My wife and I are in our mid-thirties, and we have 2 kids: a 34 month old daughter, and an 8 month old son.
This is our forth cruise overall, first on RCL, and the previous three were all with Disney Cruise Line. We have always cruised with our kids and have previously only gone on Disney because it was the only cruise line with a nursery, which gives my wife and I some time as a couple without the kids, but can still enjoy brining our kids along. When we found out Oasis had a nursery, we signed up in October 2008.
I want to lead off by talking about the Royal Babies and Tots area as I have not seen much in the way of reviews about this program. It is FANTASTIC. Disney has a real competitive problem on their hands with Oasis. First, the area is large, very clean, uncluttered and spacious. Also, there was nearly a 1-1 and at times a 2-1 ratio of staff to kids in the Royal Babies & Tots room. The girls in this room were super sweet and very caring. They are highly experienced and certified in child care through the state of Florida. My daughter is very clingy and at first was not happy at all to be left in this room without mommy and daddy. By the third time she had no problem going there and looked forward to playing with the other kids. When you register your child for Royal Babies and Tots, they give you a cool wireless cell phone (not a beeper like on the Disney ship) which they can call you directly with if you need to pick up your child. Also, if you want to call and check on your child, for example to see if they are napping and you can get another hour child-free time with your spouse, you can easily do so. My wife and I were actually using the phone eventually to just keep track of each other when we split up with the kids. From the phone you can just dial your room number, and from our room, we can dial the cell phone. You can also call any of the other ship numbers. There are phones in the hallways all over the ship as well. You do sign an agreement that they can charge you $300 if you lose the phone. For all kids in the Adventure Ocean program, there is a large open area in the middle of the facility with toys and things your kids can crawl around on. Also, every other morning, they had special toys laid out for babies and toddlers from Fisher-Price which was neat. On the last day of the cruise, they had a blacklight puppet show in their Adventure Theater for little kids, and it was a serious production with original music and dialog produce by a company. I was impressed as I was expecting some lame sock puppets or something like that. They charged $6/hour/kid in Royal Babies and Tots and we used it for a few hours nearly every day. We were really impressed with the nursery, and so impressed we booked two more cruises on the Oasis. I really doubt we'll go back to the older Disney ships and we hope the upcoming new Disney ship, the Disney Dream, is up to par with the RC Youth Area. Of course the killer in brining your kids on a cruise is they are charged not a youth/infant rate, but the rate for a 3rd or 4th person in your stateroom. So, my 34 month old daughter and my 8 month old son cost us an extra $750 apiece to come cruise with us. Of course for my infant son, we bring all the food for him with us. So, I just hope that enough families bring their babies on cruises in the future to ensure the Royal Babies and Tots program stays as high quality as it was when we were there.
As far as everything else on the ship...
Flew in from Chicago to Ft. Lauderdale on Southwest, and Southwest was great as always.
Stayed the night before the cruise at the Embassy Suites Ft. Lauderdale. Avoid this hotel. Paid nearly $320 for a suite and port transfers, and another $50 for dinner at their restaurant. The room was so/so, dinner and service wasn't good. I was annoyed considering what we paid for all of this. The plus side was a Publix grocery store was just a few minutes walk behind the resort and we didn't have to cross any big roads.
Embarkation: we left the hotel at 11am, were at the Oasis pier at 11:15, and on the ship in the Promenade looking around for a place to have lunch at 11:40. Boy was I impressed how smoothly that all went.
The Royal Promenade was huge, wide, and very cool. For us it became the place to walk around after dinner, like a little downtown area in a beach resort town. We loved it. Every night they would lay out something different for a special sale in the middle of the Promenade, and man, did that create a swarm of ladies around those tables looking at purses one night, watches the next, jewelry the night after that. My wife loved it and I thought it was neat. I loved the feel of the Promenade and there was food everywhere. The Promenade Cafe had awesome brownies and cookies, and little sandwiches. We did have, and paid for, a Red Velvet Cupcake at the Cupboard. The cupcake was great, but not worth paying an extra $2.50 for.
The Boardwalk was cool. We went on the Carrousel a few times with my daughter. I had a burger, onion rings and shake at Johnny Rocket's before the AquaDreams show, and the food was really good. I HATED the Seafood Shack. The only reason I went there was because they had BBQ ribs, which were gross, unless you like overcooked, mushy, fatty rib meat. My wife got the calamari and it was a joke..again, unless you like so much fried batter around your squid meat that you can't even taste the squid. Just thinking about that meal grosses me out. My wife said her fish entrEe was bland, and I after two bites of my ribs, I sent it back and ordered a burger, which, I would have just preferred a Johnny Rocket burger and saved $3. I have seen so many bad reviews of the Seafood Shack, that they really need to work on it. My bad experience here turned me off from being interested in the other for-fee restaurants. There was a "family event" at the Boardwalk one morning. Basically some very unenthusiastic Adventure Ocean staff laid out fairly lame games for toddlers to play with. There was no energy put into the event, and this is again, where Disney shines.
