Royal Caribbean International
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OnboardRoyal Caribbean operates one of cruising's most intriguing fleets. Ships range from mid-sized, middle-aged ships which -- like Majesty of the Seas, for instance -- have received major updates, and state-of-the-art and on-the-cusp mega-ships, such as Freedom of the Seas, with its surf park and boxing ring -- to the two biggest ships in the world -- Oasis of the Seas and sister ship Allure of the Seas.
The line is constantly innovating, and the three latest additions to the fleet -- Quantum of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas and a third as-yet-unnamed ship -- will form a brand new class: Quantum Class, which arguably sets the bar even higher. Quantum of the Seas (the first to be launched, in 2014) is bringing out Royal's wow factor with firsts at sea including a skydiving simulator, the first bumper cars at sea and North Star, a jewel-shaped glass capsule rising 300 feet above sea level and providing 360-degree views over the sides of the ship. It will also have inside cabins featuring real-time views of the ocean and destinations and the first single cabins with balconies.
While not gourmet, Royal Caribbean's food is usually good enough to please most of their passengers. 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 pre-pay gratuities. Passengers can now pre-book tables in the main dining room online before they cruise.
The Windjammer Cafe aboard all the line's ships offers the popular 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 (exceptions are all the Vision-class ships but Enchantment of the Seas) have at least one alternative restaurant, the Italian-themed Portofino; many also have the Chops Grille steakhouse. In all cases, the cover charge is $20 - $25 and the food and service is a notch above those in the line's standard dining areas. Reservations are required.
The Voyager- and Freedom-class ships, as well as Majesty of the Seas, also have a seagoing branch of the Johnny Rockets fast-food franchise, with a $4.95 cover charge (and some menu items are priced on an a la carte basis). 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. Sorrento Pizza and Compass Deli are new entries into the RCI brand name game. Compass Deli sandwiches/wraps carry a $3.50 price tag. Sorrento pizza is consistent -- never meant as a gourmet meal, it is fast and fairly good.
Daytime activities aboard Royal Caribbean ships tend toward the active. 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.
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 new 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.
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.
Nobody should have trouble "connecting" on a Royal Caribbean cruise. All RCI ships feature Wi-Fi hot spots (cabins included), and the Freedom-class vessels have Wi-Fi throughout the ship. This CyberCabin service costs $70 for a four- to five-night cruise, $100 for a one-week cruise, and $130 for nine- to 10-night sailings. In addition, for 55 cents a minute, passengers can connect at Internet Cafes equipped with one to two dozen terminals, and at the more private business centers on the Freedom-, Voyager- and Radiance-class ships.
GSM and CDMA mobile phone access is available on all ships. Charges apply.
About Royal Caribbean InternationalThe world's second-largest cruise line, Royal Caribbean International (originally Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines) began in the late 1960's as a consortium of Norwegian ship owners who wanted to get in on the rapidly expanding American market. Ever since its first ship, the brand-new 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 mid-sized 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 1990's 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, it was now time for Royal Caribbean to turn back to developing its core market. In the mid 1990's, 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 2000's as a follow-up to the Vision-class vessels of the 1990's. 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.
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. Freedom of the Seas also narrowly reclaimed the title of "largest passenger ship" for Royal Caribbean, surpassing Queen Mary 2 in tonnage (but not length or width). The Freedom class also includes Freedom of the Seas' sister ships, Liberty of the Seas and Independence of the Seas.
Then, 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 will debut in 2016. At over 40 percent larger than Freedom of the Seas, Oasis and Allure once again mean that a Royal Caribbean ship is the biggest cruise ship in the world. (Only a few supertankers exceed the size of Oasis- or Freedom-class ships.) The strategy of increasing size with each class will come to an end when the 158,000-ton, 4,100-passenger Quantum of the Seas, the first "Project Sunshine" vessel, launches fall 2014. A sister ship, Anthem of the Seas, will debut spring 2015. A third as-yet-unnamed Quantum class ship will launch in mid-2016.
Royal Caribbean International FleetThe 225,282-ton, 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas, which launched in December 2009, is the world's largest cruise ship. It's a whopping 40 percent larger than the previous title holders, Royal Caribbean's Freedom-class trio. Sister ship Allure of the Seas debuted in fall 2010 and a third as-yet-unnamed vessel will launch in 2016.
The 158,000-ton, 4,100-passenger Quantum of the Seas, the first "Project Sunshine" vessel, will launch fall 2014. A sister ship, Anthem of the Seas, is set to debut spring 2015. And a third as-yet-unnamed ship will debut in mid-2016.
After Oasis (and under-construction Project Sunshine triplets), 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 (a Freedom class exclusive), 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 (a few things, like the surf park, are left out). While no longer the pride of the Royal Caribbean fleet, they still surpass every other cruise line's mega-ships in size and facilities.
The line's biggest and newest mid-size 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 the most balcony cabins in the fleet, and 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" in 2005 and is now 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 two Sovereign-class ships dominate Royal Caribbean's shortest, three- and four-night itineraries. Monarch of the Seas and Majesty of the Seas were built in 1991 and 1992, respectively, and are approximately 73,000 gross tons and carry over 2,744 passengers. While their cabins are smaller than the other ships in the fleet, these are excellent ships for shorter cruises. The class' namesake, Sovereign of the Seas, was transferred to Royal Caribbean's Spanish subsidiary, Pullmantur, in October 2008. Monarch of the Seas will share the same fate. The last sailing will be a three-night cruise departing March 29, 2013.
Fellow PassengersRoyal Caribbean attracts a wide variety of mostly 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. and Brazil -- 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 very popular with families, especially during American school vacation periods when the ships will often be filled to every upper berth.
Royal Caribbean Member Reviews
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