Ultimate Cruise Ship

Join pioneering shipbuilders as they embark on a feat of maritime engineering. Airing February 8, 2017 at 9 pm on PBS Aired February 8, 2017 on PBS

Program Description

Weighing 54,000 gross tons and stretching over two football fields, the Seven Seas Explorer is no ordinary boat. Join pioneering shipbuilders as they endeavor to build the ultimate cruise ship. It will be decked with the finest gold, marble, and crystal and designed to offer guests the roomiest accommodations of any commercial cruise ship. But engineering opulence is no easy feat. NOVA follows a pioneering team of ship builders as they embark on what is advertised to be a milestone in maritime engineering.


Ultimate Cruise Ship

PBS Airdate: February 8, 2017

NARRATOR: With their commanding presence at sea, today's cruise ships carry on a long and historic tradition. Long before jet planes, ships were the only way to travel the globe. Today, they carry thousands of people and have become a popular vacation choice.

Competition is intense, with companies building ever-bigger ships to drive costs down. But now, in Italy, a team of craftsmen and engineers is taking on a new kind of shipbuilding challenge: they are racing to build the ultimate cruise ship, a superliner, finely crafted to the most minute detail.

FRANK DEL RIO (Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings): I want to build something unique, one of a kind, never to be repeated again.

NARRATOR: But building this record-breaking superliner involves a series of unique engineering challenges. The ocean can be a deadly place. How do you keep hundreds of passengers safe, sailing far from shore, through violent storms and rough swells?

And to complete the ship on schedule, the team must combine time-honored tradition with trailblazing technology.

PIERLUIGI PUNTER (Fincantieri): To build a ship is a continuous pressure. We cannot miss our target.

NARRATOR: Inside the extraordinary race to build the Ultimate Cruise Ship, right now, on NOVA.

Today, in Genoa, Italy, this team of construction workers is starting work building a brand new ship, one that will present a new and difficult set of challenges, both technical and aesthetic. For the team here is constructing a cruise ship they hope will set a new standard.

In keeping with maritime tradition, a welder attaches rare coins to the hull to bring luck.

ROBIN LINDSAY: That's a beautiful thing.


NARRATOR: ….and a priest provides a blessing.

Engineers in this region of Italy have a formidable reputation. They have been building ships since medieval times. But this job will present new challenges, beyond anything they've faced before. The worldwide cruise market has exploded over the past 25 years, From under 4,000,000 passengers a year, to over 22-million. It's a $39-billion a year industry.

Competition is fierce, with companies building ever-larger vessels to drive prices down, and make cruising more affordable than ever.

FRANK DEL RIO: Why don't we do like, you know? I'm doing a puzzle here.

NARRATOR: But the cruise company and the C.E.O., Frank Del Rio, are taking this ship in another, more risky direction.

FRANK DEL RIO: My vision is very simple: to make this the most luxurious cruise ship ever built.

NARRATOR: But is there a market for that?

Where many of the big cruise ships hold over 5,000 passengers, this vessel will carry just 750. But they will be paying top dollar, and their expectations will be equally high.

They will be housed in 375 suites. And, at the top, will be a 4,400-square-foot suite that will go for $10,000 a night.

Are there enough people willing to spend enough money to keep this venture afloat?

FRANK DEL RIO: There is risk any time you break barriers, but these are calculated risks.

NARRATOR: But this ambitious scheme is not just a business challenge, it's an engineering challenge for the ship's designers and builders.

First, luxury is heavy. The marble and glass materials needed to give the liner its sumptuous feel will add weight. Engineers need to invent clever ways to balance the ship so it remains stable in the water.

And there's another even bigger challenge. The ocean can be a deadly place. Without making it too obvious, engineers must devise ingenious ways to save passengers lives in the event of a fire or a collision at sea.

And there's a final challenge: the engineers must meet a tight deadline.

To fill the ship with customers, tickets for the maiden voyage will go on sale before the liner is complete. Cancelling them will be costly.

FRANK DEL RIO: That would cost us in excess of $5,000,000, to the immediate bottom line and probably cost us $25-million in lost reputation. So, that's an expensive proposition that we won't let happen.

NARRATOR: In Italy, it's the job of engineer, Pierluigi Punter to deliver the ship on time.

PIERLUIGI PUNTER: I am very proud to be in charge of this project. Several thousand people will be involved, but I will coordinate all the activities, from the starting of the design, up to delivery. I hope to survive.

