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What it was like to go on a Royal Caribbean cruise in the 1970s

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05May2021

Cruising has changed a lot over the years, but comparing a cruise today to what it was like fifty years ago is incredible.

Royal Caribbean began cruising in 1970 with Song of Norway, and added two more ships before halfway through the decade.  Those ships began the tradition of what a Royal Caribbean cruise is all about, and today we have a look back at what it was like on a sailing back then.

I recently ran across a pamphlet distributed to passengers sailing on Song of Norway in the early to mid 1970s.  There is no date listed, but it references the three ships in the fleet, so it was printed no earlier than 1972 when Sun Viking was added to the fleet.

The pamphlet is entitled, "Velkommen: A Guide to Cruising the Royal Caribbean", and includes a list of the facilities, activities, and services available on Song of Norway.

Browsing through the document, I found the most interesting and different things that do not exist on a cruise today.

The ship had a radio station

We all think of cruise ships as incorporating a great deal of technology, but in the 1970s, radio was still king.

Song of Norway had its own radio station where you could send radiograms or make ship-to-shore telephone calls.

A radiogram is a formal written message transmitted by radio. Kind of like an analog email, radiograms use a standardized message format, form and radiotelephone and/or radiotelegraph transmission procedures. 

The message format for communications transmitted to sea-going vessels is:

  1. radiotelegram begins: from . . . (name of ship or aircraft);
  2. number . . . (serial number of radiotelegram);
  3. number of words . . . ;
  4. date . . . ;
  5. time . . . (time radiotelegram was handed in aboard ship or aircraft);
  6. service indicators (if any);
  7. address . . . ;
  8. text . . . ;
  9. signature . . . (if any);
  10. radiotelegram ends, over

Souvenir Passenger List

Something hard to imagine now is Royal Caribbean would give you a list of all the passengers onboard.

Passenger lists were a vestige of the early days of cruising. They were provided in order to make introductions among fellow guests easier, as well as serve as a souvenir from the voyage. They were given to all passengers aboard liners and cruise ships until the 1970s and 1980s.

They included everyone's name and home town.

Read morePassenger lists from Sovereign of the Seas

Midnight buffet (and other specialty meals)

Perhaps the best known, but no longer served, meal on a cruise ship was the midnight buffet.

Before ships had an overwhelming amount of places to eat, the midnight buffet was available every night in the main dining room.

Song of Norway also offered:

  • Sun Worshipper's Lunch: Luncheon served outdoors on the aft of the Promenade Deck.  Hamburgers, sandwiches and hot dogs were served with no dress code.
  • Afternoon Tea: Tea and pastries at the Verandah Cafe every afternoon.
  • Mid-Morning Bouillon: Traditional late-morning pick-me-up at Verandah Cafe on sea days.

Banquets and parties

Evening entertainment on a cruise ship is still offered today, and it was a big deal on Song of Norway.

On passenger talent night, guests would sing, dance, make magic, or just about anything else they were brave enough to demonstrate for their fellow guests and crew.

Casino night was held on two-week cruises, and the crew would allow guests to run the games.  They lowered the bets to very low amounts (10 cents a bet) and gave passengers a chance to see what it was like to be a blackjack dealer or croupier.

Masquerade night is just what it sounds like: it is an old-fashioned costume gala.  Prizes are given for Most Humorous, Most Original and Most Artistic costume.  Guests were encouraged to bring a costume, but the staff could provide necessary materials to build their own onboard.

Things you can't do anymore

Perhaps most surprising is some of the things Royal Caribbean used to let passengers do onboard.

Bridge visits were regularly available on sea days.  There would be open times listed in the Cruise Compass when you could walk up to the ship's bridge and explore.

Another event that I cannot recall ever seeing is Ladies Night, which has four rules:

  1. Ladies must ask gentlemen to dance they must not refuse
  2. Ladies must escort the gentlemen to the dance floor and return them to their seats
  3. Ladies must buy the gentlemen drinks
  4. Ladies must light the gentlemen's cigarettes

Something you might do at an office party today is a white elephant auction. At the end of every cruise, Royal Caribbean would hold a White Elephant Auction Sale where you could bring an unwanted goodie to the main lounge.  

An auctioneer would then try to sell it to someone else onboard.  If they cannot sell it or beat the price you listed, it gets returned to you.

There were two events held onboard that used to be staples of a cruise that could never be done today. On sea days, you could engage in a golf driving contest at the Aft Restaurant deck.  

In addition, skeet shooting was available on sea days where you could shoot clay pigeons off the back of the ship.

Gratuities

Just like today, gratuities were part of the cruise experience.

The suggested gratuity rate for a cruise in the 1970s were as follows:

  • Dining room water: $1.50 per passenger, per day
  • Busboy: $0.75 per passenger, per day
  • Cabin steward: $1.50 per passenger, per day

Customarily, on a 7-night cruise, gratuities are given on the Friday evening before returning to Miami.  On two-week cruises, it is the custom to extend one half of your gratuity at the mid-point of the cruise and the remainder on your last Friday evening at sea.

What you can't bring back

Part of the customs process when returning to the United States included a few things you cannot bring back.

  • Cuban cigars
  • Merchandise originating from North Korea, North Vietnam, or Cuba.
  • Fruits, vegetables, plants, cutting, seeds or unprocessed plant products.
  • Haitian animal skins and products made from these skins (i.e. rugs, purses, bongo drums, etc)

Read the whole thing

If you prefer, you can read the whole pamphlet, including what you should wear onboard, what the ranks mean among the officers, and which brand of cigarettes sponsored the cruise!

