This is more of a memoir and less of a review.
We sailed 7/22/12 with our 13 y/o son. Cabin numbers 7719 and 7205. We were forced to book two cabins because all 3 ppl balcony cabins were sold out. Early booking was not an option for us due to various extraneous events outside of our control (like vacation request issues). This cruise was actually not even the original first pick. The first pick for me was an eight day cruise on Carnival Valor (because I knew the Allure is the identical twin of the Oasis with the same itinerary).
Everything good was gone and what remained was double occupancy only. So after being waitlisted on both Valor and Allure for 3 ppl balconies. We finally threw in the towel and booked the Allure on July 17th, which was 5 days before sailing. Our son was ecstatic, he had been lobbying hard for the Allure. Again because of late booking, both early and late dining options were filled (so said RCI). The only thing left was My Time Dining (how convenient). And it required you to prepay your gratuities. This I felt was a scam perpetrated on late bookers by RCI. I think you should always have the option to prepay or not. This prepaying amounts to a surcharge. I prefer to give my gratuities in person, as I've always done. RCI mandates how much you must pay their employees, while they register their ships in foreign countries to avoid US labor and tax laws, among other things.
We arrived via Jetblue the day before the cruise. Stayed at Holiday Inn Express on 17th street near the port. Took a taxi next day for a short ride to the port ($15 tip included). Grabbed a case of bottle water from Walgreens on the way to take on the ship. I had no plans to pay $3.75 a bottle for theirs (not again). This was a tip I got from reading reviews. There is free tap water on the ship, but I prefer bottled water.
Boarding was mostly smooth. I was worried for a second at checkin when I was told that my name was not on the list. Only my SO and our son. Turned out that she mistakenly thought all three names would appear together on the alphabetical log. But my name is hyphenated so it did not appear with theirs. She apologized, and I resumed breathing.
We were on the ship by noon. It was raining hard. Walked through central park, with umbrellas they provided to you at the entrance to the park. First stop was Park Cafe to get a roast beef sandwich. I had fallen in love with them on the Oasis. But on the Allure the taste was a little bland. There are signs in central park with "slippery when wet." Our son found out the hard way that its no lie. We were not even on the ship for an hour when he fell, in a puddle no less. And since our luggage had not arrived yet. He had to stay in wet clothes.
The cabins are just as they look in the stock photos. Our cabin overlooked the boardwalk. There is underbed space for your suitcases and lots of closet and shelf space. The bathroom is small. I wonder how large people manage in the shower stall. I kept bumping into it when bathing, and I'm a size 6 petite. At least the shower head have a hose. I don't recall this on the Oasis. Also new was the clock radios with 2 iPod docks in all the cabins. SO and son were happy since they both had their IPods with them (I don't own one). Our cabin was ready at 1 pm. Our luggage came after 7 30 PM (our son's clothes was dry by then).
After lamenting that we didn't have a balcony cabin this time around. We then went to explore the ship. Some things were different from the Oasis. Like the decor and a few shops. For instance, the Seafood Shack was replaced with Rita's Cantina. But overall the layout is the same. There are some whimsical decor pieces like the suspended beaded dresses and gowns in the aft elevator atrium. The ship looks exactly as it does in the stock photos. Its cleanliness, grandeur and beauty is breathtaking. I was glad that I was on it and not the Valor. I immediately felt the same admiration I'd had when I was on the Oasis. It was like visiting an old friend that you really liked.
As mentioned earlier. We were forced to book two cabins. I really did not plan to use the second cabin. Because, as another consequence of late booking, the cabins were not near each other. Both were on the 7th floor, but one was on the port side forward and the other on the starboard side aft. Also, the 7th floor only have one crossover point. This ship is huge, and the walk to the other cabin was long. I went to guest relations shortly after boarding, to see per chance, if due to cancellations there might be a 3 ppl balcony available which we could upgrade to. But there was a sign at guest relations saying they were booked solid (6000+ ppl) and had no available cabins for upgrades. There was a frantic lady from Australia at guest relations. She wanted to know if the captain can delay departure, because there was a flight diversion and some members of her party was on the diverted flight. My heart went out to her. After the muster drill ( you must take part in it, no options), we actually left port at around 5PM instead of 4 PM. Maybe her request was granted.
