With minor mobility issues (really bad knees), my first impression of Allure of the Seas was… OMG… how will I ever get from one end of this ship to the other! Whenever I book a cruise, I always try to get a cabin in close proximity to an elevator. However, on this cruise, I was more concerned with getting a balcony overlooking the Aqua Theater and completely forgot about the elevator. As a result, the nearest elevator was about 50 yards away -- half a football field. Yikes! But, as the week went by, the distance seemed shorter and the walking was really good for me, but don't tell my husband I said that! ?
Our cabin was on deck 9, overlooking the Boardwalk area and four cabins from the Aqua Theater. We watched several shows right from our balcony, which was my goal! Seated at the table, on the balcony, the far left side of the stage/pool area was just out of view, but, if something was going on there, all I had to do was stand up to see it. We saw Ocean Aria three times and a show featuring the characters from Madagascar once. The captain and three of his top crew members had a Q&A session which we watched from our balcony, as well as the Men's Belly Flop Contest. On the Boardwalk, we saw Madagascar characters every day and a circus put on by many of the children in the ship's children's program, Adventure Ocean. I thoroughly enjoyed the location of the cabin and everything we were able to see from our balcony, including a great view of the ocean out the back of the ship, but I really missed the privacy and serenity of an outside balcony.
And before I get too far ahead of myself, I must comment on the smoothness of the embarkation process. It was a breeze! We were checked in and on board in less than five minutes from the time we got off our shuttle to the cruise port. With almost 6,000 people on board, one would think the embarkation process would be a nightmare… not so! It was the most well-organized process I've ever experienced. We arrived at the cruise port at approximately 12:30PM. The porter took our bags from the shuttle driver and directed us to the door, about 30 yards away. I had already completed the check-in process online and pre-printed my documents. That may have helped some, but the lines were not long or they were non-existent. There appeared to be 3-4 lines set up for each deck of the ship, making for a very smooth process.
Once on board, we headed for the Solarium on deck 15, I think. There was lunch available in several areas on the ship. We chose the Solarium, because we just happened to walk that way when we got off the elevator. There were sandwiches and salads available, as well as iced tea, lemonade and water. It was warm in the Solarium, so, with our ship maps in hand, we began to explore the ship after lunch. We were told our cabin would not be ready until 3PM, at the earliest, so off we went. We found the Royal Promenade on deck 5 -- lots of shops, restaurants and bars. And we found the Boardwalk on deck 6 -- a fun area, very much like any beach boardwalk in any seaside town -- ice cream and candy shops, a kid's shop, Royal Caribbean's version of Build-A-Bear Workshop which they call Pets At Sea, a real carousel with flying horses complete with calliope music, a hot dog stand, Rita's Cantina and Johnny Rockets! The Aqua Theater is at the end of the shops and restaurants. It was a fun and active place to watch people right from our balcony! Next we ventured up to deck 8 to see Central Park. That is amazing -- so pretty with all the live greenery and landscaping. I know there was a Coach store, ladies! And I know there was a restaurant -- 150 Central Park, I think. And the Rising Tide bar was there, too. That bar is a hoot! Its home is on the Royal Promenade deck on deck 5, and, at specific times, the entire glass-walled bar is lifted to deck 8, in Central Park. The Britto art gallery was in Central Park, too. Can't think of what else was there, though… but the entire experience was outstanding.
