Royal Caribbean's 220,000-ton, 5,400-passenger Genesis-class vessels -- the first of which is due out near the end of 2009 -- are already destined to become the longest (1,180 feet or almost four football fields) and widest (154 feet) cruise ships ever constructed.
And after a look at some incredible new photos of the first ship, currently under construction at a dry dock at Aker Yards in Turku, Finland -- with two huge new "skyscraper"-like blocks resting on top of the ship -- can we comfortably add "tallest" to the list of superlatives?
The images, which mysteriously appeared in our e-mail box from a Cruise Critic reader, show a ship that's beginning to take on its own individual shape. The view is of a cross section of Genesis, with the red steel skeletal structure exposed; the whole thing looks like a bunch of cargo shipping containers stacked on top of each other like Legos. The ship rests in a massive concrete dry dock, not yet afloat, and several enormous yellow and blue cranes frame the scene. If you've perused our Shipyard Snapshots section, much of what you see here will look familiar.
But looking from the forward-facing perspective of the photographer, there's already evidence -- even 18 or so months prior to completion -- that Genesis is going to be incredibly unique. From what we can see, it looks like there are two centrally located four-story towers that rise from the ship's mid-section -- with balconies on the inside and outside. The balconies that face inward overlook a solid length of deck. A walkway at the top connects the two structures, but at this point we don't know if it's some sort of scenic skywalk or just there for the construction crew to get easily from one tower to the other. It also remains to be seen if the towers will grow higher, extend more fore and aft (of course making them less tower-like), if the space between will be covered, or what the view for passengers booked in these unique inward facing cabins will be.
We can't help but consider the following: Is Royal Caribbean -- already known for popularizing the onboard promenade, a long, indoor mall-like structure with shops and cafes lining its expanse -- looking to move this staple feature into the open air?
Some are speculating that the space between the towers will feature a "Central Park" (perhaps with a retractable glass roof), with real grass and trees growing onboard (a feature that Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean's sister line, already plans to include in its new Celebrity Solstice).
A poster on the Cruise Critic boards noted that "there is drainage and irrigation systems on the plans" (for Genesis).
He went on to wonder if the aforementioned Lawn Club on Solstice, a (real) grassy outdoor area that will be used for picnicking and bocce balling among other things, is serving as a test case for Genesis' potentially verdant new offering. Rumors have also been floated about a second outdoor promenade, located more to the rear of the ship, called "the boardwalk," but few details have emerged.
Believe it or not, what we see from the images is not necessarily a new concept. The idea of an open-air "promenade" was already being suggested as early as the 1980's, as part some circulating future cruise concepts, notes Teijo Niemela, publisher of Cruise Business Review, an industry business publication. But at that time, the innovations simply weren't tenable. In order for the idea to work structurally, cruise ships needed huge amounts of "real estate" to work with -- i.e. enough width to balance out the added height. Now, 20 years later, Genesis provides the massive structural base to accommodate the potentially new skyward approach.
And there's another added benefit of the height. According to Niemela, the addition of the towers with balconies on all sides will alleviate the need for some inside cabins.
Still more than a year and half from its completion date, the 220,000-ton, 5,400-passenger Genesis is set to debut in 2009 with a season of alternating seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries. The ship will be homeported at Ft. Lauderdale's Port Everglades. Aside from the announcement that Royal Caribbean will carve out a new port in Jamaica's Falmouth, no other itinerary details have been revealed. Speculation of course has run rampant, with Antigua, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Labadee, Royal Caribbean's private island in Haiti, among the rumored contenders. Nothing's been confirmed.
Stay tuned, as more Genesis revelations are a metaphysical certainty.
--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor