The cruise business is booming, if the number and increasing sizes of passenger vessels being constructed at shipyards across Europe is anything to go by. Since the golden days of passenger liners and transatlantic crossings, there has never been a more buoyant time in the cruise industry; ships are getting larger, more luxurious and more complex than ever.

Some of the largest vessels are being built for Royal Caribbean International (RCI), the Miami-based, Norwegian-US cruise operator with over 20 vessels in service across the world. RCI can now boast the largest passenger vessels in service, with current title-holder the Freedom of the Seas, weighing in at over 154,000 tonnes. It was brought into service in the middle of 2006 and is arguably one of the most luxurious and well-equipped ships ever built.

The Freedom class now includes three vessels, and the sister ship to Freedom of the Seas, which has been named Liberty of the Seas, is being constructed at the Aker Finnyards shipyard in Turku, Finland. The scheduled delivery for the second Freedom-class vessel, which left drydock in August 2006 and is now being fitted out, is May 2007. A third Freedom-class vessel, Independence of the Seas, is also being constructed in Turku. It is due to be delivered in 2008 and not only will it be larger than its sister ships, it will also be more fuel efficient.

The Freedom-class vessels are the largest passenger ships afloat, with gross tonnage of 154,407 tonnes, eclipsing Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 (owned by Carnival Corporation and “only” 151,000 tonnes) as the previous title-holder. Although they are 5m shorter than Queen Mary 2, the distinction must be drawn that the Queen Mary 2 is a true transatlantic liner, while Freedom of the Seas and its sister ships will be dedicated cruise ships.

FREEDOM FACILITIES

Freedom of the Seas can accommodate more than 4,300 passengers and is served by over 1,300 crew members. Over the space of 15 decks Freedom of the Seas has a wealth of facilities for passengers, including H2O Zone, an interactive water park and sun deck, a dedicated adult pool and a main pool. There are also two whirlpools cantilevered from each side of the ship. Deck 13 has a sports area with a rock-climbing wall, the FlowRider surf park (an on-board wave generator for surfing), a miniature golf course and a full-size basketball court.

“RCI can now boast the largest passenger vessels in service.”

In addition, the ship features the 122m Royal Promenade mall, which features pubs, shops, arcades, bars (the retail mall area common to all RCI ships), a 24-hour Cafe Promenade coffee shop, Sorrento’s Pizzeria, a Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream shop, Vintage’s winery, the Bull and Bear Irish pub, a cigar bar and a wealth of duty-free shops. Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

Other facilities on board include a Studio B ice skating rink, a full-size boxing ring, a fully equipped Nautilus gym, a state-of-the-art spa offering a full range of the latest treatments, a casino, a Johnny Rockets (diner-type burger restaurant), wi-fi access across the ship, flat-panel LCD televisions in all staterooms, and seamless mobile phone connectivity.

Freedom of the Seas is the most head-turning, most innovative and most forward-looking ship in the cruise industry,” says Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of RCI’s parent company Royal Caribbean Cruise Ltd. “Its name was chosen deliberately to convey the range of features and amenities offered on this extraordinary ship. Freedom of the Seas is really all about freedom of choice, freedom to explore, freedom to relax, freedom to make one’s own vacation plans reflective of one’s own tastes and interests.”

THE NEXT GENERATION

The cruise industry is a business that is constantly changing. Companies must constantly seek to improve their vessels, facilities and itineraries to ensure continued success into the future. RCI is one such company and is not resting on its laurels. It has commissioned an entirely new class of cruise vessel, which will set the benchmark for large passenger vessels for years to come. This new design will be known as the Genesis class, and its vessels will have a gross tonnage in excess of 220,000 tonnes.

The first of this class is expected to enter service in the final quarter of 2009 and will have a passenger capacity of over 5,400 (total capacity could be up to 6,400) and is expected to cost a total of $1.24bn for construction and fit out, making it the world’s largest and most expensive cruise ship. The company estimates the all-in cost of the ship to be approximately $230,000 per berth.

The Genesis class will surpass the Freedom class as the world’s largest passenger ships. They will be 21m longer, 8.5m wider, have a slightly deeper draft and a gross tonnage that is expected to be 43% greater. The building contract, worth about €900m ($1bn), was awarded to the Norway-based shipbuilder Aker Yards in March 2006.

