OASIS OF THE SEAS Dec 1 -- 7, 2012 Cabin 10724, CAT D7 Veranda
A little background to set the stage for this review. I'm a long-time cruiser that has sailed six different lines over the past 20 years. We primarily alternate between Royal Caribbean and Celebrity although since Celebrity introduced the S Class ships, we sail Celebrity more. I prefer smaller ships over megaships but have always wanted to see the Oasis class. I vowed not to sail them until pricing became reasonable. RCI's December Celebration sale earlier this year finally brought balcony cabins below $1,000 per person so we decided to give it a try.
Keep in mind that this was our experience and may differ (in fact, I'm sure it will) from others. I'll do my best to present a balanced review to help future cruisers.
PRE-CRUISE & EMBARKATION
We stayed at the Hyatt Place Ft. Lauderdale Airport & Cruise Port the night before the cruise even though it's only a three-hour drive to the port we still like arriving the night before and begin our pre-cruise ritual. We enjoyed dinner at Il Mulino on Sunrise and an early departure for the port on Saturday morning. We booked the Port Everglades package which allowed us to park at the hotel while we cruised and with our package we got roundtrip transfers to the ship with Avanti Transportation. We booked the 10:00 AM departure and arrived at the cruise terminal about 10:20.
Check in was quick an efficient. We were escorted up to the waiting area by 10:45 which was divided into Crown & Anchor sections and general passengers. About 11:25, the boarding process began and we were in the first Crown & Anchor group called (Diamond Plus) after suite guests were called. By 11:45 we were on board.
Since we were cruising alone and Oasis offered so many specialty restaurant options, we decided to try two dining packages and forego dinners in the main dining room.
I had pre-booked two dining packages -- The Oasis Package which included Chops Grille, Giovanni's Table, and a choice of Solarium Bistro or Izumi. I also booked the Chefs Package which included the Chef's Table, 150 Central Park and Chops Grille.
When I made the booking on-line, we were required to book Chops on the first night and the Chef's Table on night 2. All other reservations had to be booked once on board. The first thing we did upon boarding was head to Central Park to make the remaining reservations. We were told there was not one central location to make all the reservations but rather we'd have to visit each restaurant to book each reservation. We were unaware at the time that as Diamond Plus members (this was our first cruise as Diamond Plus), the Concierge in the Diamond Plus lounge could have made all the reservations. Most of the restaurants were located close to one another in Central Park so it wasn't a big deal to walk from one to the other.
The only challenge came when we tried to change some reservations. You cannot call one number to make changes; you must again call each restaurant individually or revisit them and sometimes it is difficult to understand them on the phone. Be sure to check our Daily Personal Calendar on your TV to ensure your reservations were made correctly so you can correct any that have an error.
We were familiar with Chops from other Royal ships and knew we'd have a great dining experience here. With our packages, we dined here the first and last night. All the food was very good. It can be very noisy at times (see my note later about the design of Central Park restaurants) but both evenings were lovely.
Without question, this was the best food and dining experience on the ship. This is offered every night of the cruise and is held in the upstairs area of the Concierge Lounge on deck 11. A long table that seats 16 is the perfect setting for this tour of wonderful wines and foods. The evening is hosted by a wine sommelier that introduces each wine prior to the course. As he pours the wine, the chef appears and describes the accompanying dish in detail.
I can be a picky eater but all five courses were fantastic. The appetizer included shrimp, lobster and scallops. The soup course consisted of three different delicious soups served in espresso cups (no spoons provided); the fish course was a citrus marinated salmon and the meat course was veal served two ways with one of the best port wine reduction I've ever had. Dessert was a scoop of lemon sorbet accompanied by a XXXX. One of the soups, a French onion, was so good that I met with the chef later in the cruise to get the recipe. The evening concluded with a presentation of the SAVOR Royal Caribbean cookbook and apron. Overall, one of the best evening dining experiences we've had in all of our 50+ cruises. Kudos to Chef Dario!
This is not what you'd consider a typical American-Italian restaurant. Don't expect lots of pastas with red sauces. No problem with that at all. Just be sure to review the menu before dining here. Our appetizer of mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto on a crostini was dry and cold. Our pasta course was much better. My husband's pappardelle pasta was delicious and if we had returned I would have ordered a double order for my dinner. I had the gnocchi and while the flavor of the blue cheese sauce was yummy, the gnocchi was overdone and mushy. For entrees, my osso buco entree was good but my husband's stuffed veal dish was on the dry side. Service was good and overall we enjoyed the evening but not enough to return. We considered coming back for lunch but found the $15 lunch cover charge to be a bit high when there were so many other great options for food at lunch
150 CENTRAL PARK
This was by far our biggest disappointment of the cruise. I had read so many wonderful reviews of this restaurant and was looking forward to another wonderful dinner. As we were waiting to be seated, we noticed that you could hear a lot of noise from the kitchen area. Clanking of dishes, rattling of silverware. For an uber fine dining restaurant, the noise coming from the kitchen was surprisingly loud and distracting.
