Allure of the Seas - 7 night Western Caribbean, stopping in Labadee, Haiti; Falmouth, Jamaica and Cozumel Mexico. Sail date was April 24th (Easter Sunday).
This was my 13th overall cruise and my husband's 17th, although it was our 2nd time only on RCCL. We'll be back for more as we booked two future cruises in the form of credits until we can decide where and when.
We had cabin 10243 (Central Park balcony). We chose My Time Dining - but we never set foot in the dining room because we planned to eat at all of the other venues, whether they were additional costs or not. This is why you go cruising right? To do whatever you want and when you want!
Tips - We did not adjust our automatic tips up or down at all via the Guest Services Desk. We instead added cash to the prepaid vouchers for those staff that we felt went above and beyond their normal excellent duties, in their respective envelopes and handed them to those individuals directly. They seemed very surprised we did this and gave us big smiles and one bar tender actually hugged us on the last night! Oh, and there is a box at the Guest Services Desk to drop the envelopes if you can't find your servers etc...
We decided to stay overnight the night before at the Embassy Suites using points we had accumulated. Since it was a Saturday when we arrived, and we were able to see the cruise port from our room balcony. There were several ships leaving, including the Oasis of the Seas, the sister ship to the Allure. Wow, even from our hotel balcony this ship is HUGE! We had dinner with friends and family that evening and got up in time for the buffet breakfast in the lobby of the hotel. By 10am there were probably 100 people waiting for shuttles to the cruise port, along with about 300 pieces of luggage! I might be exaggerating a little bit here but you get the point, it was crowded in that lobby! Thank goodness we had our own car and planned on parking in the parking garage around the corner from the ship! The parking fee was paid at the end of the cruise and was $105 total.
Boarding and Cabin
We left fairly early, around 11:00am and made our way easily to the pier. After dropping me and the luggage off, my husband drove to the parking garage which ended up being quite a hike, but the alternative was to park in an open lot all week and we didn't want to do that. So, covered parking it was for us, which meant a walk back. At least it wasn't stifling hot at this point of the day. He met up with me about 11:20am and we made our way through security, check in counter, boarding photo, up the escalators to the card scanner where the security photo was taken, all in about 10 minutes....very painless indeed! I'm telling you, RCCL has made the process of moving large amounts of people very smooth, quick and painless! Dare I say better than DisneyWorld! Gasp!
Once on board you walk into the Royal Promenade area on deck 5 which is gorgeous! Most of the shops are located here and some restaurants as well. Since we can't go to our cabins until 1pm, we can wander around, and we did! We went to the Park Cafe at the advice of many reviews, but found that it was the most crowded and the food was to me, just okay. From here we wandered through Central Park and marveled at the live trees and plants and just how neat the whole space was open to the sky! We then went to an elevator lobby where we tried to get up to our cabin but found that the doors to the passageway were closed with a sign saying they wouldn't open until 1pm.
Okay, this forced us to go upstairs and outside to the deck with the Flowrider and Zipline, which was so cool! Mostly, we just walked around and took photos and started e-mailing them with our phones to family who would be on the Oasis in the next few weeks after us and were so excited to get anything about this beautiful ship! Time flew by and soon we were able to get into our cabin.
It's no secret that the cabins on RCCL tend to be on the smaller side and so we weren't shocked. There was plenty of storage for our 4 big suitcases full of clothes (more on that later) and we could store the empty cases under the bed. The bathroom had a shower with doors instead of a curtain.....however, this is the SMALLEST shower I've ever seen on a ship! The bathroom was nice, but everything in it seemed kind of small, including the toilet, but certainly nothing that we couldn't handle. Shampoo, conditioner, and lotion were provided in small bottles and bar soap was on the counter. Inside the shower stall was a dispenser for shampoo only.
The desk in the cabin had a drawer with a hairdryer in it, which I knew they had, but once again, my expectations were that it was a weak one. So, if you like to use a higher powered hair dryer, please bring your own. The cabin also has a fridge stocked with non-alcoholic minibar items. We left them in there as we thought we might want some of the sodas later (which we did later in the cruise). There is also a couch, which ended up being our catch all for stuff throughout the cruise.
The TV is one of those interactive TV's where you can view your ship board account, read restaurant menus, reserve shows etc....
The balcony was smaller than we expected I think, but because of the kids area on deck 15, we ended up not using our balcony as we could hear the screaming from the kids all day and way late into the evening. Such a shame that there wasn't a better way to control the noise bouncing off of the upper decks the way it did, and down to our deck and into Central Park. I think if you had a Central Park cabin closer to the front of the ship, you would be better off, but we really didn't see too many people sitting on their balconies so perhaps I'm wrong here?
