Some time after the holidays this year my brother told me that he and Dad were planning their next cruise in April and I enthusiastically wished them well. Jackie, John, Dad and I had done a Carnival cruise over Halloween to Nassau and I was just fine passing up any cruise for the next year. But things evolved and the cruise choice was no longer a 5-day out of Charleston but a 7-day out of Port Canaveral aboard the Oasis of the Seas, the first mega-ship by Royal Caribbean. Jackie and I still felt we were just fine sitting this one out and, again, we wished them well.
During a late January visit with Dad, he and my brother leaned on me to join them on the cruise — Dad pulling a bit of a guilt trip “I just want both my boys with me .. not sure how many cruises I have left in me” .. so I agreed to think it over, which meant of course we booked ourselves on the cruise shortly afterward. Heck, it should be fun on the Oasis class ship.
Then an accident happened while the ship was docked in Nassau for maintenance. A crane fell into the stern AquaTheater, the ship slipped and the (new word) azipods were damaged below. We kept our fingers crossed, but two weeks before sailing we learned the cruise was cancelled, refund was on the way, future cruise credit to be applied. Oh well.
But we would not be deterred. Since that meant that 3 cruises of 6,000 passengers each were now looking to re-book their cruise, Jeff and I jumped on the phone to contact our travel agents and find some options. The solution was the next ship scheduled to leave from Port Canaveral, the newer Harmony of the Seas, which was the same Oasis class of ship that hosted 6,000 guests and 2,000 crew. We booked the second week of June for an Eastern Caribbean cruise and hoped for the best.
So our most recent adventure just completed was an amazing cruise aboard a floating hotel/mall. Seriously, this ship had everything and really felt like you weren’t even on a ship most of the time. Not sure I can fully describe the wonderful time we had and all the available amenities the ship had to offer, but I will certainly try. I also have some videos that will take a bit longer to edit, but I promise to post them soon. I was having fogging issues with my 35mm camera aboard ship, what with the cold AC in the room and the warmer, tropical air out on deck, but the GoPro was good with the underwater shots and such.
We drove to the Orlando airport area the day before, since it is about 7 hours (8 if you drive through rainstorms like we did) and stayed overnight. That meant we were less than an hour from the ship’s terminal and would have no problem arriving before Jeff, Vic and Dad (oh no, I am not competitive at all). So after checking in at the Best Western we searched for “breweries near me” and found several choices.
Since Rockpit Brewing also served barbecue, that was the choice for dinner, followed up by Dead Lizard brewing. I enjoyed Rockpit’s Yudu Yuzu, a sour Berliner Weiss, Jackie liked Nudge, Nudge golden ale and we both liked a mango beer that neither of us can remember the name of.
Slipping in the door of Dead Lizard we were immediately asked if we had a lighter – it seems they were having a birthday celebration going on and no one brought matches for the birthday candles. Sorry, we are just here for the beer (and the sticker), so we moved to the bar and ordered a flight. Pretty funky vibe to the place and we enjoyed a Hefeweizen Orange Ya Glad I Didn’t Say Banana and Key Lime Chameleon Cream-Sic-Ale. On the way out we got totally drenched in a downpour before heading back to our amply-air-conditioned room to chill for the night.
Up and out and we were on our way through the Florida sunshine to the Cape and our ship. No traffic, no problems, parked close to the ship, breezed through check-in and we were in the boarding area by 10am. Within 20 minutes we were joined by the rest of our party and, gosh we were onboard in no time. Kudos to Royal Caribbean for a very smooth check-in and embarkation process. Now, where is that first drink??
We explored the ship, got lost and turned around more than once, found our way to the Solarium Bistro for lunch, found several bars, stood for the safety lesson, checked out our room and settled in for fun. As I have said before, the first day aboard ship is the most exciting and the sail-away is exhilarating. As you stand on the rail watching the shoreline pass by and disappear into the distance, all the stress of the trip and worries back home just slip away. It’s party time!
So what exactly did we do?
I’m not sure when we did just what onboard, mostly on the three sea days, but I can share the activities. And we had three ports of call, so hang on, it’s a busy schedule.
Perfect Day CocoCay
This was a totally different experience from our last visit to the private island. The investment of over $250 million to transform this island into a waterpark with a new dock (no tenders!) was fantastic. We didn’t pay the extra fee to ride the waterslides, zipline or splash in the wave pool, but we did enjoy the upgraded food service, bars, huge Oasis Lagoon pool with swim-up bar and the snorkeling off Chill Island beach. It is a clean, lush landscape that just opened officially and it is a game changer.
