cruises

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas Review

More than your average mammoth vessel, Oasis of the Seas left us awestruck in so many ways. But is it worth the added expense?

December 05, 2013
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Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center

Tucked away on Deck 6 forward, the Vitality at Sea Spa offered an array of body treatments. From facials and massages to skin care, salon services and acupuncture, there was something appealing for just about any cruiser. There was a Thermal Suite that featured heated ceramic loungers, an aromatic room, sauna and steam rooms, rain and fog showers.

Managed by Steiner Leisure, which oversees spa facilities on a majority of cruise ships today, prices are a bit higher than we find at most mass-market land-based resorts. Prices started at $119 for a 50-minute Reflexology or Swedish massage and ranged upwards to $199 for a 75-minute bamboo massage. The 50-minute couples massage was $269 (per couple) and the 50-minute couples rasul scrub was $95. Facials started at $125 for the 50-minute Try-Enzyme Resurfacing Facial; the Men’s Urban Cleanse Facial was $129. There were treatments designed for kids, and the salon offered hair, nail and waxing services. A seven-day pass for the thermal suite was $99, or $179 per couple. Starting from the first day, specials emerged, ranging from 15-minute bonuses to discounts on combo packages. A 15-percent gratuity was automatically added to the bill for all treatments.

The Fitness Center was located on Deck 6 and a stairwell lead outside to jogging track on Deck 5. In contrast to most cruise ship fitness facilities, there were only a few windows providing natural light. In addition to free weights, there were dozens of cardio and resistance machines, but we found some of the equipment in need of repair. We mounted one cycle and the seat wouldn’t stay locked in place; a second bike was okay, but the RPM was off; on a third the mechanism ground a bit. A fourth (!) bike seemed to work fine. Another day we tried the “Expresso” bikes that have a video game-like screen showing your route and other riders; we weren’t sold on the technology, but especially not when the bike kept pulling to the right (off the road) and after about 20 minutes the gears started slipping.

There were lots of instructors around the gym, but they didn’t go out of their way to assist (personal training sessions were $55 for 40 minutes, or $85 for an hour). There were several free classes available, including stretching and Fab Abs, along with “complimentary wellness seminars” such as How to Increase Your Metabolism and Detox for Health and Weight Loss that ended in pitches for pricey products. Yoga on the ship’s helipad was $12 per class, spinning classes were $15, and the Gravity Group was $30. The Fitness Center was open till 1 a.m. nightly.

Pools

Oasis of the Seas has four distinct pool areas, each with a different theme and all located on Deck 15. They’re decent sized pools (the water weight alone is said to be 2,300 tons), but when the sun was out and the ship was at sea, they were very crowded. Each of the pools has whirlpools and showers for rinsing.

The Main Pool is located on the starboard side and. Around the pool are a lot of lounge chairs and sun chairs, and this is the one pool with a transfer chair for those with limited mobility. The Beach Pool is designed to look like a beach, with water lapping up along faux sand and lounge chairs placed in the shallow water. Parasols are distributed evenly through the spot. On sea days the Beach Pool was the most crowded, and loungers were at a premium. Offering three lanes set up in the morning, the Sports Pool is designed for those who like to swim laps. But later in the day, this pool was just as busy as any of the others. Each of these pools are 4-feet 9-inches deep at their deep end.

The kids-oriented H2O Zone features shallow pools for toddlers and babies, along with deeper areas for older kids, topping out at 3-feet 5-inches deep. Interactive sculpture fountains have geysers and sprinklers and look like a lot of fun (we restrained impulses to jump in). One of the pools is a whirlpool with glass walls—this was popular. The Baby Splash Zone had a pool that was 2 inches deep; swim diapers were required under a bathing suit. Fair warning: the area is almost always loud and crowded, but we loved the child-sized loungers available in this area.

There’s also The Solarium, an adults-only lounge area with a plunge pool and whirlpools (see “Decks,” below). Located just outside the Solarium are two large, half-moon shaped whirlpools cantilevered off the side of the ship. They’re built into nooks that extend 12 feet out from Deck 15. There are two televisions located at these whirlpools showing sports events, but we found the ocean view to be a lot better.

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Other Recreation

Most of the ship’s other recreational activities are concentrated around the Sports Court, located on Deck 15 aft and overlooking the Boardwalk. The actual Sports Court is set up for basketball and soccer, and wrapped by a glass wall. The crew organizes soccer and basketball tournaments and everybody’s invited to participate. Nearby are six Ping Pong tables, and table tennis was popular (as well as being the one recreational activity shielded from the elements). Oasis Dunes is the ship’s miniature golf course, with nine holes for play.

The star attraction accessed from this deck is the FlowRider, surfing simulators that are exclusive (at sea) to Royal Caribbean’s newer ships. Oasis of the Seas has two of these wave machines—one for boogie boards, one for stand-up boards. There’s a minimum height requirement of 52 inches inches for boogie boards, 58 inches for surfing. For those who’ve never surfed before, it’s a challenge to get the balance right. Aside from the height issue, we saw all ages trying it out—and everyone takes a few spills before getting the hang of it (the bar next door isn’t called Wipe Out for nothing). So Royal Caribbean requires FlowRiders to sign a waiver before jumping on a board, releasing the cruise line from damages due to injury.

