When researching cruise vacations, it is mostly an itinerary driven decision for me; I want to visit new ports. This time, however, the ship itself was my destination. After last year’s exciting cruise on the Oasis of the Seas, I wanted to repeat the experience. Not wanting to see the same production shows, although Hairspray Musical Comedy was marvelous, I searched for a cruise on the three-year-old sister ship, the Allure of the Seas. A neighborhood community center offered a 7-night Eastern Caribbean cruise, December 8, 2013 on the Allure departing Fort Lauderdale with Ports of Call in Nassau, Bahamas, Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas and Phillipsburg, St. Maarten. I quickly booked the cruise for my husband and myself and invited my sister & her husband along to introduce them to the biggest ship in the world.
As recommended by RCCL, I pre-booked online all our reservations for our My Time Dining and shows. I have to admit it took some time for me to do all this but it was well worth the effort. You can wait to make reservations on the interactive TV in your stateroom or at the Box Office, Deck 4 but you probably will not get the times that you want. It also helps if you sign the waivers ahead of time for Zip Lining, Ice-Skating, Rock Climbing Walls or the Flow Riders.
Our journey began at the local community center where we left our vehicle for the week. We boarded the large comfortable coach chartered to take our group to the ship. Our arrival at the terminal was around 12 noon. It was amazing how quickly and smoothly the embarkation process proceeded. Within mere minutes, we were up in the extremely busy Windjammer Marketplace buffet, Deck 16 where we were turned away because of sheer volume. Finally, we ended up in the Wipe Out Café, Deck 15. My advice to you on Embarkation Day is to eat in Sorrento’s, Deck 5, as we did on the Oasis or Café Promenade, Deck 5 and avoid the overcrowded buffet scene. Following lunch, we took a quick tour of the public areas to get our bearings. Afterwards, we located our cabins and began unpacking. There was just enough time to finish unpacking when the ship announced the start of the Compulsory Guest Assembly (Safety) Drill. The Main Dining Room, (MDR) was our Muster Station and once there, staff members directed us to available seats. The well-organized drill was over in about twenty minutes. Then we went out on deck for the DreamWorks Sail Away Party Celebration in the Aqua Theater. After that, it was time to go to dinner.
When we arrived at the Adagio MDR, Deck 5, the very long line was out the lobby entrance to the restaurant spilling into the Royal Promenade. There were two lines and unbelievably the longest one was for reserved seating. The lines moved quickly and within 20 minutes, a server escorted us to our table. We kept the same table for the entire cruise because we were so impressed with our servers. After 41 cruises, this was a first for us. Thawee, our Head Waiter, Vijay our waiter, & Tsahi, his assistant waiter all did a commendable job each night anticipating our needs, helping us decide among menu choices - sometimes even bringing extra dishes for us to try. Most of our favorite dishes were on the menu over the course of the cruise - Escargot, Prime Rib, Lobster, Fillet Mignon, Rack of Lamb, Duck a la Orange to name a few. The desserts were so tempting that we never skipped them. Cherries Jubilee, Baked Alaska, Crème Brulee, Warm Apple Strudel, Tiramisu and the freshly made ice creams were delightful. We never felt the desire to visit a specialty restaurant since our food and service in Adagio were exceptional. The nightly dining room music with the Rosario Strings was most enjoyable. The MDR wait staff also did a wonderful job handling Special Meal Requests. In fact, food in all the many different venues was excellent. The Windjammer Marketplace Buffet was a feast for the eye. My husband enjoyed ordering up his own special pizza in Sorrento’s. There are 20 Chefs & 222 Cooks onboard the Allure.
We booked Boardwalk Balcony Stateroom #10319. Although our stay in a very quiet Central Park Balcony Stateroom on the Oasis was fine, we wanted something different on the Allure. I have to admit that Boardwalk was somewhat noisy many evenings. We never retired before 11PM so it was not a problem for us. We enjoyed stepping outside on our balcony, becoming part of the action below us. I love the carnival atmosphere of Boardwalk with Family Festivals that include face painting, balloon artistry and marching bands. There is a cool psychic teller booth and a beautiful carrousel, which I rode, and long funny mirrors to make you laugh (I liked the one that made me look skinny.) Add in freshly made popcorn ($), Johnny Rocket (complementary only for breakfast,) The Ice Cream Parlor ($,) Boardwalk Hot Dog House and morning donuts to complete the atmosphere. Dressing up in costumes for photos ($) was fun for many families. I felt that I was back on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, NJ.
