I've sailed on many Royal Caribbean ships, and visited many international ports, but this was my first time on an Oasis class ship. I was apprehensive about sailing a ship so large, but was keeping an open mind as we were sailing with a larger group of family and friends on the March 18, 2012 sailing. It was a 7-night eastern Caribbean itinerary with ports of Nassau, Bahamas, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, and Phillipsburg, St. Maarten. I won't make this a long drawn out day by day account of the pre-cruise/cruise/post-cruise but rather points about the cruise/ports/questions people never seem to get enough answers to on the message boards. Here goes...
- Boarding was super easy and quick through the Emerald C&A line. We got to the port around 10:30 or so and were on board eating lunch in Windjammer before 11:30am. Windjammer was quite busy at this time, and hard to find a seat, BUT make sure you go all the way around to the buffet repeats three times and it is less crowded and a few more food and seating options back there.
- This ship is amazing and we noticed right off the bat it had a whole different feel than Liberty (which we had just gotten off of the previous day). The crew all had smiles on their faces, were helpful and ready to do what was necessary. In the Windjammer they help you find a seat and even clear tables quickly to make sure everyone can sit. It seemed there was more crew out and about in general, including senior staff and even the captain. I felt that this ship may have had some of the top people of Royal Caribbean on board and it made the experience feel top notch.
- We were usually able to find a decent pool chair anywhere in the vicinity of the pool on sea days, and yes, there were chair hogs, but "Deck Patrol" was quite good about picking up and moving things on chairs that had no occupant for 30+ minutes, especially in the Solarium. "Deck Patrol" was also very good about making children leave the Solarium area. We did find trouble finding seating in the 2-story solarium on one day after the ship left port but eventually we found something. And on the last sea day the pool was very busy so we made sure to get a seat early to sit near the pool rather than on one of the decks people walk through (which can get crowded with people walking, bar servers, deck chairs, etc.).
- We had a forward balcony cabin, 6166, and it was very nice. It was a D8 cabin and we had the bed by the balcony door. I did not find this cabin smaller as some say but rather it felt wider but not long. The wall bumped out at the foot of the bed so you could walk around it easier. And the balcony felt to be of good size. The bathroom is oriented different but the shower felt larger than on the Liberty and the addition of the foot bar in the shower made shaving the legs inside the shower possible. The storage inside the bathroom was nice, too, plenty of space for his and hers toiletries. Our attendant, Lidia from Costa Rica, was always around and very attentive and got more of a tip from us. Oh yeah, they don't put ice service in cabins anymore, you have to request it now but Lidia always kept our ice stocked once I asked her. I thought the location of this cabin was very close to the gym and the entertainment portion of the ship (showroom, night clubs, casino, etc.). But we were far from the dining room and Windjammer. We were near stairs and elevator, Boardwalk was on the same deck and Central Park was only 2 decks above. The only annoying thing was the kids running up and down hallways, thump thump thump.
- Dining -- we had dinner all but one night in the MDR. I found the food to be better than on the Liberty even though they were the same exact menus. Our waiter, assistant waiter, and head waiter were very good but seemed overworked. It was hard to get out of the MDR before 2 hours, meaning 10:30 and sometimes we ran late for shows. Bar service at our table was very good, he came by at least twice per meal. We ate at Chops one night and the food was excellent. Our waiter was not as friendly as we liked but otherwise we had a fabulous experience and would do it again. Windjammer, yes, it is very crowded at peak times but I found the offerings at breakfast and lunch to be larger than on Liberty and much more international. Crew helped find tables quickly and they are trying very hard to make sure the WJ runs smoother. Everything I ate there was very good. We also ate at Park Cafe and the make your own salads are awesome as are the sandwiches and panini's, but there can be a long line to eat there at peak time. We also ate at Sorrento's a lot, the pizzas are just great for a snack, and you can make your own pizza. We had a few snacks from the Cafe Promenade which offers a lot more options than on Liberty, the rum raisin cake is to die for. I think next time we sail we may do My Time Dining because we began finding the whole dinner "thing" to become a chore, especially where there is so much else to do/see/eat.
- Entertainment -- we saw Oceanaria and it was excellent! The 70's night was, unfortunately on the same night as the second formal night, so we were not able to dress up and missed most of the promenade party due to dinner taking so long. We saw the main headliner, a comedian who was fine. I don't even remember his name. Others in our group saw all the shows and said every show as awesome. We did attend the Prohibition Party and it was amazing! I would sail Allure again just to go to this party. It was a small group, I think up to 100 now, in the jazz club and liquor was free flowing, as much as you wanted. I would say at least 80% of the people dressed in period costume. We also went to the Absolut 20 party in the Solarium one night and that was a blast! It was dance/techno music and a lot of crew were there partying too. It was just a great nightclub feel outdoors and adults only. Free flashy rings too! The fitness center was very near our cabin and we used it several times. It was very well equipped but the rumor of smokey smell is true, when you walk in you can smell it but if you go further in you cannot smell it, just don't use a machine near the entrance. Also, this gym is not at the front looking out the front of the ship like in many of the other RC ships, rather there are port holes out the side to look out, but you don't get that nice open feeling in this gym.
