By PAUL MOTTER
The soon to be inaugurated next World's Largest Cruise Ship, Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, just started what will be four or five days of sea trials, taking the ship out for a test run to see how she responds to the open sea. Sea trials are important for any ship, but extremely important for a brand new class of ship and ultimately important when a ship is not only the biggest cruise ship ever, but a radically new design in terms of superstructure.
Oasis is almost 30% larger than today's world's largest cruise ship, and at 220,000-tons it is getting fairly close to the largest ship ever to be built, a tanker that has not been in service for many years. Naturally, a cruise ship is a vastly different design than a tanker, with far more area above the water line. In addition, Oasis has two six-story tall structures containing inward facing balcony cabins looking down on open air public space running lengthwise along the the top of the ship. It also has a huge open stern with a tall stage structure you can see in the picture above. These structures will catch the wind, like most very tall mega-ships do, but it will be interesting to see if the sheer mass of the ship makes her even more stable than the average cruise ship which is about half her size.
One thing we have personally learned this week, as we continue on our voyage of Silversea's Prince Albert 2, an expedition ship of a mere 6,000-tons, is that when it comes to stability size does matter. Queen Mary 2 crossing the Atlantic is amazingly stable considering the sea conditions she encounters. Slightly larger Liberty-class vessels from Royal Caribbean, the current largest cruise ships, are also incredibly stable. One can go an entire cruise and hardly even feel a motion.
Despite the motion, Prince Albert 2 has been an amazing experience. For those of you who have yet to try a luxury ship, this is your year. There are amazing bargains out there for luxury ships right now.
But even though PA2 has all the aspects of a luxury ship; gourmet food, spacious cabins, all beverages and gratuities included in the cruise fare and great service including a butler, this particular ship also offers adventure, and if there is one thing you need to know about adventure, it is not for the faint-hearted.
Our first few days we were in Hamburg, Germany and across the North Sea to Newcastle, England in Northumberland and ports in Scotland. There we had the typically outstanding Silversea shore excursions to historic castles and the early villages of pre-Viking settlers. For dinner we had fois gras, lobster and crepes suzette. Several of the nights we have dined in our stateroom, allowing our oh-so accomodating butler, Vishal, to serve dinner ordered from the dining room menu in our stateroom, one course at a time.
Next we spent an entire week cruising through the Norwegian fjords. Our last stop was NordKapp, or North Cape in English, which is the northernmost point in Europe (does not include Greenland, Iceland or Siberia, of course). Along the way we had several "expedition" outings in this small ship's Zodiacs. We cruised close to the lairs of hundreds of thousands of northern latitude sea birds like puffins, terns and skuas.
But today we are near Spitsbergen, in the archipelago of Svalbard, one of the northernmost islands in the entire world near the 80th parallel, we are deep within the arctic circle. Right now it is snowing on our balcony. This is where Prince Albert 2 becomes a real expedition ship not for the faint-hearted.
Yesterday our sturdy little ship (6,000-tons) braved the arctic ice floe. As we navigated through the growlers, bumping them with our ice-class hull and splitting them into shards, the ice groaned beneath us, sending shivers and shakes through the ship.
But that was just an introduction to today's adventure. Today we boarded our Zodiacs in arctic weather, with wind gusts up to 40 mph and swells of several feet and set out in search of polar bear.
We found one, walking along the base of a glacier that was so massive it was like six Alaskan glaciers piled one on top of the other. The glacier had an ice pack that extended nearly half a mile into the bay. We saw the bear, although it was admittedly just a speck at the base of the glacier. On the way back to the ship we endured a spray in sub-freezing weather that had us entirely soaked from head to toe. That is why we brought the waterproof pants and boots, keeping our bodies completely dry. Without them, we might have frozen as solid as the glaciers we saw today.
Having the report of a polar bear, the captain took our ship and sailed back to where we spotted it. He just shocked me by pile-driving directly into the ice field in front of the glaciers, cutting a huge notch in it. The bear was still there and the every guest got to see it, thanks to the high-powered binoculars provided to every stateroom.