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A closer look at the new Liberty of the Seas

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As a light snow falls over Aker Finnyards, home to Royal Caribbean's new Liberty of the Seas (and, as well, its Independence of the Seas), we enter the gates at a sign saying "We have been working ... 16 days ... without fire." That's a scary thought. Toivo Ilvonen, the project manager for this ship, and in fact the man who created the Freedom-class concept for Royal Caribbean, tells us that the shipyard takes fire, its most potent enemy, so seriously that even the tiniest flare up outside requires a major investigation. Looking around me at the hard-packed snow that covers not only the asphalt but also anything outside, from lifeboats waiting for installation to the top of the hard hat I'm required to wear for safety, it's hard to believe you could even start a fire out here. Brrrrrr.

That's because Cruise Critic's visit to the shipyard to check out the progress of Liberty of the Seas occurred just this week -- or, if you're reading this later, in mid-February. A passionate fan of the ship building process, I've visited a number of them in various stages of completion (most actually quite early on, when the inside of the vessel resembled nothing more than a massive building under construction). But this time, with only two months to go before Liberty of the Seas is delivered from the yard, the ship should look very much like, well, a ship should!

Visiting Liberty of the Seas is a lot like reconnecting with an old friend, as I'd spent quite some time on Freedom of the Seas, its older sibling. Most of the innovations pioneered there -- the kids' H2O Zone, a boxing ring, a surf park -- are found here too. There are the gorgeous (and fun) cantilevered whirlpools in the Solarium area (from your perch inside you can see, through glass panels, all the way down to the sea). The barber shop and Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlor return, as do Sorrento's and Chops Grille. Cabins still range from insides to promenades to the 14-person Presidential Suite.

No big surprises, alas. At least as far as we could see; perhaps the only real bit of news is that the book nook found in Freedom's coffee bar will not be included on Liberty of the Seas. Sorrento's gets some extra seating outside.

Still, whether you're simply interested in Royal Caribbean's newest Freedom-class ship or are a passionate fan of the shipbuilding process, check out Cruise Critic's chronicle of Liberty of the Seas as it begins the final countdown. The ship, which will sail Miami-based itineraries beginning in mid-May, is slated for delivery from the shipyard on April 18. And sources there tell us it's going to be ready on time.