Second acts are rare in the cruising world, but that’s exactly what happened to Royal Caribbean’s pretty Empress of the Seas. Built in 1990 as the line’s Nordic Empress, this nimble 691-foot long cruise ship sailed under that name until 2004, when her name was changed to Empress of the Seas to better align her with the rest of the Royal Caribbean fleet, all of which end with the tag, ‘of the Seas.’
In 2008, Royal Caribbean announced that Empress of the Seas would be transferred out of the fleet, joining the company’s Spanish subsidiary, Pullmantur, as Empress.
Normally when a ship exits the fleet of one cruise line, it rarely returns to service for that line. With Royal Caribbean’s ships getting infinitely bigger by the year (and with the line dispatching larger, well-loved vessels like Monarch of the Seas), few North American cruisers gave any thought to the intimate little Empress of the Seas. Until, defying the odds, she returned to the fleet.
In 2015, Royal Caribbean announced that Empress would be transferred from Pullmantur, returning to service with Royal Caribbean in the Spring of 2016 from the Port of Miami, where she would offer four and five-night sailings to the Bahamas and the Caribbean. Heavily refitted with new features and new décor, her entry into service wasn’t trouble free: Royal Caribbean had to invest heavily in the ship to bring her back up to the line’s standards, completely rebuilding the ship’s galleys and refitting both her hotel and technical spaces.
Officially the smallest ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet, rumour on the street is that she could be eventually pressed into service in Cuba pending further easing of the United States trade embargo on that island country.
Until then, Empress of the Seas offers a wonderfully nostalgic throwback to the Royal Caribbean of days gone by, and a decidedly relaxing way to see the Caribbean.
Staterooms and suite have been heavily refitted, and come in three basic categories, though further subset categories within this range are available. Interior, Oceanview and Suite levels are offered, but it’s worth noting that balconies are scarce aboard this ship due to her early 1990’s lineage. Cabins are nothing elaborate, but they’re more than adequate for the half-week voyages that Empress of the Seas typically sails.
Being a smaller ship, Empress of the Seas doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles that Royal Caribbean’s gargantuan megaships like Oasis of the Seas have. Still, this intimate little ship boasts plenty of deck space, five bars and lounges, and three separate dining venues.
On the dining front, most meals will be taken in the ship’s Main Dining Room, which offers both traditional fixed-seatings at pre-set times, or flexible ‘anytime’ dining. Empress of the Seas also features Chops Grille, Royal Caribbean’s signature steakhouse specialty restaurant. It carries a small per-person surcharge, but it’s well worth it for a special occasion. Royal Caribbean also offers Sunday Brunch every day of the week with a complimentary Bloody Mary or Mimosa, and casual breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks are offered in the Windjammer Café.
Most of the public areas aboard Empress of the Seas are clustered on Decks 5 and 6. These include the two-story Royal Theatre, with its nightly production shows; Casino Royale, which runs along the starboard side of Deck 6; and Boleros, with its hand-crafted cocktails and live evening music.
Fans of Royal Caribbean’s excellent Schooner Bar won’t be disappointed: it occupies a commanding location aboard Empress of the Seas, nestled down on Deck 5 adjacent to the soaring atrium. It’s our favorite spot for a pre-dinner cocktail, and we know it will be yours, too, with its heavy nautical ambience and authentic “pitch”-scent.
A well-stocked Library is tucked away on Deck 9, adjacent to the forward staircase and bordered by walls of floor-to-ceiling windows. Royal Caribbean’s classic trademark, the Viking Crown Lounge, wraps around the funnel on Deck 10 and offers 180 degree views of the stern.
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