When Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines was founded 1969 by a diverse collection of
Norwegian companies, the name and company focus was intended to meld the
majestic reputation of the Norwegian royal class with the dawning age of
dedicated Caribbean cruising out of Miami. Today, RCI is also a major player in
Alaska, Mexico, New England/Canada, Hawaii, and Europe, too, but being merely
another cruise line is not what they are most noted for; the mainstay of their
reputation is for building ever larger and more innovative vessels that pack in
more features per ship than most cruise lines can manage to extend across an
entire fleet. They were the first to put rock climbing on a ship, a skating
rink, and on their newest ship, Freedom of the Seas, they even have a
"Surf-Rider Wave Pool" which generates a constant, surfable wave of water for
surfing or bellyboarding.
By 1972, Royal Caribbean was the cruise line Carnival aspired
to be; with three regularly scheduled Caribbean cruise ships back when Carnival
was still struggling with a single, aging Greek passenger ferry made into a
Caribbean cruiser. Royal Caribbean had the lead in passenger volume for many
years, and for many people are still the preferred cruise line of the two, but
without a doubt, still, a day does not go by when Royal Caribbean does not look
at their windows at the Port of Miami and wonder what Carnival is doing. In
fact, it is the ongoing rivalry between the two lines that is largely
responsible for bringing about the modern age of mass market cruising as we know
So, if the question of which is better is the reason why you
are reading this review. Without a doubt, Royal Caribbean is farther along the
cruise industry's cutting edge, ever innovating, ever challenging the received
wisdom about what a cruise ship can do and be. But, are they better? In some
areas yes, but it is hard to compete with Carnival's ability to establish and
embellish a simple concept; build fun ships with good food, and make sure the
staff understands the concept. Royal Caribbean may have many more things to do
onboard, but Carnival may be arguably "more fun" based solely upon their
attitude. Where Royal Caribbean may be aptly described as "something for
everybody" Carnival embodies the concept of "fun for everyone" with more
personalized service, better food, less focus just on sports enthusiasts, and
better stage entertainment.
But that is not to say a Royal Caribbean cruise should be
missed! If any cruise ships deserves to be sampled at least once, as possibly
several times, it is one of the Royal Caribbean mega-ships. These ships define
the concept of "the ship as the destination" more than any other cruiser in the
world, with an onboard water park, ice skating, rock climbing, surf riding, a
variety of pubs, large casinos, and simply the biggest ship imaginable; larger
than Carnival's biggest by over 30%. Even if you don't care to get wet, skate or
climb rocks, don't dismiss the people-watching wow factor.
One of Royal Caribbean's best tricks has been to repeatedly
announce, build and sail the biggest cruise ship in the world. In fact, they
relish announcing such a new ship will be built usually the same week as
Carnival announces it has just launched its biggest vessel ever. For instance,
at almost exactly the same time Carnival floated out the first post 100,000-ton
cruise ship ever, Royal Caribbean trounced the publicity by announcing they
would build one of nearly 140,000 tons. Thus was born the Voyager class, the
first of which their current "Largest cruise ship in the world," Freedom of the
Seas, is an offshoot.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, is the company that operates
Royal Caribbean ships and is a subsidiary of parent company Royal Caribbean
International which also owns Celebrity Cruises (acquired in 1977).
The oldest ship in the fleet is the Empress of the Seas,
formerly the Nordic Empress. At a mere 48,000 tons she is a dwarf among the
newest superstars of the fleet, but she was one of the first ships the company
ever sailed and holds a dear place in its heart. Cabins are a tiny 130 sq ft in
keeping with the plan by the original founders to make cabins smaller and public
rooms more inviting. However, in 2004 she received a facelift and today she
sails an eclectic combination of itineraries from 3-days to Nassau to 7-days
cruise from Philadelphia to Bermuda to 11-day deep Caribbean cruises.
RCI launched first the first ship to be called a mega-liner,
Sovereign of the Seas, in 1988, and at the time, at 73,000-tons, no one could
believe a cruise ship could ever be so big. The ship also had the first atrium
at sea, a concept other cruise lines scurried to copy. Two sister ships were
quickly built and launched. Today, these smaller vessels mostly sail 3 and 4-day
cruises on the East and West Coast.
With the Vision-class ships (Vision and Splendour of the Seas
launched in 1995, 1996), Grandeur and Enchantment of the Seas (1996, 1997) and
Rhapsody and Legend of the Seas (1997, 1998), Royal Caribbean made their
signature Viking Crown Lounges more easily accessible by perching them atop the
"Centrum" (the atrium) giving the ships an easily identifiable space age look.
These ships also used more glass than had heretofore been thought possible,
delighting their passengers with remarkable sea views.
In November 1999, RCI launched the highly anticipated Voyager
of the Seas, at 138,000-tonsand 3114 passengers the biggest cruise ship ever,
which introduced such further innovations as an ice skating rink, a rock
climbing wall, and a rollerblade rink. Such is the Voyager's class's immensity
that it actually has its own Zip code -- 33132-2028.
Smaller, but offering enhanced entertainment options similar
to the Voyager-class, the Radiance-class vessels that debuted in 2001 sported
all glass elevators facing the sea, and were propelled by a new smokeless and
vibration-free engine, with Azipod propulsion.
By the end of 2003, Voyager had four sister ships in service;
until the delivery of Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 in December 2003, they were the
biggest passenger ships in the world. But now RCI has reclaimed the record with
its first Ultra Voyager ship, Freedom of the Seas. Fully 18 stories high,
Freedom of the Seas carries 3,430 passengers (double occupancy) and 1,400 crew.
