Archive for Behemoth of the Seas Christmas 2013

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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Giovanni’s Table and the Queen of Upsell, a relaxing last day at sea, Solarium Bistro, the cruise virus

Our Oasis cruise is winding down and we are quite sad. We love the Central Park area best, have enjoyed the specialty restaurants and are very impressed with this mega ship.

Last night we had dinner at another Central Park restaurant, Giovanni’s Table. They feature Italian specialties done family style. We got a table outside and our wait person, Ana from Romania, had to be the distant cousin of our Turkish waiter from Chops Grille on Sunday. She persuaded us to buy a much more expensive bottle of wine and this time we succumbed to the pitch to purchase one of those decanter gizmos. I actually turned this in today as a minor gripe on the cruise survey, as the strong-arming to buy an expensive bottle of wine or something else like the decanter is a little overbearing.

The food was actually very good – we shared a Caprese salad, with fresh mozzarella (ok, where are the cows kept?) and I had a pappardelle with pancetta. Steve had a crepe (similar to manicotti) with a bolognese sauce. We split two tiny cannoli for dessert. Very good dinner! We will end the cruise without visiting the main dining room.

Today we slept in as late as possible, had breakfast at the Park Cafe, went shopping (a few items for sale) and finished our packing this afternoon, then checked in for our flights. It turns out that somehow my Global Entry information had never been entered, so Steve got it in and we are both showing TSA Pre-check for tomorrow. Tonight, we had dinner at the Solarium Bistro on deck 15 forward. This was another nice meal, with healthy selections. We both had the bison filet, which was quite good, but obviously had been frozen. Everything else that accompanied it was amazing, especially the grilled sweet potatoes. The Bistro was very quiet, probably because this is the last night and most fellow passengers are scrambling to pack, do as much as possible, or both.

We meet at the ungodly hour of 7:00 am for our post-cruise shore excursion around the sights of Ft. Lauderdale before getting to the airport around 1:00 pm for our flight at 3:48. I will try to do our top ten list of our cruise (and a handful of lowlights) tomorrow.

Oh, one more thing – apparently some people have had gastrointestinal illnesses on Oasis (the Norwalk virus problem, which is prominent this time of year). We had to fill out a form saying whether or not we have had symptoms (not yet!) and they are doing double-duty on sanitation. We have been happy with the way they handle food in every venue except the buffet and the Wipeout Cafe on the pool deck (that place is pretty horrible, actually). When I noted a middle-aged, well-dressed woman using the restroom tonight and walk out without washing her hands, it is apparent that some people never properly learn good hygiene and that drives me absolutely bonkers. I have seen people not wash their hands on other cruises, too, and at Disney Parks and sporting venues and I even have noted it with a few co-workers (grrrr.). Last New Year’s Eve was ruined for me when I came down with a stomach bug, so I hope we can escape unscathed.

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Nice dinner at 150 Park, a Salsa-Salsa fun excursion in Cozumel, sitting in Central Park

Our dinner last night was in 150 Central Park, which is considered the top specialty restaurant on-board (aside from the Chef’s Table). The menu was a six-course tasting menu and we opted for the wine pairings. We were seated at a table inside for two with strange, large clamshell chairs.

First they brought us a bread selection and we has different salts to sprinkle on the unsalted butter for the bread, including a nasty sulfur salt from India, a smoked salt from Washington, two French sea salts, volcanic salt from Hawaii and a rose-colored salt from Australia (the last one was my favorite). All of the wines were European and only the main course had a red wine, but we enjoyed all of the pairings. The first course was a delightful Lychee and Florida lobster salad; apparently Oasis and Allure have an exclusive contract for the exotic and sweet lychee nuts from a grower in Florida. Next, we had a simple and elegant roasted red pepper soup, with a crostini and goat cheese. The third course was a tiny, exquisite pasta dish, a homemade cavatappi with a pesto sauce. The roasted, halfed cherry tomatoes definitely made the dish. The fish course was a delectable Florida pompano. Finally the main course arrived: Colorado venison and a locally made pork sausage on polenta. I am a sausage junkie and I didn’t care for this concoction, but the venison was superb (a few small bites on a tasting size entree). Dessert was a yummy cuatro leche cake with more lychees (couldn’t get an answer what the fourth milk was in this cake). All in all, the meal was very, very good, if not as superb as the Chef’s Table. We thought about going to the Jazz Club but ended up back at the room on our balcony for a while, to remind ourselves we were at sea.

