Sea Access from Royal Promenade on Oasis
Beyond the Media Frenzy
If it seems as if there has been a lot of media coverage about the new Royal Caribbean ship "Oasis of the Seas," it is because Oasis and other new ships like Carnival Dream are as newsworthy to the cruise industry as the Olympics and the Super Bowl are to the mass media. Oasis is the largest, most unique and technologically advanced cruise ship ever built, and to reporters like me nothing could be more exciting.
But I was on the two-day Oasis media cruise last week, and such media-only cruises are never representative of real life on a cruise ship. So I personally came back at my own expense and incognito, to sail on the first regular passenger voyage Oasis is making. We are on that voyage right now, and I am reporting about it currently in CruiseMates (the link is below).
So far, I have to say it appears that Royal Caribbean has learned to listen to its customers with the wisdom and forbearance to make the changes that they heard were needed. Even in what I have seen in just the last two days alone I must give them a great deal of credit, and I honestly would not say that if it were not true.
For example, take some of the early doubts expressed about the ship. One was whether the line could possibly board a ship that handles 5200 passengers in a reasonable amount of time. When we arrived at the pier yesterday at 11:30 a.m. we were fully checked-in and walking aboard the ship within 20 minutes. And most of that time was spent walking - not standing in line. One must offload your luggage, hand it to the porter and go inside the terminal. The first line you see is security, and the second one is to check in. There were five security lines to handle 5000 passengers arriving the entire day and security took under a minute. For checking in, each deck onboard has at least eight windows dedicated to passengers staying on that deck. Checking in takes about 10 minutes. We got in a line for our deck and were directed to an agent in less than a minute.
Signing all of the cruise documents, giving them a credit card for incidentals, getting our "sea-pass" pictures taken, checking all the "no's" on the health questionnaire; all together took about 10 minutes. After that it was walking to the escalator that leads to the gangway. We were on the ship. Remarkable.
One of the worst waits I ever experienced was in Port Canaveral, and I recall it was fully because they only had one machine to take the sea-pass pictures for each passenger. But boarding Oasis every agent has that ability. We only had to show our passport once and our sea pass once.
Any fear people may have about initial boarding Oasis is unfounded. Still, tomorrow we arrive in Labadee, and while I hear the pier there is finished so there will be no tendering, it will still representr a larger challenge with all the passengers hoping to get off in port at almost the same time. We still must see how long it takes to disembark the entire ship under those circumstances and that will be in our ongoing report in CruiseMates.
Another complaint based upon the two-day media cruise was that Oasis does not feel like a cruise ship, because once you board you barely get a glimpse of the sea. While that was partially true on those cruises, this cruise is different. A little known fact is that deck five, home of the Royal Promenade, is also an open deck for passengers that completely circumnavigates the ship. There is a jogging track and a selection of deck chairs out there.
Today they have the double-wide glass doors leading to that outside deck fully open and showing a direct view of the ocean right from the Royal Promenade. It makes a big difference - believe me. People are walking outside directly from the Topsail Lounge.
Here is something else - the open air pool decks are packed with people today, as on any cruise ship with regular passengers. People are out tanning, swimming, flow-riding, zip-lining, etc. There are hundreds of people in the sun. As I sit here in my balcony cabin with my own sea view, I just have to say that the people who said this does not feel like a cruise ship forgot that no one was using the pool deck that day. It works as well as any ship I have been on - maybe better because there are so many people watching possibilities on this ship.
We still have not seen the Aqua Show or Hairspray. The AquaShow was scheduled for last night but cancelled due to technical difficulties. It has been rescheduled for today; two showings, the one that was supposed to happen yesterday and the regular showing for today. I hope they have it ready because that is one of the reasons I came on this cruise.
By the way - if you want to know how all of this mystery turns out, be sure to tune into my current virtual cruise from Oasis running on CruiseMates: "Oasis - The Real Story"
Two more concerns laid to rest - that the reservation system would be a disaster and that it is impossible to provide personalized service on a ship with 5000 passengers. Now that we are well into day number two, the lines at the reservation kiosk have all but disappeared and the wait at the guest relations desk is down to five minutes. They actually have eight reservation agents and six guest relations people on duty all day long.
With news that Carnival also just decided to order a brand new Dream-class vessel - the first new ship order in over a year by my best recollection, it is almost as if cruising has regained something it had almost lost not more than a couple of weeks ago - confidence; Confidence in its own ability to build exciting new ships and make them work, and the ability to continue to grow and adapt to a new cruising paradigm.
I admit I love this industry, and when you love anything you tend to defend it even when the chips are down, and I also swell with pride when things go better than expected. In the long run, though, this is about Royal Caribbean and Carnival. And I must include NCL who also has a bigger and better than ever revolutionary new ship scheduled to arrive soon as well, the Norwegian Epic in May 2010.
These lines are the ones responsible for the achievements I am writing about; and they all deserve to stand up and take a bow. Let's not even mention the tough economy, these companies are like Apple or Google, they are continuing to innovate while the rest of the world is making excuses.
Carnival Dream, Oasis of the Seas, Norwegian Epic. These ships are the future of cruising. If you haven't seen them yet you will. Take it from me - there is a lot to be proud about.
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