Pre-cruise- We flew to Ft Lauderdale a day before sailing and stayed at the 'W' hotel. This is a favourite hotel of ours in other cities and did not disappoint. Wonderful room/ambiance with unique glass rain-style shower. Dinner at the hotel restaurant, '1500 Steakhouse', was top notch.
Boarding- We caught a taxi to the port for 11:30am. We were fairly early and the boarding process to all of 5 minutes. Our room wasn't ready until 1pm, so we explored the ship and had a simple lunch at the Park Cafe.
This is, by far, the most impressive ship I have ever seen. The public spaces are unmatched in size and atmosphere. The Central Park area is a lush garden lined with upscale restaurants and plentiful live greenery. The only artificial aspect is the piped-in bird sounds.
The Boardwalk area opens to the back of the ship, where an outside theatre is placed. Along the Boardwalk are casual food options (hot dogs, diner food, Mexican cantina, ice cream, candy) and the central attraction is a real wooden carousel.
The interior promenade area is similar to the same place on other big RCCL ships, with the exception that parts of the ceiling are glass, allowing light from the Central Park area to flow into the promenade and give it a much more open feeling.
The jogging track is a dedicated loop around the entry level deck, which avoids the deck chair areas. There is also a direct connection stairway from the track to the gym.
The Aqua Theatre at the rear of the ship reminds me of the Cirque du Soliel theatre in Las Vegas for their 'O' production, only in much smaller form. It impresses no less though, being planted into the back of a ship.
The sports/pool deck is as massive as you'd expect on the largest ship in the world. For a change, the adult solarium area has been placed in the front of the ship, above the bridge. This gives wonderful views when sitting on a lounge chair or soaking in one of the huge whirlpools that extend over the side of the ship (originally used on the Freedom class ships). Dual Flowriders, rock climbing walls, basket ball court, golf course, and a zip line over the Boardwalk offer lots of stuff for the active crowd. Kudos for the designers putting in 6 ping-pong tables in dedicated enclosures to keep away the wind and reduce the chasing of errant balls.
The entertainment area has the usual theatre, casino, and skating rink (well, usual for RCCL). In addition, Allure has a dedicated comedy club and jazz club.
All areas of the ship have a countless number of bars/lounges, some themed (like an English pub), some not.
This ship has a lot of food options. When I say a lot, I mean that you might not find them all in a 7 day sailing. Or if you do find them, you may not have the time or appetite to try them all. The main dining room was a disappointment. Far from the traditional dining room experience with familiar table mates and waiter relationship, Allure's dining room is confused and run in a hap-hazard way. This may be due to the new 'My Time Dining' options and vast number of specialty restaurants making the consistent service and experience of the main dining room difficult (impossible?) to maintain. Where Allure shines is in it's alternative dining options. Here are the ones I made it too this time:
Rita's Cantina: Fun Mexican food. Yummy home made tortilla chips (which they ran out of near the end of the cruise)
Samba Grill: A Brazilian meat fest. They will bring 9 kinds of meat to your table in order and then start over again until you surrender. Occasionally, one of the ship's dancers will come out in a feathery costume and dance around the tables, samba-style.
Izumi's: Decent, not great, sushi. The selection is somewhat limited, but the atmosphere and service were outstanding.
Giovanni's Table: Amazing Italian fare. Perhaps the best Lasagna I've ever had. Great service.
Vintages: A tapas bar with lots of wine selections. They have this new system where they give you an iPad and that becomes your menu. You pick things on the iPad app and they appear at your table. Cool!
Chef's Table: An exclusive event serving only 14 people every night. One of the ship's sous chefs walks you through a several course dinner with matching wines. This was an incredible dining experience, and reminded me somewhat of what the main dining room service used to be like in the past. We also got a RCCL cookbook in the package.
150 Central Park: This was the ultimate dining experience of our trip, even better than the Chef's Table. The chef, Molly Brandt, creates dishes that have to be tasted to be believed. The courses are set, and two of them were seafood. I don't like seafood, so the kitchen made me up something custom that was every bit as good.
Food Conclusion: If you're sticking to the specialty restaurants, you will have a culinary experience second to none on the seas. I was sitting next to a frequent cruiser of the luxury lines, and he stated for the record that the specialty food/service was on par with SilverSea or Seabourne cruises he'd been on. The Main Dining Room is good for a backup plan only if you can't get reservations to the specialty restaurants. It's ok, but not much to write home about.
Blue Planet: Typical RCCL production formula... 4 singers, 2 male, 2 female, and a dance crew. The sets were interesting. The songs where the usual pop covers. I was disappointed to see that the didn't use the ship's orchestra for the soundtrack, and it cost them when the playback died at one point. When they got it working, they had to skip forward to get back to the interruption point. That kind of thing is why you use live musicians RCCL!
Aqua Show: This was really unique for any cruise show. Of course, what other cruise ship has the room/technology for a hydraulic water stage with high-dive platforms? Again, most of the show's staging and ideas obviously stolen from a similar show by Cirque du Soliel, but impressive anyways.
Chicago: Finally! RCCL steps away from their standard production formula and something magical happens. A full vocal cast, live orchestra, great dancing, and smart staging makes this the best production show I've ever seen at sea. We need more of this!
Cabin- We did not go for one of the new Crown Loft suites, and can't speak of them, though we did have dinner with a couple staying in one and they are apparently quite phenomenal. Our standard D8 balcony was typical. Maybe a little smaller than other ships, though the bathroom seemed larger. The flat screen TV is great and the electronic services available (restaurant occupancy levels!) were impressive.
Going home- We did the express self-exit program and were off the ship in minutes. It was so fast, we were hours early for our 11am flight.
Special note: There is a 'sun deck' that's not really advertised much. It's got only one entrance at the end of a cabin hallway. It's a deck that's basically on top of the bridge. You can walk right onto the top of the bridge wings and get a bridge-eye view of all ship docking procedures. I loved this area.
Conclusion: We loved our experience on Allure of the Seas, and have already booked a back-to-back on her in early 2012. We've accepted that specialty dining is going to be our standard way of eating on board. We're thinking about ways to meet other people on the ship or have friends come with us so we can get a little of the traditional cruise dining with table-mates experience in the specialty restaurants. We also did not explore any of the ports offered, having been to those places many times in the past. We were on this cruise for the ship.
Our only real complaint, aside from the Main Dining Room as noted above, is that the Adults-only Solarium is not being enforced. Our cruise had a lot of children, and many parents were blatantly ignoring the rules. I was in one of the adult whirlpools and this man came up with his 8 year old son. He obviously stopped and read the sign stating that no children were allowed, then proceeded into the pool with his kid. We were snoozing on deck chairs in the solarium, only to be constantly interrupted by screaming/running children. Allure has great spaces and programs for children, and they need to enforce the rules so that adults can have their space too.