About Royal Caribbean International
The world's second-largest cruise line, Royal Caribbean International (originally Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines) began in the late 1960's as a consortium of Norwegian ship owners who wanted to get in on the rapidly expanding American market. Ever since its first ship, the brand-new Song of Norway (no longer in the fleet), debuted in 1970, the company has prided itself on introducing new shipboard innovations. After completing its first three ships (the others were Nordic Prince and Sun Viking) by 1972, Royal Caribbean "stretched" its first two ships and built the much larger Song of America in 1982. These early Royal Caribbean ships became the prototype for virtually all cruise ships since.
But, Royal Caribbean's biggest splash came in 1988 with the monumental Sovereign of the Seas, the very first mega-ship of the modern era. While only mid-sized by today's standards, at over 70,000 tons, Sovereign of the Seas was massive in its day, and completely dwarfed every competitor of the era. The most sensational feature — aside from sheer size — was the introduction of the first modern shipboard atrium, complete with glass elevators and a grand piano, reminiscent of an opulent hotel — but, with a view no hotel could match.
Not content to wait for other lines to catch up, the even larger sister ships, Monarch of the Seas and Majesty of the Seas, followed in quick succession, along with the smaller Nordic Empress, the first ship designed for cruises shorter than a week. Royal Caribbean also bought Admiral Cruises, a company specializing in short cruises, and turned its nearly-new Stardancer into Royal Caribbean's Viking Serenade after a massive refit. (To date, Viking Serenade, which left the fleet in 2002, remains the only ship to fly the Royal Caribbean flag that wasn't built for the company.)
By the early 1990's Royal Caribbean moved on to another challenge: designing ships for use outside its traditional cruising grounds in the Caribbean. While the company had sent some of its oldest, smallest ships farther afield to destinations like Alaska and Europe — Royal Caribbean hadn't built a ship specially designed for worldwide cruising. This changed in 1995 with the introduction of Legend of the Seas, a spectacular new ship that brought Royal Caribbean into a whole new era. Smaller than the Sovereign-class ships, Legend was by far the most luxurious ship Royal Caribbean had ever built, with bigger cabins, more space per passenger and a wider variety of public areas and open decks. The popular shipboard mini-golf course was introduced, as was Royal Caribbean's now-signature adults-only indoor/outdoor pool area, the Solarium, one of the most impressive shipboard spaces that had been built to date. Legend was closely followed by its sister, Splendour of the Seas, and then by two pairs of slightly larger near-sisters; Grandeur and Enchantment of the Seas, and Rhapsody and Vision of the Seas.
At the same time, between 1995 and 1999, the company disposed of the four original ships, and replaced them with the new Vision-class ships designed specifically for worldwide itineraries.
Having established itself outside the Caribbean, it was now time for Royal Caribbean to turn back to developing its core market. In the mid 1990's, as the Vision-class ships entered service to rave reviews, the company began planning a new ship that would redefine the cruise industry as much, if not more than Sovereign of the Seas had in the previous decade. Code-named "Project Eagle," the ship began sailing in 1999 as Voyager of the Seas — and completely blew away every mega-ship that had come before. With features like an ice rink, rock wall and indoor promenade, Voyager of the Seas was the most innovative ship design in decades, the first ship that genuinely felt more like a resort than a ship. Four ships would follow, and the Voyager-class became the defining mega-ship design of the early 21st century.
Meanwhile, four Radiance-class ships were built in the early 2000's as a follow-up to the Vision-class vessels of the 1990's. Similarly designed for worldwide cruising, they are larger, with more balconies, dining choices, public areas and greater luxury all around.
After the launch of so many new ships, the company's formerly innovative older ships were beginning to look old and tired. Royal Caribbean spent millions of dollars to refit Monarch of the Seas, Empress of the Seas (formerly Nordic Empress), Sovereign of the Seas, Enchantment of the Seas (including a "stretch" of Enchantment) and Majesty of the Seas. Despite the refurbishments, a few ships just didn't cut it. Royal Caribbean transferred Empress of the Seas to its Spanish subsidiary, Pullmantur, in March 2008, and will transfer Sovereign of the Seas in October 2008.
Recently, the big news at Royal Caribbean has been even bigger ships. In 2006, the line debuted Freedom of the Seas, an enlarged, enhanced version of the Voyager-class design that introduced new features like a water park and onboard surfing to the array of Voyager-class amenities. Freedom of the Seas also narrowly reclaimed the title of "largest passenger ship" for Royal Caribbean, surpassing the Queen Mary 2 in tonnage (but not length or width). The Freedom-class also includes Freedom's sister ships, Liberty of the Seas and Independence of the Seas.
