For those of you that have not heard, Royal Caribbean's 'Oasis of the Seas' entered service in December 2009 and is the world's biggest cruise ship. She's not just a bit bigger than the previous incumbent; she's significantly bigger, in fact 45% bigger (based on gross tonnage). She has sixteen passenger decks and can carry a staggering 6,296 passengers (max) and 2,165 Crew. She is more than twice as big as many of RCI's competitors' ships, 3.25 times bigger than the legendary QE2 and almost 5 times bigger than the Titanic.
The ship should have just been named "Wow". The hardware really is 'amazing', 'breathtaking', 'awesome' and 'astonishing' or any other superlative you choose. There are 15 passenger decks labelled 3 to 18, but there is no deck 13. However the 'software' (service, food, entertainment etc.) also determines the quality of your experience. The 25,000 dollar question is how does the enormous size of this ship enhance or detract from the on board experience? How do the ports handles so many people embarking and disembarking? Is the ship just 'too big' for its own good? All will be revealed:
There is a danger that reviewing the biggest ship in the world could result in the longest review in the world. However in order to make matters more manageable, I will only dwell on the important public rooms/spaces and those aspect of the ships design that are different from other Royal Caribbean ships.
She is not just another cruise ship; her design goes far beyond traditional maritime concepts. She is a floating resort. Her public areas are even divided into seven 'neighbourhoods' and she even has a 'park', such is the scale of the vessel.
RCI have taken all of the innovations featured onboard their 'Freedom Class' vessels (the former biggest cruise ships in the world) and greatly expanded upon them. Oasis's competition is not other ships; it is Disney World, Las Vegas and South Beach etc.
Embarkation at Port Everglades was one of the fastest I have ever experienced at any port and that includes smaller ships which only carry 800 passengers. I went from 'kerb to ship' in around 15 minutes - quite remarkable. (My cruise was carrying 5,900 passengers of whom 900 were Brits.)
Oasis is designed to spend her life undertaking one week cruises from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to the Caribbean islands. She offers two alternating Eastern and Western itineraries, each with an ideal balance of three ports of call and three sea days. The three sea days are essential to explore the ship and take advantage of the facilities on such a big ship. In fact I would suggest that there is actually more to see and do on board the ship than there is in the ports of call. Two weeks, not one, would be required if you want to attempt to experience everything this floating resort can offer you. As a foot note, I would not be surprised if we do not see Oasis (or her sister Allure) operating in the Mediterranean in maybe a few years time. Onboard Experience
'Oasis' makes more use of new technology than any ship before her. In fact the 'Oasis' experience starts long before you board the ship. On-line registration of your personal details and the ability to print out your boarding-pass helps speed up the embarkation process. Many aspects of on board life can be booked on-line, in advance, from the comfort of your own home. These include excursions, entertainment, alternative dining, wine/soda packages and flow-rider (surfing) lessons, etc. Booking the entertainment in advance is a very wise choice. Passengers who book get priority over those that have not, to attend the major shows.
Once you are onboard, your various bookings are all held on your Sea-pass card, which is also you cashless account card and room key. Crew members stand at the entrances to each show and use hand-held card readers to confirm your bookings and allow you in.
Ten minutes before the start of each show, passengers who have not booked are allowed to fill any remaining seats in each venue. These may of course be limited, so In short if you have not booked in advance, you may not get to see the show you want. The smallest show, the comedy show, which is held in the intimate 'Comedy Central' lounge, definitely required booking.
Onboard photographs are also linked to your sea pass card as well. You can put your card in a machine, in the photo gallery and view your photos and order them if required. You can even buy them on a CD for a mere $350 (yes, that's not a typing error). Strangely some photographs taken by the RCI 'paparazzi' are still printed out in the old manner and displayed on the wall and/or stored in one of hundreds of folders. You Sea-pass card has the number of your personal folder printed on it.
