Allure of the Seas – September29 –> October 6, 2013
Saturday, September 28, 2013 – Travel day
Well, I’m in LAX now and I’ll be boarding in about one hour. It has been an interesting morning so far, but more on that later. This is my 24th cruise and my ninth with Royal Caribbean (I am Diamond). This is my first cruise on the Allure OTS (I have not been on the Oasis OTS).
When other vacation plans did not work out I started looking for an in expensive cruise to take. Royal Caribbean was offering a Central Park view balcony for about $1400 for the cabin. This is far below the prices of $2,500 plus I’ve been seeing for balcony cabins on the Oasis / Allure OTS. After a price reduction I was able to upgrade to an ocean view balcony cabin for free. My cabin is directly across from the Diamond Lounge.
At any rate, I woke up this morning, moved my luggage down stairs and waited for the taxi. I had a reservation for 7:54am. When the taxi should have arrived and it hadn’t I called the cab company. Seems they were busy and would have someone there in 10 – 15 minutes. That was unacceptable. I made a reservation for the taxi several days ago, so the company had plenty of time to make sure it was properly staffed. I cancelled the taxi and went to plan “B”, which as luck would have it is actually a little less expensive, but also a little less convenient. My original plan was to take a taxi to the FlyAway bus ($15), take the bus to the airport ($8) and take a shuttle back home ($50 - $73 total). I cancelled the shuttle and drove to the FlyAway. Parking is $4/day ($36) and the round trip bus fare is $16 making the total $52.
Once on the bus the driver had to inform some of the passengers that their luggage went on the earlier bus. Since on their last trip they had their luggage stolen (in Mexico out of their locked car), they were a little concerned. However, the earlier bus just made an extra loop around LAX and was waiting for them with their luggage in front of their terminal.
As I mentioned earlier, I was looking for an inexpensive cruise, so in keeping with that theme I looking into flying on mileage rather than purchasing the airfare. American was offering a coach class ticket for 37,500 miles or first class seat for 50,000 miles. I went with the first class ticket. These are not the flights I would normally book myself, leaving at midday, having only a 45 minute connection in Dallas and arriving in Fort Lauderdale at 8:30pm, but for $10 round trip in first class I’m not complaining too much.
Boarding will begin in about forty minutes, so I’ll be back at you this evening after a late dinner, unless the plane has a power port, in which case I’ll update things on the plane.
Well, here I am, somewhere over New Mexico. We left forty minutes late and I have a 45 minute connection. I prefer connection times in the sixty to ninety minute range, but then again these tickets only cost $10, so I took it, and I get to spend the next six hours wondering if my luggage will make it. Oh boy, it sure has been a fun day so far.
Some people have an expanded idea of how tall the overhead bins are. There were people trying to stuff carry-ons that were fatter than they were wide into the overhead bins. They did not look too happy when they had to check the items. However, I don’t think that is what really delayed us. The captain mentioned some safety issue and then LAX is not well designed for moving aircraft to and from the taxiways and runways. Hopefully things will work out.
On board the stewardess asks me what I want to drink. I answer orange juice. Then she says all we have is shrimp. Huh? I think about that answer for a while before realizing she is referring to the meal. The shrimp was actually pretty good and other than the salad was the only thing on the plate I recognized. I don’t know what the other stuff was, but it tasted pretty good.
Way below us is another plane. Since we are not gaining on it, it must be a jet, but it is pretty low. It is too far away for me to tell exactly what it is. I’m guessing it is a business jet getting ready to land.
The plane is making all sorts of turns. The captain informs us that air traffic is routing him around weather. I’m looking at my watch figuring I’ll be landing while my connecting flight is taking off on the adjacent runway (this actually happened to me once on a business trip).
Well, we should be landing in about an hour, so I’m going to get back to my Bejeweled game until we have to shut everything down. There is an electrical outlet between the seats, so I am not using any of my laptop's battery power.
I made it to my connecting flight with the cabin door almost hitting me in the back side as I boarded. We left the gate ten minutes late, so I hope my luggage made it. Right now we are either flying north or the sun is not setting in the west. We got rerouted twice while on the ground. So first we head to one end of the airport and then to the other end. I wish we could have spent that time sitting at the gate. Another ten minutes at the gate and I could have been sure of my luggage making the flight. My arrival at baggage claim will be like Christmas, hoping to find a big blue present with roller wheels under the tree (or on the carousel).
I hope the captain knows where he is going. He said the flying time would be two hours and 33 minutes. However, the flying time from LAX to DFW was supposed to be two hours and 27 minutes and FLL is closer to DFW than LAX is. Perhaps someone forgot to allow for the one hour time change. The good news is now the sun is behind us, so we are turning in the right general direction.
The captain has just informed us that we did take off to the north and we will be going over Tennessee so the flight is going to take an hour longer as we are dodging weather. And this folks is the reason for flying in a day early – especially if my luggage did not make the flight. There are later flights from DFW to FLL and American can put my luggage on a later flight and I’ll still get it in time.
So with everything sorted out, more or less (I hope), it is back to my game. See you in FLL.
Good evening. It is 11:30pm local time. I made it – and so did my luggage. I think flying first class saved me because I arrived at LAX early, so my luggage would have been early on and thus last off. However, first class gets priority luggage, and thus it was early off when we landed at DFW and was the fifth piece of luggage off in FLL.
