Empress of the Seas Debuts -- And Sovereign's Next

May 10, 2004
This weekend's big Royal Caribbean news was neither the inauguration of Jewel of the Seas (in Southampton) nor the launch of the renamed and revitalized Empress of the Seas (in Bayonne, New Jersey). While those were surely important milestones in a weekend of milestones, more intriguing was Royal Caribbean's announcement that Sovereign of the Seas, built in 1988, will follow Empress as the next vessel stepping up to the cruise-renovation plate.

The 73,192-ton, 2,276-passenger Sovereign, which will be the third "vintage" vessel in the fleet to undergo an extreme makeover (following Monarch of the Seas and the aforementioned Nordic Empress-nee-Empress of the Seas), will see refurbishment in many of the same areas -- lounges, bars, restaurants, spa, kids' facilities. But Sovereign's big news is that it'll get its first balcony staterooms -- the addition will apply to 62 suites on Deck 10. Sovereign is the only ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet that, at this point, offers no accommodation with private verandahs.

Enhancements to Empress of the Seas, which hosted travel agents and media folks on a one-night cruise-to-nowhere Saturday out of Cape Liberty (Royal Caribbean's new embarkation facility in Bayonne), focused mainly on public areas. And they definitely did bring the older, smaller ship up to par with Voyager- and Radiance-class vessels. The ShipShape Day Spa and Fitness Center received a major facelift, Latte-tudes and a Ben and Jerry's ice-cream bar were added, a new Latin-themed lounge -- Boleros -- replaced the High Society Lounge, the Carousel Pub was replaced by Royal Caribbean's signature Schooner Bar, and the Strike Up the Band Showroom was redone. Fleet-favorite Portofino, an added-fee Italian restaurant, wasn't yet ready, though; it's scheduled to open in time for the May 23 sailing.

Portofino wasn't the only area aboard Empress racing against the clock, however. On our whirlwind 24-hour tour, just a day before the ship set sail on her "new" inaugural voyage, workers were still laying the turf-like poolside flooring, tweaking plumbing problems, and adding finishing touches to staterooms and public areas.

Empress, which will be based at Cape Liberty until October, will be offering alternating six- and eight-night trips to Bermuda. Then the ship will reposition to San Juan, its fall/winter base, where it will sail 11-night Caribbean itineraries. Stay tuned for our brand-new review of Empress of the Seas, coming soon!