10 Ways Cruising Has Changed in the Last 30 Years

In:
Category: 
13Feb2021

With 2020 forcing the sale of several iconic cruise ships and new regulations threatening to disrupt the onboard experience as we know it, I've been thinking a lot about how the cruise industry has changed over the past three decades. 

Change is inevitable part of life, and it includes cruise ships.

Temperature checks, mask wearing and bubble excursions aside, here are some of the key ways that cruises have evolved since 1990. 

1. Technology

Technology has taken over life in a big way, and cruises have kept up the pace. Onboard internet capabilities have gone from nonexistant to unreliable to nearly the same as what you'll find on land, allowing passengers to stay more connected than ever. 

Beyond that, room keys have progressed from manual styles and keycards to wearables and cell phone apps that make opening your cabin door a snap. Giant screens near elevator bays on the latest ships allow cruisers to easily find their way around their vessel, check the daily schedule and make dinner reservations. 

Mix in arcades that feature virtual-reality simulations and cutting-edge systems on the bridge that allow the captain to keep the ship in one place without using an anchor, and it's easy to see how today's experiences might have seemed like something out of "The Jetsons" several decades ago.

2. Size

From 1990 to 1995, at more than 76,000 tons and carrying nearly 2,500 passengers, Norwegian Cruise Line's SS Norway was the largest ship afloat. 

In 1995, a megaship boom began with Princess Cruises' Sun Princess (nearly 77,500 GRT, 2,000 passengers), which unseated SS Norway in terms of tonnage. Progressively larger vessels emerged from Carnival, Princess and Royal Caribbean, causing the title of largest ship to change hands every couple of years into the early 2000s. 

In the late 2000s and early 2010s, Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class vessels dwarfed anything the cruise world had seen. Fast forward to 2021, and the largest ship at sea is now Symphony of the Seas, which is a massive 230,000 tons and can carry nearly 7,000 cruisers -- roughly three times the tonnage and passenger capacity of SS Norway.

3. Activities and Entertainment

Think back to family vacations and honeymoons of yore, and you might remember shooting skeet or driving golf balls off the back of the ship into the wake. To say nothing of the dangers of handing shotguns to passengers, cruise lines have curtailed these activities as environmental regulations have tightened. 

Beanbag games also seem to have gone the way of the dodo, but you'll still find shuffleboard courts on most modern ships, along with other diversions you have to see to believe. 

Among the impressive list of offerings are simulated surfing, skydiving and racecar driving; rock climbing; ropes courses; multiple pools with adrenaline-pumping waterslides; and even a roller coaster. 

In terms of shows, no longer are you limited to steel-drum bands, solo crooners and crusty Las Vegas-style performances. Cruise lines have traded in the feathers and sequins for the stunning costumes of Cirque du Soleil, and Broadway revues have been replaced by full-on Broadway productions.

While comedians and magicians remain, these days cruisers will find everything from acrobats and modern hip-hop performances to ice skaters backed by choreographed drones

4. Dining

Remember when everyone was assigned a set dining time at the same table with the same waiter each night, and the only choices were the main dining room, the buffet or room service? 

Now passengers have dozens of choices (both free and for a fee) that let them choose when and where they eat, with venues dedicated to a variety of cuisines that range from Italian, Asian and French to seafood, steak and pub grub. 

Quirks abound, as well. Among the choices on select ships are restaurants and bars where you'll order from a tablet instead of a standard menu, dinner theater that includes a show with your meal, interactive experiences where you can watch miniature chefs cook your food, and delightfully prepared themed dishes that feature surprises in every course.

5. Dress Codes

Over the years, vacations have become less about putting on airs and more about comfort and relaxation. In that vein, many modes of travel -- including cruising -- have adopted a more casual vibe. 

Most mainstream lines have made formal nights optional, even changing the terminology to comprise monikers like "cruise elegant" and "evening chic." Where once only tuxedos and cocktail dresses were acceptable, cruisers can now get away with suits or blazers with slacks, or skirts with blouses.

Further, current daytime attire onboard has trended toward shorts or jeans with tank tops or T-shirts. It's also not uncommon to see sneakers, flip-flops, bathing suits with cover-ups, and baseball caps in all areas of the ship.

6. Extras

Although most mainstream cruise lines were never all-inclusive, they have found more ways than ever to give passengers add-ons to buy. 

From pricey booze, trendy specialty coffee and custom shore excursions to art auctions, unique spa treatments and priority boarding perks, there's always something extra to increase the overall cost of your voyage. 

The most recent of these added-fee draws include laser tag and escape rooms, cooking classes, top-deck diversions and even big-name land-based brands like Starbucks, Victoria's Secret and Tiffany's as additions to vessels' onboard shops. 

7. Cabins

The early days of cruising mainly consisted of ocean liners that crossed the Atlantic to transport passengers between the U.S. and Europe. Class systems were heavily enforced onboard, meaning that there were hard separations between those booked in first-, second- and third-class cabins. 

Modern cruising did away with such systems, but in the early 2010s, cruise lines began exploring the concept of "ship within a ship" enclaves to provide wealthy cruisers with lavish suites, exclusive perks and access to private areas. 

All cabins have seen facelifts in recent decades. Old, boxy analog TVs were replaced with flat-screened digital ones, and color palettes have largely moved from gaudy, tacky tropical hues to neutrals, accented by jewel tones. 

