Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

The remarkable R ships built for Renaissance Cruises don’t exactly have nine lives — there are only eight of them — but like the proverbial cat they keep getting revitalized.

Built between 1998 and 2001, several of the ships are changing owners this year or getting makeovers.

Who would have predicted when the ships were laid up in 2002, after the Renaissance bankruptcy, that all eight would be sailing successfully for cruise lines based in North America?

Let’s start with the refurbishments. The Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest, the former R Six and R Seven ships, are scheduled for the biggest overhauls since Azamara acquired them in 2007.

The Azamara Journey will enter drydock in January, and Azamara Quest in April. Their operator, Azamara Club Cruises, has just released renderings of the new suites on the 686-passenger ships.

An image of the new Continental Club Suite shows a clean, contemporary room in shades of gray, white and beige.

Meanwhile, the main operator of R-class ships, Oceania Cruises, has acquired another one, the former R Four, which will become Oceania’s Sirena when it is transferred from the Princess Cruises fleet in March.

Oceania plans to spend $40 million in a 35-day drydock to make it match the other R ships in its fleet, the Insignia, Nautica and Regatta.

Finally, the youngest of the class, R Eight, which had been sailing for P&O Cruises, will be remade by parent company Carnival Corp. into the initial vessel in its new Fathom brand.

The R ships were all built in less than three years thanks to favorable financing and their smaller size. At 30,000 gross tons and from 672 to 710 passengers, depending on the ship, the R ships shouldn’t work. They’re too big to be true luxury ships and too small to be mass-market.

But despite challenging economics, cruise lines are finding ways, some of them very creative, to keep these 15-year-old ships fresh and sailing. They’re an example of how inventive the cruise industry can be when adapting old vessels to new purposes.

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