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Suggestions for Newbies - Oasis Review - E. Caribbean - Feb '18

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@Matt - Thanks for suggesting on your last podcast that we reproduce this cruise review email in the discussion boards.  Yeah, it's lengthy, but we hope some newbies, or others who have not tried Oasis-class ships, will find some helpful suggestions from our first cruise on this wonderful, ginormous vessel...

My wife and I have greatly enjoyed your podcast and the awesome website as we got back into cruising earlier this year.  Your advice and advice from others on the message boards greatly enhanced our cruise experience.  We provide our key takeaways at the end.

Prior to our eastern Caribbean cruise on Oasis this February-March, we had only experienced Monarch of the Seas as chaperones for a local high school group trip in early 2010.  We were quite impressed with that ship--the biggest/best from 1990--when we sailed her almost a decade ago.  But we could not fully anticipate the staggering hugeness of Oasis when we first walked up to and boarded her.  You can view all the videos and see all the photos you want, but that can't replicate the visceral impact seeing this beautiful behemoth in person. 

We flew to Orlando the day before embarkation at Port Canaveral and took a van from a travel company from the airport to our hotel in Cocoa Beach--cost was equivalent to Uber and we were the only riders Yes, heed the advice of many and arrive in town the day before if you can't drive to the port.  Peace of mind for making your cruise on time without a panic-filled dash is worth much more than a night's hotel stay!   

Although Royal notified us to arrive at the terminal for boarding between 12:00 and 1:00 p.m., we took your advice and arrived early at the terminal, by 10:00 a.m., and were quickly processed and received our Sea Pass cards.  RC staff want to get passengers processed efficiently and did not ask about our scheduled time-slot for boarding as we thought they might.  We received a Gold C&A member boarding card (labelled "Gold-3" to be exact) and did not have to wait long in the main room for the boarding process to begin, starting with Suite guests and working down the C&A ladder from Pinnacle to Gold.  It took maybe 30 minutes at most to get to gold member boarding.  Being pretty geeked out by now, we got our photo taken while boarding and were on the ship by about 11:15 a.m.  

Entering the ship on the Deck 5 Royal Promenade--a cool, glitzy three-deck-high space running up the middle of about half of the ship--we noticed the Globe and Atlas Pub, which called to us to baptize our pre-purchased ultimate drink package.  

Based on RC blog advice, we headed first to a specialty restaurant in Central Park on Deck 8 to make dining reservations for the cruise--this was much quicker than waiting in line at one of the restaurant reservation desks temporarily set up in the Royal Promenade.  We pre-purchased the 3-night specialty dining package and had already scheduled 150 Central Park for dinner on day 2.  We had no line at the desk at Giovanni's and booked a dinner there and at Chop's for times later in the cruise that would work well with our show reservations.

From there we strolled across Central Park and had lunch at Park Cafe with only a 10 minute wait -- yes, those roast beef sandwiches at Park Cafe are fabulous!   We then went up top and regaled in the views from the solarium, and areas for the main pools and wave runners on Decks 15 & 16.  

Our stateroom was open around 1:15 p.m.  We had reserved a balcony room (14204) at the start of the bump in the middle of the port side on Deck 14.  On our previous cruise, we stayed on Deck 3 in a small stateroom with a small window.  A balcony 14 decks up provides an awesome vantage point—almost vertigo-inducing!

My wife's luggage had arrived by then -- not at our stateroom door, but a ways down the corridor with a group of other luggage.  Mine was not yet available.  We met our room steward who told us it might take until 6:00 p.m. for all luggage to be delivered, which seemed odd as our luggage was on the same cart to begin with and I had intentionally avoided bringing in any items I knew were forbidden by RC (more on that later).

After we checked out our stateroom, we headed to the main dining room on Deck 4 to see if we could switch from My Time dining to traditional dining at the earlier seating (5:30 PM), because this would work better with the shows we had reserved, and from our perception through some podcasts that My Time dining could take a bit longer than traditional. We spoke to a head waiter at the desk near the entrance to the dining room and he had no problem assigning us to fill out an eight-person table for traditional dining, which worked well for us and gave us a good opportunity to meet some other cruisers.

After a bit more exploring and checking for my luggage – still had not arrived yet – we attended the muster drill and caught some of the sail-away festivities from the Deck 14 forward wing viewing area (another Oasis tip we learned from the RC Blog website). One last check for my luggage before we headed down to traditional dining.  After a nice meal, we headed back to the room before we were to go to our first show of the cruise, Cats in the Opal Theater at 8:30 PM.  When we arrived at our stateroom door, I saw the dreaded notice that I had to go down to the security baggage checking area on Deck 2 before 8 PM to get my luggage and it was already 7:45 PM by this time.  I dashed down to Deck 2 and was instructed to open my bag and learned, to my surprise, that a short three-outlet extension cord was the contraband item. I was well aware that any liquor (besides two bottles of wine) or any appliance that created heat or a power strip were forbidden. RC staff calmly put up with my dumbfounded protestations and showed me the fine print where it did indeed state that extension cords are not allowed. Mental note made and not soon to be forgotten.

