When entering the heart of most ships, passengers are often greeted with a winding stairwell that descends to the Guest Services desk, but stepping aboard the Oasis of the Seas felt like entering a charming shopping district. Despite the fact that the bags were heavy (there were no porters on this preview voyage) I didnt rush to drop them off in our cabin. I was too overwhelmed with the sidewalk cafés, clothing boutiques, and innovation that oozed from every nook and cranny. There was a giant globe perched above it all that gave me some bearing on where I had first began my 2-night cruise aboard the massive 20-story ship.
Each deck has touch-screen directories that act like a giant iPhone, allowing my friend Liz and I to find the dining room, see what is on the schedule for the evenings entertainment, and locate our cabin which was smaller than I had expected. Once inside, we made a beeline for the balcony and the view made up for the lack of space. Our cabin rested on the inner part of the ship so we did not face the ocean, but in my opinion these interior cabins are the best seat in the house. Royal Caribbean calls them Park View balconies because the center of the ship has been hallowed out to allow a living, breathing open-aired garden to flourish.
At night, this area known as Central Park has a modern romance about it that feels like a stylish rooftop bar in New York resting on a quiet street in Italy. There are lampposts with tiny white lights wrapped around them, vines creeping along the awnings of the outdoor patios, and statues hiding in forgotten corners. All that is missing is an enormous Roman fountain where people casually converse as the minutes float past into oblivion.
One thing about the Oasis that I found convenient but also potentially problematic is that most activities must be reserved in advance. You can do so online or by using the television in your stateroom, however we tried for over 30 minutes without any success. We wanted to go on the zip line, see the comedy show, the AquaTheater, the ice skating show, and the main entertainment in the Opal Theater; which tonight was Mosiac, the beat boxing group that had appeared on America’s Got Talent.
We headed to the sports zone to make our reservations in person for the zip line, which already had a group of people waiting to secure a time slot for the following day. Although there was room in Studio B (the ice skating theater) and in the main theater that evening, the comedy show we attended had to turn people away at the door. Oasis was not even close to full capacity, so it makes me wonder if passengers will get to experience all that the ship has to offer on the first official voyages. I was a bit disappointed to learn that the AquaTheater which features high-diving water acts would not be open for this preview cruise. However, the comedy act and ice skating show were incredible, and I found it too easy to forget that Mosiacs beat boxing performance (in the main Opal Theater) was done without the use of any musical instruments only human voices.
In addition to the nightly performances, we found that the FlowRider could easily keep us occupied for hours. Two-giant surf simulators sit atop the upper deck and passengers can try their luck at catching a wave while fellow cruisers can watch from the bleachers as they sip on Piña Coladas. Judging by the dramatic (and hilarious) spills people were taking, I have no doubt that it is just as difficult as it looks.Nine decks below the zip line is a Coney-Island style boardwalk with a carousel, candy stores, and an ice cream parlor that families will surely flock to. The childrens facilities aboard Oasis are incredible, including an enormous video arcade with everything from classical air hockey to the pop culture sensation Guitar Hero both of which I could not resist trying out.
As we strolled through the teen zone, a fellow passenger announced Forget the kids! I want to hang out here! The room is stocked with lounge chairs, computers, a DJ, and recording studio, and a night club that serves up non-alcoholic tropical drinks. For the younger crowd, Kids Avenue connects a science lab, childrens theater, art workshops, and kids zone for toddlers. Theres also an outdoor splash area that looks like its straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, complete with a giant whirlpool and a multi-colored squid.
Another unusual aspect of Oasis is that there is only one main dining area aboard the ship, and passengers are assigned to a level of this three story venue for the duration of their voyage. I found the service one night to be flawless, and the second night a bit less thorough. There weren’t many surprises during dinner; the cuisine consisted of staples like fresh fish entrées, tender steaks, and traditonal pasta dishes. Although both meals were satisfying, dinner in the Opus dining room wasnt the highlight of my voyage. With 24 dining selections to choose from, passengers can always opt for a different venue, however many specialty restaurants are an additional charge (15 are complimentary). I was impressed with the more health-conscious selections, including the Solarium Bistro which had a casual buffet and a Zen-like atmosphere.The second and final nights entertainment included an Elton John impersonator that was the crowd favorite. After his standing ovation and encore, passengers spilled out into the Royal Promenade where music was filling the town square and luring in the curious passerby. Looking up, I watched as the Atlas Globe I had been using as my base point split open to reveal a platform with performers sporting 1970s attire. The glass ceiling of the Promenade sparkled with neon lights reminiscent of Fremont Street’s laser light show in downtown Vegas. Within minutes, the staff was getting people involved in the disco street party with you guessed it a giant Congo line led by the Village People.
As the street party drew to a close the performers stepped into the Rising Tides bar for the big finale. The moving bar was pushed to the upper deck by an elegant geyser shooting from the floor below it. As the platform disappeared, I had to admit this was the best overall entertainment package on a cruise ship. Just like a group of travelers sharing outrageous tales of adventure, at some point competitor cruise lines may want to concede and say You win. I cant top that.”