Upgraded Empress could become Royal Caribbean’s Cuba ship
By Tom Stieghorst / March 13, 2016
FORT LAUDERDALE — Royal Caribbean International is spending millions of
dollars to upgrade the Empress of the Seas, but that effort might be
more about Cuba than launching short cruises from Florida.
The Empress, which launched in 1990 as the Nordic Express, will resume
sailing for Royal at the end of March after spending eight years sailing
for Pullmantur as the Empress. Pullmantur, the Spanish brand of Royal
Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL), downsized to two ships, so the Empress of
the Seas will return to Miami for a deployment of four- and five-day
Cruises have only been scheduled through July on the 1,602-passenger
vessel, which starts its new itineraries with a five-night trip from Key
West to Cozumel, Mexico, that departs March 30.
Comparable ships, such as the Majesty of the Seas, which does short
Caribbean cruises from Miami, have voyages scheduled through April 2017.
But there are different plans in mind for the Empress.
Vicki Freed, Royal’s senior vice president of sales, trade support and
services, recently told a group of travel agents that inventory on the
Empress will likely be parceled out month by month.
“We’re not going out too far, because we’re waiting for Cuba to open
up,” Freed said at a CruiseOne/Cruises Inc. training seminar. “The
minute Cuba opens up, we know this is the right-sized ship for Cuba.”
The short schedule for the Empress is another sign of how eager cruise
lines are to launch service to Cuba and how they are marking time
because of the lack of Cuban approvals.
“As of this moment, the Cuban government has not granted permission for
any America-based cruise line to call to Cuba,” said Cynthia Martinez, a
spokeswoman for RCCL.
Other cruise lines that have expressed an interest in going to Cuba once
the nation’s officials give the green light include Norwegian Cruise
Line and Crystal Cruises.
In the meantime, Royal is refurbishing the 26-year-old ship for the
short-cruise market from Florida by redesigning the staterooms,
remodeling the casino and adding Chops Grille, Royal’s specialty steak
restaurant. A Boleros Latin Lounge is also being added.
Royal announced the transfer of the Empress from Pullmantur in
mid-December, leaving little time to ramp up sales before the March
departure. So it has taken some unusual marketing moves.
It offered low prices, $249 for four nights and $305 for five nights, in
a promotion that lasted until Feb. 15. To help agents earn money on such
low fares and aid in filling the ship, Royal applied a 20% commission to
sales on the Empress, rather than the normal 10% to 15% rate. Freed said
that it was the first time in her experience at Royal that the line had
offered a separate commission structure for a single ship.
For groups, the promotion included a 1-for-8 tour-conductor credit,
although Freed acknowledged at CruiseOne/Cruises Inc. that with such a
short booking window, groups were a challenge.
Royal is positioning the Empress as an “endless weekend” experience.
There will be a DJ-driven pool party called Plunge and brunch available
every day with complimentary Bloody Mary cocktails or mimosas.
It is also touting the cruises as having longer-than-normal port stays,
including overnights in Cozumel on departures leaving May 9 and 26 and
The 48,500-ton ship was the first to be designed for the three- and
four-night market. Its name was changed from the Nordic Express to the
Empress of the Seas in 2004 to conform to the “of the seas” nomenclature
of the rest of Royal’s fleet.
Source: Upgraded Empress could become Royal Caribbean’s Cuba ship:
Travel Weekly –