I had a hamburger at the hotel’s bar/restaurant ($12 but it was good) and now I’m back in the room taking advantage of the free Internet service. This is the first expensive hotel I’ve been in that doesn’t charge a small fortune for Internet use. In the past, the more expensive the hotel, the more expensive the Internet use was. I'm at the Hyatt Pier 66 hotel with a view of the cruise ship harbor.
I’ll have a view of the Allure once it docks. I’ll take a few pictures and then head over to the pier to board. So, hopefully, the next time we chat I’ll be on the ship. So for now, good night.
Sunday, September 29, 2013 – Embarkation day
I woke up around 5am and there was no Allure. However, around 6am, to my surprise, someone who must be very rich comes into the harbor with the biggest yacht I have ever seen. Nonetheless, it appears (s)he must have run out of money while building the ship because part of the back end is missing. I snapped off a few pictures and having completed everything I wanted to do except shower and checkout, I went back to sleep. Later I, when there was daylight; I took a few more pictures of the Allure of the Seas, my new home for the next week.
I received phone messages, e-mails (note the use of the letter “s” at the end of the words) and I think I even saw a carrier pigeon with a note on its leg around my house. Basically Royal Caribbean doesn’t want me to show up early because the Federal budget cuts have cut down on the number of customs agents that are assigned to clear the ship, so it takes longer to clear the ship. And like a fool I bought into this story. So instead of arriving at 11am like I usually do, or in the afternoon like Royal Caribbean wanted me to, I left the hotel at 11:30am, and I was putting my carry-ons in the cabin at noon (yes, it was that fast). I prefer to be one of the first to board and I have actually been the first to board a few times. Royal Caribbean is just trying to spread out the crowd of people so that five thousand people don't all attempt to board at 11am.
After informing my cabin steward that I am leaving my carry-on bags in the cabin, I head out with my camera to photograph the ship (I have 290 from embarkation day). I would have had more, but the layout of this shop is very different from most other ships, and I spent some of the time just figuring out where things are. There are touch screens near the elevator banks on all decks that can help you find things if you get disoriented. The high traffic areas are:
Deck 5 mid ship – the Royal Promenade
Deck 6 aft – the Boardwalk
Deck 8 mid ship – Central Park
Deck 15 mid ship – the pool deck
I did find the Windjammer on deck fifteen. The line went out the door, so I had a slice of pizza at Sorrentos in the Royal Promenade and a hot dog at the Dog House on the Boardwalk. Both were free of cost and free of lines. Then I had a nice cool shake from the Ice Cream Parlor also on the Boardwalk. There was no line but there is a charge for the shake.
I came prepared to purchase a cruise on the Explorer of the Seas which is repositioning from New Jersey to Port Canaveral in November 2014. The price for the two week cruise which includes stops in the Aruba and Curacao is about the same as a normal one week cruise. So if you have the time and want to check out what a longer cruise is like, contact your travel agent.
I found the Loyalty Ambassador and signed up for 9:30am on Tuesday. I later realized that was a mistake, because the Meet & Mingle was at that time. However, after signing up I looked around and realized there was only one other person there. I put my name on the waiting list and ordered a drink (the Loyalty Ambassador is next door to the Schooner Bar on deck six). Before I could finish my drink I was booked on the Explorer OTS and also bought a Next Cruise Certificate. I had the Loyalty Ambassador erase my name from the 9:30am time slot on Tuesday.
By this time I had walked the length of the ship several times, so my feet were a little sore, my legs hurt and I was ready to melt. It is in the upper eights (as far as I am concerned, anything over seventy is hot), but the real killer for me is the humidity (being from dry Southern California). So I head back to the cabin to rest and watch some football games. My luggage arrived about mid afternoon.
Finally the muster drill sounded at 4:30pm. Fortunately my station is inside and we don’t have to bring our life vests. I’m not sure, but I believe that all the muster stations are inside. After the muster drill I headed up to the Wipe Out Bar (it is located between the two Flowriders on deck sixteen aft) to meet up with the roll call group (there are over 100 signed up). It is a good group with people from New Zealand, Germany, Mexico, Canada and the United States. Some of the people on this cruise were on this ship last week (back to back).
After the sail-away I went back to the cabin to unpack, watch more football and rest some more as I’ve got late seating.
I’m at a table for eight and only four showed up. Our waiter also has a table for twelve and all twelve are there. Unfortunately the only time I saw our waiter and assistant waiter is when they were delivering food, which meant that I had to interrupt them to get more water. Having had no breakfast and a very light lunch, I was hungry, but not starved. I had shrimp cocktail, a full beef with spinach dinner plus a half order of sliders. Dinner was good.
After dinner all I could think about was getting some sleep, so until tomorrow, good night.
Monday, September 30, 2013 – Nassau
I woke up today seeing shore lights. I figure we must be getting close to Nassau. I take a quick peek outside and realize we are actually in the harbor and someone is spinning the island around the ship so that we can back in. We dock on the far end of the pier with the portside next to the dock (my cabin is on the starboard side).
I am hoping to catch a nice sunrise over Atlantis, the signature hotel of Nassau. So I put my camera on the balcony so it can warm up. I keep my room as cold as possible and I know from experience that the humidity will fog the lens until the lens and outside air are the same temperature. I’m on my balcony with a clear view of Atlantis. However, the ship is docked facing more or less west, and I am just ahead of the forward “hump” (the Allure OTS has two humps). So my view aft is compromised a bit. Fortunately the sun rises on my side of the ship, not quite over Atlantis, but I get the shot I wanted. However, I do end up with the balconies behind me in the photograph.