This morning we got up a little earlier (the horror!) to meet on the end of the pier for our shore excursion. I booked “Salsa, Salsa and Margaritas” a few months ago and it sounded like a lot of fun. We exited the ship and walked in the canyon on the pier between the Behemoth and Celebrity Constellation (no contest who wins the biggie award). The Caribbean Princess was also in port and docked at a nearby pier; we only remember one pier from our last visit in 1987 aboard the minuscule Song of Norway.

We met our guide in the pier area, waited a short time, then piled into 12-passenger taxis for the ride to the Hotel Cozumel. This venerable hotel opened in 1989 and we were escorted from the lobby and pool area through a nice tunnel (not scary) under the busy street to the beach area. Our excursion was billed as an exploration of margaritas, salsa dishes and salsa dance (fortunately that part was very short). We climbed the stairs to the second floor above the beach grill and bar. When everyone was there (80 people from three ships), we started off learning how to make margaritas from the four lovely young ladies who guided us through the process. The sneaky waiters would refill your drink glass without warning (the old “Playa Mazatlan Fiesta” trick*). The food fun began as we learned to make six salsas, including three created using a Mexican mortar and pestle, known as a mocaljete. We made a red salsa, with garlic, Serrano peppers, and cooked onion and tomatoes, accented with cilantro, lime and salt. The second salsa was a green salsa, with tomatillos, garlic, Serrano peppers, cooked onions and accents (I liked this one best). Next, we made a Oaxacan guacamole, with fresh avocado (this was also very good). We had chips, tortillas with Chihuahua cheese, and small chicken empanadas to dip in some sauces. Our next two salsas were fresh salsas, a pico de gallo and a tropical version of pico with pineapple. Finally, we made a dessert salsa with pineapple, melon, apples, a Mexican version of egg nog known as Rompope; we spooned this on top of a delectable and rich Mexican Ice Cream. Killer bee!

After everyone was sufficiently butt-faced (we weren’t too bad, learning to put our hand over the glasses when the sneaky waiters showed up) they moved the tables and did the salsa dancing lessons. I skipped, of course (knees are ok, back is not ok) and sat next to a lady who also went through double knee replacements recently and is now having back problems, too. Hmmmm….Everyone looked ridiculous except for a few obvious ringers and Steve hid behind other participants so I wouldn’t catch him dancing badly (believe it or not, we were kicked out of a ballroom dancing class a few years ago because we were both so bad).

This was a terrific shore excursion, one of the best we have done in the Caribbean and rated #2 of things to do in Cozumel on Trip Advisor. The group running it has expanded to other locations, they nicely ask for donations for the charity of the month (right now – Doctors without Borders) and they know how to make everyone feel like they are part of the fun. Very well done!

We returned to the ship and are sitting in the lovely Central Park area near the Trellis Bar. Shortly, we must go change and then go to dinner at Giovanni’s Table (back here in Central Park). One more day on the Behemoth!

Oh, here’s the * story from above: In 1983, we did a short trip to Mazatlan and stayed at the Playa Mazatlan. One of the central features of this huge hotel is the Fiesta, which has lots of food, margaritas by the boatload and interesting live entertainment. We booked the Fiesta the second night we were there and both admit that we remember nothing of the evening after our second margarita. To put it mildly, we were completely gassed! We spent the next full day nursing nasty tequila headaches and vowed to be more prudent on future trips (ha, ha, ha, ha, ha – oh, my goodness that’s a knee slapper!). Funny story!

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A lovely Chef’s Table experience with a strange discussion, Christmas in the Caribbean, non-human passengers in Central Park

Merry Christmas!! It is just past noon on December 25. We’re cruising in a leisurely manner towards Cozumel, Mexico. The temperature is in the low eighties, with brilliant blue skies. Can’t tell you about the seas right now because we’re sitting in Central Park but are moving in a little while to the pool deck.

