Article Published: Thursday, March 23, 2017
It's hard to believe, but eight years have passed since the debut of Royal Caribbean's megawonder, Oasis of the Seas. Back in the fall of 2009, she sailed out of the STX Europe shipyards in Finland and into the history books as the largest cruise ship ever built, and the first cruise ship built with a capacity for more than 6,000 passengers.
Royal Caribbean had been building bold-but-beautiful megaships for decades prior to Oasis. The company was constantly pushing the envelope of cruise ship design, introducing never-before-seen attractions that can be traced back to the 1988 introduction of Sovereign of the Seas, which became the largest cruise ship in the world at the time of her launch and introduced now-common features, like the multi-story atrium, to the world of cruising.
Oasis of the Seas, however, kicked things into the stratosphere. You could argue she was the natural progression of Voyager of the Seas, which became the largest ship in the world – by far – upon her debut in 1999. To look at Oasis of the Seas from the outside, you can see a similar sense of style: a pronounced bow that gives way to a gently sloping forward superstructure, topped by the ship's navigation bridge. On Oasis, the space above the navigation bridge was given to a glassed-off Solarium; a relaxing space where guests can admire the same views that the ship's officers would have below on the navigation bridge.
The contributions Oasis of the Seas made to the world of cruising are manifold. She introduced the concept of "neighborhoods" – themed entertainment districts – to the world of cruising. She also provided more than just a touch of clever design, with her full-sized carousel positioned on The Boardwalk; her elevating "Rising Tide Bar"; and her stern-mounted Aqua Theatre: an outdoor space unlike anything ever seen on a ship to that point.
With a ship as big as Oasis of the Seas, you'd think one would be enough. But the ship was so popular that sister-ship Allure of the Seas filled up immediately upon her debut in December of 2010. She briefly became the longest cruise ship in the world, snatching the title away from her sister, with a recorded length of 1,187 feet; two inches longer than Oasis of the Seas.
For the next six years, Oasis and Allure of the Seas reigned supreme; two massive sister-ships that continued to be the largest cruise ships afloat, but also some of the most popular. Sailings still commanded high per diems despite being largely confined to the Caribbean and the Mediterranean due to the extreme physical size of the ships. Their continued success prompted Royal Caribbean to order a third Oasis Class vessel, which it did in December of 2012.
Harmony of the Seas was delivered to Royal Caribbean in May of 2016; nearly seven full years after the debut of Oasis of the Seas, and six years after the debut of Allure of the Seas. While she is a sister-ship to both, Harmony of the Seas offered a number of improvements over her fleetmates, incorporating new technologies and amenities that Royal Caribbean developed for Quantum of the Seas (2014) and her sister, Anthem of the Seas (2015).
To start with, Harmony of the Seas was built at a different shipyard. Instead of STX Europe's Finland location, Harmony of the Seas was built by STX France, the former Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France. Harmony of the Seas would also be slightly larger than her sisters, with a gross tonnage of 226,963 and a length of 1,188 feet.
Most of the changes aboard Harmony of the Seas, however, were reserved for her passengers. She introduced the first Virtual Balcony staterooms aboard an Oasis Class ship, along with the first Bionic Bar, where a robot bartender serves up cool cocktails in a futuristic setting. Both were innovations that Royal Caribbean developed back in 2014 for Quantum of the Seas, and both have been adapted for use onboard Harmony of the Seas.
Harmony of the Seas also introduced Royal Caribbean's first true waterpark experience at sea, with the line's first waterslides and a dry slide known as "The Ultimate Abyss" – a massive set of purple-colored tubes that run from the ship's upper pool deck all the way down to the base of the Boardwalk, ten storeys below.
But Royal Caribbean isn't done with the Oasis Class just yet. Before Harmony of the Seas entered service, the line laid the keel for a fourth Oasis Class ship. Currently under construction at STX France, Symphony of the Seas will debut in 2018. A fifth Oasis Class vessel, also unnamed, is set to debut in the spring of 2021. That agreement was signed just three days after Harmony of the Seas entered service.
The world had never seen anything like Oasis of the Seas when she first set sail in the autumn of 2009. When the fifth ship enters service in 2021, a dozen years will have passed since her inception. The Oasis Class may be the largest vessels in the world, but their capacity to surprise and delight both new and experienced cruisers alike proves that big can also truly be beautiful.
Thirty years may have come and gone since Sovereign of the Seas was finishing her milestone construction, but Royal Caribbean has lost none of its ability to wow.