NARRATOR: The pressure is on Pierluigi and his team to turn these sheets of steel into a finished ship.

To deliver the ship on time, Pierluigi has a detailed and ambitious plan. He will build his ship, piece by piece, in a dry dock, installing the engines and machinery as it goes.

To save time, he must simultaneously construct a large section of the vessel in another shipyard, making sure it will join up perfectly to the rest of the ship. Then, the shipyard will build up the decks to complete the hull, put in the cabins, fit the windows and install the navigation equipment. To ensure it all works, they will test everything in a series of sea trials, and finally complete the fitting out of the cabins and public areas.

It's like building a floating city, and they only have 18 months to do it.

Stage one: the team needs to cut and weld together more than 12,000 tons of steel to assemble the liner's hull, the structure around which the rest of the ship will take shape.

To build the hull in time, the team will employ an ingenious technique. In the past, ships were constructed from the bottom up, a bit like building a house. Only once the hull was finished, did they install the ventilation, electrical cables, pipes and machinery. But this method was slow, too slow for today's competitive environment.

PIERLUIGI PUNTER: To build a ship is a continuous pressure. We have a penalty on the contract about the delay on delivery.

NARRATOR: So, to build the Explorer's hull, Pierluigi is using a technique developed in Japan in the 1950s, made possible by the invention of bigger, stronger cranes. Workers will first assemble the steel plates into sections one deck high, building them upside-down to make it easy to install the pipes, cables and ventilation as they go.

Cranes will then flip the pieces over and join several together to form a "megablock." It will take 53 megablocks to construct the Explorer.

Once each block is complete, giant cranes will lift it into position. Using this megablock method, the team can work on many parts of the ship at the same time, speeding up production.

The steel for each megablock begins life in a giant bath. Here a computer controlled plasma cutter cuts the steel to shape. The machine's nozzle fires a 30,000-degree-Fahrenheit jet of superheated gas towards the steel, at 20,000 feet per second. This melts and cuts the steel under water, which keeps it cool and prevents distortion.

But the next critical job must be completed by hand. Two-hundred-and-fifty skilled welders join the pieces together to form each megablock, with welds as strong as the steel itself.

It takes about four weeks to build each of the 53 megablocks. This method of construction is fast, but not fast enough for the schedule, so Pierluigi has a plan to speed up construction.

PIERLUIGI PUNTER: We decided to build part of the ship in another shipyard to reduce the production time of the ship and take advantage of the capacity of the two shipyards at the same time.

NARRATOR: While the shipyard in Genoa is building most of the vessel, a large section has been assembled 400 miles away, at a second yard, in Castellammare di Stabia.

This shipyard sits in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius. It has been building ships for hundreds of years. Over the last eight months, the workers here have assembled 11 megablocks, to form this 200-foot section of the ship.

Now they face a daunting challenge. They must launch their section into the sea. A tug will then tow it up the coast to the shipyard in Genoa, where welders must attach it to their section of the vessel.

If the plan works, it will cut 18 weeks off the construction schedule. Before they launch the section, surveyor, Antonio Vairo, must carry out one final check. For the last eight months, he has been measuring the dimensions of this section.

ANTONIO VAIRO (Fincantieri): (Translated from Italian) We are measuring the length of the section to verify that it matches the plan's dimensions.

NARRATOR: This section must be within a quarter of an inch of the planned size, or it won't fit onto the rest of the ship.

ANTONIO VAIRO: (Translated from Italian) It is essential, because, if what they've made in Genoa and what we've made here do not match, this will cause serious problems later.

NARRATOR: The shipbuilders here are also concerned about launching this section of the liner, because sliding it down this slope into the sea is a risky maneuver.

In 1907, another Italian shipyard proudly launched its new ship, the S.S. Principessa Jolanda. She slid smoothly into the sea, and then promptly capsized. The shipyard had somehow neglected to install any stabilizing weight in the bottom of the hull to lower her center of gravity.

To prevent their section from capsizing, the workers here have built it with a heavy double-bottomed hull, and installed water and fuel tanks low down, to ensure that the vessel will be completely stable when launched.

Workers cover the slipway with a thin coating of wax, then a layer of grease, to ensure that the section of ship doesn't get stuck.

The stage is all set for the next day's launch.

Eight a.m., three hours to launch.