As I was saying about our two cabins. I did not feel it was safe for a 13 y/o to be in a cabin alone so far away when we can all fit comfortably in one cabin. So my SO and I planned that we would only use the other cabin as our, "quality-time retreat." However when our son visited the other cabin following muster drill that evening. He insisted that he wanted to stay there. That cabin have a huge picture window with a cushioned sitting area that overlooked the royal promenade. So you can people watch or watch the parades on the promenade. Since its his vacation too. We relented. But there were conditions. Like he had to notify us each time he was leaving the cabin, either by phone/voice mail or walkie talkie. Also that he had to keep the cabin clean and pick up after himself. Something that he is severely allergic to. His cabin stewart was Lloyd, from Jamaica. We asked him to keep an eye for us. So that put us at ease. Our cabin stewart was Pier from Indonesia. I like that RCI employees are a more diverse bunch than Carnival.
I grieved a little that our child had left the nest, so to speak. My SO was primarily concerned about whether he will be able to see the Olympics when it began in a couple days.
You really want to book your shows before you board because almost everything is booked by the time you board. Or you will have to go on the standby line which they let in 10 mins before the shows start. There usually are seats available. If you plan on seeing Chicago, get it in early, it has a very short run. I preferred Hairspray on the Oasis. Chicago was a bit monotonous for me. The set was not elaborate or impressive. But there were some very funny parts and the characters performance was believable. Saw Blue Planet as well. I recommend it. Favorite part is the undersea volcano. This was in the Amber Theater as well. Oceanaria was in the Aqua Theater and featured some high diving acrobatics with a nautical story line. I thought some of the acts were a bit homoerotic. Like two muscled, wet, scantily clad guys in tight shorts with their faces in each other's crotch, in various displays of strength and balance. Maybe its just me with my mind in the gutter. Ha Ha. My favorite show was Ice Games with a monopoly theme. Some of the performers fell on the ice, but that made it all the more fun. It would be boring otherwise.
We also saw How To Train Your Dragon On Ice. It was really good too. The headliner was Ronn Lucas, he was very funny. He is a master ventriloquist. We didn't get to a comedy show til the very end. The comedy club is small, you also have to book it and they don't allow you in while the show is in progress. The two comedians were very very funny. I regreted not making a greater effort to see them earlier. Madagascar 3 was showing on the cruise. Its still in theaters. RCI promoted the hell out of it. And still I didn't see it. There was a related show in the Aqua theater, Let You Entertain Me. My son said it was good. The parades on the ship featured Madagascar Characters as well. And there were various appearances each day on the Royal Promenade for photo ops.
Our cruise director was Ken Rush, from California (surprised that he wasn't British). He has a morning show. Sometimes I felt he was condescending to the guests. He hosted the Belly Flop contest and assumed that a contestant did not speak English because he looked Spanish. And there were others too. Like in the love and marriage game show, he expressed surprise that the elderly married contestant could still walk and didn't need scooters.
The adult scavenger hunt game show Quest, was an absolute riot. The things people would do for their teams was unreal (like exposing tattooed and pierced private areas, men putting on random stranger's lipstick, dirty dancing...). People fell in their rush to the stage. One lady fell, but just crawled the rest of the way. Another hurt her leg and had to be carried off. Everything was instantly replayed on the big screen, to the embarrassment of some. At the start Ken warned that it was not for kids, and said he didn't want to hear complaints afterwards from people who didn't heed the warning and let their kids stay for the show.
