ALLURE OF THE SEAS
Eastern Caribbean Cruise
January 23 - 30, 2011
By Mary & Vincent Finelli
Every year Vincent books our wedding anniversary cruise and this, our 42nd we sailed on the Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas. He chose the terrific Allure because we had taken a 3 day trip-to-nowhere cruise in November, during which we decided three days was not enough to even tap the Allure's possibilities, for she is a floating City. On this cruise she was filled to capacity with 5,400 guests and a crew of 2,384 from all over the world. The passengers of all ages were poised to enjoy everything from riding the Zip Line to attending Broadway shows like "Chicago." However, being individualists, we spend a lot of time avoiding crowds and touring the ship on our own. What a delight the Allure is with her eclectic and spectacular art work, such as the "Eclipse 2 " by the English artist Terry New, a fantastic work in cast iron that evokes thoughts of wood and harmony. At least to us, but perhaps not to the bather who used it as a hanger for his beach towel. This piece is located near the cantilevered whirlpool on deck 15 portside forward. There are also a group of mixed media photographs in the main stairs by Jose Davila "Buildings you have to see before you die." The buildings themselves are removed from the photos and become for the erudite an interesting game to identify the silhouetted building.
There is so much aboard that there is very little chance for boredom. We were warmly welcomed back by Hotel Director Richard Nentwich, also part of Allure's start up team. We first met Richard in 2004 on the Mariner of the Seas and sailed with him several times since. Each time we find him looking younger and healthier. It must be the sea air!
Since we live in Boca Raton, FL, Port Everglades is only a 30 minute ride from home. Ft. Lauderdale is the home port for the Allure. We arrived at the pier 12:30pm and using the Suite/wheelchair line, we had only 2 minutes wait and check-in was another 5 minutes. Superb! However there was a slight glitch since only one of the two gangways was operational, but we were assured that the second gangway was to be back in use soon. Thus, we were in Crown Loft Suite #1742 only fifteen minutes after our arrival. Considering the size of the ship and the multitude of passengers, this was one of the easiest and fastest embarkation procedure we have ever had.
The passengers who came aboard without any knowledge of the Allure had a bit of a problem in orientation, since no ship plans were given at embarkation. However, there were deck plans on every deck at the elevators and with a quick check one could orient oneself easily. Also available were touch screens showing exactly where you were. A simple aid was the knowledge that stateroom locations were divided into quadrants as follows: Pink quadrant is portside-forward; blue quadrant is portside-aft; green quadrant is starboard-forward; and finally, yellow quadrant is starboard-aft.
The Allure is only two inches longer than the Oasis, but that is enough to give her the title of "Largest Cruise Ship Afloat." She was built at the STX Europe shipyards in Turku, Finland. Her dimensions are 225,282 gross tons, 1,187 ft (360 meters) long, 208 ft (64 meters) wide, 213 ft (65 meters) high from the water line and 30 ft (9.1 meters) draft. She has a total of 2,706 staterooms, of which 1,956 are with balcony, 254 outside and 496 interior. There are 46 wheelchair accessible staterooms.
We have received from our friend Richard Nentwich an interesting gift, "Wonderbook - the Art on Allure of the Seas," describing the vast collection of art pieces on the ship. This book was a guide for us to visit the various art work throughout the ship. It made us more appreciative in opening our eyes to the diversity of media, style and artistry: Most of the art work aboard, paintings, sculptures, photographs, etc. is modern in style, but a few in traditional style. There are a total of over 9800 art pieces aboard of which 1200 are in public areas. One dramatic sculpture that impressed us is that of the Korean artist Keysook Geum which fills the enormous aft elevator lobby, from the lower decks to deck 17, "Dream of Utopia," a wire and bead work consisting of 36 dresses in 4 different styles. This is a really impressive view from any of the panoramic elevators which were our main means of transportation, since we don't do stairs! We also were very pleased with some of the traditional sculptures seen on the Royal Promenade, such as "A Magic Kiss" or at the pool area, such as "Swimmers."
There are seven neighborhoods on board, which are very similar to the Oasis, on which we reported in 2009. The following insert repeats that information with only some updating of personnel.
