Thursday, December 03, 2009

Oasis of the Seas…. First Impressions

Never before have I been so impatient about a cruise ship’s debut. Not unlike the anticipation and excitement I felt as a child on Christmas Eve, the months and days leading up to my one night sailing aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, were filled with eagerness and high expectations. I was awed by the first revelation of “Project Genesis.” Like every other “Loyal Royal” I sat gingerly at the edge of my seat waiting for hints to be dropped, neighborhoods to be revealed and details to be disclosed. All the while I knew what a dangerous game I was playing with myself as it is often the case that I get myself all worked up over what I consider to be an ultimate experience, only to be disappointed when reality and expectation diverge! But now I have seen her and I can say thank you Royal Caribbean, Oasis of the Seas is everything I hoped she would be! I’d like to share with you my first impressions of her seven neighborhoods during my whirlwind 24 hours onboard.

Due to a job that includes some wonderful perks I was lucky to find myself aboard the November 19th one night cruise out of Fort Lauderdale. Check in was as quick and efficient as promised in the new and improved Port Everglades, Pier 18 cruise terminal. Despite my numerous cruises on Voyager class and Freedom class ships, I was still not prepared for my first “ahh” moment when I stepped aboard the Oasis and found myself amid the astounding Royal Promenade! The area is wider and more spacious than I imagined it would be, but it is the brightness and airiness that makes the Royal Promenade a truly evolutionary feature of the Oasis. This is due to the Crystal Canopies, giant skylights from Central Park above, that flood the area in natural light. Once again the Royal Promenade will be the heart of the ship featuring guest services, shops, bars, lounges and a variety of spots to get a bite to eat. Several “street parties” take place here, but I’ll have to wait for my summer sailing to experience them.

The area I was most eager to see was Central Park. Could a deck within a ship be transformed into a paradise of greenery and make me forget for just a moment that I am out at sea? The answer is a resounding YES! That’s because during the planning stages of the Genesis project it was determined that the increased width of the ship would allow the design team to open up the “spine” of the ship to the elements. One such area became Central Park, a lovely outdoor space where guests can stroll under blue skies or dine beneath the stars. Paved paths curve around lush and exotic gardens passing by Chops Grille, Giovanni’s Table, Vintages, and the very special 150 Central Park (I had the privilege of dining here and look forward to telling you about it in the near future). The aforementioned Crystal Canopies look like glass sculptures on this level but if you peer down you can check out what’s going on at the Royal Promenade. As pretty as this area is during the day, after dark it becomes a magical and romantic haven. I think that a balcony cabin overlooking this area would be a lovely option for a couple.
The other neighborhood of the ship that takes advantage of the open air above is the Boardwalk. Enter an area that epitomizes the playground-on-pilings boardwalk areas found at Coney Island, Ocean City, or Myrtle Beach. Its complete with the first ever carousel at sea, ice cream parlor, donut shop, candy shop, and family friendly eateries such as Johnny Rockets and The Seafood Shack. In order to give you a tried and true review I rode the carousel even though I was unaccompanied by a child, ate a chocolate donut (I was boring… other varieties, mango glazed for example, were available), browsed in Pinwheels and Candy Beach and licked an ice cream cone as I made my way down to the far end. The only thing missing was the ceaseless cacophony of children squealing in delight…sure to be remedied on the first revenue sailing! At the very end of the Boardwalk, set against the backdrop of the ocean, is the amazing Aquatheater. There will be two different shows performed here, but I was only able to see a sampling of what the talented divers are capable of. Still, the Aquatheater itself does not have a bad seat in the house and I look forward to revisiting! I had the opportunity to check out the balcony cabins that overlook the Boardwalk. Perfect for people watching, a partial ocean view, and fresh air!

