A little background - we are in our mid 50's and mid 60's and were traveling with a group of 18 people. This was our 11th cruise. We sailed Oct. 9, 2010 on the Eastern Caribbean itinerary. We chose My Time Dining and had a balcony room, 8130 on Deck 8 near Central Park. We'll rate the cruise on various points with an A - F rating.
I've read reviews that embarkation is easy and it certainly is. We were on the ship within 15 minutes of arriving at the port. Check in is by deck - you find the signs to the deck our cabin is located at. All the embarkation clerks are not the same - I had to remind the check in gal to take our pictures for our Seapass card and she also forgot to give me a map of the ship. But she was pleasant and helpful.
One note - make sure you take the welcome aboard photo after you check in. That picture is used for facial recognition for the remainder of the pictures you'll take on the cruise.
One thing to mention - don't try to bring liquor or a travel iron in your luggage. A couple traveling with us never received one of bags. They went to Guest Relations and were taken to an area that had luggage that had been confiscated. They had tried to bring liquor in their luggage and got caught. They had to open their luggage and hand over the booze. They were also told that bags that had been x-rayed and had travel irons in them were also having the irons confiscated.
We had a D8 oceanview balcony cabin on deck 8, cabin 8130 port side, near Central Park. The location was excellent as it was a quick walk to the Park Cafe for breakfast and lunch. One plus of this particular cabin is that there was no cabin on one side of our room, making it a quiet cabin, especially on the balcony.
There were two reasons we did not rate this cabin an A. One is the size of the cabin - it's really small. Upon entering the bathroom is immediately to the right. Next is the couch and a useless table in front of it that we banged into the first two nights until we moved it next to the closet. To the right of the couch was the closet, which had plenty of storage room and plenty of hangars. There were about 7 shelves in the closet and the safe was also located on one of the shelves.
The second reason was the air conditioning in the middle of the night. With it turned up all the way it was comfortable during the day, freezing when we went to bed and sweltering by 2 AM. It seemed the air conditioning went off in the middle of the night. It wasn't just our cabin - every one in our group had the same complaint and the cabins were in all different parts of the ship and on all different decks, so I can't say it was due to our location.
Across from the couch is the desk. There are three drawers, one very small, and two deeper. There is a mirror and there are three plugs under the desk. (I suggest bring an electrical wall strip - it was very hard to get under the desk to use the two plugs. Having the strip will allow you to use the plugs ON the desk and you'll have more than two).
There is a hair dryer in the top drawer - you need to dry your hair at the desk as there is no plug in the bathroom. There were also some narrow shelves behind cabinets on the left of the desk which we used for storing small items, such as deodorant, sunblock, small toiletries, etc.
The bed was next to the balcony door, which for us was good and bad. The good was the great view from bed and the comfortable mattress - we slept so well! The bad was the long walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night - I can't tell you how many times we walked into that little table the first two nights.
The balcony was small as well, with only enough room for a table and two chairs. Our in-laws were in the cabin next to us and we had the cabin steward open the divider between the balconies.
The bathroom was also very small. There are shower doors instead of a curtain (which we first experienced on the Celebrity Solstice) but boy, was it tight in there. I can't imagine a large person having an easy time taking a shower. The toiletries in the bathroom were a bar of soap and the shampoo in the shower dispenser. If you need more than that - bring it with you. There was no shower cap, conditioner or body lotion.
If I could sail her again, I'd get a jr. suite. We saw one and there was much more room.
Food is always subjective, but with the variety of food on this ship, it is hard to find much to complain about. We ate all of our dinner in the main Dining Room with My Time Dining and were not disappointed in anything but the coffee (more on the coffee later).
We had breakfast and lunch once in the Main Dining room during the entire week and were happy with those meals as well.
Our cabin was on Deck 8 next to Central Park so we did eat quite a few meals at the Park Cafe which was probably my favorite food venue. For breakfast, there was oatmeal, egg sandwiches, cereal, yogurt, fruit cups and more. At the "Make Your Own Salad" area, a Make Your Own Bagel option. Also a juice machine with a few types of juice as well as a dessert counter
For lunch and afternoon snacks, there are many different delicious paninis, fruit cups, the famous Roast Beef Sandwich (which was indeed delicious) and more. I loved the Make Your Own Salad option - a server takes the bowl size of your choice and you tell him/her what you want in the salad and the dressing of your choice. They mix it and put it in a fresh bowl and hand it over to you. At lunch this venue also offers a choice of flavored water, which was one of my favorite things on the ship.
