Princess Cruises Royal Princess keel laying

The roughly 500-ton keel is put into place by crane at the Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy in a construction milestone for Princess Cruises' 3,600-passenger, 141,000-ton Royal Princess set to debut in May 2013. (Princess Cruises / October 20, 2011)

The next ship in the Princess Cruises fleet is set to take shape after its keel-laying ceremony last week.

The new Royal Princess cruise ship had its 500-ton keel moved into position by a computerized crane in the building dock at the Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy with a traditional priestly blessing and ceremony to begin the countdown to the ship's debut in May 2013.

"It's always very exciting to mark this step in a ship's construction, when several of the pre-built sections come together to form a new addition to our fleet, especially with a prototype design," said Alan Buckelew, president and CEO of Princess Cruises who traveled to Italy for the ceremony.

The hull of the 3,600-passenger, 141,000-ton ship will be worked on for the next several months ahead of the planned float-out in July 2012.

The ship design features some new and noteworthy features including a see-through, glass-enclosed walkway called the SeaWalk that will venture out over the water from the top deck 128 feet above the water. That starboard-side feature will be coupled with the port-side SeaView bar, also featuring see-through glass flooring that juts out over the open water.

Just where the Royal Princess will debut has yet to be announced. Expect to find out its homeport in the spring as 2013 itineraries are announced.

The Royal Princess will become the 17th ship in the fleet and will be followed in spring 2014 by a sister ship that has yet to be named. In May of this year, a previous ship named Royal Princess was transferred to sister cruise line, P&O Cruises, which is also owned by Carnival Corp. That ship joined the Princess fleet in 2007 from Swan Hellenic, and had been sailing as MS Minerva II, but was originally built in 2001 for the now defunct Renaissance Cruises.

The new ship will be the third Princess vessel to carry the name. The first Royal Princess joined the fleet in 1984, and was inaugurated by Diana, Princess of Wales, before being transferred to P&O Cruises in 2005 and renamed MS Artemis.