All text and photographs (unless stated otherwise) © Paul Timmerman
On November 7th 1970, Song of Norway left Miami on her first cruise for a new company called Royal Caribbean Cruise Line.
Finally, this day Edwin Stephan's dream had come true, establishing a cruise line, which would offer 7- and 14 day cruises out of Miami with enough backing to have three newbuildings in service in the shortest time possible. Several months later, Nordic Price entered service and in 1973, Sun Viking was the last of the planned trio to start sailing.
Stephan had worked for two other cruise lines, Yarmouth Steamship Cy and Commodore Cruise Lines. He had always had plans for a company with at least three ships, a firm offering year round sailings out of Miami to the Caribbean, not only for residents of Florida, but also flying in passengers from all over the world.
First of his partners was I.M. Skaugen S/A, a firm that had experience with building and operating ships, providing one-third of RCCL´s working capital. The second partner was Anders Wilhelmsen from Oslo, who would, apart from investing in the new firm, provide accounting & management expertise. Third partner was Gotaas Larsen, an established shipping company just acting as investors.
RCCL's first trio of ships looked sleek and modern, with a clipper bow and a rounded stern. Each ship featured a circular lounge built onto the funnel, called the Viking Crown Lounge. It was "invented" by Edwin Stephan himself and it has been repeated on all RCCL's vessels ever since.
One of Stephans partners, Gotaas- Larsen already owned a cruise line, Eastern Steamship which owned the New Bahama Star, and also the Ariadne, which was later replaced by the Emerald Seas. Another firm controlled by Gotaas-Larsen was Western Steamship, which owned Azure Seas (ex-Southern Cross) sailing out of Los Angeles to Mexico. GL merged both companies into Admiral cruises. Even a third firm was absorbed when Stardancer sailing for Sundance Cruises was taken over to replace the ageing Azure Seas.
Newly formed Admiral Cruises ordered a newbuilding from the French yard Chantiers de l´Atlantique to replace the old Emerald Seas.
The next step seemed obvious, GL being involved in both Admiral cruises and RCCL, a merger seemed in place. It was planned that both would remain separate brands. A new firm Royal Admiral cruises would be the mother company. However, this never came to pass. During this period, GL was made an offer by Carnival cruise Lines to take over their investment in RCCL and GL agreed to sell for $260 mio.
One of the clauses in the original contract between the three RCCL-partners read that in the event one of them wanted to back out, the two remaining partners had the first right to buy this share if they could match the offer. Skaugen happened to be in a difficult financial position at the time, and also agreed to sell to Carnival for $232 mio.
Cabins on the first trio of RCCL-ships
Now, one partner had to raise enough money to buy out both others to stop Carnival's plans. To make matters worse, Wilhelmsen had to arrange this in one week exactly. They were successful however, and both GL and Skaugen received their money in time, and RCCL remained an independent cruise line.
Existing plans to form Royal Admiral Cruises were shelved, and Admiral's Stardancer became RCCL's Viking Serenade. A Viking Crown Lounge was fitted on her top deck. Newbuilding Future Seas was completed as Nordic Empress.
After 7 years of service in 1977, Song of Norway was sent to Finland to the Wartsila yard. She was to be stretched there to increase capacity. This had never been done before with a passenger ship, but Wartsila did an excellent job and in 4 months Song of Norway was back in service. Nordic Prince was lengthened the same way in 1980. She was cut in half and the already prefabricated midsection at the yard was merged with the forward and aft sections.
Sun Viking was never stretched because RCCL switched to newbuildings in this period: Wartsila turned out Song of America in 1982.
In 1987 Sovereign of the Seas was added to the fleet, the company's first mega ship and for a short time even the world's largest passengers vessel. Based on double occupancy (2 persons/cabin), she could accommodate 2300 pax, had a size of 72.123 GRT. and was the first ship built by Chantiers de l'Atlantique as all previous RCCL-newbuildings were delivered by Wartsila, Finland.
