This past winter I happened to overfly the Caribbean after my annual winter visit with my condor friends in South America. After landing in Fort Lauderdale for a brief rest I couldn't help but notice the newest of the world's largest cruise liners. You see it’s always sunny in Florida unless there’s a hurricane or the world’s largest cruise ship is blocking out the light and this particular behemoth, called the Oasis of the Seas, is 16 stories tall.
Out of curiosity about this latest foible of humanity, I purchased a ticket for a week long cruise (a modest cabin that cost $5000) and beetled up the gangway into the belly of the beast. At a gross weight of more than 225,000 tonnes and a passenger carrying capacity of 6,296 the effect was somewhat unbelievable to a creature of my reserved disposition. Nevertheless, since I'd never met anyone who'd been on a Caribbean cruise and hoping I might meet Johnny Depp in order to get his autograph for susan, I soldiered (sailored?) on.
Gliding up, up, up in one of the glass elevators, it became clear how immense and strange this ship is as I stepped out onto the highest, largest pool deck in the world. Ranks of sunbeds stretched off into the distance by the hundred, on multiple levels around two large swimming pools; there is also a children’s water park and a waterpolo pool. Hanging gardens draped down four decks with flowering vines and ferns. The ship has seven 'neighborhoods' including the world's largest floating park - Central Park. Is this a giveaway as to who is expected to sail on these monsters? There are 24 restaurants as well as a huge dining room, boutiques and a 1400 seat theater. I was reminded of Wall-E where huge people who spend their lives on floating couches sail around a world that's filled with garbage.
I'd thought a ship cruise was about breathing fresh sea air, reading a good book and perhaps alighting at a port where one can meet new people and learn their views. This one hardly docks at all and besides, there's so much entertainment and extravaganza most passengers barely looked outside.
I wonder if the Oasis of the Seas is a symbol for the end of western civilization, a gargantuan ship that's really America for Americans who don’t want to travel? Amazingly enough, there's an ongoing battle among cruise lines to build bigger and bigger ships like this that don't go anywhere. You may as well offer people vacations away from it all in old warehouses with giant video screens.
I ran into my old friend Arthur Frommer who agreed: 'The sole explanation for a 6,000-passenger ship is that it is able to offer more entertainment and thus cater to more of those people who are unable to entertain themselves, those arrested personalities who rely on constant, massive, outside distractions to ward off depression. I’m talking about people who get fidgety if they have no nearby television set, who never read a magazine, let alone a book.'
After two days of searching I eventually found my way to the topmost deck where there were were towers and funnels and a real sea breeze. I spread my wings and flew home.