It’s official: Empress of the Seas is coming back to the Royal Caribbean fleet!

Empress is returning to Royal Caribbean as Empress of the Seas in 2016! Photo courtesy of Pullmantur

Empress is returning to Royal Caribbean as Empress of the Seas in 2016! Photo courtesy of Pullmantur

You might remember the diminutive but beautiful little Empress of the Seas as Nordic Empress, the name she held between her introduction in 1990 and 2004, when she received her “of the seas” addition.

In 2008, Empress of the Seas sailed her last voyage for Royal Caribbean before being transferred to their Spanish subsidiary, Pullmantur, for European cruises catering to the Spanish-speaking market.

Typically when a ship gets transferred out of the fleet, it’s a bit of a one-way street; the ship rarely comes back to sail for the parent company again. And indeed, that was the story with Empress of the Seas; renamed Empress, she would quietly sail for Pulmantur for the next seven years.

Now, Empress is about to return to the Royal Caribbean fleet after an extensive refurbishment in the Spring of 2016. It sounds like she’ll also get her old name back, too, returning to sail under the moniker, Empress of the Seas. The announcement was made last week by Royal Caribbean Chief Financial Officer, Jason Liberty.

Empress of the Seas, shown in a cut-away brochure drawing for Royal Caribbean. Author's collection.

Empress of the Seas, shown in a cut-away brochure drawing for Royal Caribbean. Author’s collection.

To me, this is the most exciting news I’ve heard out of Royal Caribbean in years. I’ve always wanted to sail on this pretty little ship which is why I’ll be first in line when itineraries and pricing are announced. But more than that, the return of Empress of the Seas is significant for numerous other reasons.

For the last decade, Royal Caribbean has built their reputation on the idea that size is king. The mammoth Oasis of the Seas and her younger sister Allure of the Seas are still the largest cruise ships in the world. Quantum of the Seas, which we sailed aboard last year, made waves for her size and extensive use of technology – even if that darn robot bartender never did work quite right. These are all ships that hold between four and six thousand passengers apiece.

So why bring back the 2000-ish guest Empress of the Seas? My guess is that it was done for the same reasons the company decided to hang on to the classic Majesty of the Seas: there is still demand for a smaller, more classic style of cruising.

Mariner of the Seas boasts a striking profile. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Royal Caribbean has made a point of building increasingly-large ships over the past two decades. Shown here is Mariner of the Seas in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Photo © Aaron Saunders

I can see Royal Caribbean deploying Empress of the Seas on short Caribbean runs, or on runs that require more flexibility than the line’s current fleet of gargantuan megaships can offer. Rumours have been flying around that Royal Caribbean might send Empress to Cuba; indeed, that’s a very plausible idea; the harbour in Havana, for example, could never accommodate any of Royal Caribbean’s existing ships.

It could also be an issue of Royal Caribbean lacking smaller, more versatile tonnage as cruisers look to diversify their cruise destinations. Competitors Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line both have an advantage over Royal Caribbean in this case, with at least two or more ships coming in at under 900 feet in length.

But regardless of why the 691-foot long Empress is being returned to the Royal Caribbean fleet, the fact is this: I am excited. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I read that this was happening. Longtime readers will know that I’ve been critical, sometimes overly, of Royal Caribbean’s gargantuan ships. I still don’t think I’d do seven days on Quantum of the Seas, and Oasis of the Seas doesn’t interest me in the least.

But I’ll be first in line to book my cruise aboard Empress of the Seas; a classic, petit ship that harkens back to a different time, and a different Royal Caribbean. Though they may (nay, will) modernize the heck out of her, I couldn’t be happier to see Royal Caribbean invest in a ship that truly does look and act like a ship. And I can’t wait to see where they take her.


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