The world's largest ship made its début in New York Harbor in mid-May and on May 16 prior to a three-day cruise to Boston, local officials greeted the crew and took a tour of what some called "a city on the sea."
Mayor Joseph Doria, Council President Vincent Lo Re and Executive Director of the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority Nancy Kist, along with other city officials and union leaders representing harbor workers, toured the massive structure and greeted its crew.
"This is an amazing ship," Doria said, during a brief ceremony in a lounge near the top of the 18-story-high ship a few hours before the ship was to set sail. "This is an exciting time for the Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor and for the citizens of Bayonne. The arrival of the world's largest cruise ship here in Bayonne is the culmination of the hard work of the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines."
According to the Royal Caribbean, the ship weighs 158,000 tons, measures a quarter of a mile long and almost 200 feet wide, and has 15 passenger decks, 14 passenger elevators, and can accommodate 4,375 travelers.
If standing on its stern, the ship would be taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris. When anchored beside the Statue of Liberty, the ship towered over the icon of New York Harbor.
In accepting plaques and other tokens of thanks, the ship's captain William Wright joked that the ship could handle the population of Bayonne pretty well if residents wanted to take a cruise.
Built by Norwegian shipbuilder Aker Yards at a cost of $800 million, Freedom of the Seas is about 30,000 tons heavier than the previously largest ship, the Queen Mary II, and can carry about 1,300 more passengers. To understand the sizes of modern ships, the Titanic was only 46,000 tons.
The ship traveled from Hamburg, Germany to Oslo, Norway in its maiden voyage before crossing the Atlantic for his first American public appearance in New York Harbor where NBC's Today Show was broadcast. After its return from Boston, the ship will begin its regular route from Miami through the western Caribbean.
"While we won't be sailing out of Port Liberty, we are grateful to come here," Wright said.
During the tour, Royal Caribbean staff showed local officials the rock climbing wall, the surfing machine, pool features that include facilities for children and adults, along with outdoor Jacuzzis. One small Jacuzzi is located on each side of the ship, suspended at 15 stories above sea level.
"So you're floating in water that is hanging over the side of the ship," observed Kist.
Elevator shafts take on the feel of a science fiction movie rising up through decorated shafts of colored glass and parades of light. The center promenade is a three-story mall-like walkway featuring shops, a pizza store, wine bar and a bridge where various entertainment, such as a small circus, can be conducted.
This, of course, is only the first of three ships in the Freedom class, and will soon become second largest as Royal Caribbean plans to unveil an even bigger ship in 2009.
Royal Caribbean, of course, will be making a home in Bayonne.
In April, the BLRA and Royal Caribbean entered into a 35-year agreement allowing the cruise ship company to berth cruise ships at Cape Liberty Cruise Port at the Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor.
The long-term agreement is valued at more than $140 million and is expected to create an additional 250 port jobs. Additionally, in only its third year in operation, Cape Liberty Cruise Port has emerged as the No. 3 passenger port on the East Coast (after Miami and New York).
"We have a wonderful collaboration with Royal Caribbean. Their capital investments and the finalization of the long-term agreement are proof positive of the company's commitment to Bayonne," Kist said.
Al Sullivan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org