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.

Continue reading “Cruise 2016 (Oasis of the seas)”

Family Cruise 2013

Claudine and I really enjoyed our cruise in 2011, and decided this year to take the whole family.  Everyone but Michael was able to go.  That’s right, Claudine and I and 4 kids, on a cruise.


We started the process of looking for a cruise in November, we were hopeful that we could take advantage of the “Friends and Family” rate, since Claudine has a family member who works for Royal Caribbean, but it didn’t work out.

We got the Friends and Family rates for cruises in January and started looking at what was available, the problem is, everything is short notice.  When we got the list it was over the new years day holiday, and we couldn’t get in touch with the FAF coordinator until like 4 days later.   We called Royal Caribbean and there was limited availability to begin with.   It was going to be hard to book the rooms we wanted if we waited.  They worked with us and we booked it.

Flying 6 people was out of the question, even leveraging miles, so we elected to drive.  I originally planned on renting a van, but in the end we decided to just leave a day early and roll the dice with our mini-van.  It worked out well and saved us another bundle of cash.

The ship left from Ft Lauderdale, we left Friday the 11th around 1:30pm, and pretty much drove straight through to Melbourne, Florida where my parents are vacationing and watched the sunrise and had breakfast with them.  Then on to our first over-night in West Palm Beach about an hour from the terminal.   I wanted the extra day just in case.  It was roughly 1200 miles one way.

We had 6 people, and 3 rooms. We could have shoved all 4 kids in a single room but that would not have worked out well, I’m glad we booked it like we did. Claudine and I had a balcony and the kids had connecting interior rooms across the hallway.


The Independence of the Seas is basically the same ship as the Freedom that we sailed on last time.  It’s physically the same but as we learned there were differences other than just the décor.  Maybe it was simply that we were overwhelmed or overly impressed the last time.  I certainly felt the cruise on the Freedom of the seas was all 5 stars.  On Independence it was a mix of 5 star items and 4 star items.   The entertainment for example, was head and shoulders above on the Freedom of the Seas.

This cruise was a 6 night cruise.  3 port days surrounded by cruising days.  We left on a Sunday and returned on a Saturday.  So basically 5 ‘days’ not in the port from which we left.

Our Itinerary was:

  • Sunday Afternoon: Board and depart
  • Monday: Cruising
  • Tuesday: Grand Cayman
  • Wednesday: Cozumel
  • Thursday: Costa Maya
  • Friday Cruising
  • Saturday (AM): Get off the boat.

We spent the first day showing the kids around, and getting oriented, letting them be awed and figure out what they wanted to do.   In all honesty, the first day was half a living hell.  Some of the kids were kinda grumpy, which made me second guess the whole thing. Matthew in particular was completely over stimulated and decided he’d ‘test’ his parents. But by the end of the evening, things had settled and everyone was having fun.  Matthew found his stride in the ‘Aquanauts’ program.  Which is like onboard day-care only a whole lot more fun.  He really enjoyed the activities, and the Royal Caribbean crew in the kids area were outstanding.

The first night was also the first of two formal nights.   Of which we learned that I had no-dress socks.   How’d that happen?  Of course there were none to be had on the ship.  The clothing store on the Freedom had dress socks, ties, lots of things like this.  Even the tailor who rented tuxedo’s didn’t have any.   Grrrr….   So if you ever wondered if you can shove size 10 feet into kids dress socks designed for kids size 13-2.  The answer is yes.  Not very comfortable, nor much fun but it can be, and has been done.


Day 2, was our first port day.  With a stop in Grand Cayman.   We were supposed to stop there during our 2011 cruise but weather didn’t allow it so Claudine and I were really looking forward to it.    We were highly encouraged by friends to do the stingray encounter at stingray city.   We are cheap, so booking excursions through Royal Caribbean has never been our thing.   We considered it since we were taking the kids and that added security of making sure you’ll get back on the boat does have some value.   But none-the-less we chose not too.   At breakfast on day one we met another couple who said you must do the stingray encounter so we decided to make that a top priority.

We weren’t in Grand Cayman that long, we docked at 9am, and were to be back by 3pm.   We got off the ship, the girls hit up the jewelry stores for their free charms then Claudine did her magic, negotiating with the local tour company.  She secured our Stingray encounter for $25 per person, with Matthew being free.   They were advertising the tour for $45, which included transportation to and from the ship, 45 minutes with the stingrays and 45 minutes snorkeling.   The same tour if booked with the ship was well over $75 per person so that was a score.

