OASIS OF THE SEAS Inaugural Cruise Back-to-back Dec. 1-12, 2009 by Mary & Vincent Finelli
There is an old adage that goes something like this: It's not where you are going, but rather, how you get there. Well, in this case, the Oasis of the Seas, Royal Caribbean International (RCI) has constructed the largest cruise ship afloat, which is a destination in itself. Its home Port Everglades of Ft. Lauderdale had to increase its Pier #18 in order to accommodate this behemoth, as did each of its destination ports.
Her 225,282 gross tons, is an increase of more than 65,000 tons over the RCI Freedom Class. It is not just size that is important, but rather the fact that the Oasis has more outdoor space than any other cruise ship: a fact that makes sailing on her so different an experience from sailing on any other cruise ship. Her seven neighborhoods concept makes for a wonder of a cruise --- a vacation like no other. So much has been written in anticipation of the Oasis of the Seas Maiden Voyage, that this review will instead center on our personal experiences while cruising with Captain Bill Wright (a terrific Renaissance man) and our old friend Hotel Director Francois Wache` and the many new acquaintances we made.
EMBARKATION We looked forward to Tuesday Dec.1st, 2009 for over a year, having booked this cruise on the first day available to Crown & Anchor Society Diamond Members. As physically challenged travellers, we knew that the ship size and number of passengers (over 5,000) could possibly create chaos. However, this was one of the simplest and most orderly boardings we have ever had. Crown &Anchor members and wheelchair passengers had special lines. Each Deck had a special check-in line, thus, cutting down on the waiting. We arrived in Port Everglades at 12:45pm and had curbside assistance with our luggage, wheelchair and scooter. We were on board and in our stateroom by 1:15pm. There were several venues for Welcome Aboard dining, but we chose the closest to our cabin #14166 portside: the Solarium Bistro on Deck 15 forward. Some good advice is to keep the Oasis Deck Plan handy, which is part of the Cruise Compass' Daily Planner, thank goodness! In the Bistro we had terrific assistance from Manager Melinda. At 4:00pm there was the mandatory Boat Drill which was totally painless: We took the elevator down to Deck 4 and the "On Air" studio, which is part of the Entertainment Place --- comfortably seated, we didn't even have to bring life jackets, since they are kept at the muster stations. We then returned to our stateroom to enjoy the sail away from our balcony.
SHIP OVERVIEW The statistics of the Oasis are stunning: 225,282 Gross tons (over four times the size of the Titanic), 208 ft. wide (this is no Panamax ship!) 1,187 ft. long (almost four football fields), 236 ft. high above the waterline, all with a draft of only 30 ft. We were shocked when we first saw her in port, she floats so high. With all her size, her cruising speed is 22.6 knots. There are 15 passenger decks, 24 passenger elevators placed both forward and aft, so they are less than a quarter of the ship's length from anywhere on board. Neat! Guest capacity is 5,400 (double occupancy of its 2,706 guest staterooms), but she can accommodate over 6,296 total guests. Her international crew of 2,165 are all eager to please.
The art work on board is so eclectic and numerous (9,800 pieces) that RCI has published a book "Wonder Book: The Art on the Oasis of the Seas." The common theme of this vast collection is "The Wonder of Our World (p8)." There are photographs of everything from tiny micro-organisims to unending fields, all contribute to the wonders we encounter on our beautiful Earth.
Larry Kirkland presents 23 pieces of tiny wonders in "hand forged interior-lit bronze microscopic vessels.... placed randomly throughout" (p100) the ship. The Oasis is so full of art that it is obvious that one cruise is not sufficient enough to appreciate it all: An excellent reason for which to return! An overview of the art does make one take a closer look at our world---- the photograph of a volcanic eruption by Ernst Haas (p108) brings this phenomenon to life. Then, an oil and embroidery on canvas by Nikkie le Nobel depicts an obvious sentiment "I'm so Sorry" (p131), and a sunlit Icelandic landscape photographed by Magnus Sigurdarson (pp120-121) reveals nature. Our world with all its life forms past and present makes up the beautiful art work of the Oasis of the Seas. Take time and look closely, you will be rewarded and touched.
