Oasis of the Seas and her near-twin sister ship, Allure of the Seas, have been sailing for a few years now. They’re the largest cruise ships on the water (for now!), with the Allure measuring 2″ longer than the Oasis. If you’re looking for a big, fantastic cruise ship experience this summer, you’ll be hard-pressed to do better, and I’ve got nine ways for any sort of geek in your house to get their respective geek flags flying on board. Note that much of this post refers to my own experience on the Oasis of the Seas, but the Allure’s experience is quite similar.
The nature geek
On one of the first cruises I went on, I remember being in the middle of the Caribbean and seeing a butterfly flutter by. I don’t know if he was a stowaway or exceptionally lost on the winds, but it stuck in my mind as an unusual sight. Likewise, seeing a “Central Park” of winding pathways through 12,000 plants in the middle of a ship is also unheard of–until the Oasis of the Seas. Think about it–which direction will the sun be coming from? How will you work out the drainage? And the caretaking! But the Royal Caribbean team has figured it out, and it’s a great place to take a walk or stop at one of the cafes and shops along the way. You can even have your room’s balcony overlooking the greenery.
Central Park is 62 feet wide and 328 feet long and features everything from trees reaching two and a half decks up to calla lilies and native Caribbean vegetation. Signage lets you know what you’re looking at, and if you have questions, there’s a horticulturist on board to teach you.
The scavenger hunt geek
We’re geocachers and scavenger hunters around here. And who doesn’t like looking at tiny things? Add that all up, and the Tiny Wonders scattered around the ship were one of my favorite parts of the week. There are 42 of them somewhere in that vast ship. We eventually found all but one. Most of them come in one of two shapes, either something that looks like brass binoculars on a stand:
Or like looking down into a vertical porthole:
What you find inside are all sorts of beautiful, tiny pieces of art, like these:
The biggest problem is being late for dinner because you were certain you had just one more corner to check on this floor!
The video game geek
Like many (if not most) modern cruise ships now, there’s an arcade, generally in the area meant for teenagers. (Somebody kick my husband out!)
Which makes it a good time to note the best reason I know of for taking a cruise when you’ve got kids: on-ship kid activities. On Royal Caribbean ships, it’s called Adventure Ocean. If your kids are at least three and potty trained, you can send them for most of the day. (And even after-hours babysitting is exceptionally reasonably priced.) My kids were declared “Aquanaut” (the 3-5 set) and “Explorer” (the 6-8 crew). They do art projects, science projects, play games… frankly, they have a lot more fun in there than they would with you anyway, and it frees you up to go on that adults-only excursion or just to lounge on the deck with a fruity drink. It’s up to you how long they stay, although the program does request that if you’re on the ship, you pick them up for lunch. I would try to go get them to come have dinner as a family, but my kids never wanted to leave! For the under-three, there’s the Royal Babies & Tots program where you can hang out in toddler-land with your little ones and participate in activities made for them with other families on the ship. (You can also pre-order diapers, wipes, and baby food so that you don’t have to pack them!)
The movie geek
The ship has a large 3D movie theater with first-run Dreamworks pictures and other movies showing. And if you’re a DreamWorks geek, this is definitely the ship for you. It features the DreamWorks Experience, which roughly translates to, “I dare you to walk through the ship for more than ten minutes without running into a character.”
The kids loved the DreamWorks character breakfast, which features a menu just for them, and a parade of characters who come right to your table for all the photo ops you can talk your kid into. (Or pry them away from, depending on your particular munchkin’s fear level of people in large suits.)
The theater and performance geek
If this is the kind of geek you are, you might never want to leave the ship. Scroll back to the picture at the top of this post. I’ll wait for you to come back…
Did you see the white and blue stage-looking area under the Royal Caribbean logo? That’s the AquaTheater, another first-at-sea on this ship. It has two 10-meter high dive platforms over a performance pool in front of an amphitheater at the back of the ship. There are two massive LED screens around it so that you always have an up-close seat. (Your children will want the actual up-close seats where they get soaking wet!) They’re also used to show you what’s happening on the underwater cameras. The pool is the largest saltwater pool at sea, measuring almost 22 by 52 feet and up to nearly 18 feet deep, but with platforms that can change the depth through the day and for performance effects. It’s also used for on-board SCUBA lessons. But, of course, mere swimming and diving aren’t enough when you’ve already built such a structure. It also has trampolines, a trapeze, and choreographed fountains that shoot 65 feet high.
It’s also where you can watch the men of the ships embarrass themselves become performers in the ship’s belly flop competition. (My brother and husband are both repeat offenders winners at this art.)
At the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s the theater where they freeze the water–the ice skating rink. I don’t know about you, but I find the idea of executing a double Salchow impossible enough without adding the factor of a moving ship. You can get your practice in during the day–or you can wait for the pros to show you the performance “Frozen in Time,” based on the stories of Hans Christian Andersen. In one of those good mom/bad mom moments, I kept the kids up way too late one night to see it because I knew they’d love it. We got there early to get good seats, and someone hinted to me that I’d want to sit where there were some vague signs taped to the seats. My three-year-old was falling asleep in my lap until we found out what those signs were for–he got to ride swans in the show. That woke him up faster than you can say “Dora and chocolate milk.”