We hopped in the van which drove us to the pier on the other side of the island.   There we hopped into a fishing boat probably designed to hold 30 people with 54 other people.  It was a tad crowded, but we weren’t going that far.   It was a 20 minute ride out to Stingray City which is a sandbar off the east coast of the island.  Our tour guide, David Evans had a pretty good story about his father and his uncle starting this whole stingray tourist thing and his father diving with Jacque Cousteau back in the day.   I couldn’t tell if it was BS, but do intend to look up what I can.   We arrived at the sandbar, and man, oh man.  Stingrays were everywhere, and huge ones, 4-5 foot stingrays.  Not those babies you get to pet at the Newport aquarium.   The water was crystal clear, and about 3 feet deep between waves.   Matthew was in the water in no-time.   Maria right behind him.  Molly, not so much, and Maggie had no intention of getting in the water.

David and his partner grabbed our group’s stingray.  They held it, tamed it if you will and then proceeded to make sure that every family had encounter time with the animal.  You could feed them if you wanted.  Matthew tried but got a little scared.

They feel like velvet, super smooth, and provided you don’t step on one and make it angry completely safe.

Certainly a highlight of our trip.



After swimming with the rays, they moved us to an area called the Aquarium for snorkeling.  The water was equally clear and about 8-10 feet deep.   We didn’t have gear, and there wasn’t enough gear on the boat to go around.   Matthew and I grabbed life vests and got in the water but since he couldn’t see, nor touch bottom he lost interest quickly.  He was also very tired from the previous 45 minutes in the water.

Claudine, Maggie, Molly, and Maria stayed on the boat during the snorkeling.   All was fine until we started to leave.  One of the boats two engines wouldn’t start and we were already running late.   We putted our way back into the harbor, and the driver made the mad-dash back to the port.   We were told that the last tender would leave promptly at 3pm.   We got back to the port at 2:45 and the line for the tenders was already crazy long.    We got in it, and it quickly became clear that we weren’t the only ones late.   The line behind us continued to grow.   I bet the last person wasn’t onboard until well after 4:30.

The rest of the day was casual, playing putt-putt and just enjoying the cruise.

On Wednesday we had pre-booked a personal tour guide to Cozumel.   Claudine got the contact info for Gerry, from Cruise Critic and Travel advisor.  I highly recommend using him for your day in Cozumel.

We pre-booked him, and his van for 3 hours (minimum) but knew we’d have him for at least 5 hours.   He picked us up at the pier as promised and began telling us about thing things we could do/see on the Island.  Claudine and I have been to Cozumel before, both on our honeymoon and the cruise in 2011 where we rented the scooter of death and rode around the island.

The first thing we needed was something to drink, it was hot 90 degrees and humid.  Gerry took us to a small grocery store and secured for us, 6 large bottles of water and ice for a whopping $3.00.   He could have easily told us to buy drinks from a vendor at the pier but didn’t.  While Gerry was in the store he showed us a park to walk around in that contained an underground river.  One that’s used for scuba training.  Honestly the park was pretty hokey and full of fake animals.  But we did see some turtles, and Gerry pointed out an Iguana.  Matthew enjoyed it.

Our first stop on the Gerry tour was the KAOKAO Chocolate factory.  I personally expected a bigger factory type tour and was very pleasantly surprised. KAOKAO is a small private, family chocolatier.  Joshua spent 45 minutes in a very Discovery Channel like demonstration on the history of chocolate and the work required to get flavor from the beans.   We made our own Cocoa.  Everyone was entertained and the chocolate is delicious.  This is a must-do, if you have time in Cozumel.   You won’t be disappointed.   It’s not free, adults were $10 and kids were $5, Matthew of course was free.   We spent about $70 t0tal including the chocolate that we bought.   I would do this again in a minute, or at least stop and buy chocolate.


After this tour Gerry offered up the Tequila factory tour, 4 wheelers, and the zip line.  I could see where this was going, every time we stopped we’d be shelling out another $100 for a family activity.   This isn’t quite what we had in mind.  We wanted a leisurely day, seeing stuff but really didn’t want to hit up $10 per person activities.  Gerry was cool with that and didn’t push anything, we started heading for the Tequila factory and passed the Zip line on the way.   After determining that the Tequila tour was just a dog and pony show put on by a manufacturer and that unlike the chocolate factory they didn’t actually make it there we decided to pass on that.  We asked him to circle back to the Zip line because the kids were excited about that opportunity. 