Decor aside, certain staterooms stand out from the crowd with spaces that span two decks, feature private hot tubs and saunas, include virtual balconies and portholes, and provide foosball tables and slides for kids

More widespread modern touches include USB ports for charging electronics and light switches that only work if you insert your room key.

8. Environmental Friendliness

Cruise ships are some of the planet's biggest polluters, but the industry has made meaningful strides to protect the environment in recent years. 

For decades, cruise ships operated on diesel fuels that contaminated the air with little regulation. In 2009, cruise lines were told they would have to reduce their ships' emissions within designated North American emission control areas by 2015. 

As a result, fleets underwent the expensive addition of scrubbers to filter particulates and harmful gases from vessel funnels. Several cruise lines have also started building new ships that run on liquefied natural gas -- a cleaner-burning fuel -- and even battery power. 

Onboard, crew sort and recycle just about all waste, and old linens are donated ashore. Most mainstream cruise lines have also undertaken efforts to reduce or eliminate single-use plastic straws, cups and utensils.  

9. Safety and Security

As with flights, cruises have tighter security measures since 9/11, which mean you now have to book more than two days from the sailing date, your luggage will be scanned before you board, and you're no longer allowed to bring guests onboard in port.

Additionally, open-bridge policies have become significantly more strict. Special permission or a guided tour (often for a fee) is generally the only way to access the main control center. 

For safety reasons, the list of banned items for some lines has also grown to include newfangled contraptions like sneakers with built-in roller skates, certain hairstyling tools, drones and e-cigarettes. 

10. Smoking

Speaking of e-cigarettes, the policies for lighting up at sea have changed quite a bit since the '90s. Smoking of all types -- cigarettes, pipes and cigars -- was commonplace on most lines' ships back then. 

In 1998, Carnival Cruise Line launched Paradise (now Carnival Paradise), the first completely nonsmoking vessel. Five years later, in 2003, the line removed the designation, claiming that it was losing out on revenue from smokers, who apparently also like to drink and gamble. 

Although the original concept fell flat, cruise lines began phasing out smoking in most public areas in the early 2010s. Now, most vessels no longer allow passengers to smoke on their stateroom balconies or in the casino and, instead, require them to head to a limited number of designated outdoor areas.

The time a U.S. President attended helped launch a cruise ship

In:
Category: 
03Nov2020

Did you know a U.S. President attended the naming ceremony of a Royal Caribbean, and a First Lady is the ship's godmother?

In honor of election day in the United States, I thought it would be worthwhile to hop into the RoyalCaribbeanBlog time machine and go back to 1988 when a U.S. President attended the christening of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.

President Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter presided over the first mega ship to be built, Sovereign of the Seas, in Miami on Friday, January 15, 1988.

President and Mrs. Carter were onboard the ship, as the crowd, serenaded by a large orchestra, took their seats on the pier.

It was a festive throng, caparisoned with hats, flowers, company ties, and always, multitudes of cameras.

Mrs. Carter and President Carter emerged from the crew gangway and trod a red-carpeted path to the dignitaries' platform. The former First Lady had chosen a yellow suit, prettily matched by a chrysanthemum alee lining her right of way.

After the speeches and a solemn blessing, Mrs. Carter and Royal Caribbean Chairman Eigil Abrahmsen climbed atop the launch platform. 

"I christen you Sovereign of the Seas. May happiness and smooth seas follow," Carter said.

The music stopped. A hush fell over the spectators.  In a clear voice, Rosalyn Carter gave the official christening benediction and smashed a record-size bottle of Taittinger Champagne against its hull.

One of the ceremonial bottles of champagne was sent to the Carter museum.

The Carters had brought their family to the occasion, and one of Mrs. Carter's grandchildren told Chairman Abrahmsen his grandmother was not only the godmother, but now the company's namesake, "This young man told me that he knew what RCCL stands for," the chairman informed his audience. "It stands for Rosalynn Carter's Cruise Line!"

The Carters visiting the shipyards on July 9, 1987. Photo by Ouest France Archives

The presidential couple went on to sail aboard Sovereign's maiden voyage, along with their family.

"I looked forward to this day a long time," Rosalynn Carter said in one of the ship's two theaters. "The ship is so wonderful and so large, it took something special to christen it."

he Carters visiting the shipyards on July 9, 1987. Photo by Ouest France Archives

"It's nice to be away from speeches and work ... to be captured with your family," the former first lady said.

"It's just a romantic place to be," said Jimmy Carter. "Kind of like a second honeymoon."

8 things Royal Caribbean trademarked but never did anything with

In:
Category: 
27Oct2020

Royal Caribbean often trademarks words or phrases that it thinks may have a business use down the line, but these trademarks do not always get used.

Royal Caribbean recently filed a trademark for something called a "tracelet", and while it remains to be seen what that registration might be for, it is a good opportunity to look back at some notable trademarks that were never used (yet).

These trademarks are filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and Royal Caribbean typically registers a couple dozen over the course of a year.

Here is a list of 8 trademarks Royal Caribbean filed recently, but I have not found anything that they have done with them.

Seaface

The current health crisis lead Royal Caribbean to trademark a name for its own brand of sanitary masks named "seaface".

The trademark was filed on April 8, 2020 and is intended for cruise ship services. The trademark lists it as a "medical apparatus".

In June, Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said they would not go ahead with any plans for a seaface mask, "that was one idea that was thrown out of which we're not pursuing."