We put away all of our clothes and decided to go get our first drink of the cruise, which is a little tradition we do, that's how we know our vacation has begun! Pretend you hear the clinking of plastic glasses here as we were on the pool deck, no glass allowed! haha
Deck 15 - pool deck
This is where the first of the outdoor areas are on the ship and is also where the pools, jacuzzi's are etc... We found our way to the Pool Bar, port side (husband smokes) and parked ourselves for awhile, enjoying the free time until the Muster Drill. The MD was at 4:30pm and at about 4:10pm they start with the announcements, in several languages. We noticed that our cabin did not have any life jackets in it, however, according to the TV and our Compass (daily planner), we were not required to bring them to the drill. Strange for us, as we usually have to bring life preservers.
Anyhow, our muster station was on Deck 5 (Royal Promenade) and even though we left Deck 15 at 4:15pm, we found that the elevators were purposely stopped and we had to use the stairs! Wow, 10 decks of stairs! It wasn't so bad, but had I known this earlier, I would have insisted we had our first drink be in Boleros or the Bow & Stern Pub where smoking is allowed because those places are on deck 5! Speaking of life preservers, we did not need to bring any with us to the muster drill at all. We got to our station and they scanned our seapass cards (much better than calling names/cabins) and we stood in a group until the drill was over. We wondered what we would do in case of a real emergency and needed our life preservers. They told us that in the event of a real emergency life preservers would be given out at our muster station as each one is fully equipped. I have to say it was a bit unnerving to not have any in our cabin.
Since we were going to sail about 5pm, we had to get ourselves to deck 15 again so we could get a prime spot on the railing on the port side for the internet cameras to take our photos and hopefully our families at home could watch us.
Many people had the same idea so here's a tip: during the muster drill, make sure you are as close to an elevator as possible and walk as fast as you can to be one of the first ones on it! We had an American Flag with us that we wanted to have displayed as we went by the cameras so it would be easier for us to be seen. When it was our time to sail away we began very slowly to back out and only a couple of minutes later we noticed we were coming back to the pier!
What's happening? Shortly after we went back, an announcement came on from the cruise director (Ken Rush) telling us we would be sailing later due to a medical evacuation. We ended up sailing about 45 minutes late and hopeful that the passenger that needed the medical attention would be okay. Later, our family was able to find us on the internet camera and took a couple of shots, which was very cool!
We had pre-booked 4 specialty dining times online prior to the cruise. Our first one was Chops Grille on the first night. We had to quickly run down to our cabin after the late sailaway and run a brush through our hair and make sure we looked presentable for this, the first casual night of the cruise.
We had 6:30pm reservations and decided to eat outside on their 'patio' in Central Park. We've dined in Chops before on our previous RCCL cruise and knew what to expect and weren't disappointed.......it was fabulous! But, oh my goodness did we get full! We'd be back again later in the week and already decided on what we would order and what we wouldn't order for that next visit!
Giovanni's Table - we ate here on the 2nd day for lunch. I had read that you can only get their lasagna during their lunch service, so that is why we did this...as I really like lasagna and like to try it in most all Italian restaurants. Lunch here was $10pp and since I had already paid for it online before the cruise, we only had to pay for any soft drinks or wine. We had a wonderful waiter who suggested a fine Chianti.....who were we to question him?
It was very nice! Again, we were pretty full after this meal. The concept is family style so you can try many different things and share them. The lasagna was VERY good, the Risotto was good, but not to my husband's liking (just not his cup of tea), the flatbread pizza wasn't really flat (as in thin), it was filling so be aware of this when you order it. It's an appetizer and we found most of their appetizers to be entrEe size. Is that a bad thing? No, not at all, and certainly not for $10pp for basically all you can eat lunch!
Rita's Cantina - we reserved the 'Fiesta' online before the cruise as it's only done on certain nights during the cruise. The Fiesta is another group/family dining type of atmosphere and we found ourselves at a table for 8 and we felt a bit crowded in here. The first time really we felt crowded at all on this ship. Since we chose the 'alcohol' option and paid the $20pp, we received arm bands with numbers 1, 2 and 3 on them, to let the server know how many drinks we had or had left. The special included 3 margaritas or beer.
