Route: Seven day cruise starting in Fort Lauderdale – Nassau – St Thomas – St Maarten – Fort Lauderdale.
1. General Comments: A pleasant cruise and our first one on this class of ship. The ship was full with around 6,150 passengers (including around 1,500 children) and around 2,200 crew. We were part of a group of 25; my wife and I had visited the ports of call several times and were not interested in them. Our purpose for this cruise was to see how such a large ship functioned.
We have compliments for everything about the ship except one item: 6,150 passengers are just too many. No matter how large the ship and efforts to disperse the passengers, you will still run into crowds.
My wife and I had a “regular” cabin with verandah on the 8th deck near the aft elevators. Our group dined at 6PM. We had three tables near each other.
2. Embarking: Amazingly quick and efficient. We left our room at the Embassy Suites, 17th Street, at 11AM. With checking out, using the hotel shuttle to the ship, and checking in with RCL, we were sitting down to lunch in the Park Café at 12 noon. After eating, we wandered around a bit and went to our cabin at 1PM; our suitcases were sitting at the door.
3. The Oasis of the Seas: What a monster! And it works! Our cabin was small, but it was OK for the two of us for a week. A larger cabin is definitely in order for a longer trip. Not many drawers, but plenty of shelves for our stuff. The closet was adequate for the week. The bathroom is also “compact” with the round shower. You quickly learn how to avoid banging your elbows while showering. Shelves in the bathroom are also adequate for the week. The cabin has the usual small safe and refrigerator (we did not use). The TV is not only for TV shows (CNN International, Fox, ESPN International, etc), but also for reviewing your account, daily schedules, and even messages. You get a daily planner in your cabin the night prior. You need to read it carefully as there are few announcements on the PA system. There is no newspaper; you need to watch TV for news.
It took us a week to get a handle on what is where on the ship. There are maps at each elevator bay. There is a huge childrens/teens area and programs for them. I defer to others with children to comment on this part of the ship.
4. Meals: You have a variety of complimentary dining options besides the main dining room and the Windjammer. It is important, though, that you check out the restaurants on the computer screen at an elevator lobby. The screen will show you the crowd status of each place. In other words, why go to the Windjammer if the screen shows it is full and there are no seats? Our routine for meals was:
Breakfast in the Solarium Bistro.
Lunch varied: Pizza in Sorrentos, burgers in the Wipe Out Café, salads or sandwiches in the Park Café, etc.
We only lunched in the Windjammer once, and that was in St Maarten when the Windjammer had very little business.
Dinner in the main dining room.
We did room service breakfast once. It was fine, but space for it in our cabin was a bit tight.
Food portions at all locations were of respectable size, and if you don’t try to eat all the courses every day, you should not do bad weight-wise. Even the lobster tail at the seafood dinner was of a good size. Our waiter even brought around extra tails without our table asking for them. The wine list is respectable, and wine is available by the bottle or glass.
We had made reservations on-line for the Izumi specialty restaurant. While the food and service were very good, this was not the Tokyo-style Japanese meal that we expected. It was very California.
Besides all the food outlets on board, there are also plenty of bars. We settled on the Viking Crown Lounge on the 17th deck. It was never very busy and had a good group of musicians who rotated through there.
5. Dressing for meals: For this seven day trip it was two formal and five casual. To the men, this meant everything from tuxedos and suits to t-shirts and tennies. The same variety applied to the ladies. If there is a dress code in the main dining room, it is not enforced. A pity…
6. Shore Excursions: We have visited the three ports - Nassau, Charlotte Amalie and Phillipsburg - before, so we booked no shore excursions. It was clear that one should book his excursions on-line before boarding the ship. There were quite some lines at the shore excursion booking area on board. We were five ships at Nassau, but only two each in the other two ports
7. Shipboard entertainment: The ship has a daily schedule full of activities for all tastes: it is all there, including the zip line, which we both did. One observation for ladies who want to try out the Flowriders: The signs at these two venues recommend ladies wear a tank top over their bathing suits. Do it! When you fall off your board, the force of the water can very possibly result in you having a “wardrobe malfunction.”
I recommend you make your reservations for all shows on-line before you board the ship. We saw one of the aquatic shows (“Oasis of Dreams”), “Hair Spray,” and “Come Fly With Me.” All were great!
Musicians rotating through the bars were also very good. We noted three: a solo guitarist, a jazz trio playing a la Santana, and another jazz troupe with singer a la Ella Fitzgerald.
The casino was of good size and the payoffs did not seem to be much worse than Las Vegas. Duty-free liquor on board was reasonable; you order your liquor and it is delivered to your cabin the night before disembarking. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to have your picture taken by the ship’s photographers--pricey, but a good souvenir. There are various venues for night owls.
8. Tipping: Not a problem if you sign up for the recommended amounts (for cabin steward, waiter, asst waiter, and head waiter). The amounts are charged to your shipboard account; you receive vouchers and envelopes before the last night on board. Put the vouchers in the (pre-addressed) envelopes, and hand them out. You’re done. You only need to tip separately (cash) the person who brings your room service breakfast. Your bar bill automatically adds 15 percent.
9. Settling of Accounts: During your cruise, anything you purchase on board is punched into a computer; you sign one copy of the ticket and you receive a copy. You can track your account on the ship’s TV channel. On Saturday morning you receive a paper final statement of your account.
10. Disembarking: The ship promotes carrying off your own luggage – if you can. You get off the ship first (6:15 – 7:30), go through customs/immigration, and you are on your way. For regular disembarkation, bags go out the night before between 7 and 11PM. Regular disembarking is from 6:50 – 9:30AM. While you can stay in your cabin, you will not know when your number is called; thus, you will have to wait in a designated holding area.
We recommend you use the Luggage Valet service. To qualify, you have to fly home on one airline, fly within the US, and your flight must leave Fort Lauderdale after 11:30AM. RCL charges you $20 per bag on top of whatever the airline charges. You get special tags for your luggage. You put your bags out the night before and do not see them again until you arrive at your destination airport. We have used this system twice, and it works perfectly. For this service, we gathered in our own holding area. We walked off the ship at 7:45, boarded the shuttle (extra charge if you use the shuttle) at 8, and arrived at the airport at 8:20.
The only real glitch of the cruise appeared at the end. When you use the Luggage Valet service and pay for the transfer to the airport, you receive NO tickets or vouchers for the shuttle bus. Apparently other people do. Fortunately, the bus driver has a roster of all passengers who have paid for the bus. If your name is not on the roster (ours were not), the driver will ask to see your ship’s bill to prove that you have paid for the bus. This does need to be improved by RCL.
11. Conclusion: A pleasant cruise, except for the crowds. We recommend everyone take this ship (or the Allure) to see what this is all about. We are glad we did, but “been there, done that.” This was our sixth cruise with RCL, and we will continue to sail with them. However, we will stick with the smaller class ships.
If anyone has questions, send me an e-mail at LTC519@satx.rr.com.
San Antonio, TX