We sailed on the Allure of the Seas May 29th 2011 - my father and stepmother also sailed with us in cabin 11176. My father was very skeptical about sailing on such a large ship and was prepared to be very critical and find fault with the ship. They are loyal Holland fans but on the last day, my father confessed that this was a wonderful ship, very organized, and he'd had a great cruise experience.
My husband and I started our vacation in Ft. Lauderdale staying at the The Westin Beach Resort. We had a wonderful 2 days there with a beach front room (the only complaint was that it came with full sized beds and we are used to a king). Our only complaints were that 1) there was no free airport shuttle to the hotel and no free shuttle to the port. In fact, when we called the conceirge to arrange transportation to the port, we were told it would be $25. We took a taxi instead and paid $20 including the tip.
We got to the port early on Sunday morning, around 9:30. That was a little too early to get to the port. My dad and stepmother got to the port around 10:30 and were onboard 15 minutes after we were.
I want to backtrack a moment. Saturday night in Ft. Lauderdale, we happened to see the Oasis of the Seas sail out of the port. MY GOD ... we thought ... the ship was HUGE ... we couldn't believe how WIDE the ship was!
Royal Carribean has embarkation down to a fine science. They divide you by deck to embark and it only takes minutes to complete the process (be sure to have your sign/sail papers all signed and ready to go - and don't forget your passports). NOTE: we had watched the Oasis on the Travel Channel and saw several situations where people ran into problems with documentation and could not board - take note brides - be sure you book your cruise with the name on your passport - if you don't call Royal Carribean for the documentation you will need to bring. Divorced parents with their children - call Royal Carribeaqn for instructions on what documentation you will need from the other parent to take the children out of the country.
Now back to our experience. We boarded the ship on deck 5 - The Royal Prominade - and WOW! is the only way to describe our initial impression. It is absolutely incredible.
Shows: it is suggested that you sign up for shows before you cruise but it isn't 100% necessary - I had only been able to get us tickets for Blue Planet but immediately after embarkation, my stepmother and I stood in line and got tickets for Chicago and Ocean Aria (you do not get paper tickets. They are loaded to your sign and sail card). You have to go at least 15 minutes early to protect your tickets, but if you want your choice of seats go at least 30 minutes.
Chicago: Broadway quality show - a must see ...
Ocean Aria: Again a great show and a must see ... I cannot believe these divers do what then can on a rolling ship with the wind whipping through the aft. These divers have very little margin for error and I gasped in fear more than once.
Ice Games: we did not get tickets to this show but went on Saturday afternoon on stand by. We tried to go Friday but it was standing room only and we weren't about to do that. Some very talented skaters and again you might want to consider this show.
Blue Planet ... you HAVE to see this show ...
The Cabin: we had a deeper balcony than on Carnival - and the door is easier to open/close as well. The bathrom felt roomier - and we liked the glass enclosed shower. However, if you are a larger person, you might feel uncomfortable in the confined space. The other reviews are correct in that you will have less closet space and drawer space, but there are a lot of shelves in the closet and some other nooks/crannies that if you don't over pack you should be ok.
Getting around the ship - we identified our location by identifying if we were closer to the Windjammer or the Solarium. That was how we picked which elevators to use. Also, as you have read there are very detailed interactive screens all around the ship; all elevators have signs detailed deck by deck. There is a small sign above each elevator listing the decks for Central Park, Royal Prominade, Broadway ... we routinely got lost on the Carnival Ships but we never got lost on the Allure.
Food: My stepmother and I had read the negative reviews about the food - especially in the Windjammer. Those must be the pickiest people in the world. Windjammer: This area is HUGE ... it spans from port to starboard and has two entrances. Like any ship, if everyone goes in at the same time it will get crowded but we always found a seat. Granted it wasn't always by the window ... but we got seated. There are numerous food stations divided by type/region of the food. Of note, my husband found grits every morning and I found oatmeal and steamed milk. We found the food was good with a superb variety. The only complaint ... they come around with fresh squeezed orange juice ... but you to "take and sign" ... we did that one morning. Otherwise I ate fresh fruit. As you embark, you will get a listing of all of the eating venues and when they are free and when they have a surcharge. We ate one morning at Johhny Rockets. The orange juice was really good there but we didn't like the eggs. They were just oo greasy for us.
