which, on its maiden voyage from Barcelona in March 2018 became the largest passenger ship ever built – is about five times the size of the Titanic. At 362 metres long, you could balance it on its stern and its bow would tower over all but two of Europe’s tallest skyscrapers. Owned and operated by Miami-based cruise line Royal Caribbean, it can carry nearly 9,000 people and contains more than 40 restaurants and bars; 23 pools, jacuzzis and water slides; two West End-sized theatres; an ice rink; a surf simulator; two climbing walls; a zip line; a fairground carousel; a mini-golf course; a ten-storey fun slide; laser tag; a spa; a gym; a casino; plus dozens more shopping and entertainment opportunities. To put it another way, Symphony of the Seas might be the most ludicrously entertaining luxury hotel in history. It just also happens to float.
Picture a cruise ship. You’re likely imagining crisped-pink pensioners bent double over shuffleboard, cramped cabins, bad food and norovirus. And, once upon a time, you’d have been right. But in the last decade or so, cruise ships have gone from a means of transport to vast floating cities with skydiving simulators (Quantum of the Seas), go-karting (Norwegian Joy), bumper cars (Quantum again) and ice bars (Norwegian Breakaway). Restaurants offer menus designed by Michelin-starred chefs. As a result, the cruise industry is experiencing a golden age, boosted by millennials and explosive growth in tourists from China. More than twenty-five million people set sail on a cruise liner in 2017.
“Most people’s idea of a cruise is ‘Oh God, I’m going to be packed in with five thousand people I don’t want to talk to and getting bored out of my tree,” says Tom Wright, founder of WKK Architects, who has worked on cruise ships and land hotels. “In fact, it’s like going to a hotel that just moves magically over night.” (As one cruiser I met on Symphony’s fan page put it, “We get to see five destinations, and I only have to unpack once.”)
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