My wife and I returned home two days ago from a cruise on the Allure. Since I learned a lot from other reviewers prior to my cruise, I'm hoping I can do the same for you!
-ALLURE OR ANOTHER SHIP? We cruised on the Freedom of the Seas about a year ago. I must unfortunately agree with other reviewers who said that the Allure's overall level of service is a notch below the Freedom and other RCCL ships we have cruised. The room attendant, while very pleasant and friendly, didn't "wow" us with his service. Example: he wouldn't restock the glasses in our stateroom unless we asked. We shouldn't have to ask repeatedly for glasses! The main dining room waiter and asst waiter were fair to average at best. The asst waiter made sure that we knew she had been assigned to cover too many tables. Our initial impression of her was very favorable. However, as the week progressed, we saw her standing around and flirting more than doing her job. This obviously upset our waiter as he had to do her job in addition to his own. As a result of this dynamic, service was slow; our water and wine glasses were always empty, etc. Having said all this you might be thinking that I'm going to write a terrible review and recommend another ship right? Wrong! The Allure is simply the most fabulous and remarkable ship we've ever boarded. If you enjoy cruising and like Royal Caribbean's general approach, you owe it yourself to take a cruise on this ship! Out of a staff of thousands, we had a less than stellar experience with only three. If I had a chance to go again next week, I wouldn't hesitate for an instant to book another cruise on the Allure!
-AIR TRAVEL: We found a direct flight from Raleigh NC to Ft. Lauderdale on Southwest the morning of the cruise. We had heard that the Ft. Lauderdale airport was close to the port but we had no idea how close! It's probably a 10 minute taxi ride (about $12.00 for two people). The taxi driver even stopped by a grocery store so that I could pick up bottled water/drinks. It cost an additional $10 or so with him waiting for me but well worth it. The plane arrived at the gate at 9:50 and were at the dock by 10:45!
-CABIN SELECTION: After having several bad experiences with our cabin location on other cruises, I am very careful to check deck plans to see what is above and below me. If possible, try to avoid pool decks above. But definitely avoid nightclubs/theaters above OR below. On this cruise, we were in cabin 14304 (port side balcony, deck 14, below the putting green). If you like to get a little sun on your balcony, avoid deck 14. There is an overhang of about 10-12 feet that extends out and blocks the sun most of the day. Drop down to deck 12 or lower for a sunny balcony. Others have mentioned the small balconies at the aft end of decks 12 and 11. Great place to read a book, get some sun and especially to watch any of the shows at the Aqua Theater. It's usually quiet, though the occasional family will burst in and ruin the solitude.
-EMBARKATION: Smooth, quick, efficient; the best in the industry. We arrived early and were on board by 11:15. We only recently learned that two 750ml bottles of wine per stateroom can be brought on board. We put them in our carry-on baggage and went through security without a hitch. Even overheard one security person say "that looks like wine bottles; they're OK." Our friends heard that putting booze in shampoo bottles is the newest way to smuggle it aboard. Well, let me tell you, they know all the tricks! The same friends brought an iron in their checked bags without realizing they are not allowed. They had to go down to the security office to retrieve the offending bag. They said bags were being opened left and right and the shampoo bottles were being opened and smelled. It says on the RCCL website that no liquids can be brought aboard (no water, no sodas, nothing). However, we put three six-packs of bottled water & sodas in the checked bags and they sailed right through. On our Freedom cruise, we saw someone bringing on an entire case of bottled water in their carry-on baggage. The security people saw it but did not confiscate it. It would appear that this rule is not really enforced.
