Packed with bells and whistles, Ovation of the Seas is the third ground-breaking ship to join Royal Caribbean's Quantum class.
There are plenty of similarities with its two sister ships, Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas, including the thrilling RipCord by iFly skydiving simulator, the North Star capsule that transports passengers 90 metres (300 feet) above sea level for bird's eye views, bumper cars, trapeze classes, world-class entertainment and -- in short -- nonstop fun.
Also, there were changes to accommodate Ovation's main base in China, where it headed after setting sail from Southampton in the U.K. in April. A symbol of good luck and a national treasure of China, a 10-metre-tall (32-foot-tall) panda and cub were designed with Chinese guests in mind (joining Felicia the pink polar bear on Quantum and Gigi the giraffe on Anthem). There is dual-language signage throughout the ship, and the majority of staff in guest services can speak Mandarin, with a high proportion of Mandarin speakers in the shops, casino, restaurants and housekeeping departments as well.
Making its debut on Ovation is the colourful Kung Fu Panda Noodle Shop (replacing Johnny Rockets), plus a new Asian food station in the Windjammer Marketplace buffet restaurant. There is also an enlarged casino, and shops in the Royal Esplanade have been stocked with more high-end designer goods and Asian cosmetic brands.
Around December to February, the ship spends the Australian summer based in Sydney. During this brief spell, some of the food, drinks and activities are tailored to local tastes and everything is in English. All of the bars, specialty restaurants, cafes (or anywhere serving coffee), the three pools and FlowRider surfing simulator are much busier than during the Asian sailings, so prepare for queues at peak times. The MyTime Dining program was also introduced for the Australian season, which is leading to long waits outside the four main restaurants, which have different decor but the same menus (changing daily). There is no main dining room, but the Windjammer buffet is always buzzing.
The ship's entertainment scene is outstanding, with Broadway-style theatre shows and cabarets that combines human talent with technical wizardry. All-singing, all-dancing gadgets are not just confined to the stage. Ovation has myriad high-tech features including Royal IQ, a free interactive scheduling service that lets passengers make reservations for dining, entertainment and activities; it's available as an app for mobile devices or can be used via kiosks and tablets throughout the ship. Thanks to a huge investment in satellite internet, connectivity is fast and efficient. It's good to see USB ports for in-cabin charging and the option for RFID WOWband wristbands, which can be used instead of key cards.
Another exceptional feature is the artwork: a US$4.5 million collection of 11,000 pieces. Much more than just space fillers to adorn blank walls, the installations, paintings and sculptures wouldn't be out of place in the world's top galleries. Sky Wave, over the Royal Esplanade, is the first moving sculpture at sea, and the Flutter Wall, on the way to the Royal Theatre, is a three-metre (120-inch) screen filled with interactive butterflies. Elsewhere are smaller surprises; a retro petrol pump beneath a stairwell, panda and koala bear faces on human shoulders, boxed pictures with tiny people inside. It's worth doing a top to bottom walking tour of the ship to discover the artwork alone.
With so much to see, do and discover, Ovation delights and excites in equal measure.