Port of Embarkation
We flew to Fort Lauderdale the day before sailing and stayed at the Ramada Inn Airport/Cruiseport. The hotel was inexpensive, which showed (the AC, which ran all night, sounded like a truck idling in our room), but it was very convenient, as the hotel provides shuttle service to the port which was only a few miles away.
We arrived at the port around noon, and were on the ship within, at most, 15 minutes. Given the size of the ship and the number of people arriving, I remain absolutely amazed by how quickly we were processed and onboard. That remained the case throughout our trip - if I had not known otherwise, I would never have thought we were on a ship with 5500 passengers. We noticed the sheer number of passengers only three times during the entire trip: once during the assembly drill, once standing in line to get back on board at Labadee (the line moved very quickly and efficiently), and once standing in line to get through customs (not RCI's fault; customs was slow - as usual).
Ship Information and Activities
Oasis really is a beautiful ship. I particularly loved Central Park - a peaceful, serene place to have a glass of wine, read a book, or just relax. The Royal Promenade tended to get a little crowded, and I think it could use a few more shops (OK, I'm a bit of a shopaholic) and a few less parades (which tended to make it hard to get from one end to the other), but it was very nice nevertheless. The boardwalk area, with the carousel and kid-oriented activities, seemed a little out of place and wasn't used much, despite the fact that we sailed during Spring Break and there were certainly plenty of children on board. The Aqua Theater was an interesting touch, and we had booked the show there, but it got postponed because of high winds and we ended up not seeing it. Maybe next time.
I made the effort to do just about everything that remotely interested me on the ship. I tried the zip line (fun, though a little slower than I expected) and the Flow Rider (lots of fun, harder than it looks). I believe I had a drink at every bar on the ship. I watched a 3D movie in the theater. I got a massage and a manicure (both excellent). Did a little shopping. Went to the nightclub several times, including the special Club 20 night (DJ was not very good, but I don't expect much from a cruise line DJ). Had the famous roast beef sandwich at Park Cafe (yes, it is as good as everyone says, as are the salads). I even rode on the carousel, just to say I did. Overall, there was more than enough to keep us busy and entertained.
Our stateroom (outside balcony) seemed a little smaller than on other RCI ships I've sailed, but it was laid out well, with plenty of storage space. The balcony was bigger than on other ships, which I loved, and the shower had doors, rather than a curtain, which was great. Our stateroom attendant was friendly and efficient. Best of all, the stateroom was quiet - well-soundproofed, and it did not creak like other staterooms I've stayed in. Then again, the Oasis doesn't move much, so that might play a part in the lack of creaking.
My husband and I are both foodies, and love good wine. While we've been pretty adamant about using the main dining room on past cruises, the sheer number of specialty restaurants on Oasis enticed us away from the MDR, and we ended up never eating there.
Chops was...Chops (we've eaten there on other ships). Which is to say that we got very good steakhouse fare with great service and a reasonably good wine list, though it seemed to both of us that the Chops wine lists from our previous trips were more extensive.
150 Central Park was an excellent experience. The service was outstanding, the food was delicious and beautifully presented, and the wine pairings complemented the food perfectly. The chef came by a couple of times to chat about the menu and the food. During our trip, I met a couple of people who complained that the portions were not big enough...not a valid complaint, in my opinion. This is not an all-you-can-eat buffet, or even the MDR. It is a six-course tasting menu, which is, by definition, intended to provide you with ample tastes of everything. That is what we got, and we left very satisfied.
Giovanni's Table was the sole disappointment in our dining experience on the Oasis. We have eaten at Portofino on other ships, and I love Italian food, so I had high hopes. Overall, however, Giovanni's Table was a let-down. The service was not good - our waiter recommended about four appetizers, and then proceeded to bring them out without in fact confirming that we wanted them, and not something else. We did want something else, and we didn't want that much food. Then, after we ordered a very pricy bottle of wine, our waiter took the glass from me, intending to swirl and test the aroma himself (I'm hoping he didn't plan to taste it as well!). Again, I felt that was not appropriate. The food itself was good, but not great, and there was simply too much of it. I'll go back to Portofino, but I probably will not try Giovanni's Table again.
The Solarium Bistro was very good - but I fear it will not last long. I love the concept of it: all dishes are healthy spa-type food, with no dish over 500 calories. And the food was beautifully presented, filling, and delicious. The service was perfectly paced and unobtrusive, and the setting was lovely. However, I believe we were the only non-crew eating there. Add that observation to the number of signs I saw all over the ship advertising the Solarium Bistro, and I suspect that healthy spa food, however excellent, is not a big hit with the cruising crowd.
