Like other much-loved ships we’ve had to say farewell to in recent weeks, Monarch of the Seas has taken her final voyage.
While the ship — which had many loyal fans over the years — would have met this sad fate eventually, as do they all, we can’t help but feel she was felled prematurely by the current crisis rocking the entire cruise industry.
Like sister ship Sovereign of the Seas, Monarch once proudly sailed as part of the Royal Caribbean fleet.
Both were eventually transferred to Pullmantur, with Sovereign making the transition in 2008, and Monarch joining her in 2013.
As we pay our final respects to the ship, we look back at her storied history and reflect fondly on the memories she helped her passengers create.
Being the second vessel in a trio of pioneering cruise ships is the maritime equivalent of life as a bridesmaid and never the bride.
The first ship in this case, the 1988-built Sovereign Of The Seas, received the lion’s share of the fanfare, while the last, the 1992-built Majesty Of The Seas, will always be considered the “most evolved” in the class.
And yet, despite her somewhat diminished status as the middle sister, the 1991-built Monarch of the Seas will nonetheless be fondly remembered as a stunner for her sheer architectural beauty, forward-thinking design and reliability.
Approximately 400-tons larger than the 73,529-ton Sovereign — thanks to the forward extension of the superstructure above the wheelhouse — she was just as fetching.
Indeed, the Sovereign-class is considered by many ship lovers to be among the last truly beautiful cruise ships ever built.
Their identifying features include long clipper bows, layer cake superstructures, funnels festooned with spaceship-like Viking Crown lounges, terraced and rounded aft superstructures and beautifully sculpted sterns.
All one has to do is compare the artful profile of the Monarch of the Seas to a 21st-century ship like the Norwegian Epic to see how much cruise ship architecture has aesthetically devolved over the years.
Built for the sunny Caribbean, the Monarch of the Seas boasted a midship lido with two large saltwater pools and a fully encircling promenade deck.
Additionally, she had a huge casino, a dedicated movie theater (in lieu of the two small theaters on the Sovereign), a conference center, two main dining rooms (The Flower Drum Song and the Brigadoon, later renamed Mediterraneo and Atlantico), as well as the Windjammer Cafe buffet (later known as Delicias Buffet de Mercado).
A large, tiered showroom called the Sound of Music Lounge (later just known as the Theater) was situated aft on the ship. Other lounges, all initially taking their names from Broadway and film musicals, included An American in Paris Lounge (later Pura Vida Bar) and the Ain’t Misbehavin’ Nightclub (later Disco Luz de Luna).
The Monarch featured spacious sunning decks, a large fitness center, a jogging track, a basketball court, two saunas, four whirlpools, shuffleboard courts, a children’s playroom (in addition to the teen center), a beauty salon and several duty-free shops.
As with the other ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet, there was a nautically-themed Schooner Bar (later Encuentro Cafe y Mas) and the visually stunning Viking Crown (later known as Antalya 360) which offered 360-degree views through full-length windows from the base of the funnel.
Guests entered the ship via the multi-deck Centrum, a marble and brass-festooned atrium that would soon be dwarfed by those in Royal Caribbean’s next generation of Vision-class ships.
The ship’s overall internal look was contemporary and somewhat modest compared to the flashy “entertainment decor” of competitor Carnival’s fleet.
There were twelve large suites with separate sitting areas, marble bathrooms and balconies on Bridge Deck.
Most of the ship’s standard staterooms tended to be a bit smaller than those of competing lines.
One of the first cruise ship casualties of the 2020 pandemic, the former Monarch of the Seas has operated as the Monarch for Royal Caribbean’s Spanish-speaking Pullmantur division since 2013.
Sporting a smart blue hull and still looking pristine, the Monarch was de-stored of equipment and fittings at Naples earlier this year when Royal Caribbean announced it was shutting down Pullmantur.
Seeking to divest itself, the parent company immediately sold all three of the Pullmantur ships, which also included the Sovereign, the former Sovereign of the Seas, and the former Celebrity Cruises’ ship Horizon built-in 1990, to Turkish shipbreakers.
After making a pit stop at Malta, the Monarch set her final course for Aliaga, a scrapyard that is just north of the city of Izmir on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.
In late July, Monarch’s crew was tasked with the sad process of running the ship up onto the beach where she would be demolished over the next several months.
Sovereign would soon follow, coming to rest along Monarch’s port side and the Carnival Fantasy would beach next to Sovereign, just days later, followed by Carnival Inspiration.
Although it was the Sovereign that changed the game, the Monarch certainly helped establish the new generation of mega cruise ships that paved the way for even larger ships to come.
She also helped Royal Caribbean evolve into the powerhouse company it is today.
The Sovereign-class sterns were not only lovely to look at but also meant to emulate that of the opulent French liner Normandie, which was built in 1933 by the legendary Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard at St. Nazaire, France, not coincidentally the yard that proudly built the Sovereign-class over a half-century later.
The Monarch was slightly larger than the Sovereign, making her the largest passenger ship in the world when she debuted.
The Majesty was identical to the Monarch in size and would share that status until Princess Cruises 77,000-ton Sun Princess entered service in 1995.
Monarch of the Seas was the first ship to have a dedicated teen night club called Flashes, located aft on the Sun Deck.
The Monarch of the Seas was christened in Miami by legendary movie star Lauren Bacall.
She was the first Royal Caribbean ship to feature suites with balconies.
In 2007, the vessel became the first major cruise ship in the world to have a female captain, Karin Stahre-Janson.
On December 3, 1990, while under construction, the Monarch of the Seas caught fire in the shipyard and suffered damage to the forward end of the ship, delaying the building process by six months.
On December 15, 1998, the ship struck a reef and tore a 131 by 6-foot gash along her starboard hull off St. Maarten, flooding three of her compartments.
In order to avoid sinking, the Monarch of the Seas was grounded on a sandbar where all passengers were safely disembarked. After refloating, she spent three months undergoing repairs in Mobile, Alabama.
In August 2005, three crew members were killed and 19 others were injured by deadly gases when the ship experienced a sewage leak in Los Angeles.
In 2006, 38-year-old Captain Joern Rene Klausen was found dead in his stateroom of natural causes.
Monarch of the Seas was given a major refit in 1997 and again in 2003, when the rock climbing wall was added aft of her Viking Crown.
In 2013, when she was transferred to Pullmantur, the Monarch was given a refit that included a refreshment of her cabins, casino and shopping areas.
The sad irony is that middle sister Monarch has the unfortunate distinction of being the first of the trio to be delivered for scrapping.
To be dismantled alongside her older sister Sovereign is a strange final twist to a decades-long story that began with her construction in the same berth as her younger sister, Majesty of the Seas, at St. Nazaire.
Over the next several months, crews will first strip both ships of all fittings and furniture, then begin cutting off large chunks of hull and superstructure that will be moved by crane to be further cut down in their respective plots.
While the furnishings will likely find use in local hotels, the steel will be hauled off to be melted down into rebar for new construction.
Had the pandemic not intervened, these two ships would most certainly have continued sailing for several more years. Even so, they have both led very productive and relatively long lives.
For now, Royal Caribbean has stated that it will not sell the third sister, the Majesty of the Seas.
Peter Knego is a journalist and maritime historian found at MidShipCentury.com. All copyrights and photos by Peter Knego unless otherwise noted.
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