Setting Sail on a Giant, Floating City

It's like any other metropolis, except you could be brunching on fresh Parisian croissants one day and pad thai straight from the streets of Bangkok the next.

But this city isn't defined by rivers, mountains or land boundaries. It's the Freedom Ship, the world's largest floating city.

"It's the lifestyle of continuous travel, but with amenities such as a commercial center, a major hospital and major school system, and you get to take your home, your surroundings and your family with you," Freedom Ship International CEO Norman Nixon said in a telephone interview from his Florida home.

Freedom Ship today exists only on paper. But some 3,000 families and businesses have already signed on to live and work on it. When it does launch, in 2006, this leviathan of comfortable living will travel a lazy circuit around the world every two years.

"It will follow the sun," Freedom Ship marketing vice president Roger Gooch said. "It will be better than a land-based city. If people want to see the world, this is the way to do it. And they're doing it from their homes."

Planned ports of call so far include major cities on every inhabited continent, including New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Rome, Sydney, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, and Hong Kong.

The size of four aircraft carriers, the $8 billion Freedom Ship will essentially be a flat-bottomed barge with a 25-story steel building, propelled by gigantic turbine engines. It will be topped by airstrips and ringed by a marina where residents and visitors can dock boats, and will measure nearly a mile long — 4,500 feet long, 750 feet wide and 350 feet tall.

Freedom Ship will have space for 17,000 resident families, up to 20,000 daily visitors and 3,000 commercial enterprises, including banks, restaurants, grocery stores, and video-rental places.

A normally deadly 100-foot wave will move the ship about one inch, according to Gooch. The ship's 1.7 million square feet will displace 2.75 million tons of water. In comparison, the largest ship currently floating, an oil tanker, displaces about 500,000 tons of water.

In other words, it's a behemoth.

However, its creators think size is the least interesting thing about it.

"The mission of the ship is to be an autonomous community," Gooch said. "It's a commerce center, a place where people can retire or work or have as a secondary residence and visit new cities and work from their home. The mission isn't mystical. It simply hasn't been done before."

To that end, the ship has been designed in a way unlike any cruise ship. There are ocean-view suites that cost up to $40 million and cover thousands of square feet. But the ship will include less expensive apartments so that there will be a viable middle class. And smaller 450-square-foot studios are available for about $130,000, a steal by New York City, San Francisco or Tokyo standards.

"We're not trying to be an elitist community," Gooch said. "All the classes per se are on this ship so you get the feeling you're in a community that happens to be waterborne."

Like any land-based city, the ship will also have its own police force and jail. Gooch said the security team will number 2,000, meaning there will be one cop for every 10 residents. But, after Sept. 11, Nixon and Gooch said, the residents will be glad to know they're safe.

"After 9/11, anything is a target that's that large now, but we're probably in a more secure environment than you in a land-based environment," Gooch said.

The 500 engineers and countless workers who will build the ship are scheduled to begin construction this summer and should complete the ship in 44 months. If the ship does well, they might build three or four more ships like it, each crewed by 5,000 to 10,000 staff, Gooch said.

The first resident is ready to move in.

"As soon as I build this joker, I'm going to retire and live on it," Nixon said.