- Photos -- there are a lot of photo opportunities on Allure. They have stations set up around the ship as well as static backgrounds, and no so many canned ones, they have the white one, wallpapered ones, etc. And they keep all your photos in a binder rather than looking for them on the wall. There are also photo kiosks you use your Sea pass in but a lot of times we found other people in our listing. We bought several photos from this cruise since there were so many unique opportunities and places for them. They even came around the promenade, pool decks, and parties and events.
- Drinks -- in general everywhere had liberal pours. Average price for our drinks (vodka/cranberry, rum/coke, etc.) was about $5.75 and then we usually tipped $1 or so on top when we ordered two drinks at the same time. We tried a lot of different bars and lounges and got good service everywhere but our favorite was Boleros, the bartenders there are a lot of fun. We never found it hard to get a drink at the pool and every day there was a new souvenir cup. There are some cool souvenir cups out there now, new flashy cups that are more tumbler shaped, tall sippy cups that look like tiki's with flex straw, and a lot more. I finally started asking for drinks in non-souvenir cups. Also, we had the drink package and they left plastic sealed coke cups in the cabin but we asked our attendant to take them away since we brought our cups from Liberty and we never take the cups home, so we didn't want to waste another set. Drinks at the Absolut 20 party were dirt cheap, like $4.50 for super strong drinks made in a regular cup.
- Liquor -- yes, rumrunners got through just fine on this sailing, one in each suitcase. One hidden among shoes in one suitcase and one hidden among snorkel gear in the other suitcase. It was nice to have a stash in the room and enjoy a drink on the balcony, which is our sole purpose for bringing some with us. We still had an $800 bar tab at the end of the cruise, so we do our fair share of spending in the bars too; we just want to have a drink in the room and not wait or run out for it. We had liquor from our previous cruise we checked in at security before boarding and it was delivered the night before we debarked. All liquor purchased was delivered to the cabin the night before we left.
- Nassau, Bahamas -- we had a snorkel tour in the afternoon which was nice. Water was a tad chilly but very clear and lots to see. We were kind of in the harbor so waves were an issue, but otherwise we had a great time. Afterwards we shopped a little and picked up a bottle of Ricardo coconut rum to bring home. Next time we might check out Atlantis, though I heard it was expensive.
- Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas -- we had another snorkel excursion to St. John for Trunk Bay in the afternoon. We shopped a little at the dock but there wasn't anything super exciting. The ferry over there was late picking up the several hundred people on St. John tours and in the end the ship extended port time by a half hour. It's nice to ride the ferry on the top level (open air) as we did going over, but not so nice downstairs inside (hot and stuffy). Once we got to St. John we were put on small trucks to get to Trunk Bay and it was organized well. There were a lot of people snorkeling so the experience was bit crowded and not a lot of people abided by snorkel rules. But I would snorkel here on a land trip when a ship was not in port.
- Phillipsburg, St. Maarten -- we did this port on our own. We did a little shopping at the town and then took a taxi over to Maho Beach. We got there around 10:30 (half hour taxi ride) and staked a seat at the Sunset Bar and Grill. As soon as we got there a very large plane landed and it was very exciting. We had several drinks and lunch there while watching all size planes land, it was super fun and I'd do it again. People watching was great too. We had our cab driver pick us up at 2pm to go back to town so we would avoid the traffic. We did a little more shopping and then took the water taxi back to the port where we had a drink and people watched more. This was our favorite stop of the cruise by far.
- Service and fellow passengers -- I felt the service overall was excellent, like they put the best crew on this ship. Everyone was personable, helpfully and welcoming. Unfortunately we were not given WOW cards at check in so we didn't have any to give out but it would have been hard to pick just one person to give it to. Fellow passengers seemed to be much more international on this sailing, lots of foreign accents but still mainly Americans and Canadians on this sailing. Being spring break, there were a LOT of families with young children but they were mostly behaved.
- Debarkation -- was a dream. We were in group 1 to debark at 7:20 am and I would say we were at the airport before 8:30am. We decided not to use a porter at the luggage area because everything was orderly and moving so quickly we didn't need help navigating. Also, going through customs was a breeze, they didn't even notice we were bringing home a lot more alcohol than allowed (it was on my form but he didn't even look). There was no immigration desk, we just walked right out with luggage.
Overall impression/experience -- awesome. I was afraid I would not like the ship, the size or crowds, but I loved it. I am looking forward to the next time we can sail her.