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Ever heard of a luxury hotel that moves every half hour?

You guessed it: it's a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, a mass of one hundred thousand tons, that glides on the ocean between Florida and the islands of the Caribbean on a regular basis.

Royal Caribbean International is the second largest cruise ship operator in the world with revenues in excess of $4 billion. It owns 28 ships with more than 65,000 berths on them and is growing. Here's their story.

Flash back to 1969. An idea suddenly struck Arne Wilhelmsen and Edwin Stephan (Arne was a Harvard-educated investor and Edwin a famous Floridian businessman). The idea was that there was a large community of extremely wealthy Americans in Florida, and that this community would put down top dollar for a short, relaxing luxury cruise to the nearby Caribbean.

Arne and Edwin marketed this brainwave to some of the shipping magnates in Norway who readily bought it and came up with large investments. After a short gestation period, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (and an entire new industry) was born.

By the next year (1970), the infant company could speak of it's first possession: The SONG OF NORWAY, a splendid cruise ship, weighing 18,500 tons and equipped for 700 passengers, custom-built in Finland. The most stunning feature of it was a cocktail lounge cantilevered around the smokestack (Edwin Stephen got the idea from the Seattle Space Needle). This lounge was built into many of the Line's later ships and became the hallmark of the Company's fleet.

Growth, Growth and More Growth

The founders of the Company pursued their vision of achieving market dominance through a continual program of adding ships and services. A consolidated record of this, which is very difficult to find elsewhere in the media, is presented below:

1971 - Cruise ships NORDIC PRINCE and SUN VIKING arrive.

1978 - SONG OF NORWAY cut in half, 75-foot piece with 164 cabins introduced in between.

1980 - NORDIC PRINCE augmented the same way.

1982 - SONG OF AMERICA arrives with a larger, more luxurious lounge around the smokestack.

1988 - SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS, the largest cruise ship ever built at 73,162 tons for 2,276 passengers, arrives at a cost of $150 million.

1990 - NORDIC EMPRESS arrives. The Company expands beyond the Caribbean: Mexico, Alaska, and Europe are added as destinations; Industry's first computerized booking system introduced.

1991 - MONARCH OF THE SEAS arrives, ready for 2,354 passengers.

1992 - MAJESTY OF THE SEAS delivered, equipped for 2,354 passengers.

1993 - The Company goes public.

1995 - LEGEND OF THE SEAS arrives, built for 1,804 passengers.

1996 - GRANDEUR OF THE SEAS arrives at 74,000 tons and for 2,440 passengers. SPLENDOUR OF THE SEAS, in the same class as GRANDEUR, delivered.

1997 - Name changed to Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited (RCCL). RCCL buys Celebrity Cruises and its four working ships from Chandris Lines at a cost of $1.3 billion. RHAPSODY OF THE SEAS, at 79,000 tons and for 2,435 passengers, is delivered. ENCHANTMENT OF THE SEAS, at 74,000 tons and for 2,440 passengers, arrives.

1998 - Enter VISION OF THE SEAS, 79,000 tons and to carry 2,435 passengers. Joint ownership agreement signed with Chicago's Pritzker family (that has $15 billion in assets) and Haifa's Ofer family (that owns one of the world's largest shipping companies, Ofer Brothers Shipping Co).

1999 - VOYAGER OF THE SEAS comes in at a whopping 140,000 tons for 3,114 guests.

2000 - EXPLORER OF THE SEAS arrives; in the VOYAGER class, it has marine laboratories on board as well.

2001 - ADVENTURE OF THE SEAS arrives: 3,114 passengers accommodated per cruise. RADIANCE OF THE SEAS delivered: 2,100 passenger capacity at 90,000 tons, with gas turbines, it is the first in its class. The company buys 20% of UK tour operator First Choice and launches a joint venture cruise line. It offers land-based tours in Alaska through Royal Celebrity Tours.

2002 - BRILLIANCE OF THE SEAS, a vessel in the RADIANCE class, arrives and is ready for duty.

2003 - SERENADE OF THE SEAS, the third RADIANCE class vessel, is delivered.

2004 - JEWEL OF THE SEAS, RADIANCE class, makes its debut.

With revenues in excess of $4 billion, RCCL is a juggernaut which will not slow down.

Its ships are floating cities, boast amenities such as rock climbing walls, miniature golf courses, swimming pools, ice skating rinks, sun decks, basketball courts, beauty salons, exercise and spa facilities, gaming facilities, lounges, bars, cabaret performances, cinemas, shopping arcades, multiple restaurants and casinos.

Most importantly, when on a cruise, one experiences some priceless bonuses: unpolluted air and a virtually noise-free environment. These are truly, in the modern context, balm for the soul.

If you can afford the entirely reasonable average fare of $400 per person for a 3-night cruise in a luxury stateroom -- don't think twice about it, sign up for a cruise and gain the experience of a lifetime!
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