Cruise ships expand to be king of the sea


John Heald, one of Carnival Cruise Lines' most popular cruise directors, recently quipped to Avid Cruiser magazine on the industry's inclination for ever-bigger vessels: "Soon you won't even need ports. You'll walk to the back of the ship, and you'll be on another continent - or in Jamaica."

Just one comic's lighthearted exaggeration? Maybe not.

Consider this. In the fall of 2009, you will be able to cruise on a ship the length of four football fields, and floating some two-dozen decks high and 213 feet above the waterline. The planned vessel, dubbed Genesis and recently announced by Royal Caribbean International, pre-emptively unseats the line's not-yet-launched Freedom of the Seas, a 160,000-ton ship that, when it debuts in June, will nose out the reigning colossus of the seas, the 150,000-ton Queen Mary 2.

Having a hard time following the jumping giants? The point is this: The battle for biggest brute on the briny never yields a truce. There's always some one-upmanship waiting in the wings - even, as in this case, a line upstaging itself.

"The race for largest liner has brought prestige, success, popularity and, quite often, profit," says Bill Miller, maritime historian and author of more than 60 books on ocean liner history. "More people [have always] wanted to sail on the world's largest and longest liners."

Genesis likely will hold the "biggest ship at sea" title for a while, as the rest of the industry decides when - or whether - to follow suit. The vessel will, after all, be gargantuan. It will carry 6,400 passengers and dwarf anything else at sea designed for cruising. At an estimated 222,000 tons, it will have more knock-your-socks-off diversions than currently imaginable. Royal Caribbean, of course, is the line that brought to sea such whiz-bang innovations as roller boarding, rock climbing, ice skating and even water surfing (on Freedom).

Costing about $230,000 per berth and requiring, according to the line, about 5,800 man-years to complete, Genesis will ka-ching in as the most expensive cruise ship ever built.

What is arguably the biggest seagoing behemoth, however, is still pie in the sky. A project called Freedom Ship (no relation to any other line's Freedom venture) is envisioned as a true floating city - functioning, in fact, more like an offshore destination in itself.

At nearly 1-mile long, 750-feet wide and 25-stories high, this maritime monster will incorporate 18,000 residential units and 10,000 hotel units accommodating more than 30,000 people. The vessel will circle the world every three years, spending 70 percent of its time docked offshore of major cities, and welcoming day-trippers on board. On its Web site, the planners promise a school system, an international trade center and 100 acres of outdoor parkland. Residences of 300 square feet are estimated to carry $180,000 price tags, with premium 5,000-square-foot suites hovering as high as $44 million. At the moment, the project's developers are still seeking investors.

Arline and Sam Bleecker are freelancers for the Orlando Sentinel.

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