Royal CaribbeanCruises Limited (RCCL) is confident about the success of its next generation Genesis cruiseship; so much confidence that the company has already exercised its option to build a second vessel. The first 5,400 guest, 220,000t ship is being built at Aker Yards in Finland and is due to be unveiled in 2009, with the second in 2010. It will be the world’s largest and most expensive cruiseship at $1.24bn, measuring 1,180ft long, 154ft wide and 240ft high.

Its design is top secret, but promises more of the efficiencies and innovations that marked the launch of its predecessor Freedom of the Seas. RCCL’s largest ships are Freedom of the Seas, a 160,000t vessel carrying 3,634 passengers, and its twin Liberty of the Seas, which was launched in May 2007.

RCCL is not the only company flexing its design muscles in new ships. To mark its first Northern Europe programme, Carnival Cruise Lines, the world’s largest cruise operator, is due to unveil its 113,300t Carnival Splendor in June 2008. The ship is being built at Fincantieri Cantieri Navali, Italy, at a cost of $500m. Carnival Splendor is due to be followed by still larger ships, with Carnival Dream in 2009 and Carnival Magic in 2011.

BIGGER PICTURE

While vessels of these proportions are certainly impressive, Ben Clement, director of shipbuilding at Carnival, says being better is not necessarily about being bigger.

“To produce a successful ship, there needs to be a good relationship between the shipbuilders and the cruise line.”

“We have to look at all the parameters, such as the facilities for the guests and the ratio of balcony and inside cabins, so there’s a balance to be struck,” he says. “The evolution in shipbuilding and design is about bringing in extra amenities to reflect the trends in hotels and resorts on land.”

For Carnival Splendor, the key innovative feature is its 21,000ft² spa, branded Cloud 9, which promises to be the “most elaborate and luxurious” at sea. Sited across three decks, it has 68 exclusive spa staterooms, which are accessed by a private lift. The ship’s design had to be reconfigured to create extra space for amenities and cabins, and the interiors are based on “splendid things”. Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

“We are all definitely following the trends of designers,” says Clement. “Seeing what the competition is doing in Las Vegas, new designs, top hotels and looking to create better value. It’s about creating the global experience with better amenities and venues, and bringing onboard new technology.”

For passengers this means interactive LCD flat-screen televisions, a 5,500ft² play area for children, a water park and a two-deck pool area with a retractable dome and 270ft² outdoor screen. Onboard, this translates into fuel and operational efficiencies and an overall better environmental performance.

“The shipyards are becoming more competitive and investing heavily in ways to be more efficient in their shipbuilding,” says Clement. “We are working hand-in-hand with them to achieve this.”

POSITIVE PARTNERSHIP

Having worked with Aker Yards since 1969, Kai Levander is one of the most experienced naval architects in the world. He has worked with RCCL since its first generation of ships was built and has been instrumental in the creation of Genesis, the next generation. Levander believes that, to produce a successful ship, there needs to be a good relationship between the shipbuilders and the cruise line.

“The growth in the size of new ships has necessitated a change in building practices in order to keep both costs and timescales realistic.”

“It’s important the shipyard is involved with the operator on the development from the beginning,” he says. “We are shipbuilders, and a cruiseship is quite different from a normal ship, which is basically a lot of steel and engines. With a cruiseship you have to build a vessel that can carry a hotel on top. Maintaining stability is the main design limitation on a cruiseship, so a bigger hull is required when adding decks with more cabins with balconies. A bigger ship also means less motion and a more comfortable journey.”

Building vessels of this size has become more popular in recent years, mainly because of the economy of scale benefits in carrying more passengers. However, Genesis is an important project not only because it is so large, but also because there will be more room to provide a wider range of facilities.

“It’s a great example of offering passengers the ‘freedom to choose’, which we saw in the Freedom class and will see much more of in Genesis,” says Levander.

The demand for these facilities is to fulfil the requirements of a cruising population that now covers a wider demographic than the traditional cruise passenger. Today’s passengers are not the homogonous crowd of the 1970s; they include couples, families with children and teenagers, as well as individuals who all
want a variety of dining possibilities, activities and entertainment – and a big ship can provide all these needs.

