Oasis of the Seas boasts two fascinating public areas that are new to cruise travel.
Central Park, with its 12,175 plants and 56 trees, offers a lovely respite from the buoyant energy that otherwise permeates Oasis of the Seas. The flora and fauna ranges from an herb garden to towering (well, they'll be lofty someday) trees that offer a soft canopy. You may be onboard in an inner-facing space, but Central Park is open to the sky and, interestingly, through use of wind-controlling technology, there's a lovely breeze blowing through the area. Beyond the aforementioned restaurants, there are lots of peaceful nooks for simply curling up with a good book. On the retail therapy side of things, Central Park has the first Coach store at sea (thought sister line Celebrity Cruises does sell Coach products in the gift shops on some of its ships). The shop never seemed busy.
Between the colorful lights, the merry-go-round music and the smell of the freshly minted waffle cones, the Boardwalk absolutely feels like the Jersey Shore or Coney Island. It's charming, for sure: We rode the carousel -- each horse, cheetah, etc. hand-carved out of wood and hand-painted -- until our faces hurt from smiling. The ride is free (no age restriction, though there is a height requirement if you want to ride alone) and lasts two minutes with old-fashioned calliope music creating the soundtrack as you spin.
There are also fun shops here, including a candy store, and an old-timey photo booth where you can print your own color or black and white snapshots in seconds ($5 for 6). One of our favorite Boardwalk diversions is the Pets at Sea shop, Oasis' answer to the "Build a Bear" chain that's popular on land. Pick the "skin" of the pet you want (rabbits, penguins, etc.) and staffers help you stuff it by attaching it to one of two big contraptions that look like oversized gum ball machines -- but instead of gum balls, there's stuffing flying around inside. The stuffing fills and puffs out the pet, along with a fabric heart you've placed inside. All manner of outfits, including a captain's uniform that looks fabulous on a stuffed bear, are for sale. The pet alone is $19.99; outfits are $12.99. If you buy both together, it's $29.99. Your pet leaves the shop in a cardboard box with a precut hole so he or she can poke out a furry head and see the sights.
As we noted before, one oddity about the Boardwalk area is that it doesn't draw the crowds you'd expect. Even on our cruise, in which there were many, many kids onboard, the only time we really saw people congregating here was during an evening, family-themed event. Otherwise, it was a ghost town.
The Royal Promenade feels pleasingly familiar among Oasis' many first-ever spaces. Yes, there's new stuff here, such as Rising Tide Bar, which travels from the Royal Promenade to Central Park. Sure, the Royal Promenade is wider, with nearly twice the girth of the Freedom-class ships. It's also noticeably lighter -- one aspect of the ship's new design is the skylights that let daylight in. The shops offer the usual suspects -- duty free that's actually pricier than that on the islands you'll visit, and Oasis souvenirs -- but there are a couple of new options. Willow, a shop geared to the 30-plus set, has lovely casual clothing (designers ranging from Eileen Fisher to Spirit), jewelry and accessories. There's a minimally stocked camera shop that could benefit from a little bit more merchandise (and perhaps could bulk up on the kind of stuff you really do need to buy on vacation; it was already out of camera memory cards when we paid a visit). Above it is a vast photo gallery.
With all the excitement over the new features, it seems Royal Caribbean forgot to include a decent Internet cafe onboard Oasis of the Seas. The facility -- two inside-cabin-sized windowless cubbies with a half dozen terminals apiece and four terminals that have hastily been set up in the card room -- is the most appalling we've seen on a cruise ship since shipboard Internet access was first introduced. There's no one manning the Internet operation here and on my cruise, half the terminals weren't working for days at a stretch. The printers were also pretty mercurial. You have to call the front desk if you have a problem (and since no phones are available in the facilities themselves, you have to go back to your room). Staffers there were generous about issuing credit but the operation is just atrocious. Best bet: Bring your own laptop if you plan to connect to the Internet for more than the most minimal time. You also have access via your in-cabin television.
