An Alternative Take on Royal Caribbean’s “Oasis of the Seas”

November 28, 2009 at 7:15 pm | Posted in cruising | Leave a comment
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by Max Pesling

When I spent several hours visiting Oasis of the Seas last week, I certainly shared the sense of being overwhelmed, described by fellow Tripatini member Marcia Levin in her blog post. Yep, I do have to hand it to the designers — in spite of this 20-story behemoth’s mammoth size and complexity, it’s indeed surprisingly easy to navigate and classier in many of its features than I expected — the crushed-velvet furnishings in the Dazzles nightclub, the elegant design of the peaceful indoor-outdoor Solarium, to cite just two. The fare I sampled at the Windjammer Marketplace buffet was quite tasty. Everyone with whom I spoke seemed duly impressed.

And yet, would I want to spend a whole week on the Oasis? Eh, not so much. Call it a matter of taste, but I’m simply not nearly as much of a cruise fan as is Marcia and many like her. Throughout my entire life, I’ve always strongly preferred to travel as an end to a means — meaning a destination — rather than the means in itself. So spending a lot of time lounging around a big floating hotel was never my thing. In fact, probably my favorite cruise to date was on a ship in the Med that was fairly modest in both size and amenities; what really made the experience for me was the shipboard comfort and convenience of not having to constantly pack and unpack, combined with active shore visits each day between Athens and Istanbul, to fascinating places like Delos, Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes, and Kusadasi/Ephesus. Granted, I would rather have spent several days in each port instead of part of one, but on balance, it was a great way to take in an island sampler in comfort and a reasonable amount of time.

But with the Oasis and its upcoming sib Allure of the Seas, it seems clear it will pretty much be all about hanging out on the ship and being aggressively entertained nearly 24/7. The upcoming itineraries bear this out, heavy on days purely at sea or stopping off at either at ersatz “private beaches” or ports like Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas, which has been largely turned into a glorified shopping mall (there’s already recreational shopping and malls at every turn at home — what’s so special about yet more of same at sea or in port, I wonder?). Furthermore, I found parts of the Oasis a bit crowded even at a couple thousand passengers short of full capacity; I do wonder how it’s going to feel once it starts sailing at its full 5,400-passenger occupancy. You won’t be able to just stroll into the theater without a reservation, that’s for sure, and who knows what kind of waits you’ll have to endure for those fancy FlowRiders, mini-golf, and zip line?

Well, whatever. I’m sure the Royal Caribbean folks have done all their homework, and chances are the Oasis and the Allure will indeed be successes. And if it’s not my cup of tea, that’s certainly not your problem. You still have to wonder, though, where does it all end? Once the economy starts firing up again, the cruise-ship arms race is likely continue spiraling out of control. What would be next, an 8,000-passenger ship? 15,000? Seagoing roller coasters, snorkeling lagoons, and swimming with dolphins? And what will be the effect — environmental and otherwise — on ports of call of such ever growing monsters disgorging ever more massive hordes of daytrippers?

Eh, don’t mind me too much, I guess — even now, I’m still reeling a bit from all that sensory overload. And in the travel world, there’s certainly as much a place for this kind of mass tourism as, say, exquisite boutique inns, camping safaris, or off-the-beaten-track solitude. I just have to hope that, as once happened with the nuclear arms race, the battle at sea eventually stabilizes and moderates before the industry collapses under its own ever growing weight. And if you scoff at that, remember that just a couple of years ago, many even supposedly smart people thought the real estate bubble would keep expanding forever.

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