Royal Caribbean's 220,000-ton, 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas and Norwegian Cruise Line's 150,000-ton 4,200-passenger Norwegian Epic are both due for launch within the next year -- Oasis debuts this December, while Epic enters the scene just a few months later in May 2010. Both are creating excitement among cruisers, but with passengers shelling out big bucks to sail, we wanted to know which ship simply costs more -- and where cruise travelers will find the best value for their money.
We stacked the two larger-than-life ships up against each other in three categories: entry-level fares for inside cabins, balcony upgrades and the cost to sail during the pricey holiday season. Get in the ring, and see who the champ is.
Round 1: Basic Inside Cabin
While both ships' starting fares are higher than those of older fleetmates, inside cabins listed on the lines' Web sites are fairly reasonable for these bigger, better ships. Norwegian Epic's insides start from $649 per person, and Oasis of the Seas' insides start from $829 per person. But for sailings in the Caribbean's prime summer months (optimal for family vacations), fares can hike up to as much as $1,099 and $1,449, respectively -- unfortunately, yes, still for inside cabins. Tip: Carefully consider timing when booking one of these behemoths, as a change in date can easily mean a difference of more than $500.
Overall, Oasis of the Seas' starting fares are higher than Epic's, but not by so much that it would deter people who really want to go. On the other hand, when you consider the rough state of the economy, the price difference might be enough to convince some passengers to choose the cheaper of the new ships and book a trip with Norwegian Epic.
Winner: Norwegian Epic
Round 2: Upgrade to Balcony
If you're going to be splurging anyway, you might consider upgrading to a balcony cabin. In this case, Oasis of the Seas offers better value. On this ship, you'll pay between approximately 20 and 25 percent more to upgrade from an inside cabin to a balcony. Meanwhile, it costs a bit more to upgrade to a verandah on Epic -- to the tune of up to 32 percent, depending on when you sail.
Remember, too, that all of Epic's outside cabins feature balconies -- so you no longer have the option of booking a standard cabin with just a window. Oasis of the Seas has an added advantage in this category because it still offers oceanview staterooms, a middle-of-the-road choice between a standard inside cabin and pricier quarters with balconies. Oceanviews are priced just 14 to 16 percent higher than insides on Oasis.
Winner: Oasis of the Seas
Round 3: Peak Season -- Holiday
Because December is the ship's first month at sea, 2009 holiday sailings on Oasis of the Seas are selling at astronomical prices. Its seven-night, Eastern Caribbean cruise -- departing December 26 (the day after Christmas, mind you) -- starts at $3,299 per person for an inside cabin!
Of course, Epic won't be out yet. So, we did a more apples-to-apples comparison with each of the ships' 2010 holiday dates and found less frightening figures. Oasis' December 23 sailing starts at $1,699 per person, and an extended, nine-night New Year's cruise starts at $2,419 per person. Norwegian Epic's cruise departing Christmas Day starts at $1,299, and the sailing that embarks New Year's Day starts back down at $699 per person. Norwegian Epic clearly wins in this category -- Oasis of the Seas' base fares are double those of sailings earlier in December.
Winner: Norwegian Epic
So, Who Wins Overall?
Actually, the consensus about these two new ships is that there really isn't one at all. For each individual cruise traveler, there are positives and negatives about the new vessels -- and the cost to cruise. HeavySurf, for one, says, "You might find the price point (on Epic) more attractive ... but Oasis just has a fabulous mystique."
But for many, it still comes down to the bottom line. Member familyof4cruising explains, "The pricing differences for the Oasis and the Epic are very big! I had the Oasis booked and cancelled because it just didn't make sense to spend so much money. I am paying less for a suite and inside on the Epic than I would be for a balcony quad on the Oasis. And you cannot beat NCL's suite sweet life!"
No matter which side of the argument you're on, there are unprecedented options for cruisers on brand-new ships in the coming months, at varying price points. What's your opinion of these revolutionary new ships, and which are you more likely to book? Vote in our poll!
--by Kim Kazell, Assistant Editor