We are experienced cruisers- 5+ on RCCL, 3 on Celebrity, 4 on Princess, 3 on Carnival. BE CAREFUL before you choose to book a cruise on this ship. It is not a typical cruise experience, and I would NOT recommend it for newer cruisers! You already know that this ship is big- they say the largest in the world (though its sister ship, the Allure is slightly larger). The overwhelming size brings a few perks but more disadvantages for you as a cruise passenger. It is something to see once, if you do a lot of cruising and want to try something different. But this size ship is overwhelming- in fact so much so, that RCCL decided to make their next class of ships SMALLER. Our cruise had over 6,000 passengers and 2,100 crew- which is great for cruise line revenue, not so much for the people who such a small part of such a larger herd. And the crew said it is always full- they appear to fill it with family and friends of the crew, much like airlines allow their families to sometimes fill unused seats. So don't think you can easily find a "good time" to take a trip on this ship.
Now for specifics- this ship cannot pull into just any port- it is a monster. And many ports don't want it- their infrastructure simply cannot handle 6,000 people plus more from other ships overrunning their little port towns. So RCCL limits the stops on these monster ships, in our case to a beach peninsula on the side of Haiti (which was nicer than it sounds), along with a stop in Jamaica that is at a remote, RCCL built pier at least a 90 minute drive to anything that will set you back $150 cab fare, plus tip. Even the stop in Cozumel dumps passengers 3-4 miles from the cruise port, south of town- though that stop only sets you back $20 RT to town, if you're not doing an excursion. They are taking the Oasis into drydock in England in December 2014- its now five years old- then are going to try mediterranean cruises. Why in the world would somebody book a trip to the mediterranean in anything but a smaller ship? There won't be many good port choices there, though they say a few are being built for them.
Anyhow- a few of the features on this ship are very nice- including the central park, which is very well done, rarely crowded and a pleasant place to relax, even though once in there, you cannot tell that you're out on the ocean. Same goes for the main promenade- it looks like the inside of any suburban shopping mall. It has a Starbucks, which is cool, but that forces you to pay for Starbucks, since they have no to-go coffee cups anywhere else on the ship. The casino and the gym are largest you'll ever find on a ship, as is the pub, the theater and the pool areas. If you're a sunbather, you will appreciate the many different areas and levels where you can always find a deck chair, and this is the first ship I've ever been on where they actually clear off chairs after about 30 minutes, where so many selfish passengers like to throw towels and and a paperback onto 3 or 4 for their whole family at 9am to save them for their one hour trip to the pool after lunch. You can get a pair of deck lounges even on sea days at almost any time. Same with the gym- no problem getting a treadmill or elipitical- though the gym has the nasty habit of endlessly blasting their sales pitches for arthritis creams and the like, loudly over all the overhead speakers throughout the gym while you're trying to get in your zone and workout- even turning up my ipod/iphone music to full volume could not drown that nuisance noise out.
Part of the cruise experience is meeting and talking with other passengers. This isn't as easy as one would think on this ship, because there are soooo many people, you rarely see the same ones twice. It seems that passengers and crew alike know there are alot of people, often think about it and try to stay in their own little worlds. This is the very first cruise in which cruise ship employees routinely walk right past you, don't acknowledge you, say hello or even nod their head. Many seemed like angry soldiers beat up from having to work too hard to help service so many people, week after week. Of course, the wait staff and housekeeping are more friendly, hoping for additional tips on top of the $12.00/day tips automatically charged to each passenger's account.
The front desk never backed up much, but thats partly because they won't let you near it until they screen you for the reason you're trying to talk to them. Its like going through a phone tree when calling a big business. So whatever you plan to talk to them about, you have to say it twice. And they surprisingly said NO to a couple of things that are typically a courtesy- change in small bills, arranging to bill the tips for one of our guests to our account. So our impression was that this ship wasn't very well run- whomever manages things makes some poor decisions or simply cannot keep control over the magnitude of the operation.
The food was disappointing- though this has become common on many ships, including Carnival and Princess- smaller portions, unimaginative menus, very bland food, few fresh vegetables. They try really hard to get people into the pay-extra dining, for $25-40/meal, and didn't seem to be succeeding at that very well. We went to the sushi place for lunch, which is ok, but I wouldn't get excited about it. We also went to Giovannis for lunch, which was good, but again, not anything spectacular. Johnny Rockets is cool once, for $6, if you need an infusion of high calorie burger and fries or rings and a shake.
