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NCL's F3 Steel Cutting at Aker Yards, France

Editor's note: This story is from the Cruise Critic Archives. Content was up to date at time of publication.

The F3 project originally called for two ships to be built. Only one ship, named Norwegian Epic, will now be built.

In other news, Aker Yard has changed its name to STX Europe, effective November 3, 2008. The move reflects the fact that South Korea-based STX Business Group has become principal shareholder.

Video: F3 Steel Cutting at Aker Yards, France

October 1, 2007, marked a day of great significance for Norwegian Cruise Line -- just as it would for any line -- when Papenburg, Germany's Meyer Werft handed Norwegian Gem over to ship owner Norwegian Cruise Line in a ceremony. But this major ceremony wasn't the only excitement on NCL's itinerary for that day.

That's because executives from the cruise line were also at Aker Yards France, in St. Nazaire, for a ceremony of a different kind. There, a celebration marked the cutting of steel for the first of its F3 duo (F3 is the project name and stands in until a formal moniker has been announced). Traditionally, this cutting of the steel acts as the absolute first step in the construction process.

Cruise Critic, members of the media from France and the U.S., and NCL's President's Club (travel agents that specialize in selling NCL's cruises) were on hand to watch the birth of the shipbuilding process (check out more specific details on another steel cutting at the same shipyard last year).

The steel cutting takes place in a big, old warehouse. In this case, the steel we saw cut will be part of the hull -- and you can see it (left), lying flat on a metal rack, waiting to be submerged into an oily bath.

Notice how smooth the steel's surface is? It's reflecting Aker Yards and NCL banners that are sitting along side. And the piece pictured to the right -- just about ready to go under the, er, laser -- is number 5004. It is a double-bottomed panel that will ultimately be located under the engines.

The Show Begins

Andy Stuart, executive vice president of marketing, sales and passenger services for NCL, and Jacques Hardelay, the general manager of Aker Yards France, presided over the ceremony. Stuart commented on NCL's progressive new-build program, noting that the line had built nine ships in seven years; this program has already marked a new direction for NCL this century, which has resulted in already-beloved ships like Pride of America, Norwegian Star, Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Pearl (among others).

But today is all about a new era. The F3 is a design unique to NCL (and frankly it's unique in the industry). "Today," Stuart said, "is the beginning of a new day for us." Want to experience the event virtually? Check out our video from the scene; note that most remarks are made first in French and then in English.

The ceremony begins when "Conquest of Paradise" from "1492: Conquest of Paradise," the film about Christopher Columbus' journey to the new world, plays (I already associate the tune with cruising as I've also heard it played at ship sailaways). A shipyard worker in a blue jumpsuit monitors a computer which operates the piece of equipment that moves out onto the water and slices the steel ever so precisely with a laser flame. Keep an eye out for where the machine's arm touches water; you'll see glimpses of flame and a bubbling water surface. You can't actually see the steel being sliced.

This is just the first piece of steel, of course; ultimately there will be 250 solvent steel parts that make up the hull (cut in different sizes); all are about ten millimeters thick. Each weighs 12 kilos. It looks like this -- when it's chopped up -- which is the ultimate take-home souvenir for such an experience.

Still No New News on F3!

We were expecting to hear a few more details about the most hotly anticipated new-build for 2010 (the second, also as-yet-unnamed, ship debuts seven months later), but we were disappointed.

There's no rendering, no salaciously leaked details about these vessels, other than what we already know, which is....

The ships, measuring 150,000 tons and carrying 4,200 passengers, are the biggest ever commissioned by NCL. All staterooms will have balconies. That's a first-ever for the big-ship segment of the cruise industry. As well, the new ship design will, according to NCL, "offer 60 percent more passenger space than the largest ships built so far by NCL, and will use that space to introduce a major leap forward in the flexibility and variety of the cruise experience...."

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor

All images and video appear courtesy of Carolyn Spencer Brown.

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