The Zip-line was at Ecoparque Cuzam, where you can do a number of things including the zip-line, horseback riding, drinking, ATV’s, swimming and paintball.   We were really only interested in the Zip-line.  We met the owner and negotiated a rate, and off we went.   The guys really took care of the kids, and it was fun and entertaining.   A little pricier than I planned on, but we had a blast.  I know the kids would do it again.


P1160067[1] P1160066[1]


Matthew on the Zip-line 2013_Cruise


From the zip-line we headed across the Island for lunch at Playa Bonita.  It was supposed to be better and more economical than Coconuts. It was good, great view, service was a little suspect. My food was excellent but the girls weren’t really happy. If we had it to do over again we would do Coconuts instead.  It was interesting to learn that there is no electricity on the east side of the island.  Everything, including the restaurants are run off generators, and that’s always been the case.


After lunch we stopped at the beach for a little bit so the kids could climb on the rocks, Matthew could throw rocks, and the girls could look for beach garbage glass. 


Gerry really took care of us.  We’ll certainly use him again.  If you’re ever headed to Cozumel look him up.  Email Eduardo: or call Gerry: (987) 869-0044 Please tell them the Disher Family referred you.

After all of that we were beat, and had Gerry drop us off at the pier.  I brought Matthew back on the ship and the girls did a little shopping.

Thursday, our final port day was a short one.   We docked in Costa Maya at 0700 and were leaving at 3pm.   I wasn’t comfortable taking the family on any Jungle tours.  It was questionable that we could rent anything that would hold 6 of us, and I wasn’t about to shell out big bucks for a 2 hour ride into the jungle on a non air-conditioned school bus to spend 20 minutes at the ruins turn around and come back.   Instead we opted for a beach day.  Claudine did her homework and got us reservations at Tropicante

The place is the perfect Caribbean beach dive.  Food and drinks were good, everything was reasonable, the beach was perfect.  Massages on the beach, 1 hour for $25, you can’t beat that.  No cover charge, our bill for the day with 3 “on the beach” massages was $160.00

We hung out, Matthew only left the ocean to eat.

IMG_0170[1] IMG_0173[1]




The place is run by an American (Steve) that moved there to open his spot 5 years ago.  Contact them and make reservations if you ever find yourself in Costa Maya.  He can also handle all your arrangements for scuba, snorkeling, ruin tours, you name it.   If we had more time we would  have used him for other adventures.

We were back on the boat by 2:30pm, again I took Matthew and Maggie and left Claudine and the other girls to shop.   It was the 2nd of the two formal nights, and I got to suffer in socks too small for the benefit of my family.  But mostly my wife who wanted more pictures.

Friday our final day on the cruise ship was spent recovering from the previous days activities.

We have really enjoyed the ‘Freedom’ class ships.   Our next cruise will be on either the Allure or the Oasis, we may then try a smaller ship but freely admit we’ve been spoiled by the larger ships.

Our final cruise day was non-eventful, it was hella-windy and chilly on deck.  So we didn’t get to swim but we found other things to do, like 72 holes of putt-putt with the girls.


All of the photos can be found here: [on Picasaweb]

Cruising 2011

It had been a long time since Claudine and I had a good long vacation to just ourselves.  Sure we’ve taken a weekend here and there but not a real vacation.   We’ve been keeping an eye out for a deal and saving our vacation pennies since September.  We’ve been looking at all inclusive resorts and other destinations, but after doing the math we decided that we might as well take a cruise.

So, the stars lined up and we booked a Western Caribbean cruise with Royal Caribbean aboard the Freedom of the Seas just two weeks from departure.

Now, keeping things in perspective, the last time we took a cruise was 21 years ago.  A 5 day cruise on the Bermuda Star Lines SS Veracruz.   Now it was a ‘smaller’ ship back then, Carnival and other cruise lines had it beat, but we had a budget and it was still highly rated at the time.  It was an awesome experience.  Sailing to Playa Del Carmen and Cozumel Mexico.   Weighing in at a killer 10,000 Gross Tons.  The newer Freedom of the Seas weighing in at 160,000 gross tons, was going to be a completely different adventure (yeah 16 times larger).

If you read this blog, you know how I tend to write my reviews of things.  I call things how I see them.  At the end of the week we had a fabulous time, and we’ll do it again I’m sure.   If you’re looking for a cruise, thinking about a cruise, there are things you should know and avoid.

