I have found these reviews very helpful in the past so I figured I would post one myself to help future cruisers. I have taken about 10 cruises over the past seven years, mainly on the smaller ships on three day cruises with a few 7 day cruises as well so we have some perspective of what is out there. On this cruise my wife and I traveled with our 3 and 4 1/2 year old boys.
We arrived at 1100 am and were on board within 15 minutes. They have it down to a science. An amazing process considering 6100 people were on board. The interesting thing is the boat never felt crowded...until the very end which was not the fault of RCI.
The formal dining room food was about the same as all the other cruise ships in the RCI family. My wife is gluten free and they went to great lengths to ensure she had a wide array of options. Every meal she had three or more options and was pleased with each. We did not eat at any of the specialty restaurants, but did go to the Windjammer for most breakfasts and lunches. The biggest difference there is they actually seat you instead of you looking around for a table. It adds class to the process and the lines were never long. The Windjammer food was better than other Windjammers on other ships and the desserts were substantially better. The wait staff takes your drink orders and are quick to refill, which is nice and lends to the ambience as much as you can have ambience in a cafeteria. We also ate several meals at Sorrentos pizza. The food was great and their gluten free pizza was excellent. The staff there were rude though. They did not make eye contact or smile to us or other guests. A cook argued with my wife about what she could have on her gluten free pizza...at one point refusing her order. A bit odd to say the least. Fortunately, this was the only negative experience on the ship and all other staff were simply awesome. We also stopped by the Cupcake Factory where my wife indulged in some gluten free cupcakes that she said were the best ever. ( There is a small fee for cupcakes.)
On most cruises steam rooms are included. Not on this ship. It is a fee service and for $100 per person we had unlimited use of the thermal suite, heated chairs, steam rooms and sauna. A bit pricey, but it was much more elegant than most spas on other ships and well maintained.
Adventure Ocean was excellent and my boys loved it. They have a morning session from 9-12 and an afternoon session from 2-5 and an evening session from 7-10 pm. After that you can pay $7 per child per hour for babysitting in Adventure Ocean. Though it says they are closed from 5-7 they actually aren't. You can leave your child there and the staff will take them to dinner in Windjammer. Its a nice touch to give parents a break. On port days they are open all day. They also will give you a phone to use while on board if your child is three years old which is nice since they did call a couple times. They have a theatre, slides, arts, crafts and they have the kids perform a talent show and mini pirate show for the parents. The staff is excellent there. As with most parts of the ship, the English is not the best. This is an area though where a little better English would help communications and set parents at ease. The ship has all the DreamWorks characters on board and they can be seen everywhere. There is a schedule listing where they will be. You can even eat breakfast with them. A nice touch also.
Chicago, Blue Planet, Ocean Aria, and Ice Games were all excellent and among the best shows I have seen at sea. The headliner comedians weren't too funny, but the secondary set of comedians were.
Spacious. Window Room. Not too different from other ships. However, they have a master switch in each room that controls every thing and a bunch of smaller switches...kinda confusing. After the steward makes up your room he or she will turn it off. It also turns off the air...Something we did not realize til Day 3! The comedian even joked about it!
Magens Bay in St Thomas was very scenic. The private beaches in Coco Cay or Half moon Cay on ther cruises are better but not as scenic.
We did the Sailing regatta in St. Maarten. I highly recommend! The captain, a Jamaican guy named Morgan was the captain and assigned each person a position on the boat. He took himself too seriously and did not laugh much. His staff was cool though. We raced against the Canadian ship True North. Our ship was Stars and Stripes 2. These are the actual boats from the Americas cup. Best excursion ever!
The ship is huge and you never feel crowded. We feel like there are many parts of the ship we never visited. The Bow and Stern was our favorite hangout at night and Andrew was a great server throughout the cruise. This was a Halloween cruise and we debated whether to dress in costume. We are glad we did. There were probably 3000 people at the parade party and about 2900 had costumes on. A great time.
One of the nice things about this cruise was the laid back vibe. On many smaller ships/cruises it becomes a drunk fest and at times low class. This was a very classy crowd. Perhaps the cost filters out some of the more rowdy travelers.
This was a minor let down, but it was not RCIs fault. There were long lines to get off the ship and it took about an hour or so. US Customs was understaffed so everything hinged on them.
RCI got it right with this ship and it will be hard to go back to ships with belly flop contests and bingo as the main source of entertainment! Highly recommend the Allure of the Seas for a family cruise!