After snorkeling and lunch we were enjoying the pool while a film crew used drones to capture the crowd for an upcoming promotional video. Perfect Day got a little less perfect when thunderstorms moved close and everyone was whistled out of the water. The rain made it easier to find a lounge chair, but I am guessing that thunder-rumbling, rain-soaked footage won’t make the “perfect day” video. Darn, and I was looking pretty good in those fly-by shots!
We cruised into the port at St. Thomas about noon, a beautiful approach to this island. We were keeping it pretty casual that day and decided not to fight our way to a beach or snorkeling location, since we had a nice excursion planned for the next day.
So it made for a good day of having fun around the ship without the crowds. We never really felt like there were 6,000 other people crowded around us anyway – except on the pool deck on sea day afternoons – which is to Royal Caribbean’s credit for having so many places to hang out.
This was our first time to the French/Dutch island and we were lucky to be the only ship in port at Philipsburg. Another gorgeous green-mountain island with a broad curve of beach along the harbor.
We had booked a snorkel excursion on a small-boat tour, hoping to avoid the disappointing experience in Nassau where we were overloaded with 60+ folks on a kayak, paddleboard, snorkel, party boat. Jackie and I walked the half-mile along Great Bay to the boat dock to check in and were told that once the other party of 2 arrived we would be good to go. That meant that all four of us had the boat to ourselves for a fabulous private tour along the coast.
First stop was snorkeling in Little Bay, a cove below the pelicans of Fort Amsterdam with clear water and some reef fish. The bottom was mostly rock and not much in the way of fans and corals, but there were fish around and some sunken artifacts (canon, helicopter, small sub, grocery cart?).
Back onboard and we zipped along the coastline, noticing the remaining damage from previous hurricanes (two Cat 5 within 10 days). Captain passed around a bowl of french bread, cheese and apple slices and we washed it all down with a cold beer. Hey, snorkeling is hard work. We stopped in the path of approaching aircraft as a jet passed overhead to land at the airport. This is the famous Princess Julianna airport with an over-water approach where people get blown around during jet takeoffs. Just Google Maho Beach. Then we crossed to the French coastline and hopped out for a swim in a turquoise water cove, Baie Longue, surrounded by villas that rent for thousands a night (Belmond La Samanna). Ahh, and we got to enjoy the same beautiful waters that they did. Time to head back to the ship and across some choppy water that made for a bouncy ride on a beautiful afternoon. Snorkel video is posted here.
The excursion was really a treat. Back at the dock we stepped out of the boat with our gear, except that I was so focused on my footing that I completely missed the overhead metal rail of the bimini and “klunk” I hit it hard with my head. Had I been watching earlier, I would have noticed Jeff do the same thing as he was getting out. Ah … what’s a little blood in the scalp?
When we weren’t lounging by the pool or slipping down the waterslides, we might have been walking down the indoor Promenade (just like a mall), sitting at an outdoor cafe in the garden areas of Central Park listening to Spanish guitar, having a drink at an Irish Pub with a folk guitarist, watching robots fix our drinks or trying our luck at the casino. Our rooms were upper level balconies that overlooked the Central Park “canyon” so it was also nice to sit with a drink and listen to the music or wake up with a cup of coffee out on the balcony and people watch.
The casino was a destination for Dad most evenings, as he loves to play roulette. Jeff and I sat with him and played a few times – actually we donated to the casino, but our game is the craps table. We had our ups and downs and some nights were just wild at the table with some good runs, but in my case I came away just less than even for the week. Actually that is great, considering how long we played all week and what fun we had. We met the friendliest casino dealers who would really help you understand how to improve your odds and by week’s end came to recognize you. What fun.
We did our best to try every eatery on board and enjoyed them all. Of course everyone heads to the Windjammer buffet for breakfast and lunch but we ventured away from that most days. The Park Cafe had delicious roast beef sandwiches and salads for lunch on the terrace in Central Park and Sorrento’s had pizza almost all night. The Solarium Bistro (the adults-only area on the decks 14 – 16 at the bow) had slightly lighter fare and a great view. There were several up-charge specialty restaurants that we mostly skipped.
Dad, Jackie and I ate lunch at Jamie’s Italian (complimentary for balcony bookings) on a sea day and were totally stuffed. Appetizer was an antipasto plank of cold meats, cheeses, olives and veggies; main courses were pasta, burgers and salads. We each made a dessert choice, whereupon our waiter asked why not all of them?
So, as you can see in the picture, we were served another plank with Tiramisu, Lemon meringue cheesecake, brownie, Almond sponge cake, and a raspberry pavlova confection. Yikes.
