As Royal Caribbean International recently announced that it was celebrating the cruising milestone of welcoming its 50 millionth guest, I thought it would be a good opportunity to take a look at the history of one of the world’s largest and most successful cruise lines.
The line was founded as Royal Caribbean Cruise Line in 1968 by a trio of Norwegian shipping companies, who honoured their lineage by naming the company’s first vessel the Song of Norway. The vessel debuted in 1970 and was joined a year later by the Nordic Prince, then Sun Viking in 1972. As the passenger industry continued to grow, so did Royal’s vessels – literally – as in 1974, the Song of Norway became the first ever passenger ship to be lengthened, followed by her fellow vessel Nordic Prince in 1980. The line truly began to make waves in 1982 when it launched the Song of America, which was twice the size of the Sun Viking and the third largest passenger vessel in the world, after Song of Norway and Cunard’s legendary Queen Elizabeth 2.
In an innovative industry move, the line leased its own Haitian island for the use of its guests in 1986. Today known as Labadee, it’s in the line’s hands until at least 2050 and remains a popular port of call for its cruise ships. A further island was purchased in 1988 – Little Stirrup Cay – which know goes by the name of Coco Cay and is a similarly popular fixture. That same year saw continued growth and the launch of the first vessel in the line’s now hallmark naming convention, Sovereign of the Seas.
1997 was a year of change for the line. It sold its oldest ship, Song of Norway, launched two new vessels – Rhapsody of the Seas and Enchantment of the Seas – and changed its name to Royal Caribbean International, following a merger with Celebrity Cruises. In 1999, the line launched at the time what was the world’s largest cruise ship, Voyager of the Seas, which was soon followed by her sister ship, Explorer of the Seas. The year also saw the first vessel in a new class of ship, the more green-conscious Radiance Class.
Since then, the line has continued to innovate and provide the cruise industry with a number of records and firsts. 2002, saw rock climbing walls introduced on every Royal Caribbean ship while in 2006, the line launched what was at the time the world’s largest cruise ship, Freedom of the Seas. 2009 saw the advent of the Oasis Class – Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas – which are to this day the largest cruise ships in the world at 1,181 feet long and 225,282 gross tons.
So, what does the future hold for Royal Caribbean International? Well, the Quantum Class to be exact. The first namesake vessel of the class is set to debut in 2014, with a second and third vessel following in 2015 and 2016. Smaller than the Oasis class, the emphasis of the Quantum Class vessels is very much on exciting new features such as skydiving simulators, observation capsules, bumper cars and virtual balconies.
By Simon Brotherton