THE SEVEN NEIGHBORHOODS
One: Central Park is based on Deck 8 with five decks of balcony staterooms opening on to it. It certainly lives up to its name with trees, vines and flowering plants, beautifully arranged among winding paths. There are several seating areas - some covered for when it rains (yes, it is open to the sky like a park). There are delightful pergolas covered with blooming bougainvilleas and poles wound with night blooming jasmine. Types of plants are identified with tags.
This is an ideal spot to sit and read among the flowers and trees or even dine "al fresco" at Giovanni's Table ($15 fee) for excellent Italian cuisine under the jovial Senior Executive Chef Marco Morrama and friendly Maitre d' Alessandro Carlisi, or at 150 Central Park featuring celebrity Chef Maureen "Molly" Brandt ($35 fee).
There are also fine shops featuring designer handbags, sports wear, etc. However, it is the wonder of sitting in an endless garden at sea, which drew us back daily: no crowds, peaceful with an occasional Strolling Scot bagpiper playing soulfully. In the evening there are moonlight serenades.
Two: The Boardwalk is on Deck 6 aft and features a Carousel with 18 hand carved animals; in its entrance are several horses in various stages of carving and painting, both informative and beautiful art. Along both sides are typical Coney Island style shops and stands: Johnny Rockets a 1950's hamburger joint, Candy/taffy shops, and a terrific Boardwalk Dog House, serving hot dogs, brats and sausages. All the way aft is the Aqua Theater --- with a water extravaganza of high diving, synchronized swimming, and acrobatic routines: Stunning! This is also the seat of two rock climbing walls.
Three: The Royal Promenade on Deck 5 is retained from the Voyager and Freedom classes of ships and features a village center with Cafe Promenade, Sorrento's Pizza parlor and the Bow & Stern Pub with music each night. The on board shops located here have the logo wear, perfumes, jewelry, etc. The Promenade is the site of parades and entertainments. The innovative Cupcake Cupboard provides a unique spot for Birthdays and Anniversaries. The biggest attraction is the "Rising Tide Bar"(capacity 32), an oval shaped spacious glass enclosed elevator which will lift you up three decks to Central Park. The automobile attraction for this ship is a replica of a 1936 Mercedes Benz 540K convertible, maroon and with enough chrome to catch passengers' eyes and those of a little boy (a small bronze statue) holding the model of the same car behind his back. Many cruisers took pictures with this beauty.
Four: The Pool & Sports Zones, located on Decks 15 and 16, offer more sports activities than any other ship at sea: Two "Flow Riders," very popular surf simulators, located on Deck 16 aft, are fun for both surfers and spectators; Dunes Mini Golf, a fun game to practice putting on deck 15 aft; the Zip Line on Deck 16, suspended 9 decks above Boardwalk, speeding across the atrium, Whee! There is a basketball court and ping pong (Deck 15 aft). The Solarium is Vincent's favorite place: Every morning he relaxes in a whirlpool in the adult only spa among plants and flowers.
Five: Vitality at Sea Fitness Center is forward on Deck 6. There is a "Thermal Suite," massage center and the gym with the state-of-art cardio & fitness machines. The longest jogging track at sea (2.4 laps = 1mile) is the outside promenade on Deck 5. There are classes in yoga and kick boxing and a Health Spa for adults and children with juice and snacks.
Six: The Youth Zone is completely dedicated to children and teens with Adventure Ocean Theater, Science Lab, Video Games and even a nursery at sea. Teens are treated to their own area with an out door deck, nightclub, video arcade and even Star Pier a teen clothing Shop.
Seven: Studio B (Deck 4), where the Ice shows and skating are held, Jazz on 4, the Comedy Club (don't miss this, seats only 120, so book early). This grouping of the areas is only good for general orientation.
Crown Loft Suite 1742 is located on Decks 17 & 18, starboard aft. It is one of the best suites we have had until now. The dEcor is a beautiful combination of light oak and dark walnut woods, blue carpeting and beige walls. There are two pictures to decorate the suite: The first on the lower floor is a huge hanging mural of blue and green geometric designs blended in a somewhat pastel color plaid; the second, in the loft, over the head board of the bed, shows lovely spring apple blossoms and large leaves.
