Living close to two principal ports of embarkation (Miami and Ft.Lauderdale) as we do, needless to say there had been a great deal of publicity generated by the arrival of the Allure, and before that, its older sis, the Oasis. Finally, the Allure (pun intended) became irresistible, and through our local TA we booked a 7 day, Western Caribbean voyage. (Labadee (Haiti), Costa Maya and Cozumel.
We arrived at the Ft.Lauderdale Marina shortly after noon and were onboard in only a half hour; this was impressive considering that the ship, when full (as it was said they were) sails with 5200 passengers. (Hint, had packed our hair/(my)beard touchup scissors in my carryon; for the first time ever this became a matter of concern for a security officer and her supervisor. Lesson learned...pack in checked luggage next time.)
We took an elevator to our 11th floor verandah cabin, dropped off our carryons and headed to the 16th floor Windjammer buffet for lunch. Cabin first impressions: Nice, neat, double sliding door closet for hanging clothes adequate for shorter voyages, with well thought out drawer space. Bathroom seemed a tiny bit smaller than our prior voyage for the same class cabin, on the Celebrity Equinox, RCI's branded sister line. No problem, it worked well, with the principal cabin having a small sofa, and a desk and chair.
Though it was just after midday, to our pleasant surprise, we were able to find a table in the Windjammer without difficulty. As is becoming the trend, there are separate serving stations for varied food classes, eliminating long lines leading to only one service area. Food quality was excellent and rates high marks. A new thought (a "Well done" to the person who thought up this idea) is the elimination of self service for water and juices; these are pre-poured by staff and placed in trays on the serving line. There are courteous roaming staff offering coffee and juice refills while you are dining.
One thing we did not find, and the reason is very obvious, is that there are no custom omelette stations at breakfast. The sheer number of passengers no doubt dictates this and it is nothing to worry about, as there are trays of vegetarian omelettes, cheese omelettes, and constantly replenished fried eggs. Of course, they are all to one consistency, so, get used to over medium. I did.
Let's quickly talk of another thoughtful innovation. At the Customer Service desk, there is a staff member checking with waiting people to ascertain exactly what they require assistance with, and he or she is sometimes able to solve any problem directly at that point, thereby greatly diminishing traffic flow.
The Allure is of course the world's largest cruise ship, and you become aware of that fact very early on. I am always thankful for lovely navigator wife, but never as much as here...many times I had decided, "Well, you just can't get there from here"...but, she leapt to the rescue! But, space is always well used, and marked, with touch screens in key places performing a valuable service. Call up your needs from a menu-do you need to find your cabin? (Guess who needed to....) touch the screen and get directions from where you are standing at the moment...where are the restaurants and how full are they...touch the screen. Our only complaint...more often than not, the screen decided we were through when we weren't...impatient little fellow!
Don't have your daily newsletter at hand? The screen will show you what is happening "right now" and where, at what time. A very valuable service, and well done, Allure.
Located on deck #6, down an alcove overlooking Boardwalk deck, is the Diamond Club, entry by key card. Here Diamond qualified members can get machine dispensed coffees 24 hours, with a continental breakfast mornings. You can also examine daily menus ahead of day of service, a great thing to have in case you are considering an alternative restaurant and want to know what you may or may not be missing in the main D.R., "Adagio".
RCI has a tie-in with the movie character group which includes Shrek and wife Fiona, Viking warriors, and others, and the ship presented an absolutely marvelous parade featuring these and other costumed characters. BW pronounced it the most colorful parade she had ever seen. Hint, be there early for seats, we were fortunate to have read a number of CruiseCritic reviews and learned an advantageous place to sit is in front of Sorrentos Pizza Restaurant. This is presented twice, once daytime and later, one nighttime. The Characters also make impromptu (sometimes posted) appearance about the ship to the delight of younger sailors.
As to younger sailors, demographics on this voyage showed a nice mix of ages and nationalities. We were surprised to find a number of younger folks of apparent school age and assumed they simply had permission to have a "teaching voyage" in their school schedules.. (?) There are nice programs for all ages of youngsters.
We booked too late for our preferred early dining and used "Choice" dining, meaning that you make reservations for each evening at a time of your choice.We prefer assigned seating to get to know people in depth but there is much to be said for meeting new people nightly. The only downside, not having wait staff who get to know you and your, um, foibles.
As has been shown by most other reviewers, food is to be highly rated, with BW stating that one night's shrimp dish was "the best shrimp I have ever had". On most (all?) days you can dine either with table service or serve yourself from an alternate buffet in the Adagio itself, in addition to that in the Windjammer. Not as complete, of course, but you will not go hungry. In the Windjammer we found the chicken consistently to be the most tender and tasty overall of any voyage, ever.
Surprise! Another Allure first? Several days in the Adagio, breakfast features Chocolate treats, with a tray of chocolate flavored muffins, scones, croissants, and banana bread presented. As with all staff, and we do mean all, service in Adagio and all other venues is quick, caring and efficient.
We ate at one alternative restaurant, as having booked late, many were already pre-booked to capacity. We chose Chops and only secured a table due to a cancellation. Alternative restaurants are located in Central Park, most of an entire deck devoted to green and flowering plants, well kept and cared for. There are scattered benches here and there to sit on and relax, if you wish.
The night we ate at Chops was the one night that it rained and we watched as diners leaving were helped by staff with large umbrellas. However, when we were leaving, BW was concerned as she had on new suede boots which would of course been permanently stained with water damage. Hostess Ariania (My spelling but mostly accurate) overheard her concerns, and, asking us to follow her, discreetly led us to an alternate entrance/exit leading into an adjoining cabin hallway to mercifully save the new boots...well done, and noteworthy, and never forgotten. Service in Chops impeccable, we felt whatever we needed or wanted would have been happily done for us.
A favorite place, you ask? Well, you didn't but why not...the Promenade Cafe, on Boardwalk deck 5, adjacent to Customer Service. Twenty Four hour snacks and beverages, all complimentary. Tables overlooking the Promenade; a great place to relax and people watch. Darn, quite a few other folks had it already figured out also.
I (not BW, she tolerates it but does not actively "trivialize") enjoyed several trivia contests daily, all well presented and hosted.
A very well done CruiseCritic Meet and Mingle was given the first sea day, with a prize drawing and small gifts for all, courtesy of Royal Caribbean.
It was during this (explains heading to open this review, re coffee and salt shakers) that the only really decent coffee was presented during the entire cruise...that we know of. Salt shaker? Our son in law, a former chef, had previously advised me that a small pinch of salt can remove the bitter taste from bad coffee... that said, this was so bad that I think it would have nearly been appropriate to pour THIS coffee directly into the salt shakers...'Nuff said. Yes, THAT bad.
Now, a few random thoughts on what (else) could have been improved on, and notes of several very special crew members who, given the opportunity, went well above and far beyond the everyday.
Already noted: Chops hostess Ariania, SSS. (Savior of Suede Shoes)
Adagio waiter "Jose" Phillipines? We had the good and great fortune to have had this special person two different nights for Adagio's dinner service. He went to the max to work around my dairy allergy, often problematic, and to do whatever he could to make sure we had an exceptional experience under his care, and that of his assistant, name not at hand, but a sincere thank you.
Lindsey French, Canada, Customer Service: Background-with our travel package we had been given an alternate restaurant dinner of our choice, as well as a spa treatment. We found that we should have been given vouchers to present, and it was never clear to us whether these were the responsibility of our TA or the ship's staff. Despite earnest attempts by other staff to help, this had not been solved. Ms.French cheerfully and caringly spent a lengthy period of time with us, helping us to get the required documentation from the original booking (no easy task, bless her) so that we might receive the percs that seemed daily to be wandering further and further from our grasp.Her attitude was: "I care about you and I am going to solve this because I DO." You, Ms. French, are a credit to the line, thank you.
Regrettably, the name of our steward is not at hand, but he was always perfection personified, several times personally intervening to solve a problem with working the TV or whatever was or might be needed.
What suggestions would we make to the line itself?
In no particular order: We talked about the possibility of another voyage on the Allure. This would be problematic, as it would involve, apparently, seeing the same shows and only those. Though all well done ("Chicago" the musical, two ice shows, an amazing Aqua show, Blue Planet et al.) The only one we would care to see again would be the comedic show, presented by two comedians working in tandem, approx. 1/2 hour each. They were so good we waited for the opportunity to see them twice.
Computer booking...Due to the number of different presentation venues, we presume, it is necessary to make show reservations online prior to sailing. The computer sites are not in the least user friendly and often contradictory.
BW spent a total of 3 1/2 hours at it and we still had to finalize some on the ship. FYI, seats of "no-shows" are opened to stand-bys some ten or fifteen minutes before show time.
Most of the ship, (good for you, RCI) is smoke free, yet, whenever we walked by the entrance of Bolero (bar with a Latin band evenings, deck 5) the stench of second hand smoke was nearly unbearable. Where did the filtering system fail?
First ship in recent memory to have no daily newspapers. (not shipboard events, a digest such as NY Times, USA Today, or the like.) Possibly an unwieldy perc, with such a large passenger count?
And, first in almost ANY memory, what happened to the Baked Alaska on the usual Captain's Farewell dinner? This was really odd, to not see this. Again, too difficult to accomodate?
Adagio dining room, very noisy. Could the acoustics not have been better planned? Almost impossible to carry on a conversation at normal speech levels.
Background, better than many, which often consists of "modern" (Ugh) screaming and shrieking possibly from American Idol rejects. A good percentage of time, listenable music, with the exception at least twice pre-show of the dreaded (by us, at least) rap...what percentage of grown up cruisers came on board for their rap fix? Not much, say we.
Would we sail the Allure again? Absolutely, and without a doubt, save the problem of repeat shows, and of having to make your own show reservations, which can often show a conflict of dinner time with available show times, unless you start very very early to work on that.
A very well thought out and furnished Fitness center and spa. Never felt crowded.
We did not do any tours as we are familiar with the ports from other trips, and only got off the ship at Costa Maya to see what might be new in the shops.
Finally, one does have to get off...and the debarkation was done as well as boarding. So much so that we were ashore long before the time our ride was due to arrive.
RCI and its sister Celebrity continue to be our favorite line(s), with HAL a very close second, and we would do the Allure again given the former caveats.