Our stateroom was airy feeling with light colored walls and furnishings, colorful carpet, mirrors, vanity/desk, comfortable king bed, and a big couch. The end tables, though, were really too tiny. If you put more than one or two items on each open oval tier, something was sure to fall off and did. In our particular layout, the closet with its sliding doors was too close to one end table and side of the bed, which made accessing clothes a problem for two people trying to use the closet simultaneously. There were plenty of hangers, though. They more than made up for the lack of enough drawer space. Fluffy white robes were a nice touch. I just wished that the bathroom were large enough for a retractable clothesline. We loved our balcony and often sat out at night enjoying a glass of wine before bedtime. Our cabin steward, Leo stopped by the first day to introduce himself and was very attentive throughout the cruise. He kept our room clean & stocked with fresh towels & bath amenities. He kept our ice bucket filled with ice. Leo was friendly and addressed us each by name when he saw us in the hallway. He accommodated our comings and goings when cleaning our cabin.
This ship is so huge that you feel as if you are in a hotel. However, do not assume that you will get lost on such a big ship. There are navigational aids available in different languages called Wayfinder Screens located by elevator lobbies that will show you the route to every part of ship including how to get back to your own stateroom. I never needed to use them. The ship is easily navigable. The Allure, like The Oasis, is divided into seven neighborhoods, Adventure Ocean, Central Park, Pool & Sports, Vitality Spa & Fitness Center, Broadway, Entertainment Place & Royal Promenade. The lively Royal Promenade is the center of activities all day/night long. Passengers love to congregate here to enjoy a beverage, have a snack/meal, shop, or people watch. There are restaurant, bars, retail shops and lounges. We sometimes dropped in for a chocolate chip cookies at the Café Promenade (open 24 hours.). Do not pass up the opportunity to ride the unique Rising Tide Bar.
The staff and crew were most helpful and friendly. The front desk solved little problems as quickly as possible. I saw workers in the Windjammer helping passengers carry food to their tables and bringing beverages tableside. Ken Rush has been with RRCL for 20+ years and obviously does his job well. His Morning Rush Show however seemed to be as much about selling merchandise and spa treatments as about telling us what there was to do onboard. This is just part of his job I am sure.
With 626 activities happening onboard, I will just highlight a few of my favorites. Be sure to consult the Cruise Compass, a daily activity program delivered nightly to your stateroom so you get the most out of your vacation. I used The Planner, a schedule of the top activities for the entire week given out Embarkation Day to list all my desired activities. Zip Lining, Flow Rider and the Rock Climbing Walls (200ft. above the sea) are fun to watch even if you do not participate. They are all complementary activities. So are the open sessions ice skating (must wear long pants & socks.) Free Liquor Tasting is available in the Royal Promenade. The DreamWorks Character Appearances are fun for “kids” of all ages. I posed with many of the characters myself. How wonderful that even the 3-D movies are complementary! I watched several, Turbo, How to Train Your Dragon, Pacific Rim and Man of Steel during my cruise. Other unusual activities are the Traffic Light Party where the glow beverage glasses describe your relationship status. For runners, there is a Royal 5K in St. Maarten and a How to Prepare For a 5K Seminar beforehand. It was a most popular event onshore. A less demanding activity is the “Walk Through Central Park” with the Allure Landscape Specialist. I learned many interesting facts about the plants in Central Park. Zumba classes and the Flash Mob Dance Class were other popular activities. Although I did not attend the Love & Marriage Game Show, I hear that it too was a lot of fun. For kids and adults alike, the elaborate DreamWorks Parades and Special Dance Performances should not be missed. Arrive early for a choice spot. . Try not to miss A Selection of Fountain Shows at least once in the evenings.
We all enjoyed the Aqua Theater Backstage Tour. The Captain’s Welcome Aboard Reception with complementary champagne, The Welcome Back Cocktail Party and Top Tier Event were equally entertaining. It was fun to “Meet the Stars” (Ice & Aqua cast) at Dazzles. The Cruise Critic Meet & Greet was so rewarding. RCCL does a grand job with this. My husband won a bottle of Champagne, which we shared with our tablemates at dinner. Finally, I loved the big Glow Party, Studio B. The venue glowed with laser light beams and LCD glitter. The ship sold light-up accessories and passengers of all ages packed the studio while neon-looking balloons floated over the dance floor. Some guests wore neon tee shirts and others purchased drinks in glowing glasses. It was such a fun night for everyone who attended.