Tip: Soon after embarkation, spring for one of the first available lessons on FlowRider. Many cruisers don’t try out the surf simulators until the second or third sea day, and then lines can be long. A lesson speeds the learning, and the lines to ride later in the cruise won’t be as frustrating. One-hour lessons are $60 for a group session with 4 to 8 others. Or you can rent the FlowRider (with private instructor) for $480 per hour—a good option for families.

Royal Caribbean was the first to bring Rock Climbing Walls to sea, and Oasis was the first ship to have not one but two walls. The climbing walls are located below the FlowRiders, accessed from the Boardwalk. There are multiple routes on each wall offering varying degrees of difficulty. Although a line was solidly in place after the first couple days of the cruise we never saw the second (port side) wall open. Loaner climbing shoes are provided; socks can be bought or rented. Royal Caribbean’s liability waiter had to be signed here but, ingeniously, the pad containing the waiver also covers the FlowRider and Zipline, so we only needed to sign once for the whole cruise.

The first Zipline at sea stretches across the Boardwalk, from one end of the Sports Court the other. While it pales in comparison to the speed and length of some of the ziplines we’ve tried in the Caribbean, it is a bit scarier than we expected—the first step is a doozie! Open-toed shoes are not allowed, and neither are cameras or other paraphernalia. This is definitely worth trying on embarkation day, while everyone else is getting their bearings—there was essentially no line that day, but almost always a wait thereafter. The line moves relatively quickly—about one rider per minute (the whole ride takes barely 5 seconds)—and we never saw more than about two dozen in line.

Other diversions: Behind the Aqua Theater are two Shuffleboard courts with equipment. These aren’t discovered by most guests, so they weren’t used much during our cruise. In Studio B, the Ice Skating Rink is open for guests when the ice show is not performing or in rehearsal (times are listed in the ship’s newsletter). Loaner ice skates are provided; full, long pants and socks are required.

Decks

Owing to its size, there are lots of outdoor areas on Oasis of the Seas, catering to various interests. Offering splendid views across the bow of the ship, the Solarium on decks 15-16 was not enclosed, as the name implies, but mostly covered by glass. It was probably the least crowded sun deck on the ship. Kids age 15 and under were not allowed, so it stayed fairly quiet, the music was subdued. Lounge chairs are distributed over two levels, as well as cushioned chairs with ottomans, some of which are shaded. We were always able to find empty loungers, even on sea days.

There is a plunge pool here (with a fountain in the center it wasn’t conducive for much beyond lolling), along with two hot tubs sequestered between ersatz palms—all saw little traffic during our cruise. On either side of the entrance to the Solarium are half-moon shaped whirlpools cantilevered 12 feet off the side of the ship.

Circuiting most of the ship, Deck 5 has the ship’s 2,200-foot-long jogging track—2.4 laps equals a mile. Most of the track is enclosed by the ship’s lifeboats, but the very aft portion of the deck is open to the view (located just behind the Aqua Theater, this was a nice little hangout). Along the track are motivational signs, to inspire you to run a little longer, but we found that the narrowness of the track causes congestion, with slower walkers and runners often in conflict.

Above the Solarium, Deck 17 is another sun deck, but during the day it's designated for Royal Caribbean gold card members only. There are huge beach chairs, sun chairs and lounge chairs, and a bar. It’s very quiet, even on sea days. After 6 p.m. the area is opened to all, and nicknamed Cigars Under the Stars.

The Boardwalk is located on Deck 6 aft, and represents one of the neighborhoods on Oasis. The three most popular features were the Aqua Theater, Johnny Rockets and the rock climbing walls—other aspects made this area feel like a money pit. The carousel, however, is free to all. On Deck 8, Central Park is another outdoor neighborhood on Oasis, with some 12,000 plants and a piped-in chorus of bird and cricket sounds. Most of the specialty restaurants are located around Central Park, along with the art gallery, but you won’t find much sunshine here. The main sundeck is at the very front of Oasis, on Deck 14. There are some lounge chairs and two binoculars, as well as a nice view down to the helipad. Deck 16 is the sundeck directly above the pool areas. Sun loungers and chairs are all around this deck, and two small bars are in the middle, so nobody has to go far to get a drink.

Shows & Entertainment

Oasis of the Seas offers what may be the richest entertainment schedule at sea. This is, in part, due to sheer size of the ship—there are several big venues, and live music going on in multiple settings at virtually all hours of the day—but Royal Caribbean has done an excellent job of catering to the diverse range of guests on board. Deck 4 is designed to be the primary evening entertainment hub, with the casino at one end. The main showroom here, Opal Theater, seats 1,394 in a comfortably broad, raked arc offering great sightlines throughout, and cup-holders at every seat—only the front row of the balcony is partially obstructed (by a railing). We found the Opal’s acoustics to be terrific, and the sound mix at the performances we saw was great, not overdone.

