The debut of outrageously extravagant ships was a theme in 2010, but which one rules the seas? We pit Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas against Norwegian's Epic, comparing activities (surfing!), over-the-top extras (ice bar!), and more.
Oasis:225,282 tons; total capacity of 6,296 cruisers, akin to the population of Hailey, Idaho.
Epic: 155,873 tons; total capacity of 5,183 cruisers, akin to the population of Moab, Ut.
>SCORE: 1 for Oasis!Sometimes size really does matter—at least when it comes to providing space for fun activities, meals, and more. At over 225,000 tons, Oasis dwarfs the Epic, which is sizeable in its own right.
Most Notable First
Oasis:Central Park is not only the first open-air park but also the largest green space on any ship, at 62 feet by 350 feet. It has more than 12,000 trees and plants (including fern pine and golden bamboo), as well as gardens of calla lilies and rabbit's foot ferns.
Epic: Svedka, the first-ever ice bar at sea. Parkas are loaned out at the door to patrons (maximum capacity: 25), and there's usually a line to get in. The $20 cover charge includes two Svedka-based cocktails. After that, each one costs $8.75.
>SCORE: 1 for Oasis!While an ice bar at sea is certainly cool and all, the actual experience—more like being in a walk-in freezer than in a club—is somewhat of a letdown. Meanwhile, the airy park actually delivers and is free for all.
Most Awesome Entertainment
Oasis: Ice shows at the ship's Studio B ice rink (free); diving and synchronized swimming spectaculars at the AquaTheater (free); and Disco Inferno Street Party theme nights during which partygoers boogie to the Bee Gees.
Epic: Shows by members of the Chicago-based Second City comedy troupe, where Tina Fey and Dan Aykroyd got their starts; the Cirque Dreams and Dinner acrobatic dinner theater ($20–$30); free Blue Man Group shows; and a Legends in Concert show with impersonators including Elvis, Michael Jackson, Shania Twain, and Cher. As many as 10 shows are offered daily.
>SCORE: 1 for Epic!You can count on Epic for both quality and quantity. Norwegian really went the extra mile to bring in first-rate acts and to guarantee that there are enough shows daily to grant everyone access.
Most Exciting Kid-Friendly Fun
Oasis: Baking-soda volcanoes and Crayola-sponsored coloring for the under-12 set; a Boardwalk with a full-size wooden carousel; Nintendo Wii consoles; and DJ lessons for teens.
Epic: A twice-weekly Nickelodeon Slime Time Live event—during which kids compete for the chance to end up green and goopy—plus dance parties with Dora the Explorer.
>SCORE: 1 for Epic!There's simply no contest here. As every kid knows, being slimed comes with bragging rights.
Most Adrenaline-Pumping Thrills
Oasis: Two FlowRider simulated surfing platforms, where you can borrow either surf boards or boogie boards, plus the first-ever zip line at sea.
Epic: A 2,112-square-foot climbing wall with a waterslide that cuts right through it to a swimming pool below, along with bungee jumping and the Spider Web, a 24-foot-tall enclosed climbing cage.
>SCORE: 1 for Oasis!This was a tough one. Epic clearly outdid itself with that unimaginably massive waterslide, but based on novelty alone, we just can't ignore the cool-factor of surfing or careening down a zip line 80 feet above the ocean.
Most Comfortable Cabins
Oasis: Among the 37 cabin options, the average stateroom size is 182 square feet. Guests are given the option of looking out over the ocean, the park, or nowhere at all.
Epic: The average room size is 216 square feet, and guests rave about the ample storage space and the fact that toilets are separate from showers. Unlike on all other cruise ships, solo cruisers can get their own room without paying a surcharge. The 128 Studio staterooms are smaller—at 100 square feet—but are equipped with the same amenities, full-size beds, and give guests access to a special solo cruisers' lounge.
>SCORE: 1 for Epic!We are totally on board with the fact that Epic treats solo and budget cruisers best. So much so that we gave Norwegian Cruise Line an Extra Mile Award this year for offering the solo cabins.
Most Satisfying Dining Choices
Oasis: Of the 24 restaurants—including a sushi bar and a Spanish-themed wine bar—cruisers eat for free at 12. The 150 Central Park restaurant is the priciest: $35 covers all food and some non-alcoholic drinks like coffee and tea; wine pairings cost extra and complement the six- to eight-course tasting menu that changes twice each voyage and seasonally each year.
Epic: Of the 20 restaurants—including a 24-hour sports pub and Shanghai's, a Chinese restaurant that has a noodle bar—cruisers eat for free at 11. Brazilian steak-house Moderno Churrascaria is the most popular option, where diners pay $18 for the salad bar and unlimited selections of meat.
>SCORE: 1 for Oasis!We did the math. On a seven-day cruise, you could eat every single meal in a different restaurant on the Oasis—no repeats. What's more, that extra free restaurant option really counts in our book.
Smackdown Verdict! Oasis Wins 4 to 3
Royal Caribbean is clearly doing something right. Not only is its Oasis the ruler of the seas when it comes to megaships, we know Budget Travel readers prefer it above all other lines. In our 2010 Readers' Choice poll, it was ranked No. 1. Get the scoop by reading profiles of real-life RCI-loving cruisers (on a different ship).
Most affordable itinerary: A five-night Western Caribbean cruise in an interior room for $749 per person. The ship departs December 18, 2010, and docks in Cozumel, Mexico, and Nassau, Bahamas.
Most affordable itinerary: A four-night Western Mediterranean cruise in an interior room from $509 per person. The ship departs May 18, 2011, and docks in Barcelona, Marseille, and Mallorca.