French shipyard lays keel for one of the biggest cruise ships ever

Jul 5, 2022

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Another giant of the seas is on the way.

The massive Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard in St. Nazaire, France, on Friday laid the keel for a new Royal Caribbean vessel that will be at least as big or bigger than the current size leader in the cruise world — Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas.

Scheduled to debut in 2024, the 18-deck-high leviathan — to be called Utopia of the Seas — will be the sixth vessel in Royal Caribbean’s groundbreaking Oasis-class series, which debuted in 2009 and includes Wonder of the Seas.

While Royal Caribbean has been coy as to just how big the new ship will be, each new Oasis-class vessel has been at least a tad bigger than its immediate predecessor.

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More than 20% bigger than the next biggest cruise ships, the Oasis-class vessels have taken the cruise world by storm over the past decade with an array of features that no other line can match.

As TPG wrote about in detail early this year when it debuted, Wonder of the Seas is home to an almost incomprehensible number of diversions.

There are multiple swimming pools, water slides, rock climbing walls, surfing simulators, and several dozen bars and lounges (plus more than a dozen restaurants). There’s even a miniature golf course, ice-skating rink and a basketball court.

Utopia of the Seas keel laying
The first block of Royal Caribbean’s Utopia of the Seas is laid into place at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard in St. Nazaire, France. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

Also built at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard, Wonder of the Seas measures 236,857 tons — about 4% bigger than the previous size leader in the cruise world, Royal Caribbean’s 4-year-old Symphony of the Seas.

With the arrival of Wonder of the Seas, Royal Caribbean now operates all of the world’s five biggest cruise vessels and nine of the world’s 20 largest cruise vessels.

Royal Caribbean hasn’t said much about what features will be aboard Utopia of the Seas, but the ship is expected to offer a similar array of venues as Wonder of the Seas.

Wonder of the Seas is similar to Symphony of the Seas and three earlier Oasis-class vessels with a few new twists that contribute to its bigger size, including a dedicated suite area with a private lounge, restaurant and sun deck.

Like the four earlier Oasis-class ships, it is nearly 1,200 feet long — the equivalent of more than three football fields.

Notably, Wonder of the Seas has room for up to 6,988 passengers with every berth filled — more than any other passenger ship in history. It sails with 2,300 crew members, also more than any other passenger ship in history.

As a result, the total number of people on Wonder of the Seas at times can approach 9,300.

Related: The ultimate guide to Royal Caribbean

A ceremonial keel-laying event on Friday celebrated the official start of Utopia of the Seas’ construction.

The ship will debut in the spring of 2024, soon after Royal Caribbean launches the first of a new series of vessels that may be even bigger than the Oasis-class ships. The first ship in the Icon-class series, as the latter series will be known, will be called Icon of the Seas and debut in the fall of 2023.

“The keel laying for Utopia of the Seas represents the first milestone of an incredible ship and the next step toward a bolder, thrilling future for Royal Caribbean and vacations,” Royal Caribbean president and CEO Michael Bayley said in a statement.

“Utopia’s debut in 2024, on the heels of Icon of the Seas setting sail in fall 2023, will build on a new, exciting chapter that is set to redefine family vacations and getaways for all ages in ways we’ll soon reveal.”

Utopia of the Seas keel laying
A ceremonial coin is welded onto the first block of Utopia of the Seas during a keel-laying ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

The keel-laying event on Friday at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard was built around the placement of the first block of steel for Utopia of the Seas in the dry dock where the ship will be constructed.

It’s a moment that is considered the equivalent of the traditional laying of a long foundational keel that was part of shipbuilding in times past. Cruise ships today are built by connecting dozens of pre-built blocks in a drydock.

The ceremony also included the welding of commemorative coins onto the first block of the vessel — a long maritime tradition.

In addition to Wonder of the Seas, the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard also built Symphony of the Seas and several of the biggest MSC Cruises ships, including the recently unveiled MSC Virtuosa and MSC Grandiosa. It’s one of the few shipyards in the world that can handle ships of their size.

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Featured photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean.

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