Royal Caribbean International
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Royal Caribbean operates one of cruising's most intriguing fleets. Ships range from mid-sized and middle-aged to state-of-the-art and on-the-cusp mega-ships. The line continuously updates even its oldest ships, bringing onboard the most popular features from its newest vessels. The line boasts the two biggest ships in the world -- Oasis of the Seas and near-twin Allure of the Seas -- and Harmony of the Seas becomes the third in the Oasis Class when it debuts in 2016.
The line famously brings innovative activities to its ships, including indoor skydiving, bumper cars, surf simulators, circus school, rock climbing walls and its unique North Star, a jewel-shaped glass capsule rising 300 feet above sea level and providing 360-degree views over the sides of ships in its Quantum Class.
Its newest ships flex their muscle with high-tech features such as robotic bartenders, HD-aided whiz-bang entertainment, lightning-fast Internet and virtual balconies featuring real-time views of the ocean and destinations.
While not gourmet, Royal Caribbean's food is usually good enough to please most of their passengers. Most of Royal Caribbean ships offer the choice of traditional two-seating dining schedule or flexible dining for dinner, with open seating in the dining room for breakfast and lunch. Passenger who opt for "My Time Dining" have to prepay gratuities. Passengers can prebook tables in the main dining room online before they cruise. Ships in its Quantum Class, including Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas, feature "Dynamic Dining," which gives passengers the chance eat dinner at any of the ships' restaurants whenever they want, though reservations are encouraged.
The Windjammer Cafe aboard all the line's ships offers breakfast and lunch buffets, and a casual alternative for dinner. On some ships, Jade, a special section of the Windjammer, offers Asian-themed dishes during the day and fresh sushi at night.
Most Royal Caribbean ships have at least one alternative restaurant, the Italian-themed Portofino; many also have the Chops Grille steakhouse. In all cases, the cover charge is $35-39 (depending on the ship) and the food and service is a notch above those in the line's standard dining areas. Reservations are required.
The Voyager-, Freedom- and Quantum-class ships, as well as Majesty of the Seas, also have a seagoing branch of the Johnny Rockets fast-food franchise, with either a $4.95 cover charge (and some menu items are priced on an a la carte basis) or an a la carte fee structure. The Cafe Promenade on the Voyager- and Freedom-class ships offers Continental breakfast and around-the-clock sandwiches and other snacks; the Seaview Cafe aboard Radiance-class ships offers fast-food items like fish and chips at lunchtime and late at night.
Daytime activities aboard Royal Caribbean ships tend toward the energetic.
Every Royal Caribbean ship has a rock-climbing wall; the Freedom-, Voyager- and Radiance-class ships and Legend and Splendour of the Seas have mini-golf courses. All ships have vast main pool areas; the luxurious adults-only Solarium is featured on all Freedom-, Voyager-, Radiance- and Vision-class ships. All ships have a wide variety of spa and fitness facilities. You'll find ice skating on the Freedom- and Voyager-class ships. Quantum-class ships include simulated skydiving, bumper cars, roller skating and trapeze lessons.
Evening entertainment on Royal Caribbean comes in two types: splashy Vegas-style production shows that are among the most impressive at sea, and passenger-participation favorites like the "Newlywed and Not-So-Newlywed Game." There's also a wide range of musical entertainment in a variety of public rooms; the Latin-themed Boleros on many of the newer (and more recently refurbished) ships is especially popular. If you're sailing on a Freedom- or Voyager-class ship, don't miss the ice show: It's one of the most spectacular and unique performances you'll ever see on a cruise ship. These ships even have parades and "street performers" in the Royal Promenade -- another unique entertainment feature not found on any other ships. Quantum-class ships took it up a notch, introducing the spectacular Two70, an entertainment space that combines cutting-edge technology with music, dancing and acrobatics. The line has brought Broadway-style shows, such as Chicago, We Will Rock You and Mamma Mia, to some of its ships.
Accommodations range from standard inside and oceanview cabins, to standard balcony cabins (on most ships), with a wide range of suites, from mini-suites to huge Royal Suites with bars and grand pianos. On most ships, suite passengers gain access to a private concierge lounge (concierge privileges are also accorded to the line's most frequent passengers, Crown & Anchor Diamond Members). Freedom- and Voyager-class ships also have unique "promenade view" cabins overlooking the Royal Promenade; their inhabitants have a birds-eye view of the "city life" along this virtual indoor street, and of course the parades that occur several evenings per cruise. These unique cabins cost more than insides, but less than oceanview cabins, and along with the suites are often the first cabins to be booked up on each cruise.
