Below is a very long, detailed review, but in summary, the experience was relaxing, refreshing, invigorating and really wonderful. Don't believe the reviews that claim the food is bad; its awesome. The shows are great. It was easy to relax when we wanted to, but there was always something fun to do. The crew was amazingly friendly and helpful with one or two exceptions, and the atmosphere was so welcoming, friendly and easy. Even though there were 6000 people on board, it never felt that way.
Arrived at 11am and there were already 800+ people waiting but there was absolutely no lines for check-in. We were seated in a waiting area upstairs and at 11:15 they started by row admitting people to the ship. It took a few minutes and we were onboard. Simple, easy and painless.
We walked through the cavernous Royal promenade. The shops were closed, but there were tables set up selling soda and wine packages and excursions. We went to the Guest relations desk to deposit some money on our account and waited in our first line. Then on to show reservations. I had made mine in advance, which is highly recommended, but I wanted to change a few things. They had six people working with lines on both sides of the theatre, and a 30 minute wait to get serviced. The people working the reservation computers were very nice, but not very knowledgeable about what was going on. There was a special live TV broadcast scheduled for Sunday night, and no one knew anything about when it would be happening. There were plenty of seats for all performances of all shows at that point, but the shows were full at all performances so reserve on line.
EMBARKATION LUNCH: Solarium
We went up to the Solarium Bistro for some healthy food and enjoyed it very much. Whoever said the food on the Oasis is bad must be very picky because I loved everything I tried. It was very crowded because it was embarkation day, but we still found a table. They offered a vast array of salads, fruit and vegetables, hot food, bread, desserts and sugar free flavored water. I was able to thoroughly enjoy my food while not packing on any extra pounds. The view was wonderful. The restaurant is surrounded by the solarium, a sun-soaked area with four hot tubs, a pool and lots of loungers.
TOURING THE SHIP
We saw the Boardwalk area first. It was lovely. I was glad not to have booked a Boardwalk balcony. It would have been loud, hot and no fun at all. They had a slew of family-style restaurants like Johnny Rockets, a seafood place and then at the end, the amazing aqua theatre. When I looked up and saw the grandeur of the place, it really was amazing. On the other end of the ship was the Opus Theatre, where they were preparing for the national broadcast of a scene from Hairsrpay to be telecast on the Tony Awards, checked out the promenade, sat for a while in Central Park, which was wonderful, and saw the windjammer buffet. Even though we had just eaten, my skinny partner couldn't resist eating more in the windjammer. There were plenty of seats, and despite the bad reviews of the place, I thought everything was delicious. They had an amazing calamari salad, Asian salad with pork, a salad bar, lots of hot entrees that looked great, soups, but again, boring desserts.
We went back to our cabin and unpacked, then went to the liquor tasting, which was a dud. I was expecting scotch or something decent but they were pouring some cream liquer that had no allure. We got on the rising tide bar, had a great conversation with the waiter and a member of the cruise entertainment staff and really enjoyed a lichee martini as we went up and down. I expected a line but we were the only ones on the lift as it rose and fell. After that, we returned to the Windjammer for a really fantastic casual dinner, healthy for me, and lots of naughty stuff for my partner. Great food, really fresh, plenty of tables open, boring desserts.
FIRST NIGHT OUT
We first went to Jazz on 4, and it was empty. If you like jazz music, you'll love it. They have a very good quartet, but I like a singer and there was none. We left and went in search of a singer and band. We tried Bolero, where a great latin band was playing but it was way too smoky, so we went to Dazzles, where they had a band supposedly playing Motown. They were from the Phillipines and not that great, and not really playing Motown. It was more 70's Bar Mitzvah disco. Again there were 4 people in the place. We checked out Scooners where a piano player was to be playing. He was OK and there was no one there. We went to the Promenade and the pub and the On-Air karaoke place were showing the basketball game and they both were packed and the areas outside of them were packed. It was where everyone was. The cafe on the promenade was busy, as was the pizza place, the only two venues still serving food. There was a Starbucks (prices equal to land prices, plus 15%). The ship's nearby coffee place also charged but was cheaper and unlike Starbucks that charged for drinks and food, at the coffee place the food was free.
OUR CABIN, 7th floor, 208
We had a balcony cabin. It was very cozy. Not large but very functional and comfortable. The bathroom at first seemed larger than most cruises I have been on and the shower, while tight, seemed fine. However, upon taking a shower, I realized there was not enough room to dry oneself or move much. Given the girth of some of the passengers I saw onboard, I wondered how they managed at all. The toilet is wedged in as well and presents interesting but not insurmountable challenges.
