New touches on Oasis of the Seas make for happy returns

The “new” Oasis of the Seas recently wrapped up its first series of cruises since the pandemic shutdown out of Cape Liberty in Bayonne, N.J., and travel advisors onboard welcomed its return to the New York market.

Renovated in 2019 to the tune of $166 million as part of Royal Caribbean International’s Royal Amplified improvement program, only to be drydocked by Covid just a few cruises later, the Oasis now features some new-to-brand concepts: the first Portside BBQ restaurant, an ice cream and candy storefront on the Boardwalk and an expanded zero-proof cocktail menu for the growing number of young adults who do not imbibe.

There’s also a new Aqua Show plus all the hits familiar on other Amplified ships since the Oasis debuted: an expanded pool deck with a Lime and Coconut bar, a Playmaker’s Bar and Grill with outdoor seating on the Boardwalk, the colorful Ultimate Abyss slides that run from the top of the ship to the Boardwalk, a Starbucks and a karaoke bar. 

Our Oct. 17 sailing carried 3,145 passengers, many of them from the New York-area drive market who were ready to cruise but not necessarily to fly, including me. 

Onboard were a variety of curious and excited cruise enthusiasts, travel advisors, solo travelers attracted by a single supplement waiver promotion, high rollers invited by the casino, customers using future cruise credits and 196 children under the age of 12 (about 6% of passengers). 

Like every early sailing on every ship I have been on in recent months, there were inconveniences and glitches, but as always, they were more than balanced by the exhilaration of sailing again, the exuberant welcome of the crew and the feeling of helping the industry recover. 

The Oasis has been a very welcome addition to the local market, said Empress Travel owner Mona Carol Albala of Sayreville, N.J., who was doing back-to-back sailings with small groups. Many of her customers are just beginning to travel this quarter, and she herself started sailing in July, “building that confidence among my clients that this is a very safe way to travel.”

“I’m pushing cruising because with all the testing and the stringent measures the cruise lines have been under, confidence is still low,” she said. “But I think the positive to come out of Covid is that we will see far fewer outbreaks of any kind of disease; everything is quickly controlled and mitigated. And for me, that’s really the story.”

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Room for more ‘amplification’?

On our cruise, a “combination of glitches” led to a two-hour check-in; some said the dark and slow-moving “Cats” was a strange choice for a cruise ship show; others lamented that the “amplification” did not include a refurbishment of the cabins — or the addition of at least one USB port. And since we could not book reservations for shows and dining times through the app, some were disappointed they did not get their preferences.

A number of travel advisors onboard agreed that adding the Ultimate Abyss seemed more a mistake than an upgrade. They noted it didn’t get much traffic, yet it blocks the balconies overlooking the Boardwalk, “so we can’t sell this awesome view,” said Susan Schaefer of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel in Nashville. Even worse, said JoAnne Smoot of Dallas, one of a dozen travel advisors on a Seminar at Sea onboard, it blocks the view of the Aqua Show that she used to use to sell those balconies.

Still, the cruise did not disappoint. The Portside BBQ, with its outdoor dining spaces, live music and really good food, got rave reviews from all. The service everywhere was awesome; the food in the specialty restaurants outstanding; the entertainers, bands, ice show and Aqua Show were top-notch.

With five cabins in Central Park (and the rest in oceanview connecting rooms), Albala’s group had opened all the dividers between the balconies, and every evening they’d sit outside, listen to the music from below and enjoy a glass of wine overlooking Central Park. Everyone was satisfied with the experience, and Albala was excited to welcome nine more clients the week after.

Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service for Royal Caribbean, said that when it debuted in 2008, the Oasis “single-handedly revolutionized cruising.”

“And what makes this ship so easy to sell is that there are so many different experiences that appeal to every type of client,” she said. “Families looking for bonding, couples looking to get away, groups, corporate clients.”

The Oasis returns to Cape Liberty on May 5 after a winter season in Miami. 

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