My First Transatlantic Cruise on the Oasis of the Seas
After a few glorious days spent in Iceland and then another few days in London (both of which will be covered here on the site shortly), we headed to Southampton to board the Oasis of the Seas for my first transatlantic cruise. To get to Southampton, I chose advance purchase tickets with Megabus for my train ticket. Yes, that Megabus – the same one that offers $1 tickets from Boston to New York also does train tickets. My ticket was all of £10 but with one caveat: No changes, exchanges, cancellations, etc. If you’re sure you’re going to travel at a specific time on a specific date, it can’t be beat. This is why I love the UK! I’d love to take the train more often in the U.S., but the prices are exorbitant.
The train ride was only about 1 1/2 hours and soon we had arrived in Southampton. Always the over planner, I had checked Google Maps and thought I knew exactly how to get to the cruise terminal from the train station. Without clear signage for those walking to the cruise port, we found a foot path and headed off near the shops and restaurant area. If you need anything before your cruise (think shoes or something from Ikea) or if you’re hungry (think TGIFridays), you can always stop off before heading to the ship. We trudged on and followed a few people who definitely looked like crew members as one had on an MSC logo jacket. However, we didn’t know that there was an MSC Cruises ship in port and we weren’t going on that ship. Once we saw the Oasis of the Seas, which towered over everything in sight, it was fairly easy to maneuver ourselves toward the ship for my first transatlantic cruise.
Walking with my luggage from the train station wasn’t an issue and the walk was probably around 15-20 minutes. However, it was cold and it was threatening to rain, which fortunately held off. If you’re traveling with children or have difficulty getting around, take a cab from the train station to the port as it is much faster and easier.
Royal Caribbean had the Oasis of the Seas in dry dock in Rotterdam until 14 October 2014, the day before we boarded the ship. I was excited to see all of the changes onboard plus to see how the ship had held up since my prior cruise back in 2010. I fully expected to be one of a handful of people boarding the ship in Southampton, but was I ever wrong. When I purchased my train tickets, I planned to board the ship around 4 pm since the ship wasn’t scheduled to leave port until midnight. But on 10 October I received an email with information regarding embarkation times:
Hello, this is Royal Caribbean International. We are contacting you with important information regarding your upcoming sailing on Oasis of the Seas on October 15, 2014.
We, at Royal Caribbean international, want your vacation to get off on a wonderful start and in order to facilitate your check-in process, ask that you arrive at the cruise terminal according to the following designated times. This will help ensure a smooth embarkation experience so that you can begin your vacation as soon as possible:
Guests with staterooms on Deck 14 should arrive at 12:00 P.M., Deck 12 should arrive at 12:30 P.M., Deck 11 should arrive at 1:15 P.M., Deck 10 should arrive at 2:15 P.M., Deck 9 should arrive at 3:15 P.M., Deck 8 should arrive at 3:45 P.M., Deck 7 should arrive at 4:00 P.M., Deck 6 should arrive at 4:30 P.M., and Deck 3 should arrive at 5:00 P.M.
Our Suites and loyal Crown and Anchor guests at the Pinnacle, Diamond Plus, Diamond, Emerald, and Platinum levels can check-in at their convenience between the hours of 12:00PM and 5:30PM.
Since I am a Diamond member, it didn’t really seem to matter when I arrived and walking up to the terminal I noticed loads of luggage stacked to one side and people in yellow vests running around frantically. One of them came up to us and asked if we were crew or guests. Only later when I realized we were only a few of the handful of people under 70 that I understood why we were asked this question. She said we could leave our bags, but it could take “several hours” before it arrived in our cabin. We decided to rough it and grab all of our luggage and then head inside through security. This was the first security I’ve seen at a cruise port that really mimicked that of an airport. Far stricter, more detailed, but as slow as you might expect security to be at the airport. Once through security, we checked in and then queued up to get on the ship.
It was at this point that we ended up waiting for some time to actually get on the ship. Instead of boarding through deck 5 and the Royal Promenade as I had done previously, we were boarding through deck 2 with only a few elevators available to handle the new guests boarding in Southampton. People were antsy, irritated, and complaining, but not much you can do when there are only a few available elevators to take you up and into the ship. Had I not had a big suitcase, I would have gladly taken the stairs, but that wasn’t possible.
Several days later I learned from another guest that when the ship arrived in Southampton, Customs made all of the guests onboard get off the ship and go through Customs. This, in turn, caused the delay later in the day for guests like me boarding in Southampton.
Once on the elevator, I went directly to my cabin on deck 12, cabin 12198, and from there it was almost time for the muster drill. But first, I noticed that the beverage package I had chosen and paid for in advance wasn’t reflected on my SeaPass card. Off I went to join the interminable line at Guest Services, which wasn’t moving at all. In fact, it snaked outside of Guest Services and out into the Royal Promenade itself, but no one seemed to notice. It was only when another passenger mentioned that if you needed to get your beverage package added to your card, that you should go to Boleros that I jumped out of line. The officer working the beverage package table seemed indifferent at best to my concern about the fact that I had prepaid and it should’ve been on my card and that the lines were long over at Guest Services. But I couldn’t focus on problems so early on in my cruise. I was here to have a good time and not to get bogged down in the stupid stuff.
