WalletPop takes you on a tour of the Oasis of the Seas – the largest cruise ship in the world

Gadling contributor and WalletPop writer Jason Cochran shot this great video clip of the new Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas – the largest cruise ship in the world. He wrote about his experience on this mammoth ship earlier this week, but video always manages to paint a great picture of what to expect.

In the video, you’ll see the boardwalk, zipline, FlowRider surf simulator, the carousel, the “elevator bar” and more. Truly an amazing vessel, and one you are bound to hear more about here on Gadling as well as our friends at WalletPop.

On board the Oasis of the Seas: What’s it like?

Okay. You know it’s big. So let’s set aside that superlative, even though it’s absolutely true. The Oasis of the Seas is ginormous: the longest, the tallest, the widest.

More of interest is how it measures up as an experience. I’m writing this from the press lounge on Deck 4, which Royal Caribbean has set up for the journalists that it invited to test out its glorious new $1.4 billion mortgage-cum-cruise ship. When you’re talking about 17 decks and 2,700 staterooms, you need a lot of time to nose around and even more time to process.

So far, though, this ship is astounding, partly because Royal Caribbean threw some of the old strictures overboard. It’s no longer concerned about width restrictions — the Oasis is too fat to ever go through the Panama Canal — and once rules like those are jettisoned, new designs can sweep in.

The most obvious twist on this ship is its central atriums. Imagine a ship with the inside pretty much hollowed out from near the front all the way to to the stern, and then lined with interior cabins overlooking things like trees and a carnival-style carousel. That layout makes the Oasis entirely self-absorbed, like a floating mall or a resort on the waves. Almost nothing is geared toward drawing your attention to the water or to the ports you might pass, something that has already irked travel writers such as Arthur Frommer.

What’s more, the Oasis is so large, with so much going on, that many passengers simply won’t care about the ocean. It’s a mere set piece, a picturesque backdrop to a week-long marathon of tropical cocktails, pizza bars, and souvenir shopping. That may not a quantum leap for travel, but it’s definitely a leap for the cruise industry. Ports no longer matter. They’re merely a place where a ship stops to pick up ice cream and shrimp cocktails.

A few thoughts about the on board experience:

* She’s actually beautiful

How many times have we seen renderings of a ship that were nowhere as lovely as the reality? Somehow, in the telling, cruise ships tumble into tackiness. Somehow, the Oasis largely escapes that. Scalloped with swooping lines and theatrically lit with thousands of cobalt and scarlet lights, she’s very much the theatrical display she was foretold to be in those dopey architectural promises. Maybe it’s because she’s new.

Also pleasing is the fact that it’s very easy to get around the decks. On many ships, not every staircase leads to where you want to go, and you may have to loop around to get somewhere. Here, though, everything seems to connect logically, and there are plenty of elevators to service the hordes. It’s a ship designed with passenger motion in mind, starting with the extraordinarily wide avenues. There’s even an antique car parked in the middle of the Royal Promenade (the 4th-deck shopping mall), and barely anyone pays it mind.

Another much-needed addition: touch-screen boards near the elevator banks that tell passengers what’s going on at every moment and give directions to their cabin from where they’re standing. I wonder how long they’re going to work properly.

One of the ship’s most eye-catching features is the Rising Tide cocktail bar that slowly levitates and falls between three decks in the middle of the Promenade (acting as a de facto elevator to the open-air Central Park above). Most of the time, it’s half-empty, not because it’s a dull experience but because there’s just so much else to see on board. When your levitating cocktail bar doesn’t get much play, that’s saying something.

* This time, the atriums aren’t the ghetto

On other Royal Caribbean ships, the interior, atrium-facing staterooms are a mere novelty, or at best a consolation for not being able to afford an oceanview stateroom. Here, though, atrium rooms are so numerous that the old class system instantly grows less relevant. In fact, it’s the repetitive honeycomb of countless atrium rooms, almost all of which have balconies overlooking the spectacle, that makes the atriums so astounding.

Gadling’s cabin overlooks Central Park, an open-air atrium stocked with plants, trees, and adultish nightspots. It’s quiet, but hardly isolated. (If you’re thinking of booking an atrium cabin, in Central Park the airflow is a little stiff, while the Boardwalk has more glimpses of the sea, but it’s noisy. Both areas are open to the natural sky.)

* Crowds will be an issue

This press sailing is only half full, which surely contributes to the general elation on this floating kingdom of amphitheatres and glassy man-made caverns. But when she takes on her full complement of 5,400 passengers, prepare for battle. Royal Caribbean is already warning guests to make advance reservations for everything they want to do, be it a show, a specialty restaurant, a comedy act, boogie boarding on one of the two FlowRider sheet-wave machines, or zip-lining high above the Boardwalk section at the stern.

I’ve already seen the effect on this half-full cruise. The churlish young ladies running the FlowRider kiosk, for example, allowed long sign-up lines to build before notifying the waiting group that there were no more slots available. Likewise, wait time for Johnny Rockets shot from zero minutes to 45 minutes between 11:30 and 11:40am. The mini-franchise has been such a success on other Royal Caribbean ships that you’d think the company would double the space given to it, but it didn’t.

