As others have mentioned, embarkation was a breeze. RC has done an excellent job of making this a very efficient process! We arrived at the port at 11 and were onboard by 11:30. Checking in took a bit longer than usual because we were in 5 rooms, and some were suites and some were not, but it was fast nonetheless.
The kids were excited to hit up Sorrento's as their first food on board and I was determined to avoid the Windjammer for the week, so I readily complied. First disappointment - they've made Sorrento's smaller (i.e. only round tables, no booths and not so easy to pull round tables together) and they no longer have the olive bar/antipasto options or the delicious almond cookies. In addition, the pizza seems to have changed - it wasn't as good. However, we were on board and we were hungry so it worked.
Next stop - Park Cafe. Seems word is out and at 12:00, the line here was very long. There weren't any tables available so we grabbed food and ate outside - man was it hot! Advice here is stop by a little later on the first day (like around 1:30) and you'll avoid the lines and get a seat inside where it is cool.
Park Cafe is a GREAT new dining option and it was a favorite of ours for the week. Bagel bar, various egg sandwiches in the morning, as well as great fruit, yogurt, muffins and cereal. No bacon, sausage, potatoes or pancakes here to tempt us! Lunch is equally delicious w/ a good salad bar (and it is made for you, not serve yourself buffet), terrific roast beef sandwiches, chips (sunchips, ruffles!), and various paninis. Plenty of options and all tasted fresh and delicious.
SPORTS COURT - EXPERIENCE & IMPRESSIONS
We headed up to check out the sports court and this is where we started to get that gimmicky feeling. First, the zip line. Are you kidding? As one of the comedians said on board, this zip line must double as a clothesline. It is a mere 87 ft long, which is about the length of the basketball court. Why spend the money and/or take up the staff to man this thing - it was ridiculous and honestly, marketing has really put quite the spin on this to make it look a lot better than it is. I think most had this opinion as the line for the zipline was very short by mid-week.
Another frustration - they had ONE person checking the waivers and handing out bracelets. The line was unreal and it took more than 30 mins to get through. Seriously? One person w/ such a huge number of kids on board - crazy.
Checked out the mini-golf course and not sure what's happened here. The balls are all the same color (huh?) and they are as light as a ping-pong ball. In addition, the course has cute little animals around it, but no obstacles. You're kind of putting straight the entire time. Clear that thought was put into the decorations (animals, a cute white bench), but not into the actual course. Courses on the 5 other RC ships we've been on have all been better.
The full-size basketball court is impressive, for sure, but the heat that builds up in that space b/c the sides are now enclosed w/ plexiglass is also amazing. Very tough to handle the heat in August as no wind goes through the court.
We were pleased to see 6 ping-pong tables, but honestly with a passenger size of just over 6200, we weren't able to get onto these tables. Smaller ships, such as Serenade has 3 tables for a 1/3 of the passenger size.
Although not actually on the sports court, a few notes about shuffleboard. Ok, not everyone gets into the game, but as a family, we usually have a competition in the evening after dinner. 2 issues here - 1) due to the fact that the shuffleboard courts are located behind the aquatheater, there are several nights when they are closed down by 6:00! 2) the shuffleboard courts are not regulation size, they are some miniature, cheapo version that look as though they have not been painted since Oasis initially launched. We used them once, enough said.
On a positive note, loved that there are 2 flowriders and although the lines are always long, it's a popular event and line size is understandable. Found that all instructors working the flowriders were very helpful to both first-timers and experienced riders. Also liked the seating/viewing area as there was a decent amount of shade.
POOL AREAS - Improvements, but still work to be done
Huge kudos to RC for figuring out how to get so many chairs onto the decks! We never had an issue finding a chair. We also appreciated how clean the deck staff kept the pool area. However, there are a few issues with the pools. First, although there are 3 pools plus the kid's H20 zone, the pools are just too small. They are literally jam-packed. The pools do not appear to be larger than other ships, and the 3 just do not cut it. Taking this a bit further, there is a huge (and beautiful) solarium, but there is one tiny pool in it (I actually thought it was a hot tub).
Although I was initially disappointed that pool contests took place at the Aquatheater (which involves leaving the pool deck, going down 9 floors, and then walking thru the Boardwalk), I have to say that the large area is necessary to accommodate all of the guests.
THE GYM - OH NO, ROYAL CARIBBEAN, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!