Dinner was mostly in the main dining room (short ribs and rack of lamb were the best), but we also tried the Solarium Bistro on the upper deck for dinner as we sailed out of St. Thomas and then the Izumi Japanese hibachi grill on the last night. That was a hilarious show of food preparation that none of us had yet experienced. Chef tossed pieces of egg for us to catch in our mouths – ok, weird but fun – and a few of us (Doug and Dad) nailed it on the first try.
Lobster, scallops, chicken were all delicious, and the tenderloin beef was mouthwatering. And some strange ice cream-filled dough balls for dessert.
Jackie and I also had a complimentary dinner at Wonderland, themed with Alice in mind.
Definitely something different, with all sorts of special food effects – smoked buffalo chicken eggs, “liquid” olives and mushrooms, spicy tuna in frozen limes, baked halibut and branzino. Quite the presentation, capped by a dessert plate of fungi: mango sorbet with cake and meringue mushrooms in pop-rocks dirt and a crazy bit of wizardry: The World – a chocolate sphere that melts before your eyes as the waiter drizzles hot caramel sauce, revealing salted caramel ice cream and chocolate mousse. Wow.
I did get a chuckle on the first day when I pulled out a bar checklist for each of us – crazy Doug – but later in the week we were all caught checking which bars we might have missed! “Oh, did I get a drink on each floor the Rising Tide bar stopped at?” “What about the Bionic Bar?” “Darn, I missed a glass of wine at Vintages.”
If you purchase the Deluxe Drink Package, you will have more than 16 bars to choose from. Poolside, in the Central Park garden area, restaurants, Promenade (mall) area, Solarium (adults only), plus the island of CocoCay. Yeah. That’s right. You try it without a list! Plus specialty coffees with a shot to start your day, like Icy Bourbon Mint Coffee.
We definitely gave our beverage package a workout.
Yep, another checklist just to be sure I didn’t miss anything. Besides the snorkeling in St. Maarten and CocoCay, there were plenty of activities onboard.
Whirlpools, main pool, the 9 deck drop on the Ultimate Abyss dry slide, three waterslides, rock climbing wall (made it halfway), zipline over the boardwalk “canyon” … busy, busy. We didn’t ride the carousel, ice skate, or play mini-golf, nor did we try surfing the flo-riders, but it was fun to watch. We saw the Jules Verne styled ice show “1887”, “Grease”, “Columbus, the Musical”, “Fine Line” and “Big Daddy’s” aquashows and a rock tribute band, all of which were top-notch entertainment.
Riding the waterslides was crazy, since two of them were designed for you to race your opponent. Jeff and I swapped winning times, but maybe my worst showing was when halfway down the dark tube I realized the water was pretty much disappearing and I slowed to a stop. “Send water!” Soon a gush hit me from behind and I started to move along again, but it might have been a long squooch, squooch crawl to the end. And yes, Jackie did try the Ultimate Abyss, which also lost some steam at the finish and we both had to scoot ourselves out of the last 3 feet of slide. The launching pad was the best part, as you are perched on a glass floor high above the stern of the ship!
I guess this all sounds like one big commercial for Royal Caribbean, but it turned out to be a much easier cruise for Dad than we expected and I do have to give credit to the cruise line for a ship that was well designed. It never felt crowded, it was gorgeously appointed, there was plenty to do for all ages, the rooms were thoughtfully laid out, staff was abundant, friendly and attentive. Dad had his walker and our rooms were close to elevators, so it was easy enough for him to head to the casino or up to the buffet on days when we were ashore. Jeff and I figured out how to push him along backwards in the walker when we needed to cover some ground quickly, and he was a good sport to go along with it. These twice-a-year cruises are his big vacation getaways, and as his escorts we are happy to go along (but seriously, we need some time to recover!)
Once we got back home we were greeted by two of the five fawns born around our yard this year. I guess they thought we had left town for good this time and they had the run of the place. Kodi keeps a careful eye out now and the mommas don’t seem to be as fiercely protective, so it seems safe to use the backyard again.
Well, it isn’t really an adventure, but it does involve the motorhome. We head to the mountains of North Carolina to help John with some work on the cabin he is building. It is under roof now and I think we will be doing some staining and working on the deck railing. Once again we will pack the motorhome with supplies and the pets for a trip to the mountains.
If you haven’t checked out some of my latest glass creations, be sure to look over the Glass Totems page and then catch up with recent events on the Happenings page. Stay tuned for a brief blog with some of the crazy video from the cruise, once I get it edited.
Thanks for following along on the adventures. And to borrow a phrase from our cruise director, “bing bong.”
And I should thank Alex and Bethany for watching Kodi and Merlin. It looks like Allie kept a wary eye on Merlin, though.