But, the biggest thing on the horizon for Royal Caribbean — quite literally — is the the first Oasis-class ship, set to enter service in 2009. At over 40 percent larger than Freedom of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas will once again mean that a Royal Caribbean ship is the biggest in the world. (Only a few supertankers exceed the size of Oasis- or a Freedom-class ships.)
The biggest and newest ships in the fleet are the Freedom-class ships. This class is currently comprised of Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas and Independence of the Seas. At 160,000 tons and carrying over 3,600 passengers, the Freedom-class ships are the biggest cruise ships in the world today. They feature virtually everything you could want in a cruise ship. The active set can enjoy ice skating, rock climbing, surfing (a Freedom-class exclusive), mini-golf, and more. Other amenities include three alternative restaurants, an indoor promenade with parades and more, and an array of bars and lounges catering to every taste. The Freedom-class ships are the ultimate mega-ships of the 21st century — at least until the 220,000-ton Oasis of the Seas enters service in 2009!
Next-largest are the Voyager-class ships: Built between 1999 and 2003, Voyager of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas, Mariner of the Seas and Navigator of the Seas are 138,000 gross tons and carry 3,114 passengers. Though slightly smaller than the Freedom-class ships, the Voyager-class ships are very similar in design and carry most of the same amenities (a few things, like the surf park, are left out). While no longer the pride of the Royal Caribbean fleet, they still surpass every other cruise line's mega-ships in size and facilities.
The line's biggest and newest mid-size ships are the Radiance-class. The 90,000-ton, 2,500-passenger Radiance, Brilliance, Jewel and Serenade of the Seas were built between 2001 and 2003, and are the biggest Royal Caribbean ships that can fit through the Panama Canal. They lack the indoor promenade, ice rink and some other Voyager/Freedom-class features, but offer the most balcony cabins in the fleet, and some of the most elegant interiors at sea. Unique features include the Colony Club, an elegant, British Colonial-themed nightclub that includes the world's first stabilized, seagoing billiard tables.
Somewhat smaller than the Radiance-class ships are the Vision-class ships, three pairs of sister ships. The first pair, Legend and Splendour of the Seas, were built in 1995 and 1996 respectively. At 70,000 gross tons and carrying 2,076 passengers, these ships are almost intimate by Royal Caribbean standards. Grandeur and Enchantment of the Seas were built in 1996 and 1997 respectively. Grandeur remains in its original 74,000-ton, 2,446 passenger configuration, while Enchantment was "stretched" in 2005 and is now 80,000 tons and carries 2,446 passengers. Finally, Rhapsody of the Seas and Vision of the Seas were built in 1997 and 1998 respectively, and are 78,491 tons and carry 2,435 passengers. While they have fewer balconies and dining options than the newer ships, they remain excellent modern cruise ships for Royal Caribbean's less-popular routes, often from secondary homeports.
The three Sovereign-class ships dominate Royal Caribbean's shortest, three- and four-night itineraries. Sovereign of the Seas, Monarch of the Seas and Majesty of the Seas were built in 1988, 1991 and 1992 respectively, and are approximately 73,000 gross tons and carry over 2,744 passengers. All three ships have recently received extensive refurbishments of the cabins and public areas, new alternative restaurants, and Sovereign's first balconies (Monarch already had them). While their cabins are smaller than the other ships in the fleet, these are excellent ships for shorter cruises. Sovereign of the Seas will be leaving the fleet in October 2008; it's being transferred to Royal Caribbean's Spanish subsidiary, Pullmantur.
Royal Caribbean operates one of cruising's most intriguing fleets, ranging from mid-sized, middle-aged ships which, like Majesty of the Seas, for instance, has received major updates, and state-of-the-art and on-the-cusp mega ships, such as Freedom of the Seas, with its surf park and boxing ring.
While not gourmet, Royal Caribbean's food is usually good enough to please most of their passengers. Most Royal Caribbean ships operate a traditional two-seating dining schedule for dinner, with open seating in the dining room for breakfast and lunch. However, the line is currently testing a flexible dining option on Freedom of the Seas, Brilliance of the Seas and Serenade of the Seas. The My Time Dining program, in which passengers can choose between assigned and flexible dining in the main dining room, will be rolled out fleetwide beginning sometime in 2008.
The Windjammer Cafe aboard all the line's ships offers the popular breakfast and lunch buffets, and a casual alternative for dinner. On some ships, Jade, a special section of the Windjammer, offers Asian-themed dishes during the day and fresh sushi at night.
Most Royal Caribbean ships (exceptions are all the Vision-class ships but Enchantment of the Seas) have at least one alternative restaurant, the Italian-themed Portofino; many also have the Chops Grille steakhouse. In all cases, the cover charge is $20 and the food and service is a notch above those in the line's standard dining areas. Reservations are required.
