EMPRESS OF THE SEAS IS MIAMI BOUND

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Empress of the Seas is returning to the warm, welcoming waters of the Caribbean and Bahamas for 2016

Royal Caribbean International has announced that it’s soon to be re-integrated Empress of the Seas is to be based in Miami.

The 48,000 ton ship is returning to RCI after an eight year spell sailing as the Empress for Pullmantur, the troubled Spanish offshoot of RCI, in Europe.

Beginning in March 2016, the Empress of the Seas will embark on a series of short three, four and five night cruises to destinations such as Nassau, Key West, Cozumel, Costa Maya, Grand Cayman and the company’s private island of Coco Cay, in the Bahamas.

Key selling points of the ship’s programme will be an earlier, expedited embarkation time from 110 onward, and a number of overnight stays in Cozumel on the longer, five night run. At present, she is the only ship out of Miami to offer such an option.

The vessel is being sold as very much a party experience rather than an in depth, cultural expedition ship of any kind. She will also undergo a refurbishment before returning to service, though exact specifics are few at this time.

At present, these short cruises are being sold as year round options. But speculation remains rife that Empress of the Seas may, in time, return to her old summer programme of seven night Bermuda cruises from New York- a role in which she was hugely popular in the late nineties.

Stay tuned for any updates.

ISLAND ESCAPE SOLD TO CRUISE HOLDINGS (DECEMBER 6TH UPDATE)

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New horizons venture for the well travelled Island Escape…

December 7th update:

The Cruise Industry News website (www.cruiseindustrynews.com) is reporting that the ship purchased by the new start up Chinese operator, Diamond Cruises, is actually Estur’s Aegean Paradise, and not the Island Escape, as previously cited by the same source.

As of this moment, the actual future deployment of the Island Escape -if any- has yet to be determined.

The Cruise and Ferry website (www.cruiseandferry.net) is reporting the sale by Thomson Cruises of the Island Escape to Cruise Holdings.

The vessel is apparently underway to the French port of Brest, where she will be renamed as Ocean Gala. News of any upgrades or future deployment is as yet unclear, but it seems that the popular budget vessel will continue in cruise service after all- welcome news for the many thousands of passengers with fond memories of this ship.

Island Escape actually started life as the Scandinavia of 1982. She was a dual purpose cruise and car ferry, intended to run on a regular service between New York and the Bahamas for DFDS Seaways.

The service was never the anticipated success, and the Scandinavia soon returned to Europe to operate on the overnight cruise ferry service between Copenhagen and Oslo.

It was Royal Caribbean international that first saw the potential for her as a ship ideally suited to short cruises. The ship was extensively refitted, including the installation of the trademark RCCL ‘Viking Crown’ lounge around her funnel, and she was put back into service under the name of Viking Serenade.

in this guise, she ran for many successful seasons on the three and four night cruise run from Los Angeles down to Ensenada, Mexico. Once more surplus to requirements by the turn of the new century, she was taken over by First Choice cruises, renamed as the Island Escape, and put into service on seven night cruises from Palma de Mallorca to the Mediterranean. In winter, the doughty little ship sometimes even sailed to Brazil to operate voyages there.

Increasingly however, over winter the Island Escape usually home ported in Tenerife for similar, week long budget cruise runs to the Canary Islands and Madeira, a role in which she proved very popular.

Once First Choice was assimilated into the Thomson Brand, the Island Escape continued to sail, but was often marketed separately from the main body of the Thomson Cruises fleet. With new tonnage becoming available to Thomson of late, the sale of Island Escape was seen as inevitable.

Island Escape gained a good reputation as a solid, high density cruise ship that was comfortable and familiar, rather than stunning and luxurious- very much an entry level product that, none the less, endeared herself to many. It is a matter of some gratitude that she will continue to sail on as a part of the global cruise family as the Ocean Gala.

I wish the ship and her new owners every success. Stay tuned for updates as they become available.