I am going on my only ship sponsored tour today. It is a tour of Atlantis. We are given a tour of the casino and the aquarium. The entrance to the casino is past some high end shops. The tour guide wants to make sure we can find our way out at the end, so she asks, what was the first shop we passed when we came through the entry doors. Well, this is too good of an opportunity to pass up, so I blurt out K-Mart. Everyone gets a good laugh and the tour guide goes as far as to say she likes me.
The aquarium was interesting, but I have been to several aquariums. I get some pictures, and stay with the group, but realistically, I am soon much more interested in seeing anything that is in an air conditioned room (it is hot and humid). The tour lasts about an hour and it was a nice tour with a pretty good tour guide. We are all given radio receivers at the beginning of the tour and the tour guide talks to us through a radio transmitter. It is a good system as we can always hear the tour guide, even if we are not standing next to her). The only problem is, every time the tour guide says come over here; you cannot locate her buy looking in the direction of the sound, since it is coming via stereo headphones.
After the tour there is some opportunity to explore more on our own. However, I do the math and quickly figure out that since we have to be on board by 1:30pm, there is not a lot of time for this and I want to check out the straw market. This is my second time to Nassau and I didn’t see the straw market the first time I was here, so I am in the first bus (there are five, one every thirty minutes from 11am to 1pm) back to the ship.
The entrance to the pier (where we are dropped off) is at the back end of the ship. The straw market is at the front end of the ship. So I have to walk a little over one thousand feet to get to the straw market. Fortunately I filled a water bottle with ice and cold water before going to Atlantis and it is still cold when I enjoy it while walking in the shade to the straw market.
Much to my surprise, though there are several stalls selling all sorts of touristy things, nobody is selling any straws, so I guess I’ll have to pick some straws up at the grocery store next time I go grocery shopping at home.
I head back to the ship only to see a long line waiting to get back on board. Considering it is before 1pm the line seems to be forming early. However, it is the security line. After passing through that there are three gangways to get on the ship. Those in muster stations A, B & C use the forward gangway (I’m in muster station “C”).
Back on board, and covered in sweat, I decide a shower is in order. Though I like hot showers at home, here I end up setting the shower temperature at its lowest setting which is actually warm. The water in the pipes in the cabin is cold, but once that comes out of the shower head all the “cold” water is actually warm. Fortunately the mini refrigerator works and I can keep a glass full of water in the refrigerator for drinking. I also told the cabin attendant that I wanted ice (you have to make a special request for ice – there is a sign in the cabin pointing this out). I also use the melt water from the ice for creating cold water for drinking.
After my shower I go to check the Cruise Compass (the ship’s newspaper) and there isn’t one in my cabin. No problem I just go to the Diamond Lounge to pick up one. However, between the wait staff and the room steward, service, which is normally a Royal Caribbean hallmark, is not up to par. It is not bad, it just is not as good as I have come to expect from Royal Caribbean. For example, I wanted orange juice in the Diamond Lounge in the morning. You have to ask for it, there is no self serve orange juice (just self serve ice water and coffee). The waiter brings out a try of orange juice and walks right past me. Fortunately he still has a glass of orange juice left on the way back and I finally get my orange juice.
On the way back to the cabin I see my room steward and point out that he didn’t leave me a Cruise Compass. He is surprised and offers to get me one, but I show him I picked it up myself.
I check the TV for my personal schedule. All the shore excursions and shows that I booked through Royal Caribbean are listed, along with the arrival and departure times for the ports (however, nothing is listed for the starboards and I’m on the starboard side of the ship). But I can also add things I want to keep track of, like the Meet & Mingle at 9:30am on Tuesday.
The TV also has a place to received e-mails. I hoped that this would mean less PA announcements, but no such luck. The problem is the e-mail is full of messages that basically involve ways to separate me from my money. The only thing missing is a few get rich quick schemes from people with long unpronounceable names that are relatives of displaced royalty of some African nation that I have never heard of.
In addition, the ship has people located at strategic places on the ship (like the exit from the Aqua Theater after a show) providing handouts with other ways to separate the passengers from their money. And finally, there are voice mails from shopping coordinator and the art auction. So this is a lot like being at home. I wonder if it is possible to put the cabin phone on the do not call list.
While the ship has a lot to offer, in my opinion this resembles more of a floating amusement park than a cruise ship. However, based on the research Royal Caribbean has done, that is what most of the passengers want. Take a look at what is coming next - bumper cars. I'm not saying I don't like the Oasis class ships, I would be willing to cruise on this ship again, but the experience is completely different from my prior 23 cruises (this ship is about 45% bigger than the Freedom class of ships, which are the former largest cruise ships).
And finally, speaking of ways to separate the passengers from their money, Royal Caribbean is still using Park West for art auctions. Park West’s reputation is questionable. I personally would not buy anything from Park West and I really have to question why Royal Caribbean would continue to use this company. Just Google "Park West Gallery Reputation" and you will see why.
At any rate, now I am hungry, so I head to the Windjammer. Again the line is out of the door, so I head over to Johnny Rockets which has a $4.95 cover charge and the shakes are $4.50. Being Diamond I get one free shake at Johnny Rockets. Since the “coupons” are all electronic, tied to the SeaPass card, I am told I can save the free shake until my next visit (you cannot do that with coupons). The same is true of the show reservations; they scan the SeaPass card at the entrance to verify that you have a reservation for the show, so no tickets are needed.