Last night’s dinner was excellent. There were 12 of us total for the chef’s table, including one of the officers and his wife. The venue was located on deck 12 aft in an alcove above the concierge lounge. This is in the same cross-ship structure that has the Dazzle lounge a few decks below. We had personalized name tags and a program showing the menu and the seating arrangements complete with everyone’s name. The first course included poached salmon and a small piece of lobster on a fennel, watercress and pea salad. It was accompanied by a Cline Viognier from California. Our wine sommelier was very generous with the pours, which was hazardous to the well-being of a young Brazilian lady who was the paramour (is that still a recognized word?) of a much older gentleman from Miami. Before each course, we learned about the wine and the chef de cuisine also talked (at length) about how he made the selections. The second course was a duo of soups in demitasse cups, accompanied by a yummy little duck slider sandwich on freshly made brioche. The soups were a duck consomm√© (meh) and a creamy celeriac root concoction that was quite delicious. The wine with this course was a Pinot Noir from Oregon. The third course had seared diver scallops and a delicious Schramsberg brut sparkling wine. Finally, the main course arrived (we had been there almost two hours at this point), a lovely plate of roasted veal medallions and delectable little potato “plugs”, accompanied by a bold red blend (heavy on the Malbec) from Argentina. The final course was a nougat concoction with a dessert wine (not sure what kind because I was getting a bit numb at this point). We also had trays of chocolate covered strawberries, fresh berries and other little sweets. Oh, and we had delicious breads with the dinner. Although I still think “Remy” on Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy has the best tasting menu on the high seas, we thought this experience rivaled La Reserve on Oceania’s Marina. At the end of the meal, we received a copy of the RCI cookbook from their specialty restaurants. Glad we didn’t buy one at Chops Grille from our pushy waiter on Sunday.

Unfortunately, our table mates were a bit of a mixed bag. The young officer and his wife were quite nice. He is the safety officer on board Oasis and is from Sweden. His wife is from Florida and worked at RCI before he did and even helped on the transfers of Oasis and Allure from Finland to Ft. Lauderdale. They have an 11-month-old son (jokingly said to be the boyfriend of the Captain’s infant daughter) . The older guy from Miami and his very young Brazilian girlfriend seemed rather absorbed in each other. I was sitting next to a couple from New Jersey and, at first, I had fairly innocuous conversations with her (hubby at the end of the table said very little during the dinner). There was another quiet young couple from New Zealand next to Steve and the group was rounded out with a British couple around our age that lives in Miami. Towards the end of dinner, I’m not sure what happened but the woman from New Jersey had to suddenly express some fairly obnoxious political and religious opinions, first asking “what is wrong with the people in Colorado and their damn guns?”. Her hubby chimed in and we were both taken aback at the tone of the conversation. We ended up in a lengthy discussion that got a little heated at times, not something we really wanted to do. I really don’t want to go into details, but suffice to say this woman who self-identified as a devout Catholic and Reaganite Republican and her hubby who loudly proclaimed he was a capitalist, had opinions that were completely opposite of those alleged claims and they talked the progressive mantra like something right out of the editorial pages of the NY Times or from the “lean forward” cretins on MSNBC. I wish the conversation had never started (we didn’t initiate it – discussing politics and religion with strangers is on my list of bad things to do, even though I have strongly held beliefs. Conservatives are usually reticent on sharing their opinions because the various “hater” cards are played within minutes if you say you want limited government or support the Second Amendment or don’t agree with amnesty or don’t care for unlimited abortion on demand or would prefer marriage to be more traditional in nature – that last one is getting close to being declared official hate speech in this country, sadly). The staff finally kicked us out of the place around 11:30 pm and we parted ways with Mr. And Mrs. Opinion. If Mrs. Opinion was a practicing Catholic, she certainly ignores the Church dogma and official Vatican positions on various things, even with some of the confused meanderings of Pope Francis. Not sure we’ll be seeking them out for drinks.

