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Charlotte Amalie
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World's Largest Cruise Ship Makes V.I. Debut

The Oasis of the Seas pulls into Crown Bay, eclipsing the sun for quite a few spectators.Just after the sun began to rise over the hilltops of St. Thomas, Ramona Hutton left her Hidden Valley home and began a trek across the island to stand among the large group of residents that came out to see the world’s largest cruise ship sail into Crown Bay.
"I walked, took a bus and took a safari to get here," she said before the first set of passengers began filing off Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas around 9 a.m. "I didn’t want to miss this — it’s history in the making."
Many across the island appeared to feel the same way. While those on the east, like Hutton, made the journey over to Crown Bay, the roads on the north side were littered with residents gathering at every available lookout point or rooftop, some clutching pairs of binoculars in their hands. And at the Crown Bay dock — formally known as the Austin "Babe" Monsanto Marine Terminal — the crowds started to build as early as 7:30 a.m., leaving nary a parking space for those who shuffled in after 8.
Mixed in with the spectators was a jumble of taxi drivers, local tour operators and volunteers from the Tourism Department, who stationed themselves at the entrance of the terminal, armed with coupon books, free maps and a ready smile. And as the rhythms of a steel pan band at the end of the dock began to pick up, dancers dressed in traditional madras skirts and headdresses began to twirl along the pavement, offering up baskets of locally made candies and other mints to passengers coming off the nearby Costa Atlantica.
As the Oasis was gliding in to port, the crew on board was making preparations and passengers were gathered on the top decks and balconies, waving to the crowds down below. The ship was so large that it blocked out the sun, casting about half the dock into shadow, drawing complaints from a few residents trying to take pictures.
"We’re extremely pleased that everything is going as planned," Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty said before the gangplank dropped. "The ship docked on schedule, our teams from Tourism and the Port Authority have been out here doing what they’re supposed to, and once the passengers get off, the priority will be to expedite movement into the city. And, of course, to give them a warm V.I. welcome."

Aboard the Ship
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Gov. John deJongh Jr. heralded Tuesday’s inaugural visit of the Oasis as an "historic" event, and described the ship as an "architectural and nautical marvel." Around noon Tuesday, a few dozen government officials, business leaders and local media personnel were able to witness the grandeur of the Oasis firsthand, joining cruise officials, along with the governor and his wife, on board for a tour, lunch and a plaque and key ceremony.
And as the VIPs finished their lavish lunch in the main dining room, glass elevators whisked passengers up and down from the 16 passenger decks, more than 2,700 staterooms, and maze of halls and gardens, swimming pools and bars, shopping malls and amusements.
The view from the 16th deck of the Oasis (Photo by Darrin Mortenson).Some passengers sat on sun-drenched decks in jacuzzis, while others sipped tropical drinks from swank air-conditioned bars inside. Families strolled around the lush Central Park as couples dined at outdoor cafes. Two bronzed and buffed crewmen demonstrated the wave machine to the passengers’ delight.
Meanwhile, the view of St. Thomas from aboard the ship could only be rivaled by aircraft.
"We’re pleased to have you aboard our little ship,” said Oasis Capt. Bill Wright as he welcomed officials in for the ceremony, adding that the arrival was a "little tight coming in, but no scratches." During the brief ceremony, Wright described deJongh’s efforts in getting the ship to St. Thomas as “heroic” and congratulated the various government agencies for completing their preparations on time.
Several government agencies worked together to get everything ready for the ship’s inaugural call, officials stressed throughout the day. From Tourism to Public Works and the West Indian Co. Ltd. — whose dock also hosted three ships Tuesday — personnel from each agency have been present throughout the planning process and could be seen running around throughout the morning, assisting passengers and taking care of any last-minute details.
Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls said the government invested about $500,000 into the dock and other infrastructure, and officials said they were still making dockside preparations late Monday night.
“We just want to make sure that this is continuous, that it’s not just for today,” Smalls said.
The Oasis is scheduled to visit St. Thomas every Tuesday for the rest of the 2009-10 cruise season, which deJongh said Tuesday would give the island a big economic boost.
“There is no question that the call of the Oasis of the Seas to St. Thomas creates a significant, additional revenue stream to the V.I. economy, with the impact on tourism to the territory maintaining our position as a premier cruise ship destination,” deJongh said in his statement Tuesday.
During the ceremony aboard the ship, Michael Ronan, Royal Caribbean’s vice president for government relations for the Caribbean, said that at full capacity the ship would bring in $1.5 million a day to the territory.
“We’d like to make that $2.5 [million] a day if we could,” Ronan said.