When entering the suite, on the left is a huge bathroom with sink, shelves, a commode (a bit too low for the handicapped suite) and a 4' x 4' shower stall with folding seat and safety rails. Next, there is a long sliding table, excellent for dining, a bar set up with coffee maker and refrigerator. Then, there is an extra large hide-a-bed sofa, alas too low for handicapped people to sit on. The appropriate height would be the same as the seat on a wheel chair, thus making it possible to get up easily.
On the right of the entrance there is a triple armoire. Next, there is the wheelchair elevator with a capacity of 400Kg or 5 passengers. Excellent! Then there is a rock garden below the staircase to the loft. After that there is a desk with six drawers and a large screen TV. Two metal chairs, a bench and a single hassock completed the suite, to which our steward added a more comfortable leather arm chair. The far wall, two decks tall, is all glass with a sliding door to a very spacious balcony which has two rattan chaise lounges and a small table. Alas, once again too low for physically challenged passengers. Jesus Khan, our steward, brought another leather chair from which it was easy to arise.
Take the elevator and go up to Deck 18 and the loft. On the left is another triple armoire with a personal safe. On the opposite wall is another bathroom, a duplicate of the one below. Then there is a vanity with lighted mirror, three drawers and a hassock for a seat. The king size bed (too high for a physically challenged person) is flanked by two nightstands with drawers and reading lamps. Across from the bed is a second TV. The edge of the Loft has a stainless steel railing and long sheer white curtains,which were closed at night and opened in the day time to allow for a breathtaking view of the sky and the sea. All this was well kept and made comfortable by the steward Jesus, who provided excellent service without us having to ask for anything. BRAVO!
SERVICE & FOOD
Hotel Director Richard Nentwich is in charge of a well trained staff. Service is excellent and food of very good quality is readily available all over the ship. Concierge Luca Iorio (Italy) proved to be a terrific aide in getting reservations for shows, as well as a congenial host of the Deck 11 concierge lounge. Fernando Ugalde (Spain) shared responsibilities and made cappuccinos an art.
We'll discuss the food as it is encountered. First, at the all aboard buffet. There are many islands of food nicely manned and variety includes the following: Roast beef and sides of mashed potatoes, salad bars, Asian buffet, Pastas, grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, soups and fruit and dessert displays. However, for wheelchair passengers this area was not user friendly, counters too high and too crowded. For those reasons we only eat at the buffet on the first day aboard.
The first evening Vincent arranged for a table near the entrance to the Adagio Dining Room for the entire week. However, the next evening it was occupied by someone else. We pointed it out to the greeters at the entrance and they assured us it would not happen again. Next evening, the same story and our prearranged table was again occupied by others. Finally, we told the head waiter Johannes Katze, who took it to heart and it didn't happen again. We always like a fixed table each evening, so that we get to know the waiters and even better they get to know us and our likes. This trip our waiter was the excellent Shimrai Shimrah and his assistant was the warm and jocular Marlon Holder. Food in the Adagio is quite good and much improved since November. The menu is both adequate and varied. RCCL has finally started to portion the plates properly. We don't like to waste food and are happy to see the correct size portions. The soups were excellent; cream of Asparagus, and French onion and the cold ones too, with mango and papaya among them. The meats and desserts are always great on RCCL.
There are several upscale dining venues which must be tried. At 150 Central Park is a unique dining experience that will appeal to gourmets. Chef Maureen "Molly" Brandt presents six courses which were nicely explained to us by Mina our server. The concept is for several tiny courses selected by Molly. They are served at a nice pace and plating is interesting. This style has been in vogue in Italy for more than twenty years, where there are usually about nine to twelve dishes presented as "assaggini". The starter was a sampler of six salts collected from around the world to be tasted with tiny leaf shaped bread. This was fun. The menu on this particular evening included fish and duck, the next menu includes a beef duo of short ribs and filet mignon (which we would have preferred). The service was delightful and the dEcor simple elegance ($35 pp).
The next specialty restaurant is Giovanni's Table also in Central Park ($15 pp) Here the most genial Manager Alessandro Carlisi will give you the opportunity of dining alfresco or inside. We had a marvelous meal with Valentina (Sicily) serving us. Watching the servers slicing prosciutto on the huge red machine in the foyer can make one drool. The fritto misto was excellent; try the osso buco or the fabulous moist veal meatballs. Dessert is pure Italian heaven: Cannoli, tiramisu, panna cotta, etc.... It was simply delizioso. Buon Appetito!
