After our whirlwind week in the Hawaiian Islands, it was now time to slow down as the ship navigated us to Vancouver. The voyage took 5 days so we planned to relax and enjoy the activities on the ship.
We were actually quite surprised with the weather on our return. Starting with the first day, it was quite overcast, making it cooler almost right away. By the second day at sea, the air was also colder and by the third day we had to wear long pants and sweaters. This was a big surprise as we had left perfect blue skies and 30-degree celsius weather in Maui. Turns out the middle of the Pacific ocean is a very cold place. It was amazing at some points that the sea depth was more than 5000 metres deep!
The seas were also rough in some parts. Laura had a difficult time during this part of the sailing as she is the most sensitive to the movement of the ship. One day we had large waves that even made walking tricky. We toughed it out the best we could and on some days took sea sickness medication.
For the most part, our days involved reading, playing cards and catching up on homework with Laura. Each day we did fun things such as: trivia sessions, jewelry making workshops & charades. There were many contests and competitions including a belly flop competition, egg dropping contest, celebrity look alike contest and sing that lyric games. We also attended different events including a behind the scenes tour at the theatre, a crew talent show, Love & Marriage Game Show, a Hollywood movie in the theatre, listening to live music and going to the evening shows. Royal Caribbean does a very good job of providing numerous activities to choose from each day. The activity staff is always busy – especially on 5 long sea days.
One headliner Rick Novell was an incredible action comedian who rode a unicycle on the stage – which we couldn’t believe considering the waves that evening. He did tricks and stunts that take immense strength and we were thoroughly impressed with his talent.
The last Headliner on the ship was a comedian called Etta May. This was an 18+ show that was absolutely hysterical. The performer is dressed as an old, frumpy, southern woman and she talks about her family, kids, marriage and so many other topics that were all relatable. Her jokes were so funny and the delivery deadpan with a southern drawl that just makes you giggle each time she talks. We couldn’t stop laughing.
One of the main focuses on a ship is of course the food. The food on the Radiance of the Seas was very good. We most often ate breakfast in the Windjammer but also tried out the dining room one morning. Lunches were typically casual – sometimes at the Windjammer, other times at the Solarium Café where they had yummy roast beef sandwiches. Our dinners continued to be terrific. We ate like kings each night and of course the lobster dinner evening was a highlight. Surprisingly they limited the number of lobsters to one per person but allowed any other menu item to be ordered in conjunction with the lobster. Our server told us that some voyages they have had people order 10 lobsters so now they have to put limits in place to avoid these situations. We couldn’t believe when he told us people were eating that many.
Our server duo continued to be an endless source of entertainment during our dinner time. Our head waiter was a wiry, little guy with lots of stories of his life back in India - sharing pictures of his lovely wife and new baby. He was knowledgeable and did a tremendous job with our service.
On the last evening of the cruise we booked dinner at a Specialty restaurant called Giovannis. This is an Italian restaurant and the food was excellent. Appetizers and antipasto are served family style so everyone can try it followed by a main course. We ordered beef carpaccio, focaccia, risotto, papparadelle and grilled beef tenderloin. Everything was fantastic! It was a slower pace and lovely atmosphere in the smaller, peaceful setting. Highly recommended.
One of the last afternoons onboard Ian participated in the guest talent show. He did a great job. This is probably the largest audience he had every performed for and he didn’t hesitate – just gave it his all. There were several good singers and it was a great event.
Overall the cruise was really great. We loved the Hawaiian Islands and would certainly visit them again. The extended time onboard was nice – just wish the weather had been better. Unfortunately, you can’t determine what Mother Nature may provide.
We took advantage of the booking onboard bonus and created a booking for the British Isles for 2018. It always makes sense to put down a reduced deposit to hold a cabin on a future cruise since Royal Caribbean will give you free onboard credit. Deposits are fully refundable or can be moved to another sailing so there is no risk by taking advantage of this opportunity.
Our disembarkation in Vancouver was the smoothest we have ever had. There was one queue that wound around the terminal to collect luggage, however it was consistently moving and once through that, we walked right out of the building to the taxi. We don’t know if it was because we were Canadian and our names were pre-cleared on a manifest but we didn’t even go through customs upon our arrival. It certainly made for the easiest and quickest disembarkation ever. Always welcome when you are planning to make a flight the same day.
Our flight home on WestJet was an uneventful and easy direct flight to Pearson where we headed home to start thinking about our next holiday.
Click here for a review of the Radiance of the Seas Ship
This would be our final port day and we wanted to make the most of our last day in Maui.
We made plans to meet the kids in Lahaina around 10:00am and we took some time to stroll through the downtown, do a little souvenir shopping and check emails at a coffee shop with internet access.
While we were wandering around we came across a surf shop – Outrageous Surf. Laura had expressed interest in Kona about surfing so after talking with the owner, we booked the kids for a 2-hour surf lesson.
Once they arrived and found out the news they were surprised we weren’t also participating. One thing led to another and the next thing we knew we were all suiting up for some time in the water.
We had a quick lesson on land before hitting the waves. The instructor was patient (thank goodness) as it took Denis and I many tries before we were able to get up on the waves and then actually stay up on the board. The kids got it quite quickly and before long we were all riding the waves on the coast of Maui! I was surprised at just how difficult it is to stand up on the board and then stay balanced while maneuvering the roll of the water. The surfers you see on the big waves make it look so easy. But it most certainly is not!
After the 2 hours, we were sore and thoroughly exhausted (well the adults were...) so we packed up the boards, got changed and headed up to Napili beach on recommendation of our instructor. It was a long, sandy beach with beautiful, blue water. Perfect for our last day in Hawaii.
We first had lunch at the Sea House restaurant overlooking the beach and then spent the remainder of the afternoon lounging on the beach and playing in the waves. There were big, wonderful waves that we let drag us back and forth across the shore. What a fun time! We waited until the last possible minute before dragging ourselves out of the water and heading back to the airport to return the rental car.
We were quiet as we took the tender back to the ship and waved goodbye to Lahaina – the last land we would see now for 5 more days.
Our evening dinner in the dining room was chicken cordon bleu and shell pasta with tomato sauce.
Afterwards we first enjoyed karaoke followed by the Headliner show – ventriloquist Kevin Johnson. He was very talented and also quite funny. The act included various puppets and they sang and interacted with the audience quite a bit. During part of the show we were wondering how he was actually doing some of the bits. It was one of the best shows that we saw on the ship.
We headed off to bed knowing that tomorrow would be a day to sleep in and all we had planned was a lazy day at sea.
Continue to Day 8 - click here
Our next port was Lahaina in Maui. This was another port with an overnight stay and we planned to make the most of our time while there. Since we had the evening in Maui, we planned our drive to Hana for the first day in case we ran late. The port of Lahaina requires a tender so again we rose early to have breakfast and then board one of the first boats to the main land. The boats did not start as early as we had hoped but the ride was quick and we were in Lahaina by 8:00am.
The rental car situation in Lahaina is not very organized. We found the pick-up area and saw there was a bus loading for Budget but it was close to full and the driver said another would be by very shortly. Well the wait was over 45 minutes before the next shuttle bus came by and the driver told us at that time they would only pick up the driver. This meant that the kids and I would have to wait while Denis was taken to the airport, did the paperwork and then circled back around to get us at the port. By the time he arrived back it was close to 10:00am. This was not an ideal situation but we decided to head off to Hana anyway.
The first part of the drive to the start of the Road to Hana is quite easy. We navigated using a map since the power outlet in the car wasn’t working rendering our GPS unusable. Our first stop was in the town of Paia at the Hana Picnic Lunch Company. Here we picked up boxed lunches with huge sandwiches, chips and a cookie, as well as some drinks for the road. The next part of the drive is only 72 kms but it becomes trickier as you get further along.
Before leaving home, I had purchased the Gypsy Guide app that provides a colourful commentary while driving to Hana. This app is designed to give you tips about interesting places to visit along the route and provide background facts about what we were seeing. The app also advised you whether to make a stop based on the time of the day and how much time you had for the journey. It was a great little purchase.
Our first location was Twin Falls. This was a lovely area where we walked down to see some waterfalls. It was peaceful and the falls were easily accessible from the road. Some people were even swimming in the lower pools – enjoying the gorgeous surroundings.
Along the route were many spots to pull over and take in the views. Sometimes it was a valley or a waterfall or even just fascinating trees. There was so much to look at we stopped frequently. The drive became slower the further we went due to the hundreds of hairpin turns and one lane bridges (59 in total). There was also a large construction project that held us up for over an hour while the crews were blasting the overhanging rock.
One of the main highlights was Wai’anapanapa State Park. This area was stunningly beautiful with black beaches, a massive blow hole, caves and an incredible sea arch. We spent a considerable amount of time here exploring the beauty. Just as we arrived it started to rain so we took cover in one of the caves and waited it out until the shower passed. But once the rain had moved through it seemed even more vibrant and fresh. I think we all agreed that this was the favourite place for the day.
Another beautiful waterfall was Wailua Falls. The falls are over 80 feet high and spill down into a gorgeous pond of crystal blue-green water. We couldn’t believe there were so many lovely places within such a short distance of each other.
We eventually came to the actual town of Hana but decided to bypass it in hopes of reaching the Ohe’o Gulch also known as the Seven Sacred Pools. This section of the road is particularly winding and by this time it had started to rain. When we reached the park entrance we were disappointed to find that the pools were not open for swimming. This had been one of the main reasons for making our way to this area so we could swim and cool off before starting the drive back to the ship.
At this point it was getting later in the afternoon so we turned back to start the long drive in the opposite direction.
By the time we found parking in Lahaina, walked back to tender and made it onto the ship it was close to 8:00pm.
We went to the dining room to see if we could find a table for the late seating and were sat with two nice couples. It was a great evening of relaxed dining and easy conversation. Our dinner included scampi and lasagna.
This evening we enjoyed watching the Friendly Feud game show in the Colony Club.
Continue to Day 7 - click here
We wanted to take full advantage of being in port early from our overnight stay so Denis and I rose early in order to take him to Puakea Golf Course for his 7:30am tee time. We walked to the shopping mall to pick up the car and navigated our way to the golf course. It was only about 15 minutes from the pier and an easy drive through the downtown of Lihue.
Once I dropped him off I headed back to the ship to get Ian and Laura going. After reading some blogs about swimming in waterfalls, we decided we were going to visit Wailua Falls (otherwise known as the Fantasy Island falls from the popular TV show) and see if we could find a way down to swim in the pool at the bottom.
We arrived at the falls and had a great view from the top (over 100 feet down) but could not see an easy way to navigate to the pool. Ian spoke to a local lady and while she wouldn’t tell him exactly where there was a path, she did point him in the general direction. We eventually came across a portion of the fence that had been cut and could see somewhat of a path leading down the cliff into the forested area. We met up with a woman and her two daughters who were contemplating the trek so we watched them begin their descent at which point Ian had decided he was also going to go. The girls then informed us there were ropes along the path that you could use to keep yourself from sliding down the side of the cliff so I decided I would also go. Laura opted to stay at the top rather than plummet to her death (her words).
