Beyond the news that Royal Caribbean has picked a surprising name for its next ship, the cruise line stole the show at cruise3sixty (a three-day event in Ft. Lauderdale geared to travel agents) with numerous other announcements -- the most innovative being new deployment strategies.
Editor's note: The itinerary and homeport highlights below are for those cruisers thinking ahead to 2007 -- and even 2008 -- rather than 2006.
When the newly named Liberty of the Seas launches next spring, the ship will be based in Miami sailing alternating seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries with departures on Saturdays. At the same time, its older sister Freedom of the Seas, which launches later this spring, will sail a similar series of alternating seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises from Miami with departures on Sundays.
Explorer of the Seas, which makes its Big Apple debut with seasonal sailings from Cape Liberty this summer, will return to Cape Liberty in 2007 -- and homeport there year-round. This will mark the first time any Royal Caribbean ship, never mind Voyager-class, will be based year-round in the New York area. This ship will alternate 5-night Bermuda and 9-night Caribbean sailings in 2007; beyond that, Explorer will also include four 9-night Canada/New England sailings in the fall, and sail southerly during winter months for exotic 12-night Southern Caribbean trips.
Beginning in April 2007, Empress of the Seas will split its time between Philadelphia and ... its brand-new drive-to homeport Norfolk. Bermuda cruises will be offered from both homeports. Empress' move to Norfolk is good news for the mid-Atlantic city, which is launching a snazzy new cruise terminal next March, and has focused on building up its status as a port of embarkation and debarkation for nearby Bermuda as well as the Caribbean and Bahamas.
Baltimore's not left out of mix: Its long-time seasonal resident Grandeur of the Seas will offer options it never has before, spanning summer and fall with new alternating nine-night Canada/New England sailings, five-night Bermuda cruises and nine-night Eastern Caribbean voyages.
The trend toward shorter European itineraries gets another boost with Jewel of the Seas committed to a handful of three- and four-night Baltic voyages (beginning May 25, 2007) alongside the more commonplace 12-night sailings.
For the first time ever, a Voyager-class ship will sail less-than-seven-day cruises: Navigator of the Seas will be based in Miami for four- and five-night Western Caribbean trips beginning in Fall 2007.
Also for the first time ever, a Voyager-class ship will sail out of Galveston; beginning next fall, Voyager of the Seas will replace Rhapsody of the Seas in the Gulf Coast homeport offering the usual seven-night Western Caribbean itineraries (Rhapsody will move to New Orleans and sail seven-night Western Caribbean cruises).
December 2007 through March 2008, Royal Caribbean is actually going to homeport a ship -- Splendour of the Seas -- in the Dominican Republic, joining Costa Cruises, the only other mainstream cruise line to base a ship there seasonally. As such, Splendour's voyages will be marketed far more to an international rather than American audience (the destination has never caught on with Americans the way it has with international travelers including Canadians and Europeans).
Stay tuned to Cruise Critic for additional details as they are released.
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Royal Caribbean Announces New, Exciting Itineraries for 2007
April 10, 2006