The largest cruise ship ever constructed set sail last month, prodding Oliver Franklin-Wallis to explore the drastic and mammoth ways in which such ship building has changed in the past three decades. In a fascinating piece for Wired UK, he introduces readers to Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, the company behind the record-setting Symphony of the Seas, and Harri Kulovaara, the Finnish naval architect Fain hired to help revolutionize what cruise ships can offer. The two made waves with Voyager of the Seas in 1999, a $650 million ship that launched "an amenities arms race" (this one had the first ice rink at sea). Symphony cost more than $1 billion and boasts 23 pools, 40 restaurants, and a 10-story slide—but there's so much more to it.
Tip it on its stern, and the bow—nearly 1,200 feet away—would be the third tallest skyscraper in Europe, were it a building and not a feat of building. Franklin-Wallis details the myriad "constraints" cruise-ship architects face that their landlubbing brethren don't have to consider: the need for in-ship waste-treatment facilities and building materials that won't degrade from the daily sanitation that's performed on things as small as casino chips; the necessity of including a small morgue and a place to freeze trash to stem bacteria growth; and the requirement that "a blocked toilet must still drain at 10° of ship tilt without spilling into the room." But it's Symphony's "Central Park" garden, and the engineering considerations behind it, that really wows. Read the full story here. (Read more Longform stories.)