The world's newest contender for "biggest ship ever," Oasis of the Seas will be a whopping 40 percent larger than the current title holders, RCI's Freedom-class trio. Oasis of the Seas, the first of the two 220,000-ton, 5,400-passenger behemoths is set to debut in December 2009; sister ship Allure of the Seas will debut in summer 2010.
With features such as onboard zip-lining, a water-based outdoor theater and loft-style cabins, it's no wonder that the buzz surrounding these vessels has been unlike anything we've ever seen.
And today's Diamond member-only bookings (for travelers with at least 10 cruises on Royal Caribbean) is a great start to what begins a three week period. All other Royal Caribbean past passengers will be able to reserve cabins beginning Thursday, 28 August, and then ship sales opens to the general public on 3 September.
Money, it already seems, is absolutely no object when it comes to Oasis of the Seas.
"We've just done a booking for £40,000. A group of 17 people. All in suites!" an excited Jo Rzymowska, associate vice-president and general manager, tells me as she comes on the phone a couple of hours after bookings opened in the U.K. (because of the time difference the U.K. is five hours ahead the U.S. East Coast).
For most Brits curious about Oasis of the Seas, 3 September is the pivotal day -- that's when the ship goes on sale to the general public. Royal Caribbean is gearing up its marketing machines so much that it'll be pretty impossible for you not to know about the ship and understand how to plunk down your money.
Rzymowska said: "On 3 September we will be direct-mailing 200,000 households -- people who have inquired about Oasis, past passengers and Crown & Anchor members. And on 6 September we start a nationwide press campaign, which will run until mid-October.
"September is Thomas Cook cruise focus month, so every branch of Thomas Cook will have Oasis of the Seas imagery on display, including window displays and point-of-sale posters of cutaways of the ship that show the different neighbourhoods.
"We'll also have marketing packs and sales tools for other travel agency chains, both big and small, to tell people about the ship ... Apart from everything else, there are 37 different stateroom categories for them to learn about."
There are more than 50 in-store events organised in travel agencies and cruise specialist retailers around the U.K. In Grimsby, a Midlands town on the English east coast, Royal Caribbean and the tour operator First Choice are inviting consumers to a special event at the cinema. Royal will also be giving away Apple iPods to hammer home the New York-Central Park theme that's part of the ship's decor. (Big Apple. Gedit?)
Rzymowska said: "Anecdotal evidence suggests that this is the biggest campaign that has ever been focused on one ship. Agents say they have never seen so much interest in one ship. It's because it is so different."
Virgin Holidays Cruises head of product and commercial Natalie Legg said they are taking unconfirmed bookings from people who want to be among the first to secure a cabin on Oasis.
"We got all the prices yesterday evening and are packaging them with our flights, adding hotel options and a Virgin wow factor -- maybe a cabin upgrade, a couple of nights in Miami or a free week in Orlando.
"We will then communicate these to our customers and take their bookings, so when sales open here at 1 p.m. on September 3 [that time difference again], we just have to confirm their cabins. We are also having a competition: Everyone who registers and books in September goes into a prize draw for $200 per cabin credit."
Legg reckons the 12 December inaugural and following Christmas and New Year's options will be snapped us fast. "The Crown & Anchor members have first choice. I just hope there is some space left for later bookings. It is a big ship, after all!"
She added: "We were busy when P&O Cruises' Ventura went on sale, but there's been nothing like this. We're getting more people in the call centre on 3 September and they will stay as late as necessary to cope with the calls."
Rzymowska said Royal Caribbean will have 70 people in the call centre. "There's been a blackout on all holidays and anyone who can has been trained how to make bookings. Those who can't -- that's me -- will be taking inquiries, and I've also promised to put on my 'domestic goddess' pinny and make the tea!
"It's going to be a long day, but everyone is hyped up about it. It's really exciting."
A seven-night Caribbean cruise on Oasis of the Seas costs from ¢1,299 for an inside cabin to ¢6,500 per person for a suite, including return flights and transfers. "It's a very attractive price and we won't be discounting for anyone," said Rzymowska.
"Of course, Oasis is the new big ship, but it only comes out in December 2009, so most people will be booking it for 2010. That means they still need to book their 2009 cruise on one of our other 21 ships and there are early booking offers available for those."
Want to know more? An overnight virtual Oasis party, organised by both a U.S. and a Canadian travel agency, is not being heavily promoted here -- but there's no reason why night owls and early risers (the event lasts from 6 p.m. - midnight East Coast U.S. time which figures out to about 1 - 7 a.m. in Britain) can't participate. We hear that it will centre on revelations about the ship's spa, pools, onboard fitness and recreational facilities. To register -- it's free -- go here.
--by Jane Archer, Cruise Critic U.K. Correspondent