To celebrate our retirement my wife and I took back to back cruises on RCCL's Oasis of the Seas. The eastern and western Caribbean cruises are our 7th and 8th cruises with Royal Caribbean and our anticipation was high.
We flew down from DC a day early and stayed at Marriott's Fairfield Inns & Suites in Dania Beach. It is ten minutes from the airport, and about fifteen from the cruise port and Amtrak station. They provide a free shuttle from the airport to the hotel as well as to a group of local restaurants at dinner time, and have a pay shuttle available to the pier and the train station.
The new cruise terminal is beautiful and embarkation was amazingly smooth. We were on the ship in twenty minutes. We had an oceanview cabin on deck three, perfectly amidships. It was a hump to either elevators, but we were equidistant from both the forward and aft attractions, so actually it worked well. The cabin seemed slightly smaller than on other ships in the fleet, but it was better arranged and we easily had space for all our stuff. The bathroom was actually a smidgeon larger and also better engineered.
Flatout, the ship only felt crowded on embarkation, when all the "tourists" are wandering cluelessly around trailing their luggage behind them, and during events on the promenade, like the captain's gala when 6000 plus people are offered free champagne. We quickly learned to find a hiding place, like Vintages, the wine and tapas bar in Central Park, to avoid the crowds.
Cruising out of Florida, there will always be folks of many nationalities. Frankly these folks are friendly, polite, and very interesting to talk to. What stands out as irritating are the "tourists" the folks this ship attracts who have never cruised before or just don't grasp things; like the necessity for the muster drill. They cluster in elevator bays and on gangways talking amongst themselves, obliviously blocking all the other passengers from getting to where they are going. With 6000 plus folks, things need to scheduled and allocated so everyone is not trying to do the same thing at once. So there are comedy shows, aqua shows, a Broadway show, the ice show, etc. that should be booked BEFOREHAND (ie: online from home before the cruise). Unfortunately this is something else the "tourists" don't get. And while there are always empty seats, and these are released ten minutes before showtime and I think everyone who lined up to get one succeeds in seeing the show, one still hears endless carping about "Well I didn't know I had to book this early... blah blah blah." All this info is on the website. Royal even sent me a schedule of the shows and restaurants beforehand. Don't these folks read their mail? But other than these odd fellow passengers, Oasis is a marvel.
Being a "Continuing Cruiser" we went to two Meet & Mingle parties. After the second one a group of us met for a cabin crawl; folks volunteered to show off their cabins to anyone interested in taking a look. So we got a tour of every type of accommodation Oasis offered. Those balcony cabins overlooking the Aqua theater are sure nice, but nothing compares to the loft suites on deck 17. Two baths, upstairs bedroom, great views. Save your pennies.
Of all the neighborhoods, Central Park was our favorite with Vintages and the specialty restaurants. The first week we ate at 150 Central Park. This is Royal's attempt at fine dining and it is impressive. Probably the most impressive course was the throwaway bread and salt at the start of the meal. There were five or six little spoons and our waiter came with a little container with compartments, each containing a different salt, red salt, black salt, fleur de sel, and so on. There was a yellowish one that tasted just like eggs. We were to spoon it on the sourdough bread. I would have been happy just to eat this for a meal. There was a fixed seven courses, some I thought I would pass on, but as I tasted each one, I was sold on it. Fine dining isn't for everyone, but we thought it was easily worth the upcharge.
The second week we ate at Chops Grill, which is an upscale steakhouse like you might find in most cities. Nicely done and worth the money. It was also the only place we found crabcakes made entirely with real crab; the ones in the main dining room and the crab croquettes in Vintages contained some surimi. Pity.
That brings us to the main dining room. The service was great, typical of Royal Caribbean, but the food was hit or miss. The Windjammer on Oasis is slightly smaller, most likely because of all the other venues. But it is packed the first few days before the other options dawn on folks. Unless you have a real hankering for honey stung chicken, eat somewhere else before sailaway. Like Yogi Berra used to say "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded."
The Solarium Bistro is free for breakfast and lunch. The Park Cafe, with its beef on Weck sandwiches, is always free, as is Johnny Rockets for breakfast
There aren't as many activities as we have seen on past cruises; I don't know if this is just on Oasis, or if it is going to be a trend across the fleet. There were no morning trivia games in the Schooner Bar and some of the later ones were scheduled against other events. I think in general things were geared here for the younger more active set; dance parties, 70's and 80's shows in the Promenade, etc. There was always something going on somewhere, so I couldn't see anyone being bored. The cruise director, Richard Spacey is the best I have seen. Sharp, funny and with absolutely no inhibitions. Definitely the standard that I will judge all others against from now on.