UPDATE:

The respected industry website, Cruise Industry News (www.cruiseindustrynews.com) is reporting that the Island Escape has actually been sold to a start up Chinese cruise operator, Diamond Cruises.

She will operate for them on cruises from Shanghai after an extensive refurbishment designed to make her more suitable for the local trade. This refit will be carried out in Europe.

The website quotes the China Cruise and Yacht Industry Association as it’s prime source of information.

 

 

 

 

ENCHANTMENT OF THE SEAS IS MIAMI BOUND IN 2016

In a move that slipped under the radar of this particular blogger last November, Royal Caribbean International has announced that the 82,000 ton Enchantment Of The Seas will shift from its current base at Port Canaveral, to sail from Miami during 2016.

The very popular vessel will operate the programme of cruises currently offered on smaller fleet mate, Majesty Of The Seas (see previous blog).

These involve three day, Friday departures from Miami to Nassau and Royal Caribbean’s private Bahamas island, Coco Cay. Four night, Monday departures will also add the popular, bohemian playground of Key West into the mix.

The 82,910 ton, 2,446 passenger ship was originally built in 1997 as one of the six sister ships of the so-called Vision class. In 2005, the ship was cut in half and lengthened with the addition of a new, 22 metre long mid section that added some 151 extra cabins, suspension bridges, a new water park, and an expanded pool area. At the time, it was felt that the rest of the Vision ships might get similar upgrades, but in fact only the Enchantment Of The Seas underwent this substantial structural upgrade. This work was carried out in a Rotterdam shipyard.

Stay tuned for further updates.

Enchantment Of The Seas is Bahamas-bound from Miami for the 2016 season

Enchantment Of The Seas is Bahamas-bound from Miami for the 2016 season

OASIS 4- GOING WHERE, EXACTLY?

Allure Of The Seas is Barcelona bound in 2015

Allure Of The Seas is Barcelona bound in 2015

As attention here in the UK focuses on two ship launches next month- P&O’s Britannia in Southampton on March 10th, and the Tilbury inauguration of Cruise and Maritimes’ Magellan at Tilbury on the 12th, STX shipyard in France has quietly begin cutting the steel for the fourth of the gigantic, 220,000 ton Oasis class shps yesterday over at Saint Nazaire.

To put her in some kind of context, this monster ship alone is more than twice the size of the combined total tonnage of the four ship Cruise and Maritime fleet. She rounds off- for now at least- the most physically spectacular quartet of passenger carrying vessels ever built. But the big question is; where will she go?

With her already complete pair of siblings sailing the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale- and Allure Of The Seas making her summer European debut this year- you have to wonder if there is a winter Caribbean market for even another one of these gigantic vessels, let alone the pair that are now officially underway.

Each week, Oasis and Allure both disembark  6,500 passengers, before embarking the same number again- an extraordinary through footfall of 26,000 passengers through the Florida port for these two ships alone. And, while no one can doubt that this is an extraordinary logistical feat- indeed, an unparalleled one- it has to be asked if one or two more such monsters could be viable in the serially overcrowded winter Caribbean cruise trade.

So, where would you send one or both of these ships- each of them the size of a small city- to fill them? Obviously, Royal Caribbean has long since done the numbers, and has a plan that works for them. But, as we are in the dark regarding the itineraries for these ships, we’ll have to indulge in a little speculation.

It is entirely possible that one, or perhaps even two, of this extraordinary quartet could go straight to China, for cruising in the Far East. Like the rival Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean fully recognises the vast potential of the Chinese market. In point of fact, I’d put money on one- or perhaps even both- of these new ships being China bound soon after completion.

I would also expect that we will now see an annual European cruise season each year for one of these ships, primarily in the Western Mediterranean. I expect the Allure Of The Seas will be hugely popular in 2015 as she gears up for her first ever season of seven day ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ cruises out of Barcelona. That being a given, it would be pretty unwise for Royal Caribbean not to repeat the experience on a yearly basis, though whether the line will keep a ship on this scale on year round European cruises might yet be a bridge too far.

