World’s largest cruise ship, Symphony of the Seas, nearing completion

The exterior of Royal Caribbean's soon-to-debut Symphony
Symphony of the Seas

The giant is almost ready.

New photos from the shipyard building Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas — the largest cruise ship ever — show the vessel rapidly approaching the finishing stages of construction.

As seen in the carousel above, the new images of the 230,000-ton ship show an exterior now gleaming with a finishing coat of paint and work well under way on outdoor decks including the Boardwalk amusement zone. Boardwalk will be home to a classic carousel, diner, rock climbing walls, the base of a nine-deck-high slide and more.

Another highlight of the Boardwalk area, an “aqua theater” that will boast daring high-diving and aerial performances, also can be seen nearing completion in the photos.

Royal Caribbean revealed earlier this month that Symphony would be ready weeks ahead of schedule. Now debuting in March instead of April, the vessel has been under construction for more than two years at the giant STX France shipbuilding facility in St. Nazaire, France.

Symphony was floated out from a dry dock at STX France in June, a construction milestone that marked the end of basic exterior work. It is now undergoing months of finishing work to its interior.

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Behold the largest cruise ship ever built, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas. USA TODAY

Symphony will be more than 3,000 tons bigger than the current size leader in the cruise world, Royal Caribbean’s 226,963-ton Harmony of the Seas. Like Harmony, Symphony will be part of Royal Caribbean’s record-breaking Oasis Class of ships, though it won’t be an exact copy of its sisters. Royal Caribbean has unveiled several new features for the vessel including a first-of-its-kind, two-deck-high family suite with a slide between floors.

Symphony is scheduled to sail to the Caribbean out of Miami starting in November 2018. It’ll move to the city after spending its first few months operating voyages in the Mediterranean.

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Fincantieri to buy stake in STX France shipyard

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STX France shipyard

An agreement has been reached for the Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri to acquire 48% of the French shipyard in St. Nazaire that is one of a handful of yards that builds large cruise ships.

The French yard is majority-owned by Korean conglomerate STX with the French government a minority 33% partner. The French government would continue to hold its one-third stake, plus veto power over decision-making, the French daily Ouest France reported.

A navy shipbuilder in France, DCNS, would get a 12% stake and a nonprofit called Fondation CRTrieste would be a 7% partner, the paper said.

The agreement, according to Ouest France, includes “commitments, particularly regarding the sustainability of the site and its activities, as well as investment and the maintenance and development of employment.”

Fincantieri emerged as the only bidder for the STX stake in the French yard, which has been for sale for several years due to financial pressures at STX.

STX France built the Harmony of the Seas for Royal Caribbean International and has contracts for a fourth Oasis-class ship, plus two Edge-class ships for Celebrity Cruises, due in 2018 and 2020.

With the deal, Fincantieri and Germany’s Meyer Werft will be the two major suppliers of big ships to the cruise industry, following Meyer’s acquisition of yards in Finland and Fincantieri’s investment in the STX France facility.

Magic mirrors on new MSC Cruises smartships show passengers how clothes will look on them in 3D

Water wonder: CGI of MSC Meraviglia – ‘marvel’ in English – which comes into service in June 2017
Three next-generation vessels get an array of hi-tech innovations including an indoor promenade with an LED roof – two newest ships also get first art museums at sea.
 
It’s the question women having been asking for years when they try on clothes – ‘does my bum look big in this?’
 
But when passengers on four new next-generation super-smartships are in the on-board outfitters, technology will come to the rescue – with 3D magic mirrors that show whether that dress really is flattering or not.
 
MSC Cruises has just commissioned two more ships for its upcoming Vista class – to be constructed at the STX France shipyard in St Nazaire, Brittany, and designated “Meraviglia-Plus” – which, like the initial two ships in the Vista project, will feature industry-leading innovations on board, thanks mainly to a tie-up with South Korean technology titans Samsung.
 
