In just one week STX Shipyards will officially give possession and responsibility for Oasis of the Seas to Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. This is usually called the "delivery" of the cruise ship even though the ship does not go anyplace until after it is delivered. During the handover ceremony the flag of Finland - home of the shipyard - will be lowered and replaced with the flags of Royal Caribbean and the nation of registry.
At that point the new captain, William S. Wright, will be in charge. His first call of duty will be pulling out of the dock where this behemoth spent three years in construction. Next is crossing the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean from Finland to Ft Lauderdale, Florida.
Oasis will take on a shipload of passengers as soon as it arrives in America - but the entire crew, 2165 people, is currently joining the ship in Finland, long before the first guests arrive. They are settling in, looking around and getting familiar with their new home and the state-of-the-art systems they will be using in their jobs. Almost the entire crew will be sailing across the Atlantic but no paying passengers or company guests will be along for the ride.
This is actually very unusual. Most ships have a full contingent of passengers when they first sail out of the shipyard immediately after the handover. But most of this crew will have at least three weeks onboard before the first cruise with passengers.
There will also be a number of outside technicians and installers who contributed to building the ship onboard to train the new crewmembers in the systems for the navigation, galleys, plumbing, air conditioning, communications, Internet, computer networks, stage sound and lights, housekeeping, room service and even gardening. That's right, Oasis has an entire park with real grass and trees, a true first at sea, and it will require plenty of tender loving care.
Some of the other new crew positions onboard Oasis of the Seas include AquaTheater Cast Diver and Swimmer and MediSpa Physician.
What is a MediSpa Physician? Oasis will be offering facial peels and Botox treatments onboard, just as the company already does on its Celebrity cruise ships. I wouldn't personally recommend a facial peel during a tropical vacation - you are supposed to stay out of the sun afterwards - but many people want to get such treatments away from their family and friends - so a cruise can be the perfect way to recover in private and reëmerge fully rejuvenated.
All of the crewmembers onboard, except for the new positions, are coming over from other Royal Caribbean ships and represent a total of 8000 years of crewing experience already. But make no mistake; this new ship will still present a challenge, even for experienced crewmembers. With new systems in place and a total passenger capacity of over 6000 guests, all wanting to eat breakfast lunch and dinner at nearly the same times, things will get very busy.
The management team was selected months ago, and has been onboard since that time so they can know every detail of the ship. They hand-selected many of their own team members from within the company.
It is not unusual for a new ship to have growing pains as the crew gets familiar with a new system, but the extent of the growing pains is often an indication of how well the ship is designed. Oasis is a $1.4 billion investment for Royal Caribbean, far more than the original estimates, and throughout the building process the company says it never cut corners to save money. Getting the crew onboard three weeks before the first guests arrive is yet another indication that they intend to manage this ship in the best manner possible.
Part of the staff not joining the ship in Finland, although they had planned to, is the cast of entertainers set to perform the stage shows in the main theater - including the first run of the Broadway show Hairspray at sea. Much of the stage rigging has to be completely rebuilt, including re-welding many of the steel bars used to mount stage lights and set pieces over the stage. Because this work entails lowering the bars to the stage level, the performers can't use the stage for blocking and dress rehearsals.
"The performers need a lot of time to rehearse such complex shows in such a dramatically new theatre. In fact, we often don't even try to put on all our shows for the shakedown cruises to give more time for preparation. This time, however, we were so excited about the shows that we decided to push the envelope," Fain wrote in his blog. That was the original plan but the cast is rehearsing in Florida instead and won't be able to block their parts on the real stage until after the ship arrives in Ft Lauderdale. Some of the shows on the first media cruises have been canceled, but they should be ready for the Dec. 1st cruise.
The crew quarters are exceptional on Oasis, according to VP of Human Resources. They have a 24-hour "Windjammer Grill" buffet area so they can eat anytime they have the time. As someone who has worked on cruise ships I can tell you this is a major breakthrough in crew life. Each crew cabin has a flat panel television with a keyboard for Internet access. There is also full Wi-Fi Internet access throughout the crew area.
The crew has its own coffee shop where they can meet and talk over coffee and cake. There is also a crew shop where they can buy essentials like toothpaste and snacks. There is a significantly higher number of single crew cabins so fewer people have to share a room. This is always a highly attractive amenity for a crewmember. Naps become a priority when you work a 7-day work week with hours on and off throughout the day. Of course, the majority of crewmembers will still be sharing rooms, but they all have bathrooms, flat-panel televisions and even room stewards.
There are still cabins available for the very first Oasis cruise, Dec 1, 2009. This is a four-day cruise to Labadee so you get to see everything Oasis has to offer. Contact your travel agent, there won't be a more affordable way to see this ship for many months.