Allure of the Seas - Eastern Caribbean -- 7 Days -- 9 December 2012
Ft. Lauderdale -- Nassau -- St. Thomas -- St. Marten -- Ft. Lauderdale
The following review of our cruise is an opinion only. It may be inaccurate in parts as to fact and is only presented here as a report of our experience and our perceptions of our cruise. It in no way suggests that the reader should cruise or not cruise on the Allure of the Seas. The reader is urged to do their own investigation before deciding on choosing the Allure of the Seas. Their experiences may differ completely from ours.
Embarkation: We arrived by car at 10:00 A.M. on Sunday. It was the perfect time to arrive. Only a few stragglers from the previous cruise were still leaving and we were checked in and up to the 2nd floor holding area in 15 minutes. By 11:30 a.m. we started boarding. The RCCL Terminal at Port Everglades is the fastest and easiest boarding process of any cruise we have been on in the past.
Stateroom: Our cabin with balcony on deck 14 was fine, with plenty of room, including the bathroom. Our stateroom class was "D5." We were smack dab in the middle of the ship and had a long walk each time we needed an elevator which were forward and aft. We knew the stateroom location was not ideal but forward and rear staterooms were booked. Not a deal breaker but we did much walking in the passageways many times a day since the ship is 1,187 feet long. Our stateroom attendant was so over worked with so many staterooms to service, we barely saw her. There was no card in the room telling us the name of the attendant. We did not see her until the 2nd day, and then only for a minute or two. For the entire cruise we barely saw her and when we did she was always hard at work in a stateroom. Because of no attendant on the first day we went without complimentary robes the first night and had no ice for our bottle of wine. Small inconveniences but never the less an inconvenience.
The ship: The ship is new and clean, and had many bells and whistles. Wi-Fi Internet throughout the entire ship ($fee), interactive TV in the stateroom to access a host of services including your account, room service, activities, venues, etc. More can be learned from searching online for Allure of the Seas U-Tube Videos. We had sailed the Oasis of the Seas a year previous. On that sailing the Oasis was booked solid (6,200), yet we did not feel the ship was crowded in any way. We were surprised how well activities were organized and passenger flow was smooth. Not so, on the Allure. We sailed with 250 less than capacity. They ship felt crowded all day every day. There are 24 elevators -- 12 forward and 12 aft -- there was usually a wait to get one to arrive and to get one to arrive that was not filled to capacity. One comforting incident was when our elevator closed the doors and dropped about a foot and stopped dead. There were about 10 of us in the elevator. We pushed the call button and within 30 seconds a voice came on telling us someone would be right there to help us. He was not kidding. In about 2 minutes a maintenance person arrived, opened the elevator door, and help all of us out -- very nice indeed.
Windjammer Grill: Windjammer is a good name for it, because it was jammed all week. It was extremely difficult to navigate for food and find a table. Since we boarded the ship early the on the first day, the grill was nearly empty. After we finished eating and exited, there were long lines of passenger being held from entering because the grill had filled up. Throughout the 7 day cruise the grill was jam packed with passengers -- staff would hold additional passengers at the entrance, on occasions, until the grill emptied. To avoid the crowds we had to get up early and be at the Windjammer when it opened. The food was a disappointment. There was a good variety but much of the food seemed to be prepared earlier and stored before putting it out on the hot tables. We noticed trays of waffles and pancakes precooked being held back until the hot table tray was emptied. Waffles and pancakes were hard and cold and did not taste fresh, as did some of the other selections. Even though the Windjammer food was a disappointment, it was still better than the main dining room food.
Dining: There are 3 dining room levels on the ship -- decks 3, 4 and 5. Deck 5 dining was designated "anytime" dining. We made cruise reservations 8 months in advance, asking for a table for two, traditional dining 6:00 p.m. We were happy to have a very nice table for 2 next to the glass railing on deck 4 allowing us to view the other two levels. However, the dining room was noisy with noise reaching us from all 3 levels. There were no theme nights, no singing waiters, and no interaction with the waiters at all. Our waiter and busboy service was impeccable but they were so overworked with so many tables to service that they had mere seconds to take our order, deliver our food, and service the table. They were rushing from table to table -- all with little personal interaction since there was not time. We were disappointed since getting to know the dining room staff has always been a fun experience in the past. The waiters are extremely over worked. We had the feeling RCCL would prefer passengers to frequent the Windjammer self-serve buffet which may require less staff. The dining room menu had a good selection of items but when delivered to the table the portions were small, with poor cuts of meat and prepared poorly. There were 3 courses, one small appetizer, one small main course, and one small desert. With only 3 courses, small portions, and lightning fast waiters, we were in and out of the dining room in 40 minutes -- not the 2 hours RCCL recommends for the dining room "experience." When we asked for a substitution, for example, mashed potatoes instead of boiled potatoes, we were successful only 1 out of 5 requests. We did not make an issue of it to the waiter since the order was put in correctly and the kitchen staff decided to ignore it. On the first night we ordered prime rib which arrived as a bad cut of meat, dried out, and tasteless. This can happen in any restaurant so we didn't send it back, just passed on it and went on to desert. On another night we went off the menu and selected a standby -- New York Strip Steak. What we received was not a strip steak but a glob of round meat shaped like a thick hamburger. It was undercook, rare, dried out, and tasteless. After a bite or two we passed on it. How can a steak be rare and dried out we don't know, but it was. Perhaps it was in the freezer too long. On several nights after we left the dining room we went up to the Windjammer to supplement our disappointing main dining room meal.
