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Blown Away by Oasis of the SeasNovember 24, 2009 By: Susan Young Travel Agent
We all knew she was huge before we boarded. At 225,282 tons, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas is newly crowned as the world’s biggest ship. But what wasn’t so clear before I boarded the ship for a two-night preview cruise on November 20 was just how fabulous the ship really is.
I was prepared for big and innovative. Frankly, though, I don’t think most of the journalists onboard (myself included) anticipated the effect the ship would have on us. Frankly, Oasis of the Seas gives you a feeling you don’t get on any other ship at sea. I was “blown away” by the fresh new look and innovative experiences.
Fielding revolutionary styling, the 5,400-passengerr Oasis of the Seas was constructed as a split superstructure that surrounds a 62-foot-wide, open-air core that contains two impressive neighborhoods, Boardwalk and Central Park. In terms of design, the ship is simply unlike anything else afloat. Officials describe it as having a mixture of traditional, evolutionary and revolutionary features.
Surprisingly, while the ship’s humongous size means guests have a lot of ground to cover in a normal day, it’s also a relatively easy ship to navigate from my perspective. Oasis of the Seas delivered pleasant surprises on many levels.
More than Expected
Looking at the colorful brochure, hearing the PR rhetoric, watching the ship on television just doesn’t capture the experience. Chances are your clients – as with our journalist group – will come back telling you it was more than expected. From our observations on a brief two-night cruise, these are some gleanings we’d like to share:
Getting Around: In my brief time on this ship, I was more easily acclimated direction-wise than I’ve been on any recent seven-night cruise. Why? Royal Caribbean has installed new touch screens near the elevator banks. These large, easy-to-read screens are superb; they tell you everything you need to know about the ship’s layout.
Simply touch your desired stateroom, restaurant or other venue, and up pops the information you need. One option is to “map it,” which creates simple directions and a large map. When accessing a specific restaurant, it also codes the availability of seating in that restaurant – using green, yellow or red. Guests may ascertain the restaurant’s “fullness” level before heading out to it, or alternatively, they might choose another option.
It’s easy to traverse the ship by utilizing Decks 5 & 8 (the Royal Promenade and Central Park neighborhoods, respectively) as well as outside Deck 16. Consider these your “highways” for getting where you need to go. All empty out at various elevator banks. My perspective is that this ship is not as “cut up” in terms of traffic flow as some other ships we’ve sailed on recently.
Big but Intimate: Yes, it sounds odd, but Oasis of the Seas has a slew of big spaces that are effectively split in creative ways to field smaller, more intimate spaces. The neighborhoods break up the ship into more manageable sizes. In addition, the humongous main dining room has “islands” of seating in its core, thus giving the impression of smaller dining spaces. I also felt Royal Caribbean did a much better job than on some of its past vessels in not overly crowding the tables in the main dining room.
Dining options (including many free options) are spread throughout the ship. Guests might head for the Windjammer Marketplace with its excellent buffet stations but the ship has a slew of other free choices as well including the Solarium Bistro (at lunch/dinner), the main dining room, the Park Café in Central Park, Sorrento’s or the Boardwalk Bar, to name a few. Again, the goal is to spread folks throughout the ship for dining.
New Accommodations: For something truly different, clients might book an “inside” balcony cabin. For those seeking a relaxing, getaway experience with a contemporary, yet natural feel, go for the Central Park Balcony Cabins. Personally, I love a balcony cabin and I enjoy sea views. So I wondered how I’d like it when I learned I would be staying in this type of stateroom.
The reality is that I loved it. It’s a balcony experience yet with a whole new feel. It’s a hoot to awaken, open the balcony door, check the weather outside (sunny skies on our cruise) and watch the wind blowing through the trees and plants below. Then you realize, “hey, I’m not facing the ocean but I’m still outside.” It’s an odd but pleasant experience.
