Can six people survive on Allure in one cabin for a whole week? I hope to answer that question and whole lot more in what will be a very long review of a family trip on the wonderful and monstrous Allure. This will be an abbreviated review based on what I've already posted on the Royal Caribbean board here on CC. Just look for postings under my username for all of the details and photos, told in a much livelier and commentary-oriented manner!
For some background, we are a Latin family of six, with two grandparents, two parents, and two kids (8 and just over 2). My wife and I have been on several cruises, the grandparents were on one a lifetime ago, and this was the kids' first venture on the sea.
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale a day before our cruise, and I strongly suggest this when traveling with young children. While I've flown in on embarkation day before without the kids, doing so can make for a very stressful morning that managing kids would probably just add to. We stayed at the beautiful Embassy Suites where you can see the port from the common balconies (and from many rooms). The hotel has a cruise package the includes shuttles from the airport and to the port, but I struggled with the Concierge desk to get the shuttle to the hotel without explicitly saying that we had booked the cruise package.
Embarkation was the easiest that we've ever experienced. Arriving near 11 AM, we were immediately directed to an open window and were walking the gangplank onto the ship within 20 minutes. Note that children older than 3 get a wristband before getting on the ship that the crew uses to know who they are and what muster station they need to be at in case of emergency. Upon entering the ship, we were amazed by the Royal Promenade and the wonderful fountains under the Rising Tide Bar. After taking care of some business, we headed to the Park Cafe for a handmade salads, sandwiches, and, of course, the famous roast beef. It really is that good.
We generally enjoyed all of our dining experiences and sampled many of the venues.
I would put dinner in the Main Dining Room at around an upper scale chain (Cheesecake Factory, maybe) with great service. Its food consistency is moderate (usually good, sometimes mediocre, occasionally throw-away), and it's a little tough on the kids. My older child really enjoyed the chilled soups (they really were fantastic), and usually did all right with the pasta dishes and some steak. My youngest didn't like anything and usually had a meal consisting of chocolate milk and Cherrios. For dessert, they would both get ice cream or sherbet, both served with a giant chocolate chip cookie.
The word is out on the Park Cafe...it gets crowded now (even on Day 1). I love the made to order salads. The ingredients were a bit sparse, but I didn't mind. Everything was really fresh and the serving size was perfect to share with DW. The roast beef sandwich was truly a thing of beauty. Be prepared to wait a while if you order a Panini, though. The kids would eat the sandwiches and fresh fruit. When looking for a table, my suggestion would be to take one of the ones with padded chairs in the middle of Central Park. They were rarely used and offer a lot of space. I would put the cafe at around an upper-end cafe chain (Corner Bakery comes to mind). They have high chairs, but it's really tight trying to get one to the table.
Everything was great at Chops Grille. Definitely on par with a Ruth's Chris. Note that there is an age restriction for the specialty restaurants (age 13 and older), so we had the kids in Adventure Ocean for the evening. Further note that we saw kids younger than age 13 at Chops, perhaps as young as 7.
I've never been a real fan of the Promenade Cafe other than to get some sweet bites. But, the rum roll is awesome. The kids really only cared for the sweet stuff, too. I might say that it's like a Mom-and-Pop coffee cafe. There's something special about it, but I wouldn't go there all the time.
Sorrento's is like crack for kids. My oldest child had five slices one day, and the youngest probably would polish off two in one sitting. The line can get long, which certainly diminishes things. I think that it's better than Pizza Hut, but not by much. Most local independent pizza joints will probably do pizza better. One thing that Sorrento's is great for is filling water bottles since it has two water jugs, so you won't have a line gather behind you as you're dumping cups of water into your bottles. This was our dedicated fill up station, especially at night (we brought three Nalgene bottles with us). I would suggest that you get a table over at Bow and Stern rather than try to get one at Sorrento's. Also, their counter is really high, so be cautious when sending kids to get their own pizza.