The drinks were strong and good, but I could not do a 3rd one that night. The food was good, but you didn't really have a choice of what to order, they just brought out some appetizers and then the main course and dessert which consisted of churros, fruit and something wrapped in a tortilla. I couldn't finish my dinner so there was no way I could finish dessert too! The apps were chips & salsa, chicken quesadilla's and some taquito looking things, some with seafood and some with chicken. The server couldn't really tell me which ones had seafood so I opted not to experiment with them. I'm not allergic to seafood, I just don't like seafood. The quesadilla's were good though. The main course they brought was a beef/chicken combo fajita's. These were good too. All throughout dinner there was very loud music, most of it, not Mexican, which was kind of funny considering the venue. Later, there was a live 'Mariachi Band' which tried to get people to dance up on the dance floor. Many people joined in, I suppose influenced by the 3 margarita's or beer, but we had had enough so we left. I'm glad we went, but probably won't do it again.
Samba Grille - we went here as a spur of the moment and decided that if they didn't have a table, we wouldn't worry about it, there would be many other places we could have dinner. They had a table and we sat down. Service here is nice and our waiter & assistant were great about re-filling our water and wine glasses. The concept here is that you go to the buffet and get your own appetizers, salad etc... and bring them back to your table. Then, with the push of a button on the lighted sign (turns green) on your table, you indicate to the 'Gauchos' that you want them to begin bringing the meat that they will slice right at your plate. They tell you what the meat is and will slice as much as you want, but be careful here as you can get full fast! When you want them to stop, you simply push the button and the light turns red. When you are ready for more, press the button again for green. Again, we ate a lot, but it was sooo good!
Johnny Rockets - we like this place on land and it's really no different on a ship. Eating here is a fee of $4.95pp for all you can eat, plus $3.95 or so for shakes/malts. Breakfast however, is free. My husband came here a couple of times and said they cooked his eggs better than most land based restaurants. Something to consider if you are wandering around the 'Boardwalk' in the morning and feel a hunger pang for eggs.
Sorrento's - this is the pizza place and it's located inside, on deck 5. Like trying lasagna everywhere I go, I try pizza. Their pizza was okay, sorry to say that I think Princess and Carnival make better pizza. Then again, Princess and Carnival have their pizza located closer to the sea air so maybe that's the difference? You could order your own pizza here but I never did and didn't even check to see if there was a fee for that, but generally speaking, the pizza here is free.
Boardwalk Dog House - this is where you can get several kinds of specialty hot dogs or just plain hot dogs, for free. This was good but busy right after every Aquatheater show. What more can I write about hot dogs? They are better than the dogs you can get in the Wipeout Cafe. There you go.
Windjammer - okay, I know this isn't specialty dining like my heading says, but I didn't want to give it its own category. Food here was good, space was large, lots of stations of food to choose from, staff clearing tables were quick, polite and always pleasant. This buffet, like many others can get crowded but it never seemed VERY crowded to me, but I also sleep in late so perhaps that's why I didn't feel like it was crowded. I'm sure others opinion here may vary depending if they go at the peak times, but repeating what I said earlier. RCCL seems to know how to handle a crowd.
We did not eat at 150 Central Park, Vintages (wine and tapas), main dining room, or Izumi. Park Cafe for me was only that first day, but I think my husband tried a few things there in the morning. We didn't try any of the other dining venues.
Shows - The shows we saw were great! We pre-booked online the headliner comedy for the 1st night, one of the Ice Shows, and we booked the Oceanaria.
We didn't want to over extend ourselves in the activities department so we thought we would just wing it after these two. The comedy show was two different guys, each doing their own set. Sorry, I cannot recall their names, but the first guy was hilarious and the 2nd guy, not as much. This was not just my opinion as the audience seemed to feel the same way. I kind of felt bad for the 2nd guy as even he could see the crowd didn't think he was as funny. He probably thought, "I'm working at what I love to do on a cruise ship, what could be bad"?
We also managed to see the Love & Marriage show, the Abbacadabra musical show (they look and sound like the group Abba), and the last water show of the week. Even though we didn't see Chicago or Blue Planet, other folks that did, raved about it. My husband went to Quest, but I just couldn't stay awake any longer and skipped it. Turns out I missed a good one! Quest is only once per cruise and is always very late at night (11:45pm), due to its adult nature, so if you can, plan your days accordingly for a nap so you can stay up to watch this!
Ice show - this show is always amazing to watch, so make sure to book this online too and get their early for a great seat. You will not be disappointed! I can barely ice skate on land and have a lot of admiration for those professionals that can skate on a moving ship!
Casino - we went there once or twice and it was just okay I guess for us. One side is smoking and the other non-smoking, but to me, as a non-smoker, I did notice that overall the amount of smoke was a lot less than on other ships.