Dining options were a bit overwhelming… so many places… so little time! We chose the My Time Dining plan, which meant we had to prepay our gratuities, which I normally don't mind, except that we didn't even eat in the dining room until our third night! After that, we tried to eat there every night, with the exception of the night we had reservations for the Samba Grill. The first night, I think we grabbed a hamburger at Johnny Rockets, because we weren't very hungry. The second night, we shared an ice cream sundae -- again, we weren't very hungry. We changed the way we ate on the third day, so we could enjoy the dining room and make use of our prepaid gratuities! The dining room food was just so-so. It was certainly edible and some things were delicious, but not everything. It was somewhat disappointing. Were it not for our waiter, Cecelia; our head waiter Erhan, and our assistant waiter, Hardy, we would have skipped the dining room. They made it worthwhile to go there each night. I was very happy with the way Royal Caribbean does their My Time Dining. We were encouraged (by Royal Caribbean) to make our dinner reservations ahead of time. To me, that's not My Time Dining. I didn't make any reservations for the dining room ahead of time. We simply went to the dining room when we were ready to eat and were seated immediately. We never had to wait. Granted, we generally headed to dinner around 6PM, but we didn't get there one night until 7:30PM and another night at 7:45PM. And, what I liked best about it is that we were always seated in the same area with the same wait staff, at our own table for two. That was great! The only reservations I made ahead of the trip (and prepaid for) was for the Samba Grill -- a Brazilian style steak house. It turned out that I made those reservations on the night the dining room was serving lobster. We were NOT happy. However, the Samba Grill's food was outstanding! And if you've ever been to a Brazilian steak house, you know the routine… they keep bringing and serving more and different kinds of meat, straight from the spit, until you say stop. It was truly outstanding and I would definitely pay the $25 per person on another cruise to do it again! But not on lobster night next time! ? The final night of our cruise, we ate in the dining room. Another thing I like about eating in the dining room is that they feature one dish from one of the specialty restaurants each night on the regular dinner menu. On the final night of the cruise, I ordered a 10 oz. filet mignon from Chops Grille, the specialty restaurant featured dish for the night. It was like butter! So tender and delicious! It came with a $14.95 surcharge, but worth every penny!
Every morning, the cruise director, Ken Rush (I think his name was Ken) broadcast the Morning Rush show on the cabin TV. It was a quick synopsis of the day's events -- what not to miss, what shows were scheduled for that evening, what port we were headed to, etc. It was very informative and we tuned in each morning before heading out for the day.
I'll review Cozumel below, but we also stopped at Labadee, Haiti and Falmouth, Jamaica.
Labadee, Haiti (5+ Rating): We had been to this port at least once on other cruises and I must say, the improvements that have been made since we were last here are outstanding! The beaches are just beautiful. There were at least three that I saw. The beach to the right of the dock has all kinds of water park features. Looks like a lot of fun for families! If this is your thing, head to that beach. But, my suggestion is to head to the left once you get off the dock. Head to the left and just keep on going to the far beach on the left, particularly if you have little ones with you. That beach -- can't remember the name of it -- is beyond the first beach on the left. Just keep going. It's far less crowded and it's closer to the dining area and Haitian crafts market. We stopped at the first beach on the left. It was very nice, but very crowded and, by the time we got there, there was no space near the water. We didn't see the second beach until we ventured over to the dining area for lunch. Nobody sees that one, so you should make sure you go there. It's got a kids playground there, too… with water activities for little ones. There were plenty of bar staff wandering the beaches, offering their specialty drink of the day as well as soft drinks and water. We rented floating beach mats and just floated around for awhile, then headed over for some lunch. Labadee is my favorite port on this cruise itinerary. It's very relaxing and everything's here.
Falmouth, Jamaica (1 Rating): This is a new port for Royal Caribbean and it shows. It's not done yet! I have no doubt it will be a fabulous port when everything's completed -- if you like tourist traps as much as I do, but, right now, it's really a mess. I'm not a big fan of Jamaica, anyway -- it's too crime-ridden for me, but we booked an excursion for a short tour of Falmouth with a beach break and lunch. I absolutely hated the process of figuring out where to go, once we got off the ship. There didn't appear to be anyone outside the ship from Royal Caribbean to assist us with where to go. Our tickets simply said that the meeting place was in the bus area at the end of the dock. Well, there had to be 1,000 people in the bus area at the end of the dock -- all wandering around aimlessly, trying to figure out where to go. There were several buses there as well -- none marked. As we wandered around, I finally spotted some signs with various tour names on them, but didn't see one for the tour we were going on -- Historic Falmouth Tour, Beach Break, Lunch. That's what I booked, but our tickets only said Beach Break and Lunch. I was a bit concerned and still trying to figure out where to go. It appeared that all the tours were being run by an outfit called Chukka, so I sought out someone from Chukka to see if our tour was also one of theirs. I finally found someone and she told us to simply wait "over there." So, we waited, in the sun (there was a small tented area for shade, but it was completely packed with people), in the heat, with nowhere to sit, for what seemed like 30 minutes, at least. Then, finally, someone from Chukka would try to make their way through the crowd, shouting the name of a tour -- "Horseback ride with lunch! Horseback ride with lunch! Horseback ride with lunch!" And several people would follow the shouter. Naturally, our tour was the last one called, of about 15 tours. We were directed to a bus, which was, thankfully, air-conditioned. Then we had to wait another 15-20 minutes for a driver. When it appeared our driver was not going to show up, another of the Chukka people got on the bus and said he would be our driver. We got a decent tour of Falmouth… very run down and poverty-stricken area, then we headed over to the beach. The beach was very nice and had a small gift shop, a small cash bar and a shaded area with picnic tables. But it was not a private beach and there were beach vendors walking the beach the entire time we were there, trying to sell us things. And there were dogs… they seemed friendly, but I'm sure they were abandoned dogs, looking for any scraps to eat. One of the beach personnel kept shooing the dogs away and I felt bad for them. I wanted to feed them, but didn't. One, in particular, kept sitting near me, in the shade of my chair, until that guy would come over and shoo him away. I wanted to take him home with me.
