Edwin W. Stephan, the founder and first CEO of what would become Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., has died. He was 87.
Stephan had a vision for a new type of cruise company in the late 1960s, one that would operate with newly built ships. He set out to find partners and found three Norwegian shipping companies to finance his dream.
They came together in 1969 to found Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCCL) and in 1970 their first new ship, the Song of Norway, arrived in Miami. Two more Finnish-built vessels, the Nordic Prince and the Viking Sun, followed in 1971 and 1973, respectively.
Stephan served as president of the line, now called Royal Caribbean International, until 1996 and as vice chairman of RCCL until he stepped down in 2003.
Current chairman and CEO Richard Fain acknowledged the company's debt to Stephan. "Ed was an inspiration and a great friend to many in the company. He was an honorable man who loved his family, his work and his community," he said.
Fain said Stephan will be deeply missed by Royal Caribbean, his friends, and the community. The company bought a full-page ad memorializing Stephan in Sunday's Miami Herald.
Born in Madison, Wisc., in 1931, and a veteran of the Korean War, Stephan was a Florida hotelier before he became general manager of the Yarmouth Steamship Co., a Miami line that had a tragic accident when its Yarmouth Castle caught fire and sank in the Bahamas in 1965.
He later joined Commodore Cruise Line before traveling to Norway to recruit investors for his new line. He found them in I.M. Skaugen S/A, Gotaas-Larsen Shipping Co., and Anders Wilhelmsen & Co., which each became one-third partners.
Only Anders Wilhelmsen remains an investor in RCCL today.
Stephan's contribution included the idea of custom-designing ships for warm-water cruising and the distinctive Viking Crown Lounge, inspired by the Seattle Space Needle, that was cantilevered around the funnel of Royal ships.
Following another inspiration, Stephan was the first to stretch a major cruise ship by inserting an additional mid-section into the Song of Norway in 1978.
In his obituary, Stephan's family called him "a man with incredible vision whose forward thinking changed the cruise industry forever."
It said a family-only service will be held to honor Stephan's memory.