The Oasis has many innovative venues. She has a Flow Rider for surfers, an 82 ft long Zip Line Ride, an Aqua Theater Pool, a Central Park, a Boardwalk complete with Carousel and a myriad of other attractions in its Seven Neighborhoods. This review will describe the seven areas of the Oasis rather than describing the ship Deck by Deck. It is the open air atriums and split superstructures which mandate this review format.
NEIGHBORHOODS One: Central Park is based on Deck 8 with five decks of balcony staterooms opening on to it. It certainly lives up to its name with 2,178 trees, vines and flowering plants, beautifully arranged among winding paths. There are several seating areas - some covered for when it rains (yes, it is open to the sky like a park). There are delightful pergolas covered with blooming bougainvilleas and poles wound with night blooming jasmine. Each type of plant is identified with tags.
This is an ideal spot in which to sit and read among the flowers and trees or even dine "al fresco" at Giovanni's Table ($15 fee) for excellent Italian cuisine under the jovial Senior Executive Chef Marco Morrama and friendly Maitre d' Alessandro, or at 150 Central Park featuring celebrity Chef Kerriann Von Raesfeld ($35 fee).
There are also fine shops featuring designer handbags, sports wear, etc. However, it is the wonder of sitting in an endless garden at sea, which drew us back daily: no crowds, peaceful with an occasional Strolling Scot bagpiper playing soulfully. In the evening there are moonlight serenades with the "Black Pearl Strings" and guitar melodies with Wilfredo Arca.
Two: The Boardwalk is on Deck 6 aft and features a Carousel with 18 hand carved animals; in its entrance are several horses in various stages of carving and painting, both informative and beautiful art. Along both sides are typical Coney Island style shops and stands: Johnny Rockets a 1950's hamburger joint, Candy/taffy shops, coffee and doughnuts and a terrific Seafood Shack ($8 fee). All the way aft is the 600 seat Aqua Theater --- with two shows, one of Dancing Waters (fountains timed to music --- reminiscent of the famous fountains of Lugano, Switzerland). The other show, "Oasis of Dreams," is a water extravaganza of high diving, synchronized swimming, and acrobatic routines: Stunning! This is also the seat of two rock climbing walls.
Three: The Royal Promenade on Deck 5 is retained from the Voyager and Freedom classes of ships and features a village center with coffee shops, Pizza parlors and the Globe & Atlas Pub with music each night by Scott Perham. The on board shops located here have the logo wear, perfumes, jewelry, etc. The Promenade is the site of Captain Wright's Champagne welcome on board party and numerous parades and entertainments. The innovative Cupcake Cupboard provides a unique spot for Birthday and Anniversaries. The biggest attraction is the "Rising Tide Bar" an oval shaped spacious glass enclosed elevator which will lift you up three decks to Central Park. The automobile attraction for this ship is a 1936 Auburn Speedster, a supercharged convertible, with four exhaust coils on each side. This sleek sports car is a combo of black and silver with white wall, wire spoked wheels --- an eye-catching feature of the Promenade.
Four: The Pool & Sports Zone is located on Deck 15and offers more sports activities than any other ship at sea: The Flow Rider is fun for both surfers and spectators, Mini Golf has real turf and unique bronze statues of golfers and a caddy and brightly colored animals for the children. Take the Zip Line across the ship, Whee! There is a basketball court, and ping pong. The Solarium is Vincent's favorite place: Every morning he relaxes in a whirlpool in the adult only spa among plants and flowers. There are also eight restaurants and bars some catering only to children --- try the serve your self ice cream machines.
Five: Vitality at Sea Fitness Center is forward on Deck 6. There is a "Thermal Suite," massage center and gym with over 100 cardio & resistance machines, the longest jogging track at sea (2.4 laps = 1mile). There are classes in yoga and kick boxing and a Health Spa for adults and children with juice and snacks.
Six: The Youth Zone is completely dedicated to children and teens with Adventure Ocean Theater, Science Lab, Video Games and even a nursery at sea. Teens are teated to their own area with an out door deck, nightclub, video arcade and even a Hangout spot. We went through this area several times, since it was located just above our stateroom.
