This article was written by Avid Cruiser Contributing Editor Susan J. Young
After sailing on Royal Caribbean International’s massive new Oasis of the Seas earlier this month, I can state with pure conviction: “She’s not your typical cruise ship in any way, shape or form.”
In fact, it seemed fitting to examine what’s absolutely NOT typical about this new ship. So here is my purely personal assessment, entitled: “Seven Ways To Know You’re Sailing on Oasis of the Seas.”
Big Size, Unusual Structure
At 225,282-gross-registered tons, the humongous ship is the world’s biggest. Just eyeballing Oasis of the Seas from the parking lot at Port Everglades last week, it appeared the top of its hull was on an equal level with some of the lowest level balconies on a large Princess Cruises ship docked nearby.
Oasis of the Seas spans 16 passenger decks and carries 5,400 passengers, double occupancy. With third and fourth berths the capacity soars to 6,296. Guests are served by an international crew of 2,165, who hail from 71 different counties.
In tonnage and passenger count, the ship is huge. In fact, Oasis of the Seas is 27 feet wider than Royal Caribbean’s Freedom-class ships; that additional width to the beam supports the unique superstructure and creates great stability in the water.
Most unique, though, is the ship’s split superstructure with a 62-foot wide, open-air central core. The ship’s upper 10 decks separate into port and starboard side sections; they’re joined structurally forward and at midships.
All in the Neighborhood
Many ships sailing the world’s oceans have zones or areas for different activities. That’s not new or unique. Royal Caribbean calls its zones “neighborhoods.” Yes, some are fairly typical in their focus such as the Youth Zone (children and teen spaces) and the Pool and Sports Zone.
Other neighborhoods – most notably Boardwalk and Central Park — are more innovative. They actually take on the aura of a real neighborhood with a diverse mix of accommodations, activities, shops and restaurants.
Simply put, these neighborhoods effectively carve out smaller spaces on a very large ship. That’s a feature that’s enticing to passengers who aren’t eager to sail with 5,000 other people. The spaces make the ship seem smaller.
As an example, Boardwalk delivers a Coney Island feel with a family friendly atmosphere in a fairly compact area. Boardwalk’s star attraction is a hand-crafted, 11,000-pound carousel with gold leaf detailing and 200 light bulbs. The first carousel to operate at sea, the merry-go-round is home to 18 hand-carved wooden animals.
The lead horse is painted in Royal Caribbean’s brand colors of blue and yellow. Guests might also choose a more exotic critter to ride, including a lion, frog prince, jaguar or giraffe. I hopped onboard a zebra that went up and down while the carousel whirled.
My 84-year-old mother rode on a more traditional carousel throne-like bench so she didn’t have to climb onto a carousel animal. After a few minutes of whirling fun amid a Carnival-like atmosphere, we forgot we were on a ship at sea.
Along Boardwalk, you’ll come upon adults and kids enjoying simple games. You might duck into “Pets at Sea” to create your own stuffed animal and dress it as well (for a fee). An interesting tidbit from the ship’s designers is that Royal Caribbean considered putting a psychic parlor in this spot, as that dovetails with the Carnival-like atmosphere. We prefer the stuffed pets, frankly, and suspect families will too.
Definitely, look up while you’re strolling along the Boardwalk. You might view a brave guest zipping along a wire across the open deck nine stories above. Put another way, the zip line is 82 feet in the air. While many people will never choose to experience this first-at-sea zip line adventure, most guests we observed “oohed” and “aahed” over the action. The zip line is free, if you do choose to brave it. Just head for the top deck.
But now back to Boardwalk….Many food-related venues in Boardwalk are fee-based. These include the candy store, an Ice Cream Parlor (a la carte pricing) and the ever-popular Johnny Rockets ($4.95 per person); at the latter, I drooled as a rich chocolate shake went by – delivered to another guest by a waitress in 1950s diner attire.
In front of the Boardwalk’s Seafood Shack, adults settled into classic Adirondack chairs for people watching! Themed with New England fishing décor, this casual indoor-outdoor eatery is open for lunch and dinner at a cost of $8.95 for adults, $4.95 for kids.
Seeking complimentary chow on Boardwalk? Head for the Boardwalk Donut Shop or the Boardwalk Bar, a quick dining spot with savory snacks and sandwiches at no charge. The bar’s chicken fingers with mustard sauce were a hit at our table. The salads and sandwiches looked fresh and creatively prepared. A spinach and shrimp salad caught my eye for a future visit. Tropical drinks at the bar are, of course, extra.