FRANCESCO LUBRANO: Three, two, one.

NARRATOR: A team of workers starts driving wedges under the keel. The aim is to lift the ship just enough to free it from its supporting pillars, so it can slide into the water.

UMBERTO VIANELLO (Fincantieri): The point of this operation of hammering the wedges is to transfer the ship's weight on the central sledges. This way it will be much easier for us to remove the side pillars.

They will lift the ship less than one inch.

It's 10:20. We're going to remove the last two pillars, and so, we're almost ready to go.

NARRATOR: Half an hour before launch, workers remove the wooden props supporting the hull. The last things holding the ship are six steel claws that will be released by hydraulics.

When the string is cut to smash the bottle, this weight will also drop, opening a valve that will release hydraulic fluid, retract the claws and launch the section of the ship. Following ancient tradition, a godmother launches every vessel to bring it luck.

GILBERTO TOBALDI: (Translated from Italian) Godmother, in the name of God, cut it.

NARRATOR: There's no engine or rudder on board this section of the ship, so the team is counting on 165 tons of chains to slow it down and stop it from ploughing across the harbor and smashing into nearby boats. The weight, low down in the hull, keeps the section upright.

UMBERTO VIANELLO: It was a very positive day. We had the weather on our side. Now we have a sunny day, so everything was good.

NARRATOR: Tugs must now haul it around the coast to Genoa. If all goes well, it should take about four days to cover the 400-mile distance.

The challenge of working out how to propel the Seven Seas Explorer when it's completed lies with marine engineer Gianpiero Lavini.

GIANPIERO LAVINI (Fincantieri): One of our main targets is to get a very, very comfortable vessel, completely silent and free from any kind of vibration.

NARRATOR: The vibration must be low enough to qualify the vessel for a standard known as a comfort class. To power the Seven Seas Explorer through the water, four massive eight-cylinder diesel engines will drive four generators. These will supply electricity to two nine-megawatt electric motors that will turn two huge propellers, pushing the ship forward at over 20 knots.

The design of the ship's propellers is critical. If Gianpiero's team get it wrong, the ship could vibrate violently.

GIANPIERO LAVINI: When you are at sea, if you have any type of troubles, you cannot take any action, because you cannot modify the propeller. It's absolutely impossible. So, you'd have to know everything in advance.

NARRATOR: In 1907, during the sea trials of the Lusitania, at that time the world's biggest ship, the vibration was so bad, they had to strengthen the interior in a failed attempt to stop it. When they investigated, they discovered that the problem came from the ship's propellers. When a propeller rotates, it can create areas of very low pressure on the back of the blades, causing water to form bubbles of water vapor, in a process called "cavitation." When the bubbles burst, they collapse in microseconds, sending powerful shock-waves through the water, onto the ship's hull.

This creates uncomfortable vibrations for people and objects on board.

GIANPIERO LAVINI: Cavitation is the worst enemy of the propeller designer, because it is the main source of noise and vibration. So, I am not satisfied until I have removed every bubble.

NARRATOR: To keep the Seven Seas Explorer from vibrating, Gianpiero must minimize the cavitation on the propeller blades. The simplest way to do this is by slowing the propellers down. This reduces the area of low pressure that causes bubbles, but this would also slow down the ship. So, to compensate, they will make the propellers larger and add more blades.

These larger, slower-spinning propellers will exert the same power, but should drive the Explorer through the water without vibration.

The ship's propellers are being cast, from bronze, at this factory in the Netherlands. The task requires extreme precision. If workers here don't reproduce Gianpiero's design to a fraction of an inch, the propellers could still generate vibrations. They feed his plans into a computer that will carve a mold in sand bonded with resin.

RALPH MOOLENAAR (Van Voorden): We are able to accurately create a shape, by the grinding of the sand mold. And all the material that is not needed is cut away, so that we get the precise shape that we want it to be.

NARRATOR: From the resin-bound sand, the machine must first carve the base of the mold, then make six blade-shaped pieces, to form the top, leaving a propeller-shaped gap.

Workers will place this mold in a steel frame, add a system of tubes to pour in the molten metal, then cover it with sand to prevent the top of the mold floating when they fill it.

The foundry will cast the propeller from a special bronze alloy, a mixture of copper, nickel and aluminum.

RALPH MOOLENAAR: The alloy that we use is actually called nickel aluminum bronze, and it's very corrosion resistant, and it is a strong material, so it's quite suited for ships' propellers.

