I was fortunate to be invited to the inaugural sailing of the Oasis of the Seas cruise ship out of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
As the cab dropped me off at the biggest ship in the worldship, I couldn't help but notice how humongous the ship looked from the side. The wide, tall, white wall of balcony cabins resembled a large condominium.
There are two entryways, both leading straight onto the Royal Promenade on Deck 5, and that makes for a much more impressive entry than other ships, where you board on the lower deck and, traditionally, head right to your stateroom.
The Royal Promenade on the Oasis is so overpowering, you immediately feel you're on vacation. It feels much more open than other ships with a Royal Promenade, partly because it is wider and partly because the skylight somehow makes it feel taller.
The first thing I noticed upon entering was the Rising Tide Bar - in use and popular - with several cruisers sipping their drinks in a giant elevator as it slid up and down from Central Park to the Royal Promenade. As its doors open and close on Deck 5 and Deck 8, you can use it for transportation in a fun way. You can stand there and enjoy the experience, or you can sit down have a drink at one of the tables and not feel crunched.
Crossing the Royal Promenade, elevators are close by. There are 24 elevators, but only two elevator banks, which could be an issue when this 1,181 foot-long ship sails the possible maximum of 6,200 passengers. Upon exiting the elevator, I saw a nice technological touch - literally - on touch screens. You can enter your room number, and arrows pop up to direct you. I found it useful because the room numbering isn't particularly intuitive. Usually, odd-numbered staterooms are on one side and even are on the other, but not on Oasis. Here, the lower numbers are on one side and the higher numbers are on the other side. Needless to say, I was confused most of the time as to where my room was.
After depositing my carry-on luggage in my balcony stateroom, I headed to Central Park to start exploring.
It's a massive ship, but once you get used to where things are - Promenade on 5, Boardwalk on 6, Central Park on 8, etc. - I found it easy to get around.
I strolled through the winding stone walkways in Central Park, both in the evening and during the day, and found it really more impressive at night, with a lot of subdued, elegant lighting. Its appeal is for couples and adults, as opposed to Royal Promenade, which has more appeal for family gatherings.
One feature immediately noticeable is the skylight jutting up from the Royal Promenade below. It occupies a big space in the center and is undoubtedly one of the reasons why there are winding walkways. The other reason for the meandering walkways is the Rising Tide Bar elevator, which similarly juts up into the Park.
Because of a special air flow system, Central Park stays cool even if it's warm outside. That's important, because there are several indoor-outdoor restaurants.
As with other neighborhoods, there are free and fee dining. In Central park, the free is Park Cafe, open for breakfast and afternoon dining, with good salads, roast beef sandwiches, quesadillas, etc., all made fresh to order.
But Central Park is where most of the fancy restaurants reside, with three fee restaurants: 150 Central Park, seating 76 in a dignified setting, is very couples oriented, with the largest table limited to six people and many tables for two at $35 a head; Chops Grille, an indoor-outdoor restaurant seats 110 at $25 a head; and the Trellis Bar, a small, but agreeable spot for a post-dinner drink, located near a wall of green. The tropical plants and small trees, often with identification markers, are attractive and make this a great place to sit and relax.
As always on this ship, there's more. I stopped off for some tasty prosciutto at Giovanni's Table and peeked into the Vintages wine cellar long enough to assess that it's going to be a very popular gathering spot. Tucked in neatly, if a bit incongruously amid all the tables, may well be the world's largest empty bottle of wine - about 750 liters.
As for the shops, this is where you find the upscale Coach store and the Oasis art gallery. No art auctions for this ship, but art is for sale in the gallery. There are more than 1,000 artists in the Royal Caribbean collection, and on every sailing, someone onboard will be explaining their works, which grace the seven neighborhoods.
On the Boardwalk
The contrast between the refined Central Park and the easygoing Boardwalk show that no two neighborhoods on Oasis are alike.
As you enter Boardwalk, there's an Ice Cream Parlor with a wide assortment of choices made fresh daily. On the left, there is a donut store. The doughnuts are free, and the accompanying assortment of coffee products is reasonably priced. In the center is the carousel.
Coney-island type shops and inexpensive dining outlets line the walk. I tried out the Seafood Shack with pleasant results - $8.95 for a tasty Rock Shrimp appetizer and Fish and Chips entree, plus drinks.
Heading aft, there are the two rock climbing walls (extending up four decks and the AquaTheater. The seating concept for AquaTheater is casual, colorful, and comfortable. There are two diving boards way up top. They look mighty high, especially when considering the length of the pool.
Walking the ship
Before heading to the upper decks, I circled back to the Royal Promenade. What really struck me was so many fanciful touches on the ship that you notice something new each time you go back to a neighborhood.
But, while collectively important, that's all small stuff compared to what awaited me on the upper decks. Unwittingly, I had saved the best of the big ship for last - the pools and sports area.
Going through the Royal Promenade, Central Park and Boardwalk, you don't yet truly get a sense of the size of the ship. But when you get to the aft end on Deck 17, it's a "Holy Cow moment." The beach pool area and the regular pool area are not cruise-like, they're resort-like, especially the adults-only Solarium.
So from bottom to top, I was impressed. Yes, there were a few glitches in the dining room, but you see that with many inaugural sailings. I didn't see any dysfunction strictly due to the massive size of the ship. The big picture is that massive size makes for a range and depth of facilities simply not found elsewhere at sea.
For example, I saw the most beautiful spa at sea, Vitality Spa, and visited "Studio B," an ice skating rink at sea. I watched a 45-minute fairytale production of Hans Christian Anderson's tales on ice and two Las Vegas style shows, a 30 minute synchronized water show and a Lollapalooza Parade.