Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Aboard the Oasis and chasing the sun

Wendy, me and the Oasis of the Seas.
The crystal clear waters of the Caribbean were filled with small boats and jet skis, zipping about a small lagoon outside of Labadee, a quiet port on the northern coast of Haiti. I was in pure vacation mode, at rest on a lounge chair high atop a small city, the Oasis of the Seas, enjoying the view.

For nearly a week in late August, Wendy and I had been zig-zagging our way across the Eastern Caribbean, visiting Nassau, then heading a bit west to Puerto Rico and Haiti after a tropical storm and a medical emergency forced a detour in the ship's itinerary.

The change was of little import! Our goal for this holiday had less to do with the islands we'd be visiting then how we'd be getting to each port of call. Over the last few years, Wendy and I have been on several cruises to idyllic and iconic spots in Alaska, the Caribbean, down along the Eastern coast of the U.S. and, most memorably, a transatlantic voyage that had us traveling from Italy to Florida, with stops in a half-dozen or so ports in Spain, the island of Majorca and the Azores.

The trips were grand and all of them were on ships that had once been considered huge, but by today's standards were of modest size: 1,500 or so passengers with a crew of about a 1,000.

I was curious what it would be like to travel aboard one of the new mega-ships. So finding ourselves at loose ends -- that would be Wendy and me -- and wanting a quick escape before summer's end, I booked a week's cruise on the Oasis of the Seas, one of three ships in Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class.

Royal Caribbean logo, amphitheater offer up signature look.
It's not exaggerating much to suggest these ships are floating cities. They comfortably hold in excess of 6,000 guests and have a crew of well over 2,000. They are huge and hefty, displacing approximately 100,000 metric tons -- just slightly less, Wikipedia reports, than that of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.

The Oasis is broken into seven distinct neighborhoods that house at least two dozen dining options and more bars then you'll find on Bourbon Street; a half dozen or so pools and hot tubs and a full service spa and gym; an expansive sports and kids zone, specialty retails shops and a duty-free store; a state-of-the-art theater featuring Broadway musicals and an aquatic venue for a one-of-a-kind water and diving show. Oh, there's also a couple of wave pools for surfer-dude wannabes, a miniature golf course, arcade, zip line, climbing wall and carousel for the kiddies and an ice skating rink featuring a world-class skating review!

Another way of capturing the enormity of the Oasis is simply spending a little time on the ship's Royal Promenade in front of the On Air bar that features a large digital ticker offering up an assortment of facts and numbers about the ship. They are staggering and stunning: 16 decks, 496 inside cabins and 2,210 outside cabins; 20 chefs and 222 cooks; 188 bartenders and 15 bar managers working in 37 front bars and 26 back of house support bars; 3,300 miles of electrical cables and 150 miles of piping; 968,751 square feet of carpeting and 86,111 square feet of windows; 7,000 unique works of art and enough paint used on the ship since it was commissioned in 2009 to create a path a yard wide from Boston to Los Angeles -- and back! Okay, I made up that last factoid. Let's just all agree that the Oasis is yuuuuge!

Central Park neighborhood a quiet oasis on the Oasis.
After much debate, Wendy and I booked a cabin overlooking Central Park, one of the neighborhoods on the Oasis that is off the beaten path. We had a view of a lovely garden filled with a pleasing blend of plants and trees, surrounded by boutiques, specialty restaurants and bars.

The park also featured the Rising Tide bar -- it can be raised or lowered between three decks -- and a geometrically-rich façade rising 16 decks that encircles and defines the area and creates a soaring atrium with the feel of a five-star hotel.

Much the same vibe can be found around the Boardwalk, another happening neighborhood that provides the signature look for Oasis class ships: a series of soaring decks surrounding a 750-seat amphitheater topped with the Royal Caribbean logo. The theater is framed by two massive climbing walls; bars and restaurants, including a Johnny Rockets; boutiques, an arcade, Ben and Jerry's ice cream parlor and a child-friendly and charming full-size carousel.

After checking out our room with its leafy view and wandering about for an hour or two, it became clear to Wendy and me that we could happily spend the entire cruise aboard the Oasis without ever spotting the ocean. Or not.

Surfer dude wannabes can do their thing on the pool deck.
It took only a little searching to find our way to a nearby bank of elevators -- there are 24 available for guests -- and zip up to deck 15. The sleek, cool and comforting look and vibe of the lower decks gave way to a splashy, watery playground of pools and hot tubs; a private solarium for adults and hundreds of lounge chairs at the ready for the thousands of guests who would soon be in search of a little fun in the Caribbean sun!

Off in the distance, the city of Fort Lauderdale shimmered in the afternoon heat while the vast Atlantic quietly and calmly beckoned. It was a good omen but, sadly, all was not perfect in paradise.

What makes the Oasis special is also what causes problems -- for some! Despite expert planning and attention to most every detail by the cruise staff, keeping 6,000 people happy can be a challenge. Bigger, it turns out, isn't always better.

The problems are small, but can prove irritating. Simply getting around a ship the size of a football field can be difficult, especially when elevators are sometimes packed and the only option is hiking up or down a dozen flight of stairs. Then there are the occasional lines for specialty shows and the longish wait to talk with service personnel.
Ship has over 2,600 cabins and can comfortably hold over 6,000 guests.

Foodies, meanwhile, will probably find the meals mostly forgettable. I was in the army and had no problem with mess hall chow. It was plentiful and filling and tasty in a pedestrian sort of way. So, too, the meals aboard the Oasis. There were notable exceptions, especially in the ship's specialty restaurants.

Okay, the really good news is that's about as bad as it gets; most everything else was picture-postcard perfect!

Only hours after leaving port on our way south to Nassau, Wendy and I dined at Giovanni's, an Italian ristorante in Central Park. The food was delicious, service impeccable and ambience warm and inviting. After dinner, we made our way out into the park, strolling under a cloudless and star-sprinkled sky.

The afternoon heat had given way to a temperate evening, a slight breeze finding its way up and over the towering decks that sheltered and protected the park. A few guests, like us, wandered about aimlessly, while others sat and chatted at several nearby cafes and bars. It was all together a pleasant scene that became even better when a string quartet began softly playing "Moon River"!

Apparently bedazzled, I wrapped my arms around Wendy and we slowly danced to the music and rhythm of the sea. It would seem that the magic of the ship had caught us in its spell and, at least for the moment, the Oasis was definitely much more than a mirage.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a cruise you'd want to try once...then back to smaller ships!