Embarking on new odysseys with Royal Caribbean

Anthony Pearce asks Ben Bouldin why innovation – and fun – is at the heart of the cruise line’s appeal

Embarking on new odysseys with Royal Caribbean
Odyssey of the Seas offers innovative onboard activities such as the Skypad skydiving simulator

By Anthony Pearce |

Royal Caribbean International’s fleet is always expanding with newer, larger and more innovative vessels.  

“We manage to outdo ourselves with each new ship we introduce,” says Ben Bouldin, vice president of EMEA for the brand. “It’s through our new ships, which really shift the dial when it comes to holidays, both on land and at sea, that we can entice new guests and grow our brand.” 

The most recent arrival to that fleet of 24 ships is Wonder of the Seas, which is now the world’s largest cruise vessel, having surpassed Royal Caribbean’s previous record-breaking title holders, Symphony of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, and Oasis of the Seas. Before this, the record was held by the line’s Freedom-class ships, which now seem almost diminutive in comparison.   

“Wonder of the Seas is the fifth ship in our much-loved Oasis class and offers a combination of unmatched signature features and experiences found from one neighbourhood to the next, including the tallest slide at sea, The Ultimate Abyss; the newly designed, dedicated spaces for children and teenagers at Adventure Ocean, Social100 and The Patio; the FlowRider surf simulator; twin rock-climbing walls and the 10-deck-high zip line,” says Bouldin, reeling off a list of the ship’s key highlights.   

Early adopters of cruise holidays in the 1970s would scarce believe the numbers behind Wonder of the Seas – the 236,857gt vessel is 362 metres long, 18 decks high and able to accommodate a maximum of 6,988 guests and 2,300 crew. Over the 16 guest decks, there are 20 restaurants, four pools and 2,867 cabins.  

Cruise ships of this size are often described by others as being an acquired taste, but guests would be hard-pushed not to have a good time on Wonder of the Seas or other Royal Caribbean vessels – there is an astonishing amount to do.   

Recent years have seen Royal Caribbean upgrading older classes, bringing all the fleet up to the same activity-packed standard, while also creating the Quantum Ultra-class, which combines the features of both the much-loved Quantum and Oasis classes. The latest in this Quantum-Ultra class is Odyssey of the Seas, on which guests can enjoy favourites such as SeaPlex (the largest indoor and outdoor activity centre at sea), immerse themselves in shows at Two70, or head to the top deck for the SkyPad and FlowRider, the skydiving and surf simulators. It also includes the Virtual Adventure Zone, the first fully immersive 4D virtual reality experience at sea, which Royal Caribbean describes as “a high-tech, free-roaming, multisensory journey”. All these offerings provide good examples of the line’s renowned innovative spirit.  

Growing numbers of guests will be able to enjoy these innovations for themselves as the brand continues to resume service in different regions of the world.   

“The majority of our ships have now returned to service and our guests are enjoying sailing on a wide range of itineraries from North America and the Caribbean,” says Bouldin, noting that the break, although not welcome, has reminded many of why they loved cruise in the first place. “We’ve had some of our highest-ever guest satisfaction scores since our return to sailing and it’s clear our guests are happy to be back cruising and creating new memories with friends and family. 

“Incentives such as ‘cruise with confidence’ have been really well received by our loyal guests as they were able to conveniently lift and shift their cruises or cancel within 48 hours.” 

Bouldin says that Royal’s crew – which are “really the heart of our global operation” – and local communities have been supported through the RCL Cares programme during the pandemic. “We know that so many destinations are heavily reliant on economic impact of our operations and international tourism so it’s fantastic to be bringing guests to many of our destinations once again.” 

Looking to the future, he says that there are “positive signs” that confidence is growing within the sector as an increasing number of guests book their holidays. “Looking further ahead, and in Europe in particular, this year and next we have more cruise capacity than ever before and can offer our guests some incredible experiences. Across the industry there are many new ships on the horizon and exclusive cruise destinations. We can expect to see the growth of the cruise industry, especially in Europe, and with it much exciting product development and innovation.” 

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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