The downward climb was tricky and required carefully picking your way through the trees, brush, rocks and mud. However, after about 20 minutes of walking/sliding, we made it to the bottom. The pool was cool and refreshing and swimming so close to the waterfall was truly fantastic. It was another wonderful experience and I was glad we had chosen to attempt the walk.
Climbing up was a little harder only because more people were starting to come down and the path was becoming more slippery. But we made it back up – sweaty and full of mud.
At this point it was approaching lunch time so we stopped at McDonald’s and picked up some lunch and then went to the golf course to pick up Denis. He had a terrific round playing with a man who lived in Kauai but was originally from California. The golf course was very different from the ocean coarse he played in Kona. The Puakea Golf Course consists of pristine fairways, groomed sand bunkers and rolling hills surrounded by vistas of the surrounding mountains. The mountain views change as you make your way around the course and add to the challenge and experience of playing this course.
We had decided that we would spend the afternoon at the beach and drove to the southern part of the island to Poipu beach. The first section we set up at was a very sandy beach but when you went in the water it was quite shallow and not really great for swimming. The area underwater on this part of the beach was made up of black lava rock making it quite tricky to walk.
We spent some time lying on the beach and then I walked around to the other end of the point only to find a second beach with huge crashing waves. We moved our things to this side and spent the next hour and a half playing in the cresting waves. It was so much fun and when we finally dragged ourselves out of the water, we were sufficiently exhausted.
On our way back to the car we stopped to get some Hawaiian shaved ice. This is a specialty of the Hawaiian islands and is a cool treat. You receive a cup filled with ice and then you choose the specific flavour of concentrated syrup you would like – there are many tropical options including coconut, pineapple, strawberry, passionfruit, etc. You can also choose more than one flavour and have a multilayered ice. It was a good treat after our extended swimming session.
At this point it was getting later in the day and we decided to start heading back to Lihue. We had heard about the gardens that were located at the Kauai Marriott back in town so we decided to visit and see what the property was like. In the centre courtyard is a huge open-air garden with water features, bridges and tropical plants. It was a beautiful spot to walk around and essentially no one was there. We walked through the hotel to the onsite beach and saw a really beautiful spot that we would love to come back and stay at one time. Always good to be planning ahead for a future vacation.
Denis and I dropped the kids at the cruise terminal and headed back to the airport to return the car. We caught a shuttle back to the ship and came onboard just as they were beginning to close down the security lines. We had loved every moment spent in Kauai and vowed we would be back again.
Our dinner this evening was a tasty calamari salad, tenderloin and a tomato pasta dish.
This evening we watched the Headliner Show – Piano Man in the Aurora Theatre. The show included a choreographed show with music and dancers highlighting music from Billy Joel, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Barry Manilow. It was entertaining.
Continue to Day 6 - click here
After a few busy days, the kids opted to stay on the ship for the morning when we had arrived at the port of Nawiliwili in Kauai. Denis and I had breakfast and then Ian came down with us to the terminal so we could determine a location for meeting later. We were looking forward to this overnight stop so we could enjoy the island of Kauai during the evening.
The line up for the shuttle buses was very long and it seemed that the buses weren’t picking up very often so we went over to where the taxi line up was located. It was very frustrating since many of the taxis were only willing to pick up people wanting a tour, not for a single destination ride. They also wanted a minimum number of people so it made getting a driver difficult. After talking to some people in the line up we found 2 people who were also going to the Lihue airport to get a car rental and 2 others that were going to a golf course that was in the same general direction. We decided to take the taxi together so we could get going. After a quick 10 minute ride, we arrived at the airport rental depot. The wait at (Dollar Rental Car) was pretty long but eventually we were on our way.
Our destination was the Waimea Canyon State Park. The ride took us about 1 hour. We knew that Kauai was the rainforest island but we weren’t really prepared for exactly how mountainous and green it would be. There was intermittent rain but for the most part the dark clouds seemed to stay ahead of us. We drove along the main road that took us through small towns spread out along the way but more of the drive was through green, lush hills. Once we started up towards the Canyon, the views were spectacular. The scenery started to look similar to the Grand Canyon but was far more colourful.
We stopped a few times to take photos but the road became more twisty and there weren’t many pull offs as we ascended higher. When we entered the park, there was a large parking area where you could leave the car and walk out to the edge of the look out. Immediately after exiting the car we were greeted by many roosters. We had seen them all along the road but here they were very interested in the loads of tourists coming to see the canyon. The rooster is a signature of the island of Kauai as we would come to learn – they are absolutely everywhere.
The views of the Canyon were incredible. Shades of green, orange and red were breathtaking even with clouds looming over the peaks. We walked around taking both photos and video to try to capture the beauty around us.
Back in the parking lot was a booth where a local man was selling Hawaiian treats. We purchased some fresh pineapple and fried banana fritters that his mother had made that morning. He told us about even more views of the Napali Cliffs if we continued driving up the road about 30 minutes.
We decided to drive the extra distance as this would be the only way for us to see Napali since the only other option is by boat. It was a windy road and was slow going. And as we went higher in altitude, it became even more cloudy and rainy. Unfortunately by the time we got to the viewing area it was a blanket of fog. You couldn’t see anything! This was of course disappointing but you never know what the weather will do when in the rainforest.
It was getting quite late for us so we started to head back down to the ship to get the kids. They met us in the terminal and we were off to explore the eastern side of the Island.
Our first stop was Opaekaa waterfall – the name means rolling shrimp. This is a very tall waterfall (150 feet) located back from the road in a forested area. The falls cascade into a pool that you cannot see due to the numerous trees. Again, the views were gorgeous with most including a look at the Wailua river.
We had a reservation for 3:30pm to go take a river cruise on the Wailua river to see the Fern Grotto. The company we chose is the Smith Family who have been offering tours for many years. It was a delightful ride down the river where they described the area, vegetation and animals. They also played Hawaiian music and attempted to teach us how to do the hula. We were pretty uncoordinated but it was fun to try. The professional dancer on the ship was graceful and made it look so simple!
Upon our arrival at the Fern Grotto it started raining but we proceeded with the walk on a path bordered by plants and flowers and were kept relatively dry under a canopy of trees. The base is a lava cave and covered in ferns that grow upside down from the roof. The grotto was formed millions of years ago and was so pretty. Once we got to the Grotto, the family played music that sounded fantastic due to the incredible acoustics of the area. In the past many people have chosen this spot for their wedding ceremonies.
After our tour, we boarded the river boat once again and were serenaded by the band with beautiful Hawaiian music all the way back to the pier. Thankfully by the time we arrived back it had stopped raining.
Our last activity for the day was a planned Luau at the Smith’s Tropical Paradise. We were there right when the doors opened at 5:00pm so we had plenty of time to wander the spectacular grounds. The 30-acre botanical garden with bamboo forests, tropical birds, bridges and statuary made for a stunning place to experience this Hawaiian tradition. After receiving our shell lei, we started with a ride on the tram where the driver pointed out the plants that were from all over the world. Following the ride, we walked around on our own looking at all the lovely flowers and taking photos of the surrounding beauty.
The Luau dinner is set up under a covered area with long family style tables. We chose our seats and then went to the imu ceremony. This is a special Hawaiian underground cooking process where the pig is roasted in an earthen imu oven for the entire day. There is quite a lengthy process involving chants and singing as the pig is raised from the ground. We were excited to try it for our dinner.
The Luau included all the drinks as well as the meals and entertainment so we leisurely made our way back to the table with mai tai drinks to start. We met a very nice couple from California who was just finishing up a 2-week vacation on the Island. They were fun and interesting to talk with during the evening.
The buffet dinner was expansive with traditional Hawaiian dishes such as kalua pork, beef teriyaki, chicken adobo, sweet & sour mahi mahi, lomi salmon, fresh poi, namasu salad and tropical desserts including fruit, rice pudding and pastries. There was so much food, it was incredible. Everything was very tasty and it was great to try some local dishes from the region.
The highlight of the evening was of course the Rhythm of Aloha Show. Everyone moved to find seats in the wonderful open-air lagoon amphitheatre that was lit by torches. The show highlighted the numerous dances within the region since Hawaii has so many different nationalities that have influenced the culture over the years. We watched traditional dances from Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, Philippines, New Zealand, China and Japan. All were unique in their own way. The costumes, music and stage production was top notch. They even had lasers and an erupting volcano – it kept us entertained the entire time.
After an exhilarating evening, we drive back down to the pier and found a local shopping plaza (Anchor Cove Mall) that offered overnight parking for $20.00. From there it was about a 10-minute walk back to the ship.
It had been a fantastic day & evening and we were all ready for bed!
Continue to Day 5 - click here
This morning we had an early start. Unfortunately the weather was quite overcast and a little drizzly. After a quick breakfast, we left the ship and once through the terminal found the line for the car rental shuttle bus. We only had maybe a 10 minute wait before the shuttle came to take us to the car depot at the Hilo airport.
Once we received the car (actually a van), we were off to see Rainbow Falls in the town of Hilo. The GPS took us through many back streets where we observed, this side of the Big Island was not as lush as the area around Kona and certainly far more populated.
Rainbow Falls are very easy to access from the road. There is a good sized parking lot alongside the road and an easy walk to the lookout where you have a terrific view of the falls. There is also a set of stairs that lead up to an area located above the waterfall so you can have a wonderful view of the falls from the top. Unfortunately, the rain became heavier while we were on the top so it was a quick visit.
From here we were going to make the drive to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The drive is quite a distance inland and took us approximately 45 minutes to reach the Visitors Centre. Along the way, the road was narrow and windy with occasional (but magnificent) vistas of the ocean at some of the hairpin turns. Fortunately for us it was not raining in this area.
The entrance to the Park is well marked and we easily found the Visitor’s Centre. The park ranger provided us with a detailed map and suggested that we could listen to a series of audio recordings by calling a dedicated phone number provided by the State.
We first drove to the area where the steam vents are located. You park in a lot and then walk towards a flattened area down below what is a portion of land leading to the crater. You can see a lot of steam vents with the smoke billowing from cracks in the earth. It is hard to imagine that we were actually walking on top of where an active volcano resides and amazing how much heat is captured underneath the ground. It was very interesting to see.
We then drove to the observation area of the Halema’uma’u crater. We could see the steam rising from within but unfortunately from this vantage point, the lava level was too low for us to see. Apparently, the levels change regularly but we didn’t catch it on a day where it was visible.
Also within the Park is the Nahuku Thurston Lava Tube where we were able to walk through an incredible rainforest with lush vegetation. The steps up into the forest were numerous but it was a great walk where we saw flowers, trees, vines and so many types of different vegetation, it was hard to take it all in. Eventually we came to the enormous lava tube (600 foot cave) that has a path cut right through it. The walls drip with condensation and vines and moss hang down from the top. It is lit from within with electric lights and in some areas the ceiling is more than 20 feet high. It was an amazing sight – especially when you think that this was originally created by coursing lava dating back 500 years.
