Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dispatches From The Oasis Of The Seas

USA TODAY's Gene Sloan is blogging live this weekend from Royal Caribbean's newest ship, Oasis of the Seas.

Hi there, Cruise Loggers. It's me, Gene, and I'm on my way down to Fort Lauderdale this morning to board Royal Caribbean's much-awaited Oasis of the Seas -- the world's largest cruise ship.

The 225,282-ton vessel, which can carry up to 6,296 passengers, is being unveiled this week to travel agents and the media in advance of its first regularly scheduled cruise on Dec. 1.

Nearly 50% larger by volume than the next biggest cruise ship, the 16-deck-high giant has been the talk of the cruise world for more than a year -- and not just because of its enormous size. Stretching nearly 1,200 feet long, the massive vessel will offer features never before seen at sea, including an open-air "central park" with live trees and a family-friendly amusement area called Boardwalk.

What's it like sailing on the Oasis of the Seas? I'll be on board for the next four days as it sails out of Fort Lauderdale on a series of preview cruises, posting my impressions and answering your questions.

So close and yet . . .

Just a note to say I've arrived at the port and am just steps away from Oasis of the Seas. Alas, the boarding process isn't exactly going smoothly. While they've checked me in, they're saying it'll be at least another hour until we're allowed on board. Probably closer to 2:30 PM. I'll be back as soon as I hear more.

Good news, Cruise Loggers: I've made it on board. First impressions? As much as I hate to gush, it really is an amazing experience to take that first step from the gangway into the soaring Royal Promenade that runs down the middle of the ship. It's a stunning space -- so much more spacious and impressive than the half-as-wide promenades on Royal Caribbean's Freedom and Voyager class ships.

I'll be back in a bit with more first impressions, but first I need to drop off my bags and then I'll be away a bit touring some of the 37 categories of cabins (samples of which are open until 4 p.m.).


I'm back from touring cabins, and I've got lots of photos for you, Cruise Loggers. But first, I thought you'd enjoy this photo to the left, a first glimpse of Oasis of the Seas' zip line in action.

I captured this and many more shots of some of the zip line's first customers from the balcony of cabin 9703, which overlooks the Boardwalk (in the Oasis brochures you'll find it listed under the category "Boardwalk View Stateroom with Balcony"). Click HERE to see more of my zip line shots.

Also, don't miss the first video dispatch from our Reporter at Sea contest winner Joyce Allison, who is accompanying the Cruise Log this weekend on Oasis as a citizen journalist. Joyce will be filing more video dispatches from the ship over the next few days.

Several of you have asked below about the boarding process today. It was a little disorganized, no doubt, but I wouldn't read too much into that as today definitely was not a normal day for Oasis at the port. The presence of ABC's Good Morning America (which broadcast live from the ship this morning) definitely had an impact on passenger flow, as did the presence of hundreds of day visitors (travel agents, media and the like) arriving for tours at the same time as overnight passengers. The true test will come in the coming weeks as the ship starts up its regular schedule of seven-night cruises.

From a structural standpoint, the new port facility built for Oasis is beautiful and spacious, and it offers an unusually high number of security and check-in lanes, which all bodes well for the future.

Several thousand travel agents and members of the media are now on board the ship, and quite a few of them have headed to the Promenade for pre-dinner mix-and-mingling. The space is absolutely hopping. The pictures don't do the area justice as my camera is unable to compensate for the changing lighting, but at least you get the idea. 

The picture directly to the right meanwhile, shows Cupcake Cupboard -- one of the many food outlets, bars and stores that line the Royal Promenade.

Travel agents on board are just raving about the Royal Promenade, which has the feel of the more sophisticated avenues of shops and eateries found in the interiors of top Las Vegas casino resorts.

Cruise Loggers, I'm heading off to a series of events on board as well as dinner, so I may not post again tonight. Check back tomorrow morning as I resume live blogging from the ship. 

Am I really at sea? Not long after my final post last night, the Oasis of the Seas pulled out of Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades, but it wasn't until just moments ago that I got my first glimpse of the ocean. That's how big this ship is. You can easily spend an entire evening popping from one bustling nightspot to another from the Royal Promenade to Central Park and never even get to the outer fringes of the vessel.

How smooth and stable is Oasis? Let's put it this way: I couldn't even tell you the exact time we left port last night, that's how little movement there is -- at least on a day like today with calm seas. Back in a bit with some overall impressions of the vessel.

