Meet the Captain of the Largest Ship in the World

Captain Rob Hempstead will chart more than 4,000 nautical miles in one journey.
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As Royal Caribbean’s newest (and largest!) ship, Symphony of the Seas, prepares to set sail from Barcelona, Spain to idyllic Mediterranean destinations, we’d like you to meet the man at the helm—Captain Rob Hempstead. Capt. Hempstead has sailed with Royal Caribbean International since 1999, and has served as Master aboard six ships since 2005 making him well prepared to sail Symphony. “After working at sea for more than 30 years, I’ve never once wished for another life of less excitement, exploration and adventure,” he says.

Captain Hempstead was born on the coast of Rhode Island, a famous sailing state. He first went to sea as a young boy with his dad, who carried on the family tradition of setting out to sea. There was never a doubt that Rob would someday set sail too, and in 1986, he graduated from the California Maritime Academy and accepted his U.S. Naval Reserve commission. Though he’s now on the largest cruise ship in the world, his career began with the U.S. commercial fishing fleet in the frigid Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean.

After nearly 14 years of fast-paced fishing worldwide, Hempstead changed course and joined Royal Caribbean. “Fishing entailed a lot of rough weather, harsh conditions, stress, no sleep and hard work,” he says. “Now, I get to work with the greatest crew on earth!”

Here’s a look at the newly delivered Symphony of the Seas–and the captain’s favorite destinations, tips for making the most of our newest vessel, and what it’s like to dock a ship of this proportion.

Why are you excited to be the startup captain of Symphony

Symphony is the fleet’s newest addition to the family, and it is an honor to be appointed her first captain. She will be our fleet’s new flagship, and to have a hand in her success is a great privilege and responsibility.

Can you tell us about any of the new navigational technology aboard Symphony?

We will have the latest hardware and software produced in the industry.  Part of the process of working on “a startup ship” is helping to adjust the bridge layout to ensure it fits our purpose. During sea trials, I had the opportunity to work with the various navigation equipment vendors, who are on board for testing, calibration, and training.

What have been some of your favorite destinations while sailing? Any favorite coastlines?

There are so many. To name a few: Nawiliwili, Kauai; Champagne Bay, Vanauatu: Sydney, Australia; Hobart, Tazmania; Ville France, France; Labadee, Haiti; and anywhere in the Caribbean! My favorite coastlines are Southeastern Alaska and the whole North American Pacific, New Caladonia, and the Greek Islands.

Are there special accommodations needed for sailing and docking the world’s largest ship? 

Because of Symphony’s configuration we have to use cameras during certain evolutions due to our limited visibility.  We also post officers at both the bow and stern areas to monitor distances using range finders when maneuvering in close proximity to hard objects like piers or moored ships, to verify our onboard sensors. Generally speaking, due to Symphony’s size—1,188 feet long, 215.5 feet wide—we must be very precise in planning and executing any maneuvers. The world’s ports are roughly the same size as they’ve always been, with a few exceptions made just for us, so we have to handle Symphony with the greatest care to get her to fit.

Thank you, Captain Hempstead! Click here to learn more about Symphony of the Seas and book your own adventure at sea on board our most exciting ship yet.

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