If clients are interested in an interior balcony stateroom but have kids or are activity focused, agents might suggest the Boardwalk Balcony Cabin, which offers greater “depth” within its balcony structure. The goal is for guests to come out further onto the balcony so they may enjoy more of the happenings on Boardwalk and have a side view to the Aqua Theater and even the sea. Of course, the main attractions are below, including a whirling Carousel, Boardwalk style games and outdoor cafes; these balcony cabins are great for people watching.
We toured several other categories of cabins onboard Oasis of the Seas. The new Family Stateroom with Balcony features two twin bunk beds in an alcove just inside the cabin entry. That’s a great feature for families, plus there’s a pull-out bed that can sleep another two. That said, one agent who was touring at the time I visited said she’d hate to put six people in this cabin given the size. My perspective is that it would be perfect for a family of four.
Perhaps most creative in terms of new accommodation types are the two-level Loft Suites. We toured a Royal Loft Suite with Balcony. It included a huge living and full dining area, plus a large library area with a baby grand piano. All face a two-level glass wall with a wraparound exterior balcony that contains a bar, dining and lounge areas. There’s also a nicely appointed first floor bedroom and bathroom.
Stairs lead to the upstairs master suite loft, which has a huge pull-down television screen that can be raised so those in bed may view spectacular scenery and happenings out the glass wall. The master bath has a humongous whirlpool and a large walk-in shower.
Strolling the Boardwalk: One of the most popular spots on the ship, Boardwalk is a fun place for strolling. Its core attraction is the colorful, hand-crafted Carousel. I eagerly hopped onboard a zebra for a ride that seems a throwback in time. It’s free and the operator will happily take your camera to snap your photo as you circle by.
All around Boardwalk are spots to purchase candy, ice cream and other typical Boardwalk treats and souvenirs. Outside on the Boardwalk midway, cruise entertainment staff draw guests into amusement-style games including a kids’ target toss game.
Kids and adults alike who love stuffed animals might head for Pets at Sea, where guests may create their own stuffed pet, dress it and, of course, buy it. Interestingly enough, Royal Caribbean officials said they considered putting in a psychic parlor before alternatively settling upon the Pets at Sea concept!
Children will enjoy climbing into mock-ups of a car, bus and fishing boat. Adults might head for the Boardwalk Bar to enjoy a tropical drink and also grab a complimentary salad, sandwich or chicken fingers. Those wanting a yummy shake should head for Johnny Rockets with service by a waiter attired in a 1950s-style diner uniform.
At the end of Boardwalk you’ll peruse two 46-foot-tall rock climbing walls on either side. The cascading seats for the impressive Aqua Theater are straight ahead. The pool in Aqua Theater is the deepest at sea. While there was no official show on our cruise, we enjoyed watching a rehearsal of the synchronized swimmers and acrobats.
Central Park: A natural, open-air enclave that’s 62 feet across, Central Park is home to the first Coach store at sea, multiple other shops and a slew of restaurants including 150 Central Park, considered the most exclusive dining venue on the ship; it’s the domain of Chef Keriann Von Raesfeld. On our cruise, guests were packed into Vintages, destined to be a hot spot for those who enjoy savoring a fine glass of wine, delectable cheeses and tapas.
Most impressive though is the lush park itself. With more than 12,000 plants, trees and flowers lining curved walkways, Central Park is the perfect, natural spot for relaxing, strolling and enjoying al fresco dining. I loved the variety of cozy places to sit – in comfortable lanai style furniture, on park benches or at café style tables.
I never missed an opportunity to stroll here, always discovering something new every time I entered. For example, two “Living Walls” rise on either side of the park pathways. Measuring 25 feet across and five decks high, they’re a focal point of the park.
One of the neatest Central Park design features is what I’d describe as a pseudo wave (in the form of an undulating glass canopy) that allows guests from Central Park to view several decks down into parts of the enclosed Royal Promenade. Similarly, guests on Royal Promenade look skyward to enjoy natural lighting and view the foliage of Central Park. The glass “wave” effectively separates indoors and out, but gives guests a snapshot look at both.
