In the beginning, there were three.
As the eighties gave way to the nineties, Royal Caribbean International introduced the most stunning trio of mega ships that the maritime world had ever seen into service. Beginning with Sovereign Of The Seas in January of 1988, the line followed up with two near identical sisters four years later; Monarch Of The Seas and, lastly, the Majesty Of The Seas.
Their collective impact was nothing short of sensational; it immediately triggered a similar sized response from main rival, Carnival, in the shape of the Fantasy class ships. The three sisters were the first true mega ships built purposely for cruising, and people flocked aboard them in droves.
They were not only huge; they were also beautiful. With perfectly flared bows, graceful, cruiser style sterns clealy influenced by the brilliant Normandie, and snow white flanks, the three sisters, each one topped by the distinctive Viking Crown funnel, were stunning visual masterpieces. And they were just as exquisite on the inside, too.
At 74,000 tons each, the three sisters each accommodated over 2700 passengers in both inside and outside cabins. In those days, balcony cabins had not yet caught on. On these ships, most of the cabins were arranged in the forward part of the ship. And, like most of their rivals at the time, those cabins were often very small; the insides in particular measured only some 122 square feet each. And yet, people were more than happy with them at the time. The ships went out full, week after week.
The main public rooms were stacked up in the aft halves of the ships, like the tiers of a wedding cake. The dividing point between cabins and revnue centres came in the form of a beautiful, five story atrium lobby; a shimmering confection of brass, glass and polished wood that acted as a kind of maritime crossroads.
Everything about those ships marked them out as a palpable break with the past. In their first years, each of the three ships sailed from either Miami or San Juan, Puerto Rico, on seven night, western and eastern Caribbean cruises. They were sassy, stylish, and crammed with good things to do, and as such they were enormously popular, laying the foundation for the dramatic expansion of Royal Caribbean as a player capable of challenging even the mighty Carnival itself.
Ironically, in one respect, they were too successful. Their success was such that it triggered a whole new raft of mega ships for Royal Caribbean. But these new ships now spouted rows of balcony cabins, rock climbing walls, and the first flowering of alternative restaurants that are now a mainstay of the whole industry. And, unsurprisingly, they became the new industry standard.
By the first years of the new century, Sovereign, Monarch and Majesty Of The Seas were all sailing on shorter, three and four night cruises each week; from Miami and Port Canaveral to the Bahamas and- in the case of Majesty- a similar series of cruises out of Los Angeles, before she returned to Miami to replace Monarch Of The Seas on the Bahamas run. Again, the three ships were hugely popular on these short, destination intensive ‘party’ cruises.
Still, it was obvious that all were on borrowed time, at least as key elements of the Royal Caribbean portfolio. Sure enough, the Sovereign Of The Seas was rotated out of the fleet a few years ago, and hived off to Pullmantur, the Spanish satellite of Royal Caribbean. She now operates for them on year round, seven night cruises in the Mediterranean, under the cunningly abbreviated monicker of Sovereign.
Then, last year, Monarch Of The Seas also made the transition to Pullmantur. Now, in an ironic echo of her early days, she once again operates year round, seven night cruises in the southern Caribbean. She is known simply as Monarch these days.
And then there was one…
By this time, Majesty Of The Seas was operating three and four night itineraries out of Miami. The three night voyages sailed on a Friday, and called at Nassau and the company’s ‘private island’ at Coco Cay. Four night, Monday departures added Key West to the three night run. It is an itinerary she still sails to this day.
The question is, for how much longer?
Logic would seem to dictate that, as soon as new tonnage becomes available- and that will not be too long- the Majesty will also make the pilgrimage to rejoin her two sister ships at Pullmantur. However, the state of the Spanish market is not good right now (just look at the gradual winding down of Iberocruises and the collapse of Quail Cruises). Whether Pullmatur could safely absorb another vessel with the 2700 passenger capacity of Majesty Of The Seas is highly questionable.
According to the Royal Caribbean website, Majesty Of The Seas has Bahamas sailings listed right through util February of 2016, though of course that could change in a heart beat.
I sailed on the Majesty Of The Seas twice, on a couple of short, sweet weekend breaks out of Miami. I found her to be a charming, beautiful and well run ship, immaculately clean, and brimming with fun things to do. Sure, the cabins were only marginally bigger than a pygmy’s postage stamp, but I spent very little time in mine on either cruise.
She has been updated as far as the parameters of a hull form decided in 1985 can allow; there is a branch of Johnny Rockets on board, the retro fifties burger bar cum diner that has become a popular franchise, while some sixty two cabins and suites also had balconies added during an earlier make over. The interiors got a comprehensive refreshment, and the night life handle of the ship also took a lift from the introduction of Boleros, a Latin themed salsa bar, with a sizzling dance floor and wicked, weapons grade Mojitos.
As the last member of that pioneering trio of mega ships still sailing with the company, I hope that Royal Caribbean will continue to cherish her for a few more years.