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Married people deal with the aging of their spouses in several ways:

  1. They encourage good diet and exercise
  2. They encourage botox, face-lifts, hair-replacement therapy, and liposuction
  3. They embrace the aging process, and try to make it work for them
  4. They divorce said spouse and run off with the aerobics instructor

Cruise lines use variations on these same methods to cope with the aging of their ships. Princess and NCL tend to go with Option 4, selling off their old vessels as soon as newer models are ready. Cunard spent tried the sporty '70s look on QE2 for a while, then found religion and began preaching the "classic" cruise styling it espouses to this day. Ditto for Imperial Majesty Cruises and the 52-years-young Regal Empress, though on a super-budget level. Luxury line SeaDream Yacht Club has kept it's twenty-year-old SeaDream I and SeaDream II in such good shape they look like Miami glamsters.

Still other lines go for a combination approach. Take Royal Caribbean International (tel. 800/327-6700; www.royalcaribbean.com), for instance. In June 2003, the line began taking a new approach to its older vessels, pumping millions into major refurbishments that it's dubbed "revitalizations."

Renovating existing ships is nothing new, of course. Every year, most vessels go through a freshening-up process in which worn carpets, upholstery, furnishings, bedding, and other "soft goods" are replaced. Royal Caribbean's kind of revitalization, though, represents a whole different level of magnitude, intended to bring its ships up to date and create a more consistent brand identity. You want "the ship with the rock-climbing wall"? Then RCI will add a rock-climbing wall to all its ships, plus new branded lounges, alternative restaurants, and snacking options -- not to mention all the usual freshening up that's done as a matter of course.

So far four RCI ships have gone under the knife, beginning with Monarch of the Seas in June 2003, Empress of the Seas (nee Nordic Empress) in May 2004, and Sovereign of the Seas in December 2004. The revitalization program reached a whole new level of magnitude last week, though, as the line unveiled the not only refurbished but also larger and substantially cooler Enchantment of the Seas.

Reviving a practice that was common in the cruise industry ten years ago, Royal Caribbean literally had the vessel cut in half at Keppel Verolme shipyard in Rotterdam, Netherlands, then welded it back together with a new 73-foot midsection in place, adding 151 cabins, several new public rooms, and innovative new pool-deck features.

Splitting the ship took six days, as workers cut through some 2,000 feet of steel using torches and circular saws. Once severed, the 11,315-ton bow section was moved forward using skids and hydraulic jacks guided by a laser alignment system. The new 2,939-ton mid-body -- brought on an enormous barge from Aker Finnyards in Turku, Finland, where Enchantment herself was built in 1997 -- was then inserted and pushed back toward the ship's aft section, after which the bow was guided into place. Workers then spent two weeks welding the whole thing back together and reattaching nearly 20,000 connections that had been severed, including cables, pipes, and ductwork.

The entire process took 31 days -- a new record for such an operation -- and was followed by a stringent round of inspections and sea tests to assure the ship's safety. Obviously, she passed. As Captain Per Arne Kjonso joked when greeting journalists on a short preview cruise, "I hope you had a good night's sleep. You weren't afraid she was going to fall apart, eh?"

The 73-foot length of the midsection was the absolute limit that would still allow Enchantment to fit through the locks on the Panama Canal. And despite the operation's $60 million price tag, Royal Caribbean executives called it a bargain, adding the potential for 300-plus additional paying passengers while requiring minimal extra staffing. And according to VP of ship design and newbuilding Peter Fetten, Enchantment's speed and performance were actually improved by the stretching and additional changes to her hull, such as the use of drag-resistant paint and enlargement of her rudder surface. Up on deck 10, you can see a tiny little scar where the ship was sawn in half, just aft of the suspension bridge on the starboard side, about a foot forward of a red equipment box.