First and foremost, Royal Caribbean is first class.  I suggest you book directly with them.  We used a travel agent, and while she didn’t cost much, the value provided was basically non-existent.  The flights she booked were horrible choices, in both timing and accommodations.  Our flight into Orlando landed at 12:36, and the cut-off for the last Royal Caribbean shuttle was 12:30, which meant we had to make alternate accommodations.  Again, not the end of the world, we were originally told we’d have a limo/town car waiting to pick us up.   That turned into; call them when you get there, you shouldn’t have to wait for more than an hour for them to pick you up.   Well, we didn’t have an hour to wait so we found an alternate shuttle.   Not the end of the world but an inconvenience we should have not had to deal with using a travel agent.  After looking at the transfer debacle we did some flight searching and found much better options.   It was too late to change but they were there.

So bypass the agent, you don’t need one to book a cruise.

Pre-buying off ship excursions.   Don’t do it unless you really, really feel the need.   We were told from day one that certain things were ‘sold out’ and other things were ‘filling up so you better book them now’.    In Labadee Haiti, we were told the Zip line was almost 100% booked two weeks before and that the jet boats were already full.   Turns out we could have participated in either the day of had we chosen too.

The one thing we really didn’t like was the over-hyping of activities and the push to get you to sign up for things.  While I realize that some of these things do actually fill up, we honestly had our pick of just about anything we wanted to do.   Also, unless you have a compelling need to be hand-held and given deadlines or step by step instructions for your excursions, you can almost certainly do better doing it yourself.  Example: the excursion to the Duns River falls in Ocho Rios Jamaica was $80 per person, plus your $15 entrance into the falls ($95.00 each) and you’d be there with 60 or more other strangers being ushered up the falls.    We got a cab to the falls for $14 each, that included taking us there, picking us up, dropping us off in the shopping district, picking us up again and taking us to the pier.  Our cost for the same thing on our time was $29 per person.

Our story starts with an very early flight out of Dayton International Airport.  One of the best places to fly out of and into because it’s so small.   The security check point has one of the body scanners.  When they say take ‘everything’ out of your pockets, they mean everything.   I left cash in my front pocket, the scanner picked that up and earned me a shake down and a talking too.  Other than that it was a pretty plain airport security experience.

From Dayton we flew into Atlanta, with a 1 and a half hour lay over.   (Note to travel agents, there is no reason NOT to fly people from Cincy to Orlando ‘direct’.   No need to take a 2 hour flight and make it a 6-8 hour experience).

From Atlanta to Orlando, pretty routine.   We grabbed our Luggage, called our shuttle, had to wait about 20 minute, but got to the pier with an hour to spare.   We were on-board by 3pm.

Our first impression of the ship, or at least mine was “Holy Cow, this thing is big”.  We were parked in Port Canaveral, next to two Carnival cruise ships which were quite small in comparison.

I didn’t get a shot that showed them both together, but the size difference was significant.

Our room was in the bottom of the boat (Deck 2), which initially I wasn’t excited about.   We’d hoped for an upgrade, but the ship was full, and no such upgrade presented itself.   We had a rather large portal window and the close proximity to the elevators made it work out well.

All ship rooms are somewhat small, but we found ours to be very comfortable.   The online photo showed a couch in the room, but that turned out to be a chair.  With only two people it was very comfortable.  Four would have been too crowded.



After getting settled, we waited for our luggage and took a tour of the ship.  Not a guided tour, just a walk around and get your bearings.  Where are the stairs, elevators, bathrooms, bars, and most importantly where is the Casino?

We also wandered up to the Spa to book our first massage.  We got roped into a Spa tour, which sucked.  It was each station, hocking their wares, from massages to facials and even Botox, if you wanted it.  Of course everyone claimed they filled up quickly so book your appointment NOW.  We really didn’t like the hard sell every time we turned around.  We did take advantage of a first day special that let us book our couples massage early and save a little money.   We booked our massage for Monday morning and then got out of the Spa as quickly as possible.

With all of that out of the way we waited for the mandatory lifeboat drill.   My cruise tip for you:  Don’t be early to the drill, we stood around on deck for nearly an hour waiting for it to get started.  Once you’re in your designated spot you aren’t permitted to leave until the drill is over and the Captain is happy.



Continue reading “Cruising 2011”