Next week, I will be visiting the shipyard in Turku, Finland, for a walk through Oasis of the Seas. If you’re interested in up-to-the-minute reports from the ship, please mark your calendars and return to the site Monday August 24.
In December, Royal Caribbean International will introduce the world’s largest cruise ship: the 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas.
Let’s start by getting the size factor out of the way. Yes, the ship is mammoth. It will span 16 decks, encompass 220,000 gross registered tons, and if full, could hold 6,200 guests. But as the bigwigs at Royal Caribbean tell us, the company has been here before – twice in fact.
No modern cruiser would bat an eye at a 3,114-passenger vessel, but that is the size of the Voyager of the Seas, which was the world’s largest cruise ship when it debuted in 1999, rousing the same questions the Oasis does today: Will it float? Will it fit into ports? Will it take half a day to get on and off?
It is natural to focus on Oasis’ size. We did so with Voyager and also when Royal introduced the 4,300-passenger Freedom of the Seas in 2006, and still the world’s largest title-holder. But with the Oasis, its size is not the story behind this ship.
The Oasis will have amenities never seen afloat before, such as a zip-line and a carousel, as well as the first moving bar at sea, which will ascend from the ship’s Promenade area of indoor stores and cafes, to its Central Park, an open-air outdoor “park” with pathways, flower gardens and canopy trees that span the length of a football field.
A pool situated at the very back of the ship, the deepest at sea, will by night be an outdoor amphitheater, hosting synchronized swimming and diving shows featuring Olympic athletes that will jump from as high as 72 feet up. During the day guests can swim or take SCUBA lessons in the pool, or relax on loungers located on tiered platforms surrounding it. Speaking of pools, the Oasis has four of them. Two will be made to feel like a beach with sloped entries you can walk into just as you would the ocean.
The Oasis revolutionizes cruise ship accommodations, offering 37 different accommodation categories, and unique offerings such as duplex “loft suites” that have 18-foot windows looking on to the ocean. Other cabins will have views of the line’s seven “neighborhoods” such as the aforementioned Central Park and also the Boardwalk, home to the Carousel and venues like a (fake) tattoo parlor.
In addition to Central Park, the “neighborhoods” include the Boardwalk, the Royal Promenade, the Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center, Entertainment Place and Youth Zone: 28,700-square-feet just for kids and teens with Kids Avenue, a central boulevard connecting various themed play areas; a nursery for infants and toddlers; a theater just for children.
All this give parents time to enjoy the adults-only retreat, the open-air Solarium. Adults will have their own swimming pool and six whirlpools – four of them cantilevered 136 feet above the ocean. At night, the Solarium becomes an adults-only setting for specialty dining and outdoor dancing.
The Oasis’ itineraries – seven-day Eastern and Western Caribbean – are certainly not original. It is true that there are few ports worldwide that could accommodate such ships. But the Oasis has forced innovation at some of these ports, and will be a boon to all of them at a time when there is nary a destination that can’t use an influx of several thousand tourists each week.
In Fort Lauderdale, where the Oasis and its sister ship the Allure of the Seas will homeport, Port Everglades is building the world’s largest terminal for the Oasis ships. It will actually be two separate terminals designed so that embarkation and debarkation can happen simultaneously, drastically saving time. The port has even said that its goal is to get passengers from curbside to the vessel in just 15 minutes.
Jamaica and Royal Caribbean worked together to create a new cruise port designed specifically for the two Oasis ships. Falmouth, which will also be open to other cruise lines when Royal Caribbean isn’t there, is located 20 minutes from Montego Bay and 30 from Ocho Rios. It is being revitalized to reflect its heritage as an “old English town.” But construction delays forced Royal Caribbean to replace Falmouth with Costa Maya (Mexico) on the ship’s first 16 Western Caribbean sailings.
Royal Caribbean has not been immune to the problems of the recession. Its stock price has tanked, and it laid off a round of employees last summer. The line is offering deals and discounts to entice customers, along with every other cruise line. Despite all of this, anyone who hangs around with Royal Caribbean’s employees can feel a palpable enthusiasm. As the line’s chairman Richard Fain proclaimed recently: “It’s a good day in my neighborhood — all seven of them.”
From its Miami headquarters, Royal Caribbean continues to spread the word about its “Nation of Why Not?” campaign, which defines Royal Caribbean’s fleet as the ideal destination to declare independence from ordinary vacations. Clearly, “awesome” Oasis will offer anything but an ordinary vacation.