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Oasis of the Seas: (Say it With Me) “The World’s Largest”

November 24, 2009
The seating plan is people both seated and on the floor — crowded but there must be some kind of system, though we couldn’t guess at it from looking at the interior:

Artsy elevators on Oasis of the Seas.

Like the ancient mariner, AngloFiles approaches inexorably, her rolling gait that of an old sea dog. She mesmerizes  with tales of adventure at sea. “‘There was a ship,’ quoth she…”

Anglofiles is back from two days at the mast aboard Oasis of the Seas, the world’s largest (get used to that — you’ll hear it often) cruise ship, a passenger on what seems to have been the ship’s inaugural Inaugural Cruise. Trips for paying passengers commence December 1 and aren’t sold out yet. (Did someone mention an albatross?) If you have a few thou lying around, you might want to book passage, so read on and see what you think.

World's largest aftward view: Oasis of the Seas

The Titanic -- also "world's largest."

To be honest, my story offers little grist for AngloFile-philes, unless I somehow turn it into a historic disquisition on Cunard, the Queen Mary and the Golden Age of Atlantic Crossings, blah-dee-blah blah. But I suspect you’d rather skip the Mother Country connections and plunge into a tale of the biggest, newest, tallest, shiniest, etc., since I was, after all, among the first two or three thousand people — including crew — ever to set foot on this entertainment colossus.

Did I mention she’s big? How big? She weighs 225,000 tons and accommodates 6,296 passengers with a crew of 2,165,  But for the shiny white exterior, the ship resembles nothing so much as a government office building — the Federal Trade Commission on water, essentially. The entire Fort Lauderdale port offered no unobstructed vantage point from which to take in its vastness, so I snapped in snippets, like these:

Swank Oasis, seen from not-so-swank coach shuttle bus. (Note "minute" Princess ship at right.)

Before we actually reach the mother ship, though, speaking of the FTC, I bring you this official federally-mandated LBD (Lucky-Blogger’s Disclosure): My trip was, but for airfare, FREE, FREE, FREE, courtesy of Royal Caribbean. Yes, except for a $2.50 cupcake and some logo souvenirs, I paid for nothing on board, not even drinks, which usually cost a cruiser a pretty penny. I owed this largesse not to my rep as a famous and influential travel blogger, sad to say. It came, rather, courtesy of my charming and generous sister-in-law, P, who works in the travel industry and brought me along as her plus-one.

Thank you, P! (Did I mention she’s charming and generous?)

“Biggest ever!” “Longest, tallest, heaviest!” “Composed of 181 blocks weighing 600 tons each, fitted together like Lego bricks!” Superlative Statistics and Amazing Factoids flew fast and thick during our 48-hour promotional jaunt. The ship’s (deliberately) newsworthy “-ests” and marvels include: the world’s only shipboard carousel; an 18-foot-deep pool (deepest at sea, of course, used in a diving show); an ice rink; two climbing walls; two Flow Rider surf-wave machines; a surprisingly impressive collection of nature-themed original art; and an 83-foot zip line suspended 9 decks above the ship’s Aquatheater and “Broadway” arcade.

He's not falling -- that's a zip line.

Get a grip: Oasis of the Seas climbing wall.

Going with the Flow Rider, aboard the Oasis.

Also, for some strange reason, the presence on board of a cupcake “boutique” generated a lot of hype.

An Oasis of cupcakes.

(For all that, our red velvet confection was dry and insipid, though P’s colleague liked the chocolate and root beer varieties.)

Since the junket accommodated media as well as travel agents and execs, in every nook and passageway on ship we came across small scrums and pairings of “on-air talent” and their camera folk:

Naturally, every spiel opened with, “I’m aboard the Oasis of the Seas, the world’s largest … “

The pleasure boat has been defined as “a hole in the ocean into which you throw money.” Royal Caribbean spent $1.4 billion developing and building the Oasis, and is still spending lavishly to build its similarly super-sized sister ship, the Allure, due next year. The launch has been described as a test not only of a bigger-is-better marketing model, but as a yardstick for whether the entire industry itself (the “cruise space,” as its leaders tend to call it) can survive new economic realities.

"Cairn" you top this? One of 9,000 art objects aboard Oasis.

The ship’s prodigious amenities, I noticed, are most often described — by both the cruise line and fawning travel media — in terms of comparison with other (need we add, smaller) ships, including Royal Caribbean’s own.

For a seagoing newbie like me, then, it was a challenge to absorb the wonder, the sheer marvel, of a “Central Park” promenade open to the sky and lined with stone walkways, cafes, and hundreds of live — not plastic — plants. To this landlubber, I’m afraid it felt like little more than a small, pleasantly green shopping mall (below).

Oasis of the Seas, Central Park: Uncommon greenery at sea.

Nevertheless, as I heard over and over again from cruise aficionados, Central Park’s 40-foot breadth is roughly twice as wide as the next largest ship’s pedestrian area. What’s more, it is just one of three shopping-and-dining areas aboard the Oasis.

