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Cruise news.

Byline: WITH CAPTAIN GREYBEARD

While the UK welcomed the biggest cruise ship ever into Southampton this week, I've been travelling in the Med on Carnival Vista.

I also took a journey back in time, thanks to Carnival Cruise Line and the Fincantieri shipyard in Castellammare di Stabia. It was a return to an era when ships were not built in dry dock, but on a slipway - from which they were launched into the sea.

The yard, in the Bay of Naples, has neither a dry dock nor the facilities to build ships the size of the 133,500-ton Vista. But to meet the commitments of a full order book, Fincantieri used Castellammare to build a section of the as-yet-unnamed Vista 2 as they did last year for Majestic Princess.

Even though it was not a whole ship, the launching ceremony was gloriously old style, and a reminder of how vessels such as Cunard's QE2 used to be launched on the Clyde, the Tyne and the Mersey.

I climbed a steep stairway to a viewing platform part way down the slip. Behind me were massive wooden blocks that had supported previous construction projects. In front of me was a section of Vista 2's hull.

Workers milled around on the slipway, others were gathered at railings on board. A Roman Catholic priest blessed the ship and splashed generous amounts of holy water over shipyard executives and Carnival president Christine Duffy was given the role of the ship's madrina, or godmother.

Wearing hard hats, the workmen disappeared beneath the hull and set to with sledgehammers, knocking out the supporting wedges and props with an enormous clamour of banging and clattering.

As it reached the critical point, defying gravity, held in position by friction and the last chains, Duffy used a silver axe to cut a ceremonial cord, a bottle of champagne shattered against the hull and it slid towards the sea.

Almost as one, the workmen flung their gloves towards the steelwork and - apart from those videoing the event on their mobiles - threw their arms in the air, cheered loudly, and then hugged and kissed each other in celebration.

The ship section reached the water, restrained by heavy chains, and was nudged into place by two waiting tugs.

Next year, Castellammare will once more be building ships for the Italian Navy and cruise ships will be boringly floated out of dry dock again.

Harmony of the Seas fans won't have long to wait for my verdict on the biggest cruise ship in the world. I'm travelling to Barcelona at the beginning of June for a short cruise. Watch this space.

@CaptGreybeard

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 21, 2016
Words:438
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