's older, smaller ships (a lot more have private balconies, too) but they are still not huge. But who cares? Spending time in your cabin on this ship is a real waste when there is so much going on. This is a fantastic ship for families in particular, as the Adventure Ocean club runs daytime and some evening programmes for five different age-groups, from toilet-trained three-year-olds all the way up (or down) to stroppy, easily-bored teenagers of up to 17.
The itinerary is almost an afterthought but even here the ship goes for variety. My cruise from Miami took in Nassau (Bahamas), St Thomas (US Virgin Islands), San Juan (Puerto Rico) and the line’s private beach on Labadee (Haiti) - but, between watching the shows on the ice-rink and the amazing number of volunteers climbing the funnel wall, I have to admit I scarcely noticed.