One of the largest ships in the world -- the one that kicked off the equation of bigger equals better when it launched in 2009 -- Oasis of the Seas makes an impression even before you board. Dwarfing its counterparts at Port Everglades, the mega-ship looms like a condo building or perhaps an office park. The this-can't-be-a-ship effect continues as you board; lined with shops like Michael Kors, Kate Spade and Starbucks -- and most importantly, no outside windows -- the ship's Royal Promenade gives the impression of a hectic mall, rather than a cruise ship.
And yet, Oasis of the Seas (and its sister ship, the larger-by-a-few-inches Allure of the Seas) has been enthusiastically embraced as one of Royal Caribbean's most beloved vessels. Built in 2009, the ship changed the mega-ship industry, with first-at-sea features, such as Central Park, containing more than 12,000 live plants, and an innovative design that has two large interior areas open to the sky. Even with an official capacity of 5,400 passengers, Oasis regularly sails at 100 percent or more (maximum is 6,450), at a premium price point for the line. Its onboard attractions are so popular that up to 30 percent of the passengers never get off the ship in port.
So what makes Oasis of the Seas work better than other large ships? The secret is its neighborhoods, which carve the ship up into manageable pieces and keep bottlenecks to a minimum. The Boardwalk, designed as a nod to Coney Island, with two rock climbing walls and a carousel, feeds naturally into the aft deck sports and activity area several decks above, where you find the FlowRider surf simulator, the basketball court, the mini-golf course, a table tennis area and a short zipline. The teen clubs are also in this area; if you're traveling as a family, you'll likely spend a lot of time in this part of the ship.
Meanwhile, at the front of the ship, you'll find the Solarium, a two-story complex of loungers, hot tubs and pools for passengers 16 and older. Serenity continues a few decks below with Central Park and culminates with the Vitality Spa and Fitness Center. These areas of the ship seem remarkably kid-free.
A 2014 dry dock gave Oasis a refresh, and some of the changes may seem confusing to long-time passengers. The huge Opus Dining Room was divided into three separate main dining rooms, each with a different name and decor, in anticipation of a Dynamic Dining program that was never implemented. Suite passengers received private restaurants Coastal Kitchen, an airy Suite Lounge and private sun deck. Ten new suites were also added. Izumi, the popular hibachi joint, received an expansion. On the Boardwalk, Sabor -- a for-fee Mexican cantina -- opened, with an accompanying tequila bar. Hot dogs replaced doughnuts, and cupcakes were relegated to a case in Cups & Scoops. An increased focus on shopping led to boutiques for Michael Kors, Kate Spade and (in 2015) Tiffany's.
Cruising on a ship this size does come with certain requirements. If you want to see the shows and entertainment, you must book online in advance, as the theaters are simply not big enough to hold everyone. If you enjoy specialty dining, you'll want to make those reservations in advance, too. (However, most venues hold a certain number of seats open for walk-in customers and many were rarely crowded.)
To really have a good time on the ship, you might also have to adjust your onboard behavior. Take the buffet, Windjammer Marketplace: It's small and can get very busy during peak hours, so you're far better off choosing one of the other venues for breakfast or lunch. (It does slow down at dinner.) My Time Dining fans can find themselves waiting 20 minutes or more for a table, particularly on formal night. Good luck getting a chair by the pool on a sea day; Flow Rider lines can also get long.
That being said, Oasis of the Seas has plenty of spots that don't feel crowded, particularly if you don't mind zigging when everyone else zags. Stay on the ship during a port day, and you might be the only one in the very cool infinity hot tubs. Many of the ship's signature activities, such as the zipline and FlowRider, open before the vessel leaves port, so those who make it an early day can still have a turn. Book a specialty restaurant, take a walk around the track, get a pass to the Thermal Suite -- these are all ways to make your Oasis of the Seas trip feel like it belongs to you instead of the masses.