For cruisers who have sailed behemoths like Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, the 1,602-passenger Empress of the Seas — the smallest Royal Caribbean ship — may just seem quaint. It’s also the oldest: Entering the fleet in 1990 as the Nordic Express, it was transferred to Spanish line Pullmantur Cruises in 2008 before returning in 2016 following a $50 million refurbishment.
This ship was built well before the line was best known for dozens of restaurant choices and activities such as skydiving simulators, ice skating, a massive last-night parade with DreamWorks characters on stilts, acrobatics classes, and zip lines — and the rhythm of life onboard is comparatively quiet. But, even after the refurbishments, it has retained some old-world elegance, and many design details reflect the “The Love Boat” days. While we loved the retro details — including the old-school casino, the heavy curtains of the Royal Theatre, and the dramatic staircase in the atrium — some people might find these details dated.
That said, all the stalwarts are here: Windjammer Café, the “Quest” scavenger hunt for adults, Boleros, and sophisticated Viking Crown Lounge. And not only is the ship a bit quieter than the bigger vessels, there are also plenty of low-key spaces — a small library and seating areas on Deck 9, and seating areas facing floor-to-ceiling windows on Decks 6,7, and 8 make finding a quiet place to relax easy.