MIAMI – Royal Caribbean International (RCL) on Monday 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 delight many passengers but are too crowded for other guests.
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, Norway-based shipbuilder Aker Yards. Gross registered tons is the standard way to measure a ship's size and is a unit of volume equal to 100 cubic feet.
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 CEO, said in a statement.
The announcement also 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.
Ray Weiller, an owner of discount online travel agency Cruisequick.com, said many of his clients are drawn to the ever-growing size and number of amenities of ships, but others tire of waiting in long lines to get on and off the vessels. Many complain about the large ships overwhelming some ports of call with too many people trying to visit, he said.
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 impovements to handle it, he said.
Carnival Corp.'s (CCL) 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 an even 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.
Aker Yards employs about 13,000 people at 13 shipyards in Norway, Finland, Germany, Romania and Brazil.
Shares of Royal Caribbean rose 25 cents to $44.55 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The shipbuilder's shares rose almost 6 percent to 347 kroner ($52.47) in morning trading on the Oslo stock exchange.