This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver takes another look at Royal Caribbean's 'Genesis' project.
Let There be Light
Although our CruiseTalk online forum contains much factual information, we are not above participating in wild speculation and unfounded rumour on occasion. Most recently we have had a number of very enthusiastic discussions focusing on Royal Caribbean International's new build project code named 'Genesis'.
It is not surprising that this ship has generated so much excitement given that Royal Caribbean International (RCI) has been at the cutting edge of ship design for nearly four decades. Not only have they repeatedly brought us innovative ships, they have repeatedly brought us the worlds biggest cruise ships.
RCI were the first to bring us many nautical innovations, such the circular 'Viking Crown Lounge' mounted on the funnel of 'Song of Norway' (1970). The lounge is said to have based on the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington. The "lounge on the funnel" quickly became the RCI hallmark.
In 1988 'Sovereign of the seas' (73,000gt approx) became the world's largest cruise ship and offered passengers a unique multi-decked 'Centrum'. In 1999 'Voyager' of the Seas' (137,000gt approx) broke through all the boundaries. She was truly one of the first 'floating resorts', complete with a rock climbing wall, an ice-rink and the 'Royal Promenade' (a street running along the centre of the ship). In 2006, 'Freedom of the Seas' (154, 000gt approx) once again became the world's largest cruise ship and introduced the cruising public to the flow -rider (surf simulator), cantilevered whirlpools and on board Water Park.
While much of the 'Genesis' project is still cloaked in secrecy, here are some of the available facts: The construction of 'Genesis' has already started at the Aker yards in Turku, Finland and the ship will be delivered in the autumn of 2009. She will be the worlds biggest cruise ship by far at 220,000gt, and at a $1.24 billion, she will also be the worlds most expensive. She will hold up to 6,400 passengers.
Now let's just pause for a moment and contemplate this: Genesis will be more than twice as large (in terns of gross tonnage/internal volume) as many other 'big' cruise ships which are often in the 90,000gt range. She will accommodate more guests than many hotels and her theatre must surely be bigger than many on Broadway. Her dining rooms will accommodate more people than almost any land based restaurants. You will not need a deck plan to get around this leviathan; you will need a 'Satellite-Navigation' unit.
I'm sure that a degree of Testosterone must fuel the creation of such a large ship, with RCI's CEO Richard Fain, effectively saying to Carnival's CEO, Micky Arison "Mine is bigger than yours". However a growing global appetite for cruising combined with the economies of scale that big ships bring, make such an expensive project a sound investment
RCI have announced that we can expect many innovative features on Genesis, but most of the details about what to expect are still under wraps. We have seen an official artist rendition of 'Genesis' but it does not really give too much away. In fact it does not look so much different in profile from existing RCI vessels. Some of the features we expect to see include: a 'Studio B' type ice-rink and 'Royal Promenade' similar to those found on board the 'Voyager' and 'Freedom' class vessels.
Some of the other features that are not much more than rumour and speculation include: a glass roof above the 'Royal Promenade' that might even be retractable so that it can be opened to the sky on sunny days? If true, this would overcome the main weakness of all the previous 'Royal Promenades' which do not have any natural light and hence any connection with the sea. I can't resist a Biblical reference: "Let there be Light".
It has been said that 'Genesis' will have a 'board-walk' (possibly aft and open air) and something called 'Central Park' which may be located above the royal Promenade? I assume that the latter will not actually be 843 acres of real grass, lakes and trees, but who knows? Maybe some Astroturf is more likely? It has been suggested that 'Central park' may well be open to the air or at least have a glass roof? There has also been talk of many new cabin designs, including balcony cabins overlooking 'Central park'.
I'm particularly interested in the dining arrangements on board Genesis. RCI's existing fleet all have a very traditional dining system. They always have one large main dining room that certainly provides a 'wow' factor, where passengers dine during two sittings. In addition there is buffet dining and some smaller alternative venues.
In complete contrast the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has their 'Freestyle' system, with their new builds each having at least a dozen dining rooms. This allows passenger to dine when they like (within core hours) and sit with who they like. Although 'Freestyle' is not without it problems (high demand at peak times) it does make the RCI system look limited and old fashioned, on paper anyway.
Personally I love RCI's breathtakingly impressive big dining rooms, which can be up to three decks high. They are some of the most attractive afloat. However I wonder if just one main dining room is still practical on a ship as big as Genesis, with her 6,400 passengers? Even Princess's 'Grand' class, have three main dining rooms, with passengers being permanently assigned to one. Maybe Genesis will be the first RCI design to have multiple dining rooms? Maybe not?
Whatever the finer details turn out to be, RCI are once again pushing the envelope with the 'Genesis' project. Granted it has not even been built yet, but it is already a very exciting ship and will almost certainly be a market leader.
Carnival Corporation may well lead the way in terms of profit and brand coverage, but RCI win in terms of amazing state-of-the-art vessels. I can hardly wait to see as the various design elements and facilities are revealed.