After checking out of our pre-cruise hotel we grabbed a cab and headed to the pier at about 10:30. Traffic was very light, and check in was amazingly fast as others have noticed. Our baggage porter was friendly and we tipped her without being asked, but the same was not true for my in-laws.
Although we checked in at the suite area, our mother and father in law reported a very quick and easy embarkation process as well. We waited in the suite area. There were no beverages (coffee, etc.) available in that area, but our wait was very short as they began calling suite passengers at approximately 11:05.
As one of the first to board we thought we might try it once as we didn't plan on going there at all. We were able to pick a very nice table on the port side windows. The food was fine - basically what you would expect from a cruise buffet style venue. It did become noticeably more crowded after about an hour, but they opened a new section which relieved the crowding a bit. However, the tables are simply placed way to close together. The availability of the free flavored waters is a nice plus.
We took some time and explored the ship a bit before the cabins were available, and booked that night's dining for my husband and I at Giovanni's. The ship is simply amazing. Pictures do not do it justice. The Central Park area is beautiful, and is a great way to move from the front to the back of the ship without traversing what seemed like miles of stateroom corridors or the Royal Promenade.
We booked on deck 8 and our cabins were very close to the aft elevators. Most of our activities, dining venues, etc. were aft, so it was easy to either grab an elevator or take the stairs to our desired location. I would recommend this to those wishing to shorten their walking distances a bit. On the rare occasions when we needed to go forward, Central Park made for a pleasant, short walk there where you can catch the forward elevators.
No sewage smell as has been reported in some of the common areas.
Some have complained that there's not enough exposure to the sea on this ship, but we did not get that feeling. Unless you plan on spending most of your time in the Royal Promenade or the casino, there are plenty of places to get your sea-fix.
Our cabins were available at 1:00 as usual. Our Grand Suite was amazing. There is so much storage in this room and a nice, big closet with lots of hangers. I chose this room because I love a nice, big bathroom and it did not disappoint. HOWEVER, although this room is twice the size of a regular balcony stateroom, we could only find two outlets in this room. The lamps on the living room side are hard-wired. So husband gets to gloat about his preparedness in packing the power strip, which did save the day. There's no outlet at all in the bath.
The interactive TV services were great - we could check current restaurant capacities, order room service (but not the special suite menu), book reservations & shore excursions and check our balances from the comfort of our stateroom.
The regular balcony staterooms are a bit on the small side, but my biggest concern is a lack of bathtubs. I love my baths, so it will be hard to cruise on RCI again unless we can again afford a suite.
We took our son up to Adventure Ocean for signup the first day. Being a pre-holiday cruise, we expected a crowd, but that place was a zoo! They had tables setup in the small Adventure Ocean theater for signups where they punched your child's seapass card and gave them a lanyard. That took about 20 minutes or so to make our way to the front of the line.
Due to the short nature of the cruise, our son only attended two sessions.
My husband and I dined only twice in the MDR - formal night and lobster night. We all had MTD on Deck 5. We asked for a table for just ourselves, and received that as requested. When not dining with us, my MIL & FIL (and on two nights my son as well) made their own MTD reservations. Like the Windjammer, I believe my expectations were about right for the food quality. Do not expect high-end restaurant fare here - keep in mind that they are cooking for thousands each night.
The service in the MDR was great. Keny, our Assistant Waiter, graciously volunteered to cut my son's steak on formal night. They were quick to provide attention to our table and were very friendly and engaging. Our Main Waiter did a fine job, just wasn't quite as engaging. When we did not join them, my in-laws sat in a different section and had a waiter (NieNie sp?) that they loved. They had our wine to the table within 5 minutes each night.
WINE PACKAGES & ALCOHOL POLICIES:
Here's where I'll preface my comments by admitting that I dropped the ball in my research. I knew that bringing your own wine aboard was prohibited. Being a rule follower, no trips to the naughty room for us. I pre-ordered our sailaway sparkling wine and non-alcoholic sparkling wine from Gifts & Gear, and they were waiting in our room at 1:00. So good so far.
I had also researched the packages in advance and knew that we would save a little by purchasing the multi-bottle platinum wine package. I had remembered, vaguely, a few threads on the availability of the wine packages. So, I asked the gentleman manning the table if we could get the wines other than the MDR and Windjammer, as I knew we planned on checking out a few other venues. Sure, he said, "any restaurant and room service". Not only was that not true, he forgot to put the sticker on my card (which our MDR waiter graciously handled for us that evening).
Here's the deal - you may only get wine package wines from the MDR, Windjammer and Specialty Restaurants, and only during the hours they are serving and only if you are dining at the same time. Therefore, if you have a few bottles remaining on your allowance and you decide to have a bottle in the afternoon for sailaway (or for suite room service lunch) you are out of luck. I know it has been discussed in the boards (in research after the fact). Even the Concierge could not obtain a bottle prior to 5:15 in the MDR.