After lunch I am thinking I would like to go swimming. But first I check my personal calendar on the TV and realize I have a conflict. I am set to see the Oceanaria at 9pm and my dinner time is 8:30pm. It is too late to warn my tablemates that I will not be at dinner tonight. I’ll just go to the Windjammers around 7pm and go to Oceanaria around 8:30pm. I was cooled down by the earlier shower and I was very tired, so I ended up just relaxing for the rest of the afternoon.
At the Windjammer I am escorted to an open table and then allowed to pick out my food. Dinner at the Windjammer was good, especially the spaghetti, which I went back for seconds.
After dinner I went back to the cabin for a while and then headed to the 9pm showing of Oceanaria at 8:40pm. There is no reserved seating, so the earlier you get there the better the seat you can get. Nonetheless, I am not going to show up super early just to get a good seat and then twiddle my thumbs for the next hour (you will also not find me camped out at Best Buy on Tuesday night waiting for the big sale on black Friday).
The first three rows are marked as the splash zone. I thought about the pros and cons of sitting there, as the seats were great and nobody was sitting there. Finally I decided that the goal of high diving was to make as small of a splash as possible. So I sat dead center in the last splash zone row. I would have been fine if the guy that was the designated clown was not trying to get me wet. He got a few drops on me, but I kept my DSLR camera dry.
Since the show is billed as a diving exhibition, I expected to see a lot of diving. However, prior to the show the cast members and their bios are shown on the big screen TVs. I began to wonder what was up, as most of the cast members had dancing and gymnastics backgrounds (not diving). Turns out the show includes dance, choreographed strength moves involving two very strong brothers, trampoline and diving from the low, middle and high dive platforms (only two dives from the top platforms).
I decided that since tomorrow was a sea day I could stay up late and walked around the ship taking night time pictures with color in it, such as the Boardwalk and the empty H2O Zone.
When I finally returned to the cabin I was tired and this time the room steward had left the Cruise Compass for the next day. So, until tomorrow, good night.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013 – Day at sea
Today is a day of rest. I wake up late and eat breakfast in the Diamond Lounge. My goal today is to take ship board photographs and get some rest (I hate humidity). A dip in the pool was also a possibility, but I was so tired, I decided the air conditioned room and a soft bed was cool enough.
This morning was the Meet & Mingle following by a Crown & Anchor event. We had over one hundred registered for the Meet & Mingle, but only about sixty showed up. I won a small prize for knowing the names of the five Voyager class ships.
Right after the Meet & Mingle there is a Crown & Anchor event at the Aqua Theater (the diving pool). I notice that the captain and the hotel director stop to have pictures taken with someone sitting in the audience. Later the loyalty ambassador says that the passenger with the most points is in the audience and he looks in the direction of where the captain and hotel director shopped to have their picture taken. Then, while watching a mini version of the Oceanaria show the loyalty ambassador sits next to one of the passengers. I put one plus one plus one together and came up with the person known as Super Mario. He has over 4000 points. Even at two points per day that comes to over 2000 days at sea, which is more than five years at sea. To put that in perspective, the navigation officers work half the year, which means that after ten years on the bridge they only have 1825 days at sea. After the show caught up with Mario and I introduced myself. He confirmed that he is who I think he is.
After the Crown & Anchor event I am off to photograph the ship. During my photography session I finally figured out the Coke machines. The cruise line charges for soft drinks and these machines don’t take money, so I was a bit puzzled at first. These are the new machines that dispense about one hundred different soft drinks based on the sequence of buttons one pushes. Someone put in a cup and started pushing the buttons, but the machine displayed a message that no cup was detected. That is when I realized that these machines detect the special cups you get when you purchase the all you can drink soft drink package, which explains all the people walking around with the same multicolored Coke cups. I'm not a big soft drink drinker, but who wants to walk around all day with a sixteen ounce cup. It doesn't fit in one's pocket as easily as a special sticker on the SeaPass card does.
After all the morning’s events and running around I grab a quick lunch (pizza and hot dog - the Windjammer has a line again) and head back to the cabin to shower and cool off. I end up just resting until it is time for Chicago the Musical. One humorous thing is that one of the TV shows is sponsored by Carnival. Seeing a Carnival commercial on a Royal Caribbean cruise was an eye brow raiser.
Chicago the Musical is basically a ninety minute production show with no scene changes. Since there is no energy, I am less enamored with it than others seem to be.
Chicago ends just in time for dinner. At dinner there are four new people at the table and two (including me) who were there on the first night. Dinner was good; however, we all noticed how slow the service was and start talking about it. Perhaps the waiter hears us because he asks about the service. We mention that service seems a bit slow. He and the assistant waitress promise to do better in the future (and they do).
Wednesday, October 2, 2013 – St. Thomas
We arrive in St. Thomas at 10am and dock in Crown Bay, not Havensight where most of the ships dock. It is a nice place to dock if you like shipping containers, but not so great if you want to be near anything touristy. We are the only ship here today. Havensight is completely devoid of cruise ships.
