In a sad and grisly fate that eventually claims nearly every ship, Sovereign, formerly known as Sovereign of the Seas, is ending her days at Aliaga, a scrapyard near the city of Izmir on Turkey’s Aegean coast.
Barely two weeks after the ship was intentionally run ashore in late July of 2020, her graceful bow has already been severed and jagged holes to facilitate the removal of her interior fittings were gouged into her superstructure.
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As local workers gut and cut her at a ferocious pace, let’s take a moment to celebrate a once-mighty ship that introduced modern-day mega-ship cruising.
Royal Caribbean’s Sovereign of the Seas
- Year built: 1988
- Length: 880.3 feet
- Beam: 106 feet
- Gross tonnage: 73,192 GT
- Double occupancy: 2,280
- Maximum capacity: 2,690
Largely stimulated by the popularity of The Love Boat television series, cruising in the late 1970s had transitioned from a beguilement of the wealthy and aged into a family vacation choice that combined fun with value.
At that time, U.S.-based cruise passengers had a modest fleet of mid-sized, converted former ocean liners like Carnival’s Mardi Gras, Carnivale and Festivale and relatively small Scandinavian-designed first-generation cruise ships like Princess Cruises original Sun, Island and Pacific Princess, NCL’s Southward, Starward and Skyward and Royal Caribbean’s Song of Norway, Nordic Prince and Sun Viking to choose from.
In 1980, when NCL unleashed the Norway, the repurposed former SS France, onto the cruising scene, the ship became as much of a destination as the ports visited. At 70,202 gross tons, Norway was almost twice the size of the next largest full-time cruise ship, Carnival’s 38,000-gross ton Festivale.
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Within her 1035-foot (the longest to date) hull, Norway was able to offer full-scale Broadway-style entertainment in her converted theater, wide promenades brimming with shops, a variety of lounges great and small, two traditional dining rooms, a casual buffet and even an alternative, reservations-required dining venue, in addition to acres of sunning space, indoor and outdoor pools and a vast range of suites and cabin categories.
Royal Caribbean was the first line to take the rather bold step of challenging NCL by building a new mega cruise ship. After much scrutiny, the historic Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard at St. Nazaire, France was given the order for three mega sisters. In 1988, the first in the trio, the 73,192-gross ton Sovereign of the Seas, finally eclipsed the Norway in size.
Chantiers de l’Atlantique was the same yard that built legendary liners like the Ile de France of 1927, the Normandie of 1935 and the ship that ultimately led to RCCL’s decision to build a megaship, the SS France of 1961.
The first brand new mega-ship in the cruising world would boast the line’s trademark Viking Crown cantilevered from her funnel, a long, graceful bow, a pleasingly sculpted superstructure, beautifully terraced after decks and a cruiser spoon stern fashioned after that of the legendary SS Normandie of 1935.
She would be every bit as sleek as she was massive for the day, unlike many of today’s cruise ships that have little room for such profit-reducing aesthetics as curves, terraced decks and pleasing proportions.
In many ways, from her exterior appearance to her layout, the ship was a much larger version of Royal’s 37,584-gross ton Song Of America, which was introduced in 1982. That ship, in turn, was a larger and more modern evolution of the line’s popular Song of Norway trio that was introduced between 1970 and 1972.
But unlike the first three ships, Song of America boasted a unique layout with most of her accommodations situated forward and her public spaces located in the midships to aft portion of the ship.
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Similarly, the Sovereign of the Seas would have an extra deck of accommodations in the forward portion of the ship, allowing additional ceiling height for the public rooms that followed. The result was that up forward, there were twelve guest decks, versus eleven aft.
Passengers entered at the lowest level of the four-deck tall Centrum, an atrium designed by Norwegian architect Njal Eide that boasted tubular glass elevators, a water fountain and laminated brass-trimmed marble terraces. While it was not the first atrium — that is often credited to the original Love Boats Pacific and Island Princess — it was by far the grandest and most opulent to date.
Sovereign boasted two dedicated cinemas that were located on the lowest level, B Deck.
A pair of 650 seat dining rooms were accessed via the Centrum on aft A and Main Decks.
