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If Royal Caribbean builds it, 6,400 could come

Cruise line orders world's largest passenger ship

Associated Press / February 7, 2006
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MIAMI -- Royal Caribbean International yesterday ordered the world's largest and most expensive cruise ship, a $1.24 billion vessel that will hold up to 6,400 passengers. It's the latest step in the industry trend of supersizing ships, which delights many passengers but are too crowded for others.

The ship, dubbed Project Genesis, will be 220,000 gross registered tons when it is delivered to the world's second-largest cruise operator in fall 2009 by Oslo-based shipbuilder Aker Yards. Gross registered tons is a standard way to measure a ship's size and is a unit of volume equal to about 100 cubic feet.

The ship will weigh about 100,000 tons based on displacement -- a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier comes in at about 97,000 tons.

Aker said its contract price of 900 million euros -- about $1 billion -- would be ''the most valuable ship ever ordered in the history of commercial shipbuilding." The $1.24 billion figure includes all expenses for the ship, ''from forks and knives and sheets to artwork and everything else," said Harri Kulovaara, the Miami-based cruise line's executive vice president of maritime operations.

Aker said the contract is contingent on final approval of financing, and the ship will be built at one of its Finnish yards. The cruise line, a unit of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., has an option for a second ship.

''Project Genesis 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," Richard Fain, the parent company's chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.

The news steals some of the spotlight from rival Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise operator. Carnival has studied building a ship about the same size, but its Pinnacle project is ''on the back burner" because of its prohibitively high price, spokesman Tim Gallagher said.

Kulovaara said in a phone interview that the new ship will be more fuel efficient than current vessels, but he declined to give a specific figure. He said plans for the types of onboard amenities were being finalized. Royal Caribbean has been an innovator in featuring ice skating rinks, rock climbing walls, and surfing pools.

Royal Caribbean's ships are typically more upscale than the bargain Carnival Cruise Lines' vessels, but they aren't as traditional as those of luxury carriers such as Cunard.

Project Genesis will carry 5,400 passengers based on two people per cabin, Kulovaara said. But as most cruise cabins can accommodate more than two people using cots or other beds, that number rises to a maximum capacity of 6,400.

Royal Caribbean still offers a variety of ship sizes, so customers who don't like larger vessels will have other options, Kulovaara said. The ship will sail in the Caribbean, where many ports already handle megaships, but ports will need some infrastructure improvements to handle it, he said.

Carnival Corp.'s Cunard Line currently has the world's largest cruise ship -- the Queen Mary 2 -- at 151,400 gross registered tons. But Royal Caribbean is scheduled to get a bigger ship in June, the 160,000-ton Freedom of the Seas. It will carry 3,600 passengers double occupancy and 4,370 maximum.

Both will be eclipsed by Project Genesis, which will be 1,180 feet long, 154 feet wide at water level, and 240 feet high.

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