Oasis and Allure of the Seas are the future, the ultimate extension (so far) of the old "city at sea" chestnut with which big ships have been tagged for more than 4 decades. They're the biggest cruise ships ever, by far, but they've also got heart, and a design that opens up that heart to the air, sky, and sea in a way no other big ships have ever done before. If this is the new face of mainstream, then mainstream's got it good.
Typical Per Diems: $135-$180
Allure sails the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale (year-round).
Oasis sails the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale (year-round).
Welcome to the future. When Oasis of the Seas launched in 2009, after taking some $1.4 billion and 9 to 10 million working hours to design and build, we spent a few days walking among her entertainment neighborhoods, sports decks, and innovative staterooms. We then came to the conclusion that the ship would prove to be a true game-changer -- a vessel that will be for future cruise ships what, say, The Matrix was for modern action movies: the model on which the face of the new is built.
We don't say that just because of her size, and we don't say that because of the many flashy amenities and attractions. No, what we think will prove to be the single most influential feature of the ship is the way she's laid out. In large part, that's a function of the revolutionary split-superstructure design, in which the ship's nine upper decks (that is, everything above the hull) are split lengthwise into two separate, parallel port and starboard structures, with a 19-meter-wide open-air gap between them and structural supports joining them forward and at midships. To accommodate this kind of arrangement, the ship had to be designed with another revolutionary feature, albeit a prosaic one: extra width. Oasis measures some 27 feet wider than Royal Caribbean's huge Freedom-class ships and probably double the width of traditional vessels such as Holland America's Statendam class.
The effect of these design changes is remarkable, transforming the onboard vibe from that of two dimensions -- the horizontal plane of most ships' decks being generally unconnected to the decks above and below -- to three, and adding a feeling of light and air that's completely new in the cruise ship world. To explain what it's like, we'd like you to close your eyes and first picture yourself walking around an average public deck on any other megaship you've sailed. You get off the elevator and walk past the photo shop, then through the casino and past a couple of lounges, then maybe you get to the atrium, where you can see up a few decks. If you keep going, you'll be in the theater, or maybe a restaurant. All along the way, you've only been able to see a short distance in any direction, and only in the atrium have you been able to look up or down -- and even there, your view is limited by the relative narrowness of the space. To have any sense of the rest of the ship, or of the world around the ship, you're required to navigate elevators and stairways, giving you a fragmented, piece-by-piece impression.
Now here's what it's like walking around Oasis -- on, say, Deck 8, whose central section is taken up with Central Park, a 21,000-square-foot, open-air tropical garden lined with alfresco restaurants, sculpture, and seating nooks. From the park's pathways, you can see all the way up to Deck 18, as well as scope the balconies of hundreds of cabins that face inward toward the park, looking for all the world like luxury apartments in a city streetscape. Walk all the way through the park to Dazzles nightclub near the center of Decks 8 and 9 and take a look through its huge, two-story window. Looking down, you can see the open-air Boardwalk entertainment neighborhood and adjoining Aqua Theater at the ship's stern, with the open ocean beyond. Looking up, you can see people flying by on the zipline, which runs from starboard to port on Deck 16, above the Boardwalk's cheery carousel and below the sunny sky.
There are literally thousands of these open, airy, encompassing views from public and private spaces throughout the ship, and they're made even better by architecture that favors curving lines to lead the eye from one visual to another.
That's the big picture. Now follow us below for a tour of what Royal Caribbean has done with all that space, light, and air.
Note: Since twin sister Allure of the Seas didn't launch until after this guide went to press, this review only deals with Oasis. Allure will, by all reports, be essentially identical.
One of the more remarkable things about the Oasis ships is that their split-superstructure design allows staterooms to have views inward as well as outward. This means that staterooms that would otherwise have been windowless interior cabins can now sport balconies looking out over either the greenery of Central Park or the nighttime excitement of Boardwalk. So you have to decide: oceanview or people-watching view? The 254 balcony staterooms and 70 window-view staterooms that flank Central Park are by far the most serene of the interior-view staterooms, with pleasant greenery below and a shifting skyscape above. The 225 balcony cabins and eight window cabins that flank the Boardwalk entertainment space are much more boisterous, akin to having a hotel room in Times Square or Disney World. There are also 18 window-view cabins facing the interior Royal Promenade, but they seem more of an afterthought, and their bay-window views of the "street" below seem almost claustrophobic by comparison.
Standard interior staterooms, without windows of any kind, are still available onboard, and run 149 square feet. Standard oceanview cabins come in at 179 square feet, while window cabins overlooking Boardwalk and Central Park (all on low decks, just above those areas) measure between 191 and 199 square feet. Superior oceanview, Central Park view, and Boardwalk view staterooms with balconies measure 182 square feet, plus between 50 and 80 square feet of outdoor space, depending on category. Family cabins (available either as insides, with windows, or with balconies) are a sizable 260 to 271 square feet and sleep six, with two convertible twin beds, a sleeper sofa for two, two Pullman beds, a sitting area, and (on balcony cabins) 82 square feet of outside space.
All these staterooms have a flatscreen interactive TV (through which you can book shore excursions, and so on), a vanity, hair dryer, sitting area, and minifridge. Bathrooms are pleasant and functional, with sizable shower stalls (with a little footrest for leg-shaving), plenty of shelf space, and towels with little fabric loops that make them easier to hang. Sink counters are fairly small, however, and seem to be set slightly lower than usual -- a strange sensation for tall people. Cabin closets have retractable clothing and shoe shelves and self-closing sliding doors: just flick the door toward closed and the mechanism will finish the job for you. There's also additional storage space under the bed.
Amazingly, there are 13 different categories of suites on the Oasis-class ships, starting at the low end with the 287-square-foot Junior Suites, which have a sitting area with table and sofa, a bathroom with tub, and an 80-square-foot balcony. Undoubtedly, though, the ne plus ultra of Oasis-class accommodations are the 27 Loft Suites, an entirely new concept in onboard living, clustered at the very top of the ship near the Viking Crown Lounge. Double-height and with double-height, superwide windows to match, they have a downstairs with a sitting area, chaise longue, sleeper sofa, flatscreen TV, two baths (one with a superlarge shower for two), and a balcony with sweeping sea (and sometimes ship-and-sea) views. At the top of the stairs, the loft bedroom floats like a dream behind transparent glass panels that afford open views through the main floor-to-ceiling windows. Loft options start with the "basic" Crown Loft Suite (545 sq. ft., plus 114-sq.-ft. balcony). Larger Sky Loft Suites (722 sq. ft., balcony 410 sq. ft.) and Royal Loft Suites (1,524 sq. ft., balcony 843 sq. ft.) pack in additional living, sleeping, and playing space, with superlarge balconies that have whirlpools and dining areas. All suites, loft or not, offer perks like priority check-in, a dedicated suite attendant, coffee and tea service, bathrobes for onboard use, and additional bathroom amenities.
A total of 46 staterooms aboard each ship are wheelchair accessible.
Public areas aboard Oasis and Allure are generally clustered into four main themed "neighborhoods," with a handful of other bars, lounges, and entertainment rooms scattered around the periphery.
Our favorite neighborhood aboard these ships -- and one of our very favorites on any ship -- is Central Park, the 21,000-square-foot, open-air tropical garden that sits in the gap between the ships' split superstructure. Taking up the better part of Deck 8, it has a remarkably upscale, bucolic, adult atmosphere, with a wide, tiled pathway undulating through the garden, rising and falling in gentle slopes, flanked by cute red benches and surrounded by garden beds, seating nooks, a Sculpture Garden, and a number of restaurants and other venues. Gorgeous when the ships were brand new, the Central Park spaces on Oasis and Allure have an aspect unique in the cruise business, in that they'll actually get better over time. Right now, the parks each contain about 12,000 individual trees, plants, vines, and flowers, all contained within 2,200 individually sized aluminum modules which are in turn housed within 46 large planter beds. While the number of plants won't change significantly, their maturity will: Black and green bamboo and Cuban laurel trees will eventually grow to more than two and a half decks high, vines will be trained along a winding pergola, and the vines and plants of two immense Living Walls that flank the center of the park to port and starboard will burst with flowers.
Throughout the park, plants are a mix of coastal and highland subtropical species selected for their ability to survive and thrive both in Central Park's microclimate and in the geographical areas in which Oasis and Allure will sail. An interpretive garden includes regional Caribbean cash crops such as coffee plants, a cocoa tree, tiny dwarf pineapples, ginger, sugar cane, dwarf banana trees, and tapioca plants, each of them ID'd with plaques that explain their origin and agricultural or medicinal use. Other plants around the park include ground orchids, flax lilies, flamingo flowers, and bird's nest ferns, all tended by several full-time horticulturists who, in addition to their regular duties, conduct tours, give talks on plant care, and are generally around to answer questions.
Entering from the stern, you first pass the Rising Tide bar, which connects to the Royal Promenade below like a very slow elevator -- so slow that you have time to buy a drink as you travel. Paths lead to either side of the glass enclosure that shelters the bar from weather, and restaurants sit to either side. Moving forward, we pass the Trellis Bar, which our friend Art dubbed the best bar on board during our sailing -- and y'know, we agree. Seating just 17 people, it's entirely open-air, the bar itself topped by a glass-topped, vine-looped trellis, the seating either barside or at a handful of high tables. Planter boxes full of greenery surround the space on one side, and one of the five-deck-high Living Walls rises at the other.
Continuing our walk forward, we next pass one of the two enormous Crystal Canopy skylights that let natural light pass through to the Royal Promenade below. Beyond that is the park's central square, which is actually round. Designed to be a sort of communal meeting spot, it's the kind of place where you'd expect to see a busker performing if this were an on-land park. (And it wouldn't surprise us if Royal Caribbean stations some buskers here, too, to complete the effect.) The park's forward end houses three shops: a Coach shop selling high-end bags; a portrait studio that can take your formal picture in a variety of locations around the park; and Art Actually, a gallery where passengers can buy prints and other edition works by artists represented in the ship's collection, and also attend various art-themed events. The Vintages wine bar sits across from these three shops, with wines by the glass as well as various wine-tasting events.
The Royal Promenade, a Main Street-like horizontal atrium first introduced aboard Royal's Voyager-class ships in 1999, sits three levels below Central Park, and is connected via the two enormous (and aforementioned) Crystal Canopy skylights (which let in natural light) and the Rising Tide Bar. The general idea of the Royal Promenade has always been that it forms a focal point for the ship -- an area that guests can meander while heading from one enticement to another, a natural meeting spot, a port of last resort when you just can't decide where else to go -- basically an all-purpose space with a number of pleasant drinking spots, shops, cafes, and clubs along its length. It's also an entertainment spot: Each night, a parade of costumed characters and stilt-walkers wanders through, and there are also places for bands to set up and perform. Our bet is that the Royal Promenade on these ships will prove less central than aboard the Freedom- and Voyager-class ships, if only because it has competition from the wonderful, open-air Central Park and the fun Boardwalk. Here's a thought, though: It'll be a damn good place to go on a rainy night, when Central Park and Boardwalk get just a little too soggy.
Aboard Oasis and Allure, the Royal Promenade is almost twice as wide as the comparable space on RCI's Voyager- and Freedom-class ships, creating a much more open boulevard feel. It's also substantially more subdued design-wise, resembling any number of currently fashionable, mixed-use shopping/entertainment/residential districts in any number of American cities, and has a mezzanine level full of bar/lounges and additional seating.
At street level, entering from the forward end of the ship, you'll pass first a gourmet coffee island and a couple of clubs: Bolero's, a Latin-themed bar that's been a staple aboard Royal Caribbean ships for years, and the On-Air Club, another semistaple that here has been expanded into a full-service sports bar, with a multiband, Times Square-style news ticker outside. Moving forward, we hit the first of the boulevard's shops, of which there are seven, ranging from the usual logo-wear shop to a sportswear boutique, jewelry store, duty-free shop, camera store, and more. Drinking spots along the way include the Globe and Atlas Pub, serving beer and such in an English pub atmosphere; the Champagne Bar for you-know-what; and the quieter Schooner Bar, perched on the Promenade's mezzanine level. There are also a number of casual dining spots") as well as the cute little Cupcake Cupboard, serving a range of fancy, cream-heavy cupcakes at extra cost. Toward the stern end of the promenade, the oval Rising Tide bar shuttles continually up and down between the promenade and Central Park. It has seating for 32 guests, who can get on or off at either venue and make the approximately 10-minute ascent or descent while ordering a quick drink -- but no rush; you can stay on for multiple laps if you'd like.
Along with Central Park, the other open-air neighborhood aboard is Boardwalk. Stretching for almost a third of the ship's length on Deck 6, Boardwalk is a family-oriented entertainment zone that balances the altogether more adult-oriented atmosphere of Central Park. Most guests enter Boardwalk via a wide hall that opens from the ship's aft stair/elevator tower, and is lined with stainless-steel funhouse mirrors and old-timey sideshow advertisements to set the carnival mood. Just beyond, flanked by the Boardwalk Donut Shop (free donuts!) or Ice Cream Parlor (extra cost) is a traditional carousel full of intricate, hand-carved wooden animals. The first traditional carousel at sea, it's also the first one ever created that can compensate for a ship's pitch and roll -- which, honestly, isn't much of a problem aboard these amazingly stable ships. Beyond the carousel are five shops: Pets at Sea, where kids can create their own stuffed animals; the Smile Portrait Studio for carnival-style photos; Pinwheels, selling kids' clothes; Candy Beach, selling both vat candy by the pound and classics like Clark Bars, Skybars, Tootsie Rolls, and the like; and Star Pier, selling clothing and gadgets for teens and tweens.
Throughout the Boardwalk space, various permanent and temporary amusements keep things lively. Near the carousel is a classic photo booth where you and your closest can mug to your heart's content. The space also hosts a daily Family Festival with face-painting and games oriented to the whole family. Three restaurants are great casual eateries") and the AquaTheater in the very stern is a venue for swimming during the day and aquatic performances at night.
Traditional entertainment spaces are clustered at Deck 4's Entertainment Place, which features a jazz club, comedy club, and disco, as well as the ship's huge casino; its Studio B ice rink, for open skating and elaborate ice shows; and the middle level of its three-deck main theater, home to production shows and featured guest performers. Note that some shows at various venues require timed (but free) tickets, which you can book through your cabin's interactive TV. Other random public rooms scattered around the ship include the lovely Viking Crown Lounge, perched at the very top of the ship on Deck 17; Dazzles Nightclub, a very deco-style space at the center of Decks 9 and 10; a library on Deck 11; and a card room and chapel on Deck 14.
For kids, Oasis and Allure's Youth Zone children's center is one of the best in the business, stretching over an amazing 28,700 square feet, with a central boulevard connecting 10 different areas: an open, all-ages gym and activities area; the Adventure Ocean Theater, where kids can put on shows; Imagination Studio, an art-oriented space created in collaboration with Crayola, and concentrating on destination-oriented art projects; the Workshop, for activities like jewelry-making and scrapbooking; the Adventure Science Lab, where kids can make DNA strands out of licorice, learn about volcanoes and dinosaurs, and so on (the kids even get cute little lab coats and goggles!); the Kid's Arcade for video games; and three play spaces segmented by age group. Lastly, there's the Royal Babies & Royal Tots nursery, a real rarity in the cruise biz. Open daily, the nursery provides child-care drop-off options both day and evening, charging $8 per hour and catering to kids between 6 months and 3 years. Teen spaces are located one deck above, adjacent to the Sports Deck, and comprise a teen disco, an outdoor deck, a large arcade, and a living-room-style lounge with computer stations and activities like Scratch DJ classes. On one of the top decks, the H2O Zone water park is full of water-spouting sculptures, sprayers, and water cannons.
Pool Fitness & Spa Facilities
With Oasis and Allure, Royal Caribbean overturned the "traditional" layout of cruise ship pool, sports, and spa facilities, which for decades meant a Pool Deck in the middle, butting up against the buffet restaurant, with the ship's gym, spa, and other sports options located on the deck above the pool, toward the bow. On these ships, everything has been moved around, and with good effect.
