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.


ImageShe was the world’s first true, purpose built mega cruise ship. It was twenty-five years ago, back in January 1988, when the Sovereign of The Seas first swept into Miami, and began a glittering career that would completely revolutionize contemporary cruising.

ImageEvery modern cruise ship built since owes its existence at least in part to her, and her two later sisters. The vast, white Sovereign proved that huge cruise ships could operate to reasonable economies of scale, while still delivering a first rate product, and all the facilities of a resort hotel.

ImageAt 73,000 tons and just under 900 foot long, she was exceeded in size only by her great rival, the SS.Norway. But the new ship came with a new set of firsts; for a start, the great bulk of the cabins were situated in the forward half of the ship, and the public rooms were aft, piled up in a kind of  ‘layer cake’ effect.

ImageThe boundary between these came in the form of the most beautiful, stunning atrium lobby that had ever gone to sea. A full five stories high and trimmed in brass, marble and glass, it fanned out from the middle and created an amazing communal area, one quite unlike anything seen anywhere before. And it became the benchmark for all new cruise ships for the two decades that followed.

ImageEverything about the Sovereign was pristine, beautifully styled. Built by the same legendary St. Nazaire shipyard as the Normandie and Norway, the new ship featured a wonderful, flared bow and a beautiful, knuckled cruise stern. Snow white and immaculate, she was a stunning vision to behold, topped by the famous, glass walled ‘viking crown’ lounge that crouched midway up her funnel, like some mildly curious flying saucer.

ImageHer debut preceded the subsequent balcony craze, and she initially had none at all. The small, interior cabins were functional, and the outer ones not much larger. In those days, the company’s motto was ‘Get Out There’. By which they meant; get out of those small cabins, hit the bars and casino, and spend time-and money- enjoying your vacation.

ImageAnd what a vacation it was. There was a vast lido area, complete with two large pools and sit up bar, between the main mast and the funnel. Even when she was full with over 2300 passengers- and that was often- the Sovereign still gave the illusion of being far more spacious than was actually the case.

ImageShe was an immediate, resounding success, and settled into many happy, profitable years on the seven day, Caribbean cruise circuit out of Miami. By early 1992, she had been joined by a pair of almost identical siblings, Monarch of The Seas and Majesty of the Seas. Royal Caribbean was surfing a class ten rated roller of success, and the good times seemed never ending.

ImageBut this new class of ship had triggered a gigantic race, and arch rivals Carnival, soon responded with their own version, the Fantasy class (see previous blogs). On board gimmicks and sensationalism became the order of the day. and more so with each new addition.

ImageOne by one, the three graceful, white sisters were overhauled. A string of sixty-two upper deck balcony cabins was added to each. Later, all three ships would also get a branch of Johnny Rockets, the popular fifties retro diner, on one of the upper decks.

ImageIt was no longer enough to compete with the bigger, more modern and amenity laden ships being rolled out by their rivals. All three sisters found themselves relegated to short, three and four night cruises out of Miami to the Bahamas. For a few years, Monarch of The Seas sailed on similar short cruises from Los Angeles.

ImageBut, with Royal Caribbean now almost awash with new, mind boggling floating resorts, all three ships were clearly on borrowed time. However, they would be kept in the ‘family’ as distant cousins.

ImageRCCL’s buy out of Pullmantur, the all inclusive, budget Spanish cruise line, gave the company a year round foothold in the lucrative, Spanish speaking market. And with the transfer of Sovereign to the Pullmantur brand, that company gained its first ever mega ship.

ImageNow, after a couple of winter seasons in Brazil, the ship- her name handily shortened to simple Sovereign– does year round, seven night Mediterranean cruises out of Barcelona, on two separate routes. Her once snow white hull is now a fetching dark blue, but she is still instantly familiar as the original, pioneering mega cruise ship. She seems to be doing quite well in her new role.

ImagePullmantur is not quite up to speed. The crippling Spanish recession has hit the company hard. Without Royal Caribbean’s protective financial cover, it would almost certainly have collapsed. Sensibly, the company is now sourcing passengers from beyond its original Spanish base. With cheap prices and an all inclusive upgrade as standard, these cruises are a great buy.

ImageRecently, second-of-class Monarch rejoined her sister at Pullmantur, and will soon operate seven night Caribbean cruises out of Aruba. Majesty, the sole survivor of the original RCCL trio, is set to make the move to a Latin groove next year.

So, here’s to the rather splendid Sovereignnow twenty-five, but still not yet out. I hope this lovely, still proud and elegant ship can go on making thousands of new passengers happy for many years to come.

Disclaimer: in the interests of clarity, I should state that all the pictures in this blog are of the Majesty of The Seas, the near-identical sister to Sovereign.