This was our fourth family cruise and first on RCL. Our previous 3 cruises were all on Carnival: Liberty and Carnival Dream (2). We had not cruised as a family in over 5 years, opting instead for some wonderful all inclusive resort ... Read More
This was our fourth family cruise and first on RCL. Our previous 3 cruises were all on Carnival: Liberty and Carnival Dream (2). We had not cruised as a family in over 5 years, opting instead for some wonderful all inclusive resort vacations. We figured it was time to give cruising another try. Our twin boys are now 11 years old and the cruise experience would be MUCH different than it was when they were 5. Although all three of our Carnival cruises were superb, we wanted to see how RCL compared and also experience a MEGA ship.
Obviously, the ship itself is remarkable. I am not sure I would insist on the same class/size ship next time, but it certainly is something that every cruiser should experience at least once. The ship itself was easy to navigate, and although we covered every corner of the ship multiple times, it was still exciting to explore even on the last night. Lots of options for activities for 11-12 year olds but one thing we really missed was the waterslide (should have chosen the Harmony). Our kids were too light for the zip line and only tried flow rider twice. A water slide would have occupied them each day for an hour or two. My kids didn't go back to the Adventurer Camp once after the first night, but were happy with the pools, lazy river pool thingy, the shows, and the ports we visited. I think they also liked learning the ship and having the freedom to explore on their own which they did a lot. It was also nice to be able to send the kids back to the room to pick up the sunscreen, or get their own slice of pizza!
Overall we were happy with the RCL experience, but constantly compared it to our experience 5 years ago on Carnival. I know that the industry has changed in 5 years, so maybe it is not a fair comparison, but I can honestly say that besides the ship itself, we weren't impressed by the dining and service and staff compared to previous Carnival cruises. Like others, we grew tired of the nickel and diming, constant sales pitch for specialty restaurants and spa services - felt like walking down the beach in Roatan!
Amazing! We arrived at the curb at port at 10:40 AM and quickly made it up to our waiting area where we sat and waited. Boarding started at 11 AM and it is fun to watch the boarding process move along and can see your "time" getting closer. We were on the ship shortly after 11:30.
The Windjammer (WJ) was good for breakfast and lunch (what we expected for a ship buffet). The MDR was just ok for the 4 dinners we ate there. For specialty dining, we ate at Chops, 150 Central and Sabor. Not sure I would bother with any of these again. Last time I checked, $50 can get you a decent steak at a land-based steakhouse and Chops was no better in my opinion. Sabor was very tasty, but $60 for 2 adults and 2 kids seemed VERY excessive for tacos!!! I always thought that at the specialty restaurants you were paying just the incremental cost of a better meal but it felt like it was no "deal" at all. Next time we will save our money and not bother with specilaty restaurants, instead, we'll have a pre cruise meal at Ruth Chris and just stick to the MDR/WJ on board!
Except for Nassau, we had been to all the ports before and knew what we wanted to do in each port (NO planned excursions).
In Nassau we walked to Junkaroo beach. We just plopped our towels on the sand and didn't bother renting an umbrella and chairs. A few bars had some great deals for chairs + beers but we did it on the cheap! Nice, calm, clear water, not the prettiest spot but the price was right! It was a solid 20 minute walk and pretty hot even at 9 AM with no breeze. The walk back was much easier with a little ocean breeze, but we did cool off in the AC of a shop or two on the way back. We were back on the ship for lunch and enjoyed a not-so-crowded pool deck for a few hours! We didn't spend a dime in Nassau and would recommend this for people who want a cheap/free port!
In Cozumel, we got off the ship right away and took a taxi ($17) to Paradise Beach ($3 per person for entrance fee). We had the place to ourselves for the first hour. Did some snorkeling around the pier, not a whole lot to see. Then the kids spent some time on the inflatables and kayaking ($18 per person for use of beach toys, kayaks, etc). We had a light lunch and a bucket of beers on the beach and spent an hour at the pool before returning to port. The waters at the Cozumel port are mesmerizing, beautiful!
In Roatan we took a $60 (round trip for 4 ppl) cab to West Bay Beach and paid $10x4 for a spot at Bananrama. Love this beach! The place is alive and beautiful. Lots of vendors, but we knew about it and were never bothered by it. We walked 5 minutes down the beach and found some great off the beach snorkelling over live coral heads. Just walk south (left if facing water) down the beach until you see the guided tours of snorkellers swimming out. No charge to do a self guided trip! They were offering $20-25 per person boat tours to a few "better" reef spots which I was considering, but the off beach snorkeling was good enough for us!
Costa Maya was our last stop and we walked out of the port to take an $8 taxi to Mahahual. We didn't make reservations but ended up at Tropicante. Service was friendly and amazing, food was ok, prices were fair! Tropicante and their neighboring competitors seemed to have done the best job of clearing their beachfront, some stretches of beach hadn't been cleaned up that day. The town had heavy equipment assisting with the seaweed clean up (dumptrucks to haul it away) we were among the first cruise passengers off the ship, so we saw the operation in progress. They have installed a netting about 75-100 feet from shore to hold back the seaweed which does initially take away from the view a little, but keeps the beach clean during the day.
Cabin: We had a 14th deck aft Balcony cabin. The location was fine - we liked being on the 14th deck because we could easily take the stairs 1-2 flights to the WJ or Pool deck.
Staff: Hard working as always, but we didn't find the staff particularly engaging or overly friendly. On previous cruises we were taken aback at how friendly the crew were. On Carnival I remember the guy cleaning your plates at the buffet would stop and ask you how your trip was going and interact with the children. The guy polishing the handrail at 7 AM would stop what he was doing and smile when you passed by - it was one thing we remembered about our previous Carnival cruises. On Oasis, I could count 3 times when our server was more than just "transactional", on each of these three occasions, they always followed up requesting that we mention THEIR name on our surveys explaning their compensaton/bonus structure. That felt very contrived.
Debarkation: This left a black mark on our trip because of almost 2.5 hours waiting for non US customs clearance caused us to miss our flight home out of MIA. We were under the impression that our debarkation group was assigned based on our flight time that we provided to RCL when booking. We were assigned an 8:30 AM debarkation group for a 12:20 flight out of MIA (which seemed reasonable so I didn't question it). We debarked at 8:30 but only finally cleared customs at 11:00 AM! When we realized we were going to miss our flight we asked one of the attendants managing the priority lines and she said she couldn't help us. We asked another attendent after waiting another 30 minutes, who helped us move to the front of the line, but we still missed our flight. In all of my research, I never fathomed that it could take 2.5 hours to clear customs, but BIG lesson learned for me!
Overall this cruise renewed our interest in cruising. Although I am not entirely sold on the merits of RCL vs Carnival, I certainly would consider an Oasis class ship when planning our next cruise. Read Less