Interesting times in the mega ship market, for sure. As ever, stay tuned for updates.

SPOILT FOR CHOICE; UK MINI CRUISES IN 2015

Live it up for the weekend on the glamorous Queen Mary 2

Live it up for the weekend on the glamorous Queen Mary 2

For those looking to dip a first time toe into cruising’s alluring world, one of the best and most economical options is the mini cruise. With options ranging from between two to five days, these are a good deal both in terms of time and cash outlay. You can break the assumed preconceptions without breaking the bank.

And, no matter what type of ship and short break you might be into, 2015 serves up more options and styles of seagoing fun and fascination than ever before. From the seriously intimate to the stunningly spectacular, there’s a seagoing smorgasbord on offer in 2015 that has never been equalled before.

First up, Royal Caribbean International has the spectacular, ground breaking new Anthem Of The Seas doing some short, three night summer cruises to ports such as Le Havre and Zeebrugge. if you’re into technologically advanced ships laden with a wealth of fascinating gimmicks, this ship is an excellent, if rather expensive option.

Want smaller, more intimate ships that can access the spots that the big ships find difficult to access? Consider Cruise and Maritime, which is offering a series of two to five night options on the veteran Marco Polo, a classically styled, adults only ocean liner. Built in 1965, this unique ship- very much a one off- is celebrating her fiftieth anniversary this year.

Larger and more contemporary, but still human in scale, the line has a new flagship in the shape of the Magellan. The 46,052 ton ship also offers a series of short cruises and, with her large number of single cabins, she is an excellent buy for the solo traveller.

In similar vein, the highly styled quartet of ships belonging to Fred. Olsen Cruise Line remain perennially popular favourites on the short break market. With excellent food and service, plus some enticing overnight stays, these lovely ships have a style and atmosphere that is truly all their own.

Go bigger? No worries. P&O Cruises has long been one of the most established names in the cruising firmament. This year, the new Britannia– the largest ship ever built solely for the UK cruise market- joins her recently restyled fleet mates to offer a string of exhilarating short jaunts out of Southampton, varying in length from two to five days, throughout most of the year. Some of the pre Christmas sailings in particular make for fantastic shopping opportunities on the continent.

Of course, Cunard remains the very epitome of the great ocean going experience. The line celebrates an unparalleled 175 years of success this year, and you can be part of it on a mini cruise of between two and five nights on any one of their trio of opulent, expansive vessels.

And, if you are not too worried about flying one way, the magnificent Queen Mary 2 offers several opportunities throughout the year to sail between Southampton and Hamburg, or reverse, on a two night voyage that allows you to get an incisive little glimpse into this most storied of ocean liner experiences.

All of these voyages are short on time, but they do provide an experience somewhat akin to a film trailer for a major feature. And, because all of these lines want you to see them at their best, they will often push the boat out-pun wholly intentional- to offer up the best in food, service and, of course, entertainment. All are crucially aware that today’s two night neophyte passenger is next year’s potential two week voyager.

So-different stokes for different folks. And you can always tailor your break to suit your moods. I know many people who simply never leave the ships at all, staying on board to soak up all the luxury on board for the duration. Others treat them as extended, exotic spa breaks and spend the weekend in a bathrobe. Others consider sleep as an optional extra, and simply want to party from A to Z. And, of course, still others use them as an excuse for an indulgent shopping and sightseeing break.

Whatever your pleasure, there is more than enough on the menu on one of these enticing, exhilarating little breaks to leave you wanting more. Have fun,

POST SALE OF THE CENTURY; CDF TO RETAIN ZENITH

Changing horizons for Crosieres De Frances?

Changing horizons for Crosieres De France?

Following the sudden and unexpected sale of the Celebrity Century to Chinese interests, there has been some pretty hasty scrambling about at the offices of the French company, Criosieres De France.

