(6 a.m. EDT) -- Inside Symphony of the Seas' Royal Theater, at the STX France Shipyard in St. Nazaire, France, Royal Caribbean took official ownership of what is now the Guinness World Record holder for largest passenger cruise ship -- coming in at 228,081 gross registered tons (GRT) and with a capacity of 6,680 total passengers and 2,200 crewmembers. The ceremony was attended by executives from Royal Caribbean and STX France, former France prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, the crew and international media.
Symphony is the newest addition to Royal's popular Oasis class of ships, which also includes Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas. While Harmony holds nearly as many passengers, it measures 227,000 GRT. Oasis and Allure follow that with 225,282 GRT each.
"I have a problem with us being known as the largest cruise ship in the world," admitted Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., during the ceremony. "It is, but that's not what we set out to do. We set out to build the best cruise ship in the world, and have done it magnificently. Together, we've made some truly amazing music with STX."
Symphony of the Seas is the second Oasis-class cruise ship to be built at STX France (Harmony was the first), a shipyard that was facing financial uncertainty in 2012, when the agreement for the ships was first made. Laurent Castaing, president of the STX France shipyard, spoke during the ceremony about the crucial role former prime minister Ayrault played in securing Royal Caribbean's business. "And the meeting was the Friday before Christmas, when no one else was working," Fain joked.
Joking aside, each speaker stressed the importance of the crew and their role in bringing the ship to life. "The ship is terrific -- the art, architecture, workmanship, quality and design -- but it's always the crew who get people coming back day after day; we hear from them in their feedback," said Fain.
At the beginning of the ceremony, a video of the crew putting the finishing touches on the ship was shown on the theater's big screens. Classical music played in the background, but it wasn't until halfway through the presentation that the curtains swept back to reveal a live French orchestra playing the piece; a nod to the "symphony" in the name of the ship.
"Symphony is the best name for what we do: various components coming together to create a moment where everything works together perfectly," Nick Weir, VP of Entertainment for Royal Caribbean International, told the crowd. "We have different cultures, different everything, but facing the guests is one amazing team."
According to Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, "people are booking the ship like crazy already." Bayley estimates that in the next three decades, the ship will host approximately 10 million passengers from countries all around the world.
In the blessing of the ship, Father Brian Millson (who also blessed Harmony) spoke directly to the crew: "It's an awesome responsibility to be this crew; tens of thousands of people each year will depend on you for their happiness and safety. Every job -- the feeding, cleaning and maintaining of the ship -- is so important to the success of the cruise and you should be proud."
Captain Rob Hempstead, master of the vessel, spoke about the challenges and rewards of getting a ship like Symphony up and running. "It can be hot, cold, loud -- mentally and physically demanding…but it's been an amazing journey and we're just getting started."
Symphony introduces a handful of "firsts" to the line. Among them are a laser tag arena; Playmakers, a sports bar, grill and arcade; a production of "Hairspray"; Hooked, a seafood restaurant; Sugar Beach, a sweets shop; El Loco Fresh, a casual Mexican eatery; and the Ultimate Family Suite, a deluxe stateroom featuring a two-story slide, private 3D theater and Lego wall, among other amenities designed just for families.
Improving upon its fleetmates, Symphony contains 28 more balcony cabins than Harmony (tallying 2,759 cabins in total), and the line claims that the vessel is 25 percent more energy efficient than Allure of the Seas. The ship has also received a special designation of low noise emission into the water -- "which means everyone should sleep quietly," said Castaing.
Cruise Critic is sailing onboard as Symphony of the Seas repositions from the shipyard to its first port of embarkation, Barcelona, where it will sail Mediterranean cruises beginning on March 31. The ship will then head to Miami in November for an inaugural season in the Caribbean.
--By Brittany Chrusciel, Associate Editor