Hope Floats

As the recession blows a gale, the world’s most expensive cruise ship nears completion.

By Rory Nugent
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Graphics by Bryan Christie

In November, Royal Caribbean will take delivery of a true sea monster. Now in its final phase of construction, the Oasis of the Seas will be the biggest (longest, tallest, widest, heaviest) passenger ship ever built—and the most expensive. It will dwarf Nimitz-class aircraft carriers and cast shadows dockside atop 20-story buildings. A crew of 2,165 will tend the expectations of up to 6,296 passengers.

In profile, the Oasis appears as flat and businesslike as a floating Hyatt, a triumph of the straightedge over the curves, fluting, and flair of yesteryear’s ocean liners. The interior space, though, is a celebration of excess: a legion of designers has packed the ship with glitzy amenities and attractions of the sort usually associated with Las Vegas (albeit sanitized—the dark edge is staked out by a wash-off-tattoo parlor).

Cruise ships take years to build; the Oasis was ordered—for $1.4 billion—in 2006, near the height of the boom. Royal Caribbean will be forced to take delivery of another, similarly sized ship next year. The company’s net debt may reach $9.3 billion by the end of 2010—that’s according to Goldman Sachs, which has a sell recommendation on Royal Caribbean, and little enthusiasm for the cruise industry as a whole. Perhaps the Oasis will be a ringing success, proving market mavens wrong yet again. But it may leave the dock already a dinosaur—a floating emblem of a bankrupt era.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/06/hope-floats/307441/