10 Megaships That Live Up to Their Hype

Oasis of the Seas ship Royal Caribbean
The biggest cruise ship ever, by far, Royal Caribbean's 225,000-ton, 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas (launched 2009) transcends it enormity through a layout that bunches experiences in "neighborhoods" around the vessel. All those people are so spread out, it allows many of the ship's restaurants and entertainment spaces to be surprisingly small and intimate. Biggest innovation? The vessel's split superstructure, with has the top eight decks bisected lengthwise by a long canyon, in which sit a huge open-air garden and a boardwalk-like entertainment zone. Besides letting light and air into the center of the ship, the effect makes the whole vessel feel more 3D -- like you're walking around a city, not shuffling from one horizontal deck to another.
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Oasis of the Seas Central Park Matt Hannafin
Oasis's most remarkable space is its open-air Central Park, a 21,000-square-foot tropical garden where more than 12,000 plants, trees, and vines grow amid winding paths and quiet seating nooks. Several restaurants and bars open off the space's ground level, most with al fresco seating. Up above, 254 balcony staterooms and 70 window-view staterooms flank the park to port and starboard -- the most bucolic "inside" cabins ever.
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Celebrity Solstice Celebrity Cruises
Introduced in 2008 and 2009, Celebrity Solstice and her twin sister, Celebrity Equinox (122,000 gross tons, 2,850 passengers), are the most flagrantly beautiful megaships ever built. Outside, their form is both massive and sleek, while inside a unifying high-end aesthetic ties the many moods and experiences of their public rooms into a satisfying whole. Mirroring all that's great about Celebrity's older ships -- their elegance, their remarkable modern art collections, etc. -- they also outshine them all, with a more contemporary look and a far wider range of dining and activity choices.
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Celebrity Solstice Lawn Club Matt Hannafin
Solstice and Equinox's most distinctive attraction is the Lawn Club, a half-acre of real grass growing 15 decks above the sea. A first for cruise ships, the area provides a country-club ambience: quiet, refined, and calming. Bring a picnic, start a game of lawn bowling or croquet, or just lie in the grass and cloud-gaze.
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Queen Mary 2 Cunard
Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, Cunard's 151,400-ton, 2,592-passenger Queen Mary 2 (launched 2003) is literally in a class by herself: a modern reinterpretation of the golden age luxury liner, bigger than anything but Royal Caribbean's Oasis and built extra-tough to sail transatlantic voyages in spring, summer, and fall. She's altogether remarkable: classic yet contemporary, refined yet fun, huge yet homey, and grand, grand, grand.
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Queen Mary 2's main restaurant Cunard
Queen Mary 2's main restaurant, the Britannia is a large, dramatic space that recalls the magnificent first-class restaurant on the original 1930s-era Queen Mary. Featuring a vaulted, Tiffany-style glass ceiling, candlelit tables, soaring pillars, and a huge tapestry of a liner against the New York skyline, the restaurant is grand without crossing the line to gaudy.
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Norwegian Pearl Norwegian Cruise Line
Megaships for Generations X and Y, the 93,000-ton, 2,390-passenger Norwegian Pearl and her twin sister, Norwegian Gem (launched 2006, 2007), might be the most fun big ships at sea today. Designed with a mix of class and fantasy, they offer a super-social atmosphere, creative decor, ten different restaurants (from teppanyaki to Tex-Mex), and music and pop culture references tailored to a surprisingly youngish demographic -- think 20-something to 50-something.
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Norwegian Pearl's Bliss Ultra Lounge Norwegian Cruise Line
At some point, NCL just decided to go with "sexy" as a leitmotif for some of their onboard spaces -- most particularly the Bliss Ultra Lounge on Pearl and Gem. Decorated with a kind of fashion-world meets bordello ambience, the room's mood-lit nooks are separated by thick red-velvet curtains and outfitted with large, pillow-strewn daybeds. For a retro-hip touch, there are also four 10-pin, Day-Glo bowling lanes.
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Princess Crown Princess Princess Cruises
The 113,000-ton, 3,070-passenger Crown Princess and her sister-ships Emerald and Ruby Princess (launched 2006, 2007, 2008) are the latest in Princess' extremely successful Grand class. Slightly larger than their predecessors and offering several extra dining choices, they look like nothing else at sea, with their 18 decks soaring up to space-age discos stretching from port to starboard way up in the stern. Though the vessels give an impression of immensity from the outside, inside they're extremely well laid out, very easy to navigate, surprisingly cozy, and almost never crowded.
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Princess Crown Princess Matt Hannafin
A signature feature of Princess's megaship fleet, Movies Under the Stars shows feature films and kids' movies on a 300-square-foot outdoor LED movie screen. You can reserve deck chairs for the evening feature films, and, yes, there's popcorn (free) and Raisinettes (for a price). It's great fun, and the sound and picture are awesome.
