Graphic of a big ship

Cruise ships: is bigger better?

Nobody wants to think of the Titanic when they’re boarding their luxury cruise liner for a well-earned holiday, much less the Costa Concordia. But what manner of luxury does the modern cruise ship have to offer its passengers?

When the RMS Titanic set sail on its ill-fated maiden voyage in April 1912 it set new standards for extravagance and amenities on cruise liners. The ship was designed to be the last word in comfort and luxury, with an on-board gymnasium, swimming pool, libraries, high-class restaurants and opulent cabins. She also had a powerful wireless telegraph provided for the convenience of passengers as well as for operational use.On 14 April 1912, four days into the crossing and about 375 miles south of Newfoundland, she hit an iceberg at 11:40pm. The glancing collision caused Titanic’s hull plates to buckle inwards in a number of locations on her starboard side and opened five of her 16 watertight compartments to the sea. Over the next two and a half hours, the ship gradually filled with water and sank.

At 269m and with a gross tonnage of 46,328 the Titanic was considered a colossus in its time, but a century later it would have been dwarfed by its modern counterparts. Heading the tale of the tape are Royal Caribbean’s twin Genesis Project ships - Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. These ships are 360m in length - although Allure of the Seas is officially 50mm longer - and weighs in at 225,282 tonnes, almost five times as heavy.

For modern cruise companies innovation has been a steady progression. Back in 1970, Song of Norway, Royal Caribbean’s first ship, which weighed in at a relatively paltry 23,000 tonnes, had a gym in an empty cabin that consisted of a rowing machine and a treadmill. Not many people used the gym, or made any effort to find it. Today, Royal Caribbean’s newest ships feature the largest fitness centres and spas at sea, overlooking the vast expanses of the oceans, ports and global destinations the cruise line visits. Pools that were once inside the ship and on the lowest level have evolved into entire water parks and poolscapes running the length of the uppermost decks and on some cruise ships, guests can actually surf.

When it was launched in October 2009, Oasis of the Seas was the world’s largest and most revolutionary ship, but that only lasted 12 months until Allure of the Seas hit the water. The larger size of these ships offers architects the opportunity to create innovative features, but it also throws up huge problems akin to those of a small town when it comes to power, waste and safety.

“With our history of introducing game-changing amenities, we’re pleased to be able to answer the question of ‘what could possibly come next?’” Richard D Fain, chairman & CEO, of the ships’ owners Royal Caribbean Cruises says. “We are particularly excited about the neighbourhood concept, which gives guests compelling choices and the ability to flow seamlessly throughout the ship to meet their individual desires and preferences.

“We are proud to introduce a number of industry firsts on a level and scale that the world has never seen before. These ships are the ultimate expression of the creativity and imagination found on all of our ships, providing guests with a collection of experiences that will offer an incredible cruise vacation.”

There is much to be learned simply by scanning the ships’ specifications. Both ships span 16 decks, encompass 220,000 gross registered tonnes (GRT), carry 5,400 guests at double occupancy, and feature 2,700 state rooms. For power the ships have three Warsila 13,860kW and three 18,480kW common rail diesel engines - three and 16-cyliner and three are similar 12-cylinder versions. For propulsion there are three 20MW ABB Azipods, all with azimuthing capabilities, and four Wartsila 5.5MW bow thrusters, that deliver a top speed of 26mph.

Designing an icon

When it comes to designing a ship of this scope it is all about teamwork. Imagine designing an entire small city, all at once. Then imagine that city not only has to float, but to cruise at upward of 20 knots and provide an enriching vacation experience for more than 5,400 guests every single week. That was the challenge Royal Caribbean International faced when it began planning it new ‘super cruise’ ships - dubbed the Project Genesis ships.

It took six years, but the first of the Project Genesis ships - Oasis of the Seas - sailed from the STX shipyard in Turku Finland, in October 2009. The completed vessel represents the work of the largest creative team ever assembled to bring a single cruise ship to life: no fewer than 37 design firms, 20 architectural firms, the 130 members of Royal Caribbean’s Newbuilding & Fleet Design group and an equally large staff of architects and engineers from STX Europe’s shipyard in Turku, Finland collaborated on the project.

“It was a humongous project,” Harri Kulovaara, executive vice president, Maritime, Royal Caribbean Cruises, says. “A ship like this requires nine to ten million working hours for design and construction, involving the best skills in the world, the most innovative minds and the best technology, and creating a tremendous team effort around that.”

It all began eight years ago when Royal Caribbean’s Newbuilding group began working with the shipyard’s naval architecture group, and for the next two years, acted as the lynchpins of a steering committee. This group developed and evaluated more than 15 general configurations, gradually honing the design into what became Oasis of the Seas and its sister ship.

The committee developed several innovative models such as the vessel’s neighbourhoods concept and unprecedented split superstructure design, which both grew from ideas that had germinated on earlier vessels.

