My husband and I have 3 teens, and this was our third cruise together. Last summer, we were on Freedom of the Seas and had a great time. My main concerns were was the ship too big or too crowded.
We arrived at Port Everglades around 11 am and it looked like people were still trying to leave from the prior cruise. It seemed busy, but I think that arriving passengers didn't know where the porters were. My husband dropped us off with the luggage right by the porters and went to park in the lot adjacent to terminal. The porters expect a tip, probably $1 per piece of luggage.
We walked inside and waited (about 7 minutes) for my husband. We went through security and walked right up to an RC employee who took our pictures and gave us the card keys. It was that easy. The Windjammer was quiet, and we had no trouble getting a table!
There were two times I felt the crowds. Once was when we were getting off at St. Thomas. Everyone was lined up in the halls waiting to get off at 10 am. The ship got to the other 2 ports much earlier, and the disembarkation was more staggered. The other time was the last breakfast on the day of disembarkation. The line for the Windjammer was long. The line actually went fast and they found a table for my family.
The entertainment was great. We loved the Comedy Improv (not the comedy show with reservations) show. Apparently, they do 2 of these and we missed the first one. The ice show Frozen was so good; I saw it twice. We loved Hairspray and later that week, we went to the Backstage tour of theater. Two of the main stars in Hairspray plus 2 dancers and the backstage manager sat on the stage and answered questions. It was so interesting to hear how they got the job and what their life is like.
We had 2 inside cabins, and they were quiet. My room had an adjoining door and I thought we would hear noise from the adjoining room, but we didn't hear a thing.
We had My Time Dining with no reservations. It is on the 5th floor. I tried to get reservations at 6:30, but they don't take them for that time. We just showed up and got a table every night. The formal nights are busier. And if you wait until 8 pm, a line forms. One night, we went at 7:45 and had to wait 10 minutes. We ended up loving the flexibility of My Time Dining. Plus, the waiters on MTD were excellent. They get you in and out. My teens really didn't want a 2 hour dinner, and we would finish in 1 hour and 15 minutes.
We loved breakfast in the Main Dining Room the best. There is a buffet or you can order off the menu. We ate in the Main Dining Room for lunch a couple of times and it was great. There is a buffet and a menu also.
The ship had so many places to explore and we loved walking around. We never had trouble finding a lounge chair in the shade. On the last day, we sat at the back of the ship in wooden chairs on Deck 5. It is a great spot and I wish I had found that spot earlier. I did hear people complain that the pools are too crowded. People just stand in the pools to cool off and there is no room to swim. I don't use the pools, so I am not affected. My kids swam a night with their friends. There is no one in them at night. My husband tried to use the hot tubs. He said one was not hot enough and the others were crowded.
After the cruise, my two daughters and I like the Oasis size better than Freedom. My husband and son say that it doesn't matter to them.
There were 4 boats at Nassau that day. My family of 5 (including 3 teens) walked to Junkanoo Beach for a beach day. It is a 12-15 minute walk. We walked through the port and took a right. You will see signs directing you to the beach, so it is super easy. We walked past the straw market (and planned to go there on the way back to the ship), past downtown stores (I picked up a cold Diet Coke!) past Senor Frogs, and past the British Colonial Hilton. Just past the Hilton, you will see the beach to the right. I found shade and plopped my towel down there before I lost the spot. Even with 4 ships, it wasn't crowded when we got there. There were around 4 security guards (wearing orange reflective vests) just roaming around the beach, so I felt very safe. Women will ask if you want your hair braided. When I declined, they were courteous and moved on. I did not feel harassed. There are lots of little places to get food and drink. The water was beautiful and clear. I would recommend water shoes. I saw some broken glass and it is a little rocky getting in the water. None of my family was bothered, but it would be a shame if someone's foot got cut on Day 2 of the cruise. As the morning went on, more people came to the beach. It is a large beach, and you can move further down if you want to spread out. I noticed that people were sitting on the shady part of the beach. This part has lots of trees, so the sand has leaves. I wasn't sure if it was private property, but apparently, it is not. If you pay for a chair, I saw them take a rake and clean up the sand for you. After a few hours, we headed back to the ship. I would definitely go back to this beach.
There was only 1 ship at St. Maarten that day- the Oasis-Yay! We were headed to Mullet Bay Beach and later Maho Beach. This was going to be an adventure. My family of 5 (includes 3 teens) walked to Phillipsburg which took about 15 minutes. We got off the ship and walked through the port. When you pass through the gates, turn left on the sidewalk. You will see signs that say "This way to Phillipsburg." You will get to a tourist area with little shops. I asked a security guard where Front Street was and he pointed us in the right direction. Once on Front Street (where all of the upscale stores are), we walked through an alley to get to Back Street. This is where the buses are. Immediately, we found a bus and asked the driver if he could take us to Mullet Bay beach. He said yes. We confirmed it was $2 per person and got in. He picked up a couple of other passengers along the way and after a 30 minute drive, dropped us off at Mullet Bay Beach. Two chairs and an umbrella were $15 total. This is the prettiest beach! We hated to leave. We then walked to Maho Beach which takes about 12 minutes. You walk through the parking lot up to the road and turn right. You will see a white golf shop ahead. When you get close to the golf shop turn right and you will see a pharmacy up ahead. When you reach the pharmacy, turn right again. Walk past shops and casino. You will see the beach on the right. When we were ready to leave Maho beach, we just reversed our steps to get to the main road (where the casino was) and immediately saw another bus. We asked him if he could take us back to Phillipsburg and confirmed it was $2 per person. He dropped us on Back Street. We cut through an alley to Front Street and made the 15 minute walk back to the ship. It was a great day. I got exercise walking, the beach is so pretty and it didn't cost my family an arm and a leg!
There were 4 ships in St. Thomas that day. Our family of 5 (includes 3 teens) took a cab to Sapphire Beach from Crown Bay. It was $11 per person each way. We asked the cab driver to come back to get us at a certain time and he did. The taxi was a van with so-so A/C. Most of the "taxis" I saw were open air, safari-type vehicles. The cab drivers have to navigate curves and mountains and seem to drive aggressively. I felt safe, but I was in a van. Sapphire Beach is gorgeous. Waitresses will bring you a menu and take your order at your chair. They brought my drink out very fast. The water is postcard pretty. The sand is rocky at the entrance to the water. I had to wear my swim shoes, although the rest of my family said they were fine. We got there and found a tree to sit under. It was a perfect spot. There is a shop where you can rent snorkeling gear. It looked like people were coming there on excursions. For awhile, the bathrooms were closed at Sapphire Beach. They are now open, but the taxi cab director was still saying they were closed and discouraging us from going. For 4 ships, the beach was not crowded. Perfect!