Returned today from Allure Western Caribbean. Have been cruising for 15+ years, and would not have picked this ship but for schedule and fact we were traveling with adult kids and three grandkids (3,7, 10). It was certainly not a bad cruise, but in my view, not the end all, be all as some reviews suggest. But a lot of this depends on perspective. My thoughts (and some perspective) below.
Getting to and onto the ship was a breeze. Landed at Ft. Lauderdale and took two cabs for our party of nine. It is a very quick ride, and about twenty dollars (that includes a pretty good tip). Beware that the folks who help the drivers load luggage at the airport (something that cab drivers do at about every other airport I have been to) will be pretty insistent about a tip.
The check in process was smooth. About 20 minutes including going through security and the paperwork. RCCL has a lot of folks to help the check in process. One things I did not like is that no one said "the rooms will not be ready until 1:00," which is what the sign told us when we went to the corridor entrance on our floor. So back to the Windjammer for lunch, and another bad first experience. Several others have commented on the size of the Windjammer. I agree it is too small -- probably not by more than 10 or 15 percent, but that is enough. Bottom line, at noon on sail day, Windjammer was jammed. Se we headed to the Solarium, which was empty (it picked up later, but still did not fill). Solarium has a much smaller selection, generally of a somewhat healthier bent. But we ate there several times for lunch and breakfast when the Windjammer was full. Out of sequence thought, but one other day we tried the Windjammer, they actually had stopped people from going in and had them lining up at the door to be let in as others left (went to Solarium that day as well). Not good, in my view. We ate there several times for breakfast, and found it no less than about 90+% full every time (based on my unscientific scan of tables near us).
We ate dinner in the MDR every night. Others in our party tried Samba and the Italian place and liked them both. The MDR food was OK, as was the service. In the latter regard, I do note that we were at the table about as far as one could get from the kitchen, so with all of the walking, that took time away from what was available for "service." In thinking back to my other cruise experiences, this was about the most "average" cruise food we have eaten. For example, on three nights, my main course came with a vegetable medley that was pretty much the same each time. In fact, on two nights I ate the steak from the alternate selections because I was not wild about the main courses available. On a positive note, we had one veggie in our party and the Indian main course was always highly rated. I also like and look forward to the cold fruit soups that RCCL seems to have regularly.
As to other food venues, good hot dogs on the Boardwalk (but only regular mustard) and good dogs and burgers are Wipeout (but only Dijon mustard -- not sure the mustard selection would not have been better switched). Pizza was good, but the regular made was better than the make your own, in my view -- the make your own pizzas are on a small (8 inch maybe) and thick pre-made crust that I thought not as good as the regular crust. Cafe on Central Park had good salads, sandwiches and desserts. Cafe on the Promenade had good desserts.
Shows were mostly very good. Ocean Aria --great. Chicago - great. Not Broadway, but pretty darned close to official road show quality. Ice Games (which I did not expect to like) also very good. Our headliner (an ABBA tribute group) was great, but that is a bit of a matter of taste. Regardless, it was a high quality group. Blue Planet was OK. Had some good spots, some spots that were more typical cruise fare. Overall, I think the quality of the talent was very high for cruise ships -- one of the benefits of size. We reserved all in advance, but actually did standby for Ocean and Blue Planet (for the latter, had to wait and hit the second show, as the first was packed). For Ocean Aria, one tip is that there is great viewing from the balcony at the end of deck seven at the base of the rock climbing walls. I actually watched a second time from there.
There are a lot of bars/music venues. Some talent better than others. But beware, you will have a very good chance of smelling smokey when you get out. This was the smokiest smelling ship I have been on (casino and basically every inside bar other than Schooner, which opens to the Promenade).
Did the cupcake class, and enjoyed it (even though it is a bit pricey).
There are four pools (five if you count the small pool in the Solarium). The forward, starboard pool is saltwater. One of the four is a kids area. Getting a chair around a pool is hard (probably a little harder than on other boats because of the way the deck is laid out). But if you don't need to be by a pool, you should always able to find a place to lay in the sun (but admittedly would have been harder for us if we had tried to sit together as a large group -- two or three chairs together was never an issue). There were lots of other chairs stacked around, and perhaps the deck crew would set more out for you if you were nice. We never had the need to try.
As to ports, that is not why we took the cruise, and we did no excursions. We did do the beach at Labadee and, in my humble opinion, this board has it way overrated. With just our ship in (I understand in the season there may be two at a time), the beaches were VERY crowded. The beaches are not very deep to start with, so once you line up four rows of chairs, it is full. We have been spoiled, perhaps, by experiences at places like Club Med, which have some of the best beaches around, but I think no one could objectively argue that it was not very crowded. Another "beware" -- the folks who will ask you if you want them to get you some beach chairs will very persistently ask for tips. I found this very off-putting, and wished RCCL had warned that these were not people under the regular cruise staff tipping policies. It was pretty unpleasant, since I had brought no cash (it being pretty clearly suggested that all is included or can be paid with cruise account except for native crafts).
One other port note. We decided to wander off the ship in Falmouth to see the town. There is a protected area around the port with some very nice crafts available, but once we left that protected area, we were accosted by no less than ten people in a one block circuit trying to talk us into tours. So uncomfortable, we turned around and just went back to the ship. I think it was better after lunch, but by that time we had lost interest.
For a big ship, Guest Services was pretty smooth. I had one bar problem, and within 5 minutes, they had called out one of the bar management staff to listen to my gripe. RCCL seemed to have this ship well-staffed (both quantity and quality wise).
Did not have direct kids group feedback, but seemed like the younger ones thought it was fine (the ten year old is a pretty hard case, but did not kick and scream [much] when he had to go).
Debarkation was very smooth. People who pulled their own bags were off by about 6:15. We were in the first "called group" (those with bags off-loaded by the ship), and were called right on schedule at 7:15 (though we stayed on until about 7:45 for breakfast). Customs and passports on the dock. Much quicker than any airport I have been through (maybe because we did not go right when they first called a group, but waited about ten minutes). Quick cab to airport, and home.
I'll check periodically for a while to see if there are any questions.