I love the whole concept of Entertainment Place! It’s a grouping of “after dark” entertainment venues that give the feel of a night club district. There’s Jazz on 4, Casino Royale and Studio B. A word about the ice show, “Frozen in Time” ….don’t miss it! Sorry, that was three words. When I saw “Spirits of the Seasons” on Explorer in August I thought it was incredible. This new show is even better. It’s an interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen popular children's stories such as “The Ugly Duckling” and “The Little Mermaid”. The skating is as always, superb, the costumes colorful and the story, creative and imaginative! Blazes, the disco, is also here and I liked the layout of it a lot, as it’s all on one floor. Right across the way is Comedy Live, a stand up comedy club with décor inspired by a New York subway station. Don’t think dark…its not. Lots of oranges and blues with tables scattered about a small stage. My favorite lounge on the ship, although not located in this area, is Dazzles. It’s elegant and glamorous and sexy…can you call a lounge sexy? Yes, the crushed velvet chairs and muted tones of pink and taupe and color changing chandeliers…very sexy! Behind the stage is a floor to ceiling glass wall that looks down onto the Boardwalk. The band was playing Beatle’s music on my one-nighter and the dance floor was packed! You’ve got to stop in for a drink!

The Pool and Sport Zone is bigger and better on the Oasis. It stretches out to the entire length of the ship! When you’re up here it feels more like a resort than pool deck! My favorite area was the Beach Pool with its gum drop colored striped loungers and sloping entry into a saltwater pool. The H2O Zone looked like a great area for the littlest of cruisers with its geysers, whirlpools, and colorful squirting octopus. I read that there are a total of 21 pools onboard if you include the whirlpools! There was no time for me to confirm this but I will say I counted lots and lots of loungers! Now that’s good news! Another big “wow” is the Solarium. Until I saw this area, my all time favorite was the Solarium aboard Radiance of the Seas. This area is huge, with pools and palms (unlike trees in Central Park, these were fake), hot tubs, cabana styled chaises and rattan seating groups. The perfect adult only retreat! I should mention my co-workers enjoyed lunch at the Solarium Bistro, where the menu reflects a more health conscious fare.

Time was of the essence on this one night cruise so I had to forego my favorite spa treatments and did no more than pass through the Fitness Center. For your information, it will boast new spa treatments not before found on Royal Caribbean ships and other new-for-Royal Caribbean options such as Kinesis group classes. The spa area also will have a Thermal Suite at sea with heated tile loungers, saunas and steam rooms; three couples massage suites and seven individual treatment rooms. Kids and teen passengers, meanwhile, will find their own dedicated spa on the ship. The fitness center will have the latest cardio and resistance equipment, and offer spinning classes, kickboxing, pilates and yoga. The treadmills and ellpticals are no longer facing a wall of glass looking out onto the ocean and that is something I will miss.

I quickly walked through the Youth Zone and what I saw was quite impressive. It’s the largest space afloat dedicated to young cruisers. Kids Avenue is a central boulevard with dedicated Adventure Ocean spaces and themed play areas. You will also find a nursery for infants and lots of room for toddlers with plenty of ride on toys! The dedicated science lab will be a hit with school age kids! Now quite honestly, Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Ocean program has always been sensational. As a parent I was always pleased with both the facilities and the exceptionally well trained staff. It is the size of the ship that now allows the program to take it to the next level. You’ll find exciting new enhancements, spaces created and equipped for particular activities, and age appropriate enrichment programs. The Teen Zone looked really cool too! It’s a place I could see my son wanting to check out, even if just to initially meet up with others his age. They could then go off to play basketball, eat, play dodge ball, eat, play ping pong, eat, play mini golf, eat, surf, eat zip line, eat….Well, you get the picture!

So, that was my glimpse of Oasis of the Seas. Absolutely incredible and certainly worthy of all the hype! I can’t wait to return with my husband and son this coming summer. I know I skipped over tons of stuff, including info on the restaurants and the shows. There was just too much to see and too little time! You however, wouldn’t have that problem. You can take an entire week to experience all the Oasis has to offer! So that leaves you with a choice. I’ll cruise her again this summer, return to write all about it for you to read, OR, you can book it for yourself! See ya onboard!

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