Author: Adrienne L.
Date of Trip: October 2012
“There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. She had so many children she didn’t know what to do”.
The opening lines of this nursery rhyme remind me of how we felt on our recent vacation when there were so many choices it was hard to decide what to do. On any given day we could ice skate, zip line, surf, play miniature golf, swim, lounge in the spa, or work out at the gym. We could also choose to watch a Broadway show, attend an art auction, gamble in the casino, or even stroll through Central Park. Where were we? Taking a 7 day Caribbean cruise aboard the Oasis of the Seas, one of Royal Caribbean’s newest and largest ships along with 12 of our closest friends and more than 5000 other revelers.
Our trip began on Oct 5, 2012 on Virgin America flight 346 to fly nonstop from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale where we would board the ship. As has been our experience with flying on Virgin America, we had an on-time departure and we actually arrived in Fort Lauderdale ahead of schedule. Although the flight was a red-eye, there was a jovial atmosphere since many of our fellow passengers were also fellow cruisers, anticipating a week of nonstop fun in the sun.
The Fort Lauderdale airport is modern and spacious. We were greeted warmly by Royal Caribbean staff, which whisked us away to the bus that would transport us to the ship. The trip from the airport to the cruise port was brief, but allowed us get a glimpse of the beautiful south Florida landscape. Before long we could see our enormous cruise ship docked next to the other ships that would sail that day. What a sight!
Although we are experienced cruisers, this was our first time cruising on a ship this large. The port had been remodeled to accommodate the large ships. The terminal was so large and well laid out that the embarkation process was very smooth. In less than 20 minutes we were walking out of the cruise terminal and up the gangway to the ship.
From the moment we boarded this floating resort we were whisked away to a land of “WOW”. We walked into the Royal Promenade, which is like a major shopping mall, 2 stories high filled with shops, eateries, a sports bar, a champagne bar and designer shops. The beautiful décor, architecture and the environment invited us to unwind, relax and enjoy. Since Royal Caribbean partners with DreamWorks® Experience, characters like Fiona from Shrek and Alex the Lion from Madagascar strolled the Promenade, delighting children and adults.
At 225,282 tons, the Oasis of the Seas is one of Royal Caribbean’s largest ships. The length is 1186.5 feet. It features 7 distinct neighborhoods; Central Park, The Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center, Boardwalk, Youth Zone and Royal Promenade. With the size of the ship and variety of activities we were concerned about getting lost. But that was never a problem because the ship had many Way Finders; touch screens that allowed us to map our way to any location on the ship. It was even possible to get information in several languages.
The normal routine of everyday life was quickly forgotten. There was unlimited food, entertainment and activities; something for every taste imaginable. Dining choices ranged from 24- hour room service to fine dining, while the nighttime entertainment ranged from Las Vegas to Broadway-style shows. Shopping was on par with any mall and included bargains, souvenirs and even designer shops.
Our first port of call was Nassau, Bahamas where the sky was clear and the temperature was a balmy 82 degrees. There were many ship-sponsored excursions available but we chose to explore the island by private tour. These arrangements were easily negotiated at the cruise dock where there were a large number of professional tour guides available for hire. The dock was a flurry of activity since there were 4 other cruise ships in port that Sunday morning. Our driver had a small van, which we prefer. Touring with a small group has advantages like more personalized service and attention and often getting off of the main tourist route to really experience the island. We spent some time enjoying the spectacular Atlantis Resort. Although we had toured the resort before, this time we noticed that certain areas are closed to non-hotel guests; but can be accessed by purchasing a day pass. Atlantis features fine dining and a number of designer shops. With rooms/suites that can range from $150-$600 per night and dining plans that range from $80 to $130 per day, an Atlantis vacation can consume a lot of your travel budget.
Once back onboard the ship we went to a champagne sail away party that was attended by the ship’s officers. It was held on the heliport on the stern of the ship. So we sailed out of Nassau in grand style.
Our next port of call was St. Maarten, an island that is divided into a French side and Dutch side. Again we hired a private guide and toured both sides extensively. Our guide was very knowledgeable and provided extensive information about the island’s rich history and current economy. We enjoyed a delicious island lunch of fresh fish, fried plantain and rice and peas at Sandy’s Restaurant on the French side of the island. The service was excellent and the meal was reasonably priced. The beaches of St. Maarten are breathtakingly beautiful with their powdery sands and amazingly turquoise water.
The next day we were at sea en route to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. In the past cruise ships have been considered vehicles to transport travelers from port to port, but the new mega-ships are more than transportation – they are a vacation destination. So our choices were many. We began the day with an early morning workout in the gym, which is filled with state of the art equipment. After working out we decided to zip line. The zip line is located on the sports deck along with the Flow Rider surf simulator, the basketball courts and the miniature golf course. Although we have zip lined in the rainforest, zip lining on the high seas was an entirely new experience. The best part is that all of these sports activities are included in the price of the cruise. We ate lunch at the Park Café, which is located in the Central Park neighborhood. Central Park has several specialty dining venues and designer boutiques. That afternoon we attended a matinee performance of “Hairspray” performed by a Broadway cast. Then it was time to go back to our cabin to rest up for the evening’s activities. The cabins onboard are comfortable and well appointed. We thoroughly enjoyed sitting on our balcony to enjoy the beauty of the deep blue Caribbean Sea.
The next port of call was St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, and our favorite port. Having visited there a number of times we have relationships with several of the business owners and vendors. So it was nice to see old friends again. No visit to St. Thomas would be complete without a visit to Mountain Top, which offers a beautiful view of Magen’s Bay and neighboring islands. We also enjoyed one of their famous banana daiquiris. From there it was on to downtown for some shopping and a tasty lunch. The island is renowned for jewelry shopping. Although there were many shops to tempt us, we returned to our absolute favorite, Imperial Jewelers. The downtown area is a maze of alleys filled with charming shops and restaurants. We had a delicious lunch at Gladys’s Café.
From St. Thomas we headed back toward Florida, a trip that required 2 more days at sea. We couldn’t wait to enjoy more of the shipboard activities. We especially enjoyed watching acrobats splash down in the AquaTheater, the first amphitheater at sea. One evening alone included a 5-course dinner, a production show, gambling at the Casino Royale, a 70’s party on the Promenade (complete with Village People), salsa dancing at Bolero’s, and ended with cocktails at the Champagne Bar.
We found that 7 days was not nearly enough time to enjoy all the ship had to offer. We could easily envision booking back-to-back cruises aboard this amazing ship.
As avid travelers for the past 25 years it is difficult to imagine any vacation that would surpass our experience on the Oasis of the Seas. The VIP treatment began the moment we boarded the ship and did not end until we disembarked and re-entered the world of reality.
When we returned to Fort Lauderdale, the disembarkation process was just as smooth as the embarkation had been 7 days before. In order to prolong the vacation experience we chose to spend one night at the Lago Mar Resort in an executive suite. The resort is understated, sophisticated and has exceptional service. It is located on the beach where one of the highlights is watching cruise ships sail out as they leave the port. With its proximity to the airport and the cruise port, it is a great place for a pre or post cruise stay.