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Live from ... Oasis of the Seas (Photos, First Impressions, Vignettes)
Cruise Critic's Oasis team -- Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief, Melissa Paloti, Managing Editor, and Ashley Kosciolek, Copy Editor -- are onboard Oasis of the Seas all weekend! We will be sending back insights, anecdotes and observations throughout our cruise -- and expect that, because there's so much to see and do, we’ll be adding posts every day next week.
Walking around the ship this morning -- at 7:30 a.m. most passengers weren't yet awake and it was beautifully empty! -- one really distinctive new thing about Oasis of the Seas is how the designers have de-centralized the buffet. The Windjammer is perfectly nice -- and won't surprise anyone with its station set-up to alleviate queues -- but more intriguing are all the boutique-sized cafe-type places that serve breakfast, too.
The Wipe Out Cafe was the first one I stumbled across and it's up by the sports pool (and by Fuel, the teen area) and it's got a mini-buffet set-up with the usual eggs, sausage, etc. and donuts and pastries. You can dine al fresco at tables just outside of the cafe. Nice place and I’ll bet that it'll be a favorite teen refueling spot.
The Cafe Promenade on the Royal Promenade isn't substantially much different from those on other Royal Caribbean ships. It's open 24 hours and offers snacks like danish and muffins for breakfast, cold sandwiches for lunch. The biggest surprise? It's got Starbucks coffee! Sacrilege for a line that's long centered its specialty coffee offerings on the Seattle's Best brand (that's still here, too).
Johnny Rockets is also open for breakfast, didn't get a chance to check out the menu, but will try to get back there (free to eat there for breakfast; $4.95 for lunch and dinner).
The best spot and the most distinctive not only on this ship but in cruising is the Park Cafe. It's located in the Central Park area, with a combo of indoor and outdoor tables. This is meant to be a (relatively) healthy, definitely contemporary spot where you can order a custom-made bagel (choices include lox, salami, etc.) which was fantastic though the cream cheese I tried – sun dried tomato with garlic (what garlic?) was so vile it sort of destroyed the whole thing.
There are also Egg McMuffin like sandwiches and panini -- which are pre-made but heated up for you on the spot) with eggs, bacon, etc. The ham and cheese croissant looked good, too. There was regular (aka included-in-your-fare) coffee and also for-fee Seattle's Best.
Last edited by Dan Askin; November 22nd, 2009 at 09:15 AM.
Our cabin is a standard balcony on Central Park, and there are pluses and minuses. The cabin's very pretty, the art is vibrant. There's plenty of natural light coming in from the Central Park area and I love the balcony, which has enough room for two chairs and a cafe table (good for dining al fresco).
The bathroom is a new design, not radically, but it feels more spacious than bathrooms on other Royal Caribbean ships. It still has the shower-only scenario that's common in most cabin categories, with a shower that has doors rather than the dreaded clinging curtain.
I like the way that doors open out into corridors to create more space in the cabins (brilliant, why hasn't anyone done that before!) and that closets are moved into the cabin, rather than lining the wall in the entryway, and creating that closed-in feel.
But storage is fair-to-middling. If the room is set up with twins instead of a queen, the closet's tough to get to. Beds are higher than average so you can slide even plump suitcases underneath ... good touch.
In-cabin toiletries are really skimpy. There's a cheap looking tiny bar of soap on the sink and a shampoo dispenser in the shower. That's it (not even shower gel is provided).
Our cabin has a nice loveseat, pretty large flat-screen television.
We also have connecting doors -- and let me give you a heads up: You can hear everything next door. Converse accordingly.
--Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief
Last edited by Dan Askin; November 21st, 2009 at 04:27 PM.
A press Q&A took place at Comedy Live, the ship's comedy club down on Deck 4, on Saturday morning. First note: I love the room! It's designed around a NY subway theme (don't miss the subway map on the ceiling, with a few errors -- "Kackson Hts"?!).
The first event on tap was a video showing of Oasis’ "logbook," which traced the ship's history, from conception to completion, and it was gorgeous and moving.
Even as I'm actually wiping away tears (I'm a sentimental sod) while watching, I'm also thinking cynically, wow, the Royal Caribbean marketing machine is so very slick. Then, Richard Fain announces that the video was actually created by STX Europe in Finland, the shipyard that built Oasis of the Seas. Wow! Shipyards' marketing machines are not typically as polished and emotional as this. Neither, as well, are Finns, Fain commented, clearly surprised by the log book's sentimental punch. "Finns are supposed to be so staid and upright, and I thought that was a remarkable video."
There's a possibility that Royal Caribbean may actually sell the video in the gift shop -- I'd buy one in a heartbeat. It's an amazing keepsake about such a special ship.
