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Exclusive: Inside the largest cruise ship ever built

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SOUTHAMPTON, England — Eager for a look inside the largest cruise ship ever built? USA TODAY this week is getting exclusive access to Royal Caribbean's 226,963-ton Harmony of the Seas in advance of its maiden voyage, and we're posting our first photos of the vessel in the carousel above and at our Twitter page and Facebook page.

Harmony is built on the same platform as Royal Caribbean's giant Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, the current size leaders in the cruise world, but it eclipses its siblings by nearly 1,700 tons and offers a number of new features. Among them: Ultimate Abyss, which just might be the most thrilling attraction ever conceived for a cruise ship. Comprised of two swirling slides, it drops 10 stories from near the top of the vessel down to one of its lowest decks.

As can be seen in the photos above, Harmony also is home to a multi-deck water slide area, something Royal Caribbean has just begun adding to ships this year. It's also the first Oasis class ship with a Bionic Bar where the drinks are served by robot bartenders -- a concept that first debuted in 2014 on Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas.

harmony

In addition, Harmony has larger cabins than Oasis and Allure in some categories, and windowless "inside" cabins are being outfitted with Royal Caribbean's exclusive Virtual Balconies, which offer a real-time view of the outdoors. It's a concept that first debuted in 2014 on the line's Navigator of the Seas.

Wider than Oasis and Allure by about 2.5 feet and a tad longer, too, Harmony holds nearly 100 more passengers than its sisters at double occupancy. Its total capacity is 6,780 people, not including crew.

Harmony's first voyage with paying passengers is scheduled for May 22 out of Southampton, England. After an initial series of cruises in Europe, it'll will re-position to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in the fall to offer alternating, seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean voyages.

With its addition, Royal Caribbean will have 25 ships.

USA TODAY Cruise in 2015 was among a handful of U.S. media outlets to get early access to the last new ship Royal Caribbean devoted to the U.S. market, Anthem of the Seas. For our 'first look' tour of that vessel's pool decks, public areas and swankiest suites, scroll through the carousels below.

source: www.usatoday.com