After our trek through the forest, we were starting to get hungry. We stopped at a small café in Kurtistown and ordered hamburgers to go. After a short stop we were on our way again to find the Ahalanui County Beach Park to swim in a thermal hot pond. We started off in what seemed like the right direction only to realize after our GPS delivered us to a small village on the coast, that we weren’t in the right spot. A lovely lady at one of the local food stands told us to continue along the coast for another 25 minutes until we came to a stop sign and then proceed another 10 minutes until we saw a park with beaches on our right. We kept going in that direction but seemed like we were driving for a very long time. Along the way we came across a stretch of the road that has trees growing overtop making a canopy that was gorgeous. We got out of the car to take a picture and noticed the sweeping coastline with crashing waves and craggy, black rocks framed by incredible greenery. The sea was so loud we couldn’t even hear each other talking. It was a stunning area that we were so glad we stumbled upon.
Just as we were beginning to give up on finding the hot pond, we finally came to the clearing where the parking lot was located. We went directly into the water and found that it was mostly locals swimming and playing in the huge natural pool. The water was so warm – almost like a bath. We found out the water is fed by an underground thermal spring that keeps the water super warm year round. At the edge of the pond was a natural breakwater of boulders where waves regularly crashed over from the sea. For just a moment you would have the cooler water of the open ocean flood into the pond in a refreshing stream. The local children were having an amazing time sitting up on the breakwater and having the waves push them down into the pond. It was a magical place and we were so glad we didn’t miss it.
After a wonderful swim, we started on our way towards the Hilo airport to drop off the car. Along the way we stopped at several state park beaches in search of sea turtles since someone had told us they were plentiful in these areas. We only saw a couple of turtles that were in the water – unfortunately not up on the sand like we were expecting.
We were now very tight for time but just made it to the car rental depot to catch the last shuttle to the port.
Upon our arrival to the ship, we got ready for dinner (our first formal night) and met our fellow dinner companions to compare notes from the day. The food was terrific while we enjoyed prime rib and stuffed ravioli.
This evening we first took part in the Captain’s reception, followed by trivia and then one of the Headliner’s Craig Dahn, who was a terrific pianist. A very full day but all in all, our adventures in Hilo had made for a really great day.
Continue to Day 4 - click here
Our second morning we woke up to find the bright blue skies of the Big Island. We had arrived in Kona.
Denis got up early and went to secure us tender tickets so we would be one of the first groups off the ship. After breakfast in the Solarium, we proceeded to the tender deck, boarded the boat and took the quick trip into Kailua Village. Immediately at the end of the pier was the King Kamehameha Hotel where we had pre-arranged a car rental from Thrifty Car Rental. We were glad that we had pre-booked since they had no available cars aside from the reservations made in advance.
We were ready to go earlier than expected and decided to head to the snorkel gear shop first. We found Snorkel Bob’s right off the main road on Kahakai Street. It was very close to the pier. There was a wonderful woman who rented us the necessary gear and gave great advice about where to find good snorkeling and a spot to purchase authentic Kona coffee. We immediately headed up the road to Green Flash Coffee where Denis ordered Kona coffee and we had super flavourful smoothies. Great start to the day.
From there we drove down the coast to the Kona Country Club where Denis had booked a tee time. It wasn’t busy and he was playing by himself so he took his time and thoroughly enjoyed the surroundings. The grounds had lush greens, gorgeous flowers and views of the sea that were all spectacular. He had a terrific day playing golf and enjoying a lunchtime meal at the club house.
After dropping off Denis, the kids and I headed off to a recommended spot further down the coast to snorkel at a place the locals call Two Step. The coast line along this area is made up of large black volcanic rock. While this makes for wonderful snorkeling – it can prove challenging to enter the water. You don’t walk in like you would on a beach but instead, you pick your way along the rocks, look for an area that has shelf like steps where you can sit and then jump from them to get into the water. Once in the water, it was an incredible sight. The water was so clear you could see all the sea life underneath as if you were looking in an aquarium. Tropical fish, colourful coral and so much plant life it was stunning. We circled around for 1 ½ hours enjoying the warm water and pointing out all the incredible fish to each other. This was a fantastic experience.
While heading back to our towels and bags, we noticed up on the rocks were crevices where water collects and in one of them there was a sea turtle swimming. He was drawing quite a crowd so we sat and watched him for some time.
Afterwards I rested on the rocks and watched the numerous butterflies flying all over the area. Laura spent more time with the turtle and Ian recorded a little tune on the uke. See his performance by clicking here.
Eventually we decided to start the trek back. Along the way we stopped to take pictures of the lush surroundings including gorgeous road side fruit stands and properties that were abundant with flowers. We also went to a few other beaches to see if we could find more turtles but unfortunately didn’t have any success.
We came back into the charming little town of Kona that looks like a California hippie town from the 1960s. The shops and restaurants that line the main street are really cute and we loved the laid back feeling of each person we met. We stopped at the restaurant Lava Java and enjoyed a meal where we had a wonderful view of the sea. Everything was simple and fresh – Ian and I had avocado and chicken sandwiches and Laura had a hamburger. It filled us after a busy morning at the beach.
We continued our drive along the coast and realized we were back at the hotel. I decided to leave the kids here so they could enjoy the air conditioning and wi-fi in the hotel lobby. I then made my way back down the coast to go and pick up Denis. After exchanging stories of our great experiences, we made a stop at a local market to purchase Kona coffee beans to take home.
With our shopping complete, it was time to head back to the ship. We picked up the kids at the hotel, dropped off the car and made our way back down the pier to the tender. We boarded at 4:00pm on one of the last scheduled boats for the day and by this time there was a light drizzle starting. This we would find is the norm is Hawaii.
Upon our arrival at the ship, we showered, had some wine and then headed off to dinner. Again we loved our meal of lamb, stuffed pasta and a white fish.
We didn’t go to see the show this evening but instead opted for the Karaoke night at the Quill & Compass Pub. Always fun to watch amateur singers and of course we enjoyed Ian when he was at the mike.
We also went to the evening Abba Tribute in an effort to stay up until 11:30pm. That was when the captain navigated the ship around the southern part of the Big Island for us to see the molten lava spewing into the sea. The captain brought the ship quite close and since it was so dark, we could see the steady stream coming from a break in the side of the volcano. This was quite a treat to see from the water and definitely made the late night worth it.
Continue to Day 3 - click here
We flew WestJet through Vancouver departing at 1:55pm from Toronto for the standard 5-hour flight. We arrived in Vancouver with enough time to have a quick bite to eat and then proceed on our next 6-hour flight to arrive in Honolulu on time at 9:30pm. Stepping off the airplane and walking through the open-air terminal was a wonderful welcome to the warm, tropical breezes of Hawaii. Denis left myself and the children to watch for the luggage while he went to secure the rental car from Dollar Car Rental. It is an offsite lot so once we collected the luggage we took the shuttle over to meet him, where he was waiting and ready to go.
The ride from the airport to our hotel in downtown Waikiki took approximately 25 minutes. We had pre-booked a night at Coconut Waikiki Hotel on Lewers Street. Parking is quite difficult in Waikiki and after circling around trying to find a spot on the street, we opted for the valet parking offered by the hotel.
We had an easy check in, brought our bags up to the room and after a quick clean up, fell into bed. We were all pretty exhausted after a long day of travel and a time change of 6 hours.
The next morning Denis and I were up early at 6:00am to have a quick breakfast at the hotel and then we were off to visit Pearl Harbour. Ian and Laura chose to stay at the hotel to sleep and eat leisurely. Afterwards Ian took a long walk around the area to check it out and take some photos.
Our drive from Waikiki to Pearl Harbor was uneventful. There was some traffic as people made their way to work but we arrived around 7:15am and joined the line of people wanting to see the Arizona Memorial. The first 1300 people are issued free tickets and we needed to be on one of the first tours in order to see everything and make it back to Waikiki. We received our tour ticket for the 8:00am tour so we walked around the grounds and read the signs and viewed some of the monuments placed around the Harbor edge.
The tour of the Arizona Memorial begins with a 20-minute movie narrated by Sigourney Weaver and it was a very well-produced piece detailing the history, the failed U.S military strategies and the ultimate devastation of the Harbor and nearby Airfield. The movie included real life footage and was very forthcoming about the horrible tragedies that took place, taking the lives of so many. It was quite emotional and also gave us insight that we didn’t have prior to our visit.
After the film, we boarded a boat that took us to the actual memorial. We were incredibly impressed by the structure. It was very tastefully created with a platform and partially covered structure that is secured overtop of the sunken U.S.S Arizona. There are many plaques detailing the different parts of the ship, describing how it was hit and caught fire, eventually leading to the ship sinking in the Harbor. At one end of the memorial, there is a large white wall that holds the names of all of the men that went down with the ship and still remain inside. It was a sobering display and we found it to be an emotional experience that was also affecting all of the people around as they whispered to each other and showed a tremendous amount of respect for this amazing piece of history. Incredibly you can still smell the fuel that continues to rise from the ship in the water.
There were military personnel who explained that of the survivors have passed away, many have had their ashes brought down into the ship to be laid to rest with their colleagues. Pretty incredible.
Once we were taken back to the land, we reflected on what a well run attraction the memorial had been. Very minimal wait time, an easy boarding process and a well thought out display of something that is a very disturbing wreckage. We were definitely impressed.
Our next stop was on a bus where we visited the U.S.S Missouri. This ship was the same class as the Arizona however it was only commissioned in 1944. The ship was active in World War II fighting battles in Japan. And then was the actual site where the Japanese surrendered and the war came to an end. The Missouri was decommissioned shortly after the end of the war but in 1984 was modernized and provided support during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Since that time the ship has been decommissioned again and now resides as a museum ship.
We started with a fascinating tour of the upper decks of the ship hearing about the history including the battle stories and intriguing people who had attacked the ship. As well as the immense cannons, anti-aircraft guns and missile launchers. They even have a whole area dedicated to where the signing happened with the Japanese.
After our tour, we started downward to see the underbelly of the ship. It was amazing to see the barracks, the kitchens and all the offices and utility areas that are required to run this small city at sea of 2700 men. The ship is an engineering marvel.
Once we were finished discovering the ship, we took the shuttle bus back to the main entrance after we passed by the U.S.S Bowfin – a U.S Navy submarine that is also on display as a museum. Will have to see this one next time.
Back at the hotel, we packed up our luggage and left it down at the front desk. The hotel provided us with towels and beach chairs and we headed towards the beach area for lunch. Under recommendation from the hotel we ate at Duke’s. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch right beside the ocean that included nachos, shrimp tacos and the fish special of the day. Everything was tasty and you couldn’t beat the view.
Our afternoon was spent lounging on Waikiki beach enjoying the sun and surf. The water there is so clear and blue and we had a great time riding the waves. We were looking forward to many more beaches in the coming days. Alas, we eventually had to make our way back to the resort to pick up the car and make our way to the ship.
The car rental location had a shuttle bus that took us directly to the ship terminal. Upon our arrival (close to 4:30pm) we found the counters and security to have absolutely no one around and our embarkation was a breeze. We later found out that just two hours prior the terminal had been jammed with people as the ship was delayed due to multiple inspections upon its return to the U.S. We had timed it perfectly!
