The Oasis of the Seas dwarfs everything as she exits from Port Everglades.

The Oasis of the Seas dwarfs everything as she exits from Port Everglades.

Did you know that at Double Occupancy, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships hold 5,400 passengers? How about 6,296 at MAXIMUM capacity?  Now, add 2,394 crew (as of July 2012) and we have a potential grand total of 8,690 people on board!  Currently, at a popular, large-scale community in South Florida (where I am part of the Management Team) the population hovers around 8,500, which also happens to be about a quarter of the city’s population!

Now, we all have different takes on what constitutes a good, great and/or outstanding cruise experience.  From my perspective, I had an outstanding experience on the Allure of the Seas in September of 2011.  A couple of minor issues, like watered down coffee and a very curt instructor on the surf rider, but nothing that took away from my experience.  My biggest concern heading in was the crowded feeling I was “sure to endure” on the Allure…but it never happened!

It never happened at the port (we were on board in ten minutes) and it never felt crowded on board.  The worst it ever got was during the flash mob class in the Promenade, but even then, Allure’s midsection was wide enough to get through if you chose.  Buffet Lines?  Never a problem, and I thought it was only because that there were SO MANY dining options that it spread everybody to different areas.  While this was true, there was another reason.

SHAPE RECOGNITION CAMERAS.  According to an article on “seasiteblog.com“, passengers never have to wait to be seated at ANY of the 24 dining areas, thanks to BIOMETRICS.  The Oasis-class ships employ shape-recognition cameras, all of which count and analyze foot traffic.  Then, this information is sent in, REAL-TIME, to some 300 interactive boards throughout the ship.

In addition, the showtime reservations, and scanning processes, for all of the shows (and certain activities) are extremely civilized, assuring everyone that there will be a seat available for them as long as they show up before the shows/events begin.  Then, crew will allow the stand-by line to enter, and fill the open seats.

Cruise lines have different policies with regards to bringing liquor and wine on board.  Some ban it altogether, while other lines allow certain amounts.  Although I am a cruising veteran, I did not do my homework before our 2011 cruise on the Allure of the Seas.

It was already several hours after boarding and we were still missing one piece of luggage.  We thought it was either lost, or the tag came off, so therefore being held.  We “heard” that we were allowed “one bottle per passenger,” so we didn’t think there were any other issues.  We came back from eating to find a note in our stateroom, indicating that we needed to go to deck 1 (I think) to pick up our bag.  That’s when it hit us…they knew to contact us, so we then realized it had to be the booze!  So, we headed to the elevator bays that went to that depth of the ship.

A couple of decks down the elevator stopped and a man walked in.  He saw we were going to deck 1, and apparently he was too.  He asked, “booze or iron?”  I said, “booze, you?”  “Iron,” he said.  We both played along, and at the same time, he, my wife and I just looked down in shame, slightly shook our heads, and then shared a laugh.  When we saw each other two other times during the week, we would just bow our heads in shame as we walked by, before greeting! Ah, the elevator ride of shame!

So, enhance your cruise experience and do your homework before you set sail!  Here is a link for alcohol “smuggling” guidelines for many of the major cruise lines.

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More important today than ever (thanks iPhone, iPad, smart phone and camera) is having enough electrical outlets in your stateroom (or hotel).  There are a few items out there like the one pictured (this one from 360electrical), and it is something that we don’t so much forget to bring, but many do not think of owning a travel-sized version in the first place.

You’re onboard with your iPad, iPod (or phone), digital camera, and whatever else that requires charging.  This little beauty allows you to plug in two of the items via USB.  Be sure to check specifications for charging time when you use any in-wall USB charging device, as they do vary.

Remembering an item such as this can only enhance your Cruise Experience.

It was February of 1992 and I was in my second year of college in New York.  I had just finished an exam from a night course (in broadcasting).  I raced downstairs to catch my ride…okay…my parents in their car, with my brother, picking me up so we could leave New York (it was snowing) and drive to South Florida to take a cruise.  It would be the first for all of us.  I remember listening to the Jerky Boys CD a couple of time during the drive.  Sometimes I can still be heard imitating the Sol Rosenberg character!

We arrived in Florida the next evening and after one night at my grandparents condo…a very small condo…we drove down to the Port of Miami to board Royal Caribbean’s Sovereign of the Seas.  At the time, the second largest cruise ship in Miami, trailing the SS Norway (of NCL) because they added to the top of the ship, changing the face of what others knew as the former SS France.  I remember a rather long and tedious boarding process.  Heck, Windows 3.1 didn’t debut until March, so I could (now) understand “why” the long process!!

soveriegn02The next thing I remember is coughing, because I ate a bug.  That’s because something flew into my mouth as soon as we entered the ship.  I WILL NEVER FORGET the first impression when I first walked into the Sovereign of the Seas…my jaw hit the floor.  I mean, I watched “The Love Boat” and everything, but I don’t ever remember seeing glass elevators and a brass (looking) staircase and lobby in The Pacific Princess!  I could not believe that we were standing in a ship.  This was like being in a hotel that we could not afford.