Once our waiter introduced himself and the menu (it is a pre-fixe menu and your only choice is with or without the wine pairings), he strongly encouraged us to purchase the wine pairings. We had just done the chef's table two nights prior with five glasses of wine and limoncello and didn't want another evening with even more wine. We just wanted to purchase individual drinks. Our waiter immediately expressed surprise at our decision and explained that the food was designed to match the accompanying wines and that we should really do the wine pairings to experience the complete dinner. I politely smiled and thanked him but that I didn't want that much wine this evening. He then offered their signature martini which sounded good so we each ordered one of those. We'd now been seated more than 25 minutes. No water service offered yet because our waiter was so intent on getting us to purchase the wine pairings. Once the martinis arrived about ten minutes later, he once again encouraged us to reconsider purchasing the wine pairings. By this point, between the noise coming from the kitchen (there is no door on the kitchen to diffuse the noise) and his instance that we purchase the wine pairings, I really just wanted to leave. We were beginning to feel that pushing profits was now more important than the service and food.
But the biggest disappointment of the evening was the food. Since everyone we talked to raved about the food, including others in the restaurant that evening, we were really confused. Our pasta, fish and duck confit courses were all extremely dry. While the pasta dish had good flavor, it appeared sauce less (it was supposed to be a brown butter and sage sauce). I don't know if it had sat too long in the kitchen but it wasn't nearly as good as the pasta dish in Giovanni's the night before. While the fish also had great flavor (it was pompano with a MeuniÃ¨re sauce), it too was very dry. The duck confit was beyond dry and flavorless. Finally, the beef tenderloin, while cooked to proper temperature (medium rare) was the oddest beef tenderloin we've ever had. It didn't look nor taste like beef. If someone had put it in front of us and didn't tell us what it was, we would have guessed it was a loin of venison or other wild game. I understand it was an organic beef so perhaps that was the difference but again, no comparison to the beef filet we had in Chops.
I don't know if our late seating (8:30 PM) had anything to do with the preparations we received but something wasn't right. So many people give 150 such great reviews that something had to be amiss. Fortunately, we were finding plenty of great things to eat around the ship so one disappointing meal didn't affect us.
LAYOUT OF CENTRAL PARK RESTAURANTS
One thing I noticed about the layouts of 150 Central Park, Giovanni's Table, Chops Grille and Park Cafe -- all run along either side of Central Park and are essentially rectangular boxes, long and relatively narrow. This makes all of them tight (tables close together), noisy, and impossible to get away from the kitchens which add to the overall noise levels. Park Cafe doesn't matter too much, but for the other three restaurants, the design definitely takes away from the overall atmosphere. Maybe I'm the only one who noticed this but it would have been nice if they could have somehow added a bit more creativity to the overall design of these specialty restaurants. One of the really nice things about the Solarium Bistro is that it wasn't a box layout. I realize space is very limited on ships but when I compare these restaurants to the overall design and food of the specialty restaurants on the Celebrity S-class ships, Celebrity wins for us (and the costs are to dine on both lines are pretty much the same). Considering how lovely Central Park itself is, it would have been nice if the restaurants themselves had more personality.
Probably our best specialty dining restaurant experience took place in the Solarium Bistro. One of the prettiest spots on the ship, they turn this area into a lovely evening dining venue with white chair covers and candlelight. Open for breakfast and lunch as a buffet, the Solarium turns into a sit down restaurant in the evening. My sashimi tuna appetizer, chicken minestrone soup, veal scaloppini with tomato barley risotto and chocolate pane cotta dessert was all wonderful. My husband enjoyed a chipotle shrimp bowl (salsa instead of cocktail sauce), salad with poached egg and the basa fish. He said all were very good. Raspberry mojitos rounded out our meal.
Making the evening perfect was the fantastic service with had from our waiter, Rico. It was the exact opposite of our Park 150 experience. Rico was friendly, genuine and didn't try to push anything.
