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Luxury on a Grand Scale

May 12, 2008 By: David Eisen Travel Agent

royal caribbean central park

The Park View Staterooms will overlook Central Park onboard Royal Caribbean's new mega ship.

In 1986, cruise industry pioneer Knut Kloster, an original founder of what was to become Norwegian Cruise Line, conceived what at the time would be the largest cruise ship ever built—by a long shot. Codenamed “Phoenix Project,” the ship would carry 5,200 passengers and emerge as a “floating metropolis,” complete with actual nine-story-high towers and convention space. The ship would not just be for cruising pleasure, but also a center for business. At the time, Kloster envisioned it as a floating island rather than a normal cruise ship of the day.
The common cruise ship had—and has—miniature pools; Phoenix Project would feature beaches, palm trees, even a harbor for ships. Unfortunately, Phoenix Project never made it past the drawing-board stage. (An account of the project is detailed in Kristoffer Garin’s 2006 book, Devils on the Deep Blue Sea.)

Some 20 years ago, Kloster’s vision might have been passed off as fanciful delight; today, it is considered revolutionary and prescient. At least two cruise lines are pushing similar prototypes that, unlike Kloster’s project, are already in the building phase.

Today’s Vision
Eerily similar to Phoenix Project, even in its shadowy working name, is Royal Caribbean International’s “Project Genesis,” two 5,400-passenger, 220,000-ton mega ships, which, when the first enters service in 2009, will be vastly larger than anything at sea today.

A ship that big is hard to keep under wraps for long, and the cruise line finally broke its vow of silence last month with the announcement that it was implanting an actual park—called Central Park—with real trees and shrubbery right smack in the middle of the ship.

The football-field-long park will also include gardens; an assortment of stores; seven restaurants, featuring alfresco dining; cafes and bars, including the three-deck-high Rising Tide Bar, which softly pitches up and down; and staterooms with park views. Best of all, the entire park is open to the sky. The size of the ship allows for this type of innovation, noted Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

Norwegian Cruise Line, perhaps channeling its original founder, is also building two new ships that are a departure in size and scope from its previous classes. The two 150,000-ton F3 ships (the working name being used) will each have a capacity for 4,200 passengers, representing the largest ships in NCL’s fleet. The keel-laying ceremony of the initial ship took place just last month, the first step before the ship’s delivery in 2010.

“The F3 ships are our most innovative project in the company’s 41-year history and will provide a totally unique vacation experience,” says Colin Veitch, NCL’s president and CEO. “We are one step closer to revolutionizing cruising as we know it.” Tan Sri KT Lim, chairman of Star Cruises, a 50 percent owner of NCL, called the ships’ construction “history in the making.”

In today’s cruise industry, size does matter. Building bigger ships is not only financially more feasible in terms of meeting economies of scale, it can also be more profitable in the long run. More passengers on board means higher yields from onboard spendng and more revenue from cruise fares.

These new mega ships include such amenities as ice-skating rinks and rock-climbing walls, giving passengers a chance to try activities that they might be reluctant to try at home. But as we watch the development of “bigger and better” ships, it’s only fair to recall Knut Kloster and his original vision, which, 20 years later, is finally making it off the drawing board and into the shipyards.

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