The officers of Empress of the Seas were kind enough to host a Q&A session with passengers.
The life of an officer is 10 weeks on, 10 weeks off. The company is responsible for air transport to and from the officer’s home, wherever that happens to be on Planet Earth. There were no American officers on our ship and an American would be at a big disadvantage relative to a European. The typical European country doesn’t tax money earned elsewhere and, in any case, the officer can always choose to locate in a tax-free jurisdiction for his or her land home. The European officer with a family is not an attractive target for a divorce lawsuit due to the elimination of alimony (Germany, and similar) and/or the low caps on child support revenue ($2,000 to $8,000 per year per child, depending on country; see Real World Divorce). The land-based partner of a cruise ship officer cannot substantially live on the officer’s salary following a divorce.
(There is not a huge temptation for a heterosexual officer to stray while on board. All of the officers on our ship were men and the majority of crew members at all levels are male. There are apparently few women who are willing to be away from home for stretches of 6 months or more.)
Our ship is the smallest in the Royal Caribbean fleet. The captain explained his plan to catch up: “Every time we go into dry dock we will add 6 feet to the length. Over time we will grow into the largest ship.” (Empress of the Seas is being refitted in February 2019 in Freeport, Bahamas. Given that everything will need to be shipped in, I was shocked that it was more cost-effective to do this work in the Bahamas rather than in the U.S. There must be some spectacular inefficiencies in the American shipyards! In what other manufacturing or technical area is the Bahamas competitive?)
Why are all of the new ships big? The officers explained that the path to real profits starts with ships that hold at least 3000 passengers. That isn’t practical for these Cuba excursions due to the small piers that are available.
One thing that is not big on cruise ships is the draft. The captain explained that ocean liners, which are engineered with a deep draft to challenge big waves, can’t get into most of the Caribbean ports. The Queen Mary had a draft of 39′, the Queen Mary 2 is at 34′. Even the 6,000-passenger Oasis of the Seas draws only 31′ and the Empress of the Seas has a 24′ draft. There seems to be a mismatch, however, between how cruise ships are designed and how they are used. People are crossing the Atlantic and Pacific on these tall and shallow-drafted machines. We went through about 8 hours of dramatic (for a landlubber) rocking when sideways to what looked like a modest swell. Seasick bags were deployed in all of the elevator lobbies. This is despite the ship being equipped with stabilizers.