Edwin W. Stephan, who is credited with making Miami the cruise capital of the world, passed away Friday.
He was 87 years old.
He was the cruise line’s first president for 27 years and then he served as the vice-chairman of the board of directors until he retired in 2003.
Stephan was born on December 15, 1931 in Madison, Wisconsin. He attended the University of Wisconsin but left to serve in the Army during the Korean War. After serving in the Army, Stephan decided on vacationing in Miami in 1954.
While on vacation, Stephan ran out of money, the Miami Herald reported. He decided on studying hotel training and to make money started working as a bell captain at the Casablanca Hotel on 63rd Street and Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. Then he managed the Biscayne Terrace Hotel in downtown Miami. In 1962, Stephan joined two cruise companies: the Yarmouth Steamship Co. and Commodore Cruise Line, where he’d become president by 1967.
By this time, Frank Sinatra had swooned audiences over with “Come Fly With Me”, making air travel more appealing and a better investment overall for travelers than sea cruising.
This did not faze or stop Stephan at all. “We could see all the lines were going out of business. But nobody really had new ships,” Stephan told the Herald in 2003.
Like his competitors, Stephan saw Miami as a cruise ship paradise, ripe for the taking.
The native Wisconsin man envisioned an innovative cruise line in the early 60s that would change the industry. He dreamed of ships sailing year-round cruises from Miami, Florida.
His vision was a foresight.
Miami is home base to numerous cruise lines. In fact, Royal Caribbean is building new offices at PortMiami, expected to be completed in 2021 at an investment of $300 million.
Stephan went about securing his fleet, even journeying to Oslo, Norway to find investors to help build them in 1967.
With the help of three Norwegian shipping companies, Stephan formed a fleet and founded Royal Caribbean Cruise Line on January 31, 1969. The fare in 1969: $48 a day.
He set up a two-room office in a stucco building at 853 Biscayne Blvd., as work began in Finland on the 724-passenger Song of Norway (the first fleet built). The 17,500-ton ship cost $14.3 million and first sailed out of Miami on November 7, 1970.
In 1988, he led Royal Caribbean to debut the Sovereign of the Seas, the first ship with a five-deck atrium, a feature integral to the line’s subsequent ships, as reported by the South Florida Business Journal in 2003.
Stephan was honored with the 2009 Hall of Fame Award by the Cruise Lines International Association.
Stephan is survived by his wife Helen, his children Samantha, Michael, Gary and Kristina and grandchildren Olivia, William and Devin.
His family requests donations in memory of Edwin Stephan to be made to Mount Sinai Miami Medical Center Foundation in honor of his physician, Dr. Eugene J. Sayfie.
Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean Cruises