A few qualifications to my ridiculously long review so that it makes more sense in context:
I am 37, my husband is 42. We were not travelling with kids. The cruise, airline tickets, transfers, the 'per diem' drinks package and pre-payable gratuities were paid for as part of the incentive trip. The supplier also gifted everyone $150 credit on their SeaPass card. We have been so blessed and fortunate, as this is probably never something that we would have afforded ourselves. As such, we decided to take the money that we would have spent on a vacation locally and use that as spending money. This resulted in us having the holiday of a lifetime without having to give a second thought to money that we spent during the time. We were also able to tip additionally for great service, and of course we have a huge bias toward the South African crew we met on board.
We are also not big 'party animals'. We don't go clubbing or to theatre, but do enjoy the pub and some live music from time to time. As much as we had every good intention to go see the shows and live it up on the dance floor, we just didn't feel like it and so didn't force it, but rather went with the flow of relaxing and drinking more than our fair share of cocktails. We are very spoiled for choice with our food back home and eat out regularly. Our food back home is very flavourful, so we had no real expectation of what we consider to be great food because it would not suit everyone's tastes.
I have not included any of the +-500 odd pictures that we took simply because I have seen much better photos on here and mine really don't do our experience all that much justice.
We worked on Friday 12th, dashed home, got ready and flew out of Johannesburg on Friday evening headed for JFK. I understand why most people on the board advise that you fly a day before. 7 of our group did not make the connecting flight to Miami (through no fault of their own, but the queues at JFK were ridiculously slow and they were directed to stand in the wrong line for the connecting AA flight). We got through JFK and onto our AA flight without incident, and were met by a bus at MIA to take us down to the port.
Although we had nothing to do with the selection of our cabin, I thought it was fantastic and would have chosen it for myself. We were in 8308 towards the Aft on the Central Park level. We were in a Superior Ocean View Stateroom with balcony. This worked out well as my husband smokes and could do so on the balcony. We were far enough aft to not be too bothered by foot traffic up and down the corridor. There was no ambient noise from anywhere and nothing going bump in the night ? I won't repeat what most have already written about these cabins, but we found it more than sufficient for our purposes. Our stateroom attended, Farid, was friendly and fabulous, and yes - we did get the towel animals and chocolates at turn-down every night (I remember reading somewhere that people thought that perhaps RCCL were trying to save money by not doing this, but it wasn't our experience). We also did not spend excessive amounts of time in the cabin.
Wow. If we had not been on a package this would have cost us a fortune! We are reasonably big drinkers (wine and beer mostly) at home, but on this cruise I can safely say that we were putting fish to shame. As mentioned, we were on the per diem package, which included beer, wine by the glass, all house brands, sodas etc. I didn't find much that we ordered that wasn't included. I drank plenty of the cocktails (so very yummy, especially the BBC and lava flows) and beer and rum cocktails. We spent a lot of time each day in the Globe and Atlas pub on deck 5 as there was a smoking area there. I haven't included that in my daily review, but it's safe to assume that anytime we walked anywhere on board, we went via the Globe and Atlas for a drink. We got to know the barmen there as well. Paul, Indra and Leonard are particularly friendly. One word of caution though, we found that the bar staff are rather heavy handed with their pouring. Some of the cocktails were so strong that they were not enjoyable. We are used to a single tot being 25ml, so the free-flow unmeasured pouring made the drinks a lot stronger than we were accustomed to. The only time we were charged for drinks was for a tomato juice (go figure, because the bloody mary is included in the package) and when we got the mini-bar stocked up with some beers for when we were sitting on the balcony. If you are a drinker, or plan on indulging in colourful cocktails, then you may want to investigate a drinks package. Probably the only thing I did not drink on-board was soda, so I cannot comment on whether or not that was good value. If you don't take a booze package, bank on an average of $7 for each glass of liquid joy.
Before I say anything, please appreciate that everyone's tastes are different. I am used to cooking with onion, garlic and chilli as a basis of most of my dishes, and these are 3 things that are difficult to incorporate into dishes when you are trying to cater for the masses. As a result I found most of the food on-board a bit bland, but still enjoyable. We didn't eat in the MDR once, other than breakfast on one of the days. This wasn't a conscious decision (in fact we were scheduled to eat there twice with the group), rather just how it turned out. We only ate in Windjammer once as well. I will do more detailed descriptions of the restaurants we ate at on the daily review below. Overall, the food was actually much better than what I was expecting based on some of the reviews that I had read. The presentation was almost always good, and some restaurants like 150 Central Park were excellent. Each to his own on this one. One suggestion is that perhaps RCCL could look at offering a more comprehensive selection of condiments for guests who need a bit more spice, like hot English mustard, fresh chilli, chopped garlic etc.?