Which brings me to the Main Dining Room - FANTASTIC. Oh my god, the food here was heads and shoulders above the Disney ship. The options were many, and the quality was superb. People that talk down the main dining food..I just don't get it. My wife and I ate there all 7 nights and absolutely loved it. We saw no need to upgrade to the specialty restaurants. Did we adore every single entrEe? No, of course not, as not everything was to our taste, but we could definitely see care and quality were put into the food - even the ones we didn't like, which were very few. I gained 4 pounds on this trip and much of the damage was done in the main dining room. Our service was really good, not outstanding, but really good. Our waiter was personable and very service oriented.
We also always had breakfast ala carte in the main dining room as well. Great service, great food again. One day we did eat at Windjammer for breakfast before a shore excursion, and for the life of me, I don't know why anyone would even bother with that place when you have so many other excellent places to eat on the ship that are massively crowded.
For lunch, Park Cafe was the place to go, and the roast beef sandwich is just awesome. I usually ordered two. That place is so popular that seating is often hard to come by, especially after you come back from shore excursions. We also at Brasserie 30, which is what the main dining room becomes for lunch. Again, really excellent, interesting, high quality food.
Pools - we only used the family pool at the H2O zone and it was excellent, again putting Disney to shame. The pool area was never crowded (but I realize after school is out, that will change). The infant pool was a temp of warm bath water - THANK YOU RCL! How many times have I walked into a baby pool or a kiddie pool that was unheated and unusable. All the pools were heated to a nice temp. This also meant that the water sprayers/sprinklers didn't hit you with ice cold sprays of water while you are in the kids pool, again MUCH appreciated. My daughter and son played together in the infant pool. My son crawled around the 2 inch water and loved it. My daughter would want to move from the family hot tub, to the main kid pool, to the "cyclone" pool. Awesome pool area. We used it often. I want to say a special thanks for the huge shades above the whirlpools too.
Our room - this is where Disney was better. We had a category D2 stateroom midship on deck 14th which ran us around $5,000 for the 4 of us. The bathroom was small and the circular shower stall pretty tight and I'm a fairly average size guy. We had a lot of luggage to bring into the stateroom: 2 car seats, 2 strollers, 2 large suitcases, a large garment suitcase, and a duffle bag (the joys of traveling with an infant and toddler). All the luggage fit under the bed, the strollers we put on the balcony, the car seats we put in the closet. Initially we were concerned we would not have room for everything, but we got it all settled. So, I say if we can fit that much stuff in a standard balcony room, everyone else should have no problem. The balcony was a very nice size, and very comfortable, definitely much nicer and bigger than Disney balcony rooms. Even with the strollers out there, we still had plenty of room to sit down. Also, having a view on the 14th deck, was very cool. I want to point out that the balcony door curtains were on separate runners, which meant you could FULLY close the curtains and weren't left with a gap that allows the bright sun to shine through when you are trying to get your kids to take a nap. Thank you! Also, people need to quit making such a big deal about the electrical outlets under the desk. I brought a power strip because of everyone's complaints, and after I hooked it up, I thought..this is unnecessary. You won't be "crawling" around under the desk to hook things up. The location is just fine. My wife and I just had to hook up 2 iPhones, but if you have a bunch of other gadgets, then yes, you'll want to bring a power strip. The bed was excellent and easily fit myself, my wife and my daughter..and when my son gets older and not in a crib, it would easily accommodate him as well. The pillows were plentiful and felt great. The sheets and comforter clean, soft and comfy. There were just two news channels on the large flatscreen TV: CNN Headline News and Fox News - GREAT! Fox News is all I need, thanks RCL! I did wish they had Nick Jr. or Sprout for toddlers, and maybe children's cartoon movie channel (that is definitely a plus with Disney). Our stateroom attendant was a super nice guy, took good care of us, and we tipped him well. One thing: my wife found a woman's g-string in a narrow cabinet that hadn't been cleaned out before we got in. My wife was grossed out, but nobody's perfect and except for that our stateroom attendant was great (nobody's perfect). We did have a noise problem on two nights. One night there was a late night pool party on deck 15 (just above us). Luckily we were all very tired from that day's activities and went to sleep with a problem. Also, on the 3rd night, drums and base were coming from somewhere late at night. I was told Dazzles nightclub was open late that night, so I assume it was from there. No huge deal as I eventually got to sleep but I am a light sleeper. One thing that bothered me about the balcony was that you couldn't close the balcony door fully from the balcony. So, when you close it without being able to seal it, you get a howling sound in the room, which can possibly wake little kids up from their naps. Overall, we did like the room and have booked similar rooms on future cruises.
