Cruise 2016 (Oasis of the seas)

This year Claudine and I decided we needed our own vacation.  So just like 5 years ago we booked a cruise.  This time on the Oasis of the seas, Royal Caribbean’s largest ship to date.  (At the time I’m writing this the Oasis class is still the largest ship, there is dispute over which one of the ships is actually the largest, it might be the Allure).

This blog post will be about the highlights of our cruise, it’s not going to be a review of the cruise or the ship.  That will come later.  The short review is simply this:

We love cruising, we love the all inclusive nature, with the opportunity to see multiple ports of call, good food, good atmosphere, add in the rocking of the boat and it’s the best sleep you’ll ever get.

This cruise was not without its challenges.  In short, it is unlikely we’ll ever cruise on the Oasis again.  We might try the Allure, but not the Oasis.  This has nothing to do with cruising itself, but Royal dropped the ball more than a few times on this trip.   We heard from plenty of other passengers including a few that had previously sailed the Oasis and other Oasis class ships that this was below their normal expectations for service and quality.  It is unclear to me if this is a company wide issue or if it’s an issue with this ship.  In the past we found our trip on the Freedom of the seas to be a 10 out of 10, the same ship (Indy) was more like an 8 out of 10 with respect to service/entertainment.   Using the same scale, the Oasis probably only scores a 6.5-7, and that’s not ‘awesome’.   Still at the end of the day, you’re on a cruise ship!, and it was still hella fun, and still an outstanding value.    Details on this will come later.

We booked our 7 night, Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Oasis of the seas through Costco.  Including flights from Cincy to Fort Lauderdale we were all in for a little less than $3000 USD ($2400 for the cruise/$600 air fare).  This was an upper ‘superior view balcony stateroom’.  I’m sure this isn’t the ‘ultimate deal’ but it was in our minds a pretty good deal.

We flew down one day ahead of time because we wanted to avoid the stress that comes with flying in the same day you depart, anything can go wrong and if anything goes wrong you’re about to have a bad vacation.

We landed the day before and spent the night in Fort Lauderdale Renaissance hotel by Marriot using points so it was essentially free.  We took an uber ride from the airport to the hotel for $13.00.

We spent that day taking the sun trolley to Fort Lauderdale beach and kicked around there for a while.  That evening we met my cousin Sally and her husband Dave for dinner.  It was a great way to ease into the vacation.

There was a shuttle from the hotel to the cruise ship port for $6.00 per person.  We arrived at the port early (about 10am), ahead of the crowd.  We basically walked right in, registered and sat for about 45 minutes before they let us board around 11:30am.

Our room was 12178, 12th floor room 178, port side front of the ship fairly close to the elevators.

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The first day (Saturday) was fairly uneventful, walking around getting used to the ship and how to get where you want to go or need to go.  The mandatory muster drill at our station was also uneventful.  It was odd to me that there were no life jackets in the room what-so-ever and all were located at muster stations.  Our muster station was inside the sports bar.

This ship holds almost 6000 people or about twice as many as the Freedom class which were the last two ships we sailed.  The ratio of crew to passengers is allegedly higher, but only percentage points higher.  It sure didn’t feel that way.

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Somewhere along the way we were not assigned a table in a dining room.  The first night we were seated at a temporary table.  The food was good but service was suspect.  The dining room and kitchen was quite chaotic.  We’d hoped this would settle down in the coming evenings.  We wandered the ship, sat and watched the Aqua show rehearsals, had the best Margarita I’d ever had at the specialty restaurant Sabors on the boardwalk.

Morning of day 2 (Sunday) was a port day in  Nassau.

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The boat was docked when we got up just after sunrise.  This was a relatively short stop, were were only going to be in port from 7am – 2pm with all-aboard at 1:30pm.   Since our only goal at this stop was to visit the Rum distillery we didn’t rush to be first off the boat.  We did disembark about 8:00 am and walked through town and across the beach where Claudine found a plethora of sea glass.  (aka sea garbage that the ocean has rock tumbled into something smooth thereby making it look somewhat treasure like).

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Claudine shopping at The Sea Glass Emporium:

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I scored big time, finding the ever elusive sea die, sea marble, and sea quarter.

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After a few hours of sea garbage picking we made it up to the distillery for their free tour.   The John Watlings distillery makes 3 kinds of rum and a vodka.  They don’t export so if you want some you better buy it there.   It was good but we elected to not deal with the hassle of brining back bottles of booze on the ship or the plane. After the tour we walked back into town, and did a small bit of shopping.  I picked up a half dozen hand wrapped cigars that are out of this world.

Evening was a formal night, and even though I had said our next cruise would be casual, I picked up a couple sport coats and wasn’t the red neck yall think I am.

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This evening also included the Broadway musical Cats! on board.   It was absolutely the worst thing I have ever seen.  The actors/dancers were great.  What a waste of talent.  I do not understand how this stayed on Broadway for 18 years.   We made it through the first half, and about 15 minutes of the 2nd and just couldn’t take it anymore.

The next morning (Monday) was a sea day.  We got up early, hit the Starbucks on board and sat in the Central Park waiting for the Park Café to open for breakfast.

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The bulk of Monday was spent being cruise vegetables hanging out in the solarium.

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Basically up there and/or on our balcony.  We also participated in a Lafite wine tasting which was fairly nice.  We tasted 4 wines from this winery in the Bordeaux region.  2 of the 4 were excellent.

