When Monarch arrived at IJmuiden at the 15th of june of 2016, she was the largest passengership that had docked in the port.
The Royal Caribbean Cruise Line was founded in 1968 by three Norwegian shipowners, Anders Wilhelmsen & Co., I.M. Skaugen and Gotaas Larssen. Also Edward Stephan, a well-known Miami shipbroker and former owner of several cruiselines like Pan American Cruises was part of the founding. They started with three 18.500-ton ships, Song Of Norway, Nordic Prince and Sun Viking. All of the ships were owned by one of the stakeholders and Edward Stephan was the general manager. Immidiately, RCCL became the leading cruiseline out of Miami for the Caribbean trades, as their ships were truly aiming at the average middle-segment of passengers, creating ships that were inspired by Hollywood instead of English countryhouses or art-deco, like the old liners always had done. But during the first decades, the four captains of the company disagreed too much and it even came to a very large dispute when Carnival Cruise Lines tried to take over RCCL in 1987. Skaugen and Gotaas Larssen agreed, but Wilhelmsen didn't and to get out of Carnival's grip, he had to arrange financials to buy out the other parties within a week. With financial backing from France, he succeeded. Because of the buy-out, also Gotaas Larssen's other brand Admiral Cruises was now in his hands and merged into the company, including their ship Nordic Empress. Of course Carnival got a little agitated and in a surprise move took over the Holland America Line instead in early 1989.
It of course also meant that the problems between the stakeholders were now gone and as this had always delayed the newbuilding process of the company, the restructured RCCL now was ready to grow. Two more ships were ordered, from a French yard mainly due to the French financial backing, as sisterships to the impressive Sovereign Of The Seas and with those three ships, they could now take on the industry leader Carnival too. Sovereign Of The Seas was at the time the largest cruiseliner in the world and with three of these ships RCCL set the standards.
Construction and general statistics
Sovereign Of The Seas was launched in december of 1987 and she was going to be followed by Monarch Of The Seas and Majesty Of The Seas, both introduced in 1991. The -Of The Seas ending is now familiar, but these ships were the first to have a name like this.
Monarch Of The Seas was launched from the Chantiers de L'atlantique yards at Saint-Nazaire at the 21st of september 1990 as the second ship in the class. She had been laid down at the 31st of july 1989 and was built under yardnumber A30. She was going to fly the Norwegian flag, homeported in Oslo. Of course, Royal Caribbean had Norwegian origins and although now the company uses flags of convenience, they started with true Norwegian homeports. With a tonnage-measurement of 73.937 she was a little larger then her earlier sister, but because the Norway of Norwegian Cruise Line had been enlarged in 1990 to 76.000-tons, she wasn't able to become the largest passengership in the world, like her 1987-built sister had been. She was just in second place when she was launched. She had a lenght of 268,32 meters, was 32,22 meters wide and her draught was 7,44 meters. Her total passengercapacity was 2764 and the crew numbered 822. The ship was driven by two screws, powered by four 9-cylinder diesel engines designed by Pielstick-Alsthom and her speed was 21,25 knots. Two bowthrusters were also installed for better manouverability.
While turning the ship around for berthing, the carcarrier Swan Ace comes closer to see what is going on.
At the 3rd of december during the outfitting of the ship, a large fire caused by welding broke out aboard and although the ship wasn't totally engulfed by the flames, it was a true setback as her introduction had to be delayed with half a year. A thirth of the ships forward section had been burned though and the affected part was rebuild with blocks already there for her later sister Majesty Of The Seas to shorten the delay. At the 15th of october in 1991, she was finally delivered to the company and started Caribbean cruising from Florida with her maiden voyage starting at the 11th of november 1991. Her later sister Majesty Of The Seas had been launched in august of 1991 and started cruising the same region from april 1992 onwards.
For the design of the ships, Royal Caribbean approached Njal Eide, the Norwegian born designer of ship interiours. Eide has been the housedesigner of many of the Royal Caribbean ships, including the Sovereign-, Radiance- and Vision-classes.