It's a smaller casino in my opinion, but we found that overall, there were so many other things we could do on this ship that we can't on others, why waste our time in the casino when nearly every mainstream cruise line has one?
Shops / Bars - There are too many to name but I can tell you that the ones we visited were nice, some nicer than others. Most of the shops are on deck 5 in the Royal Promenade area, but there are a couple of shops in Central Park (deck 8) and a couple in the Boardwalk area (deck 6). There is even a shop on deck 15 for some items like flip flops, swim shoes, sunscreen and some clothing items.
Spa/Serenity area - we aren't spa type people so we really can't speak to it, but we did walk through the serenity area and it's nice. I felt that it needed a bit more breeze (or open windows) as the area always seemed warm. It is partially covered but it seems almost too much. It's quite beautiful though and is adult only so that is a big plus. This is also where the Samba Grille is at night.
Photos - On RCCL they do it a bit differently than some of the other lines we've been on. We like RCCL's much better! They take your photo and put them in folders which have been pre-assigned to you (its printed on your seapass card). When you want to look at them, just go to your folder and take a look.
If you can't find your photo, you can look for it on the wall (like the other lines have it) and put it into your folder until you are ready to decide which ones you are going to buy. If you can't find your photo, simply go to the kiosk and put in your seapass card. It will bring up all of your photos (including the printed ones in your folder).
From here you can select all of the ones you want and it will show you options for borders (actually its border or no boarder, not much option) and pricing. They have a few packages you can purchase. You can still buy them a-la-cart, you can buy all of them or you can choose a hard cover photo book.
Here's the breakdown:
For $299 you get all of your photos on a CD and they give you copyright permission to print & share them as you wish when you get home. Note: if you want the printed ones, you still have to buy them a-la-cart. Otherwise, print them at home.
For $149.95 you get a hard cover book with some stock photos in it that look like the pages of a real book and up to 33 of the photos the ship's photographers took of you. The catch is, let's say you didn't have your photo taken in the main dining room, you can't use that page for a photo of something else like the flow rider. This is where they would insert a stock photo of the dining room. So, think carefully before purchasing this option.
Since we didn't have as many photos taken as we normally do, we opted for the a-la-cart option.
Cruise in Review DVD - the photo shop is where you order it and have to pick it up after 6pm on the last night.
Pools - while we wanted to spend time in the pools and jacuzzi's, we just never did for various reasons. The pools were pretty busy most of the time and I could tell the kids were having a blast in their area but we just never did utilize them. The jacuzzi's appeared not very crowded throughout, especially the ones that hang over the side of the ship and the ones in the serenity area. I think my next priority for sailaway on RCCL is to be in one of those jacuzzi's that hang over the side!
Deck patrols and security were everywhere and constantly making sure no one was getting out of hand, in a nice unobtrusive way. Other staff were constantly cleaning and drying surfaces so people wouldn't slip and fall. I have to say, this was a very clean ship, everywhere!
Soda Cards - the all you can drink soda card is only available on the 1st day.
Adults were $6pp per day and kids were $4pp per day. We got the travel sports mug with this. A few times my husband used my mug to get a re-fill for me and only once was he told he needed to show the card with the sticker on it. Do you know, that this service person actually followed him to the table to check to see if it was my card? It was no big deal, it truly was a re-fill for me as he was drinking something else, but I understand why they do it. Turns out the server wasn't just following him back to the table, it was his area to clean too so we didn't feel so upset about that. Of course, his supervisor was probably close by and watched the whole thing so good job for the employee for not getting into trouble with his boss!
Wine & Dine package - I ordered this before the cruise. I ordered the smallest package which was 5 bottles in the "gold" level. You can only get the wine in a dining establishment, not at a stand alone bar. If you don't finish your wine, you can take it with you to your cabin or wherever you want. You can also have them store it for you and then retrieve it the next night/day when you eat in another dining area (not like Johnny Rockets). I ended up not going through all 5 bottles and they gave me the two I wanted to take home with me, completely sealed.
Be aware of your customs and airline rules though if you choose this option as it might go against your duty free allowance or other limits.
Labadee, Haiti - really nice set up they have here for a day in the sun. You can do the world's longest zipline over water here (called Dragon's Breath Flight Line), you can swim, sunbathe, shop in the local artisan shops (take cash with you for this). They have all kinds of excursions from here that I believe you have to sign up for on the ship (we didn't do any other than the zip line is why I say that). We booked and paid for the zip line for my husband before the cruise.