On the evening after we left Jamaica, we had tapas at Vintages for dinner. I love Vintages, and the addition of tapas was brilliant. We tried a number of little dishes, and they were all absolutely delicious.
Our favorite restaurant of all was Izumi - we liked it so much that we ate there twice. The sushi was perfectly prepared and very fresh, they had an excellent sake selection, the hot stone was great, and the hot pot was equally good (though huge). Service was pretty much perfect. I wish RCI had Izumi on other ships!
Ports & Shore Excursions
Our first stop was in Labadee, which was beautiful. Although we tend to explore on our own in most ports and very rarely do shore excursions, we did go on the "Castaway at Malfini Beach" excursion in Labadee, and it was well worth it. The excursion is limited to 30 people. You are taken by boat to a secluded beach about 20 minutes from the dock and, essentially, left there. The beach is gorgeous - a white sand crescent in a beautiful inlet surrounded by jungle. The sole amenities are beach chairs, water floats, a bar (with staff) and a bathroom. That's it. For three perfect hours, you are on your own in paradise. It was amazing.
Second stop was Jamaica. As it was the first time that Oasis had docked in Falmouth, our arrival was a big deal, with a number of dignitaries and pretty much the entire population of Falmouth turning out to welcome us. The port itself is nowhere near finished, but it is functional, and looks like it will be pretty good when it's done. We did not stay in Falmouth - instead, we hopped a taxi to Montego Bay. The rates are very reasonable ($10 per person for the half-hour trip to Montego Bay) and are posted at the taxi area, so you're not going to get ripped off if you pay attention. Montego Bay was great - we walked the Hip Strip and then settled down to enjoy the sun at Doctor's Cave Beach. For a small fee, we got beach chairs and an umbrella. The sun was warm, the beach was lovely, and the Red Stripes were cheap. A great way to spend an afternoon. After a delicious meal at the Jamaican Bobsled Team restaurant (beware, the drinks are strong!), we headed back to Falmouth. Overall, I think Jamaica was my favorite stop: really pretty, not overly "touristy," and very friendly people.
Third stop was Cozumel. I had serious concerns about Cozumel, as it's a tiny island and I knew that not only would the Oasis be in port, but probably about five other ships. I just could not figure out where all the people could possibly go. I still don't know where they did go, but Cozumel was great. We walked from the ship to a dive shop about a mile from the dock, rented snorkel gear, and went snorkeling right off the beach. The snorkeling was surprisingly good: beautiful clear water and hundreds of fish. We then headed downtown to walk around for a bit before heading back to the ship.
Service & Other Issues
The service on Oasis was very good. As is typical for RCI in my experience, every member of the crew went out of their way to be friendly and helpful, and to make sure that we had everything we wanted.
There was only one real negative to the trip: the cigar smoking area. My husband enjoys a good cigar after dinner on vacation, as do I. Other RCI ships we have sailed on have dedicated cigar smoking areas. Allegedly, Oasis has one too: the outdoor private bar area for the suite guests on Deck 17 opens up to cigar smokers after dark. There was a bar, with a bartender, and plenty of seating. However, the area was very hard to find and absolutely unusable in anything other than perfect weather. The first several nights, the wind was too bad to light a cigar, let alone smoke it. One night was so bad that the cushions from the deck chairs were literally flying around and close to blowing overboard. Later in the trip, the wind was not as strong, but it still was not a pleasant or welcoming place to smoke.
Don't get me wrong - neither my husband nor I are rabid about being able to smoke. If RCI were to ban cigar smoking (or smoking in general) on the Oasis or all of its ships, we would not have a problem. What was disappointing was to have the cruise line claim that we could smoke and then provide a place that simply was not usable.
Disembarkation went less smoothly than getting on the ship - but that was a function, entirely, of customs, and not RCI's doing. RCI, as usual, provided plenty of areas to wait, moved the luggage out quickly and efficiently, and did an overall great job of getting 5500 people off a ship in a matter of a couple of hours. Even with customs stopping the line periodically, we were off the ship and at the airport by 9:30 a.m. (the real delays and misery began at the airport, but that's a story for another forum).
My husband commented that first-time cruisers should not be allowed on the Oasis, because it will spoil them for everything else, and I think he might be right. The ship is big, beautiful, a little over-the-top, and a lot of fun. I highly recommend the Oasis - I know I'll be back.