Before the 2004 Bermuda season, Empress of the Seas, formerly
Nordic Empress, underwent a major revitalization, including the addition of more
dining areas, an expanded spa and gym, a new card room, and the conversion of
two existing lounges into a Latin themed bar and the nautical-themed Schooner
In sum, Royal Caribbean has managed to attract a lot more
than the stereotypical "overfed, newly wed, or almost dead" passenger, by
offering a cruise experience that's at once classy and tons of fun � at a very
The Royal Caribbean Experience:
When a Royal Caribbean executive famously coined the phrase "mass with class" to
describe his company's vessels, he wasn't whistling Dixie. Before anything else,
you must describe RCI's 21 vessels as beautiful. But be assured that the line
has plenty of personality to go with its looks, as witness its marvelous
entertainment and remarkable fitness and spa facilities.
These, make no mistake, are wonderful ships for families with
children of all ages, including teens, who have their own private club and
disco; family staterooms and suites are also available on the newer ships.
Service is friendly and efficient and the food much improved.
Alternative restaurants with menus that don't change over the
course of the cruise are available on Voyager-, Radiance- and Vision-class
ships, each charging a $20 per-person cover. Make reservations as early as
possible in your cruise or you may get locked out.
The cabins on the older vessels (Sovereign/Monarch/Majesty of
the Seas, Empress of the Seas) are almost comically cramped; even the newer
Vision's staterooms are small compared to those of other lines in the same price
range. All staterooms come with a twin-that-can-be-converted-to-queen bed,
private bathroom, phone, closed-circuit television, mini bar and hair dryers,
and is decorated in bright colors presumably intended to evoke the Caribbean.
Special Features & Programs:
RCI owns two private resorts, CocoCay in the Bahamas and Labadee, Haiti, to
which it delivers its delighted passengers. Its "ShipShape" fitness program
includes full jogging track, workout classes, full gym, spa and solarium. Golf
Ahoy! offers scheduled golfing in the Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda, Mexico, and
Hawaii. Climbing walls, so popular on the Voyager and Radiance-class ships, have
been added to the entire fleet. Hats off to Royal Caribbean, incidentally, for
not piling on a lot of equipment "rental" fees on ice skates and roller blades.
That RCI is extraordinarily committed to the comfort and
pleasure of its differently abled passengers is clear from its multifaceted
Accessible Seas Program, which, for instance, added Braille deck numbers to
staircase handrails on all of its ships in 2003.
The Academy at Sea offers passengers a chance to learn about
a variety of topics -- Theatre Production; Beauty; Health and Fitness;
Hospitality and Beverage; and Photography -- on sea days. The highly informative
yet informal classes are taught by onboard staff and are well attended.
Who doesn't belong on a Royal Caribbean ship? They have something for everyone
and it is almost impossible to imagine not having a great time. They are active,
sports oriented ships for the most part, not for retirees looking for the
RCI offers the active cruiser moderately priced excursions with plenty of water
sports, golfing, and sightseeing, all of which may be booked online up to ten
days before sailing. Newer options include canopy tours and adventure tours like
Taking The Kids:
Royal Caribbean's Adventure Ocean youth program has age-specific facilities and
programs supervised by youth counselors for Aqaunauts (age 3-5, must be toilet
trained), Explorers (age 6-8), Voyagers (age 9-11), Navigators (age 12-14) and
Teens (age 15-17). A new program for infants and toddlers 6 months to 3 years,
in partnership with toymaker Fisher-Price, offers children accompanied by an
adult 45-minute playgroups involving storytelling, creative arts, music and a
variety of Fisher-Price learning toys and games. Adventure Ocean runs year-round
in the Caribbean, Bermuda, Bahamas, Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska. Organized
activities are offered from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with group babysitting from 10
p.m. to 1 a.m. for a fee. Teen centers are now open past 2 a.m.
Private babysitting is offered from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.,
provided sitters are available, for children from six months old at $8.00 per
child per hour, with a minimum of three hours and a $2.00 per hour charge for
each additional child.
The Vision, Voyager and Radiance-class ships all have private
teen clubs and discos, and supervised teen activities are available on RCI's
On Voyager and Radiance-class ships, Adventure Ocean Computer
Centers have age-appropriate software and staff-guided tutorials.
There' a special menu for children -- Captain Sealy's Kids
Galley Menu, to name names. A Fountain Soda Package can be purchased for the
cruise. The package includes fountain sodas and juices at all bars, lounges,
dining rooms and private destinations. Kids 17 and younger pay $4.00 per person
per day plus a 15% gratuity. For teens 17 and older, and adults, the charge is
$6.00 per person per day plus the 15 % gratuity.
The Vision, Voyager and Radiance-class ships all have family
RCI has a seven-night "Orlando Experience" package, a
seven-night program featuring a four-night Sovereign of the Seas cruise from
Port Canaveral, accommodations at the Portofino Bay Hotel a two-day pass to
Universal Studios, $20 meal voucher at Hard Rock Cafe, one-day admission to the
Guinness World Records Experience attraction and a 15% discount on Alamo car
Past Passenger Program:
RCI offers four sailings annually geared specially to members of the Crown &
Anchor Society members receive discounts at onboard shops and special discounts
on select sailings; four program levels with added amenities; admission to Crown
& Anchor clubs in select ports; onboard recognition; and a quarterly newsletter.
For more information call 800/526-9723.
Royal Caribbean suggests a per person per day gratuity of: $3.50 for the
stateroom attendant ($5.75 for those in suites); $3.50 for the waiter; $2.50 for
the Assistant Waiter; and .75 for the Head Waiter. These may be paid in cash or
charged to your onboard account. For children sailing as third or fourth
passenger in the stateroom, tipping is at the parents' discretion.
A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage
tabs. Gratuities for room service, spa, casino and other staff are at your