Seven: Entertainment Place has something for everyone: Cruise Director Ken Rush is an old acquaintance who keeps ship activities humming. This cruise there were three terrific shows --- "Hairspray", and the "Nelson Brothers" in the Opal Theater (seats 1,380, be careful in choosing your seat because there are several poles blocking the view of the stage)and thirdly, "Frozen in Time." The Nelson Twins did a tribute to their father Ricky Nelson of Rock and Roll fame. They also showed clips and told anecdotes about their famous grandparents Ozzie and Harriet Nelson of TV fame. Great selections, great voices, and great stage presence. Excellent! Like the Voyager and Freedom classes the Oasis has an ice skating rink and an Olympic quality ice show: "Frozen in Time" is based on Hans Christian Andersen's tales, "The Emperor's New Clothes," "The Snow Queen," " The Little Mermaid," "The Red Shoes," and "The Ugly Duckling." Fantastic! Don't miss it. Within this show there is also a new attraction: a young lady who does sand painting or sculpting to tell stories. Breathtaking is not even adequate ---- with a wave of her hand or touch of her finger, she created scenes with characters and animals, etc. Live entertainment all over the ship includes jazz, comedy and string music in the dining rooms ---- delightful.
CABIN Stateroom #14166, a wheelchair accessible cabin on Deck 14, is large, airy and cheerful. However, there is plenty of room to widen the front door to make entry easier, and it would be more helpful if it were an automatic door: Although the stewardess Suleva always helped us if she was in the corridor.
When entering on the right there is a large bathroom with shelves for toiletries a bit too high and too deep to locate items. There is ample room to place a wider set of shelves. The same goes for the drawers below. All the hooks on the door were placed too low, some higher hooks for nightgowns and robes are needed. The shower was perfect with safety rails all around. Next there was a king size bed flanked by two sets of very low shelves, but alas, no drawers for medications. The reading lamp was too far from the bed, one had to get out of bed to shut it off. We think the reading lamps should be exchanged (the one on the left of the headboard moved to the right and then the one on the right moved to the left) thus, it places the switches nearer the bed rather than on the far side. Same equipment just better placement, it means a lot to the handicapped. Next, is a comfortable love seat and a tiny coffee table, too small to be useful.
When entering on the left there is a double maple wood armoire with a set of shelves and a private safe, a refrigerator, and a 32" wide screen TV, a vanity/desk with three drawers, and a lighted mirror and one chair. The far wall is mainly glass and a door to the nice large balcony, with two chairs and a large table to which the lovely Suleva added a chaise for Vincent. He enjoys sitting on the balcony watching the stars at night. The walls are all beige and the furniture all maple wood. There are two pictures: one of a branch of apple blossoms blowing in the wind, and the other a close up of a green banana leaf with water drops. Both are on beautiful sky blue backgrounds. The carpet is multicolored streaks of blue, green and speckled with pink.
Our excellent Stewardess Suleva Bryan-Forbes was not only efficient, smiling but, she also anticipated our every need. Kudos!
SERVICE & FOOD On board of the Oasis, under Hotel Director Francois Wache`, the service is top notch. The crew attitude is that it aims to please the passengers. The Opus Dining Room is spread over three tiers (Decks 3, 4, and 5). It has a stunning chandelier set just over the Captain's table. On formal night, we dined with Captain Wright, who enthralled us with stories of the Oasis of the Seas, her sea trials and her Maiden Transatlantic voyage, where she encountered a storm with waves as big as 50 ft high. Great lady that she is, the Oasis sailed safely through it all. He attributes her extraordinary stability to her width and engineering and finds her exquisite in every way. The Captain was born in Miami, Florida and educated in Vestfold College in Norway. He is also an RCI Vice President --- very interesting man.
Dinner was Escargot Bourguignonne , Lobster Bisque, Papaya/Pineapple soup, Beef Filet, Caesar Salad, Shrimp Ravioli and a bittersweet Chocolate Souffle for dessert. Wonderful food, wonderful service, and wonderful conversation, all with the best view of the Christmas garlanded balconies of the Opus Dining Room.
Head Waiters Roscoe and Melinda secured us table #401 near the entrance. We don't like to go throughout the dining room with the wheelchair and the scooter, since it disturbs so many diners. Our waiter was Agnelo and his assistant was Harley Davison. They were both excellent. We had reserved a table for two near the entrance of the dining room; however, the first night the reserved table was occupied by others and we were taken to another table far away from the entrance and not very practical for the parking of either the scooter or the wheelchair. When, we finally were assigned to table #401, we found that it was a table for four and we shared it with another couple. Fortunately, we met a friendly couple Kate and Charlie from Chicago, with whom we had enjoyable dinners and pleasant conversations.
