The secret's out: The strange spherical object that's tethered to Oasis of the Seas and floating above the ship as it undergoes sea trials is indeed a trial balloon ride.
According to cruise industry Web site Cruisebusiness.com, a project manager from STX Europe has told a Finnish newspaper that it's meant to be a hot air balloon-style ride in which Oasis passengers can float skyward in a gondola or basket.
Cruisebusiness.com quotes Turku-based Turun Sanomat as saying that the balloon is connected by a cable to the aft of the ship. It flies over 50 meters above the vessel. Via the cable, it can be lowered to its docking station on the upper deck of the ship. A gondola or basket will have space for a few passengers (check out our slideshow with actual pictures).
Speculation about the balloon flying above the 220,000-ton, 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas was rampant yesterday after photos were posted on STX Europe's Web site. Though no one from Royal Caribbean would confirm the purpose of the balloon, participants in a Cruise Critic poll debated its intended use. So far -- and it's not too late to vote for your favorite! -- weather station, blimp cam and blimp ride have garnered the most support (the ride is the most popular option).
Voters did not take to other proposed uses for the blimp, such as a spa capsule or even the first flying bar at sea.
As we noted yesterday, Royal Caribbean Chairman Richard Fain commented on his blog that the aerostat, as he calls it, is an experiment. "The idea is interesting, but it has such a cornucopia of practical issues that I give it less than a 50 percent chance of being used on Oasis," he writes. "If we don't use it on the ship, I will consider it just another of the many ideas our people develop that didn't work."