Try to imagine a hugely successful hotel containing several fine bars and restaurants, and a wide choice of sports and leisure activities, which due to the steadily increasing number of its guests, is vertically cut in two, with a massive, newly designed extension sandwiched between the original two halves.

And while all this is going on, its existing structure is completely refurbished to bring the whole edifice in line with the rest of its world-famous sister hostelries, most of which are cutting-edge design.

Then try to imagine all of this done in just 51 days, during which time the hotel is shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to the Netherlands and back, and opens for business the next day. There probably is not a hotel on the planet that would contemplate such an undertaking. But this monumental project did not phase Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL).

ENHANCING THE PASSENGER EXPERIENCE

On 7 July 2005, RCCL’s Enchantment of the Seas re-entered service after an extreme makeover that included the addition of a new 73ft midsection and bow-to-stern renovations. The totally revamped ship now has 151 additional staterooms, includes several of the cruise line’s most popular food and beverage venues from its new ships, and a number of features, such as suspension bridges, a splash deck for children and bungee trampolines.

“Every ship has a certain cycle in alignment and refurbishment.”

“We’ve committed ourselves to providing innovative, exciting and unexpected experiences for our guests,” says Peter Fetten, RCCL’s vice president, fleet design and newbuilding. “And we are willing to stretch ourselves and our ships to fulfil that promise.”

The most visible additions to Enchantment of the Seas are two 75ft-long suspension bridges, supported by dramatic arches that run along both sides of the top deck of the ship. The bridges cross over two new areas of the pool deck that extend out over the water. On the port side, the overhanging platform features a new island bar, while the starboard side has plenty of room for relaxing and enjoying the pool band. Both overhanging areas include ‘peek-a-boo’ windows in the floor for glimpses down to the sea. Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

EXPANDED FACILITIES

Enchantment now offers its passengers the extra thrills of the line’s signature rock-climbing wall, and four bungee trampolines on deck ten; guests push off from inflatable trampolines, while harnesses connected to bungee cords send them soaring skyward – just like what RCCL has achieved on their behalf – stretching a major cruise ship, and its future, in a safe but exciting way.

Meanwhile, those passengers who prefer to stay grounded can work up a sweat on Enchantment of the Seas’ new vitality course, on deck ten. Runners and walkers follow the quarter-mile jogging path to four fitness zones that focus on stretching, cardio, agility and toning.

One level below, the ship now features two pools and four whirlpools in its main pool area, which has been expanded by nearly 50%. Children especially head straight to the new interactive fountain, which features 64 water jets on the floor and perimeter, as well as on the central dome.

Known as the Splash Deck, it allows them to spray one another or create their own fountain effects with a touch-pad system. At night, the circular area closes down and transforms into a fibre-optic light and watershow.

LENGTHY EXPERIENCE

Such impressive enhancements are a long way from what RCCL achieved 25 years ago when it lengthened Nordic Prince and Song of America. But it had a lot of experience to draw upon to ensure that everything went smoothly with the extreme makeover of Enchantment of the Seas.

“There were various reasons for such an extensive renovation,” Fetten says. “First of all, the vessel was at the limit of its capacity. We could have sold more cabins on that ship virtually on every sailing – and we didn’t have another bigger ship to replace her.

“And then, of course, every ship has a certain cycle in alignment and refurbishment. Enchantment of the Seas was only built eight years ago, but it was already a little bit out of our brand alignment, which is why we decided to bring it up to date with the rest of the fleet.”

The first pre-condition for lengthening Enchantment was ensuring that it would meet all the safety requirements – which it did satisfactorily. “Whatever new safety feature is out there, or any new safety enhancement we think needs to be done – whether it’s the rule or not – we do that,” he adds. “For us, there is no compromise on safety, which is why we chose that type of ship. We couldn’t build another like it in the time required.”

STARTING AT THE MIDDLE

A major part of this project’s success was teaming up with Aker Finnyards of Finland, who built the original ship. It was given overall responsibility for designing, building and installing the midsection. Aker then asked Keppel Verolme of Rotterdam, The Netherlands, to split the ship in two, insert the midsection, and reassemble the parts.

