OF THE SEAS
Captain Arnoff Remo, Hotel Director
Darren Budden, and Cruise Director Allan
Brooks talk about the ship and her success
sailing from the United Kingdom.
By Richard H. Wagner (originally
published in The Log, the official
publication of the Naval Order of the
United States, New York Council, Spring
In April 2009, Royal Caribbean International announced that it would be
deploying INDEPENDENCE OF THE SEAS to the United Kingdom on a
year-round basis starting in 2010. The decision to so commit the line's newest
and largest ship - - indeed, currently the largest passenger ship in the world - -
reflects the growing significance of Britain as a cruise market and Royal
Caribbean's success in that market. However, the success of Royal Caribbean,
an American-based line providing a style of cruising developed for the American
market, in a country known for tradition and restraint comes as something of a
surprise to many.
An expanding market
The market for cruise vacations is expanding rapidly in Europe. According to
the European Cruise Council, the number of Europeans taking a cruise vacation
grew to 4.4 million in 2008, a 66 percent increase in just five years. As did
Americans in the 1970s, Europeans are realizing that cruising is not the exclusive
province of the rich but rather with its all-inclusive combination of room, board,
entertainment and transportation, a cruise vacation is a very economical option.
Accounting for the largest part of the growth in European cruising is the United
Kingdom. Some 1.5 million Britons went to sea last year. However, the cruise
lines have noticed that a cruise vacation represents only one in 16 packaged
holidays in the UK. This means that there is a lot of potential for growth.
In order to meet this demand, more and more cruise ships are being homeported
in the UK for part of the year. This includes not only traditional British lines
such as P&O Cruises and Cunard Line, both of which have deployed large new
ships to home waters in the last year, but also companies such as Norwegian
Cruise Lines and Princess Cruises. Indeed, Princess has two of its 110,000
gross ton Grand-class cruise ships based in the UK for extended periods in 2009.
Miami-based Royal Caribbean has provided cruises from Britain for a number of
years. Until recently, however, these cruises were marketed to Americans who
would fly to the UK and then join the ship for a cruise to the Mediterranean. In
2005, the line decided to try a different approach and market cruises on the
70,000 gross ton LEGEND OF THE SEAS to the British market. The ship was
soon sailing with 99 percent British passengers and was voted best large cruise
ship in Britain.
Excited by this response, Royal Caribbean decided to deploy one of its
Voyager-class mega-cruise ships, NAVIGATOR OF THE SEAS, to Britain for
the 2006 summer season. At 138,000 gross tons, NAVIGATOR can
accommodate more than 3,100 passengers - - almost twice LEGEND's passenger
capacity. Thus, in terms of number of berths, Royal Caribbean was doubling its
presence in this growing market.
This was not an entirely risk-free strategy. NAVIGATOR is not simply a bigger
version of LEGEND. Built in 1995, LEGEND is a conventional cruise ship with
restaurants, swimming pools, bars, lounges and other amenities one would expect
to find on a modern cruise ship. NAVIGATOR, built in 2002, has all of those
features but running down her centerline is a multi-deck concourse, the Royal
Promenade, which resembles a city street. It is lined with shops, cafes and bars.
There is even a classic car parked in front of one of bars. In addition, the ship
has an ice skating rink and on the aft side of the funnel, there is a rock-climbing
wall. In short, NAVIGATOR is much different than what the British had
embraced with LEGEND.
Any concern, however, that the British would not take to NAVIGATOR proved
unfounded. Indeed, her success prompted Royal Caribbean to make an even
bolder move. It would further increase its presence in the British market by
substituting the even larger INDEPENDENCE OF THE SEAS for NAVIGATOR
for INDEPENDENCE's maiden summer season in 2008.
A Very Big Ship
INDEPENDENCE OF THE SEAS is the third of Royal Caribbean's
Freedom-class cruise ships. (See The Log Summer 2006 at p.9). At
approximately 160,000 gross tons, she along with her two sisters, is the largest
passenger ship in the world in terms of gross tonnage. She has six diesel engines
which can supply 75,000 kilowatts of power to electric motors that are housed in
two azipods and one fixed pod, which in turn drive the ship. Her service speed
is 21.6 knots. (Of course, the power generated by the diesels is also used for
other things such as providing hotel services). The combination of azipods and
four powerful bow thrusters makes her quite maneuverable so that she rarely
needs the assistance of tugs when docking.
