By Richard H. Wagner
(originally published in The Log, Navy League of the
United States, New York Council (Spring 2007)
EXPLORER is the second of the five Voyager-class ships, going into service in October 2000.
"There are very small technical differences but the overall design, [the Voyager-class ships]
are identical. The deck schemes are different but the basic ships are identical."
She is 1,020 feet long, 157.5 feet wide and has a draft of 29 feet. Her 1,185-member crew is
Norwegian and international.
Royal Caribbean recognized that the Voyager-class ships were not just an evolutionary step in
the development of the cruise ship but a leap forward that required some new thinking about the
way a ship is operated. To begin, there would be a more formal approach to training the
officers to run the ships. "We felt that because of the unprecedented size of the ship that it was
appropriate to also do simulator training just as the airlines have done for many years. So, at
our STAR Center in Dania, Florida, we actually replicated the bridge of the Voyager-class
ships. Our officers, when they go there, take the normal bridge resource management training,
which is interpersonal relationships. But they then also train on exactly the same equipment
that they use onboard the ships. It's a ship-specific simulator, which is unique in the maritime
world. Airlines have been doing it for years but I believe we are the only company, passenger
or otherwise, that has actually made that kind of investment."
This more sophisticated approach to training reflected the fact that the bridges on these ships
are not the traditional type where the officers have to walk from one console or instrument to
another to collect and process data but rather more closely resemble an airplane cockpit. The
officers sit in high-backed chairs in front of a U-shaped console. Computer displays and the
controls for the ship are within arms reach. Moreover, the systems installed such as the
Dynamic Position System, which links navigational data with the propulsion systems thus
enabling very precise handling and positioning, are state-of-the art. This type of bridge has
now been standardized across the Royal Caribbean/Celebrity fleet. "When an officer goes
from one ship to another it would be the same, the same technologies."
Along the same lines, Royal Caribbean decided to abandon the traditional propeller and shaft
method of propulsion and rely upon the pod propulsion in the Voyager-class. "There is one
what we call a 'fixipod' - - it is a pod but it does not move, it does not rotate. [In addition,
EXPLORER] has two azimodal pods which can rotate 360 degrees. They are pulling whereas
the fixipod is pushing. The fact that they are pulling is a great advantage because the water, the
environment that the propeller is working in, is much purer. Since it is a more laminated water
flow that is hitting the propeller it is operating at higher efficiency. If we had the propeller at
the end of a shaft the water that eventually reaches the propeller is somewhat turbulent because
of the rotation of the shaft and the struts that are supporting the shaft, and that takes away the
efficiency. We get about ten percent better efficiency by having the pods pull rather than push."
This also allowed Royal Caribbean to dispense with rudders on these ships. "We steer by
rotating the pods themselves. They are really fantastic. These vessels would be extremely
challenging to maneuver if you didn't have azipods. You'd be very much more dependent on
tugs. Here, for all intents and purposes we operate tug free even under challenging conditions."
EXPLORER has six engines giving her a maximum speed of 22 and a half knots. "She is a
diesel electric ship so all the engines are used for power generation." Service speed varies
from leg to leg of a cruise. "One of the things that we are paying a lot of attention to right now
with fuel prices as high as they are now is to make sure that we have reasonable legs.
Sometimes we depart a little bit earlier than we might have five or six years ago so we keep the
speed down to more economic levels. We spend a lot more time now really scrutinizing our
itineraries for overall economy"
The increase in the cost of fuel has required Royal Caribbean to adapt in other ways. "We
have eight ships in total [RCI and Celebrity] that are gas turbine ships. It is a fantastic
technology, we love it, but it is expensive. It is so expensive, in fact, we are just getting started
on a project where we retrofit a diesel generator on all these vessels. It is a hugely complex
project. That will give the [captains] the opportunity to run the diesel when they are in port.
