Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Royal Caribbean set to reign over the seas

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Royal Caribbean's chairman Richard Fain isn't one for orchestrating world dominance -- except when it comes to building big cruise ships.

Fain thrives on that, starting with the first of five Voyager Class ships in 1999 and pushing the size envelope with three Freedom Class ships (2006-08). Then he put a lock on his title with Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. The dynamic duo of cruising has obviously been successful, and Royal Caribbean will launch a third Oasis Class ship in 2016 with an option for another in 2018.

How big are these ships? Oasis is 92 feet longer than the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier. Put a flat deck on top of it and you could land a plane there. Might that lead to flying the consumer right to the ship? Hmm.

I remember when Oasis left the dock on her maiden voyage in 2009. It took me half an hour to realize we were moving. The giant lobby looks like a resort hotel, with a Starbucks on your right and a levitating bar shaped like a ship on your left. Touring Oasis from bow to stern takes the better part of a day.

I can hear some of you already saying "No, No, No," and I understand. This isn't everyone's idea of a cruise ship.

One couple I know won't sail on anything with more than 1,500 passengers, and the Oasis officially carries 5,400 with room for 6,100. It has 22 restaurants, a full Broadway show in the evenings and jazz and comedy clubs. With cabanas on the bow, it looks even more reminscent of a resort. Themed areas are everywhere, such as Central Park, with its thousands of plants and trees.

Royal's "bigger is better" policy started with the Voyager Class ships (the first to have a skating rink), which carry a maximum of 3,853 passengers. However, Royal has demonstrated it's not averse to smaller ships by creating four in the Radiance Class (2,501 passengers).

Now, in the middle of building another huge ship, Royal will again produce two more modest-sized ships for 2014 and 2015. It's called Project Sunshine and is "top secret" (usually, a new ship's special features are released a year or more before launch). For two years, we've been hearing about the special features on Princess's Royal Princess and Norwegian's Breakaway, both arriving this year. Project Sunshine? Dead silence.

Oasis and Allure sail Western and Eastern Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale. So where is number three going? Port Canaveral (Orlando), where she and her DreamWorks characters could take on Disney's famous mice? Europe, for at least half a year? Australia and Asia, the fastest-growing markets in cruising?

Maybe we'll know before Royal wants us to know. Ships this size need new docks and facilities, and if they're going anywhere but South Florida, someone will let it slip that the cruise line has been talking about the Oasis Class ships in their community.

And, about the name. Royalcaribbeanblog.com, a fan site, reported the cruise line had trademarked Anthem of the Seas, Passion of the Seas, Vantage of the Seas, Quantum of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas and Pulse of the Seas two months ago. What's your choice?

Visit portsandbows.com for daily updates on the latest cruise news, best deals and behind-the-scenes stories from the industry. You can also sign up for an email newsletter on the site for even more cruise information. Phil can be contacted directly at portsandbows

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2013 D7

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