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Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas Royal Caribbean
A larger take on Royal Caribbean's aging Voyager-class ships, the 160,000-ton, 3,634-passenger Freedom of the Seas and her sister ships, Liberty and Independence of the Seas (launched 2006, 2007, 2008), are extremely well designed, avoiding crowding by spreading passengers among many interesting public areas. Like the Voyager ships, they offer rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks, and full-size basketball courts, but also add a kids' water park and a surfing simulator. Their four-story, boulevard-like Royal Promenades run more than a football field's length down the center of each ship and are lined with bars, shops, and lounges, providing a strollable, urban experience at sea.
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Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas Royal Caribbean
The Freedom ships' biggest marquee attraction is their FlowRider surfing simulators, whose powerful jets pump 30,000 gallons of water per minute up an inclined, wedge-shaped surface on which passengers attempt to hang ten. A soft, flexible surface absorbs the impact when you fall -- which you will.
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Princess Sapphire Princess Princess Cruises
Built in Nagasaki, Japan, the 116,000-ton, 2,670-passenger Sapphire and her identical sister ship, Diamond Princess, were absolutely the most pristine, immaculately constructed new vessels I'd ever seen when they debuted in 2004, their design more sleek, graceful, and streamlined than the line's Grand-class ships. Inside, they follow Princess's idea of "big ship choice with small ship feel." Outside, they offer a lovely multilevel resort area in their stern, with four decks descending in curved, horseshoelike tiers. Their promenade decks wrap all the way around to the bow, giving you the rare chance of taking the sea views at your ship's very prow.
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Princess Sapphire Princess Princess Cruises
Down a spiral staircase at the very aft of the Club Fusion entertainment lounge, Diamond and Sapphire's small, cozy Wake View Bar is a classy nook full of dark wood, leather chairs, and paintings depicting turn-of-the-20th-century tobacconists. TVs are tuned quietly to sports and six portholes overlook the namesake wake. Few people seem to venture down here, so let's keep it to ourselves, okay?
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Holland America Eurodam Holland America Line
The first ship of Holland America's new Signature class, the 2,044-passenger, 86,000-ton Eurodam (launched 2008) spices up the line's usual traditionalism with a Northern European decor. Touches like graceful pool cabanas and spa staterooms with special wellness amenities add a new sophistication, while Pan-Asian and Italian restaurants add to the other, more traditional onboard dining choices. Signature HAL favorites also remain: quiet after-dinner nooks at the Explorer's Lounge, a popular nightly piano bar, an art collection focused on Dutch Masters and contemporary artists, and those wonderful HAL crews.
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Holland America Eurodam spa Holland America Line
The Retreat, a new, adults-only (and extra-cost) sunning and relaxation option perched in a quiet spot above the main pool deck, offers 14 cabanas: tented, airy private worlds that come with chilled grapes, fruit trays, champagne, Evian water, chocolate, their own iPods for mood music, and the services of dedicated "cabana butlers" who can also serve you light breakfasts and lunches.
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Disney Wonder Disney Cruise Line
The oldest ships in this list, the 83,000-ton, 1,754-passenger Disney Wonder and her twin sister, Disney Magic, felt timeless when they launched in 1998-1999, and they remain so today. Successfully re-creating the grandeur of the classic transatlantic liners, they also translate the patented Disney magicĀ® to sea, with the very best entertainment and children's programs in the cruise biz, some of the best-designed family staterooms, several restaurants through which passengers (and their waiters) rotate during each cruise, and separate adult pools and lounges so parents can get away.
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Disney cruise ship lobby at Christmas Disney Cruise Line
The Disney ships are surprisingly elegant and well laid out, with the Disney-isms are sprinkled around subtly amid the Art Deco and Art Nouveau motifs. During holiday season, their lovely atria lobbies are done up in classic Christmas style, with a giant tree, Disney characters entertaining young guests, and even a sprinkling of faux snow.
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Exterior of Norwegian Epic Norwegian Cruise Line
Epic debuted in May 2010 and she is tres hip. Biggest things to look forward to? Entertainment by the Blue Man Group and the Second City comedy troupe; the outdoor, adults-only POSH Beach Club, offering Riviera relaxation by day and Miami partying by night; some 20 dining options, including South American churrascaria; super-cool Studio Cabins for hipsters, with customizable mood lighting and portholes into the ship's corridors; and an on-deck Aqua Park with the largest bowl slide and only tube slide at sea.
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Norwegian Epic Ice Bar Norwegian Cruise Line
Among Norwegian Epic's novelty attractions will be the cruise world's first Ice Bar, inspired by Scandinavia's famous ice bars and ice hotels. Kept at a about 17 degrees Fahrenheit, Epic's will feature a bar, walls, tables, stools, glasses, and sculptures all made from ice, and the room's 25 guests will pay a cover charge that includes drinks and the use of fur coats, gloves, and hats.
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