Inside staterooms have a view of the tree-festooned Central Park. Photo: Royal CaribbeanWhen I step into the massive sparkling inner cavity of Oasis of the Seas, with passengers streaming in behind me like a department store sales crowd, I’m pretty sure I’ve blown it. I’m out of step with the pumping welcome music and one sweeping scan of the fluorescent-lit shops and low-lit bars confirms I’m on one of those floating nightclubs.
A seven-day sail on the world’s largest cruise ship was a moment of wild misjudgment. Like the time I bought a pair of gold patent leather Cuban-heeled cowboy boots and thought I’d change my whole wardrobe to suit them and wear them absolutely everywhere. Then didn’t.
I’m relieved to reach my cabin where I bury myself in exhaustive research of the complimentary room service and attain near-perfect recall of the ship stats that rotate on my in-room screen: seven distinct neighbourhoods; 16 passenger decks; 25 dining options; 362 metres bow to stern; 1300 seats in Opal Theatre; 2394 crew; 5400 guests at double occupancy; 6360 passengers at capacity; 12,000 live trees and plants. But eventually I need some fresh air.
I can also tell that my stateroom attendant, Anthony from Antigua, is itching to freshen things up.
We’re no longer attached to Fort Lauderdale and passengers have settled in and spread out so, even at capacity, the earlier congestion has dissipated. People are sipping cocktails in the leafy open-air Central Park. Up on deck they’re in hot tubs or stretched out on deckchairs, riding surf simulators and lined up for table tennis. A bright-shirted steel band play to a small group of all ages dancing in the breeze.
Everyone seems very competent at relaxing.
The daily schedule in my hand lists an overwhelming 50 activities for just this afternoon and evening, so I focus on practicalities and go to Studio B to book my seven free stage shows. I pass the time in line asking people why they choose to cruise, careful to keep the judgment from my voice.
“My family does this every year,” says a woman from Atlanta. “There are 30 of us.” The oldest is her mother, 92 and in a wheelchair, and the youngest is her nine-year-old son. She says the kids love wandering around together so much that her son just requested a midnight curfew and her 13-year-old daughter asked for 4am. Then she re-enacts her wide-eyed head-rolling “no”.
A couple from Florida on the brink of retirement love cruising because “everything’s organised for you and it’s a great way to travel without breaking the bank”. In the evenings they like the Schooner Bar because “it’s quiet”.
Some Canadians tell me they’re on Oasis for a second consecutive week after a Bahamas trip fell through. “And it’s a pretty cheap week for accommodation and food,” they say, “especially after the return cruisers’ discount”.
Interacting make me feel more connected to my new surroundings, and standing in line makes me hungry.
“My time dining”, included in my ticket, means I can turn up for a three-course dinner between 5.30 and 9.30. Alternatively, I could go up to Windjammer that evening for an all-you-can-eat “seafood extravaganza” or to one of the specialty restaurants for a little extra cost.
It’s a formal attire night so I grumble into a frock and head towards the dining room. A girl of about 10, sitting with friends on the stairs, calls: “I love your dress and your shoes.”
I tell the staff I’m travelling by myself but don’t love dinners alone and they fill my table with some British people who have a toilet paper distribution business and a woman from Michigan who works for a company that manufactures body bags.
The food’s great, the wait staff are wonderful and I’m now addicted to blind dining.
After dinner, there’s live music everywhere. Piano in the Schooner Bar, Latino music for the dancers in Boleros and “Sunday Morning” floats from On Air. I slip in to see the performance then realise it’s karaoke, but not the type I’m used to. People can really sing, and the crowd are as encouraging as a supportive family.
I get chatting to a couple from New York state who are about my age. The guy is “a carp” and looks and sounds like one from a movie. They both bear hug me goodbye when I have to go and we make a date to meet again.
In the adults-only comedy club, downstairs, the NYC comedienne’s act is so verbally outrageous I cry with laughter. So does the guy beside me, who’s from Portland and holidaying with extended family. We go to Rising Tide Bar afterwards and talk motorcycle travel, music and food until I can’t keep my eyes open any more.
When I get back to my cabin there’s a towel bird hanging from the ceiling wearing my sunglasses.
I flop onto the couch and gaze out of my huge porthole at the moonlight reflected on the sea and think about how much fun I’ve just had without even trying. I also think about how harshly I’ve judged mega-ship cruising and cruisers up until tonight and the negative cliches of uninformed friends and family I’d carried on board with me today. Then Oasis gently rocks me to sleep.
The next morning a senior crew member Alejandra, from Mexico, shows me around.
Oasis of the Seas got a dry dock refresh late last year and she explains that Royal Caribbean is always developing “new sections and new activities to meet expectations”. The ship has never had a Deck 13. The spa now has its own cafe. The underutilised library will soon be another restaurant (though three people are in there reading intently as though in silent protest). This ship also has a lot of first-at-seas: levitating bar, ice rink, amphitheatre, full-sized carousel.
“People generally come here in the spirit of having fun,” says Alejandra, and I nod. “You have to be a bitter person not to like this ship,” she adds as though seeing into my soul.
This Western Caribbean cruise stops for a full day in three places: Labadee, Haiti, for a beach-centric shore break; Falmouth, Jamaica, where I visit the birth and resting place of Bob Marley; and Cozumel, Mexico, where I walk the coast for kilometres.
The evening we leave Jamaica I have such fabulous dinner conversation with a family from Washington DC, who’ve lived in Belgium and have a lovely unaffected teenage daughter who laughs haw haw haw with a mouth full of braces, I forget to ask why they’re cruising. Then I’m so excited to bump into them the next day, I forget again.
It’s probably similar reasons to other passengers though: to relax in a safe environment, get some sun, see a few different countries, meet new people, have some independence from your travelling companions, not deal with luggage every day, and pay one price to be fed and entertained for a week.
The majority of passengers are from America – a country of extraordinary diversity – and this crew represents 75 nationalities, so there are all sorts of different people to meet. A real sense of solidarity develops as the days go by and countless new friendships form around me, along with my own. I start to feel as though I’m part of a small town (one with amazing facilities) but, because most of the population are newcomers, the culture is highly inclusive. I naturally gravitate towards interesting people and areas of the ship I prefer, develop a vague routine and have some new experiences. Just like travelling anywhere.
I had a blast on the world’s biggest cruise ship and I’m only slightly ashamed to admit it.
Qantas flies daily from Sydney to Fort Lauderdale (via Dallas) and Melbourne to Fort Lauderdale (via Los Angeles). Phone 131313, see qantas南京夜网419论坛.
Oasis of the Seas sails seven-night Western Caribbean cruises every fortnight departing Fort Lauderdale (Florida, United States) year around. Staterooms cost from $1449 a person twin share.
The writer was a guest of Royal Caribbean.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.