This morning I received quite a surprise on my balcony. Something was stuck under the table and when I went out to investigate I realized it was a little girl’s underwear. Good thing I am traveling solo. Finding something like that on one’s balcony could be rather hard to explain. It obviously blew in overnight. So I figure it belongs to someone in a balcony cabin forward of me. However, my room steward tells me that there are no little girls in his section.
Since I just want to go to Coral World I am in no hurry. Eventually I head out around 11am and find out that the taxis don’t want to leave without a full load. So it is close to noon before I actually am on my way to Coral World with a group of about nine people who are going to Coki Beach (which is right next door to Coral World). On the way to Coral World I get a good view of the Havensight dock and that is when I realize that we are the only ship visiting St. Thomas today.
Coral World reminds me of a miniature Aquarium of the Pacific (which is located in Long Beach, California) but without the big aquariums. Coral World has aquariums, but none that are super sized. The entrance fee to Coral World is $19 and a locker rental is three dollars plus a ten dollar deposit. Coral World has a building that is out in the ocean and surrounded by a reef. Downstairs are glass windows looking out into the reef and the wild fish that call that reef home. It is a great idea, however, this is ocean water (not filtered water) and though the water is fairly clear, it is not crystal clear. So the view into the natural world is not that great today.
After that I went into the lorikeet enclosure. Even before I bought any nectar I had three lorikeets on me. They were friendly and hungry (or perhaps friendly because they were hungry).
There is also a stingray pool, a touch pool and a shark encounter pool. However, though they let people walk in the shark exhibit (for a price), they will not allow people to put their hands in the water while standing outside the exhibit, which eliminated any photographs I wanted to take (I have a waterproof camera).
After touring Coral World I head next door to Coki Beach. It is a nice crescent shaped beach with rocks that attract fish at each end. The beach vendors were selling dog biscuits to people that want to feed the fish (I didn’t see any dogfish). The only problem is the dog biscuits are the same color and shape (more or less) as my skin. So a parrot fish came over to me to get a snack, only I didn’t have any biscuits (dog or otherwise). Since parrot fish make their living by munching on coral, I decided that for my finger’s sake it would be a good idea to gently chase away the fish.
So after walking up and down Coki Beach (in the water) I head back to Coral World (the admission ticket is a wrist band which includes in and out privileges) to shower in fresh water and change back into street clothes and wait for our taxi to come back, which it does when the driver said she would be there. On the way back the taxi driver stops at a well-known place for obtaining pictures of both Havensight and Crown Bay.
Once back on the ship I take another shower and rest until dinner time.
Thursday, October 3, 2013 – St. Maarten
I must be more tired than I thought, because when I wake up we are docked. Not only are we docked but we backed in, which means the ship made a 180 turn, which requires the thrusters, without waking me. It is looking like a real nice day outside and a take a few pictures of Great Bay, which is where the cruise ships dock.
The first time I was in St. Maarten I wanted to go to Orient Beach, but it was raining and I didn’t feel like going across the island in a rain storm (it never cleared up). The second time I went to St. Maarten I went to Maho Beach (where you have to duck each time a plane comes to land). The third time I went to St. Maarten I finally got to Orient Beach, but it was really windy. It is supposed to be a very beautiful beach and it really wasn’t that impressive to me. I figured perhaps it was all the white capped waves. That was in early March this year, so I hoped that in early October it would not be so windy. I’ll be in St. Maarten again in January 2014 and I want to go to Maho Beach again with a better camera than I took with me in 2008.
Since I was headed there on my own I didn’t feel the need to rush out of the cabin this morning. At least in St. Maarten the rate changes with the number of passengers (it goes down as the number of passengers goes up) so that a taxi driver is willing take only one person. So it cost me eighteen dollars to get there and seven dollars to get back (there were three passengers coming back).
At any rate I should have looked up before I got in the taxi, because then I would have noticed that it was getting darker. Instead it started raining while I was in the taxi on the way to the beach. I thought of just staying in the taxi and returning to the ship, but I also knew that the typical tropical rain storm last ten to twenty minutes and then it gets sunny again, and that is exactly what happened.
Last time I was here I rented a jet ski, got a little disoriented and went way too far down the beach. I had to have someone guide me back. I had no interest in repeating that experience again. So I walked up and down the beach (again, in the water) a couple of times. Of course since it rained earlier the beach was not very crowded.
The only rocks are in the clothing optional beach. There are plenty of fish, but the people are a little camera shy on that side of the beach. So I had to keep the camera hidden until I could take it out of my pocket under water. After my second trip up and down the beach I stopped at a snack shack for fish food. They didn’t have any bags of chips but they did have nachos and cheese for seven Euros. I was able to get some nachos to go, without cheese, for five dollars. I now have lots of friends, but they are still in St. Maarten swimming around those rocks at the clothing optional beach.
After feeding the fish I headed back to the ship. During the day I had developed a mild cough. It started out as nothing and builds into an annoying, but mild cough. That along with the heat and humidity was more than enough for me. I took a shower and hit the sack. There was a Crown & Anchor event at 7:45pm and dinner of course was at 8:30pm. I was up in time for the Crown & Anchor event, for about twenty seconds. I decided it was more important to rest than it was to attend the event and went back to bed. At 8:20pm I decided that I would not make it through a full three course dinner and went to the Windjammer for dinner (which closes for dinner at 9pm). I was in and out in thirty minutes and went straight back to the cabin and fell asleep watching the baseball playoffs.
