(12:00 p.m. EDT) -- Royal Caribbean may call it a "five-week revitalization," but we're calling the refurbishment of Splendour of the Seas a true renaissance.
The ship entered dry dock at the Navantia Shipyard in Cadiz, Spain, in late October, and during this time, every inch of the 15-year-old vessel, both inside and outside, was upgraded. The $50 million project is the latest in Royal Caribbean's multi-ship enhancement and revitalization programme. Throughout Splendour, restaurants have been added or tweaked (e.g., a for-fee menu has been introduced in the Viking Crown Lounge, a first for the line), cabins upgraded and technology enhanced.
"Every part of the ship has been touched," said Jürgen Bailom, the fleet hotel director of revitalizations. "You will not recognise it when it is all finished. It is going to be the best cruise ship so far."
Cruise Critic was invited to visit the ship eight days before the end of the dry-docking period to see how the ship was faring.
On the day of the press visit, the ship was a beehive of activity. More than 2,000 workers and crew from more than 65 countries were onboard, working round the clock to retrofit the ship. With only eight days to completion, all the major structural items were already in place. The ship appeared to be at ease in accommodating the collective chaos of people, equipment, loose cables, furniture, carpet and rubbish -- despite the overpowering dust and noise.
Here's what the made-over ship, currently on its maiden post-refurb voyage from São Paolo, now offers:
The dry dock added 124 balcony cabins and new stateroom amenities, including flat-screen TVs and remodelled bathrooms. Ship-wide Wi-Fi access has been installed, and all cabins have iPads (a Royal Caribbean first) so guests can do such things as access daily schedules and onboard accounts and make restaurant reservations.
There are now twice as many dining options as before. New venues include Chops Grille, Izumi, the Boardwalk Dog House (capable of serving up to 1,000 hot dogs a day), Chef's Table, and the Park Café -- signature dining concepts initially introduced on the Oasis-class ships. These enhancements, however, come with a price tag. The cover charge for the Chef's Table exclusive wine pairing five-course dinner is $95, while the cover price for Chops Grille menu of prime cuts is $30. The line has also introduced an a la carte menu in the Viking Crown Lounge.
On the entertainment front, the pool deck has a new outdoor cinema. The indoor theatre was completely refurbished, and new stage technologies introduced. Royal Caribbean is promising "spectacular shows" will be performed in three languages. "But unlike on Costa ships where a show is performed only once and in three languages concurrently, we perform the same show three times and in three different languages," said Jürgen Bailom.
One of the ship's star features is the new vertical entertainment concept in the Centrum and its two full-length, trans-deck LED displays. This model is being introduced onboard all Vision-class ships, starting with Splendour of the Seas, complimented by the chic 1960s-themed R Bar (formerly the Champagne Bar). Aerial performers will give shows in this space; up to 1,400 passengers can see the same show at the same time.
Other new spaces include the Royal Babies and Tots Nursery, the Diamond Lounge for Crown and Anchor loyalty guests, and a Concierge Lounge for suite guests.
Royal Caribbean has introduced modern features and new technologies in the marine section of this ship in an effort to minimise environmental impacts. The AWB, an advance water treatment scheme, for example, is an expensive system installed to prevent the discharge of dirty water into the sea. At the same time, the system purifies the water by using a polymer chemical, creating drinking water. And in an effort to make the vessel run more fuel-efficiently, new technologies have been introduced throughout the vessel, from the bridge electronics to the external paint used.
Since the vessel will gain weight through ageing and added features, workers have welded a 217-ton ducktail to the ship's stern to help increase stability.
During the Northern Hemisphere winter, the vessel's seasonal homeport is São Paolo (Santos). About 96 percent of its customers will be Brazilian. Royal Caribbean caters primarily to the needs of these passengers during the time in South America. When the ship returns to Europe next summer, it will homeport in Venice.
--by Alan Lam, Cruise Critic Contributor