Royal Caribbean Cruises' 'Visionary' Founder Arne Wilhelmsen Dead at 90

"We salute our friend, and we will miss him dearly," said Royal Caribbean's CEO in a statement

Arne Wilhelmsen
Photo: Royal Caribbean Cruises

Arne Wilhelmsen, the founder of Royal Caribbean Cruises, has died at age 90.

Wilhelmsen, who was born in Oslo, Norway, died on Saturday in Palma, Spain, the cruise line confirmed in a press release, calling him a “visionary strategist of the modern cruise industry.” A cause of death was not provided.

After founding the brand in 1968, he served on its board for more than three decades before stepping down in 2003, according to the Associated Press. Wilhelmsen also earned an MBA at Harvard Business School.

“At a time when the rest of the world thought cruising was a niche use for old transatlantic liners, Arne was already seeing glimmers of the growth that was possible,” said Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean. “He had a vision of the modern cruise industry when the ‘industry’ might have been a dozen used ships total.”

According to the company, Wilhelmsen set out to revolutionize the cruise line business, constructing new ships meant specifically to set sail in warm weather, shaping the future of vacationing.

Aerial Harmony of the Seas
Royal Caribbean international

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“Arne was a steady presence and source of wisdom on our board for decades,” said Fain. “And in 2003, when he was ready to step back, he was succeeded on the RCL board by his son, Alex, who has carried the involvement of the Wilhelmsen family in charting our company’s course into its sixth decade.”

Arne’s death comes at a tumultuous time for Royal Caribbean and the cruising industry as a whole.

The global spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) had halted all sailings indefinitely, according to a new mandate from the Centers for Disease Control announced on Friday. The news follows an initial 30-day voluntary suspension by cruise industry leaders.

Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas ship
Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas ship. FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty

Cruise ships have also been the sites of several major outbreaks of the illness around the world, leaving hundreds ill and resulting in several deaths. Royal Caribbean has fared better than some of its competitors amid the pandemic, but in early April, one person died and two were airlifted from Carnival-owned cruise ships near Florida.

The industry is expected to take a massive financial hit this year, but some reports show travelers are already planning cruise vacations for 2021 despite the current uncertainty.

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