First cruises for new classes of ships often mean unexpected problems. In this case, they happened to the two things I wanted to see the most.
Of all of the shows presented on Oasis of the Seas, the one I was most looking forward to was Oasis of Dreams to be presented in the AquaTheater. I purposely booked the first passenger cruise of Oasis specifically so I could see many of the shows that were advertised as part of the Oasis cruise experience. But I was especially looking forward to that one show, because nothing like it has ever been done on a cruise ship before.
Apparently, my attraction to the show is what turned out to be its downfall.
Yes, I was one of the fortunate media invited by Royal Caribbean to see the ship during the first 2-night cruise sailing November 20th. But none of the promised Oasis stage shows were ready for that cruise. So, I paid full fare for myself and wife, including airfare from the West Coast, to revisit the ship and sail on December 1st, just so I could report to you, our special readers, on what the Oasis shows are really like.
Okay, I also booked the cruise for my own personal enjoyment. Oasis is just a fantastic ship, and I really wanted my wife to see it. I was also extremely excited about being able to try out 150 Central park, the specialty restaurant where the best young chef in the world winner, KeriAnn Van Raesfeld, presides. So, before I go on, I want to say that I have sources that say the problems I describe here will be worked out by the end of 2009, completely. It is just a little sad that I happened to be disappointed by the two things I was looking forward to the most.
When I booked the cruise, way back in August, I believe I was one of the very first people to actually use the new Royal Caribbean online reservation system for shows, shore excursions and restaurants. The entire system's existence just happened to be announced the very morning I received my cruise reservation number.
click on pictures below for larger images:
|Fancy Dive from the 32' platform||Acrobat in Dramatic Pose||Icarus dancers lost in darkness above pool|
I eagerly logged into the Royal Caribbean Web site, booked my reservations for the AquaTheater Show Oasis of Dreams and my reservation for 150 Central Park. I was amazed when the site asked me and actually charged my credit card for the restaurant reservation, $35 apiece for two people.
Unfortunately, there was no notice given then, or at any time, that any of the shows would not be ready by the time my cruise set sail. It was obvious that the stage show Come Fly with Me was not being offered, but no reason was given. What is frustrating, however ,was that the AquaTheater show Oasis of Dreams was pretty much advertised as being fully ready, with reservations available online months before the cruise actually sailed. I know because that was the very first thing I booked.
I also booked Hairspray in the main Opal Theater and the ice-show Frozen in Time in the Studio B ice rink. Both of those came off without a hitch. But the Aqua Theater show, Oasis of Dreams was not ready at all. The show started, and ended just 20 minutes later. When the staff came out for bows I actually thought the cruise director had made a mistake and meant to say this was only an early intermission.
Of course, cruise shows are included in the cruise fare, so I can't exactly ask for a refund, but the price of sailing on Oasis right now is certainly at a premium, largely because of those shows, so in that sense I lost out.
I have now heard from inside sources that what we saw was only five of the nine scenes to be included in the final Oasis of Dreams AquaTheater show, there was also no showing of the other AquaTheater show Splish-Splash. Once I realized the show really was over, I realized I had not seen portions of rehearsals I had video-taped on my previous media cruise (one week earlier) that contained a beautifully choreographed piece. The stage was configured as water in the right half with a maiden in a floating umbrella, and on the left a chorus of talented modern dancers rose up from underwater as an ensemble (upon a submerged lift) until it became a solid stage as it reached equilibrium with the water on the right where the maiden continued to float. The dancers broke into a primitive and evocative dance including high dives and highly athletic balancing acts. There is a link to a video of this below.
Speaking of high dives - here is also a video of the one from the show they did that night. I am sorry to say they do not seem to have worked out much lighting for the show yet - which is usually done after blocking. You can see many of the performers in the pictures are in the dark still. I am sure that will be fixed, but things must be done in a certain order.
The show we saw, only about 20 minutes long, started with a single dancer and several swimming men with Icarus wings who scrambled up the dive platforms and jumped in synchronicity. That was followed by an impressive acrobatic and diving sequence, then a lengthy synchronized swimming routine. That was basically the whole show.
The other show scheduled for production in the AquaTheater, Splish-Splash is advertised as a comedic diving show. My sources tell me this show is also not ready, but is being worked on now and should be done as soon as the Dec 12, or the following cruise, at the latest.
So, what exactly was the problem with the two AquaTheater shows that led to them not being ready for the first cruises? First let me explain what these shows entail. They are based on two very popular hits in Las Vegas, the first being Eau (French for the word 'water') performed by a troupe of Cirque D' Soleil that specializes in flying, diving and trampoline acrobatics. The other very popular water-based show in Las Vegas is La Reve at the Wynn, the newest and poshest hotel in Las Vegas. The Oasis AquaTheater shows are meant to rival what is being done in those two Vegas shows.
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|Bows: stage right||Synchronized Swimmers||bows: stage left|
But here are the challenges: Oasis was built in Finland and embarked on its transatlantic journey to Florida in early November, 2009. Obviously, there was very little about the AquaTheater that could be used on a ship located above the Arctic Circle in late autumn. While in Turku, Finland, they couldn't even fill the pool without the water freezing overnight. Oasis arrived in Ft Lauderdale two days later than scheduled, on November 13th, but still a good eight days before the first guests were scheduled to embark. What is now obvious however, but was never announced publicly, was that there was still plenty of work left to be done on the AquaTheater Shows that could only be done in Florida.
