In 2006 I sent seven articles to this newspaper during a 39-day voyage on the Queen Mary 2, at that time the largest passenger ship afloat and flagship of the Cunard line.

Now there is a new kid on the block, the Oasis of the Seas, part of Royal Caribbean International Cruise Lines. We recently sailed on this vessel for a seven-day trip out of Fort Lauderdale, just a few months after its inaugural sailing in December. The ship was fantastic.

We flew down two days before the sailing, which I recommend in winter to avoid the possibility of a storm cancelling flights. Friends offered us not only their condominium in Fort Lauderdale, but a pre-cruise dinner with the first captain of the Oasis of the Seas, William Wright, senior vice president of marine operations of Royal Caribbean International and his wife, Kiki.

Wright was responsible for bringing the ship from its point of origin, Finland, to Fort Lauderdale and was skipper the ship in its first three months.

It was fun hearing his discussion of how the ship operates, and when dinner was over he left me with one comment: “No matter how many brochures you have read or virtual tours you have taken on your computer, nothing will prepare you for what you are about to experience on this ship.”

This ship holds more than 5,000 passengers and close to half that in crew, so you would expect a long check-in. Not so. It took us less than 20 minutes to reach our cabin. No check-in has been close to being that short. Our cabin was a typical well-appointed balcony cabin with two exceptions: our bed was closer to the balcony door, which I enjoyed because I love to look out on the ocean as we cruise, and the shower was not enclosed by a flimsy curtain but a round enclosure with more room.

Even with almost 5,000 passengers you feel like you have this enormous ship to yourself. The only time there is a slight crowd is when you return through security in the ports, and that is streamlined.

ON THE BOARDWALK

Now the ship. At the rear is the Boardwalk, with the same colors, smells, sights and sounds of an amusement boardwalk, complete with a hand-carved carousel, photo booth, candy shop, doughnut shop, hamburger place called Johnny Rockets, seafood restaurant and outside bars.

At the end of the boardwalk is a large amphitheater used for the diving and water show, modeled after the famous production “O” in Las Vegas. This production was stupefying, with high dives, trampoline acrobats, synchronized swimming, and music. We saw this show twice.

Next to the boardwalk are two large rock-climbing walls. People of all ages can climb, safely assisted by ship personnel. People could zip from one end of the boardwalk to the other on a zipline eight floors above. The carousel was moving most of the time, with riders ages of 7 to 70. A clown on stilts, face painting, and other delights for children took place during daytime.

There is plenty to do for young children and teenagers, including an excellent video arcade where you simply use your ship’s card to purchase use of the video games. Missing were the rip-off arcade games that soak dollar after dollar from people trying to win teddy bears and trinkets. At the boardwalk, almost everything was free except for nominal charges at the restaurants for certain meals, the candy, and the toys you could purchase. Even the doughnuts, freshly made, were free and unless you wanted speciality coffee.

Central Park, unique on the seas at this time, was one of my favorite places on the ship. This atrium area, open to the sky and several stories high, had balcony cabins overlooking it. Thousands of plants and a number of small trees graced this area, with park benches. A beautiful bar and a few upscale restaurants were on either side of the park area.

The ship has more than 20 restaurants, some free and others with a cover charge. The main dining room and top deck buffet were included in the price.

Central Park was seldom crowded and one could easily spend a pleasant afternoon having a glass of wine while reading or conversing. I spent as much time as I could, feeling the karma of what must be very happy plants cared for by plant experts.

The shopping area called the Promenade was the largest I have seen on a cruise ship. These stores were not so overloaded with merchandise as to constitute overkill nor did they have aggressive sales people trying to convince people to buy cheap jewelry or trinkets. The atmosphere was cordial and casual, which made for a pleasant stroll.

BAR RISES LIKE THE TIDES

In the middle of this area was another first, the Rising Tides Bar, shaped like some sort of flying saucer, especially when you see it from the bottom, which rises three decks every half hour or so. It moves so slowly you hardly notice it, but one minute you are on one deck and several minutes later you are in Central Park. Fantastic!

