Thursday, June 05, 2014

Royal Caribbean: Oasis of the Seas Review!

On May 17 of this year, my wife and I flew down to Fort Lauderdale in order to get on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas cruise ship for a seven day adventure in the Caribbean.  Our ports of call for the trip were St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and the Bahamas.  Back when I was trying to decide which cruise line to travel with, I found that the amount of reviews written by "real" travelers to be lacking - so this post is my small contribution for the greater good.  After all, cruising can be a lot of fun - but it can also be awful...

On the first day of the cruise, my wife and I decided to book some excursions for the week ahead (more on those in a moment).  We also used the time to explore the ship.  The Oasis of the Seas is a gigantic ship - and it has some truly awesome components.  For me, I had two favorite sections.  The first was the boardwalk.

I'm a sucker for all things "sea-like" so the boardwalk was right up my alley.  There was a Johnny Rockets diner (cover charge applied), a Seafood Shack (a la carte pricing), an ice cream shop (a la carte pricing), and a doughnut shop (completely free) just to name a few of the attractions.  There was also a carousal for the kids and a candy shop, though we didn't make use of either of those particular attractions.

For me, the Seafood Shack was the clear highlight of the boardwalk.  Should you book a trip on the Oasis, you should definitely make it a point to try the coconut shrimp appetizer there.  My wife and I also enjoyed Johnny Rockets - especially for breakfast (when it's free to eat there).  On the other hand, the ice cream shop was terrible - severely overpriced with incredibly small portions.  We went there once and vowed to never return.

My other favorite part of the ship was the Central Park area.  The Park boasted a number of restaurants (we only tried one though - the Park Cafe which was free) as well as plenty of real vegetation (including trees growing on a cruise ship)!  The park was also the most peaceful area on the boat - evening strolls were particularly nice.

At this point in the review, I should note that overall my wife and I were happy with the cruise ship itself.  However, there were a few annoyances to make note of.

First, the weather was a bit windy the first couple of days which made the ship rock and back and forth a lot more than one would think a giant boat would rock.  It wasn't enough to make either of us seasick, but it was enough to cancel some of the on-board shows.  Unfortunately, they rescheduled the shows during times we couldn't attend (namely dinner time) which was a bummer.

The other disappointment was the Windjammer - Royal Caribbean's name for their cafeteria (where most people eat their free breakfast and lunch).  The Windjammer was always packed - with long lines waiting to get into the cafeteria.  Even worse, once you did get in you were constantly bumped into, jostled, and generally pushed around as you tried to get your food.  Plus, don't even get me started on what happens when you get thousands of people reaching for food buffet style (tongs optional for some people - ew).

Needless to say, my wife and I avoided the Windjammer after the first full day.  Instead, we tried to get a table at Johnny Rockets for breakfast and then we used either the free pizza place or the Park Cafe for our lunches.  Happily, all of those were also free meal options so that wasn't a problem - but I did miss the variety that the Windjammer offered since the other eateries were basically one trick ponies.

Moving away from the boat for a moment, the three ports of call on our trip also offered various levels of fun and frustration.  The biggest frustration?  The Royal Caribbean Shore Excursions.

Royal Caribbean gives everyone a giant book of possible shore excursions to book in the various ports.  Each of the write-ups makes the excursion sound like it is awesome...but unfortunately, my wife and I can tell you first hand that not all is rosy and peachy.  We booked three excursions (one per port) and all but one ended up a basic disaster.

First, in Nassau, Bahamas we booked a trip called Forts & Pirates.  For $45 per person, the excursion brochure described the trip as:
Journey back in time to Nassau's notorious past as a pirate haven.  At the Pirates of Nassau Museum, your party will be led below deck on the pirate ship 'Revenge' to a showdown with Blackbeard, Capt. Woodes Rodgers, and the women pirates, Ann Bonny and Mary Read.  During an air-conditioned bus tour, you'll visit Rawson Square, Fort Fincastle, the Queen's Staircase, and Fort Charlotte.  Entrance fees to the forts aren't included in the tour price.  Then enjoy time to explore the Pirates of Nassaue Museum, the highlight of the tour.
Where to begin with this one?  First, AVOID IT.

What we really got?  A couple of rickety vehicles took us to the two so-called forts.  Fort Charlotte was nothing more than a couple of fake cannons (as seen above) and a small circular stone wall.  There was nothing else there - and you could see it all for the low, low price of one extra US dollar.  Unfortunately, the fort wasn't worth the dollar.

The second fort (Fort Fincastle) was a bit better (and it too cost a US dollar) but it wasn't nearly as good as most of the forts in New England (such as Fort Ticonderoga in New York state).  I thought Fincastle was alright - but when that ends up being the highlight of an expensive excursion, something is amiss.

The final stop was at the Pirates Museum which was basically a bunch of panoramas linked by a walking path while being guided by a local guide who has clearly said the same bunch of lines way too many times to care.  Also, you couldn't take time to explore the museum because you were constantly being herded from one diorama to another.

One more thing, as for that "bus tour"?  Complete garbage - unless you are interested in seeing the local post office.  No lie, the post office was pointed out three different times but we didn't even hear the word "pirates" until reaching the museum.  Terrible.

Although that trip was clearly disappointing, I think my wife and I were even more disappointed with our second excursion which we booked in St. Thomas.

We booked a trip called Magens Bay Beach Getaway for $35 per person (beach chair not included).  The excursion book claimed that this trip would take 3.5 hours (which we assumed would mostly be spent at the beach).  Unfortunately, that was not so.

Upon getting in the vehicles (where the steering wheel was literally held together with electrical tape), we were first escorted up a narrow, winding road to Drake's Seat for a photo opportunity.  That was fine (and it was in the trip description) - in fact, the view was gorgeous (see the above photo).  The bad part was the traffic jam that resulted in us wasting almost 40 minutes sitting in the bus waiting for the road to be cleared.  When all was said and done, our 3.5 hours that were supposed to be mostly spent on the beach ended up being more like 1.45 hours.  It was definitely disappointing...and the kicker?  The tour book said that there was an optional down town drop off available but our driver refused to do that saying he was "off the clock" and was only going to make one stop at the port.

After two completely disappointing excursions, my wife and I almost decided to try to get our money back rather than attempting a third trip.  In the end, we decided to stick with our "Afternoon Beach Break" in St. Maarten which ended up being a good decision (thankfully).

That trip ended up being exactly as promised - the beach was nice and we got a chair plus unlimited (watery) rum punches.  It was also extremely hot that day which made the beach that much more enjoyable.

In the end, I'm not sure how willing I would be recommend the Oasis of the Seas with the particular three ports of call that we did on our trip.  None of the ports are overly exciting to walk around in by yourself - mostly touristy shops full of trinkets within the general vicinity of the port.  On the other hand, two of our three excursions ended up being a total waste of money - and even the good excursion could have been done a LOT cheaper had we simply hailed a taxi cab.  We were also disappointed by the number of cancelled events on the ship because of the weather.  Obviously the weather wasn't Royal Caribbean's fault, but the times where they rescheduled the various shows was their fault.  Why move an afternoon show to 8:30 at night when the second dining time was (the time we happened to dine as luck would have it)?

I do enjoy cruising - all the food, warm weather (usually), plus island life...what's not to love about that?  Unfortunately, after this experience with Royal Caribbean we will probably think about trying a different cruise company should we book another cruise in the future.  We'll also make sure to try and better scout for reviews of the various tours before going on any cruise ship...that would have saved us a lot of money and heartache!


The Junior Junkie said...

We just went on a very similar cruise. We were on the Royal Princess and went to Eleuthera, Bahamas instead of Nassau. Saint Martin was amazing, particularly the French side with all its little restaurants.

The highlight was definitely Maho Beach in St. Thomas. It's that one they show on the Travel Channel where the planes fly super low over the beach to get to the runway. I got some insane pictures/videos and even braved the jetwash of a huge 4-engine airliner. It was painful but exhilarating.

Mark Hoyle said...

I dis Magen's bay a while back. Unbelievable snorkeling

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