Oasis of the Seas may be the largest cruise ship ever built, but is it too big?
After six years of planning and building, Royal Caribbean International’s mega-ship 225,000-ton Oasis of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship with capacity for up to 6,269 passengers, has been launched and sets sail on its maiden cruise on December 5.
Royal Caribbean is adamant it never sets out to be the biggest, but happens to build big because it wants to put so much onto its ships. However, its size is inevitably a big issue in terms of its appeal to clients.
The neighbourhood concept
The theory behind Oasis of the Seas’ seven neighbourhoods is that they break the big ship up into small areas, each offering something different from the lively Boardwalk to the more sophisticated Central Park.
Cruise.co.uk chairman Andrew Gardner says the idea works, adding: “It’s a big ship but because of the neighbourhoods it doesn’t feel like it.”
Reader Offers managing director Peter Beadles agreed. “Having a variety of different places to go has made size a virtue.”
Thomas Cook head of cruise Jenny Ellis doesn’t foresee problems in getting the message across to clients, adding: “Now I’ve seen it, I’m not so worried about getting the right person on here as there is something for everyone.”
She added a new tracking system, Royal Connect, which enables parents to know where their kids are will help agents sell the ship to families.
The ship as a destination
1st4cruising managing director Kevin Ivie wondered how destinations would cope with so many people and also whether many passengers would just stay on board during port days because there is so much to do.
It raised the question of seven-night cruises to nowhere, but Royal Caribbean head of sales Mark Walter said itineraries are important; adding: “Visiting places is still a fundamental part of cruising.”
Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines associate vice-president and general manager Jo Rzymowska said the cruiseline helps develop ports by visiting them, but added: “I doubt all 6,000 people will disembark.”
Beadles said a key issue was whether there were enough sunbeds, adding: “When it’s hot, everyone wants a lounger.”
Rzymowska said a shortage of sunbeds has never been a problem on a Royal Caribbean ship, adding that the 1,673 on Oasis of the Seas, was more than on any other ship in the fleet. There are also 312 deckchairs.
Oasis of the Seas is commanding a premium price over other ships in the fleet as a new ship but that can be sustained depends on the US market, said Ivie.
He added: “If there is a lot of demand in the US, it will keep UK prices up, which is good, but on the other hand it will create an availability problem.”
1st4cruising is selling seven-night Oasis cruises packaged with seven nights on land, while Reader Offers is selling 14-night combined Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises. Beadles said: “It doesn’t make sense for clients to come just for seven nights because of the air fare.”
Gardner admitted Oasis needs clever marketing. “This is not cruising as we know it. It is something special. You’ll run out of time before you run out of things to do.”
To pre-book or not to pre-book?
Royal Caribbean has a new system on Oasis, allowing passengers to book speciality restaurants and evening shows online pre-cruise, raising concerns that many people miss visiting venues because they are full.
Beadles said: “Royal Caribbean will have to keep an eye on it. There is a likelihood that people will pre-book every show and then just not turn up.”
Ellis said it is potentially a problem for passengers who don’t want to be organised and just like the idea of turning up.
Rzymowska said without a pre-booking system everyone will be trying to get to the same show. “For convenience passengers can pre-book, but they can still book once on board or take their chances and just turn up, and people will realise that when they are on board.”