WHAT WE SPENT:
As I have mentioned, we didn't pay for much. I have included what we did pay for as I know that this helped me a lot when we were planning, so I hope it can help someone else. Always check your bill as most times there is already 15% added on for tips. We chose to tip extra as we were in this fortunate position of almost our whole holiday being paid for.
Windjammer: $9 for 2 fresh OJ's (what a waste - we didn't know they were extra, so when we were offered we said yes please. Not particularly good either).
Explorations/SeaTrek: $32 for a lycra swimming top (I think you call them rash guards?) so that I could snorkel without being burned to a crisp and $56 per person for the snorkel excursion to Turtle Cove on St. Thomas. Yay for the helpful South Africans at the shop on deck 15 by the pool!
$14.50 for more sunscreen (a spray on one) as the factor 20 SPF that we brought with was proving insufficient
150 Central Park: $3.95 for a bottle of Evian, $2.25 for a coke, $15 for the signature martini, $2.75 for a cappuccino, plus extra gratuity for our server. The martini is very pricey, but so lovely.
Giovanni's Table: $35 for a bottle of Sav Blanc (which was not too shabby at all, A Scott something-or-other), $2.75 for a cappuccino, plus extra gratuity for our server.
Johnny Rockets: $5.95 for a 20oz draft, $4.25 for a MGD plus gratuity plus $9.90 for the cover charge
Globe and Atlas Pub: $4.50 for two tomato juices plus gratuity.
Chops Grille: $9.50 for two Heinekens and $2.75 for a cappuccino plus gratuity for our server.
Seafood Shack: $3.50 for coconut shrimp starter portion, $2.95 for chicken drummets starter portion, $6.95 x 2 for the grilled shrimp entrEe, $7 for a frozen mojito, $8 for a long island ice tea plus gratuity for the server.
Izumi: Chicken Kara-age $4, Shrimp gyoza $4, Snow crab CA roll, $5.50, Salmon box roll $5, Crispy shrimp roll $6, salmon nigiri $2, shrimp nigiri $2, Sprite $2.25, 2 Heineken $9.50. Gratuity for server.
We also spent some money on perfumes at Solera gift shop, and some small money on laundry. We also chose to tip our stateroom attendant quite a bit over and above what had been pre-paid.
Embarkation really is as painless and quick as everyone has documented. We were processed and had our SeaPasses within about 25 minutes of arriving. Our picture was taken by a South African photographer, so that was a cool introduction. We went up to our cabin and had just had enough time to look around when our suitcases arrived. Because of the flights and transfers etc. we only got on-board at around 3:30pm. We went to grab lunch at Park Cafe as recommended, and had the roast beef sandwich. Meh - I thought it was ok, but spotted the salad station and found that much more appealing. After lunch we unpacked quickly and went to explore. Day One during embarkation was probably the most crowded I ever felt on the ship. I guess that's because almost everyone is walking around exploring and taking photos. It can be quite overwhelming. We walked around and then went for the safety drill, after which we headed back to the room to shower and get ready for dinner. We had a group dinner booking for 8:30pm each evening for our group. The first night looked like absolute chaos, and we were being shoved around in the crowd as only one level of the Opus was open. We lost patience pretty quickly and headed for Johnny Rockets instead. We hadn't slept in 2 days by now and just wanted a quick dinner and to get some sleep. To quote a previous reviewer (and I can't remember who to credit) Johnny Rockets is Johnny Rockets ... it's not going to blow you away but it will fill the hole in the tummy, albeit with grease. We spent the first day (and most subsequent days, in fact), in complete awe of the ship. It's like a floating mall and hotel! Absolutely brilliant.
After a great night's rest we headed for breakfast in the Solarium, where we were helped by a South African server. We must gravitate towards each other ? I enjoyed the food and had a bagel with salmon and cream cheese and some scrambled egg. The turkey bacon and sausage was new to me and I think I will stick to the pork version. We had not booked anything for Nassau as we didn't know how we would shape up after our long haul inbound flights, but we were fine and headed off the ship. Embarking and disembarking the ship I found incredibly well organised and it was painless. A word of caution though, when we were on our balcony looking down just before 'on board' time there was a loooong line of people boiling in the sun waiting to get back on board. Moral of the story I guess is that if you don't want to be stuck in the queue don't try get back on board at the last minute with everybody else. We found Nassau amazingly beautiful and walked for as far as we could, but then it was mighty warm and the cocktails were calling, so we headed to Senor Frog and partied away for a while before heading back to the ship. We then headed for the pool and hung out there drinking cocktails (a recurrent theme of our holiday) and swimming before heading off for a nap. Dinner was booked at 150 Central Park. This really was the best meal on board for me. I will list the menu below, but very few of these things are what I would normally order at a restaurant (besides the fish) and they were magnificently cooked and beautifully presented. The chef came around to chat to us and of course the service was sublime. Like the martini! The salt that everyone else has mentioned is fantastic! Give this restaurant a go if you want a special evening. Menu was as follows: Asparagus panna cota (stunning!!), salmon rose, caviar and asparagus tips with a champagne sauce, a roast yellow tomato soup, sautEed sea bass with micro green salad and fried capers (my favourite dish), slow braised duck with fresh herb pasta (my least favourite, and still not bad at all), wagyu new york beef strip with some yummy potato gratin and a port glaze. We were way too stuffed for dessert so we skipped it. We had booked to see the late show of Oasis of The Seas, but walked around instead and caught some of the show from the end of the Boardwalk. It looked fantastic. So professional and gorgeous, but we just weren't in the mood to sit and watch anything, so we walked around the ship instead.
