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 recently 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 such as 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.
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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 head-first 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.
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."