ENCHANTMENT OF SEAS GETS `EXTREME` MAKEOVER

Bungee Jump, Rock Wall, and Latin Lounge are among new amenities

By Karen Rubin

This lady is looking quite spry after her $60 million “nip and tuck” (or more accurately, an “enhancement” in a strategic place). Enchantment of the Seas returned to cruising after being literally sliced in half, enlarged with a 73-foot long midsection, and welded back together, resulting in a state-of-the-art ship with all the amenities and signature elements that cruise-goers have come to expect from Royal Caribbean International`s fleet.

The new Jump Zone makes Enchantment of the Seas the first ship to have a bungee jump/trampoline (© 2005 Karen Rubin).

This ship now boasts something entirely new, and consistent with the line`s “Get Out There” active-lifestyle approach to cruising: the first-ever “bungee jump/trampoline” Jump Zone at sea. The brand new activity-more challenging than you would expect-complements the “rock climbing” wall that has become the signature feature distinguishing Royal Caribbean ships.

The effect of the reconstruction and renovation of the ship is dazzling and completely pleasing. Enchantment of the Seascertainly achieves Royal Caribbean`s objective: “Delivering the Wow”.

`Delivering the Wow` means going beyond expectations, that our guests leave thinking that something special happened,” RCI President Adam Goldstein tells a group of cruise editors onboard this “cruise-to-nowhere” to experience first-hand the changes on the ship.

“We have taken Enchantment beyond bow-to-stern renovations,” Goldstein says. “We added real estate to add new attractions, activities, and amenities.”

That added real estate means 50 percent more pool area, but it hardly looks cavernous because of the clever way that the area is broken up into intimate spaces, largely because of an architectural design addition of two 75-foot long suspension bridges, supported by dramatic arches, that run along both sides of the top deck, at the middle of the ship.

The new Splash Deck, suspension bridges and arches that grace the expanded pool deck were installed after the "lengthening"of Royal Caribbean`s Enchantment of the Seas (© 2005 Karen Rubin).

One pool was literally cut in half and replaced by two pools-one is large enough to swim laps–plus four whirlpools. Another innovative, new feature is a colorful Splash Deck with 64 jets that spray out water in whimsical patterns to delight kids. Kids can spray each other or create their own fountain effects with a touchpad system; at night, the circular area transforms into a fiber-optic light and water show.

The lengthening also added 151 cabins (including two family staterooms that sleep six), bringing the total capacity to 2,730 guests (2,252 guests double capacity). The cabins have all been refurbished. Our cabin, on Deck 7, had its own balcony (in all, 248 ocean view cabins have balconies); it was very spacious, with a queen-sized bed and a separate living room area, beautifully furnished and comfortable. All the staterooms have private bath, closed-circuit TV, phone, hair driers and individually controlled air-conditioning.

The extra guests meant that the My Fair Lady Dining Room had to be renovated and expanded as well. The dining room now accommodates 1,365 guests per seating, but you would hardly know it because of the way the room is broken up with columns and architectural features and a lovely mezzanine added.

The menu, like so many aspects on the ship, features many healthy lifestyle selections along with more devilish choices. There would be no excuses, though, not to continue a diet and fitness regimen because of a cruise vacation.

Dancers swirl to the live Latin jazz in Boleros Latin Lounge (© 2005 Karen Rubin).

The Enchantment of the Seas now boasts a Boleros Latin Lounge which romances the senses with fabulous live Latin jazz, dancing patterns of colored lights, and amazing Central and South American drink favorites, such as mojitos, caipirinhas and specialty tequilas. The lounge, fitted with comfortable chairs and sofas, also features a spectacular glass ceiling, reminiscent of a Mayan sunburst.

This ship now also has a new Chops Grille, an elegant, 108-seat specialty restaurant that is one of the elements that lets passengers personalize their cruise experience. This traditional steakhouse offers everything from succulent filet mignon to delectable salmon. Side dishes are served family-style for guests to share, while a selection of decadent desserts (like Mississippi Chocolate Mud Pie) complete the meal (reservations are required; a $20 charge applies).

