Our trip started with a horrible flight from NYC to Ft. Lauderdale that got to Lauderdale 6 hours late, getting us to the Embassy Suites @ 3 AM rather than the expected 9PM. So glad we decided to fly in early! Walked to the Publix behind the hotel Saturday and then relaxed by the pool. Embassy Suites was a great choice for our layover in Ft. Lauderdale. Had a great Saturday dinner across 17th Street at Chuck's Steaks, and woke up Sunday morning to see from our room's balcony that the Allure had arrived in port. Took a shuttle to the port from the hotel for $14 for the two of us that left the hotel a little after 11AM. Embarkation on the Allure was great! Very clear signage and no lines. Showed up with our pre-printed Set Sail Pass and our documentation and within 3 or 4 minutes we had our Sail Passes and were on our way to the ship! Two lessons learned here...don't try flying into port the day you set sail, and be prepared to board and you will do it quickly!
We liked so much about our week on Allure, thought it might be better to group similar venues together and talk about them that way.
They call the Allure the Ship of Entertainment, and it couldn't be truer! Great venues and very talented casts make for a great week of entertainment. Surprised on the number of folks who had no idea that there were some shows they needed reservations for. There were several that we wanted to see again, and waited on the standby lines and got in with no problem.
Chicago the Musical - Amber Theater - A shortened version of the Broadway show, but by no means short on entertainment value! The cast is first rate, the music is wonderful and the production is great! The theater is as good as or better than most Broadway venues and a comfortable place to see a show. Saw the show 3 times and the cast got standing ovations! Wondered though about some of the folks who brought kids to a show that deals with sex, adultery and gruesome murder. Please be aware of what the story of Chicago is, and decide if it's appropriate for your family.
Ocean Area - Aqua Theater - The theater is incredible and is one of the co-stars of the show! The talented cast of acrobats, aerialists and divers gives an incredible performance that leaves you wondering if they can top what they just did...the answer is usually yes! There was a nice breeze in this outdoor theater the night we saw the show and it was very enjoyable.
Blue Planet - Amber Theater - Wasn't sure exactly what to expect and loved the show! About a 45 minute trip with your host Mother Nature and a mixed cast made up of 4 of the lead singers from Chicago, the Chicago dancers and the Ocean Aria acrobats and aerialists. Great colors, great music, interesting use of sets and the stage, and a very enjoyable production for the whole family. Note...there are a lot of things happening on and around the stage so don't sit too close for the best overall view.
Summer Breeze - Aqua Theater Stage - The 6 main singers from Chicago gave a great 30+ minute presentation giving us all a look behind the costumes and makeup as they preformed contemporary songs in a great concert. It was mentioned that this is a new Chicago cast and this was the first - and perhaps the last Summer Breeze performance outdoors in the Aqua Theater. Check your Cruise Compass on future weeks for the location of this great set....it will be more than worth your while!
Headliner Show - Amber Theater - This week it was comedian/ventriloquist Ronn Lucas who was wonderful! We laughed so much that my wife's neck hurt when the show was over!
Quest - Studio B - You MUST go to this! Don't want to give too many details, but let's just say a great ADULT scavenger hunt! On that note, please don't bring your little kids or adults who might be offended. It is adult entertainment! Saw it right after seeing Ron Lucas and the laughter continued! Cruise Director Ken Rush is the host and he was assisted by a lot of the Cruise staff. Ken did a great job as host and made it a very fun night!
70's Disco Party in the Royal Promenade - This starts off with a 70's music concert done by two of the featured singers from Chicago on a stage right in front of the car. A great half hour set followed by the disco party and your host Ken Travolta Rush! Crowded but fun!!
Casino - Located on Deck 4 just adjacent to the Entertainment Place and aft of Studio B, the casino was a great place to spend a couple of hours. There is a huge amount of penny slot machines and a limited amount of other denominations. Stick your Sail Pass in the machine as a players' card and rack up points that you can turn in Saturday for cash and merchandise. Also all the popular table games were available later in the day. On sea days the casino was open 9AM to 3 AM with the table games opening @ 3. While in port the casino is closed. As folks who are in Atlantic City a couple of times a month, there was plenty to satisfy us.
