Travel Weekly Cruise editor Tom Stieghorst is on a tour of the Meyer Werft shipyard where Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas, about two months from completion, is getting the finishing touches prior to its launch in November in New York. Read his dispatch here.
PAPENBURG, Germany -- Imagine putting together a jigsaw puzzle five football fields long and 25 stories high.
That's the impression generated by a trip through the assembly shed here at the Meyer Werft shipyard.
At the moment, the Royal Caribbean International ship Anthem of the Seas is the project that occupies most of the sprawling 450,000 square meters of enclosed space at the yard.
The complexity of the task is mind-boggling.
On a tour for media and a small group of travel agents put together by Royal Caribbean, we got to see firsthand how a ship is transformed from a pile of steel plates into a fully formed vessel.
The early stages involve cutting and welding thousands of plates together into sections, which in turn are welded together into blocks to form the ship. For each massive 30-by-30-foot section, pipes and ducts are added to the ceiling while the section sits upside down, which is easier than working overhead. The sections then are flipped over into proper position by overhead cranes.
Workers can finish about 25 sections a week, with 100 employees working three shifts a day. The process is speeded along by cuts preprogrammed into robotic lasers.
Once the sections are joined, they move into the massive block-assembly hall. Meyer Werft is the only cruise yard that builds its ship indoors. Managers believe that NASA's space shuttle is the only vehicle built indoors that can rival a cruise ship in size.
About 60 blocks go into a ship the size of the Anthem. Once the blocks are built, it is easier to see how the parts will fit together as a whole. The bow and stern are especially recognizable, as is the ship's bridge. The ship's name is discernable in raised letters on the side and rear.
The giant, 300-ton blocks are built wherever there's space. Later, huge overhead traveling cranes will lift each block into its proper position to give the ship its overall structure.
Along the way, 2,090 prefabricated cabins will be trucked from a nearby factory and bolted into place.
When that is done, the basin of the assembly shed is flooded and the ship is floated outdoors for interior fitting so that work can begin indoors on the next ship. The Anthem's sister ship Quantum of the Seas was floated out of the building two weeks ago and is being prepped for delivery in November.
In final form, each 16-deck ship will measure 1,141 feet in length and 136 feet in width. In all of its complexity, the construction of a ship such as the Anthem takes less than a year and a half. The first steel for it was cut in August 2013; the ship is expected to be ready for guests in April.
Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.