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A Man, A Company,
and A Ship

An Interview with Captain
Herman Zini
Master of LIBERTY OF THE
SEAS

By

Richard H. Wagner
One might well expect that the first captain of the world’s largest passenger ship would
be a white-bearded mariner who, nearing retirement, was bringing the ship into service
as a fitting climax to an illustrious career.  However, reflecting the youthful and active
image that Royal Caribbean International seeks to engender, tall, athletic-looking
Captain Herman Zini, the first master of LIBERTY OF THE SEAS, is still under 40.  
Indeed, he was the youngest captain in the Royal Caribbean fleet when he took
command of GRANDEUR OF THE SEAS at the age of 34 in 2002.  When LIBERTY
was in New York for her maiden call, I had the opportunity to talk with RCI’s young
prodigy about his career, Royal Caribbean, and his ship.

A Meteoric Rise

Although Captain Zini is a young man, he has had more than 25 years nautical
experience.  Born in San Fernando, Argentina, which is often referred to as the
“Nautical Capital” of Argentina, Zini developed an early affinity for the sea and water-
borne activities such as competitive sailing and rowing.  “At the age of 12, I joined the
high school that belongs to the navy in Argentina [Liceo Naval Miltar Almirante
Guillermo Brown].   I did five years at the school and at the same time that I was
getting my [scholastic] education, I was training to be an Argentinean [naval] officer.  
So, I became a reserve officer at the age of 17.  During those five years, we were
going to sea a lot on navy ships.”

Zini continued his education at the Escuela Nacional de Nautica Manuel Belgrano, the
merchant marine academy in Buenos Aires.   “There we had three years of education
about navigation.  By the time that I went to the merchant marine college, all of the
things that I was learning there, I had already learned before - - the sextant, navigation
skills and in general being a ship’s captain.”

Upon graduation, Zini received his Third Officer’s license and went to work on cargo
ships operating out of Argentina.  While he received valuable experience in navigation
and handling ships in confined waters, “I was not really satisfied with the standard of
the shipping in Argentina, the owners, how they keep their ships, things like that.  
Really, I was a bit disappointed with the career.  So, I was about to make a change.”

Having put so much time and effort into training for a career at sea, Zini decided to
give the sea one more chance before “I put my feet finally on land.”  He thought about
what would be an ideal career and “so, I took my suitcases to Miami to find a cruise
line.  I knocked on every single company’s door and here I am.”

Zini started with Royal Caribbean in 1991 as Second Officer on NORDIC EMPRESS
and received his master’s license two years later.  Since then he has served as Staff
Captain on VIKING SERENADE, LEGEND OF THE SEAS, VISION OF THE
SEAS and ADVENTURE OF THE SEAS.  He has commanded GRANDEUR OF
THE SEAS, SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS, ADVENTURE OF THE SEAS, and
RADIANCE OF THE SEAS.  In addition, he has participated in the building of
LEGEND OF THE SEAS, VOYAGER OF THE SEAS and most recently, LIBERTY
OF THE SEAS.  Thus, not only has Captain Zini developed a substantial amount of
sea experience in a short time, he also has had wide experience within the Royal
Caribbean fleet.

With his roots in naval and cargo ships, one might expect that guest relations would not
be a high priority for Captain Zini.  However, “I spend quite a bit of time with the
guests.  I walk around the ship a lot during a cruise.  It is something I like to do
because it is great to meet a lot of people and for me, it is a great way to know how the
ship is doing.  You hear right away when something is not up to our standard because
people will come up and tell you.  It is a great way to feel the ship, walking around.”

An International Company     

Like Captain Zini, Royal Caribbean is a young company.  In fact, when Captain Zini
joined Royal Caribbean, the company had been in business only for some 22 years.  
Although an American, Ed Stephens, is usually credited with the idea for the company,
the original owners were three Norwegian investors, I.M. Skaugen, S/A, Anders
Wilelmson and Company and Gotas Larsen Shipping Corporation.  As a result,
although the firm was headquartered in Miami, the ships were operated by Norwegians
and there was a strong Scandinavian influence, which is reflected in the names of the
line’s early ships: SONG OF NORWAY, NORDIC PRINCE and SUN VIKING.  