Of course, we were right on time for our emergency drill and then went for dinner. The first night of the cruise is very casual since not everyone has their luggage so we joined the guests at our table wearing our shorts and suits directly from the beach. Our servers were both from India and provided a wonderful meal – fettucine, seafood pasta and prime rib. All perfectly prepared and thoroughly enjoyed by all.
Afterwards we listened to some music in the piano bar and then went off to an early bedtime. We were looking forward to our first port of Kona on the Big Island.
Continue to Day 2 - click here
As we woke up on Day 7 of our cruise, I pulled the blinds open to a partially overcast sky and a slightly choppy sea. The last day of any cruise is fairly low key since it is often a sea day and there is a bittersweet feeling that seems to pervade the ship as everyone realizes the journey is nearly done. There are still lots of activities going on around the ship, but they are taken on with a more relaxed approach than earlier in the week. For the most part, this is a day to transition from vacation mode to “back to reality”.
We began this day as we had the other sea days – I went up to the Solarium and picked out a spot on the deck that would be shady by afternoon. Kim joined me soon after and we meandered through the Solarium Bistro picking up our favourite breakfast fare from the buffet islands. After breakfast we climbed into our lounge chairs. Kim read while I just lay there and let the banter from the other guests and the morning warmth cover me like a cozy blanket. Ian and Laura eventually joined us. We spent the rest of the morning relaxing and re-energizing between the lounge chairs, the pool and the hot tub.
By early afternoon the clouds began to gather and it was slightly overcast. We packed up our gear and changed into street clothes deciding to use the time to walk around the ship to take photos. It was our intention to re-walk all common decks and ensure that we had not missed anything over the last 6 days. Since we hadn’t been to all of the specialty restaurants, we passed by Central Park and browsed the menus just to see what we had missed. There were some exclusive tasting menus and multiple course meals featured at these restaurants, but for our tastes and budget, we felt we had done quite well with the selections in the main dining room. Since I am an avid sushi fan, one restaurant that I would like to try the next time around is the Japanese Restaurant Izumi.
As we continued walking down Central Park, we decided to try the Park Café for lunch. We had stopped by here earlier in the week for a baguette which was quite tasty, but wanted to try some of their other food items as well. Today the lineup was moderate, but it did take some time to get through the cafeteria style queue. This was primarily due to the way the counters are laid out and the small venue size. There are only a few tables inside the café and they fill up pretty quickly. There is one line which goes from the soup and salad bar through to the sandwich bar and then the checkout area. Since the salads and sandwiches are fresh and made to order, there does tend to be congestion, especially on sea days. The wait however, is well worth it, since the both the salads and sandwiches are fresh and flavourful. This is where the famous roast beef sandwiches are found - fresh shaved roast beef with mustard on a caraway bun - so delicious! We also had huge salads that you choose the ingredients and they are made fresh for you. Ian enjoyed a toasted brie and cheese baguette and Laura had an egg salad sandwich. All very tasty! We brought our meals outside the café into Central Park and found a high top table which had an overhanging umbrella that kept us shaded.
After lunch we continued our walk around the ship. Kim and I had talked previously about stopping in at the wine bar for one of the wine tastings. Since we had not managed to make that happen to this point, we decided to do so today. We had actually just missed the scheduled tasting which is offered at a discounted price. Instead, we were offered the extensive wine list which featured vintages from every major wine region in the world. Most were priced by the bottle and some by the glass. The wines we were interested in were quite expensive and more than we are used to paying. For the serious wine connoisseur, there certainly are some superb wines listed. We opted to wait for another cruise when we can schedule one of the discounted wine tastings more suited to our budget.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking the various decks of the ship and ensuring we had pictures of all the venues and specialty areas that we may have missed previously. The weather fluctuated between partly sunny and overcast - an appropriate backdrop to that bittersweet feeling that pervades the last day of a fabulous cruise.
Images from around the ship:
Just before dinner, we decided to try the Champagne Bar which was another venue that had eluded us so far. On other cruises, the Champagne Bar is one of our usual stops. It tends to be a quieter venue than most bars and often features some live music at the grand piano. On this last day of our cruise, we had the chance to just sit and reminisce about the last week and begin our plans for our stay in Fort Lauderdale following our disembarkation. Kim sipped the chilled champagne that was the daily feature, and I enjoyed a very dry, classic Vodka martini, with olives. Since we still had a couple of drinks left on the drink coupon that we had purchased earlier in the week at the Rising Tide bar, Kim’s champagne, normally 11 dollars and my martini, normally 13 dollars, were 7.99 each. We found that to be a bargain since both drinks were from the premium list.
Our last dinner on the Oasis of the Seas was bittersweet. We enjoyed prime rib, striploin steak and cheese & pancetta pasta. As with the other meals we ate in the dining room, we were not disappointed with either the quality or the quantity. We just weren't sure how we would survive the next night when we were no longer on the ship and weren't provided with so many tasty options to choose from each evening! We said our goodbyes to our waiter and assistant waiter and wished them many more good voyages.
Since there was no scheduled entertainment in the main theatre on this night, we wandered over to the Promenade. Kim went up to the Future Cruise Office to book our next cruise. This is an option that we often look at since booking your next cruise while on a cruise usually entitles you to a discount and additional onboard amenities. The booking only requires a modest refundable deposit and doesn’t obligate you to take the cruise you booked – you can change dates, itineraries or ships later if you wish. We opted for a 12 night cruise of the Hawaiian Islands in May. The cruise starts in Hawaii and repositions to Vancouver. Looking forward to that one already!
While Kim was booking our next cruise, I did my last night shopping at the duty free store, purchasing 2 bottles of Kettle One Vodka (one of my favourites) for $30. That is less than I pay at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario for one bottle. With that chore out of the way, I joined Kim in the Future Cruise office just as she was finishing up.
We made one last pass through the pool deck and Solarium, then headed to On Air and caught the finale of the Karaoke competition. The venue was packed and we barely managed to find spots for the 4 of us to sit (stand) together. The winners from the elimination rounds all came together, and we recognized a few of them from the first evening that we tried to get Ian registered. After the final tally, the competitor that won was the same girl who had managed to get in by singing acappela on the same night that Ian performed. She was very good and deserved to win the competition.
Because we needed to get our bags packed and in the hallway by 11:00pm so they could be transported for our morning departure, we said our good nights and headed to our staterooms. I have to admit, I was a bit sad that this was our last night aboard.
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Day 6 – Labadee
After 2 very hectic days in Sint Maarten and Puerto Rico, our 3rd port of call was on the island of Labadee, Haiti, where Royal Caribbean leases part of the island for the exclusive use of its cruising guests. While our intention was to spend most of the day on the island to relax and recuperate from the rigours of our last 2 ports, there is lots to do on Labadee for those who want to continue to be adventurous.
Labadee is home to the Dragon's Breath Flight Line, the world's longest zip line over water. It also has an exciting 300 foot long waterslide that goes through several twists and turns, and ends up in the splash zone at Columbus Cove. There is also the Dragon's Tail Coaster that speeds along at 30 miles per hour.
While we didn’t take advantage of any of these thrill rides, Laura and Ian instead opted for a parasailing adventure that departed just after our 10:00am disembarkation and took place on the bay behind where the Oasis was docked. Needless to say, as we ambled down the ramp from the ship to the pier, we were greeted by another cloudless and sunny sky with temperatures already past 30 degrees celsius. It was going to be a scorcher.
While Kim, Ian and Laura headed over to check in for the parasailing adventure, I decided to see if we could find a spot on the beach with umbrellas to provide some much needed shade from the relentless sun. We had met a couple in the Solarium the previous day who had been to Labadee before and had rented beach tents for $35 U.S. I went to the information centre and was told that there were a few umbrellas at each beach, but they are usually taken immediately after disembarkation. I was told to go up to the beach area to see if there were any cabanas available. I walked up to the main entrance to the beach and resort area and enquired at the front desk. I was informed that all of the cabanas were rented out and that there was no availability. My only option was to see if there were any no-shows.
There were a series of shuttles that transported guests with confirmed reservations for cabanas, back and forth from the beach to the ship. I stopped one of the shuttle drivers and asked him if there were any unoccupied cabanas. He told me he wasn’t sure but asked me to wait while he loaded a group who had reservations for their trip to the beach. The group he was loading handed him 6 tickets, one for each cabana. Since they were only 6 people, he asked why they had purchased so many tickets. There response was that they thought they needed one ticket per person. It turned out that each cabana is large enough for 6 people, so in effect they really only needed one ticket. What was more surprising to me was that each ticket cost $200 U.S., so this group had paid $1200 to spend the day at the beach! I negotiated with them for one of the tickets so that we could enjoy our day without worrying about the blistering sun.
By the time I had done the negotiating, Ian and Laura had finished their parasailing, and Kim was leading them back to the beach entrance where we had agreed to meet. I told them the good news, that I had managed to get a cabana, and the bad news – it cost us $200.
We waited for the shuttle to arrive to transport us to our cabana, and as it turned out, we managed to get Willie, the same shuttle driver that I had spoken to before. Willie welcomed us aboard the shuttle and drove us along the crescent shaped shoreline to the far end of the beach, where our large, square cabana, covered in a white canvas roof with white sidewalls flapping in the breeze stood in the middle of the beach amongst a few other well spaced cabanas. The cabana interior was made up of adjoining mattresses with large pillows all around the perimeter. Willie introduced us to our concierge who provided us with beach towels, a water cooler with 6 large bottles of water, coupons for bar drinks and a BBQ lunch. He also pulled out beach mats and lounge chairs for our exclusive use.
By the time we settled into the cabana it was approaching noon and the temperature was nearing the projected high of 38 degrees celsius. It was time to relax and take full advantage of the amenities that came with the cabana. We spread out on the mattresses under the canvas and let the cooling breeze soothe our burning bodies as we all buried ourselves in our favourite books for the next hour.
After a good rest in the cabana, we walked over to the closest of the three covered BBQ areas where lunch is served buffet style. The menu consists of hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, rice, beans and a variety of salads. There are picnic tables on either side of the buffet area, but we chose to bring our lunches back to the cabana where it was quieter and far more peaceful.
One of the main advantages of renting a cabana, aside from the obvious comfort and protection from the sun, is the location. The main beach is much closer to where the ship is docked, and as a result is extremely busy. The cabanas are at the far end of the beach which is much more private. The beach at this end is also protected by a stone breakwater that extends well into the bay so the water is very calm. The water is quite shallow all along the beach but unfortunately it has not been dredged out so it has many sharp rocks and coral on the bottom. Water shoes are a necessity!
After lunch, and for the rest of the afternoon, we alternated between cooling dips in the Caribbean and short naps or reading on the cabana mattresses. This was probably our most relaxing day on the cruise so far and was enhanced by the palm trees behind us, white sand beneath us and turquoise waters in front of us. The all aboard was scheduled for 5:30pm and we waited until the very last minute to have Willie paged to drive us back to the ship. In fact, we were the last group on this part of the beach to leave.
Once we boarded the ship, we went to our staterooms to shower off the sand and salt, and get ready for dinner.