The French satellite of Royal Caribbean had been slated to receive the veteran, 1995 built mega ship to join its smaller fleet mate,  Horizon. This would leave the way clear for Zenith to be returned to Pullmantur, its Spanish counterpart.

The sale of Celebrity Century to China has effectively torpedoed all that. Plan B is now in effect.

Hence, Zenith will now remain with CDF to sail alongside her twin sister and one time former Celebrity fleet mate, Horizon. Passengers that were booked on Celebrity Century will be offered ‘alternative or better’ accommodation on the Zenith instead.

The big question here is; ‘how’?

At 47,000 tons and with a capacity for around 1,830 passengers each, neither Horizon or the 1992 built Zenith has anything like the passenger space of the 72,000 ton, 1995 built Celebrity Century, never mind the facilities or the entertainment handle. The whole idea of sending Century to CDF was to give that line a significant upgrade in terms of passenger offerings.

That has now gone. And, although the Chinese deal no doubt makes more financial sense from the point of Royal Caribbean, I have to wonder how potential passengers of CDF view their treatment by the parent company. I’d guess that some, if not many, will be less than happy.

And, of course, there is a knock on effect for the Spanish brand, Pullmantur, which was claiming to be able to field a ‘six ship fleet’ by 2016. Presumably, they were banking on the promised return of  Zenith as part of that plan.

At present, Pullmantur consists of a trio of illustrious, ex Royal Caribbean stalwarts; Empress, Sovereign and Monarch. While I can well envisage Majesty Of The Seas being made available to the Spanish line in the next year or so, that still leaves them two ships short for their planned expansion. It is difficult to see where another pair of ships would come from in the current market.

This is all a bit of a merry-go-round, and it seems to be very much a case of making mend with whatever is available. It is also potentially counter-productive for the still shaky European subsidiary market in the long run; after a long, and still far from over recession, a period of stability and retrenchment is what both CDF and Pullmatur need.

What chance of that, now?

As ever, stay tuned.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN OFFERS BERMUDA FLY CRUISES FOR 2015

Bermuda is a famous beauty

Bermuda is a famous beauty

Royal Caribbean International has just issued a new, 132 page brochure for the UK market, covering all of the line’s worldwide itineraries through into 2016.

Among the first time offerings is a package of seven night, round trip fly cruises to Bermuda from New Jersey’s soon to be upgraded Cape Liberty cruise terminal on board the 2007 built Liberty Of The Seas, the second of the three ship Freedom class.

A total of twelve, seven night packages are on offer, inclusive of flights to New York or Newark, an overnight hotel stay with all transfers, and a five night cruise to Bermuda on Liberty Of The Seas. At 154,500 tons, this is a huge resort style ship, with accommodation for 3.634 passengers. Each sailing will feature an overnight stay in the King’s Wharf area of Bermuda– originally known as the Royal Naval Dockyard- a definite step up on the normal daytime visits in the Caribbean trade.

While it has long offered Bermuda cruises to the British traveller, this is the first time that Royal Caribbean has offered a programme of dedicated fly cruises for the Bermuda market. Also cruising to Bermuda from Baltimore, the smaller, Vision class Grandeur Of The Seas is offering her usual summer programme of seven night voyages, each of which includes a full, two night stay at King’s Wharf. These are currently sold as cruise only.

The Liberty Of The Seas fly cruise package runs from May through October. Departures from the UK: May 15,29/June 12,26/ July 10, 24/August 7,21/September 4,18/October 2,16. Prices (based on an inside cabin) begin at £1,369 per person for the fly cruise package, or £529 per person as a cruise only option.

Flowers of Bermuda. Literally blooming beautiful.

Flowers of Bermuda. Literally blooming beautiful.