Around the Town
While there were five ships docked on St. Thomas Tuesday, the streets were surprisingly easy to navigate. Pulling out of Crown Bay, residents were able to zoom eastward along the stretch of road in front of Pueblo and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and were greeted with a friendly smile and wave from police recruits directing traffic. The flow into town was steady, with no pileups at the head of Main Street or further down at Mandela Circle.
Near several stop signs and other strategic points throughout the town, Tourism greeters clad in bright green T-shirts helped passengers with directions and pointed them toward various downtown shops, restaurants and attractions.
Joseph Abramson and Clement "The Instant Man" Richardson entertain passengers downtown with some local music."It’s been great," said Cecilia Emanuel, a Justice Department employee volunteering with Tourism for the day. "So many people have been coming up and asking us where to go, where they should eat, how to get to the beach, whether they have enough time to get to Magens Bay. I think this system really works well — people really respond to a smile and friendly face. It goes a long way."
Police in bright blue were also stationed on just about every corner, helping to keep the cars moving and pedestrians off the street.
"Everything went really well," Police spokeswoman Melody Rames said Tuesday evening. "There were no incidents."
As part of the day’s festivities, local vendors set up en masse in Emancipation Garden and Market Square, selling everything from tablecloths to homemade vegetarian food. In Emancipation Garden, local vendor Elvira Walters busied herself for a few minutes with teaching a group of passengers how to tie a bright pink and yellow sarong.
"Just like this," she said, folding the cloth over and tying it.
The passengers, Deirdre Joseph and Margie Jefferson from Tampa, Fla., took in the lesson and rooted around Walters’ booth for more fabric.
"So far, it’s been an excellent experience," Joseph said. "The ship is so technologically advanced, you definitely can’t get lost — there are touch screens everywhere. And the people on St. Thomas have been so friendly. I really like the Tourism volunteers who have been able to assist and direct us — I wish we had that where we’re from."
The vendors in Market Square were upbeat throughout the day, but business was slow. Vans laden with passengers often stopped at the top of Main Street, oftentimes bypassing the bungalow, they said. Spread out among the stalls were bright tablecloths packed with organic eggplants, local drinks, veggie lasagna and jars of honey from Hilltop Farms, among others.
Bordeaux farmer Lucien "Jambie" Samuel also offered visitors a taste of his famous pumpkin soup, while others from the We Grow Food Collective laid out other fresh produce.
"Overall, it was good, but we were expecting more people," said local vendor Tony Esa, who sets up under the bungalow most days during the week, selling local juices. "We were told that the passengers would be dropped off here, and then would be able to walk up Main Street, but that didn’t really happen. Maybe next time."
The Oasis began its maiden voyage Dec. 3, sailing from Fort Lauderdale to St. Thomas. Other stops along the cruise include: Nassau, Bahamas; Labadee, Haiti; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; and Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico.
Along with the Oasis and Costa Atlantica at Crown Bay, three ships—the Sea Princess, Carnival Cruise Line’s flagship Carnival Dream, and the Norwegian Pearl—docked at WICO. The Sea Dream 1 also docked on St. John Tuesday, while Celebrity Cruise Lines’ Millennium docked at the Ann E. Abramson Pier on St. Croix.
Darrin Mortenson also contributed to this report.

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