About Royal Caribbean International
The world's second-largest cruise line, Royal Caribbean International (originally Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines) began in the late 1960s as a consortium of Norwegian ship owners who wanted to get in on the rapidly expanding American market. Ever since its first ship, Song of Norway (no longer in the fleet), debuted in 1970, the company has prided itself on introducing new shipboard innovations. After completing its first three ships (the others were Nordic Prince and Sun Viking) by 1972, Royal Caribbean "stretched" its first two ships and built the much larger Song of America in 1982. These early Royal Caribbean ships became the prototype for virtually all cruise ships since.
But Royal Caribbean's biggest splash came in 1988 with the monumental Sovereign of the Seas, the very first mega-ship of the modern era. While only midsized by today's standards, at over 70,000 tons, Sovereign of the Seas was massive in its day, and completely dwarfed every competitor of the era. The most sensational feature -- aside from sheer size -- was the introduction of the first modern shipboard atrium, complete with glass elevators and a grand piano, reminiscent of an opulent hotel -- but with a view no hotel could match.
Not content to wait for other lines to catch up, the even larger sister ships, Monarch of the Seas and Majesty of the Seas, followed in quick succession, along with the smaller Nordic Empress, the first ship designed for cruises shorter than a week. Royal Caribbean also bought Admiral Cruises, a company specializing in short cruises, and turned its nearly new Stardancer into Royal Caribbean's Viking Serenade after a massive refit. (To date, Viking Serenade, which left the fleet in 2002, remains the only ship to fly the Royal Caribbean flag that wasn't built for the company.)
By the early 1990s Royal Caribbean moved on to another challenge: designing ships for use outside its traditional cruising grounds in the Caribbean. While the company had sent some of its oldest, smallest ships farther afield to destinations like Alaska and Europe -- Royal Caribbean hadn't built a ship specially designed for worldwide cruising. This changed in 1995 with the introduction of Legend of the Seas, a spectacular new ship that brought Royal Caribbean into a whole new era. Smaller than the Sovereign-class ships, Legend was by far the most luxurious ship Royal Caribbean had ever built, with bigger cabins, more space per passenger and a wider variety of public areas and open decks. The popular shipboard mini-golf course was introduced, as was Royal Caribbean's now-signature adults-only indoor/outdoor pool area, the Solarium, one of the most impressive shipboard spaces that had been built to date. Legend was closely followed by its sister, Splendour of the Seas, and then by two pairs of slightly larger near-sisters: Grandeur and Enchantment of the Seas, and Rhapsody and Vision of the Seas.
At the same time, between 1995 and 1999, the company disposed of the four original ships and replaced them with the new Vision-class ships designed specifically for worldwide itineraries.
Having established itself outside the Caribbean, Royal Caribbean turned back to developing its core market. In the mid 1990s, as the Vision-class ships entered service to rave reviews, the company began planning a new ship that would redefine the cruise industry as much, if not more than Sovereign of the Seas had in the previous decade. Code-named "Project Eagle," the ship began sailing in 1999 as Voyager of the Seas -- and completely blew away every mega-ship that had come before. With features like an ice rink, rock wall and indoor promenade, Voyager of the Seas was the most innovative ship design in decades, the first ship that genuinely felt more like a resort than a ship. Four ships would follow, and the Voyager class became the defining mega-ship design of the early 21st century.
Meanwhile, four Radiance-class ships were built in the early 2000s as a follow-up to the Vision-class vessels of the 1990s. Similarly designed for worldwide cruising, they are larger, with more balconies, dining choices, public areas and greater luxury all around.
After the launch of so many new ships, the company's formerly innovative older ships were beginning to look old and tired. Royal Caribbean spent millions of dollars to refit Monarch of the Seas, Empress of the Seas (formerly Nordic Empress), Sovereign of the Seas, Enchantment of the Seas (including a "stretch" of Enchantment) and Majesty of the Seas. Despite the refurbishments, a few ships just didn't cut it. Royal Caribbean transferred two ships to its Spanish subsidiary, Pullmantur, in 2008: Empress of the Seas in March and Sovereign of the Seas in October. Monarch of the Seas was transferred to Pullmantur in 2013, and Majesty of the Seas will be transferred in 2016.
In recent years, the big news at Royal Caribbean has been ever-larger ships. In 2006, the line debuted Freedom of the Seas, an enlarged, enhanced version of the Voyager-class design that introduced new features like a water park and onboard surfing to the array of Voyager-class amenities. The Freedom class also includes Liberty of the Seas and Independence of the Seas.
