24/10/2014

Mini mussels show their might

Mussels - photo courtesy of v777999/Shutterstock

At Cruise Critic we’ve seen, read and heard pretty much everything there is to do with cruising. Then every once in a while something comes along that takes even the most seasoned cruisers by surprise. In this instance it’s the curious case of tiny mussels that can bring down a big cruise ship’s cooling system.

It all began with reports on the forum last week that things weren’t right with the air conditioning onboard Princess Cruises’ 2,590-passenger Golden Princess, as the ship made its way south to Mexico on a four-night roundtrip from Los Angeles.

Read on to continue the story

23/10/2014

Destination Spotlight: Banana Coast, Honduras

Welcome to Banana Coast - photo by Adam Coulter

On Wednesday, the new Caribbean cruise port of Banana Coast (Trujillo), on the north coast of Honduras, welcomed its first big cruise ship, Norwegian Jewel.

While a smaller ship, Travel Dynamics’ 130-passenger Yorktown, paid a couple of visits in February, this was the tender port’s first mega-ship – Jewel has 2,500 passengers. The stop heralded the official start of the cruise season here. The Honduran press attended in force (it was all over local TV), as did the mayor of Trujillo, numerous dignitaries, the Minister for Tourism, and of course, Cruise Critic.

Read on to find out more.

22/10/2014

Countdown to Quantum: What’s up with the Robotic Bartenders?

The Bionic Bar on Quantum of the Seas - photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean

I’ve got to admit, when I first heard that Royal Caribbean’s newest ship Quantum of the Seas would have robotic bartenders, a number of thoughts came to mind.

First: It’s gonna be a bit of a one-sided conversation.

Second: Will they look more like R2-D2 or C3PO?

Third: Does that mean will they be losing bar staff?

Fourth: Gimmick!

Well, in nine days time, when I get my first look at the ship in Southampton, I’ll get all the definitive answers to those questions.

But till then, here’s what we can glean from the very limited information we have so far.

Read more about our robot overlords…

21/10/2014

Member review: Our charmed life of luxury on Oceania Cruises’ Riviera

Member Jay23 was on Oceania Cruises’ Riviera and gave five stars-plus to the whole experience. Our member review this week is an 11-day cruise from Istanbul to the Black Sea, finishing in Athens, and there is nothing but praise for luxury cruising, despite its premium price.

The only grumbles were the price of excursions, and the replacement ports for Yalta, Sebastopol and Odessa, which were off-limits because of the troubles in Ukraine:  “A couple of the replacement ports were, however, not the best so we stayed on board.”

Read on to find out more.

20/10/2014

Where in the world is Cruise Critic?

Colleen on the Paul Gauuin in the Society Islands, Chris at the TBEX Conference in Greece

Cruise Critic staffers set sail every week, travelling the globe to bring you the latest cruise ship trends, port sneak peeks and onboard observations. Here’s where we are this week.

(Got questions about any of the ships we’re boarding or ports we are visiting? Ask us in the comments!)

Keep reading →

17/10/2014

Just Back From….Oasis of the Seas: What’s New After its Makeover?

Before boarding Oasis of the Seas – the 5,400-passenger Royal Caribbean ship that gave new meaning to the term “mega-ship” when it launched in 2008 (only sister ship Allure of the Seas is bigger) – I expected it to feel like a combination of a Las Vegas hotel and an amusement park.

And with a boardwalk, a central park and a bar/elevator onboard, my suspicions were quickly proven correct. I was surprised, however, that the behemoth of a ship still managed to have its own personality. It didn’t feel crowded and I didn’t feel claustrophobic, even though Oasis can hold enough people to fill the town I grew up in. Overall, I think the size of the ship actually made me feel more comfortable than I have felt on some smaller cruise ships.

The point of my trip was to check out the fortnight’s worth of beauty treatments Oasis received during its ‘revitalisation’ dry dock in Rotterdam. So here’s what’s new onboard one of the world’s biggest cruise ships:

Opus Dining Room: What had once been a single dining room laid out over three decks and serving the same menu is morphing into three completely different restaurants, American Icon Grill, Silk and The Grande. The three-deck space is still joined by a three-story atrium, but the line has worked hard to achieve separation — adding sheer curtains to Silk and landscape-paneled dividers to American Icon Grill, for example.

The thing that’s still missing, though, is the food. Royal says they’ll roll out their new Dynamic Dining concept — nearly 20 restaurants and no main dining room, allowing passengers to ‘tailor’ their eating experience to their own preferences — on Oasis overnight on March 14, 2015. I was told that technical limitations prevent it from coming on line sooner. Until then, passengers will continue to have a traditional main dining room experience in the newly decorated spaces, but clearly Royal doesn’t want Oasis to steal soon-to-launch Quantum of the Seas’ thunder. Quantum is where the new dining concept is debuting, so it looks like we’ll have to wait until October 31, before we can experience Dynamic Dining in full.

