Smooth debarkation, the “fun” family, Ft. Lauderdale time-wasting tour, final impressions of Oasis

We arose before dawn Saturday to hurriedly shower and grab a bite before meeting at 7:00 am for our excursion/transfer to FLL airport. We made it on time to the Studio “B” location after one last quick breakfast in Central Park. The tour groups disembarked around 7:30 and we had a very quick and smooth process. The bus was parked just down from the immigration hall and we were first on board for our four-hour sightseeing tour of Ft. Lauderdale.

Other folks began to show up for the tour, including an older couple from Sweden who sat in front of us (she walked with an arm brace and is still apparently recovering from a bad auto accident). A noisy and rude family then boarded and grabbed the front two rows of seats across from us; their teenage son (probably the best one in the bunch) brought his carry-on bag on board and placed it in the seat next to him and I noted that the bus driver would be glad to stow the bag below, because the tour might be full. His mother took offense to this and gave me an earful. She was incredibly loud and opinionated about everything, so much so that the older gentleman from Sweden in front of us asked her to please hush up (so awesome). I thought she was going to have a rage stroke at this and it was a blessing when the tour guide showed up and had to move them from the front seats. There were two other women that this screech owl knew, including one who was quite a bit like the gym teachers I had in junior high school, if you know what I mean (NTTAWWT, according to Seinfeld). This charmer, built like Gimli in “Lord of the Rings”, lit up one cigarette after another when we were off the bus for a walk and pushed her way rudely in front of everyone else at all times and also spent most of her time on her cell phone. The temptation to shove them all into the New River (except the teenage son and the father who looked completely disgusted with it all) was strong.

Anyway, our guide was very sweet but would talk too much about trivial historical facts and said “folks” and “etc., etc.” in almost every sentence. We drove through the nice beach area first, then headed to the downtown area. We got off the bus and walked through a riverside park near downtown, by the New River, a part of the tour that wasn’t advertised. The walking part was fine, but the lengthy stops while our guide droned on about some obscure piece of history were tiring for my back. Finally we re-boarded the bus to go and meet the “Carrie B”, a pseudo sternwheeler docked on the New River that was our intracoastal waterway sightseeing vessel. The general scrum for seats upstairs led us to decide to grab a table downstairs, which was perfectly adequate and we were near the food service and restrooms. Steve was also able to go out on the forward deck to get photos when we cruised past the seven ships in port (bye-bye Oasis).

We saw many gorgeous homes owned by the rich and famous (or not so famous, but certainly rich). The homes included the residences of Wayne Huizenga and some of his family members, Daniel Stern, Michael Mann, other corporate leaders, inventors, and a few other celebrities. There were also some fabulous yachts that we passed. We enjoyed this part of the tour, especially seeing the cruise ships being prepped again. We had more pushiness from the Jerk family getting off the boat – sigh. Guess it takes all kinds (and they were not the good kind).

We made it to the airport and check-in was quick at the United counter. This time, we both had TSA Pre-Check and there was no line at all. Our flight left a few minutes late and Steve got a glimpse of Oasis right after we took off (we flew right over it). Our flight was good, but jam-packed and we had some turbulence; we drove home just as a little snowstorm made its way through the front range. Ruby greeted us with squeaky mews; she is still with us and will be 19 on New Year’s Day. We hate to tell her our next trip, in a few short weeks, will be much longer. We do as much as possible for her and we recognize that she could pass while we’re gone, but we have vet tech who checks her out along with a pretty good petsitter and we have cameras set up to see her.

Now the highlights from our cruise vacation (not necessarily in order):

