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.