There was a flat screen TV with many channels including CNN but there really wasn't much to watch. There was a sofa, desk and closet with shelves and plenty of hangars. There was a small safe, NOT big enough for a computer or an ipad. The balcony had a table and two chairs and was small but sufficient. I wanted a suite, but honestly, to spend thousands of more dollars for some extra room seems like a waste of money when the balcony cabin was just fine. We peeked in on a grand suite and it was really not that big. I would have been upset had I paid $8000 for that vs. $2200 for our balcony.
As with other cruises, a total rip off. They charged 65 cents a minute but offered packages up to 500 minutes for $150. The cheapest was $35 for 100 minutes. I didn't use the service so I have no idea if it was slow or fast. I was able to get signals on my cell phone at all ports to check email.
It is a smoking area and smells terrible. If you can get past that issue and you like to gamble, then you will love it. It's huge, has lots of slots and several tables, open all the time on the sea. There are blackjack tournaments, slot tournaments, lottos, bingo, etc. I donated $170 at the $10 minimum blackjack table in about 20 minutes. I won't be going back. They have a smoking area that is more crowded than the non-smoking area, but both were relatively empty. The dealers were very nice and had I won, I would have enjoyed it much more! You can use your card and pay a 3% service charge for the money you lose.
Dewars on the rocks $6.25 + 15% service, around $7
Absolute and Cranberry $5.75 + service
Cosmopolitan martini $9.25 plus 15%, $10.60 or so
Gin and Tonic, $6.25+
Lichee Martini special, $7.50, keep the glass
Wine started around $7 per glass and went up to $55 per glass, with bottles being much more.
Beers ranged from $5-7 per glass plus service.
Drink of the day, $6.25 and you keep the glass
$24.95 Surf and turf ordered in the dining room available every day
$2.50, hot chocolate in the cafe
$3.85, hot chocolate at starbucks, including service
$135, cheapest wine package, includes five bottles of wine drank at your own pace
Great prices on alcohol in the duty free shop
Jewelry store offers high-end watches at very good prices
Work out time was around 10am on the first sea day. There was a lecture going on, very informative, about eating, losing weight, being healthy, nutrition. It was great background to my workout. The gym was packed. There were no lines for equipment, especially the nautilus stuff, but the aerobic machines were completely full. I had no problems doing my workout despite the crowds. I never had to wait for anything despite the throngs of people burning off their 1000 calories of desserts from the night before. There are dozens of treadmills, elliptical machines, bicycles with pilates machines, free weights and much more. Great gym. The lecturer tried to sell the audience on doing a test for $35 to indicate toxins in the body and also to buy the products they sell to detoxify. I didn't try it. There were several for a fee classes, including a cycling class for $15, a four-day Â½ hour a day fitness boot camp for $120, Yoga for $15, Pilates for $25. They were all early in the day, too early for me. The instructors seemed knowledgeable but definitely weren't interested in helping for free when I asked questions or for assistance. One woman fitness instructor actually looked at her watch as if to say "I don't have time for you" while I was asking a question. Very off-putting. One other minor complaint -- the machines had interactive screens and when using the elliptical I had to go through five machines to find one with a screen that worked.
We didn't use the spa but it looked very nice. They had specials on port days, starting at $99 and up for packages. A hot stone massage regularly was about $150 for 50 minutes. Everything in the spa was excessively expensive but it looked busy. They have a relaxation suite which is a sitting room, and three variations of hot and sauna rooms. One time use is $30, and $99 for the week. A lot of money for not much.
ON the 15th deck forward is the adults only solarium. For the most part the adults only restrictions are adhered to. It is a partially open air, fully sunny area with loungers, Jacuzzis, a cooling pool, and a second deck with more loungers and a bar. The solarium was very nice, and since it was on the front of the ship the view was spectacular. The Jacuzzis were ALWAYS packed full (all four) and the cooling pool was usually full. On sea days they were not somewhere I wanted to be, fighting for a spot in a pool was not my idea of relaxation. However, if you go after 5pm, the situation changes and there is no one there and everything is empty. They are available 24 hours a day. The seating consists of wire mesh loungers, and plenty of them, some padded seats with ottomans, which went quickly until 5pm, and then seven very nice padded wicker pods, that were never available. Upstairs there were the wire mesh loungers and some padded loungers that were in the sun, so you have to like being in the sunshine to enjoy them. There were tables on the porch of the restaurant under a flooring that were protected from sun and rain that were nice. Generally this was my favorite lounging spot and with persistence, a nice spot could always be found.
