July 3, 2005
Ship Is Supersized in Unusual Operation
ROTTERDAM, Netherlands -- Instructions for adding 151 cabins, swimming pools, water fountain, restaurants, two suspension bridges and a bungee-trampoline to a giant cruise ship:
1. Slice ship into two.
3. Weld pieces together.
Engineers in Europe's largest port did just that to lengthen the 916-foot cruise ship Enchantment of the Seas by nearly 8 percent, to 989 feet long.
Project director Harold Linssen said the two-month job actually wasn't as easy as 1-2-3.
"This is the first time a cruise ship of this size is being extended in such a short period of time," he said against the din of grinding metal and hoisting cranes.
"The ship will grow to 81,500 tons and the parts will be realigned with an accuracy of 10-15 millimeters (about a half-inch) to be welded together again."
At around $54.5 million, the price tag of the addition was less than a tenth of the cost of buying a new ship with similar features that Royal Caribbean International wants to take advantage of the growing popularity of luxury cruises, especially among young people.
In 2004, nearly 10.5 million people took a vacation cruise, an increase of nearly 40 percent from 2001, according to figures on the Cruise Lines International Association's Web site.
Jaye Hilton, a spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean, said the makeover of the company's Enchantment of the Seas was intended to cater to the needs of younger travelers who want more from a high seas vacation than tanning on the deck.
The average age of passengers on Royal Caribbean's 19-ship fleet is 42, compared to an industry average of 50, she said.
"The experience of the ship will be completely different," Hilton said. "There will be a jogging track that takes you over suspension bridges and the first bungee-trampolines at sea."
The 8-year-old ship has gained a 70-foot-long center piece, which took a year to build in Finland. Equal in height to a 9 1/2-story building, it arrived in the Netherlands by barge, after a voyage of 1,430 miles through the Baltic and the North Sea.
After sailing to Rotterdam, which has one of the largest dry docks in the world, the Enchantment of the Seas was set in a giant framework of laser-adjusted braces, hydraulic pumps and a system of rollers that ensured the pieces would remain aligned when separated.
Once in place, welders began slicing through its 360-foot steel circumference, freeing an 11,300-ton front section. It was the most nerve-racking part of the job - a miscalculation could have caused the ship to topple over.
Cutting the vessel in half took six days, with 16 men working shifts around the clock.
The freed section was moved at a laborious 3 feet an hour to make way for the 3,000-ton midsection, waiting at the side to be rolled in for insertion. It already had been completely outfitted with cabins and other amenities.
The three pieces were made whole in mid-June after 15 days of welding and the connecting of 1,300 pipes, ducts and cables, and the revamped cruise ship is returning to work in July.
Hilton said the ship will make short cruises from ports on the U.S. East Coast until late September, when it will shift to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and go into year-round service in the Caribbean.
Rod McLeod, an independent consultant who worked on two prior "stretchings" with Royal Caribbean in the 1970s and 1980s, said this was "by far the fastest, largest and most advanced" operation of its kind.
On the Net:
Royal Caribbean: www.royalcaribbean.com