“Aker Finnyards built the midsection separately, to a degree that had never been done before &ndash that took seven months,” says Fetten. “We had it manually outfitted and tested, about 95%. Our main objectives were to minimise the out-of-service time, and to maximise the quality, by building the midsection in a shipyard where we also built our Freedom class. All of our previous lengthening projects could never get to the outfitting stage of 95%.”

Construction started on Enchantment‘s midsection in September 2004, and the finished result sailed the Baltic and North seas by barge 2300km to the Keppel Verolme shipyard in Rotterdam on February 2005. Enchantment of the Seas then sailed across the Atlantic and entered the Netherlands shipyard’s dry dock on 15 May 2005.

“The midsection required a dry transport because its centre of gravity was too high for us to float it,” says Fetten. “We were dealing with weight that was not easy to handle.

“A major part of this project’s success was teaming up with Aker Finnyards of Finland, who built the original ship.”

It was done by Ale Lastra, a Dutch company famous for its skills in heavy transport, but it hadn’t moved a ship like Enchantment before. We have worked with this company for many years and trusted them.

“In fact, the company was the trigger for our overall concept because they confirmed, from studies and reports, that they could actually do the job. The size of the drydock bay, one of the largest in the world, allowed the ship and midsection to sit side-by-side and allowed for the use of an advanced and faster lengthening process.”

Splitting the ship in two took teams of workers six days to cut through more than 600m of steel with gas and oxygen torches and circular saws. Once severed, the sections were moved into place with skids and hydraulic jacks, guided by a laser alignment system. The 10,265t bow section slid first.

The 2,666t midsection was then moved into alignment and pushed back toward the ship’s aft section. The bow section was then moved back into place. Welding Enchantment of the Seas back together, reattaching nearly 1,300 individual cables, pipes and ducts to each end of the new midsection, took two weeks.

“The whole project took just 51 days,” says Fetten. “Eight days of sailing, passenger-free, from Fort Lauderdale to Rotterdam, 37 days in drydock, and six days for the completely refurbished and lengthened ship to return home. But it wasn’t only the lengthening of the ship that took place in drydock; we introduced a complete new subject concept, bringing the whole cruising experience on Enchantment to the next level. This was done in parallel with the lengthening process.”

CHANGING TASTES

RCCL’s brand has changed a great deal in recent years, and Enchantment was brought into line with the changing demographics of the passengers. “The dining options, activities and leisure facilities that we had on board the old Enchantment were brilliant, but passengers’ tastes are now far more sophisticated,” says Fetten.

“There is also a different demographic to that of, say, ten years ago when the average age of our passengers was around 50 years. Today it is as low as 42. Our guests are getting younger mainly because cruising is now far more affordable; it is no longer only for rich people.

“This is partly why we have vastly improved and enhanced our ships, which are very competitive against any land-based resorts. We now offer so much more in terms of quality, and people keep coming back.”

For example, the range of sports and activities now offered is more appealing to younger people who are more active, and the wider choice of food and beverage outlets include healthier dining options. “As well as their attractive itineraries, RCCL’s ships have become floating resorts. They are designed to be the best holiday experience that you can have,” Fetten adds.

Enchantment‘s renovation added several entertainment and dining concepts from RCCL’s latest ships, such as the Boleros Latin Lounge, which has proved to be a very popular hot spot with the line’s passengers. Located in the new midsection on the vessel’s deck five, Boleros resounds to live Latin jazz, which passengers wash down with Central and South American cocktails. They can even lie back and enjoy a spectacular glass ceiling reminiscent of a Mayan sunburst.

THE ENCHANTMENT DINING EXPERIENCE

The Enchantment experience is one that has long included good quality food, which often surpasses the standards of that served in many land-based first-class restaurants. Take, for example, Enchantment‘s deck six, a former pass-through lounge, which has been transformed into the elegant, 108-seat Chops Grille restaurant.

This traditional-style, floating steakhouse offers everything from succulent filet mignon to the finest fresh salmon. Side dishes include hearty mashed potatoes served family-style for guests to share.