Friday, October 4, 2013 – Day at sea
I wake up feeling much better. The cough is back to the level it was 24 hours ago – barely noticeable. Today is another day of rest. I have nothing planned except taking sea day pictures and perhaps a dip in the pool. I get my sea day pictures, but again the heat, the humidity, all the running around and my little cough have made me very tired. So after a shower I spend some time on this and just rest.
Most of the pictures I took today are of the four pool areas. There is a sports pool, a family pool, a "beach access" pool and the H2O Zone for the kids. The beach access pool does not really have a beach access to the pool. There is a long shallow slope where eventually the water level is up to your ankles. However, at this point there is a vertical drop off of more than four feet deep, so I would not refer to this as "beach access".
At least the pool in the H2O Zone is kid friendly. On the Freedom of the Seas the kid's pool is 69 inches deep (5' 9" deep). That is much too deep for children (and most adults). On this ship the kid's pool is 41 inches deep (3' 5"), which is much more kid friendly. There is even a pool just for babies in swim diapers (as there is on the three Freedom class ships). The baby's pool has a separate filtration and water source so that any accidents will not cause problems in the other pools.
I decide to have lunch at Johnny Rockets again today so that I can get my free shake. Well, there seems to be a catch. They only keep track of the shake purchases for the day, so I have to pay for the second shake. However, as I write this I now realize that I didn't get charged the $4.95 cover charge.
Well, since not much is happening today, I thought I would describe my cabin. I have an ocean view balcony cabin. Now on most ships all I have to say is I have a balcony cabin. But on this ship there are three broad categories of balcony cabins. The least expensive are the Central Park view balcony cabins. These cabins look down on the Central Park neighborhood. You will not be able to see the ocean at all. One level up is the Boardwalk view cabins. You will have an obstructed view of the ocean by looking aft. Also, more is happening on the Boardwalk than in Central Park. Central Park is a quiet place filled with restaurants and stores. Boardwalk has a merry-go-round and a view of the Aqua Theater. The most expensive balcony cabins are the traditional balcony cabins with a view of the ocean.
When I first entered the room it seemed a little smaller than I expected. However, my last two Royal Caribbean cruises in February 2012 and March 2013 were in junior suites and my last Royal Caribbean balcony cabin was in June 2009. So perhaps I have just forgotten what a typical Royal Caribbean balcony cabin looks like.
This is a connecting cabin and the place where the closet normally is has a door to the adjoining cabin. The closet was moved next to the couch and was facing the balcony. Thus the closet was taking up some of the main cabin space in the sitting room, which is the likely reason the cabin looked smaller. The cabin of course does not have separate bed and sitting rooms. It is all one area with the bed next to the balcony and the couch and desk between the bed and the bathroom and entry way. Other than looking smaller, the cabin worked out well for me.
I liked the lighting set up. There was a main switch near the entry door which would turn off ALL the lights (including the bathroom light). With the main switch in the on position there were three other switches that control the lights in the cabin. There was a switch for the main cabin lights, a switch for the lights above the paintings (one painting is on the wall behind the couch and one is on the opposite wall at the foot of the bed). I like using this switch when I wanted the cabin to be dark with some light. Finally there was a switch for the bathroom. Interestingly enough, even if the bathroom light was off, it still glowed, so if you left the bathroom door open, you could find the bathroom without turning on any other lights. There were two switches near the bed that would also control the main cabin lights and the lights over the paintings. Finally there were two reading lights with separate switches near the bed.
The balcony seemed to be a good size. It was as wide as the cabin but seems a little deeper (perhaps by only a few inches) than typical. The balcony furniture consisted of two chairs and a small table.
The bathroom was small, but well laid out. It had the clam shell door shower that I didn't like on the other ships because there was not enough room for me to raise my knee to a full ninety degree angle. However, this shower is a little wider and I could raise my knee past a ninety degree angle, so I was happy that I didn't have to open the shower door to wash my lower leg and feet.
The desk space was adequate and the mirror had side lights. The electrical outlet had receptacles for three 120 volt plugs. Royal Caribbean finally figured out that people bring a lot of battery powered things that need to be charged at night. That said, I have never had my extension cord or three plug extension confiscated (though some claim their power strips have been confiscated). I recommend bringing the short (six to twelve inch long) extension cords if the plug for your charger is integrated into the charger. The three plugs are at a 45 degree angle and right next to the mirror. So in one direction anything longer than a few inches will hit the desk, in the other direction it will hit the mirror. Anything longer than three inches might not fit which is solved with the short extension cord.
One thing that I have to deal with is the cabin stewards (from all lines) keep putting everything back where they want it and I then have to keep moving those items back where I want it. Typically this is the trash can under the desk which I normally locate with my shin. So I always move it under the table, only to have my shin discover that the cabin steward moved it back under the desk.
Well, in this cabin the trash can is under the table. But the need to move things back was carried to an extreme with a different item. You can play games on the TV (it is an HD TV with a open HDMI input and an open three cable AV input (one cable for video and two cables for the stereo sound). There is a wireless keyboard/game controller on the shelf above the TV. I moved the keyboard to the right side of the shelf and put something where the keyboard was. The room steward moved the keyboard back and moved what I put there to the right side of the shelf. I left it that way.
I did make it to the second formal night dinner. Lots of rest and drinking lots of water and I am feeling much better. So until tomorrow, good night.