Love and Marriage Show - Amber Theater - Didn't see this live but did see the re-play on the TV and it was hysterical! Again well hosted by Ken Rush who did a great job as the emcee and made the most of both the questions and answers!
Ken Rush and the Cruise Staff - We loved Ken and started each morning with his TV show, and learned a lot about what was happening on the ship that day! He is the face of the ship's entertainment and we thought he and his staff did a great job! Loved his top 10 Dumb Cruise questions and the way he openly responded to the written questions from cruisers. Also have to single out Cruise Staff members Matt, Bjorn, and Kelsey who greeted us every time we saw then.
There was so much more that we didn't attend but could have. Saw some highlights of some on the ship's TV system and they looked like a lot of fun for all involved. From the Belly Flop contest to World's Sexiest Man to even the Table Tennis Tournament they were running one day when we were at the pool....there is no shortage of activities aboard the Allure of the Seas and probably something for just about every one's taste! Never got to the Comedy Show or into Jazz on 4, but we hope to next cruise. Watched the Climbing Wall, Zip Line and Flow Rider..we will not be doing those, but if you want to, they look great!
There is a mind-boggling assortment of places to eat on the Allure of the Seas and although we didn't hit all of them, we made a pretty good effort I think! Here's our take on those that we did patronize:
Adagio Dining Room - We had My Time Dining and only ate 2 dinners, one breakfast and one lunch in the dining room, so this opinion is based on limited experience, but we weren't blown away. Never had the same wait staff twice so I think that is likely one of the problems and perhaps the fact that with MTD you also pre-pay gratuities might have added to what we considered less than outstanding service. The young lady we had for the one lunch towards the end of the week was super and I think had we had her every meal, we'd probably have a different opinion. We found the food good however, and the salad bar at the lunch outstanding...especially if you like your salad chopped.
Sorrentos Pizza - We hit Sorrentos for a late snack several nights and thought it was perfect for that. It's not great but it is more than adequate.
Park Cafe - This was our "go to" spot for breakfast and quick lunches and probably the place we ate at most during our cruise. My wife liked the breakfast burritos and I loved their version of an Egg McMuffin. A yogurt/fruit parfait, a cup of tea and we were more than satisfied. They also have bagels available with lots of toppings, all kinds of danish and a selection of muffins as well as breakfast panini sandwiches. Lunches were good with a nice salad bar, a selection of panini sandwiches and of course, the famous Park Cafe Roast Beef sandwich! A good place with lots of selection and nice indoor tables or outdoor tables in Central Park!
Windjammer Marketplace - We had a lunch and a dinner here and never made breakfast because it is always busy! A classic buffet in an attractive surrounding with lots of choices, the Windjammer is obviously the go to place for a lot of our fellow cruisers. It was good, but a pretty standard buffet in the Vegas/AC mode.
Solarium Bistro - We only had one breakfast here and it was enjoyable. A beautiful location and lots of healthy choices the morning we were there. A healthy version of the Windjammer.
The Boardwalk Dog House - A great place for a quick snack or a lighter lunch and we enjoyed it very much. Our group had three different sausages and all reported that they were very good.
Johnny Rockets - We had one lunch here and it was by far the least healthy meal we had all week! Grease, grease and more grease!!! It was all good, but boy did we know we'd eaten there! Onion rings, chili cheese fries, burgers with bacon and cheese were all good, but not something to be eaten on a daily basis!
Giovanni's Table - We had a great dinner here and really enjoyed it! The setting is beautiful and the waiter we had for dinner was very good. He suggested a good bottle of wine and led us through the menu and ordering. If you are a veal parmesan or red sauce Italian fan then you may be disappointed by the menu as it seemed more Northern Italian to us. We loved the food and had some excellent appetizers and great entries and enjoyed sharing them all. We will definitely go back next cruise.
Vintages - We had a late dinner here one night after a show and loved it. It's a nice quiet attractive setting with a great selection of wines by the bottle or the glass and some very good tapas selections. A nice place to sit and talk and enjoy some wine and a place we'd love to visit again.