Then it was announced that lunch was ready. Three or four women were out back grilling chicken and preparing rice and a salad for lunch. We lined up (there were only about 20 of us on this tour) and were handed our lunch on a plate as well as a drink of lemonade or water. I took one bite of the chicken and it was red. The rice was instant rice and dry. I couldn't eat another bite of anything. I went to the gift shop and bought ice cream for lunch. I was hoping that dog would come around so I could feed it to him, but he was nowhere to be found. Shortly after lunch, it was time to board the bus for the trip back to the ship, about 20 minutes away. I think I'll just stay on the ship if I find myself in Falmouth again… or anywhere in Jamaica.
We had reservations to see Chicago, but ate too late that night to see it. We did catch one of the ice shows, Ice Games -- with a Monopoly Game theme. That was outstanding -- even though the curtain mechanism broke during the show. They had to stop the show and we were told we would be notified when the curtain was fixed and they'd finish the show for us. On the final full day of the cruise, true to their word, we were notified that the curtain was fixed and the show would go on! It was spectacular! The costumes were absolutely glamorous and bright. The music was exceptional. Over all, it was very professional, very well done and very entertaining!
Our cabin was typical -- nothing outstanding about it. We bumped into each other all week, like we always do. I did like the round shower stall. The roundness of it made it seem a bit larger than the standard boxy shower stalls. I liked that the bathroom had enough storage areas for all our toiletry items. But the wire box/shelf in the shower was totally useless! All those small travel size shower gels and shampoos fall right through it! I say… GET RID OF IT AND PUT IN A REAL SHELF! There was also plenty of storage area in the cabin itself. The closet had an upper and a lower rod with plenty of hangers. There were at least six bins, as well as a small safe in the closet, too. The safe was smaller than most other safes we've had. I couldn't fit my net book in it, or my daily pill box. The vanity area had several large drawers and a narrow bank of shelves in a cabinet to the left. To the left of that were wire bins, which held our sunglasses, visors, and binoculars. On the countertop was a three port electrical outlet where we charged our phones, his shaver and plugged in my blow dryer. There was a blow dryer in the top drawer as well. There was a tiny little movable table in front of the sofa that was mostly in the way, but there was nowhere to stow it out of the way, so we stumbled around it all week. The bed was exceptionally comfortable, as were the pillows and we slept well each night.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention our cabin steward, Jimmel. He was just the sweetest cabin steward we've ever had. He went out of his way on our first day of the cruise to make himself known to us and to ask if there was anything we needed that he could get for us each day. I like ice available all the time… and we had ice available all the time, whether we dropped by during the afternoon, or after dinner, we had fresh ice. He genuinely seemed happy to see us each day -- even when we stopped back to our cabin each day after breakfast and, invariably, caught him in our cabin, cleaning up… and he seemed genuinely sad to see us go the day we got back to Ft. Lauderdale. I have to say he is the most attentive and pleasant cabin steward we've ever had in 13 cruises!
Overall, we had a wonderful time on Allure of the Seas and we can't wait to go on another cruise on this ship!