COVID takes out another cruising icon: The world’s first ‘megaship’ appears headed for the scrappers

Jul 21, 2020

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One of the most famous ships in the history of modern cruising appears headed for the scrappers.

Pullmantur Cruises’ Sovereign — an iconic vessel that for years sailed for Royal Caribbean as Sovereign of the Seas — has filed a voyage plan for ship-scrapping town Aliaga, Turkey.

On Monday, ship tracking sites showed the 2,282-passenger vessel sailing eastward from the Mediterranean island nation of Malta on its way to Aliaga.

A spokesperson for Royal Caribbean Group, which owns a stake in Pullmantur, didn’t immediately respond to questions about Sovereign’s fate.

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Unveiled by Royal Caribbean in 1988 as Sovereign of the Seas, the 12-deck vessel is widely recognized as the world’s first “megaship” — a large, amenity-filled ship specifically built for pleasure cruising.

Among notable features, Sovereign of the Seas boasted a five-deck Centrum with glass elevators, sweeping staircases and fountains in marble pools — a revolutionary concept at the time. It also had a theatre with more than 1,000 seats, a separate music lounge, a nightclub, a casino with 171 slot machines plus table games, and multiple bars including the iconic Viking Crown. The latter venue famously hovered like a flying saucer above its top deck.

The ship also had a central pool deck with two pools, something that wasn’t common at the time.

At around 73,000 tons, Sovereign of the Seas was the biggest purpose-built cruise ship ever when built, though it has been eclipsed in size many times over during the past three decades.

The MS Sovereign. (Photo by Tamme/Adobe Stock)
Known as Sovereign of the Seas when it first debuted, the 2,282-passenger Sovereign has one of the most storied histories in modern-day cruising. (Photo by Tamme/Adobe Stock)

Sovereign is now just a third the size of Royal Caribbean’s biggest ships, including the current size leader in the cruise world, the 228,081-ton Symphony of the Seas.

Sovereign of the Seas also was, notably, the first Royal Caribbean ship to have the “of the Seas” ending to its name. The “of the Seas” ending is now a staple of all Royal Caribbean ships.

The ship was christened on 15 January 1988 by former U.S. First Lady Rosalyn Carter, who was accompanied by President Jimmy Carter. The presidential couple famously sailed on the maiden voyage of the vessel out of Miami, along with their family and a U.S. Secret Service guard, and could be seen enjoying its venues.

Sovereign of the Seas sailed for Royal Caribbean until 2008 when it was transferred to Pullmantur, a Spain-based line that caters to Spanish-speaking cruisers from Spain and Latin America. Royal Caribbean owns a 49% stake in Pullmantur through a joint venture.

Citing the impact of the coronavirus crisis, Pullmantur last month announced it was insolvent and filing for reorganisation under Spanish insolvency laws. There were reports at the time that all three of Pullmantur’s vessels would be scrapped.

Related: Surprise! Royal Caribbean just changed its name, without telling anyone 

Pullmantur blamed headwinds from the coronavirus pandemic that were “too strong … to overcome”.

Sovereign is following its sister ship Monarch to Aliaga. The former Royal Caribbean vessel, for years known as Monarch of the Seas, arrived in Aliaga last week.

The news of the departures of the two ships for Turkey comes as several other major cruise lines eliminate ships from their fleets as a response to the coronavirus crisis.

Holland America last week said it would dispose of four of its 14 ships. Carnival Cruise Line, Costa Cruises and P&O Cruises also are in the process of shedding vessels.

Related: Why Holland America was right to shed 29% of its fleet

TPG recently published a list of 22 ships that we thought were most likely to be laid-up, sold or scrapped in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that included both Sovereign and Monarch as well as several ships from the Holland America, Carnival Cruise Line, Costa Cruises and P&O Cruises brands.

All of the world’s major cruise lines halted departures in mid-March due to the coronavirus crisis, and many have canceled all sailings into September or October. It’s a shutdown that is unprecedented in the history of modern cruising, and it’s causing cruise companies great financial hardship.

Located on the Western coast of Turkey, Aliaga has become the final resting place for many notable vessels, including Princess Cruises‘ Pacific Princess — the original “Love Boat.”

Feature image by Tamme/Adobe Stock 

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