Captain Johnny Faevelen is no stranger to commanding the world's largest cruise ship. He commanded Allure of the Seas for six years and now that ship was surpassed in size by Harmony of the Seas, he took command of that ship. We asked Captain Johnny to talk about Harmony and the Oasis class.
Similar but different
Harmony of the Seas is the third ship in Royal Caribbean's Oasis class. However, as Captain Johnny explained Harmony is not a mere clone of Oasis of the Seas or Allure of the Seas.
“They are sisters but they were built at two different shipyards. Even though they are sister ships this is the first in the class from St. Nazaire in France. That is a big difference even though they are built on more or less the same way.”
“The biggest difference that we who operate the ship from a marine side see is that she is so much more energy efficient. It is amazing to see how far the technology has come for energy saving. When STX France got the contract, they said that they were going to build a ship that was 20 percent more fuel efficient than Oasis/Allure that had just come out six years earlier. Personally, I was kind of laughing at that because we felt we were very fuel efficient on the Allure. Twenty percent is a lot. But I have to admit that I have to swallow that laughter.”
“There are a lot of factors that come into play here. Hull design is one of them. The underwater coating. We also have this bubble system on here.” (Bubbles of air are released underneath the hull and so the ship actually rides on a cushion of air. This reduces drag).
“Amazingly, with a little less power than the Oasis/Allure have, we are making about one and a half knots higher top speed. And we can see that all the way down to slower speeds that we are faster through the water than the other ships.”
“25.1 knots is maximum speed. That is pretty amazing when you think about the size of the ship. 7,000 horse power less. I was on Allure for six years, and I knew how to drive that ship. We had a normal way of doing things when approaching sea buoys and reaching pilot stations for which you have to be at certain speeds. But if I do it that way here, I will come too fast. I have to slow down earlier to reach the required speed for taking a pilot aboard, which is about eight knots. In order for me to come down to that speed I have to slow down quite a bit e earlier. She just wants to go.”
The excellent seakeeping qualities of the earlier ships was not sacrificed in producing this increased efficiency. “I find them equally seaworthy. They are very stable, very good ships. I haven't encountered any differences.”
There are also differences in the cruise experience presented on Harmony and the earlier ships. “The ship experience should be different. It has a lot of different amenities that the guests can enjoy. Different shows.: We have the fantastic Grease show; Fine Line, exceptionally complicated show. Of course, Columbus, Royal Caribbean's first home-written musical.”
“I find this ship much warmer because she is a little darker. She is more up-to-date. Lots of changes in the décor since when Oasis and Allure came out.
“We listened to the demand from our younger cruisers and added the water slides. There is nothing out there that is even close to the ones we have on here. And not to forget the Ultimate Abyss, which is a dry slide.”
“We learned a lot from the Quantum class. Some of the better things that are most appreciated by the guests, we have brought here. For example, some of the restaurants like Wonderland. It is an amazing restaurant. Jaime Oliver's Italian is here.”
“Yes, definitely different than what we had on the Oasis and the Allure. From a guest's perspective who has cruised on Oasis and Allure, they will see a bigger difference between the Harmony and the two older ones than between the two older ones.”
Nonetheless, Harmony, like her sisters, is a family-friendly cruise experience. “There is something for everybody here. [But] we are definitely geared toward the family on the Oasis class. That has been the philosophy I believe since we started constructing these ships - - a family experience with mom and dad, two kids, grandpa and grandma can come together and enjoy a week aboard.”
Like her sisters, Harmony attracts an international clientele. “ It is a place where we have 60 or 70 nationalities among our guests.”
Usually, the third ship in a class does not attract much attention and as a result, building morale among the crew can be a challenge. However, this was not an issue with Harmony.
“You are proud to be asked to go and work on the biggest cruise ship in the world. The Harmony is slightly longer than the Allure, about 30 centimeters or one foot. She is also about 2,500 gross tons bigger. That has a wow effect in itself. It absolutely has a positive morale effect on the crew members.”
“You could see the pride in the French shipyard that [they had] made the biggest cruise ship in the world. And this pride was transferred to the crew. Everyone has in their CV that 'I am working in this capacity on the biggest cruise ship in the world Harmony of the Seas.”
A Caribbean cruise on an Oasis class ship is not as port-intensive as a similar length cruise on most other cruise ships. “Three sea days are a must when you come aboard an Oasis class ship. So much happens aboard ship, it is a destination in itself.”
In the past, the Oasis class ships have only called in a limited number of Caribbean ports. Nassau in the Bahamas; St. Thomas; and St. Maarten on the Eastern Caribbean itinerary and Labadee, Haiti; Falmouth, Jamaica; and Cozumel, Mexico on the Western Caribbean itinerary.
These ports remain the mainstay of Harmony's schedule. However, the Oasis class are beginning to visit additional ports.
This expansion is in part a function of the ports improving their facilities. “We have seen ports open up for the Oasis class. San Juan, Puerto Rico being one of them. St. Kitts, we are going to. Other ports are opening up It is a matter of expanding the Caribbean.”
In addition, the Oasis class have proven to be more versatile than originally thought. “If the pier is long enough – they have to be over half a kilometer long – and deep enough and if the entrance [to the harbor] is wide enough so we can go in and out, we can be a nice addition to the cruise ships in the port.”
Guests sometimes ask why the Oasis class ships do not call in popular cruise destinations such as Grand Cayman where ships tender the passengers ashore on small boats?
“We cannot bring 6,400 guests off the ship and back aboard in tender boats. That is an impossible task. We cannot tender. When we come into a port, there are 1,200 people that need to go on the tours in the first hour. As far as I am concerned, the Oasis class will never do tender ports.”
When Oasis of the Seas entered service, it was widely believed that this class of ship always would be limited to the Caribbean. However, all three ships have now done seasons in Europe, proving the viability of the Oasis class outside of the Caribbean.
“We did exceptionally well. The European market is definitely ready for a ship of this magnitude.”
The conventional wisdom in the cruise industry is that European cruising is very port-oriented with passengers using the cruise ship primarily as a means of getting from one port to another and spending most of the day ashore exploring the historical and cultural aspects of the ports. However, the experience of the Oasis class in Europe ran counter to the conventional wisdom.
“We realized that we had a lot of guests who couldn't care less about the excursions. They came for the ship. Many of our guests had been in those ports before. They had seen the Leaning Tower in Pisa, they had been to Rome. They choose to stay aboard and explore and enjoy the ship like a sea day.”
Fueling the legend
Captain Johnny is perhaps Royal Caribbean's best known captain. The captain with the parrot and the motorcycle - - his flamboyant style is well known to guests.
“We were encouraged many, many years ago to pop up unexpectedly and do something funny or something memorable. I have kind of followed that idea for many, many years”
On Harmony, Captain Johnny has replaced the moped that he used to drive around Allure with a device that looks like a Segue. “You can't stick to the old story all of the time. A different ship, we have to evolve ourselves as well.”
“It is called a Zet Scooter. It has a Vespa look, the Italian scooters. We had it painted with 'Captain' and 'Harmony of the Seas' on the fenders and on the front. We paid a little more to have it customized for the Harmony of the Seas.”
Cruise ship interview - Royal Caribbean International - Harmony of the Seas - Captain Johnny Faevelen