Oasis of the Seas has been all over the news this week since it’s not only the most expensive ($1.4 billion) but the heaviest, longest, tallest, widest cruise ship ever built. And, guess what?! This past weekend I got the golden pass to be one of the first to set sail on this beauty of a beast, and I have to tell you, it was way better than I ever imagined. Here’s my story.
HOW MANY PEOPLE DOES SHE HOLD?
When I first heard about Oasis of the Seas, which can hold up to 6,296 passengers (5,400 at double occupancy) and 2,165 crew members (from over 71 countries), I thought, Who the heck would want to be on a ship with over 8,000 people? That’s after I tried to fathom how something like this could even float—let alone go 22.6 knots.
SPECIAL PREVIEW SAILING
There was a lot of hype about Oasis since Royal Caribbean kept everything hush hush—they gave the exclusive to Good Morning America. Well, as soon as Sam Champion, his crew, and their contest winners left the ship, I boarded for the exclusive two-day preview sailing, which had 3,200 passengers (mostly media, travel agents, and Royal Caribbean partners).
CRUISE TO NOWHERE
Our cruise to nowhere (we went as far north as Boca Raton and as far South as Cape Florida) departed from Port Everglades, which is conveniently located right next to the Fort Lauderdale Airport. I brought my sister Carol as my guest since she lives in nearby Delray Beach and needed a mini vacation.
It was Carol’s first time on a cruise and she was skeptical until she stepped off the gangway—then her eyes lit up and she said, “We’re on a cruise ship?” We both agreed it felt and looked more like a deluxe Las Vegas hotel.
For those of you who don’t know me or haven’t read my other stories, I just recently got turned on to cruising. My preconceptions of being bored, trapped, and miserable were thrown out the window after my first real cruise, and so far I’ve been on Celebrity’s Solstice & Equinox, The Crown Princess, and Seabourn’s Odyssey. I’m now a firm believer that cruising is the best value around and one could never get bored.
We left out of Berth 18 and I was impressed at how easy it was to check in (even with half the normal staff members). I dropped my sister off with the bags curbside, parked the car in the adjacent lot, and walked a few hundred yards to the entrance. We showed our IDs and printed confirmations then went to one of the many vacant check-in stations. The massive building was brand spanking new and all the employees we encountered were super friendly and excited for us.
Once we received our room keys we went through airport-like security and got our token welcome picture taken. It was there that I knew Oasis was going to be technologically more advanced than anything I had ever seen. After taking our photo the cameraman scanned our room keys, which enabled us to later slide our card into one of their photo machines to view all photos of us; we could also decide if we wanted to order any prints (or a CD). The days of trying to hunt down photos in an unorganized flurry are long gone on Oasis. It’s not only convenient but environmentally friendly.
There are 16 passenger decks, and everyone boards the ship from deck 5, which leads onto the Royal Promenade. The Royal Promenade is filled with eight shops (from liquor to fine jewelry), nine restaurants and bars. They range from the sophisticated Champagne Bar to a British Globe and Atlas Pub (BTW: The globe “cracked open” on Saturday night and out popped dancers that kicked off the weekly disco party). After the party I went to nearby Sorrento’s Pizzeria (there’s no additional charge), but being the pizza connoisseur that I am I could tell just by looking that it wasn’t very good. Other notable places on the Promenade are the On Air Club (karaoke bar) and the Boleros Bar (Latin dance club).
The Cupcake Cupboard is a small shop that’s completely evil with their fattening, moist, delicious work-of-art cupcakes. After hearing how good they were I bought a $2.50 peanut butter cupcake with chocolate frosting. I wasn’t even hungry but I felt it was my job to at least take a bite and it was so darn good I devoured it in less than 20 seconds. FYI: The only way to pay for anything on the ship is by sliding your room key, which is linked to your credit card.
THE RISING TIDE BAR
The coolest thing on the Royal Promenade is The Rising Tide bar. It’s the first ever moving bar at sea as it slowly ascends and descends (6 to 12 minutes) three decks. It looks like a space ship when it’s in the air, and gives passengers the ability to get a cocktail as they go from the Royal Promenade to Central Park (Deck 8) and vice versa. Though you have to pay for drinks there is no extra charge for the ride and passengers can ride as much as they like.
CAN’T SEE IT ALL
I only had 40 hours on the ship, which isn’t nearly enough time to even come close to viewing everything. In fact, I missed the Comedy & Jazz Clubs, the casino, the spa (there’s 29 treatment rooms), the gym (158 exercise machines; my sister claims it is the nicest and most futuristic one she’s ever been to), and the full-size ice rink with its impressive show (according to my CruiseCritic.com friends).
I also missed all the professional aquatic acrobatics and synchronized swimmers (a mix of Olympic and National Collegiate Athletic Association divers) who perform at the stern of the ship in the 735-seat open-air AquaTheater. On a warm sunny night it’s a setting to die for; the best view may be from one of the twin 43-foot rock-climbing walls that tower above it.
DID YOU KNOW: The AquaTheater is the first-ever aquatic amphitheater on a cruise ship and its pool is 17.9 feet (5.4 meters) deep, making it the deepest pool at sea?
Oasis of the Seas is broken up into different neighborhoods, which is a genius idea. The ship is the size of New York City and using that great city’s neighborhood names gives passengers a more intimate feeling. The AquaTheater is at the end of Broadway and this neighborhood was inspired by the nostalgic boardwalk of Coney Island. At the entrance of Broadway is a full-size handcrafted traditional carousel (with 18 figures), making it the only carousel at sea. In addition Broadway has six shops (from Pets at Sea to Candy Beach) and five restaurants/bars (from a Johnny Rockets to a donut shop where the donuts are always free and I still didn’t have one—how you like that will power?).