Anchors Up

On February 15, 2020, Royal Caribbean trademarked "Anchors Up" and it sounds like it might have been their own brand of wine.

The registration says it is intended to cover the categories of wine; Red wine; White wine.

Thus far, I have yet to hear or see any reference to a cruise line branded wine.

Floating Vistas

Trademark registrations are always vague, and "Floating Vistas" registration matches that, with simply a description of being for "cruise ship services".

It is possible this is/was intended for the floating cabanas at Perfect Day at CocoCay.  The Coco Beach Club features floating cabanas, and perhaps Floating Vistas sounded like a better marketable name.

Cox & Kings

In January 2020, Royal Caribbean filed a trademark for "Cox & Kings", which sounds like perhaps its own type of British pub.

However, the trademark almost sounds like a hotel brand name.

"Trademark registration is intended to cover the categories of hotel and motel services; restaurant and catering services, arranging and booking of facilities for meetings, conferences, and for exhibitions; reservation services for hotel accommodation, arranging and booking of temporary accommodations, booking agency services for hotel accommodation, arranging and booking of campground and caravan facilities, arranging and letting holiday accommodation, letting of and reservation of tourist accommodation, tourist agency and tourist office services, namely, booking accommodations for others."

The filing was rejected because of a likelihood of confusion between it and three existing trademarks.

Rec Room

Also registered in January was a trademark for "Rec Room", which is described as "intended to cover the category of cruise ship services".

The registration also listed as for use with "night club services", indicating perhaps it would be the name of a new club.

Like Cox & Kings, it was rejected as well for likely confusion with three other trademarks.

Bohio Beach Bar

Royal Caribbean made two different trademark registrations for "Bohio" and "Bohio Beach Bar", and once again fell under the catch-all category of "intended to cover the category of cruise ship services".

The word "bohio" is Spanish, and refers to a small timber dwelling with thatched roof in the Caribbean.

The registration lists it as under an additional category of "bar services", and the words "beach bar" later appear in the registration as well.

Both registrations were approved.

Thrillamanjaro

A play on words for the famous mountain in Africa, "Thrillamanjaro" was registered by Royal Caribbean as the name of a water slide.

"Recreational services in the nature of a water slide."

While no water slide has been announced with that name, the trademark was approved in April 2020 and could still be used later.

Cruise ship names

The most well-known examples of Royal Caribbean filing a trademark but not doing anything with it are cruise ship names.

Royal Caribbean regularly trademarks names of cruise ships that it might use later. Part of the process for coming up with cruise ship names is brain storming new names, and finalists get trademarked.

Here are some recent cruise ship names that never got used (yet):

  • Metropolis of the Seas
  • Eon of the Seas
  • Gallant of the Seas
  • Phenom of the Seas
  • Emblem of the Seas
  • Passion of the Seas
  • Pulse of the Seas
  • Joy of the Seas
  • Apex of the Seas
  • Valhalla of the Seas
  • Sunrise of the Seas

What happened to Royal Caribbean's first cruise ship?

In:
Category: 
09Oct2020

Royal Caribbean just celebrated the 51st anniversary of the cruise line's founding, and in all those years, you may recall Royal Caribbean's first cruise ship.

Photo by John Emery

Song of Norway was the first Royal Caribbean cruise ship, and it was a revolution in its own right that paved the way for every other cruise ship and advancement the cruise line would have later.

So what happened to Royal Caribbean's first cruise ship and where is it now?

Birth of a cruise nation

Before Royal Caribbean began operations, cruise ships were built for point-to-point ocean transportation with significantly less open space. Royal Caribbean sought to change all of that with its concept of a cruise ship.

Song of Norway is what we now call a real market disruptor when she debuted. She launched in 1970, and was the first cruise ship ever built for warm-weather cruising.

The concept of a Viking Crown Lounge was designed initially for Song of Norway, which some industry insiders felt was a "crazy idea" that later just became "that funny-looking stack."

Included in her many firsts was the open pool and lounging area, which is now an industry standard on any new cruise ship.

Song of Norway's debut instantly changed the landscape of Caribbean cruises, and her near-instant success provided Royal Caribbean the capital to afford more ships and proved they had the right idea about what people wanted in a cruise ship.

She could carry 724 passengers until she became the first passenger ship to be lengthened and then had a capacity of 1,024 passengers.

Departing the fleet

Song of Norway was the pride of Royal Caribbean's fleet for many years, and served for over 25 years as part of Royal Caribbean.

As the decades passed, she was quickly dwarfed by bigger ships in the industry and within Royal Caribbean. The debut of Sovereign of the Seas, the first "mega cruise ship" in 1988, did to Song of Norway what she had done to the rest of the industry two decades earlier.

Royal Caribbean sold the ship in 1996 to sold to Sun Cruises (part of the Airtours). They changed her name to Sundream.

One major change made to the ship prior to sailing in her home was the Viking Crown Lounge was removed.

Different owners

The latter years of Song of Norway were marked by moving from new owner to new owner.

In October 2004 she was sold again, refitted and became MS Dream Princess for Caspi Cruises, where she sailed from Israel.

In November 2007, she was sold to Pearl Owner Ltd. She was refitted chartered to the Peace Boat organization and renamed the Clipper Pacific, where she was charted to the Peace Boat organization and renamed Clipper Pacific.

By now, mechanical issues were catching up, and Clipper Pacific's world tours had to conclude earlier than scheduled.

