By paul motter
Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas has broken the record for carrying the most passengers on a single cruise for the last three cruises in a row. The peak was 6168 guests on last week's cruise. The ship's berth capacity is 5400, so that means at least 768 people sailed as third and fourth passengers in extra beds.
A number of regular cruisers in CruiseMates swear Oasis (225,000-tons) is so big they never even plan to try it. On the other hand, I wanted to be on the first passenger cruise of Oasis so I could see every little thing.
So, while many knowledgeable and esteemed cruisers feel that passenger ships should top out at about one-third the size of Oasis - I personally love the variety of activities bigger ships can offer. Oasis has 24 different eateries running the gamut from the gourmet 150 Central Park to the health conscious Solarium Bistro, to pizza, sushi, a cupcake bakery and donut shop; shakes, burgers and fries at Johnny Rockets and a Seafood Shack.
For sports activities Oasis has zip-lining, surfing, rock climbing, ice skating, rollerblading and miniature golf. Entertainment includes the first fully licensed Broadway show to be presented at sea, Hairspray, plus the only ice skating and AquaTheater productions (a la "O" by Cirque D Soliel) afloat. There is a comedy club, a jazz club, a salsa dance club and more.
The next mega-ship, sure to go head to head in competition with Oasis, is Norwegian Epic from NCL scheduled to debut in late June, 2010. Although she is one-third smaller, Epic is very similar to Oasis in concept. In my view, Epic will even outpace Oasis in the realm of entertainment productions for the title "most entertaining ship at sea." I will be sailing on the first passenger cruise of Norwegian Epic, June 24, 2010, in order to bring CruiseMates the most thorough coverage possible for this new ship.
Epic was actually the first ship to license a full "Broadway-style" production show by securing the deservedly popular Blue Man Group for regular showings onboard (Oasis announced Hairspray soon after and already has it showing). Epic will have the first purpose-built theater at sea to present Blue Man Group, and if you have ever seen this show, as I have four times already, you know how much the experience involves the theater itself. I have to give the line "major kudos" for making the full technical commitment this show deserves.
Epic will also present another first for a cruise ship - a circus style show, or "cirque" to be more specific, also to be presented in a purpose-built venue. Cirque Dreams and Dinner offers a limited audience both a show and dinner lasting two hours. A sizable cast of 16 performers will be buttressed by a specially trained wait staff of 20 people who are also part of the show. Long story short - expect an evening of bemusing culinary and comedy immersion like a medieval court crossing the lines between audience and actors, dining and entertainment.
Furthering the entertainment envelope, Epic will have a Second City improve troupe spawned by the famous Chicago-based company, as well as "Legends in Concert," one of the top rated tribute shows anywhere. Epic will offer 21 restaurants - about half of them included in the cruise fare. The variety ranges from steakhouse, Japanese, Italian, Chinese and a Brazilian churrascaria.
Carnival Cruise Lines just introduced the Carnival Dream last December, its biggest ship ever at 130,000-tons. Carnival tends to generally build larger versions of its existing ships, but Dream has an impressive water slide, the first "Fun Hub" at sea for onboard social networking between passengers and a new "Lanai Promenade" with al fresco dining and cantilevered hot tubs on the Promenade deck.
Even premium cruise lines are offering the diversity of mega-ships. Celebrity introduced its Solstice class in 2008 and is now about to introduce the third ship in that series. These are beautiful ships at 122,000-tons with gorgeous public rooms adorned by museum quality artwork throughout. Meanwhile, Princess Cruises just announced it will be building two brand new ships at 139,000-tons, the biggest ever for this cruise line, to be introduced in 2012 and 2013.
And never forget the beautiful Cunard Queen Mary 2 - beautiful in grandeur at 148,000-tons although it only carries 2620 passenger berths. QM2 offers the best daytime enrichment program at sea with excellent lecturers, a planetarium theater with a one of kind curved screen enveloping the audience and requiring four projectors aimed at different sections to create the full image, the famous RADA drama school of London and one the most beautiful ballrooms with a full 16-piece dance orchestra.
Long story short - big ships have advantages in the variety of entertainment and culinary options they provide. Smaller ships have different advantages, such as the convenience of smaller crowds and more personalized service. They tend to visit more ports per cruise, and more exotic ports of call, but this is a topic for a separate article.