As mentioned we had to reschedule our original planned sailing on Allure from Sept 2012 to May 2013 due to redundancy after we had originally booked.
We flew in 2 days prior to sailing into Orlando direct from Manchester, UK and stayed overnight in Orlando at the Hyatt Orlando Convention Centre on International Drive before heading down to Fort Lauderdale the next day arriving on 11th May the day before sailing to stay at the fabulous Lago Mar Resort on South Ocean Drive. The location of this hotel is right on the beach so you can wander down to the channel and see Oasis of the Seas sail away at 5 pm.
We headed to terminal 18 at around 11:30 after dropping our rental car at Hertz on SR 84 at the Crowne Plaza hotel and using the free shuttle to the port. We were through security, checked in and in the waiting area within 10 minutes of dropping our bags with the port staff.
Shortly after boarding commenced and we joined the rest of the Diamond C&A folks and made our way onto the Royal Promenade deck 5 to marvel at the size of this ship! Amazing, no photos or videos can prepare you for the real thing. We headed straight away to Park Cafe in what was our favourite area of the ship - Central Park for lunch, as do many others as the roast beef sandwiches are as good as reported.
We later headed to our D7 starboard cabin on deck 11, stateroom 664. The bed was near the balcony which helps the rather tight area near the closet. We moved the occasional table to next to the sofa as it is a hindrance in a narrow cabin. The balcony is deep with great furniture with a good sized table which means breakfast can be eaten without having to juggle plates and cups as on other ships with the tiny tables provided. The bathroom, although small is well designed and the shower cubicle slightly larger than on Freedom and Voyager class ships.
We wandered around this vast ship to try and get our bearings. As it was quiet yet I managed to try out the Zipline without waiting in line, just make sure you sign your waivers online before sailing, it helps.
Muster drill for us was in the Aqua Theatre which was well organised for the number of people on board.
We dined in the MDR only twice using My Time Dining and to be honest it was far too rushed so that they could turn tables for waiting guests. We pre purchased the Central Park Dining package that gave us dinner at Giovanni's Table (had to be reserved in advance for day 1 or 2), Chops Grille, and 150 Central Park. Giovanni's was just OK, Chops Grille was excellent and 150 Central Park was a great experience. We also booked Rita's Fiesta at Rita's Cantina, great fun night for $20 per person for 3 alcoholic beverages and food which was appetiser, entree and dessert. For the last night we visited Samba Grill which again was good, but not great, so not sure worth the $30 cover charge, maybe more like $20 IMHO.
For lunches we used the Windjammer only once, and timed it right so that we didn't have to wait in line for ages which sometime was the case. The Solarium Cafe is also a good choice for healthier options, Johnny Rockets for the best burgers I've ever had on a RCI ship and the Park Cafe for those sandwiches, toasted sandwiches and made to order salads.
The MDR was our regular venue for breakfast, sometimes having a table to ourselves and choosing from the menu (but this still enabled you to visit the buffet) or Johnny Rockets for complimentary breakfast out in the open on the Boardwalk. We had room service breakfast on one occasion and it was delivered promptly at the time requested, great. All done via the in room TV which has options for room service, departure questionnaire, Seapass account review and so much more, a real improvement.
Ocean Aria in the Aqua Theatre was fantastic, as was Chicago in the Amber Theatre, Blue Planet was also worth seeing although not quite as good as the other 2 productions. We didn't make the Headliner show, nor Comedy Live, or the Ice shows, so much to do, so little time. Main tip, make entertainment reservations in advance to avoid disappointment.
Overall the design of the ship is so good, it never seemed crowded to us, many places like Vintages, Viking Crown and Boleros always seemed quiet, which was great.
The pool areas get busy on sea days, but you can always find a quiet spot if that's what you want. The adult only Solarium is huge and great with many different areas to relax in.
Public areas on decks 11 & 12 aft on both port and starboard sides at the end of the corridors from the cabins on those decks provide a great quiet secluded areas with loungers and chairs too. Also aft deck 5 to watch the wake in wooden steamer chairs, great spot.
Due to the number of C&A Diamond and above members on board, the dedicated Diamond Lounge on deck 6 overlooking the Royal Promenade is far too small, to the cocktail hour was held in Blaze nightclub in the Entertainment Place on deck 4.
Although the casino is huge, ventilation is very poor and the place reeks of smoke and my clothes stunk after playing the slots for only a short while.
There are many entertainment options, almost too many to be able to experience on a 7 day sailing, so pick your choices wisely.
Disembarkation is extremely well organised at each port of call, and so easy, as is embarkation after a day ashore. We visited Nassau where we've been before so enjoyed the quietness of the ship, St Maarten where we did the "Made in Paradise" shore excursion which made stops at a Rum factory, Perfume factory and dining demonstration at a beach front restaurant. In St Thomas we did a days excursion to the neighbouring island of St John and visited the great beach at Trunk Bay.
Final disembarkation at Fort Lauderdale was well organised, and we were off the ship, had claimed our bags and processed through immigration within 30 minutes approximately. Well done RCI and Homeland Security.
Will have to sail again to ride the Rising Tide bar and visit more of the venues available.