When did cruises become a cool holiday choice? Recently, I’ve had a few cruisers in my company – people who have either just come back or gearing up to set sail; they’re always really excited and, here’s the true shock, they have all been under 60. I know it’s a total cliche, but I kind of thought cruises were reserved for those in their golden years. That stage in life when one is less enthused about their hotel being a euphemistic, brisk away from anything of note, and the thought of someone planning your days is a godsend. Don’t lie, you were thinking it too.
Honestly, the idea of a cruise makes me a little nervous… being on a gigantic boat out at sea doesn’t really appeal to someone who is scared of deep water. On a more pragmatic level, I have other reservations – is there enough to keep me occupied while we’re at sea? Can the cabins really be as big as any other hotel room? Does the food stand any chance of being decent? All the shiny brochures will say a resounding yes, but that’s their job… I wasn’t quite convinced, so the only thing to do was to jump on board and see for myself!
When I first laid eyes on the Navigator of the Seas at Southampton Docks, I was only mildly impressed by its size, surely it won’t feel this big inside? It was only when we got inside the ship’s main Promenade that I realised how ridiculous that thought was. These things are humungous. They’re like small towns (albeit floating, moving ones) complete with accommodation, activities, shops, restaurants, and the added bonus of a new shore to explore each time it stops. I’m starting to understand the appeal.
On our tour of the ship, I discovered that the Navigator of the Seas has a pool where you can watch movies, a gym if you’re so inclined, live entertainment shows in the evenings, a surf simulator, and even an ice skating rink. And if all that fails, there are plenty of deck chairs to lounge on when the sun’s out. We also snooped around the rooms and I was pleasantly surprised to find they looked and felt like any other on-land hotel – some are a touch snug but there also some rather massive suites which I’m sure would rival most one-bedroom flats in London for size.
So far, so good; there’s plenty to do and a decent place to rest your head, but what about the food? If you’re going to eat three meals on board… it has to be good and there has to be variety. I think the Royal Caribbean team and I are agreed on that because they sure do have a lot of options. There’s the ‘something to please everyone’ buffet style Windjammer, a lavish main dining room for a la carte meals, as well some specialty restaurants – Johnny Rockets, Sabor Modern Mexican, Giovanni’s Table, Chops Grille, and Izumi.
Seeing the number of restaurants and the amount of food being served on board is astonishing in itself but I was absolutely in awe of the operation behind the scenes! We wandered through the galleys and saw the various teams prepping everything from the breads to the caldron-like pots of soup to the delicate desserts. The logistics of running a kitchen of this magnitude simply fascinated me.
I get that everything is supersized and recipes must be followed precisely to ensure consistency, but I was also really interested to hear Executive Chef Russell talk about the records they maintain. They keep tabs on the volumes served of each dish, on which cruise, to which type of customer – all to ensure they can adapt to demand and reduce waste. Savvy on many counts.
If I were dining on board, I would choose Izumi in a heart beat so I was thrilled to find out we were having lunch there and we would get a little cooking demonstration from Executive Chef Travis Kamiyama. Regular readers will know I could eat sushi and watch the sushi chefs work all day long – there is so much focus and precision in every slice. I had no doubt that I’d love the sashimi; the glistening slices of tuna, hamachi, and tender octopus were as beautiful as gems on a plate but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the hot platter too. The crispy prawns and chicken karaage disappeared at great speed, and the vegetable tempura was as good as any I’ve tried.
However, my eyes really lit up at the sight of the most glorious sushi platter. All five rolls were absolutely delicious; the signature Izumi roll filled with prawn katsu and avocado then covered in crispy tempura crumbs was worthy of the title, but my favourites were the ones filled with prawns and topped with salmon and tuna. The more raw fish the better in my opinion! When the sushi first arrived, I thought I could wolf it all down alone but even between the three of us, we struggled to finish it all… sushi is more filling than people expect. Luckily we ended the meal with a relatively light dessert; a few small mochi ice creams and slices of freshly cut fruit.
I was really impressed by Izumi but actually, the running of the whole ship amazed me. With so many people on board and so much going on, these are well managed operations. After our day on board, I can understand why people have such a love affair with them – one gentleman we bumped into had been on thirty and I didn’t see him giving them up anytime soon. I still can’t quite imagine us booking one in anytime soon, but who knows… give it a couple more years and I might be reserving the Royal Suite for a couple of weeks round the Med and scoffing sushi at every opportunity… doesn’t sound too bad, does it?!
Have you ever been on a cruise?
Thanks to Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas and the Izumi team for a wonderful tour and lunch, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!