Saturday, 28 November 2009

It's A Ship, Jim, But Not As We Know It!

OK, I've used this line before (when Voyager of the Seas made her debut for Royal Caribbean in 1999) but it's even more true today now the same cruise line have rolled out Oasis of the Seas for all the world to see.

And, while it may be called a cruise ship, there is actually very little connection between 'cruising' and Oasis. High-tech maritime wizardry, yes. Classic, ocean-going voyaging, no. This is something completely new, dramatic and WAY beyond the bounds of normal ships.

The size of the vessel is pretty evident, not so much in her length (only 55 feet longer than QM2, which made its debut in 2004) but her height and width. She towers over everything else in Port Everglades, her new 'home,' and her vast 208-ft beam makes her seem like a truly monstrous proposition (more than twice as wide as a typical 90,000-tonner).

But that is only the start of what is a truly impressive design and engineering achievement. Once aboard, and viewed from most angles either internally or externally, this is even less of a 'cruise' ship and more like something out of Star Trek. The effect of the three main 'neighbourhoods' of the internal Royal Promenade (at 328ft long and 62ft wide, more than 100ft longer and twice as wide as the same feature on Royal Caribbean's Voyager and Freedom-class vessels which first introduced this amazing idea), Central Park and The Boardwalk is absolutely startling, providing the kind of space which is hard to equate with being at sea.

Bold, innovative and eye-catching in equal measure (this is also easily the most photogenic ship anywhere at sea as it is hard to take a bad picture of her - but almost impossible to take one that conveys a proper idea of her size), Oasis provides so much of the 'Wow!' factor that passengers will probably not get their breath back for the full week's cruise!

Just listing some of the inventive and imaginative features on board takes some doing. Take your pick from this little menu:

The Solarium, with its new Bistro feature - perfect for a light lunch or moody dinner.

The split-effect Pool Deck, which offers four main pool areas and a host of clever detail, plus more than dozen Jacuzzis.

The kids' areas - pure heaven for teens, younger children and toddlers alike.

The Zip Line - OK, this may be a touch gimmicky, but it adds an eye-catching 'flying' element over the Boardwalk area.

Flowriders - two this time, doubling the surf-style fun of Royal Caribbean's other ships with this feature.

Izumi Asian Cuisine
- a fabulous casual, contemporary Japanese restaurant.

Dazzles nightclub - straight out of the Roaring 1920s, an elegant, two-storey lounge and music venue.

Central Park - this whole 300ft internal 'park' is a dazzler, with its array of fine-dining options, plus the new Park Cafe, which adds a great choice for al fresco dining for breakfast and lunch.

150 Central Park
, the new superb dinner choice run by young celebrity Chef Keriann Von Raesfeld, with its 8-course tasting menu.

Entertainment Central
- the 'neighbourhood' that featurs many of the nighclubs and other entertainment venues, including the Studio B ice rink with its eye-catching shows.

The Rising Tide Bar - a true original, a bar that 'levitates' on jets of water (a clever optical illusion).

The Aquatheater, which we didn't see in operation but which promises a whole new blend of entertainment and glamorous show-time.

And the (free) Boardwalk Donut Shop (one of my favourites!).

Then there are the 1300-seat Opal Theater, the superb three-storey Opus Dining Room, the 9-hole mini-golf course, the towering signature Viking Crown Lounge, the Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center (which even boasts its own health-conscious cuisine) and the jaw-dropping two-storey Loft Suites, which show that even the accommodations aboard can be space-age. And there's more, MUCH more, besides.

It is a total package that should appeal to first-time cruisers like never before and ensure cruising's appeal takes on a whole new dimension.

During their many press conferences on board, Royal Caribbean execs were at pains to point out their 'latest and greatest' is one-third Familiar (like the Windjammer buffet dining area and Chops Grille steakhouse), one-third Evolution (with the introduction of My Time Dining, where guests can choose either traditional, fixed dining or a when-you-please time; and the addition of tapas cuisine to the Vintages wine bar), and one-third Revolution (with new venues like 150 Central Park, The Rising Tide Bar, Zip Line ride and more).

But, really, Oasis of the Seas is 100% about innovation and novelty; an attraction in her own right where the connection with 'cruising' is only minimal at best. Once under way and in places like the Royal Promenade and Central Park, you may never know you're at sea.

Is it a bad thing? Probably not. Is it a new way to look at cruising? Most certainly.