We woke up just after 6:30am to a bustling pier just as the sun was rising over Fort Lauderdale. I went to the Promenade deck for my morning coffee and a glass of water for Kim. When I got back, I perched myself on one of the chairs on our balcony to enjoy my coffee and watched intently as a dozen forklifts methodically unloaded crates of luggage for 6,000 passengers into the terminal baggage area. The whole process took less than an hour. As soon as the baggage carts were unloaded, dozens of tractor trailers were ready to begin re-provisioning the ship for the next cruise that would leave in only a few more hours.
Since there are limited options for breakfast on the day of disembarkation, we went to the main dining room for an à la carte breakfast. As with the venues, the menu choices are also fairly limited on this last morning, so our orders consisted of sausage and eggs, pancakes, and French toast. Breakfast can also be a bit of a wait since it is served by wait staff as opposed to buffet style. Unlike the leisurely breakfasts of the week past, this one is done with 2 purposes in mind – killing time while waiting to disembark and refueling.
Our preferred strategy for disembarkation is usually to wait as long as we can onboard and let the craziness of thousands of people leaving the ship subside before we make our exit. In most cases this works fine, on this occasion, not so much. While we were on the cruise we were not overtly aware of the large numbers of passengers all around us. The ship is large enough, as is the variety of venues, that we were not impacted by the number of people on board. Even at the various ports, the embarkation and disembarkation was quite efficient (with the exception of re-boarding in San Juan which is covered on Day 5). The disembarkation in Fort Lauderdale was painful.
We sat outside the Main Dining Room, our assigned waiting area, for our colour to be called. Disembarkation is organized by coloured luggage tags which are assigned based on the time you are leaving. The coloured tags are also used to locate your baggage once you are off the ship and through customs. Our tags indicated that we were to leave the ship at 10:30am. This was fine for us since we were not catching a plane or other transport home. Our plan was to spend the week in Fort Lauderdale so we were not in a hurry.
When we were called to disembark it was only 9:30am. We made our way down the stairs to the exit ramp that leads to the main terminal and the customs area. The walk was long and slow as hundreds of people shuffled along for a few feet and stopped, then shuffled along again. As we entered the main terminal, the line stopped completely. We waited for approximately 10 minutes before the line began to move again. The process of stopping and starting went on for another 35 minutes as we zigged and zagged through the terminal until we finally made it to Customs. As the group in front of us was checked through by the Custom’s officer and we waited to be called, he grabbed his lunch and left the booth. We were left standing there with dozens of people behind us and waited for another officer to take his place. We waited several minutes and no one took his place in the booth. The lines on either side of us were moving fine. Eventually, one of the other Custom’s officers motioned us to his line and we finally got through. Once we passed through customs we retrieved our bags and left the terminal without any further delay. This leads me to believe that the issue at Fort Lauderdale is about the number of Custom’s officers that are deployed to process the thousands of passengers coming off the ship.
We stepped out of the terminal and crossed the street to the cab and shuttle pick-up area, a small circular cul-de-sac that allowed vehicles to enter, turnaround and leave again after either dropping off or picking up passengers. The mid-August sun was piercing on this cloudless day at around 11:00 am. It was already extremely hot and we looked for a shady spot that would give us some relief from the sun. Unfortunately, there was none. We had called the off-site parking company before we left the terminal to let them know we had arrived. Our driver was apparently on his way and would be here in about 20 minutes. We were looking for an orange van and I watched the incoming traffic creep along at a snail’s pace hoping to spot it. After half an hour, we called the driver directly and he told us he was in the line coming into the terminal. He had no idea how long he would be since the traffic was at a standstill. We waited another 20 minutes and finally saw the van crawling towards the pick-up point. When he pulled up beside us, we scooted into the van and managed to get seats before another 2 families boarded behind us. We were jammed into the van, but did not complain as we had been nearly 2 hours since we had started our exit from the ship. Another 10 minutes and we would be loading up our car and heading on to our next adventure – more about that in the next blog.
Some Last Minute Thoughts
Aside from the disembarkation process in Fort Lauderdale, we all felt this had been a wonderful cruise. The Oasis of the Seas is a great ship and has enough activities, venues and entertainment that it is a destination on its own. Even after 7 days on the ship, we were not tired of it. We did not find the ship overly crowded, even though it was at capacity, and we rarely had to wait in line. While we had heard that the quality of the food on Royal Caribbean ships had declined in the past few years, this was not our experience. There are certainly more specialty restaurants and some of these have unique menus, but they are also at a higher cost. For us, the regular dining room presented us with enough variety on a daily basis that we were never left wanting.
This was our first cruise in an Ocean View balcony stateroom. While Kim's opinion may differ, I found the abundant light, the extra space and the ability to sit outside the room and enjoy a morning coffee or an evening glass of wine, well worth the additional cost of an inside suite.
I enjoyed the ports that we stopped at, but would have preferred spending a full day in San Juan and half a day at Labadee. There is just so much more to old San Juan than can be appreciated in a few short hours.
Sharing Our Travel Dreams
Sharing our personal experiences onboard and on the road, along with tips and insight for creating memorable vacations.