Should you cruise on a Oasis-class ship?

Royal Caribbean has recently introduced its fourth Oasis-class (read: big) cruise ship, the Symphony of the Seas. She joins her sister ships Oasis, Allure, and Harmony of the Seas, and the four ships share a number of common characteristics.

One of my first Royal cruises was on Allure of the Seas in 2015. It was a transatlantic, and we loved it – we had eight sea days, and we never ran short of things to do. It was almost like we’d moved to a new city! We had different restaurants to eat at every day and there was always something to do – go to the gym, go to the casino, participate in the onboard activities, etc. The entertainment was fantastic – Allure’s performance of Mamma Mia was just as good as the one I saw in the West End in London. The variety of public spaces on the Oasis-class is also one of my favorite things about the class – I love the Central Park area myself, but I can see where if I had kids, I would want to take them to the Boardwalk. Just look at that carousel!

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One of the things that surprised me about the Oasis-class ships was that they didn’t feel overly crowded. On our Harmony cruise, we had three sea days, where all passengers were on board. Even still, we often found decks full of empty chairs, and we didn’t really see a huge crowd in the Windjammer until the very last day.

As much as I loved our two Oasis-class cruises, I’m not sure I would recommend this kind of ship for everyone. On our most recent cruise, on Harmony of the Seas, the hubby and I agreed that, well,  it didn’t really feel like we were on a cruise ship. Everything on the ship seemed to face in, not out, and there were very few places we had to just sit and look at the ocean. (We didn’t have an oceanview or outside balcony room.) We still enjoyed our experience, of course – the entertainment was still stellar, and we feel like the range of specialty restaurants on the Oasis class ships is a real bonus. But the size of the ship felt like a real inconvenience on Harmony, because our room was all the way at the front of the ship – I felt like we spent so much of our time walking down the hallway to our cabin.

So let’s answer the question: Should you go on an Oasis-class ship? I decided to become a travel agent in large part because I love helping people find the right cruise for them. With that in mind, I think going on an Oasis-class ship is good for you if:

  • You love entertainment on your cruises. With Broadway-style shows and a variety of music venues, there’s always something to watch or listen to on the Oasis class of ships.
  • You’re traveling with a bigger group, or with kids. Your group will never get bored and will always have a place to hang out, and your children will love the variety of slides and rides, not to mention the ship’s dedicated children’s activities.
  • You like fine dining – the Oasis class has some of the best specialty restaurants in the fleet. Our meal at 150 Central Park on Harmony of the Seas was one of the best I’ve ever had! (You can read my post on getting this dining at a discount here.)
  • You love seeing the latest and greatest the cruise industry has to offer. The Oasis-class ships are the newest and primarily they have all the bells and whistles.
  • You like an energetic vacation with a lot of activities – as I said, you’ll never be bored on an Oasis-class ship (even if you spend eight days at sea like I did!).

While the ships in the Oasis class are great options, they might not be the best fit for some cruisers – and that’s okay! If the following describes you, you might want to think about taking a cruise on an older, smaller ship:

  • You like to sit on a lounge chair and look out at the ocean. Sure, the bigger ships do have lounge chairs (you just saw pictures of them earlier), but you’ll find significantly less places where you can do this on the newer ships.
  • You don’t like to walk a lot, or have difficulty walking a lot. The big ships are, well, big. You might find that you spend a lot of time walking from one end to another, or planning your day so you don’t have to do so – and that’s not always what you want to have to do when you’re on vacation.
  • You consider yourself an “old-school” cruiser. This point might be a little controversial, and certainly I’ve met plenty of long-time cruisers on Oasis-class ships that love these new ships. But these new, big ships often attract a different breed of cruiser, one who doesn’t much care for the traditional formalities such as dress codes in the dining room (you’ll see a lot of shorts). If that’s something that bothers you, then maybe the Oasis-class ships aren’t for you.

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Would I book another cruise on an Oasis-class ship? You bet I would, especially to see Mamma Mia or Hairspray (on Allure or Symphony), eat at 150 Central Park, etc. As a travel agent, though, I just think it’s important that people know what they’re getting into. If you’re interested in finding out more about the Oasis class or booking a cruise, click here to contact me!

Getting a deal on specialty dining on Royal Caribbean cruises

Like it or not, extra-fee restaurants on cruise ships (usually called “specialty dining”) aren’t going anywhere. Cruising old-timers often complain about the cruise lines’ efforts to nickel-and-dime guests with extra charges, but I see the specialty dining as an opportunity to try new meals in new settings – things that the cruise ships likely wouldn’t provide if they weren’t able to make a few extra bucks in doing so.

On our recent Harmony cruise, we dined at two specialty restaurants. Chops Grille is an old favorite – they serve a fantastic steak and a wonderful mushroom soup, among other things, and the atmosphere is always very upscale and makes for a nice evening. We also tried 150 Central Park for the first time, and we were absolutely blown away by both the level of service and the food, as well as the signature Central Park Martini.

There are a few ways to cut down the cost of trying out these specialty experiences (or revisiting the ones you already know and love!):

  1. Book a “first-night” special ahead of your cruise. Royal Caribbean changes the options on this promotion, and sometimes it’s different on different ships. But if you look in your Cruise Planner before your cruise, you can often find deeply discounted specialty dining for the first one or two nights of your cruise (usually about $15-$20 per person per meal).
  2. Purchase a multi-day or unlimited dining package. You can buy a 3-, 4-, or 5-day specialty dining package for your cruise, either by going to the online Cruise Planner or by purchasing onboard your cruise ship. The price per person per meal will vary depending on the ship, but the price will usually go down as the number of days in your package goes up. Right now, Royal Caribbean is also offering an unlimited dining package, which includes specialty dining for dinner every night of the cruise as well as for lunch on sea days.
  3. Look onboard for special offers. You’ll usually see these on the first day, where employees will walk around the ship promoting discounted rates at the specialty restaurants. You can’t count on these, of course, but they might give you the push you’ve been needing to give these extra experiences a try. (I’ve also heard tell that you can sometimes just walk up to a specialty restaurant – especially one that looks, um, rather empty – and ask for a discount. Can’t hurt to try, right?)

If you’re on a tight budget for your cruise, a specialty restaurant might not be in the cards for you – and that’s okay! You’ll have great meals in the dining room, and you can save the specialty splurge for your next cruise. Personally, I like to go to specialty restaurants when I feel like I’ve gotten a good deal on my cruise fare – after all, I’ve saved that money, so why not use it to pay for an extra special meal? 🙂

If you want to learn more about specialty dining on Royal Caribbean, you can find some good info over on the Royal Caribbean Blog.