The rooms were typical- by chance we chose a pair of balcony cabins on Deck 7, midship right near the elevators. What a pleasant surprise. Down one set of stairs to the gym, up one set up stairs to the starbucks and indoor mall, up two flights of stairs to central park and the Park Cafe, nice for breakfast- which most seemed to avoid thinking that they charged for it. On this ship, its sometimes hard to tell when you're going to be charged and when its included. Hopefully thats not a trend, surely something some young business school graduate of theirs thought a good idea to try and maximize profits. Anyhow, if you take this ship, do not be afraid to get a room near the elevators- it rarely causes noise since they designed them to be past the stairs and around a corner from the room deck hallways- and there seemed to be plenty of elevators, most of the time. You don't want to pick a room toward the aft or bow of the ship, you'll constantly be walking halls the length of a football field. There seems little advantage to going upward when you choose a cabin (i.e., 12th or 14th floor)- except for the pool decks and the buffet, you'll constantly be having to go many floors down to get to where most spend their time. Decks 7 and 9 were obviously the easiest. Forget the suites at the aft of the ship- not the typical quiet, fantails as found on most ships- they overlook a pool that is for cast only, with occasional activities while at sea in which they spend several hours shouting through microphones trying to separate as many people as they can from the rest of the crowd- the belly flop contests almost sounded like spring break in Daytona Beach. Clearly not worth the money unless it doesn't matter to you or you just have to have the extra space and spend alot of time in your cabin.
There seemed to be a surprisingly low percentage of passengers from the U.S. on this cruise, which left from Pt. Everglades/Ft. Lauderdale (which is functional, but problematic). Our guess was that about 60% of the passengers were foreign- from Europe, Brazil and China. More older guests than one would expect for a ship really designed for families with small children.
Our 18 year old son did do the rock wall- which is very cool but only a 5 minute experience for a 20 minute line- and the flow rider- which again you wait to get onto then are rushed off the moment you fall, which is typically very quickly. The ice rink looked like little more than something for the ship to brag about (being replaced with some sort of bumper cars on the Quantam) and the zip line was short and lame. So some of the features that might attract families really are no big thing- and this ship seems to large to let children much wander around on their own. We reserved one of the production shows, only to have it substituted with a nice but washed-up Vegas singer. The water show was ok but evolved into little more than the performers diving into a pool, getting out and diving in again. The high dive from the top of the back smokestack was cool to watch. You have to have reservations for all shows, though they do let people in to fill the extra seats- which seemed to work for everything but the comedy show, which takes place in a room with no more than about 50 chairs.
Bars. Plenty of them, standard fare and pricing. The Globe pub and a few others had some exceptional beer choices. For wine lovers, Vintages Bar in Central Park had some very nice wines for about $20/glass, but if you do that, ask when they opened the bottle- it wasn't real busy and it looked like some had been open for days or more, with only the low-tech air removal valves to try and keep them from turning. If you're Crown & Anchor Platinum or higher, save your "2 for 1" drink coupon (electronic) for this place, one time you can get two glasses of a really good wine for the price of one.
Electronic coupons. Electronic everything. Though they do put a daily newsletter in your cabin, thats about it- most everything else is on the TV, or they want you to go on the internet- which is VERY slow and costs 50 cents/minute- about 4 minutes just to sign into your email. About halfway through the cruise they offered a flat rate $10 for up to 30 minutes wi-fi, which you can't break up- which seemed a little faster than the 1990s era computers they tucked into a few closet-like rooms on the ship.
Disembarktation- another word for complete disaster. Getting off this boat was the absolute worst I've ever seen. I got off with the "walk off" option (no luggage)- to go get a rental car for the rest of our group (which at Pt. Everglades, is difficult- the Dollar facility isn't really in the port, is small, dirty and run by employees who spoke little english). Anyhow, it took me over an hour for the walk off option, where I left the ship at 0645. Here it was partly the fault of customs- they only had two agents for a cruise ship letting off over 6,000 people, most of them foreigners. They later added agents, but it was too little, too late. The ship's crew and local police shamelessly treat you like cattle at this point, herding you in long winding lines that don't flow very well and shout at you to put away your phones while you're spending an hour in line, with elderly people dragging huge suitcases to avoid having to wait or tip a porter. My family had disembarkation #8, which is in the second group with luggage due to get off- there are 64 possible assignments. It took them over two hours. They said that the ship was losing control of its crowd management. When we got on the ship the previous Saturday, we arrived at 11:00am and thought we saw people still trying to get off the ship. Well appears so, as the same thing was developing as my family finally got off just before 10:00am. Forget the jaunt to everglades for an airboat ride before our 2:30 flight- there just wasn't time. Especially if you're taking Southwest Airlines out of FLL- that terminal is incredibly underequipped and overcrowded, and the FLL airport looks like the Big Dig- maybe someday it will be nice, but now they're just down to one runway, all of the time, and that tiny little airport just cannot handle the hoards of people using this and the other ships. Unfortunately Miami isn't much of a better option. The Dollar rent a car should be your last choice- not sure why we used them, but never again. At FLL, the lady demanded to see proof of my personal insurance or buy theirs. I don't carry our vehicles insurance cards, of which we have four. I repeatedly told her that she was full of BS and she finally backed down. Scam. They must make a lot of extra $$ doing this.
I've been sufficiently specific with criticism in the hope that it is helpful in helping others decide whether to take this ship. If it were priced the same as other cruises, I'd say go ahead and try it. To us, it was a noticeably lesser value and experience than the smaller (medium) sized ships that we're accustomed to. As I said, something to try once, but bring your patience, stamina, walking shoes and whatever you do, don't pay more for it than a 3,000 passenger ship, where you're likely to find the service better, the waiting less, better port experiences and overall, a more relaxing vacation.