I liked that the ship had a mixture of everyone. But as to be expected for a cruise leaving out of Florida, Hispanics outnumbered everyone else. The most important thing was that everyone was courteous to each other.
The food was as you would expect. It was edible and you had choices. I did not have any problem with the food. I was just happy that I had seven days where I didn't have to prepare a meal myself. And food appeared before me as if by magic. We mainly ate in the Windjammer buffet. Yes it can get really full, but there was always a place to sit. Sometimes I would eat alone in the Solarium Bistro (at nignt it became a Brazilian $pecialty restaurant). SO and son were not interested in their offerings. I like the solarium because it was kid free (mostly) and tranquil. And as you would expect in July, there were a lot of kids onboard. There was a massive group of teenagers from Mexico, all wearing the same tee shirts.
The first formal night, I was planning to do some ironing, when I was informed that there are no guest laundry facilities (I had forgotten). Its only done by RCI (for a fee of course). And you had to give your stateroom attendant the items the day before. I forgot I was not on a Carnival ship, where you can do your own ironing etc (last year we were on Carnival Dream). So that first formal night we had to wear our clothes with wrinkles and hoped no one noticed. Our color theme was Turquoise.
You had to call and make reservation for My Time Dining. They usually only had very early or very late. And to add insult to injury, even with reservations you still had to wait while they chop down a tree to make a table and chair for you. There was usually many people waiting to be seated, and you could tell some weren't happy. As a MTD you can be seated anywhere there is space. So from one night to the next you don't know where you will be sitting, and the wait staff is different each time.
The wait staff was overly attentive, they are so anxious to please. One of them mixed up our names and continued to apologize profusely for it. We had to reassure him that really we were just regular folks and its not that big of a deal. I liked all the wait staff (especially Brito and Double D). But sometimes you just want to be left alone to eat in peace. There is no lobster on the first formal night (guess RCI is cutting back). If you wanted lobster etc, your menu also contained the $pecialty restaurants offerings and you can order them for an additional fee. Overall the food in the main dining room was decent (we only ate there on the 2 formal nights). The bread, however, was a bit hard. But who goes to the main dining room just to eat bread. Ha Ha. The second formal night, our clothes were nicely ironed. Our color theme was lavender (It was my idea to color coordinate us, there was some resistance. I just thought it would look nice in the photos). My SO and I ordered the lobster. Our son had a pasta dish.
On formal nights the photo stations mostly had plain solid backgrounds (Carnival beat RCI with that too). The photographers like to micro manage the way you pose, they are insistent. Some of the poses seemed unnatural to me. I saw ppl resisting the photographer's efforts. I don't like that RCI prints the photos on glossy paper (a finger print magnet), and do not allow you the option to choose matte (like Carnival does for free). Also our lavender came out blue in some of the shots. It was hard deciding which photos to choose, so we ended up taking more than we needed ($20 for each 8 x 10). Your photos are in folders in circular towers in the photo place. It gets pretty crowded with long lines by day 6.
The ports were Nassau, St Thomas and St Marteen. Been to all before. In St Thomas, checked out the vendors selling souvenirs and $50 designer knockoff bags near the port. It's like NY's Canal Street. Was tempted, but didn't buy anything. We then did an island tour with Bernard's open tour bus (we choose him because he was not pushy). Did not book through RCI (didn't feel like consenting to another robbery). And elderly couple from London, England was on the tour with us. They were on a 30 night world cruise on a Princess ship that was in the harbor. They were so very nice and engaging. I mentioned that they will be out of town for the Olympics. They said that was the exact reason why they booked their cruise, so as not to be there for all the hassle that goes with it. My SO had nothing to say. There he was pining for the Olympics and these people left town to escape it. The irony was not lost.
RCI did not broadcast the Olympics, something about the expense. I was not sad at all, because it was hard enough dragging him away from the gym and seminars. Really, who goes on a cruise to sit in a seminar. One day I went looking for him at the gym, because our show was going to start in a half hour. There he was sitting in a seminar about reducing belly fat with a bunch of middle aged women. He stood out like a sore thumb. I must say though that the gym is spectacular. SO and son went there together. Its not my thing, I only went as a spectator.
In Nassau we did some shopping near the port, I tried not to overdo it with the souvenirs. Then our son wanted to do the city tour with the horse and buggy. I tried talking him out of it, because the horses looked sickly. But its his vacation too, so we indulged him. I spent the entire half hour inquiring about the horse and its care. The driver probably thought I was from and animal rights group. But I had done horse and buggy before in NY's central park, (the real one). And those horses looked healthy and well fed, compared to the ones in Nassau.
We had planned to do a beach day on St Marteen. But when the day came we ended up just staying on the ship. The temperature outside had to be at least a 100 degrees.
There is a Dance flash mob that meet in the Promenade at scheduled times. I took part in it. It was so much fun. You practice short dance routines with an RCI choreographer before your performance on the evening of the last day.
I found that the ship moves a lot. At night I could hear the hangers in the closet clanking against each other. Nothing was said over the PA system, so I guess this was the norm for the Allure.
The message notification screen when you turn on the interactive TV is really just RCI trying to squeeze even more money out of you by marketing more products and services to you. I read all my messages and none were of any substance.
Our son spent some of his time in The Living Room. Its up on the sports deck. Its the hang out spot for 13 and up. You don't have to sign them up. His dad and I would go there when he was not answering his stateroom phone or walkie talkie (because he left it on and the battery died). Had to ground him briefly for noncompliance to the rules. Could not find him for 4 hours one evening. Turned up just as guest relations was about to notify security (there is a highly visible security presence on this ship. Which was unnerving and reassuring at the same time). I asked him if he thought he was big man around town and didn't have to give and account of his whereabouts. I was livid (his dad took it in strides, he thinks I'm overprotective. But mothers and fathers do not worry alike). He said he went to two shows back to back and lost track of time (walkie talkie battery had died, again). He is generally a good responsible young man. But I reminded him that bad people go on cruises too. Just watch the news.
By day seven I had begun to lament all the things I didn't get to do. So I rode the carousel, shopped on the promenade, visited the sun deck on 14 forward starboard side, which much people don't know about (even though its labeled on this ship). On the Oasis I found out about it from a review I read prior to cruising. It's really nice there, like a private hideaway.
On the last night we got a letter from RCI thanking us for "choosing" to prepay our gratuities and encouraging us to give additional gratuities in the envelopes provided. As you would remember, they arm twisted us into prepaying said gratuities during the booking process. I just thought, what nerve.
Luggage had to be placed outside the cabin by 11PM of day 7. It was the saddest day. I was not ready to go back to reality and household responsibilities. Not to mention work. On the final morning we looked at the bill for onboard purchases and there were no discrepancies, thank goodness. Because you did not want to see the lines at guest services.
I dropped the customer survey in the box at guest services before leaving (as encouraged repeatedly). They really want your feedback. So I gave it to them.
We chose late departure and was off the ship by 10AM.
All in all it was worth it and I had a grand time.
After going through customs, we went to pick up our rental car and met some of the cruise director's staff at the counter. They were three of them. I remembered them from the shows. We conversed a bit and I was able to get answers to burning questions while we waited on the line. They spoke candidly.
We spent one night at Best Western Plus in Dania beach. I wanted to do some shopping at the outlet stores at Saw Grass Mills (as usual). Also my SO has relatives in Florida.
We had the last flight out on Jetblue the next day, which was delayed (they're usually very good).
So as I sat unwinding from cruise life. I decided to write this review/memoir. My SO didn't even get time to unwind, because a day and a half after we got back he was on a flight to Jamaica to visit his dad. He got three weeks vacation. I only got two : (
Even as I write this review/memoir I have yet to re adjust back to real life.