They will serve lunch and have several areas where they do this and several bars around also. They have changing/bathroom facilities and a tram that takes you from the beach area to the shopping area and back that is constantly running. The Gold colored card carrying passengers have their own beach area that we could not get into, but looked very nice.
Falmouth, Jamaica - This is a new port for RCCL and therefore is not quite fully operational. We chose not to get off the ship here and just have a relaxing day. From what I could see there was some shops and then an area where excursions would meet to take you to the various areas outside of Falmouth. This port might be really nice in a year or two, but we'll see.
Cozumel, Mexico - I can't add too much here because many people have been there already. My husband and I rented a jeep and explored the island like we did the last time we were here. We always go to Mr. Sancho's where at this time is still free to enter, but if you want a nicer palapa or lounge bed, you have to buy their "package". So, we sat at an umbrella covered table and enjoyed the view, some margaritas and chips & salsa. After awhile we left and found another beach, Palancar beach. Nice area too. Neither place got too terribly crowded but you can tell, they will if there were more ships in port.
From here we drove to the Eastern side of the island, pulled over at what looked like a nice beach and went swimming. It was really nice, but as expected, the water was rough. It pushed us around and around and a few times hit some rocks on the sea floor. We decided to head back into town to do some shopping but while trying to climb back up to the road, I slipped and scrapped my shins. It was a site to see though with my husband pulling me from the top of the road to a nice stranger pushing me up! All the while I'm practically crying telling them that I can't do it, that I'm hurt.....after one big push I was able to stand up and show them my injuries. You've heard of road rash right? Well, I got sand/rock rash on my shins and knees. Thank goodness we always travel with a first aid kit! We immediately cleaned the areas hardest hit and put bandaides on them. Then, off we went into town. The pain didn't really hit me until a few hours later, when I had laid down in bed to rest. I tried getting up and realized that I was also sunburned over that sand/road rash! Ouch! Not even a bed sheet could cover my legs they hurt so bad! This pain lasted a couple of days, but at least I'm not limping and wincing anymore. I have to tell you though, we really just laughed at this because it must have looked hilarious from an outsiders view!
As soon as you are able to, book all of the shows, excursions, and dining online. The shows are free and even the main dining is free, but they encourage you to book the time you want to go to the main dining room to avoid long waits at the door. As for the shows, priority is given to the people who have already booked online as you have to show your seapass card at the door so they can scan it. If you haven't pre-booked it, they will ask you to wait in the stand by line. Don't worry though, there are plenty of opportunities to see the shows. This takes some planning because you might have a dinner/show conflict so plan things out and you'll not be disappointed. When you are done booking all of this online, you can view and print a calendar for the week.
This is nice to bring with you so you can see what you have going on that day at any given time. Otherwise, it's on your TV in your cabin as well.
Remember way back in the beginning of this review when I mentioned 4 pieces of luggage? Well, we WAY overpacked (really my fault, see Sweetie, I admitted it publicly!) and ended up not needing all of those clothes! So, unpack half of your clothes and withdraw twice as much money from the bank!
Leaving the ship - you can leave the traditional way where you leave your luggage outside your room and get off when they call your color/number or you can do the express service. We decided to try the express service.
You must be ready to get off the ship between 6:15am and 7am. All you do is keep all of your luggage in your cabin and bring it all with you by the 6:15am time to the appointed place. We thought that there wouldn't be that many people choosing this option so we kind of strolled down at 6am (which if you are like me, 6am is an inhumane time to be up!). We were told to go to the Adagio dining room and we found a line already but it wasn't too bad. They had informed us that customs would clear us about 6:28am so we could just relax and enjoy some orange juice, water, coffee and perhaps a Danish.
While we waited we could see some people just arriving and seemingly trying to cut in line in front of us a bit. The cruise staff kept a watchful eye on this and nipped it in the bud quickly and shuffled all folks to the correct end of the line. YAY! I was very impressed with this! Shortly after this, we were cleared early at about 6:20am. We walked off the ship after putting our card through the machine one last time and away we went towards customs.
Here's another important tip: if doing the express walk off service, make sure you don't bring too many pieces of luggage because all you have is you, not a porter to help you. You will have to wait for the elevators because they won't let you go down the escalators unless you can hold your luggage in one hand and the hand rail with the other!
Thankfully the wait for the elevator was brief and before you know it, we were exchanging pleasantries with the customs agent and cleared......all by 6:35am. So, 10 minutes to get on the ship and 15 minutes to get off the ship. Wow!
I know this is long and wordy but I hope it's comprehensive enough to help those who have a future cruise on the Allure of the Seas.