This was a five day cruise from Miami calling at Key West and Havana, Cuba.
The Empress of the Seas entered service as the Nordic Empress in 1990. It was renamed Empress of the Seas in 2004. In 2008, Royal Caribbean transferred the ship to its subsidiary Pullmantour Cruises under the name Empress. Royal Caribbean reclaimed the ship in 2016 and restored the name Empress of the Seas.
The ship is 692 feet long with a beam of 101 feet and has a gross tonnage of 48,563. It is the oldest and smallest ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet. At normal capacity, the ship carries 1,602 passengers. If all third and fourth berths are occupied, the ship can accommodate 1,840 passengers. It has a crew of 668 and a cruising speed of 19.5 knots.
Empress of the Seas was docked at Terminal J on the south side of Dodge Island, directly opposite the terminals on the north side where the newer and larger Royal Caribbean ships dock. Check-in went relatively smoothly and we boarded the ship shortly after noon. Since cabins would not be ready until 1:00 PM, we went directly to the Windjammer Café for lunch. Unlike on most modern cruise ships, this lido restaurant is located forward on Deck 10, directly over the bridge. It has seating on three sides with forward facing views.
Directly aft of the Windjammer Café is an outdoor pool with three large hot tubs and a band stand. A lifeguard is on duty at the pool. There is a large movie screen on the front of the funnel. Further aft on the port side is the Spa and on the starboard side is Adventure Ocean, a children’s entertainment area. At the stern of the ship is Royal Caribbean’s signature feature, the Viking Crown Lounge. Just above the Viking Crown Lounge on Deck 11 is the Fitness Center, which is accessed by a staircase in the Viking Crown Lounge.
The Viking Crown Lounge does not wrap around the funnel, as on other Royal Caribbean ships, but extends aft of the funnel. The reason for this is that the ship had originally been ordered by Admiral Cruises and was to be named “Future Seas” The plans for the Future Seas did not include a Viking Crown Lounge. However, in 1987, while the ship was still under construction, Royal Caribbean merged with Admiral Cruises and the newbuild became part of the Royal Caribbean fleet. The ship was modified to add the Viking Crown Lounge.
At the aft end of Deck Ten and Deck Eleven is a rock climbing wall. This facility was not used very much on our cruise.
After lunch, we found our cabin on the starboard side of Deck 3, the lowest passenger deck. Our cabin had four berths and a picture window. The third and fourth berths were folded up against the walls. Our cabin had two closets, a desk with drawers and a flat screen television. The bathroom was small but adequate. The water pressure from the sink faucet and the shower was the strongest I have experienced on any of the cruise ships I have sailed. There was no diminution in pressure caused by the use in adjacent bathrooms.
There are two elevator banks on the ship. The forward elevator bank has four elevators running from Deck 2 to Deck 10. Two of these elevators have glass walls and face into the Atrium. The aft elevator bank has two elevators running from Deck 3 to Deck 10.
The Atrium extends from Deck 5 through Deck 10. Most of the public rooms are on Decks 5, 6 and 10, although the lower portion of Starlight Dining Room is on Deck 4. The passenger accommodations are on Decks 3, 4, 7, 8 and 9. The only balcony cabins are located predominantly on Deck 9, with only two aft facing suites on Deck 8.
The upper level of the Starlight Dining Room is located at the aft end of Deck 5. This portion of the dining room is reserved for people who chose My Time dining, rather than at one of two fixed seatings. For people who chose My Time dining, you can either make a reservation for a time you want or just show up and wait for a table to be assigned. We opted for My Time dining and made a reservation prior to the cruise for 7:15 PM every night. I expected that we would be assigned to a different table every night, depending on what was available. In practice, however, we were assigned each night to a table in one certain area of the dining room with the same waiter and assistant every night.
We found the food and service in the Starlight Dining Room to be very good. While it may not have been the finest cuisine we have experienced on a cruise ship, it was more than acceptable. The food in the Windjammer Café seemed soemwhat more limited than in lido restaurants aboard other ships, but here again the quality and selection of food was good.
* David G. Hume is past chairman of the World Ship Society PONY Branch, Mr. Hume has been on more than 75 cruises and crossings as well as numerous ship visits."