Essentially a longer version of the Voyager-class, INDEPENDENCE has all of
the features of NAVIGATOR. However, INDEPENDENCE also has several
additional features including a surfing simulator, a full-size boxing ring,
whirlpools cantilevered out over the ship's sides and the H2O Zone, a 5,380
square-foot water park for children with spray cannons, ground gushers and a
waterfall. The Royal Promenade is longer with additional dining venues and
shops. When the ship was under construction at the Aker shipyard in Finland,
"the theater in the forward part of the ship was the biggest theater in Finland,"
notes Darren Budden, INDEPENDENCEs Hotel Director.
There is an emphasis on activity on a Royal Caribbean cruise. "You can do as
little or as much as you like. It is not like it is compulsory attendance at every
show and every activity. But if you did want to do something from when you
wake up until you go to sleep, it is there," points out Cruise Director Allan
"We offer tremendous different variety on the activities side, on the entertainment
side as well as on the dining side," adds Budden. "So, when guests come and
vacation with us, they have all of the amenities that a Freedom class ship offers
by virtue of its facilities plus a lot of additional incremental things in the soft
things like entertainment."
To illustrate, in the evenings, there are street parties or parades staged by the
crew in the Royal Promenade complete with costumes, stilt walkers, floats,
colored lights, smoke and music. In Johnny Rocket's, a 1950s American diner,
all of the waiters periodically break into a line dance. The ice shows performed
in the ice skating rink feature professional skaters in well-choreographed
displays done to music and with stage lighting. Las Vegas style production
shows, complete with aerial acrobats suspended from the ceiling, take place in
This is not to say that INDEPENDENCE is all bight lights, chrome and flash.
She has a collection of more than 6,000 works of art. She also has lounges that
are done in a sophisticated contemporary style where guests can sip champagne,
converse with a piano player or listen to a jazz group. Furthermore, considering
the number of people onboard, there are a surprising number of quiet places
where one can be by oneself. "We have 4,400 people on the ship and sometimes
I don't know where they are. There are 19 lounges on here, 16 decks. It just
absorbs them," confesses Brooks.
It is a combination of facilities and activities that has been very successful in
America, making Royal Caribbean the number two cruise line. But would it
work in Britain?
Independence Comes to Britain
INDEPENDENCE entered service in May 2008 and spent until November of that
year cruising out of Southampton, mostly to the Mediterranean and the Canary
Islands She then became the largest passenger ship ever to do a transatlantic
crossing with paying passengers. Before returning to Southampton in April
2009, she spent the winter months cruising the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale.
Although the ship adhered to the Royal Caribbean's style of cruising throughout,
some adjustments were made when she was in Britain.
"It is always a very big challenge for us to get used to the various markets
because it is different to sail out from Southampton compared with Barcelona.
We have to adjust things to the type of guest that we have onboard," explains
Captain Arnolf Remo, the master of the INDEPENDENCE.
Mr. Budden elaborates: "We have some 85 to 90 percent UK guests when we
sail out of Southampton. They have certain little likes and dislikes that we cater
to because they are our primary audience. For example, we have our food
served at a certain temperature in the United States. We will generally kick that
up four or five degrees when we serve it in the UK because British guests like
hotter food. So, our sauces are near boiling, we warm our plates prior to serving
- - a lot of things to keep the food at a temperature the UK guests prefer. Other
little things like in our [buffet] menu for breakfast, we will offer English bacon,
not just the crispy North American type of bacon, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms - -
all those things that are very important to that clientele. Similarly, we have tea
kettles in each of the staterooms and that is very much a function of what our UK
guests really wanted based upon feedback from several years in that
marketplace. When they sail with us they are not necessarily looking for British
cuisine, although we do have several sprinklings of that, but there are certain
core comforts of home that people really do like to have even when they are
vacationing. The core product is the same Royal Caribbean product with a few
little tweaks, here and there to customize it."
