Cruise Critic has been so useful to me and my family in planning our cruises, that I finally got around to signing up and wanted to share our experience on Allure of the Seas.
To set the stage, I mostly cruise with my wife and three children (12, 11, 8). We have done the Caribbean as well as Europe on Royal Caribbean and have enjoyed cruising a lot. Since we have three younger children, we usually have a suite. In the past, we have selected the Royal Family Suite but on this trip we were really excited about trying out the Aqua Theater Suite. After reading some great reviews on this site, we booked 9730. We also brought along both sets of grand parents on this cruise, they were in Grand Suites on Deck 8 and loved their rooms.
There is a lot to cover here, so first about the itinerary.
We chose the Easter Route as it looked to be a good mix of destinations along with days at sea. The stops were the Bahamas, Virgin Islands and St. Maarten.
If you select this route, pay close attention to the day at the Bahamas, you are not there very long at all, and any excursion you choose is going to be really short. RC needs to look into this as with most Islands, they come awake slowly and by the time it felt like things were coming alive we were heading back to the boat. We chose the day at Blue Lagoon Island. While the beach was nice, plan on spending more money if you want to play in the water as it is another $15 per person to play on the water floats. I don't mind the spend, but really dislike getting the surprise when you show up at the beach. Of course you don't have to use the equipment, but if you have kids, plan on the spend.
Next stop was St. Thomas, and we really enjoyed our day there. We chose to do the Snooba at Coral World Ocean Park. All 4 grandparents also participated and had an amazing experience. The only down side was that our 8 year old could not participate as you have to be 80 lbs to do the walk. The Marine park is also really nice after your walk. This is really low stress and lots of fun.
In St. Maarten we booked a day with Captn. Bob Cass for a day boating around the island. We did not book him via the Cruise line and this was our best excursion of the cruise. He can only take 14 on his boat, so the 9 of us almost filled up the boat. We had 4 others with us for the day and had an amazing day swimming with Turtles, having a lunch prepared on a quite beach, and swimming all over. He also took us to the end of the runway to see a plan fly right over our heads.
The Room -
The Aqua Theater Suite is really a very nice space if you have a family. As most of the reviews on this site state, the balcony is amazing, as it is as big as the room and it is great to watch the water shows and belly flop contest from. There is also a very high power binocular mounted in the back of the boat for sea watching. There are a few things you should be aware of with this room though. First is that if you have smokers above you, be prepared to have issues. Our deck was always covered with ash and cigarette butts, including having them drop down on you during shows. Since the lounge chairs are right in the drop zone, be careful if you have white shorts, as I destroyed a pair. I did complain about this to the staff and was met with bewilderment. RC designed overhanging decks that make lower decks an ash tray, and they really need to do something about this. That alone turned me off this room until they do something about it. The inside of the rooms are nice and not too noisy when shows are going on. Bathrooms are very very small for a suite though, and the bathroom off of the master has a a tub with a lip at the end that encourages water to flow out of the shower onto the floor, so don't be surprised when you see a lot of water on the floor.
Beds and couches were nice and tons of storage space. There are also 2 fridges, 3 TV's, and 3 Safes. You also have to like to walk a lot, as this is at the end of the ship down a long hallway (this was nice for us, but both of our parents commented on the long walk when coming up to visit).
We have done Vision, Voyager, and Oasis class ships now and this such a personal choice that my opinion probably does not matter, but I left the boat feeling like I would probably go back to a smaller boat. RC offers a lot on this boat, but it never really feels like you are special on the boat, it is just too crowded. I will go into a bit more detail later in this write up on specific experiences.
Food - If you want to try out the specialty restaurants - this is a great boat, and we did Ritas, Samba, and Chops during the week. Don't bother with Ritas, if you wanted good TexMex, I was expecting something on par with a Chain Restaurant Fajita, but the food was not that great and the music was soo loud you had to scream to hear the person next to you. Sambas was good, and we enjoyed the dinner there a lot. It was way too much food, but a lot of fun. Chops was a good dinner, but I had a waiter that new nothing about wine trying to give me selections and then sell me a decanter. If you are going to put a vintage wine list out for diners, you should at least train your waiters or ask them not to give an opinion. I liked the food but hated the service. The wine list was good. The Main Dining room was really busy. We had a great waiter and head waiter, but they were so busy all night, I actually felt sorry for them. Also, the menu was not as good at the main dining room as in past cruises, I really think RC is trying to push people to other dining areas to drive revenue. This is a bad direction for RC. We also did one breakfast in the Concierge Lounge and this was embarrassing for RC. The staff had no interest in any type of service and all I heard were them complaining to each other. The coffee machine was broke more than it was fixed, and if you asked for anything it felt like you were putting someone out. RC needs to get a grip on this fast, as I am guessing that they have good margin on Suite Guests. I am a very easy going eater and traveler, and this was two notches down from my experience on our last cruise on Voyager. Windjammer was ok, but way tooo small for this boat, this has been pointed out a lot on the boards. The upside is that there are boards everywhere on the boat to tell you the WindJammer is packed and you should eat somewhere else.
Some of the Up's on this Cruise.
The boat is nice (very Crowded, but laid out well) and has a lot of activities.
Chicago was really nice and we enjoyed it a lot.
Boarding the cruise was really easy and smooth. Leaving is not as nice, and lots of lines (they had my money at that point).
The Aqua Shows are amazing
The DreamWorks Characters were nice for the kids and not overdone
You get to work off all the eating by using the stairs. Getting elevators is tough after shows and events. Someone must have lost their minds thinking that few elevators could support this number of passengers.
Nickel and Dime - This is one of my biggest complaint about RC. The cruise has turned from something that involved most costs included when you booked the cruise into a never ending handout of my SeaPass for everything. Want a bottle of water (charge), want some popcorn (charge), want a cupcake (charge), etc. I would pay more for RC to end this and get back to having an inclusive cruise. This is really taking away from the experience. Also the double gratuity system is very annoying. If you pull a gratuity into a charge for a drink or dinner, quit asking for more. It should be one way or the other.
Looking for Credit - This was another weird experience on this cruise. It seems that every event (even dinner) we had someone standing up asking us to applaud the staff for doing their job. I understand employee motivation, but this has gone too far, and when I am paying for service, I actually expect service. Let me choose to thank the person serving me, and not have to stand up and clap 5 times a day.
This might seem a big negative, and we had a good week with our family on the Allure, but it could have been sooo much better with a few small changes from RC. I also think that this boat might be too big to have a vacation on for my style. It was fun to try once, but I will thinking hard before booking on this boat again.