“It’s very much an iterative process, and evolutionary,” Fain said. “You learn from doing it on other ships, and each time you learn more, and you use that.”

Many of the world’s leading architecture and design firms, specialists in such areas as restaurant and nightclub design, theatres and entertainment venues, hotel design, landscape architecture, lighting, graphic design, art, and even the manufacture of classic carnival carousels, were involved in the process.

At intensive multi-day sessions, designers would present their ideas to the steering committee and their fellow architects and designers, and everyone was encouraged to share their comments and suggestions as a way of ensuring that all aspects of the design - from big concept spaces like Central Park to small details such as elevator button panels - were orchestrated to create an overall look and feel.

“The design team has really worked to make sure everything harmonises, but there’s also a lot of serendipity here,” Fain adds. “One of the problems with, say, planned communities is that it’s all plain vanilla. What makes these ships special is how well quite disparate elements fit together. Almost anywhere you go, you’re going to see places of wonder, where you turn a corner and you’re surprised, because you never expected to see what you’re seeing.”

One of the design firms was Atkins, a multidisciplinary architectural and design consultancy under the leadership of Tom Wright, Kevin Johnson and Kate Lockey. They were responsible for some of the central public areas such as the Royal Promenade, Boardwalk, Central Park, and the Rising Tide Bar - the first moving bar at sea that travels elevator-like between the Royal Promenade and Central Park. Another Atkins contribution - two huge, arched glass skylights known as the Crystal Canopies - also allows natural light filter down from park to promenade.

Sustainability and safety

Sustainability and safety, particularly in the wake of the accident to Costa Concordia, are the cornerstone to cruise ship design. Royal Caribbean claim that Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas are the most energy-efficient and technologically-advanced ships ever built.

Designed with energy efficiency and carbon footprint in mind, the ship utilises the latest technologies, such as solar panels, and will continue to implement additional technologies as they become available commercially.

The energy-efficient approach begins with the hull coating that is made of non-toxic, technologically advanced materials that reduce hull resistance, thereby increasing fuel efficiency. The new, smoother coating reduces invasive marine species’ ability to attach to and be transferred by the ship to other ecosystems.

To allow for optimised energy utilisation the ships are equipped with several engine sizes based on common rail (electronic fuel injection) diesel engine technology, accommodating the different power needs required by the ships depending on whether in port or facing various conditions while at sea. In addition, the ship class boasts an Advanced Energy Management System, conserving energy thanks to optimal routing and power usage.

The ships are the first class of ship to have achieved DNV (Det Norske Veritas) Green Passport designation. This is an important part of the voluntary Clean Ship Design certification, thanks to a design and new-building process that incorporates hazardous construction materials inventory to facilitate future ship recycling.

Just as on land, recycling is a prime concern. Everything and anything that can be recycled is recycled onboard. The class of ship boasts state-of-the-art facilities, complete with shredders, bailers and compactors, as well as crushers for glass, light bulbs, tin and aluminium. In addition, the Genesis Class houses the largest cold storage room on any ship in the world to safely store all recyclables, special/hazardous waste, cooking oil, solvents, incinerator ash, and more.

But it is in the field of safety that great emphasis is placed on cruise ships. From thousands of simulations to test every conceivable situation, to superior navigation and manoeuvring capabilities, the emphasis has remained firmly focused on safety.

Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas are some of the first ships to be built with the new probabilistic damage stability rules developed by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). These rules are based on extensive computer capabilities; further building on the strict stability standards Royal Caribbean International already has in place fleet wide.

Redundant Propulsion System (RPS) class ensures that if one engine compartment is flooded or lost due to fire or other damage, the other can sustain the vessel. The ship also has independent machinery systems for power, propulsion and comfort.

Adjacent to the navigational bridge is a safety command centre to manage all aspects of safety and emergency response. Staffed around the clock, the centre includes detailed monitoring and decision support systems which can help crew respond quickly and effectively to any situation onboard.

The tragic foundering and subsequent capsizing of Costa Concordia on 13 January 2012 has brought the focus sharply onto passenger evacuation in the unlikely event of the ship needing to be evacuated. From larger lifeboats to an electronic mustering system, the practices, procedures and technology onboard ensure all guests and crew can be accounted for in the event of an emergency. 

The lifeboats have been entirely redesigned and approved as part of a holistic evacuation concept. With a 370 passenger capacity for each of the 18 lifeboats, new safety features include a central location on the embarkation deck - making them not only easier to board but also to be launched directly from their stowage arrangements - as well as a catamaran hull design, twin engines and propellers, and an internal PA system to ensure proper communication and direction to all occupants.

The Genisis Class of ship features a new mustering procedure that was created to take into account the ship’s overall design and traffic patterns. During the muster procedure, guests are to report to their dedicated assembly area where crew members will give them a lifejacket and provide information during the mustering procedures, as well as instructions in the case of a real emergency. An electronic mustering system is implemented via guest SeaPass cards, allowing for real time accountability of all guests and crew to the evacuation command teams.

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