The dEcor on board Oasis is the typical RCI mix of tastefulness and glitz, but never as over the top as Carnival. Many of the public rooms have familiar RCI brand names to make regulars feel at home. Much of the 10,000 items of art work onboard are contemporary in style (i.e. odd) with a '"wonders of our world" theme.
Oasis is traditional in the sense that it has one main dining room, with two fixed sittings although 'any-time' (flexible) dining is also offered. There are also a number of alternative dining venues, some of which carry a surcharge. There is one large theatre, the Opal, but some additional entertainment venues including Studio-B (ice show) and the Aqua-Theatre (water show), plus a range of smaller lounges many featuring live music at times. Surprisingly many of the public rooms are quite small, with the exception of the Theatre and Main Dining Room. Unusually for a big ship, there are only two stair towers and banks of elevators. However the elevators are big and fast, with most being glass offering scenic views of their respective atriums. I did not have any problems getting around the vessel, but those passengers with limited mobility are bound to find the distances between the various decks and public rooms' changeling.
The entire ships design is based on the premise that not every passenger will want to be doing the same thing, at the same time, in the same place at once. This concept largely works, except during the Royal Promenade street parties/processions when you quickly become aware that the ship holds a hell of a lot of people. The first night queues for the 'Opus dining room' were also enlightening, but by the second evening they were non-existent. However at other times I found myself wondering where all the passengers were. One evening I went in the Jazz club and there were only six people watching the band (and they were good). There was a Scottish Piper, Larry Lindsay, aboard who gave a lecture about making and playing bagpipes which was attended by only ten people. (This also indicates that RCI clientele are not big on enrichment).
The different 'neighbourhoods' successfully divide up the passengers, who require different experiences, between the various public spaces. For example Central Park tends to attract adults and is quite tranquil, as of course does the 'adults only' solarium. The sports court with it's Zip Line and Flow Riders (surf simulators with real water) and H2O zone (children's water park) keeps the kids and energetic adults busy. Families enjoy the board walk together. The teens are well catered for with their 'youth zone' facilities housed under the Viking Crown complex on deck 15.
Public rooms and Spaces
Central Park may sound like a gimmick but it is unique and wonderful space. It contains 12,000 real plants and 56 trees. It is complete with pre-recorded bird sounds. I spoke to the gardener who told me that the automatic under-soil watering system was so efficient that they had to turn some of it off as some plants don't like too much moisture.
Central Park is longer and wider than it looked in the original renderings. It is quite a tranquil area, mainly attracting adults, but was never over crowded. It is also illuminated very attractively. I found myself being drawn back to it time and time again. Quite a breeze can blow though the park at times; even though it is an enclosed space with just an open roof. Central Park is overlooked by many balcony cabins, giving the occupants a man-made vista opposed to a sea view. The park contains a number of shops and surcharge dining options: Chops Grille (steak house) Antonio's Table (Italian Dining) 150 Central Park (exclusive dining) and Vintages (wine bar). However there is also the relatively intimate 'Park cafe' a non-surcharge venue. This was my favourite dining venue for a healthy breakfast and lunch. The freshly prepared filled bagels along with fruit, cereals and yoghurt made a lovely breakfast. The 'choose your own salad', toasted sandwiches and soup made an excellent light lunch. Frank Sinatra and other smooth music was regularly played at a sensible volume and the staff were very efficient and friendly at all times. The Cafe was uncrowned for the first few days of the cruise then the secret got out.
The 'Rising Tide bar' is a bar on hydraulics which travels between 'Central Park' and the 'Royal Promenade' directly below. As it is doing so, coloured fountains dance below it. Personally I think it is the one silly 'gimmick' on board the ship. It only travels once every an hour or two and on occasions the departures are cancelled (why?) It is not a thrilling ride and it's not particularly scenic one. I think the space would have been better used for a Park cafe and/or a Promenade bar that did not elevate.