We slept in this morning and decided to have breakfast at the Park Cafe in Central Park and hang out here for a while. This area is a paradise! I was startled to see some birds and one of the staff informed me that there are also a few lizards in the park to keep insects away that somehow find their way in when Oasis is in port. People have had a lot of fun with the Christmas theme – we have seen Santa hats, reindeer horns, people with lights on and funny t-shirts. Steve did four laps of the track down on deck 5 (1.72 miles total), in a vain effort to stem the tide of the inevitable cruise weight gain from eating and drinking. Tonight we stuff our faces again at 150 Park Central, the top specialty restaurant. We really like Oasis of the Seas so far!

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Diving fun, a great big band, skipping Jamaica, the Danish flag riddle, Merry Christmas!

Last night we saw the Oasis of Dreams show at the Aqua Theater. Looking for something easy for dinner before the show, we opted for the Seafood Shack, opposite Johnny Rocket’s on the Boardwalk. With a minor up charge, we had pretty good coconut shrimp and fries before the show.

The Aqua Theater is outside on the aft end of the Boardwalk on deck 6. The theater has a big superstructure with diving platforms and a pool that varies in depth (similar to the setup for the Cirque du Soleil show “O” in the Bellagio in Las Vegas). The Oasis of Dreams show combines some half-baked “earth story” with intervals of amazing diving, gymnastics, trampoline, aerial acts and synchronized swimming. The divers use springboards, 10-meter platforms and ridiculous 18-meter platforms (64 feet above the tiny pool!) for foolish high divers. Sadly, they had technical difficulties during the finale, so we didn’t see the true high divers, but we certainly enjoyed the show. Afterwards we headed to the Dazzle lounge, on decks 8 and 9 midship aft overlooking the Boardwalk. We sat through the end of the set with the Korean cover band and scored a couple of the only good seats in the house to enjoy the Oasis of the Seas orchestra, the big band we liked so much on Sunday. The Dazzle nightclub has a strange design, with narrow rows of seats going back on both sides and each side facing towards the stage in front of huge windows. Most seats are crammed together or have obstructed views. We watched a few ancient blisters doing dips and twirls and Moms with their little kids cut the rug to very nicely played classics from Glenn Miller, Bennie Goodman, Duke Ellington and Count Basie and sat through almost two full sets. At one point, we looked through the large windows just in time to see the end of the second performance of Oasis of Dreams and got to see the two fools dive from the 18-meter tiny platforms. Nuts!

We went to bed, with “American Patrol” and “Cherokee” ringing in our ears. We slept in late and were already starting to debate the wisdom of our planned shore excursion today through Falmouth and to Montego Bay before we hit the sack. We visited Jamaica once before, on a cruise in 1987 that called at Ocho Rios. In a nutshell, we were not impressed then and nothing I’ve read since that time changes that opinion. When we woke up this morning, we definitely didn’t feel like doing this junket, especially as I am having some sciatica and back pain, so we decided to inform them at the Shore Excursion office that we would not be going (the excursion was pretty inexpensive and would likely be totally unmemorable and we were willing to eat the cost). First, we tried calling and discovered there was no phone number for the shore excursion office. So we showered and decided to head down to deck 5 and tell them we would be not be going at the Shore Excursion kiosk (we didn’t expect a refund, as I noted, but we didn’t want them to have an excursion that was waiting for us). First, it was a major affair to get an elevator down to deck 5. Keep in mind this Behemoth has four elevator banks with eight elevators in each bank. We finally crammed aboard one after a ten-minute wait and got off at deck 5, only to find a huge line waiting for the single (!) person working at the Shore excursion office. As our breakfast options were rapidly coming to a close, we decided to let it go for the moment and head back up to the Windjammer Marketplace buffet on Deck 16 (no problem getting an elevator going up). After eating, I went down to deck 15 to the dive shop on the pool deck (which also books excursions). It was now ten minutes until our tour meeting time at 11:15, a long ways away through the huge dock area. The crew at the dive shop was very happy that I informed them we would not be going and, as a major bonus, we got a full refund! Kudos to the staff there, who advised me to get some spa time and perhaps a massage for my back. Nice!

