Royal Caribbean’s founder, Ed Stephan, passed away at the age of 87 last week and while his years in the industry were extensive, his impact on it was immeasurable. Stephan was the founding father of modern-day cruising, a man who envisioned Miami as the epicentre of cruise holidays.

In the 1960s, Edwin Stephan had an idea to create a fleet of purpose-built cruise ships for the Caribbean. Fast forward to today and his vision has become Royal Caribbean, the second largest cruise operator in the world, with six brands and 63 ships sailing all seven continents.

In an interview with the Miami Herald in 1969, a year after he helped found Royal Caribbean Lines – which would later go on to become Royal Caribbean Cruises, Stephan said:

We believe Miami has a destiny as the cruise capital of the world. We have the weather. We have the proximity to the Caribbean. We have the willing customers.

A year later, on 7 November 1970, the Song of Norway cruised along the Government Cut waterway for the first time, watched by many from the jetty rocks of South Beach. The 724-passenger ship was the first ever to be purpose-built for warm-water cruising and came at a cost of $14.3m – small change by comparison to the $940m build bill behind the cruise line’s most recent arrival, Spectrum of the Seas, in 2019.

In the years after, Royal Caribbean would go on to introduce many industry firsts under Stephan’s tenure, from open-air promenade decks and cantilevered lounges to the concept of ‘stretching’ a cruise ship; Song of Norway became the first major cruise ship every to be stretched in 1978, when an additional section was incorporated mid-ship.

By the time Stephan retired in 2003, he had grown Royal Caribbean from an idea on paper to an icon with 25 ships and billions of dollar in revenue. More importantly, he had turned cruise travel into that which we know and love today.

Thanks Ed, we owe you a piña colada…

Edwin Stephan