A Nautical Landscape

A Nautical Landscape


     When Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux submitted their plan, The Greensward Project; now Central Park, I’ll bet they never dreamed of the high seas compliment they would receive. Recently my family took a vacation to the Caribbean and did so on board the Oasis of the Seas. Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, this vessel has redefined grace and elegance and offers just about anything you could ever want or imagine on land or sea. Complete with an ice-skating theatre, a Zip line, Boardwalk, a FlowRider (ask your kids), Aqua Theatre, the only carousel on the ocean (11,000 pounds), rock climbing walls and unprecedented onboard amenities, I must admit, it was the verdant Central Park that impressed me most.

The largest cruise ship in the world, 220,000 tons, also has the world’s first, true, at-sea park. “Open to the sky and flanked by five decks of balcony staterooms,” Central Park offers fine dining, retail shops, an art gallery, living walls (five stories high) and crystal canopies set within meandering pathways, allowing natural light into the Royal Promenade below. It was these crystal canopies that intrigued me most. At first glance the canopies looked, to me, like an inverted bottom of a boat. Depending on where you stand inside the park or looking down from a deck above, I later felt that they could be interpreted as a butterfly’s wing or perhaps leaves. However, the crystal canopy that surrounds and houses The Rising Tide, a bar that moves vertically between the Royal Promenade and Central Park, looked like the exoskeleton of a trilobite.

“The concept of the park was co-created by designers from three firms: Wilson Butler, a long time Royal Caribbean partner, which had overall responsibility for the park’s technical design and execution; Waterfield Design Group, which created the park’s landscape architecture, grading and storm drainage design; and architectural design consultants Atkins Global.” Neighborhood dining opportunities, a central market café (where my daughter and I had breakfast every morning), a sculpture garden and trellis bar are more of what awaits you at every turn. There are side paths that take you through a Pergola Garden clothed in Black Pepper, Piper nigrum and a twinkling colonnade of towers where Star Jasmine, Tracheiospermum jasminoides is showing its aggressive upward mobility. All of this takes on a completely different feel as night approaches.

One of the last pieces of the puzzle for the Oasis of the Seas was the planting of Central Park. The cruise line signed a contract with Finland’s Aker Yards (now STX Europe) and because of the extremely cold temperature of Turku, Finland and the harsh conditions that an Atlantic crossing can sometimes serve; the tropical plants were not installed until the ship reached Port Everglades, Florida. Upon its arrival, a team of 60 workers (gardeners and landscapers) was given the daunting task of installing some 12,000+ plants, into 49 planting areas, in 2,200 aluminum containers (a modular design) in only 4 days. One of three cranes in the United States was needed to lift 30-foot trees into the park. The hardscaping was finished; I am told, in Finland. Retaining walls, bridges, sculptures and landscape lighting were all completed in Finland. However, in addition to the plant installations, a highly efficient drip irrigation system was also installed in that 4-day period, another example of Royal Caribbean’s commitment to environmental stewardship.

Privileged to a private tour of Central Park by their chief Landscape Specialist, Laszlo Turos, I learned the stats and thinking that helped create this wonder at sea. 82 metric tons of soil was used to plant over 12,000 plants representing some 96 species. The Oasis of the Seas employees 2,161 crewmembers from 71 different countries. These people are responsible for over 5,000 guests and yet, Laszlo and just three other people (two from the Philippines and one from Russia) have the responsibility of maintaining the park. Originally the thought of having a great lawn, similar in style to that of Central Park in New York City, was slated. However, given the tropical atmosphere and high traffic, that thought was shelved. Within the park on board there are hundreds of insect stations which they monitor daily. The ship works hand in hand with the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) identifying any pests they may encounter. Initially, the Oasis had bamboo installed, however, these were removed as bamboo acts as a host for certain, undesirable insects. Laszlo was quick to point out that he was happy to see the bamboo go, as they were a maintenance nightmare, constantly shedding their bark and making a mess of deck 8. Another interesting tidbit, all the plant material must be a minimum of 3 meters from any structure. Fire codes dictate this and thus there is some pruning involved with the Shady Lady, Bucida buceras trees.

The modular design, which defines this nautical landscape, must be able to withstand some tough climatic conditions. Consider heat tolerance, sunlight (ever changing on this vessel), 15-20 mile an hour head winds, a vortex which is created as the park is open to the outside and sits some 8 decks deep; tucked within the ships center, tolerance to 5,000+ guests walking in and around the park, not to mention chlorine from the pools above and the salt water around the ship. It makes you wonder what plants could survive all this?

The Rising Tide Bar had huge sweeps of Mondo Grass, Ophiopogon japonicus, and Liriope, Liriope muscari, wrapped around the outside. Staple plants, even in New Jersey, these were doing quite well. Thinking outside the box, Janet Craig Compacta, Dracaena deremensis, used as a border reminded me of a hardier alternative Rohdea japonica. A dramatic mass planting of variegated Snake Plant, Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’ was set behind a bright red bench. Other colorful punctuations included: Ti Tree, Cordyline terminalis, Shell Ginger, Alpinia zerumbet and Oyster plant, Rhoeo spathacea, whose undersides were purple.  There were also waves of Anthurium, Spathiphyllum, Kalanchoe and Philodendron all of which are commonly found houseplants in New Jersey. Vertical, living accents throughout the 49 planting areas included: Bay Rum, Pimenta racemosa, whose great peeling bark caught my attention more than once, Mangosteen, Garcinia spicata, had an appearance similar to that of Rubber tree or possibly a Southern Magnolia and Banana, Musa acuminata, whose big leaves let you know you’re in the tropics. All these wonderful and exciting plants popped in the landscape because of the subtle, but deliberate, evergreen, foundation borders of Mock Orange, Pittosporum tobira and Lady Palm, Rhapis excelsa. Last, but not least, it was the Shrimp Plant, Pachystachys lutea, with its paper-like flowers held above its foliage; that caught the attention of our daughter and made us all giggle every day.

The Oasis of the Seas delivered an unforgettable vacation. Literally a moving city with over 7000 people on board, never once did the ship feel crowded. Fun for both kids and adults there was as much outdoor space as there was indoors. I am looking forward to the Allure of the Seas; Royal Caribbean’s next big adventure whose 225, 282 gross registered tons is slated to debut in late 2010. And yes, there is talk of a park on board also…stay tuned!