The first Genesis-class ship, which has not yet been named – although rumours are that the name of the first will be Genesis of the Seas – will be 360m long, 47m wide (beam) at water level and 65m high with a displacement of approximately 100,000 tonnes and a draft of 9m.

Aker has said that the contract is contingent on final approval of financing and the ship will be built at one of its Finnish yards. RCI also has an option for a second ship in the same class, which would be ready by 2010.

“It is exhilarating to take such a giant step into the future,” says Fain. “We are fortunate to have such gifted collaborators as Aker Yards, and such valued supporters and advisors as our guests and trade partners. Genesis of the Seas truly is a remarkable ship. Its bold design, daring innovations and technological advancements will delight our existing cruisers and help us draw in new ones. Genesis of the Seas will give us ample room to create memorable new icons and amenities to heighten passengers cruise experience.”

FACILITIES AND EFFICIENCIES

The Genesis-class ship will include a myriad of new features and bring together all the best innovations and facilities from all of the other RCI vessels. The ship is expected to have features such as a bowling alley complex, a billiards lounge (with innovative self-levelling tables) similar to those found on the Radiance-class ships, a series of larger dining rooms, and an extended Royal Promenade shopping and recreation area. Much larger staterooms and balcony areas will be included on the ship as well as a larger variety of dining, bar, lounge and entertainment options.

One of the most important priorities for the new design was energy efficiency and the minimisation of waste to make the ship as environmentally compatible as possible. This required significant modifications to be made to the form of the hull as well as in the air conditioning and water production and treatment systems.

In September 2006, KONE was granted a contract for the design, supply and installation of all the elevators on the new Genesis-class ship. The contract includes a total of 41 customised elevators, which will be hoisted by KONE EcoDisc machinery and based on either the KONE MiniSpace or the machineroom-less KONE MonoSpace platform. Delivery of the elevators is scheduled for the third quarter of 2009.

CONSTRUCTION TRENDS

The latest trend in the cruise industry is to build new ships. The two largest cruise companies, Carnival Cruise Lines and RCI, have active programmes of construction at European shipyards. Carnival has four new ships on order or under construction with Italian yard Fincantieri, which will give them an additional 13,284 lower berths. Its parent company, Carnival Corporation, has a total of 19 new ships on order and of these 13 are being constructed by Fincantieri.

Carnival is not following the latest fashion for larger-sized vessels, but has decided to stick to more traditional designs. The line looked into the construction of a ship of about the same size as the new Genesis class, provisionally named the Pinnacle Project, but this is now on hold because of the prohibitively high price of construction.

RCI seems to be moving towards ships they see as bigger and better. There are several issues to be considered. Firstly, larger ships may put some clients off. Although many cruisers may be drawn to larger-size ships that provide a greater number of amenities and entertainment facilities, there are others who tire of waiting in long queues to embark and disembark from the vessel, and others who find that the larger ships are overwhelming some of the smaller ports of call with overcrowding.

“The latest trend in the cruise industry is to build new ships.”

RCI has countered these suggestions by making clear that as an integrated and caring cruise company it must cater to all passenger requirements and will still be offering a variety of ship sizes across its extensive fleet, so that passengers who do not like the larger vessels will have other options.

Secondly, the new Genesis-class ship is due to sail in the Caribbean. Although many of the ports on the smaller islands, such as the popular St Croix, have ports and berths that are capable of handling these mega ships, many of these will need additional infrastructure improvements to handle the new Genesis class. There may be some friction over finding money to improve berths.

The trend for RCI is towards larger vessels and it has even been known to stretch existing ships, such as the Vision-class Enchantment of the Seas (first built in 1997), which in 2004 was split in half and had a 74ft midsection inserted to allow for the addition of a pool, suspension bridges, speciality restaurants, additional staterooms and expanded areas for guest comfort.

INNOVATE TO ACCUMULATE

It is always difficult to be a pioneer in any field, yet RCI throughout its history has always been an innovator. There are some drawbacks to the construction of larger vessels.

To build the largest and the longest there will always be problems. However, in the case of the new Genesis-class vessels, the advantages lie in the fact that RCI knows what its customer wants. Launching a ship with the best facilities and the ability to carry 50% more passengers is a great advantage.

The rewards are there for the taking in the burgeoning cruise market and the company that knows its market will always stay one step ahead of its competitors. RCI will strive to stay at the forefront of cruise innovation, and having the biggest and best ship will help it achieve the goal of becoming the premier cruise line across the globe.