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Among seasoned cruisers there is always considerable excitement over the launch of a new cruise ship, and during 2009 there were several of note; Seabourn’s five-star Odyssey, Carnival’s Dream, and the Celebrity Equinox being a few. In the case of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, however, the frenzy surrounding her impending launch made headlines across the globe, and captured the imagination of travellers of all persuasions – and for good reason.

For one, until her sister ship, Allure, launched a few days ago, Oasis was the world’s largest cruise ship. She weighs over 225,000 tons, stretches the length of four football fields, and accommodates a whopping 5,400 guests – that’s roughly the population Carnarvon. In terms of cruise ship design however, Oasis is a ground-breaker on many fronts.Within the cruise industry Royal Caribbean is well known as an innovator, and from the day construction began on Oasis back in March 2007, the hype surrounding her escalated.

For a start, she would be the first cruise ship featuring seven distinctly themed “neighbourhoods”, each one boasting extraordinary and unique features never before seen at sea. Even the accommodations were set to break with tradition. In addition to ocean view staterooms and suites, guests with an eye for fashion could choose from trendy urban-style loft suites, or staterooms with a balcony overlooking the ship’s interior.

The furore gathered momentum in November last year, however, when Oasis set off from a Finnish shipyard to her new home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The first images to hit the wires showed the behemoth barely clearing Denmark’s famous Great Belt Bridge on her way out into the Atlantic. Then, when she arrived in Port Everglades a week later, Oasis unceremoniously dwarfed the high rise apartment blocks dotting the famous water front.

The hype was in the forefront of my mind when I joined Oasis last year for a three day cruise to nowhere. Size is one thing, but what is the biggest cruise ship afloat like to actually cruise on? Approaching Port Everglades, my first glimpse of her would set the stage for what was to come. Oasis towered 16 decks high above her purpose-built cruise terminal, but it was only after boarding that I got a true sense of her size.

According to Royal Caribbean’s President and CEO, Adam Goldstein, bigger isn’t necessarily better, but in the case of the Oasis of the Seas, it offered immense possibilities in terms of what a ship can offer its passengers. And the key for Oasis is it’s width; it won’t fit in the Panama Canal, but the extra metres across have allowed for architectural innovation which can’t exist on other cruise ships.

I’d been allocated an interior stateroom overlooking the Boardwalk, a neighbourhood located at the stern of the ship and an outdoor family area surrounded by accommodation. The area captures the nostalgia of English seaside piers and Coney Island style American boardwalks, and boasts a full-size traditional carousel, an ice cream parlour, and restaurants including a Johnny Rockets diner. The centrepiece is the AquaTheatre, an outdoor venue for swimming and high diving shows.

The stateroom itself was nothing out of the ordinary. It was compact, with a decor of soft yellow and blue hues and blonde wood, and facilities included a small bathroom, a fridge, a flat screen TV, and a double bed which converted into two singles. The semi-circle-shaped balcony was large enough for a table and two chairs, and provided a great vantage point for watching the action down below.

Checking out the rest of the ship’s innovations swallowed up the entire three days on board. I quickly came to the conclusion that on a typical week-long cruise you’d be hard pressed to try everything, and that includes the many dining options.

Eating and drinking are key elements of cruising, and from the elegant 3,056-seat main dining room, Opus, to the specialty restaurants and cafes, Oasis didn’t disappoint. A top pick is 150 Central Park, the ship’s most exclusive dining venue overseen by the highly acclaimed young chef, Keriann Von Raesfeld. A point to note, however, is that this and most of the other specialty restaurants are add-ons to the standard fare.

There are plenty of bars to quench your thirst, from the Latin dance club, Boleros, to the unique moving Rising Tide bar. Keen shoppers won’t be disappointed, as Oasis has plenty of boutiques including the largest Coach store at sea, and entertainment buffs will swoon at the slick Broadway-style shows.

Kids, sun lovers and the health conscious haven’t been neglected in the innovations either. Oasis has a dizzying collection of pools, a dedicated kids’ zone, and an impressive fitness facility with an outdoor covered jogging track. Also if you feel in the need for a spot of pampering, or a minor facial tune up, you can opt for a massage or a spot of Botox at the Vitality Spa.

When it comes to innovation, Oasis undoubtedly raised benchmarks on many levels. From an environmental perspective, Royal Caribbean says the ship has a 25 per cent improvement on energy efficiency compared to its predecessors. And it when it comes to stability, a cause of concern for many first-time cruisers and people with weak stomachs, Oasis was more than put to the test during her Atlantic crossing. Faced with hurricane-force winds, and no option to detour, she reportedly took several days of 24-metre-plus waves on the chin, performing way beyond expectations.

Oasis, and her sister, will not be every cruiser’s cup of tea. She’s huge, has a slight Las Vegas accent, and not everyone will warm to the idea of sharing their vacation in such proximity with over 5,400 others. That said, the benefits of cruising her reads like a laundry list, especially for anyone travelling with kids or who bores quickly. I guarantee you will not be short of something to do – and something new to try.

First In Show

First to introduce the neighbourhood concept to a cruise ship – there are seven of them.

First to have a living garden on a cruise ship – Central Park features over 12,000 plants and 56 trees.

Has the first moving bar at sea, the Rising Tide Bar, where you can sip on a cocktail as you ascend and descend between three interior decks.

Has the first zip line on a cruise ship, offering a 25-metre-ride suspended nine decks above the Boardwalk.

First to have two FlowRider surf simulators on a cruise ship.

First to offer a full performance of the hit Broadway show, Hairspray, at sea.

Has the first sloped-entry beach pool at sea.

Has the longest jogging track at sea – one lap equals 0.69 kilometres.

First to feature acrobatic, synchronised and high dive performances at sea.

Oasis Fast Facts

Staterooms: 2,706

Passengers: 5,400 passengers (double occupancy)

Crew: 2,165

Size: 225,282 gross registered tons

Weight: 100,000 metric tons

Length: 360 metres (Allure beats her by 5 cms!)

Width: 65 metres

Interior: 220,000 square metres

Cruising speed: 22.6 knots

Passenger decks: 16

Cost to build: US$1.4 billion

More Information

The Oasis of the Seas will operate four to nine-night round-trip cruises from Fort Lauderdale, with various itineraries covering either the Eastern or Western Caribbean. For bookings or more information, visit www.royalcaribbean.com.au or contact your local travel agent.