RCI's 'Royal Promenade' concept first appeared on board the 'Voyager' class ships in 1999. Essentially it is an enclosed street down the middle of the ship featuring a range of cafes, bars and shops. However Oasis's 'Royal Prom' is longer and wider than ever before. It also has an upper level of public rooms such as the 'Schooner Bar' and the 'photo gallery' which look down onto it. Perhaps the most striking improvement is that there are a number of giant skylights situated above it in Central park which allow sunlight to spill into it. This is unlike the Voyager and Freedom class 'Proms' which rely on artificial light to illuminate them. There is a vintage car in Oasis's the Royal Prom, occupied by two teddy bears (I'm no idea why) which I'm told is a 1936 Auburn Speedster.
Shops/bar of particular note in the 'Royal Prom' were the cute 'Cupcake shop' which sells, you guessed it, pretty cupcakes. Sorrento's Pizza Cafe was ideal for a quick slice a fresh Pizza. Then there is the 'Globe & Atlas' British style Pub which was about as British as 'Disneyland' and lacked a decent draft ale. It was always very smokey. There was 'On Air' (karaoke and video games). And 'Bolero's (live Latin American music) which was also smokey at times. Replacing the tradition Captain's cocktail party, the Captain makes a welcoming speech from the 'Royal Prom'. He appears to hatch from what looks like a giant egg (O.k. it's a giant globe above the pub) which splits in two and grows a bridge, so he can walk on in out above the assembled masses below. It's almost a St. Mark's Square type experience and quite surreal. It's worth noting the acoustics in the Royal Prom are not at all good for amplified speech. At times during the week pop music was played so loudly in the Prom it was painful. This also happened on the sundeck, occasionally. The music was so loud that I even saw teenagers run for cover.
The 'Boardwalk' is an area which appeals to families and has a 'Coney Island' feel. It was shorter than I imagined but impressive, nevertheless. At the end of the 'Boardwalk' is the 'Aqua theatre', providing a unique entertainment venue which cannot be found on any other ship.
As you enter the 'Boardwalk' you are greeted by three full-sized wooden carved horses in different stages of carving and paint work. These act nicely as a visual introduction for the Carousel which is fun and frequented by more adults than children, including me. There is 'Johnny Rockets' (Hamburgers) the 'Sea food Shack' the 'Dognut shop' (yummy) and some shops. It makes feel as if you have wondered onto a set of movie about a fairground. Like in Central Park, many balcony cabins overlook the boardwalk. I must say that I was disappointed that the 'Boardwalks facilities shut early evenings. I would have been fun to explore the facilities after dark.
I was quite surprised to find that the 'Boardwalk' is on deck six, where as 'Central Park' is on deck eight. I had mistakenly assumed from the original ship design/artists renderings that they were on the same level so you could walk through Central park and continue into the boardwalk. In fact they are two decks apart, although this is not a problem as the rear stair tower and elevators are between them.
The Aqua Theatre is an open air amphitheatre at the stern of the ship with a kidney shaped pool of a depth of almost 18ft (the deepest pool afloat) and high diving boards. It is overlooked by two very scary looking 'rock walls' which are available for brave passengers to climb.
The Aqua-Theatre hosts the regular 'Oasis of Dreams' show, which is a diving/ acrobatic/ synchronised swimming show. It also has coloured fountains which dance to music at times. However on my cruise (April 2010) there were some technical problems with the Aqua-theatre. The show was delayed for an hour when hydraulic platforms descended into the pool and the water cascaded out. The first three rows of seats (designated the splash zone) were flooded to above shoe height. Technicians struggled to drain the pool, but after an hour the show was able to commence. I must say once it got going, it was excellent show. Later in the week the 'Dancing fountain' show was cancelled for technical reasons.
Originally RCI said that Aqua-pool would be available for guests to use for swimming and scuba lessons. This did not happen on my cruise. I noted that there was actually a shuffleboard area behind the aqua-theatre which is currently a restricted area.