Of course, after a difficult day of lounging and sunning ourselves, we had worked up an appetite. Tonight's selections were very good. Ian and Laura enjoyed the cheese gnocchi (in fact so much so that they each had two plates) and Kim and I replenished our energy with enormous portions of prime rib. Both were excellent!
Because we had time before the evening performance was to begin in the Opal theatre, we browsed through the ship’s photo gallery on the 5th deck to preview some of the pictures that we had posed for over the past few nights. We often take advantage of the photographers onboard to capture some images of us while we are dressed up and all together at one time (since it doesn't happen often). We had some group shots and individual pictures taken over the last couple of evenings but on this particular cruise none of them were outstanding. They have also changed some of the policies for purchasing photos. They won't provide an individual digital photo any longer, you must purchase a package so this wasn't really of interest to us at the time.
After checking out the photo gallery we walked down to the Theatre for the evening performance of Come Fly With Me, an impressive acrobatic extravaganza that has hints of Cirque de Soleil and Burlesque. The costumes and stage settings are creative as is the use of black and white, and colour to portray changes in time. The show is energetic and fast paced.
As had become our custom after watching the evening performance, we strolled through the Promenade to see what was happening at On Air. Tonight’s game show was “60 seconds or less”, based on the popular TV game show “A minute to win it”. Several contestants representing their home countries competed for fabulous prizes including Royal Caribbean zipper pulls and colourful hi-liters by trying to bounce ping balls into a Red Solo cup placed strategically in the centre of a bar table. After many unsuccessful attempts, a winner was declared from Australia, to the relief of the spellbound spectators.
To cap off our evening, Ian, Kim and I headed to the Adult comedy show while Laura headed off to her stateroom. The show is typical stand up comedy fare with a Master of Ceremonies who warms up the crowd and introduces the feature performers. The headliners for this show were Mike Marino and Joe Yanetty. Both have countless credits to their name including appearing on the Tonight Show, The Martin Short Show, and various comedy venues in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. Both also have extensive acting credits in both television and movies. We found their performances to be topical, hilarious, and sometimes raunchy, but certainly not over the top. This is a show well worth seeing.
With Day 6 behind us we retired to our cabin saddened by the thought that tomorrow would be our last full day on the Oasis.
Day 5 – San Juan, Puerto Rico
15 years ago, I had the great fortune of working on a project in Old San Juan where I met some wonderful and generous people who turned this paradise island into my second home for the better part of a year. As a result, I had been looking forward to our 2nd port of call since we first booked our cruise. As soon as we confirmed our booking, I immediately reached out to my dear friend Oscar Pita who I hadn’t seen in 15 years to see if we could meet up when we arrived. Oscar was as excited as I was to reconnect and immediately suggested that he would take the morning off work and be our personal guide on the island he calls home.
Our ship docked in the early morning of August 17th in the downtown Cruise Port just before 6:00am and by the time we roused ourselves from bed, the sunlight was streaming through our balcony door filling our stateroom with the bright light and promise of a new day. By the time we had dressed and were ready to disembark, 2 other cruise ships had quietly inched their way into the port and were parked beside us – it was going to be a busy day in San Juan!
We made our way off the ship, down the gangway and onto the pier in the heart of the old town, where we were greeted with the heat and humidity of a typical Caribbean morning. At just before 8:30am, it was already 30 degrees and the predicted high of 36 degrees was not far away. The forecast was for scattered cloud and the possibility of rain, but most of the cloud had already cleared and the sky was bright blue.
Oscar had suggested we meet across the street from the Port and a few hundred yards to the west at the entrance to the CVS Pharmacy. From experience he knew how busy this area becomes when the cruise ships arrive, pouring more than 10,000 passengers into the old town in a very short time. Fortunately for us, since ours was the first ship to dock, we were able to get off the ship and out of the port before the crush of the crowds. It took us less than 5 minutes to walk to our rendezvous point where we waited for Oscar and his lovely wife Enid to arrive.
A few minutes after 8:30am a car pulled up to the sidewalk not far from the CSV and I recognized the beaming smile of my old friend as he emerged from the passenger side of the vehicle and strutted confidently to where we were waiting. We greeted each other with hugs and after saying our hellos, I introduced him to Kim, Ian and Laura. Oscar let us know that Enid was going to park the car and would meet us at a restaurant that he had picked where we would have breakfast and go over the plans of our discovery of Old San Juan. We walked north from the pharmacy up a narrow, cobblestone side street. I had forgotten how hilly the old town is and within a few minutes of walking up the incline, I had already started to perspire.
A short time later Oscar led us through an arched doorway into a dimly lit room with dark floors and large overhead ceiling fans. The hostess directed us to a long rectangular table in the middle of the dining room. Oscar had picked this particular restaurant, the Waffle Era Tea Room because it is famous for its waffles (both sweet and savoury). The menu is quite extensive with waffles of every description so it took us a bit of time to decide what we were going to have. Once we made our decision we began to plot out our itinerary that would allow us to see as much as we could in just a few hours.
With our plan in place we left the Waffle Era and walked in the general direction of the famous Castillo San Felipe del Morro, more commonly known as El Morro, a World Heritage Site fort that has been guarding the entrance to San Juan Bay at the town’s most northwestern point for 500 years. We picked this attraction as our first stop for two main reasons. First, it marked the furthest distance, and highest elevation from where our cruise ship was docked. This meant that our longest and steepest walk would take place at the beginning of our trek, while we were relatively fresh and before the hottest part of the day. The rest of our tour would be downhill and towards the ship after this stop. Second, El Morro is one of the most visited sites in Puerto Rico and we wanted to avoid the crowds that would surely come once the other cruise ships began to unload their passengers.
It took roughly 20 minutes to walk from the restaurant near the cruise port to the fort, stopping to take photos of the Governor’s House and Cuartel de Ballajá.
Just before we walked down the hill to the main entrance of El Morro, Oscar spotted a vendor selling Piragua from a colourful pushcart. Piragua is a popular frozen desert made from shaved ice and fruit flavoured syrup and has become a Puerto Rican favourite. It is similar to snow cones sold in the U.S. and Canada, but gets its name from the its shape, which is more like a pyramid than a cone. The ice is shaved by hand from a large rectangular block and the syrups are made from real fruit with flavours like mango, passion fruit, banana and strawberry being the most popular. This was a welcome and refreshing treat as it was only but 11:00am but the temperature was now above 35 degrees.
Our visit to El Morro lasted just over 45 minutes. We walked around the outer wall of the massive structure, taking in the unobstructed views of the Atlantic Ocean to the north, San Juan Bay to the west and south, and the old town of San Juan to the east. After walking the perimeter of the fort, we went down several flights of stone stairs, into the interior admiring the impenetrable walls that have kept intruders, navies and pirates at bay for centuries. Our tour finished with a quick stop at the gift shop where Enid, knowing my love for good coffee, purchased a pound of Puerto Rican coffee beans, grown in the mountains that form the spine of the island of Puerto Rico from the east to the west.
We continued back towards the centre of town, stopping at the Cathedral de San Juan Bautista, the second oldest church in the Americas, dating back to 1521. The cathedral houses the remains of Ponce de Leon, the Spanish explorer famous for his quest for the Fountain of Youth. It is also the shrine for the Blessed Carlos Manuel Cecilio Rodríguez Santiago the only layperson in the history of the United States to be beatified.
Leaving the cathedral, we opted to stop in briefly at the Church of San Francisco, only a short distance away. While not as old or as large as the cathedral, it exudes simplicity and piety in its architecture and style and is worth a quick visit.
As we approached the centre of the old town, we were passing by the building that Oscar and I had worked in so many years before, the Office of Management of Government for Puerto Rico. We paused for a quick photo-op before continuing our trek to the centre of town and the main square.
Before arriving at the square, Enid insisted it was time for another Puerto Rican treat so we made our way to a now-famous shop that sells fancy Puerto Rican popsicles in a variety of shapes and flavours. These are not ordinary popsicles, but instead, are very upscale, unique and delicious.
It was approaching 12:30pm and I could feel the time that we had left before returning to the ship beginning to slip away. We still had a couple of stops to make before our all aboard so we made our way to the main plaza in the middle of town. This was one of my favourite spots when I worked here so long ago. I would walk around the plaza at lunch time and stop in to one of the many restaurants or cafes for my midday meal. The plaza is not just a favourite spot for tourists, but is also home to hundreds of pigeons. I had noticed that Oscar was no longer in our small group, but instead was talking to one of the vendors at the edge of the square. He returned to where we were chatting and stood beside Kim. He raised his hand and in a gesture as if he were patting her shoulder, he deposited a small handful of crushed cornmeal down her arm. Almost immediately, a flock of 4 pigeons were perched on her arm! Within a few seconds, he had doused the rest of us with cornmeal, and we were all covered in frolicking, flapping birds!
As our time was nearly done, we wanted to end our stay with a Puerto Rican mallorca, a buttery bun sprinkled with powdered sugar that is a “must have” on any trip to San Juan. The best place to get one is at La Bombonera, a restaurant that has been around for over 100 years. Aside from the mallorcas, this is also one of the best places to get a robust and aromatic café con leche (coffee with milk) made in the original espresso machine that was brought in from Cuba nearly a century ago. The espresso machine, made by Cafeteras Nacionale sits proudly on a counter across from the patron seating area. This was the perfect ending to our all too short visit the old city of San Juan.
It was finally time to say our goodbyes to Oscar and Enid. They had been wonderful hosts and it was a very emotional farewell for me. Oscar and I vowed not to let another 15 years pass before we see each other again. We crossed the street towards to the cruise ship and were swallowed up by the enormous crowd that had queued up for the all aboard. Unfortunately, both our ship and the MSC ship docked beside us were loading at the same time and each passenger had to pass through the U.S Customs/Security before boarding the ship.
After changing from our street clothes and donning our swimwear, we went directly to the Solarium where we cooled off in the pool and then relaxed over lunch from the Bistro. It had been a jam packed and exhausting morning but now it was time to relax. We spent the rest of the afternoon in and around the Solarium going from the pool to the lounge chairs and back to the pool, with the occasional snack in between.
On every cruise we have been on, one of the feature dinners in the main dining room is Lobster Tail. It is also one of the dinners that I look forward to the most and since I was particularly hungry from all of the walking around San Juan, I ordered two. I have to say that I was feeling a little guilty about this, but the guilt dissipated quickly once the lobsters arrived. Just to reinforce that I had made the right choice, Ian decided to order a lobster tail after he finished his original selection of pasta, and then Kim joined in reluctantly (sort of) by also ordering a 2nd tail.
After a very filling dinner we waddled over to Studio B, for our nightly onboard entertainment. Tonight’s feature presentation was titled “Frozen in Time”, an ice skating extravaganza based on the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. The performance lasted just under an hour and was energetic and fun. The talent was quite good with several solo and duet performances from skaters who had won national and international competitions. Pretty incredible considering they were skating while we were on a moving ship! The finale was an amazing sand artist who drew a variety of Hans Christian Andersen’s characters in quick succession from a pile of sand on a lightboard projected onto a screen.