The original idea for the line was to operate ships that were built for the purpose of
doing Caribbean cruises out of Miami.  At the time, most of the firms providing
Caribbean cruises were doing so using former ocean liners that had been retired from
the transatlantic market because they were too old or because the market for crossings
had evaporated with the advent of commercial jet service between the United States
and Europe.  Stephens saw that ships cruising in the calm waters of the Caribbean had
no need for the long bows, low superstructures and deep drafts needed for handling the
stormy North Atlantic.  Rather, they could be built with blunt bows and larger
superstructures so as to maximize the amount of passenger (i.e. revenue-producing)
space on the ship.  He also saw that if the cruises were sold in packages that combined
the cruise with airline tickets to and from Miami, the cruises could be marketed
nationwide rather than just to the residents of Florida.  Thus, the company started as a
Norwegian business focusing on the American market for Caribbean cruises.

Today, Royal Caribbean is much different.  “We are an international cruise line.  We
have 21 ships in our fleet and this year I think we are going to 144 different countries.  
To have a large variety of classes of ships is very important to us.  Some people prefer
itinerary versus size, some prefer the larger ships because there is so much to do.  
There are people who like to go to Alaska or the Panama Canal.  They cannot go on
[LIBERTY OF THE SEAS] because this ship is not Panamax, so we have the other
beautiful ships, the Radiance-class, the Vision-class.  If they like to make three or four
day cruises, we have just finished the renovation of all the Sovereign-class ships, the
SOVEREIGN, MAJESTY and MONARCH.”

While Royal Caribbean still maintains a sizable presence in the Caribbean, the
company is expanding into other areas as well. “There are going to be seven ships
altogether between [RCI affiliate] Celebrity [Cruises] and Royal Caribbean [in Europe],
next year.  Europe is our biggest growing market right now.  We are growing in Europe
at a rate higher than the travel industry.  Basically, we are not just competing with
other cruise lines, we are also showing that cruising can be a better vacation experience
than something else.  So, we are really competing with all the shoreside land-based
resorts.”

“When I was, on the GRANDEUR in 2002, the demographics were like 60 %
Americans and 40% Europeans.  I would think now it is more like 50/50.   So, the
European market is growing a lot.  You see a lot more Europeans cruising altogether
whether it is at home or on this side [of the Atlantic].”

Although Royal Caribbean’s style of cruising remains distinctly American, marketing
the cruises internationally means that the line must make some adjustments in order to
accommodate passengers from different nations.  “We have a position onboard that is
called International Ambassador.  We support five core languages onboard our ship.  
All our programs, communication flyers, TV advertisements for the daily activities, the
safety announcements include five core languages.  Then, of course, we have crew
members aboard from all over the world and it is very rare that any one of our crew
members will speak only one language.  They all have to speak English, which is the
working language [onboard], and coming from all over the world they already speak
another language.  When we position a ship in a particular market where we know a
particular language will have a strong presence, we take some crew members [from
other ships] that have that skill.  So, when we go to the Mediterranean and we know
that we have a lot of Spanish speaking guests there, we try to take some of our
Spanish-speaking crew members to be there.”

Indeed, Royal Caribbean has an international work force.  “We have hiring
departments all over the world.  We are a very international company.  I think the last
time I checked we had 200 nationalities in the company.  On the ships, we cover 60 to
65 different nationalities.  Having said that, a couple of nationalities are very strong
amongst the crew - - the Philippines is one; India, we have quite a few; a growing
number from South Africa; the Caribbean, Jamaica, and we have a lot of people from
eastern European countries. South America is growing more and more.  We need to
expand all over the world, not only in our market but also in our recruitment.  That is
the truly international part of the company.”

