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Royal Caribbean orders 3rd 'Freedom-class' ship

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Royal Caribbean orders 3rd 'Freedom-class' ship (South Fl Business Journal)

A Norwegian shipyard may start building an $828 million vessel - the third ship in a Royal Caribbean Cruises class to debut next year. Freedom-class ships are to be 15 percent larger than the Voyager-class ships that introduced rock climbing and ice skating to the line's vessels.

The Miami-based cruise line said it signed a letter of intent with Aker Finnyards in Turku, Finland, to begin work on the ship for its Royal Caribbean International brand.

The shipyard called the newest vessel the world's largest cruise ship. The agreement is subject to certain conditions, though, including board approval. Aker Yards said the letter of intent is valid until the end of this month.

Like the series' first and second ships, the third Royal Caribbean (NYSE: RCL) vessel is to be 158,000-gross registered tons. Aker Yards said that makes the ships 6 percent larger than the current largest cruise ship.

The 1,800 cabins in a Freedom-class ship are to accommodate1,400 crewmembers and 3,600 guests at double occupancy. That's 500 more guests than the line's previous top class, the Voyager class.

But Royal Caribbean Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Richard Fain didn't mention the size of the new, 18-deck ships vessels. Instead he spoke of the "enormous possibilities" inherent in the new ships.

""We have said all along that the continued success of our brands will depend on the steady, sustained growth of our fleet," he said.

Yrjö Julin, president of Aker Finnyards, said the new ship will create value for Royal Caribbean.

"Being the world's largest cruise ships, the Freedom class will offer even more room for passenger facilities and amenities and will provide even greater economies of scale than their predecessors," he said.

The new ship is to enter service in early 2008, two years after the class debuts in April 2006, with Freedom of the Seas. Royal Caribbean ordered that ship in 2003. Aker Yards said the second ship will be read for delivery in spring 2007. This third vessel is scheduled to be delivered early 2008.

The company estimated cost of the third ship at about $230,000 per berth, at current dollar-to-euro exchange rates. Royal Caribbean has been tight-lipped on amenities, only saying new features are destined to become industry icons.

The line's newest vessel, Jewel of the Seas, its 19th ship, debuted in the spring. The ship repositioned to Fort Lauderdale in the fall.

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