Saturday, October 5, 2013 - Day at sea
I have breakfast in the Solarium, which is in the front of the ship. Oh boy, what a view!
After breakfast I decide to get pictures of things I did not take pictures of yesterday. Mostly this consisted of signs (such as the pool rules for all four pools) and pictures inside the ship. The library on this ship is one of the smallest libraries I have seen on any ship. There were people in the library and given its small size, there was no way for me to take any pictures without being intrusive, so I didn't take a picture inside the library.
There is also no public access to the helicopter pad on this ship, as there is on the four Radiance ships, the five voyager ships and the three Freedom ships. That is twelve ships - more than half the fleet. However, there is a very nice sun deck above the bridge, if you know how to get to it (deck fourteen - port side only). In fact, you could get a Central Park view balcony near the front on the port side, then walk down the hall to a very large (public) forward facing balcony with two powerful binoculars (one on each of the bridge wings) and have the best of two worlds (inexpensive balcony overlooking Central Park) and a great forward facing balcony just one hallway a way. Or you could get an ocean view balcony near the front side of deck fourteen and have both a private ocean view balcony and a few steps away have a public forward facing balcony.
The three to five year olds, the six to eight years old and the nine to eleven years old kids have their area on deck fourteen near the front of the ship. There is also an arcade there. The teens (the twelve to fourteen year olds and the fifteen to seventeen year olds) have their area on deck fifteen near the back of the ship. There is another arcade located in this area, along with easy access to the miniature golf course, the covered and wind protected ping pong tables and the sports court.
The Rising Tide Bar moves between decks five (the Royal Promenade) and deck eight (Central Park). It makes the trip in three minutes and leaves thirty minutes from each deck. It leaves on the hour and on the half hour from Central Park and every 15 and 45 minutes after the hour from the Royal Promenade.
With some of the pictures (mostly inside the ship) you give the photographer your SeaPass card and the picture is put in a folder for your cabin, so you don't have to go looking for it. Other photographs are printed and displayed (such as the debarkation photos at each port). All the photos can be viewed on one of the several photo kiosks. The photographs are matched up using face recognition software.
Today I finally did go in the pool. I was going to give the beach access pool a try. However, looking around I realized that there was no room in the pool for me. As I was kidless, the H2O Zone did not seem real appealing. I walked through it, tried out some of the water cannons, but I didn't go in the pool. There was a volleyball game going on in the sports pool. Great under normal circumstances but I had done enough running around during the week and was looking for something a little more sedate. So I ended up in the family pool. The sports pool, the beach assess pool and the family pools are 57 inches (4' 9") deep. I spent about 45 minutes just relaxing and then went back to the cabin to shower, work on this, relax and get ready for Blue Planet, which is another production show in the Amber theater (the main show lounge).
Blue Planet had energy and I liked it more than Chicago the Musical. There were scene changes. No flash photography or video taping is allowed, but I recently purchased a fast lens for my DSLR and it was the perfect fit for taking pictures of the different scenes and colors in low light. Blue Planet is about one hour long.
After Blue Planet I headed back to the cabin to start packing and to dry out my wet bathing suit with the ship supplied hair dryer (it did the job while I watched TV).
Unfortunately today is packing day, so I started getting every organized. Most of my clothing is now in the laundry bag, so I knew I could do the actual packing after dinner and have my luggage out by 11pm as long as I had everything organized. Packing of course means the cruise is over, so I don't really enjoy it and thus leave it to the very end.
At any rate I am packed and I put my luggage out before 11pm. I still have a full set of clothes for tomorrow. So until tomorrow, good night.
Sunday, October 6, 2013 - Travel day
I sleep with the curtains open (who is going to see me other than a few fish), so I wake up once the Fort Lauderdale lights start to light up the cabin. It is about 6am.
I have luggage tag number one, but I am in no hurry. I have a 1:40pm flight out of Miami. I figure if I leave around 9:30 I should make to the airport by 11am. So I get dressed to have breakfast and can't find my socks. I am sure I put them out for this morning, but they are nowhere to be found. Oh well, I'll have to wear my shoes without socks until I get past customs (you are not allowed to open your luggage until after passing customs).
I decide to get out on deck in time for the sunrise and there are clouds on the horizon, which ruins the sunrise. In order to get good sunrise or sunset photographs you need a clear horizon and clouds overhead. If there are clouds on the horizon then the sun has to be higher in the sky before it "rises". The higher in the sky the sun is, the brighter everything is which washes out all the color. I take a few photographs just to prove I was up. And since I am near the solarium, that is where I have breakfast.
After breakfast I head back to my cabin to work on this. Finally around 9am I get ready to leave so that the cabin steward can prepare the cabin for the next lucky cruiser(s). That is when I found my socks. Note to self, don't put black socks on a black bag and expect to be able to see them with the lights off and the cabin window facing west while the sun hasn't risen in the east yet.
I go to Dazzles on deck eight, which is where those with priority debarkation are told to go. There are still people there and they are enjoying a continental breakfast. There is an electric sign just out side Dazzles showing which numbers have been called. Number one was called around 7:10am and now, a little after 9am they are in the forties, so I decide to just head down to deck five a depart.
I'm so late that my luggage has been removed from the number one staging area and is now in the unclaimed section. I claim it. By 9:45am I am in a taxi headed to Miami International Airport. I am expecting the trip to cost about $100 with tip and it comes to just under $90 with a 20% tip. I'm at the airport by 10:20am. Since I only paid $10 for the plane tickets I just write off the taxi fare as part of the transportation costs. Had my flight left after 3pm and could have taken a shore excursion for half the price that would have ended at the airport. There was another shore excursion that ended at FLL for those flying out of that airport.