Once again, the ship was sold to International Shipping Partners, Inc. and renamed Festival.

She came into service again as a cruise ship, first in 2009 for Caspi Cruises and as of 2010 for Quail Travel's Happy Cruises.  For the 2010 and 2011 seasons, under the name M/V Ocean Pearl.

Final years

Photo by Tony Hisgett

By the 2010s, the end was in sight for Song of Norway (now sailing as MS Ocean Pearl) in China as a floating casino.

Her last voyages were under the name Formosa Queen, which were operated by Asia Star Cruises as a gambling ship. 

Then in November 2013, she met her fate when was sold for scrap and she was broken up in China in 2014.

Song of Norway had many firsts over the years, including the first Royal Caribbean ship to go to the scrap yard.

How Royal Caribbean was able to add a giant park to its cruise ships

In:
17Sep2020

More than 10 years since Royal Caribbean launched the Oasis Class ships, it remains an engineering marvel that introduced a variety of innovations, including adding a park to a cruise ship.

Kelly Gonzalez, Royal Caribbean Senior Vice President, Architectural Design (Newbuilding & Innovation), recently told the story of how the cruise line engineered a way to bring a live greenery with trees and grass to an ocean going vessel.

Ms. Gonzalez describes the story of creating Central Park as, "both a success story that became a failure story, that became a better success story in the end."

The idea

Royal Caribbean invited various architectural firms to submit ideas for what Royal Caribbean should do with the space on the ship, and the cruise line awarded the contract to a firm from the U.K. that came up with the idea for Central Park.

The original concept for Central Park was not what we see today on Royal Caribbean's ships.

While it did have the split atrium, where you could look up to the sky and then had the atrium-view staterooms looking into it, as well as the skylights that brought daylight down into the Royal Promenade, the design that won the contest was actually based on a series of rolling hills.

These were structural hills that were covered with grass with skylights on the side.

Building Central Park

Royal Caribbean had never done anything on a ship before that involved live greenery and trees and grass and things of that sort, so they brought in experts, including scientists from the University of Florida and landscape architects.

"We looked for a company that we thought would be really bringing the best expertise in a Caribbean environment and all of what that entails seasonally," Ms. Gonzalez recalled.

"We had to spend an extraordinary amount of effort working with structural specialists because we were literally putting these giant holes in a steel structure that typically is not perforated in any way. So the fact that we were breaching that with skylights was something that was very daunting for the conventional ship engineers."

In addition, Royal Caribbean had to bring specialists to address the issue of bugs that live around these plants, and implications of what happens when a ship pulls into a port and the various local laws related to fauna.

Royal Caribbean had to also address the ability to fertilize the plants and not overcomplicate the water systems to the point of impacting the environment or ocean.  Specifically, how could Royal Caribbean capture water runoff that might contain fertilizers.

The experiment

Photo by STX Europe

A major hurdle for Central Park was the rolling hills concept. There was a lot of uncertainty about grass living in an environment where the sun really had an apex high sky for a limited number of hours a day.

To tackle the idea, they constructed a piece of machinery where they mocked up the hills of of grass with real grass on it. Then they created a machine with a long axle of a car that had wheels on it. These wheels had shoes, lined around the rim of the wheel that was simulating people walking up and down the grass down in the atrium. They then simulated the lighting effect to reproduce the conditions that allowed for limited daylight.

This experiment hoped to address concerns such as:

  • How would the grass grow?
  • How often would it have to be watered?
  • How would foot traffic up and down be on the grass?

Ms. Gonzalez summed up the experiment by saying, "Well, to make a long story short, that task failed."

The test showed that regardless what species of grass that was used, and no matter what they would do with fertilization or any watering or anything else in this in this atrium, the grass was not going to be a surviving concept.

Not only had the test failed, but it was right before Christmas and the team had reached a point where they had to go back to the drawing board.

Becoming Central Park

The team spent four weeks over the Christmas holiday working in their London office rethinking the concept of the design and to change it drastically, keeping in mind time was not on their side.

Eventually, they settled on the idea of a Central Park area that looks a lot like what we see on cruise ships today, with more of the flat walkways and the skylights that actually stand up in the sky and capture even more daylight.

Photo by STX Europe

Ms. Gonzalez spoke about the risks the team took to make the concept work, "We understand there's risk, but we put a lot of effort into mitigating that risk. And we're not afraid of failure or failure usually leads us to a better place."

"And I think the Central Park is a story of how we ended up actually in a better place with the design than where we thought we were going to land, where we started it from the very beginning."

 

The team believed so much in the new design for Central Park, that they created a scale mock-up of the entire Central Park neighborhood at the Turku, Finland shipyard.

Photos by Kelly Gonzalez

Essentially, they printed the design on canvas and strung it up from the trusses in the ship hall, complete with facades of stateroom balconies.

They augmented the look with proper lighting and sound so that Royal Caribbean's Board of Directors could get a good ideas of what Central Park would become.

The team had do all of this for the rest of the company to be able to understand and regain trust behind the design, and the design process, to pull off a concept like Central Park.

Photos by Royal Caribbean

"Once it's proven, and we've gone through the risk mitigation and we kicked all the tires and looked at it inside out and outside in, that we are able to really stay very true to that and deliver on the concept as it is when we presented it to our executives."

Remembering Royal Caribbean's first mega ship, which is about to be scrapped

In:
22Jul2020

Social media has spotted that Royal Caribbean's first mega ship, Sovereign of the Seas, is about to be broken down and scrapped in Turkey.