NARRATOR: But the size of the special propeller creates problems.

RALPH MOOLENAAR: This is a big propeller. It weighs, when cast, about 30 tons.

NARRATOR: To avoid serious imperfections, they must fill the mold in one continuous pouring. But this propeller needs more bronze than their largest ladle will hold.

RALPH MOOLENAAR: What's special for this project is that we use two ladles at the same time to make sure that the mold is filled at once.

NARRATOR: Using two ladles speeds up the pouring process, helping ensure that, when the mold is broken open, the propeller will contain no serious imperfections.

Once they start pouring, there's no going back. It takes less than three minutes to cast the propeller, but it will take three weeks for it to cool and harden. Only then will they know if the propellers will be ready for their installation in four months.

But right now, at the shipyard in Genoa, workers are anxiously awaiting the hull section from Castellammare.

PIERLUIGI PUNTER: Today is an important day. We are going to join the two big sections. As soon as the section coming from Castellammare arrives, we close the gate of the dry dock, and we start to empty the dry dock.

NARRATOR: Pierluigi won't rest easy until he knows that the two sections are perfectly joined.

PIERLUIGI PUNTER: We don't have the plan B, because only plan A can exist.

NARRATOR: But bringing them together in this narrow dock will be a challenge. The dock's width restricts the size of tug they can use to pull the section in, and gusts of wind blowing on the vessel's large surface exert a powerful force, making it difficult to control. The tugs struggle to wrangle the flailing 3,300-ton section of ship through the tight entrance.

Once they place the section safely in the dock, workers close the gate. Now, they must align the two sections precisely, to make sure the ship is straight before they're welded together.

The first stage is to start the pumps to lower the water in the dock. As the water drains, they will first winch the smaller section into position. It sits three feet lower in the water than the newly-arrived section, because it contains the ship's heavy engines.

As the hull drops, divers will guide its marker pegs into sockets fixed to the dock floor. Once it is firmly in position, the team will winch in the section from Castellammare, line up its marker pegs and let the draining water, lower it precisely into place, ensuring that both sections are perfectly in line.

Lowering the first section into position is the easy part. Lining up the new section from Castellamare will be more difficult.

Four diesel-powered winches enable them to maneuver it with precision. Steel guides lead it into its approximate position, but guiding the marker pegs into place under water needs an expert eye. A diver will help the team line it up precisely.

They restart the pumps to lower the second hull. This will be the moment of truth: will the two sections fit? The diver shows them they are out of alignment. After some maneuvering, the alignment is looking better.

PIERLUIGI PUNTER: Now it's in place.

NARRATOR: It fits; both sections of the hull line up precisely. Once they are welded together to form a single vessel, it will be time to install the propulsion system.

In the Netherlands, the propeller has cooled and been released from its mold. Now, workers must grind its blades to their precise shape.

RALPH MOOLENAAR: They have different tools to grind away the material. They start with the course grinder, and afterwards they will get to the finer grinders.

NARRATOR: These grinders are equipped with tough aluminum oxide cutting heads that shave off a thin layer of bronze on each pass.

RALPH MOOLENAAR: There are marks on the propeller blade of how much material needs to be removed. It's a few millimeters.

NARRATOR: Over a period of four weeks, the grinders will remove about one ton of bronze from the propeller. It's highly skilled work. Any unwanted bumps left on its surface could cause the ship to vibrate, and if they damage it, making a replacement from scratch will take months and delay the maiden voyage.

While work continues on all stages of the ship's construction, across the Atlantic Ocean, in Coral Gables, Florida, another team is rushing to design the fittings for the liner's high-end cabins and common spaces.

Yohandel Ruiz faces his own challenge. Luxury items like stone floors and marble walls are heavy.

YOHANDEL RUIZ (CallisonRTKL): Weight is one of the biggest concerns we have on board a ship. So you try to put the majority of your weight in the lower decks. If you're doing stone floors you would limit the amount that you will use on the upper decks, just to prevent the ship from listing. So, as you go higher on the ship, you tend to use lighter, more airy materials.

NARRATOR: But Yohandel will have his work cut out for him. The most expensive suites on the vessel, full of stone and marble, will sit right at the top of the ship. They must make sure they don't jeopardize its stability. If they put too much weight high up, it could lead to disaster.

