Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cruising on the Oasis of the Seas with a Baby

It was the inaugural season and we were on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas for a 7 night Caribbean cruise!  On this voyage, I was traveling with my 7-month old son and his grandparents, while my husband was stuck working back in Toronto.  The Oasis of the Seas was a blast, and was a great choice for traveling with a baby.  Here's why:

What I loved about the Oasis of the Seas:

Wow factor
With several distinct 'neighbourhoods' including the Boardwalk and Central Park, the variety of restaurants and entertainment options, and the sheer size of the ship, you can't help but be 'wowed' by the experience.

Interior staterooms with a view
Our stateroom overlooked the boardwalk area at the aft of the ship.  It was the perfect location, particularly since I was staying in the room solo with B.  During naps and at bedtime, I could go out on the balcony with the baby monitor*, a drink, some snacks and a book and enjoy the activities on the boardwalk.  From the balcony, I had the perfect vantage point from which to enjoy the diving shows, movies under the stars, and all the excitement and activity taking place on deck.  And because the balcony is facing into the ship, I was less affected by windy weather.

Spectacular entertainment
With a Broadway production of Hairspray, diving shows in the unique AquaTheater, comedians, parties, parades, big screen movies and a wildly entertaining ice show, there are lots of options for your time.  At seven months old, much of the entertainment on offer on our cruise was not really suitable for B, but the ice show offered a more casual family experience and he enjoyed sitting on my lap and watching the action.

Since our cruise, Royal Caribbean has added even more kid-friendly entertainment options with their DreamWorks Experience, offering character dining, parades, and meet and greets.

Great food options
With over two dozen dining options including a cute 1940's-style cupcake shop, Johnny Rockets, other specialty restaurants and the main dining rooms, there were no shortage of dining options, and all the food was excellent.  All the buffets, cafes and restaurants have plenty of options for kids, and the kid's dining room menu was chock full of healthy options including veggies and dip, fruit and pasta (including macaroni and REAL cheese).  At the time, B was mostly nursing, but it was easy to find finger snacks like fresh fruit and cheese at the Windjammer cafe.
Excellent service
From the waiters to the stateroom attendants, to the medical facilities and even the ship's on board security screeners, everyone was friendly and extremely helpful.

Other baby services
Royal Caribbean allows parents to pre-order baby food, diapers, wipes and other items in advance of the cruise and have them delivered to your stateroom.  While the prices are unquestionably high, it's a handy option particularly if your bags are already overflowing with baby gear.

What I wasn't so crazy about:

Oddly, unlike other Royal Caribbean ships like the Explorer and the Jewel, some areas on the Oasis felt cramped.  Too many tables were placed in the Windjammer Cafe, so many so that when the tables closest to the buffet were occupied, it was difficult to find a space to get to the tables behind them.  Even with the pack n' play folded up, the state room felt tight - I always felt like I was climbing over the bed every time I needed to get to the couch.

Extra Security
Increased ship size brings increased security concerns.  Each time we boarded the ship, we had to go through airport-style security including similar restrictions on liquids.  So each time we boarded, I had to collapse the stroller to put it through the x-ray machine, and we had to throw out any water or other drinks we were carrying.

The motion
Having traveled on a small Hurtigruten ship over Norway's choppy North Cape, I was surprised to find the motion much more pronounced on the Oasis.  But like all cruises, obviously the amount of motion is weather-dependent.

Ports of Call
Because of the size of the ship, it generally has to dock at more modern (and deeper) ports further out of town, so in St. Thomas and St. Martin, rather than being able to walk, a shuttle or taxi was required to get into the town center.  In Nassau, we were able to use the port right downtown.

The bigger the ship, the longer it takes to walk from one end of the ship to another, which was a bit of a challenge for my not-very-mobile parents.  It made for great exercise, but I also had to plan ahead a bit more (and make sure I always had the diaper bag) when wandering around with B, as there was no such thing as a quick trip back to our stateroom.  That said, the designers did a fantastic job on signage and interactive map boards so it was always easy to figure out where you were and how to get to where you wanted to go on board.

Read my article on Cruising with a baby for more general tips and suggestions on what to pack for your cruise.Oasis Reviews on Cruise Critic

Facilities for kids
The Oasis is one of the few ships in RCI's fleet with a fully-equipped nursery to care for children under three, and I took advantage of it for a brief visit while I checked out Hairspray with my parents.  Their Adventure Ocean facility has a full stock of books and toys in their toy lending program, which meant there was always something new for B to play with and a few less things to bother packing.  Be warned babies in swim diapers are only permitted in the infant wading pool which was about 2 inches deep so it may be disappointing if you are used to taking your baby or toddler to the pool.  The Boardwalk 'neighbourhood' features a full-sized carousel and a Pets at Sea shop.  Older kids will enjoy the kids pools, surfing on the FlowRider, zip-lining, mini golf, ice skating, rock climbing, basketball court and the bowling alley.  Not to mention all the organized Adventure Ocean activities for kids three and up.  Even the most jaded young traveler would have a hard time growing bored on this ship.  Read about all of the features for kids and families.

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