So I've been on board now for nearly a full day, and I'm ready to make this declaration: Oasis of the Seas really is -- as many had predicted -- a game-changer for the cruise business. Whether you love the idea of a floating resort that holds more than 6,000 people or are horrified by it, once you see Oasis you'll have a hard time arguing that it isn't revolutionary for the industry.

For years big ship lines such as Royal Caribbean have been saying they're competing not with each other but with the world's great resort destinations such as Las Vegas and Orlando. And on that accord they've offered an increasingly sophisticated product that is competitive with much of what is found in those destinations. But this is the first cruise ship that truly is on par with the very top destination resort hotels of the world -- places such as Bellagio in Las Vegas or Atlantis in the Bahamas.

From Central Park's tree-line boulevard of elegant restaurants with outdoor cafe seating to the Royal Promenade's glitzy shops to the multiple resort-like pools at the top of the ship, this is Bellagio at sea. If you've been to the giant resorts of Las Vegas or Orlando -- and liked them -- you'll be comfortable here. Sure, it's bustling with people, but no more bustling than the new Wynn resort in Las Vegas.

Want a first-hand look at some of the culinary options on Oasis of the Seas? That's the topic of the second video dispatch from Reporter at Sea contest winner Joyce Allison, just posted at the Cruise Log.

A number of readers have asked about how crowded Oasis of the Seas feels. Alas, it's difficult to get a good read this weekend as Oasis is only sailing about half full. Royal Caribbean's head of operations Lisa Bauer said at a press conference this morning that there are just 3,200 passengers on board. That's more than 3,000 fewer than the ship can hold at maximum capacity.

Also affecting the flow of crowds on the ship this weekend is the fact that many of the travel agents, media and Royal Caribbean employees on board this preview cruise are taking tours and attending informational meetings, which is artificially reducing the numbers of people on the ship's outdoor decks. Today is a sea day and a lovely one at that, but the main pool areas of the ship are relatively wide open. The photo above to the left, taken moments ago, shows the Beach Pool area, which had a lot of empty chairs.

Royal Caribbean executives say they are purposefully sailing the ship below capacity through the month of December as the staff gets up to speed, and it may be a few months until we get a true sense of just how crowded the ship will feel during normal operations.

Good morning, Cruise Loggers, from a slowly waking up Oasis of the Seas. The ship is back in Fort Lauderdale today for the day but will head out to sea again tonight as inaugural events continue.

Since we're in port, I once again have access to high-speed Internet, and I plan to upload dozens of photos today of every major area of the ship -- starting with the cabins. I also will try to answer as many of your questions about the ship as I can.

As for the cabins, the photo to the right gives you a taste of the decor in basic ocean-view and balcony cabins. from Royal Caribbean Cruises. The rooms are stylish and contemporary with crisp white-on-white linens, large wall-mounted TVs, well-designed counter space, and blue and green accents. The picture is of cabin 11100, one of eight ocean-view family cabins (in Oasis' brochures you'll find them listed as "family ocean view staterooms"), but it is representative, decor-wise, of what you'll find across the board in non-suite cabins.

I mentioned Oasis' family cabins already above, but I'd like to talk a little bit more about them as they're among the most notable new lodging options on the ship. In all, there are 19 family cabins on the ship that sleep up to six people (plus four Royal Family Suites that sleep up to eight).

Roughly 50% larger than standard cabins on the ship, the non-suite family cabins have a queen bed (convertible into two twin beds), a pull-out sofa that sleeps two and a bunk bed in a niche.

The photo to the left, taken in cabin 11149, offers a glimpse of the bunk beds as they look in a "family interior stateroom." I've also just posted more photos of this cabin and two other categories of family cabins in a gallery HERE. 

Also, don't miss Reporter at Sea contest winner Joyce Allison's latest video dispatch from the ship, in which she shows off everything from the Rising Tide bar in the Royal Promenade to the zip line above the Boardwalk. 


Cruise fans have been waiting for more than a year for a glimpse of Oasis of the Seas' Central Park. What's it like? I've just posted nearly a dozen large photos in a photo gallery located HERE (the photo to the right gives you a little taste of what to expect).

Even the most jaded journalists and travel agents touring Oasis in recent days have been saying that Central Park is nothing short of a marvel at sea, and we agree. It has an elegant, upscale feel, particularly at night as the high-end restaurants that line it's sides open their big glass doors for alfresco dining. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

No Need For Full-Price Cruises

Miami Herald

Three years ago, with much fanfare, most of the major cruise lines announced that they would no longer permit travel agents or others to discount the price of their cruises.

