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The Biggest Cruise Ship Ever

Crew outside

Jason Schmidt

You’ve heard the boasts: the biggest cruise ship ever built, 18 decks high, 1,187 feet long, with a price tag of $1.4 billion. A 225,282-ton beast so massive it required the expansion of every port in its outsize wake, including a brand-new terminal—surprise: the world’s largest—in Fort Lauderdale.

Wait. Wasn’t this supposed to be the era of sensible restraint? A sober new age of human-scale “boutique” ships? Most everything about Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas flies in the face of convention. Any industry expert will tell you that, in this endlessly niched marketplace, no cruise ship can be all things to all people, nor should it be. Well, the Oasis certainly tries. Whether you’re a four-year-old chortling on the hand-carved carousel, a fashionista browsing for Calypso tops, a thrill seeker riding the 82-foot-high zipline, or, like me, a lazy sod content to sip Manhattans at the jazz club, the Oasis has a whole little world just for you. Plenty of ships have been described as floating cities, but this one actually comes close; the designers created seven distinct “neighborhoods” that feel like a collection of small towns. Another inspired choice: building two columns of staterooms running the length of the ship that are separated by a series of courtyards, which allows for more “outside” cabins—three-quarters of the 2,706 rooms have balconies.

Other cruise ships let you see the world from a single bedroom. The Oasis presumes to let you roam the globe without leaving the ship—one minute in a tropical jungle (Central Park, overflowing with real bamboo, cocoa, and banana trees), the next in a cozy taproom (the Globe & Atlas, a convincing pub-at-sea). Granted, no one’s reinventing the wheel: besides the park, the ship looks and feels like any in Royal Caribbean’s fleet, with the requisite dashes of Vegas glitz and the obligatory junk-food outlets. It just has more options for escaping them.

Yet for all the amusements jammed into this waterborne megalopolis, the Oasis never feels overwhelming. Indeed, it’s not strictly about “wow moments,” although there are plenty. (Pulling up beside the ship feels like the opening scene in Star Wars.) What’s striking is the sense of intimacy it achieves. While the Oasis would seem to defy the trend toward scaled-down ships, designers have clearly learned from their appeal, retaining a small-ship sensibility wherever possible.

Given all the outsize talk (has any ship received so much prelaunch hype?), I boarded expecting a whole lot of bigness: epic staircases, infinite corridors à la The Shining, soccer-pitch-size bars where waitstaff submit orders by walkie-talkie. Instead, that first evening I found myself in the 76-seat 150 Central Park restaurant, feeling as if I’d stepped into a small bistro in some prosperous midsize city. Having actual trees outside the window helped. The scene was so convincing that I hardly registered the sight, nine stories above, of some board-shorted dude whizzing by on the zipline.

The Oasis of the Seas sails the eastern Caribbean through April; beginning in May, the ship will alternate between the eastern and western Caribbean. 866/562-7625; oasisoftheseas.com; seven-night itineraries from $729 per person, double.

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