In fall 2009, the line launched the 225,282-ton, 5,400-ton Oasis of the Seas. A year later, sister ship Allure of the Seas debuted. A third Oasis-class ship, Harmony of the Seas, will debut in 2016. At over 40 percent larger than Freedom of the Seas, Oasis and Allure are the biggest cruise ships in the world. The strategy of increasing size with each class ended when the 158,000-ton, 4,100-passenger Quantum of the Seas, the first "Project Sunshine" vessel, launched in fall 2014. Sister ship, Anthem of the Seas debuted in spring 2015. A third Quantum-class ship, called Ovation of the Seas, will launch in mid-2016, and the line will add a fourth, yet-unnamed ship to the class in 2019. Quantum of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas represent the line's first serious foray into Asia; Quantum of the Seas sails full-time out of Hong Kong, and Ovation will homeport in Tianjin when it debuts in June 2016, before heading to Sydney, Australia, in December 2016.
Royal Caribbean International Fleet
The 225,282-ton, 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas launched in December 2009 as the world's biggest cruise ship, but sister-ship Allure of the Seas quickly stole the title (by a foot!) when it debuted in fall 2010. A third Oasis-class ship, Harmony of the Seas, will launch in 2016. The class is a whopping 40 percent larger than the previous title holders, Royal Caribbean's Freedom-class trio.
The 158,000-ton, 4,100-passenger Quantum of the Seas, the first "Project Sunshine" vessel, launched in 2014, followed by sister ship Anthem of the Seas in spring 2015. Third-in-class Ovation of the Seas will join the fleet in 2016, and a fourth, yet-unnamed ship will debut in 2019.
After the Oasis- and Quantum-class ships, the biggest and newest ships in the fleet are the 154,407-ton, 3,634-passenger Freedom-class ships, Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas and Independence of the Seas. They feature virtually everything you could want in a cruise ship. The active set can enjoy ice skating, rock climbing, surfing, mini-golf and more. Other amenities include three alternative restaurants, an indoor promenade with parades and more, and an array of bars and lounges catering to every taste.
Next-largest are the Voyager-class ships: Built between 1999 and 2003, Voyager of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas, Mariner of the Seas and Navigator of the Seas are 138,000 gross tons and carry 3,114 passengers. Though slightly smaller than the Freedom-class ships, the Voyager-class ships are very similar in design and carry most of the same amenities.
The line's biggest and newest midsize ships are the Radiance class. The 90,000-ton, 2,500-passenger Radiance, Brilliance, Jewel and Serenade of the Seas were built between 2001 and 2003, and are the biggest Royal Caribbean ships that can fit through the Panama Canal. They lack the indoor promenade, ice rink and some other Voyager/Freedom-class features, but offer some of the most elegant interiors at sea. Unique features include the Colony Club, an elegant, British Colonial-themed nightclub that includes the world's first stabilized, seagoing billiard tables.
Somewhat smaller than the Radiance-class ships are the Vision-class ships, three pairs of sister ships. The first pair, Legend and Splendour of the Seas, were built in 1995 and 1996 respectively. At 70,000 gross tons and carrying 2,076 passengers, these ships are almost intimate by Royal Caribbean standards. Grandeur and Enchantment of the Seas were built in 1996 and 1997 respectively. Grandeur remains in its original 74,000-ton, 2,446 passenger configuration, while Enchantment was "stretched" -- adding a new, midsection -- in 2005 and is 80,000 tons and carries 2,446 passengers. Finally, Rhapsody of the Seas and Vision of the Seas were built in 1997 and 1998 respectively, and are 78,491 tons and carry 2,435 passengers. While they have fewer balconies and dining options than the newer ships, they remain excellent modern cruise ships for Royal Caribbean's less-popular routes, often from secondary homeports.
The remaining Sovereign-class ship, Majesty of the Seas, sails the line's shortest three- and four-night itineraries. Majesty of the Seas was built in 1992, and is 73,000 gross tons and carries over 2,744 passengers. While its cabins are smaller than the other ships in the fleet, it is an excellent ship for shorter cruises. The class' namesake, Sovereign of the Seas, was transferred to Royal Caribbean's Spanish subsidiary, Pullmantur, in October 2008. Majesty of the Seas will share the same fate in spring 2016.
For the most part, Royal Caribbean attracts a wide variety of North American passengers, mostly between the ages of 30 and 55 on the seven-night and shorter cruises, and 50 and over on cruises longer than seven nights. Cruises from the U.K. -- as well as Mediterranean, Asia and Australia cruises -- attract a significant number of locals, as well as Royal Caribbean's usual North Americans. Seven-night and shorter cruises are also popular with families, especially during American school vacation periods, when the ships will often be filled to every upper berth. Quantum of the Seas is aimed squarely at the Asian market, so passengers will be from Asia and, to a lesser extent, Australia.
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