Speaking on behalf of Royal Caribbean at the media's onboard Q&A were:
*Richard Fain (with the mic), the most innovative and creative executive in cruising; he's the longtime Chairman and CEO of RCCL (parent company to Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Azamara).
*Adam Goldstein, RCI's president (to Fain's right).
*Lisa Bauer, senior vice president of hotel operations. She's amazing (and seemingly inexhaustible) and oversees just about everything onboard that impacts the passenger experience, from dining to shore excursions.
*Captain Bill Wright, who is senior vice president of fleet operations (he handles everything from piloting the ship to safety, environmental, and security). He’s the captain of the ship – and also the boss of all other Royal Caribbean ship captains.
Question at the press event: How much of the future of Royal Caribbean depends on the success of Oasis and Allure?
Fain responds, "Game changing has been our tradition from the beginning. I go back to before I was born 40 years ago [he gets a big laugh from the crowd as he is presumably somewhat older] with the first ship in the fleet, the Song of Norway. In her own way she was game changing, focusing on cruising as opposed to being a converted transatlantic liner."
Because Cruise Critic has readers from all over the world, I was especially interested in one question that asked: Will Oasis of the Seas (and its sister, Allure, due out next year) dominate the fleet? Will it result in too many cruises to the Caribbean, too many ships and berths to fill?
Says Goldstein, "Oasis of the Seas will play a major role in the fleet in that it's augmenting a fleet that allows us to offer cruises all over the world. There's a domino effect that allows us to go out further, that frees up ships from our South Florida roots."
Indeed, Royal Caribbean, along with Carnival Corp.'s Costa, is a real pathfinder in opening up cruising to passengers beyond the traditional North American market. Royal Caribbean for instance is stepping up its presence in Asia, with the year-round positioning of Legend of the Seas a new move there. Independence of the Seas will be the largest ship ever to sail out of the U.K. year-round. And countries like Brazil, Germany, China, Sweden, Italy, Norway, Denmark, and Spain are places where cruise travel is growing rapidly.
"On the other hand," Goldstein continues, this ship will be from the get-go a powerful draw for international customers who are happy to get on airplanes from all over the world to experience Oasis."
He says that it is anticipated that one quarter of Oasis passengers will come from outside North America.
A follow-up question: Will Oasis and Allure be permanently and forever anchored in the Caribbean? Goldstein basically said -- could be that the ships will move out of the region.--The world's its oyster, so to speak. "We had no clue that Voyager would ever go anywhere but out of Miami. Oasis will go wherever the market takes it. We assume that ports that want it and markets can support it will do whatever needs to be."
Have you ever seen cruise ship elevators that don’t have carpet?
I haven’t (if you have, drop us a note at email@example.com and tell us which ship, which line!). I ask this because elevators on Oasis of the Seas don't have carpets; the floors are tiled in granite with different days of the week, made of bronze, that are inserted into a slot on the floor, that are changed out each day.
I hadn't consciously realized yesterday was Friday until I got into the elevator! And I'm not even on vacation.
Last edited by Dan Askin; November 21st, 2009 at 04:59 PM.
Passengers onboard this two night cruise number 3,200, about half the ship's capacity. Lisa Bauer, senior vice president of hotel operations, told us that there are 2,161 crew onboard from 71 countries.
Interesting factoid: The average crew member has worked for Royal Caribbean an average of four contracts. Contracts last from six to nine months. Bauer noted that that means that crew members onboard this ship have a combined 8,000 years worth of experience.
95 percent of the crew staffing Oasis has come from existing ships, including a spa therapist who told me she'd worked on Explorer of the Seas for three different contracts, and Monarch of the Seas and Enchantment of the Seas once each. Her favorite? Enchantment of the Seas. "I like smaller ships," she told me while touring the spa. "I told my manager I'd never want to work on Oasis. And yet here I am!"
The 95 percent figure is misleading because literally every crew member staffing the dining rooms and restaurants, or working as cabin attendants, or in the spa and shops, has served on Royal Caribbean before. The disparity? The five percent who represent newbies are filling jobs that didn't exist onboard ships before, such as a bagpiper, horticulturist, cupcake baker, Olympic-class divers, synchronized swimmers.
Here are a couple of really cool facts and figures about the entertainment venues and shows onboard:
18 meters: The height of the diving boards at the AquaTheater
9 million: Number of LED lights on the stage backdrop for "Hairspray," very similar to the Broadway set
11: Number of production and headliner shows that will take place in the Opal Theater weekly. "Hairspray" will show four times; "Come Fly With Me," an aerial musical, will also show four times; and a headliner, changing weekly, will perform three nights during the seven-night cruise.
4: Number of DJs onboard to spin in Blaze -- there are two resident ship DJs, one Latin DJ and one scratch DJ, a featured, rotating guest from Scratch DJ Academy.
