Tag-Archive for » Oasis of the Seas «

Riviera Maya’s El Cid — Especial!

PUERTO MORELOS, Mexico — It has been a long time since we’d been cruising on land…

Cruising on land?

The closest thing you’ll find to a cruise without the water under the room in which you’re sleeping is at an all-inclusive resort, and there are likely more of them than there are Resort-5cruise ships. We hadn’t been at one for almost 30 years, not for any particular reason, but when Family Reunion Time came along this year the decision-makers settled on an all-inclusive.

That was to become El Cid.

There are six El Cid resorts in Mexico — four in Mazatlan, one in Cozumel and this one, in a sleepy little town called Puerto Morelos, which is halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen along the Maya Riviera. The name comes not from a movie now 44 years old, but from the legendary Spanish hero of the 11th century, El Cid, who is still revered today.

JulioIt was founded by the late Julio Berdegue Aznar, who grew up in Madrid and became a political refugee in Mexico during the Spanish Civil War, Highly educated, he developed the business that his two sons operate. At this El Cid, the operations manager is Ricardo Bustamante Altamirano (Ricardo for short), a bundle of energy who is as proud of the company’s heritage as he is of the Puerto Morelos resort.

Ricardo-1“It is one hundred per cent Mexican,” he says. “What distinguishes us is the service, also the quality of food and drinks. We don’t buy the cheapest food and we don’t buy the cheapest liquor. The company always treats employees with a lot of respect. When you do, the Riviera Maya is like a gold mine.”

Ricardo spent a year in the cruise business, as a bar waiter on Royal Caribbean’s old Sovereign of the Seas. His resort reflects a cruise ship in its cleanliness, its service and its “mass-market” food.

One employee we encountered said the reason he worked at El Cid is that it’s booked “90 per cent of the year” while others in this area are more seasonal.

Booked means filling 428 rooms, a number that will grow to 700 in two years, and there will be another main building.

It’s easy to see why.

In a week at El Cid, the two seniors only left twice, walking 30 minutes on country roads to Puerto Morelos. That wasn’t the plan. It was the reality. This all-inclusive — perhaps like others — has a large pool bubbling with activity most of the time, sit-down restaurants, programs for kids who need to be supervised by non-parents, a beach with more water things-to-do and food 24/7. What impressed us was that after a week, we wanted to stay.

There are 12 in our family and we pretty much covered the gamut of things to do. Kayaking (included) was over at the beach. Snorkeling ($20 each, from a Puerto Morelos vendor) meant going out to the world’s second-biggest coral reef. Maya ruins (also not included) was more than an hour’s drive to Coba, and well-worth the trip. The zoo — CrocodileCrococun — was a short cab ride and in-zoo guides are mandatory, if for no other reason than for protection from crocodiles, 33 of them, that are just off the path you’re walking.

This was spring break, so the place was buzzing with families, but it didn’t feel crowded. Not unlike being on a cruise ship like Oasis of the Seas and feeling there was plenty of room for its 6,000 passengers. Just like on cruise ships, somebody is cleaning all the time, and not just in the front rooms, where you could eat off the floors. Ricardo took us on a behind-the-scenes tour that was revealing in the degree to which employees go in the clean department. 

The main pool (there is also an infinity pool) was exceptional. This is not a lap pool, it’s a fun pool. With small children and at least a couple of non-swimming adults in our family, it Infinity Pool 2was perfect. There is plenty of space and, yes, loungers draped with “reserve” towels that nobody ever seems to use.

The rooms are spacious, too, and all easily accessible from the pool. Room service is unbeatable. There are four restaurants to go with the buffet, all of them good but in hindsight we found the Mediterranean one, El Alcazar, the tastiest…perhaps in part because Luis and friendsof a delightful server named Luis. Presentation was exceptional. The buffet is…well, buffet food. When you’re dealing with hundreds of people and perhaps dozens of dietary restraints, there’s only so much you can do with the flavor of buffet servings — the “chefs” El Alcazarin charge of the ready-made hot dishes always seemed to be trying to do the work of two people.

And just like cruise ships, hot toast is a problem on shore, too.

The Riviera Maya El Cid is nine years old. Its opening was delayed by category 4 Hurricane Wilma. There was water in the rooms and the kitchen doors were blown off. Ricardo, a lifer in the hospitality business, spent three months working in Mazatlan until the new El Cid was ready. Another deadly storm — the tsunami that swept through the waters of Asia — was critical in El Cid’s growth.

