The Eagle Has Flown: Royal Caribbean's Voyager Of The Seas Raises The Bar For The Cruise Industry

Monday, November 29, 1999
The Eagle Has Flown: Royal Caribbean's Voyager Of The Seas Raises The Bar For The Cruise Industry Slipping out through the Finnish archipelago on a Sunday morning at the end of October, Voyager of the Seas cut a figure of unprecedented scale in the passenger ship sector, symbolizing both the surging growth in the cruise market and the fertility of the Finnish maritime technology cluster. The 137,200-gt cruise ship, whose towering superstructure and an air draught of 208-ft. (63.5-m) belies a relatively tender draft of just over 28-ft. (8.8-m), marks a new highpoint in the industry's unerring endeavors to foster long-term sustainable business development in the seagoing leisure sector. Although the shipbuilding price from Kvaerner Masa-Yards was around $500 million, about seven times the current cost of a VLCC, Royal Caribbean estimates that its overall project expenditure in bringing Voyager of the Seas to the market has been closer to $700 million. The group's overall fleet expansion program is no less astounding than its record-breaking new cruise liner, with $3.6 billion being ploughed into newbuild investments spanning deliveries up to the summer of 2002. At a time when European shipbuilding is facing intensified competition from the Orient in fields of construction it has hitherto dominated, as demonstrated by Japanese and Korean successes in the cruise ship and RoRo passenger (RoPax) ferry segments, Voyager of the Seas is a powerful reminder of Nordic maritime industrial capabilities. Quality and contractual performance have long been the watchwords of Kvaerner Masa-Yards (KMY) and its forebears. The shipbuilder's track record in meeting delivery undertakings has been reinforced by its delivery of the latest, seminal vessel on schedule. The accomplishment has been all the greater for the production setbacks it suffered during the early part of the year when the ship sustained a fire and mainly smoke-incurred damage while alongside at Turku. "Like no vacation on earth" is emblazoned along the sides of the hull of a ship in which the design focus has been not only on combining the biggest-ever cruise passenger volume with very high standards of comfort and service, but also on melding passenger scale with considerable variety in shipboard activity and facilities. While acutely aware of customers' rising expectations and perceptions of 'value-for-money,' the shipowner has sought to bolster overall revenue generation through higher quality and imaginative new activity options. The size of the shipboard community at any time during the course of her seven-day voyages in the Western Caribbean is startling, whether judged by the lower-bed passenger capacity measure of 3,138 or maximum of 3,840, together with up to 1,180 crew. She has occupied some of the best minds in interior design as well as some of the most innovative minds in naval architecture. She furthermore denotes the attainment of a new milestone in the passengership domain as regards marine engineering technology, expressed in her refined diesel-electric power and propulsion system incorporating a triple Azipod configuration. Voyager of the Seas is emphatically also a new showcase for the concept of redundancy, applied to the main shipboard operating systems, and signifying central concerns with issues of reliability and safety. The design of the new leviathan succeeds in combining the largest-ever cruiseship passenger capacity with spacious staterooms and public areas, accentuated by the truly remarkable, four-deck high, interior promenade, culminating at each end in an 11-deck high atrium. Evocative of the renowned Burlington Arcade in London, the Royal Promenade extends for 394 ft. (120 m) through the heart of the vessel, flanked by a wide selection of shops, restaurants and entertainment areas, and incorporating special lighting and coloring effects to change its ambience, just as the day turns into night. The fact that some nine percent of the vessel's staterooms have bay windows overlooking the Royal Promenade enhances the effectiveness of this astounding central feature, and should better realize the extra revenue potential it offers. The preoccupation with the expectations of an increasingly discerning passenger market is reflected in arrangements whereby 69 percent of the total 1,557 passenger cabins have a view, either seaward or into the mall, while 49 percent incorporate a balcony. The conceptual design for Project Eagle, in support of the $1.5 billion, three-ship series entrusted to KMY's Turku yard, was provided by Kvaerner Masa-Yards Technology - highly regarded worldwide for its innovative approach to ship design - in close co-operation with Royal Caribbean. The combination of the wider-than-Panamax beam, affording the extra stability for a still greater breadth in the main passenger decks, and the longitudinal division of the superstructure by way of an indoor arcade, or promenade, have been fundamental to the Eagle concept. The idea of a central mall running through the ship was first applied in the Finnish domain almost a decade ago, in the Turku-built ferries Silja Serenade and Silja Symphony. At the time of their delivery in 1990/91, the 58,400-gt sisters had signified a major new stage in the evolution of the Baltic cruise ferry concept. Voyager of the Seas provides a new window on Finnish engineering in a number of sectors, not least as regards her cycloconverter-based, ABB electric propulsion system and array of podded propulsors of the proven Azipod type. The trials results met or exceeded expectations, with the vessel having achieved a forward speed of 25 knots, compared with an anticipated, maximum service speed requirement of 22 knots, and made an incredible 17 knots astern. Moreover, she was worked athwartships at five knots, such a relatively high rate of lateral travel being achieved using the two azimuthing units within the three-pod configuration, in conjunction with the four tunnel thrusters in the foreship section. Each Azipod offers an output of up to 14-MW, the centerline, fixed propulsor being flanked by two 360-degree rotatable units, while a total of 12 MW is available from the staggered line of bow thrusters. A crash stop distance of less than six ships' lengths, with full control available throughout the maneuver, and a highly responsive, precise action in very slow-speed navigation through the rock-bound leads of the archipelago, also helped endear the vessel to her handlers. The 75,600-kW primary power concentration engendered by Wärtsilä 46-series diesel machinery, whereby six 8-cylinder engines drive the main gensets, testifies to Finnish strengths in medium-speed engine design and manufacturing. Inevitably, the speed with which a vessel of such considerable passenger and crew capacity might be safely evacuated in the event of a casualty in difficult weather and sea conditions is always a point of interest. Certainly, she has been designed and equipped to meet the toughest regulatory requirements in that regard. However, in keeping with the principle of risk minimization and the philosophy that the ship herself should be the safest haven in all circumstances, Voyager of the Seas incorporates an exceptional degree of system redundancy and, furthermore, offers the highest design integrity. It is claimed that she could take a 40-degree angle of heel before suffering water ingress although, of course, she has been designed and equipped mindful of passengers' tolerance of little more than a level platform at all times. Not without cause has she assumed the mantle as the first ship to receive Det Norske Veritas' Comfort-class notation. The high level of engineering redundancy is reflected in the DNV Redundant Propulsion (RP) certification, as an acknowledgement of features such as the divided main machinery plant and main electricity distribution system. Moreover, she has been equipped with a dual, integrated bridge system from Litton for all key navigation and command functions, as reportedly another 'first' in the industry. The Voyager name, while an apt choice within the RCCL nomenclature system, might also be regarded as an expression of the endeavor encapsulated in the newbuild, recalling the obsolete meaning of a voyage as an ambitious project or undertaking. - (David Tinsley)
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