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    3/9/2015 9:31:35 AM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    This past weekend many travel agents and travel journalists, finally got a chance to see Oasis of the Seas, one of the most eagerly anticipated cruise ships in recent memory. In the words of Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., the vessel is a “game changer” for its mix of traditional, evolutionary and revolutionary elements.

    To say Oasis of the Seas is massive is a bit of an understatement. It quite literally dwarfed the other ships in Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades. Yet, because of its “neighborhood” concept, it doesn’t feel as large as it most definitely is. Those seven neighborhoods – which include Central Park, Boardwalk, Royal Promenade, Pool & Sports Zone, Vitality at Sea Spa & Fitness, Entertainment Place and Youth Zone – help you navigate around the ship with greater ease. Multiple maps and interactive displays also help guests get to their destination. I can’t say I ever felt lost for long.

    But let’s get back to that issue of size. The raw numbers are rather overwhelming. Oasis of the Seas displaces 225,282 gross registered tons, can carry 5,400 guests double occupancy (or whopping 6,296 when every berth is filled) and has 2,165 crew (more than half of whom are devoted to food and beverage). There are 2,706 staterooms, including 1,956 with balconies (some overlooking Central Park or Boardwalk), 683 with additional berths and 46 that are wheelchair accessible.

    The ship has 16 passenger decks (though it goes up as high as Deck 18). Oasis is 213 feet high from the water line and 208 feet wide. Indeed, it is the width of the ship that really impressed me. From the starboard side overlooking the pool deck, I could see two pool areas (one H20 zone kids’ pool and one adult pool) separated by the massive channel cut through the ship for Central Park some seven decks below. The vessel seems large and rather squat, with a revolutionary split stack construction that allowed its builders to create such giant inner ship spaces as Central Park and Royal Promenade. This ship is far more than just a larger version of Royal Caribbean’s Freedom class vessels.

    Beyond the width of Oasis, I only really felt the ship’s size in certain venues, such as looking down from the Viking Crown Lounge into the canyon formed by Central Park nine decks below. The jogging track that goes completely around the ship on Deck 5 also gives you a sense of how long the vessel really is (indeed one lap is 2,197 feet, and 12 laps is five miles).

    Despite its size, Oasis seemed to have a good passenger flow and easy boarding from the massive new dedicated terminal at Port Everglades. It took us just 15 minutes to check in, go up the escalators to the gangways and board at the Royal Promenade on Deck 5 (though we carried only about 3,200 passengers on this two-day sailing). I’ll have more to say about the ship’s dining, entertainment and design in subsequent columns. But for now, I’ll just comment on a few of the more significant innovations:

    Central Park: Almost everyone has focused on Central Park, the open air park that runs through the center of the ship seven decks below the pool area (with stateroom balconies rising on both sides of the park). Walkways snakes guests past trees, plants and vines running the center walls. But this is much more than a park – it’s a dining area and public gathering space. Three of the ship’s top restaurants are located around the park – 150 Central Park, Chops Grille and Giovanni’s Table. These restaurants also open up onto the park itself to create open air cafes. But you can also experience more casual fare at Park Café, have a great glass of wine at Vintages or have a drink at Trellis Bar in the center of the park. At night, with the lights of the staterooms and the starlight above, this is a spectacular place.

    Royal Promenade: This indoor shopping, dining and entertainment area, located on Deck 5, is really the heart of the ship. It’s also where Guest Services is located and where you board and disembark the vessel. On both sides of a very wide indoor boulevard are shops, restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Here you can have a drink at Champagne Bar on one end of the boulevard, or dance to a Latin beat at Boleros at the other. You can shop for necklaces at Regalia Jewelry, have an espresso at Café Promenade, or buy a cupcake at the Cupcake Cupboard. You can sip a pint of Guinness at the Globe & Atlas Pub or have fresh pizza at Sorrento’s Pizza. And, if you get tired of the shops and dining, you can board the Rising Tides bar, a hovercraft like platform that takes you all the way up to Central Park on Deck 8.

    Boardwalk: This unique space in the stern of the ship on Deck 6 is built around a full-size working carousel. Staterooms rise 12 decks on either side of the Boardwalk and the giant wing of the ship connects both sides at Deck 15 overhead (this is where the zip line takes guests across the canyon created by the Boardwalk). Back down on Deck 6, you can eat a hamburger at Johnny Rocket’s diner, have fish fry at the Seafood Shack or enjoy family activities on the Boardwalk. Just a short stroll to the stern you’ll find two of Royal Caribbean’s signature rock climbing walls (just as there are two signature FlowRider surfing machines up on the Sports Zone on Deck 15). Finally, at the very stern is the brand new Aqua Theater, an outdoor amphitheater, with two huge video screens on either side, where you can see two diving and synchronized swimming shows each day with Olympic divers and swimmers (they were still rehearsing those shows this past weekend).

    There’s much more on Oasis to explore, which I’ll examine in subsequent columns, but there were three other features of the ship that I really thought were standouts. First, the Solarium, located far forward on Decks 15 and 16, is an adult hot tub and sunning area. Normally this is where you might find an indoor observation lounge. But the Solarium is partly open to the air and partly covered by giant glass plates. It also features a bar, which doubles as a nightclub in the evening, and Solarium Bistro, a healthy alternative for dinner.

    Back down on Deck 9 and 10 toward the stern, there’s Dazzles, a two-level bar and nightclub that overlooks the Boardwalk through a giant glass window. It’s built in the fashion of New York’s Rainbow Room, complete with a dance floor with colored lighting and a live band in the evening. Then, on Deck 6 far forward, there’s the giant two-level Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center, the largest at sea with 29 treatment rooms and even a kids and teen YSPA, acupuncture, botox treatments, and a huge fitness area with the latest exercise machines (steps also make it access the jogging track on Deck 5).

    Back up on Deck 17 in the stern is the Royal Loft Suite, a two-level suite measuring 1,524 square feet plus a 843-square-foot wrap around balcony. You enter into a living room complete with Piano, couches, a table and giant plasma TV screen. There’s a bedroom off the living room, but then the master bedroom is located up the stairs to the loft. It features a giant marble bath, including a double shower and double Jacuzzi.

    Yes, Oasis of the Seas is large, but it has more features, amenities and public spaces than any vessel at sea. It will be interesting to see what a cruise with a full complement of 6,296 guests is like, but I have the feeling this massive vessel will absorb them quite nicely. Look for more columns on Oasis in the days ahead.

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