Entering the 1960s, the fleets of veteran ocean liners and vessels converted for passenger travel, filled the demands of the early Caribbean cruise industry. Passengers were often the same as those who were raised traveling the Atlantic on ocean liners. The traditions which had carried over from that time and the vessels designed for that era were both familiar and entirely satisfactory. By the mid 1960s a generation of executives and management had come of age in what was no longer an emerging niche industry. These men began to think of the future and one in particular would prove seminal in the creation of the modern cruise industry. He was Edwin Stephan, who conceived of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.
Stephan's idea was to establish a line created solely for offering Caribbean cruises on ships designed specifically for the purpose. At the time, no such cruise line existed, and no vessels were in service that were designed from the keel to funnel as pure Caribbean cruise ships. To financially back his project, Stephan was able to secure funding from Anders Wilhelmsen, I.M. Skaugen, and eventually the Gotass Larsen company. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines was officially founded on January 31, 1969, though the process of creating the company's initial partnership had been underway for several years prior. RCCL (which would later become RCI) began with an order for the Song of Norway, a roughly 17,000 GRT vessel with a passenger capacity of 700. It was quickly followed by exercising an option for a second ship the Nordic Prince. Curiously, both ships were placed on order before the actual founding date of the company that would operate them. The cost to RCCL 13.5 million dollars. At the time, RCCL was a partnership between the companies of the Wilhelmsen and Skaugen's. The Gotass Larsen company came on board shortly afterwards when the desire for a third ship was realized. The ships were built by what is now known as STX in Finland. A third ship, the Sun Viking was ordered as Nordic Prince was being completed. The original three RCI ships featured what would become a signature feature on all future vessels in the fleet. The Viking Crown Lounge (VCL) was a disklike structure incorporated into the funnel of the ship. It afforded an unprecedented view from well above all other public areas of the ship. All subsequent ships would feature a VCL. So distinctive was the concept that legal protection for the idea was obtained. To present day, rival cruise lines have yet to duplicate the view and function the VCL, and the design makes RCI vessels instantly distinct from other ships.
RCI was well received running seven and fourteen day itineraries in the Caribbean. Their creation spurred the start of a building boom that arguably has yet to end nearly forty years later. Norwegian Cruise Lines introduced a massively renovated France under the new title Norway.
Carnival Cruise Lines was begun by the father of current CEO Mickey Arison. Bookings were strong enough that consideration was given to building more ships. Economics and creative thinking lead RCI's leadership to an innovative solution. The Song of Norway, and later Nordic Prince were returned to their builders to be cut in half and a new section of cabins added in the middle. The result were ships with an added 350 passengers, enhanced public spaces, and the same qualities which had made RCI's ships so well received. Still, demand called for yet more capacity.
The fourth ship in the RCI fleet began a new trend which has continued almost unabated for the line and industry at large. Song of America was more than 31,000 GRT, with a passenger capacity of over 1,500. She was at the time of her completion, the largest Caribbean cruise ship designed and built for the purpose. She started her career with RCI in late 1982. Even as Song of America entered service, the need for even more aggressive new building became clear. RCI's response to the growing and increasingly competitive marketplace would revolutionize the entire industry. Rather than build a slightly larger version of its previous ships, RCI choose to build a ship more than twice the size of Song of America, which would carry nearly twice as many passengers.
There were several reason why such a leap was logical. The first ties to a basic fact of the cruise industry related to economics. Bigger ships have marketing value, but they create an economy of scale which makes their operation cheaper than smaller vessels. Secondly, the trend was already clear which told RCI's leadership that larger ships were the wave of the future. Though aside from the converted ocean liner Norway, there had not been anything approaching this new concept, new built ships were increasingly large. The Norway had demonstrated that a ship with a passenger capacity of over 2,000 was able to draw well in the Caribbean. RCI's newest vessel would be named Sovereign of the Seas, and was less an answer to the developing industry as it was a statement and challenge.