We just returned from a week on the amazing Allure of the Seas on the Western Caribbean cruise. We traveled with our 9 year old son and four other couples (they had no children). We had a great time and the ship is truly amazing.
Embarkation: Getting on the ship in Fort Lauderdale was a breeze. From the time the shuttle bus from the airport dropped us off at the curb to the time we walked onto the ship was less than 30 minutes and that included time we wasted by forgetting to drop off our luggage at the curb, which meant we had to get out of the security line to take it back to the curb, and the time it took to get our son's special arm band. Once we went past security we went straight to a check-in counter and were processed in less than 5 minutes. Truly amazing given the fact they were loading over 6000 passengers in just a few hours.
Ship: We were simply amazed by how large and impressive the ship was in all areas. It was beautiful, very clean, and spacious. The ship was also VERY stable, we rarely felt any ocean movement and often it felt more like being in an upscale shopping mall rather than on a ship at sea. The ship was also very quiet, no loud engine noise even when we were at the back of the ship.
Cabin: We had two ocean view cabins on the front of the ship, cabins 9504 and 9506, which were connected. This was a great arrangement for us since it provided two bathrooms and plenty of space to stow our clothing and gear and to do different activities. The forward facing cabins have large windows that give a great view. Also, the front wall is sloped with the shape of the ship. While the slope means you cannot stand up all the way to the front wall, it does mean the rooms feel much more spacious and the extra floorspace came in very handy for storing luggage and setting out our shoes. While we would have liked to have had a balcony cabin, we found that the three of us could stay in two ocean view rooms for about the same price that it would have cost for the three of us to stay in one balcony cabin. For us, that was a great arrangement.
Food: We used the My Time Dining option and ate in the MDR 5 of the 7 nights. The food in the MDR was good, sometimes, very good, but never great. The service in the MDR was also inconsistent, sometimes it was very slow, sometimes it was rushed. I don't know how much this had to do with the MTD arrangement, which may be harder for the crew to manage than the fixed-time dining on the other decks. We also ate in the MDR for breakfast most of the mornings and ordered from the menu, which we found much more civilized than the Windjammer buffet. Speaking of the Windjammer, the food there was actually pretty good for cafeteria style service, but the space is too crowded and chaotic. The arrangement of the food displays create no clear sense of what direction you are supposed to move, so it means everyone moves in every direction. Also, the tables in the Windjammer are way too close together, so at peak times it was total chaos. We tended to avoid the Windjammer for these reasons. The Park Cafe was great for a salad or sandwich for lunch, but there is very limited seating.
Specialty restaurants: We ate at 150 Park and Chops for dinner on two nights. We thought the food was good at 150 Park, but not great, and the service was stuffy. The food was a bit better at Chops, but like most steak houses there was too much food so you had to watch carefully or end up over eating. We also ate at Rita's Cantina, which we though was better than our favorite Tex-Mex place at home in Washington DC and we our son had one dinner at Johnny Rockets. The burger there was good, but the onion rings had too much breading and the strawberry shake was way too sweet. Overall, if we were to sail again, we'd probably skip 150 Park and Chops and simply eat in the MDR.
BTW, if you order wine in the MDR, the specialty restaurants, or the Windjammer and do not finish the bottle, you can have your waiter put it aside and you can finish it at a subsequent meal. This was a nice option, especially on nights when we wanted to have both a white and a red, but could not finish the entire bottles.
Entertainment: The shows on the ship were spectacular. Much higher quality than those we've seen on other cruises and there was a great variety throughout the week. The same cast shows up in the various shows through the week, but we did not find that to be a problem. We saw Chicago, Ocean Aria, Ice Games, How to Train Your Dragon, the Madagascar Aqua Show, and Blue Planet. They were all excellent and the staging was amazing, especially considering that they were on a cruise ship. The only show we did not see was the comedy show. We made reservations for almost all the shows in advance of boarding and that is a good idea since some get pretty full.
Activities: There were plenty of activities on board to keep us entertained. Unfortunately our son was not tall enough (52 inches) or heavy enough (75 pounds) to do the Flowrider or the Zipline, but he loved the rock wall and climbed to the top at least 15 times during the week. The line for the rock wall was never very long and he was often able to finish one climb and get right back in line for another climb in a few minutes. He also enjoyed the various pools and spas on deck 15. One thing to note is that on sea days the outdoor areas tend to become very crowded and finding an open lounge chair is a challenge. The area around the pools on sea days were the only times on the cruise that we could really feel like there were 6000+ people sharing the ship. BTW, the zip line is more of a gimmick since it takes about 5 seconds to cross once you stand in line and get all the safety gear on. We did it once to say we had done it, but after that it was not worth the wait (which generally meant standing in the full sun for at least 45 minutes).
Tours: I did the All Access Tour to see the inner workings of the ship. It was a great tour that took about 3 hours, but it was over priced (what else is new on a cruise ship?) at $150. I would recommend it for anyone who is really interested in understanding how the ship works, but its too pricey for multiple members of a family to attend.
Adventure Ocean: The kids club on the ship was GREAT and our son loved the facilities, the activities and the staff. He went there most nights, which allowed us to have a more leisurely dinner and to see some of the more adult themed shows without worrying what he was up to. Some nights he also went to dinner with the kids club. They take the kids as a group to the Windjammer at 5:30 and then bring them back to the Adventure Ocean club on 14 for various activities. The club is free from opening time (as early as 7 am on some days) until 10 pm. It is open until 2 am for $6 per hour per child, which is pretty inexpensive for babysitting by DC standards. We never used the late-night option, but it looked like a lot of other people did. One disappointment was that we were not able to rent the Royal Communicator cell phones that RC advertises. We tried to rent them on the first day and found they were already sold out!!! That was frustrating since we were not comfortable letting our son roam the ship by himself without the ability to be in touch. RC should increase the number of these available and I recommend that if you are interested that you get them as soon as you board the ship.
Ports: Labadee is basically a purpose made port with a private resort for RC cruises and the Allure and Oasis in particular. We did not do any excursions there and just enjoyed a day at the beach and the cookout lunch that the crew from the ship prepares (NOTE: All the food for the lunch comes from the ship, so there's no worry about quality). We also rode the roller coaster there, it was fun, but overpriced at $19 per ride. We were not able to ride the zip line since it was fully booked. We probably would have tried it even at the steep $90 per ride price.
Falmouth is a new port that was just built to accommodate the Allure and the Oasis. We took the Green Grotto Caves and Dunn River Falls excursion. The entire trip took about 6 hours and did NOT include lunch or any options to get lunch other than the snacks (soda and chips) for purchase at the caves. The climb up the falls was great, the caves were not that impressive.
In Cozumel some of our group went on the Snuba excursion and enjoyed it while others simply stayed on the ship. I was one who stayed on the ship and it was great to have so much space and so few people for the day. Given that there is so little time to see the ports of call, on future cruises I may opt for staying on the ship on more days.
Departure: This was as smooth as embarkation. From the time we left our cabin until we were at the curb waiting for a taxi it was about 30 minutes. We opted for the luggage valet service, which was $20 per bag and was supposed to mean that you did not see your luggage from the time you put it outside your room on the last night until you got to your final destination. It was great not having to drag the bags through customs and to the airport, but only 2 of our 3 bags actually made it back to DC on our flight. The third somehow missed getting to the airport. Luckily RC found the bag and will FedEx it to us. In the future I think we will save the $20 per bag and use the early departure option, which allows you to carry your luggage off the ship yourself on the last day.
Airport tip: If you are leaving the ship to go the the Fort Lauderdale airport, I would recommend not buying the airport transfers that RC sells for $17 per person. The three of us were in a cab in about 3 minutes after leaving the terminal and at the airport in about 15 minutes. The ride including tip only cost $17 total.
This was by far the best cruise we have taken and we will likely sail on the Allure or the Oasis again in the future. I think next time we will opt for the Eastern Caribbean route since I think the ports will be more interesting (we opted for the Western on this trip since the fares for the week we went were about $1000 less for the same two ocean view staterooms between the Oasis and the Allure).