Boardwalk ultimately leads to the Aqua Theater’s cascading amphitheater on the ship’s stern. Two 46-foot-rock climbing walls line both sides of the theater entry area.
Natural Enclave at Sea
While Central Park is a neighborhood too, I’m giving it a special spot of its own in this “you won’t find it elsewhere” list. Why? It’s totally unlike anything at sea. This open-air enclave of live greenery is the length of a football field and home to 12,000+ plants, trees and flowers. Two large Crystal Canopies allow guests to view “below” to the Deck 5 Royal Promenade.
By day, Central Park is a quiet and relaxing retreat where guests may stroll and enjoy the greenery. Two 48-foot-tall Living Walls feature terraces of plants. The massive walls, which are 25-feet wide as well, anchor both sides of the park’s open area.
Ultimately, the park’s Cuban laurel trees and black and green bamboo will grow three decks high. Plants at ground level are nurtured and grow within a mixture of peat moss, expanded shale, composted pine bark, cypress shavings and coconut core fiber.
Amid the greenery, you’ll discover off-the-beaten path nooks with benches, as well as comfortable lanai style chairs and restaurant café tables. On our cruise, we observed a couple cuddling on a bench, another couple sipping wine at a café, and many people curled up with a book. On rainy days, Royal Caribbean says it will provide umbrellas for guests wishing to stroll the park.
Art aficionados might head for the Parkside Gallery; here you may buy unique artwork including replicas of certain public art pieces onboard Oasis of the Seas. Twice-daily guided art tours also depart from the gallery. Of course, shopaholics might prefer to browse and buy at the nearby Coach store, the first such dedicated boutique at sea.
The complimentary Park Café, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, was wildly popular on our cruise. Among the many lunch choices were paninis, salads, sandwiches and soups.
Use touch-screens throughout the ship near elevator banks to determine directions to all restaurants, public venues and cabins. At this screens, you also may check restaurant “availability” with color-coded green, yellow and red bars. Park Café was frequently “red” on our cruise, so if that’s the case, just head for another restaurant.
Central Park also fields several alternative restaurants that carry a fee, including the upscale 150 Central Park, open only at dinner ($35 per person); Royal Caribbean describes it as the most exclusive restaurant onboard so it’s best to make your dinner reservations as soon as possible.
Other fee-based dining options in the park include the venerable Chops Steakhouse, also open only at dinner ($25 per person); Giovanni’s Table ($10 per person), which opens at lunch and dinner for family-style Tuscan dining; and Vintages, open at lunch and dinner with a la carte pricing for wine, cheeses and tapas.
I loved standing on my balcony and watching the wind blow through the plants and trees in Central Park below. If you wish to learn more about the foliage, consider taking a guided park tour, offered twice daily.
Balcony Cabins, Just Not on the Ocean
With 2,706 accommodations in 37 categories, you’ll certainly find just the right stateroom or suite. If price is no object, splurge for the two-level loft suites in various configurations.
We toured the Royal Loft Suite, #1740; this two-bedroom, two bath suite with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and aft views was stunning. I personally loved the lower floor library with a baby grand piano. Also a perk was the wrap-around balcony with an outdoor bar and lounge chairs so guests may sip drinks and watch basketball or other sports activities below.
We also toured a Family Stateroom with Balcony, #11172; this cabin has bunk beds tucked just inside the cabin entry and opposite the bathroom. With a pull-out living area couch, the cabin officially sleeps six although the bathroom is essentially the same as that for a regular balcony cabin. Still, the bunk beds are great for the little ones.
Experienced travelers who lack the bucks for a fancy suite often are accustomed to choosing one of three types of staterooms — either a balcony cabin to the open ocean, a cabin with an ocean view or an inside cabin. Oasis of the Seas’ innovative Boardwalk Balcony cabins essentially combine facets of each of those into one new stateroom type.
Yes, these cabins have a balcony, but the balcony doesn’t face the ocean. Instead, these balconies look out onto the open-air core of the ship. In a way, they’re somewhat of an inside cabin. Yet, they’re not confining as you simply slide open the balcony door to go outside and check the weather, observe trees and plants blowing in the wind below.
In addition, if you crank your head sideways from many Boardwalk Balcony cabins, you’ll see the ocean through openings on either end of the Aqua Theater. While it’s not a full ocean view, it’s a water view, although somewhat distant from many cabins.
Similarly, Central Park also boasts several hundred interior-facing balconies, but they’re not quite as deep as those on Boardwalk. These balconies overlook pure serenity below.