For some, saying goodbye to this ship (and her sister Monarch of the Seas, which is also facing the maritime guillotine) evoke a great deal of memories from past sailings.

Dreaming a giant

It is difficult to understand in today's terms how impactful Sovereign of the Seas was for her time. She revolutionized an industry, and her debut instantly made every other main stream cruise line ship obsolete.

In 1984, Royal Caribbean had 11% of the cruise market share, compared to NCL at 14% and Carnival at 15%. Royal Caribbean wanted to recapture the leadership edge it had achieved in the early 1970s.

Miami management felt that if anything, they should proceed cautiously, producing a slightly larger Song of America with a 1,600-passenger load. But the committee argued for even greater expansion, constructing a larger ship altogether.

Royal Caribbean had never built a cruise ship with either an indoor café, a casino, a champagne bar or a health club; and having made the decision to include those options inside a suitably large hull, the scale of an inevitable new prototype emerged. Thus, Sovereign of the Seas, the world's largest purpose-built cruise ship at the time, was conceived.

The theoretical phase began with three questions: how many passengers, how fast and how luxurious?

All had to be answered before the vessel's dimensions could be considered. The first answer was awesome: The passenger count, which started at about 1,800, would be 2,673 total occupancy, more than half again Song of America's capacity. Speed would remain at sixteen knots for cruising with a top speed of twenty-one. And, a decisive spatial augmentation, passengers would be accommodated in slightly larger (three percent was the exact increment) cabins than those on board existing Royal Caribbean tonnage.  

Building Sovereign

To build the world's largest cruise ship was not something any shipyard could handle. 

Until that point, all of Royal Caribbean's ships had been built at Wärtsilä in Finland, but Royal Caribbean found a better match with Chantiers de l'Atlantique in France with a $190,000,000 contract price and guaranteed delivery for December 1987, which beat the Finns.

Within weeks of the July 1985 contract signing, steel was ordered and subsequently cut at St.-Nazaire.

In the old days, in every shipyard, the first element of the hull, the keel, would be laid on keel blocks. But modern newbuilding involves the assembly of enormous chunks of ship (called sections) that have been prefabricated hundreds of yards from the ways.

Sovereign's first two keel sections were put into place on June 10, 1986. It was at this time the ship's name was announced, which had been a guarded secret.  It was only referred to up until this point by its pedestrian yard number, A-29.

Sovereign also has the distinction of introducing the now well-known naming convention for every Royal Caribbean ship.

The name of the vessel was suggest and vehemently argued by Mortis Skaugen. "He literally shook the name into me," Richard Fain observes. There have been two prior ships called Sovereign of the Seas. The first, the price of King Charles I, was a towering, intricately carved Royal Navy warship of 1637. The second Sovereign was launched 200 years later from an American yard, a swift clipper ship built by Donald McKay. A handsome model of each vessel decorates the current ship's Schooner Bar.

Although on first hearing the name seemed overlong, it imparted exactly the right sense of royal occasion. Of course, the vessel's workaday generic would, predictably, be abbreviated to Sovereign; "___ of the Seas" would serve as an invaluable class-identifying suffix integrated into the names of both successors.

Sovereign of the Seas was handed over to Royal Caribbean four days earlier than scheduled on December 19, 1987. Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean's CEO accepted the handover from Alain Grill, managing director of Chantiers de l'Atlantique.  Mr. Fain then handed over the completed vessel to Captain Tor Stangeland.

Game changing debut

The first sea trials took place on September 5, 1987, which was a weekend.  

Sovereign of the Seas' naming ceremony was held in Miami on Friday, January 15. 

Taittinger had created a huge new champagne bottle - the largest ever blown - specifically called a sovereign in honor of the ship - the largest of its kind ever built.

President and Mrs. Carter were onboard the ship, as the crowd, serenaded by a large orchestra, took their seats on the pier. It was a festive throng, caparisoned with hats, flowers, company ties, and always, multitudes of cameras.

Led by Chairman Eigil Abrahmsen, Mrs. Carter and the President emerged from the crew gangway and trod a red-carpeted path to the dignitaries' platform. The former First Lady had chosen a yellow suit, prettily matched by a chrysanthemum alee lining her right of way.

Of the many Carters on hand, one of the youngest had shared with Chairman Abrahmsen the ultimate grandmother's accolade. "This young man told me that he knew wat RCCL stands for," the chairman informed his audience. "It stands for Rosalynn Carter's Cruise Line!"

After the speeches and a solemn blessing, Mrs. Carter and the chairman climbed atop the launch platform.  The music stopped. A hush fell over the spectators.  In a clear voice, Rosalynn Carter offered the traditional benison, named the vessel and cut the launch cord.

Sovereign of the Seas demonstrated that it is possible for a modern cruise ship to offer a balance of beauty and function and be something more than a container carrier or a ferry.

She sailed with paying customers for the first time on Saturday, January 16, 1988. 

Sovereign of the Seas sailed year-round and offered seven-day cruises from Miami to the Caribbean, proving the viability of a megaship. Her success launched two sister ships (Monarch and Majesty of the Seas), and forced the hand of other competitors to build their own megaships.

In 2008, Royal Caribbean transferred Sovereign to Pullmantur Cruises to help catapult that Spanish cruise line and grow her operations.

Share your fondest Sovereign of the Seas memories in our comments!

Why does the CDC regulate the cruise lines?

