After five years of planning and construction, Royal Caribbean is unveiling the Oasis of the Seas, a $1.4 billion ship that will be the largest and tallest cruise liner in the world when it takes its maiden voyage this December.
At 1,184 feet from stem to stern, it's nearly as long as the Empire State building is tall--while rivaling the amenities of any world-class Las Vegas resort. A crew of roughly 2,160 will man 18 decks and tend to 5,400 passengers (assuming two per room).
Video: $1.4 Billion Cruise Ship
"It's in the DNA of our company, about every 10 years, to take more or less a fresh sheet of paper and create the greatest cruise ship in the world," says Adam Goldstein, CEO of Royal Caribbean International.
The laundry list of amenities is daunting: a central park the length of a football field with 12,000 plants and trees; a boardwalk with two rock-climbing walls; an aqua theater with dive performances; two FlowRiders for surfing; a full-service spa and a main theater where the Broadway musical Hairspray will be shown four times a week. As an avid runner and sports enthusiast, Goldstein's favorites include the 600-plus meter jogging track on deck 3 and the zipline across the boardwalk.
The average Oasis ticket is $1,000 per person for seven nights, making it significantly more expensive than Royal Caribbean's typical seven-night packages, many of which start at roughly $490. This could be a tough sell: Worldwide, tourism is expected to contract by 3.5% this year, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. In the U.S., 2009 travel spending is forecast to fall 9% to $705 billion, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
Meet Royal Caribbean's Oasis, a retreat for executives and their families.
Still, Goldstein remains optimistic.
"Our customers want more choice, more options, more variety, they want to be in control of their vacation decision making," he says. It's a major gamble for the cruise operator, which has been discounting tickets during the recession to combat the pullback in consumer spending and H1N1 travel fatigue. In the second quarter, the company swung to a loss of 16 cents a share, with revenues down $1.3 billion. According to Goldstein, while occupancy rates are expected to be stable on a year-over-year basis (2009 vs. 2008) revenue yields will be down 13%--indicative of the steep discounting environment.
For now, the Oasis will feature two main routes. From December 2009 to April 2010, the ship will sail seven nights from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to St. Thomas, St. Maarten and the Bahamas. Then, beginning May 2010, it will sail from Ft. Lauderdale to Haiti, Jamaica and Mexico. Prices start at $729 for interior rooms, per person, based on double occupancy. For a steeper price, there are multi-level loft suites available with floor-to-ceiling windows.