Oasis of the Seas Cabin Photos
Royal Caribbean pioneered inside-facing cabins that weren't truly insides with its Voyager-class cabins along the Royal Promenade, with windows overlooking the action. On Oasis, the cruise line pushes the trend further with more cabins that don't exactly face the ocean -- yet still offer a view. Here, you can book cabins with windows or balconies above the Boardwalk or Central Park. Like the Promenade cabins, these are roughly the same size as the standard oceanviews and balconies, which start from 179 square feet and 182 square feet (with a 50-square-foot verandah), respectively. They're not that private, either -- it's easy to spy on the balconies next door and across the way -- the draw is the novelty of being able to look down at the Boardwalk's spinning carousel or live Central Park foliage.
Because they're a curiosity factor, these cabins, at least in Oasis' first year, are often priced as high -- or higher -- than more traditional balcony cabins with an ocean view. After a week in a Central Park-facing stateroom, there was definitely a feeling of being a bird in a cage and we didn't use the verandah much as a result.
Same goes for Boardwalk cabins, though these have a few extra perks. Those that are located further aft do offer sea glimpses and are also terrific spots from which to watch performances at the AquaTheater. Note, though, that this area can get a bit loud and boisterous (with balcony doors fully closed, however, you can hear virtually nothing outside).
There are six quite-prized AquaTheater-facing suites with wraparound balconies that overlook the amphitheater. One plus here is that the curved balconies offer both the aft view -- and a standard (and more peaceful) sea view.
Another new cabin concept is the Loft Suite, available in three styles. Crown Loft Suites measure 545 square feet with a 114-square-foot balcony, and feature a living space downstairs with a pullout sofa and bathroom, and a master bedroom and bathroom upstairs with a shower large enough for two (his-and-hers shower heads), fog-free mirrors and limestone mosaic tile accents. The Sky Loft Suites add some extra space, clocking in at 722 square feet with a 410-square-foot dine-on balcony, and a roomy shower in the downstairs bathroom, too.
Then there's the Royal Loft Suite -- the largest and most opulent suite onboard, which accommodates up to six passengers. The Royal Loft Suite is 1,524 square feet with an 843-square-foot balcony and can connect to an adjoining Crown Loft Suite to accommodate a party of 10. When you enter the cabin on the main level, you'll find a Baby Grand piano, a dining area with a dry bar for entertaining, a bath with a shower, a living room sofa that converts into a double bed and a wraparound balcony with a dining area and private whirlpool. Upstairs, there's a master bedroom and a massive bathroom with a tub, shower, two sinks and a bidet.
Ironically, some of these expensive suites have a less than ideal location. A handful of lofts directly overlook one of the busiest outdoor spots onboard -- the basketball court and FlowRider areas. As such they're not terribly private -- and the omnipresent thump-thump-thump of the rock music playing for FlowRider daredevils at various times throughout the day and evening could be annoying.
Beyond these new designs, cabins are available in varying sizes and styles, from insides to owner's suites. Royal Caribbean's popular Presidential Family Suite is back as well. On Oasis of the Seas, the suite will accommodate 14 passengers with four bedrooms and four baths. Oasis of the Seas' regular Family Suite (there are four of them) features a master bedroom and bath, as well as a guest room with a private bath, and a balcony with space for outdoor dining and lounging for four.
All cabins have flat-screen interactive TV's, which allow you to book shore tours and entertainment as well as to view your onboard bill. Note: You cannot book restaurant reservations through this system. Piped in are a handful of national U.S. networks, depending on the ship's location (such as CNN, TNT and Fox News). Oddly there are no music channels.
Cabins have good under-the-bed storage (important, because the closets in the non-suite categories are not at all huge), and flip-up bedside tables (a cool space-saving feature). Bathrooms, which are a bit on the small side, feature showers enclosed in clear glass with shampoo dispensers and footrests for leg-shaving, a welcome addition taken from sister cruise line, Celebrity Cruises. Other than shampoo, the only toiletry you'll find is a skimpy little bar of soap (so if you need lotion, hair conditioner, etc. bring your own). Electrical outlets -- one 220-volt, two 110-volt -- are inconveniently located underneath the desk. Once we figured out how to use it, we were able to easily schedule wakeup calls on the new, fancy Cisco phone system.
