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FORT LAUDERDALE — The world’s largest cruise ship sailed with its first customers Friday from Port Everglades breaking in the first of two Florida homes planned for the Royal Caribbean vessel this year.
Slated to move up to Port Canaveral this fall, the Wonder of the Seas takes the superlative title from its four sister Oasis-class vessels.
“It’s not a goal for us to say the next ship will be the biggest ship,” said Mark Tamis, Royal Caribbean International’s senior vice president of hotel operations. “It’s always about being the best ship and that’s what’s most important for us. To be able to deliver these stages where the crew just create the experience and deliver a great vacation. That’s what it’s all about for us.”
For its debut sailings, the ship will breeze through two months of seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries including stops at Royal’s private Bahamas island Perfect Day at CocoCay. At the end of April, the ship will migrate to Europe for voyages out of both Barcelona and Rome in the Mediterranean through October. It will then return to the United States headed for year-round service from Port Canaveral beginning in November.
“Orlando might be one of the greatest vacation places, so having this ship there is really a head-on statement that we are the best,” Tamis said. “We want to be in that market for families and … it was a pretty easy choice, so we’re excited to be there.”
It’s the first time the Orlando-area port will be getting an Oasis-class ship the same year that it debuted. Port Canaveral has hosted three of its sister ships and currently hosts Harmony of the Seas.
Wonder of the Seas is the fifth of six announced Oasis-class ships, coming in at 1,188 feet long, 217 feet wide ship with 18 decks and 2,867 staterooms. Its gross tonnage is 236,857 with a 6,988-guest maximum capacity, the highest among all Oasis-class ships.
The other four ships in the class each held the title of world’s largest cruise ship starting with Oasis of the Seas in 2008 followed by Allure of the Seas in 2009, Harmony of the Seas in 2016 and Symphony of the Seas in 2018. In reality, the first four ships have been only incrementally larger.
“I don’t know that there is a limit to how big we’re gonna go and I don’t think there’s a limit to how small we want to go,” said Jay Schneider, Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president and chief product innovation officer. “We continue to imagine classes of the future and there’s classes of all shapes and sizes.”
A tour of the ship Friday showed off the ship’s enormity. While it has a lot of the same features and movement from the class’ signature neighborhoods, there’s a lot of moments where travelers are likely to walk into a space and just blink at its immensity.
The buffet restaurant Windjammer, for instance, is now the largest in the fleet, bifurcated on Deck 15 aft with food options and tables stretching out of sight. The same could be said for the Adventure Ocean kids club where children 12 and younger have ample space to play.
And the main dining room appointed with unique glass fixtures and alluring deep red hues and floral patterns has carved out a massive chunk of space across three decks.
But the line has taken its normal care to fill all the spaces with details. The themes are similar to other ships across the fleet, such as the hand-chosen car parked on the promenade — this one a red Mustang — along with an eye-catching massive chrome sculpture of a cowboy hat.
It’s one of dozens of visual stops along a selfie-friendly labyrinth.
Many of the features are the same as its sister ships such as the popular Ultimate Abyss dry slide with its signature angler fish entryway and twisting purple twin tubes winding down 10 decks to the Boardwalk neighborhood.
Cruisers will find the AquaTheater, the ice rink, a carousel, the Zoltar fortune-telling machine made popular in the movie “Big,” a rock climbing wall, a zip line, but not everything is the same.
The line took over the space dedicated to one of two FlowRiders found on other Oasis-class ships, and made a new underwater-themed outdoor play area for families called Wonder Playscape with mini-golf, slides, climbing walls and an interactive touch mural.
Constructed at Chantiers de l’Atlantique since 2019, Royal Caribbean took possession of what is now its 26th vessel in January. It was originally supposed to go to China, but the pandemic shifted plans during construction.
“This is a special ship for us,” Schneider said. “The ship was built during COVID. That was not without its own challenges. It’s really hard to design, get through design quality or through concepts, get it operationally ready, adjust it when there are so many challenges building the ship during the COVID period.”
There weren’t that many adjustments needed once China-bound plans were foiled, Tamis said.
“We really didn’t think about westernizing it in any way, shape or form,” he said. “Ironically, the deployment gave us an opportunity to make changes that we were already learning elsewhere.”
That included the installation on the pool deck of the multistory Lime & Coconut bar that has proven popular on other ships. The deployment did allow for a Starbucks to make it on board, though, and of course the Mandarin signage needed to be changed, although there are still remnants in the cabins and in crew spaces.
‘We’re always about continuous improvement,” Schneider said. “That’s what’s cool about this ship. It really is the culmination of 50 years, and you see what works on every class coming together here on Wonder of the Seas.”
Since it’s the biggest, the ship also features the largest space carved out for suites on any Royal vessel with its own lounge, elevated sun deck with plunge pool, bar and loungers plus a private dining experience called Coastal Kitchen.
Wonder of the Seas touts it as the new eighth neighborhood while the other Oasis ships only have seven: Central Park, Boardwalk, Pool & Sports Zone, Entertainment Place, Royal Promenade, Vitality Spa & Fitness Center and Youth Zone.
While similar, the little touches like the unusual half woman-half rabbit sculpture holding a pear and the balloon-toting astronaut statues certainly live up to the name “Wonder.”
“There’s actually three or four really fun experiments going on on the ship right now,” Schneider said.
That includes the new Vue Bar that took the place of one of the cantilevered hot tubs (there’s still one on the other side of the ship), and also a new dining concept that usurps Portside BBQ found on other Royal ships called The Mason Jar (cheekily located on the starboard side).
“There is Portside BBQ infused inside of it. It’s Southern extension for us, so barbecue adjacent, as we’ve been calling it,” Schneider said. “There’s really great music in the space. … and there’s a few other experiments. Brunch is an experiment at the Mason Jar.”
Menu items include buttermilk biscuits and jalapeno cornbread served with Cajun and whipped honey butter, Meemaw’s fried chicken n’ waffles, smoky deviled eggs, blueberry johnnycakes, charred watermelon salad, lobster n’ crawfish gumbo and crab beignets.
Other dining venues on board include Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar, Wonderland, Asian venue Izumi, American steakhouse Chops Grille, American seasonal dishes at 150 Central Park, Johnny Rockets, Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade, El Loco Fresh and Cantina Fresca.
Also new to the ship is a top-deck redesign that pushes the popular three-waterslide attraction The Perfect Storm adjacent for the first time to the kids waterpark called Splashaway Bay. And that made room for a more adult-friendly side-by-side pool space with submerged curved stone loungers.
“I know we’re not supposed to name our favorite children. But so far this is my favorite ship in our fleet. You’re gonna see some amazing transformations on this ship,” Schneider said.