Another place we frequented was the Solarium Bistro for breakfast and lunch. This was all buffet style food but healthier choices. There were many interesting salad options here. The buffet food consisted of quite a bit of fish options, which are not my favorite thing to eat, but the shrimp was always great. They also had delicious wraps at lunch time too, particularly vegetable wraps.
We tried the Wipe Out Cafe and the famous hot dog in a pretzel. It was awful. The hamburgers and hot dogs here were just okay - I found I missed the usual poolside grill. There was always frozen yogurt here, but watching some of the passengers manhandle the machine turned me off.
We tried Johnny Rockets for breakfast once and were not impressed - our order was wrong and it was terribly hot to sit outside on the Boardwalk, all the time.
Never ate a touch of pizza (just didn't have time), didn't have anything other than cookies once or twice in the Cafe Promenade (I tried very hard to stick to eating just three meals a day to avoid gaining weight).
A few of us did the cupcake making class at the Cupcake Cupboard for $19.95. It was a fun class, lasted about a half hour and the cupcakes were delicious. If you are going to try anything extra, try the cupcakes.
Regardless of the venue we ate at, this ship has the worst coffee I've ever tasted in my life and I was not alone in that assessment. The coffee was 10 time stronger than Starbucks. I resorted to asking the waiter to give me half a cup of coffee and half hot water and that also left me with undrinkable coffee. We traveled with a group of 22 people and only one person in our group could drink the coffee.
Entertainment - A +
I wasn't expecting much in the entertainment area, as a cruise is a cruise. But I was WOWED by the quality of the entertainment.
Hair Spray was a Broadway quality show - not the second rate production I was expecting. We saw the first show by a new cast and they were just wonderful. The sets were excellent as well.
Our second show was Oasis of Dreams, the diving show in the Aqua Theater. It was heartstopping watching the high divers on such a high platform diving into a small pool on a rocking ship. The divers were outstanding. There is also a comedy dive show during the week in the daytime called Splish Splash that you shouldn't miss. It is open seating for this and seeing it during the day makes you really appreciate how high those diving platforms are. Another thing they do in this area is they have Dancing Fountain shows during the day. These fountains dance to music - it is a neat way to spend some spare time in the Boardwalk area.
Our next nights' entertainment was a concert featuring The Coasters. I got a kick out of the number of people (youngsters??) who had no idea who they were. Most enjoyed this show, but I did see some people walk out during the show. I enjoyed the show but it was probably the one I'd rate the lowest on the entertainment scale.
Next show was the comedy show. The comics were very good, although the venue is was too tiny. And the NYC map on the ceiling of the theater was incorrect, too!
Our fourth show was the ice show, Frozen in Time. A great show as usual but the addition of the Sand Painter was excellent. I heard the most comments on how amazing this was from other passengers through the rest of the cruise. Keep an eye in the Aqua Theater towards the end of the cruise - they show this sand painting on the large LED screens during the day.
Finally, Come Fly With Me. Many people expected a Frank Sinatra tribute and boy were they surprised at what they saw! The acrobatics were excellent and the sets wee stunning - nothing like you'd expect on a ship. We happened to choose seats on the top on Deck 5 on the left and one of the acrobats flew on a zip line right to the area we were seated.
The Cruise Director on our cruise was Richard Spacey. He was delightful. He did his famous "Evolution of Dance" routine, had a video he did about a Day as A Cruise Director that was hilarious (watch what happens when he flushes a toilet) and had a few video routines that played on the t.v during the day.
Most of the entertainment venues around the ship also had good entertainment with the exception of a three piece group that played one night in the Viking Crown Lounge. The group (who I won't name) exemplified the term "Lounge Lizards" - they were truly awful.
Service - B+
We had excellent service in almost every aspect of the cruise. The first night in My Time Dining, while the service was okay at the table they directed us to, we could barely understand the Assistant Waiter - his English was incomprehensible. He tried very hard, but we all had to keep asking him to repeat himself several times to understand what he was saying. On the second night, we were assigned to a table with two delightful servers - Medgi, our Head Waiter and Egi, his Assistant Waiter. We liked them so much that we requested their table for the rest of the cruise. I did hear complaints from quite a few passengers about the service they received in the dining room, though. It seemed that people with assigned dining had more complaints. Several friends said that their waiter or waitress seemed very unhappy doing their jobs - but we didn't find this to be our experience. We were told that two weeks after our cruise, 30% of the staff from the Oasis were flying to Finland to join the Allure of the Seas. And several of the employees we spoke to said their contracts were ending in November. I wondered how the service on the ship would be after after Oct. 21 and then in November with this much of the staff leaving the ship. It isn't easy handling 6,000 passengers!