But my favorite part of “Frozen in Time,” as much as I love ice skating, was sand artist Alexandra Vodnytska. Here’s a video another cruise vacationer took of her performance:
None of that, however, compares to one of the biggest reasons I was excited about the Oasis of the Seas. It and the Allure have some of the first adapted Broadway shows at sea, showing Hairspray on the Oasis and Chicago on the Allure. If you saw last year’s Tony Awards, you saw the Royal Caribbean cast of Hairspray perform “Good Morning, Baltimore” and “Nicest Kids in Town.” When we sailed, Jim J. Bullock played Edna Turnblad, and I was thrilled to get to meet him and the rest of the cast in a Q&A session, after which we were allowed to look around a bit at the sets and the stage.
The ship’s more cruise-traditional show, “Come Fly With Me,” is one of the best I’ve seen at sea (and I’ve seen quite a few). My favorite part, even amidst some impressive acrobatics, was a tap routine on the wings of a plane. During a Q&A with that cast and crew, we learned about the intense schedules the show works with, and in fact that they had re-choreographed much of it on the fly when one of the cast members was injured during the week. I saw the show a few hours after they reworked it, and it was flawless.
If you’re more the performer sort, there are plenty of opportunities to play silly games and put yourself in the spotlight. My husband’s and my impromptu performances of audience-chosen topics like a Star Wars romance and Billy Mays selling Viagra won us a couple of gold medals for the effort (and a couple of pints in the Irish pub down the hall to recover). There’s also karaoke at every turn, including with live backup, and a “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” style game. The machine-driven karaoke is, shall we say, exceptionally comprehensive in its song lists:
The outdoor geek
You weren’t planning to go on a cruise to stay inside all day, were you? Sure, there’s a breed of geek known for a certain pallor and allergy to physical activity. (I may on occasion be of this sort, particularly the “allergic to sports” part.) But this is vacation. It’s fun. And you’ve got a lot of options–can’t hurt to try them all! Worst case, you completely embarrass yourself in an attempt to use the on-board surfing (“FlowRider”), but hey. It’s just a bunch of strangers watching. And they’re all completely embarrassing themselves too. What happens at the FlowRider stays at the FlowRider, as long as you didn’t give your kid a video camera for Christmas.
There’s also the rock wall with paths of varying difficulty, a pretty common sight on Royal Caribbean ships now. There’s one of these on each side behind the AquaTheater seating:
Several years ago when these were still uncommon on cruise ships, I remember waiting in line to climb, but that time seems to have passed. There were several times I passed by and only one of the walls was open, but there wasn’t a queue backed up for the open wall.
That’s not always the case at the next on the list of “firsts at sea” on these ships, the zip line. But it’s worth a few minutes of waiting to fly across the ship with nine decks of open air below you. (My experience suggests you also get to move forward a few spots when people who can’t read the appropriate attire rules get bumped from the line.)
Then there are all the off-boat activities. I couldn’t even begin to list them all, but you can start to dream any time by searching through Royal Caribbean’s shore excursions list. We took the opportunity to take our six-year-old snorkeling for the first time, and she loved it. She’s usually reluctant to put her face in the water, but the allure of seeing all those underwater creatures up close and personal was enough to overcome it, so much so that she wanted to go again, but on our next stop, the weather was rough, and our excursion was cancelled. And AquaNauts to the rescue!
The carousel geek
This is a narrow selection of geekdom, to be sure, but I thought it was worth noting. (If it had never occurred to you that there was such a thing as a carousel geek, it’s time to start reading. I recommend starting with the history of Dentzel carousels.)
There’s a beautiful carousel at one end of the ship:
But what makes it extra lovely is the series of unfinished horses leading you to it, showing the process of building a carousel horse:
The computer geek
Let me get one thing out of the way. The ship has Internet access. Don’t be the person using it. You’re on vacation. Work will still be there when you get home, I promise. Go up on deck, get some sun and a fruity drink. You didn’t buy a cruise so that you could hang out on Facebook. (See my earlier post, Summer Challege: Leave Your Phone at Home for a longer rant on the subject.)
With that out of the way, this was the first ship I was on with touchscreen info boards:
As someone who is constantly lost, these were regularly a lifesaver. These are enormous ships, and it’s easy to forget which end that place you’re looking for is at–and while you’re at it, which end are you standing in, anyway? Was that place we went yesterday on 9 or 10? These screens placed regularly through the ship offer directions as well as schedules, so when you’re looking for something to do, you don’t have to carry around the paper listing. It also tells you what restaurants are currently open and gives you the day’s menus. And as sometimes happens, only once during the week did I encounter this instead:
The books and games geek
The ship’s library is a quiet corner if you need a moment away from the noise or a place to borrow a book to take up on deck. There’s a good variety of board games, including geek-fave Apples to Apples. I was pleased to see quite a broad variety of subjects in book selection. Just this one small section of shelf includes Neil Gaiman, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, and The Wizard of Oz!
If it wasn’t already pretty strongly implied, I’m a big fan of cruise vacations. You get to go multiple places without having to drive anywhere or repack your suitcase. And on a ship the size of the Oasis of the Seas, you’re truly in a floating city. In fact, these sister ships were explicitly designed that way with seven distinct neighborhoods, starting with the Central Park gardens I mentioned earlier in this post. My favorite of the neighborhoods was the Boardwalk, which is reminiscent of a classic Coney Island style boardwalk, featuring those carousel horses and the AquaTheater with the zip line overhead. And although you might not have thought of cruising as a geek vacation, your vacation is what you make of it–you bring your geekdom on board.