In a similar vein, the popular self-serve Windjammer Cafe has been transformed into the Windjammer Marketplace - with multiple “islands” each featuring dishes from a different region of the world (such as Asian fusion, Mediterranean), as well as a carving station, deli, extensive salad bar and a cook-to-order pasta station, so there are always a marvelous selection to choose from, no matter what your taste, your mood, your diet.

For quick snacks and sweet treats between meals, Enchantment has a new Latte`tudes coffee and ice cream shop, that serves up espresso drinks from Seattle`s Best Coffee and creative flavors of Ben & Jerry`s.

The lengthening also produced a refurbished 100-seat conference center with state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment. This is in addition to the charming 870-seat Orpheum Theater where we saw some splendid shows with impressive staging, costuming and lighting (we particularly liked the cozy sofas at the back of the theater).

The Enchantment Day Spa was also expanded, with five additional treatment rooms, for a total of 13, including two couples` massage rooms, and services such as a teeth whitening station (people find they have the time to do things on the ship that they don`t have time for in their work-a-day life). There are expanded offerings in fitness, also-even kickboxing-so that guests can continue their fitness routine. And for those who don`t want to do their exercise inside the fitness room (even though a glass wall lets you work out while gazing out to the ocean), there is a new outdoor fitness course with four stations along the running track.

The amenities, attractions, activities cater to active adults, families with children, multi-generational families, groups of family and friends traveling together, and corporate and special interest groups, as well.

For example, there are places carved out-the Roman-themed Solarium, where the third pool is (the retractable glass roof and windows make this ideal in any weather), is for adults 18 and over and is one of the most restful places on the ship; other places on the ship are “teen-only”, like a new Fuel disco and a living-room style lounge; while others are geared for tots, like the new spray pool.

One of the “adult-only” areas is the Casino Royale - and this has been expanded, as well, with more slot machines. There is also an intriguing computer-generated “virtual” dealer at completely computerized poker and black-jack tables, in addition to more conventional tables with actual dealers.

While the teens are in the “Fuel” disco, adults can enjoy the Viking Crown Lounge, at the highest point of the ship on Deck 11, with incredible 360-degree views through ceiling-to-floor windows that let you gaze at the beautifully lighted ship and the ocean below, or the Spotlight Lounge. There are also wonderful shops in an expanded shopping area and an Internet Lounge.

Youth & Family Programs

In addition to offering supervised activity programs for children from 3 to 17 years old, Royal Caribbean has a new partnership with Fisher-Price that lets parents and children from six months to three years old play with toys together during a daily, 45-minute playgroup. The program is designed to introduce tots to new skills and parents to new tools to incorporate skill-building into playtime. However, an added benefit is that families get to meet each other and can choose to spend more time together during the cruise.

The new Fisher-Price program, offered at no extra charge and hosted by specially trained youth staff, is age-appropriate: Aqua Babies is for parents with children six to 18 months old, offering six themed sessions, each designed to enhance physical development and problem-solving skills through active and imaginative play. Other sessions incorporate music as a means to help the baby make new discoveries. The six Aqua Tots sessions encourage toddlers 18 months to three years old to explore their expanding world through play.

Besides a special newsletter for families, there is also new “Fisher Price TV”–age-appropriate programming that comes into the staterooms on the RCI in-room television.

RCI has cultivated a reputation for its youth activity programs that typically have “edutainment” focus. Supervised children`s programs are centered in Adventure Ocean, a pleasant, sunny room but the programs take the children to other parts of the ship, as well. The minimum age is 3 and children must be toilet trained.

The supervised programs are offered at no charge and are segmented by age group: Aquanauts are 3-5; Explorers are 6-8; Voyagers are 9-11; Navigators are 12-14 and Guests are 15-17. When the ship is at sea, supervised activities for 3-11 year olds are offered in three roughly three-hour segments from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; when in port, the programs are offered 30 minutes prior to first shore excursion until 5 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m. Supervised teen activities for 12-14 year olds vary during the day but are offered 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. nightly. For 15-17 year olds, programs vary by day but are offered from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. nightly.

Some of the more innovative “edutainment” programs include Adventure Science, conducted by specially trained science staff. The kids get to do hands-on experiments, such as Mystery of the Motion of the Ocean, Fossil Fever, and Thunder Races. There are also Adventure Art by Crayola (another partnership), where art projects are offered that relate to the cruise destination`s history, traditions, aquatic habitats and animals.