“Ever since then,” says Ricardo, “all year long people come to the Riviera Maya instead of crossing the Pacific.”

Capacity is about 1,400 people, which happens at Christmas, and 80 per cent of the Resort-7customers are either Canadian or American. While the prices vary like cruises do, they’re generally in the same ballpark, per person.

We’ve been telling people how much this family enjoyed El Cid…and now we’ve just told thousands more.

Today at portsandbows.com: Godmother tunes up Anthem's christening

Diamond Princess
8 nights
June 6, 2015
Kobe (return): OkinawaHualienKaohsiungTaipei
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $99
www.princess.com

Friday File: Allure of the Seas

shipEven after the arrival of its stablemate Anthem of the Seas this weekend, Allure of the Seas will remain the biggest cruise ship in the world (a couple of inches longer than Oasis of the Seas). Some passengers think it’s also the best big cruise ship in the world and after seeing our photos from cruising on her, maybe you’ll have a better idea why…

bar that moves

When “The Rising Tide” is good, because it’s a bar that spans three decks.

parade - fiona and shreck

Fiona and Shrek captivate onlookers during the Royal Promenade parade.

johnny rocket's

Almost every ship has a hamburger joint…here that's Johnny Rockets. 

flo rider

If you think FlowRider is a surf simulator solely for kids…well, it’s not.

kids water park

This water park IS solely for kids, the most colorful if not most creative.

central park

This could be a garden spot on land, but in reality it’s Central Park at sea.

cupcakes

A whole shop devoted to cupcakes, now a Royal Caribbean specialty.

directions

The best multi-lingual way we’ve seen to keep walkers and joggers apart.

mini golf

The golfers would count this mini-putt among the most interesting at sea.

park cafe

Ideal breakfast — lots of choices and space…best of all, nice and quiet.

pool deck

When space isn’t at a premium on big ships, it isn’t around the pools either.

wine bar

Unassuming and tasteful, the wine stop on Allure of the Seas.

Today at portsandbows.com: Carnival Live's line-up for 2015

Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam
12 nights
June 9, 2015
Venice (return): Athens, Istanbul, Lesbos, Ephesus, Santorini, Olympia, Argostoli
Inside: $899
Cost per day: $74
www.hollandamerica.com

Panama Canal A Place To Grow!

Once again this week, we became advocates for taking a Panama Canal cruise, as we have been since our inaugural cruise across the Isthmus of Panama in 2010. This time, it was reassuring friends who leave on a Panama Canal cruise today that they would never regret it.

On our trip, construction was underway for the Canal expansion that was going to be completed…on the waterway’s 100th anniversary in 2014…and then in late 2015…and now sometime early in 2016. The delays have been caused by cost over-runs (now there’s a surprise), strikes (another surprise) and a mix-up in the concrete mix for the locks (that is a surprise).

When it does open, the Canal will accommodate ships that are close to 1.5 times larger than today’s limit. These are called “post-Panamax” ships, and several cruise ships fit the Panama Canalcategory, but that doesn’t include — according to post-Panamax measurements — Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, the two biggest cruise ships in the world. Nor does it include Royal Caribbean’s Freedom Class ships (Freedom, Liberty and Independence).

Sticking with Royal Caribbean as the example, its two newest ships — Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas, which is being launched this week — both will fit in the new Panama Canal.

At the moment, half Royal Caribbean’s fleet doesn’t.

But help is on the way. There is now talk of a fourth set of locks across the Isthmus, which will take $17 billion (for now) and 15 years. So by 2030, Oasis and Allure could probably make maiden voyages through the Panama Canal.

If they’re still around, that is.

Today at portsandbows.com: Celebrity's creative shore excursions

Norwegian Getaway
7 nights
May 30, 2015
Miami (return): St. Thomas, Tortola, Nassau 
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78
www.ncl.com

Friday File: Picture These Cruise Ships

For anybody who likes cruising, and we assume you do, ships make great photo ops. Why else do we see passengers standing on the shore taking photos of the ships they’re traveling on, over and over. In fact, we do it ourselves. What follows this week are some of our favorite ship shots, mostly because of how much we liked the picture, or the situation…

Sky-GSKThis is the Norwegian Sky, from the beach at Great Stirrup Cay, the island the cruise line owns. This is our ship-on-the-rocks picture. The Sky is anchored offshore because, at least when we snapped this, the channel wasn’t deep enough and passengers were tendered ashore.