1) Embarkation and debarkation was incredibly quick and efficient, especially considering the size of this ship and the fact that we had 6,214 passengers, which is near absolute maximum capacity.
2) The ship is immaculate for the most part, looks brand-new and is well-maintained. The public restrooms are all the same design and are never full (and always clean). There are interesting art works everywhere and elegant architectural touches, especially in the restaurants and lounges. One art work we especially loved were these viewing portals scattered throughout the ship that had 3-D pictures of plants, sea creatures, and crystals.
3) Central Park is a place I will fondly remember for the rest of my life, with its beautiful plants (almost 12,000 of them), the cool breezes, the nice restaurants and little retreats for sitting, the stowaway birds, the vertiginous views looking up the infrastructure of the ship, and the great bartender at the Trellis bar. I enjoyed talking to one of the three horticulturists who maintain this paradise. I want to be there in Central Park right now.
4) The Promenade is a fun place, like a big shopping mall, with a few bars scattered about and good pizza at Sorrento’s. The Rising Tide elevator bar, cruising to the Central Park deck from the Promenade from over a fountain, is very, very cool! We also discovered the comfortable Schooner bar on the last night, overlooking the Promenade.
5) The service was very good to exceptional in almost all places on the ship and the guest services concept (with roving “dumb question” specialists) was the best and most friendly we have ever had on a ship (better than Disney and much better than Oceania).
6) The Boardwalk area is extremely charming and seems quite under-utilized. The wood carousel is gorgeous and the two table service restaurants, Johnny Rocket’s and the Seafood Shack, are perfectly acceptable (you can’t eat five-star cuisine every night).
7) The Solarium adults area, on Decks 15 and 16 forward, is a nice retreat from the mayhem of the main pools, although it could get a bit windy.
8) We had some excellent meals on this cruise. Food is subjective, but quite honestly I think Oasis competed quite well with Oceania and Disney. The Chef’s Table was number one, followed by Chops Grille, 150 Central Park, Giovanni’s Table and the Solarium Bistro. We also loved the Park Cafe for breakfast. They also had some of the best coffee I’ve ever had on a cruise ship.
9) We enjoyed sitting at a shaded table near the Wipeout Cafe on deck 15 with an incredible view of the Boardwalk and Aqua Theater, the zip line, and the activities on the sports deck.
10) Our cabin was quite nice and well-maintained and in a good location. We loved the deep balcony, the enclosed shower and the comfortable bed. Plus, it was really, really quiet.
11) The Shore Excursion office hit a home run when they refunded me for our Jamaica tour mere minutes from our departure time. Our excursion in Cozumel was a blast and the cabana in Labadee ended up being a good choice, in spite of some missteps.
12) The Oasis of the Seas big band was awesome, dragging us into a club for the first time on many cruises to hear them for two sets. The one show we saw (Oasis of Dreams) was quite enjoyable, even though they had technical difficulties.
13) Other than our opinionated table mates from at the Chef’s Table, the usual clueless punks and rude sorts who walked around you into an elevator, the occasional moron not washing their hands after using the restroom (even after we knew about the Norovirus), and the Loud family today, we had a pretty pleasant group of fellow travelers. The snobbish behavior of many passengers on Oceania was not in evidence at all on Oasis. The ship complement was truly a “United Nations”, with passengers from dozens of countries and the large family groups were most endearing. The crew is also from all over the world.
14) The crew and Captain were very approachable and we enjoyed the fancy staging when they introduced themselves on Sunday in the Promenade.
15) The crowds were never an issue, except waiting for the elevators on December 24, when large groups were heading off the ship in Jamaica or when we realized that there were no seats to be had on the main pool deck area the first full day.
16) The location of the Hilton Marina in Ft. Lauderdale and its Tiki bar were quite nice; the hotel itself needs some maintenance and upgrades. Ft. Lauderdale looks like a really, really nice place (if you liked boats and had some bucks).
17) Our weather was absolutely superb on the entire trip – temps in the low eighties, no rain, blue skies and puffy white clouds, a few stiff tropical winds and refreshing breezes. Spectacular!
18) Oh, almost forgot – the Internet service was the best and fastest we have ever had on a cruise ship.

What we missed:

On a mega-ship like Oasis, many things are going to be missed. We never saw the main dining room, did not go down into the Entertainment district on deck four, did not drop a dime in the monstrous casino, did not visit the sports bar/karaoke lounge and Starbuck’s, and avoided 99% of the planned events, which were in fine print in the daily activities log and overlapped in a ridiculous way. We also didn’t get a chance to try Vintages, the cute tapas restaurant in Central Park, or Izumi, the sushi restaurant on deck 16. We only saw one show. We actually skipped going into any hot tubs or pools (probably smart with the Norovirus going around). We didn’t try the Vitality spa or the various physical fitness events going on (except for Steve’s expeditions to the track on Deck 5).

Lowlights – as with any cruise, there are a few:

1) The “handle your own food” concept in the Windjammer Marketplace (buffet) and Wipeout Cafe is not smart and it is likely these are places of origin for the Norovirus outbreak that apparently happened. The Wipeout Cafe on deck 15 in particular was very problematic, an almost certain disease vector locale and very, very messy. These were exceptions to generally excellent food practices.
2) The up-sell push at Chops Grille and Giovanni’s Table on wines or other items was not a positive. The first time it was ok, but distracting; the second time was truly annoying. We bought stuff or more expensive wine just to make them go away.
3) I would dearly love to rewind on the conversation that deteriorated at the Chef’s Table on Christmas Eve. I really wish people would not bring up politics or religion in a casual setting with strangers as we’re trying to enjoy a meal, as my tendency (and Steve’s, on rarer occasions) is to take them up on the debate.
4) The Dazzle lounge was one of the strangest designs I have ever seen for a music and dance venue. There were obscured sight lines, jammed together tables, and a surprisingly small dance floor. We enjoyed the music, but not the lounge design.
5) The drink prices were pretty steep and we had to sign every time for a glass of wine or other drink. The beverage package is not a very good deal either, from what I can tell. Oh, well, if you plan to have a few drinks, they are certainly accommodating and we did like a couple of the red wines by the glass. I tried a Rum Runner one day and found it to be cloyingly sweet, but Steve liked them. Rum and coke was also a good standby when it was hot outside.

We want to do another cruise on one of these ships and will examine options on Allure and possibly the new, slightly smaller ship Quantum of the Seas that will have some groundbreaking new attractions. I think we’re finding out that a variety of cruise lines and ship types is the best way to continue to enjoy this wonderful way to travel.

Next up: We sail from Buenos Aires on February 2, 2014, on Celebrity Infinity. We fly down on January 30 through Houston. This 14-day cruise and our first on Celebrity visits Ushuaia, Argentina (the southernmost town in the world) before venturing across the Drake Passage for 2+ days of sightseeing along the Antarctic Peninsula region. We then stop at the Falklands, visit Puerto Madryn, Argentina, and our last port before returning to Buenos Aires is Montevideo, Uruguay.

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