But wait, you say, suspension bridge? OK, now we come to the cool stuff. Up top, Enchantment's new section boasts a couple of features entirely new to the cruise world, including two bridges that connect the old sections of the walking/running track and arc above two half-moon deck areas that curve out from the side of the ship. On the port side, the new deck space is used for a long bar, while the starboard side is decked with deck chairs. Both sides have glass panels that allow you to look straight down at the water, more than 100 feet below. Along the encircling jogging track, four fitness stations give runners the option of pausing for stretch, toning, agility, and cardio work. Toward the stern end of the pool deck, a new interactive splash fountain has 64 water jets that kids can manipulate for a good soak. At night it's lit up and automated for visual effect.

The addition of new pool-deck space has allowed RCI to retool a secondary sunbathing area on Deck 10 forward. It's now home to Royal Caribbean's newest sports offering, a set of four elaborate bungee trampolines that it obviously hopes will be as attention-grabbing as was Voyager of the Seas' rock-climbing wall back in 1999. Strap yourself into a harness, then give the attendant your actual weight (no lying!) so he can adjust the tension of the bungees, which are attached to huge crane arms. Once it's set, start bouncing. If you get into the right rhythm you could find yourself up to 35 feet above the deck, doing somersaults in midair. Since the trampolines are located almost at the ship's highest point, airborne passengers get a view right out onto the sea -- as if there's no ship below you at all.

Guests are limited to two-minute sessions, but according to attendant Ryan Sangha, "by the end of that two minutes, you're done. It's hard."

Use of the trampolines is free, with two to three sessions scheduled each day and each guest limited to two tries per session. Busy times can see waits of up to 30 or 40 minutes. Minimum age is 6, with parental attendance mandatory for kids 6 to 12. Teens can go alone once their parents sign permission. The minimum weight is 40 pounds, maximum 240.

Inside, Enchantment has been funned up with several new venues. The Latin-themed Boleros bar -- already a staple aboard Navigator, Mariner, Monarch, Sovereign, and Empress of the Seas, serves Latin drinks and live Latin music, and is probably the most modern room on the ship, with moody lighting, a decor heavy on reds, oranges, and yellows, and a sunburst-pattern glass ceiling. More prosaic is the Latte'tudes coffee and ice cream shop, serving Ben & Jerry's and Seattle's Best coffees for an extra charge. More prosaic still are the additional shops which make Enchantment's shopping arcade a veritable mall. Next door, an expanded photo gallery incorporates digital photo stations where you can search and select souvenir photos, if that's your thing.

On Deck 6, a little-used lounge has been converted into a specialty steakhouse, Chops Grill, serving a large menu of meat and seafood dishes with sides served in large, family-style portion, to share. There's a $20 per person cover charge.

Enchantment's large, two-deck main dining room was renovated and enlarged while retaining its very traditional cruise-ship dining-room character -- which reflects Royal Caribbean's continuing commitment to tradition fixed-seating dining at a time when many lines are going with a more casual, open-seating approach. "From passenger comments," said RCI president Adam Goldstein, "we've learned that the number-one positive indicator is the bond that develops between passengers and their waiters. We feel very strongly about that."

For casual dining, guests can head for the inexplicably named Windjammer Marketplace, a buffet restaurant with multiple islands serving dishes from different regions of the world, rounded out with a deli station, a carvery, a salad bar, and a cook-to-order pasta station. Burgers, veggie burgers, pizza, and other items are also available from a grill near the solarium pool, open 11am-7pm and 10pm-4am.

Enchantment of the Seas is one of six ships in RCI's Vision class, and while it's logical that the line will follow the her model with the others, RCI president Goldstein says they've "made no specific commitments to do additional revitalization projects -- though this is clearly the way to go."

Enchantment of the Seas officially re-entered service July 7 with a four- night cruise to Halifax, Nova Scotia. For the rest of the summer she'll sail a series of Canada/New England cruises from Philadelphia (July 19-Aug. 21) and Boston (Sept. 4-25), then reposition to Fort Lauderdale in October to sail 4- and 5-night Caribbean itineraries.

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