Cruisers: My brand new fiancee and I decided to go on this vacation to honor my father who passed away earlier this summer after a losing battle with lymphoma. He was an incredible man, and one of his favorite things was to cruise around the world, occasionally as a guest lecturer on sleep disorders. He was going to join us to see the largest cruise boat in the world, but it was not meant to be.
I'm a 32 year old guy who has now been on 4 cruises the last 4 years. This was my first RCI cruise - the last two had been on Carnival ships, and the one before was on a Princess boat. My 25 year old fiancee has been on every cruise I have been on with the exception of the Princess sailing. We tend to stay in our cabin or balcony reading for most of the day with a quick excursion to the adult only area for a dip in the hot tub and quick suntan. I'm also a big foodie, and enjoy some of the shows (but not the karaoke style theme "extravaganzas")
Embarkation: Very smooth! We arrived at about 11:30, and there was simply no wait to check in. However, we did have to wait a little longer than expected in the terminal, but at 12:30 when they announced we could board, the process was incredibly quick. Rooms were supposed to open at 1, but didn't until more like 1:30. There didn't seem to be anything stopping us from going to our room at 1 other than closed bulkhead doors... I saw many people disregard the announcement to wait and just went to their cabin. We ended up taking the advice of the board and went to the Park Cafe for lunch. I have to agree with all the posters that this is an EXCELLENT choice. Even though it was the only time we went to this restaurant, the food was good (especially the roast beef sandwich with horseradish sauce), and it was relatively empty when we arrived.
Cabin: We were in 10202 with its extra large hump balcony for its category (thank you Oasis reviewers!), and I can't think of a better area to be in. We were halfway between the two elevators, essentially directly in the middle of the boat in all directions. I think because of this, we never felt like the boat was intimidatingly large; all locations were just a couple minute walk at most! My only gripe with this cabin is that it had a connecting door, and that just about any sound over a whisper will be heard by your neighbor (more on this later).
Shows: OceanAria is an absolute must see show! It is an obvious Cirque Du Soleil rip-off, but it a rip-off that is done extremely well! From the initial horn blasts until the last curtain call I was absolutely riveted. Best show I've ever seen on a boat by a country mile. Sadly, I can't say the other shows lived up to OceanAria. I went into Blue Planet expecting another Cirque rip-off done well, but instead we got a high-brow karaoke show. The only real redeeming part was near the end with the acrobats from OceanAria - they are fantastic! The comedy show was quite entertaining, as both comedians were first-rate. We had reservations for, but decided not to go to Chicago. I've already forgot the name of our comedian brother headliners, but they were quite funny.
Food: As a self-proclaimed "foodie" it was important to me to try as many venues as possible. I think my fiancee would have been happier with "Taco Bell at sea" if it had been available, but she was a great sport and came with me to all the following restaurants:
MDR: We only went here for dinner twice, the first and second night. We both had the Vidalia Onion Tart, which was as good as advertised. I had the prime rib (yum!) and my fiancee had the curry, which she thought was good, but not special. The second night we were both disappointed. My fiancee is a vegetarian, but she likes eating food that you know... has flavor. Her mango based soup and pasta in a basic red sauce didn't do much for her. I had escargot and lobster bisque (which were both excellent) but was let down by the seafood ravioli, which was overcooked and boring relative to the appetizers.
Windjammer: After hearing the Windjammer get bashed on repeatedly on the board, I wasn't expecting much. Perhaps because of this, I was actually quite pleasantly surprised how good the buffet was. I'm not sure if I selected the right things (I stay away from burgers, hot dogs etc and instead go for curries and stir-fry), but the quality seemed quite good to me. We ended up having late breakfast/early lunch here almost every day. Though at times it was difficult to find a table, there were assistant waiters there to help us, and generally we never had to wait.
Rita's: Oh Rita, how good you might be one day, but how bad you are today. Sadly, the only real good news I can report about Rita's is that the service we received was extremely good, and that we enjoyed talking to Kelly, our waitress. The appetizers were ok (fish tacos and taco salad), but the fajitas for two was a disaster. Bland, luke-warm, no sizzle... yeah, it was pretty bad. The churro and ice cream desert almost made up for the bad entree though, we polished that off very quickly. Rita's has potential due to it's nice atmosphere, but right now it's not worth the cover, in my opinion.