The Voyager- and Freedom-class ships, as well as Majesty and Sovereign of the Seas, also each have a seagoing branch of the Johnny Rockets fast-food franchise, with a $3.95 cover charge (and some menu items are priced on an a la carte basis). The Cafe Promenade on the Voyager- and Freedom-class ships offers Continental breakfast and around the clock sandwiches and other snacks; the Seaview Cafe aboard Radiance-class ships offers fast-food items like fish and chips at lunchtime and late at night. Sorrento Pizza and Compass Deli are new entries into the RCI brand name game. Compass Deli sandwiches/wraps carry a $3.50 price tag. Sorrento pizza is consistent — never meant as a gourmet meal, it is fast and fairly good.
Daytime activities aboard Royal Caribbean ships tend toward the active. Every Royal Caribbean ship has a rock-climbing wall; the Freedom-, Voyager- and Radiance-class ships and Legend and Splendour of the Seas have mini-golf courses. All ships have vast main pool areas; the luxurious adults-only Solarium is featured on all Freedom-, Voyager-, Radiance- and Vision-class ships. All ships have a wide variety of spa and fitness facilities. You'll find ice-skating on the Freedom- and Voyager-class ships.
Evening entertainment on Royal Caribbean comes in two types: splashy Vegas-style production shows that are among the most impressive at sea, and passenger-participation favorites like the "Newlywed and Not-So-Newlywed Game." There's also a wide range of musical entertainment in a wide variety of public rooms; the new Latin-themed Boleros on many of the newer (and more recently refurbished) ships is especially popular. If you're sailing on a Freedom- or Voyager-class ship, don't miss the ice show: it's one of the most spectacular and unique performances you'll ever see on a cruise ship. These ships even have parades and "street performers" in the Royal Promenade — another unique entertainment feature not found on any other ships.
Accommodations range from standard inside and oceanview cabins, to standard balcony cabins (on most ships), with a wide range of suites, from mini-suites to huge Royal Suites with bars and grand pianos. On most ships, suite passengers gain access to a private concierge lounge (concierge privileges are also accorded to the line's most frequent passengers, Crown & Anchor Diamond Members). Freedom- and Voyager-class ships also have unique "promenade view" cabins overlooking the Royal Promenade; their inhabitants have a birds-eye view of the "city life" along this virtual indoor street, and of course the parades that occur several evenings per cruise. These unique cabins cost more than insides, but less than oceanview cabins, and along with the suites are often the first cabins to be booked up on each cruise.
Nobody should have trouble "connecting" on a Royal Caribbean cruise. All RCI ships feature Wi-Fi hot spots (cabins included), and the Freedom-class vessels have Wi-Fi throughout the ship. This CyberCabin service costs $70 for a four- to five-night cruise, $100 for a one-week cruise, and $130 for nine- to 10-night sailings. In addition, for 50 cents a minute, passengers can connect at Internet Cafes equipped with one to two dozen terminals, and the more private business centers on the Freedom-, Voyager- and Radiance-class ships.
GSM and CDMA mobile phone access is available on all ships. Charges apply.
Royal Caribbean introduced a stricter onboard smoking policy in January 2008. Smoking is prohibited in all staterooms and suites aboard all ships except Legend of the Seas, Rhapsody of the Seas and Splendour of the Seas; those three will follow suit in the summer of 2008. However, passengers can still light up on stateroom and suite balconies. Royal Caribbean has also designated one lounge on each ship in its fleet as completely non-smoking.
As the company's name suggests, Royal Caribbean International is strong in the Caribbean, but offers itineraries worldwide. Caribbean and Bahamas itineraries range from three days to two weeks; the company also offers five- and seven-night itineraries to Bermuda, and three-, four- and seven-night itineraries in the Mexican Riviera. In the summer, many Radiance- and Vision-class ships head to Alaska for seven-night cruises there, while other Voyager-, Radiance- and Vision-class ships head to Europe and other ships stay in the Caribbean year-round. In 2008, Rhapsody of the Seas will also pioneer new Australia and New Zealand itineraries, as Royal Caribbean moves into new markets. Itineraries in Europe attract both Europeans as well as Royal Caribbean veterans bored with the usual North American-based schedules. We expect that the same will go for the new Australia and New Zealand itineraries as well.
After a successful foray into Asia cruising in 2007, Royal Caribbean will again send Legend of the Seas to the Far East for 2008.
Royal Caribbean attracts a wide variety of mostly North American passengers, mostly between 30 and 55 on the seven-night and shorter cruises, and 50 and over on cruises over seven nights. Cruises from the U.K. attract a large British contingent, and Mediterranean cruises will attract European passengers as well as Royal Caribbean's usual North Americans. Seven-night and shorter cruises are also very popular with families, especially during American school vacation periods when the ships will often be filled to every upper berth.