Royal Caribbean International

They may not be the biggest cruise line in the world (Carnival Cruises hangs on to that title) but Royal Caribbean operates the biggest ships – Oasis and Allure of the Seas – and the most innovative – the newly-launched Quantum of the Seas and next April’s debutante, Anthem of the Seas.

Constantly striving to attract families who may never previously have considered a holiday at sea, RCI ships introduced rock climbing walls, ice rinks, surfing simulators – and now sky-diving – to the cruising experience. They also pioneered putting on full-length West End shows, such as Chicago and Mamma Mia!, instead of tired old end-of-the-pier song and dance compilations. Oasis and Allure, soon to be joined by a third ship in the same class, are big enough to carry a Central Park packed with thousands of living plants, and a Boardwalk with a full-sized fairground carousel.

These ships also expanded on the Royal Promenade feature from earlier ships to create a three-deck-high shopping street packed with bars, restaurants and retail outlets (impressive, but so removed from the sea that it sometimes feels as if there’s a shopping mall’s multi-storey car park hidden behind the emergency exit doors).

RCI is following Norwegian’s example of adding multiple choice extra fee dining options, and on its newer ships is switching away from fixed- seating grand dining rooms to a wider range of complementary venues it has dubbed Dynamic Dining. Operating to all the major cruise destinations around the world, Royal’s itineraries are juggled to follow the money – hence the switch of Quantum to serve the Chinese market once it completes its winter season sailing from New York Harbour to the Caribbean. Anthem of the Seas will be based in Southampton next summer, replacing the popular Independence on cruises to the Med and the Canaries.