Also located in Central Park is Chops Grille ; whereas 150 Central is for Gourmets, Chops is for Gourmands ($25 pp). The huge beef steaks and the beautiful veal chops are for the hearty eaters. Deck 15 has the two tiered Samba Grill featuring Brazilian Churrascaria ($25 pp). This is beautiful dining under the stars Brazilian style --- so lovely. The last special restaurant is Izumi ($5 pp), which consists of a la carte Asian food, alas we didn't get here, but heard good things about it.
Now, we have gone from buffet to formal dining in the Adagio and specialty restaurants, but there are so many other venues like Rita's Cantina ($7.95 pp) featuring Mexican food and drinks; Johnny Rockets, with specialty hamburgers and milkshakes ($); and the free Dog House with hot dogs & brats, etc. These are all located on the Boardwalk.
On Deck 5 there is the Cafe` Promenade with everything from sandwiches to cookies to hot scones! Sorrento's is also here where made to order pizzas are served. We used Room Service for breakfast and it was always punctual and delicious: we ordered from the Suite menu which included waffles, French toast, pancakes and individually made omelets. For restaurant reservations dial 7,000.
Cruise Director Allan Brooks must be an octopus. He needs eight arms aboard the Allure, since there are three pages of Daily Activities. He begins each morning with his TV program "Babbling Brook". There is a plethora of doings from physical fitness, jogging, gyms machines, but also rock climbing wall, ice skating, table tennis, dance lessons, card games like bridge, plus the huge Casino with tables and slots, Trivia, and adult Wii, etc....
There are so many shows that the best way to keep track of days and times is with the Cruise Planner given to each cabin on the first day; it gives a week's highlights at a glance. On the first day we had reservations for the Oceanaria Show, but it was canceled due to rough seas. We caught it on Wednesday and it is spectacular, don't miss it. We recommend booking the shows before embarking by computer or on the first day, as soon as possible; remember you are competing with about 5,500 other passengers. Show reservations could be made boarding day from 11:30 am to 4:00pm in Studio B.
Besides the aqua show, there is "Chicago, the Broadway Musical" and "Blue Planet" in the Amber Theater, both are marvelous. The Comedy Show (18+) in Comedy Live has very limited seating of 120 persons, so book it early. "Ice Games, the Ice Show" is a play on the Monopoly board game: Olympic quality skating by an international cast of world-class skaters and beautiful costumes. The Allure of the Seas has something for everyone, from babies to seniors.
PORTS OF CALL
Day 1. Ft. Lauderdale, FL USA. Depart 5:00pm
Day 2. Nassau, Bahamas Arrive 7:30am Depart 1:00pm
Day 3. At Sea
Day 4. St. Thomas USVI Arrive 7:30am Depart 5:00pm
Day 5. St. Maarten Arrive 7:30am Depart 4:30pm
Days 6 & 7. At Sea
Day 8. FT. Lauderdale, FL Arrive 7:00am Debark 8:00am
There are several ways to debark. The night before, place your number/color tagged luggage out side your cabin door and then get it the next day in port. You may have your baggage automatically transferred to your airline and flight, or you may opt to carry it off early with you. We always use the first method, put it out the night before; then with the help of a porter, we collect it on the dock and go through customs and passport check and in only a few minutes we are outside. The RCCL system worked excellently and we were on our way home by 8:45am.
This was our 90th cruise, our 43rd on RCCL ships, showing that almost half of our cruises have been on RCCL, one of our favorite cruise lines. Just like the cruise we took on the Oasis, this one was also extraordinary for the many innovations offered by these ships, not possible on smaller ones: Central Park, Boardwalk and the enhanced Royal Promenade.
We will still cruise on other lines, since we are addicted to cruising, and enjoy the best of what they offer: cuisine, entertainment, service, relaxation and, most of all, the joy of cruising! However, we know that the experiences we have had on the Oasis and the Allure cannot be matched on any other ship, thus we'll be back many more times, if we are able. Happy Cruising!