Nov 14, 2009

Is this monster safe?

There's a story about a grizzled foreign correspondent in Asia who once was taken to task over a taxi fare on an expense report. He defended it as routine, but the accountants pointed out that he'd been reporting from an aircraft carrier at sea on the day in question. Without missing a beat, the correspondent growled, "Well, do you know how big those things are?"

I couldn't help thinking of that joke while in Finland last week, touring Royal Caribbean International's new Oasis of the Seas, a ship that eclipses the U.S. Navy's Nimitz-class supercarriers and will be the world's largest cruise liner when it makes its much-anticipated maiden voyage in December. As I stood on the bow, it didn't seem completely unreasonable to take a taxi to the stern, almost a quarter-mile away. In fact, the meter in a Washington, D.C., cab would charge 25 cents for the distance.

Under construction in the quaint port town of Turku since 2006, the Oasis of the Seas is longer, taller, wider, heavier and more expensive than any other passenger ship ever built.

It's five times the size of the Titanic and more than half again as large as the mammoth Queen Mary 2. A piece of it will have to be retracted just so it can squeeze under a bridge and make it out to the Atlantic. On its 18 decks, a crew of 2,165 will tend to as many as 6,296 paying customers, nearly 45 percent more than the largest cruise ships now operating, the Freedom-class vessels launched by Royal Caribbean three years ago.

But the Oasis of the Seas isn't just a jumbo version of its predecessors. More important than its staggering size is what its designers have done with the extra space: filled it with attractions never before seen on a cruise ship, including an open-air park with trees and hanging gardens, a boardwalk-style area with a merry-go-round, a pool that changes into a stage for high-diving shows and a theater that has booked the Broadway musical "Hairspray."

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