Royal Caribbean's 5,400-passenger, 220,000-ton Oasis of the Seas is set to become the largest and most innovative cruise ship ever built when it debuts in November 2009 -- and the anticipation for this behemoth, still over a year from its launch, has been palpable. With tonight's announcement of the last of the ship's themed neighborhoods, we're finally hearing about the onboard spaces dedicated solely to the line's bread and butter cruise passengers, the kids.
The "Youth Zone" neighborhood spans more than 28,700 square ft., and includes the Kids Avenue, a central boulevard housing dedicated Adventure Ocean (12 and under) spaces and themed play areas; the cruise line's first nursery for infants and toddlers (six months or older); and a teen area that will keep the moodiest of cruisers happily distanced from the annoying younger kids. The Youth Zone will be the largest kids' facility afloat, some 4,000 square ft. larger than the spaces on RCI's Freedom-class trio of ships, the current title holders.
The Youth Zone joins Oasis of the Seas' six other neighborhoods, themed spaces which include Central Park, Boardwalk with the AquaTheater, the Royal Promenade, the Pool and Sports Zone, the Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center and Entertainment Place.
So what's in store for the less mature cruisers onboard Oasis of the Seas?
The Kids Avenue, located toward the front of the ship on Deck 14, will serve as the main promenade for cruisers between the ages of 3 and 11 to access the various Adventure Ocean areas. Building on its already-established program, RCI will offer arts and crafts activities, scavenger hunts, talent shows and other scheduled and guided age-specific activities to three Adventure Ocean program age groups, each with its own space: Aquanauts, 3 to 5; Explorers, 6 to 8; and Voyagers, 9 to 11.
In addition to the dedicated spaces for each of the three age groups, Oasis of the Seas will also feature several common play areas on the Kids Avenue. The incredible size of the ship -- some 40 percent larger than Royal Caribbean's Freedom-class trio, the current largest cruise ships in the world -- allowed for these new purpose-built spaces. The Adventure Ocean Theater will be the first-ever theater at sea just for kids, complete with a stage and curtains, audience seating (parents?) and state-of-the-art production equipment. Kids can take drama classes, and overcome their fear of stage fright in talent shows and theatrical productions. Of course, Royal Caribbean isn't the first to go in this direction (see Disney and their children's theater workshops), but it's an interesting approach.
In a twist on adult-oriented enrichment trends, RCI is introducing on Oasis some new-for-kids classes in the Workshop, such as creating scrapbooks and designing jewelry. As well, the line also has expanded existing programs as part of its Imagination Studio; kids can experiment with coloring (in a program created by Crayola). The Adventure Science Lab, a fully-equipped lab, is the place for conducting those delightfully rudimentary science experiments (baking soda volcano). Play is a circular area where the more active kids can participate in a variety of sports and games (indoor soccer, team building sports, etc.); and the Kid's Arcade is a dedicated arcade space just for the under 12's.
For the youngest passengers (six months is the minimum age to cruise on Oasis), Royal Caribbean is introducing the Royal Babies and Tots nursery, the first-ever dedicated nursery space offered by the line. Open daily from 9 a.m to 6 p.m. (including port days), the space will serve as a fully-staffed nursery where parents can leave kids in the care of trained professionals, as well as a venue for hosting various playgroups created by Fisher-Price and Crayola. Free-time play will also be offered daily, so parents and children can chill together with a variety of Fisher Price developmental toys. According to Adam Goldstein, President and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, the line is not intending to charge for the services -- but he added that nothing is set in stone at this point. One note about the nursery: If we had to select a major weakness of Royal Caribbean's kids' programming, it would be that line has largely ignored the under three crowd -- where line's like Disney have embraced it. But that appears to have changed with RCI's Oasis nursery.
For the teens, Royal Caribbean staples Fuel and The Living Room are back on Oasis of the Seas (only larger, of course). The Living Room boasts a "mock-tail" bar offering alcohol-free concoctions; Scratch DJ 101 classes, where kids can learn to spin crazy beats; and a bank of computer stations for surfing the Web. Fuel is a disco and hang out space with a dance floor. An outdoor deck space -- for open-air teenage mingling -- is adjacent to these teen spaces.
Where Royal Caribbean has really excelled in the past is in creating energetic recreation activities, including the rock wall, surf park, sports court and ice skating rink, which naturally appeal to teenagers, long one of the most difficult travel demographics to reach. While not technically part of the Youth Zone, the ship's two FlowRiders, first-ever zip-line at sea, two Rock Climbing walls, SCUBA lessons and more, build on the Royal Caribbean tradition.
In addition to the child-specific spaces and other recreation activities -- and perhaps equally important as those -- the other neighborhoods onboard have their own kid friendly offerings. The Boardwalk boasts a vintage carousel, tattoo parlor (temporary tattoos), cruise travel's first-ever zip-line (located nine decks above the Boardwalk) and traditional carnival games. The Challenger's Arcade, featuring the latest video games, is also back. Pool & Sports Zone has the popular H2O Zone aquapark for the little ones. In the Vitality Spa and Fitness Zone, teens and tweens can enjoy a menu of spa options specially tailored for them in a dedicated space at the Vitality at Sea Spa.
And while all neighborhoods have been announced, there are still Oasis tid bits that have yet to be revealed (such as menus and prices for the ship's dining venues). Goldstein also mentioned a future reveal outlining just how a ship carrying nearly 6,000 passengers will embark smoothly and efficiently.
Oasis of the Seas is currently under construction at Aker Yard in Turku, Finland, and the debut of the ship is still more than a year away. Oasis will depart on its maiden voyage in November 2009, beginning a season of seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruises out of Ft. Lauderdale.
--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor