We just returned from a glorious week aboard the Oasis of the Seas. Everything good you have heard about this ship is absolutely true, including the incredible size, the almost flawless organization, the seemingly unlimited activities of all kind, the fabulous service and the exquisite attention to every detail. Though people dwell on the immensity of the ship, what I read less often in the reviews is how really beautiful it is - the public and private spaces alike abound in quality materials, stylish fixtures and a look of real elegance.
There were six of us travelling on this cruise - myself (53) and my mother (81), two sisters (52 and 50), brother-in-law (61) and 9 year-old niece. So you can put our opinions in perspective, we have cruised previously on Cunard, Carnival, Celebrity, Princess and NCL as well as several prior RCCL cruises, including aboard the Grandeur and Voyager of the Seas. We have loved something - in fact most things - about every ship we have sailed on, and with the exception of NCL, would not hesitate to travel again on any of the lines we've sailed in the past. Unlike some folks, for whom cabin size and amenities don't matter as much as other aspects of the cruise, the cabins are an important part of our cruise experience; we want room, comfort and a balcony, and would not sacrifice them in order to cruise more often. Aside from that, the most important things to us on a vacation, land or sea, are a broad variety of activities and entertainment, and quality - but not necessarily gourmet - food. For these reasons, we affirmatively LIKE mass market cruise lines, which we find best combine the level of comfort, quality and entertainment we want in a vacation.
Cabins: While have typically cruised in junior level suites in the past, this vacation was special, as we were celebrating several once-in-a-lifetime family events, including my mother's 80th birthday. To mark those special celebrations, we decided to go all out and sail in the Royal Loft Suite and two Crown Loft Suites. Both types of cabins have two-level living, totally unique (as far as we know) in the cruise industry. The Crown Lofts downstairs have a living area, bathroom with small shower, a table that is on partial rollers so that it can be positioned as either a desk or a dining table with chairs on both sides, and a living area with couch, an incredibly comfortable side chair, lots of storage and a large TV. (And therein lies the first of what are a very few mild negatives for this ship - the selection of TV viewing. Many of the ships we have been on in the past, including on RCCL's sister company, Celebrity, always had a channel or two of taped TV sitcoms, free recent movies or other entertainment choices to while away a couple of recharging hours in the cabin. The Oasis really did not measure up in that regard, effectively forcing us to buy the pay-per-view movies at $12 a pop. Also, if you are going to broadcast one American news channel in the cabins, Fox News for many of us is frankly an offensive choice. CNN or CNN Headline news would have been a far more neutral companion to CNN International.) In the upstairs sleeping area, the Crown Lofts have still more storage, a place to sit and do makeup with a lighted mirror, and a generous (in fact, by cruise ship standards, huge) bathroom with a luxurious two-person shower that includes a great rain-head faucet and two hand-held sprays. A second TV folds down from the ceiling in front of the bed. Bedside controls allow you to operate the lights, the curtains that can be closed around the upstairs bed area for privacy, and of course the other curtains that open up to reveal a two-story wall of glass leading out the balcony, which is deep and has two padded, extremely comfortable lounge chairs and, naturally, a spectacular view. One point on that view: Crown Loft Suites are located either on the sides of the ship, giving you an all-ocean view, or along the back of the ship, overlooking the sports area, including the zip line, the mini-golf course, and the flow riders, and then to the ocean beyond. We had one Crown Loft in each of those two locations. It's a matter of choice, but we really liked the sports court view cabins. You still get a spectacular view of the ocean beyond the back of the ship, but it's also lots of fun to watch all the activity going on during the day and even into the evening back on the sports court. No question, however, that those balconies are a lot noisier than the more peaceful locations on the side of the ship, though the sound does not penetrate in any real way into the cabin itself when the balcony doors are closed.
The Royal Loft Suite almost defies description. Downstairs is a massive living area with the RCCL signature luxury amenity - a baby grand player piano. There is also a library with mostly travel books and light reading (think Danielle Steele), and a separate bedroom and bath, much the same as the upstairs bath and bedroom in the Crown Loft. The living area has a couch, two again incredibly comfortable side chairs, and a dining table that seats 8. Upstairs is a master bedroom area that itself is larger than most cruise ship suites we have been in, backed by a dressing, closet and storage area that runs the length of that bedroom. The master bathroom is massive, with a Jacuzzi tub-for-two and a wall of full length windows in the shower/bath area (modestly frosted except for the top part) overlooking the deck.
And as spectacular as the living area is, that deck area is the real crown jewel of the Royal Loft. It wraps around on two sides, so that you have both the view overlooking the sports court and the quieter view on the side of the ship. That side area contains a full-size hot tub which comfortably seats four and really could hold six people at once. There is no area on the ship, public or private, that has anything approaching the view off that huge balcony. On the day you're docked in St. Maarten, the Royal Loft Suite view is of the harbor and the full Phillipsburg beachfront; at sea, you have sweeping ocean views you usually can get only on the pool decks - better, really, because the loft suites are two decks above the pool deck. It's breathtaking. One odd thing, however, is that although there is plenty of seating on that massive deck, including another dining table, and an outdoor couch, almost all of it is straight chairs (and one oddly shaped, very uncomfortable, sort of circular lounge chair for two); the great lounge chairs on the Crown Loft balconies are nowhere to be found on the Royal Loft balcony. One or two of those chairs, providing a place to put your feet up while enjoying the view, would be terrific addition to the Royal Loft balcony.
Service and Logistics: We found the service and organization on the Oasis to be absolutely unmatched, even by Cunard's Queen Mary II. As anyone who has read any Oasis review will already know, that organization and service begins with far and away the smoothest embarkation of any ship at sea. We arrived at the pier at 11:15, were escorted from the suite entrance to the check in counter where there was absolutely no line, and no more than 5-10 minutes later were walking on board the Oasis. That level of professionalism continued throughout the ship. Our cabin steward, Asep, and his assistant, Winston, were bar none the best we have ever had at sea. We have gotten used to seeing our cabin steward on the first day, and then seldom if ever after that. Asep managed that perfect balance of always being available and yet never being obtrusive; whenever we needed him for a question or a request he was there with a smile and the perfect answer or assistance. We found the dining room service equally spectacular; though we chose My Time Dining and thus the waiters were not dependent on establishing a "relationship" with us to ensure their tips, we found every dining room attendant to be incredibly personable, efficient and attentive. Also, we were relieved to discover that even without reservations (which we think kind of defeats the purpose of having My Time Dining in the first place), we never waited more than 5 or 10 minutes for a table for six in the dining room. We also had occasion to use the Guest Services desk once or twice, and really liked the fact that, when a line develops, they send a service rep down the line to sort of "triage" the guest requests - on two occasions, that agent was able to answer my question without me having to wait until someone behind the desk was available.
Disembarkation was slightly less efficient than embarkation, but in part that was because we weren't aware of this one tip: there are two gangways by which you can exit, one fore and one aft. Everyone congregates in long lines at the aft gangway, but once you get off there, you have to turn left and go toward the front of the ship anyway to get to customs. If you use the forward gangway, you avoid the longest lines, and wind up in the same place you need to be.
Facilities and Entertainment: As other reviews have noted, this is where the Oasis blows the competition out of the water. First, the "neighborhood" concept works extremely well, even better than I expected. You really get several very distinctly different atmospheres on the various areas of the ship, from the Boardwalk to Central Park to the Grand Promenade to the Sports Deck. Aside from enabling really anyone to find a "vibe" that suits them (the age differences in those hanging out in the sports deck vs. those in Central Park was particularly noticeable), those different neighborhoods help bring the massive size of the ship into scale, so it does not become overwhelming.
I've spent many a summer at the Jersey shore, and darned if the Boardwalk Area didn't recreate the feel of a night at the Ocean City Boardwalk to a tee; the Adirondack chairs outside of the Seafood Shack were a great place to people watch, and during the sea days in particular, the place was full of balloon and (temporary) tattoo artists, face painters and all sorts of entertainment. This is also where you will find the Pets at Sea boutique (a word of warning on that; if you intend to get a pet, do it early in the week, as they do run out of some types of stuffed animals and some outfits by week's end.)
We didn't attend the headliner or comedy shows, but did see everything else, including the ice show, the regular Oasis of Dreams diving show, the comedy Splish Splash diving show later in the week, Hairspray and the Cirque-du-Soleil knock off "Come Fly With Me." Hairspray was very good - the other shows were just simply amazing. In particular, the ice show and the dive shows are not to be missed. We made reservations on line before sailing and were glad we did as some of the show did sell out. We also liked the seating reserved for suite passengers at the dive show, although for the shows in the Opal Theater and the ice rink that was less of an issue, either because the area of reserved seating wasn't really the greatest (Opal Theater) or because there were a multitude of empty seats (ice show, at least when we went). One tip on the ice show: if you are traveling with kids, be aware there are four seats marked "kid's seating" in the front row on the two sides of the theater. If your child sits here, they will at one point get to go out on the ice and become part of the show.
Speaking of kids, this was my niece's sixth cruise, and we have never, ever been able to interest her in the kid's program on board any ship - until now. The Adventure Ocean facilities on this ship are absolutely incredible. There is a science lab, a theater, an art studio and all kinds of play areas. After her first visit, she wanted to spend every night there from 7-10. During the day, we couldn't keep her out of the kid's pool area - which was equally amazing, with its water cannons, fountains, and "lazy river" current pool - except to play ping pong, or miniature golf, or watch her Aunt Linda zip line (twice). Really, if you or your kids are bored on this ship you're not even trying to have fun.
My mother and I really loved the adults-only Solarium. Aside from being a nice, quiet area to sunbathe or people watch, the pool in this area is entered by stairs, not a ladder. That was a big deal both for my 80 year-old mom and for me, as a significantly "plus-size" cruiser. Pools that don't have those stairs, and which can only be exited by climbing out on a ladder, are pretty much unusable for us, and so we were delighted with fact that the Solarium actually gave us an opportunity to spend a day IN, not just BY the pool.
Finally, the vitality spa and exercise facility were first rate, though as some other reviews have mentioned, it's unfortunate that the treatment rooms are interior and don't have sea views. (There is nothing like having a massage while you can see that stunningly blue ocean go by). One thing: while I have cruised on several lines that allowed you to book your treatment on line before boarding, I've never before had to pay for the service at the time you booked, rather than after the appointment was complete. I did cancel one service that I had booked (with the requisite 24 hours' notice) and it was promptly credited to my sea pass account, but it still seems a bit odd that RCCL had my money for a few extra months. Also, if you upgrade the service once on board (I got talked into an additional treatment as part of the facial I had booked that cost an additional $50, and was very pleased with that extra service) be aware that the charge will be placed on a separate receipt with a separate automatic tip. In essence, by selling that additional service, the associate doubles their tip. I don't have a particular problem with that, but since I sometimes add an additional tip to the first receipt anyway, it would have been nice to know that the attendant giving me my facial was already going to receive double the standard amount. One final spa tip: if all you are going to book is a massage, as opposed to a wrap or other specialized treatment, I would wait for the in-port specials. I had booked a massage for $224 on line; on one of the port days, you could get a foot and leg, back and shoulders and head and neck massage (so what's really left anyway?) for $99. Fortunately, my original booking was for late in the week, so I was able to cancel it and go with the in-port special instead.
Ports: I'd really love to tell you about the ports, but the fact is there was so much to do I never got off the ship!