Back to the fun stuff! My wife and I were both intrigued by the entertainment offerings described in Cruise Planner and the large number and types of entertainment venues provided on such a huge ship-- traditional Broadway-type theater, various nightclubs, ice-skating rink, Aqua theater, jazz club, and casino, along with many interesting watering holes.  Being theater buffs, we made reservations for all of the shows available in Cruise Planner.  The first show we saw, Cats, did not disappoint, even though the length of this unabridged show and perhaps its lack of a single main storyline caused quite a few folks to leave the theater at intermission.  We were greatly impressed by the high caliber of the performers at this show, and most other shows on board.  It was rather refreshing to see the show again after about 20 years.  We enjoyed opportunities to talk with actors from Cats after their performances at other venues during the cruise (Dazzles and Jazz on 4). 

We enjoyed all of the shows, and none of them were, in our view, mediocre or worse. The ice-skating show portrayed the story of Hans Christian Anderson and many of his fictional characters.  Although the ice-skating rink was not large by any means, the skaters still reached high speed and did several spinning leaps (sorry – can't tell my sow-kow from a toe loop).  The divers in the aqua show were great. 

We spent a few enjoyable evenings in Jazz on 4 and got to know the performers, including at the Prohibition Event, which was fun but a bit blurry in my recollection.  Good turnout for this event with a full venue and everyone decked-out in crazy 20s fashions.  This was my wife's favorite night of the cruise and the photos taken by RC photographers around the Royal Promenade from that evening are the nicest keepsakes from the cruise. 

Based on recommendations from the podcast, we sampled specialty restaurants by pre-purchasing the 3-night package.  We ate at 150 Central Park, Giovanni’s, and Chops – all very good and worth the upcharge.  But we ended up re-jiggering our dining schedule due to a fortuitous encounter with our main dining room waiter when he was working at Johnny Rockets over lunch the second day of our cruise.  He spotted us as we looking around the Boardwalk and called us over to ask about our dining choices for the cruise – we had mentioned to him at dinner on the first night of the cruise we had purchased a 3-night specialty dining package.  As it turns out, the nights we picked for specialty dining coincided with the two formal nights and the last night of the cruise – in other words, all the dinners when they have the best meal options in the main dining room including lobster night.  At his urging, we went back up to Giovanni’s and were able to reschedule our specialty dining for other nights so we could experience the best the main dining room has to offer on the two formal nights and the last night of the cruise.  

Couple notes on our ports: 
St Maarten
For our excursion on St Maarten we also heeded the advice of many and took a cab tour around the island.  Matt, thanks for the tip about your friend Leroy Brown.  We were able to reserve his cab for our tour and enjoyed his island banter and stories about different areas and beaches.  He did focus quite a bit on the devastation from the hurricanes last year, including taking us by some damaged resorts and boats/harbors.  Although Maho Beach at the end of the runway and the bar restaurant next to it were back up and running, the north side of the island was hit pretty bad. Nevertheless, we stopped at a lolo in Grand Case-Cynthia's Talk of the Town--and had a great lunch of chicken and ribs...more food than we bargained for, but we got to sample the grilling style on the French side of the island.
San Juan
We honestly were not expecting much for our short stop in San Juan (8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.) and were originally thinking we might stay on board.  But we were glad we ventured out -- the old town was a short walk from the pier and we strolled through the old Spanish colonial-style narrow streets with their brightly-painted buildings.  Electrical power was spotty as the power cut out occasionally while we were in some shops, but was on a few doors down on the same block.  We sampled mufungo at Cafe Manolin, a Puerto Rican fried plantain dish that was hearty and tasty.   
As first-timers at Labadee, we threw caution to the wind and road the Dragon's Breath, the huge zip line over Adrenaline Beach.  Some have commented on the uneasy feeling on truck the ride up the hill and while waiting on the platform for the zipline.  We did not have a bad experience in the truck ride up or while waiting on the platform.  The ride itself was very smooth and the spring-cushioned stop at the end was not as jolting as we thought it might be.  Our zip-line ride was scheduled at the beginning of the cook-out lunch buffet, and that was perhaps not ideal.  By the time we returned from the ride, the lines were pretty long at the buffet, so we waited until near the end of lunchtime to go through the buffet line.   

Some Key Takeaways:

  • Arrive in or near your departure port the day before you cruise.
  • Reserve entertainment before the cruise—no cost for this!
  • Check RC’s current policy on forbidden items--no more innocuous-looking extension cords for us!.
  • Try specialty dining, but check out the main dining room on formal nights to sample some of the best food included in your cruise fare.
  • Take a few minutes to get to know your main dining room waiter and room steward on the first day of your cruise. They helped us optimize our dining and entertainment schedules to get more out of our cruise.
  • Get your picture taken at least a couple times by the RC photographers.     
  • Consider buying a drink package on a cruise that has several sea days plus a day at an RC resort. If we had had a more port-intensive itinerary with no stop at an RC resort where the drink package is included, we probably would not have bought the full package.  But it was fun to sample a broad range of drinks, including several tasty dessert martinis at the Champagne Bar (just not all on the same night!).
  • Use self-disembarkation for a couple or small group.  Although we had to line up early in the morning, once the line started moving we were off the ship in a few minutes and to the rental car counter before the big crowds.
Keep up the great work on the podcast and thanks to all members who contribute to the informative message boards at the RC Blog website!
Roger & Carol
Finally Thawed (And Now Baking) Tundra, WI
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