(12:00 p.m. EST) -- When Oasis of the Seas sailed its first shakedown voyage in November 2009, Cruise Critic was on the scene. Exactly 10 years (to the day) later, we're back onboard following the ship's massive $165 million refurbishment as part of Royal Caribbean's Royal Amplification initiative, which aims to keep older ships fresh.
With just two days to cram in all of the vessel's amazing offerings, we've ridden the carousel, stuffed our faces with pizza from Sorrento's and taken on the FlowRider ... again. But, more importantly, we've also checked out what's new, including a completely revamped pool area, a massive sports bar with some pretty fantastic video games, and Royal Caribbean's first at-sea barbecue restaurant. Read on to see what we love and what we don't.
We adore barbecue. There's something about pool deck pulled pork with beach views that makes us feel like it's summertime all the time. Portside BBQ marks a first for the line, which removed a section of Oasis of the Seas' teen club to make room. (Don't worry: a chill outdoor lounge area was added to compensate.)
Featuring live music and line dancing, the venue offers plenty of seating, both indoors and out, and serves up a choice of chicken wings; brisket, pulled pork and smoked turkey sandwiches; or jumbo smoked turkey legs, each with two sides and dessert for $7.99 -- not bad for one of the best barbecue meals we've ever had at sea.
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Playmakers Sports Bar and Arcade has taken the place of the ship's previous arcade and Sabor, a now-defunct Mexican restaurant. (Burrito lovers can check out El Loco Fresh on Dec 15 instead.) Although Playmakers debuted onboard Symphony of the Seas, what you'll find on Oasis is larger, but still with two separate rooms -- one with a bar and another with classic arcade games like Pac-Man, Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong.
Both rooms have plenty of seating, tabletop diversions like Jenga, and tons of TVs so you can catch the big game. The space is rounded out with a menu of bar bites, as well as an exclusive area with a big screen that can be reserved for large groups to watch their sporting match of choice. With convenient access from The Boardwalk, Playmakers is a total social hub.
In line with the beachy destinations to which it sails, Oasis of the Seas now focuses even more on warm weather, sun and water fun, boasting the line's Perfect Storm trio of waterslides -- a Champagne bowl-style slide and two twisty racing slides, Cyclone and Typhoon. Worked seamlessly onto the ship's already bustling sports deck, the slides have seen a steady stream of kids lining up to ride over and over.
But, wait. There's more. If you want the thrills without getting wet, you can check out the surprisingly fast Ultimate Abyss, a duo of dark twisty dry slides that spiral from the entrance on Deck 15's sports deck down to The Boardwalk on Deck 6. To quickly maneuver between those decks, it's like a fireman's pole -- but better!
At a time when many ships are scrapping their karaoke bars for more popular (and, therefore, more lucrative) spaces, Oasis' new Spotlight Karaoke Bar was refreshingly crowded. It was standing room only when we stopped by the intimate venue, which is set on the Royal Promenade. A large TV screen outside shows the lyrics currently being sung, and it seemed to draw people in. Inside, cozy tables and a small stage offer a fun platform for anyone wanting to show off their pipes.
Because this is a shakedown sailing to work out the kinks following its dry dock, Oasis is sailing with a few empty cabins. Although there are fewer than 4,300 people currently onboard, the ship feels crowded -- something we didn't notice on previous sailings. Lines at Portside BBQ were long, there's been no availability at the specialty restaurants that accept reservations, and the ship's new escape room is booked solid (which, unfortunately, means we can't yet report back on our experience there).
During the refurbishment, 57 new cabins were added. Because the vessel's capacity has expanded, we wonder how the ship will feel with even more passengers, considering that congestion seems to be a problem already.
A new show onboard Oasis, "One Sky" aims to showcase how we're all one big family sharing one planet, regardless of race, color or religion. With such a noble message, we had high hopes. Sadly, we found the performance to be an odd mix of "Rock of Ages" and interpretive dance with a halfhearted attempt at aerial acrobatics.
The Bionic Bar -- a completely digital watering hole with a robotic bartender -- was introduced on Royal Caribbean's Quantum-class ships, and is a popular attraction with many cruisers. It's interesting to watch, but is a bit gimmicky. Drinks are ordered on iPads and prepared by electronic arms that mechanically mix and shake drinks before pouring them into cups. Sometimes they miss, the crowd boos, and things get messy.
We suggest taking a video of the action but saving your money for a better libation from a bar manned by an actual human being.
After waiting half an hour in line at the FlowRider to try our luck surfing, we were told that, due to a new policy, we would have to body board for 5 seconds before being allowed to stand up on the surf board. It's a silly rule, given that body boarding and surfing are extremely different, and doing one does not prepare you, in any way, to do the other -- especially if it's only for 5 seconds.