Still feeling a little stuffed from our dinner, we decided to follow up the skating performance with a walk around the ship. We ended up at On Air to catch the last few songs in a Kid’s Karaoke competition. As Karaoke was finishing we could hear the music ramping up in the Promenade just outside of On Air. We followed the crowd towards the middle of the Promenade and into the heart of the 1970’s. On the catwalk above the Promenade, the Village People had arrived to welcome us to the Disco Inferno Street Party with their rendition of ‘YMCA’. This was obviously a popular event as people emerged from everywhere to fill the expanse of Promenade. We stayed for several more unforgettable hits and then dragged Kim away, hips still swinging while her and Ian continued to sing disco tunes. It was finally time for bed.
Day 4 – Sint Maarten
We arrived in “Sint Maarten” (the proper spelling for the Dutch half of the island) a little after 7:30am. In 2010, this part of the island was granted the status of “country” within the Kingdom of the Netherlands; the northern half, Saint-Martin, was colonized by the French. I watched from our stateroom balcony as we backed in slowly and gracefully to the dock beside the beach in Philipsburg. The view from the 9th deck of the Oasis was quite spectacular – a ribbon of white sandy beach separating the turquoise waters of the harbour from the white, pink, blue and yellow stuccoed bars, restaurants and boutiques stretching in a long arc away from the ship.
This was our first port since we left Fort Lauderdale, and we were quite excited to get off the ship and explore this island oasis. To enhance our experience, and help us to gain some knowledge of Philipsburg and Sint Maarten, Kim had booked us on a Royal Caribbean excursion called The Race – a take off from the popular TV reality show “The Amazing Race”. The object was to follow clues around the town of Philipsburg and complete a series of challenges and eventually end up at the destination area, while collecting the most points, in the least amount of time.
Our excursion began at 9:15am at a pickup station on the pier beside the ship. There were another dozen or so families gathered around our meeting point, and once everyone had been checked in, we walked as a group to the water taxi that would bring us to the town.
The excursion was scheduled to finish up around 12:30pm so our plan was to stay in Philipsburg after the excursion and find a spot on the beach to swim and relax before the 4:30 “all aboard”. We had packed a bag with towels, swimsuits and extra water, but, as it turned out, there was nowhere for us to leave the bag while we were on the excursion, even though we had been told otherwise by the onboard excursion staff. Rather than carry the bag with us for the next 4 to 5 hours, the tour facilitator offered to have someone from the staff bring our bag back to the ship and have it kept at Guest Services until our return. We gladly chose this option as the temperature was already approaching 30 C and by midday would be several degrees hotter.
With that settled, we followed the rest of the group onto the water taxi for the 5 minute ride to the entrance of the old town of Philipsburg and its 1400 inhabitants. After exiting the water taxi, we all gathered a short distance away where we were greeted by our excursion hosts, clad in bright green teeshirts, who would be providing our challenges for the game and offering guidance along the way.
Each team chose a name (we were Team Ajax) and received a map of Philipsburg along with a notepad and pencil for working out some of the clues. At the end of each successfully completed challenge we would be given the clue for our next destination and challenge. By the end of the excursion we would have covered some of the major highlights of Philipsburg and been introduced to its history and geography – a great way to explore and learn about a new destination!
Once all of the rules were communicated, we began our first challenge. Each team was given a small container filled with dry rice and beans as well as a plastic spoon for each member of the team. The container with the rice and beans was placed on the ground and an empty container was placed about 50 feet away. The object was to have one team member use their spoon to gather a few beans onto their spoon from the first container and pass the beans onto the spoon of a team member standing at arms length away. This team member would pass the beans to the next person in the same manner. Once a participant passed the beans successfully to a teammate, the participant would go to the end of the line to accept beans from the person previously at the end. This process continued until the last person in the line was able to deposit the beans on their spoon into the previously empty container. The challenge ended when there were 30 beans deposited into the container at the end of the line.
While this sounds simple enough, there were a couple of gotcha’s. First, for each grain of rice that ended up in the container at the end, you lost a point. Second, you could only use the spoons to transfer the beans and you were not allowed to touch the beans with your hand. Third, if you dropped the beans during the transfer, you had to start again. Fourth, during the transfer you could not move your feet – you had to perform the transfer with outstretched arms, accept the beans, then transfer to the next person in line with your feet planted firmly on the ground. Because the spoons could hold a maximum of 5 or 6 beans, the more that were on the spoon, the greater the likelihood of “spilling the beans”. We managed to finish our task with relatively few issues and were one of the first teams allowed to proceed to our next task – we were stoked!
After completing the first challenge we were given our first clue and, using the map, headed to our next destination. Our second challenge took us to the beautiful, white, sandy beach of Philipsburg. This would also be our most physical challenge of the day. Each team lined up about 200 feet from the beach and were given a plastic cup and a sponge. One member of the team placed the empty cup on their head. The other members of the team would take turns running to the water’s edge, filling the sponge with water, then running back to the start line and squeezing the water out of the sponge, into the cup. This task was completed when the cup was overflowing. Needless to say, this challenge left us quite exhausted in the scorching heat!
With our second challenge completed, our next clue took us through the old town of Philipsburg, along Front Street – the street closest, and running parallel, to the beach. We meandered through tiny shops, markets and boutique stores as we followed our clue to the museum at the eastern most point of town. Once there, we entered the tiny 2 storey building which was filled with works of art, furniture, crafts and model ships depicting the history of the colony. Our task was to find a dolphin on a ship and record the information that was displayed about that ship for a future task. While the museum was small (each of the 2 storeys consisted of only one room about 200 square feet), there were hundreds of artifacts. We finally located the ship with the dolphin – It was an old sailing ship that had a carved dolphin perched on its bow – in a tiny alcove on the 2nd storey. We took a picture of the plaque describing the ship to record the information that we would need later in the game.
Our third clue took us north from the museum to the Library where we had to locate a small park and determine what kind of bird was depicted on the sign by the entrance. The bird was a dove and as it turns out, is the National bird of Sint Maarten. Once we determined what the bird was, we had 2 other tasks that we needed to complete here before we could go on to our next destination.
The first was to list 20 independent Caribbean countries. Fortunately for us, we have been on several Caribbean cruises in the past and had the benefit of a professional cruise consultant at our disposal so were therefore able to list quite a few of the 20 quite quickly. It took us a few minutes to get the last 2 or 3, but finally we were successful and the list was checked off by one of the excursion facilitators who pointed us to the Library for our next task at this location.
A narrow table, about 6 feet long stood on the sidewalk at the entrance to the library. There were several fruits and vegetables lined up along the length of the table and the object was to identify as many of these as possible. A point was allocated for each properly named fruit and vegetable. Some were easily identifiable and are items that we commonly purchase in Canada such as bananas, mangos and coconuts. Others were more difficult, because they the are not commonly consumed at home. We were able to identify some less obscure ones like plantains and a version of avocado that is much larger than we find in our local grocery store, but we did get stuck on some of the varieties that we never see at all. This was the task that gave us the most difficulty and we did lose a few points here, but, undaunted, we got the clue to our next task and continued on our way.
Leaving the library, which is situated at the North East corner of town, we headed west toward the north central part of town where we were looking for a monument situated on the round-about that is the northern entrance to Philipsburg. Our specific task was to identify the name of the monument, and explain its significance. We spotted the monument as we walked up the street toward the police station which is located at the intersection marked by the round-about. The large, stark sign is easy enough to read, even from away. The sign simply reads “The Salt Pickers”. The simplicity and starkness of the sign is an indication of what the monument represents – the harshness of life for the early inhabitants who worked the island’s salt mines. The monument depicts a small group - men, women and children- labouring around mounds of course salt atop a stone base that makes up the entire round-about. The dark, grey stone, the white, course salt and the stooped figures serve as a sharp contrast to the fun and sun that visitors experience in Sint Maarten today.
Our next task headed us south through the centre of town back towards the beach. We were looking for the catholic church that boasts the statue of Saint Martin of Tours, the patron saint after whom the island (and the Church) is named. The statue stands inside the gates of the church and to the right of its main entrance. At the base of the statue is a plaque that describes the saint and refers to the episode of the Cloak and Beggar. It is said that St. Martin, when he was a soldier in the Roman Army, came upon a beggar on a cold winter night and used his sword to cut his woolen cloak in two and gave one half to the beggar. After pausing and reflecting on the statue, we headed south towards the beach and the last few tasks of our excursion.
To get back to the beach and our final destination, our next clue took us west along Front street through the more commercial parts of town that included higher end clothing stores, diamond and jewellery retailers and dozens of tourist shops. Our clue had us looking for “dancing fountains” that marked the main entranceway from Front Street to the beach at the westernmost part of the town.
We were approaching the 3 hour mark of our excursion and, as the sun was beating relentlessly on our sweating bodies, we were looking forward to a swim at the beach. After a 20 minute walk through the crowded street, we spotted a wide opening on the south side of the street, between the endless row of shops. The opening was the gateway that we were looking for and featured two rows of fountains about 6 feet apart that guided the way down a pedestrian boulevard from Front Street to the Beach. Our pace quickened as we neared our final destination and we made our way to the beach.
The pedestrian boulevard from the street to the beach ended abruptly and we stepped onto the burning white sand dotted with brightly coloured umbrellas. We made our way to the destination point – an outdoor bar at the entrance to the Nazca Peruvian Restaurant where the excursion guides had set up their command post. Our arrival time was registered by the guides and we were given one final task to perform: one of us had to ride a tiny plastic tricycle around a set of pylons on the beach and then swim out 50 yards to a designated buoy and back to officially complete the race. Ian “eagerly volunteered” to perform this last feat and managed it quite well despite the challenges of plowing a tricycle through soft sand and battling fatigue on the final swim.
With our last task out of the way and officially clocked in, we went inside the Nazca restaurant to escape the scorching sun and found a table underneath one of the several oversized ceiling fans. The Nazca is a typical beachside restaurant with moderate inside space, modest décor and surprisingly good food. As its name implies, the Nazca specializes in Peruvian food abundant in seafood dishes. We had fresh white fish, shrimp and hamburgers. As we finished our meal, the excursion guides announced the winners of the grueling race – sadly, it was not us, although we did finish in the top 5!
After lazing in the Nazca to take advantage of the cooling fans and some shade, we returned to the bright sunshine of the beach. We were able to locate a spot on this very busy stretch of sand with an umbrella and a couple of lounge chairs that were unoccupied. All four of us headed into the sea where we spent the better part of the next hour wallowing in the warm waters of the Caribbean.
It was approaching 3:00pm and since our all aboard time was 4:30pm, we decided to start making our way back to the tender pick up point. During one of our tasks in the morning, we had passed by the Rum Emporium on Front Street and wanted to stop in to try one of their specialty liqueurs – Guava Berry rum. It just so happened that this was on our route back to the pickup point. We tried a couple of different liqueurs, including the Guava Berry, and decided to purchase a bottle of the very tasty Mango rum for $20 US. Since our return home, we have enjoyed a variety of martinis using this liqueur as the base.