The entertainment was among the best I have seen on Royal Caribbean. HAIRSPRAY and the Aqua show are not to be missed. The ice show was based on the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and to some extent was geared for kids. Do try and catch the comedians in the Comedy Club. I like comedy and was pleased when a comedian was one of the headliners as well. The Coasters, the old doo-wop group, was the other headliner show. The production show COME FLY WITH ME was amazing, and this from me who as a rule am not a fan of the singing and dancing shows. The props and the multimedia were used to great effect. I really recommend seeing it.
Our first week was the eastern Caribbean: Nassau, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten. We've been to all these islands before. We were going to catch a cab out to the Atlantis resort at Nassau, but time got away from us and we just wandered around town instead. We had lunch at the Hard Rock which is blessedly air-conditioned. The building you have to pass through to get back to the port is a real bottleneck and needs some re-thinking. Life is short. No one wants to spend that much of theirs in a slow moving line in hot cramped space with hundreds of other anxious cruisers.
St. Thomas we have been to many times, so we just took a cab to do some shopping and have lunch off the ship. Oasis docks at Crown Point, not Havensight, so that gave us a different view of the harbor. At St. Maarten we took the Butterfly Farm and Marigot shopping excursion. Well worth it. The French side of the island is nicer than the Dutch and the food is better, but the highlight was the butterfly farm. Willie, the owner, is British and has a dry wit like Hugh Laurie. I really recommend it.
When you do a back to back you get some special handling. On the next to last day of the first week all the continuing cruisers met in the night club and were told the plan of the next day with free champagne and were offered first crack at reserving shore excursions for the next week. If I didn't have to rush off for some other activity, here is where I should have booked that Segway tour. At the midpoint disembarkation we met in the Champagne Bar and waited amongst the water, juice, and pastries until all the other passengers had departed. Then we were escorted off and taken through customs. They really just took our customs form, glanced at our US passports, and waved us through. We then sat in a waiting area for a few minutes while customs made sure all pax were off the ship, and then we were let back on. We had the ship to ourselves for a while but sought out a refuge when the luggage-dragging tourists began to re-appear.
The second week we went to Labadee, Costa Maya, and Cozumel. The dock for Oasis in Labadee, which was under noisy construction the last time we were there, has been completed, so we did not have to tender in. Lots of other things have been added, like a Schooner Bar and all sorts of little venues. Also the suite dwellers have their own beach. This elitist stuff I think Royal Caribbean can do without but I assume this is to try and lure the luxury cruisers to their line. In this sense, Oasis and Allure are ships made to entice folks who have never cruised before. Heads up, RCCL, start with improving the food, then think about private beaches and dining rooms.
In 2007 Costa Maya was seriously damaged by hurricane Dean and the damage to the beach, the palm trees and all the little structures is still evident to the areas adjacent to the cruise port. All the trees are small now, but hopefully will grow in time. The port itself has been restored and improved and Bandito's still has their lobster burritos.
We had wanted to do a morning Segway tour of Cozumel, but I dawdled about reserving it so we ended up doing the souvenir shops instead. The last time we were there we took the Tulum tour which was really excellent, but we really saw nothing of Cozumel. We got back to the ship early and found hundreds of blue t-shirted travel agents from the Norwegian EPIC, which was also in port, wandering about the ship. It seems RCCL took the opportunity to show off Oasis to the travel trade. We chatted some of them up in the wine bar where they were being treated to the champagne and rum punches we see at the welcome back parties. They really liked the ship.
Our real disembarkation was extremely smooth. We elected to carry our own bags as we brought only one 29 inch wheeled bag each. They call for the self disembarkers first, so we just walked off the gangway, handed over our customs form and got into our waiting van back to the hotel. We took the train back to DC the next morning.
The Oasis of the Seas is a beautiful ship. The consensus of the younger and middle-aged folks was uniformly positive. It was a "wow" ship. The older folks, in their 80's say, generally thought it was too big; but this is likely a function of the distances between venues for them. The dining room is aft and all the entertainment venues were forward. Finish dinner and on your way to a show? You have to trek the length of the ship. So I understand where they are coming from. My wife and I really enjoyed all the innovations and may want to cruise on Allure someday.