Showtime Deck featured the Boutiques of Centrum at the forward end of the Centrum.
Following the Centrum on Promenade Deck, the massive Casino Royale and the Schooner Bar led to the upper level of the double-deck Follies show lounge. The intelligently designed space offered excellent sightlines from most seats, unlike most other ships that had support pillars obstructing all but a few vantages.
Promenade Deck had a wonderful, fully encircling promenade and a line up of public spaces that included the Touch of Class champagne bar, a library, card room, the Finian’s Rainbow Lounge and the lower level of the Follies Showroom.
The cabaret-style Music Man Lounge, The Anything Goes Nightclub, the gym and spa and a youth center were located at the aft ends of Mariner, Commodore, Bridge and Sun Decks.
At the forward end of Sun Deck and top-level Compass Deck, there was the two-story Windjammer Cafe buffet dining venue.
Sun Deck also boasted two huge (for their day) swimming pools and a vast lido area. On Compass Deck, the alfresco Mast Bar overlooked the pool area and up in the funnel casing, the 275-seat Viking Crown, with its full-length canted windows, overlooked everything else, fore and aft.
Sovereign of the Seas boasted six overall cabin categories, from compact interiors and exteriors to deluxe staterooms, three suites and a royal suite. She was the last ship built for Royal Caribbean without balconies — on the Monarch and Majesty of the Seas, balconies were added to the Bridge Deck suites and staterooms.
Saying Farewell to an Old Friend
After finally being displaced by larger and more advanced ships with balconies, water slides, multiple specialty restaurants and other bells and whistles, Sovereign of the Seas was transferred to Royal Caribbean’s Spanish-speaking Pullmantur Cruises division in 2008.
The ship would prove especially popular in her new role and would have continued sailing for several more years had the current pandemic not intervened.
I was always happy to encounter her, always looking sleek and pristine, from the decks of other cruise ships in ports like Barcelona and Civitavecchia.
History: How Sovereign Of The Seas Changed The Game
Proving the adage that if “you build them, they will come”, Sovereign of the Seas was the first mega cruise ship built from scratch and led to the boon of ever larger, more advanced cruise ships of the 1990s and new millennium.
Fun Facts About The Sovereign of the Seas
- The ship was the largest cruise ship in the world from 1988 until 1991, when her slightly larger sister, Monarch of the Seas was completed.
- It was the first all-new mega cruise ship when introduced in 1988.
Sovereign of the Seas was christened with a magnum of Taittinger champagne by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter in a gala ceremony at Miami.
She had twelve guest decks in the forward portion of the ship and eleven decks aft.
The cruiser spoon style feature was designed to emulate that of the SS Normandie of 1935. The Normandie, of course, was built at the same shipyard the Chantiers de l’Atlantique.
The ship also shared a name with a 17th Century English Royal Navy warship and a clipper ship built in 1852.
- Royal Caribbean was fined $9 million in 1999 for covering up the fact that the ship had repeatedly dumped waste into the sea.
- Sovereign was given a major refit in 2004 at Freeport.
- In late 2008 and early 2009, the ship was given another refit when she was transferred to Pullmantur.
- MV Monarch of the Seas (built in 1991)
- MV Majesty of the Seas (built in 1992)
What Happened to Sovereign of the Seas?
In May of 2020, Royal Caribbean announced it was shutting down Pullmantur and selling off its fleet of three ships, which included sister ship Monarch built in 1991 and the 1990-built former Celebrity Cruises ship Horizon.
The worst of fears were confirmed when Sovereign and Monarch were de-stored of equipment in Naples, then sent off to Malta, where they awaited orders for their final journeys to Aliaga to be demolished.
The Sovereign of the Seas final voyage was in July 2020. The Monarch beached on July 22, followed by the Sovereign, which was driven ashore right next to her the next day.
Demolition began almost immediately and will proceed at a very rapid pace to make room for former fleet mate Horizon, which is currently being stripped at Piraeus and preparing for a short final voyage to Aliaga.
Although Royal Caribbean had recently stated that it will not sell the third sister, the Majesty of the Seas, the longer the cruise industry remains in shutdown status, the more likely she will suffer the same fate.
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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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