At the AquaTheater, guests might swim during the day, then watch a synchronized swimming show by night
While fears over the H1N1 virus and unprecedented low cruise fares have been the year’s biggest cruising stories to date, there’s a new newsmaker in town. Her name is Oasis of the Seas.
Royal Caribbean International’s newly launched ship is now the biggest cruise ship on the planet, usurping that title from the line’s own Freedom-class ships. Interest in the new razzle-dazzle ship is at fever pitch after months of hype and hoopla.
A World of Firsts
Architecturally, Oasis of the Seas spans 16 passenger decks; encompasses 225,282 gross registered tons; carries 5,400 guests at double occupancy; and features 2,700 staterooms. In addition, the ship boasts seven innovative neighborhoods—Central Park, Boardwalk, the Royal Promenade, the Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center, Entertainment Place and Youth Zone.
“The hype on this ship has been just as big—if not bigger—than when the Voyager of the Seas debuted,” says Michelle Fee, CTC, CEO and co-founder, Cruise Planners. She feels the new ship’s debut is great for the industry, especially during this challenging economic time. When Fee tells anyone she’s sailing on Oasis of the Seas this month, they usually know all about the ship; that doesn’t happen with every new ship launch.
One reason is the ship’s innovative features, which have been getting sizable media play. For example, guests might stroll amid 12,000 plants and trees in the first park at sea. At the oceanfront AquaTheater, guests might swim during the day and then watch a synchronized swimming show by night. Or, they might opt for more high-octane adventure—soaring nine decks above the ship’s open atrium on the industry’s first zipline at sea.
Clients who just can’t get enough handbags on shore can shop till they drop in the first Coach store at sea. Kids of all ages will want to hop onboard a handcrafted carousel, another first at sea. On the dining front, the ship has 24 restaurants, 14 of them no-charge venues included in the guest’s cruise fare. Plus, decadent delights are on tap at Cupcake Cupboard, where clients will chow down on tasty cupcakes and learn about cake decorating.
On the accommodations side, Oasis of the Seas boasts dozens of cabin categories, including six types of suites. Agents tell us they can’t wait to view the new multilevel, urban-style loft suites with floor-to-ceiling windows.
As for the ship’s introductory schedule, preview cruises for VIPs, the trade and media took place in November. On November 30, Oasis of the Seas was officially named and operate a one-night cruise to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The ship will then run a special four-night Labadee Extravaganza cruise, designed to highlight new features at Royal Caribbean’s private Haitian beach paradise. Earlier this year, Royal Caribbean completed a $55 million expansion at Labadee. It added a new 800-foot pier; a Barefoot Beach Club with private cabanas; an alpine roller coaster with individual controls for each car; new dining facilities; and a new, larger Artisan’s Market.
One of the many firsts that the Oasis brings to sea is the handcrafted carousel
Oasis of the Seas’ official “inaugural” voyage is slated for December 5; this sailing will include exclusive entertainment and gifts for guests to commemorate the occasion.
Travel Agent talked with both Fee and Steven Hattem, vice president of marketing, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., about their perspective on the rollout of the industry’s largest, most amenity-filled nautical star.
Fee believes the public is most excited about the ship’s size and its unique neighborhoods, especially Central Park and Boardwalk. “And when I tell them it has ziplining, that seems to astonish them,” she notes. “They ask, ‘On a ship?’”
The many firsts announced by Royal Caribbean are helping captivate both previous cruisers and first-timers, according to Hattem. CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. agents and agency owners tell him that consumers are most interested in the ship’s sheer size as well as its unique neighborhoods, aquatic theater and myriad outdoor activities.
Customers actually began getting excited about the ship last year as Royal Caribbean began its series of so-called “reveals.” One event was during the annual CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. National Conference, where “we started accepting pre-registrations—prior to general bookings even being open,” says Hattem. “The immediate response we saw was incredible…from people who wanted to book themselves on Oasis without knowing the true price, itinerary or any other specifics.”
One positive byproduct of Oasis of the Seas’ humongous size appears to be the potential for agents to sell repeat business. Seeing and doing everything onboard in one week may prove difficult, so guests might return to experience all the ship has to offer. “From past experience in selling the [Royal Caribbean] Voyager class, I believe this will be a definite repeat [ship],” says Fee.
Concurring is Hattem, who sees it this way, “We always talk about cruise ships as destinations but Oasis of the Seas takes this message to new heights.”
Of course, the ship’s real test—in terms of consumer appeal and acceptance—will come next month when it begins its regular sailings. It will operate seven-night cruises roundtrip from Port Everglades to the eastern Caribbean with port calls at Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; and Nassau, the Bahamas.
Starting in May 2010, Oasis of the Seas will alternate that week-long eastern Caribbean itinerary with a seven-night western Caribbean itinerary; the latter calls at Labadee and the Mexican ports of Cozumel and Costa Maya. In December 2010, the line will revise the western itinerary replacing Costa Maya with the new port of Falmouth, Jamaica. The itineraries will give agents the opportunity to book clients on consecutive cruises with varying itineraries.
Hattem says, “We’re all waiting to see—will the actual experience meet the expectations of consumers? Will happy passengers disembark each week, bragging about the Oasis?” He believes Royal Caribbean will deliver the great experience it’s promising. Certainly, the industry can use help this winter in selling cruises in a tough economy.
“Anytime a new ship gets this amount of attention, it certainly helps the entire industry,” says Fee.
Hattem also cites the benefit to the line: “Royal [Caribbean] has a lot banking on this ship and the ‘wow’ experience that is expected to be delivered.”