Royal Caribbean Group (RCG) has ended months of speculation over the two smallest, oldest cruiseships in the fleet of its flagship brand by announcing their sale to Asian interests.

The 74,000-gt Majesty of the Seas (built 1992) and 48,600-gt Empress of the Seas (built 1990), both of which last traded in the fleet of Royal Caribbean International will be handed over to their new owner by the end of December, RCI said in a statement.

The company said that the ships had been sold to an "undisclosed party, based in Asia-Pacific, that will release details for future sailings at a later time".

No pricing details have been disclosed.

Both ships have been idling in Souda Bay on the Greek island of Crete since Covid-19 shut down the cruise industry in March.

Both have been the subject of several rumoured sales for recycling or further trading over the past few months, although these have always been vehemently denied.

RCG has resisted following in the wake of rival Carnival Corp by selling off rafts of ships at bargain prices. The only sales undertaken were three former Pullmantur Cruceros ships that were immediately despatched to Aliaga for recycling when the Spanish joint-venture began bankruptcy proceedings at the beginning of the pandemic.

With the restart of its operations in its main US market now pushed back to the end of February next year, the company has clearly had a rethink about the future of more of its older ships.

RCI is spinning the sales as being part of an ongoing fleet-replacement programme.

“Decisions like these are difficult, but they are part of our necessary evolution to continue introducing new ships,” said Michael Bayley, RCI’s president and chief executive officer.

Borrowed time

The Empress of the Seas has been something of a misfit in the Royal Caribbean fleet after being pulled out of Cuba. Photo: Giannis Giampanis/MarineTraffic

Industry observers said their departure from the RCI fleet was inevitable as both were on borrowed time.

The Empress of the Seas has had an interesting history with the Royal Caribbean Group. Its newbuilding contract at Chantier de l’Atlantique came as part of the package when the company bought over Admiral Cruise Lines from Gotaas Larsen. The ship was reassigned to RCI upon completion.

The ship was operated by Pullmantur between 2008 and 2016, but was returned to the RCI fold when the company was given the go-ahead to operate cruises to Cuba. Cuban ports required the use the a smaller ship, which RCI did not have at the time.

After the Trump administration vetoed trade with Cuba the ship was left as something of a misfit within the Royal Caribbean fleet.

The Majesty of the Seas was slated to join Pullmantur before the company shut down. Its two identical sisterships that were already with the line were among the three sold for scrap.