I had just enough time to make my way over to Studio B for the muster drill sans life vest, thank goodness. I so love that you don’t have to sport them anymore during the drill. I always felt like I was getting swallowed alive by the hard orange vests. After the mandatory drill was over, we were free to roam the ship and do as we like.
Dinner was on my brain and despite a nearly empty restaurant, I had to make a reservation for a booth about an hour in advance of my arrival to the Sabor on the Boardwalk. The new Sabor Taqueria takes the place of the Seafood Shack. A welcome addition for Caribbean sailings, this open air restaurant must be fantastic on hot days and cool, breezy nights at sea. But it was cold and I mean cold — like coat, jacket, gloves kind of cold on this night. So cold in fact that crew members were distributing blankets to guests to help stay warm during their meal. We later saw the hostess huddled down near the tortilla machine hoping to benefit from its heat.
Upon arrival for my reservation, all of the booths were now occupied and we were ushered to one of the many unoccupied tables near the tortilla machine on the left side of the restaurant. I was too hungry and tired at this point to be annoyed.
Easily one of the highlights of my entire cruise was our server, Ruxandra, who was an outstanding server – bubbly, engaging, and genuinely nice. As this was a new restaurant for the Oasis of the Seas, I knew it wouldn’t be perfect, but Ruxandra was as close to perfect as it gets.
There is no drink menu, which I found odd and so were told there are beers and margaritas including jalapeño, avocado, and original. The Jalapeño Margarita is served with cucumber and jalapeño slices, but tastes much more like a cucumber drink. The Avocado Margarita, while good, doesn’t taste like avocado, although I’m not sure what I expected it to taste like. I also tried an original margarita, but that wasn’t good at all. The rims weren’t salted evenly or at all and no straws served with the drinks, which I also found odd. Considering the cruise lines make the majority of their revenue from alcohol sales, you’d think they’d pop a straw in a drink so it goes down faster resulting in more sales. More strange is that the drinks took FOREVER to be made. Like 10-15 minutes and we were one of maybe five tables in the restaurant.
Sabor Taqueria is an a la carte restaurant on the Oasis of the Seas, which means that it’s not included and is an additional cost. But when you look at the prices, c’mon — it’s so inexpensive for no crowds, no lines, and no banquet style service that one expects in the main dining room. Fortunately, there were vegetarian options available and so we knew we could easily eat a meal here.
All guests start off their meal with fresh tortilla chips and salsa. The salsa is fresh and not spicy and the tortilla chips are hot, crisp, and crunchy.
If you’re interested, you can order the table side guacamole made to order. Taking a cue from the bartender, the person making the guacamole takes an excruciatingly long time to make a painfully small portion of guacamole. Considering the mise en place, all of the ingredients needed to make the guacamole, is set up and ready for use for the person preparing the guacamole, I’m not sure why it takes so long. The only thing they have to do is cut the avocado open and put it in the bowl and then add the already chopped ingredients like the onion, lime, jalapeño, etc. While it was tasty, it took way too long and made me uncomfortable to have him standing there awkwardly preparing the guacamole for such a long time only inches away from the table.
One of the starters was the Ensalada Chicarito, a simple salad of chickpeas, black beans, corn, tomato, cilantro, jalapeño, and honey-lime dressing. Very basic, but light and not spicy for those afraid when they see “jalapeño” in the list of ingredients.
The total highlight of the meal was the Gazpacho Mexicano. It was spicy and delicious and I would’ve gladly given up all of the other items on the menu for a huge bucket of this stuff. It was that good! I love super spicy food and this was just that! If you don’t like spice, ask the server in advance if the jalapeños were spicy on the day it was made because that will make all the difference.
The only items available for vegetarians for entree choices were the quesadillas, a Three Cheeses quesadilla and El Juarez, a mushroom based quesadilla. Again very basic and more American than Mexican as they were more like plain grilled cheese sandwiches on small flour tortillas. I secretly wished they had stretched themselves to include items like a chile relleno, enchiladas, or even vegetable fajitas.
As you can see in the picture above the decor is simple and more about the atmosphere of the Boardwalk itself instead of a kitschy Mexican theme, which has been so overdone. I think finicky eaters will love this restaurant as it is extremely middle of the road and aims to offend no one. Parents, grandparents, and children can enjoy a comfortable meal in this restaurant and everyone can find something to please them. If you’re more of an adventurous eater, don’t expect to find traditional Mexican food or even Tex-Mex food. This is more of an American Mexican restaurant that aims to appeal to middle America and those guests who may never have tried Mexican food before. How that is possible is completely beyond me, but someone must have done research I guess. For an a la carte restaurant, I would’ve liked a little more — a little more taste, a little faster service on the drinks and guacamole, a little more authentic taste. I would probably put it on par with Chili’s or TGIFriday’s kind of food so if you enjoy meals at those restaurants, you’ll definitely like it here.
That night of my first transatlantic cruise, we watched MSC Magnifica leave port before us and although dark, we could see the beautiful ship pass us and sail off into the night. This was the first time I would be leaving a port in the middle of the night and as such, no sail away video. So sad!
So much fun on my first transatlantic cruise! In upcoming posts I’ll cover the various new venues on the ship as well as pools, bars, restaurants, and more!