Simon Johanson discovers a small township taking shape as the world's biggest cruise ship nears completion.
In a little more than two months, Oasis of the Seas will be cruising the waters of the Caribbean on its maiden voyage. For now, however, it is in a shipyard in Turku, on the south-west coast of Finland, with 2000 workers on board, busy putting the finishing touches to what is said to be the largest cruise ship in the world. Sea trials began in May and next month the liner is due to be handed over to its owners, Royal Caribbean.
On my visit to the shipyard, the ship's gleaming white turrets of steel and glass dwarf the gantries and cranes perched alongside. Though the ship is 95 per cent finished, many fittings are missing and, as I move through the interior, I continually have to duck wiring, step over cabling and avoid workmen.
I get a better sense of the size of Oasis only when I emerge on the top deck, which provides view over Turku harbour.
"We made the ship 50 per cent bigger than anything we've ever done, in fact any other cruise ship out there, because we had so many things we wanted to do," the chief executive of Royal Caribbean, Richard Fain, says. "On Oasis of the Seas, working together with the architects, with the shipyard, with our own engineers, we've been able to make much better use of the space than ever before."
There's certainly plenty of space – the ship is 360 metres long and 65 metres wide. The Oasis story is one of large numbers and cruising firsts.
There is the ship's capacity, for a start: 6300 passengers and 2165 crew. There's the accommodation: it includes 2706 staterooms, some of which span two decks and feature floor-to-ceiling windows with ocean views. The plant life: 12,000 plants, including 56 trees, some more than seven metres tall. The activities: on-board surfing, scuba diving, ice skating, shopping. And so the list goes.
Fain anticipates that the size of the vessel and the scope of activities and facilities will entice passengers on all budgets. Certainly he is encouraged by ticket sales despite the economic climate.
To accommodate all those people, the ship is divided into seven "neighbourhoods", including Central Park and Royal Promenade. And there is no shortage of things to keep passengers entertained.
Among the attractions are an aqua theatre pool 5.4 metres deep, two rock-climbing walls, the obligatory casino and 21 swimming pools and jacuzzis. There's also a carousel, ice rink, themed bars and restaurants, high-end shops, a nightclub, a Rising Tide bar that ascends three decks while you sip your martini, a wedding chapel, scuba diving lessons, two wave-flow riders for surfing, a jogging track, library and roaming entertainers.
Entertainment also includes stunt divers, swimmers and actors performing in the 50-metre-wide outdoor pool amphitheatre designed to seat 500 guests.
Royal Caribbean's schedule has the first Oasis cruise starting in early December in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with ports of call that include Charlotte Amalie in St Thomas, Philipsburg in St Maarten and Nassau in the Bahamas.
Ready for that voyage is Captain William Wright, who began his seafaring career aged 16 and has taken the helm of several new cruise ships on debut at Royal Caribbean.
He had a sneak peak at the ship's performance during the pre-launch "floating out" ceremony last November.
"It's clearly one of the most stable ships we have built," he says. "The size has allowed us to ... demonstrably increase the safety of the ship, which is really nice to know. It helps us captains sleep at night."
Other safety features include smoke and heat detectors and a Hi-Fog water mist fire-extinguishing system.
The ship will have three doctors, five nurses and one medical assistant on board.
It is equipped with 18 life boats – or "rescue vessels", as Wright prefers to call them – each with a toilet on board. "That's a first, I can assure you," he says.
Simon Johanson travelled courtesy of Royal Caribbean.