150 Central Park: I enjoyed my meal here quite a bit. Not as good as some of the multi-course restaurants I've tried in other places, but in the ball park. Definitely try the "signature" cocktail they offer at the beginning. It's $15 but very very good. Also be sure to try all the various tasting salts they have on the table, they are incredibly good with the provided bread and butter! 150 was mostly a miss though for my vegetarian fiancee. Her entrees were generally my entree without the meat, with no real special thought on how to cook for her.
Chef's Table: Best food experience on the Allure hand's down. Sous-chef Lado (Ledo?) crafted an amazing 5 course meal for the 14 of us! He even brought out my fiancee's course individually himself, and explained exactly what she was about to eat (which was entirely different for most courses). We were both in heaven, especially with the wine pairings... though be careful there! I got nice and tipsy, but the amount of wine was too much for my sweetheart! The waiters will take good care of you on the wine, and will sometimes pour extra, so know your tolerance!
Johnny Rockets: It is what it is... pretty good but not necessarily worth the 5 dollar cover. I was disappointed to see that the shakes and malts were not included. I did have probably far more fun that I should have running the table-side juke-box though.
Giovanni's Table: Best value easily for specialty dining. We absolutely loved our meal! Be sure to try the souffle appetizer, a fresh pasta course, and the tiramisu. Honestly next time I go back, I'll skip the entree and just order as much fresh pasta as I can handle, it was truly superb!
Cafe Promenade: Only ate here once for a quick bite the first day before dinner. Nothing special, but worth checking out if you are hungry at a weird time since they are open 24 hours.
New Features: While technically ALL of Allure's features are new to us since this was our first RCI cruise, I was particularly impressed by the interactive TV. We used it quite a bit to order room service and check our reservations. Excellent idea, well implemented.
Shops, etc: We didn't do a ton of shopping. Made a "Pet at Sea" which was fun for the whole 8 minutes of the experience (at cost of $29 if you get a costume for your pet... which we did... Koala in a tux, very fashionable!).
Photography: We enjoy taking several shots during the nights at sea, and this cruise was no exception. One note is that we found a particularly fantastic photographer named Francesca Mercado (I think the spelling is right). She was at the white background both formal nights, and every picture we ended up buying was from her shots. The woman is SERIOUSLY talented, and unlike some other photographers we've met over the years, extremely good at talking us through the shot to get it right. Well worth searching her out!
Annoyances: The only real annoyance I think RCI needs to work out is that we also ordered a water package that did not arrive until the second day. Otherwise our biggest annoyance was that we had a family next door with young children (again, this was a connected room). One of the children liked to scream. A lot. At all hours. The second night of this, I went over and asked them to keep it down. On the fourth day I went to guest services and asked them to intervene. They did, and things were better for a couple days, but by the 6th and 7th night it was worse than ever. We decided to just bear it out, and try to sleep when we could. Man, that kid had some pipes, just constantly screaming.... and we found out why on the last night when we passed the family in the hall, and they had twin toddlers! I would definitely recommend AVOIDING connecting staterooms in the Allure, even if there had not been constantly screaming kids we still were easily able to hear their parents talking. We tried very hard to to let this "Annoyance" ruin our cruise, I think overall it didn't.... Came close at 5am the last night though when I woke up yet again and couldn't fall back asleep....
Ports: We decided to stay on the ship at Labadee, which ended up working out great, since we were able to mini-golf, zip-line, play basketball, ping-pong, swim, and lay out on the deck in total peace. We also didn't really do much in either Cozumel or Costa Maya, a bit of shopping in both locales. Next time I'll try to set up a trip to a Mayan Ruin.
Staff: Our stateroom attendant was Leah, and she was easily far and away the best attendant either of us has ever had. Leah memorized our names quite quickly, and kept our stateroom absolutely spotless. We hope to see her again when we come back! The cruise director Ken Rush didn't really do it for me, mostly he seemed to pop up mostly to force people from leaving a show so he could tell them what next to do. Kinda annoying, but understandable.
Casino: We quickly ran through about 100 bucks in the casino one night, but we found the dealers friendly and helpful when I needed a refresher on how to play Caribbean Stud Poker. I loved that half the casino was smoke-free!
Fairly smooth process, they had a lot less officers to process U.S. citizens, but then again it seemed like we were only about 25% Americans on the boat. Overall, fast enough considering the long lines.