Western Caribbean Originating/Terminating in Ft. Lauderdale with stops at Labadee, Haiti, Falmouth, Jamaica, and Cozumel, Mexico. Weather was perfect, seas were generally calm. It appears to be a good time of year to go to the Caribbean.
The ship was beautiful! It's new, it's clean, and I have to say that I was in awe of its size and of the Royal Promenade deck, which is the first thing you see when you come aboard...kind of like the same feeling you get walking into Disney World for the first time.
Walking through the neighborhoods you wouldn't think you were even aboard a ship. Central Park has trees and flower gardens, and when the ship is moving a cool breeze blows through like a warm spring day. No real sense of motion while aboard just a slight rocking side to side every now and then.
The Boardwalk is a nice family place to hang out with the kids if you have kids to hang out with that is. There's even a full size carousel for the kids to ride on and on our cruise it was always busy.
The Royal Promenade is the place to people watch. Lots of shops, and things to see and do.
I heard that we sailed at maximum capacity with almost every cabin at 3 or 4 persons each. The advertised passenger capacity is 6,000 but I heard the number for this cruise was around 6,200 due to the number of families aboard.
Our cabin was an Ocean view just in front of the first balcony cabins. It was a little on the small side and had very little closet/storage space for a seven day cruise. The bathroom was the smallest I've ever seen on a cruise ship, and I wasn't the only one who thought so because even the cruise director joked about it. The shower stall (more like a glass capsule) was so small you had to open the door to pick up the soap if you dropped it.
It would be impossible to experience everything the ship has to offer on one cruise. Flow riding, rock climbing, ice skating, zip lining, basketball, dodge ball, putt-putt, the list goes on. If you are looking to do something and not doing it aboard this ship then you are not trying very hard. One thing you won't find on this ship is a secluded spot to just relax and take in the ocean breeze.
Dining was a bit of an adventure. The interactive TV (more like a computer terminal) in the room has a screen that shows the occupancy of each food venue on board which usually influenced our decision where to eat by how crowded it was, which I will detail my feelings on this in my closing remarks. One thing I have to say about the OASIS is that there's no shortage of restaurants to choose from in both the free and specialty (extra cost) dining options, there's about 24 food venues aboard so whatever your taste, you can probably find something to satisfy it on the ship.
I generally stay out of the specialty restaurants since the food is generally the same as the dining room and the ambience and fine china doesn't really justify the extra cost for me.
For breakfast, the Windjammer is the main buffet and unless you got there really early or really late, finding an open table was nearly impossible. Johnny Rockets is a specialty venue other times of the day but serves breakfast for free and is seldom crowded, we went there twice because the food is made to order rather than kept warm under lights like at the Windjammer. Other off the beaten track breakfast venues are the Park Cafe which serves an egg McMuffin style sandwich and an egg burrito to die for, it's a quick, light breakfast venue that isn't usually that crowded. The Solarium Bistro is the venue for the health conscious eater, and we avoided it like the plague because I just don't do turkey bacon and it was usually crowded. The Opus Dining Room for breakfast was good but the buffet side was better than the sit down side, the latter being very slow and handing out small portions the only reason we tried it was because our dining room steward asked us to.
Lunch was again decided by occupancy. Our favorite place was the Park Cafe but it was soon the favorite of many of the other passengers. They serve a roast beef slider that was so tender a delicious you couldn't eat just one or two. We did do the Solarium for lunch once the first day and it was very good, but it was too crowded the rest of the cruise.
The Opus Dining Room was our daily venue for dinner. The wait staff was very friendly and efficient, and there was always a large variety of entrees available as well as a few items they offer every day, all of the ones we had were very tasty and if there was something additional on the menu I wanted to try they would always bring it out for me, which was especially nice on lobster night.
Snacks were always available although I thought that the Sorrento's pizza was like eating freezer pizza. The Cafe Promenade serves specialty coffee (extra cost) but all the pastries were free and the was free coffee available over in the corner. There was always the Park Cafe to duck into if it wasn't crowded. Sort of an out of the way place to get a burger or ice cream cone is the Wipe Out Cafe on the Sports deck. For being in the kids section it was never too crowded to grab a quick snack like a pretzel dog or taco.
One of the advantages to a big ship is that more people equal more money for the entertainment budget which allows bigger name acts to be booked. The entertainment on our cruise was excellent. My wife said that the Broadway style production of Hairspray was excellent. I was there but I slept through most of it, and I can say that the seats were very comfortable.
The headliner act for the cruise was Beatlemania which to me was just like watching the Beatles, except the guy playing Ringo was a bit on the portly side. I never went to sleep but when I closed my eyes it sounded just like the real thing. We wanted to go back but the line for standby was out to the casino.
The other production show was Come Fly with Me, which was also very elaborate and entertaining. The ships cast of performers were very visible around the ship, and they were very appreciative of the compliments they received.
The entertainment was adult oriented in the Comedy Club with two different comedians performing acts and an MC that was as just as entertaining as the main acts.
We always seemed to miss the aquatic shows, they just seemed to be scheduled in conflict with other activities. Note: We booked all our shows in advance a few weeks before the cruise and some were already full. This probably needs to be done at least a month before if not sooner to get into all the shows.