The shows onboard are wonderful. Let me start with the sexy R rated Chicago: The Broadway Musical Comedy performed superbly on the ship. The Oceanaria Aqua Show in the Aqua Theater was awesome especially when you remember that the aerialists, high divers & trampoline acrobats are performing on a moving ship. No other ships have an Aqua Theater. Perhaps the most unusual and magical show is Blue Planet Production Show. This spectacular show includes a tree that comes to life, acrobats and more. You will be talking about this spellbinding show long after it is over. Do not miss it. Another unusual show is the Ice Games Ice Show, Studio B, Deck 4 where the ice rink becomes a Monopoly Board with excellent skaters wearing dazzling costumes. Spectators sit so close to the skaters that some become part of the show. Headliner Showtime Abracadabra was most enjoyable. If you enjoy ABBA music as I do, you will enjoy this performance. The talented group sings all the familiar ABBA songs such as Dancing Queen & Take a Chance on Me. Many passengers bought their DVD after the show. You will still be singing as you leave the theater. Comedy Live with Jim David & Eric Lyden was most entertaining. I was even recorded on the ship DVD during the performances.
I did not take any shore excursions because I have stayed on the three islands many times over the years. At our Port of Call in Nassau, we stayed onboard enjoying the now quiet Water Works area. Usually we enjoy the Solarium (Adults Only) area of a ship but on the Allure, the area was much too sunny for us. We did enjoy the Solarium cantilever whirlpool several times. In St Thomas, we walked into town for some brief shopping and took an inexpensive ($4) open air taxi back to the ship. It St. Maarten we took the water taxi to the beach and enjoyed the white sand and warm turquoise water.
Although I was assured pre-cruise that the mechanical problem with one of the three Azipods was fixed, this proved not to be so. The problem cannot be fixed until February 2014, Captain Johnny said. At our port of call in Nassau, there developed an additional mechanical problem. This was a faulty mechanism that holds one of the lifeboats. The problem delayed our departure. This in turn greatly delayed our arrival in St Thomas. The earlier mechanical problem plus the high winds we encountered prevented the ship from speeding up enough to compensate for the lost time. I have to applaud Captain Johnny Faevelen and the cruise line for how they handled the situation onboard. The captain gave us regular updates so we knew what was happening. The cruise line gave us a most generous fully refundable shipboard credit which most of us spent in the gift shops anyway. I also want to add that Captain Johnny was the most visible captain that we ever had on any ship. He was always eager to pose for photos, chat and answer questions. The captain told us quite a bit about himself - his love of golf and motorcycling. We even found him strolling around the ship with his parrot AJ on his shoulder. He insists that the Allure is THE biggest ship in the world since it is two inches longer than the Oasis. The captain of the Oasis disagrees and I refuse to be drawn into the discussion. It also turns out that Captain Johnny is actually a neighbor of mine.
One of the smallest gripe that I had did not even affect me. I could not believe it when my sister told me that her stateroom had no shampoo, conditioner or lotion bottles. After three days, we realized that this was not just an oversight. Her steward told her that only repeat guests get these amenities. Be aware that first time passengers on RCCL must request them. There was not even a card in the cabin stating this. I was so embarrassed that RCCL could be so petty about this. This policy needs to be changed. Another less minor complaint had to do with the ship charging $35 for those attending the Prohibition Party. I wanted to attend but did not want to try to consume $35 worth of liquor included in the price.
Why is the Allure so special to me? It is all about the beautiful public areas of the ship, the uniqueness of the Aquatheater, Ice Skating Rink & Ice Show, the awesome production shows, unusual parties, events and activities. It is about all the multiple varied choices you have. Whatever music you enjoy, you can hear it live on the ship be it country western, disco, romantic, piano, rock, 60s, 70s, 80s, karaoke, Mexican, jazz, soul, Island, Calypso, Reggae, Big Band, etc… The ship appeals to all ages - especially families. It was nice to see a real mix of passengers onboard. I did not get to do everything that I wanted to do. There just was not enough time to do it all. Although I paid a bit more to cruise on the Allure, I felt it was well worth the price. I hope to take another RCCL cruise in the near future.