We tried breakfast at Windjammer. Although its absolute chaos, we were helped by a kind gent to find a table, and then met another South African server. The food is not offensive, but there are in my opinion definitely better (and calmer!) places to eat. We walked the ship some more and took up our default position at the pub. While we were walking out the pub, we got caught up in some staff parade on the Royal Promenade. It was quite cute and involved representatives from all the staff areas. We grabbed a late room service lunch which was most unmemorable, took a nap, and headed to Giovanni's Table for dinner. It wasn't bad. I've had better Italian and better service, but overall it was tolerable. We had a nice bottle of wine and a relaxing evening. Our waiter kept bringing us additional dishes that we had not asked for, so it was gluttonously wasteful. I had the scallops to start, hubby had a tasteless Caesar salad and the waiter also bought us a melanzane, which was mostly wasted as my husband doesn't favour eggplant and it was too oily for me. We had the lamb chops (tasty!), crab ravioli (very mediocre) and the meat gnocchi (sauce was ok, gnocchi was too heavy for my taste). Dessert was not an option as there was just no more space.
We opted for an early room service breakfast as we had booked an excursion to go snorkelling at St Thomas' Turtle Cove. We were just in complete awe of the magnificence that we saw and so grateful for the experience of being able to snorkel with turtles and stingrays and all that tropical fish. Be warned though that this seems to be a popular thing to do and we were jostling for space with about 5 other boats to get close to the turtles. In all likelihood you will get slapped by a fin of a careless/awestruck snorkeler! My suggestion is that you head first to go explore the coral reef (as everyone will head for the turtles first thing) and then wait for them to head out towards the reef which will leave you some space and peace to go look at the turtles. The rum punch on the boat on the way back just tasted like more. After a great day out, we grabbed a salad again at park cafe for lunch and headed for the pool/cocktails/pub (have you spotted the general theme of our cruise yet?!?). That evening, we had a private cocktail and awards event with the whole group at Dazzles. We were then invited by the supplier to join them at 150 Central Park for dinner, which we did. It was pouring with rain, but not for too long. The hostess at 150 spoke to the chef, who graciously changed two items on the menu for us, so we had an endive and apple salad instead of the asparagus duo, and salmon pasta instead of the duck which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Desperate for some decent coffee my husband went for a pre-breakfast dash for some Starbucks from the Promenade Cafe. We then tried the Opus MDR for breakfast. It was quite busy but we got a two seater table and had an omelette. The tables are very close together in the MDR, so we landed up having nice conversation with our neighbours. After breakfast we headed off the ship to go explore the beautiful island of St Maarten. Boy was it warm!! We did a little bit of shopping, walked as much as we could in the heat, and then headed for a beach shack for a drink. After sampling the delicious guavaberry cocktails and enjoying the wonderful view of the beaches, we headed back to the ship. We didn't feel like a big lunch, so we grabbed a slice of pizza from Sorrentos. The crust was thicker than we are used to, but it wasn't bad at all. We then headed for the pool and the serious business of drinking cocktails. I had to pay a visit to the doctor in the late afternoon as my legs had swollen badly and developed a really bad rash. It was nothing too serious or bad enough to ruin my trip. As an aside, if you have the misfortune of getting ill on board, have no fear for you will be well looked after. The medical facility is superb and there were two South African nurses. The doctor had a great sense of humour, which you will really need when you see the charges!!! A consult with a doctor is anywhere between $110 and $200 excluding any meds you may require. I had to have daily injections until I left the ship and get some oral meds. The bill was over $300, so try stay healthy :-) We stopped in at the Promenade Cafe for a snack to keep us going as we had a late dinner booked, headed back to the pub, and then back to the room to get ready for dinner at Chops. Chops Grille has a lovely atmosphere. Again, it was just way too much food. The shrimp cocktail is not the same as we are used to (it's more just like steamed prawn with a lettuce salad and sauce on the side). The Caesar salad (which we did not ask for but got two of) was actually great. I had the petit fillet and husband had the normal size one. The meat was tender and well cooked, the sides were reasonably good, and despite us requesting no dessert we were served a berry and mousse dessert which we shared and enjoyed. I wish I would have eaten half of what I did, because the slices of cake being served looked divine, but they were huge and there was no way I was going to even attempt it. I am really not a delicate girl, and my hubby and I can both seriously pack away good portions, but this was just over the top even for me to try. Our server (Bouchard? Something like that ... Indian chap) was most pleasant and it was an enjoyable evening.