[In addition,] the captains, in certain confined water, like to have two turbines running, not for
speed but just so in case they lose one, they would have the other one. Now, they could get by
having the diesel there. It would give them some steerage, some flexibility, even if they lost the
one gas turbine. It's going to be about $15 million a ship. We found the room [for the
equipment] but it is complicated. A lot of other systems have to be re-directed, the piping
arrangements - - it is a huge project. In many ways, it is more complicated than stretching the
One of the most striking features of a megacruise ship is how high they are. Seemingly, if
traditional construction materials were used, such ships would either become top heavy and
thus unstable or else have to have a compensating weight at or below the waterline that would
produce such a deep draft that they would not be able to enter or dock in many of the most
attractive cruise ports. "We have a lot of aluminum on the upper decks. The yard has actually
developed a technique where they can actually weld aluminum and steel. As the ships become
higher then you try to reduce as much weight in the upper decks as possible."
Royal Caribbean envisions that it will be able to sail ships like EXPLORER for 25 years but it
is not the technology or the condition of the hulls that limits their usefulness to the line. "What
we find happens is as we evolve our vessels, which is very positive, there is also a negative
side to it. We tend to offer new amenities which then date our earlier vessels because the
guests now expect them to be part of the ship. For example, if a guest has had a balcony cabin,
they typically want to have a balcony cabin again. Ships that don't have balcony cabins or a
large percentage of them [become] a product that is more difficult to sell when you have these
new ships that have [balconies as well as other new amenities]. Typically, the fleet
maintenance is 25 years. There is an after market that would be for a lower-type, more
economy-type cruising. That's where they go to."
Life on board
The megacruise ships are not merely bigger cruise ships with more passenger cabins than
traditional ships. Rather, ships such as EXPLORER are intended to be full-pledged resorts at
sea. Not only is this reflected in the wide variety of amenities on board but in the structure of
the ship itself.
According to a company statement: "Royal Caribbean typically appeals to couples and singles
in their 30s to 50s as well as family vacationers. The median age is low-40s . . . . Our guests
are active travelers looking for an affordable, cost-effective vacation that's fun, relaxing and
refined." In keeping with this, EXPLORER has such amenities as a rock-climbing wall, three
pools, a basketball court, a miniature golf course, six whirlpools, jogging and in-line skating
tracks, a golf simulator, and a large fitness spa. In addition, there are bars, discos, a large
casino, and for the romantically-inclined, a wedding chapel. Dining takes place in two seatings
in a three-deck high elaborately decorated dining room. There are also alternative dining
areas, ranging from the informality of a Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop to an extra-tariff Italian
While Royal Caribbean seeks to appeal to people who are physically active, in addition to a
large library, EXPLORER does have a feature that is definitely cerebral. In the Ocean and
Atmospheric Laboratory, scientists from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine
and Atmospheric Science perform experiments and record data regarding sea and weather
conditions. Since EXPLORER is constantly at sea and has a regular itinerary, the onboard
laboratory affords scientists an unprecedented opportunity to observe changing conditions on a
routine basis. More than 100 scientific papers have been published based upon work done on
EXPLORER. The scientists also give lectures and the laboratory is open to the passengers.
"Tens of thousands of our guests have actually gone through the labs and the interactive
Eco-Learning Center that we have on board. They walk away with a very positive experience.
For us, it was a win-win. We are contributing to doing real, cutting-edge science that is
meaningful while at the same time providing something totally unique to our guests," notes
Structurally, the tremendous size of the Voyager-class allowed Royal Caribbean to create an
interior mall that is four decks high, 394 feet long and as wide as a street. The Royal
Promenade links two 11-deck high atria and is lined with shops, cafes, and various eating
establishments. Windows from interior cabins look down at the street performers, parades, and
parties that go on in this space. It makes the ship truly seem like a city at sea. If this were not
enough, the ship is also big enough to carry a 60 by 40 foot ice skating rink as well as a four
deck-high, 1,350-seat theater.
The Way Forward
Royal Caribbean currently sails to some 180 destinations around the world. By the end of the
decade, the plan is to sail to 200 destinations. Moreover, future expansion is not just measured
by where a cruise line sails to but where it sails from. While Miami remains the "Cruise Ship
Capital," the lines are racing to bring their ships closer to different groups of customers,
positioning ships in ports that rarely saw a cruise ship just a few years ago. In such ports, "you
put an emphasis on the drive-in market but certainly there will be many guests that will fly in."
As noted earlier, one of the advantages of the megacruise ships is that they allow Royal
Caribbean to become a major player in any market with one move. For example, the third
largest cruise line, Norwegian Cruise Lines, has been developing the winter cruise market in
New York since 2003 with two ships that have a combined passenger capacity of 4,210,
offering cruises from New York to the Caribbean. (See article). In 2006, Carnival subsidiary,
Holland America Line, entered the market with the 1,918-passenger NOORDAM and she will
be joined during the 2007-2008 season by QUEEN MARY 2 (2,620 capacity). With
EXPLORER entering the fray next Winter with her 3,114 passenger capacity, Royal Caribbean
will have the largest single ship in terms of passenger capacity in the market. Furthermore,
although Royal Caribbean's total capacity will be less than that of Norwegian Cruise Line and
of the two Carnival companies, its operation will be more economically efficient since the
other companies must operate multiple hulls to surpass Royal Caribbean's capacity.
Along the same lines, "last year, we introduced the LEGEND OF THE SEASs [69,130 gross
tons] sailing out of Southampton [England] to the Med. In her first season, she was elected as
best large cruise ship in the UK. We are really excited about that. We are going to have the
NAVIGATOR OF THE SEAS [EXPLORER's sister] next year also sailing out of
Advances in ship design allow Royal Caribbean and the other cruise companies to enter these
new markets. As noted above, the first modern cruise ships were designed to sail exclusively
in the clam waters of the Caribbean and intentionally dispensed with some of the aspects of
traditional passenger ship design that related to grey water sailing. However, Royal Caribbean
is confident that its megacruise ships can handle the rough weather associated with operating
out of ports like New York year round. "These are ocean-going vessels with stabilizers and the
basic stability of such ships. Even coming up [from Bermuda] last night, [EXPLORER met]
extreme weather, they had over 90 knots wind at one point, and the guests were fine. We have
two sets of stabilizers, four stabilizers, and when those are working they'll eliminate about 85%
of the roll of the vessel."
One factor that places a limit on the size of megacruise ships is port facilities. If you build the
ship too big, there will be no port facilities to serve it. Indeed, one of the reasons for the
development of the new cruise ship terminals in Bayonne and in Brooklyn is that today's
megacruise ships stretch the limits of the Manhattan Passenger Ship Terminal. When
FREEDOM OF THE SEAS tied-up there during her maiden call in New York, "we had about
30 meters of overhang. Thirty meters from the end of the pier, the current isn't really that
strong. It is once you get into the deeper waters of the Hudson that it really kicks in. I had my
bow literally up by the parking lot. So, [a larger ship] would not work there. Bayonne is much
preferable than up on the Hudson. These large ships are moving something like 6,000 guests in
one turnaround day, maybe 7,000. That's a lot of people to get into Manhattan and off of
Royal Caribbean plans to introduce six more ships by the end of 2010, when it will have a total
capacity of approximately 89,200 berths - - an increase of 21,300 or nearly one third over
today's capacity. With Carnival planning to introduce another 20 ships in this same time frame,
such growth is imperative for Royal Caribbean.
Two additional Freedom-class ships will join the fleet, one in 2007 and the other in 2008.
However, a key part of Royal Caribbean's growth strategy is Project Genesis, which calls for a
220,000 gross ton megacruise ship for delivery in Fall 2009. "Genesis is a clean piece of
paper design. As remarkable as the VOYAGER was when she came on the market, the Genesis
will be even more remarkable compared to what is out there today. There will be 8,000
people onboard." Not only will this tremendous size allow Royal Caribbean to serve more
passengers, "you can do things that you would not otherwise be able to do . For example, the
lifeboats on the Genesis will be 370 passengers. So, they literally are not boats anymore. In
fact, we are not going to call them lifeboats, we are probably going to call them life vessels or
life rescue vessels, signifying that these are not small boats. They are going to be catamaran
hulled, twin engines, bow thrusters, radars, navigation equipment - - it takes the whole idea of a
lifeboat into a completely different environment."
While Norwegian Cruise Lines has announced plans to build two 150,000 gross ton cruise
ships, Royal Caribbean's chief rival, Carnival Corporation, has indicated that it has no
intention of following suit. "I think their president, Bob Dickinson, said it at Sea Trade last
year that when they crunch the numbers it does not work for them. They've made a pretty clear
business decision. We have more experience than anybody and for us it is a winning equation."
Cruise ship feature/inside interview - Explorer of the Seas - Royal Caribbean - Captain William Wright -page 2