Samba Grill - At night the Solarium Bistro is buffed and polished and turned into a very attractive Brazilian style steak house. You start your meal with a selection of appetizers that you help yourself to. There was a great selection and frankly we would have been happy if this had been the beginning and end of the meal. Then the meat starts coming all controlled by you and a red light/green light sign on your table. Table side service of beef, chicken, lamb, sausage, etcetera keeps coming till you cry uncle and turn on the red light. It was good and if you are a meat lover, it's right up your alley, but I don't think it's someplace we'd try again.
Chops Grille - A classic steak house and we loved the meal we had there but for one glaring exception. There is both inside and outside tables and the evening our party of 3 dined there, the inside was full so we were assigned a table outside. The problem is that it is not truly outside but rather under and surrounded by a series of overlapping glass panels and it is not air conditioned, nor are there any fans to move the air around. It was a warm night in Central Part and probably 10 degrees warmer in the "outdoor" area of Chops. In fact, the only cool breeze we'd get was when the sliding doors of the Rising Tide bar would open! In the opinion of not only our party, but several other "outside" tables that night, they really need to do something about air circulation in this area. The food was outstanding and the service was too! Loved the mushroom soup and the selection of appetizers we had, and the steaks and sides we ordered were perfect. We will definitely go back, but only if we can sit inside!
We didn't try Rita's Cantina (but heard the food was just average), the Wipe Out Cafe (but saw what the kids on the pool deck were eating and it looked to be perfect for it's location and clientele), Izumi Asian Cuisine (but our son said it had good sushi), or Cafe Promenade. Tried room service for one morning, but when we looked out at 8AM we found the pre-order door hanger that we'd put out at about 2:30 AM still hanging there so we opted for the dining room.
As you can see...we didn't starve during the week but we also felt that we didn't eat too badly! With the exception of the lunch at Johnny Rockets, we felt that the portions were sized well and that the choices were such that there were good options available. Gone are the days of the midnight buffet and of the need to end each day on a cruise stuffed!
There is no shortage of places to get a drink on the Allure of the Seas and we tried our best to hit them all...but we didn't! There is of course waiter service in all the shows, restaurants and the dining room, making it easy to get a drink and we did take advantage of that several times. We enjoyed some good Mai Tais, Pina Coladas, etc, but here are the real bars we visited during the week:
Champagne Bar on the Royal Promenade - A very pretty bar with a nice selection of champagne drinks beyond just a plain glass and also a full bar menu. A nice, quiet spot with very comfortable seating.
Bow and Stern - This typical English/Irish Pub on the Royal Promenade is a great place to relax. There was a very good singer/guitar player there the night we stopped in and we enjoyed listening to him a lot as he took requests from the crowd. We also had a lovely barmaid named Tamara who made our evening even better. Great locations and a great place on board to get a pint or a mixed drink!
Schooner Bar - On Deck 6 overlooking the Royal Promenade, the Schooner Bar is a very nice piano bar with a full drink menu and very helpful wait staff. The piano player/singer is great and had a real group of repeat customers the week we were on board. Be advised that if you think this would be a great place to watch the parades on the Royal Promenade, you are correct...but you will not be the only one to come to that conclusion. Get there early if that's your plan!
Rising Tide Bar - We visited this slick bar several times and enjoyed the ride from the Promenade to Central Park. They also make a mean Long Island Ice Tea, several of which we enjoyed!
Viking Crown Lounge - This one is really off the beaten path and probably not even known about by a lot of cruisers. Aft on Deck 17, the floor to ceiling windows overlook the pool area making for a great view at night. The lounge is softly lit and quiet and has a nice bar and many very comfortable seating areas. On several occasions the entertainment was piano music and it was very nice. On one night (I think it was Thursday about 11:30PM) we were lucky enough to be there when a lot of the cast of Chicago was in the lounge and they were singing along with the piano music. What a special unexpected treat!
We also enjoyed drinks at the Boardwalk Bar overlooking the Aqua Theater, the Pool Bar and the live music that you'll find there, and the casino bar. One comment I have to make is that watching multiple bartenders make several kinds of drinks all week, I never saw one who was skimpy with the quality of alcohol you were given. I'd say overall good value for the price.