This includes the ship’s officers as well.  “It started as a Norwegian company.  From
there, we have always had a strong Scandinavian presence. But, more and more, we
have expanded into other places in the world.  We have officers from Canada, from
other parts of Scandinavia - - Sweden, Poland, Croatia, and Eastern Europe again.  We
have a few from South America.”  

The Biggest Ship

LIBERTY OF THE SEAS is 154,000 gross tons making her the largest cruise ship in
terms of tonnage - - a record she shares with her fleetmate FREEDOM OF THE
SEAS.  However, at 1,414 feet long and 185 feet wide, she is slightly smaller than
Cunard’s QUEEN MARY 2 in physical space.  This disparity is explained by the fact
that gross tonnage is not a measure of weight but rather of revenue producing space.  
Consequently, since LIBERTY is more box-like in shape than QM2, which requires a
more streamlined shape in order to do fast North Atlantic crossings, LIBERTY has a
larger gross tonnage than QM2.  A similar situation occurred in the late 1980s when
SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS (73,100 gross tons) became the world’s largest cruise
ship even though her physical dimensions were smaller than QUEEN ELIZABETH 2
(70,000 gross tons).  In any event, since gross tonnage is the accepted standard for
measuring cruise ships, LIBERTY and FREEDOM now hold the title.

“We can carry about 5,700 people.  Then, 1,400 of those are crew members so that
leaves you with a capacity of 4,300 passengers.”  This includes upper berths.  The
double occupancy passenger capacity is 3,634.

Unlike most ships who have celebrities or spouses of government officials as the  
“godmother” or “sponsor”, the godmother of LIBERTY is Donnalea Madeley, a
Canadian travel agent.  Ms. Madeley was selected by Royal Caribbean from 2,500
nominations of women travel agents because of her philanthropic work.  However, the
fact that Royal Caribbean limited the universe of nominees to travel agents underscores
their importance to the line.  “We do our business through travel agents.  We really
value their work.  I see more and more the travel agents having a very vital role in our
operations.  We have provided the industry and market with wonderful ships and
wonderful well-trained crews. I think we have a very good product and we very much
depend upon them to tell the world what we have.”

LIBERTY is the second ship in the Freedom-class, which “is a continuation of the
successful Voyager-class,” with an extra section that lengthens the ship and adds extra
space.  As a result, the ship is similar in layout and amenities not only to FREEDOM
OF THE SEAS but to the five-ship series that began with VOYAGER OF THE
SEAS.  “Different parts of the ships have different colors - - we do that purposely so
as to have a unique feeling.  Within that, there are certain areas that we know are
working so well that we don’t want to touch them.  For instance, the dining room; all
the ships since EXPLORER, which was the second one, it is pretty much the same - -
the same colors, the same look, it works pretty well.  But the theater, it is all different -
- all different colors.  The Royal Promenade, is the same but the décor, the walls, the
lounges along the Promenade changed slightly.  Without changing too much the layout,
we do change the finished product and the colors.”

Indeed, the change in artwork and color give LIBERTY a more restrained feel than her
older sister.  While FREEDOM featured statues of giant swimmers and jet aircraft
hanging from the ceiling, on LIBERTY there is “a different theme to the art work:  
Illusion and Reality.”   Developed by French artist Miguel Chevalier, the artwork
features installations in long ribbon-like shapes upon which are projected lights that
vary with the amount of traffic in the area.  In addition, the use of muted yellows and
ochre give the ship a pleasant atmosphere.  “I like the feeling of the ship walking
around.  She feels fresh.”  

Having had the benefit of building and sailing a nearly identical ship, Royal Caribbean
was able to incorporate some technical improvements into LIBERTY.  “The main
difference was in the refinement of the waste plant - - re-routing some of the pipes and
equipment. And basically, it is working extremely well.  Not only that but we have
gone to a closed loop system.  We had some issues before with smell going out and
now we have no smells.  We are very pleased with the progress.  There was some
experimentation with the engine utilization and fuel with fuel hoses.  Those are the two
main technical issues and there were very small details here and there.”

