Britons to carry on cruising in record-size style

New monster of a ship will have 1,812 cabins, 17 decks, 12 restaurants, three pools, a cinema, gym and theatre

Traditionally cruise holidays cater to the "well fed, the newly wed and the nearly dead", but such has been the surge in popularity of holidays on the high seas among a new breed of British traveller there is a looming shortage of bunks.

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Yesterday, P&O announced plans to sail into that gap with a £489m, 17-deck monster of a ship – the largest ever built for British passengers.

With 1,812 cabins, the unnamed vessel will have four more rooms than London's largest hotel. P&O is guarding the specifications of the 141,000-tonne ship, but it is expected to have 12 restaurants, three swimming pools, several lounges, a spa, a gym, a cinema and a theatre.

Designed to sleep 3,611 guests, it will be the seventh largest cruise ship on the oceans but, in a world where the cruise lines are locked in a race to build bigger and better, it will still be a relative minnow. The largest cruise ships, Royal Carribean's Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas weigh in at 225,000 tonnes and 5,400 guests.

The order comes as cruise ship owners take advantage of a decade-long boom in British cruises. Between 2001 and 2010 the number of ocean cruises taken by UK passengers doubled to 1.62 million, according to the Passenger Shipping Association. The boom has defied the recession, with passenger numbers rising by 6 per cent last year. One in 20 foreign holidays and one in nine package holidays is now a cruise.

The new ship, white with two yellow funnels, is scheduled to have its maiden voyage in March 2015. Three-quarters of its cabins will have private balconies, and although itineraries have not yet been planned it is expected to sail to popular destinations in the Mediterranean, Baltic and further afield.

Modern cruise liners are increasingly catering to modern passengers not content to toss quoits or take strolls around the upper deck. As the superpowers in a booming industry fight to take bookings, they offer everything from surfing to zip wires, as well as climbing walls and even ice rinks.

"Cruising has definitely loosened up a lot," said Carolyn Brown Spencer, editor in chief of Cruise Critic website. In a survey for her website, more than half of cruise passengers said that avoiding the hassle of air travel was the biggest advantage in sailing from a UK port. And so the industry has responded, and, in the age of the megaliner, there is no place for dinner jackets.

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