More details on the plans of Luxus Holdings are emerging following the announcement on May 31 that the company had signed a letter of intent with Belfast builder Harland & Wolff for construction of two 28,000-ton, 380-passenger luxury ships valued at $175 million each.

Luxus intends to offer an extremely high-end cruise experience for an average per diem of around $1,000: an onboard space ratio of 74, a seven-story atrium complete with seven-story waterfall, and two­ story duplexes featuring both inside and outside balconies.

Headed by CEO Les Royle, the company has brought aboard former P&O director James Davis as chairman of the board. Luxus Holdings' financial backers include Richard Huber, most recently chairman and CEO of AETNA; Frank Aldrich of Bank of Boston; and a number of other investors. Royle said that talks continue with a major institutional investment firm as well.

Royle was unable to provide a construction timetable at press time. He noted that Harland & Wolff was also negotiating a contract for ro-pax vessels for Seamasters, and the Luxus timetable depended on whether that deal was finalized.

When the ships do set sail, Royle said their itineraries would be worldwide, averaging 10 to 14 days in length, with the passenger makeup 60 percent American, 40 percent non-American.

Luxus designer Evan Marshall differentiated the ship's interior from those currently available on the luxury scene. "We will create the same level of finish and refinement you find on a private yacht - more so than you'd find on a Silversea or Seabourn ship, with some spectacular public spaces and some unique space planning ideas for the staterooms."

Marshall confirmed that the roots of the Luxus drawings currently released to the press can be found in an earlier project, entrepreneur Erik Dahl's now­ defunct Midnight Sun Cruises, for which Marshall served as interior/exterior designer and Kvaerner Masa-Yards served as naval architect. Indeed, an artists' rendering of the Midnight Sun project published four years ago matches the current ship model of Luxus exactly. But Marshall explained, "The ship bas been redesigned since then. It's longer. The silhouette is different. And Harland & Wolff is acting as the naval architect for this ship."