Guests pause before stepping onto SeaWalk, which extends 28 feet out from the top of the starboard side of Royal Princess. From the clear sides of the enclosed walkway they can see the ocean. They also can see that ocean 128 feet below, its deep blue veined with white, looking straight down through the glass floor. It’s a little disconcerting.
People take that first step gingerly. Some walk on the frosted glass on one side or the other, avoiding the clear glass in the center and holding onto the rail. In the evening, after perhaps a drink or two, passengers are bolder, but many still avoid stepping on the see-through center of SeaWalk, as if they are afraid there’s nothing there.
The Royal Princess, Princess Cruises’s largest ship ever, is the newest member of South Florida’s cruise fleet. It made its debut in June in Europe, then arrived in October in Fort Lauderdale, where it is doing week-long Caribbean cruises. Unlike this season’s other newcomers, it is the first of its class.
MSC Divina, which arrives Tuesday, was launched in Europe in May 2012. It will be the Italian line’s first ship to sail year-round from a North American port.
The Norwegian Getaway, which arrives in February, will have Miami-themed decor and features.
Those three ships are the main additions to the South Florida fleet this year. Of the three, only Royal Princess is here seasonally; the other two will homeport year-round in South Florida. While Royal Princess sails out of Port Everglades, the other two will sail out of PortMiami. All are in the mainstream or premium class; they are not considered luxury ships.
But to get a sense of the diversity of the newer part of the fleet, also consider the Carnival Breeze, which arrived last December with an elaborate water park and a host of other new features, and older ships that were significantly updated in dry dock, such as the Disney Magic — which made its Miami debut in October with its new AquaDunk water slide and Marvel’s Avengers Academy.
The Carnival Breeze, the Norwegian Getaway and Disney Magic are the flashiest, with look-at-me top-deck features and Getaway’s hull, which is whimsically painted with colorful beach scenes. The Royal Princess and MSC Divina are more reserved, the former boasting SeaWalk and a classy, jazzed up atrium; the latter making a show of its Italian lineage.
The new fleet members also provide a snapshot of how cruise ships have evolved in the last 10 to 15 years: They are larger; more of their outside cabins have balconies; there is a greater variety of eateries — more of which charge an extra fee; spas and gyms are larger; top decks have more gee-whiz factors like zip lines, enormous video screens, wild water slides and private cabanas (available for a fee); some have exclusive areas open only to guests in suites.
“The market is changing … travelers are looking for more,” said David Oppenheim, an agent with Cruise Planners-American Express Travel in Atlanta. “The newer ships are changing the game significantly — the cabin sizes, the number of balconies, the activities, restaurants, lounging, bars. From the time you wake up in the morning to the time you hit the bed, it’s changed.”
Sometimes the difference comes down to size. Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas are the world’s largest cruise ships, with an official capacity of 5,400 at two people per cabin, but they can carry more than 6,000 passengers. The company has ordered a third ship in this class to be launched in 2016; no homeport has yet been named.
But for Princess Cruises, Royal Princess, with its two-people-per-stateroom capacity of 3,560, is just right, said Alan Buckelew, outgoing president and CEO (he has been promoted to chief operating officer of parent company Carnival).
“For us, this is probably as big a ship as we will ever build,” Buckelew said. “This size is about perfect. … We designed this ship so it can go to every port that is important to us. That is why we wouldn’t go any bigger.”
Royal Princess is 1,083 feet long, 155 feet wide at SeaWalk’s apex and has 19 decks.
From Port Canaveral in Central Florida to the Caribbean and around the world, some ports are upsizing docks to accommodate behemoths like Oasis-class ships (1,186 feet long, 215 feet wide), assuming that even if the big three of Royal Caribbean don’t call there, the biggest ships from other cruise lines will. “We are becoming the standard” for ports to accommodate, said Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean International’s parent company, Royal Caribbean Cruises.
Here’s a look at the three new ships:
While some lines are adding surf pools, rappelling walls, ropes courses, zip lines and ever-more-thrilling water slides, Princess has decided to stay out of what its executives call the “amusement park arms race,” said Rai Caluori, executive vice president of fleet operations.
Instead, designers expanded the atrium and reinforced it as the hub of the ship, adding bars and eateries. The spa was moved downstairs, freeing up prime upper-deck water-view space, and enlarged. Up top, the fitness center, youth center and adults-only area were expanded, and private cabanas (for an extra charge) were added. The ship has new restaurants, a TV studio and SeaWalk, balanced on the port side with the similarly cantilevered SeaView Bar, which also has a crescent of glass panels in the floor.
But it’s not too different from the line’s other ships, Caluori said. “Our strategy has always been one of consistency,” he said, rather than creating competition within the Princess brand.
While 80 percent of the staterooms have balconies, the balconies are smaller than on the last generation of Princess ships, and many of the staterooms are smaller as well.
Godmother of the Royal Princess is Kate Middleton, wife of Prince William and Duchess of Cambridge.
The second Royal-class ship, the Regal Princess, is under construction at Fincantieri’s shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy. It is scheduled to debut in Europe in May, then move to Fort Lauderdale next fall.
MSC Cruises is an Italian line whose 12 ships sail primarily in Europe. It has sent ships to South Florida for a season of Caribbean cruises in the past, but has never had a ship here year-round. MSC Divina, third in MSC’s Fantasia series, is 1,093 feet long and has a passenger capacity of 3,501 on 13 decks. The ship features a bowling alley, five swimming pools and the usual gym, spa, youth programs and other amenities. Dining is more traditional, with assigned tables and dining times.
The MSC Yacht Club, which the line calls “a ship within a ship,” has upgraded amenities and staterooms as well as exclusive areas for guests in the Yacht Club.
MSC Divina is named in honor of Sophia Loren, godmother of all MSC Cruises ships.
The Norwegian Getaway is the second ship in the Breakaway class — a structural twin to the Norwegian Breakaway, which was launched this spring and sails out of New York but with Miami-themed art, entertainment. Bars and restaurants include the Tropicana Room, Flamingo Bar & Grill, Sunset Bar and Sugarcane Bar.
The Getaway is in the last stages of construction at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Germany; it was floated out on Nov. 2 and is to be delivered to Norwegian on Jan. 10. Between inaugural events in Europe and New York — where it will serve as a hotel during the Super Bowl — and its transatlantic crossing, it won’t arrive in Miami until early February.
The ship will be 1,062 feet long and 130 feet wide, with 18 decks and a capacity of 4,028 passengers. It will feature a ropes course, water slides, ice bar, Nickelodeon-themed activities for kids, a wide range of nighttime entertainment and outdoor seating for some restaurants. And of course it will offer Norwegian’s signature “freestyle” dining, which replaced the main dining room and scheduled seatings with a number of smaller restaurants and the option to choose a different venue and time each night.
And there’s one more element to its Miami theme: Norwegian Getaway’s godmothers are the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders.