My DW and I, big-time fans of the Radiance class and not enamored with the first of the mega-ships, Voyager of the Seas, just returned from the March 25 cruise aboard the monstrous Allure of the Seas. Based on the above mindset, why would we try Allure? Well, as veteran cruises (our 18th) and Diamond members, who couldn't be intrigued with this "wow" vessel? So, happy with long-time friends Bob and Julie joining us, we hit the open seas truly with open minds.
Specifics will follow; our top line overview: Never again on a ship this size and this layout. Yes, we experienced a number of high points, but we still significantly prefer our cruise ships be designed to focus on passengers looking out on the ocean, not inward surrounded by kitschy attractions and "neighborhoods." Also, we don't seek a ship that seems to be trying to replicate a Disney cruise with characters, parades and the like. And, we want a ship that pays more attention to the meals in the main dining room, rather than practically forcing guests to turn to the for-charge meals in the specialty restaurants to quality dining.
First, I will begin with the good stuff.
- Chicago and Blue Planet were, hands down, the best shows we've ever seen on a cruise ship. Superb performances all around. Don't miss these two shows.
- We loved the Aqua Theater, not so much for the Ocean Aria show (average, in our minds), but for the events at night held in the ocean air, such as the 60's dance party and the showing of the movie Grease (a sing-a-long version) on the two big screens.
- The Solarium -- spacious, tranquil, comfortable seating, great views, its own free restaurant/buffet and, yes, no kids.
- Embarkation and debarkation, as noted by many here, simply outstanding.
- Chops continues to deliver great cuisine.
- Outstanding service...from our stateroom attendant Roman and gracious bar servers throughout the ship as well as our waiters and the guest relations folks.
- Cruise director Ken Rush, an RCI institution, does a great job. Super high energy and enthusiasm, even though he would leave the ship at the end of the week for a long-awaited vacation.
- Smoothest cruise we've even had...although the perfect weather certainly played a role here.
LOWLIGHTS (or not to our liking)
- As noted earlier, why go on a cruise if views to the beautiful waters and outside are de-emphasized? It begins with the dreadful Royal Promenade, a fancy name for a very wide-aisle replicate of an upscale shopping mall. Didn't like it on Voyager, and sure didn't like it here. I still can't figure out why so many people consider this a plus when you can experience this at one of a thousand malls across the country. Please, enlighten me.
- Our favorite RCI lounge, the Schooner Bar, is tucked away in a corner on the Promenade, dark, not appealing, and not very crowded. Its navigation theme going to waste when compared to other ships' Schooners with numerous outside views. The Champagne Bar suffers similarly. So sad.
- Another favorite of many on this board and in reviews, Central Park, is assuredly a novelty. Folks express joy at walking through the park, even listening to the piped in noise of birds chirping. Really? Listening to taped recordings of birds chirping while walking one block is a highlight? And, here too, no views of the seas, only the sky. Plus, Chops looks out on the park, but unlike other ships, nary a window looking to the real outside world.
- Yes, I mentioned the great shows. But, as others strongly recommend, you really should, before you leave home, pick out the performances you wish to attend and reserve your seats. I understand the need for this with so many guests aboard. But the freedom and flexibility you lose are major drawbacks. I much prefer the ability to go with the flow and determine while on board when I want to see the headliner, Broadway music, etc. The Allure (and Oasis) essentially prevent this (or offer the stressful option of waiting in a line to determine how many reserved guests don't show up before you can enter...with the worst seats available).
- Oh, my, also as cited above, the very average quality of food in the main dining room. Another disappointing development, certainly driven by the huge numbers of diners that must be served and, certainly, a strategy to send some of us to the $pecialty restaurants. Plus, on this cruise (albeit, during spring break), the dining room was crammed with tables; I've never seen tables configured so tightly. I heard a couple of waiters citing the challenges of moving about. I could see why -- a trip to the men's room required some nifty maneuvering around tables and chairs.
- While on the subject of food -- the pizza at Sorrento's was worse than the cheapest frozen variety. The praise I had heard on this board for Boardwalk Dogs is very hard to understand -- mediocre and the hard buns didn't help.
- I had pretty much accepted the increase in the "nickel and diming" for things onboard. But what's with the CHARGE for orange juice (and cranberry juice) in the dining room for breakfast, as well as the Cafe Promenade. Yet, they serve some kind of orange juice at no charge in the Windjammer. I don't get it. And, perhaps, the ultimate insult in this area -- charging for small box of popcorn on the Boardwalk. Yep, $1. I know...getting picky, here. But I'm talking about the principle here. Even tacky taverns will give away popcorn...so you can DRINK and spend more.
- Also, as many have mentioned, the Windjammer is too small, very crowded and with much less food selection than other Royal ships. It's simply not pleasant eating up there.
- Although not specific to the ship, a couple of comments about the ports. Falmouth in Jamaica is a travesty...yes, likely more development is planned, but more cheap shops is not going to improve things. Guess Falmouth provides good access to other attractions like Dunn River Falls, but, in general, the country, for us, is not very appealing. In addition, we long for the days of the simpler Labadee, not the touristy feeling it has become.
I will stop here, and can answer comments and questions if folks respond. I know I'm in the minority here based on the member reviews and those on this board. Don't get me wrong; we had a wonderful time. One can't beat cruising. But we know the kind of ship that makes this the optimum experience -- and Allure simply is not for us.