In the summer of 1915, the S.S. Eastland with 2,500 passengers on board was about to set off for a pleasure cruise on the Chicago River. After the Titanic disaster three years earlier, government legislation had required the ship's owners to install more lifeboats on the main deck. Unfortunately, the extra weight of the boats made the Eastland top-heavy and unstable. Before leaving the harbor, it rolled over and capsized. Eight-hundred-forty-four passengers and crew died.

At the shipbuilder's headquarters in Trieste, Michele Moro must keep a detailed inventory of the weight of every object on board the Explorer, and where it sits on the ship…

MICHELE MORO (Fincantieri): We have here, inside, about 20,000 items recorded.

NARRATOR: …from lifeboats to bathtubs, pianos to plates.

MICHELE MORO: This is the description of the item; this is the position of the deck; we have the quantity; this is the kilos.

NARRATOR: A computer plots the location of every object, to calculate the stability of the ship. To position the most expensive and heaviest suites high on the ship, Michele has figured out they must cut tons of weight from elsewhere.

Instead of the original vision of glass balconies, designers must use lighter steel railings. The ship's funnel, or chimney, will no longer be steel but an aluminum alloy, which weighs half as much.

But that's still not enough. Yohandel needs to find a way to slim down the furnishings.

YOHANDEL RUIZ: What we decided to do…we use a honeycomb system, similar to what I'm holding here. So, half of the panel will be a marble or a granite and then it will be backed to a honeycomb made up of aluminum. And it will keep it very light and airy.

As you can imagine, 52 suites, times a lot of marble, equals a lot of weight. So making small changes, including this, we've been able to reduce the weight quite significantly.

NARRATOR: With the calculations complete, over 1,000 workers in Genoa are now racing the clock to finish the ship.

In the space of four-and-a-half months, cranes winch the megablocks forming the upper decks, and the aluminum funnel into position. Forty-two megablocks are in place, leaving only 11 to install.

It's beginning to look like a ship. To deliver the vessel in time, eight months from now, work on the ship reaches a fever pitch.

Inside, the steel labyrinth of the hull pulses with industry. Teams of electricians, fitters and mechanics cram nearly every space. Power supplies fill the dockside. More than 40 miles of cables feed electricity to the welders on board.

Underneath the ship's hull, engineers are gearing up to fit the starboard propeller, the second of two.

MARCELLO GIORDANO (Fincantieri): (Translated from Italian) We have prepared the propeller shaft to receive the propeller, and now we will lift the propeller, using the pulleys, and start installing it on the shaft.

NARRATOR: The team must thread the 14-ton propeller onto this 120-foot-long shaft. The propeller must sit absolutely symmetrically on the shaft. If it's off-center, when it turns, it will cause the ship to vibrate.

MARCELLO GIORDANO: (Translated from Italian) The machining requires such a high degree of precision that we don't talk about millimeters, but tenths or hundredths of a millimeter.

NARRATOR: The smallest impact between the propeller and the shaft could damage both precision-crafted components.

MARCELLO GIORDANO: (Translated from Italian) The final stage is without doubt the most critical. If the propeller gets damaged during installation, it will be a major problem, because it will take several months to supply a new propeller.

NARRATOR: It takes eight hours of painstaking work to mount the starboard propeller.

MARCELLO GIORDANO: (Translated from Italian) Coupling of the propeller with the shaft is complete. It all went well. Just a few more activities, and the ship will be ready for launch.

NARRATOR: It has taken 1,500 workers, nine months to assemble the megablocks, install the electrical and ventilation systems and fit two massive propellers.

Still, inside, there's a huge amount of work to be done. Large areas of the Seven Seas Explorer are bare steel. The shipyard team has just seven months to transform this cold, grey skeleton into a floating palace.

At workshops in northern Italy, teams of craftsmen are busy manufacturing the wall coverings and furniture. But some luxury materials present hazards.

One of their greatest concerns is fire. In April 1990, an arsonist started a fire on board the ferry Scandinavian Star. The fire spread rapidly. Poisonous smoke spread through corridors and into cabins. A hundred-and-fifty-nine people died.

To prevent a similar disaster today, the ship is divided into compartments. If a fire breaks out in one, doors automatically close to contain the blaze. These doors do double-duty. In the event of a collision, they also prevent water from flooding through the ship, keeping it from sinking.

But there's one thing the doors can't stop. If a fire destroys the control cables running from the bridge to the engine room, it could cripple the ship. On the bridge, technicians are wiring up the Explorer's controls, connecting them to the propulsion system and to the G.P.S.-enabled automated navigation system, which is accurate to six feet.

Because these wires are so critical, the ship is being built to a new 2010 safety standard, called "Safe Return to Port." Unlike older cruise ships, every control and power cable on the Explorer will have a backup, routed through a different part of the vessel. So if one network is burnt out, the ship can still sail safely on to the nearest port.

If a fire destroys the main bridge, the Explorer has another line of defense: a backup bridge, four decks higher up.

THOMAS PULINO (Wärtsilä): This is the emergency wheelhouse, and it's closed in a protected box, so in case of a fire, or a real emergency, you can maneuver the ship from here. The cables that are coming here are completely separated from the rest of the cables on the ship.

NARRATOR: The maiden voyage is just four months away, but, with so many details to attend to, the work is falling behind schedule.

PIERLUIGI PUNTER: This is a luxury ship, and we need to take care of all the small details of the installation. This is the most challenging part of the building.

NARRATOR: To get the vessel ready on time, Pierluigi pulls out all the stops.

PIERLUIGI PUNTER: We have a lot of people on board. Today there will be about 1,500 people on board.

NARRATOR: Workers are under intense pressure as they lay over 500,000 square feet of flooring and install over 1,800 panes of glass.

And there's still one final hurdle to clear. Before the shipyard can deliver the vessel, the ship must pass a barrage of tests called a sea trial.

The pressure to get underway is now really on. Three weeks later than originally planned, over 500 engineers and technicians board the ship for the sea trials.

The Explorer sets sail for the first time. It's make or break for Pierluigi. Over the next three days, his team will run tests on every critical system on board, and the builders have to be on hand to answer questions.

The person who will make the final decision is ship surveyor Jean-Jacques Juenet. Jean-Jacques and his team must certify that the ship conforms to international regulations and is seaworthy.

JEAN-JACQUES JUENET (Bureau Veritas): But is it completely independent of what you have on the bridge?

FRANCESCO CIAVAGLIA: One chart is here, and one G.P.S. is here.

JEAN-JACQUES JUENET: At the end of the building period, we will issue the class certificate, which will allow the ship to sail. And we will also issue the safety certificate. And this safety certificate will allow the vessel to take passengers. Without this certificate, the ship is just a floating piece of steel.

NARRATOR: They will run the tests around the clock. One of the first is on the anchor. If the ship loses power, to stop it drifting, they must be able to drop the anchor fast.

VOICE OFF SCREEN: All right, it goes perfectly.

NARRATOR: They test the steering system to check how fast the ship can turn if it runs into danger, but for a cruise ship, there is another test that is just as critical. For the ship to be comfortable, it must sail with almost no vibrations. Has all the work designing and making the special six-bladed propeller paid off?

MARCO SPIGA (Independent Maritime Advisors, Ltd.): For the owner, this will be an important test, because this will measure the level of comfort that passengers will feel during their cruises. We are a little bit nervous, because these parameters are really important for the owner.

NARRATOR: Technicians must visit every part of the ship and measure the vibration. The test must be carried out under the most demanding conditions, when the ship is sailing at full speed.

This vibration sensor measures any movement of the deck. It needs weight to hold it firmly in position. As the ship sails through the night, they collect their readings.

In order for the ship to qualify as a comfort-class vessel, the outcome of this test is critical, as is the overall result. After three days and nights, Jean-Jacques Juenet gives the verdict.

JEAN-JACQUES JUENET: The measurements have been done here during the sea trial, and they are quite impressive, impressively good, yeah.

NARRATOR: The Explorer passes all its tests and is certified to sail. But Pierluigi and his team can't rest on their laurels.

PERLUIGI PUNTER: The result was very, very good. Now we have the final rush.

NARRATOR: In the final few weeks, the activity on board becomes frantic. Hundreds of craftsmen are racing the clock, installing over an acre of marble and 473 chandeliers. This is intricate, time-consuming work.

Two days before the ship must leave the shipyard, C.E.O. Frank Del Rio arrives from Miami and finds the work is far from complete.

FRANK DEL RIO: I was worried the time I signed the contract three years ago, so, yes I'm worried. But, we are working through the night. We are working double shifts.

