World’s Largest Cruise Ship Icon Of The Seas Prepares To Sail After Covid-Hit Industry Rebounds

While cruise bookings observe a resurgence following the Covid-19 pandemic that has made luxury liners into mere mothballs, a Finland-based shipyard has been giving exclusive finishing touches on what will be the world’s largest cruise vessel.

Royal Caribbean’s new Icon of the Seas is almost hitting its completion phase in the Turku shipyard on the southwestern coast of Finland; the maiden voyage has been scheduled for 2024 (January).

Icon of the Seas
Credits: Meyer Turku / Facebook

While some labelled the colossal structure a “monstrosity”, citing its climate footprint, others are still in awe of the engineering integrated into such a floating holiday destination and are flocking to purchase tickets.

Resembling a village rather than a vessel, the mammoth ship boasts colourful water parks, over 20 decks, and can carry almost 10,000 individuals.

A distinct feature of the new vessel, which went into the construction phase in 2021 and embarked on its sea trials in June, is a vast glass dome covering part of the front section.

The pandemic undoubtedly dealt a massive blow to the entire industry, raising doubts about whether it would recover.

Cruise majors are, however, now seeing guests return.

The Cruise Lines International Association has estimated that guest volume will surpass what was seen in pre-pandemic levels, with about 31.5 million passengers in 2023.

With the limitations gone and the situation easing up, the market is returning very strong, Meyer mentioned.

Is bigger better?

With a tonnage of a whopping 250,800 – which is five times that of Titanic – the Icon of the Seas is going to secure the much-celebrated title of the largest cruise vessel in the world from the present flagship vessel, Wonder of the Seas of the Royal Caribbean’s.

Besides, Meyer Turku has two similar-sized vessels in the Icon class in the order books.

Over the past decade, cruise vessels have become exponentially bigger, added Alexis Papathanassis, the professor of Cruise Management associated with the Bremerhaven University of Applied Sciences.

Papathanassis observed that there are tell-tale economic benefits to mega-sized vessels, lowering the cost of individual guests.

With seven pools, an ice skating rink, waterslides, a park, shopping promenades, and more venues than any other vessel, larger vessels like the Icon of the Seas also provide more options to spend money on it.

This enables cruise majors to be more profitable; he pointed out.

The cruise lines welcome the extra income – to survive COVID-19 lockdowns, they had to take a lot of credit they now have to pay back.

It will be a challenging time with financial austerity for cruise firms, Papathanassis said, adding that he expected the ticket prices to go up.

While the tendency toward ramping up the size of the vessel isn’t going to stop, Papathanassis strongly believes that it will undoubtedly be slowed down.

The main reason behind this is not engineering but the financial factor.

The bigger the vessels are, the higher the investment cost and the technology know-how. Besides, technological know-how doesn’t come cheap, Papathanassis mentioned.

Similarly, he specified that the larger vessels have unique challenges, like port overcrowding.

As passenger numbers have increased, popular cruise hotspots, including the Arctic town of Longyearbyen, located in the Svalbard archipelago of Norway, have been raising concerns regarding the lack of infrastructure to accommodate large crowds.

As cruise firms aim to boost passenger capacity, they also lower the ratio of crew to guests, which can put forward newer challenges in case of unforeseen events.

Regarding unprecedented accidents or crises on the vessels, with larger ships, it’s a more significant challenge to tackle the evacuation, per Papathanassis.

From a climate standpoint, some argue that one large vessel is more energy efficient than many small ones.

But the others disagree.

Going by that logic, there would be bigger cruise vessels, but fewer of them, explained Constance Dijkstra, a shipping campaigner associated with the NGO Transport & Environment (T&E).

But that is not what is happening. They are witnessing an increasing number of vessels that are bigger than ever.

And while modern vessels are taking significant steps to mitigate emissions with advanced technology – the Icon of the Seas will run on liquefied natural gas (LNG) – environmentalists aren’t convinced.

Often hailed as a bridge toward more climate-neutral options, LNG has significantly lower emissions than conventional marine fuels; however, T&E has voiced some concerns over probable methane leaks.

Dijkstra mentioned that LNG has dramatic effects on the climate as it gives out methane.

A component of LNG, methane is a potent greenhouse gas, which can have a worse effect on the climate than even carbon dioxide.

The issue is when LNG is being used as a marine fuel, which signifies encouragement for the gas industry’s development.

References: Hindustan Times, Aljazeera, Gulf News

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