After a very busy and exhausting day in Philipsburg, we finally boarded the tender back to the ship around 4:15pm. We went to our respective staterooms and showered off the salt and sand in preparation for another fabulous dinner. Of course once again the dining room did not disappoint. We thoroughly enjoyed lasagna, short ribs and chicken cordon bleu.
Feeling both full and tired after a hearty meal, we were happy to just spend some time relaxing in the main theatre and taking in the Headliner show that featured Marcus Terrell and the Serenades. Marcus Terrell was a quarter finalist in Season 4 of the TV show America’s Got Talent. He and the Serenades provided some lively entertainment that focused on the wholesome sound of Motown. I quite enjoyed both the music and the energy that Marcus Terrell brought as well as his ability to engage the audience.
Following the headline show we strolled around the Promenade and ended up at On Air where tonight’s event was Karaoke. Auditions had just finished for the competitive event that would last for a couple of evenings and unfortunately, we had arrived too late for Ian to register. He did perform a moving rendition of Frankie Valli’s “I Love You Baby” for which he received a resounding ovation from the audience and accolades from the host. It was an appropriate end to a great day.
Day 3 – At Sea
Our 3rd day on the Oasis was to be our last at sea day prior to our first port stop. This meant another day to relax and enjoy the amenities of the ship before a very busy schedule in the days following.
Kim and I decided to try the Wipeout Café, on the 15th deck at the back of the ship, because it was where the omelette station was located. On most Royal Caribbean ships, there are omelette stations at the Windjammer, but on the Oasis, this isn’t the case. The Wipeout Café is not a very large venue so it was surprising that we did not have to wait in line to order our omelettes as is the case on most cruise ships.
Our order was taken and we were given a numbered card to place at our table so the omelettes could be delivered to us when they were ready. This is another plus compared to other ships we have been on since you usually have to come back to the omelette station when you think your order will be ready. After about 10 minutes our omelettes were delivered to our table. We took ours to go as we had settled in our usual spot in a shady area of the Solarium. Before heading back to our lounge chairs we stopped by the Solarium Bistro and finished loading our plates with meat, cheese, tomatoes and fruit.
After a tasty and filling breakfast it was time to relax and enjoy another beautiful morning on the Caribbean. Kim read, I wrote and dozed (mostly dozed), and we got in the pool to cool down. It is amazing how much of an appetite you can work up during the rigours of relaxation, so after a couple of hours we decided on a quick lunch before heading over to the Aqua Theatre to watch the always entertaining International Belly Flop competition. This has always proved to be a very well attended event on every cruise we have been on.
We arrived about 10 minutes before 1:00pm (the scheduled start for the competition) and the outdoor theatre was packed. We were not able to find shaded seating so we stood in a slightly shaded area on the stairs to the right and near the back of the venue.
The competitors were introduced one at a time by name, place of origin and weight. There were 10 competitors ranging in weight from 160 pounds to a whopping 360 pounds. Each competitor took turns strutting to the edge of the diving box full of confidence fed by male testosterone. Only a couple were able to make the splash with the style and steely nerve worthy of such a prestigious international competition. Most flinched and folded, making their way back to competitors row with their pride stung, but their gonads intact. A tie-breaker between the competitors from New York and New Jersey was required to decide the champion for this event. The final dives took place and the competition was won by New York.
The intensity and stress caused by the dramatic finish to the Belly Flop competition meant it was time for some kind of refreshment. The Aqua Theatre is at the aft end of the Boardwalk, which coincidentally, is also where Johnny Rockets is located. Johnny Rockets is a 1950’s style diner which serves hamburgers, hotdogs and other diner classics and is also one of the specialty restaurants on the ship, which means there is a surcharge to eat here for lunch and dinner. As Crown and Anchor Gold members however, one of the amenities we received is a "buy one, get one free" milkshake at this venue. We took advantage of this offer and each had a chocolate shake. While it took a considerable amount of time to prepare the shakes, the wait was well worth it. This was easily one of the best shakes I have ever had. It was smooth, thick, creamy and topped with real whipped cream – very much like the shakes I remember as a kid growing up in the ‘60s.
Feeling satiated and Zen after a delicious shake, we headed back to the Solarium for more intense relaxing and a dip in the pool. Laura decided to go back to her stateroom while Ian and Kim continued to relax in the Solarium and I prepared for my self-selected activity – the Martini Clinic at the Rising Tide Bar.
The Rising Tide Bar is a boat shaped lounge that seats approximately 30 people and, as its name suggests, moves up and down 3 decks, between the Royal Promenade and the Boardwalk. All of the tables in the lounge are high tops with stools. It is a bit upscale and was the main venue for the singles nights as well as the afternoon Martini Clinic.
The Martini clinic occurs a couple of times during the cruise and on this particular day was scheduled to start at 3:00pm. Initially, I was the only participant, so Jayson, the manager and mixologist asked if I would mind waiting a few minutes to see if anyone else showed up. Eventually a few stragglers arrived, and by 3:15pm there were 7 of us participating in the clinic and a few family members, including Kim and Ian, who came on board as spectators (and sly sippers).
With everyone ready to go, the bar began its slow ascent to the 7th deck and Jayson began the clinic.
The cost of the clinic was $25 per person which included a 2.5 ounce sample of 5 different martinis. None of the martinis were the classic gin or vodka martinis with vermouth and olives or lemon. These were all aperitifs or dessert drinks that were made with a combination of vodka or gin and a variety of liqueurs. We tried the following different drinks: Orange/Mango Martini, Southside, Black Forest Martini, Cappuccino Martini, and Strawberry Cheesecake. The mixing and tasting lasted about 45 minutes and when it was over, we descended back down to the Promenade deck.
I had read on the television messages board that the Oasis was offering a 10 drink card for $79 and since we hadn’t purchased a beverage package for this cruise we inquired about it with Jayson. We had been monitoring our bar budget so we had been selecting wines that were in the $8 range, but that meant a limited selection. Many of the wines (and other cocktails) ranged from $10 to $14. The drink card was good for any drink under $14, so we decided to take advantage of it. This meant that we could order the finer and more abundant wines and still only pay $7.90. The nice thing about the drink card is that it is totally shareable, unlike the drink package. We were also informed that as of recently, Royal Caribbean only offers the beverage package for purchase on the first 2 days of the cruise. Starting on the 3rd day, the drink card is offered as an alternative to purchasing drinks individually.
We returned to our staterooms and got changed for dinner and head to the Aqua Show which had been cancelled the first evening because of potential lightning. We had been rebooked for a 5:15pm showing which meant that we had to go right from the show to dinner.
We headed to the Aqua Theatre for the second time to take in the Aqua Show, Oasis of Dreams. This was a 45 minute non-stop performance consisting of acrobats, divers and gymnasts, many of whom had performed at the National, International and Olympic level. The show was fast paced, with perilous timing and flawless synchronization as divers and acrobats appeared to barely miss each other at reckless speed. During all this fanfare you had to stop and think about the fact that we were on a moving ship!
Equally impressive was the theatre itself. What appeared initially to be a regular polygon shaped pool which was the stage for the performance, turned out to be a technological marvel, with a rising floor that converted the stage from a deep pool to a shallow pool, to a solid floor for the gymnasts and acrobats. Several times during the show a large square trampoline would immerse from the water to be used by divers and acrobats alike.
Following the show we made our way to the Silk Room for another dinner where the food was great, but we all overindulged. Ian and Laura enjoyed the Spaghetti Bolognese, I had a very tasty Lamb dish and Kim enjoyed the Chicken Parmesan with vegetable ragout.
After dinner we settled into the Schooner Lounge for another round of Trivia. This time the theme was Michael Jackson songs so with Ian’s fervour for MJ, we were feeling pretty optimistic.
There were a set of 20 short song clips and you had to guess the title correctly to get a point. We finished with 16 out of 20 correct answers which was good enough for 3rd place. Undaunted, we decided to take in the game “Who Wants to Feel Like a Millionaire” which was taking place at the On Air bar. This game was loosely based on the popular TV game show. Volunteers went up to the stage and had to answer a skill testing question correctly to become a participant. After the 2nd round I was coaxed to give it I try, so I made my way to the stage and waited with anticipation for the qualifying question. The question was a quote and you had to identify what it was from. Before the host was able to finish the quote, a young teenager blurted out Harry Potter, which was the correct answer. I had no clue as I have never seen the movie.
Needing a change of pace after two consecutive game events, Kim, Ian and I headed to the Jazz on 4 (presumably because it is on the 4th deck) and took in a jazz band from Italy called Four’n Jazz Quartet. They were very good, especially the saxophone player who performed a couple of moving solos. We stayed for close to 45 minutes, but had to leave as we wanted to see the Love and Marriage game taking place in the Opal Theatre.
We have seen this particular game on a couple of our other Royal Cruises and it is always a lot of fun. There is a selection process from a group of volunteer couples. The selection is based on finding one couple just recently married, another couple that has been married the longest and then a third couple married for 10 to 20 years. After a rather lengthy selection process, the newlywed couple that was selected had been married for 6 weeks, the middle couple for 22 years and the longest married couple (who reluctantly came up at the behest of their grandchildren) had been married for 58 years.
The success of the game is really dependant on the personalities of the participating couples, and as it turned out, this group was quite entertaining. After 2 rounds of rather embarrassing questions, the couple with the most correct answers was declared the winner – in this case, the couple married for 58 years. They even remembered the restaurant where they had their first date and where they had their most memorable sexual encounter. It was very cute.
This game had started at 10:30pm and by the time it was done the clock was approaching midnight. After a very busy day at sea we were ready to turn in and rest up for our first shore day.
Day 2 – At Sea
Sea days are some of my favourite on a cruise. They are sip and dip days – relax, drink, go for a swim; relax, drink, go for a swim.
On this day, I got up, went up to the 15th deck where the pools and hot tubs are and headed to the adult (16 and over) Solarium deck. On most cruise ships this is a small section just fore or aft of the main general pool. On the Oasis, it comprises the entire bow from port to starboard on both the 15th and 16th decks. The whole area is covered in lightly tinted glass from port to starboard with alternating sections that are open air to allow for ample ventilation and a constant sea breeze. Lounge chairs are plentiful and there are oversized round, cozy sofas along with a scattering of padded chairs and regular sofas similar to what you would see in a classy hotel lobby. On deck 15 there is a small round pool with fountains and showers and 2 hot tubs, one on each side of the pool.
The entire Solarium on the 15th deck is interspersed with live palm trees and tropical plants. This, along with the open view in front, gives the impression that you are sitting on a private island. The floor covering on both decks is a balance of dark wood planks and grey flagstone tile, once again enhancing the impression that you are at an island resort.
If the exertion of lazing in a lounge chair and taking a dip in the pool causes you to become uncontrollably hungry, fear not, as the Solarium Bistro, on the lower level features a variety of food for both breakfast and lunch. At this buffet style dining area you can load up on hot and cold selections and we found this bistro tends to be less busy than the Windjammer Market at the other end of the ship. The upper level Solarium bar is convenient and close if you need a refreshing beverage to quench your thirst before another round of lying on your lounge chair.
