In 1998 a rash of friends of various ages began to relate stories of having gone on a cruise. Many, indeed most, had been on one of Royal Caribbean’s larger Sovereign class. My own tale of having been on the Sitmar Fairsea and watching the Pacific Princess began to show its age and more to the point, reminded me of wanting to cruise myself.
Freshly minted from college with a degree in history, I did what was habit by that time and began to research cruising from start to finish. These were the days when the World Wide Web was still hardly known to most people, but what there was online I consumed. The local library was flooded with requests for interlibrary loans as I had nearly every book related to cruise travel sent for my review. Most notably I came across a cruise related chat room on America Online (AOL) branded by Cruise Critic. These were also the days before the rise of the venerable Cruise Critic and Cruise Mates as major websites, when AOL kept the gates to its precious content tightly guarded. Ann Campbell, most noted for her writing about cruises was still seen in the forum many nights, as were others who would later break with Cruise Critic to form Cruise Mates.
I grilled the forum members in detail about cruising, made notes, began to compare what my voracious reading had shown me. It maybe a little cliche to say so but I was a life-long aficionado of Titanic history. My having earned a degree in history came from a similar love of the past, historical events, places, people. The ship I was going to select had to be more than simply another carbon copy vessel. Two ships and lines quickly rose to the fore. The first was Norwegian Cruise Lines, specifically her highly regarded Norway. The second was Royal Caribbean International and its landmark Sovereign of the Seas.
The Norway had once been the France, a true ocean liner, NCL had bought and taken the ship out of mothballs to create the largest passenger ship in service at the time. She retained the vintage qualities of a classic ocean liner and aside from the Cunard Queen Elizabeth II, was the only ship of her kind still in service. The Sovereign of the Seas by contrast, was a purpose-built cruise ship, the largest ever built and only slightly smaller in tonnage than the Norway. Reading about Sovereigns history quickly became a lesson in the industry at large and the rise of Royal Caribbean. Especially of interest to me was how Sovereign of the Seas represented a pivot point in the evolution of the industry. The history of cruise travel itself reached a distinct turning point with Sovereign which made the years following her launch an era apart with the past.
If her historical significance was not enough, a close friend returned from a cruise aboard Sovereign in the summer of ‘98 and glowed about her qualities. Therefore, thus and thereafter I was resolved to book aboard her for my first cruise. I walked from home to downtown Bowling Green (Ohio) and into one of the three store-front travel agencies it hosted in late 1998. I had selected an inside stateroom and airfare from Tampa to Miami. I was to drive to Tampa to visit family before flying into Miami. The deposit settled and details locked into place, I set the date in August 1999 on the calendar the dye was cast for what has become nothing short of a life changing vacation.