There was a morning dash for coffee from Starbucks again! We headed to Park Cafe for breakfast and found it was packed beyond capacity, so we got our food to go and enjoyed breakfast on the balcony of our room. We meandered around in the morning, and then watched the belly flop competition. If you are planning on watching any of the events at the Aqua Theatre during the day, do yourself a favour and go about half an hour before the show starts. With the sun overhead, only about 30% of the Aqua Theatre gets shade, so if you are sensitive to the sun or don't fancy being burned to a crisp try get yourself a shady spot. We landed up going one level up to where the rock climbing wall was and watching from there. We had some salad and grilled prawns at the Seafood Shack for lunch, and then indulged in a great afternoon snooze. We had dinner booked at Izumi. The service started out a bit slow but improved. The complimentary edamame beans were great, addictive like peanuts! The miso soup was also tasty. The sushi wasn't bad at all, although one of the rolls that we ordered crispy shrimp and I am not too fond of having breaded and fried fish in my sushi roll. The nigiri was my favourite. We had booked to see Come Fly With Me after dinner but again, we just weren't in the mood for sitting still after a large meal so chose to walk around instead and head for bed.
I can't remember where we were for breakfast (must be either the jetlag or the cocktails catching up with me). I can only assume that it was a bagel from Park Cafe again - I really enjoyed the salmon cream cheese, smoked salmon pieces with capers and rocket lettuce combination. The morning is a bit blurry so it probably involved some cocktails around the pool. Around noon we watched the comedy dive show for a while. Those divers are exceptionally talented! We then scooted off to listen to a bit of the captain's talk on the ship and stayed at that for about half an hour until the questions started. They showed a really fascinating video about how the Oasis was built. We then went past the Solarium where we had planned on getting lunch. The food looked really great and delicious; salads and wraps and some yummy looking Asian flavoured dishes, but unfortunately there was nothing that caught my husband's eye, and as I had already made him eat sushi the night before which he doesn't enjoy, we headed back to Park Cafe for a salad and some crisps.
We spent some time after lunch at the Focus photo gallery looking through the photos that we had gotten taken. We had a good laugh at them but didn't purchase any. On Thursday night when we got back to our room we found that we had been given our boarding picture in an Oasis frame as a gift from the supplier. It's not my favourite picture as we hadn't slept for almost 2 days and look pretty crazed, but it is a lovely memory to have. We also did some perfume shopping at the Solera gift shop, which works out a lot cheaper for us then buying it at home.
That evening we had a farewell cocktail event in the Solarium bar. It was pretty, and the sun was starting to set which just added to the gorgeous colours. A word of warning though ... it gets seriously hot in the Solarium! As much as I would have loved to use the Solarium during the week as our pool, there was just no air circulation and no shade, which just made it unpleasant for me, so we sat outside the Solarium close to the last Jacuzzi pool where there was shade and of course my husband could smoke. I did find it more pleasant to turn the deck chair out the other way so that I could watch the ocean. For our last dinner, we headed back to Seafood Shack for the coconut prawns, which I really enjoyed (despite them being deep fried). They were served with a lime aioli, and it was the only hint of garlic I tasted onboard.
We had a 6:45am meeting time for our group disembarkation at 7:15am, so we woke early, showered and went to grab a last breakfast at Park Cafe before leaving. Big up to RCCL for the painless and well organised disembarkation process. I think it again took all of about 25 minutes to disembark, get our luggage, clear customs and get on the bus. We then started the long homeward bound trek of Miami - Washington - Dakar - Johannesburg, and landed on Sunday night. Now if only the airports were as organised as the cruise ...
I found the reviews that were posted here informative and worth the read before we left, but I will caution you to reserve judgement and make up your own mind when you are there. Everyone has different tastes and things that I had thought I would not bother with, based on reviews that I had read of them, I landed up really enjoying. Most of the crew that we encountered were pleasant and became quite friendly when you engaged them in conversation.
I also thought that I would be reading the Cruise Compass with great interest each night and planning which activities to attend and which extra shows to go watch, but I didn't really consult it at all as our holiday took a more chilled laissez-faire approach.
All in all we have nothing but wonderful memories and larger waistlines from this incredible trip. It really was a once in a lifetime experience for us and I hope that anyone who is doing this trip has as good a time as we did.