Oasis of the Seas "Promenade" deck.

Sure, they all feel like miniature versions of the indoor-outdoor “festival” malls, like Baltimore’s or South Street Seaport, pioneered by the Rouse Company. But they do break up the behemoth vessel’s spaces and, presumably, break down its hordes of passengers. Lines were infrequent during my expedition, but that was with a mere 2,000 guests. At full capacity, Oasis might feel as mobbed as Fifth Avenue at Christmas.

On boarding, passengers enter the ship’s central “mall,” the Promenade, which is mostly for shopping and restaurants but also hosted a colorful parade of indeterminate theme one afternoon:

The Promenade is also the “landing site” for the ship’s elevator bar, which rises and descends by three decks every 10 minutes or so. (Did you notice the trilobyte-shaped glass roof in the Central Park photo? It covers the bar under that.) Here it is in mid-ascent:

P. photographs the Rising Tide elevator bar.

As it rises, fountains fill in below:

Oasis of the Seas, beneath the Rising Tide bar.

The upper decks offer a plethora of pools and hot tubs and a kiddie play area, along with seemingly miles of lounge chairs. Human nature being what it is, though, cruise-goers will probably follow the pattern of land-based resort patrons and “stake out” their chairs with towels at the crack of dawn:

The kids' Fun Zone area includes a circular lazy river, reflected in restaurant windows, above.

Oasis oases

Oasis oases.

I lack both stamina and bandwidth (my laptop is seizing up at the size of this post) to post further on the dining room over three decks that can seat and feed, reasonably well, a thousand or more at a time. And my photos of two-story loft staterooms and suites larger than many apartments will also have to wait. If you beg me on the comments page, I’ll post more from Oasis. But maybe you’re tired by now, too!

So I’ll finish the tour with an ending that no one hopes to encounter on a cruise: rescue gear. With twin engines and even loos on board, this baby’s lifeboats, too, are super-sized.

Women and children first? Super-sized Oasis lifeboat.

Not very comfortable, though, for all that. The plan calls for seating on both benches and the floor. See if you can figure out the runic system of dot and triangle markings:

Bizarre furnishings? Lifeboat occupants sit on both floor and benches (somehow).

In closing, it has to be asked, is the super-sized, hyped, buffed and cupcaked biggest-absolutely-ever Oasis somehow, well, tacky?

Of course it is! How could this brobdingnagian temple to hedonism and excess not be? Still, I would have expected a more nuanced exploration of the issue from travel-guide icon Arthur Frommer than this anti-Oasis screed, Bigger Isn’t Better for Cruise Ships. Frommer  makes the obvious point that the Oasis’s mega-entertainment environment provide an infantilizing, “follow us” teat for self-indulgent easily bored patrons. (So do other ships, not to mention Disney’s land-based resorts. Oasis just does it on a — you saw this coming — larger scale.)

But Frommer carries things too far when he characterizes all their patrons as “depressed,” ignorant and utterly cultureless. “I am talking,” he foments, “about people who get fidgety if they have no nearby television set, who never read a magazine, let alone a book, who have never enjoyed simple conversation or encountering viewpoints or beliefs foreign to theirs. Who want all the world to be like America.”

I guess there’s just not much to say for us dolts who don’t exhaust our cruise hours reading Henry James in deck chairs. In fact, I did see a couple books cracked open on the Oasis. They were by Dean Koontz, but whatever.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Pam Massey permalink
    November 25, 2009 7:17 pm

    Wow! The ship looks amazing – so much to do! You could easily spend 7 days onboard combined with stops in the ports and never run out of things to do! Great photos and descriptions, I almost felt like I was there!

  2. November 27, 2009 7:50 pm

    It does look like a shopping mall except that you’re trapped!

  3. Mark Power permalink
    July 14, 2010 7:30 am

    These ships are amazing. Technically; inspirational. I am very impressed. In my humble opinion though, this is not cruising. What Royal Caribbean are trying to acheive here is to turn cruising into a glorified Mcdonnells at sea. The thinking around this is; ‘Rack em; Stack em’ get their money!
    Cruising is about excellence; about meeting witty people. Talking technical issues to the ships engineer about the ships engineering features; having an intelligent conversation with fellow passengers over a cocktail. Seeing amazing ports of call. Being entertained by seasoned cruise hosts and production staff. Enjoying the essence of being in a broadway theatre and dancing the night away to a professional DJ.
    Do you honestly think, I could find this on the ‘Oasis Of The Seas’? Never, in a month of Sundays!

    • July 14, 2010 8:09 am

      Yes, Mark. And trans-Atlantic air travel should be glamorous, too, with heels, pearls and salon dos, and that’s just for the flight crew — or stewardesses, as we called them in the Dark Ages. My favorite old-time glamour version of a “crossing,” NY Tto London, of course, by liner, of course, comes in Brideshead Revisited: flower deliveries, suite parties with ice sculptures, cocktails and stolen moments. And seasickness, naturally; this IS the Atlantic Ocean we’re talking about.

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