Without doubt, no single cruise line has enjoyed the phenomenal growth trajectory of Royal Caribbean in the past few years. And, with a continuing conga line of new builds yet to come, that giddy momentum shows no signs of stalling.
As more and more incredible, amenity laden ships have come on line, there has been an inevitable shedding of the smaller, older ships that were the foundation blocks for the 21st century incarnation of Royal Caribbean. And, while the first of those ships have now sadly come to the end of their lives in foreign scrapyards, a number of those original, storied stalwarts are still out there, leading happy and profitable ‘after lives’ …..
SONG OF AMERICA (1982)
The first new build for Royal Caribbean in over a decade, the 38,000 ton Song Of America was the first ship in the company to have a full, wrap around Viking Crown lounge around the funnel, as well as the ‘cabins forward, public rooms aft’ layout which was then very popular in the cruise industry.
She was a stunning vessel, with acres of open deck space and large, twin pools. In her early years, the Song Of America ran on the popular, week long New York to Bermuda circuit. The ship was very popular for many years, and became a mainstay of the fleet.
Happily, she is still with us. After a few changes of owner, she is now sailing for Louis Cruises as the Louis Olympia. The ship-still immediately recognisable- runs three and four night cruises from the port of Piraeus, Athens, to the Greek Islands every week, from March through to November each year.
SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS (1988)
The original Royal Caribbean mega ship, Sovereign Of The Seas was the first of a 74,000 ton, French built trio that were the largest sister ships ever constructed at the time. Her impact was sensational, and her vast, five story Centrum Lobby was widely acclaimed at the time as the most sensational public space at sea.
Visually, the Sovereign Of The Seas was a vastly upscale version of the earlier Song Of America, and followed that ship in having the same arrangement of cabins in the forward part of the ship, while most of the public rooms were arranged in a kind of ‘layer cake’ in the aft part.
Originally, the Sovereign Of The Seas ran a series of hugely successful, seven night cruises out of Miami to the Caribbean. As new ships came on line in the 90’s, the ship was relegated to running three and four night cruises to the Bahamas out of Port Canaveral.
This ground breaking ship is still with us, sailing for Spanish cruise line, Pullmantur (a Royal Caribbean affiliate) as the simply renamed Sovereign. She now runs seven night cruises in the western Mediterranean out of Barcelona, and occasionally sails over to South America to offer winter cruises from Brazil. Ironically, like her former great rival, the SS. Norway, she now sports a stunning, royal blue hull.
NORDIC EMPRESS (1990)
Originally ordered for the soon to be defunct Admiral Cruises, but then purchased by Royal Caribbean on the slipway, the beautiful, 42,000 ton Nordic Empress was built in the same French shipyard as all three of her Sovereign class counterparts in the fleet.
Smaller and more intimate, the Nordic Empress operated for many years on the lucrative Bermuda circuit in summer; a run for which her smaller size made her perfect. Over the winter, she usually offered longer, in depth, ‘deep Caribbean’ cruises from Miami.
She was especially famed for her aft facing, three story high dining room, without doubt one of the most beautiful rooms ever to go to sea. After a spell of being restyled as the Empress Of The Seas, she also made the move over to Spanish subsidiary, Pullmantur.
Today, renamed as Empress, this still lovely ship sails in the Mediterranean, the Aegean, and occasionally in Northern Europe as well.
VIKING SERENADE (1990)
Possibly the quirkiest ship ever owned by Royal Caribbean, the Viking Serenade was actually built as the 24,000 ton Scandinavia, a luxury passenger/car ferry, designed to run year round between New York and the Bahamas. Despite the high quality of the ship, the service never really worked out in practice. She came back to Europe for a time, but never really clicked there, either.
Royal Caribbean purchased her in 1990, and gave her an imaginative makeover. A Viking Crown lounge was cantilevered around the funnel, all the car carrying capacity was used for other purposes, and the entire ship was stylishly refurbished to Royal Caribbean standards.
As the Viking Serenade, she spent many profitable years, sailing on year round, three and four night cruises from Los Angeles to Ensenada and Catalina Island. But she never quite came up to the standards of the rest of the fleet. In particular she had many small cabins, even by Royal Caribbean standards.
Sold to Island Cruises and later incorporated into the Thomson Cruises fleet, she sails on as the budget cruise ship, Island Escape. At one time, she also offered a winter season from Brazil, but now sails almost exclusively on seven night, destination intensive Mediterranean itineraries. A recent refurbishment added some balcony cabins to parts of the ship, in order to increase her viability. She remains a popular, high density staple of the UK cruising market.
MONARCH OF THE SEAS (1992)
Delivered from France in 1992, the 74,000 ton Monarch Of The Seas was the second of the three ship, Sovereign class trio that marked the beginning of the dramatic expansion of Royal Caribbean as a major player. She, too, became a spectacular and successful staple of the seven night Caribbean circuit, sailing from Miami and, later, from Puerto Rico.
Like her two sisters, the Monarch Of The Seas was updated with the addition of some sixty two balcony suites and cabins. She then went round to Los Angeles, from where she sailed fora few years on three and four night cruises to Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico. Subsequently, she returned via Panama to Port Canaveral, from where she operated similar, short three and four night Bahamas cruises until April, 2013.
Renamed as Monarch, she also made the transition over to Pullmantur Cruises. Now painted in the same deep, royal blue paint scheme as the rest of the fleet, she sails year round, seven night Caribbean cruises from Aruba, an obvious and telling echo of her original employment with Royal Caribbean.
So, there you have it. I hope this little voyage into the past has brought back some memories and, hopefully, provided some inspiration for those that might have missed these five, fine vessels the first time around. They are still sailing and- in the immortal words of Royal Caribbean itself- my advice is; get out there.