Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. chairman Richard Fain took agents through the history of cruise ship innovation in his speech at Vacation.com’s annual conference in Hollywood, Fla.

Starting with the SS France and ending with his own Quantum of the Seas, Fain said the evolution of new features on ships has been relentless over the past 50 years.

“The pace of change has been growing very quickly,” Fain said.

In his speech, Fain singled out several ships including the Sovereign of the Seas, as influential.

Here’s my own highly subjective list of the most significant ships in modern cruise history, listed by decade:

• 1970s: The Song of Norway was the first ship built for Royal Caribbean, the first to have its signature Viking Crown Lounge, and the first to be purpose built for cruising rather than for transportation across the Atlantic or on other point-to-point itineraries.

• 1980s: The Tropicale, delivered in 1981, was Carnival Cruise Line’s first newbuild and the first to have its now-ubiquitous winged funnels. While Norwegian Cruise Line was pouring money into refurbishing the France, Carnival was designing the template for its very profitable concept of cruising. Runner-up: Royal Caribbean’s Sovereign of the Seas.

• 1990s: Arriving in Miami in 1999, the Voyager of the Seas had a 350-foot mall running down the center of the ship that made for a dramatic and lucrative interior space. First ship with an ice rink; first ship with a rock climbing wall. The largest in the world when it debuted. Runner-up: Grand Princess, the first cruise ship  over 100,000 gross tons.

• 2000s: The Oasis of the Seas. Nothing else like this design before or since. So big it needs neighborhoods. A park at sea separates the two hotel-like towers. Inside, there’s a bar that travels from floor to floor. Runner-up: the Norwegian Sun, the first to be built expressly for Norwegian’s hugely influential Freestyle dining concept.

• 2010s: The jury is still out on the current decade. The Viking Star, the first ship for a new line created by the originator of the popular Viking river cruise brand, is an early contender. But the most influential ship could be in the works. The MSC Seaside being built for MSC Cruises could be a breakthrough for that brand. A design for Aida coming in 2019 will include engines powered by liquid natural gas. And Virgin Cruises has promised something completely different when it makes its debut, also scheduled for 2019.

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