At the front and top of the ship is an area for adults only called the Solarium, where you can read, lounge, sit in the hot tub, have a snack, or just look out over the open ocean. This area was never crowded.

As for entertainment I thought nothing could match the big productions on Queen Mary 2 and the Princess ships. This ship has it all, including an ice show that is almost as good as the ones you see at our own Civic Center. About a dozen top skaters dazzle the audience. The costumes, jumps, twirls and music are professional and entertaining. All of this is on an ice rink that is probably half the size of an ordinary rink, which makes it more spectacular. During the day, passengers can skate on this rink. How much to rent the skates? Zero, which also goes for the zip line and the rock climbing wall.

The ship also has a “flying show” similar to Cirque du Soleil, the musical “Hairspray” with a full cast, a comedy club with well-known comedians, a karaoke bar, beautiful dancing lounges and musicians playing all over the ship. What’s more, you can pre-book these events before you cruise and see everything.

DINING DELIGHTFULLY

You wonder about how good the food can be when feeding 5,000 people several meals a day plus snacks. Let me start with the roast beef sandwich in a cafe that became the talk of the ship. Kelly’s roast beef on Route 1 in Saugus, Mass., probably defines the ultimate roast beef sandwich. These on the ship were as good. A fresh roll with perfectly cooked roast beef was one of my favorite food experiences.

In the large dining room, the service and quality were nothing less than excellent. One night I had watermelon gazpacho as an appetizer. I raved about it to our waiter, and five minutes later there he was with another bowl. Our waiter who was not only attentive, but also an amateur magician. So each night he would delight us with a new trick and tell us how he did it. I came back with a handful of tricks for my grandchildren.

In the speciality restaurants, including a steak and seafood place, you could pay an additional charge of up to $35 a person for more private dining with personal service. One night we opted for the solarium with some of the best food I have ever tasted, especially the dessert, which alone was worth the $20. My wife, Marilyn, considered this one of her favorite dining experiences of all time.

The buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners, were high quality. I look for how well they cook the simple things, like an egg, a waffle or spaghetti. Their food was fresh, and instead of the long lines with hungry people, they have stations with different kinds of food ranging from Italian to Asian to sandwiches. There was seldom a wait.

AND KEEPING FIT

There were many venues for athletes. The gym had so much equipment there was never a wait for a machine, and while we did not participate in the spa treatments the people who did said they were fine.

On the back of the ship was another one-of-a-kind experience, a surf machine that forced high pressure water up a slope where people could try surf boarding. This was popular with the teenagers. Again, this was free unless you wanted to purchase lessons. Next to the surf areas was a full size basketball court and several enclosed ping pong tables so you wouldn’t have to chase the ball all over the deck.

My favorite athletic offering was a jogging and walking track that had lanes that looked like real track lanes in a stadium. Three times around equaled a mile. As a senior track athlete I really enjoyed my time running around on this safe, wide, marked track that is unique on the seas.

I am saving the ports for last because the ports, while different, offer similar activities. The Oasis stops in Nassau, St. Thomas and St. Martin. We did snorkeling in one port, snuba (like scuba diving except the tanks float above you), and in Nassau the dolphin/sea lion thing where you get to swim with the sea creatures. These activities were well coordinated and worth the extra price. All of the ports can handle a number of cruise ships at one time. In St. Martin there were no less than seven cruise ships and over 10,000 passengers in one day, and you could still find a secluded palm tree, place on the beach, or intimate restaurant. In addition to snorkeling here I rented a Segway for a half hour and enjoyed that immensely.

But cruising on this ship is what I find most enjoyable.

I recognize that many people believe cruising is not for them, or too expensive. If you want to just try it one time, I thoroughly recommend this ship or this line, RCI. And even if you’ve done it before, believe me, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

 

Ellsworth T. (Derry) Rundlett III is a lawyer who practices in Portland and lives in Cape Elizabeth.