The pools are all found on Deck 15, and there is a special area for kids with a circular lazy river pool, and several themed pools. There are two main pools, very small and always packed full and then four Jacuzzis in the pool area plus two cantilevered large Jacuzzis near the solarium and two more in the solarium. There are the wave riders that were very popular, and a small putting golf area, a full sized basketball court and several pool bars scattered around. There are a million loungers and half were always empty. There is also a smoker's area on 15 with the nicest loungers on the ship. Occasionally the aqua theatre pool was open for swimming as well. On sea days the pools were completely packed and not inviting at all.
The Viking Crown Lounge
After the workout and another delicious lunch at the Solarium, we found the Viking Crown Bar on the 17th floor. It was completely empty, and there were beautiful sofas at the big picture windows that looked out on the pool areas and the sea. We sat there all afternoon, lounging on the super comfy couches, reading. At 4pm a violin/piano duo started playing making it that much more heavenly. It's the place to go to escape the crowds and really unwind.
SOLARIUM BISTRO DINNER
The daytime healthy buffet becomes a night time restaurant with table cloths and stars. It was really beautifully serene and completely empty. We had a reservation but didn't really need one. The menu guarantees that nothing featured is over 500 calories per plate. We started with a few appetizers, Mexican shrimp, basically shrimp with a salsa, a really tasty Barley risotto, and a nice scallop dish. The soup, a chicken vegetable soup, was inedible, and the salad of fruit and endive was good. Our main courses were the Chicken breast with a ragu of vegetables and I had the bison steak. The chicken was boring and not very tasty, but my bison was delicious. The sides were roasted sweet potatoes, literally one slice of a potato, and a mango cole slaw that was boring. The desserts were a highlight, selected from a dessert bar. We had sugar free cookies (amazing), an almond torte, also amazing, a fruit cup, which was nothing special, and a apple bran muffin, that was good. The waiter was not very good, and he seemed very disinterested in us and giving good service. We canceled our second reservation there, favoring free choices instead.
SOLARIUM BREAKFAST AND LUNCH
The solarium features a large array of fruits, cold and hot cereals, lots of stuff to put in oatmeal, Turkey bacon, pancakes, grilled vegetables, yogurt confections, prunes, figs, great breads and low-fat delicious muffins, juices, amazing service and such friendly waiters. We waited about a second for a table and breakfast was delightful. Our waiter was very friendly, as everyone is, and the experience upstairs was great. I ate like a king and barely ingested 500 calories. Lunch was equally as good. The choices included lots of salads and salad bar fixings, several hot entrees, always delicious and sugar free desserts. We ate there every day.
We paid $10 per person, $5 of which would apply to our dinner costs. Everything was ala carte with prices ranging from $2 for a bowl of soup to $23 to a five course sampling menu. I had tuna sashimi appetizer for $6, and it was nice, but very plain, just five thinly sliced pieces of tuna. We ordered the hot rock dinner and it was quite bad. A very hot stone comes out with about 3 ounces of raw chicken which you place on the rock to cook. It was very plain but came with three good sauces. It was barely an appetizer for $8. I had the sashimi for my main course and it was very small but very fresh and tasty. The dinner comes with free endamame which was great. After the meal the waiter brought over an after dinner cordial we thought he was offering us. We didn't want it and declined, only to find out had we taken it, it would have cost us $8 per glass. We didn't say anything but they really should inform a guest that they will charge for something that appears to be complimentary. It was overpriced for very little food.
We only at there for dinner, but ate one lunch there as well. It was always crowded but every single time we got a seat by the window. And to dispel reviews that disparage the food, we were thrilled with the huge variety and how delicious everything was. At every dinner meal there were at least 10 different entree choices, lots of vegetable choices, salads soup, carved meats. Only the desserts were a bit boring (which made us happy!) but one night they had a banana cream chocolate pie that was amazing. We loved the food, yes it is a buffet but there were never lines for anything and it was so easy and relaxing to eat there with a beautiful view of the ocean. I have been on Princess, Norwegian, Crystal and Celebrity and this was easily the best buffet in all aspects.
