Royal Caribbean’s smallest ship should be nicknamed ‘The Little Ship That Could’!
The ship was built in 1990 at Chantiers de l’Atlantique in France but she was actually ordered by Admiral Cruises. At that point in time, the ship was going to be called Future Seas. During her construction, Admiral Cruises had merged with Royal Caribbean. The ship was transferred to Royal Caribbean and renamed Nordic Empress.
She stayed in the Royal fleet for a while and was renamed in 2004 to Empress of the Seas. This was to keep her in line with the “of the Seas” names that all Royal ships have.
By 2008, Royal Caribbean Cruises ltd. transferred the ship over to a Spanish operator they had invested in called Pullamantur. They shortened her name to just Empress. She sailed with them for 8 years. You can still find signage that’s in English, Spanish, and Portuguese from those days.
By the mid-2010’s it was becoming clear that Cuba was going to be a viable option for American operators. Combined with a weakening Spanish market for holidays, the Empress was transferred back into the Royal Caribbean fleet and started sailing to Cuba. However in 2019, Cuba voyages were banned by the US Government. Royal will be sailing her to Bermuda, offering Hamilton and St. Georges, as well as longer Canada and New England routes in 2020. Her long term future remains unknown.
Lets start with the obligatory photos:
Elevator Lobby and Carpet:
Deck 03 contains only cabins.
The front two-thirds of the deck contains cabins. The aft is the bottom floor of the two level dining room. Since it sits right at the stern, it features 270-degree views.
The very front of deck 5 contains the Royal Theatre.
Just past that is the bottom floor of the main atrium called the Centrum. This extends all the way to the top of the ship. Off of the centrum is the Shore Excursion desk and Guest Services.
Walking past the Centrum, you enter the Schooner Bar; a staple on any Royal Caribbean ship.
Past the bar, on the port side, is the only alternate restaurant onboard, Chops.
Opposite that, on starboard, is the ships photo gallery and future cruise desk.
Past that, at the very back of the ship, is the ships main dining room.
Deck 6 contains a fully wrap-around promenade. The views here are fantastic as these are becoming a novelty on ships now-a-days.
Inside, at the front is the second level of the main theater.
Exiting that, you’re at the second level of the atrium.
At the far side of the atrium are the Royal Shops.
Exiting the shops, you emerge at the casino.
Walking through the casino, and around a corner, is the arcade.
At the back is the Boleros lounge. This venue was a huge hit during her Cuban days. Now-a-days it still has latin music at night, but isn’t as popular.
The next deck up contains all cabins. At the forward stairwell, there’s the internet cafe. This surrounds the third deck that overlooks the Centrum.
Deck 8 is also cabins. Similar to the deck below, there are small venues surrounding the atrium.
Similar to the decks below, Deck 8 has the library that encircles the Centrum. At the very front is the bridge and aft of that are the office cabins.
Deck 10 is the topmost complete deck. At the front is the Windjammer buffet restaurant.
Past the Windjammer, the deck opens up to the pool area. Note that with this design, as sort of was common back in the early 90’s, there are no sun decks encircling the pool area.
At the back of the deck, the starboard side contains more sundeck as well as some ping pong tables.
On the port side, indoors, there’s the children’s area and the small spa just past that.
Then at the back of the deck is the Viking Crown Lounge. This staple of Royal Caribbean ships is fading fast but on Empress it’s still there.
Attached to the back of the lounge is the rock climbing wall.
Deck 11 is split into two parts at the fore and aft. Forward is a large sundeck.
Then aft, it’s the top floor of the Viking Crown Lounge. Over time, this had been transformed into the fitness area.