Sabor Taqueria & Tequila Bar. This new-to-Oasis restaurant, which was first introduced on Navigator of the Seas is part of a calculated move by Royal Caribbean. The line’s VP of food and beverage, Brian Abel told me, “We’re trying to fuse restaurants and bars into one concept to draw a younger demographic.”

Sabor’s placement on the ship — it’s on the Boardwalk — makes it much better suited for a Caribbean sailing than a transit from Rotterdam to Southampton on a chilly, damp evening. But the margaritas were solid and the guacamole, made fresh at the table, was some of the best I’ve ever had.

Chops Grille. Chops isn’t new to Oasis, but this old favorite of steakhouse enthusiasts has had its steak menu upgraded and updated. Royal has upped the ante with 36-day dry-aged steaks. They charge an extra fee for the dry-aged New York Strip and dry-aged Porterhouse of around $20 (and the roasted 1 1/4 pound lobster is $20), so it’s not going to break the bank if you want to treat yourself.

Other new dining venues. While I was onboard, work was still being completed on both Izumi — which will offer a full teppanyaki and sushi menu starting November 8, 2014 — and Wonderland Imaginative Cuisine, an avant garde restaurant linked in with the Dynamic Dining rollout.

Internet. Oasis had its internet service upgraded as part of Royal’s partnership with O3b, which purports to offer passengers internet speeds comparable to those available on shore. The Royal iQ app is part of the new technology package, as well, and will allow passengers to book reservations for restaurants, shore excursions and spa appointments directly from their phone or tablet.

Suites. The Oasis refurb also saw 10 new suites added to the ship overlooking the AquaTheater and Boardwalk ‘neighbourhood.’ What’s more, suite passengers will be able to enjoy a couple of exclusive new spaces on Deck 17 — the Suite Lounge, the Sun Deck and the Coastal Kitchen suite-only restaurant.

The high-ceilinged, glass-enclosed lounge is decorated in neutral cream, beige and gray, which adds to the sense of light and space in the room. I spent a few hours in the Suite Lounge for both an afternoon drink and for the continental breakfast buffet. It’s a very relaxing spot with great views and a nicely stocked bar, but the food at breakfast wasn’t as nice as what I found in the Windjammer buffet. The drawback at Windjammer is that it’s chaotic, crowded and hard to find a table.

–Jamey Bergman

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15/10/2014

What do you not want to miss on a cruise?

The Cruise Critic message boards are not just essential forums for practical advice and information, they can also give you a real feel for what cruise holidays are all about – especially if you are a first-timer.

For instance new to cruise Cruise Critic member Dunderess, from Sweden, who is looking forward to her Eastern Mediterranean cruise on MSC Preziosa with her husband, posted the question: “Tell me one thing you just don’t want to miss on a cruise.”

Read on to find out more.

14/10/2014

Member review: A Dream come true

Member Cariad21 had “some concerns” about travelling with her parents, but they were “unfounded” and soon it was “plain cruising” .

Our member review this week is a week-long round trip cruise on Thomson Dream from Palma, taking in Sardinia, Rome and Mallorca.

It was her first cruise and although check in took two hours, after that the ship and its crew exceeded her expectations.

Read on to find out more.

13/10/2014

Where in the world is Cruise Critic?

Jamey Bergman on map

Cruise Critic staffers set sail every week, travelling the globe to bring you the latest cruise ship trends, port sneak peeks and onboard observations. Here’s where we are this week.

(Got questions about any of the ships we’re boarding or ports we are visiting? Ask us in the comments!)

Ship: Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas

Where: Departing from Rotterdam, The Netherlands, sailing to Southampton, UK

Who: Jamey Bergman, Production Editor

Why There? Oasis of the Seas is coming out of a two-week dry dock, and we can’t wait to see what’s new onboard!

We Can’t Wait: Specifically, I’m looking to try out the Dynamic Dining experience first hand, but it’s also my first time onboard the cruise world’s best-known behemoth, and I’m preparing myself to be overawed by everything. I doubt 24 hours is anywhere near enough time to experience everything on Oasis, but I’ll do my best, and will be reporting back about all the new additions onboard next week.

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10/10/2014

Jolly japes at sea: Are you nostalgic for old-fashioned fun?

Broadway musicals, ice skating shows and performances by world-famous names such as the Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil have become an established, and almost expected, part of cruise ship entertainment extravaganzas.

However, turn back the clock and things were once very different, with passengers topping the bill and making a spectacle of themselves. A superb thread started on the forums by Cruise Critic member hattack made me wonder if entertainment at sea has almost become too slick for its own good.

Read on for more.