We settled in at the Wipeout Cafe area, on deck 15 looking aft at the Boardwalk and Theater. This has become a favorite hangout (comfortable chairs, shade, and an amazing view). As we were sitting here, I noticed the huge flag flying from the stern looked like a Danish flag (red background with a white cross). WTF? Why would they be flying a Danish flag, when this ship is registered in the Bahamas? The Jamaican country flag is flown above the bridge while we are in port, so we were a bit perplexed. Oh, well, off we went for some slices of pizza art Sorrento’s on deck 5 in the promenade, which was almost completely empty. The pizza was great and we enjoyed the Christmas tunes being played. A minor officer walked by and I asked him about the flag. He was also perplexed and did have an answer. After lunch, we decided to head back up to deck 15 and we passed guest services. Steve asked a nice young man who was roaming around to answer stupid questions and he told us the flag is the nautical flag for the Bahamas. If you look closely, the colorful Bahamian flag is in one quadrant of the flag, which wasn’t apparent when we were looking at it.

So what did we miss in Falmouth? This small town, founded in 1769, was named after Falmouth, Cornwall, England and was, at one time a bustling port with sugar and molasses flowing out on many tall ships and slaves flowing in from Africa. A couple of the old slave plantations are still in existence (as museums, obviously), as are many buildings that are Georgian in style dating from the mid to late 1700’s. Falmouth began to fall from favor after Britain outlawed slavery, which was obviously a blessed event. The sprinting legends Usain Bolt (brother of the mythical “Insane” Bolt, if you have seen the stupid Xfinity ad that played ad nauseum all summer) and Ben Johnson (who lost his Olympic title due to doping) are from Falmouth. RCI and Jamaica invested almost $200 million to build the new port facilities that opened in 2011 to accommodate the Oasis-class ships.

So tonight we have the Chef’s Table fancy-schmancy dinner at 7:30 pm on deck 11 or 12 (we think). It’s dress-up time! Have yourself a Merry little Christmas and keep the Holy night in mind!

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Photos

Steve here! Since I’m actually doing work on this trip (allegedly except for Christmas Day and Christmas Eve, which are company holidays), I’ve been fighting the shipboard internet. It’s actually not bad compared to some I’ve used; and for $25 a day for unlimited bandwidth, I’m a happy camper.

So, I finally had time to upload some pictures…

A look at Central Park from Deck 15

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Our first beverage aboard Oasis of the Seas: A Pina Colada for Barb, a Rum Runner for me

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Another view down the center of Oasis of the Seas, showing Central Park

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Captain Patrik Dahlgren and his infant daughter

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Looking aft at the Boardwalk area and the Aqua Theater

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Nellie’s Beach from our cabana

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Another view of Nellie’s Beach, Labadee, Haiti

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A great steak dinner, the ultimate salesman, the Promenade parade, lounging in Labadee

Editorial comment first: Yay, Broncos and congratulations to Peyton Manning on his record 51 TD passes this season.

When we last left off in our saga aboard the Behemoth, we were on our way to get ready for dinner last night. We had a fairly early reservation at Chops Grille on Central Park. We got a table outside in an enclosure that protects you from the wind that can blow through the park (even though you are sheltered on all sides by staterooms and other ship structures). I ordered Forest Mushroom soup, a six-ounce filet and a baked potato; Steve got a duck appetizer, a six-ounce filet and the green bean side dish. Now keep in mind our food experiences so far on Oasis included a pretty good Johnny Rocket hamburger, a mediocre room service breakfast on Sunday and a hot dog. After several cruises on Oceania, our expectations were not high, but we were pleasantly surprised by our excellent dinner. The appetizer and soup were delicious, the steaks were cooked to perfection and the sides were wonderful. We had a bottle of Duckhorn Merlot (2010), which was decanted by our waiter using an interesting Italian blown glass gizmo that fits on top of the bottle (being a college student in the 70’s, it reminded me of some of the glass bongs my fellow students used to smoke pot – not me, of course, as I prefer ethyl alcohol in various drinkable forms).

Speaking of our waiter, this guy was the ultimate salesman. He was from southern Turkey and must have had a previous career hawking Turkish rugs and brass gewgaws to tourists. First, he persuaded us to upgrade significantly on our wine selection, then he brought a card to order champagne on Christmas Eve (we didn’t bite on this, as we are doing the Chef’s Table dinner with wine pairings tomorrow night). He talked up another specialty restaurant, the Solarium Bistro, which we then booked for Friday night. At the end of the service, darned if he didn’t bring over one of the decanters in a box and a copy of their fancy cookbook (we didn’t buy either item). We thought this was very amusing and we enjoyed his enthusiasm. Of course, anyone reading the blog from our Jewels of the Aegean cruise in 2011 knows that we not only succumbed and bought a Turkish rug but also a gorgeous silk pillow case after our private tour of Ephesus (we love that rug and Ruby sits on it all the time).

