Oasis of the Seas might just be the exception to the rule when it comes to something being too big for its own good. Six years in the making and with not even a year at sea since its maiden voyage from Turku, Finland to Miami, Royal Caribbean’s $1.5 billion vessel is the largest passenger ship in the world, standing 16 decks tall, 1,200 feet long, and 220,000 gross tons, with a capacity of 6,200. And that’s just the passengers.
It all became clear on a clear Saturday morning in August when we were invited for a private tour with Frank Weber, vice president of food and beverage. The ship was turning over for a new voyage that day, with the hustle and bustle of boarding and provisioning. The energy was palpable.
With its sister Allure of the Seas, Oasis comprises the company’s next generation of luxury cruise ships: the Oasis class. Beyond its sheer size (and the question for us non-engineers: how does it stay afloat?), there are many things at which to marvel while aboard. Take the staterooms, which now include new lofts, available in one, two, and three bedrooms. They’re certainly bigger than any of the apartments I had when I called New York City home. Then there’s the floating version of Central Park, where cabins facing into the ship’s interior also come with a view. Also on-view, some 9,300 works of art, commissioned exclusively for this project. In December, a partnership with DreamWorks will offer a new collection of family entertainment experiences, like the How to Train Your Dragon Ice Show, exclusive to Allure’s full scale rink. That of course is just icing: the Company also has a Hollywood, Florida studio to churn out original productions in-house.
But when you’re in the business like us, perhaps the coolest features have to do with food and beverage operations, impressive in both scope and innovation.
Try the touchscreen way-finding system, flat panel displays positioned throughout the ship containing interactive maps, activities schedules, and more data than you could ever want on its 24 dining options. Not only can you view updated menus and book reservations, but motion sensors in each dining area feed these giant iPhone-like terminals with realtime occupancy data. It’s all part of Weber’s objective that on a ship of thousands, no lines will get in the way of a great meal.
Imagine being able to take some 550,000 water bottles a year out of circulation? In the hopes of making this a reality, Royal Caribbean is currently testing the eco-responsible Natura Water Filtration System aboard Oasis as part of its Save the Waves program. There are also novelties like the largest wine bottle in the world, set into a table at Vintages wine bar. Of course there’s always a reason: by courting partners like Caymus Vineyards, Weber has carved out a wine program worth toasting with a 570 liter bottle of its 2007 Special Selection Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Each venue is in a constant state of assessment, with Weber’s team measuring product quality and customer satisfaction so that when a concept doesn’t work, it’s tweaked or replaced without lag time. When there was an opportunity to offer a new restaurant for guests on Allure of the Seas, work began in the test kitchen at Royal Caribbean’s Port of Miami headquarters. Only a few months later, spa cuisine outlet Solarium Bistro became dinner-only Samba Grill at night, now the ship’s third most popular restaurant based on online bookings. You’d be hard-pressed to find nimbleness like this at such a scope of operation.
With Weber as our guide, we had the rare opportunity to peel back a layer, exposing a world invisible to passengers that makes the cruise’s culinary operation run like clockwork. Homage to its birthplace, the main artery is none other than I-95, with Calle Ocho perpendicular. Step aside, as everything from luggage to lemons zoom by.
Walk-ins do their titles justice. The largest freezer is 156 square feet; the largest cooler is 123, holding fresh uncut vegetables only; the wine, beer, and soda room is 269; the biggest dry store is 183. Total storage for Food and Beverage of raw / unprepared foods, dry goods, and beverage product comes to 1,900 square feet in the main commissary kitchen, which receives bulk product for processing, with provisioning happening at each port of call. Each food group comes in whole and is broken down by hand, in a carefully choreographed dance of 354 staff in culinary operations including all chefs, cooks and stewards, utility personnel who are the hygiene and sanitation gate keepers.
With 350 covers signaling a busy night at MGFD, everything is larger than life to pull off 20 times that. Take soup, which for dinner every evening simmers in three state of the art 500 liter Dieta kettles that can switch from hot to cold per the needs of the potager. Director of Fleet Culinary Operations Josef Jungwirth and his team are responsible for the kitchens across all ships, including everything from menu implementation and ordering to the most important thing of all — keeping them spic and span. Along with the 530 staff in front of the house service and another 200 in beverage operations, we don’t know how they do it. But they do.
Come aboard, too. Visit Oasis, behind the scenes, on the Michael’s Genuine Flickr.