Royal Caribbean is also sharing the experience it gained during FREEDOM’S first
season to ensure the success of LIBERTY’S first season.  “I think we have about 7 or
8 percent of crew members from the FREEDOM OF THE SEAS.  We also have
about 30 or 35 percent  with Voyager-class experience, so the environment is not
completely different to them.  On the management side, I would say that 80 percent of
our managers have start-up team experience.  Some of the core team members are part
of the [company’s] start-up team. They move from ship to ship to ship in order to get
the ship out.  Then they hand it over.  It is not involved in every position but we try to
have at least a degree of that because the learning curve is very fast.  You don’t really
have time to find out what is happening.  You need to fit in and be doing it right away.”
Inasmuch as the amenities on LIBERTY such as the Flow-rider surf simulator, the
boxing ring, the ice skating rink, and the hot tubs cantilevered out over the sea from the
upper deck are on FREEDOM, Royal Caribbean decided to make LIBERTY the
platform for debuting several new passenger programs.  These included a new
“Vitality” program which includes counseling about food, physical training and themes
shore excursions, an enhanced wedding-at-sea program, and additional programs for
young cruisers and children..    

Even leaving aside what other cruise lines may do, LIBERTY and FREEDOM will not
remain the world’s largest ships for long.  Already under construction at the Aker Yard
in Finland is the first ship in Royal Caribbean’s Genesis-class.  This ship will be
220,000 gross tons and have a passenger capacity of 5,400.  She scheduled to go into
service in 2009.  Royal Caribbean has also exercised its option for a second Genesis-
class ship.

In order to grow, Royal Caribbean, however, must do more than just build larger
ships.  It must also work to ensure that there are port facilities that can handle such
megaships.  Captain Zini pointed out that this presents two sets of issues for the line.    
“One is where you are using the port for embarkations and disembarkations - - sending
4,000 guests ashore with their luggage with another 4,000 coming onboard with their
luggage in a short period of time, clear customs, immigration and everything.  That
requires a very good facility and co-ordination.  Because of this, the turn-around
terminal is critical for us.  Before we open up a new terminal for turn around, we need
to do a lot of ground work.   We know what we need and we look very closely before
we select any turn around ports.”

“When you go to the ports-of-call during a cruise, the facilities that we need are
different.  The process of getting guests on and off the ship is much simplified because
you do not need to do any immigration or customs and there is no luggage handling.  
We don’t have to do any loading because we do all our loading of supplies normally in
our U.S. ports.  But, ports of call have other issues.  You are sending people ashore
and you want to make sure that they have a good time and that there are facilities there
to receive them.  We work very closely with our different business partners around the
world to make sure that they can accommodate us so we can grow together.  When we
grow the capacity here, it is important that we grow the infrastructure.”

“Some places in the world, it is easier than others.  When you are in Europe, the cruise
industry is a very small percentage of the total travel industry.  If we go there and
duplicate our volume, it is nothing for the whole infrastructure ashore [to absorb]
because we are a small percentage.  But, when you go to the Caribbean, and you
increase by 10 percent [it is a major population increase for some islands].  So, there
we have to work very closely with our business partners to be sure that they are
growing their infrastructure at the same rate to accommodate us.”

      Last April, LIBERTY emerged from the Kvaerner Masa-Yards in Turku, Finland
where she was built in “in great condition.”   Crossing the Atlantic, she encountered
some rough weather but “she is a big ship, so six and a half meter waves, she makes
them look small.”  Indeed, even though the LIBERTY has been in service for only a
short time, “the ship is like we have been at sea forever.  We have wondered what we
have missed and where it is going to come from because it is really totally good.”
Captain Herman
Zini (Photo courtesy
of Royal Caribbean).
Cruise ship inside interview - Liberty of the Seas - Royal Caribbean - page 1
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There are more photos
(including exterior photos) and
more information  about
LIBERTY OF THE SEAS on
the LIBERTY OF THE SEAS
Profile Page

CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE PROFILE PAGE
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