ON BOARD OASIS OF THE SEAS -- I had a couple of reasons for being on the largest cruise ship in the world (sister ship Allure of the Seas is about five centimetres longer but that's splitting hairs).
I was with the first group of reporters to board Oasis in 2009 (skeptically, I must admit). I was doubtful anyone could build a cruise ship for 6,000 passengers and make it work. So I came back to see if the builders lived up to their promises to Royal Caribbean customers and executives alike.
The second reason? It's winter in Canada.
I recall four years ago, my immediate reaction to Oasis of the Seas was, "Wow!" Here was a ship almost four football fields long capable of carrying 2,000 more passengers than her next-biggest rival.
She was designed to cater to everyone -- families, adults of all demographics... even honeymooners, we were told. Another promise was getting on and off the ship would be simple and, by creating themes around the ship, it would be an easy place to navigate.
Fast forward 48 months. I showed up at 2 p.m., dropping my bag outside the terminal. At 2:25 p.m., I was putting the key in my stateroom door. That's fast. Most ports we visited worked just fine, too, although I heard embarking in Nassau was slower.
Next, I was off to explore. I soon learned if an Oasis entertainment venue calls for reservations, then make them. For example, the comedy club was full for most shows.
Because the ship is so big, designers carved out the middle and created the "neighbourhoods" Central Park and Boardwalk, both overlooked by windowed cabins and balconies from staterooms.
Boardwalk houses the AquaTheater and its high-dive and water acts, which have the ocean as a backdrop. Central Park offers high-end restaurants -- Chops Grille, 150 Central Park and Giovanni's Table -- all at a fee less than what comparable restaurants on shore would charge.
Besides Boardwalk and Central Park, there are theme areas for entertainment, adventure and sports.
Children and teens can indulge in 30,000 square feet of space, divided by age, and a partnership with DreamWorks means characters like Shrek and Princess Fiona are all over the ship.
The dining room covers three stories, and from below it has the appearance of opera balconies. Nearly 3,000 diners can be served at one seating, yet the curves and corners on each level disguise the enormous size of the room. However, the Windjammer Café buffet is one area that could use more space.
Staying in touch with family and friends ashore was a cinch. Royal Caribbean is testing a new Wi-Fi system on Oasis and Allure using technology that works everywhere on the ships and at much higher speeds than what we've become accustomed to at sea.
I bought the 24-hour-a-day weekly package for $179, which worked well for my needs. Many passengers were busily using the Internet to talk with family members back home. The faster this technology gets to all Royal Caribbean ships -- and to in-the-family lines like Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises -- the better.
In short, Oasis is four years old but still looks good. She commands a premium price in the seven-day Caribbean market -- higher even than her stablemates in the Royal Caribbean fleet. But she does need refreshing, which will happen with a refit next year.
For the most part, the promises were fulfilled and management is so satisfied a third Oasis Class ship is coming in 2016.
I am now on Celebrity's Eclipse, cruising to Caribbean Islands less travelled, including ports like Bonaire and Curaçao. You'll find lots about this trip at portsandbows.com.
-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013
Visit portsandbows.com, sponsored by Expedia CruiseShipCenters, 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 for more cruise information.