IT LOOKED as if a large chunk of Hampshire, complete with trees, apartments, and a street lined with shops and bars, had broken off and floated out into the middle of the Solent.
But this was no monster piece of flotsam and jetsam but one of the biggest man-made objects to move across the face of the planet, the vast new cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas.
For an hour, the Solent became the stage on which Oasis of the Seas, shipping’s most glamorous prima donna, made her international debut and took her first, dramatic curtain call.
And what a show it was! As darkness fell hundreds of lights sparkled around Oasis of the Seas’ soaring decks, colours of red, green, and mauve glowed around her, floodlights illuminated her enormous hull, while on her top deck powerful beams lit up the sky as they played on the clouds.
At 220,000 tons, and able to accommodate 6,300 passengers and 2,000 crew, Oasis of the Seas breaks all records.
Over the centuries the Solent has seen countless liners come and go; Mauretania, the ill-fated Titanic, Cunard’s great transatlantic Queens, SS France, the legendary, Queen Elizabeth 2, and, more recently, Queen Mary 2, Ventura and Grand Princess but, when it comes to size, Oasis of the Seas is in a league all of her own.
As daylight began to fade a white smudge could just be seen in the distance but gradually the sheer size and enormous scale of the new ship emerged and took shape as she made her way along the Solent.
Her enormous bow reared up out of the water, her sides lined with hundreds of individual balconies, and two slim funnels, each bearing the neon blue, Crown and Anchor symbol of Royal Caribbean International, which pierced the late afternoon gloom.
En route from the shipyard in Finland, where she was built, to America, Oasis of the Seas made the brief diversion into the Solent to disembark hundreds of workers who had been putting the finishing touches to the vessel before she crosses the Atlantic.
As she stopped her size was brought sharply into focus as she loomed, more than 27 times larger, over a visiting American warship, USS Ramage, at anchor in the Solent, Oasis of the Seas, which will be based in Florida and cruise the Caribbean, is so large she is divided up into seven separate “neighbourhoods” including one called Central Park which is open to the sky and features trees, grass lawns and flower-beds.
Other passenger attractions include an ice rink, a cocktail bar that rises up and down the decks, a water theme park, a full-size fairground carousel, and a shopping area that also features bars, restaurants and cafes.
Next year Oasis of the Seas will be joined by an identical sister-ship, Allure of the Seas, which is now being built in Finland.