The kids are further motivated to participate because they can win Adventure Ocean Coupons that can be redeemed for gifts.

Baby-sitting services are also available: group sitting is available from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. in the Adventure Ocean at $5/hour per child (kids have to be 3 years old and toilet trained); additionally, there is in-cabin sitting for children from six-months old at $8 per hour for up to two children (this has to be booked at least 24 hours in advance).

Special Needs

Royal Caribbean has special access coordinators available to assist vacation planning for guests with special needs. The Enchantment has 20 cabins that are wheelchair accessible. Accommodations can also be made for guests requiring oxygen therapy, dialysis and most special diets. To request special assistance, call 800-722-5472, ext. 34492.

Stretching the Ship

The "lengthening"of Enchantment of the Seas used new technology to install a 73-foot midsection; the feat was accomplished in an unprecedented 31 days (photo by Ruud van Leeuwen).

You have to be awed, though, by what was accomplished when Enchantment was lengthened by 73-feet-the fourth of RCI`s ships to be lengthened-in a record time of 31 days. It is the largest cruise ship ever to be lengthened, and was an extraordinary feat of engineering and round-the-clock effort of 850 workmen.

The ultimate maritime makeover capitalized on an innovative new procedure-requiring that the ship be taken to dry dock.

Royal Caribbean partnered with Aker Finnayrs of Finland, the shipyard that originally built Enchantment of the Seas in 1995-6, to design and build the new midsection. The 2,939-ton mid-body section was then transported by barge 1,430 miles to Keppel Verolme Shipyard in Rotterdam, the Netherlands–the only yard big enough to handle the dry-dock installation. The size of Keppel Verolme`s dry-dock bay and new technology allowed for a more advanced and faster lengthening process than used when the line stretched its last ship, Nordic Prince, 25 years ago.

It took workers six days to split the ship, cutting through more than 1,969 linear feet of steel with gas and oxygen torches and circular saws. Once severed, the ship`s bow and aft sections were positioned with skids and 16 hydraulic jacks, and the 2,939-ton mid-body section was guided into place with a laser-alignment system.

The 11,315-ton bow section slid first; the mid-body then was moved into alignment and pushed back to touch the ship`s aft section. The bow section then was moved back into place. Finally, workmen reconnected the ship-a painstaking, two-week job that involved welding the steel exterior and reattaching nearly 1,300 individual cables, pipes and ducts on each end of the mid-body. In all, 22,000 connections had to be right. (The ship had to undergo stringent testing by the U.S. Coast Guard before it was declared seaworthy, and our “cruise to no-where” was further evidence that the ship is ship-shape.)

Because RCL wanted to be able to sail the ship through the Panama Canal-and the lengthening would have made it a tad too long-the problem was solved with a hinged bow-so that, when the ship will operate through the Panama Canal (it doesn`t now), it will be able to raise up the bow so the length is right.

After all of this, the only evidence of the $60 million “nip and tuck” that can be found is a tiny, quarter-inch “scar” (to find it, you can go up to Deck 10, where the suspension bridge starts, and look for the red box and light holder, and right in between, is a tiny scar). “Plastic surgeons can`t do any better,” joked Adam Goldstein, RCI`s President. “It`s unbelievable for project of this size that such a little mark.”

The end-product is a ship that is 989 feet long, 105.6 feet wide and 81,500 gross tons. Amazingly, because of the redesigned shape and the use of new laminates at the ship`s bottom, the increased size did not add to its fuel consumption (a factor in keeping cruise fares low).

Enchantment of the Seas is sailing this summer on a series of cruises to Canada/New England from Cape Liberty, NJ, Philadelphia (July 19-Aug. 21) and Boston (Sept. 4-25). The ship then returns to Fort Lauderdale in October to resume four and five-night Caribbean itineraries.

Royal Caribbean International is a global cruise vacation company with 19 ships in service and two more under construction. Contact your travel agent or Royal Caribbean at 800-327-6700, www.royalcaribbean.com
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© 2005 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

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About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including examiner.com, Huffington Post and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate and blogs at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at FamTravLtr@aol.com. 'Like' us at www.facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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