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21Jul2020

Many exasperated cruise fans have openly wondered why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has the authority to allow cruise ships to operate in the United States.

Since March 2020, the CDC has instituted a "No Sail" order and later a Conditional Sail Order that prevents cruise ships with customers onboard from operating in U.S. waters. Why does the CDC do this, and under what authority do they operate?

Public Health Service Act of 1944

The origin of the CDC working with the cruise lines begins in 1944 with the passage of the Public Health Service Act into U.S. Federal Law.

This law gives the federal government the authority to quarantine for the first time, and it gave the United States Public Health Service responsibility for preventing the introduction, transmission and spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the United States.

The United States Public Health Service is comprised of a number of divisions within the Department of Health and Human Services, including the CDC.

Under section 361 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S. Code § 264), the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services is authorized to take measures to prevent the entry and spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the United States and between states.

The authority for carrying out these functions on a daily basis has been delegated to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Vessel Sanitation Program

Fast-forward to the 1970s, when the CDC established the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) as "a cooperative activity with the cruise ship industry."

The VSP was created to develop and implement a comprehensive sanitation program in order to minimize the risk of gastrointestinal diseases. This goes back to the mission of the United States Public Health Service, which is to prevent the transmission and spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries. Cruise ships visit foreign countries, thus, the CDC acts on this.

The VSP operated continuously at all major U.S. ports from the early 1970's through 1986, when CDC terminated portions of the program. 

Pressure from the public and cruise industry resulted in the Congress compelling the CDC to resume the VSP. As a result, the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) at CDC became responsible for the VSP in 1986. 

Since then, the CDC has played a key role in cruise ships being approved to sail in the United States, as it pertains to the health of passengers onboard its ships.

The No Sail Order

The "No Sail" Order was instituted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the CDC under sections 361 and 365 of the Public Health Service Act.

These sections refer to the ability of HHS/CDC to create policies that "are necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the States".

Initially, the "No Sail" Order was created following the Diamond Princess and Grand Princess cruise ships experienced outbreaks onboard those vessels in January 2020.

Since then, the CDC has spent an estimated 38,000 person-hours on cruise ship COVID-19 response since March 14, 2020.

Five Royal Caribbean projects that didn't go as planned

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03Jul2020

Royal Caribbean spends a great deal of energy in planning refurbishments, upgrades, new ship construction and a lot of other initiatives, but sometimes these projects can slip behind schedule.

Despite our best efforts, sometimes delays and unexpected problems will occur in any project, including cruise ships.

With the recent news of Odyssey of the Seas encountering issues at the shipyard, I wanted to take a look back at some other Royal Caribbean projects that also dealt with their fair share of setbacks.

Empress of the Seas return to the fleet

In 2015, Royal Caribbean announced it was bringing back Empress of the Seas to the fleet, following a restructuring of sister company Pullmantur cruises.

In order to get the ship back to service, it would need to undergo an "extensive refurbishment" in Spring 2016.

Unfortunately, the additional work needed took much longer than expected in order to bring the vessel back up to Royal Caribbean's standards, and as a result, the first six sailings in 2016 were cancelled.

Then another seven more sailings were cancelled because Royal Caribbean discovered more significant infrastructure and physical improvements across the ship's multiple galleys and provisioning areas were needed.

In the end, Empress of the Seas rejoined the fleet in May 2016, following two months of cancelled sailings and $50 million in upgrades.

Navigator of the Seas Amplification

In early 2019, Navigator of the Seas had her turn for a much anticipated Royal Amplification, which would add new water slides, restaurants and experiences onboard.

The $115 million shipwide refurbishment was scheduled to be complete by February 2019, but poor weather conditions at the shipyard in the Bahamas caused delays to the progress of the ship’s outer decks.

As a result, the February 24 sailing was cancelled.

Luckily, the delay only impacted one sailing, and Navigator was able to resume service in March 2019 without any other impact.

Galveston cruise terminal delay

The global impact of the current health crisis took its toll on Royal Caribbean's plans to build a brand new cruise terminal in Galveston that could accommodate Allure of the Seas.

In December 2019, Royal Caribbean and the Port of Galveston signed a long-term agreement to build a $100 million 150,000-square-foot cruise terminal, which was scheduled to open in November 2021.

In March 2019, Royal Caribbean asked the Port of Galveston for a one year delay in starting construction of its new terminal.

Royal Caribbean cited the new terminal delay was caused by the closure of shipyards along with the disruption to the supply chain. Thus, the cruise line decided to postpone construction of a new terminal in an effort to cut costs.

The Galveston Wharves Board voted on the proposal a month later and approved the one year delay to begin construction of Cruise Terminal 3.

As it currently stands, Royal Caribbean has shifted Allure of the Seas' sailings from Galveston until the terminal is ready.

Oasis of the Seas crane accident

Accidents due occur from time to time, including last year when a construction crane collapsed on top of Oasis of the Seas.

The incident occurred in April 2019 while Oasis was at the Great Bahamas Shipyard near Freeport, Bahamas for scheduled maintenance work. A construction crane hit the ship, and ended up laying against the vessel.

After assessing the damage, Royal Caribbean found damage to the Aqua Theater and some suites, and was forced to cancel the next three scheduled sailings that followed in order for the ship to be fully repaired.

Perfect Day at CocoCay timeline

Perhaps no project has had as many changes to its timeline than Royal Caribbean's ambitious makeover of its private island in the Bahamas.

