Background: We are a family of four from Baltimore: myself (52), DW (51). DD (20) and DS (14). DD and DS are very active and love water sports. This is our 4th cruise: two with Carnival and two with RC. We sailed from Aug20-27, 2011.
Pre-cruise: We flew to Ft. Lauderdale the day before and stayed with Sheraton at Ft. Lauderdale beach. The taxi fare from airport to the hotel was about $20 and from the hotel to Port Everglade was about $15. The hotel is right on the beach and my stay was excellent. However, the hotel is kind of isolated and it takes about 20min to walk to Las Olas Blvd where lots of shops and restaurants are located.
Embarkation: We arrived at the cruise port at around 10:00am. Check-in was fast and we waited in the waiting area and were allowed to board the ship at 11:00am.
Reversed Itinerary: Because the anticipation of hurricane (Irene), the captain decided to reverse our port visits: at sea (day2), Cozumel (day3), at sea (day4), Falmouth (day5), Labadee (day6) and at sea (day7). On regular itinerary, the formal nights are on day2 and day5. During our cruise, the formal nights were on day 2 and day 6. In retrospect, the captain's decision was correct: every day was sunny. We did not feel the impact of hurricane Irene during our cruise.
Food: We did not visit any restaurant with surcharge. We tried almost all free food venues. Breakfast: Dreamwork character at MDR, Johnny Rockets (cook to order; free OJ is better than Windjammer), Park Cafe (cream cheese and bagels), Windjammer (lots of choices but average quality, no more omelet station), Solarium Bistro (healthier breakfast with fresh fruit salad and turkey bacon). Lunch: Solarium Bistro, Windjammer, Park cafe (our best choice because of roast beef and salad). Wipeout Cafe (hamburgers, fries, hotdogs and nachos). We also like the jerk chicken served during lunch on Labadee. Dinner: We had my time dining. Because we reserved the same time (5:45pm) every day, we had the same table and same waiter/assistant waiter every day. The food was generally good. Perhaps I have lowered my expectation as I know that cruise lines try hard to trim their food cost and encourage passengers to eat at fee-restaurants. Yes, the food portion seemed to be smaller than they used to be as I compared with my previous cruise experience on other ships, but this was not a big deal as you could order as much as you would like to consume. Snacks: free small sandwiches and desserts were served in Cafe Promenade and Mondo coffee bar. The free fruit tart from Mondo coffee bar is a must try but it was only served every other day during cruise. Pizzas from Sorrento were also excellent. We did not try room service.
Entertainment: Shows, Hairspray (Broadway musical), Frozen in Time (ice-skating), Oasis of the Dreams (diving), Come Fly with me and the headliner show by Rom Lucas (puppet show) were all excellent. The second headliner show was hosted by Kelley James (singer). Some audience enjoyed it but I found it OK and my DW did not like it at all. The love and marriage show was hilarious. The Comedy diving show was excellent. The belly flop contest was great and our CD, Richard Spacey did a great job. We did not attend the comedian show. My only complaint is that the first two 3D movies were scheduled at 6:00pm and this was in conflict with our dining. The third 3D movie was scheduled at 2:00pm on a sea day. We were excited but were welcomed by the broken projector when we got there (Opal theatre). No more 3D movie was rescheduled for the rest of the cruise.
Activities: Mini golf, basketball court and table tennis were always crowded. My kids played once each with rock-climbing and zip-line and spent most of their time with boogie boarding (flowRider) and on sundeck/pools. They did not take any lessons for flowRider. WARNINGS: Girls/Ladies with bikini: make sure you wear T-shirt and short pant. There is a very high chance that your bikini top might slip by strong current during boogie boarding. Boys/men: tighten your swim trunk. I am not joking and these incidences happen every day.
Quiet places on ship: The Viking Crown Lounge (beautiful view), Loft lounge and the Pinnacle Chapel (all on deck 17) were all quiet during the day and were seem to be forgotten. Concierge lounge (deck 11) was open to everyone after 5:00pm. Library and card room were occasionally quiet.
Ports of calls: Cozumel was among the best. We hired a taxi for 4hr to a city tour, Mayan ruins, tequila tour (Sample different variety of tequila) and beach with free snorkeling equipment for $120 (shared by 6). Falmouth was the worst port as nothing interested us around it. Ochos Rios is an hour away and we had been to the Dunn's River Fall before. We just walked around shops within the port. Labadee was OK. Some beach areas in Labadee were full of pointed shells and wearing a pair of water shoe would help. The best beach area was around the water park where sand quality and view were much better. RC provided free hot food (burgers, hotdogs, jerk chicken, ribs, vegetables, fruits and drinks) from 11:00 am-1:00pm.
Photo packages: Each photo (8x10) causes $20. They also sell photo book for $175 and the photo-book is theme (different areas of the ship)-oriented. We took a lot of pictures (122) and bought all pictures on CD for $300. We had two CDs for all our pictures. However, the photo software on Disc 1 was corrupted and was not able to launch the software and view my pictures on this CD. I sent an email to mycruisephoto.com but they were not responsive. Luckily, the photo software on disc2 works. I copied the photos from disc1 and photo software from disc2 to an USB drive and re-built the "disc1". I was then able to retrieve all my expansive pictures I paid for.
Post-cruise: Our flight was initially scheduled on 11:25am on Aug27 (Sat). We did not hurry. No one banged our door nor did we hear any announcement inside our cabin. We got up at 7:30pm, went to Solarium for breakfast and waited for our numbers to be called. We left the ship by 9:00am and were at the FLL airport by 9:30am ($12 taxi fare). When we checked in, we found out that our flight to Baltimore was cancelled because of hurricane Irene. Southwest re-scheduled our flight on Sunday evening (Aug 28). Luckily FLL airport provides free and excellent wifi internet access. We managed to book using our laptop an extra hotel night in Riverside hotel through Priceline ($45+tax/fee). We also rented a car for our extra day in Fort Lauderdale. We visited Sawgrass Mill Outlet Mall but we did not think it was worth as we have a similar outlet mall in our neighborhood in Baltimore. On Sunday, we managed to get home by mid-night. However, the flights to Newark, New York and Philadelphia were still cancelled on Aug28.
Conclusion: We like Oasis of the Seas. We prefer big ships than regular size ship because big ships can run multiple activities at the same time. We like to pick what they want to do and plan our days during the cruise. We did not buy any travel insurance and we will consider it for my next trip/cruise.