Twenty one miles long and two miles wide, Bermuda is compact enough to explore pretty well over the course of two days. Highlights of the island include the current capital of Hamilton, and the original capital of St. Georges, now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Blessed with amazing, blush pink coloured beaches and a benign summer climate, Bermuda is a real alternative summer time destination to the islands of the Caribbean, a full thousand miles to the south. The hospitality of the locals is world renowned, and with very good reason; the area around King’s Wharf also offers a good range of open air bars, dining venues and clubs, all within a short distance of the cruise ship piers.

While relatively short on time, these are very highly styled breaks that combine the beauty and tranquility of Bermuda with all the fun and attractions of one of the most modern, state of the art mega ships currently at sea. Add in the potential to do some shopping and sightseeing in New York, and the appeal of this trip becomes obvious.

Methinks Royal Caribbean is on a winner with this one.

Side streets of St. George's, Bermuda

Side streets of St. George’s, Bermuda

MAJESTY OF THE SEAS…..ON BORROWED TIME?

Majesty Of The Seas at Coco Cay, Bahamas

Majesty Of The Seas at Coco Cay, Bahamas

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.

Centrum on Majesty

Centrum on Majesty

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.

Atrium level dance floor

Atrium level dance floor

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.

Boleros

Boleros

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.

Pool deck and Viking Crown on Majesty Of The Seas

Pool deck and Viking Crown on Majesty Of The Seas

A ROYAL CARIBBEAN ‘WHERE ARE THEY NOW’- SHIPS YOU LOVED AND LOST…

Will one of the Vision class ships be next to go?

Will one of the Vision class ships be next to go?

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

Sovereign Of The Seas

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.

Inside the Viking Crown, Majesty Of The Seas

Inside the Viking Crown, Majesty Of The Seas

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.

Entrance lobby on Majesty Of The Seas

Entrance lobby on Majesty Of The Seas

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.

Happy sailing!

OASIS 3 KEEL LAYING- THE GENESIS OF A GIANT. AND OASIS 4 IS GO, TOO….

Allure Of The Seas is Europe bound next year

Allure Of The Seas is Europe bound next year

As much of the UK media attention is focused on the historic celebrations to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Queen Mary 2, a small ceremony is today taking place over in the shipyard that gave birth to the iconic Cunarder.

STX Saint Nazaire in France is the site of the keel laying ceremony for the third in the gargantuan Oasis class of mega ships, the largest passenger carrying vessels that the world has ever seen. The ship- with no name as yet- is scheduled to enter service in the spring of 2018, and is the first of the trio not to be built in Finland.

And, in a move which will surprise few, Royal Caribbean has just announced an order for a fourth vessel in the class, also from STX.

While many people expressed surprise at Royal Caribbean going to STX Saint Nazaire for the new behemoth, the two companies actually have a shared history.

Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, it was Saint Nazaire that produced the first class of mega ship for Royal  Caribbean. The Sovereign Of The Seas was first in January of 1988, and was soon followed by two almost identical sisters, Monarch Of The Seas and Majesty Of The Seas, in 1992.

This first generation of super ships were, in their day, every bit as groundbreaking and technically advanced as their siblings of the Oasis class. All three are still in service, though only the Majesty Of The Seas is still with Royal Caribbean.

The French yard also built the Nordic Empress, originally ordered for Admiral Cruises but then completed for Royal Caribbean, back in 1990.

It is true that Royal Caribbean has been associated with Finnish and German yards such as Meyer Werft in Papenburg over recent decades. The new ships from STX join a construction roster that includes a pair of new, twin sister ships for MSC Cruises. After years of playing second fiddle to Germany, the French shipyard has certainly come out swinging.

The most fascinating thing about the new Royal Caribbean ships will be in seeing how much they will differ from their earlier sisters. With both Oasis Of The Seas and Allure Of The Seas due to make their first European cruises- in 2014 and 2015 respectively- the huge European market is obviously being primed for the potential, perhaps year round deployment of one of these innovative, ground breaking  new giants.

Exciting times for future cruises in Europe, to be sure. As always, stay tuned.