After dinner we hopped on board the Rising Tide bar just before it descended to the Promenade deck. We made our way to the Globe and Atlas pub and got a seat on the Promenade on Deck 5 to watch the huge crowds standing in line to get their pictures taken in front of the two-story Christmas tree. The crowd was genuinely Felliniesque, a term we have used for very diverse groups of people of all shapes, sizes, and types (and wearing every type of outfit under the sun); we stole that term from the late, great Italian director Federico Fellini, who populated his films with remarkable characters. His best movie, by the way, was “Amarcord”, about the memories of a boy growing up in Italy during the 1930’s.

While we were sitting at the pub and listening to an awesome big band, Steve remarked that it looked foggy. Sure enough, special effects fog was pouring out of the Globe above our seats and suddenly a lighted ramp unfolded above us. This platform was for the Captain and his top crew as they introduced themselves to the throng of passengers crowding the Promenade below. Most impressive!

We had a good night’s sleep and a continental breakfast delivered to the room this morning before disembarking at Labadee. We went down to the gangplank deck, using an escalator(!) from the deck above and we thought we were in a terminal building (the exit area is that huge). We walked along the dock and over the new causeway to the Labadee resort area. Labadee was created by RCI many years ago as a private resort for its cruise ships. It is located on the northeast coast of Haiti, not far from the border with the Dominican Republic. We visited it in 1987, on a cruise on Song of Norway and had to tender in at that time. It was closed for a few years due to the perpetual political difficulties of Haiti, but they recommitted to the facility to allow the monster ships to dock here and added more facilities.

Now a bit of a rant: Months ago, I was perusing ideas for Labadee from the shore excursions. I am not a real beach lover these days, especially after having joint problems and now back problems and I find the whole getting wet and drying off rigmarole, with the additional irritation of sand stuck to everything to be quite annoying. I like looking at beaches, however, and like being comfortable. Steve may or may not get in the water, so it also of fairly low importance to him. So I found the ideal solution – book an over-the-water cabana, with personal service and shade. The cabanas were pricy ($250 for the day), but seemed like a ideal solution. We told our TA to book a cabana and RCI came back with a response that they don’t book these for two people. I called baloney on this and said there was nothing in the booking information on-line that required a larger party. So we tried again – this time they said we had to be in a suite to book a cabana. I looked again at the on-line information and found nothing that required us to be in a higher level of cabin to book this option ($250 is $250, regardless of whether we are in an inside broom closet or the Emperor Suite). So I waited a few days, then I sent a tersely-worded complaint directly to RCI about our difficulties booking a cabana (no, tell me it’s not true! A tersely-worded complaint from Barb? Impossible!). Voila – I got back a response telling us to book at our earliest convenience. So we went ahead and booked a cabana at Nellie’s Cove.

When we got off the ship, none of the signs said anything about Nellie’s Cove. We got on one of the trams and told the driver we wanted to go to Nellie’s Cove and he assured us he would stop there. The tram proceeded through the large resort area all the way to the end and we still didn’t know where the Cove was. The driver stopped to turn around and several people on the tram asked again about Nellie’s Cove, including us. “Oh, you want to go to Nellie’s Cove? Why didn’t you say so?” Oy, my aching head. We finally arrived at our destination and found out we were in a cabana on the opposite side of the cove (of course). When I woke up this morning, I had the unfortunate recognition that my lovely Rheumatoid Arthritis was flaring up a little bit and my back is killing me. It could be because we are walking somewhere between 2 and 3 miles a day so far just going from one bar stool to another on this monster, so I was a slowpoke today. Well, we settled in at our cabana, which was very nice, right by the beach. We had somewhat inconsistent service from the two attendants, but it worked out ok for the most part, At lunchtime, we went to a private area and had the usual beach fare of hamburgers, jerk chicken and some sides. Of course, in the warm afternoon air, Steve promptly fell asleep (my back kept me awake, sadly).

