GUY RAZ, host:
We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
We're headed into the year's biggest travel week, and it doesn't get much bigger than what's docked in Port Everglades, Florida, right now. It's called the Oasis of the Seas, and it's the largest cruise ship ever built, five times the size of the Titanic, with a price tag of $1.5 billion.
It's a gamble for an industry in the midst of a slump. Royal Caribbean, the world's number two cruise line, has seen sales drop 15 percent since last year. So it's hoping this investment will pay off.
NPR's Greg Allen headed out to the port a few days ago to climb aboard the boat.
GREG ALLEN: Yes, it's large, half again as large as any other cruise ship, with room for 6,300 passengers. It doesn't take its first revenue-producing cruise until next month, but the Oasis of the Seas already has had thousands of guests, people like Melodie Williams, a travel agent from Knoxville, Tennessee.
Ms. MELODIE WILLIAMS (Travel Agent): We've all been so excited. We really have. I think it's just going to be something people can't even imagine till they walk on board.
ALLEN: Almost as massive as the ship itself is the amount of buzz Royal Caribbean has created. Travel agents, cruise blogs and cruise fans have been able to follow the ship's progress from construction to its maiden voyage across the Atlantic in video on a special Web site, generating, the company claims, some 10 million hits. There was a live broadcast on "Good Morning America," also mentioned on "The Jay Leno Show" and "Saturday Night Live."
Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein says it's not just about being big. The large size allows Oasis of the Seas to give guests more options in dining, recreation, even cabins. It's the first ship to offer two-story, loft-style cabins priced as high as $34,000 per week.
Mr. ADAM GOLDSTEIN (Chief Executive Officer, Royal Caribbean): And what guests are telling us is that they want the variety and the choices. That way, nothing is regimented and they can choose the vacation that works for them.
ALLEN: The Oasis of the Seas is taller than other ships, with 16 passenger decks, but most of its size comes from its width. Building it wider than any other passenger vessel allowed designers to open up the ship's interior with a huge atrium.
Taking me on a tour of the ship, Royal Caribbean Vice President Ken Muskat said another innovation was designing the ship around seven different neighborhoods.
Mr. KEN MUSKAT (Vice President, Royal Caribbean): So right now, we're walking into the boardwalk. We've got, you know, this is meant to represent a whole Coney-Island-type feel. So we've got the ice cream shop, we've got the donut shop, we've got a beautiful, life-size carousel with all of these horses and tigers and rabbits that were hand-carved for Oasis.
ALLEN: Now, we just saw someone fly overhead. What is that?
Mr. MUSKAT: We actually have a zip line that goes from one end of the boardwalk all the way across the other end of the boardwalk. So it's basically nothing beneath you, it's nine stories up, and you're just going over the boardwalk, flying.
ALLEN: Other neighborhoods include an entertainment zone with ice shows, a jazz club and a 90-minute production of the Broadway show "Hairspray." But the most impressive neighborhood might be Central Park: a large, landscaped garden surrounded by shops, restaurants and decks of passenger cabins. It's easy to forget that you're actually on a ship.
It is truly a park with over 12,000 real-life plants and trees, and these were all planted in 48 hours, once the ship got to Port Everglades, and it really does feel like a real-life Central Park.
ALLEN: It's part cruise ship, part theme park. For many cruisers, it's the ship, not the Caribbean ports it visits, that will be the destination.
In fact, only a handful of ports in the Caribbean are large enough to handle the Oasis and its sister ship, Allure of the Seas, set for delivery next year.
Royal Caribbean began planning its new mega-cruise ships some six years ago and had not anticipated taking delivery during a major recession. But CEO Adam Goldstein says there was never any question about delaying the ship's construction and delivery.
Mr. GOLDSTEIN: This is going to be a mainstay of our asset base for a long time. So we're very optimistic generally about the business that we're in and specifically the performance of Oasis of the Seas.
ALLEN: It's a pricey ticket. The least expensive start at $1,200 per person per week, but travel agents say there's a lot of demand for reservations, with some weeks and rooms in 2010 already in short supply.
Royal Caribbean says it already sees reservations rebounding from last year's lows, up 40 percent since September. That's a trend the company hopes to build on with the buzz it's generated by introducing the world's largest cruise ship, at least for now.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
RAZ: And to see photos of that giant ship, check out our Web site, npr.org.
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