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World's largest cruiseship heading for the Caribbean

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April 20: Nearly 3 000 people gathered at the Hamburg docks at dawn on Monday to witness the arrival of the world's largest cruise liner, the "Freedom of the seas". Flagship of the Norwegian-American firm Royal Caribbean International, the "Freedom of the Seas" will leave Hamburg on April 25 for a stop over in Oslo before crossing the Atlantic for the first time. It will thereafter be based in Miami, in the Southeastern United States, from where it will take up to 4 375 passengers at a time on week-long cruises in the Caribbean.

The Finnish-built ship is stopping over at the Northern German port for a final polishing at the Blohm and Voss shipyard, before setting sail for its maiden transatlantic voyage. At 339 metres long, it is actually six metres shorter than the 'Queen Mary 2', but it makes up in height (72 metres) and breadth (56 metres) what it lacks in length.

The dock, just three metres wider and 12 metres longer than the ship, did not leave much room for manoeuvre. "It was as though a Golf driver had been given permission to park a Ferrari", said a spokesperson.

On-board facilities for holidaymakers include a rock-climbing wall, an ice-rink, and even a pool with artificial waves for surfing, as well as the usual range of cinemas and theatrical entertainment.

The "Freedom of the Seas" is part of a trend for ever larger vessels indeed, it is set to be dethroned in 2009 by an even bigger ship from Royal Caribbean: the "Genesis", with a passenger capacity of more than 5 400.

"Cruise ships have been doubling in seize every decade", said Tom Degerman, vice-president of the Norwegian Aker yards, which will build the "Genesis". Alarm bells are ringing within the cruise industry over whether this tendency is really a good thing.

At a major convention in Florida last month, experts voiced concerns that bigger ships will put passengers off, for fear of longer queues and a less relaxed atmosphere on board.

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