Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas will be the newest and largest ever ship to visit New Zealand shores, when it sails our way as part of its Down Under programme this summer. Fresh from its inaugural sailing to Asia from its European shipyards, I’ve just sampled a three night taster from Singapore to Malaysia.
New car smell is a fragrance most of us cherish, but new mega-ship smell kept my nostrils partying for 72 hours. So just how big is Ovation of the Seas? It may not be the most salubrious point of reference, but she weighs in four times the tonnage of Titanic. She is three and half rugby fields long. One and a half laps around the running track and you’ve clocked up a 1km. She is fifteen stories high, catering to 4900 passengers and 1300 crew. Currently ranked as the fourth-equal largest cruise ship in the world (Royal Caribbean boast the five biggest), she is also a technological leader.
As the latest entrant into the company’s Quantum Class of vessels, this $US1 billion behemoth is the considered the smartest ship at sea. Aside from the daily Cruise Compass programme of activities, I was struck by the conspicuous absence of paper – a very good thing given the 5000-strong passenger loading. Across the ship, Royal IQ stations and mounted iPads, enable you to book shore excursions and dining reservations, electronically. You can also download the Royal IQ app, which doesn’t require paid for Wi-Fi to operate, enabling you to make your bookings and build your custom cruise calendar, on the app. Brilliant. Speaking of Wi-Fi, this very smart ship delivers fast and reliable internet speeds – the best I’ve ever encountered at sea. I despise having to pay for Wi-Fi, and Royal Caribbean’s web browsing packages start at a pesky US$13 a day - but at least the service is robust and Roadrunner-fast. (Reputedly the speediest at sea.)
The design elements and contemporary art works liberally scattered throughout the vessel ooze class, comparable to the fresh, crisp and elegant interiors of a cutting-edge, five-star resort hotel . No tacky nautical-themed décor or jarring dolphin-patterned carpets to be found here! Accommodations impress across all categories, although if you really want to push the boat out, the two-deck Royal Loft Suite is jaw-droppingly luxurious. The high-end suites come complete with a “Royal Genie”, an on-call personal butler at your service 24 hours a day. Now, that’s decadence.
Royal Caribbean continues to create a lot of buzz over its inventive prowess to its active leisure and entertainment offerings. North Star, the glass capsule that soars 90 metres above and to the side of the ship, has been added to Ovation. As has Flowrider, the virtual surfing innovation, which many Royal Caribbean ships now sport. But the newest signature toy to be rolled out is Ripcord by iFly – the world’s first freefalling skydive simulator at sea. And boy – it’s a traffic-stopper!
I had previously disgraced myself on a Royal Caribbean ship trying my hand at Flowrider, so I was determined to make a better fist of virtual skydiving. After a safety and basic skills briefing, we were strapped into bodysuits for showtime. You’re essentially encased within a massive glass tube, with a huge vertical fan (covered by a grill) blasting air up at you, thrusting you airborne. I felt like I was levitating kind and if you’ve studiously followed the briefing, correctly assuming the optimum body positions, you’ll soar like an eagle.
But your body certainly feels battered by the wind force. After this unexpected full body exfoliation, I saw no need to book a spa treatment ort massage. Ripcord by iFly is energising, thrilling and body-bashing, but an absolute must-do. I felt trippy for the rest of the day after such an endorphin-rush. Another bells and whistles feature is Seaplex, which serves up the sensory rush of roller-skating, trapeze classes, court sports and bumper cars. All the whiz bang entertainment features is where Royal Caribbean has stamped its mark, geared at courting the family market and dragging the cruising demograph down. The average passenger on my cruise would have been in their thirties. That being said, it’s a broad church, with plenty of seniors have a whale of time.
Come nightfall, be sure to book a complimentary seat at Two70, the futuristic entertainment venue which has revolutionised the typical big-show affair at sea. The multi-storey glass-panelled back end of the ship transforms into a sweeping screen for projections, while six flat-screen rhythmic robots, called roboscreens, rev up the illumination magic even more. Studded with high-tech wizardry, the multi-dimensional live shows on Ovation of the Seas would have to be the best I’ve ever seen, on a cruise. Plus the top-knotch showbiz offerings continue in the Royal Theatre and Music Hall.
Ovation of the Seas has completely revamped dining at sea, by rolling out a ridiculous slate of options. The traditional notion of the Main Dining Room has been unceremoniously axed, replaced with five complimentary and distinct main restaurants. They form part of the ship’s full culinary arsenal, spanning 18 separate dining venues.
On my three night taster cruise, I focused my sights on the ship’s signature restaurants, which were truly exceptional. If you’re up for a dose of extravagant molecular gastronomy in fantasy surrounds, Wonderland will wow you with its zany but delicious cuisine. Izumi is an exquisite celebration of Japanese cuisine of the highest order. And if you’ve been hankering to sample a Jamie Oliver-branded restaurant, Jamie’s Italian is a flavourful salute to fresh, seasonal Italian cuisine, share platters and rustic, handmade dishes.
The only time I noticed the ship strain under the shuddering crush of humanity was when waiting for a lift. The wait could be interminable. But perhaps that’s a sneaky ruse to incentivise you take the stairs, to help burn off your last calorific intake.
Ovation of the Seas will soon become a familiar visitor to our ports. Based Down Under over the summer season and home-ported in Sydney, there’s a variety of Tasman and South Pacific cruises on offer. For further details, head to www.royalcaribbean.com
Mike Yardley is Newstalk ZB’s Travel Correspondent on Saturday Mornings with Jack Tame.