This whole process just seems strange. Along with RCI's procedures of putting in wonderful bars into their suite rooms but nothing to put in all those pretty glasses - but don't get me started on that.
Carpaccio, Antipasti w/Prosciutto, Pappardelle & Filet...is it dinner time yet?
Vintages is a wine/tapas bar in beautiful small room off of Central Park. Nice wine selection and great service. They host numerous wine tastings (get there early).
From reading past reviews, I'm clearly in the minority here. I found it to be loud, crowded, and the food did not live up to my expectations. My husband was not impressed by the famous roast beef sandwich, my son thought his Cuban was O.K. and my wrap was so-so. My husband did like their breakfast offerings, but brought those back to the room. I did visit them many times in the afternoons for a glass or three of the flavored waters, but otherwise I chose to avoid this one.
EMBARKATION/DEBARKATION AT PORTS:
Press the "Gangway" button in the elevator, take a few steps over to the escalator, and you are on the pier. No lines at all when we went. No lines at all waiting to reboard the ship - great, efficient security.
SPORTS/POOL ACTIVITIES (POOLS, SPAS, FLOWRIDER, ETC.):
We noticed the Pool Deck Patrol in force, but never really saw a need for them. We were a full sailing, but I think a couple of coolish days kept the chair hogs in their barn. We did spot children in the Solarium, but they weren't there for long.
Yes, the lines for the zip line, flowrider and climbing wall were longer on sea days. Do them early in the morning on port days to avoid the waits.
My husband and I pre-reserved the Chef's Table for the last night of our cruise. This is a must-do for foodies. The food was on par with many fine restaurants. It's a fixed menu with wine pairings, so picky eaters need not bother. It is an intimate setting in the Concierge Lounge with a great view. We did find, contrary to earlier reports from the boards that the wine pours were free-flowing - we more of a wine tasting pour than a wine dinner pour, but the food alone is worth the price of admission. We received a signed copy of the cookbook from the chef.
We're not big on shows, so we booked only the Oasis of Dreams and the Comedy Show. Oasis of Dreams was interesting - we liked the divers although they weren't exactly synchronized. However, the comedy show was fantastic. Make reservations if you want to see it, because it is held in a VERY small venue and the lines for those with no reservations were long.
Also, if you are thirsty, get a drink elsewhere. We had the worst service on the ship in the comedy lounge. We were 20 minutes early, and were told twice by our server to "get the next server".
We had a special suite menu, so our experience is likely different than most. We ordered room service for breakfast, lunch, dinner and for an afternoon cheese tray. Although there was a minor hold time when ordering on occasion, the service was quick and accurate, and the food selection was great.
Jin, our room steward, introduced himself at approximately 1:30 on our first day bearing our luggage. We were very impressed with the quick service. We asked him to bring us some ice, open the balcony divider between our cabins and unlock the connecting room door, all of which he completed immediately. He then asked if we would prefer ice each day, and he provided it as requested.
Maybe this was a fluke - I haven't done enough research on it to be sure, but our debarkation experience was a bit of a mess.
Around 8:45, my MIL & FIL headed to the MDR on Deck 5 to await their group call. We headed up to the CL to await our call as well. I completed the guest surveys and decided to head down to guest services to drop them off in advance. There was mass chaos in the Royal Promenade/Opus 5 deck area. Apparently, they were running very far behind in disembarking groups and some people (likely those with early flights) were crowding the area wanting to get off. I literally could not make it to guest services area because of all the people. My MIL said they soon made an announcement that because of safety issues, everyone must return to their designated areas and they did get it cleared up.
Not liking crowds and comfy in our chairs, we decided to sit tight in the CL until our group was called. Finally, and almost all at the same time, the rest of the groups were called. We waited a few more minutes as we figured this would mean long lines all at once, and were the third to the last to leave the CL at around 10:15 or so. No lines at the ramp to depart, but once you get into the pier building, there were huge lines. We finally got to our luggage and then had to wait in VERY long lines for U.S. Customs. If you were non-US, there were plenty of lines open. We walked out of the customs area at around 11:05.
We typically book shore excursions through the cruise line as I am a worrier. However, we wanted to spend some port time on the ship in Nassau and booked our own reservations to Nachi Cocum in Cozumel.
Would we sail on Oasis/Allure again? It depends. Probably not at the rates they are currently demanding, and partly because of the itineraries as we would prefer a Mediterranean cruise the next time. We did not feel that she was too big, nor did we run into more crowding that experienced at times on another cruise line (with the exception of disembarkation, which you can tell has left a bad impression with us). She is a large, beautiful ship. I do think it is critical to do your homework for a ship this size, make reservations for the things you really want to do and be fully aware of policies & procedures that differ across cruise lines.