The Royal treatment: Rhapsody's Oasis-style upgrades

By Johanna Jainchill
Rhapsody of the Seas Concierge LoungeRoyal Caribbean International's $300 million investment program to revitalize the older ships in its fleet begs the question of whether a cruise ship built in 1997 can truly be "Oasisicized."

The term comes from the Oasis class, a fleet of two Royal Caribbean ships, the 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, which are the line's newest, and the world's largest, cruise ships.

During a travel agent tour of the recently revitalized Rhapsody of the Seas this summer in Seattle, it was clear that while the ship would not be mistaken for the Oasis anytime soon, its new public spaces and upgraded amenities will make a big difference in clients' perceptions and in agents' ability to sell the vessel.

The Rhapsody's upgrade is part of Royal's $300 million "Royal Advantage" program, in which 11 ships will be given many of the features and services made popular on the Oasis and Allure, through 2014.

The Rhapsody's upgrade was done over a month in Singapore, where $54 million was spent to create what Royal calls "a virtually new ship."

Rhapsody of the Seas WayfinderThe ship received an end-to-end refresh of all its furniture, carpet and upholstery, and totally renovated cabins; five new dining venues; a Diamond lounge for Crown and Anchor loyalty guests; and a Concierge Lounge for suite and top-tier loyalty guests.

One of the most striking changes for the Rhapsody is that the revamp took it from being a ship with no specialty restaurants to now having three: the line's signature steakhouse Chops Grill and two restaurants that debuted on the Oasis, Giovanni's Table (Italian) and Izumi (Asian).

To make room for so many additions, the architects had to reconceive areas that were previously considered underutilized.

"We looked at what we would like to offer our guests on the ship and what potential spaces could accommodate the new offerings, while factoring in potential guest flow," said Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support and services for Royal Caribbean.

Izumi and the new Concierge Lounge were both placed in what was the back of the ship's Viking Crown Lounge. Doug Grau, a regional sales director for Royal Caribbean who was onboard the Rhapsody to give the tour as part of Travel Weekly's CruiseWorld conference in June, said the lounge's rear space had been one of those underutilized areas.

"It's perfect for a specialty restaurant," he said. "I'm glad to see it being used."

Another example is Giovanni's Table, built where there had previously been a meetings room that wasn't used much, Grau said.

Rhapsody of the Seas Chops GrillThe Rhapsody's pool deck also got some substantial additions, including the Park Cafe, the popular salad-and-sandwich shop born in the Oasis' Central Park neighborhood. On the Rhapsody, the cafe is on the pool deck and looks almost nothing like the one on the Oasis but does share its menu and concept, which includes custom-designed salads and several choices of soups and sandwiches. Other additions include a giant screen overlooking the pool deck.

The Rhapsody's five-story Centrum space was also reinvented and given technology that enables daily acrobatic shows to be performed from two chandeliers hanging from the top deck. Performers dangling from the chandeliers pour champagne into passengers' glasses.

At the base of the Centrum, the former Champagne Bar has been rebranded the R Bar, and was redesigned with what Grau called a "Mad Men," '60s-inspired style. Current with the trend, its menu focuses on signature cocktails mixed by an onsite drink "mixologist."

A favorite from the Oasis ships, the Rhapsody was also given a Wayfinder navigating system, touch-screen signs that give information on activities and provide directions to any room or venue on the ship.

Program-wise, the Rhapsody was given the Royal Babies and Tots Nursery for passengers 6 to 36 years old, which debuted on the Oasis, and remains one of the cruise industry's few programs catering to such young children.

According to Freed, ships that have undergone the Royal Advantage renovations get better guests reviews.

"[The] revitalizations offer guests our signature vacation experience, but modernized and with more options to further enhance today's changing tastes and styles," she said. "Our ships were great ships in their own rights before revitalization. With revitalizations, every Royal Caribbean ship is our best ship."

Follow Johanna Jainchill on Twitter @jjainchilltw. 
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