The Aqua-theatre has two enormous video screens. These are used during the shows and occasional to show children's movies in the afternoon. However they do not work well in bright sunlight. It would make more sense to use than after dark. It's a pity such a big ship does not have a dedicated movie theatre.
Opus dining room
The Opus dining room must be the biggest dining room at sea. It has three levels, the second and third being balconies looking down onto level one. As a centrepiece it has the RCI signature 'giant chandelier' above the captain's table and a very large avant-garde mural. The dining rooms levels are not linked by an internal staircase, but this is not a problem as outside each level is a main stair tower and elevators. However this does effectively make it three different restaurants, with the illusion of it being one. The opus is cleverly designed so that you are only really aware of the tables around you and not the entire 3000 or so other diners. The noise levels can get quite high, but this may be as much to do with the clientele than the acoustics of the room.
I experienced several teams of waiters and all were very experienced, efficient and generally worked in a 'seen and not heard' a style which I prefer. Maybe because our table was all Brits, there were no long speeches or magic tricks etc. (I prefer my entertainment to take place in the theatre and not over diner). The food was generally served hot although I did send one lukewarm entrEe back.
The changing daily menu had plenty of choice. Along with American standards (prime rib, Lobster tail etc.) is also had some quite exotic choices including Indian vegetable curries. Chicken and steak was always an option along with some healthy choices. The red meats were particularly good. However the fish was very disappointing. For example, the lobster and tiger shrimp were rubbery and lacking in taste. The portions were very large making it difficult for the average Brit to eat all courses. However the food was as good as you should reasonably expect from a large mass-market ship and better than many. Let's not forget that this is assembly-line food with much being prepared well in advance.
The Windjammer Buffet
The Windjammer buffet was surprisingly small for the size of Oasis and probably smaller than similar facilities onboard the Voyager and Freedom class ships. The thinking behind its small size is that there are other dining choices onboard. However passengers naturally gravitated to the Windjammer for breakfast and lunch, especially on the first few days. In addition it is the main restaurant which serves the sun deck, its pools and sports court. Most of the other dining choices are many decks below. The windjammer does offer some nice views of the sports court area and the boardwalk. However it does not have a 'lido' (outside) dining area. The food is displayed on various 'islands' and was of the normal buffet standard, although I did feel the choices were a little more limited than some other ships that I've been on.
The Viking crown observation lounge is located on deck 17. On many RCI ships this is one of the highlights of the ships design, but on 'Oasis' the lounge only occupies a small part of the 'crown'. It is smaller that the equivalent lounges on some of the other RCI fleet. The views are more of the pools and Central park than they are of the sea. I rarely saw this lounge more than half full, as I think it gets forgotten being so high. It does have a stage which often host more 'laid-back' live music, with 'Dazzles' often having the more up-tempo music with dancing.
'Dazzels' is the most attractive lounge on the ship. It is on deck six and is has largely white dEcor with a mirrored ceiling. It has a large dance floor in front of a stage and behind the stage a large windows overlooking the boardwalk. It has an upper balcony lever with tables and chairs and smoking. I was impressed by the battery-illuminated drinks menus. The lounge is a more attractive alternative to the 'Viking Crown' and more conveniently located for many guests. Louder music takes place here in the form of a DJ or live pop band. At times this venue can get packed to capacity.
The impressive Casino also allows smoking in one half. It also had a very curious display of colourful 'growths' in petri-dishes on the wall of an entrance corridor. It is probably one of the strangest items of art at sea, yet quite attractive.
The Wrap around promenade deck was very sheltered by lifeboats (the biggest of any ship) and has a tunnel at the bow which you pass through to make a complete lap. The deck is marked-out with a jogging track and overhead signs display encouraging 'rhymes' to spur you on. It was not a good space to take an evening stroll and admire the sea view, but it was very good for exercise. There is no 'peek-a-boo' bridge viewing window; I suspect the various ships Captains have not been very happy with that concept. There is also no access for passengers on the bow, like there is on the Voyager and Freedom classes. There is no forward observation lounge as such, although there some nice views to be had from the 'Solarium' located high at the bow.