A caveat: Some cabins are configured with the bed(s) close to the closet door, which can make it hard to get to your things, while others, especially in the twin configuration, have the bed(s) right up against the wall, which hinders easy access to the balcony if you have one. Ask your travel agent, or study your deck plans really carefully, if you have a preference.
The Entertainment Zone is home to Studio B ice rink for shows and free skate, the Opus three-deck theater (where performances of "Hairspray" take place), a comedy club (book reservations in advance; it's popular and the space is small so can't accommodate huge crowds) and a jazz bar with superb live music. Blaze, a one-story nightclub, is located down here as well.
Passengers will see evidence of Allure's "Dreamworks Experience" throughout the ship, in the form of 3D movies in the main theater, high-energy character parades in the Royal Promenade and special daytime shows at the AquaTheater.
On the Boardwalk, all the way aft, you'll find said AquaTheater, where evening shows take place throughout the week. This is a don't-miss event! Reserve a spot, but there are also seats (and standing room) along the back. There are two 18-meter dive boards and 20 performers dedicated to the space: six divers, four synchronized swimmers, six acrobats and four specialty divers. Another fun fact: There are nearly 2,000 nozzles on and above the stage for synchronized water shooting. I seriously had my heart in my throat when the high diver leapt off a platform that seemingly scraped the sky; he sliced into the water with barely a splash (on another night, when winds and sea were a bit feistier, he did not perform and I was frankly glad).
Many of Royal Caribbean's favorite bars and lounges are found in the Royal Promenade. Bolero's jumped to a packed house every night, with terrific live music and lots of dancing. The Schooner Bar's new location, on the upper level of the Royal Promenade, is controversial as its windows have no view, but I loved sitting in chairs that ringed the promenade on formal night, and watching the world go by!
The top-of-the-ship Viking Crown Lounge, which here provides a stunning view forward from its lofty perch on Deck 17, is gorgeous, but is mostly forgotten. It was empty most nights. Also struggling to attract passengers at night was Dazzles, a two-deck nightclub with a great view looking toward the back of the ship and the AquaTheater. It was home to theme nights (like 80's music).
Oasis of the Seas features the largest and most sophisticated casino afloat: Casino Royale. There is a themed walkway entrance, The Museum of Gaming, exploring the history of gambling. Design elements include dramatic sculptures, crystal chandeliers, and hues of amethyst, aquamarine and ruby. As for the meat and potatoes of the casino, you'll find 450 slot machines; extensive table games including Blackjack, roulette, craps, and Caribbean Stud Poker; a bar and lounge area; a sports book; a poker room; and a players' club.
Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $12 per person, per day ($14.25 for suite guests). Gratuities can be prepaid or will be added on a daily basis to passengers' SeaPass accounts during the cruise. Passengers can modify or remove gratuities by visiting the guest services desk while onboard. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.
With the FlowRiders, H2O Zone, Boardwalk and incredible age-specific children's facilities, Oasis of the Seas is an obvious choice for families. However, the ship also appeals to active couples, mainly in their 30's to 50's (Central Park is a great place relatively kid-free spot to hang). The majority of passengers hail from North America, though many passengers on our sailing came from the United Kingdom and Europe, as well, keen to experience the world's largest cruise ship.
Seven-night cruises have two formal nights and five casual nights. A decent number of men choose to wear tuxedos for formal dining, though dark suits were more common on our sailing. Women are typically found in cocktail dresses or gowns.
Oasis of the Seas is an extremely infant-, child- and teen-friendly ship, offering a large variety of activities and brightly colored spaces for children, from ages 6 months to 17 years. The entire kids' program, officially called the Youth Zone, spans more than 28,700 square feet, and is (surprise) the largest of its kind at sea.
RCI has started new Royal Tots and Royal Babies programs, which provide childcare and activities for children from 6 to 36 months old. All parents have an opportunity to reserve spots for their kids at the beginning of each cruise at a cost of $8 per hour, per child. Remaining hours are then opened up on a first-come, first-served basis.