This time, they said, they really meant it. No more Mr. Nice Guy. If anybody got caught discounting a cruise price, they'd lose their right to sell cruises in the future.

This fall, the discounting of cruise prices is more frequent and substantial than ever. I've never seen such bargains.

• Cruises for $67 a day, on an upscale ship: It isn't only the popularly priced cruise lines -- like Carnival Cruises, Norwegian Cruises, or Royal Caribbean -- that are offering rates like $339 for a five-night cruise out of Miami ($67 a day). The same figure is now being quoted for upscale ships of upscale cruiselines, like Celebrity Cruises. On its five-night sailings from Miami -- scheduled for Dec. 15, 2008, and Jan. 3, 2009 -- the Celebrity Century, a premium ship if there ever was one, is permitting cruise brokers to sell its inside cabins for $339 per person (the Dec. 15 sailing) and $359 (the Jan. 3 sailing). You can get those rates by calling America's Vacation Center at 888-420-1035.

• Cruises for $57 a day, on more basic ships: The new bargain Web site called Travel Themes and Dreams is offering those rates on no fewer than six Caribbean sailings in the autumn, on all the lowest-priced cruise lines (Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian): $399 per person in double-occupancy cabins. That's a price of approximately $57 a day, per person (lower than which you just can't go), and it's available for departures taking place (mainly from Florida) in September, November and December of this year.

• Free trans-Atlantic airfare: For two Mediterranean cruise departures from Barcelona, Spain on Nov. 30, 2008, and Jan. 25, 2009, on a fascinating itinerary to Rome; Athens; Ephesus, Turkey; Alexandria, Egypt; and Valletta, Malta, 12 nights in all, Norwegian cruise line will throw in free, round-trip trans-Atlantic airfare for bargain-hunting passengers. An outside, balcony cabin will go for $1,999 per person, including round-trip air to and from Barcelona from either Newark, N.J. Philadelphia, New York, Boston or Washington (for $200 more, they'll fly you from Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, San Francisco or Los Angeles). As with all deals of this sort, it can be booked not with the cruise line but with a broker of discount cruises.

• Balcony cabins for $69 a day: The date is Dec. 8 of this year (long after the hurricane season has ended), the city of embarkation is Tampa, Fla., and the ship returns to Tampa 10 days later. The elegant vessel is Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas (a modern, 2,500-passenger vessel), going to San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Maarten; Basseterre; Antigua; and Tortola -- a pretty good itinerary. And the price per person, from Cruise Marketplace, is astounding. In a current market of extraordinary cruise bargains, this one takes the cake.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How Does The World's Largest Cruise Ship Stay Afloat?

from Live Science

The world's largest cruise ship is making its first transatlantic crossing from Finland to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where it will make its U.S. debut. Though colossal, the ship relies on the same physical principles as its smaller brethren to stay afloat.

The massive ship, called the Oasis of the Seas and built by STX Finland for Royal Caribbean Cruises International, stands 20 stories high, is as long as four football fields, and can accommodate 5,400 guests at double occupancy.

The two typical measures of size are length and weight, which is measured as displacement, or the weight of water the ship must displace to stay afloat. "She is 1,180 feet long and displaces 100,000 tons," said Paul Miller of the Department of Naval Architecture & Ocean Engineering at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland, referring to the Oasis of the Seas.

For comparison, the RMS Titanic, which sank in 1912, was 883 feet long (269 meters) and weighed about 58,000 tons.

In terms of space available, the Oasis is nearly five times larger than the Titanic. Specifically, the Oasis can hold 225,282 gross registered tons, while the Titanic could hold 46,329 grt.

This measurement was derived long ago to describe a ship's space for a common cargo — wine. Since wine was shipped in "tuns" that each held 8 barrels or about 242 gallons, a ship that could carry 8,000 wine barrels was considered a 1,000-tun ship. "Tun" evolved into "ton" and then into "gross registered ton."

The Oasis is 50 percent larger than the runner-up, which is a group of Freedom-class ships (such as Freedom of the Seas), according to Royal Caribbean International.

Staying above water

How does such a huge ship float?