The majority of INDEPENDENCE's officers and crew are veterans of other
Royal Caribbean ships. However, most are not from the UK and many had not
served British passengers prior to joining Independence. Consequently, the crew
had to adapt to cultural differences.
"Europeans are totally different from Americans," noted Captain Remo.
"Interaction between the crew [and the passengers] is different in Europe than in
America. In America, you need to talk them into things. If you don't do that, they
feel you are rude. But, if you do that when you are in Europe, they feel you are
Cultural differences also affect such things as the flow of passengers through the
ship. Mr. Brooks pointed out that the shows in the ship's theater "were packed to
the rim. [However, the British] were there about an hour before [each show]
which is interesting compared to the US market. You would have a full theater
40 minutes before show time. We have a nine o'clock and an eleven o'clock
show, so as the first show would be finishing at 10, we would have people
coming in for the 11 o'clock show."
Another factor that require adjustments to be made is the weather. Even in
summer, sailing out of Southampton is not the same as sailing out of Miami. "The
closer you get to winter the more waves you get. The Bay of Bisquay can be
very rough but then everyone has to realize the weather is not like the
Caribbean," commented Captain Remo. "It looks like the English accept that."
"Weather is a big factor," added Brooks. In colder climes, "the inside of the ship
becomes more of the hot spot as opposed to the pool deck and the outer decks. In
the Caribbean, [those decks] absorb most of the people on the sea days and
when leaving port. [On British cruises] we have a lot more lectures, a lot more
dancing, a lot more card playing - - those venues became a lot more popular."
Still even with all of the aforementioned adjustments to Royal Caribbean's
cruising style, INDEPENDENCE OF THE SEAS remains much more of an
American-style product than a British-style product. Why then has she been
"The reason I can absolutely understand it working is in some respects we bring
a little bit of Las Vegas to the UK," explained Mr. Budden. "There are quite a
number of traditional cruise products that operate in the UK and there are
certainly some guests who would enjoy that more than they would our product
because they are more traditional. Our product is different. Our product is about
options, it is about wide-open spaces, it is about action and fun - - go skating,
climb a rock wall, let your kids play in the H2O zone, you can go relax in a
cantilevered pool that goes out over the sides of the ship, you can go and surf at
sea. Very different, almost brash American, which people really enjoy because
they don't really have other products that are like that. There are a lot of people
over there who want the entertainment and action that comes with a ship that is
designed like INDEPENDENCE OF THE SEAS. It has done very well and
there is a lot of excitement about it."
"To a certain degree, I think the INDEPENDENCE is embraced as a UK ship
because we home base out of Southampton. We cater a little better to the British
because we understand them a little better [due to the fact that] we spend more
time with them. [For example], when you go into a bar in the UK and you order a
lemonade, you are actually ordering a 7-Up or a Sprite, not what North
Americans would consider to be a lemonade. Our bar staff, because of our
experience in the UK knows to ask someone with an English accent 'do you want
this or do you want this for your mix?' So, we get it right. If they go to any other
North American-based ship and they order a lemonade and vodka for example,
people are going to look at them and probably give them an actual lemonade and
vodka which is not what they really want. We understand the vernacular. We
also understand what they prefer from a dining experience with food
temperatures, English bacon, beans for breakfast."
In short, the key to success is to offer something that the target market does not
have at home but while still providing a touch of home.
Above: Waiters dance in the American-style dinner Johnny
Below: An English-style pub on the Royal Promenade.
Cruise Director Allan Brooks.
The colors of The Royal Promenade change
during the course of the day.
Hotel Director Darren Budden
Captain Arnoff Remo
Independence's rock-climbing wall.
A parade on the Royal Promenade.
Above: The adults-only Solarium Pool.
Below: The H2O Zone is a favorite with children.
A whirlpool hangs over each side of the ship.
Cruise ship feature - Independence of the Seas - Royal Caribbean - page 1