The 'Adults only' solarium is a large glass panelled space, which has a partially open glass roof. It has a round swimming pool and its own bar and a bistro. Unfortunately, It is not a 'tranquil' area as you might think, it could be quite noisy and echoey. The four cantilevered whirlpools which are perched on the ships port and starboard sides offering great views. They are very popular, but the sound of their occupants laughing and talking is amplified by their shape reminding me of a 'roman Orgy' (but without the sex). Below the Solarium, there is an open air viewing area above each of the bridge 'wings' on deck 14. Although it is of course an extremely windy spot to be at, while at sea.
Pools: The Pool and Sports Zone is found on decks 15 and 16 and includes four large pools and numerous whirlpools. The Beach Pool is saltwater and features a gently sloping sandy shore that leads to the pool. The Sports Pool is for lap swimming and water-based games. The H2O pools are for families.
Oasis must have the biggest entertainment budget and the biggest cast of any ship afloat. With the exception of the 'Headliners' show, which was the excellent Beatles tribute act 'Beatlemania', all the big shows are in house productions. The international hit musical 'Hairspray' is offered and is a full length (1 hour 40 minute) production with a cast of around 20. It is one of the few shows that I have ever seen onboard a ship theatre really is 'Broadway' quality. The singing in particular was good, which is not always the case onboard some ships. The Opal theatre and its scenery, lighting and sound supersede the quality of many theatres on Broadway and in the West End.
'Studio B' was almost identical to facilities on the voyager and Freedom class ships. It is an ice rink, although not full sized, with tired seating. It is used for passenger skating and performances of the ice show. The ice show, 'Frozen in Time' which is very loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tales was spectacular, as RCI ice shows always are. 'Come fly with me' was essentially a theatre show featuring much aerobatics a hot air balloon and a aeroplane. Yet again it was light years ahead of what is offered on many ships.
curiously the intimate 'Jazz on 4' and 'Comedy Live' lounges in 'Entertainment place' (deck 5) have minimal soundproofing between them. It is possible to hear the jazz band quite clearly through the wall while you are listening to the comedy show. One simple solution would be not to use both rooms simultaneously. Across the way is the 'Blaze nightclub (the dungeon like disco) who's sound can also filter into 'Jazz on 4' of an evening. In fact it is not uncommon to be able to hear several sources of music at once, in various locations onbord the ship, such as piped music in one public area and a live band filtering through from another area. RCI need to be more aware of volume levels and noise pollution.
There are 37 different grades of cabins, many of which are similar to cabins on other Royal Caribbean ships. The cabin and corridor dEcor is rather 'understated' (bland) although this is preferable to 'garish'. The standard cabins are comfortable but not over generous on space. A small sofa is proved with a small table. The wardrobe space is adequate but not over generous. The wardrobe door is a rather poor design. It has a sliding door which covers half the storage space at any one time. There is little room to access the wardrobe door between the sofa which in our cabin was only a foot or so away from the wardrobe.
The LCD TV's are interactive allowing you to check your onboard account and book certain cruise enhancements such as alternative dining. The cabin doors open outward (like those on the Celebrity Solstice class) into a recess so not to obstruct the corridor which gives a little more room in the cabin. The shower had a shower-head on a flexible hose, although the water pressure was quite low, and glass doors.
The chocolates on the pillow commence several nights into the cruise (well that's 5,900 chocolates saved per night) and towel animal in the cabin were epidemic, but cute.
There are some new cabin grades not been seen on any ship before? There are window cabins overlooking the 'Royal Promenade' as on the 'Voyager' class, but in addition there are window and balcony cabins overlooking Central park and the Boardwalk. For those with a big budget, the 'Loft suites' have two floors, with a living-room downstairs and bedroom upstairs. They offer the highest accommodation afloat. Having looked in one they are not worth the exorbitant fare in my opinion.