As I said, for $10 I was taking what was being given to me. These are not the flights I would have chosen. Flying out of Miami American Airlines has several non-stops to LAX. But I am going to spend two hours in the air headed to Reagan Airport (Washington DC), spend an hour on the ground and then get a flight to LAX.
I'm at the airport early and Miami doesn't have enough electrical outlets. No problem, I'm prepared. I've got a short extension cord with three outlets. I ask permission to unplug someone for a few seconds and plug in my extension cord. Then I play some games and work on this until it is time to board. Then I reverse the procedure to unplug myself.
The flight to DCA is on time and uneventful. This is my first time to Reagan Airport and I know it is close to Washington DC. There are some clouds but I am able to spot the capital dome and the Pentagon. However, I didn't see anyone actually working. The plane that will carry me home is a little late arriving and as a result we leave the gate a little late departing, but we arrive at LAX on time. So far so good.
At baggage claim I turn on my cell phone. There is a message from American Airlines telling me to see a baggage claim representative before I try to collect my luggage. This can't be good. Sure enough, I'm in Los Angeles and my luggage is in New York. Seems my luggage made it to DCA with me, then took off for New York while I headed west. Next time I watch Home Alone 2 the luggage is going into the closet. This is why there is nothing very valuable in the checked luggage. My computer and cameras are in two backpacks that I carry on the plane. Both will fit under the seat or in the overhead bins, so I never have to check them.
At any rate, they know where my luggage is - sort of. One note says it is in New York and the other note says it arrived at 7:30 (which is when we arrived). But think about it. If I was only on the ground for one hour at Reagan and then took a non-stop to LAX, how could the luggage which also would have spent some time on the ground in DCA, then flew to New York and would need at least 45 minutes there before someone realized that it was not where it should be, get to LAX at the same time I did. At least this happened on the way home and not on the way to the cruise.
Well it is late (11pm my body time) and all I want to do is get home. So the baggage claim representative asks me to fill out a claim form. Okay, they know where my luggage is, they know enough about me to call me and tell me about the problem (okay, it was actually a computer that called me and left the message - but still, it was an American Airlines' computer), so how much more information do they need??? Well, the lady is typing and typing and typing - FOR ABOUT THIRTY MINUTES. What is she doing, typing out the following day's flight schedule??? She wants to know what is in the luggage. Why, you already identified it? I tell her it is mostly laundry. Not good enough. Is there a toiletry kit - yes. Shoes - no. My itinerary is in an unlocked zippered pocket - not good enough. Word to the wise, make sure you have three things in your luggage that you can identify in case it gets lost. God forbid that you only have one item in the luggage and it gets lost - you might not get it back, even if they find it!
Even worse, I can see out the window that the FlyAway bus has just left which means I'll have to wait another thirty minutes until the next bus arrives. I take my paper work and try to catch up to the bus. However, after traveling from terminal four to terminal six I still don't see it and decide to head back up to terminal four. This turns out to be a good move. Why?
The reason I don't normally take the bus back home is because the last time I tried to take the bus home the bus stopped at terminal seven (United), the driver opened the door and said he was full, I would have to wait for the next bus, and took off. Given this history I decide to walk back to terminal four. Lucky me, this is the busy time and there is another bus in fifteen minutes. After everyone gets on the drive starts counting empty seats. After his stop at terminal five he is full and doesn't even stop at terminals six or seven. Well, I finally made it home in one piece. I turned on the air conditioning (I had turned it off while I was gone) and went to sleep, waking up at 3am which was 6am my body time. The luggage was delivered to me at work, by a delivery service man driving a BMW. Perhaps I should look into a new line of work.
So, how would I sum up my experience on the Allure of the Seas? The ship is big and the experience is different. There is so much to do that either you need two weeks (back to back cruises) or you will need a vacation to recover from the cruise. Would I do it again? Yes, but with the idea that I've been to all the ports before and I'm going to stay on the ship. Basically the ship is too big. There were people I saw at the sail-away that I never saw again. There were things I didn't do because I didn't want to over do it. But if you are a young family with active children, this may be a good ship for you.
However, for a more traditional cruise experience, you have to recognize the short comings of such a big ship. Forget about sitting on the top deck, sunning yourself with a cold drink in hand and watching the wake disappear in the distance. There is no area for this. The closest you can come is to stand at the top deck between the two Flowriders with drink in hand and watch the wake disappear in the distance.
Other cons, you will not see this ship in small or tender ports, which means it will never be on a unique itinerary. Also, I think service suffers because of the size of the ship. Was the staff friendly - yes. But it could be that the distances involved just slowed things down.
On the other hand there are positives. The neighborhood concept works well. Other than the pool itself, it never felt crowded in any area. They do seem to be able to move six thousand people around very efficiently. You can do things on this ship that you can't do on any other ship. The personal schedule on the TV is a great help for keeping track of what you are going to do and when.
Well, I could go on and on, but I've got to stop somewhere. If you have any question, feel free to ask. I'll answer all the questions that I can. And for those that are wondering, I do recommend trying the Oasis or Allure at least once, because it is such a different experience.
Here is a link to my review with photographs ...