As the worlds largest cruiseships, the Sovereign-class ships had several innovative additions. They were the first cruiseships with a large central atrium, named the Centrum. meaning 'center' in Norwegian. This space was five decks in height and featured glass elevators with spectacular views of the space. Designer Njal Eide took his inspiration from the central part of an ancient Roman town, the Forum. He added it because otherwise, within these large ships, endless corridors would be the boring alternative. That is why he created the atrium, also because the large modern cruiseships were more-over trying to resemble modern hotels in large cities and all of them mostly have a very inviting entrancehall. Nowadays every new ship has an atrium, but around 1990 it was the top in ship design. The ships in the class were also the first with an entire deck of balconycabins, also really innovative. Several other ships already offered some balconies aboard, even dating back to the Félix Roussel-class of ships from Messageries Maritimes in the early 1930's. But an entire deck of those was totally new. One of the most marvellous venues aboard was certainly the two-deck high main theater with a waved balcony.
As designer Njal Eide is very much inspired by the airline industry and large public spaces like stadiums, he is known to be opposed to nostalgia in shipdesign, but also said to be respecting traditions. What was very traditional, is that the ship only had two main diningrooms, just one deck in height. Specialityrestaurants were not aboard, as the line kept the diningtraditions of the old days in honour even long after other major lines dropped this. What was also very traditional, was the wraparound open promenadedeck where also the access to the lifeboats was. The funnel of the ship was in RCCL tradition decorated with a very large Viking Crown Lounge, totally free of any deck so it really was a 360 degree lookout. Behind the Viking Crown Lounge was a large basketball court and also the pooldeck was quite spacious with two large pools and plenty of sunbathing space. Cabins aboard were rather small, as the company had always wanted to get the passengers out of those and spent their money aboard in the ships open spaces, shops, bars, casino and restaurants.
Monarch Of The Seas was named by Lauren Bacall, who was born in 1924 as Betty Joan Perske. In the 1940's she was a fashion model and later became known as an actress untill she died in 2014 of a stroke. She had been the wife of Humphrey Bogard and later Jason Robards, although she also had a relationship with Frank Sinatra in between. She christened Monarch Of The Seas in december of 1991 in a ceremony at Miami, after the ship had made promotional visits to Southampton, Boston and New York during her transatlantic positioningscruise.
Just after the ships had been taken into service, Royal Caribbean started a huge newbuilding program to try and become the leading cruiseline again in the Caribbean. The large sisters were an immidiate success and the line ordered Legend Of The Seas and Splendour Of The Seas soon after the last two ships of the Sovereign-class were introduced. Those two were quickly followed by four more ships and throughout the 1990's ships became larger and many more were built. Because of this rapid expansion, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line started to grow in more directions then just the Caribbean. In 1997 the company bought the Celebrity Cruises brand from Chandris Lines and restyled the cruiseline as Royal Caribbean International while the holding company became Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. It made clear that RCI was going to be visible in more parts of the world. This was mainly achieved with the new ships, as the Sovereign-class were to be sailing the Caribbean and North America without change.
St. Maarten grounding and other lethal incidents
Misfortune struck Monarch Of The Seas at the 15th of december 1998 when she hit a reef during departure close to St. Maarten after the ship had to evacuate a sick passenger at Phillipsburg. In the incident, her hull was breached severely with a gash of 40 meters by 2 meters. Because of this breach, three watertight compartments were totally flooded and several more partially. Water poured into the ship and to stop her from sinking, her captain deliberately beached the ship so all 2557 passengers were able to be evacuated. The beaching itself was also not without problems, as two of the ships diesel-fueltanks were also breached, next to one of the overflow tanks. This caused also a natural disaster at the island, as around 100 US-gallons of fuel was spilled at the beach and surrounding water. I guess several passengers must have thought that the ship was about to show that the 'Titanic' movie from the same year was based on true events. Luckily, there were no casualties here, but the ship was out for months, refloated at the 19th of december and brought over to the Atlantic Marine wharf at Mobile, Alabama. Her cruises had to be cancelled untill february, and she was back in service from the 14th of march 1999 onwards. Reports later declared that human errors were the main reason, as departure was mostly performed visually instead of using the mechanical navigational equipment. The ships captain at the time, although he had not been at the bridge while the incident occured, took responsibility and resigned from RCI.
The ship again visited IJmuiden at the 31st of may 2017, this time seen departing from the northern pierhead.
Disaster struck again in august of 2005, when during docking at Los Angeles maintenance on one of the ships sewagepipes went horribly wrong. An amount of raw sewage and some hydrogen-sulphide gas escaped and three crewmembers were killed instantly because of those spills, that were four times the lethal level. Non of them had worn gasmasks bacause they had expected the pipe to be empty and they simply suffocated. Nineteen more crewmembers were injured. A few months later, at the 30th of january 2006, the ships 38-year old captain Joern Rene Klausen was found dead in his stateroom, but it was found out that he had died of natural causes.