Sovereign of the Seas
SOS as she was called in short, can be considered as the first purpose built mega cruise ship in history. Only transatlantic liners Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Normandie, and also Norway/ France) surpassed her in gross tonnage.
After SOS, two sister ships were added to the fleet, Monarch of the Seas in 1991 and Majesty of the Seas (see ship description) in 1992. All three ships featured a spectacular atrium called The Centrum.
Then, Project Vision was started, where the term Vision was related to the extensive use of glass in the superstructure of all six vessels. Two yards built these ships in pairs, two sister ships at a time. Legend o/t Seas, Splendour o/t Seas (see ship description), Rhapsody o/t Seas and Vision o/t Seas were built by Chantiers de l'Atlantique, while Grandeur and Enchantment o/t Seas were turned out by Kvaerner Masa yards in Helsinki.
Legend and Splendour o/t Seas were faster than the other 4 ships, 24 knots, so RCCL could deploy them everywhere in the world if they wanted to expand outside the Caribbean.
Up till now, all RCCL vessels had their Viking Crown Lounge incorporated in their funnels, and they could be reached only either by using an outdoor stairway or by elevators positioned aft on the vessel. The Vision ships had them placed atop their atrium, The Centrum, and now they could be reached conveniently by using the glass elevators in the atrium.
Now, with larger and faster ships, RCCL could offer new routes to their passengers, Europe for example, but even the Far East. To expand even further, in 1997, RCCL merged with Celebrity Cruises. Celebrity aims at a more de luxe market segment and is rated a 5 star cruise line, RCCL being a 4 star company. In this way, cruise travellers looking for a somewhat more sophisticated cruise product could stay within the same company and not be lost to a competitor.
Radiance of the Seas
After Project vision, RCCL embarked on yet another scheme, this time called project Eagle. This would be a series of ships almost a third larger than Carnival's Destiny-class, the first ships ever to pass 100.000GRT. The Eagle ships would carry over 3100 pax and would measure an incredible 137.000 GRT. The first vessel delivered by Kvaerner was Voyager of the Seas, and after her delivery RCCL changed the name of this project to Voyager. Of course the Voyager o/t Seas is too large to pass through the Panama Canal (these ships are called post panamax). Voyager vessels have spectacular interiors, they feature two large atria (the vertical one is 10 decks high). The horizontal atrium spans 4 decks, and resembles a shopping mall. Even a rock climbing wall (attached to their funnel ) and an ice skating rink are available. The Voyager has been followed by three sister ships Explorer, Adventurer and Navigator o/t Seas and Mariner o/t Seas followed in the second half of 2003.
Voyager of the Seas
A new series of ships called Project Vantage, has been turned out by the Meyer Werft in Papenburg. They measure 85000GRT and are powered by gas turbines. Radiance, Brillance and Serenade o/t Seas have been delivered in 2001 - 2003, and Jewel o/t Seas followed in 2004.
RCCL arranged for an option with German Meyer Werft for additional units of the Vantage class ships. However, because of the large number of mega cruise ships that have entered service the last decade, RCCL postponed a firm order several times. The last agreement with Meyer Werft indicated that the yard would be free to accept other orders might the occaision arise. Finally in The autumn of 2003, RCCL decided not to order the two additional vessels from Meyer Werft, but concentrate on larger vessels (even larger than the Voyager class ships!) instead.
Of course several ships became too small for RCCL and didn't fit in the fleet anymore. Three of the company´s older ships, Song of Norway, Nordic Prince as well as larger Song of America were sold off to Britisch tour operator Airtours while Sun Viking was sold to Star Cruises and became their Superstar Sagittarius. RCCL demanded that their trademark the Viking Crown Lounge was removed on the Nordic Prince (now sailing as Carousel), but on the Sunbird (ex Song of America) this remarkable lounge is still wrapped around her funnel.
