A new generation billion dollar plus mega cruise ship is heading for New Zealand and plans to call at ports throughout the country.
Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas will be in New Zealand and Australian waters next year and will be the biggest cruise ship to ever visit here. Its arrival is a coup for the fast-growing cruise industry in this country - one of the most rapidly expanding in the world - and the tourism sector which has targeted the industry as a source of high numbers of increasingly wealthy visitors. Passengers aboard the cruise line's Quantum class ships pay a premium to travel on them.
Ovation is still being built at a shipyard in Germany and when finished will be 348m long and 168,666 gross registered tonnes.
The biggest cruise ship to enter New Zealand so far is the Queen Mary 2 at 148,528 gross tonnes and 345m in length. Another Royal Caribbean ship, Voyager of the Seas regularly calls here and is 311m and 137,276 tonnes although has to date been the biggest by the number of passengers.
Cruise lines are building bigger ships packed with more features as they try to out-do each other to attract increasingly discerning passengers.
Ovation can carry up to 5000 passengers and will have a glass observation capsule that rises 91m above the deck, bumper cars, a circus school, a sky diving experience and 18 restaurants including a Jamie Oliver-branded one.
Ovation of the Seas will completely redefine the idea of cruising in New Zealand, taking the industry to the next level.
Two of Ovation's sister ships, Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas have been launched during the past six months.
Royal Caribbean announced plans for Ovation this morning but hasn't yet released details of its schedule in New Zealand waters later next year. Auckland is a likely port visit but without modifications to mooring facilities the ship will be too big to berth at the main cruise terminal at Princes Wharf. The Queen Mary 2 had to berth at Jellicoe Wharf.
Gavin Smith, regional vice president, Royal Caribbean, Asia Pacific said the arrival of the ship was ground breaking.
"Ovation of the Seas will completely redefine the idea of cruising in New Zealand, taking the industry to the next level," he said.
The company wanted to start selling tickets from June 1 but was now finalising details with ports it would potentially visit.
These could include Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington and Akaroa.
"Until we get certification from all the relevant harbour masters we really can't publish them."
The ship would do three round trips from Sydney during the summer of 2016-17 for about a fortnight each calling at around six New Zealand and Australian ports.
Smith said planned expansion of Auckland's general cargo wharves didn't worry the company which would welcome more space in deep water. In other ports throughout the world the company and passengers were used to berthing at container terminals.
Royal Caribbean has been cruising Australasian waters since 2007 and its ships started calling in New Zealand from April 2010.
The Miami-headquartered company operates Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Azamara Club Cruises and has a combined total of 41 ships in service - including the two biggest cruise ships in the world - and four under construction, including Ovation.
That ship is being built at the Meyer Werft shipyard at Papenburg, close to the border of The Netherlands. Construction will take about a year and the company says the finished cost will be about US$1 billion (NZ$1.25 billion).
Latest cruise industry figures show 23 per cent growth for the NZ market.
Record numbers are expected for the 2015-2016 season.
Check out a photo gallery from the launch of the Quantum of the Seas ship in Germany last year: