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When you just keep growing, like -- well, like a lot of cruise lines these days (Costa, NCL, MSC and Princess come to mind) -- you're bound to generate a lot of newsworthy sound-bites. Royal Caribbean International (tel. 800/327-6700; www.royalcaribbean.com) is almost the definition of cruise growth, at least in the "grow your core business" sense as opposed to Carnival Corporation's "buy everything in sight" model, and this week they've trumpeted a whole concerto of newsiness.

Ai! Godzilla!: RCI Orders Second Genesis-Class Super-Megaship

How big is too big? We may find out in a couple years, when Royal Caribbean debuts its first Project Genesis ship, a 220,000-ton, 5,400-passenger vessel that is so much larger than anything that's gone before that it damn near qualifies as a continent. The first of the Genesis vessels is scheduled to debut in fall 2009, and now Royal Caribbean has, as expected, exercised its option to build a second Genesis ship for delivery in August 2010.

Like the prototype ship due in 2009, the second Project Genesis ship will be built at Finland's Aker Yards, and is expected to cost somewhere on the order of $260,000 per berth -- which comes to at least $1.4 billion, for those keeping score. Fact no. 2 for you scorekeepers: In terms of gross register tonnage (the measure of interior space used to measure ship size), each of the Project Genesis ships will be nearly five times the size of the supposedly titanic Titanic.

RCI Names Godmother for Liberty of the Seas

On May 18, Royal Caribbean will debut the 160,000-ton, 3,684-passenger Liberty of the Seas, the second in its biggest-in-the-world (until Genesis comes along, that is) Freedom class. Serving as godmother will be Ms. Donnalea Madaley, an Ontario-based travel agent selected from among nearly 2,500 nominations of exemplary women travel agents who have "demonstrated dedication to philanthropy and service in their communities." In addition to the distinction of serving as Liberty's godmother, Ms. Madaley will also receive a $25,000 check for Hands Across the Nations (www.hatncanada.org), a service organization created and led by Donnalea and her husband and dedicated to erecting, furnishing, and staffing homes for children of incarcerated parents; school dorms for women; and medical and community centers.

The search for Liberty's godmother began in August 2006. Three finalists were selected on March 1, 2007, by a 19-member panel of judges, then voting was opened to the public through an online ballot system. The ship's christening will take place in Miami on May 18.

In terms of amenities, Liberty will be nearly identical to Freedom of the Seas, which debuted in May 2006 with the cruise world's most outrageous outdoor decks (featuring a surfing simulator, kids' water park, hot tubs suspended in mid-air off the sides of the ship, a giant rock-climbing wall, a full-size basketball court, and a miniature golf course), plus the cruise world's first boxing gym, a main-street-like indoor promenade longer than a football field, an ice-skating rink, and dozens of entertainment options -- many of them detailed at the preview website www.libertyoftheseasondemand.com. But Liberty will also be the test case for two new Royal Caribbean experiments ...

New Wellness Program to Debut on Liberty

The idea of going on a cruise and coming back healthier is sort of like the idea of going to Vegas and coming back richer -- a pipe dream attained only by those with steely eyes and a will to power.

But hey, you can try.

That's the impetus behind the new Royal Caribbean Vitality program, an integrated "wellness" regime set to launch aboard Liberty of the Seas later this month. The program includes:

  • Fitness classes and spa treatments: The Vitality program provides cruisers with opportunities to incorporate sports and fitness into their vacation, whether through fitness classes; spa treatments to enhance relaxation; Tai Chi, meditation classes, therapeutic Chinese herbal medicine, and acupuncture; and an "Eat More to Weigh Less" program that includes a personal tour of the ship's buffet restaurant with an instructor who basically points out what not to eat, and suggests alternatives.
  • Health and fitness lectures: The Vitality program's lecture series was developed by a health and wellness expert and provides advice on stress and relaxation, weight management, and health and fitness.
  • Virtual personal training & shoreside fitness options: Guests can create a customized fitness regimen at one of the virtual personal-trainer kiosks set up on board by New Balance. Vitality fitness offerings will also be available in various ports of call, along with self-guided running maps and an extensive running course on Labadee, the cruise line's private beach destination in Haiti.
  • Healthy shore excursions: Active shore excursions will include running, biking, and zip-lining in various locales, including the Dragon's Flight Zip-line on Labadee; the Jungle Bike Adventure in Cozumel, Mexico; the Kayak, Snorkel and Beach Experience in Grand Cayman; and Jungle River Tubing at Montego Bay, Jamaica.
  • Healthier eating: Healthier menu options, including trans-fat-free meals, all-natural ingredients, energy bars, and protein and green tea drinks will be offered ship- and fleet-wide, alongside staple favorites.