Since our dining packages included six nights in specialty restaurants, we had one additional night to eat wherever we chose. We decided to try Izumi, the ship's Japanese restaurant located just next to the Windjammer cafe on deck 16. Another great choice! Service was friendly and the food was great. I had a chicken appetizer with a sweet chili sauce and my husband had a sushi roll. For our entrees we each went with a 'hot rock' dish. I had the beef medallions and he choice the mixed seafood. The waitress delivered the entrees on a large white dish that had the vegetables on the left and meat/seafood on the right. In the middle is a VERY, VERY hot rock about 4 x 4 inches and an inch thick. When they say hot, they mean hot....575 degrees F. When she set it down, you could get a quick facial just sitting there. You do have to be very careful to ensure you do not touch the rock as you cook your own meat or seafood but the concept was fun and the food was great. It came with three distinct and flavorful dipping sauces.
We were really glad we tried Izumi. One thing that is different is that there is a $5 cover charge and then individual charges for the other items you order. My appetizer was an extra $4 and my entree was $10
MAIN DINING ROOM
The main dining room is beautiful. We only ate in here once for lunch. You have an option of a nice buffet or ordering from a menu. I had a wonderfully prepared orange chicken. Other guests throughout the week said the food in the main dining room in the evenings was very good.
I debated where to eat on embarkation day. Cruise Critic members suggested Park Cafe in Central Park but by the time we made our specialty restaurant reservations, the line here was out the door. Since RCI's honey stung chicken has been an embarkation day ritual for years, we headed to the Windjammer. A member told me it wasn't the same as it used to be and they have changed the breading (it's not a batter any longer) but it was still a real chicken breast and tasted fine. I was surprised at the size of the Windjammer. I realize that there are lots of other venues on the ship to eat but for the number of people that typically visit here on a given cruise, the Windjammer is pretty small. While the island stations instead of lines help, the islands are placed too close together and it quickly becomes difficult to walk through the Windjammer let alone try to get food.
We ate several breakfasts here and the food was good both times. Even the coffee was OK.
I had read lots of reports on how good the roast beef sandwiches were at Park Cafe and I agree....they were very good. I enjoyed them twice for lunch. Freshly sliced prime beef on a great "weck" roll with au jus. We also enjoyed breakfast here on two occasions. Had a breakfast sandwich one day and a banana pecan muffin another. Both very good. The only thing I found lacking here was the complimentary coffee. If you want decent coffee here, they offer a variety of coffees for a fee. Many loved the salads here. The food is complimentary making it a nice stop. It is not open in the evening.
Decent pizza day and night and the individual pizzas made to order looked good, too (we didn't order any of them).
We only ate breakfast here once and it was fine. Basic breakfast food fast. There is no charge for breakfast.
This was a pleasant surprise that we didn't know about. It's a wine bar located at the end of Central Park. It too had the long rectangular box design but because it had a bar and a varied seating area it didn't come across as boxy like the others. They have a huge wine list and some great wine flight tastings (prices are reasonable) and a very nice tapas menu to go along with the wines. Tapas were not free but it was very, very good. Items ranged from started at $2.00 and went up. Most were in the $3 - $5 range. We didn't stop here until the second to last day of the cruise. Wish we had stopped sooner. They are open for lunch on sea days and from 2:00 PM on during port days. They are open all evenings as well.
- When dining in the finer restaurants, you are offered your choice of Pellegrino sparkling water or Evian water (extra charge) but no mention of tap water. Regular old tap water is available if you ask and actually, the plain old tap water on Oasis is very good.
- Please centralize reservations to make it easier to make and adjust reservations all at once.
- Advise guests as they arrive that all of their dining reservations will be posted to their PERSONAL CALENDAR found on their television in their stateroom.
- The restaurant availability option on your TV and on directional screens around the ship is a great touch. You can quickly see how busy each restaurant is.
We were in a CATEGORY D7 balcony cabin, aft on deck 10. Quite honestly, there are too many categories of cabins on this ship. If you look at the deck plans, it's a rainbow of colors intermingled. Very hard to decipher what makes five cabins side by side different values when they are all standard balconies. I'd call our cabin a basic balcony cabin, slightly smaller than our cabin on the Freedom class ships. Bathroom is pretty small and basic but was fine. The couch was nice and comfy and the deck chairs and round table were of good quality and comfortable.
Storage was adequate but I sure wish they'd go back to little nightstands that had doors instead of these little narrow open-shelved tables that everything falls off of. Loved the nightlights over the artwork in the cabin. VERY nice touch. Also, our robes were left in our bathroom on the last night, unlike other lines that collect robes at turndown on the last night.
NOTE: the electrical outlets are UNDER the desk where your mirror is located. Many people had problems locating them.
Our cabin attendant, Merlin, was one of the best we've had in a long time. He knew our names immediately, was friendly and always available. We didn't have any special requests but he always took a moment to chat when we left our room, our cabin was always clean and tidy, even the veranda (which can often be overlooked). Kudos to Merlin!