Carousel, Airtours/ Sun Cruises
Recently, British- American P&O Princess Cruises indicated that the company was up for sale. RCCL was interested from the beginning, and finally made an offer to P&O Princess share holders. Just before this deal was final, Carnival Corp. made an even better offer and eventually share holders decided in favour of Carnival. Although P&O Princess had to pay a `fine` to RCCL for backing out of an already finalised merger of the two companies, the fact that Carnival Corp. has strengthened it´s position even further will be of more interest to RCCL.
Viking Serenade, after having been replaced by a new vessel on the Mexican Riviera route, has been shifted to a newly formed company Island Cruises in 2002 (a joint venture between RCCL and UK tour operator First Choice Holidays). Renamed Island Escape, she divides her time between the Med and the Caribbean.
Because bigger is better, RCCL ordered three newbuildings from Finnish Kvaerner Masa
Yards, with delivery planned in 2006 for Freedom o/t Seas, 2007
for Liberty o/t Seas and finally Independence o/t Seas
in 2008. These ships will are an enlarged version of the
Voyager-class series, and measure an incredible 160.000 GRT. The
Ultra Voyager ships as they are aptly called, carry 3600 passengers in
1,817 staterooms and have a lenghth of appr. 330m. At the moment (2008) they are the largest
cruise ships in the world, they are 10.000 GRT larger than
Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. Their most innovative features are on the top
decks: they have whirlpools cantilevered over the side, an interactive
water park called H2O Zone and a flow rider, which anables passengers to
surf in a pool which has waves. There will be a range of six
family-focused stateroom categories to choose from. Very spectacular
accommodation is the Presidential Family Suite, which has room for 14
Oasis of the Seas, RCCL's giant vessel to be delivered in 2009
Fall 2009, RCCL wil take their largest, most specatcular cruise ship ever into service: the Oasis of the Seas and a year later a sister ship Allure of the Seas. These vessels carry 5400 passengers in 2700 staterooms and measure 220.000GRT! Their interiors are divided in seven so called neighborhoods. RCCL has been releasing bits of information regarding the new vessels. The Royal Promenade has a bar fiited which ascends and descends over three decks and is aptly called The Rising Tide. Another neighborhood, named Central Park features trees of two and a half decks high and green walls with tropical plants spanning 25ft and which are four decks high. No doubt many astonishing features will be revealed by RCCL as these ships will represent the ultimate in mega ship cruising.
In the mean time, elderly units in the fleet are being disposed of as both Sovereign of the Seas and Empress of the Seas are sold off and will transfer to Pullmantur Cruises from Spain in 2007/2008.
Adventure of the Seas, 2002/ 3114/ 138300
Allure of the Seas, 2010/ 5400/ 225280
Brilliance of the Seas, 2002/ 2100/ 90090
Enchantment of the Seas, 1997/ 1958/ 73817
Explorer of the Seas, 2000/ 3114/ 137308
Freedom of the Seas 2006/ 3634/ 158000
Grandeur of the Seas, 1996/ 1958/ 73817
Independence of the Seas 2006/ 3634/ 158000
Jewel of the Seas, 2004/ 2100/ 90000
Legend of the Seas, 1995/ 1804/ 70950
Liberty of the Seas 2007/ 3634/ 158000
Majesty of the Seas, 1992/ 2354/ 73941
Mariner of the Seas, 2003/ 3114/ 138300
Monarch of the Seas, 1991/ 2354/ 73941
Navigator of the Seas, 2002/ 3114/ 138300
Oasis of the Seas, 2009/5400/ 225280
Radiance of the Seas, 2001/ 2100/ 90090
Rhapsody of the Seas, 1997/ 1998/ 78491
Serenade of the Seas, 2003/ 2100/ 90090
Splendour of the Seas, 1996/ 1804/ 69130
Vision of the Seas, 1998/ 1998/ 70491
Voyager of the Seas, 1999/ 3138/ 137276