OASIS OF DREAMS SHOW
Then we went to the Oasis of Dreams Aqua Theatre show. We arrived 30 minutes early and the entire middle section was packed already. We sat on the side and it was fine. They have rows that alternate between comfortable lounge chairs and very uncomfortable benches. We tried a bench in the center first, but it was not comfy at all so we moved to a lounger on the side. We ordered a few more drinks and waited. The place filled up and the show began. I couldn't see much over the head of the person in front of me, but much of the show was aerial or staged high above the water, so it was OK. The show was fun, not really much substance, just a lot of high diving and gymnastics, but the cast was great, very fit, very good at what they did, and it was a nice 45 minute diversion. After, the crowd poured out into the Boardwalk area and for the first time I felt the weight of so many people upon me. But it was quickly over as the crowd dissipated.
We were lucky enough to be on the ship the night the cast of Hairspray was live on the Tony Awards. It was a lot of fun being part of that and the show after, which started at 11pm was very good. It was a 90-minute reader's digest version of the Broadway show, but all the good songs were there. There were entire sections that were redone for the shorter version, and for someone who had never seen the Broadway show, it might be a bit confusing as most of the book was gone and segues left out lots of information, but the talent was excellent and the energy was great. Only the guy playing Edna was sub-par. He wasn't funny at all and every one of his lines landed flat.
We saw two acts, Kivi something was the second act, and he was truly hilarious. This guy is going to be a big star. His set was easy, natural and achingly funny. The other guy was just OK. The club is nice, small and fun to see comedy. Highly recommended.
HAIRSPRAY CAST ROCK AND ROLL SHOW
Six members of the Hairspray cast performed a 35 minute set of tunes with a big band. If this show is offered, don't miss it. They were incredible.
COME FLY WITH ME
A cirque du soliel inspired show, completely bizarre story that made no sense, but it didn't matter. The acts and dancing was great. The cast, same as the other shows, was fantastic, with songs, acrobatics that were amazing, flying through the air, wonderful visuals made for a very entertaining show very different from anything you would see on another cruise ship.
Fantastic. I didn't know what to expect but it was wonderful for all ages. The woman who does the improvisational sand designs is incredible and worth going just to see her. The skaters were first rate, with lots of triple axles, and beautiful costumes. Not sure about the story, but they basically use the Hans Christian Anderson stories to inspire costume and scenic ideas and then just skate beautifully. There are solos and duos. The show lasts about 45 minutes and is really terrific.
The disco party was not something I thought I would go to, but I was on the Royal Promenade and it started. It was great fun. First they had two singers doing a set of disco tunes and they were great, followed by several crew members and the cruise director donning seventies gear dancing to the oldies. It was so much fun. Don't miss it.
They had a five voice men's acapella group. Their gimmick was that they created all the sounds we heard with their voices. They were incredibly talented and amazingly versatile in creating instrumental sounds with their voices. But despite their talent their choice of material and their endless audience participation activities grew tiresome fast. I don't go to see the audience sing and carouse, I want the performers to dominate. I realize many enjoy the participatory aspect, but I find it amateurish and irritating.
We got off the ship at about 10am and took a walk around. There are lots of lovely beaches, three places to eat, lots of activities, a fearsomely long zip line from the tip of a mountain back to the beach. The island area is very disconnected from the rest of Haiti and could have been anywhere. But it was nice. We spent less than 20 minutes there and returned to the boat where we had the entire place to ourselves. There were five people in the gym, the Jacuzzis were empty -- heaven! The solarium Jacuzzis, always very busy, were empty, but the main pools seemed busy, but not packed.
Terrible port - basically a shopping mall filled with T-shirt and jewelry shops made specifically for the cruise lines. There is a gated entrance into the city to keep the locals away. There is a shopping street immediately outside the gate and it is sketchy and a bit scary. Within 30 feet I was offered drugs, drug paraphernalia. We went out for a minute and returned immediately to the ship. This is a sad place, where the poverty of the island is very apparent and the segregation of those on the ship from the island people is obvious and uncomfortable. I have no idea why they stop here. But the ship was empty again, although not nearly as empty as in Labadee. I overheard many people talking about how bad the port was.
My favorite port, or should I say, the only port that seemed safe and had something to do. We took a $7 taxi ride to the Forum Shops where we were able to use free internet. Then we strolled along the main street filled with jewelry, watch, souvenir and T-shirt shops, as well as many restaurants. Once done, we taxied back and had lunch. It is a fun port and worth a visit. The watch shops actually offer pretty good buys compared to buying full price in the USA.