InfinityThe Celebrity Infinity was heading east in the Panama Canal, passing its sister ship, the Millennium. We knew it was coming so our camera was poised to catch this sail-by in one of the narrowest parts of the Canal, and we think it will still be this narrow when the Canal expansion is finished next year…or the year after…

Freedom-2We spotted the Carnival Freedom “almost on the rocks” during the day and liked the photo so much we came back and took it again at night. The reality is we were in Willemstad, Curacao long enough that we disembarked in the afternoon and, after having dinner 20 miles away, it was dark when we returned. 

Coral-KetchikanThe juxtaposition was irresistible. In the background, the Coral Princess. In the foreground, the statue of a carved eagle that welcomes visitors to Ketchikan, Alaska. This is eagle country and while you won’t find one this large, the real thing is often available to visiting photographers. Still, not a bad substitute.

AllureWhen we took this picture, we hadn’t yet been on Allure of the Seas, not surprising since this was the final waves of its initial Transatlantic crossing from Europe to Fort Lauderdale in 2010. The event was impressive…helicopters, streamers, tugboats spraying water and a plane overhead welcoming the ship to Florida.

Sun-Guat
If we needed a photo to sell friends on taking a cruise, not that we do, this shot of the Norwegian Sun in Guatemala might do the trick. Nobody thinks of this Central American country as a scenic place to visit, until you’ve been there. This was not quite halfway of a cruise to South America and was, frankly, a surprise.
Two shipsPhotographers would never pick this one as a great photo of cruise ships for sure. However, its significance to us disembarking in Port Everglades from Allure of the Seas on the left and boarding the Carnival Freedom on the right. While the ships are nose to nose, the walk was a little longer than it looks — about 15 minutes.

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Carnival Liberty
7 nights
June 7, 2015
San Juan (return): St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten 
Inside: $569
Cost per day: $81
www.carnival.com

More ships, voyages for Windstar

Windstar, the yacht-style cruise line that has grown from bankruptcy four years ago to a fleet of six ships by summer, has unveiled its collection of voyages for 2016…There are 11 new ones and 30 new ports that Windstar ships will visit, all of it made possible by the addition of the Star Breeze and Star Legend this spring, following appropriate Star Priderefurbishment…Until they go into drydock, the ships will continue sailing as the Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Legend…Then they’ll join another former Seabourn ship, now Windstar’s Star Pride (above), which has been flying under the new cruise flag for almost a year…The most intriguing of the new itineraries is a circumnavigation of Iceland on the Star Legend, from Reykjavik to Reykjavik in seven days at the beginning of July (least amount of ice?)…The fare is currently listed at $3,399 per person.

Richard BransonWhen our colleague Phil Reimer was writing about Richard Branson and his Virgin Cruises of the future last week, another layer of the story was unfolding…Colin Veitch, the former Norwegian executive whom Branson recruited to be a founding partner, is suing the magnetic entrepreneur because he claims he could’ve made $315 million before Branson dumped him…The suit is based on Veitch’s contention that it was his financing plan Branson used to start the new venture, which will apparently start with a pair of 4,200-passenger ships designed to attract young travelers…The question about the concept is this: Are there enough “young travelers” with enough vacation time to keep two big ships full year-round.

The folks who live and work around the cruise ship terminal in Fort Lauderdale have been used to seeing the twin towers of cruising, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, coming and going on alternating weeks…Oasis is moving to Port Canaveral next year, following the cruise line’s investment in a new terminal that opened in December…It will be replaced in Fort Lauderdale by Harmony of the Seas, the third Oasis - LabadeeOasis Class ship that will arrive next fall, so maybe the people who live and work around the Port Everglades terminal won’t even notice that Oasis is gone — unless they read the bold type on the side of the ship.

On the theory that there’s strength in numbers, seven Indian Ocean islands are sending representatives to wherever cruise executives gather to generate business for their ports…The seven include the Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, Maldives and three most of us have never heard of, let alone visited…This month, they were at a tourism trade fair in Germany and managed to convince Costa Cruises to consider having more of a presence in the islands, which its ships visit, and to give residents a chance to board ships for round-the-islands cruises…The islanders are offering pre- and post-cruise shore excursions that include an African safari…Geography is perhaps the biggest problem — the islands are in the same hemisphere as Somalia…Can you say “pirates?”

Today at portsandbows.com: Royal Caribbean's next biggest ship coming

Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas
4 nights
August 24, 2015
Miami (return): Nassau, Coco Cay, Key West
Inside: $219
Cost per day: $54
www.royalcaribbean.com

  • Categories

  • Archives