DOWN TO BASICS

While technological advances are evident, such as the move to diesel electric machinery and pod propulsion, ‘community’ processes such as electricity, air conditioning, fresh water supply and sewage treatment are also much more refined. However, the growth in the size of new ships has necessitated a change in building practices in order to keep both costs and timescales realistic.

The creation of Genesis is like putting together a “huge 3D puzzle”, according to Levander, and a wealth of suppliers and turnkey contractors are required. “The most expensive part is still the passenger cabins,” he says. “These come in thousands and are made on a production line in our cabin factory, pre-fabricated and ready for installation and connection.”

At Aker Yards, the basics of safety, reliability and environmental performance are paramount for every ship, which poses a challenge for the Genesis project as current safety regulations do not cater for its dimensions.

“The safety rules are built on the existing vessel,” explains Levander. “So with larger ships and new solutions you have to go for ‘equal safety’, make new calculations and simulations, and get approval from the authorities. It’s a challenge for both us and the operator.”

The next level in building cruiseships is to fulfil passenger expectations, he adds, and the US market in particular demands great value for money.

“With the bigger ships you get reasonable costs and an increasing passenger base,” he says. “But it’s not just enough to have a standard product – you have to be able to give your passengers that freedom of choice, and create a unique vacation experience.”

INNOVATIONS AND EFFICIENCIES

Harri Kulovaara, vice president of maritime operations at RCCL, says the corporation has always led the industry in innovative design.

“The challenge started in 1968 with the first ship built specifically for warm waters and the start of cruiseships for the international market,” he says. “Now we are building our next generation of ships, Genesis, and every vessel is innovative, incorporating new elements and new experiences.”

RCCL’s goal is to improve the guest experience with better services and a better overall experience with the help of new technology. One example is Voyager of the Seas, delivered in 1999, which introduced new facilities, such as the horizontal atrium, rock climbing and ice rink. The innovations expected with Genesis have already been years in the making, although the first ship is not due until 2009.

“The larger the size, the more guests there are, so you can afford to add more options such as multiple entertainment.”

“The building stage takes three-and a-half years but before that three years are spent working with the shipbuilder to develop the vessel, looking at size, configuration and layout,” says Kulovaara. “During that time we use all our expertise and experience from previous ships to think through every aspect: from the entertainment to food stores, from open decks to shops. We spend a lot of time on the overall architecture and the flows.”

Although unable to reveal details about Genesis, Kulovaara says it is an evolutionary leap from Freedom of the Seas. “The size is obviously different, but of course we are looking for a better experience in every aspect,” he comments. “The ships are very challenging from an infrastructure point of view but we have a unique process in our corporation that provides the environment for this kind of work. We have a very long partnership with Aker and many of the team have worked together for 20 years.”

While the working history of RCCL and Aker is important, new designers are brought in for each project to introduce innovative thinking. New designs also bring operation efficiencies, with the larger ships markedly more fuel and energy efficient: Genesis is expected to use about 15% less fuel than Freedom of the Seas, which uses 25% less than Voyager of the Seas.

“This is a very important step in the right direction,” says Kulovaara. “Size also gets you real estate and architectural solutions previously unavailable. The larger the size, the more guests there are, so you can afford to add more options such as multiple entertainment.”

The advances in Genesis can be anticipated from the success of Freedom of the Seas, which was the second most searched phrase on Google in the US on its launch day.

Freedom of the Seas is a good example of added-value facilities,” adds Kulovaara. “The decks and pool decks have more space, with an adult solarium and the H20 zone, a water park for children. We have a wave generator with a glass-fibre hull, which you can boogie board on, and the largest gym on any ship. These facilities require more water, and large ships can carry more weight because of the increased stability that comes from their size.”

With such technological innovations and design, bigger vessels can certainly provide the facilities and smoother operation that both passengers and the cruise line will enjoy.