We headed back to the ship at 3:00 pm and are now sitting up at the Solarium Bar on Deck 16 forward, where you can see almost all of the Labadee resort. Captain Patrik keeps tooting the very loud horn to hopefully rouse the folks that remain at the resort to hurry up and get back to the ship as we sail at 5:00, heading to Falmouth, Jamaica. Steve has also been pushed into action on downloading photos, so we should have a few up shortly after he clears some email.

At 7:30 tonight we see the diving show at the Aqua Theater at the aft end of the Boardwalk; we’re doing casual fare tonight before the show (probably pizza from Sorrento’s on Deck 5). More from Jamaica tomorrow, on Christmas Eve.

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A lazy beautiful day, Meet and Greet, now the crowds appear

We’re sitting at the Solarium Bar on Deck 16, forward. The time is approximately 3:00 pm EST, the temperature is around 80 degrees F and there are the typical puffy tropical clouds and stiff breezes. We’re cruising off the north coast of Cuba heading to Labadee, Haiti, which is the private resort for RCI ships.

The Solarium is the “adults only area” or at least it’s for passengers over 16. I consider “adults” to be anyone older than 40, but that’s me! We slept in this morning on a very comfortable bed (cruise ships have now seemed to corner the market on finding comfortable mattresses), although I did ponder during the night how many beverages we had yesterday trying to scope out the bar situation. I think the two Ruby ports I had while riding up and down on the Rising Tide bar were probably not smart, but after some coffee and room service breakfast on our balcony we were both good to go. At 11:15 am we had our Cruise Critic “Meet and Mingle” event in the beautiful two-story Dazzle lounge aft of Central Park. There were about 30 people present (a very small Roll Call for a ship this size) and they had drawings for hats, wine and internet minutes. I won thirty minutes of free internet, but we already bought the unlimited plans yesterday so I traded with someone for a hat. We had fun talking with a nice family from North Carolina (he is a quadriplegic and has an amazing wheelchair that he can operate to go around independently). Another couple and their daughter and son-in-law were cruise fanatics and the older couple, from Santa Fe, has been on several nice Oceania cruises, with more planned.

We sat for a while at the Wipeout Cafe on the Sports Deck (deck 15) and had to have a hot dog, while enjoying a fantastic view of the Boardwalk and Aqua Theater, where the diving show is performed. You can also watch the idiots doing the 8-second zip line ride across the “canyon” and above the Boardwalk 10 decks below. Steve wants to do the zip line, which is free, but the wait for eager participants wraps around the Wipeout Bar at the back of the ship. Yesterday, the ship didn’t seem very crowded (except for the muster drill) and we wondered where all the people were. That question was answered resoundingly today – it looks like almost every deck chair and lounge is occupied on the gargantuan pool deck and I’m sure the lower decks are filled with folks wandering around. They’re showing NFL games on the big screens by the Aqua Theater and quite a few folks are watching those (no Broncos, alas).

Tonight we have reservations at Chops, the steakhouse on Central Park. More food!!! I’ll try to do an evening update and we do promise pictures, if we can ever get them downloaded. Tomorrow we have a private cabana at Labadee, which will be very nice.

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In awe, a floating bar, at a classic

We are stunned by this ship! We watched our departure from Ft. Lauderdale from the Solarium Bar, at the forward end of the ship. After navigating the channel out to the Atlantic (well above most buildings in the area), we returned to the room, found our bags and unpacked. We then headed to the Boardwalk neighborhood, on deck 5 aft. There is a gorgeous wooden carousel at the entrance to the Boardwalk and we picked Johnny Rocket’s burger place, where we had a great burger while watching folks wander the area. We didn’t realize we were on a ship, except when looking at the infrastructure above disappearing into the sky.

After dinner, we wandered into the Royal Promenade and had a drink at the champagne bar while waiting to board the Rising Tide bar, an amazing structure that goes up three decks on a regularly scheduled basis to the Central Park neighborhood on deck 8. You freak out a bit when you realize the blue neon you see way up in the heavens as you ascend on this bar is around the stack on deck 4,000 or near it (a minor exaggeration).