The marquee show at Opal is “Hairspray,” an abbreviated 90-minute version of the Tony Award-winning musical. With a cast of 21 singers and dancers and a 5-piece live band, the show is scaled down slightly from Broadway, but otherwise comparable to the touring version. It’s an entertaining tribute to R&B set in Baltimore, with a sly undercurrent of both racial and sexual politics for good measure—all-in-all, a refreshing change of pace from the usual Motown tributes occupying most cruise ship showrooms, and well-suited for all ages. Also playing in the Opal Theater was “Come Fly With Me,” a 45-minute musical review of (loosely) air-themed songs. Designed just for Oasis, it’s a big show, with a prop plane coming onto the stage at one point. It has a slick Vegas feel, with a couple showstoppers where the staging, performances and concept gelled beautifully.

Editor’s note: The Tony Award-winning musical “Cats” has replaced “Hairspray” in the Opal Theater.

Note that, with just three performances of “Hairspray” and “Come Fly With Me,” seating capacity in Opal is not adequate should everyone onboard want to attend. We didn’t have a problem getting into either show without a ticket, but advance bookings (free on embarkation day) are recommended.

Unique to Oasis (and Allure of the Seas) is the Aqua Theater, a 720-seat outdoor venue that faces aft—a pool is the stage, with diving boards towering above. The 35-minute headliner is “Oasis of Dreams,” a breathtaking Cirque du Soleil-meets-Esther Williams water spectacular. Ignore the show’s airy-fairy storyline and enjoy the acrobatic display by 16 gymnasts, aerialists and divers, all wearing skimpy little bathing suits that show off toned physiques. There were just four performances during our cruise, at least two of which were standing-room-only. The seats are comfortable, interspersed with some benches; note that the first three rows are designated as a “splash zone.”

Another Royal Caribbean specialty is Studio B, an ice rink located down on Deck 3. Though open for ice skating sessions at select times (see “Other Recreation,” above), Oasis has a 12-member team of skaters who perform “Frozen in Time,” an ice show based around the tales of Hans Christian Anderson. The Ugly Duckling, the Red Shoes, the Emperor’s New Clothes and other stories are brought to life in whimsical fashion, with an enthusiastic reception from the audience. There were five performances during our cruise; the venue has a 775-seat capacity.

Other performance venues of note included Comedy Live, for standup shows, almost all of which were designated for age 18 and up. We looked forward to sampling the acts—two comedians performing in succession—but we were unable to secure an advance reservation, and were instead advised to join the standby line at least 45 minutes before showtime. Although there were 15 performances scheduled during our cruise, the venue seats only 120, meaning only about one-third of the ship’s passengers could attend all the shows combined. The last night of cruise the comedians were moved to the Opal Theater, and it was still filled to the rafters. Our advice: Get a reservation before embarkation. One other venue worth checking out was Jazz on 4, which featured a decent singer backed by a three-piece combo. The sound was good, but we weren’t lured in for some reason.

Casino Royale

With 523 slot machines and 24 table games, the Casino Royale is huge—and busy. Aside from size, we didn’t find too much that made it different from other casinos at sea, though we did spot a Baccarat table, which seemed pretty unusual. The starboard side of the casino is a smoking area, while a discrete area on the port side offered slot machines in a relatively smoke-free environment.

The casino bar in the casino will make you any drink you want, but the drinks aren’t free for gamblers like they are in Las Vegas. But the more you play the slots, the more points you can earn towards various rewards (as small as a key chain, or, if you earn enough, dinner at Chops Grille).

Other Venues

Oasis of the Seas has a pretty small Library tucked away on Deck 11. Whether because the shelves weren’t full to begin with, or everything was cleaned out on the first day, we found the shelves less than half-full on the second day of the cruise. Just above on Deck 14 and somewhat larger, Seven Hearts was the game room, and also doubled as the ship’s main internet station. “Self led Bridge play” was scheduled for an hour or two most days of the cruise, and there was a small selection of common board games such as Scrabble and Checkers. Located in the middle of the Boardwalk, the Carousel was pretty to look at, but didn’t see a lot of action.

Located almost at midship in the Royal Promenade, the Explorations Desk was where shore excursions could be booked. We liked that this was built around a clocktower, and although we would have expected that the design would have impeded organization and traffic, it was an approachable collection of freestanding desks that were staffed up as needed. The Guest Services Desk nearby was open—and busy—at most hours of the day. Staff behind the desk worked diligently to keep the line moving, but a lack of stanchions (ropes) to keep the line orderly was a problem the times we were here.

There are several venues available for groups, starting with the Pinnacle Chapel, an airy and attractive facility on Deck 17 that can accommodate at least 50 guests, comfortably seated. Nearby is the Pinnacle Lounge, another private meeting space (and opening unto the Viking Crown Lounge next door). A more traditional Conference Center is located on Deck 3—four conference rooms accommodating from 50 guests (seated theater style) up to 120. The rooms can be combined for a total of 4,424 square feet of meeting space.

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Sections

  1. Introduction
  2. Cabins
  3. Dining
  4. Drinks
  5. Recreation and Entertainment
  6. Kids, Services & Other Details
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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