We had breakfast served in our cabin each morning at 7:00am, and it was always on time, hot and delicious (eggs, hash browns, bacon, sweet rolls, jams, fruit, coffee and hot chocolate). There are so many venues at which to eat, plus the Buffet, called the Windjammer Market place. There is 24 hr. room service, a donut shop on the Boardwalk, a fantastic coffee, sandwich, cookie shop on the Promenade and don't miss the delicious pastries at the Mondo Cafe` Bar. And for those interested, the Promenade Bar opens at 7:00am!
At night the Solarium Bistro is transformed into an upscale restaurant with lovely table setting of flowers and white linen covered chairs. We dined there with Hotel Director Francois Wache` and three other couples. It was an unforgettable evening. Just lovely with twinkling lights overhead and interesting conversation. Thank you, Francois! The food is great, abundant and everywhere. The service is amiable and the crew as gracious as their Captain.
ENTERTAINMENT This ship is an entertainment destination. From surfing, to rock climbing, Spa facilities, sports venues to several shows nightly, the problem is to decide which attraction to attend. We were blown away by the live skating show and the Nelson Brothers, but also enjoyed many music opportunities and the on board comics--- Strolling on the Promenade or spending quiet time in the library can be pleasant too. It is impossible to be bored on the Oasis. Sleepless? Join Cruise Director Rush for "The Quest" an adults only game starting at midnight in Studio B on Deck 4. Our dining partners, Kate and Charlie told us that it was hilarious. There is something for everyone on board.
PORTS Back-to-back Cruises (Dec. 1-12 2009)
Ft. Lauderdale --- For us this is the closest port to our home, less than half an hour drive. Terminal #18 in Port Everglades has been expanded from 67,000 to 240,000 square feet to accommodate the new gigantic ship. The embarkation and debarkation process has been facilitated significantly by the increased number of check-in desks.
Labadee, Haiti --- Oasis has docked here. Until now, in this port, cruise ship passengers had to be tendered ashore. A large pier has been built and this RCI resort has received extensive improvements, including the new Dragon Trail roller coaster, the "Town Square" where local musician and dancers perform, and the "Artisan Market" with the many wood carved souvenirs, pottery and other artifacts that can be bought at bargain prices.
St, Thomas, USVI --- One of the best shopping ports of the Caribbean, with a new shopping center built near the new pier. A tour accessible to the handicapped is the "Scenic Island Drive and Mountain Top."
St. Maarten --- This island is divided between the Dutch and the French. Many tours visit both sides. Physically challenged guests should consult the Exploration staff before booking a tour.
Nassau, Bahamas --- Here a visit to the amazing Atlantis Hotel Resort with Casino, sparkling white sand beaches and a spectacular aquarium on Paradise Island is a must for the first timers.
CONCLUSION These back-to-back cruises (Dec. 1st to 5th and Dec. 5th to 12th ) represent the 39th and 40th cruise credits toward our Crown & Anchor Society membership, thus it is evident that RCI is one of our favorite cruise lines. We have had some great cruises, but this one has been awesome, mainly for the extraordinary novelties that the Oasis has brought to cruising: The signature neighborhoods, particularly Central Park, Boardwalk and the enhanced Royal Promenade which are spectacular places we never thought conceivable on a cruise ship.
It was an extraordinary cruise, not because of the itinerary, food, service or any other aspect, but for the Oasis herself that offers to the passenger what other ships cannot offer: her grandiosity. We will still cruise on other ships, small, medium, large, gigantic and enormous, since we are addicted to cruising and love them all. However, we know that certain experience we have had on this ship cannot be matched on any other ship until the launching of the Allure of the Seas, which we have booked for our anniversary in Jan. 2011. For the near future, we'll go back to normal having booked the following cruises: Celebrity Solstice, on Jan. 3rd, Liberty of the Seas, on Feb. 7th, Star Princess, from Rio de Janeiro to Ft. Lauderdale, on March 16th, Crown Princess, a transatlantic cruise to Italy, on May 1st, and the return from Europe with the Norwegian Epic, on June 24th. Happy Cruising!