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Behind the Scenes: The Creation of a Cruise Ship

There's no denying ships today are more homogenous than their ocean-liner ancestors, as cruise lines build ships in pairs, triplets, octoplets even, for obvious economic benefit.

Be honest, some of you out there would be hard pressed to remember the name of the last ship you were on -- was it the Fascination of the Seas or the Freedom Princess? Beats me.

There's no denying ships today are more homogenous than their ocean-liner ancestors, as cruise lines build ships in pairs, triplets, octoplets even, for obvious economic benefit. Time- and money-saving technological advances, like the use of Computer Assisted Design (CAD) and 3D modeling, steel blocks to create the ship's frame, pre-fab cabin units and pre-cut piping, cables and fittings, all make shipbuilding highly efficient in ways it never was before. Further, economics, as well as fashion and safety, have seen synthetic materials like plastics and veneers replace more elegant features like wood paneling, teakwood decks, and ceramic tiles, traditional materials that are used sparingly, if at all.

Ship buffs and nostalgists cling to memories of great old liners like the Queen Mary, Rotterdam, and France, shaking their heads and saying, "they just don't make 'em like that anymore."


Ok, well they don't, that's true. But, today's new $500- to $800-million-dollar megas aren't as cookie-cutter as they may seem. Visit a shipyard (or read this article) and you'll never look at a cruise ship in the same way ever again.

The amount and scope of work that goes into building today's giant, high-tech cruise ships is mind-boggling. The manpower needed is immense. For Royal Caribbean's new Freedom of the Seas, for instance, nine different architecture and design firms from around the world came together to build the ship, and that's not counting the more than 100 international artists who contributed pieces to the vessel.

The dashing main dining room on Freedom was designed by Sweden-based Tillberg Design and its dramatic 28-foot-high mural was painted by British artist Barry Rowe. The three-level Arcadia Theatre, a plush and luxurious place with a Deco touch, was designed by Wilson Butler Architects out of Boston. Dutch artist Harald Vlugt created the three traffic light chandeliers in the aft Centrum, while American artists Peter Zsiba and Maura Smolover, principals of Arts in Architecture, came up with the large hand-blown glass shapes for the floral sculpture in the Boleros lobby lounge.


Some 1,900 workers labored over the Freedom of the Seas at the Aker Yards in Turku, Finland, from teams of welders firing up their torches, to electricians making sense of an immense web of wiring and painters covering the massive hull in white. Add to them the plumbers, carpenters, refrigeration specialists, tile layers, fire and safety guards, truck drivers, crane operators, measurement teams, dock operators, and machinery, insulation, and carpet fitters --- you get the picture. For Freedom, another 2,000 or so outside subcontractors were also on-site at various times during the construction, supplying and/or installing features like special flooring. Along with the small army of naval architects, lighting, art, and technical consultants are also routinely involved. Counting every last soul, from cleaners to drivers and secretaries, about 4,000 people had a hand in creating Freedom of the Seas. A similar number would be involved in building any new cruise ship today.

Throughout the design and construction process, not only must tight schedules be adhered to, but critical issues like fire safety, product liability, and the ships' stability at sea must constantly be factored in. The most obscure details are agonized over, from the color of the steel supports on a bank of elevators to the design of crew stairwells and the precise rake of the bow.

Most shipyards have enormous, airplane-hangar-sized building sheds for the ships or outdoor dry-docks. Late in the construction process, the docks are flooded and the ship is floated out for the first time to test its seaworthiness and move on to the final phases of work, like attaching the giant funnels. Getting a peek at a ship midway through its construction is endlessly fascinating. Sheathed only in burnt-red primer, raw decks are a tangle of cables and the hull is carpeted with scaffolding. Workers in bright yellow and white hardhats buzz around the goliath like bees. Thousand of tons of massive steel plates -- 350,000 pieces for the hull of Freedom -- and thousands of square feet of windows and thousands of miles of electric cable are stacked on deck and pier side, while hulking cranes hover overhead to move them and other construction supplies. The place bubbles and murmurs with activity, an orchestra of screeching cranes, beeping forklifts, crackling welders' torches and the noise of bulkheads being banged into place. Each worker knows exactly the part he has to play to bring a giant ship to its launch.


All around the shipyard, containers are piled high, filled with all the materials and supplies that go into the construction of a cruise ship, from transformers to toilet brushes, sprinkler heads, cabin curtains and paint -- and it's all stacked and shuffled with great booming thuds by cranes and a small fleet of forklifts. Next to the containers are other pieces of the ship waiting their turn to be incorporated into the giant machine, like the hulking 5-ton steel propeller blades that will eventually be installed onto the ship's belly.

After a typical construction period of about 18 months its time for sea trials and final technical adjustments before a ship is considered finished and sent on its way to home ports around the world, from Miami to New York, Southampton or Singapore.

So, next time you're on a cruise ship lazing by the pool or flinging yourself around the disco floor, stop for a moment and marvel at the Herculean effort that went to creating your floating vacation Paradise of the Seas.


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