Children, ages 3 to 5 (Aquanauts), 6 to 8 (Explorers) and 9 to 11 (Voyagers) have their own spaces to run around, take part in arcade games and Nintendo Wii tournaments, conduct science experiments (like volcano-making) and take in a mini-musical or perform in shows of their own as part of the "ImaginOcean!" theater program onboard. Partnerships with Crayola and Fisher-Price mean that the Youth Zone is also outfitted with the latest toys, games and supplies. Daytime activities are free, but late-night activities are also offered for a fee of $5 per child, per hour.
Teens, the hardest demographic to impress, probably won't want to leave their designated areas. The ship was intentionally designed to distance the teen section from the rest of the Youth Zone, and away from the throngs of younger kids, teens can enjoy several lounges, juice bars, Nintendo Wii stations, a music room, the Wipe Out Cafe, themed parties and D.J. lessons.
For families, Oasis of the Seas is so large that walkie-talkie devices -- long a popular way for Cruise Critic members to stay in-touch onboard -- don't always work properly. As a result, Royal Caribbean has introduced its new Royal Connect "Wow Phone" device. These are iPhones that lack outside calling or texting capabilities. For $17.50 per device, per week, you'll have deck plans and the Cruise Compass right at your fingertips, as well as a way for your kids to reach you onboard. They can dial the phone's number from any house phone on the ship. If you give one to your child, he or she can be tracked at all times.
|Fitness and Recreation|
In the Pool and Sports Zone, Oasis of the Seas' top-ship neighborhood, you'll find a "zero entry" pool that's great for gradually wading into deeper water; a sports pool (think water-jousting and pool volleyball); and the H2O Zone that's just for kids and features several brightly colored water-spraying sculptures.
Oasis of the Seas is the first cruise ship ever to feature its own zip-line, which runs diagonally across the Pool and Sports Deck, above the Boardwalk. For those who dare to try it, the zip-line offers an amazing (and free) aerial view of the carousel and other attractions, so be sure to look down! You'll need to sign a waiver, obtain a wristband and prepare for what could be a long wait. (It will take about 10 minutes just for the staff to harness you properly.) You will also be required to empty your pockets and wear sneakers and a helmet. This is definitely a fun option, especially at night when the Boardwalk's festive lights are aglow. However, it may not offer much of a thrill for passengers who have already tried land-based zip-lining, which usually offers a longer and more picturesque experience.
There are also two FlowRiders, the surf simulators that made their debut with the Freedom class. Both are located on Deck 16 aft, with the Wipeout Bar wedged conveniently between them. One note: If you're intrigued by the FlowRider and have never surfed before, we suggest boogie boarding first. Surfing isn't as easy as it looks, as one of our staffers found out the hard way (see our Oasis of the Seas FlowRider video).
Despite a vast spa facility, the ship's gym, which has been moved from Royal Caribbean's more traditional top-deck, full-windows locale to amidships and is illuminated by stingy portholes, is underwhelming. Parts of the spa itself also suffer, ambience-wise, due to the new location (particularly fluorescent in feeling is its salon, which has no outside view to the sea at all). One nice touch: a stairwell inside the gym leads directly down a deck to the ship's running track.
Our spa experience was particularly ... stressful, which frankly defeats the purpose of going to a spa. Staffers were disorganized (didn't reserve the treatment properly, charged more money than I was quoted, mixed me up with another passenger, then gave me a hard product sell afterward). Ultimately the spa manager did refund the disputed amount but she was snarky and unpleasant. I was so disgusted I decided to skip other treatments I'd planned to book.
Other down-notes on the ship's spa and gym facility include the fact that the gym is a deck above some treatment rooms and noise there can intrude on the supposedly serenity-inspired ambience below. As well, the ship's anchor appears to be located just underneath the relaxation room and the noise is quite audible at times.
Prior to taking the cruise I was quite enamored of the adults-only, glass-roofed Solarium, but after being onboard I was ultimately disappointed. It was always packed -- very difficult to find a chaise -- and the spare furnishings were simply sterile rather than hip. It wasn't as warm and welcoming as it could have been (Princess Cruises definitely does a better job with the concept with its Sanctuary spaces) and perhaps there's some way to moderate the crowds.
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