Our room steward was also very good. He was so inobtrusive we rarely saw him. We asked him to remove the items from the mini bar on the first day and he did it promptly. We had friends in the cabin next to us and asked him to open the balcony doors in between the cabins and he also did that promptly. The room was cleaned promptly every day as soon as we left for breakfast.
We found most of the bar tenders and waiters at all the other restaurants we ate at to be very good as well. The only issue we had was with a bartender in the Viking Crowne Lounge one night when there was a Ladies Night two for one Martini Special. Three of us had ordered two martinis each. There was only one bartender and he couldn't handle the volume. He started making our drinks and then a woman who must have had one of the Loft Suites came in and ordered a certain type of wine. He stopped making our drinks and proceeded to run around looking for the wine she wanted. He actually left the bar in search of her wine. We were very annoyed - the right way to handle it would have been to complete our drink order and then take care of her.
Excursions - B
We only purchased one excursion, a Power Turtle Swim in St. Thomas. And of course, as usually happens to us, it was screwed up by the tour company. There were about 40 people who had booked the tour and half of us purchased the Power Snorkel. The boat that was on the dock to take everyone out did not have enough of the Power units. They split us in half and ordered a second boat to pick up half of us. Unfortunately, the program said we would be getting a catamaran, which was fine as three of us had physical issues and knew we could get on and off the boat if it were a catamaran.
Low and behold, the boat we got stuck with was not a catamaran - the second boat they sent to pick the rest of us up was a pirate ship. Which was fine and fun except one of us could not get down the ladder they put over the side of the ship to get into the water. She paid a lot of money for a boat ride and was unable to snorkel.
However - the staff on the boat, BONES, was delightful. They were a lot of fun on the excursion and guided us so we all got to see turtles. My only complaint was that on the way back to the ship, they gave us a very hard sell to buy their t shirts. Hard enough that they turned off the motors of the ship and kind of held us captive outside the cove where the ship was for a 15 minute presentation to their different t shirts. We finally asked if we would be back to the ship by 5 PM, as that was the scheduled time to be back and we had dinner reservations at 6 PM. Once we asked, they stopped selling and had us back to the pier by 5:10 PM - and made a little bit of fun of us for wanting to be back on time as well. They didn't have to get out of wet bathing suits, showered and dressed for dinner in less than 45 minutes!
Evaluation of the Ship Itself - B +
It took a day, but within 24 hours we all felt comfortable about getting around on the ship - i.e. we knew where we were going. I found the best way to figure out where we were was by breaking the ship into thirds - the promenade, Central Park and the Boardwalk. From Central Park forward we had the "adult" areas - the Solarium Pool and Bistro, the internet cafes, and our cabin.
From the Boardwalk back, we had the Boardwalk and the Sports Deck. And the Promenade was the center of gravity for us.
Some observations - the Boardwalk area was hot as heck. I don't know what it was, but the heat just seemed to settle in that area and no matter what time, day or night - it was hot.
The Aqua pool area was a delightful place to relax. There was almost always something going on, be it Music and Dancing Fountains, watching the divers practice in between shows, and even watching video of the Sand Painter from the Ice Show on the big screens the last day and then their delightful Splish Splash show (no tickets required).
The layout of some cabins and hallways is a little difficult to navigate, particularly in the very front of the ship. There are hallways that intersect in odd areas in order to put more cabins in every available space. One day two of us were in the Internet Cafe and a man walked in with a look of terror on his face. He had been looking for his interior cabin for 15 minutes and couldn't find it. We tried to assist him using the interactive screens and it took us quite awhile to locate his cabin even with the guide.
If you decide to sit at the Beach pool, I advise you not to sit in the first or second line of loungers closest to the pool. Because of the slope of the side of the pool, if the ship rolls a little, the water comes right out of the pool and washes under the chairs. I was sitting in the second row of chairs when the ship pulled out of Nassau. As the ship started moving, the water poured out of the sloped side of the pool and washed all the shoes, drink glasses and anything else that was on the deck right back into the pool. It was quite humorous watching people jump up and run after their shoes as they washed away! And please - don't put your drink cups on the deck floor. Those went over as well, leaving a sticky mess on the deck.
One thing many people complained about was the shopping on the ship. There was no place to purchase sundries and the shops are too high end for the average passenger. The logo shop had several sundries behind the counter, like aspirin, sunblock, etc.
I never saw anyone in Pets at Sea or the photo shop where you could dress up and take pictures dressed like a roaring 20's dancer or a cowboy, etc. The candy shop was very overpriced for candy. I overheard many passengers complaining that there were not enough items for children. While there was a shop on the Boardwalk that had kids items, the shirts, hats and toys were overpriced.