The atrium layout also means there’s no top deck spanning the ship. Instead, there are two parallel areas over the cavern, and it’s on those slivers of real estate the mail pools have been installed. The steel drum-type bands have to perform on a sky bridge linking the two areas. There seem to be plenty of deck chairs, but when things get busy on board, I wonder if there will be a scrum for pool access, especially since the quieter Serenity pool area, under a conservatory in the prow, can be oppressively hot when the sun shines

If you’ve even been on vacation to Disneyland, you’re used to queuing up for every thrill. Cruise fans, though, may find that crowd overload runs counter to their aspirations for a relaxing time away from home.

* She’s not quite finished

There’s scaffolding along the jogging track that loops around Deck 5. Some of the hot tubs, including one that juts dramatically over the ocean, are still dry. And two of the ship’s signature productions, a pared-down version of Hairspray and the water-themed show at the after outdoor Aqua amphitheatre, aren’t ready to be unveiled. If the ship’s fantastic ice skating spectacular is any indication, though, Royal Caribbean hasn’t cut corners to meet the note on this expensive vessel.

Now, I’m no cynic, but I do know when I’m out of my element. I was on the Carnival Dream last weekend, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was what a New Jersey Housewife would look like if she were to become a ship: all shiny gold and bangles and cigarettes and beery midnights. Many journalists are the first to puncture holes in the latest hyped product, perhaps because they see it as a service to their readers.

But I have to say that I’m really loving this ship. The size of it, which enables many of its innovations, may ironically be its biggest drawback, and depending on how it absorbs a full house, its Achilles Heel. Still, if I were thinking of bringing my family on a cruise, having seen this wedding cake of a seagoing resort, as a safe place to take everyone off the leash and forget about reality, I’d look here first.

AirTran tries to make money like an internet company

If they can’t make money taking passengers from one place to another, maybe airlines can harness the power of eyeballs … you know, the way the web does. If you get enough people passing by a particular spot — physical or virtual — it’s possible to toss up a few ads and make some money. This is what AirTran has in mind. The airline is putting ads on the bottoms of seat-back tray tables. So, for takeoff and landing, at least, when this device is in its upright and locked position, passengers will be treated to prolonged exposure to the desires of advertisers.

AirTran plans to execute this across 138 planes within the next few weeks — it’s easy to pull the trigger when you stand to make some money by doing very little. The first ad partner, Mother Nature Network, is offering fliers the opportunity to win a cruise on Royal Caribbean. Future advertisers are expected to be travel-related, as well. The ads will be 2 ½ inches by 9 inches and will be easy to swap out, thanks to the plastic in which they will be encased. As planes are brought in for overnight service, they’ll be set up for the ads.

There is precedent for this move. For several years, US Airways has put ads on tray tops, but the rollout has been limited to only a few planes. Likewise, the cash from in-flight advertising isn’t all that high. US Airways pulls in $10 million a year from this, but it includes napkins, cups and some of the products carried onboard, not just the ads. Outside the United States, this practice is pretty common. Several airlines run ads to bring in a little extra money. Of course, Ryanair is among them, throwing ads on its overhead bins, tray tables and the outsides of the planes.

Will onboard advertising save the airline industry? It’s doubtful. The five largest airlines in the United States lost an aggregate $3.2 billion through the first nine months of 2009. They’ve tried combating this with extra fees and extremely aggressive cost-cutting, but nothing has really been successful. After all, a company just can’t cut its way to growth. The new advertising revenue could help, and it’s a revenue stream that will persist (and possibly grow) after the recession has receded.

Royal Caribbean takes delivery of the Oasis of the Seas – the largest cruise ship in the world

Royal Caribbean must be one very proud cruise line. Today they took delivery of the Oasis of the Seas. Cruise lines are ordering and signing for new ships all the time, but the Oasis of the Seas is something very, very special.

With 16 decks, 2,700 rooms, and seven different “districts”, Royal Caribbean actually achieved two things today – they got a new ship, and they became the owners of the largest cruise ship in the world.

The Oasis of the Seas is unlike anything ever built, and brings some amazing innovations to the oceans. A nine level zip line lets guests race through the massive open air atrium, kids can take a ride on a handcrafted carousel, and at the end of the day, you can relax in one of the 28 multilevel loft suites with floor to ceiling windows, or head up to the aquatic amphitheater. The list of attractions, restaurants and amenities is endless.

The Oasis of the Seas will be named at her inaugural celebration fundraiser on November 30. Funds will benefit the Make-A-Wish foundation. The inaugural sailing is on December 5 and guests will receive special entertainment and gifts to commemorate the occasion.

I highly recommend visiting the site of the Oasis of the Seas to discover all the innovations and fun. If you’d like to participate in the fundraiser, or the inaugural voyage, contact Royal Caribbean at (800) ROYAL-CARIBBEAN.

If you can’t make the voyage, you can still get up close and personal – On Friday November 20th, the ship will be welcomed to her home port of Fort Lauderdale on a live “Good Morning America” broadcast. In the coming weeks we’ll take a closer look at everything this ship has to offer.

Central Park moving to the ocean

A stroll in a Disney-world version of Central Park on a ship, anyone? I don’t even know how to comment on this.

Jamie wrote about the new Project Genesis ship last week. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. said that an area resembling New York’s Central Park will be featured in the center of the massive Project Genesis when it is delivered in late 2009 as the world’s largest cruise vessel. Spanning the length of a football field, Central Park will include lush foliage, quiet walkways, restaurants, boutiques, art gallery and a moving bar, AP reports.

I hope they really make it authentic and hire saxophone players and homeless people to play their part. Distinct smell of urine should also be a part of the experience.