When Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines' Monarch of the Seas sails on its inaugural cruise from San Juan on Nov. 17, the $270 million megaship will weigh in at 75,000 tons, be nearly two football fields in length and carry 2,766 passengers on weeklong cruises to Martinique, Barbados, Antigua, St. Maarten and St. Thomas.
Monarch is one of largest ships afloat, right up there with its Florida-Bahamas' cruising sister ship, Sovereign of the Seas. It is more than twice the size of two other coming vessels, the all-suite Renaissance VI and Renaissance VII, which will be Caribbean- and Mediterranean-bound.
These newest additions come on heels of industry's biggest year to date, with more than four million cruise passengers projected by year's end, up from 3.7 million last year, despite recession, inflation and the Persian Gulf War.
The reason for the upswing: Heavy discounting and the fact that there are more ships out there than ever before, with 12 new or refurbished ships bowing in this year and nearly 20,000 berths added in the past two years, according to Cruise Lines International Association, the umbrella trade group representing 35 North American cruise lines.
The pace will continue next year. Examples: Costa Cruise Lines' CostaClassica, at $325 million the most expensively built cruise ship, per passenger, in the world, will sail from Fort Lauderdale Jan. 25, on alternating East-West Caribbean runs. In April, Chandris' Celebrity's Zenith will join her on same run, as will Majesty of the Seas (sister ship to the Monarch) in May, along with a new cruise line with a new ship: Radisson's twin-hulled Radisson Diamond.
Other lines with new ships on order range from Crown to Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line to Carnival, which has two more 2,600-passenger ships on order -- the $315 million Sensation and Fascination. Most new ships destined for Caribbean.