Wielding scissors, a woman who helped raise more than 400 foster children over 27 years snipped a ribbon to christen the world's largest cruise ship Friday while it docked near the Statue of Liberty.
"I name this ship the 'Freedom of the Sea.' May God bless her, Royal Caribbean and all who sail upon her," 56-year-old Katherine Louise Calder said in the ceremony televised live on NBC's "Today."
She then cut the ribbon to release a giant bottle containing the equivalent of 34 bottles of champagne.
Viewers of "Today" voted to select her as "godmother" of the Freedom of the Seas, and she is staying on the ship with family members.
"I feel very honored and just kind of floating around," said Calder, who cares for hundreds of special needs children and works as an adoption advocate in the Portland, Oregon, area. "I don't think my feet have touched the ground since I got onboard."
The ship is so immense that even its captain hadn't finished exploring it earlier this week.
"I'm still discovering things," Bill Wright said Thursday as he walked around the bridge of the newly built ship while it was docked in Bayonne.
Freedom of the Seas, which arrived this week in New York Harbor from Southampton, Britain, is 237 feet tall and 1,112 feet long with 15 passenger decks.
Standing upright on its bow, it would be taller than the Eiffel Tower. The ship comes in at 160,000 gross registered tons, a standard measurement of carrying capacity that is about 100 cubic feet for each ton.
Built by Norwegian shipbuilder Aker Yards ASA, the ship cost $800 million and can carry more than 4,000 passengers. The world's previous largest ship, the Queen Mary 2, can carry about 3,000 people and is 151,400 gross registered tons. The Titanic's gross registered tonnage was 46,329.
If you want to sail on the new ship, it won't be cheap.
Prices for seven-day voyages range from $1,900 per couple for an interior room during the low season to nearly $2,500 for the same-size cabin with a balcony during high season, said Cindy Dangel, an on-board sales manager.
A deluxe room that sleeps 14 and costs $22,000 during peak season is booked until 2008, she said.
A three-level dining room seats 2,140. There are more than 2,000 deck chairs and an ice-skating rink. The fitness center measures 9,700 square feet and includes a boxing ring. The spa provides luxuries from teeth whitening to massages and a 13th-floor deck offers a rock climbing wall and a big wave pool with simulated surfing.
Royal Caribbean's newest liner will be docked in New York Harbor and Cape Liberty in Bayonne over the next few days before it leaves on May 18 for a trip to Boston.
The ship's maiden voyage was last month, from Hamburg, Germany, to Oslo, Norway, but it won't have paying passengers until it leaves from Miami for the western Caribbean next month.
While the ship's New York area arrival is generating a big buzz, its grand scale might not appeal to everyone.
Bigger isn't always better, and a large ship can be overwhelming and impersonal, said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of cruisecritic.com, a Web site devoted to cruise travel information.
"You're always thinking about what you should be doing next," she said. "Expect lines. Expect congestion."
She said on a ship of this scale, passengers may be tempted to skip some of the ports.
"This ship, more than any other ship out there, represents the on-land resort experience. There's so much to do you really don't have to get off," she said.
Take a virtual tour. link