One of our favorite places on a cruise is the piano bar, its a great place to relax and get to know the other passengers. I didn't particularly care for the Piano Bar set up on the Oasis, it's out in the open and lacked the intimate atmosphere of other piano bar venues on ships that we have sailed on before. Its right next to the Rising Tide bar and with all the pedestrian traffic in the Promenade below it was very distracting.
In general, entry and egress from the ship was quicker than we expected it to be. Most destinations had a fore and aft gangplank open and there were several lines in use all the time. I do have an issue with the attitude of the security people. While not rude they were officious and not very friendly at all, I realize that they are used to dealing with all types of people and lots of them, but at least they could smile and welcome you back aboard instead of snapping "take your sunglasses off" when you are coming back hot and tired from a long day ashore.
Labadee, Haiti was our first stop. A very nice landscaped facility with plentiful beaches and some of the best barbequed spare ribs I've ever had on a company owned island, or in this case a secluded peninsula completely inaccessible from the mainland due to several rugged mountains. The best use of this day is to swim, sail, eat, drink and relax in the shade or go down the mile long zip line that runs the entire length of the property. All the time the bay was discretely patrolled by armed guards, this being Haiti and all.
The security for re-entry to the ship with metal detectors and x-ray machines in use was a little overboard in my opinion especially since it's an isolated company owned facility with no access to the outside world. I walked all over the place and I didn't see one gun shop or vendor selling any weapons of mass destruction or even a pocket knife for that matter. Dude, what's up with that?
Falmouth, Jamaica is a newly opened port owned by RCL built especially to accommodate the new mega-ships. I think we were one of the first itineraries to dock there and it looks like it will be very nice but for now, none of the buildings are open yet, just a bunch of vendors on the curbs. We went on a shore excursion to the Green Grotto Caves and Dunn River Falls. Both attractions were very well maintained and both were interesting. A word of caution about the vendors at Dunn River, they are very pushy and abusive if you don't buy something from them, especially the video guys, they will hound you all the way to the bus to try to get you to buy the DVD. We tried to avoid the vendor area but were herded into the area by what we thought was a security guard who turned out to be in partnership with a guy who followed us until we bought a silly wooden statue which I gave him $8 for because it was all I had in my pocket. Never take your wallet out in front of them or you'll end up paying $20 dollars for the same piece of wood.
While the wife was shopping I struck up a conversation with a lady that turned out to be the port manager and we talked about the plans for the terminal which when it is finished should be very impressive with the ability to serve two mega ships at a time.
Security was still grumpy when we embarked...they need a vacation or something.
This was our third trip to Cozumel, Mexico but the first time we went to the Tulum Mayan ruins. We had to depart very early and the cruise director's office had a special staging area set up for the group. We walked directly from the ship to the ferry boat which took us to the mainland. We were escorted to a waiting bus for the 45 minute ride to the National park. Tulum was the most impressive Mayan site we have explored and is located along the Caribbean coast situated atop a towering cliff with two white sand beaches below. We opted for the express tour which didn't include any beach time, but gave us a good overview of the site and the treasures it contained. The tour was exhausting and we opted to take the tram back to the bus which cost a few dollars but well worth it. We should have taken it into the park but underestimated the distance we had to walk and the crowd we had to deal with since we got there just before it opened. There were ten buses just from our ship and there were four ships in port. I was much more comfortable here than in Jamaica, there were vendors but they waited until you came to them before they went to work. We enjoyed this port of call the most, with the exception of the ferry ride home, when just about half the people on board got seasick. The attendant ran out of barf bags long before we got to our destination. Security again, this time armed with automatic weapons. Really? If they are so afraid of what we will bring on board why do they give us pointy steak knives in the dining room?
Kudos to the cruise director Richard Spacey AND his staff for doing such a good job keeping the throng entertained. On this floating resort disguised as a cruise ship there's always something to do other than lounging in the sun, and it's a good thing too... here comes the negative... when you go to relax on the pool deck on a sea day you quickly find out that there is in fact 6,000+ people on the ship and it looks like every one of them is at the pool(s). They advertise the Solarium as being reserved for adults, but it is no better. Open lounge chairs are few and far between and finding two together is almost impossible. My wife got to go swimming while I protected the chairs we found, that's how bad it was, which brings me to the next point, beach towels. You have to check them out and back in or your room gets billed for the towel at $25 each.... there's only one place on the ship that dispenses the towels and that's on the 15th deck. If you go on a shore excursion and want a towel, none are provided at the gangplank, you have to trek up to the top of the ship and sign one out then protect it with your life while you are on your excursion.
As nice a ship as it is the Oasis is just too big for my taste, too many people, too many options, too may people, ooh I said that twice didn't I? I'm not into standing in lines and wading through crowds to get somewhere. When an event is happening, the elevators, and there are a lot of them, are completely overwhelmed. Unless you are lucky and are standing in front of the door that opens, you will wait ten minutes or longer to get to the deck you want to go to, remembering that the dining room is on deck three and the buffet is on deck 16 and both are located in the aft section of the ship, it's probably better to use the bow elevators and walk to the stern. I climbed the stairs at the Washington Monument but I'm no match for this ship.
My preference remains with the smaller ships... as good a job as RCL does managing large numbers of people I much prefer the less crowded more peaceful setting of a HAL ship and now have a renewed appreciation for the traditional cruise ship style. I never had a problem finding a table on the Lido deck, didn't have to stand in line to see a show, and never had to fight for a lounge chair at the pool. I'm coming home to HAL, see you in December on the Noordam.