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Steve Chiotakis: Dreaming of an island getaway this holiday? Royal Caribbean International thinks they have just the thing: a boat the size of an island. It's the biggest cruise ship ever made -- but you can imagine, there are some challenges of setting sail in turbulent economic waters. Here's Marketplace's Rico Gagliano.
Rico Gagliano: The boat is called "The Oasis of the Seas." It's a quarter of a mile long, with accommodations for over 6,000 passengers. The ship has seven areas Royal Caribbean calls "neighborhoods." And CEO Adam Goldstein says that's not the only thing it has in common with a city. For example:
Adam Goldstein: Our central park, which is the length of a football field and 19 meters wide, will have 12,000 plants and trees. There's an area called "Boardwalk," and about nine decks above Boardwalk, our guests will be able to zip-wire across the open space diagonally.
Even Goldstein seems to understand the whole thing sounds crazy.
Goldstein: You note that I said all of that with a straight face. Well, you don't know that 'cause I'm on the radio, but I'm telling you that I said all that with a straight face.
But he says cruise ships have been getting larger for years as passengers demand more choices of stuff to do onboard. The boat made financial sense too, when construction began four years ago in the middle of an economic boom. But launching a ship this size in a recession? Some experts find that a little crazy.
Christopher Elliott: You know, I think the cruise line is thinking to itself, "What have we done here?"
Christopher Elliott is a travel writer and an ombudsman for National Geographic. He says "Oasis of the Seas" still has vacancies for its December holiday cruises -- and unlike air travel, cruises don't tend to see a lot of late bookings.
Elliott: A last-minute cruise booking is a booking that's done a month or two in advance. People normally book their cruises six, seven months in advance. So they're off to a slow start.
Royal Caribbean's Adam Goldstein admits the Oasis isn't full yet, but he insists the company is happy with ticket sales so far, given the economy. And even experts agree cruise lines are better poised than airlines to weather economic storms, since the price of a cruise covers meals and lodging.
Elliott: A cruise is thought of as a value vacation, because it's billed as an all-inclusive product. People are drawn to that during tough economic times.
Royal Caribbean certainly hopes so. It's set to launch a second, equally big boat next November.
I'm Rico Gagliano for Marketplace.