Later career and Pullmantur
With many more new ships added to the fleet, the ship was updated in 2003 to bring her more in line with the new ships. In the refresh, a rock-climbing wall, a Ben & Jerry's icecream-bar and Seattle's Best Coffee were added to the ships facilities. Next to those, an Asian fusion restaurant was added as an extra dining-option, a disco for the youthfull passengers, a conferencecenter for those who cannot do without work while on holiday and a Latin Bar were built-in. For families, the childrensarea was enlarged, just like the fitness and spa-center. Furthermore, total refurbishment made her look fresh again and the pooldeck and all cabins were upgraded. After this rebuild, the ship was repositioned to sail cruises out of Los Angeles.
In december of 2005, the ship was reflagged to The Bahama's, homeported at Nassau. Oslo was now lost as a homeport for RCI and this seemed to be the final cut away from Norway, although mostly the officers and captains within the RCI fleet are still Norwegian. From november 2007 onwards, also a Swedish captain became part of the ships officers, and in fact it was the first female captain for a major cruiseship, Karin Stahre Janson. She kept that title untill 2010, when P&O's Artemis was the second passengership under female command.
In 2007, RCCL bought the Spanish company Pullmantur, including their cruiseline Pullmantur Cruises. It was just after their rival Carnival had bought Iberocruceros to enter the Spanish market and have a way of getting rid of older tonnage. This was exactly what RCCL also had in mind, as selling their ships to other companies is never been a hobby of one of the larger players in the industry. With the Sovereign-class together with the Nordic Empress now being the olderst ships in the RCI-fleet, it was expected that they would be brought over to the Spanish and South American market over time. Indeed, in 2008, Empress Of The Seas, the former Nordic Empress, was added to the Spanish fleet as Empress followed by Sovereign Of The Seas, whose name was shortened to Sovereign. On the 29th of march of 2013, also Monarch Of The Seas departed for her last sailing as a Royal Caribbean International ship before entered the fleet of Pullmantur Cruises as their largest ship. For this company, she was brought under the flag of Malta with her homeport Valletta as the Monarch and it seemed that Pullmantur began a new naming strategy based on Royal titles. The addition of Monarch to the Spanish-based fleet increased its capacity by 25%.
Even before the ship was transferred, she made again the headlines as she rescued 6 Cuban refugees from a small raft during a Caribbean cruise at the 5th of december of 2010. They had been spotted by a passenger and the ships crew turned the ship around to pick them up. Back at Port Canaveral, the Cubans were directed to the hospital for medical checkups. The coastguard later said that they were truly thankfull to the crew of Monarch Of The Seas as they had probebly saved the lives of those people and that the coastguard really relies on awareness by crews and passengers at sea.
With the South American market declining considerably just after these larger ships entered the fleet of Pullmantur Cruises in 2015, RCI reacted by pulling out the Empress again from the 2016-season onwards, replacing the ship in the RCI fleet once more under her former name Empress Of The Seas. Monarch took over the planned European-based cruises of Empress, as she herself was pulled out of the South American market, leaving that to Sovereign. These two ships now made up the Pullmantur fleet, next to the Horizon and Zenith that are also used for the French-based Crociers de France, part of Pullmantur. With Carnival also closing down Iberocruceros earlier, it seemed that the Spanish speaking market was really falling apart. Also the planned transfer of Majesty Of The Seas to Pullmantur from 2016 onwards was reversed and instead, the ship was recieving a massive update to get her in line with the newest ships of the company.
In the spring of 2020, the world experienced a massive problem with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also meant that all cruiselines had to end their sailings and all cruiseships in the world went into lay-up status, uncertain about when cruising could resume. Sadly, because of the financial losses this brought to all companies, it was expected that several would not survive this uncertainty. At june the 22nd, Pullmantur Cruises seemed to be the first victim as the filed for 'reorganisation under the Spanish insolvency laws'. Although reorganisation doesn't sound that bad, what it actually meant was the end of the Pullmantur Cruises brand. As all lines were uncertain about their future as well, the three Pullmantur Cruises ships were unable to be sold and went to the breakers at Aliaga instead. Thus so ended a very interestig life of the Monarch prematurely on the beach in Turkey, where she arrived in the last week of july in 2020, together with her sister Sovereign. With them, the world lost two of the first modern mega-cruiseships, although they certainly were not the last to go in the aftermath of the disease.