A new innovation is that Life Jackets are no longer stored in the cabins, but on deck somewhere? Passengers now just watch a safety video en-mass in one of the lounges (their muster station) and are not required to even put a life-jacket on. Your compulsory presence at the safety drill is no longer recorded by the archaic method of crew members with clipboards and shouting out the passengers names. This is now done with portable bar-code readers and your Sea-pass card. My main concern with this procedure is that the passengers actually watched the video in silence but the crew members at the back of the room were laughing and talking.
Ports of Call
'Oasis' does not tender and she is unlikely ever to do so, given the high number of passengers onboard. She if designed to embark and disembark passengers from her starboard side only. Much o the security functions like x-raying bags of passengers when returning to the ship in the ports of call is done on the shore-side rather than in the ships gangway hatches, reducing congestion.
The ship makes extensive use of technology to assist passenger flow. The elevators have a 'gangway' button. If you press this it will take you to whatever deck the gangway for the particular port is located on, you do not need to know in advance. Interactive touch-screens around the ship display deck plans and the cruise compass (what's on information). They also display arrows pointing the direction of the gangway when in port.
So is 'Oasis' too big? It is worth recollecting that five years ago, 90,000 gross tons was regarded as 'too big' by many of the cruising public. However this size and it is now regarded as a 'medium size'. Interestingly 120,000 gross tonnes then generally became regarded as too big.
Personally I feel that the number of people onboard a cruise ship is largely irrelevant. What is important is how much space the people have each. There are ships that carry 800 passengers that feel more crowded than ones that carry 2,500 passengers. However passenger numbers do become very relevant during embarkation and disembarkation when every passenger is doing the same thing.
Although I never tried to be the first off of the ship in port, I never saw any long queues to get on or off 'Oasis'. RCI's design clearly works very well. Each port of call also had a number of other large ships docked, as well as Oasis. The local towns were quite busy, but not unbearable so. You only had to travel a few miles from the ship to leave the masses behind. On disembarkation at Fort Lauderdale all passengers were off the ship by 9.30am - which is quite remarkable. I even got a taxi with ease - and no major queues.
As for stability, surprisingly I did feel 'Oasis' roll a little (or to be more accurate: 'judder') in moderate seas, probably due to the high winds. The motion was of course was most pronounced on her uppermost decks. Irrespective of her size and the 'hype', she may be pretty stable, but she's no 'Queen Mary 2' in terms of sea-keeping.
In conclusion, Oasis is a remarkable 'floating resort'; her design truly takes her beyond that of just another cruise ship. RCI entered service almost faultlessly. RCI have ensured that the crew are all excellent, unlike some new builds which enter service were a very high proportion of inexperienced crew. Her size and innovations means that she offers everything that the 'Freedom Class' ships do, plus many groundbreaking additions such as 'Central Park' , the 'Boardwalk' and 'Aqua Theatre'. These are not gimmicks; they are charming, exciting and very well utilised spaces. The different 'neighbourhoods successfully create different experiences for the different passengers needs. However just like a real neighbourhoods, on a ship this big you may not get to know your neighbours on first name terms.
The ship is does NOT generally feel crowded, in fact I have been on many smaller ships that feel more crowded. Embarkation, disembarkation and the ports of call went remarkably smoothly with minimal queues.
The food and service were as good as you could reasonably expect on a big mass market ship. The quality and consistency of the entertainment is some of the best afloat. There really was very little to criticize about the entire cruise experience. Although I did leave away with feeling that I had 'missing out' because I simply did not have time to see, do and eat everything on offer within one week. So is Oasis too big? My answer is a definite "No". Like Mount Everest, she's supposed to be big. I'd strongly recommend 'Oasis' to anyone that wants the ultimate floating-resort experience.