Glad to see that the space taken up by the boxing ring on Freedom-class ships is now used for machines, but the location of the gym is so disappointing! I used to love running on the treadmill surrounded by a beautiful view of the ocean. That view is now very limited. The gym is on the 6th floor and only one wall has that view, but it's through large port holes. The rest of the gym has no view! In addition, the free weight area is small (can handle only 4-5 people at a time) and the number of weights is very limited. Again, other ships including the smaller Serenade has a larger area here. Definitely a bummer.
In general, quality in the dining room has deteriorated among the entire fleet. We didn't feel that the dining room on Oasis was better, or worse, than any of the other ships. I had read that the Windjammer was small and avoided it the entire week, but was told by my family members that it was constantly packed. Our Head Waiter confirmed that the Windjammer is proportionally smaller than on other ships.
However, the addition of new venues really made us feel as though this is where Oasis shines. In addition to the Park Cafe, we loved the Solarium Bistro for breakfast, and enjoyed the variety of snacks in the Wipeout Cafe (nachos, pizza, hotdogs) and on the boardwalk (donut shop, boardwalk snacks such as chips w/ Guacamole, corn dogs, etc). The boardwalk snack shop/bar (don't know official name) also made popcorn on the evenings when they showed a movie in the aquatheater. Nice touch!
We dined in Giovanni's and food and service were really great. This was our first time eating in a specialty restaurant and we'd do it again. Well worth the $20 price tag.
ENTERTAINMENT - loved the options
We were really happy with the variety and number of new entertainment options. We signed up for all available shows and made it to everything. Due to the reservation process, it seemed as though there were always plenty of seats and showing up 20 mins prior to showtime always worked. Definitely beats the days of having to get to the theater early if you wanted a large number of seats together. The only time this wasn't the case, was when reservations were not required (i.e Love & Marriage Show, Quest) and then getting seats together was tough.
SERVICE - Very mixed results
By far, our biggest disappointment on this cruise was the lack of service and the presence of serious attitude from the concierge staff. The 2 concierge sat behind their desks, never mingled w/ guests, did not proactively provide information on services/benefits and could not assist w/ issues. We were never greeted by name and their snooty attitude was unreal. I needed help w/ something 3 times (booking a cabana, making a specialty dining reservation, and moving a showtime) and I consistently felt as though I was bothering them. Have questions w/ the Luggage Valet program - ask your room steward. Need help with the Espresso machine? Read the instructions. Show was cancelled due to weather and your newly scheduled time doesn't work (b/c concierge rescheduled during dinner)? Wait in standby line. Having trouble with the internet? Read the instructions. Only saving grace was that the bartender, Carol, was extremely pleasant and we felt welcomed by her.
Dining room service and our room steward were both adequate. Nothing really to complain about, but just a lot of small things that were missing: the lack of recognition/greeting or even knowing our names, was a change for us. No towel animals in the room (not a big deal, just a little bummed), no ice in the room, no pulling out chairs as we arrived at the dinner table, and the constant delay in getting condiments at dinner (i.e. sour cream, ketchup, butter for lobster, cocktail sauce, etc). Everyone was pleasant, but nothing was special.
We found outstanding service in areas that we didn't expect it. For instance, service in Johnny Rockets was terrific. Just a really, really nice group of waiters and waitresses. They work hard and yet they remain unbelievably pleasant.
One of the facilities guys, Kris, cleaned the concierge lounge late every evening and we were often in there playing cards. He also came by and chatted, was sweet as ever to our kids, and was just an all-around pleasant individual. Who would have known?
Also found guest services to be very helpful on the few occasions we needed help.
All in all, some hits in service, but a major miss where we would most expected it (concierge).
Just about any cruise, in my book, is better than no cruise at all, but we felt like RC tried to put a lot of dazzle and marketing spin into this ship and hence coined it the "Gimmick of the Seas". The main dining room can't accommodate all 6200 passengers, the Windjammer is smaller and yet there is an abundance of speciality dining options. Service is hit & miss and the high-caliber crew seems to have abandoned the ship. The pool area is too small and many of the options on the sports-deck are just half-baked. Combine these issues along with the fact that this ship can only make 3 ports and the price tag is still higher than other ships (especially for 3rd & 4th passengers), and it seems like the Adventure & Freedom class ships remain the right option for us.