As I drove the 10 minutes from my home to PortMiami to board Royal Caribbean’s iconic Empress of the Seas recently, a mixture of emotions flooded over me.
First, nostalgia: Fond memories of a beloved ship formerly known as “Nordic Empress” – the choice for many of our client’s corporate meetings & incentive programs and 4 full-ship charters reaching back to the early 90s when this was the first new vessel deployed on short sailings from Miami.
Next, anticipation: Empress of the Seas had recently returned to homeport in Miami after a $50 million revitalization, and I was eager to see what was new. I wondered how this ship with only 800 staterooms for 1,600 guests — small by Royal Caribbean’s standards of today — would measure up.
Then, delight! My first impression upon entering the lobby was how plush the carpeting was (triple-carpeting at trade shows wasn’t as luxurious as this!) And everything else looked equally fresh and inviting. The modern interpretation of this classic ship included beautiful, high-quality fabrics and furnishings; warm & breezy nautical touches; and inviting nooks with stylish seating. (Pictured right: The Schooner Bar)
Vicki Freed (Royal Caribbean’s SVP) says “Empress is the right size vessel for Cuba” and their intention is to go there! Until then, Empress of the Seas will continue the popular, short Miami-based cruises.
While the cruise line awaits final approval, homage to the tropical island is clearly evident throughout the ship. A preview of the vibrant Latin culture can be found in Royal Caribbean’s new – and IMHO the best – interpretation of their traditional “Boleros Lounge”. Window treatments there include shutters, as found in tropical climates, bold artwork (as pictured left and at the top of the article) plus some fabulous tilework.
The key focal point is the exquisite Cuban tiled bar in Boleros Lounge which is sure to be the busiest night spot with its live – and lively –Salsa music. (Seating Capacity in this secondary lounge is 233, and Reception Capacity 300).
What grabbed our attention walking into Boleros, was the stand-up Café Royal, which really sets the mood with those authentic Cuban tiles, and a coffee menu that offers robust cafecito, cortadito, and café con leche. (pictured right)
During our visit,we had the opportunity to see a variety of refurbished staterooms, including the suite pictured to the left. The fresh and delightful peacock blue color was used for bed scarves and pillow accents in most of the staterooms we saw, and all the woodwork and other finishes have been totally renewed. The 485 Ocean View cabins are smaller than today’s, and Balcony cabins are few, just in the 69 “Suites” which are more like today’s Deluxe Doubles. Interesting how times have changed.
While I snapped photos, my colleagues Vicki Fernandez and Neeti Ayare were busy taking copious notes for our clients (pictured in the Viking Crown Lounge, right).
Empress of the Seas offers VOOM, the fastest internet at sea with 4G and streaming capabilities. The pool deck (pictured left) features a large LED screen – perfect for watching concerts, sporting events, or movies under the stars.
We stopped to take a look at the lovely 2-level dining room (pictured below) which provides simultaneous seating for 904 people (536 on the lower level, 368 on the upper level).
We then enjoyed a scrumptious lunch at Royal Caribbean’s signature steakhouse, Chops Grille which seats 78 people (pictured right).
While there, the Hotel Manager came by to update us about the lovely “Sunday Brunch” offered on Empress every sea day in the dining room, with a complimentary Mimosa or Bloody Mary. And to ensure everyone enjoys their meals, he shared with us that this ship has a higher food budget (per person) than other ships in Royal’s fleet.
Empress of the Seas offers a variety of unique flexible meeting spaces, including the Royal Theater, Boleros, Viking Crown Lounge and Chops restaurant. Pictured below is the largest venue, the two-level Royal Theater that can accommodate 613 persons for a meeting or awards presentation.
You won’t find Las Vegas-style razzle-dazzle or dozens of dining and entertainment venues on Empress of the Seas, but your group will appreciate being able to easily find their way around, as well as quickly being able to find each other in this intimate setting, with warm and personal service, excellent menu choices and top-notch nightlife on board. And with only 800 sleeping rooms, Empress of the Seas is just the right size for an exclusive ship charter for first-time cruisers who aren’t looking for rock climbing walls and zip lines!
Empress of the Seas is currently offering 4 & 5-night Caribbean itineraries (scheduled only 3-4 months into the future) with the hope of sailing to Cuba soon. In the meantime, check out our update on all the other cruises to Cuba for incentive groups.