Giant cruise liner moves 'like zippy sports car'

Four times heavier than the Titanic and with decks big enough for 25 football pitches, the Freedom of the Seas is the world’s biggest cruise liner, and yet as easy to manoeuvre as a zippy sports car, its captain insists.

Docked on Thursday in the grey fjord of Oslo on its maiden voyage before crossing the Atlantic, the Freedom of the Seas humbles traditional ferries, making them look minor in comparison.

Built for United States-Norwegian company Royal Caribbean International, the Freedom of the Seas can accommodate 4 375 passengers and 1 365 crew and is, at 158 000 tonnes, the world’s biggest cruise liner, beating the Queen Mary 2, which can take up to 2 620 passengers.

But big does not mean clumsy, according the ship’s captain, William Wright. “Once you get the knack of it, despite her size, she basically drives like a sports car,” he says.

Two propellers, moveable by 360 degrees, allow a smooth manoeuvring of the ship, which is 339m long, 56m wide and 72m high, he says.

“Size is not really what matters here. What matters is not to be the largest passenger ship in the world; it’s to offer the most numerous and the best activities which our size allows us to,” Wright says.

The ship’s imposing exterior is reflected inside, with seemingly endless salmon-pink corridors, a plethora of pools and 240 staff members in the kitchens alone.

The Freedom of the Seas boasts a pool with artificial waves big enough to surf, a 135m-long shopping mall, a rock-climbing wall, an ice rink, a minigolf pitch and, of course, a casino.

Indeed, the glitzy spirit of entertainment mecca Las Vegas seems omnipresent here, mock antiquity and all.

Areas have names such as Pharaoh’s Palace, the Crypt or Arcadia Amphitheatre and are lined with columns and obelisks inspired by ancient Greece.

There are also three F-16 fighter-jet replicas, and a real Morgan sports car, just for decoration.

“We’re gobsmacked by all the things on offer.
So many different things to do,” says Anne Steenhamar, a young Norwegian, on board with her friend Haakon Engeby.

“It’s really very good, even if it’s a bit American, for better or for worse,” comments Bengt Rasin, a Swede, accompanied by his wife, Kerstin.

Security is tight, and includes metal detectors, X-ray scanning of luggage, video surveillance, guards and positive passenger identification measures.

“Typically you’ll go through more security measures to board this ship than while boarding any aircraft,” Wright says.

The ship, which will predominantly be used to cruise the waters of the Caribbean, arrived in the Norwegian capital from Hamburg, and will set sail this week for ports of call in Southampton, Britain, and New York before arriving in its home port of Miami.

The Freedom of the Seas will leave on its first Caribbean cruise on June 4.

The ship will, however, lose its top-slot title soon.

In addition to two other twin ships to be delivered in 2007 and 2008, Royal Caribbean International has also ordered an even bigger vessel.

The Genesis is expected to be able to carry 5 400 passengers and is due to sail in late 2009.—Sapa-AFP

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