Following her debut, Liberty and sister-ship Freedom of the Seas will alternate between 7-night eastern and western Caribbean itineraries, with Liberty departing on Saturdays (from May 19) and Freedom on Sundays from Miami. Liberty's western Caribbean itinerary calls in Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Montego Bay (Jamaica) and Labadee. Her eastern Caribbean itinerary calls in San Juan, St. Maarten and Labadee.

Explorer Wedding Program Puts the "Do" in "I Do"

Many cruise lines offer destination weddings, where a cruise line coordinator sets up your nuptials at a waterfall, a gazebo, or some other scenic location. Beginning aboard Liberty of the Seas, Royal Caribbean is taking that concept to the next step with its new Explorer Weddings program, through which guests can plight their troth on an Alaskan glacier, mid-air in a hot-air balloon, at the rim of a volcano, in a rainforest, in a vineyard or a medieval castle, or -- what the hell? -- next to the ship's onboard surfing simulator. Hang ten in sickness and in health, dude.

Explorer Weddings coordinators work closely with the bride and groom to customize their wedding or vows renewal, including creating personalized vows, if needed. The coordinator arranges all transportation, sets up priority check-in for the couple and their guests, and meets the couple at the pier and escorts them to their stateroom to address any last minute questions. The ceremony is performed by a nondenominational officiant and documented by a professional photographer. The basic wedding package also includes a bouquet and boutonniere, traditional or customized music accompaniment, champagne, and a wedding cake. Other options can be added to further personalize your experience.

For details and pricing, contact RCI's Royal Romance Wedding Consultants at tel. 888/933-7225 or royalromance@theweddingexperience.com.

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Award $796,000 in Marine Conservation Grants

Last week, the Ocean Fund created by Royal Caribbean International and sister-line Celebrity Cruises awarded fifteen new grants totaling $796,000 to several marine conservation and environmental organizations. Recipients included The Conservation Fund, which received $100,000 for its Alaska land preservation program, and Conservation International, which received $100,000 for its campaign to conserve Caribbean biodiversity.

"There are so many fascinating and vital marine conservation efforts under way by our grant applicants," said Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.'s chairman and CEO. "We applaud our 2007 Ocean Fund grant recipients for their efforts in research, education, and developing innovative technologies that help preserve the world's oceans."

Other 2007 Ocean Fund grant recipients included:

  • The Nature Conservancy: $50,000 for its program to promote conservation of coastal habitats in southeast Alaska and $50,000 to design coral reef management strategies in Florida.
  • World Wildlife Fund: $50,000 in support of its Smart Gear initiative, to reduce the bycatch of endangered marine species by encouraging the development of innovative, practical, and cost-effective fishing technologies.
  • Blue Ocean Institute: $50,000 to support Safe Seas, a program that works with communities in the Pacific to keep albatrosses and sea turtles from drowning in longline and gillnet fishing gear, and to reduce hunting of sea turtles in Latin America.
  • Audubon of Florida: $30,000 to continue satellite telemetry tracking of migration patterns of roseate spoonbills in the Florida Bay Ecosystem.
  • Caribbean Conservation Corp.: $40,000 to produce a video series, "Ocean Fund Eco-Explorations," in partnership with Open Water Media. The videos will be used in the new Barrier Island Sanctuary Management and Education Center in Melbourne Beach, and for distribution to schools and museums.
  • Earthwatch Institute: $25,000 for creating an Ocean Fund Marine Science Educators fellowship program for high school teachers from Florida and Texas to participate in field research expeditions.
  • Harvard Medical School, Center for Health & Global Environment: $50,000 to create exhibits for its "Healthy Ocean, Healthy Humans" project to accompany a related film, which will be shown at aquariums and museums.
  • Island Dolphin Care: $25,000 to fund developing educational materials and to maintain the facility's touch tank, seven aquariums, and exterior tidal pool to serve critically ill and special-needs children in Key Largo, Fla.
  • Oregon Institute of Marine Biology of the University of Oregon: $45,000 to buy a scanning electron microscope to help identify and determine growth rates of small organisms related to toxic algal blooms, invasive species, and fisheries management.
  • Perry Institute for Marine Science: $30,000 to evaluate marine-protected areas in the Bahamas, both existing and proposed, and to improve protection of coral reefs through adaptive management.
  • Shake-A-Leg Foundation Miami: $75,000 for continued support for $3.95 million eco-island project to provide educational, recreational, and island restoration activities for students with disabilities and at-risk youth.
  • South Florida National Parks Trust: $25,000 to hire a second full-time ranger to lead environmental education programs for 4th- through 8th-grade students at Biscayne National Park.
  • University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science: $51,000 to continue the Royal Caribbean Fellowship Program to support two incoming graduate students.

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