Dining Room Menu: A practice by RCCL is to place additional food selections ($fee) on the menu. At a table with many guests this creates a tiered system of those who pay extra for better cuts of meat and those who choose the regular cuts. This is a "tacky" practice by RCCL and several passengers expressed dissatisfaction and embarrassment of the practice.
Entertainment: Where RCCL's food is abysmal their entertainment is superb. There are so many shows and activities on the ship that we were kept busy for the entire cruise. Having reservation for each venue made getting a seat easy. But to get a reservation in the time slot you want, you must do so well in advance of your cruise online on RCCL'S website. One show, the Comedy Show was booked solid months in advance for the earlier shows and we had to settle for the 11:30 p.m. show. Passengers new to cruising who are not aware entertainment can be booked months in advance may find themselves shut out of prime time slots.
Tipping: During previous cruises we had changed from cash tipping to automatic tipping. On one of the last nights we would find tipping envelopes in our stateroom along with tipping vouchers showing our name and saying that our tips were being automatically credited to the particular crew member account. We would place the voucher in each of the envelopes and hand them to the crew on the last night. Another cut back of RCCL -- no more vouchers to present to the crew. This has caused much consternation among both crew and passengers. With this new cutback of cutting out vouchers, the crew has no way of knowing if a passenger has indeed automatically tipped or not. The passenger has no way of knowing if the tips charged to their account actually reaches the crew members. Crew member have no way or reconciling tip money received or not received on their account with vouchers received, since the vouchers are now eliminated. In the future we will return to cash tipping. We do not have confidence our tips are finding their way to our dining and stateroom staff. Our dining and stateroom staff have no way of knowing is we just said we automatically tipped or we indeed automatically tipped.
Ports of Call: Nassau, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten. There were only 3 ports of call but because the ship is so large with so many venues, days at sea were a destination in themselves.
Shore Excursions: The cost of shore excursions has continued to climb to a point where they are no longer a value. For example, we have taken the Golden Eagle Catamaran on St. Maarten for many years. The price used to be somewhere around $45 and the boat were always filled to capacity with 80 or so passengers. We again booked the Golden Eagle while on the Allure at a cost of $84 each. There were only 27 passengers out of 6,000 who chose this venue. For some it is a case of not having the additional funds and for others, it is a case of having the funds but finding the shore excursion priced above a value for the money. Because of the steep increases in shore excursions, we choose only one and made our own arrangements for others while in port at considerably less cost.
Past Guest Coupon Book: Here again we found more cutbacks. The coupon book for Diamond Passengers has been cut back and several items that were free are gone. For example, there were coupons for a free meal in Jonny Rockets. No more, that has been replaced with a two for one milkshake coupon. There are still some coupons that give something for free -- 30 minutes internet for example. However, several of the free coupons have been replaced with buy one and get something off on the second purchase, etc.
De-embarkation: Smooth, quick, and uneventful. RCCL does a fine job.
Overall: We have cruised on many ships and many cruise lines. We know that not everything works 100 percent all the time and we understand that. However, we got the distinct feeling the ship was terribly overcrowded and RCCL was cutting back, streamlining, and downsizing. Every new gimmick forced us to do something extra to get the things which happened automatically in the past. We realize now why RCCL may be fostering automatic tipping. There is very little personal interaction with crew and along with that comes less tips. Interaction with the dining and stateroom staff has always been a fun part of cruising and a lost art on the Allure of the Seas. All this being said we still somewhat loyal to the RCCL brand and think the mega ships have much to offer. If RCCL would change from 2 star fast food to 4 star fine dining, the cruise experience would again be worthy of wearing a tuxedo on formal nights as we always do. We are starting to question that practice since we are in and out of the dining room in 40 minutes. We are also starting to look again to Princess and other cruise lines, though we have not booked them as of yet.
Recommendations: We recommend to RCCL the following:
1. Reinstate automatic tipping vouchers and envelopes delivered to the stateroom.
2. Return to the fine dining of many courses and quality of food of days past.
3. Reduce the time between when food is prepared and finally served in the Windjammer to avoid over cooked, cold, hard, and tasteless selections.
4. Remove prices for alternative food selections on the main dining room menu.
5. Resolve the issue of overcrowding of the Windjammer buffet grill.
6. Give value for the money spent on shore excursions.
Port Saint Lucie Florida