At a ceremony in March 2018 in New York City, Royal Caribbean announced its plans to expand its private island in the Bahamas, CocoCay

The $200 million transformation (later it increased to $250 million) originally had a multi-phase timeline, with the completion of a new pier in September 2018, and a Spring 2019 date for most of the island's experiences to be open. The final phase, Coco Beach Club was set to open November 2019.

Royal Caribbean broke ground on the new pier on April 27, 2017, and added the pier would be complete in June 2018.

The pier took much longer than anticipated, with multiple delays that lead to it eventually taking the first ship docking there in March 2019.

Luckily, the rest of the project moved forward at a better pace, with Oasis Lagoon pool and some dining venues also opening in March.  Splashaway Bay and Skipper's Grill followed in April 2019, and the Grand Opening of Perfect Day at CocoCay was held in May 2019.

The Coco Beach Club was delayed a few times, but opened in late January 2020.

Five times Royal Caribbean changed its mind after announcing something

In:
Category: 
25Jun2020

Earlier this month, Royal Caribbean announced Allure of the Seas would sail not be able to sail from Galveston in 2021, and offered limited options for guests booked on Allure. An avalanche of negative feedback to the cruise line resulted in Royal Caribbean changing its policy and adding more options to rebook guests.

This example of Royal Caribbean shifting its stance on something it had already announced is not unprecedented. In fact, Royal Caribbean is not shy about changing its mind even after announcing a change.

To its credit, guest feedback has played a major part in "getting it right", and there have been some very public examples of when Royal Caribbean decided to completely change direction based on guest feedback.

While this list is not the entire collection of policy shifts by the cruise line, it is a look back at some notable one-eighties by Royal Caribbean in the recent past.

To buffet or not?

A very recent example occurred when in May Royal Caribbean President and CEO Michael Bayley spoke to travel agents and alluded to the idea of getting rid of the Windjammer buffet entirely due to the global pandemic.

Speaking about the sort of changes guests can expect to see on a cruise ship once sailings resume, Mr. Bayley indicated the Windjammer buffet concept was all but gone.

"I think in the beginning, there will not be a buffet in the beginning, that's how I see it. It depends again upon the timing. We will utilize the space, we will utilize the Windjammer, but in all probability it won't be a classical buffet. It will be something more akin to a restaurant."

Fast-forward a week later, and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Chairman and CEO Richard Fain walked back the notion that there would be no buffet.

"It doesn't mean that you don't have a buffet. I think it's very likely that you're not going to see that on land or sea."

We still do not know what the final result will be, but it was an example of a change to something previously talked about.

Not getting rid of Majesty of the Seas

In 2014, Royal Caribbean announced Majesty of the Seas would be transferred out of the fleet in 2016, joining her sister vessels that had already left the fleet.

Her last sailing was scheduled for April 29, 2016 and then she would be off to join Pullmantur Cruises.

Fast-forward to July 2015, and the cruise line suddenly announced Majesty would remain in the fleet due to "popular demand."

Instead of leaving, Majesty would undergo a drydock to receive a number of enhancements.  

One of the additions to Majesty that was announced, but removed, was free and unlimited Voom internet onboard.

Extending the Oasis Class neighborhood perks

In September 2019, Royal Caribbean announced it would discontinue the extra benefits it offered to guests who booked Boardwalk Balcony and Central Park Balcony staterooms on Oasis Class ships. 

The change initially meant guests who sailed January 1, 2020 and after, following the announcement, would not receive the neighborhood perks anymore.

Many cruisers were upset that they had booked these cabins based, in part, on the idea of receiving extra benefits and so three days later, Royal Caribbean grandfathered in anyone who had a booking made prior to the discontinuation of the neighborhood benefits.

$18 Drink Package

The saga of the $18 drink package blunder of 2019 is one of the prime examples of a complete flip-flop on a decision.

In July 2019, Royal Caribbean accidently put its unlimited alcohol package on sale for $18 per day, which was a substantial price mistake. Usually, the Deluxe Beverage Package runs somewhere between $40 - $52 per person, per day when purchased in advance.

Royal Caribbean apologized for the error, but said it would not honor the price mistake. Instead, the package purchase will be canceled and refunds will be issued.

That decision did not sit well with guests, and following a large amount of guest feedback, Royal Caribbean relented a day later and announced it would own the error and honor the price.

Dynamic Dining

Perhaps the most significant policy change in recent memory is the rise and demise of Dynamic Dining.

In 2014, Royal Caribbean was looking to shake up its complimentary dinner offerings on its Quantum (and later Oasis Class) ships by adopting a new approach called Dynamic Dining.

The core concept of Dynamic Dining is removing the main dining room completely and instead offering a number of smaller complimentary and specialty (cost extra) restaurants for guests to choose from.

Passengers can book specific times for any of these restaurants in advance, prior to their cruise or opt to book reservations onboard the ship.

Off the bat, Dynamic Dining ran into some problems on Quantum and Anthem of the Seas and Royal Caribbean attempted to save it by adopting a new rotational dining program that would seek to address some of the primary concerns guests were having with the new concept.

Feedback on Dynamic Dining was so negative, that at one point the cruise line gave guests $100 each for the trouble they had endured.

Guests never warmed up to the idea, and in September 2016, Royal Caribbean announced that Dynamic Dining would be abandoned in favor of a return to traditional dining.

Your thoughts

Is there an example of a time Royal Caribbean completely changed its mind that deserves to be on the list? Which one of the examples in this post do you recall? Share your memories in our comments!

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