It is interesting about this ship. It is the largest cruise ship in the world and it is definitely big, but when you look at it from the shore, it doesn't look crazy big compared to the other ships. It is wide though. When you are on the ship on the 16th deck, you definitely are looking down on the other ships, but it isn't like you are on top of the Sears (Willis) Tower looking down, it just seems you are a few decks higher.
Central Park is a nice place to walk around at night after dinner if you are alone with your spouse. Very romantic. Also, this is where all the upgrade dining venues are. We did sit down and have a few drinks at Vintages while a Spanish guitar player was playing. Very nice. The Coach store is there too, but my wife didn't buy anything.
Shore Excursions: spent a morning at Saphire Beach in St. Thomas which was nice, but the drive there and back takes too long. Also spent a morning at Orient Beach in St. Martin, which I liked even more, especially since that is the French half of the island and the European flair is very cool. Orient Beach also has a nude beach on it which one can easily walk to, but unfortunately many of the nudists are people that have..well..kind of given up on their bodies.
Spa - there is a huge spa, salon, and fitness facility on the Oasis. My wife and I did a couple's massage in the spa, she got a hot stone massage, and I got a bamboo massage. The tips are automatically added, and the final bill came to about $350 for a 50 minute massage for the both of us. Getting a similar massage at Asha near my house would be half that price. I thought the price was a little crazy, but I knew what it was going into it, and excepted that I was on a cruise ship and all the little extras, especially in the spa were going to be pricy, but $350 seemed excessive. The spa is big and beautiful, but it lacks ambiance and that "escape" feeling you want when you go to a spa. I'd say that the spa has sort of a cold feeling to it. Speaking of cold, the shower after the massage would never get hot, just kind of warm, which was annoying. Oh yeah, the vinyl slippers they give you at the spa are very uncomfortable.
Lastly, the adults only Solarium is excellent. The food they serve at lunch if really fantastic and different from the rest of the ship, the idea being the food is a lighter fare, but still really tasty. In the Solarium, you get a nice quiet area with tons of comfy loungers, and the sunshine, but without the strong wind around the ship. My wife and I loved it there. Weather - fantastic the whole time. We had about 10 minutes of light rain in St. Martin, but other than that, it was just what we wanted it to be (especially coming from Chicago!).
Crowding - NEVER felt crowded, ever. This ship had about 5,700 passengers and huge amounts of room for people to spread out. Entertainment - EXCELLENT! I was really really impressed with the high quality of the shows. Hairspray was so well done.
Disembarkation - wow, that gave us some anxiety. We had an 11:25am flight out of Ft. Lauderdale and assume we needed to be walking off the ship by 8:25am. We were scheduled to walk off at 8:10am, but ended up through delays with immigration walking off the boat at 8:45, and they was after they started calling people to walk off the ship 45 minute late. With the delays and not knowing when we would be walking off the ship, I was getting nervous. When we walked off the ship into the terminal to get our luggage, man, it was dog eat dog; tons of luggage and I had to hustle to flag down a porter, and boy was that a good $7 investment. I had a huge rasta looking guy with a serious expression on his face. He grabbed all of our luggage, and to our surprise, sped past a long part of the immigration line. He was huge and burly looking, and nobody said anything to him. We went right through immigration without problem and out to the cab. This may be a slight exaggeration, but I would estimate there were 10 million people outside of the terminal looking for cab/shuttles/buses. I specifically was looking for a minivan cab and the taxi dispatch guy nabbed one quickly for us, and apparently he was doing us a favor. We were grateful and tipped him. Then it was 15 minutes to the airport for ANOTHER LONG LINE to checkin at Southwest. Again, his might be an exaggeration, but I estimate there were 5 million people checking into Southwest that morning. While it only took about 15-20 minutes to go from the boat to a cab, it took nearly 1 hour from reaching the airport to getting to our gate! Crazy. I was told by the cab driver there were 6 ships in port that day.
All in all, we loved this ship and its Royal Babies and Tots program, and felt that a smaller/older ship would be a disappointment, particularly with little kids under 3 like we have, and who cruise with us. We realize that to see other destinations besides the typical east/west Caribbean ports we'll need to sail smaller/older ships, but for now we liked this ship so much we booked it for 2 more cruises over the next 12 months.