I’m supposed to be at the STX shipyard in Turku, Finland this week. I’m supposed to be eagerly strolling across the decks of the world’s newest, largest ship, Royal Caribbean International’s 220,000-ton Oasis of the Seas. I’m supposed to be updating agents on all the innovations and features on this 5,400-guest mega-ship.
Unfortunately, “supposed to be” assumes we fully control life. Sometimes, you’re thrown a curve. Late last week, an unexpected medical tussle with a kidney stone sent me to the hospital ER, effectively eliminating any chance of a foreign trip early this week.
Thankfully, I’m now feeling better. So today, I caught up with Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president of sales, who was in Turku accompanying the press group.
Many thanks to Vicki for chatting with me on the phone to provide a few tidbits for our agent audience about the latest developments and her perspective on Oasis of the Seas.
First Coach Store, New Cupcake Cupboard!
First, let’s address the important things -- shopping and food! Freed reports that Oasis of the Seas will offer the first Coach store at sea. So all your clients who just can’t get enough hand bags on shore can surely shop ‘till they drop while at sea.
In addition, she reports that Oasis of the Seas will also field a new Cupcake Cupboard, a place for viewing and eating cupcakes. I was salivating as she described the venue, a fun, flavorful place to watch and learn about cupcakes and cake decorating.
Got groups? Freed cites birthday parties, and bridal showers as two of the many types of group activities likely to become popular at Cupcake Cupboard.
Two Months and Counting
Prior to this trip, Freed visited the shipyard just two weeks ago. It’s amazing what can be done in just that short time, she reports. So what’s yet to do? “We have about 450,000 man hours [of shipyard work] yet,” she noted.
Time-wise, Oasis of the Seas is about two months from delivery. Officially, Freed says it will be turned over to Royal Caribbean on October 28.
When the ship arrives in Port Everglades in November, many agents will have the opportunity to visit, tour and perhaps even sail on the ship. “We expect more than 18,000 agents [overall to see the ship] and we’ll have two nighters and one nighters [in terms of trade preview cruises],” she notes.
I always find that listening to a sales executive delivers the passion and the “language” needed to help describe the client in your sales presentation. So, from that view, here’s what Freed says:
“I think it’s the most creative and unique destination that I’ve ever seen,” she emphasizes. “It’s everything from Las Vegas to Disney, and when you really look at the ship, all the bells and whistles, you really can’t imagine more – although I know [someday] somebody will.” She imagines it’s similar to the way in which Walt Disney World was invented.
She reports the media group touring the vessel today “flipped over the ship” this week including its Aqua Theater and new suites.
The group, it seems, also enjoyed the Carousel, a throwback to another era. A nearby Candy Shop will offer a variety of confections including classic Clark Bars or Necco candies. It’s going to be fun for adults to remember all those candies they enjoyed as a child, Freed says.
A Destination unto Itself
Much has been written about the ship’s amenity-laden neighborhoods and its amazing array of activities, dining and entertainment options. Visitors might go zip lining across the top of the ship, stroll through Central Park, enjoy a water show at Aqua Theater and, of course, go rock climbing or skating.
That brings me to the never-ending debate between cruise enthusiasts. On one side are people for whom the ship is the “means” to the destination. Yes, I admit I’m one. I love to cruise, I love the ships, and I can’t wait to see this one, believe me. But, still, I view the ship as a floating palace that’s a fun way to get to the destination.
But then there is the other faction. I have many agent and media friends in this category. These cruise fans view a ship as the ultimate destination. They love to take spa treatments on port days, or find a quiet spot on the ship to lounge or read in lieu of shore trips. I’ve even had friends who have stayed onboard ships docked in enticing Venice or glittery Hong Kong.
So, it occurred to me that a ship the size of Oasis of the Seas and clearly bursting with activities and amenities at every turn might be the catalyst for a week-long itinerary that’s a cruise to nowhere – with guests cruising only for the ship.
I asked Freed about this. Will we see the day when Royal Caribbean offers a seven-night cruise to nowhere – where guests just enjoy the multi-faceted floating resort and never care about visiting any ports?
“As much as we do believe the ship is the destination, we still think ports are exciting places for consumers to go,” she says. “Our biggest challenge – the biggest negative [about a ship this size and with so many amenities] is that people aren’t going to be able to do it all and see it all in one week.”
For example, she notes that the ship has 24 restaurants, and 14 of those are no-charge venues that are included in the guest’s cruise fare.
As a result, the true opportunity for agents to appeal to the “I want to stay on the ship and do it all” crowd may be in booking consecutive cruises. In fact, Freed says Royal Caribbean is already seeing a high volume of bookings for guests who are staying aboard for two consecutive weeks.
If you have clients who enjoy a two-week resort stay, this may be an option. When the ship begins its regular sailings this winter, it will operate seven-night sailings to the Eastern Caribbean, with ports of call at Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; and Nassau, Bahamas.
But starting May 1, 2010, Oasis of the Seas will alternate that Eastern Caribbean itinerary with a Western Caribbean itinerary – a good opportunity for consecutive cruises with varying itineraries.
A Matter of Size
Recently, a travel poll on USA Today poll asked: “Is Oasis too big?” Upon looking at the real-time results twice throughout today, at least 65 or 66 percent of respondents had voted “yes.”
So I asked Freed about the ship’s massive size and what agents might to do to sell it a bit differently or to select cabins with certain parameters in mind. For example, should agents really book people into one end or the other of the ship where they’re closer to the amenity they will use the most? What about people with mobility challenges? Or, how about families with young children? Just getting to dinner could be a long haul.
Freed’s perspective is that size-wise the ship is actually only about 20 meters longer, or about 65 feet longer than a Freedom-class ship. Thus, it’s a good perspective to mention to clients that yes, it’s certainly huge, but much of the additional tonnage – stepping up from Freedom-class -- comes in its width. That takes the edge off “distance” a bit.
“It also has a spaciousness so it never feels crowded,” Freed believes. Of course, that remains to be seen when the line’s 5,800 guests come onboard, but lately, we’ve noticed first-hand how non-crowded many post-Panamax ships feel. Designers have really worked hard in recent years to build in nooks and crannies so the guest feels there is a spot onboard just for them.
Freed says it’s more about picking the right suite for clients, than about avoiding one part or another of the ship due to the ship’s size. Oasis of the Seas has 37 different cabin categories, including six types of suites.
Clients who value an ocean view may want a traditional ocean balcony cabin, but those who want to be in the center of the action or do a lot of people watching might book a suite overlooking the Aqua Theater or an interior balcony room overlooking Central Park.
Popular with journalists on the media tour the 545-square-foot, two-level Loft Suites. Once ready for guests, these modern design suites will boast abstract, modern art pieces, spacious living areas, a private balcony, and ocean views through floor to ceiling double-height windows.
Whatever type of suite your clients book, you might be interested in how a ship’s pre-fabricated cabins are created. If so, you might check out a very good story we noticed by CruiseCritic.com.
About the Lifeboats
Of course, one always boards a ship hoping never to need the safety equipment or instructions provided by the crew. But it’s nice to know the lines are prepared.
One interesting tidbit? Freed says the “the lifeboats are unbelievable. They hold 380. They even have a bathroom.” To put that in perspective, the entire ship-board complement of guests on the Seabourn Pride could fit into one Oasis of the Seas lifeboat.
That’s just one good example of how much the world of ocean cruising continues to evolve. We’ll keep providing you with details about Oasis of the Seas as they’re unveiled, including an update on its new entertainment features being announced September 2. Stay tuned.