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Fifteen months from now, Royal Caribbean International (www.royalcaribbean.com) will launch Oasis of the Seas, the vessel it hopes will redefine the meaning of "cruise ship" in a way even its groundbreaking Voyager- and Freedom-class ships did not. A full 38% larger than the Freedom-class vessels (which currently hold the record for largest passenger ships ever built), Oasis will carry 5,400 passengers and about 2,000 crew, and will soar 16 stories above the sea, but its impressive measurements aren't the big story. Instead, Oasis represents a radical reimagining of the standard cruise ship configuration.

Picture your standard ship. You enter at one of the lower decks into a multistory atrium that serves as a landmark for the whole vessel. This deck and the one above typically offer most of the ship's indoor public areas -- theaters, bars, restaurants, etc. Above that are several decks of cabins, and above that are the open pool deck and several small sun decks, with an indoor nightclub, buffet restaurant, and spa at the bow and stern. Nearly every large cruise ship at sea today follows this general arrangement, but Oasis will break the mold by mixing indoor and outdoor in a completely new way.

Over the course of the past year, Royal Caribbean has revealed several "neighborhoods" that, according to the line, "will provide vacationers with the opportunity to seek out relevant experiences in various locales based on their personal style, preference, or mood." As of this week, five of those neighborhoods had been unveiled.

Central Park

The most spectacularly natural area on Oasis, Central Park is designed as a central "canyon" dipping below the open pool deck. Open to the sky on top, it offers six decks of balcony staterooms along its walls, with views of the sky above and the park below, with its pathways, seasonal flower gardens, and canopy of trees. Restaurants opening to the space will range from an elegant specialty restaurant to an al fresco cafe, an Italian restaurant, a steakhouse, and a wine bar. Among the several bars planned for the park is one that moves among three decks while you drink.

The Pool and Sports Zone

Stretching the length of the ship, the Pool and Sports Zone slices and dices the traditional pool deck, turning it from a ring of deck chairs around a pool into five distinct areas offering different experiences for different tastes:

  • Located to one side of the Central Park canyon, the first Beach Pool at sea will have a sloped entry that allows guests to wade into the water. Beach chairs with umbrellas will be arranged in a semicircle along the slope, and two whirlpools and ranks of deck chairs to either side.
  • On the other side of the Central Park canyon, across a bridge that provides views into the park below, the Main Pool area provides a traditional cruise ship pool experience, with a central pool and two side-by-side whirlpools surrounded on three sides by deck chairs. Overlooking both the main and beach pools will be several private cabanas, which come with the services of a dedicated attendant.
  • For kids (and parents who want to get silly), the H2O Zone is an interactive splash-and-spray playground dominated by a giant octopus whose tentacles spray water. Slides and other water-spouting ocean creatures are dotted around the other, along with separate wading and current pools and a dedicated infant and toddler pool. Adult and child-sized lounge chairs surround the area.
  • For adults (and only adults), Oasis's Solarium is both -- a solarium and an oasis. Curving around the bow of the ship, the two-deck-high, glass-paneled, open-air enclave is designed with seating on various "islands" surrounded by water. Features will include a calm swimming pool, two whirlpools, and four "cantilevered" whirlpools set in protrusions suspended over the side of the ship, 136 feet above the ocean. The mezzanine level of the Solarium will overlook the pool deck below, offering additional chaise lounges and seating, while a new Solarium Bistro will offer casual, healthy cuisine during the day and a regular dinner menu in the evenings, when it transforms into a romantic spot for dining and dancing under the stars.
  • Toward the stern, the Sports Deck will offer a Sports Pool for morning lap swimming and afternoon team sports (including basketball, badminton, and water polo); a nine-hole miniature golf course; a Sports Court for basketball and volleyball; two rock-climbing walls; two FlowRider surfing simulators; and the first zip-line at sea, which crosses the nine-deck chasm formed by the ship's "Boardwalk" area (see below). Casual drinking and dining will be available here at the Wipe Out Bar and Wipe Out Cafe.

Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center

More than a spa, the Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center is an entire neighborhood dedicated to "complete body wellness." Guests will be encouraged to begin their spa experience by unwinding in the calming relaxation rooms, then partaking from the large menu of treatments.

The new Vitality at Sea Spa will also include a Thermal Suite (featuring heated tile loungers, saunas, and steam rooms) and a dedicated kids and teens spa, as well as a Vitality Cafe serving healthy juices, snacks, and light meals.

The largest Fitness Center at sea will offer a wide selection of the latest cardio and resistance equipment, plus classes that include spinning, kickboxing, Pilates, yoga, and "Kinesis," a full-body, no-impact workout utilizing fluid, natural movement to engage several muscle groups simultaneously.

The Boardwalk

Like Central Park, Oasis's Boardwalk will be another open-air space modeled after seaside resorts like Coney Island. Positioned in Oasis's stern, the boulevard is hemmed to port and starboard by six decks of cabins, each of which sports a rounded balcony with views of the restaurants (including a malt shop), shops, and carnival games below. An original, handcrafted carousel -- the first ever on a cruise ship -- will be positioned at the forward end of the Boardwalk, while the stern will be taken up with the first outdoor amphitheater at sea, called the AquaTheater. Outfitted with largest freshwater pool ever put on a cruise ship, the AquaTheater will offer passengers the chance to swim, take SCUBA lessons, and sun themselves on the surrounding tiered platforms during the day, but at night it transforms into a performance space for shows of acrobatics, synchronized swimming, water ballet, and professional high-diving, as well as "dancing fountain" shows synchronized to music and lights.

The Royal Promenade

Royal Caribbean's Royal Promenade concept first appeared aboard its Voyager of the Seas in 1999: a covered, multi-deck, Main StreetÂ?like promenade running through the center of the ship, lined with restaurants, bars, and other attractions. On Oasis, though, the Promenade will be sunlit, with the central section of its roof opening up to the upper Central Park neighborhood. It will also feature a mezzanine level that overlooks the main promenade below.

Beyond the "Neighborhoods"

Oasis's other "neighborhoods" are yet to be revealed, but RCI has given a few hints about what else the ship will offer, including the first bi-level loft suites at sea, offering luxury amenities and huge ocean views through floor-to-ceiling, double-height windows.

Oasis of the Seas is due to begin sailing in December 2009, and bookings are expected to open next month, September 2008, The ship will homeport in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

A sister-ship, Allure of the Seas, is currently scheduled to launch in 2010.

Renderings and virtual "tours" of Oasis's neighborhoods are available at a dedicated website, www.oasisoftheseas.com.