120: Seated capacity at the Comedy Live and next door Jazz on 4. There's standing room in the back, too.
1,400: Number of individual nozzles above the AquaTheater to rain water down on the stage. There are 300 more nozzles built into the stage -- vertical jets (that shoot water up), arching jets (that shoot water in arcs), fan jets (that create fancy fan-shaped sprays) and a gargoyle nozzle (which can shoot water so high up it hits the Crown & Anchor logo at the top of the stage (pictured below).
20: Number of performers onboard dedicated to the AquaTheater. There are 6 divers, 4 synchronized swimmers, 6 acrobats and 4 specialty divers. Elsewhere, you'll find 10 ice skaters in the Studio B production and 21 in "Hairspray."
Like the fresh air but not the heat of the direct sun? The Boardwalk almost feels cloudy as the towers of cabins shade the area from direct sunlight. Doesn't bother me ... others want to see sun and sea. What do you think?
We bummed around for two hours on Oasis' Pool and Sports Deck this afternoon and found that the pools really weren't very crowded (we are, after all, sailing with just 3,200 passengers -- about half the max occupancy). The H20 Zone, a kids' area with fountains, water cannons and colorful sculptures -- including a giant octopus -- was being used by just two children at the time. There wasn't much activity going on at the Sports Pool either. One clarification: The Beach Pool was touted as "zero-entry," but it does actually have one very small step; still this easy-in feature is definitely a plus for those who would rather avoid cannonballing into the deep end. About the concerns over crowding ... even with just 3,200 passengers onboard, it seems as though there will be plenty of room and plenty of deck chairs ... when the ship is at maximum capacity. Are you a frequent poolgoer? Which one tickles your fancy?
One of the hot new casual eateries onboard is the Seafood Shack, on the Boardwalk. It's a partially al fresco joint where you'll find coconut shrimp, chowder and beer. With the fresh warm air blowing in it does feel like a beachy spot; the chairs are red metal but resemble the simple plastic seats that I associate with seaside eats. The motif is beachy too -- seashells and surfboards. There is a $8.95 cover charge for lunch and dinner ... and I'd come back for the fries and tartar sauce alone. That adds up for, say, a family of four, but the kids will love it. A little boy told me he was waiting for his giant fish sticks (fish and chips). What a coincidence ... I was having "giant fish sticks" too! One word of caution though: come early. Even if the posted close time is five, they start turning people away much earlier if others are already waiting. I had to beg for a spot at the bar. I wonder if the cabins above smell like deep frying oil?
There were two pieces but I ate one before taking the pic. Sorry!!
Last edited by Dan Askin; November 22nd, 2009 at 09:16 AM.
What's the skinny with online booking (for show tickets, etc.) versus making plans once onboard -- can you get locked out of the things you want to see and do? We're told that each show will be shown enough times ("Hairspray" four times during a weeklong cruise for example) for maximum passenger experience and that stuff is NOT going to "sell out" like tickets to the Rihanna concert prior to sailaway! The online booking option is simply there for those who want to plan in advance. The offering was the result of feedback from cruisers who wanted to plan their shows and activities around specialty and regular dining schedules, etc.
Our advice? There's still a huge line at the box office for tickets when you board, so go ahead and plan in advance if you don't live and breathe by spontaneity. That way, it's one less thing you have to worry about once your vacation begins.
Funny sense, now that it's midday and sun is drenching all of Central Park: From this vantage point, without windows that actually look out to sea, it doesn't even feel like you're on a ship. Isn’t that weird?
Also, the Central Park idea reminds me of a sort of boutique hotel scenario within the larger ship, definitely a different vibe than what you'll find on the rest of Oasis, even though cabins are just standards and there are no special service. I think that if I were doing a spa-oriented cruise, I'd definitely want to stay in a Central Park-facing cabin. I love the serenity of it.
Last edited by Dan Askin; November 21st, 2009 at 04:27 PM.
Did Royal Caribbean forget to design an Internet cafe onboard Oasis of the Seas? The set-up that exists -- two small, inside cabin-sized windowless cubbies with a half dozen terminals apiece -- is the most appalling Internet facility I've seen on a cruise ship since Internet access was first introduced.
The ship does have wireless; if you want to make much use of the Internet I'd suggest you bring your own laptop/device. You do have to access a terminal to start your wireless connection and good luck with that. Three different times today I visited one or the other of the hideous Internet rooms and because access was free, computers were always occupied and there was no way to even get set up.
Also, god forbid if you have a problem or a question or as I saw today the printer runs out of paper. There's no staffing there (I remember this strategy from Independence of the Seas and thought it was a bad practice then). And there's no phone to call anyone for help. You have to leave your terminal presumably and go downstairs.
This is truly a bush league Internet set-up and there's no excuse for it.