NARRATOR: They are cutting it very close. The night before departure, the theatre isn't finished, and the band is on stage rehearsing the first show.

But, the next morning, there's an amazing transformation, in the nick of time, the ship is passenger-ready. On the bridge, her first captain, Stanislas Mercier de Lacombe takes command.


NARRATOR: He sets course for Monaco, where the ship will be christened. After 20 years at sea, he experiences, for the first time, a brand new ship under his control.

STANISLAS MERCIER DE LACOMBE: The ship is amazing. We are able to go at nearly 21 knots, and there is, basically, no wake. The maneuverability of the ship is really nice, a lot of power. But we just start to know each other, so it's a bit like a first date. We take things very slow, very gentle.

Hard to port.

NARRATOR: Safely docked in Monaco, they make final preparations to receive the first passengers. In the galleys, the ship's 85 chefs start preparing the haute-cuisine meals. In the $10,000-a-night Regent suite, the butler sets the finishing touches.

All is ready for the christening ceremony. The ship's godmother, Princess Charlene of Monaco, will christen the ship with a Goliath bottle, containing seven gallons of champagne.

HER SERENE HIGHNESS, PRINCESS CHARLENE OF MONACO (Godmother of the Seven Seas Explorer): I bless this ship Seven Sea Explorer. May God bless her and all who sail on her.

CAPTAIN ROSARIO GIOVANNI VASTA: Stations one and two, we are underway.


NARRATOR: After three years of design, 18 months of construction, and the work of thousands of engineers, designers and craftsmen, the Seven Seas Explorer is finally ready to sail the oceans of the world.

Broadcast Credits

Martin Gorst
Carlo Massarella
Paul Shepard
Eric Meyers
Duncan Bulling
Joby Lubman
Lee Reading
Steve Morgan
Mat Stimpson
Ingo Nyakairu
Claudio Crimani
Peter Jones
Richard Overton
Christoph Renschler
Fausto Appiolaza
Marcella Gasche
Emilio Scarlata
Fiona Cousins
Rachel Martinez
Emma McCormack
Rebecca Pye
Karen Lee
Farne Sinclair
Mel Moore
Liza Krug
Fluid Pictures
Philip Michael
Dicky Everton
Peter Lynch
Rada Danilovic
Associazione Italiana Documentazione Marittima e Navale
Eric Sauder Collection
Library of Congress
National Archives and Records Administration
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings
Regent Seven Seas
Twan van der Meer
Van Voorden Casting
Spine 3D
W. Andre Allen
For Windfall Films
Birte Pedersen
Sue Harvard
yU + co.
Walter Werzowa
John Luker
Musikvergnuegen, Inc.
Ray Loring
Rob Morsberger
The Caption Center
Spencer Gentry
Jennifer Welsh
Eileen Campion
Eddie Ward
Diane Toomey
Ana Aceves
Caitlin Saks
Anne Barleon
Linda Callahan
Sarah Erlandson
Janice Flood
Susan Rosen
Kristine Allington
Tim De Chant
Lauren Aguirre
Lauren Miller
Ariam McCrary
Brittany Flynn
Kevin Young
Michael H. Amundson
Nathan Gunner
Elizabeth Benjes
David Condon
Pamela Rosenstein
Laurie Cahalane
Evan Hadingham
Chris Schmidt
Melanie Wallace
Julia Cort
Paula S. Apsell

A NOVA production by Windfall Films Ltd. (part of the Argonon Group) for WGBH Boston in association with Discovery Networks Europe and Channel 5 Broadcasting (tbc).

© 2017 Windfall Films Ltd. (part of the Argonon Group)

All rights reserved

This program was produced by WGBH, which is solely responsible for its content.

Original funding for this program was provided by Cancer Treatment Centers of America, the David H. Koch Fund for Science, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


Image credit: (Seven Seas Explorer in drydock)
© Martin Gorst/WGBH Educational Foundation)


Frank Del Rio
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings
Marcello Giordano
Jean-Jacques Jeunet
Bureau Veritas
Gianpiero Lavini
Stanislas Mercier De Lacombe
Seven Seas Explorer
Ralph Moolenaar
Van Voorden
Michele Moro
Thomas Pulino
Pierluigi Punter
Yohandel Ruiz
Marco Spiga
Independent Maritime Advisors, Ltd
Antonio Vario
Umberto Vianello

Preview | 00:30

Full Program | 52:55

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