Cruise Aficionados - When you can't be onboard, be online!
In January 2007 I took my first cruise in a few years after work and family had settled down. I choose Navigator of the Seas, which through friends I had the opportunity to know was being mastered by Captain Leif Otto Bang. His wife Darlene was aboard with him. This would be my fourth cruise and stands to this day as my personal favorite.
The Voyager class is comprised of five ships. Navigator was the fourth unit built. Not only that Captain Bang had himself overseen her construction. She follows the same basic design all ships in her class share. However unlike the Voyager, Adventure and Explorer of the Seas, her balconies are hung outside of the main hull. This didn’t lead to any additional space within the ship but allows for more crew access. I found the ship had a deeper color scheme than her younger sisters. More dignified, lots of darker reds and such. The ship and her crew gave off a tangible vibe that spoke of pride. I had heard Captain Bang was among the most senior masters in Royal Caribbean and had helped train and mentor many in their fleet and others. She has been extensively and regularly updated over the years and remains a highly popular ship.
Navigator of the Seas departed out of Port Miami. I drove as is my habit and I found parking and embarkation little changed from Explorer of the Seas a few years prior. Sadly I didn’t have the service of my usual digital camera and learned the hard way that my 2006 model “smartphone” had a poor performing camera. I was using a Verizon sold Starcomm 6700, which featured nearly all which smartphones would a year or two later. Apple was hardly the first to try what the iPhone represented.
Voyager of the Seas was docked bow to bow with Navigator. She also cast-off at exactly the same time. The two captains exchanged a clearly playful series of horn blows before I learned later, that Captain Bang allowed Voyager to proceed. She had to make the run to the turning basin before she could put out to sea, where as we could simply move out as we were.
A half hour later at dinner I noticed the ship had come to a halt as we were bobbing a bit during the meal. Outside of the massive windows of Navigator’s Main Dining room, I saw Voyager again as this huge wall of lights surged past us. Again, I learned later that she was pressed for time, and our standing aside allowed her to save on time and fuel, rather than chase behind us for hours. The sight was a bit amazing actually, the scale of the ship, the lights in the dark, had a odd quality like the opening scene of Star Wars as the Star Destroyer flies overhead on the screen.
I had the chance to connect with Darlene at a couple of receptions for different groups including Cruise Critic and the Crown and Anchor Society. She and I had exchanged a polite email prior to my cruise. I had long been a fixture in an AOL hosted cruise chat room in which many friends of hers had been in. A more traditional and gracious host I couldn’t describe.
Shortly before the ship departed Ocho Rios I was given the opportunity to observe the process from the bridge itself. It began with a call to my cabin which the caller ID labeled “Admiral 6000” and was Darlene. We remained silent and out of the way while the ship proceeded through her departure routine. Watching the Captain and officers in action was highly impressive. Nearly every step was clearly well practiced as they moved from their various stations. The navigation officer was coordinating the paper charts with the ship’s computer systems, then pointing out ships on the horizon to the Captain, so he could compare each to their radar signatures. After casting off from the pier, the officers assumed positions in front of the captain’s chair. When a sailing boat changed tact, all five lifted binoculars at the same time, locking onto it. They were all a synchronized machine and it was honestly amazing to watch.
After the ship was at sea the Bang’s played host in their cabin. The cabin itself was as large as a modest sized apartment, complete with a baby grand piano. It was at once modest but comfortably appointed. Over a couple of sodas-I didn’t drink then or now we spent over an hour discussing everything from family to captain Bang’s career. Darlene was an American but their home and children were primarily Norwegian citizens. Captain Bang had left home in his teens to pursue a life at sea. His family’s history of going to sea stretched back over 600 years, all of which he could document and discuss.
Dinner and a pending reception made for a good time to part ways. The folks at my table were interested to learn of the adventure but it wasn’t until the night after when the Captain and Darlene were greeting people at the table next to us that it came home to them that it wasn’t just a big-fish story. After finishing their pleasantries with the table next to us, the Captain and Darlene both came to me directly and thanked me for spending time with them the night before and spent a few moments chatting with me before bidding our table a good night. I’ll sum the reaction of my table mates as simply being bug-eyed and in-awe. I enjoyed that.
It was already clear from the first few days aboard the ship that his crew held him in very high regard. From dining to the ship’s stores it seemed everybody knew him and had a good word to share about him. It was the first time on a ship that I could see how a captain makes a very real difference in the quality of a cruise. Taking the time to entertain somebody known to them only by friends was flattering and an honor. Likewise as somebody with a deep and keen interest in all things aboard ship the insights and time “behind the scenes” were memories I’ll keep a lifetime. I hope someday to be able to return the favor in some small way.
The ship was without question the cleanest and most sharply kept I’ve sailed on before or since. The ship itself seems to carry a solid reputation even to this day and I would credit much of that to Captain Bang, from his oversight of the ship's construction to having set a high standard aboard her in her earliest days of operation.