To complete the meal, a selection of decadent desserts such as Mississippi Chocolate Mud Pie are offered. Such is Chops Grille’s popularity, reservations are required and a $20 cancellation fee applies.

Enchantment‘s other dining options have also been updated. The My Fair Lady Dining Room was renovated and expanded to accommodate additional guests, while the former Windjammer Café is now the self-serve Windjammer Marketplace, offering multiple islands featuring dishes from different regions of the world, as well as a carving station, deli, extensive salad bar and a cook-to-order pasta station. For quick snacks and sweet treats between meals, Enchantment’s new Latte’tudes coffee and ice cream shop serves espresso drinks from Seattle’s Best Coffee® and the creative flavours of Ben & Jerry’s® ice-cream.

“There is a different demographic to that of ten years ago when the average age of our passengers was around 50 years.”

FURTHER ADDITIONS

Further renovations and additions to Enchantment of the Seas include two family staterooms that sleep six, a new lounge for guests to book future cruises, more space throughout the vessel, additional slot machines for the Casino Royale and a refurbished, 100-seat conference centre. The ship’s enhanced shopping area now features a Fossil® watch store, a fine jewellery store, and a photo electronics retail shop, while the nearby, extended photo gallery has digital photo kiosks from which guests can select their souvenir cruise photos.

Health-conscious passengers will flock to the ship’s Enchantment Day Spa, which has also been expanded, with five additional treatment rooms, bringing its total up to 13, including two new couples’ massage rooms. Mobility for disabled passengers is not a problem, as additional accessibility features have been added throughout the ship, including improved thresholds and ramps, pool lifts, and access to the Splash Deck.

Enchantment of the Seas completed two preview cruises for area travel agents before officially re-entering service on 7 July 2005 with a four-night cruise to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The vessel then embarked on a series of Canada/New England cruises from Cape Liberty, Philadelphia and Boston. It returns to Fort Lauderdale in October 2005 to resume four- and five-night Caribbean itineraries.

CONTINUING THE TRANSFORMATION

In March 2005, RCCL signed a letter of intent with Aker Finnyards to add a third ship to its Freedom class of vessels. The agreement is subject to certain conditions, including board approval. Like the series’ first and second ships, this third Royal Caribbean newbuild is a 158,000t vessel equipped with 1,800 cabins that accommodate 3,600 guests, double occupancy.

It is expected to enter service in early 2008, two years after the class debuts in April 2006 with Freedom of the Seas. RCCL estimates the cost of the third ship, including the contract price, capitalised interest, owner-delivered items and engineering / construction oversight, to be approximately $230,000 per berth, at current exchange rates.

The Freedom series builds on Royal Caribbean’s five highly popular Voyager-class ships – the vessels that introduced rock-climbing, ice-skating and the Royal Promenade into cruising’s vernacular. The ships in this newest class will be 15% larger than those in the Voyager-class, and will have new features, not yet revealed, also destined to become industry icons.

Meanwhile, the revamping of RCCL’s fleet is likely to continue. “We started with Monarch of the Seas three years ago when we revitalised that ship and included features that we think a modern cruise ship should have,” says Fetten, who has been vice president of RCCL’s fleet design and newbuilding since 2001. “Everybody looked at it, and everybody followed.

“We are one of the two biggest cruise lines in the world today and cruise ships are not for sale any more. If we sold any of our ships, or bought one from our competitors, it would immediately break out the competition.”

According to Fetten, the key to success in the competitive cruise market is maintaining the itinerary. “You now have to work with the designed lifespan of the ships, but that may require a major enhancement of each ship one or two times during the 25–30 years of its lifespan,” says Fetten. “The structure of your ships might stay, but their interiors almost certainly won’t – they are turned over at least five or six times in its life, and if it is done carefully, it is usually extremely cost-effective.

“With Enchantment, we have added 302 lower berths. You cannot have competitive advantage if you don’t have inventory. It’s a very competitive environment and our rivals are now working along similar refurbishment and modifications. There are sister vessels to Enchantment, and I’m sure, after some analytical work, from the investment and return, that we might well decide to enhance them in similar ways.”