Food: There is certainly no shortage of places to get something to eat on the Oasis; between the dining room, the Windjammer, the specialty restaurants and the "noshing" places like the pizzeria and Cafe Promenade, which serves pre-made sandwiches and little desserts 24 hours a day, there is always some place to eat. In general, we thought the food was very good, with a couple of caveats. Contrary to what I have read in some reviews, we thought the dining room food was excellent every night (whatever you do, DO NOT miss the warm chocolate cake - it is to die for). However, we did think that the selection really tended toward the overly complex, frou-frou dishes. That was particularly true on the one day we went to lunch in the dining room; we would have expected that the menu would include some basic sandwiches or other simple lunch fare, rather than the fancier entrees that were offered.
My brother-in-law went to the Windjammer every morning for breakfast and really enjoyed it; my mom, sister and I went there on the first port day for lunch and never went back. I have to say that I found the food, at least on that day, to be inedible. We liked the pizza at Sorrentos a lot, and also had a phenomenal lunch at Chops (two tips: first, the short ribs are spectacular; second, Chops books up extremely quickly, and if you want to have a dinner there, you had best make a reservation on line before you board or immediately upon boarding. However, on sea days, they open for lunch and serve the same menu as is served in the evenings. We had no trouble getting a lunch reservation, and found that the restaurant was not particularly busy at that time).
Our real food find of the vacation, however, was the Concierge Lounge, which is open to suite (grand and above) and Diamond Plus passengers. They serve both breakfast and lunch, with a buffet of little noshes (pastries in the morning and little cruditEs and tea sandwiches at lunch) plus cooked-to-order items from a small menu. The breakfast menu includes things like Belgian Waffles and omelets, while the lunch menu had a killer club sandwich (which we didn't find anywhere else on board), soup, fried fish, burgers and the like. In addition to the nice, simple menu, we liked the fact that it was one of the quietest eating venues on the ship; there were never more than a handful of people there for any breakfast or lunch serving. If you are eligible to use the Concierge Lounge, we HIGHLY recommend it.
One of the few negative comments we have for the ship, unfortunately, was room service. We know room service menus are always limited on board a ship, but have never seen one as limited as this. Again, usually, you can at least get a couple of different sandwiches (tuna, ham and cheese, turkey, etc) off a room service menu; here that was not the case. In addition, although suite passengers are supposed to be able to order off the full dining room menus in the evening when the dining room is open, the menus placed in the suites don't jibe with what is actually available. We spent one very frustrating evening trying to order dinner in the cabin only to be told that virtually everything we had chosen from the menu provided in our cabin was not available for order.
Bottom line: We would sail again on this ship, or on her sister, the Allure, in a heartbeat (in fact, we're pretty sure it has spoiled us for any other ship). A few final tips:
? When you disembark, if you are going to the Fort Lauderdale Airport, DO NOT allow yourself to be talked into using a van. The ride to the airport is no more than 10 minutes and costs about $12 plus tips in the cabs that are lined up and waiting; the van drivers will charge you $10 A PERSON and will make you wait until they fill up the van with the requisite 10 passengers. For three people, a $12 plus tip trip becomes a $30 trip even if you don't tip the driver (which of course you will).
? When you first board, they will give you an activity planner for the week that highlights the main events, like the shows, etc. At first I thought this was pretty redundant of the nightly Cruise Compasses, but actually, it's not. While the Cruise Compass will show you what's happening the next day, its good to have a full week's perspective so that you know, for example, that Hairspray won't be shown after Tuesday, or that there are character breakfasts on certain mornings in the dining room that you need to make advance reservations for.
? If you are eligible to use it (which will depend on when and from where your flight home departs) we highly recommend that you take advantage of the Luggage Valet program. Its free to suite passengers, and a $20 fee for other folks, and in our opinion worth every penny. Under the program, after you put your bags outside your cabin on the last night, you don't see them again until you arrive at your destination airport. No searching through the terminal to identify your bags, no lugging them through customs, no checking in at the airport. It made going home almost enjoyable.
? Yes, the cupcakes really are that good, and yes, they really are worth paying for.