The world’s newest and most innovative cruise ship – which will be in Sydney by December – welcomed her first paying guests in the UK port of Southampton this week.
Ovation of the Seas – a sister to Quantum and Oasis of the Seas – has been designed with the Chinese market specifically in mind, but will soon be sailing in Australian and New Zealand waters.
Signage throughout the 4,180-passenger ship is in English and Chinese, and about 30 per cent of the crew are from China. But apart from a Kung Fu Panda Noodle Bar replacing the Johnny Rockets burger bar found on other Royal Caribbean ships, and the Asian hotpot specialities in the Solarium Bistro, it’s pretty much identical to ships designed for European, American and Australian passengers.
During last weekend’s shakedown crossing from Germany, where the ship was built, I enjoyed a sensational sushi feast in the Izumi restaurant, prepared by Okinawa-born chef Travis Kamiyama, and was almost defeated by a plate-busting New York strip sirloin in Chops Grille, the ship’s steakhouse. Beef ruled for a few days with a slow-roast rib as centre-piece of dinner in American Icon, and spicy curries always available in the Windjammer buffet.
There’s a little more retail space, dedicated to high-end designer brands such as Cartier, Omega, Michael Kors, and Kate Spade, and the Silk restaurant will probably be the most popular of the four Dynamic Dining venues – which also feature Chic, American Icon, and The Grande, where every night is formal night if you want it to be.
The NorthStar observation pod, looking like an escapee from the Singapore Eye, the bumper cars in SeaPlex, and the iFly sky-diving simulator are common to the class – but on Deck 15 where Quantum has a sculpture of a giant pink polar bear and Anthem has an giraffe in bathers, Ovation has a touching cameo of an outsized mother panda and her cub. Cute, but a little bit scary.
Standard balcony cabins – there are 1,572 of them – are a good size and there’s plenty of room for two on the balconies. The 375 inside staterooms have “virtual balconies” – floor-to-ceiling screens showing a real-time live image of what’s happening outside the ship.
Passengers in Ovation’s top 11 suites get the services of the Royal Genies, described as combining the skills of Downton Abbey’s Carson the butler and Mary Poppins.
Plenty of room by the pool for soaking up the sun while crossing the Tasman Sea, and if it turns cooler there’s a covered pool and the adults-only Solarium. There’s an extensive spa for those pamper-days and a fully-equipped gym complete with panoramic sea views.
Ovation of the Seas is likely to get a standing Ovation when she becomes the best-equipped cruise ship to sail from Australia.
Review by John Honeywell, known as Captain Greybeard