Gianni Onorato, MSC’s chief executive, said the hi-tech marvels will include interactive digital mirrors in the on-board clothes shops which will show customers (including men of course!) a 3D view of how attire will look when they wear it.
 
Cool pool: CGI of the sun deck on MSC Meraviglia
Other smart innovations also include in-cabin interactive flat screen HDTVs that link to guests’ devices, 300 digital interactive signs in public areas, Near Field Contact geolocation of children, and hi-tech medical centres that can send scans to hospitals on shore for analysis.
 
But if all that technology gets too much, there’s a device-free digital detox room with no wi-fi or mobile signal.
 
In addition to modern human ingenuity, the two new Plus ships will also feature mankind’s artistic creativity with cruising’s first ever fine art museums at sea.
 
Mr Onorato said the museums would comprise classic and contemporary masterpieces from around the world – loaned from public institutions and private collections – and it should see works from leading establishments in Italy, France and the USA put on display as the ships cruise the oceans.
 
He added MSC had been approached by museums to try putting art and museum pieces on show at sea. ”Let’s see how it works,” he said, “we need a little courage to do something like this.’
 
Show stopper: CGI view of the main theatre on MSC Meravigliva

Entertainment on board the Vista ships will be showcased by exclusive performances from Cirque du Soleil staged in purpose-built dining and entertainment venues.

The two new 1,092ft Plus ships will have some of the largest passenger capacity in the world at up to 6,300 – just a hundred or so less than Royal Caribbean’s upcoming Harmony of the Seas – but with a more modest gross tonnage of 177,100 against Harmony’s 227,000. They will debut in 2019 and 2020, two years ahead of the original construction schedule when they were yet-to-be-confirmed options.

The announcement of two more ships on the order books was made by MSC executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago at the Brittany STX yard where the line’s first two Vista class smartships, Meraviglia and Seaside, are being built.

He said: “The two Meraviglia-Plus vessels will be even larger and longer as well as richer in features and amenities, thus confirming MSC Cruises as the industry’s boldest innovator when it comes to ship design and experiences we create for our guests.”

The 167,600 ton, up to 5,714 passenger Meraviglia – lead ship of MSC’s Vista vessels – will come into service in June next year, followed by sister ship Seaside in December, and was undergoing the traditional, centuries-old coin ceremony where shipyard workers place a coin deep in the ship’s 1,039ft hull for good luck.

Steak and ships: CGI of the steakhouse restaurant on MSC Meravigliva

Besides magic mirrors in clothes shops, her revolutionary technology will see the creation of an 317ft long indoor promenade at the heart of the ship with an arched 5,400 sq ft LED roof which can project blue skies, migrating birds, starry skies or images of destinations (there will a 366ft long version on the two bigger Plus ships).

Seating around 600 but with ample room for more passengers to stroll around, the indoor prom will have shops, cafes such as a venue from US celebrity pastry chef Jean-Philippe Maury with his signature chocolate fountains, restaurants and an English pub, karaoke bar and 24hr TV studio.

Other facilities on board will see the installation of a full size bowling alley and Formula One racing car simulators.

Outside there’s a sleek, contemporary look for the pool areas and an array of slides in a water park.

Mocked up cabins were on view at STX too and they exuded the cool chic of a modern boutique hotel.

Chic sleep: mock-up of a cabin on MSC Meravigliva at the French shipyard

Sister ship Seaside will have many of the same on-board offerings but will not feature the indoor promenade. Instead she will get a more traditional outdoor wrapround walkway much lower down than on most other modern ships so passengers are nearer the water to get the feeling of being on a quayside at sea, with shops, bars and restaurants lining the area.

She will home port in Miami year round to discover the Unesco world heritage sites of Cuba and other Caribbean hotspots. Mr Onorato said she will be “the ship that follows the sun”.

Meraviglia will be christened at Le Havre on June 1, 2017 and spend her inaugural season in the Mediterranean, home porting in Marseille.