Sister Ship, Not Carbon Copy: Big Changes Afoot for Second Oasis-Class Cruise Ship

May 13, 2010
(12:33 p.m. EDT) -- There's no question that Royal Caribbean's 225,282-ton, 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas was one of the best received cruise ships in history. Passengers have been awed by the lush foliage in the ship's Central Park neighborhood and the death-defying dive displays witnessed at the outdoor AquaTheater. And let's not even talk about the sheer size of the massive vessel.

But no prototype, even one as innovative as Oasis, is without flaws -- and one space in particular that didn't seem to click was the Coney Island-inspired Boardwalk, with its wooden carousel and shops offering ice cream, candy and donuts. On a January 2 cruise, we found it to be surprisingly empty. One parent told Cruise Critic's Editor in Chief Spencer Brown that the problem with the area is that there are too many for-fee places -- and that parents don't want to walk that expensive gauntlet, with kids begging for ice cream, a fried food meal at the Seafood Shack (with its $8.95 for adults and $4.95 for kids cover charge) or Johnny Rockets (which also levies a fee).

Indeed, this family-friendly outdoor space will look markedly different on sister ship Allure of the Seas, which is set to officially debut on December 1. (Pictured, right, is the ship under construction.) These and other smaller tweaks to Allure -- like the addition of a brand-name boutique and a key in-cabin amenity for the iPod generation -- were announced today at the 2010 All Access Expo, a virtual tradeshow for travel agents.

So what changes are in store? Read on.

Boardwalk Revamp: Dining, Nightlife Changes

The Boardwalk on Allure should benefit from the addition of a new "free" dining option. The Boardwalk Dog House will serve up a variety of sausages, wieners and brats with your choice of toppings. "We felt that the free food offering was not substantial enough in the Boardwalk," noted Lisa Bauer, Royal Caribbean's Senior VP of Hotel Operations. "You have the Park Cafe in Central Park, so we wanted to make it more convenient for families to stay in the Boardwalk." The venue will replace what's now the donut shop on Oasis, but fans of Oasis of the Seas' Boardwalk Donut Shop, which serves thousands of donuts per cruise, need not worry. It'll be moved next to ice cream store, replacing some outdoor seating.

Allure will also introduce Rita's Cantina, a restaurant being described by the line as a combination So-Cal taqueria and Mexican beach bar. Menus have not been finalized (Bauer noted she was looking forward to approving the chips and salsa choices), but the line said options may include shrimp ceviche tostados, chips and guacamole and a wide selection of margaritas. The fee to eat there will be $4.95. On Allure, Rita's Cantina will replace what's now the Seafood Shack, which levies a loftier $8.95 for adults and $4.95 for kids.

The new venue will also take aim at one of the disappointments of Oasis' Boardwalk -- the fact that passengers didn't hang out there much at night. During evening hours, Rita's will feature live guitar music, drinks and dancing.

Other Tweaks for Allure of the Seas

Guess Store. Following the success of the Coach retail store found on Oasis of the Seas, Allure will introduce the first flagship Guess store at sea, which will sell the company's designer handbags, watches, shoes, jewelry and glasses. The store will be located in the Royal Promenade in place of what's Focus Photo Shop on Oasis (camera-related sales will be moved to the photo gallery on Allure).

Guest Kiosks. Borrowing a concept introduced by Costa Cruises ("Totems") and Carnival Cruise Lines ("FunHubs"), Allure of the Seas will debut special guest kiosks in the Royal Promenade. According to the line, at least three kiosks will provide a number of helpful complimentary services to passengers, including the ability to view, print or e-mail guest folios (your bill) and guest calendars, where spa appointments, alternative dining reservations and entertainment schedules are stored. What we think will be the most useful service is an option to look up and print out airline reservations.

Oddly, the kiosks won't allows for standard for-fee Web browsing (web access will be limited to airline sites), and so won't provide an alternative option to the ship's Internet cafe, which will be paltry if anything like that of its predecessor. (Cruise Critic Editor in Chief Carolyn Spencer Brown dubbed Oasis' Internet cafe "the most appalling we've seen on a cruise ship since shipboard Internet access was first introduced.") Allure will, however, like Oasis, feature by bow-to-stern Wi-Fi and Internet access in each cabin's interactive TV.

3D Movies. The main theater on Allure of the Seas will be equipped to handle 3D movies, which Bauer said would first-run. Oasis of the Seas will be 3D-ready by spring of 2011. Another entertainment change: new productions in the AquaTheater incluiding an acrobatic show called Blue Planet. The water show will be called Ocean Aria.

In-Cabin iPod Docks. All cabins on Allure of the Seas will feature iPod docking stations. According to Royal Caribbean spokesman Harrison Liu, the docking stations will only be available on Allure to begin with.

Bauer notes that additional tweaks to Allure, designed to distinguish it from sister ship Oasis of the Seas, will be revealed in the coming months. The ship will kick off its inaugural season with a four-night cruise, departing from Port Everglades on December 1, 2010.

Stay tuned.

--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor

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