Throwback Thursday - The Port of Miami (Sovereign of the Seas 1999)

At 11:30 they began to group people by the color of their tickets to board the buses to the pier. The trip  took about 20 minutes. Our driver gave us a mini-tour of the area on the way to the pier, and was more than happy to accept tips.

There are a lot of chances to get photos on the bus ride from the airport to the Port of Miami. College football fans will appreciate the view of the Orange Bowl. The RCI headquarters can be seen to your right as the bus, taxi, or dog sled crosses the bridge to Dodge Island.

Dodge Island hosts the Port of Miami.  It is an artificial structure, built in the late 1960s, and since its conception, has hosted cruise ships.  Prior to its construction, the hand full of cruise ships calling on Miami, docked near the site of the NBA's Orlando Heat's stadium.  Dodge Island is used extensively in filming movies.  Indeed, if you have ever seen the films Bad Boys or Bad Boys II, with Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, you've seen more of the island than you know.  Most of the chase scenes were either filmed using the same small stretch of road leading to the port, or running beside the waterway.  More on that some other time.

The cruise terminals were first built along with the island.  Despite reading on the matter, it remains unclear to me as to who exactly owns what among the lines and ports.  However, the terminals as seen here, have changed much since 1999.  There is serious talk of expansion at the port, which would include larger, new terminals on the south side of the port.

It is on the south side of the port, where you can find the Headquarters of Royal Caribbean International.  It is actually shaped like the company logo. There aren't any vital computer systems located below what would be the third floor inside of any normal buildings. This is to protect against storm surges in hurricanes.

The trademark blue neon can be seen across the waters on other RCI ships at night.  You can see the ships in port from the air as you fly into Miami. It is only as you drive up to them that you realize their true size.  

The Leeward, with Sovereign of the Seas abeam, and the Carnival Fantasy abeam of her.

The Rise of the Graceful Giants - Royal Caribbean International - A Brief History

The obvious economic gains from larger ships would serve Royal Caribbean exceptionally well in the decades to come. In particular, the dedication to studying how people experience a cruise, and interact with the ship, would become the foundation on which future classes of ships would be based.

Sovereign of the Seas would enter service in 1988, sent into service by her Godmother, Roslyn Carter. She came in at over 70,000 GRT, with over 2,000 passengers, and introduced features that have become integral to the Royal Caribbean experience. Most notable in her legacy to the entire industry, was the  Centrum. Though named differently on other lines, this six deck atrium has become the essential design feature of nearly every ship built since then. It connects the major public spaces, and creates an lobby able to channel traffic flow through the ship. The Sovereign was a huge hit. Two more ships would be built in the class, and later, the Vision class would evolve from it.

Royal Caribbean would “merge” with Admiral cruises about the time Sovereign was coming online. With the merger, Royal Caribbean gained a converted car ferry which was renamed the Viking Serenade, and a soon to be finished ship later known as the Empress of the Seas. As the merger with Admiral was underway, the original trio of owners were approached by the increasingly profitable Carnival Cruise Lines.

In what became known as “The 40 Days,” the company would eventually fight off Carnival, change two thirds of its ownership, and see the rise of the leadership which remains 20 years later.  Richard Fain would assume the leadership mantle both as a result of the failed Carnival takeover attempt, and from what amounted to a leap of faith. The battle over Royal Caribbean also created a heated rivalry between Fain and Carnivals Mickey Arison. The event is legendary among old salts in the cruise community, and remains a touchy issue even to this day. The two lines have only become larger, more successful, and far more different in their approach to cruise travel.

Throwback Thursday - Getting There is Half the Fun. (1999)

At the time, I had a great aunt living in the Tampa area.  I decided to drive down and visit her, before flying to Miami.  My thinking at the time, was that I didn't want to pay for parking at the port of Miami.  The flight from Tampa didn't actually add much more than what I would have paid for both gas and parking anyway, and I wanted to arrive at Miami early.

I took a shuttle van from my Aunt's to Tampa International Airport.  I was the last of 6 people to be picked up by the taxi/van, which was likely for the best. The driver wasted no time getting us to the airport. I might well have gotten to Miami faster than by plane if he had just kept driving. We might well have broken the land speed record on the way across the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

I requested an early departure to Miami, as to arrive and be able to board the Sovereign as soon as possible. The 9:00 a.m. flight was on a DeHaviland Dash 8, a twin engine turbo-prop aircraft coyly referred to as a Jet-prop by U.S. Air.  People it seems don't like turboprops, and with good reason. Some of these planes sound like giant blenders inside. The trip was not overly taxing, and only lasted an hour.

I flew into Miami at 10 a.m. the day of the cruise.  The arrival at Miami was uneventful. I was actually able to see the Sovereign of the Seas from the plan. We had to have been 10,000 feet up, but the ship was clearly visible at dock. A pair of neatly dressed RCI personnel were waiting at the gate as I walked into the terminal.  I proceeded down to the baggage claim area, and to a non-descript "Cruise Information Desk." There I was able to check in, take care of the preliminary on-board charge and check-in paperwork. I was given a colored ticket for boarding the bus, and had an hour to relax and people watch until we departed.   Here you can see the old Cruise Passenger Information desk at the Miami International Airport.

Now, since the old days back in 1999, the cruise desk is basically obsolete.  Nearly all of your pre-boarding paperwork is done at home, on a computer, before you arrive at the port.  To my knowledge, none is  presently done at the airport itself.

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