-RESTAURANTS: We ate breakfast most mornings in the Adiago Dining Rm. You can choose between buffet and menu. We did menu because you can walk over and graze the buffet too. The buffet has delicious bircher muesli, fresh fruit, etc. Room service is also another breakfast option and is complimentary. Other reviewers have mentioned the awful eggs. Windjammer and Room Service apparently use food service eggs and they are terrible! One of the primary reasons we went to the dining room? Real eggs! The Solarium Bistro is another breakfast option (which we did not try for breakfast but our friends raved about it). The Bistro has healthier food options and is open for breakfast and lunch. Lunch there was very good (salad bar, soups, wraps, etc). Yes, the roast beef sandwiches at the Park Cafe (deck 8, Central Park) are great. But don't overlook their other sandwiches and the salad chef who will custom toss your own salad. The Park Cafe was probably my favorite place for lunch. For a sweet treat after lunch or for a mid-day snack, stop by the Promenade Cafe for their chocolate chunk cookies and sunflower seed bars (like a cinnamon oatmeal bar but with fruit and chocolate! Yummm!). Sorrento's Pizza was awful. Some reviewers say it's like grocery store pizza. I disagree. It's much worse! They do have a create-your-own-pizza line that looked better.....if you have time to wait. Both the Boardwalk Dog House and Johnny Rockets are excellent for dogs and burgers. We decided to hit Rita's Cantina for a light lunch of guac, cheese dip, loaded nachos and beer. The beer was the best part. The food was fair at best. Not worth the upcharge. For dinner, we ate most meals in the Adiago dining room. Overall, we were quite pleased with the food quality. Hopefully, your experience with the service will be better than ours. One couple in our group ate at Izumi and raved about it. Said it was delicious and well worth the additional cost. We ate at Chops Grille one night. All I can say is make your reservation early and GO! Fantastic food. Fantastic service. Worth every dime. A few words about the wine packages. They start selling them as soon as you board. Two couples in our group bought them due to the promise of a 25% savings. My favorite wine was listed in the "Platinum" package. However, my wife and I decided to wait until dinner because we wanted to see how much it was by the bottle. Well, you can imagine our surprise when the per bottle price was exactly the same as the package price! We would have saved NOTHING by buying the package. Wait until dinner to decide whether to get a package.
-SHOWS & ENTERTAINMENT: Book them in advance if you can. Start checking about 30 - 40 days prior to your departure. If not, the next best option is to embark as early as possible and book them in your stateroom. It's easy to book everything (shows and specialty restaurants) right there on your TV set. Press the Menu key and scroll through the options. You can also keep track of the charges on your account, pay your gratuities at the end of the week, order room service...all sorts of things. There is also a personal calendar which lists all your reservations for shows, restaurants, etc. Show reviews: Ocean Aria was good, Blue Planet: excellent, the comedy show: excellent, our headliner was a ventriloquist, also excellent. We missed the ice show but heard good reviews. The one thing that RCCL does best in my opinion is consistently good shows and entertainment. They're always enjoyable and very well done.
-THERE ALWAYS SEEM TO BE SPECIAL GROUPS ON BOARD. This time it was a group of 1100 gay cruisers. Our previous cruises had bikers, Goths (think jet black hair, makeup and clothing combined with lily white skin!), etc. Of our last five cruises, only one did not have a large group on board. We had a lot of fun with all these folks but I can see how some people might be uncomfortable with some of them. I'm not being homophobic (or biker-phobic!), just speaking the truth. I'm sure the cruise lines would like to avoid broadcasting their presence for fear that others might cancel. In thinking about how I could have found out BEFORE I booked, I wondered if Googling the name of the ship, the departure date, with relevant key words, might pull up some results. No such luck.
-DISEMBARKATION: We chose the Express Departure option where you carry your own bags off. The time frame for this is reported to be 6:45 -- 7:30 AM. In actuality, they announced that we could leave at 6:25. I would recommend skipping your "special" departure lounge that you may have access to because of your Crown & Anchor status and go instead to one of the two main departure lounges (Adiago dining room, aft) or the Amber theater (forward). This will expedite your departure. Be there by 6:10 -- 6:15 and you will be one of the first off the boat and through customs by 7:00 at the latest. We went to our "special" departure lounge in Dazzles on deck 8 and it delayed our departure somewhat. We still made it off the boat and through customs by shortly after 7:00.
-One last tip: Read your Cruise Compass carefully every day. If you don't, you'll miss out on many fun activities. One example: On the last sea day, I noticed that they had a bagpipe musician scheduled from 5:30 - 6:00 in Central Park. We dressed for dinner and went down early. We got a drink at the bar and found a comfortable spot on one of the park benches. There were only a handful of people in the park and we were treated to a private concert! Very memorable!
Hope this was helpful! Have fun on your cruise!