Unlike any other Pool Deck at sea, the ones aboard Oasis and Allure are split into four sections -- forward, aft, port, and starboard -- with the deep canyon that houses Central Park splitting them lengthwise and a large structural bridge quartering them at midships. In total, the deck holds three large pools: the main pool, a sports pool, and the beach pool, where the seating area slopes right into the water, letting guests wade in or just park their lounge chairs in the shallow end and dangle their toes and fingers. Several whirlpools and a number of private cabanas flank each pool, while a pair of deck bars are located at the center of the deck. In the central pool deck's sternmost starboard section, the H2O Zone is a water park for kids, dominated by a giant, colorful octopus sculpture with water-spraying tentacles, plus a number of other sprayers and water cannons, plus separate wading and current pools and a dedicated infant and toddler pool. Across the canyon, the sports pool hosts water basketball, water badminton, and water polo in the afternoons, and is dedicated to lap swimming in the morning.
Behind the pool zone is where Royal Caribbean keeps some of its best toys -- some mainstays, some relatively recent, some totally new. As has been the case on its ships for decades now, there's a miniature golf course and a large basketball court, while an elevated platform across the back of the deck holds two FlowRider Surfing Simulators and the launch pad for the only ziplines at sea, which allow guests to fly across the chasm that houses Boardwalk, a full nine stories below. The ride takes all of about 7 seconds, but folks seem to like it.
The ship's gym and spa have been moved from the top-deck bow position they hold on most other megaships down to a forward position on Deck 6. The enormous fitness center is outfitted with cycles, treadmills, weight machines, and all the usual (plus the still unusual but rapidly popularizing Kinesis wall, a system of cantilevered pulleys and weights that, in the right hands, can provide a total body workout), and offers spinning, kickboxing, Pilates, and yoga classes. For us, though, the most charming part of the fitness center is the stairway that leads down one deck, providing direct access to the ship's nearly 1/2-mile jogging track, which is in open air along its long port and starboard stretches and ducks between walls when it snakes through the ship near the bow. It's by far the longest on any cruise ship and nearly twice as long as a standard Olympic-size track. At the tranquil Vitality at Sea spa, guests can begin their experience by unwinding in the calming relaxation rooms, then partake from a large menu of treatments or visit the Thermal Suite, with its heated tile loungers, saunas, and steam rooms. There's also a dedicated kids' and teens' spa.
Moving the spa and gym down allowed Royal Caribbean to repurpose the ships' valuable top-deck real estate to the very best Solariums at sea, each a two-deck-high wonder that manages to be both covered and open-air simultaneously, owing to a curved canopy with open strips to let in the air. A riverlike water feature separates seating into various "islands" in the space's main level, which also has a small pool and two whirlpools. Additional lounging space is available on the mezzanine level, and the Solarium Bistro on the main level") serves casual spa cuisine by day and transforms into an intimate restaurant at evening and a dance club at night. To both port and starboard, between the Solarium and the main Pool Deck, two cantilevered whirlpools sit within domed, semi-open bubbles jutting out over the sides of the ship, 136 feet above the ocean.
At the stern end of the Boardwalk neighborhood, twin six-deck-high rock-climbing walls flank the AquaTheater, which spreads across the entire stern. Its focus is the largest and deepest freshwater pool at sea, a 51-by-22-foot kidney-shaped body whose depth can be adjusted for various uses, up to a maximum of 18 feet. (According to its designers, this single pool holds as much water as all the pools on one of Royal's Freedom-class ships combined.) During the day, passengers can swim or take scuba lessons here, or lounge in the tiered amphitheater of deck chairs that surround it. At night, those deck chairs are replaced with theater seating and the pool goes pro, with performances that mix synchronized swimming, acrobatics, aerialism, high diving from a pair of 30-foot platforms, trapeze artistry, and water ballet. To either side of the pool, a pair of giant screens project what's going on beneath the scenes, via underwater cameras. When no shows are scheduled in the evening, a choreographed fountain show (a la Vegas's Bellagio) has water jets shooting sprays up to 65 feet high, all synched to a program of music and light.
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Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.