Overall, Oasis is a very nice ship. Some spots, like Central Park, the Solarium, Vintages, and the Concierge Lounge were terrific. Some were a bit "Las Vegas" (Blaze, Viking Crown, Dazzles). Many were fun (Schooner Bar, On-Air, the Pub, Comedy Club, and Boardwalk). No matter what your taste, Oasis has something that will appeal to everyone.
One word: FABULOUS!!! With one exception, the entertainment on Oasis is the absolute best. From the cast of Hairspray (who performed in smaller venues like the Viking Crown later in the cruise) to the incredible aqua show Oasis of Dreams, to Tommy the piano player in the Schooner, to the steel drum band, the band that played in Dazzles, the bag piper (she was adorable), to the classical guitar player, the ventriloquist and the comedians, I was amazed at the terrific talent that performed onboard Oasis. Of the entertainment we took in, only the trio M&M were subpar (sorry but they couldn't hold a tune). Considering all the entertainment options onboard, Royal Caribbean gets a huge congrats for offering such high quality entertainment.
CROWN & ANCHOR ACTIVITIES
Another area where Royal Caribbean shines is their Crown & Anchor loyalty program. A separate Concierge Lounge for Diamond Plus and Suite Guests was wonderful. Breakfast and lunch were served in here along with evening hors d'ourves and drinks. Coffee drinks were available all day. There was a great view of the Boardwalk towards the Aqua Theater from here and the upstairs where the Chef's Table was served was beautiful. This was also the place where we met some great passengers, always one of our favorite parts of cruising.
There were plenty of activities throughout the cruise for Crown & Anchor members. As Diamond Plus, we were offered a Sailaway on the helicopter pad; tours of the bridge, main dining room kitchen and behind the scenes of the theater. The Diamond Plus coupon book offered some nice amenities such as 45 minutes of internet service, a bag of free wash and fold laundry, a free photo from the photo gallery, a buy one get one wine/beer/soda, etc. These are the nice benefits that keep cruisers coming back. THANKS, RCI!
For a ship of this size, they have disembarkation down to a science. They call two or three numbers every 15 minutes or so. Getting off and to the luggage area took about five minutes. There were plenty of porters waiting to help passengers in the luggage area (of course, we didn't need one for this cruise!) and getting through US Customs was less than five minutes! From the time our number was called to the time we were in the van back to our hotel to get our car was no more than 20 minutes. I think that's a new record.
Here are some final observations about our experience:
There is so much focus on the "inside of the ship" (Promenade, Central Park, Boardwalk) that it's easy to lose connection with the sea. It's easy to feel like you are in one of the big Las Vegas hotels.
This was the most diverse cruise we've ever been on. It seemed like there were as many or more foreign guests from a wide range of countries on the cruise. It was great to hear all the different languages and seeing families enjoying themselves from all over. This was also apparent when leaving the ship and the US Customs lines were far longer for foreign guests than US guests (much more noticeable than the typical cruise out of south Florida).
Despite what you might think, this ship rocked and rolled pretty well on our way from Ft. Lauderdale to St. Thomas. I happen to like ship movement and one thing I was concerned about was that it wouldn't feel like we were at sea. But you could definitely feel movement (nothing terrible) so I was pleasantly surprised.
There are plenty of pool options for everyone. Saw lots of kids enjoying their pool. I'm still not wild about checking out towels and having to check them back in but at least on this cruise there were no lines at the towel exchange locations.
The majority of the crew was friendly and helpful but due to the ships size, it doesn't seem like you have the chance to really get to "know" crew like you do on a smaller ship. It's also tough for the Cruise Director and her staff. Amy, the Cruise Director on Oasis seemed to be 'everywhere' (I'm not sure how she did it) but she wasn't anywhere 'long.' I was really impressed how many things she made it to (she even ran from one event to be sure she greeted the Make a Wish Walkers on our journey). Kudos to her and her staff as well.
I wish Royal Caribbean would put an end to smoking on balconies. Several times I had to close our balcony door because smoke from neighboring cabins made its way into our cabin. If I'm going to spend the extra money for a balcony, I want to be able to enjoy it without having to deal with smoking and you simply cannot get away from it. There were plenty of places for people to smoke (and they did). Please stop it on the balconies.
We were happy that we sailed Oasis. It's amazing to see what they've done and how this behemoth was built. There are many aspects we really enjoyed (Central Park, Solarium). But our preference is still smaller ships. If we had a group of friends or family, we'd sail Oasis or Allure again but they aren't ships we'll regularly sail. They are just too big. But we are grateful we had the chance to experience the ship, have a fun week and meet new friends. That's what cruising is all about!