We all heard that Oasis encountered 40-foot waves during its Atlantic crossing, but the captain told us that the ship was so stable that the rehearsals for the AquaTheater shows still went on uninterrupted. I don't want to say the captain was intentionally misleading us, but perhaps he was misinformed. The kind of things that needed true rehearsal for the show - high diving choreography, underwater breathing apparatus and complicated underwater stage machinery could not possibly have been done under those conditions - as my source has reminded me, this is a show where people could die as a result of the smallest mishap.
Here is a note for those who may not have noticed. In the rock-climbing walls adjacent to the theater are traffic lights; red and green. Those are actually for the divers, green meaning the underwater stage rigging is all clear from the 13-foot deep landing area so they can make their dives.
No matter how stable a ship may be, you cannot operate complicated underwater stage rigging or dive from 58 foot platforms into a 13-foot pool when a ship is sailing in 40-foot waves. My sources tell me that very little was accomplished during the transatlantic voyage, but the cruise line apparently remained confident they still had enough time available in Ft Lauderdale to get the shows ready.
But then what happened? After the ship arrived two days late there was a last-minute scheduling of a concert by mega-star Rihanna for the night if the 19th to take place on the AquaTheater stage. Concerts don't just take a few hours, they require days of planning, loading in special equipment, sound-checks, blocking (staging the choreography to fit on the small stage) and more. I would estimate the Rihanna concert had the AquaTheater cast virtually locked out of their own venue for at least three solid days.
Then there was the Good Morning America taping, which also required days of pre-planning. Any shipboard staff that may have been assigned to helping the AquaTheater was taken off that detail and put on GMA, most likely for at least a couple of days - more setbacks.
click on pictures below for larger images:
|Acrobats balanced on balls||Icarus swimmers strike a dramatic pose|
These two events ate up half of the mere seven days the Aqua-cast had set aside for rehearsals before guests were scheduled to arrive. By the time the media and travel agent cruises started on the 19th, they had only had about three days of full access to their venue. Now, one of my sources who worked directly with Royal Caribbean on these shows tells me that water-based shows are extremely complicated. As she wrote to me, To say they are still working out the kinks is not exactly accurate as the Aqua Theater's complexity requires an inordinate amount of time in which to mount a show. Eau and Le Reve in Las Vegas took many years with the actual rehearsals in the theater exceeding eight months, she said.
I also noticed that one of the major technological pieces of the show I was hoping to see, the underwater cameras showing on the side-mounted screens, also were not working. Seeing what is happening underwater is half the fun in a show like that. What we saw looked like '60s light shows and had nothing to do with the show.
Now, I have seen La Reve and it is far more complicated than these shows, the theater at the Wynn cost over $100,000,000. They not only have a very complicated underwater system, La Reve even heats the backstage area to a constant 86-degrees to keep the swimmers warm between entrances.
Still, keep in mind that unlike Hairspray or the Ice Show, the AquaTheater cast had no rehearsal venue. All they have to prepare the show is the AquaTheater onboard Oasis. Their rehearsal time was cut in half by the Rihanna and GMA productions, and my source also cites added interruptions from other required cast obligations like fire drills and rehearsals for non-AquaTheater events like the Royal Promenade parades.
Long story short (too late, I know), I hear that the shows are going to be spectacular when they are ready, and that will hopefully be by January 2010. Furthermore, there is a bit of friction between the producers of the show and the cruise line. The former believe an honesty is the best policy approach would satisfy the customers far more than the cruise line's attitude of let's give them what we've got and not tell them what's missing.
It is hard to say who is right. The producer believes the audience would appreciate hearing about the complexity of what they are trying to achieve with the first water-based show at sea, but the cruise line knows that cruisers can be terrific complainers, and given an inch they can complain for a mile. I really would have appreciated knowing I was not going to see the main attraction for which I booked the cruise, and hence I am complaining. I paid full fare, but only got a reduced percentage of what was promised, similar to my 150 Central Park Experience.
Bottom line; the AquaTheater shows will be ready very soon. No big deal, a slight misstep. The show's producers are absolutely sure than once the blocking and lighting design is finished these shows will be the best shows on the ship, and I don't doubt them. I only wish them God's speed, and that I had seen them.
I just have to remind myself, as I have written before to my readers, that first cruises often have glitches. That's show-biz, folks. That is also the cruise business. Unfortunately for me, the two things I distinctly wanted to see the most; the AquaTheater shows and the cuisine of executive chef KeriAnn Van Raesfeld at 150 Central Park were the two things that let me down the most. Not because of any lack of talent, but actually because the cruise line did not give either of them the resources they needed to provide what was promised, according to what I have been told by inside sources.
Final note: we also did not see Come Fly with Me, the other stage show slated for the Opal Theater. The show is said to also be highly acrobatic with lots of aerial, trapeze, silks and tight rope acts which all together comprise what is usually referred to as a flying show. This show should be ready for the first 7-day cruise and may have even been shown already.