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Era of monster cruise ships arrives in Alaska

By Gene Sloan

USA Today

A new era of giant cruise ships is about to arrive in Alaska.

Royal Caribbean has announced plans to send the 137,308-ton Explorer of the Seas to the 49th State in 2016 — the first time a ship of its size has been deployed to the destination.

The 15-deck-high, 1,020-foot-long vessel will sail seven-night, round-trip voyages to Alaska from Seattle, Wash., taking the place of the 90,090-ton Jewel of the Seas.

03-19-2015 USA Today

Photo Courtesy Royal Caribbean.

One of five ships in Royal Caribbean’s Voyager class series, Explorer can hold up to 3,840 passengers at maximum occupancy — hundreds more than the next largest cruise vessel in Alaska. It carries a crew of nearly 1,200.

While mega-size cruise ships as big as 225,000 tons have appeared in the Caribbean and Europe in recent years, nearly all of the cruise vessels operating in Alaska still measure under 100,000 tons. The current size leader in the state is Celebrity Cruises’ 121,878-ton Celebrity Solstice. Alaska cruise giant Princess’ largest vessels in Alaska, the Ruby Princess and Crown Princess, are 113,561 tons.

 Chock full of on-board activities, Explorer of the Seas is a mega-resort-at-sea the likes of which Alaska has never seen. Unveiled in 1999, it features one of Royal Caribbean’s signature Royal Promenades lined with shops, bars and eateries — a concept that has never before made its way to Alaska. It also boasts an ice skating rink (also a first for an Alaska-based cruise ship) as well as 10 pools and whirlpools, a miniature golf course and a rock climbing wall.

Explorer of the Seas will join Royal Caribbean’s 90,090-ton Radiance of the Seas in Alaska. Radiance sails alternating, seven-night northbound and southbound Alaska cruises between Vancouver, B.C., and Seward, Alaska.

The deployment of Explorer will increase Royal Caribbean’s capacity in Alaska by more than 12% — a significant bet on growing demand for Alaska trips. The announcement comes even as Alaska leader Princess cuts back on cruise departures to Alaska. Princess announced earlier this month that it would have just six ships in Alaska next year, down from seven this year.

For a deck-by-deck look at a Voyager class vessel such as Explorer of the Seas, click through the carousel below.

Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas was the world’s largest cruise ship when it debuted in 1999, and its arrival marked the beginning of a new era of larger, more amenity-filled vessels at the line.

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