April 29, 2006

World’s largest cruise ship docks

By Luke MacGregor

SOUTHAMPTON (Reuters) - The world's largest cruise ship
docked in England on Saturday ahead of its inaugural trip -- a
floating behemoth four times the size of the Titanic, with
facilities never imagined at the dawn of the liner age.

At 158,000 tonnes, the Freedom of the Seas offers a pool
with artificial waves for surfers, an ice rink and cantilevered
whirlpools that extend out from the sides of the ship, 112 feet
above the sea.

The vessel, which will sail next Wednesday for New York
before heading to its Miami base from where it will ply the
Caribbean trade, wrested the crown as the world's biggest liner
from the 151,000-tonne Queen Mary 2 launched over two years

The ship can hold over 3,600 guests, is 15 decks high and
is the length of 37 buses.

The gleaming white vessel edged into Southampton port,
southern England on a sunny morning on Saturday and will be
welcomed with a fireworks display in the evening.

The vessel will entertain guests including VIPs and travel
journalists in Southampton before traveling to New York, where
a naming ceremony will take place.

But Freedom's time at the top may be short-lived amid talk
of even larger ships. A vessel codenamed Project Genesis is
already set to make an appearance in 2009 at 220,000 tonnes.

The U.S.-Norwegian owners Royal Caribbean say Freedom of
the Seas was designed to appeal to the broadest consumer base

But although the industry appears committed to building
ever-larger ships, there is disquiet among some operators that
vessels are becoming too big and the market too crowded.

Earlier this month, the head of rival Carnival said it was
shifting away from the dominant Caribbean market which has been
weakened recently by hurricane fears and lower demand. Carnival
said it would shift focus toward the Alaskan and European