The galley for the dining room is on the port side of Deck 5 immediately forward of the dining room. This galley also serves Chops Grille, an extra tariff restaurant located on the port side immediately forward of the galley.
Access to the dining room on Deck 5 is along a corridor on the starboard side. Here you will find Focus, where you can view pictures taken by the ship’s photographers. Continuing forward, you pass by the entrance to Chops Grille on the port side and the Next Cruise desks on the starboard side. Also in this area is an entrance to Casino Royale. This casino is on two levels. The first level is on a platform raised above Deck 5 in the middle of the ship. The second level is on Deck 6 which surrounds the platform just mentioned. This is a unique arrangement in my experience.
Forward of the Next Cruise desks on Deck 5 is the Schooner Bar, which has a piano player during the evenings. Continuing forward, you arrive at the Atrium, with the Shore Excursions desk on the port side and the Guest Services desk on the starboard side.
In the bow of the ship on Decks 5 and 6 is Royal Theatre. On the first night, we were entertained by the ship’s singers and dancers and a comedian. On the second and fifth nights, we saw a production show. On the third night, there were two shows. The first featured three singers performing rock, soul and show tunes. The second was an adult comedy show. On the fourth night, a juggler entertained the passengers.
At the aft end of Deck 6 is Boleros, a lounge with band and a dance floor. Forward of Boleros on the port side is a room with video games for teenagers. On the starboard side is the corridor which takes you to Casino Royale. Forward of the casino you come to the Royal Shops, which extend to the Atrium. The balcony of the Royal Theatre is in the bow on Deck 6.
A portion of the Atrium on Deck 9 is designated as the Library, but it has cases with very few books. There is a small number of chairs for reading or relaxing.
The ship has a wraparound promenade on Deck 6. Four laps equal a mile. The forward end of the promenade looks over the well deck with the docking machinery and the ship’s bell, which reads “Nordic Empress”. From the forward end of the promenade deck you can take stairs to viewing platforms on Decks 7 and 8 for views over the bow. A fourth forward viewing platform is located on Deck 11. As previously noted, there are also forward-facing views in the Windjammer Café.
The cruise director was very animated and entertaining. He acknowledged that the ship is the oldest and smallest in the fleet and said that the aim of the staff is to make the cruise experience fun for all passengers. We found the staff extremely friendly and helpful and would strongly recommend this cruise.
The highlights of this cruise were the ports, Key West and Havana. Since we had been to Key West before and seen most of the must-see attractions, we explored the Coast Guard cutter Ingham and one of the Curry Mansions, now operating as a hotel. At this hotel, we were allowed to take a selfguided tour of each floor and the lookout perch on the roof, from which we had a good view of our ship, the only one in port that day.
The great draw of this cruise was the two full days the ship spent in Havana. We docked at one of the three piers at which the Ward Line ships, including the ill-fated Morro Castle and Oriente, had docked. Here again, we were the only cruise ship in port.
Being there overnight enabled passengers to take a tour each day and attend one of many different shows at night, including the Tropicana Cabaret and Cabaret Parisien.
On our first day, we opted for a tour of Hemingway’s Havana, which included (1) a visit to his former home, Finca Vigia, (2) a stop for a drink at a restaurant he frequented in Cojimar, the seaside town where he kept his boat PILAR, (3) a look into the Floridita bar, which has a life-size bronze statue of Hemingway at one end of the bar and (4) a look at Hotel Ambos Mundos, where Hemingway and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, lived before they moved to Finca Vigia.
On our second day, we took a panoramic tour of Havana, during which we stopped at (1) El Morro fortress, (2) the Christo statue overlooking the harbor, (3) Fusterlandia, a neighborhood of fancifully decorated houses created as an homage to Antonio Gaudi and (4) the plaza where the May Day celebrations are held.
Of course, another highlight of the visit to Havana was seeing the hundreds of 1950’s era American cars driving around Havana. Many of them serve as taxis and are available for hire. Most of them are kept in excellent condition, although we were told that many of them have been fitted with diesel engines due to two factors, the unavailability of parts to repair the original engines and the lower cost of diesel fuel
Cruise ship review - - Royal Caribbean International - - Empress of the Seas - - 2018