Editor's Note: If you haven't voted in the Liberty of the Seas Poetry Contest, check out the five finalists, and select your favorite. You'll be voting to send one lucky winner (and guest) aboard Liberty of the Seas for a special two-night, pre-inaugural cruise!
The Finnish flag -- which has flown above Liberty of the Seas since it was barely a hull -- slid slowly down the flagpole this evening in Turku, Finland, as Royal Caribbean accepted delivery of this year's most hotly awaited new ship. In its place was raised the ship's official flag -- that of the Bahamas (the ship is registered there) along with symbolic flags representing the U.S. (Miami is Liberty of the Seas' homeport) and Royal Caribbean.
This official ceremony, called the handover, takes place when cruise shipyards officially turn the completed vessel over to its owners. On hand to participate in the celebration were Yrjo Julin, president of Aker Yards Cruise and Ferries; Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean's chief executive officer and chairman; Tarja Halonen, the president of the Republic of Finland; Hernan Zini, the ship's captain; and Cruise Director Ken Rush.
"The ship is totally ready," says Cruise Critic correspondent Teijo Niemela, who's onboard. He noted that last year Freedom of the Seas wasn't quite finished when it debuted on its European preview sailings; contractors were still onboard, feverishly working away. Adds Niemela, "There's nothing radically different about Liberty of the Seas, but it is a beautiful ship."
Some 500 or so folks are on hand in Turku to participate in the handover -- which is not to be confused with Liberty of the Seas official inauguration, which takes place in Miami next month. Other events hosted onboard tonight include the world premiere of In the Air, the all-new production show; it was performed in the Platinum Theater. Dinner was served at the Rembrandt Dining Room (the first deck in the restaurant's towering three deck room). An ice show is another entertainment option, and of course the bars will be open until midnight -- when passengers must depart.
Only night owls will be able to watch the ship slide away from its berth; Liberty of the Seas is planned to depart sometime between 3 and 5 a.m. Thursday morning. The good news is that its challenging cruise through the Turku archipelago -- a five to seven hour trip that dodges various islands -- won't be as difficult as it could have been. That's because the sea, which normally is frozen in winter, has now thawed; ice breakers will not be necessary.
Liberty of the Seas will sail to Southampton, where it will embark on a small series of preview cruises for U.K.-based travel agents and VIP's. It is expected to arrive on Monday.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor