(2:30 p.m. EDT) -- What is Royal Caribbean to do when its newest cruise ship, the 225,282-ton, 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas, overshadows its 20 fleetmates in size, innovation and popularity? Make its older ships look more like Oasis.
The mega-ship operator has announced that it will be adding several amenities from Oasis of the Seas to two Freedom-class ships -- Freedom of the Seas and sister ship Liberty of the Seas -- during the first quarter of 2011. Freedom and Liberty, which debuted in 2006 and 2007, respectively, previously held the record as largest cruise ships in the world.
This upgrade strategy closely follows that of sister line Celebrity Cruises, which has introduced a program to add popular elements from its innovative Solstice-class ships to its earlier Millennium-class vessels. Celebrity Constellation, in fact, just emerged from the process, and we got an exclusive sneak peek at the changes. Meanwhile, Oasis-style revamps -- focusing on cupcakes, Broadway and giant movie screens -- will take place during Freedom and Liberty's upcoming dry-docks in the Bahamas. Liberty's refurbishment is scheduled to begin on January 23, 2011 and Freedom's refurb will start on March 6, 2011.
So what Oasis favorites are coming to Freedom and Liberty?
Cupcake Cupboard. On Oasis of the Seas, the Cupcake Cupboard, selling icing-topped confections for $2.50 each, has been something of a phenomenon. "We can't seem to keep up with demand," says Lisa Bauer, Royal Caribbean's Senior VP of Hotel Operations. (We love it, too; check out this video of cupcake taste-testing!) The venue will also host cupcake classes and private parties. On both Freedom and Liberty, the Cupcake Cupboard will replace the Clean Shave barbershop.
Outdoor Movies. Despite all of Royal Caribbean's onboard innovations, giant outdoor movie screens -- now a staple on ships from lines like Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises and MSC Cruises -- were strangely missing until the debut of Oasis of the Seas. The outdoor screens at Oasis of the Seas' AquaTheater have proven popular, so an 18.5-foot display will be installed in the main pool area on both Freedom and Liberty of the Seas.
Broadway Shows. Oasis has "Hairspray," which according to Bauer has been getting standing ovations every night. Sister ship Allure of the Seas will feature "Chicago" when it debuts this December. So happy with the success of its Broadway shows, Royal Caribbean will be installing another big-name production on Liberty of the Seas. The show will debut on in spring 2011. According to Bauer, Freedom of the Seas' current show, "Once Upon a Time" has been such as big hit that it will remain in place for at least the next year or so.
ImaginOcean Puppet Show. Oasis of the Seas' ImaginOcean family theater show, a combination puppet show-musical created by Tony Award-nominated actor John Tartaglia, has proven successful, and the line will be introducing the show to Liberty and Freedom.
Royal Tots and Royal Babies. The popular nursery that's part of Oasis of the Seas' Royal Babies and Tots program, which provides childcare to kids ages 6 to 36 months, will be added to Freedom and Liberty. There will be space for 12 kids. All parents have an opportunity to reserve spots for their kids at the beginning of each cruise at a cost of $8 per hour, per child. Remaining hours are then opened up on a first-come, first-served basis.
Interactive Touch-Screen Displays. On Oasis, passengers responded positively to the digital signage found primarily in the elevator lobbies, so the signs, which feature deck plans, restaurant info and a digital version of Royal Caribbean's daily "Cruise Compass" activity guide, will be added to Freedom and Liberty.
So what about third Freedom-class ship, United Kingdom-based Independence of the Seas, which debuted in 2008? "Independence is starting its first full year-round season in Southampton, so we want another year of data to get a read on the British guests," notes Bauer. "Over 90 percent of the guests are Brits, so we want whatever new additions we make to really resonate with them."
--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor
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