To be sure, the Oasis of the Seas is something to behold. It is grand, and it stands on its own as an architectural and maritime achievement. But, amid all the pre-inaugural buzz out there, I feel there exists a great dearth of real -- read that to mean not PR
scripted and stuffed down the throat -- news about the ship and the actual circumstances surrounding the launch and viability of the product RCCL claims is a 'game changer'.
Apparently, the product the vast majority of non-paying travel agents and media assembled for these junkets cruises prior to the December 1 inaugural saw was decidedly different from the one I was introduced to.
Not that I was not wowed. I was. Anyone should be, even the harshest critic. It is more that it seems the media, mostly consisting of bloggers and cruiseline oriented domain owners sprinkled with a small group of travel and business writers, were and are concerned with gaining future invitations to such events and perhaps -- in the desperate economic environment -- are even looking to RCCL as a future employer with their overtly effusive and criticism-lite coverage.
The fact that Royal Caribbean elected to charge for cupcakes and coffee ($8.27+ for a quad espresso) but to allow alcohol to flow free and liberally may also indicate something of a fix.
I was one of the first people to board Oasis after the ship was brought back to Port Everglades following the GMA broadcast on Friday, November 20. Before boarding, there were some pretty obvious hitches no one appears to have reported. Curiously so. (One, involving what appeared to be media as they had some expensive cameras in tow and I noted Kerry Sanders of NBC in the mix, was most troubling...but I am waiting on a friend at the CBS station in Miami to confirm what I saw and provide more specifics.)
Like, for example, parking. Upon arrival, in spite of most of the previous night's guests having been shuttled from the airport or local hotels, there was not a single space available in the one, remarkably small (given that this is the largest ship of its kind afloat) parking lot provided for Oasis guests. Given there were only 1,000 guests on this 'private concert with Rihanna' overnighter, and the ship holds 5400-6296 paying guests, this is a big hitch. Any overflow would be to parking, if available, shared with other cruiselines and a convention center. And involve transportation from one part of the port to the actual terminal.
Rimmed with curved black-spiked ironwork, it is rather unwelcoming and perplexing. Port Everglades is a secure facility -- no ID, not on a manifest, no entry. Inside, it is even less worthy of comment. Clearly, the budget for the required multilevel parking structure was nixed along with any creative whimsy for the terminal itself.
Boarding the ship, the first thing that hits you, in a nod to Arthur Frommer's criticism, is that you have no sense you have boarded a ship. To the contrary, you really do feel as though you've just left your car in the lot at your local mall and strolled -- albeit following a stressful two hour or so wait -- in.
This is a thread throughout the structure, as even the highly promoted loft suites feel entirely removed from the ocean. Inside, it seems more like being in a condo tower than being on a ship. And the most expensive cabin on the Oasis, flanked by these other suites, has a view of...the basketball courts. That 843 sq ft balcony is hardly a selling point given this entire lack of privacy and noisy element ringed with surveillance cameras. The ocean is so far away on the horizon it is a strain to even catch a glimpse beyond the uproar on the sports courts below.
Also, while very nice, it is far, far from being in the lead of what this segment of the market has available. And the loft concept leaves much to be desired -- namely, some privacy as the bedroom is open to below (no glass, not even a curtain to pull). According to the PR
folks, it was designed with two couples in mind. When pushed, they insist it will only be sold to a maximum of four even when capacity is listed at six. Although, another common theme is that many cabins on the Oasis are capped at two passengers when on any other ship they would be quads or more.
Perhaps this is a nod to some real crowd control issues the line has already confronted in the design phase.
Which is going to be a substantial issue. Many 'reviewers' have noted that with "3200 agents and media" aboard the ship did not feel crowded 'but dining options were still limited' by that capacity.
Well folks, the Oasis of the Seas has yet to ever see 3200 guests.That number was floated by the PR
staff to give the invited agents and others the idea they could envision the ship adequately providing a premium product at capacity. After all, double the number onboard on November 20 and you've overshot capacity. On November 20-22, there was plenty of available space.
That is because every pre-inaugural cruise was intentionally capped at approximately 1000 invitees plus their guests and crew. Something only lower level crew members, think cabin attendants, were reluctantly offering to those who queried by way of cabin assignments/occupancy. A good, reliable indicator. Add in as many stowaways as you want, and you are still way short of the actual capacity required for RCCL's revenue modeling to work.
Having been on the ship for this time, that is a troubling indicator. It is also vexing that we initially missed the entire gym/spa area because in the ship's "Live the Oasis" tour book it was somehow omitted. (The reports about this area are dead-on. It is a sad statement when such an expensive ship has a facility so sterile, so crew-like to present to the guest...And watch-out for that glass staircase in the spa. Seriously.)