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Which Royal Caribbean Suite Should I Book?
Which Royal Caribbean Suite Should I Book?

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line History

Dori Saltzman
Carolyn Spencer Brown
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Aft view of Liberty of the Seas

Who is Royal Caribbean's CEO? Michael Bayley (December 2014 — present)

What year was Royal Caribbean Founded? 1968

Which vessels are in the Royal Caribbean fleet?

  • Adventure of the Seas
  • Allure of the Seas
  • Anthem of the Seas
  • Brilliance of the Seas
  • Empress of the Seas
  • Enchantment of the Seas
  • Explorer of the Seas
  • Freedom of the Seas
  • Grandeur of the Seas
  • Harmony of the Seas
  • Independence of the Seas
  • Jewel of the Seas
  • Liberty of the Seas
  • Majesty of the Seas
  • Mariner of the Seas
  • Navigator of the Seas
  • Oasis of the Seas
  • Odyssey of the Seas
  • Ovation of the Seas
  • Quantum of the Seas
  • Radiance of the Seas
  • Rhapsody of the Seas
  • Serenade of the Seas
  • Spectrum of the Seas
  • Symphony of the Seas
  • Vision of the Seas
  • Voyager of the Seas

See full Royal Caribbean fleet.

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Royal Caribbean International (originally Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines) began in 1968 as a consortium of three Norwegian ship owners who wanted to get in on the rapidly expanding U.S. cruise market.

The first cruise ship for the line was Song of Norway, which debuted in 1970, followed by Nordic Prince in 1971 and Sun Viking in 1972. Six years later, Royal Caribbean took the bold step to stretch Song of Norway, lengthening it by 85 feet. Two years later, the line repeated the exercise with Nordic Prince.

In 1982, Royal Caribbean embraced the large-ship trend that it has stuck with ever since, launching Song of America, which at the time was the third-largest passenger ship at sea, holding a little more than 1,500 people.

The line turned from investing in ships for a few years to investing in its land-based offerings, leasing a coastal property in Haiti in 1986, which it has been offering to passengers as the private "island" experience Labadee ever since.

Royal Caribbean returned to fleet expansion two years later and made history with its first Sovereign-class ship. Considered the first mega-ship of the modern cruising era, Sovereign of the Seas launched in 1988, and at 70,000 tons, the ship was almost twice the size of Song of America. While only midsized by today's standards, 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. The ship also introduced the concept of an entire deck devoted completely to cabins with private balconies, as well as Royal Caribbean signatures Viking Crown Lounge and Windjammer Cafe.

In the same year, the line purchased Little Stirrup Cay, an island in the Bahamas, which it turned into its second private destination "CocoCay."

Also in the same year, Royal Caribbean bought Admiral Cruises, a company specializing in short cruises, and turned its nearly new Stardancer into Royal Caribbean's Viking Serenade in 1990 after a massive six-monthlong refit. (To date, Viking Serenade, which left the fleet in 2002, remains the only ship to fly the Royal Caribbean flag that wasn't originally launched for the company.)

Admiral Cruises' other new-build launched for Royal Caribbean in 1990 under the name Nordic Empress. (In 2004, to keep with the line's "of the Seas" naming convention, the ship was renamed Empress of the Seas.)

Not content to wait for other lines to catch up, Royal Caribbean launched the even larger Sovereign-class sister ships, Monarch of the Seas and Majesty of the Seas, in quick succession in 1991 and 1992 respectively.

Around the same time that Royal Caribbean was engaging in this rapid growth, the line went public on the New York Stock Exchange, in 1993.

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 specifically for worldwide cruising. This changed in 1995 with the introduction of Legend of the Seas, which brought Royal Caribbean into a whole new era.

Smaller than the Sovereign-class ships, Legend, a Vision-class ship, 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 (1996), and then by two pairs of slightly larger near-sisters: Grandeur (1996) and Enchantment of the Seas (1997), and Rhapsody (1997) and Vision of the Seas (1998).

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. Also, in 1997, Royal Caribbean acquired Celebrity Cruises and changed the name of the Royal Caribbean fleet to Royal Caribbean International, with the parent company taking on the name Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

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 dwarfed every mega-ship that had come before (though not for long).

With features like an ice rink, rock climbing 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 -- Explorer of the Seas (2000), Adventure of the Seas (2001), Navigator of the Seas (2002) and Mariner of the Seas (2003) -- and the Voyager class became the defining mega-ship design of the early 21st century.

But the line wasn't done and the four Radiance-class ships -- Radiance of the Seas (2001), Brilliance of the Seas (2002), Serenade of the Seas (2003) and Jewel of the Seas (2004) -- 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 and public areas.

After the launch of so many new ships, the company's formerly innovative older ships were beginning to look old and tired. Between 2004 and 2007, 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 and 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.) Empress of the Seas was transferred back to Royal Caribbean in 2016 after a massive refurbishment.

In the midst of the refurbishments, Royal Caribbean introduced its next class of ships, the even bigger Freedom class. 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 (2007) and Independence of the Seas (2008).

In fall 2009, the line launched the biggest cruise ship the world had ever seen. The 225,282-ton, 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas was more than 40 percent larger than Freedom of the Seas and introduced a unique system of seven onboard "neighborhoods," and a split-back design that opened the back of the ship to the open air. A year later, sister ship Allure of the Seas debuted. A third, slightly larger Oasis-class ship, Harmony of the Seas, debuted in 2016, and a fourth, Symphony of the Seas launched in 2018. The ships remain the largest in the world to date.Two more Oasis-class ships are on order, for delivery in 2021 and 2023, respectively.

But Royal Caribbean hasn't entirely committed to only having the biggest ships in the world, releasing several smaller 158,000-ton, 4,100-passenger Quantum-class ships during this time, as well. The first, Quantum of the Seas, launched in fall 2014 for a North American audience but was quickly sent to the bourgeoning Asia cruise market. Sister ship Anthem of the Seas debuted in spring 2015 to cater to North Americans, while Ovation of the Seas launched in spring 2016 and markets to Asians and Australians, though it also sails an Alaska season during the summer. A fourth ship, Spectrum of the Seas, technically part of the Quantum Ultra Class, launched in 2019; it also sails in Asia, while the fifth (also technially Quantum Ultra Class) in the series, Odyssey of the Seas launches in 2020 in North America.

Not a line to take a break, yet another new class of ships is on the way from Royal Caribbean. The first Project Icon ship is scheduled to launch in 2022. At 200,000 tons, it will be smaller than the Oasis class but larger than Quantum class.

The line also continues to shed some of its older ships with Splendour of the Seas having left the fleet in 2016 and Legend of the Seas out the door in 2017.

Updated February 24, 2020

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