We stayed in Central Park Balcony cabin #11591; I enjoyed sitting outside on my balcony and listening to the light music emanating from entertainers below. My mother enjoyed watching the park’s white lights sparkle at night.
Expanded Promenade, Floating Bar
Royal Caribbean is known for its large shopping, dining and entertainment “mall” of sorts within the Freedom-class and Voyager-class ships. That Royal Promenade concept is now expanded further onboard Oasis of the Seas.
For example, just head up to the second floor Schooner Bar, a sprawling, comfortable bar that’s a Royal Caribbean brand favorite. Guests were enjoying drinks and playing “name that song” on our cruise.
Directly across the promenade is the bi-level Focus Photo Gallery. The latter definitely isn’t a typical photo store with guests looking lost as they search for this or that shot of their family on the walls. Instead, you’ll find innovative filing towers filled with photos of the guests’ cruise experience – automatically picked out for the guest based on face-recognition software. In a new filing system, photos are filed by stateroom number.
From this second-level venue, guests look down upon the new Rising Tide Bar, which elevates the experience of having a drink to new heights. Guests board on the ground level of the Royal Promenade and then the oval-shaped bar – which appears cloud-like – glides upward to Deck 8, the Central Park level. Along the way, a bartender serves drinks as up to 32 guests enjoy the smooth ride.
As the bar rises at night, fountains of blue water rise beneath it. That gives an illusion that spray is lapping at the bar’s base and speeding it upward. The funny thing about this bar is that if you just walk by and it’s on the ground level, it just looks like another bar.
But when it’s moving, guests ask one another, “What is that?” One man asked me about it and when I explained it was a floating bar, he wryly commented, “Now I’ve really seen everything.”
Synchronized Swimmers and High Divers
During our short preview cruise, we didn’t have the opportunity to watch a performance at the Aqua Theater’s unusual 51-by-22-foot, kidney-shaped pool; maximum pool depth is 17.9 feet.
I did have the pleasure of watching a rehearsal. Seats filled up quickly with curious guests. It appears this unusual 600-seat performance venue is going to be a hit – much in the way that Royal Caribbean’s skating venue is. Guests were entranced watching acrobats perform on stage and synchronized swimmers dive, turn and kick in precise movements. Many swimmers are former Olympians.
We didn’t see divers in this rehearsal, but I turned on my stateroom television one evening and watched the re-run of the “Good Morning America” show that introduced the new ship to the public on Nov. 20. One feature of that show was a diver going into a handstand, flipping over and diving into the pool far below. I felt as though I was in Acapulco watching a cliff diver – yet this was happening on a cruise ship at sea.
A World of Superlatives
Travelers and cruisers always love being a part of the biggest, the best and the first. They love coming home from an innovative cruise on a unique ship and telling their friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers all about it.
So, in addition to all the firsts already mentioned above, it’s of interest to note that Oasis of the Seas also boasts these superlatives, firsts and favorites.
- Biggest Youth Zone ever for Royal Caribbean at 28,800 square feet of kid/teen clubs and youth spaces;
- Two-level, adults-only Solarium with a casually elegant yet charming Solarium Bistro ($20 per person at dinner);
- New Beach Pool with the first zero-entry pool at sea, lounges in shallow water and colorful beach umbrellas;
- Two massive rock climbing walls, the most on any ship;
- The incredible Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center with 29 treatment rooms.
- Exclusive Showings of the Broadway-style production show, “Hairspray” (Royal Caribbean has the exclusive rights for at least three years);
- Cupcake Cupboard, the first cupcake shop at sea, with tastings, classes and celebrations;
- Longest jogging track at sea – 2.4 laps equals one mile; and
- Chef’s Table at Sea experience ($75 per person) with personalized dining and a chef visit.
Of course, my cruise was too short. I didn’t have time to see and do it all. That said, my initial take on this one-of-a-kind ship is quite positive. Royal Caribbean promised “the wow.” And, from my perspective, that’s precisely what the line delivers and guests receive on the new Oasis of the Seas.
Florida-based Susan J. Young is a contributing editor for Avid Cruiser. A 20-year travel and cruise industry veteran, she’s the editor and publisher of SouthernCruising.com, a robust consumer Web site covering cruising from ports within the southern United States.
Young also serves as senior contributing editor-tours and cruises for a major U.S. travel trade publication. A member of the Society of American Travel Writers, she’s sailed on 70+ cruises within the past decade.
This article is reprinted with permission from SouthernCruising.com, which retains all rights to this story.