BARCELONA port is about to become the base of the world's largest-ever passenger cruise ship, the Harmony of the Seas.
Nearly three years and around US$1 billion in investment later, the ship-builder STX in Saint-Nazaire, Brittany, France is finishing off the construction of the 227,000-tonne liner which will be able to take up to 6,400 guests on board at a time.
It will travel to Barcelona on June 5 this year, where its base will remain for the rest of 2016.
Already afloat, but with the interior under construction, the Harmony of the Seas – part of the Oasis class run by US-based cruise tour operator Royal Caribbean – measures 361 metres in length, 66 metres wide and the part below the sea when it sails is nine metres from bottom to water line; barely a fifth of the height of the ship, which measures 50 metres, split into nine storeys of berths and another three with terraces and covered areas.
Four propellers of 7,500 horse-power means the cruise liner can travel at 22 knots.
As well as its 2,747 berths – which include at least a dozen luxury suites – the Harmony boasts 24 lifts, 16 decks and space for 6,410 passengers plus nearly 2,400 crew members, with 20 restaurants and 15 bars and salons, and even three water parks for grown-ups and children.
An athletics circuit, a casino, a 'Bionic Bar' where customers are served by two robots to ensure completely accurate cocktail measures, a basketball court, an ice-skating rink, a mini golf course, a spa, several outdoor swimming pools, a 'lift bar' which travels up and down between floors, a theatre offering Broadway shows – including Grease – and the tallest ship-based slide in the world at 40 metres in height.
The 'big brother' of the height-of-luxury Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, the Harmony offers the world's fastest on-board wi-fi using 'Voom' technology, and all guests wear 'WoWBands' on their wrists which act as room keys via an RFID system and even allows them to book tables in the restaurants or order drinks.
'Virtual balconies' in interior berths without windows mean nobody is left in the dark or without a view – and to protect the environment, a gadget known as a 'scrubber', which cleans and purifies emission gases before they are released into the atmosphere, has been fitted.
For the 2016 season, the Harmony will run seven-night Mediterranean cruises, then will cross the pond again in November to its winter base in the Fort Lauderdale area of Miami, Florida – known as the 'Venice of the USA' because of its intricate canal system – to operate Caribbean cruises until the following spring.
The ship is said to be colossal beyond imagination – effectively, a floating town – and is likely to draw in huge crowds with cameras when it finally docks in Barcelona.
Photograph: The world's largest cruise ship, the Harmony of the Seas (picture by Royal Caribbean)