The 4th day (Tuesday) was a port day in St. Thomas.

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Our plan for this day was to get off the ship which docked in Charlotte Amalie, (Krum Bay to be exact), catch a cab to Red Hook, then a ferry to St. John, then another taxi to Trunk Bay, one of the top 6 beaches in the world.

We were one of the first off the ship and beat feet to the taxi area.  Sadly the only taxi’s are these open air trucks/vans, where they cram 10-12-16 people in one vehicle all headed to the same place.  So you’re waiting for them to fill the bus, so to speak.

The ride to Red Hook took about 30 minutes.  We had read ferry’s ran every 30 minutes from Red Hook to St. Johns, but on this day they were only every hour on the hour.  We got to the ferry terminal at 10:55am and missed the 11:00 ferry.

We were able to grab the 12 pm ferry, and a short taxi ride later were at Trunk Bay.  Sadly the recent weather and ocean conditions had been rough.  The snorkel trail was closed and the surf was up at Trunk bay.

The photos don’t really do it justice the surf was quite brutal and swimming was discouraged.  The water was not ‘clear blue’ it was actually quite cloudy from all the churning.

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After a few hours of relaxing and swimming at trunk bay, we took a taxi back to the Cruz bay, and traded the back half of our round trip ferry ticket in for a one way back to Charlotte Amalie to bypass the tax ride.

The ferry dropped us off in the shopping district where we had the best Ahi tuna tacos at the Side Street Pub.  After that we finished off the day by doing some long awaited diamond shopping.  Claudine had been waiting to replace her engagement ring since she lost it about 5 years ago and now was the time.

It was a great day.

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A view of Central Park on the ship at night:

IMG_4430 That evening we cheated on the Sushi Monk and ate at the Hibachi/Sushi restaurant on board, Izumi.

We ordered their three signature rolls and they were all outstanding.

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The fifth day (Wednesday) was our stop in St. Maarten and another absolutely beautiful day.

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It is absolutely amazing how maneuverable this large ship is.  They literally spun it around and backed it into this spot.

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The plan for this stop was to take a 4 hour boat and snorkel tour with Captain Alan.  However the weather which made trunk bay unswimmable had affected St. Maarten as well.  Captain Alan along with all the others had cancelled their snorkel trips because the water was too cloudy and disturbed, and the swells were “unsafe”.   They were willing to substitute a four hour boat tour but we decided against that.  We didn’t want to sit on a small boat for 4 hours.

We circled back to the information booth and asked for the best/most quiet, kid free beach and were directed to Pinel Island.

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So we hopped in a cab, for a 30 minute ride to the bay that has a ferry boat to Pinel island.  We met another couple (Rich and Pam) who were on the Celebrity cruise ship also in port and sort of teamed up with them for the day.

That cab ride was uneventful, and normally Pinel is quiet, but today it was quite packed because all the other beaches were unswimmable.  We heard from multiple guests who went to Orient beach that they couldn’t get in the water.

$12 US each got us round trip passage on these awesome shuttle boats.

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On the island itself was a beach on a point with two bars both renting lounges and chairs.  We opted for Karibuni, and if we had it to do over again we’d just go to the one by the dock, Yellow Beach, or simply hike over to the other side of the island.  The beach was nice though.

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We also wandered over the nature trail which was amazing.  Crazy wonderful views.

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And then it happened, I stubbed the hell out of my left big toe, tore it open and it was bleeding like crazy.  Using the knowledge from all the survival shows I’ve watched, we wrapped it up in a leaf and and tied it off with some sea garbage string and hobbled back to the bar where I was able to procure a legitimate bandage.

We caught the next ferry back to the mainland about 3pm, and another taxi ride back to the port.  Did a little more shopping (for band aids) and called it a day.

We didn’t eat at the dining room, we just sort of picked on things here and there.

The 6th day (Thursday) was our second sea day and final formal day.  We started with coffee on the balcony, followed by more Solarium time.  Lunch was had a Giovanni’s a specialty restaurant on Central Park.   Quite possibly the best meal of the trip and it was only lunch.

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Dinner was Lobster night so we surf and turfed it.   I had a formal wardrobe malfunction, the sole of my left shoe decided to depart from the upper, which made walking after dinner neigh impossible.  So we ditched the dress up clothes and just hung around the boat.  It wasn’t until this day that we found the marvelous hangout spot on the running deck at the back of the boat behind the aqua theater.

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The entertainment for the evening was the comedy club on board which was outstanding.

Our final day (Friday) was also a sea day.   Friday started with a behind the scenes tour.  We started at the aqua theater, which itself was pretty cool, we saw the kitchens, the laundry, the food storage areas, the engine control room, the crew food area, and their night club and the bridge.  The tour took about 3 hours and was well worth it.  It wasn’t cheap but we’d recommend it.

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The remainder of the day was spent in the atrium, hanging out, relaxing, reading and hot-tubbing.

We finished off with dinner at Johnny Rockets which was actually quite good.

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(Note photo actually from Johnny Rockets for breakfast, one of the few places you can get eggs cooked to order on the ship)

Our room steward, Lambert, enjoyed us as much as we enjoyed him.  He gave us a bottle of wine that a previous cruiser had left behind.

So I wrapped up my cruise with a glass of wine and a hand rolled celebratory cigar allegedly of Cuban origin.

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Until next time…

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