The weeklong cruise was just fantastic.  I couldn’t get over the service…it was so much better than the Sizzler and our local diner!  After one night, the waiter, Ibrahim (I still remember his name…THAT’S how good he was) knew our tastes exactly.  He also knew what we would want to drink.  Two huge pools and a full service fitness center with so much more…you get the point.  It was also so much easier to meet girls, but that might have just been because it was a captive audience and choices were limited.  I was a late bloomer!

The Sovereign of the Seas looking ghostly, off the shores of Labadee, Haiti.  It's only fitting, since the Sovereign of the Seas is no longer with RCCI.

The Sovereign of the Seas looking ghostly, off the shores of Labadee, Haiti. It’s only fitting, since the Sovereign of the Seas is no longer with RCCI.

Fast forward to the end of the week…I knew I was hooked, and I couldn’t wait to go on another cruise.  Little did I know at the time that this would be the first of nearly 40, before my 42nd birthday!  In 2006, my wife and I revisited the Sovereign of the Seas and sailed on a three-night Bahamas cruise out of Port Canaveral.  While it wasn’t as awe-inspiring, it was nice to be back, and to reminisce.  There were many updates, but she had the same impressive lobby.

Today on our Facebook page, Royal Caribbean posted about the retiring of Sovereign’s sister ship, the Monarch of the Seas, and this is what prompted me to think back about my first experience.  The Sovereign of the Seas is no longer with Royal Caribbean (since 2008), and now sails as the MS Sovereign, for Pullmantur Cruises.

alaska04You’ve heard the suggestions for cruising Alaska before; dress in layers, mosquito repellant, rain gear, smaller crowds in May and September…all of those and others you’ve read about are great suggestions. But there is one suggestion that is almost never mentioned….at least I’ve never seen it…

GO WHILE YOU STILL CAN, BEFORE IT’S DIFFICULT FOR YOU TO MOVE AROUND!

Snow hiking, walking on ice and glaciers, helicopter rides, standing in between train cars (outside!) while it’s climbing snow-filled mountains, dog sledding and much more.

DO NOT WAIT UNTIL YOUR GOLDEN YEARS to experience Alaska.  To maximize your Alaskan Cruise Experience it is best to do it now if you can.  I have a multitude of experience with the senior citizen demographic, and I hear it all the time from Alaskan Cruise first-timers…”We should have done it when we were younger.”

We did and are glad we did.  It’s hard enough to maintain your energy levels at any age, especially after traveling to get to the ship in the first place!  In addition, weather such as what is in the Pacific Northwest (U.S.) and Alaska can make you feel tired too, especially if you reside in a warm weather climate year-round.

Oh, and one other suggestion…check out this link.  We did, and these are not available on ships, nor are they advertised there.  If you take a tour in each Alaskan port city during a seven-day trip, and you travel as a couple, you can save boatloads of money.  We saved a shade over $600 versus doing the advertised excursions!

Happy Cruising!

Cathy here, and I am a professional flight attendant.  I realize how stressful travel plans can be, especially when you have deadlines, and on-time arrivals and departures at the airport are crucial for arriving before the ship’s ‘three horn blows!’

Today’s online options to help find the cheapest flights are fantastic, efficient, and most are easy to use (thanks William Shatner!). But, there is one thing that I urge you to be careful of, especially if you don’t want the ship to depart with your stateroom empty.

Some of the cheapest rates for flights can be found by choosing itineraries that combine DIFFERENT AIRLINES. While it may cause less stress in your pocketbooks, it can add stresses in the form of ruining your vacations.  If flight #1 on airline “x” is late, and you miss your connecting flight on airline “y”, airline “x” is NOT obligated to help you with finding another flight. If you are flying on the day of your cruise, well, I do not need to tell you what could possibly happen next.

It may cost you a little more, but, whenever possible, stick with the same airline for multiple legs to get you to your destination.  Another tip, if it’s possible, leave a day earlier than originally intended.  This gives you even more time in the event of flight cancellations and delays.  If you arrive on time ( a day or so early), it’s a great opportunity to take in a new city!

Happy Cruising (and flying) everybody!  Here’s to positive Cruise Experiences!