Carnival Corporation has signed the building contract for Cunard Lines's new Queen Mary 2 with Chantiers de l'Atlantique.

Set to be the world's largest ship at 150,000-tons, the QM2, which will have a passenger capacity of 2,620 on a double occupancy basis, will cost approximately $780 million, or nearly $300,000 per berth. The QM2 is expected to enter service in late 2003.

At 1,132 feet in length, the QM2 will be 17 decks high. With a beam of 135 feet, she will also be the longest and widest passenger ship ever built, according to Cunard. The draft will be 33 feet.

The QM2 will feature multiple dining venues, including Cunard's traditional Grill Room, a 1,300-seat, three-deck-high main restaurant and a casual poolside eatery, indoor and outdoor wrap-around promenades encircling several decks, a planetarium, a seven­ classroom enrichment center and an art gallery exhibiting maritime paintings and memorabilia.

Five swimming pools - including an indoor pool within the ship's health and fitness facility, along with several entertainment venues, ranging from intimate locales to a spectacular multi-deck show lounge, will be featured as well, according to Cunard.

The QM2 will have 1,310 staterooms, nearly three quarters of which will have private balconies.

The total passenger capacity will be 3,090, including third and fourth berths in 470 of the staterooms.

On the technical side, the new ship will feature the Mermaid podded propulson system, with two fixed and two rotating units. The power plant will be a combination of four diesel engines and two gas turbines, with the latter mounted topside, according to Cunard. The top speed is reported to be close to 30 knots. The QM2 will have a crew of 1,254.