Independence of the Seas will still have at least one cool new feature -- and this one trumps not only its Freedom-class brethren but pretty much every other mega-ship in cruising. Get ready for ... heated pools.
Two freshwater pools -- the main pool and a smaller sports pool -- will be heated throughout the ship's six-month season of cruises from the U.K. to the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands. As well, the H2O Zone, the whimsical kids' water park, will also be heated.
Could the enhancement have anything to do with England famously fickle climate?
"It is fair to say that weather in the U.K. and northern Europe can be a little unreliable and sometimes on the chilly side even in summer," Jo Rzymowska, the U.K. and Ireland managing director of Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises. "We Brits have a heritage of not letting any miserable temperatures get in the way of a fantastic holiday. Now onboard Independence of the Seas we can guarantee that whatever the weather, guests will enjoy the best of the outdoor facilities."
While most cruise lines heat their ships' inside spa pools, warming up their outdoor pools isn't as easy. Only a handful of vessels -- such as P&O's fleet and Regent Seven Seas Cruises' Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner -- have them. Salt water cannot be used because it would crystallize, which means the ship's fresh water generating plant has to be beefed up. And the water still has to be constantly filtered, for hygiene.
It's not clear yet whether the water will be chlorinated. If it is, then the engineering becomes even more complicated because it can't just be fed from the ship's regular hot water supply for staterooms.
The 3,634-passenger ship is 70 percent constructed at a shipyard in Turku, Finland.
Independence of the Seas will be the largest passenger ship ever to homeport in Southampton, Britain's premier cruise port.
Oh, and there's also this: British passengers will also be able to watch their beloved soccer. The ship will be screening all of the 2008 European Championship.
--by Steve Read, a London-based Cruise Critic contributor