We’re finishing out the evening at the venerable Viking Crown Lounge on Deck 17. The ships stretches in front and behind us as far as we can see (or it seems that way). This is an earth-based star ship.

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Seven Ships in port, Baggage Extortion, truly a mega ship, a teenage Captain

After a very nice, long sleep, we had breakfast at the hotel, then waited for our transfer to the dock. Most of the people on our van got off to board the Crown Princess, which on any given day would be one of the largest ships in port. Sadly for The Crown, the Behemoth (Oasis) was just down the block and it towers over every other ship in port. Speaking of that, there are seven ships departing from Ft. Lauderdale today and nine tomorrow (including the sister monster to this ship, Allure of the Seas). Besides Oasis and the Crown Princess, other ships leaving today include two other RCI ships, another Princess ship, two Holland America ships (including the Westerdam, which we sailed in to Alaska in 2006) and some off-brand party boat to the Bahamas. As you might guess, there is a huge fuel farm just west of the cruise terminals. I’m sure our elitist “betters” are feverishly working to find ways to stop this massive use of resources by invoking the name of “Gaia” or some other malarkey, so we are enjoying it while we can. The mileage per passenger is likely more efficient for this mode of transportation, however, than the same number of individual vehicles on the road; don’t our betters love mass transportation, or would they frown at having fun, too? Who knows, it sure seems that there are more and more killjoys in our lives, just when so many people finally might have a few bucks to go on a cruise (gee, they’ll probably get to spend it on health insurance in 2014 and beyond).

The check-in process was extremely efficient, after we went through the somewhat humorous extortion on the part of the baggage handlers Steve didn’t have change for a $100 and only had a few one-dollar bills. This was clearly not acceptable and they found a way to make change so they got $10 bucks a bag. Nice little racket…

We boarded Oasis around 1:00 pm and made our way to our cabin (10198, just forward of mid-ship on the port side on deck 10). The cabin is very nice, with a larger balcony that will be shaded in most circumstances. Since we have boarded, Steve’s Fitbit has noted that we have walked more than two miles just exploring a couple of decks. We went up to deck 15 and saw the pool areas, then made our way down to deck 8 and the beautiful Central Park area, which is open to the sky and filled with live plants. This is where the top restaurants are located and we feel like we’re sitting at an upscale outdoor mall, instead of being on a ship. I find it to be absolutely nuts, that this monstrous thing actually moves around 20 knots on the open seas. Crew members we have met so far have been very nice and friendly.

Oasis will back out of its berth at departure time, which will be interesting to observe. The channel out to the open ocean appears to my eyes to be pretty narrow, but since they do this every week, I’m confident it is an optical illusion. As we found a table to sit at in Central Park to have a salad and drink, we ran into the Captain of this vessel, who was holding his infant daughter. Captain Patrik Dahlgren, from Stockholm, is one of the youngest captains in the RCI fleet and to our old eyes he looks like a damn teenager. Very nice man and apparently he is the top pick for their new ship that debuts soon, Quantum of the Seas (“only” 4500 passengers, but full of groundbreaking amenities).

The lifeboat drill is at 4:30. Our muster station is on deck 4, mid ships. We do not have life jackets in our room. The new philosophy is that you would proceed to the muster station immediately in the case of an emergency rather than struggling to get back to the room to get life jackets.

Steve is going nuts taking photos (I’ve taken a few, too) and we hope to post some later tonight, so stay tuned. Oh, two other things, there are many passengers on board from other countries, with lots of folks from Portugal, Brazil, Spain, Canada, UK, Mexico, and other locales and there are many wheelchairs, scooters, strollers and large groups and families. And secondly, Oasis is berthed not far from the airport runways and we are sitting here amazed at the low-flying aircraft going right overhead (shades of the old Shea Stadium near La Guardia).

Great fun so far! Hope folks don’t mind the occasional snarky comment. Just like Phil Robertson, I’m going to stick with my opinions and beliefs and they may sneak into my commentary (not that I necessarily agree with ol’ Phil, but I defend his rights to his beliefs, unlike the rabid screaming brigade that wants his head).

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