My cruise aboard the largest ship in the world
By Howard S. Moses
I recently returned from a vacation cruise aboard the Oasis of the Seas with my 9-year-old son and my parents. (My kids attend schools with different vacation schedules, so alas another year of platooning with my wife over spring break.)
As a veteran of almost 25 years in the business, and roughly 200 cruises, to say I'm a little jaded about cruising would be an understatement. It takes a lot to get me excited. Like many veteran cruisers, I tend to prefer smaller to mid-sized vessels and their relative tranquility and high-touch service. I took this cruise solely with my sons enjoyment in mind, with very little thought as to my own experiences on this vacation.
To put it mildly, the Oasis is enormous. In my mind I envisioned long lines for everything and a cacophony of screaming kids for the 7 days ahead of us. After all, it was spring break, and the ship was completely sold out - over 6,200 guests on board, and a report of over 1,000 kids. Relaxation didn't enter into the equation for me.
Upon arrival at Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale I envisioned long lines at check-in, a torturous process under the best of circumstances, after an already long day of travel. We showed up at 1:00 - prime time for check-in. The staff courteously ushered us up to an available staffer who checked us in immediately. The new port facility at Port Everglades is state-of-the-art, and it really shows.
Getting around the ship is surprisingly easy and within a day or so, we all could locate pretty much everything. For those who are perpetually lost on cruise ships, the Oasis has a wonderful interactive system located throughout the ship which not only displays where everything is, but also will provide specific instructions on how to get there. In addition, the "Whats Happening Now" is a great feature telling guests when and where the ships activities are taking place.
We dined in the main dining room most nights and found the service to be quite good, and the food to be better than expected. We selected the "My Time" dining option, which essentially allowed us to enter the dining room whenever we chose - a choice we were very happy about once on board.
My son unfortunately has a severe peanut and tree nut food allergy, and the dining room was most conscientious and adept at dealing with this issue. One evening we elected to pay the extra charge to dine at Chops and found it to be a steakhouse experience rivaling any land-based option. Another night we got in from port late and didnt feel like changing for dinner, so we went right to the Windjammer Cafe. I was very impressed with the quality and selection of foods available, and it was nice to come and go as we pleased. There are several other pay dining options, which we didn't have the opportunity to enjoy (the perils of traveling with a 9-year-old), which I heard anecdotally were excellent as well.
This is where the Oasis really shined. In all of my years and numerous cruises, this is the first cruise ship entertainment which was at the level of productions one would pay to see. The three which stood out for us were the 2 diving shows, the ice skating show and the production of Hairspray. I was told the comedy club was quite good as well, but didn't personally have the opportunity to see any of those shows.
NOTE: I HIGHLY recommend that you make reservations for the shows in advance of the cruise (via Royal Caribbeans web site), as at most venues those who did not were forced to wait in line until those with prior reservations were seated. There's no paperwork to keep up with, the information is contained on your room key card, and they just scan you in when you arrive.
These vessels feature a plethora of balcony stateroom options. Should you have the means and inclination, I highly recommend this type of stateroom. Its nice to be able to sit outside and read, have breakfast or just watch the goings on in port. Our stateroom, a Category D6, was very comfortable, well designed, and featured a wonderful flat-screen, interactive TV with a lot of channel options.
Due to the nature of ships this size, the ports visited are those where the ship can dock (as opposed to tender). In addition, we weren't the only ship in port. As such, I HIGHLY recommend that you make some type of arrangement in terms of a shore excursion - either through Royal Caribbean or a 3rd party vendor. We hired a driver for the day in St. Maarten and it was nice to get away from the throng and enjoy what the island had to offer. In our case, we ended up at a beach frequented solely by the locals, which wasn't busy and was quite lovely.
As I mentioned previously, even though the ship was chock-a-block full, we rarely noticed large crowds or long lines. A few times in port the wait to board became a bit tedious, but the design of the ship is such that it spreads people all around so you never see large crowds congregating in one area. At the pool, we were always able to find a couple of chairs.
The ship felt completely safe and as the week progressed I gave my son a longer leash. Kids were everywhere onboard, many supervised but many others unsupervised. Truthfully I cannot imagine a safer environment to let younger kids experience a bit of freedom. Royal Caribbean staff were everywhere, including a large security presence, which gave me a nice sense of confidence.
The ship is very family friendly, and the kids programs reflect that. Every evening we received a sheet describing all of the kids programming options for the coming day. My son isn't one to join in kids programs, but did so at my urging one morning at sea. He said it wasn't fantastic, but just ok. I heard from many other parents that their kids fully enjoyed the kids programming. I noticed that Royal Caribbean's kids program features smaller age ranges so that kids in each area weren't too young or too old. I counted 25 kids in the 8-10 age bracket in the program he participated in.
Amazingly this is my only complaint. Rather than having a towel station as guests are debarking the vessel in port, you are required to obtain towels poolside (Deck 14!) at only one location, and return them to the same location before 10pm, lest you be charged $25 for each towel. This is highly inconvenient and I did hear a number of complaints.
It struck me that given the size of the Oasis and Allure (a similar-sized sister ship), Royal Caribbean had no choice but to rethink every aspect of the mechanics of cruising in order to accommodate the large numbers. It became abundantly clear that they rethought every aspect of the cruise experience, with an eye towards making the guest experience seamless and relaxing. If my experience is any indication, they have done a marvelous job managing the entire process so that many times you wonder where everyone was, the ship just didn't seem that crowded.
In closing, this is a GREAT family vacation. During my week aboard the Oasis I noticed lots of adults (both parents and grandparents) and kids having fun, both together and apart. There is so much to do on board that there truly is something for everyone. I was able to relax, wasnt overwhelmed, and at the same time my son loved the whole experience (having announced that we should consider living aboard the Oasis!).
In this case, the ship IS the destination, and she did not disappoint.
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