"It's just like any other ship. It has to displace an equal amount of water to how much it weighs," said Matthew Collette, assistant professor of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering at the University of Michigan. If it didn't, the ship would sink.

To displace this amount of water, and keep the ship stable without having a massive draft beneath the water, the designers created a wide hull.

"To keep it stable they had to make the ship very wide. It's 66 meters (217 feet) wide," Collette said. That means the Oasis can't fit through the Panama Canal, which is just 105 feet (32 meters).

About 30 feet (9 meters) of the ship sits beneath the water, which is a small percentage of the ship's overall height.

Dealing with the elements

The idea of a cruise generally means sunny skies, and such ships will change their ports of call to avoid large storms or hurricanes, Collette said. That's not to say rough seas are out of the question.

"It's hard to know for sure how this ship would ride without knowing the details of its design, but wide, shallow ships such as this tend to be 'snappy' in that they have so much stability they tend to snap back upright after a wave has passed, which can be uncomfortable to be on," Collette said. "The sheer size of this ship will also help it, as larger ships tend to be better rides in rough weather."

Another issue is the superstructure, or the part of the ship that extends above the main deck.

"We have learned how to design and build large ships successfully," said Miller, the engineer with the U.S. Naval Academy. "What is a bit challenging about this ship is the amount of superstructure. That can cause windage problems in hurricanes, but the basic idea of cruise ships is to run away from them."

While this ship will likely stay in warm tropical waters, what if it did stray and come upon a titanic iceberg? "The ship is bigger and generally able to take more damage than a smaller ship," Collette said. "However, as the ship is bigger, it has more kinetic energy to dissipate if it was involved in a collision, which may mean it would also suffer more damage."

And no matter the size of a water craft, rogue waves are always a concern. Rogue waves are rare but towering problems that can soar 100 feet and are known to sink large cargo ships. Scientists have only recently begun to figure out what's behind the once-mythical waves. A study in 2008 suggested that in rare circumstances, waves that would normally cancel each other out can combine to form tall monsters in quick fashion.

The Oasis is no low-riding cargo ship, however.

"If it was struck by one I would expect there to be some local damage at the point of impact — maybe some broken portholes or bent railings, but little else," Collette said. "All ships are designed to make the chance of large-scale structural collapse very remote."

Cozy quarters

And while the ship's behemoth size is garnering plenty of attention, the goal of such a cruise ship is to make it feel small. To do this, the Oasis is divided up into various themed neighborhoods, including parks, such as one themed after Central Park, boardwalks and a sports zone.

"It's an attempt to try to make it feel smaller, because you don't want the passengers to feel like they're just a commodity," Collette told LiveScience.

When you look under the hood, however, the giant cruise ship is pretty basic. "Most of the innovation of the ship is the size and the passenger amenities," Collette said. "In terms of the propelling machinery, the design of the ship, it's all very similar to the cruise ships that have come before. There's not a lot of new ground here."

Such a leviathan presents other issues, including figuring out an evacuation plan for so many passengers and being able to fit into ports.

Should we expect an even larger ship any time soon?

"Whether this ship is the limit I don't know," Collette said. "Because the economy has kind of turned south since they signed the contract for this ship, I don't think anyone is going to challenge it for the record in the next three to four years."

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Coral Princess Revamped

USA Today

Add the Coral Princess to the list of Princess cruise ships that have gotten a big overhaul over the past year.

The 1,970-passenger vessel, which is only seven years old, emerged last week from a two-week drydock that saw the addition of two major features that have become signatures at the line: a giant "Movies Under the Stars" poolside movie screen and an adults-only Sanctuary area.

The for-a-charge Sanctuary ($10 per person/half day) is similar to ones added recently to other Princess ships and features plush padded lounge chairs and the services of dedicated "Serenity Stewards" who are on call to deliver drinks and snacks. The new Movies Under the Stars screen, at 300 square feet, also is similar to what is found on other Princess ships.

Other changes to the Coral Princess include new carpet and upholstery.

The Coral Princess will spend the coming winter sailing 15-night Panama Canal cruises between Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles. It'll spend next summer on Alaska cruises.

The overhaul of the Coral Princess comes in the wake of similar revamps for four other Princess  Cruises ships over the past year: The Dawn Princess, Golden Princess, Sea Princess and Caribbean Princess. In addition to a new Movies Under the Stars screen and adults-only Sanctuary, the eight-year-old Golden Princess received a new piazza-style atrium like the ones found on the line's newest ships.