Some things to note about the Solarium. Although it is my favourite get away place on the ship, and there are plenty of lounge chairs for everyone, there is very little shade as a result of the glass and open air ceiling. The only spot that offers an escape from the blazing sun is a section at the back of the upper level, which has several rows of, lounge chairs on either side of the bar as a large curving overhang covers that area. You need to get to this spot early though, as by late morning all of the shaded chairs are occupied.
During a couple of hours of lounging in the Solarium, we all managed a refreshing pool dip. Ian and Laura tried out the Flowrider, a wave simulator for boarding and surfing located in the Wipeout area at the back of deck 16. They found it to be quite the test for first timers, but seem to be determined to give it another shot on a different day.
For lunch, we headed to the back of the ship to the popular Windjammer Market. This is Royal Caribbean’s standard breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet venue and is common on all their ships. It is generally located aft of the family pool area for convenience. We had heard that there could be long lineups at this restaurant because of its popularity, but we managed to walk in and get a table with no problem.
The Windjammer is well stocked with food for all appetites and is constantly refreshed and replenished. There are several island counters each with themed food for different tastes. Today’s menu featured Asian, Indian, Caribbean as well as the standard American style buffet items. We all had different meal selections from the various islands and there were no complaints.
After a quick lunch we decided to take a walk through Central Park. This neighbourhood is where you will find most of the specialty restaurants, which are on either side of the ship bordering an expanse of tall tress, shrubbery and park benches. There is a winding path on either side of the central area that allows you to pass between the restaurants on one side and the park on the other.
Following our stroll, we headed back to our respective rooms where Kim did some reading and I had a quick, but rejuvenating health nap following the rigours of the morning.
We enjoy quite a few of the onboard activities so after a brief rest we headed to the piano bar for the afternoon game of charades. While we were waiting for the game to start we ordered pizza from Sorrentos that was nearby. There were 6 or 7 other groups that had gathered there as well so we had lots of competition. Today’s theme was movies or television shows. There were 4 rounds in all and we ended up with 4 points (including a bonus point). Our challenges were Beetlejuice; Halloween; Ironman and Prison Break. We got 3 out of the four plus we correctly guessed another team’s selection when their time ran out (Gone with the Wind). Our winning team won Royal Caribbean zipper pulls for our tremendous effort.
Following our exhausting game of charades we went back to our rooms to get ready for dinner.
Our preferred dining time is 6:00 pm because we like to eat early and then take in the different nightly shows afterward which typically start around 8:30pm.
This was our first night in the main dining area as we had been to Giovanni’s the night before. We were taken to our assigned table by the maitre’ d and then welcomed by our waiter Fnu from the Phillipines. Fnu has been working the cruise lines for 19 years and this is his 6th on the Oasis as he started just a few months after the ship was launched. Our assistant waiter, Singh hails from India and though he seemed barely old enough to shave, we later found out that he is 24 and married. More about both Fnu and Singh to follow on later days.
We had been looking forward to our first meal in the dining room on the Oasis for a couple of reasons. First, our experience has always been very positive about the food on the Royal Caribbean ships and our appetites were whetted from anticipation. Second, over the past few months we have heard a few criticisms about the food and the lack of quality of the entrees. I was particularly interested to see if those criticisms were warranted.
A few moments after our arrival, Fnu returned for our drink order. We typically order wine by the bottle for the duration of the cruise. Since Kim drinks white and I drink red, we each order one bottle which will last us for 2 nights at dinner. Kim found a Riesling on the list which was $7 per glass or $31 for the bottle. I was fortunate to find a St. Martin French Merlot from Languedoc Roussillon, the region in France where our apartment is located. It too was $7 a glass or $31 for the bottle.
After returning with the drink orders and pouring our wine, Fnu took our meal orders. For starters, Kim ordered the Shrimp Cocktail, Ian the Peach Soup and I had the Lobster Bisque. For our entrees, Kim, Laura and I had the Pork Shank and Ian opted for the Seafood Linguini. I also ordered a Chocolate Bar Cake for dessert (for energy).
When the meals came out, the presentation was every bit as pleasing as we had expected. The portions for the most part were perfect, except for the Pork Shank that was surprisingly large. The meat was tender, well textured and fell off the bone easily. Our only issue was finishing it all – it was a tasty dish, which meant you wanted to eat it all, but it was more than enough for one person. Undaunted by the size of the pork shank, I nonetheless made my way through it then fought through the sumptuous cake.
The second night on the ship is also the Captain’s reception, so after dinner we made our way to the Royal Promenade to meet the captain and crew of the Oasis. On entering the Promenade, we were greeted by waiters offering up trays of sparkling Champagne in tall, glistening flutes. We managed to snag a couple and meandered to the catwalk at the centre of the Promenade where the captain was just making the introductions of his main crew. The welcome usually lasts about 15 minutes and after the welcome, the captain summarizes some of the key highlights of the cruise.
The captain finished up his speech just in time for us to have a quick picture on the upper deck as the sun was setting and then make our 8:15pm reservation in the Opal Theatre for the musical production “Cats”. This was a 2½ hour Broadway theatrical performance that featured the songs “Memories” and “The Magical Mr. Mistoffelees”. The costumes, dance and vocals were amazing, but the overall performance missed its mark because the story itself is nearly impossible to follow. It is a very interesting performance for a Cruise Ship but sadly quite a few of the audience left after the intermission. It is interesting to note however, that those who stayed, gave the performance a standing ovation and extended applause at the end.
My family recently cruised aboard the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas ship in August 2016. This ship is noted as being the third largest in the world – only slightly smaller than the Harmony of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. Our family was extremely excited about this prospect but also had no idea what to expect. We had been on many Royal Caribbean mid-size ships but this is a totally different experience. My husband Denis graciously agreed to do a write up of our personal experiences that I am sharing for people to get a good idea of what you might experience on an Oasis class ship. This is the first post in a series that will detail each day of our week long cruise onboard.
Day 1 - Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale Florida:
After a 2400 kilometre (23 hour) drive from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale, we arrived at the offsite Port Parking around 12:30 pm. Checked the car in, unloaded the luggage onto the Port Shuttle and were on our way in about 15 minutes. No issues on check-in and the attendants were helpful and efficient. This may not be the most elegant parking around the Port, but at $44 U.S. for the week, certainly a great deal. The trip to the Cruise terminal was less than 15 minutes and we were dropped off right at the Oasis baggage area.
At first glance, the line-up for security seemed to be quite long, but again, the timeframe was probably less than 20 minutes. Once through security we entered a short line for deck 9 to pick up our Sea Pass and proceed onto the ship. This process seems much more organized for the Oasis (or perhaps this particular port) than other check-ins we have gone through in that, for this check in, it is deck specific. Check-in time was 10 minutes.
Once onboard, it took a few minutes to grasp the overwhelming size of the ship. Regular cruise ships are large in their own right, but the Oasis is immense. As you stand in the Royal Promenade on deck 5 just after boarding, it is hard to believe you are on a cruise ship. Live greenery is everywhere including flowers, trees and hanging or crawling vines. As you walk towards either end, it feels like being in a modern shopping mall with shops, restaurants and boutiques on each side. Looking up through the open middle of the ship there are staterooms with balconies that overlook the Royal Promenade, the Boardwalk and Central Park.
We decided to head to our room and get settled in before exploring the ship. Our plan was to actually do most of our ship orientation in the evening to avoid the myriad crowds that were bustling about during the very busy check-in period. This was the first cruise we have taken where we had a balcony. I must say, for me (not so much for Kim), the idea of a balcony was intriguing and I was not disappointed. The floor to ceiling and wall to wall window on the starboard side flooded our stateroom with light which made it feel bright and airy. The balcony itself is 6 feet deep by 8 feet wide and has a small round table and 2 comfortable chairs. Looks like a great place to start the day with a coffee or to watch the sunset with a glass of wine. I am sold. Before unpacking and settling in we enjoyed a bottle of Sparking Wine that was an amenity provided as part of our group booking.
We then headed to the Boardwalk Dog House restaurant to try their specialty hot dogs. This is one of the several complimentary restaurants on the ship. It has a variety of hotdogs and sausages with themes from Germany, Austria, New York City and some variations on popular toppings. Nothing fancy, but really good dogs! This is a place I may visit from time to time on this cruise.
We walked around the Boardwalk and then did a quick stroll through the Royal Promenade before heading up to Deck 16 to the Flowrider and Zipline. This is supposed to be a very busy area during the cruise and we were advised to try and do the Zipline just after boarding to avoid the lineups. The strategy worked and after picking up our Wipeout (name of the sports and activities area) bracelets, we were harnessed up and zipping over Central Park 9 stories below. The Zipline isn't long by most standards, but it is a surreal feeling doing it on a cruise ship.
We walked around a few more areas just taking in the ship and being awed by its vastness and amenities. Afterward, we headed back to our staterooms and prepared for dinner.
Kim had arranged dinner at Giovanni's, the specialty Italian Restaurant on board the ship, to celebrate my birthday. The restaurant is in Central Park and has a very European ambiance. We chose to eat inside as opposed to El Fresco to take advantage of the air conditioned dining room. Our waiter was from the Philippines and was very pleasant although he did seem a bit unsure of himself on occasion. He explained the traditional Tuscan style of serving food where appetizers and pasta are shared and the entre is an individual serving. We chose a tomato and bocconcini salad, a prosciutto and cheese bread, and a beef carpaccio as our appetizers. Everything was very tasty and there were no leftovers. Kim chose a garlic shrimp and I selected the beef tenderloin as our entrees which we split between us. Ian had the ricotta ravioli and Laura chose the beef tenderloin. The portions were not large, but certainly adequate and we probably would have overeaten if we had decided to also share a pasta dish. We each selected dessert from the dessert tray, with mine being the caramel rum canapes.
After dinner we headed to the Schooner Bar for the welcome trivia and were introduced to our host Max from Montreal. The trivia was geography based and there were one or two questions on Canada that we got that few others did. When it came to some of the U.S based questions we did not fare so well. Our final score was only 8 out of 20, but the winning score was 9 so that kind of eased the embarrassment a bit.
After trivia, we started heading to the Aqua Show as Kim had made reservations. It turned out that the show was re-scheduled because of inclement weather (lightning in the area, although we didn't get any rain) so we headed back to the Schooner Bar for the Movie Themed Trivia. We fared much better this time, scoring 15 out of 20, but the winning team got a perfect 20 out of 20 plus a bonus question. The object of this trivia was to listen to a short music clip and answer which movie the clip was from.
We took one last walk around the upper decks and then Kim and Laura headed to our staterooms. Ian and I went to the Comedy Show on the 4th deck. The first night's comedy show is rated PG13 (although there were a few kids in the show that were much younger than 13). The acts were very funny and there was much spontaneous interaction with some of the audience. It was quite a good show and I am looking forward to seeing the performers on the Adult Comedy night.
First day was a busy one but our first impressions are excellent. Can’t wait to see what else we will experience on our first day at sea tomorrow.
Read Day 2 - click here
Read Day 3 - click here
Read Day 4 - click here
Read Day 5 - click here
Read Day 6 - click here
Sharing Our Travel Dreams
Sharing our personal experiences onboard and on the road, along with tips and insight for creating memorable vacations.