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Gargantuan "Queen' comes to Florida

Don't be surprised if you see what looks like a floating building off South Florida's coast today _ it's just the Queen Mary II, the world's largest and most expensive cruise ship finishing its maiden voyage.

Cunard Line's new flagship sailed from the English port of Southampton on Jan. 12 on a two-week trans-Atlantic voyage to Fort Lauderdale. About 2,600 passengers paid from about $2,800 to $37,499 for the first trip.

Gov. Jeb Bush and other officials were expected to greet the ship after it arrived in Port Everglades early today. A procession of Coast Guard and Navy vessels will accompany the Queen Mary II, and hundreds of people were expected to line the shores to see the $800-million ocean liner.

The ship sets a number of records for passenger vessels _ largest, longest, tallest, widest and most expensive. It's 1,132 feet long _ more than twice as long as the Washington Monument is tall _ and 236 feet high, about the height of a 23-story building. It weighs about 151,400 long tons _ the largest of any cruise ship and the rough equivalent of 390 fully loaded 747 jets.

Media tours and a charity event are planned on board before the ship sails on its first Caribbean voyage Saturday.

Fort Lauderdale officials expect the ship's use of the city's port in the winter will contribute $2.5-million to the local economy each season and $440,000 in port revenue this year.

"We've already started to pick up some additional business," said Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Grossman said the liner adds prestige to Fort Lauderdale's growing reputation as a luxury tourist destination. "We can't afford to buy that," she said.

Passengers can enjoy six restaurants, 14 bars and clubs, a library, theater, pools, a disco and casino. Elevators _ 22 of them _ will ferry them from floor to floor. The 1,310 cabins include duplexes with private gymnasiums and penthouses with butler service. If the bright stars of the ocean's night sky aren't enough, not to worry _ there's also a planetarium.

The ship project was announced in 1998 when Miami-based Carnival Corp. bought Cunard. It was built in the French port of St. Nazaire, where a gangway accident killed 15 people visiting the ship last year.