In case you’re wondering (I was), Royal Caribbean officials tell me they will provide umbrellas to guests who wish to walk through the park on rainy days.
Dazzles and Zipping: We had several meetings in Dazzles and each time I enjoyed it more. Designed along the lines of the Rainbow Room in New York, the two-story Dazzles boasts neutral coloring, a mirrored ceiling, plush velvet chairs and chandeliers that change color. It also has a cocktail bar and two sweeping staircases to the upper seating level.
The centerpiece feature of Dazzles, though, is its lovely dance floor that would make Fred and Ginger proud. Dazzles celebrates the grand Hollywood era with wall art/photographs depicting such 1930s and 1940s Hollywood stars as Rita Hayworth and Jean Harlow.
While in Dazzles, guests have terrific views out a two-level, floor-to-ceiling glass wall. This is a great interior spot to watch adventurers trying the zip line outside. You just look up and watch them soar toward you. Actually, I was considering trying the zip line, but I never had enough time. It’s not that steep a zip line, but the thrills are in the zip line’s 82-foot height – as guests soar nine decks above Boardwalk.
Solarium and Vitality Spa: Touring the Solarium and Vitality Spa at Sea is to step into relaxation – immediately!
The two-level Solarium is an adults-only venue with chairs, flowing water, a huge fresh water pool and two cantilevered whirlpools on either side. Upstairs is the Solarium Bistro serving healthy, eclectic and lighter spa-type food that’s creative and tasty. It’s free for breakfast and lunch and carries a $20 charge in the evening.
We noticed immediately that the Vitality Spa at Sea and Fitness Area’s entry and public areas are extremely spacious. That’s highly advantageous for such a large complement of guests onboard. Soothing on the eyes, the spa décor is a mix of warm contemporary and Asian design with soothing neutral coloring and bamboo appointments.
The Spa restaurant is at the entry to the spa. Guests continue straight ahead to the spa itself or turn left for entry to the large exercise facility, which spans the full beam of the ship. Every exercise machine you’d want is here, along with many free weights, places for free weight lifting, spinning, classes and more.
Royal Promenade: This is a bigger and better version of the promenades on several other Royal Caribbean ships. It’s definitely “the place” for people watching in air-conditioned comfort.
One revolutionary concept on Oasis of the Seas is the Rising Tide bar – resembling a blue cloud of sorts rising from this Deck 5 locale to the Deck 8 Central Park; guests enjoy a drink along the way. The bar gives the illusion of being raised skyward by jets of water below.
We enjoyed a drink at the Globe and Atlas, an English-style pub. It was fun to watch people stroll by – and we actually saw many friends, something I thought would never happen on such a large ship. Several street parties add festivity. For something totally different, head into the new Cupcake Cupboard at least to peruse the savory treats, available for a fee.
You’ll also find plenty of other restaurants and shops on the Royal Promenade including Boleros, a Latin-style lounge and club with live salsa entertainment. But we noticed this was a smoke-filled place, so advise clients accordingly.
The Pool Deck: I won’t go into too much detail here other than to say if you want water, this ship has just about whatever type of pool, whirlpool or kiddie splash action you desire. There are 21 pools of all types and sizes.
I personally liked the beach area with its gently sloping shore. Some lounges sit in several inches of water and have colorful umbrellas for shade. One hint for clients? If they want to grab one of these, they need to get up early! As we headed for breakfast one day, most were already occupied.
In such a short cruise, I couldn’t manage to experience all Oasis of the Seas had to offer. These are just brief impressions based on a short preview cruise.
Hopefully, many agents will have the opportunity to see the ship first-hand. Royal Caribbean tells me approximately 20,000 agents have had or will have that opportunity prior to the ship beginning regular service in early December.
Overall, Oasis of the Seas is a cut above as a new ship. It’s very large, for sure, but, with directional touch screens around the ship we found it far easier to navigate than anticipated. I can’t wait to go for a full cruise!