We did My Time Dining ... and for us it was perfect. The Adiago has 3 floors and My Time Dining eats on the 5th floor. The food was some of the best we've had on cruise ships including the deserts. Again no complaints. If you are waiting for the lobster ... that is on the second formal night.
We only ate at one specialty restaurant - Giovannis. I hadn't read a single negative review but unfortunately 3 of the four of us didn't enjoy our experience. If you are looking for a great steak ... then the filet is worth every penny of your charge. I love lasagna but not that night ... I wish I had gotten the steak. The place was very loud, our Turkish waiter abrupt to the point of rude. My dad and stepmother have travled Italy many times but he took our questions as ignorance and even said something to the effect that we didn't know very much. Again, for the price, I'd go there for the filet but not the italian cuisine.
Be sure you ride the "Rising Tide" bar ... that was a lot of fun. I did not do the Flo rider (only because when you fall you hit hard and I'm too old for that) but I did do the zip line twice. I wish I'd done it earlier in the week as it was a blast. We did not do the rock climbing wall.
Pools: In the solarium there are 2 infinity hot pools for adults only. My husband loved these pools. Also in the solarium were 2 regular hot tubs with a "cold" pool for adults only. The solarium was really nice and very peaceful.
There was a pool in the sports zone, there was a wonderful kids section and a full sized pool there too. There were two more full sized pools mid ship - and one of these pools - the Beach Pool was salt water. For the most part we have no complaints about the pools or availability of chairs. You may not get the "spot" that you want but you can always find a chair.
We did not play minature golf but only because we just didn't get to it ...
Other places if you want a quiet place to read/relax: deck 17 - the Pinnacle and Viking Lounges (the small chapel is in this area as well). The solarium is also very comfortable and peaceful as well. I was surprized that the kids (under 16) did not invade the space.
I loved the running track off deck 5. 2.4 laps = 1 mile. Do take your towel and some water though. there are seveal places where you can set your things down and not have to carry them on the track. Also the fitness facility (another must see spot) has access to the track.
Here is where I'd like to say one word of caution - please please please be aware of your fitness level and do not push yourself beyond what you are used to. We did hear an emergency call (alpha something) for medical to attend to a passenger and later heard that the passenger had died. I don't know if this was due to injury (and we say more than one yound man in a wheel chair) or over exertion or natural causes ... but this isn't the time to be a he-man or he-woman.
Excursions: Nassau is short. We had been there before and did not get off the ship.
St Thomas: We all chose to visit Sapphire Beach (as we'd been to Magan's Bay) to compare the beaches. It is ok but it's not Magan's Bay. Our complaint ... after waiting to load onto the open air transport, after we pulled out of the port, the driver turned around and went back to the port saying that "she'd gotten another asignment". So we had to get off that transport, load onto another one and WAIT for 2 more people to show up. We were really peeved. Of course this shortened our excusion time as you had to leave at 1 pm for the return trip.
St. Maarten - we went to Maho Beach by taxi as there is no excursion for this beach. We had seen this on the Travel Channel ... the beach sits beside the airport and the planes come over the beach to land. They drop so low you can almost see the people inside the plane as they land next to the beach. The AirFrance Air Bus lands around 130pm and that thing is massive! It really scares the crap out of you as it drops out of the air right on top of you.
However, what people want to do is stand behind the big planes when they take off. We were first on the beach at 930 that day. When you rent chairs and umbrellas you are directed that you cannot sit directly behind the runway. This area is marked on the beach by large boulders and on the guardrail in white paint and red letters on the road as well.
What people come there to do (we did not do this) is stand in the danger zone when large planes are taking off. If the pilot of a large plane opens his window and waves at the crowd beware. They are going to really reve up their engines before they taxi down the runway. We saw people literally blown off of their feet and down the beach into the water. We even saw one idiot stand in that zone with a baby in his arms. Idiot. We were also told that one man had stood up by the runway holding onto the fence. The jet thrust was so great that he could not hold on and when he let go and was blown across the street broke his neck and died. When planes are landing, vehicles also stop outside the thrust zone as some have been turned over from the powerful jet blast. If you don't believe me check it out online.
Another plus - there are NO tenders with this ship.
Debarkation is as easy as embarkation ... we were going to Key West from Ft. Lauderdale so we were one of the last to leave the ship.
Enjoy your cruise. We would sail on this ship again on this ship.