The Logo Shop had a terrible selection of items. I wanted a small ship model- all they had was a model of the ship so large that I would need half a suitcase to fit it into to take home.
I did like the On Air Club being in the Promenade. It was great to be able to drop in to hear karaoke and some of the games that went on during the day at night as I was walking back or to my room.
One thing that I didn't like was the Internet Cafes. These are located on several decks (I used the one on deck 7 forward). All these are is six computers set up in what seemed like half an interior cabin. It was hot and crowded and on the last day there was a line in the hallway of people waiting to use the computers to print their airline boarding passes. I had brought my laptop because I had to work on the ship but the wireless access in my cabin was too slow and it ended up costing me 10 minutes of time just trying to log in. And I tried using the wireless keyboard and the t.v. screen in the cabin and the keyboard was just very non-reactive - between two of us, we couldn't get the keyboard to work. (I found this exact same issue on the Celebrity Solstice - the company needs to figure out why the keyboard in the cabins just don't work well). The traditional big internet cafe would have been better.
Two excellent innovations on this ship - the interactive directories near the elevators and the way they handled the photo gallery. The directories had interactive maps where you could input your room number or a ship venue and the map would tell you how to get there from exactly where you were standing. You could also check the restaurant availability and the cruise compass to see what was going on at that exact time .
The Photo Gallery was very unique. On Deck 6, there were many kiosks that you could go to, swipe your room key and the pictures of you would appear right on the screen where you could place an order. There were also "notebooks" assigned to you with a location in a round kiosk. Your Seapass card had a number on it, and you'd go to the corresponding tower and then pull your book number out and your photos would be in the book - just pick what you want and pay for them. This worked okay for the most part as it is based on facial recognition and the first picture you take embarking. It's from that photo the facial recognition for the rest of your pictures are trailed to.
For the most part this works - but we found that any picture we were in with a group of people were all in our photo book - not in any one elses. We were constantly cleaning out the pictures in our book and giving them to the others traveling with us. One thing that I didn't like was the fact that if they made your picture in an 8 X 10, if you asked to have it reduced to a 5 X 7, you still had to pay the 8 X 10 price. I do not have any 8 x 10 frames in my house to put a giant picture of us in and I was outraged that they wanted $19.95 for a 5 X 7 if I wanted it made smaller. Royal lost about $150 from us because we ended up not buying any of our photos since the ones we liked were all 8 X 10.
Another great thing on this ship was the gangway process. The gangway has it's own button in the elevators. No need to try to remember which deck we were getting off at - just push the gangway button and - whoosh - you are there. Another great thing - no steps in the gangway. It was all ramps and for those of us who were physically challenged, it was a breeze!
Disembarkation - A+
Because we had an 11:25 AM flight, we decided to do express disembarkation to ensure we would get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. With express disembarkation, you don't put your bags out of your cabin the last night - you walk off with all your bags.
I was a bit apprehensive about doing this. On any other ship I've been on we've had to go down stairs when getting off the ship and I worried how I'd carry my heavy bag down steps. All I recall about getting off is the lines waiting on the stairway to get off. No need to worry about this on the Oasis, as again - there are ramps, no stairs.
We lined up in the Promenade around 6 AM and at 6:15, the disembarkation process began. By 6:25 we were off the ship and waiting for our cab that we had pre-arranged. If I were to do this again, I wouldn't even bother arranging for transportation - there were plenty of cabs waiting.
Another wonderful thing that Royal offers on this ship is Luggage Valet. For an additional $20 per person when leaving from Ft. Lauderdale, depending on the airline you are flying, you put your luggage out the night before and then never have to touch it again until you get home. Royal prints your boarding passes and takes the bags directly to the airport and your airline for you. The next time you pick up your luggage is at your airport when you arrive home. Not all airlines participate (ours, Southwest, did not) and there were some restrictions such as your flight had to be at 11:30 AM or later. But you couldn't spend $20 per person any better than not having to search for your luggage in the terminal and haul it to the bus or cab with you to get it to the airport.
Overall Rating - A -
Is there a perfect ship? No. Was this as close to perfect as you can get? In our opinion, yes. The ship is so innovate, not only in the design but in the little things, such as the simplicity and ease of the gangways. Royal Caribbean has thought of things for these new ships that no one had done before.
I don't like sea days. In nine cruises, I've always dreaded sea days as I never felt there was enough for me to do on the ship. Not on this baby! I was never bored and I really would have loved to do back to back cruises as I know there were many places on the ship I never had the time to see.
I am looking forward to the Allure in December - to see the difference in the two ships and perhaps have a look at the secret spots on the ship I never got around to.