ZIP LINE / FLO RIDER
High (9 decks) above Broadway is—get this—an 82-foot-long zip line. (Warning: A friend of mine with a room on the interior side of Broadway complained of the day noise.) Zip lining is free, but since I waited to sign up it sold out. However I did ride a surfboard (boogie boards also available) on one of Royal Caribbean’s two patented FloRiders, which are incredible surf simulators (no extra charge). Both of these soft adventure activities are located on the sports deck; here’s the 20-second video of my wipeout. FYI: It looks like it hurt, but thanks to the trampoline-like surface I came out okay.
Believe it or not the zip line and the FloRiders are just a fraction of the activities on the sports deck. There’s a full-size basketball court, miniature golf, at least 4 ping-pong tables, and an arcade that had more adults playing than kids when I walked by.
Then there’s the pools! Supposedly 21 of them, ranging from the first Beach Pool at sea to a toddlers fantasy land to a tranquil pool that’s in the adults-only open-air Solarium. Who knows how many hot tubs, but I saw a couple that were the size of pools. It’s crazy.
The solarium is definitely a little oasis, since there are no screaming kids, plenty of lounge chairs, and a high-quality restaurant. With the good food at Solarium, don’t even bother going to the Wipe Out Café which is near the hoop court and is a haven for kids to fill up on hot dogs, hamburgers, nasty pizza, and french fries. Actually, while doing some research I read that the sports deck has four restaurants and six bars and I don’t think any of them have a fee.
While we’re on the subject of sports, on deck 4 is the Oasis jogging track, which is the longest at sea. One lap around the track is 2,197 feet; 2.4 laps equal a mile! Heck—my high school track required 4 laps to equal the same distance and I grew up in Connecticut where land is plentiful. After dinner one night Carol, my buddy Spud (check out his blog), and I walked around to see how long it would take us—15 minutes, but we did occasionally stop to take pics of all the funny signs, including the name of the lifeboat maker.
MAIN DINING ROOM
Speaking of dinner, we ate in the Opus Dining Room (main dining room). It had a grandiose feel like the Titanic, but then again almost every cruise-ship dining room I’ve been in also had that feeling. But this was the first that has three stories and can hold up to 3,056 people. Everyone at my table was impressed on not only the level of service but the quality of food.
Afterwards we went to the 2,000-plus-seat Opal Theater to catch entertainer Jonathan Kane. Mr. Kane is the only Elton John impersonator that’s endorsed by Sir Elton himself. The production is so amazing, from the lights and costumes to his raw talent that my sister honestly thought it was him—even when she was dancing next to him on stage. (Poor Carol—I only broke the news to her yesterday.) Also playing in the Opal Theater will be Hairspray, the first full Broadway show performed on any cruise ship.
The most distinctive neighborhood was right outside our interior room balcony; Central Park. It’s billed as the first-ever park at sea with 12,175 plants, 62 vine plants, 56 trees, and bamboo —some over 24 feet high. This is the place on the ship that has the most exclusive dining venues and shops. There are six restaurants and they range from a Chops Grill to a fine Italian restaurant. There are also three retail outlets, including a Coach store—the only one at sea.
FINDING THE ROOM
I’m almost done and I haven’t even discussed the cabins yet. Our cabin was on deck 11 in room 249. What was so remarkable is that when we got off one of the bank of slow-at-times elevators (each end of the ship has 12 and half of those are glass) was a touch information screen. The feature I used the most was the room finder. It took three seconds to punch in my room number and voila… I didn’t have to go wandering around. Instead a map showed me exactly which way to go (it wasn’t very difficult). But here’s a tip for using that screen, in case you have some suspicious psycho lurking behind you: Type in a room a few doors down so you don’t give away your headquarters.
There are a total of 2,706 rooms on the ship. 1,956 have balconies. What’s unique and really makes this ship a huge deal is the design. When I found out we were assigned an interior room I was bumming out, but the moment I opened the door and I noticed a huge sliding glass door that led to a private balcony I took a deep sigh of relief. The incredible ship design prevents most cabins from having no window and that claustrophobic feel. Because our room was over Central Park I sometimes checked emails on my laptop on our little table on the balcony, accessing the ships expensive Wi-Fi while people-watching. FYI: If I had kids I would reserve one of these rooms and not an ocean-side one so I wouldn’t have to worry about you-know-what.
The room itself was a tad small but it was comfortable, clean, a good size closet with all the comforts of home including a large flat-screen TV with plenty of entertainment options including a slew of on-demand movies and informational options. My sister, who can be high maintenance at times, loved the bedding and we both slept well. Carol’s only complaint was that she didn’t like the bathroom toiletries, but luckily she brought her Frédéric Fekkai shampoo-conditioner. Keep in mind we were in one of the lower-category rooms so if you have the cash check out the Loft suites or palatial Presidential suite that’s bigger then most homes.
It’s unfathomable how the Oasis of the Seas floats and operates. Royal Caribbean did an amazing job putting it together. They should be commended for keeping the day-to-day duties behind the scenes. On top of that not once did I feel crowded (except when entering the dining room). One thing is for sure: Forty hours is not nearly enough time to get a feel of the Oasis of the Seas; I probably only saw a quarter of her offerings. Heck, I didn’t even see any of the 300 conference rooms or learn about all the different kids’ clubs. If I had children, this is the ship I would bring them on: It’s like a sophisticated Disneyland and a whole lot more. The jury is still out on whether I would like pulling up to a port with 6,000-plus other people, but I’ll just have to wait and see how you like it.
FYI: The ship’s first commercial sailing isn’t until December 5.
Next week: Happy Travels and Thanksgiving! I’m thankful for all your support and next week we will be coming to you from somewhere very interesting.
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Note: This trip was sponsored in part by Royal Caribbean.