Above, Empress is entering the port of IJmuiden as seen from the small beach at the 7th of may 2014.
The story of this ship starts with the history of Admiral Cruises, and that is a complex one. Their origins, we can say, began in 1901 when the Eastern Steamship Company was founded. This company formed when several companies from the eastcoast of the United States merged. Several other companies joined and ownership changed during their first years of operation, untill their bankrupcy in 1914. But in the same year, operations were restarted as Eastern Steamship Lines and in 1941, when the the United States entered the second worldwar, the company owned eight big ships, next to several smaller ones and they operated along the whole eastern coast of North America. After the war, only two ships were returned to the company, starting up a service between Boston and Yarmouth in summer and they operated cruises from Miami in winter. These ships were both built in 1927 and named Evangeline and Yarmouth. In 1954, Eastern Steamship Lines was bought by F. Leslie Fraser and cruising out of Miami became the companies core business. In 1962, the company was sold and in 1970, finally, it was sold to the Norwegian company Gotaas-Larsen. Gotaas-Larsen had a main interest in tanker business, but they also had a stake in Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, as you can read here.
Empress as seen in the new part of the port of IJmuiden at the 20th of september 2011, just in front of the locks to the Northsea Channel. This part of the port will be rebuilt to accomodate the second cruiseterminal of IJmuiden officially. At the moment, some cruiseships berth here that are too big for the first terminal. Also, Amsterdam is planning a second bigger terminal because the first one, opened in 2001, is already too small. The ship is shown in her former livery of Pullmantur Cruises.
After the takeover of Eastern Steamship Lines, cruising slowly became the biggest earnings for Gotaas-Larsen and the tanker business was declining. So cruising became their main objective now, the company was renamed Eastern Cruise Lines and in 1972 they swiched ships with Chandris Lines when they took over their Ariadne and Atlantis of Eastern Steamship Lines was placed in the Chandris fleet. Ariadne was renamed Emerald Seas and she started operating short cruises from Miami in the Caribbean. In 1980, another of the companies owned by Gotaas-Larsen, Western Cruise Lines, that operated out of Los Angeles, bought the Calypso to become their Azure Seas. So a new naming strategy for the companies came into being. After this, Gotaas-Larsen took a stake of 51% in Stardance Cruises, a single ship operation. The combined group was now renamed Admiral Cruises. Because none of the ships of the three single ship companies were built for their current cruiseship role, a new purpose-built ship was ordered. Admiral Cruises ordered this new ship from the Chantiers de L'Atlantique wharf at Saint Nazaire, France. Her role would be sailing short cruises for the US market. In line with their naming strategy, the new ship, the biggest of the three, was to be named Future Seas. Her profile would be, at the time, also a little futuristic.
To simplify matters, Gotaas-Larsen tried to merge their Admiral Cruises and their Royal Caribbean Cruise Line into a new company, named Royal Admiral Cruises. But the other shareholders within Royal Caribbean were not very enthousiast about this option, also because Carnival Cruise Lines was knocking at the door to buy the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. To prevent this, another shareholder of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Arne Wilhelmsen, bought out both other shareholders, including Gotaas-Larsen and because of this, the whole of Admiral Cruises also was absorbed into Royal Caribbean. The Stardancer became the Viking Serenade and the Future Seas was renamed Nordic Empress, while the other two older ships were sold and the Admiral Cruises name was discontinued. So, Royal Admiral Cruises was off the table and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line was now a growing business with the new ships that were added, as well as the order for the Sovereign class in the making.
The Empress seen from the pierhead of IJmuiden, behind curious birds and holiday houses.
The Nordic Empress was redesigned with several Royal Caribbean trademarks like the Viking Crown lounge and the Windjammer Café. With all new ships of the company in the planning with the new namestyle that ended in '-Of The Seas', it maybe looks strange that the company did not name the former Admiral ship in this matter too. But keep in mind that it was now Wilhelmsen that was the big man in the company and the ship they had brought into Royal Caribbean in the early beginnings was the Nordic Prince. So Nordic Empress was just the follow up in that naming tradition. Nordic Empress measures 48.563 tons, her lenght is 210,81 meters, she is 34,40 meters wide and her draft measures 7,10 meters. She was designed to carry 2284 passengers and 640 crewmembers on 11 decks. Her normal speed would be 19,5 knots.
She was launched at the 25th of august 1989 and was delivered to Royal Caribbean at the 31st of may 1990. Her first cruise took her from Miami to the Bahamas, her intended Admiral Cruises route, and started at the 25th of june of that year after she had been named by singer Gloria Estefan.. At that time, she was registered at Liberia with her homeport Monrovia, as were most of the ships of the company. From 2000 onwards, Nordic Empress was supposed to sail cruises around South America, but was relocated to the Caribbean when Splendour Of The Seas took over the South America program.
In 2002, her new homeport became Nassau at the Bahamas, a place she still visited often. The ship was finally renamed in 2004 to the naming strategy of Royal Caribbean to Empress Of The Seas, but this was only for a very short while, because she already had been put up for sale. But she wasn't sold either, as she was placed within the fleet of another Royal Caribbean owned company, Pullmantur, with its base in Spain. For this, the ship was renamed to just Empress from 2008 onwards. Her first cruise for Pullmantur started at the 15th of march 2008, and she was now mostly found in the Mediterranean and in the rest of Europe, although she also sailed the Caribbean during European winter. For Pullmantur, the ship was registered at Valletta, Malta.
From 2012 onwards, the cruisemarket in Spain was drasticly declining, as we could see when Carnival Corporation backed out of their stronghold in Iberia, Iberocrusceros. This brand was abandonned and shut down after the failure of Carnival's Spanish companion Orizonia and Carnival itself also lost interest. Pullmantur reacted by sending more ships over to the Caribbean and latin America to cater for the Spanish speaking population there, mostly using their larger ships Monarch and Sovereign. The line also placed the ships of Crocieres de France, officially a part of Pullmantur Cruises, on its own website, sailing only with the Empress in Europe. In october of 2015, when the Spanish and French markets were somewhat growing again, it was announced that Empress would be replaced in the Royal Caribbean fleet again from the spring of 2016 onwards, being replaced in Europe by the larger Monarch. This also meant that Pullmantur was slightly pulling back from middle and south America from that year onwards. For Royal Caribbean it is a somewhat strange move, as the company had never taken back an older ship within their fleet before, mostly growing with new Monsters Of The Seas in recent decades. For her renewed services with the big parentcompany, the ship will be renamed Empress Of The Seas after a 50 million dollar refit.
The renewed Empress Of The Seas arrived in Miami at the 25th of may 2016 and two days later, she departed for her first cruise as such, visiting CocoCay and Nassau at the Bahamas. Her normal itineraries under her 'new' name are 4- and 5-night cruises from Miami to The Bahamas, Mexico, Grand Cayman and Key West.
In september 2017, after the devastating hurricane Irma had followed a path through the Caribbean and Florida, two cruises were cancelled and on the next two cruises in the end of september, the ship brought over supplies and provided humanitarian aid for mostly Key West. Many other cruiselines, namely Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line and MSC offered their ships for shelter, food, supplies and the relocation of stranded holidaymakers.