That's about it for categories, now let me make some general comments:
CABIN - We signed on for a Guaranteed Ocean View and were assigned cabin 3256 on deck 3. When I saw where we were, I wasn't thrilled, but once we got on the ship I found out how wrong I was. The location was excellent! We were the last cabin aft on the port side of deck 3. The location was very close to the aft elevators and being on deck 3 was easily walkable to the dining room, casino and Royal Promenade. The cabin itself was excellent also with a huge porthole that gave us great views and brought lots of light into the cabin. The arrangement was couch by the porthole, bed by the closet which worked for us. My wife loved being able to sit at the makeup mirror and have both the light surround and the natural light to work in. There was more than enough storage space for our needs and the bags slid under the bed for nice uncluttered storage. To once again answer the question, the room safe was just big enough for my wife's I-Pad 2 to fit in along with our wallets, cell phones, and all the other "stuff" we didn't need to carry all week! The bathroom was small but very well designed and we had all the storage and space that we needed. The bottom line, I would take that cabin again on any cruise on the Allure, so I think that says it all!
INTERACTIVE TV - This is a great tool and something that having used it for a week, I'd be hard pressed to cruise without! There is restaurant information with a description of each restaurant on board, and it's menus including the main dining room. You can see the hours of every restaurant and how busy they are, which is a great tool when looking for a quick breakfast or lunch (the Windjammer ALWAYS seemed to be busy which is why we never made it there for breakfast). There is an Inbox which will have messages for you about tours you've booked or restaurant reservations you have. There is also a Personal Calendar page which will show you dining times, spa reservations, tours booked, etc. - very helpful in keeping you on track! You can also make restaurant reservations, book tours, sign up for Luggage Valet, and do a heck of a lot of other things on board without standing on line! It also works as a regular TV, but who's going on a cruise to stay inside and watch TV?
I-POD DOCK - A nice touch that charged my I-Pod Touch and my son's I-Phone 4 and with the music playlists on my touch, always gave us nice background music in the cabin.
MEET AND MINGLE - Signed up for this on Cruise Critic and understood that there were 32 folks signed up. Got the invite in the cabin day one but the morning we went to Dazzles for the event, only 5 of us showed up! Don't know if there was some screw up, or if folks were just having too good a time to show, but those of us there walked off with some nice prizes and had fun! Thanks to Matt from the Cruise Staff for moving ahead, even though he had a small audience.
CAPTAIN JOHNNY - He is a great ship's Captain and a lot of fun. He enjoys interacting with the passengers and we saw him almost every day mingling. He loves to be just a bit outrageous and he has a wicked sense of humor. We loved his daily Captain's Log TV show which gave us an idea where we were and where we were going that day, a look at the weather, and a visit to some area of the ship that we'd not necessary be able to visit in real life. This and Ken Rush's morning show were part of our daily routine.
CAPTAIN'S CORNER - This took place on one of the Sail days towards the end of the cruise in the Aqua Theater. It was about a 45 minute session with Captain Johnny, Cruise Director Ken Rush, the Chief Engineer and the Hotel Director during which they answered all kinds of question of how and why things worked the way they did on the Allure. Very good session with some great questions and honest answers. It was sunny and hot the day this was scheduled and most of the folks were looking for shade in the Aqua Theater so take that into account if you go.
AMBER THEATER BACKSTAGE TOUR - A Q+A session one morning in the Amber Theater and then a visit to the stage and have the ability to wander back stage and look around. Right up your alley if you have a love of theater or just are curious about how things work.
LUGGAGE VALET - This seemed like a great deal for $20 per person and I signed up for it via the interactive TV in the room. They will print out your boarding passes, give you special luggage tags, and after you put your bags out the night before the cruise is over, you are done handling them till you get off your plane back at home. It worked great and I'll do it again, but just a couple of small areas they could improve the service. After I signed up I never got any indication that I was enrolled. I only knew on day 7 when I saw the $20 charge on my bill, but didn't get the info pack and my tags and boarding passes till 6 or 7 PM on the last night. Also, when we got off the ship, there could have been better signage as the folks on the dock didn't seem to have any idea how to deal with us. It did save us a lot of time and gave us the option of leaving the ship anytime after 8AM and our bags were indeed on the carousel at La Guardia Airport when we got home!
PASSENGER KIOSKS - There are a number of them around the Royal Promenade and they are helpful in keeping track of your schedule and your bill plus they have printers so you can print out hard copies any time you want. They are also useful in printing out boarding passes which I did because I wasn't 100% sure they'd be included in the Luggage Valet.
