(3:30 p.m. EST) -- With just weeks to go before the launch of Allure of the Seas -- the world's largest cruise ship -- Royal Caribbean announced today that it'll be "Oasis-izing" a pair of middle-aged vessels, plus adding a Starbucks to Allure's sister, Oasis of the Seas.
So what older ships are getting new love from the line? During massive refurbishments in 2011, Radiance of the Seas and Splendour of the Seas will gain a number of features that debuted on Oasis of the Seas and/or are set to debut in December on Allure of the Seas.
The 90,090-ton, 2,114-passenger Radiance of the Seas, which launched in 2001, is a favorite mid-sized vessel in the RCI fleet. Radiance's refurb, set for mid-year, will add several new eateries into the mix, including Allure imports Samba Grill Brazilian Steakhouse and Rita's Cantina (Mexican); Giovanni's Table, which serves Italian dishes; the Park Cafe deli, a concept borrowed from Oasis and Allure (minus the setting in an actual park); and the Chef's Table, a $75 wine-paired dinner hosted by the executive chef and sommelier. A Royal Babies and Tots Nursery -- another Oasis innovation -- and interactive flat-panel TVs in all cabins are among other additions due.
Tellingly, Royal Caribbean is reinstituting a Diamond Lounge onboard for Crown & Anchor Society loyalty-program members; when the lounge was restricted to Diamond-Plus members in mid-2009, the resultant uproar caused the line to restore some (but not all) of the past-passenger perks.
The 70,000-ton, 1,804-passenger Splendour of the Seas, which debuted in 1996, has been spending half the year in Brazil catering to Brazilians as one of RCI's "immersion" vessels. Splendour is set for similar upgrades (including a Diamond Lounge), plus new balcony cabins and refreshened public areas.
Perhaps to the surprise of no one, the 225,282-ton, 5,400-passenger Oasis will get its own Starbucks early next year (Allure will be home to the first one at sea when it launches December 1), plus the DreamWorks Experience -- which includes 3D movies in the main theater.
For its part, Royal Caribbean has not yet responded to a request for more information on the exact scope of the upgrades (e.g., costs and timetable), but we'll report back when we get more details.
As we reported in May, Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas, two vessels from the Oasis-class predecessor Freedom-class, will receive their own set of upgrades in early 2011, including the addition of giant video screens near the main pools, Royal Babies and Tots nurseries and the DreamWorks Experience. Liberty will also get disco bragging rights when it unveils "Saturday Night Fever -- the Musical" in the Platinum Theater.
Today's announcement reflects a general industry trend: As the ferocious pace of new-building slows, cruise lines have been investing heavily into modernizing middle-aged ships, which is naturally much cheaper than building something from scratch. Carnival has pumped hundreds of millions into its Fantasy-class vessels via its "Evolutions of Fun" program; Holland America has gone a similar route via its "Signatures of the Excellence" upgrades. And RCI sister line Celebrity Cruises is in the midst of "Solstice-izing" its four popular Millennium-class ships by adding popular Solstice-class dining options (creperia, Italian steakhouse, wine bar) to each.
Tell us: Do you have a favorite older vessel that you'd love to see get a big refurb?
--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor