This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver takes a closer look at Royal Caribbean International and thei products and stratgy.
At her Majesty's Pleasure
Royal Caribbean International (RCI) with a fleet of twenty vessels is the world's second largest cruise line behind the market leader Carnival. However, in terms of ship design RCI is without a doubt the most innovative. They have made the term 'ship' almost redundant, because they build state-of-the-art 'floating resorts' aimed squarely at the masses.
No other ship sailing in the Caribbean can compare with their 'Voyager' family of vessels. It all started in 1999 when the 137,000 gross ton, 3,114 passenger 'Voyager of the Seas' entered service and became one of the largest movable man made objects in the world. Between 1999 and 2004, RCI had so much faith in the Voyager design, they built five more ships of the same class: Voyager, Navigator, Mariner, Adventure and Explorer of the Seas. The Voyager family's reign on top lasted until 2004 when Carnival Corporation's 'Queen Mary' 2 entered service topping her in size by 13,000.
The Voyager family all feature their trademark 'Royal Promenade' which is quite literally a street running down the centre of the vessel, lined with bars, cafes and shops. Personally I find this horizontal atrium much more useful than a vertical one, but she has those too! If you enjoy sport, these vessels feature an ice rink, an in-line skating track, a putting green, basketball court and a climbing wall located along the backside of the funnel. Traditionalists may well be horrified, but families and younger cruisers are delighted. As for entertainment, RCI's Broadway style dance shows are some of the best afloat and their Ice show is simply brilliant.
Internally, RCI ships are an interesting mixture of Las Vegas style glitz complemented with tasteful public spaces. As an example, while the Atriums (or Centrums as they call them), span an impressive eight decks and provide a 'wow factor', the large dining rooms, with three tiers, are very tasteful in décor and not just a little reminiscent in style of those onboard the great Ocean Liners. Personally I like the way RCI have continued the tradition of one main (and very impressive) dinning room with two sittings. For those looking for something less formal, an alternative buffet is always available.
If the Voyager class strike you as being a bit too big, RCI provides you with the smaller 'Radiance' family of vessels as an alternative. The family currently include: Brilliance, Radiance, Serenade and Jewel of the Seas. At around 90,000 gross tons these are smaller than the Voyager family, but hardly small. These vessels do not have Ice Rinks or Royal Promenades, but they do have tons of glass. This extensive use of glass ensures you a sea view no matter where you go on board these ships - including some of the elevators. In fact I have never cruised on such a large ship that has such a good connection with the sea.
Just when we all though the 'Voyager' class was the ultimate, RCI' went and announced 'Freedom of the Seas' a 3,600 passenger, 160,000 gross ton ship, to be completed later this year. The ship is essentially a stretched version of the 'Voyager' design. RCI have once again taken the lead in the race for size, as 'Freedom of the Seas will be bigger than the QM2. This new gargantuan will feature innovations such as the 'flow rider' on deck, which is a surf board simulator that generates real waves. The ship will also feature extensive 'water park 'and' overhanging hot tubs with great sea views.
As if that was not enough, before the competition could even draw breath, RCI recently announced what they are calling the 'Genesis' project - an exhilarating 5,400 passenger, 220,000 gross tons vessel scheduled to enter service in 2009. Few details are available yet, but we can be pretty sure that this vessel will continue to keep Royal Caribbean at the cutting edge of floating resort design.