CROWDS - Just a word about the number of passengers on board the Allure. Our week was a sell out, so the ship was as full as it gets. With the exception of things like the Captain's Reception or the couple of street parades on the Royal Promenade or the Disco Party, we never had any sense of just how many folks were sailing with us. They do a very good job of handing the numbers, and frankly, with so much to do, there is just no way that all 6000+ are going to be together at once. Even at the ports, it didn't seem like 6000 folks were getting on and off!
Nassau - Such a short time in port that we didn't even bother getting off and used that morning for our spa day. We also enjoyed exploring the ship and spent a big part of the day on deck in a lounge chair.
St Thomas - Took an excursion to Sapphire Beach, and I'm sorry to say the whole of St. Thomas was a disappointment. The last time I was there was probably 40 years ago, and while the island is full of natural beauty, a lot of it is run down. Transportation for the excursions was open air "taxis", which are really just pick up trucks with a "surrey" type bench sitting area replacing the box. We didn't have a talkative driver, and didn't really get a lot of information. He also seemed to like to drive all over the road and the tires on our vehicle had seen better days! The Sapphire Beach Hotel seemed rather run down as did a lot on the island. Too bad...we walked the main shopping streets and saw some great bargains and had a nice, but expensive lunch in town and were happy to get back to the ship!
St Maarten - The ship docks on the Dutch side of the island, and the port area is really lovely. We booked the See and Sea tour and assembled on the dock. This time we were marched to an air conditioned bus (as it seemed most of the tours were) and had a great tour guide who told us to use her nick name, "Chanel #5"! Lots of info as we headed over to the French side of the island, and she told us where to go if we wanted to shop on our stop off in the French capital (Euros on the French side, Dutch Gilders on the Dutch side). Then we motored on to the "submarine boat" where we got to see lots of fish and coral through the incredibly clear water. We were back at the dock are by 1 PM and found lots of great shopping right there in the complex.
Lots of positives during the week but there were a couple of negative aspects that I'd like to address too:
ELEVATORS - There are 16 aft and 16 forward, and one would think that you'd wait only a short time when going up or down, but that's not the case. They seemed really slow, and frankly, I wondered if they had any management software running them, because it seemed if you were on deck 4 looking to go up, 7 out of the 8 elevators were on deck 15, 16 or 17! Also, they really should have air conditioned the elevators because when you stop on every deck, the trip can be long and it's frankly hot and stuffy in the elevators!
THE SPA - Now I know this isn't run by Royal Caribbean, but it is a huge part of the ship, and from everyone I talked to, it seems like our experience was standard. I had signed up for $150 teeth whitening and my wife had signed up for a $140 facial. The services were great and the people we dealt with were first rate, but both of us left spending a lot more than that initial amount. There is really a hard sell during and after the treatment and if you avail yourself of any of the spa's services, know that going in. My wife was handed a laundry list of "products" that she should use on a daily basis and then asked which ones she wanted. My teeth whitening needed a 10 week post treatment program to continue the whitening just started with the first treatment. 10 weeks @ $49 = $490 additional dollars! I heard from folks that went for a haircut or styling that the same thing happens with those services, so it is obviously a fact of life in the spa. So if you go to the spa, be prepared and act accordingly. They do, however, take returns of unopened products should you change your mind later, as my wife did, and returned $150 of facial cleansers and creams.
PHOTO SHOP - I pre bought the photo CD for $250 and thought that I was all done. On day 4, I got a note in the cabin that I had to go to the Photo Shop and use a kiosk and complete the purchase. Wasn't quite sure how or why and didn't find the folks at the photo shop to be the most knowledgeable or helpful. They were very interested in selling portraits and big packages, so perhaps that's where most of their time goes. The worst was however, the fact that you had to personally pick up your photo CD at the Photo Shop between 9 and 11 PM the last night of the cruise. The lines were backed up from the Photo Shop to the Schooner Bar and full of not the happiest folks. I wasted more than a half hour of my last night on the Allure on line, and in this day and age, just wondered why a better system couldn't be found to deliver these CDs.
A great week and one that we will remember for a long time and a ship we will defiantly visit again!