Prior to this, I had only ever cruised on Cunard ships. This was my first cruise experience on a less expensive line. While I didn't entirely feel like I "fit in" (I'll elaborate below), I decided to just relax and enjoy myself.
In terms of who was on this cruise, I'd say there were a few key groups, none of which I fall into:
- Families with young kids. There is a lot to do for children on this ship.
- People who like to eat, and I don't mean foodies. The guys sampling one of each donut at the free donut stand are a great example of this. One of the comedians at the comedy show joked that people were just there to fill an hour before it was time to eat again -- and then joked that we probably wished there was food served during the show.
- "Spring break" types (though a little older than college-aged) -- people who want to get a tan, drink a lot, and show some skin at the adult scavenger hunt.
I'd read reviews in advance and I can't tell you how many times I'd seen people say you can't do it all in one week. Well, let me tell you -- I'm pretty sure I did. Did I miss a few showings of Madagascar? Maybe, but I hit all 6 reservable shows, mini golf, numerous shows that didn't require reservations, bingo, several specialty restaurants including 150 Central Park, checked out the rock wall, skating rink, zip line, and flow rider (though opted to let all the kids use it), browsed the library, hit the gym 4 times, booked shore excursions in each port, learned to make towel animals... you name it. All that, plus I somehow managed to spend a couple afternoons bored and napping. I definitely feel like I've "done" the Allure and can't see myself having any desire to go back.
Food: the specialty restaurants were good. The food at 150 Central Park was great, though I think the presentation was trying a bit too hard -- "here is how things are done at a FANCY restaurant, like in New York or L.A." Well, I've been in my fair share of nice NYC restaurants and while the food kept up, the experience was a little off for me. Samba Grill was good; I don't usually care for lamb, but loved my lamb here.
The dining room, with a couple exceptions, didn't disappoint. The lobster tail was the largest disappointment -- they were simply not good (many people at my table ordered them and they were all the same). I know the seafood I eat onboard, especially a few days in, is going to have been frozen, but it was just so obvious with the lobster. Yuck. The service was good, but the daily questioning about how dinner had been by not one but two different gentlemen was too much. It's nice to be asked if everything is okay, but once I say yes, I'd like to be left alone -- I don't need a 2-3 minute spiel about how they're there to take care of me, and let them know if I ever need anything, etc. etc.
Shows: The week started off great with Chicago (Roxie didn't quite have her accent down, but aside from that I really did think the singing and dancing was Broadway quality) and OceanAria (very impressive). I liked the comedy show. Earl Turner in headliner was fine, though I would have preferred more straight singing and less shtick. I had very low expectations for iceGames, but was pleasantly surprised with the quality of some of the skaters including a pair of fantastic Ukrainian guest skaters. But Blue Planet -- I simply cannot understand the reviews saying this was good. It was the worst cruise entertainment I've ever seen (and I wasn't even at the showing that had a technical malfunction and had to stop 25 minutes before the end -- though the 25 minutes was "made up" the following night) -- great songs are sung in horrible arrangements, the performers are in the tackiest velour costumes with terrible wigs... if I hadn't recognized most of the cast from Chicago and OceanAria, I would have thought they were completely talentless. But knowing they were in fact generally talented, I realized just how poor the production quality of the show was. The concept (singing, dancing, acrobatics) is fine, but this show should be scrapped and replaced with something better executed.
Cruise director Ken Rush was a ham, but we were impressed by him.
Excursions: Kayaking in Labadee (rented on shore) - $15 for 30 minutes with a required escort. You're not allowed out of a relatively small area -- this was basically pointless. The water was clear and beautiful, but I saw nothing interesting on the kayak that I couldn't have seen from the shore. The beach was rocky and boiling hot -- we didn't stay out long. Green Grotto & Dunns River Falls in Jamaica -- this was well done, though it was a long outing (online said 4 hours, but it was more like 6 and there was no traffic or other holdup) and it would have been nice if there'd been a light lunch or snack -- I was famished when we finally got back on the ship around 4PM. Three Reef snorkel by boat in Cozumel -- nice guides, good equipment, snacks and drinks provided (though unnecessary because we were back before noon) and decent snorkeling. I'd say the "three reef" concept was a bit of a stretch -- I didn't see much of a difference between the three areas and the "reefs" weren't what you'd expect. Still, there were some nice fish and I was pretty happy.
The gym: Got the job done, but I generally wasn't a fan. Many of the touch screens were damaged, ventilation was poor, and the music from classes could be heard along with the quieter music played near the cardio equipment -- at times creating an unpleasant cacophony. I'd forgotten my headphones, and wish there had been some available there. I also would have liked better water options (there were a couple water fountains) -- cups and a proper water dispenser would have been nice. I found the gym got less busy toward the end of the week, and it was more pleasant then. Earlier in the week, it had been packed, though I never had to wait for equipment.
The room: Perfectly nice. I had an ocean view balcony on 12 and I really liked it. The balcony wall is made of glass so you can see out to the ocean easily from inside the room, which was very pleasant (on Cunard my balconies have been solid and painted white so you basically need to walk up to it to look out to sea). The bed was comfortable, the bathroom was fine, storage space was sufficient, and everything was kept extremely clean. A couple nights we didn't receive our chocolate upon turn-down service and we were missing one of the towel animals we'd heard others had, but no big deal. A relative had ordered a birthday decoration package for our room one day, and that was nicely done.
Solarium: Most pleasant place to sit for those without children, but on the sea days it was simply way too hot to be comfortable in the afternoon if you're not in the water. I thought I would bake.
Overall, are there things that could have been done better? Definitely (and rereading my review, I seem to have touched on a lot of those areas). But did we have a generally pleasant, entertaining week onboard? Yes. Having done it though, I think I will avoid cruises like this until I have kids and can't reasonably take the more "refined" vacations I prefer.