Tom Stieghorst was on Quantum of the Seas' preview sailing. His first dispatch follows.
Although there’s no spacesuit required, I did feel a little like an astronaut while waiting to board the shiny aluminum and glass capsule on Quantum of the Seas called North Star.
There’s gangway of about ten feet or so between the control panel and the doorway, complete with a little gantry bridge that swings away from the capsule when it’s ready for liftoff.
But make no mistake, one does not need the Right Stuff to enjoy North Star. Its liftoff reminded me of a DC-3 plane I once flew in — so smooth that it was hard to tell when I first became airborne.
The ascent to a position 300 feet above the ocean is gradual, the movement noticeable but never excessive. None of the 14 passengers on the 10-minute ride I took expressed any sense of queasiness.
To me, the ship’s glass-walled elevators give riders a greater sense of acceleration and movement than North Star.
Royal Caribbean Chairman Richard Fain said the capsule is one of two spaces (SeaPlex being the other) that came out better than its designers expected.
“We didn’t realize how comfortable it was, how natural it was to feel that way,” Fain said.
Another notable thing is how quiet the world becomes once the doors are closed in the capsule. There is no wind noise, no sound from the hydraulics that elevate the gondola on its 135-foot crane arm.
The whir of an air changer in the roof is the only sound other than human conversation.
I got a definite sense of camaraderie with my fellow travelers in the capsule. There is enough room for everyone to comfortably move about to catch different vistas for photos.
This modern age crow’s nest will provide some inspiring views, but much depends on time and place. We were somewhere in the English Channel on our mid-afternoon trip. There was nothing much to look at but the sea and the ship beneath us.
After a couple of stationary minutes at max elevation, we started back down.
Although the crane is capable of swinging the capsule out over the side of the ship, during our preview cruise that action was being omitted to save time and give more guests a chance to ride.
Teenage guests may be disappointed with the North Star, like one of those rides at an amusement park that looks cool but doesn’t deliver the thrills of a stomach-churning roller coaster.
The more middle-aged crew I rode with seemed satisfied with the wonder of being so high above the ship so far out at sea. I didn’t hear any raves afterward, but didn’t hear any complaints either.