The Solarium Bistro represents a fine eating option. We only did it for breakfast, but we did it just about every day. One, the seating was nice, cushioned rattan-type patio furniture, so you kind of felt like lounging. They also had high chairs also, which was a big plus. The food was pretty decent, with a lot of fresh fruit, granola, cereal, breads, pancakes (including fruit pancakes), awful looking turkey bacon, good-looking turkey sausage, and seasoned "Army" eggs. Bagels and lox were also there. It was never crowded and they had table service, like the MDR and Windjammer. It was a much more pleasant environment for the kids (and for us), and was open on the last day, so we just went there for breakfast before disembarking. It's a bit more than your basic cafe breakfast, without the pastries.
At the Boardwalk Dog House, you can get some really excellent sausages. With the kids, I would have really liked for there to be fries, though. The potato salad just didn't look tantalizing. There's no real comparison here, though folks on the West coast may look at it as a step up from Der Weinershnitzel.
We only went to Johnny Rockets for breakfast (no cover), but really enjoyed it. Everything was made fresh and was a step up from anything hot you would get in the MDR. The potatoes alone are reason enough to give it a shot. Also, a little discussed fact is that there is a little playground right next to Rita's, across from Johnny Rockets, where the kids could run around while we sat and ate on the Boardwalk.
We had a great time at our ports just hanging out on the beaches. In Nassau, getting a day pass at the Sheraton on Cable Beach proved to be a great way to relax on the beach and at the pool and represented a great start for our cruise. The day pass gave us access to all of the facilities and a variety of non-motorized water crafts that we enjoyed. Emerald Beach in St. Thomas was a great beach where you could rent lounge chairs with some shade if you arrive early. But, I was very dissatisfied with the constant pestering for a taxi ride back to port when in downtown. At Orient Beach in St. Martin, I was unimpressed with how crowded the beach was with lounge chairs for rent but happy with the food at Orange Fever.
Allure has a lot of things for families to do and we were well occupied throughout our time on the ship. Here are some highlights.
The H2O Zone is a great water entertainment area for little kids. The water is generally only a few inches deep, with spraying water coming from just about everywhere. There is also a main pool that is less than four feet deep for jumping in and a great pool with a fairly strong current that pushes even adults along. We spent a good amount of time at the pool. There was little enforcement of the diaper policy (no non-toilet trained children outside of the small Baby Splash Zone) until the last sea day on the cruise. Note that the deck around the H2O Zone, and all of the pools for that matter, gets very hot. DD2 cried the first time she stepped on it. Royal did a great job of putting wood lattice around the separation areas in the Zone, but they should really do the same for the deck around the Zone. Kids just don't have the same sense of survival that adults have, especially since we tend to wear shoes whereas kids tend to run around barefoot. There is also ice cream right next to the pool (strawberry & vanilla) that was a nice treat for the kids when we wanted them to get out of the sun a bit and rest.
For kids, the Carousel on the Boardwalk is like Sorrento's, it's a drug that you just can't get enough of. One of the nice things is that there was never a line to get on. In fact, every time we did, we just stayed on for multiple times. Early in the cruise, the Madagascar Penguins actually jumped onto the Carousel with us, and that was pretty cool for the kids.
Royal has added a "Family Festival" that happened every at-sea day on the Boardwalk that included little activities, face painting, and balloon animals. All of this was at no additional cost. But, we stood in line for a really long time for the face painting. Get there early if you want to give your kids this treat. Adventure Ocean also brings kids down during the festival to be clowns, or pirates, or play musical instruments.
As for the shows, they were good to mediocre. Chicago was good, but didn't keep my attention for the late show. Ocean Aria was fantastic, especially with the guest Romanian doing strength and agility demonstrations. Blue Planet was a mess. Ice Games! was OK despite a tendency for the skaters to fall in the middle of the ice, but the How To Train Your Dragon ice show was much better and the kids loved it.
Allure also shows movies with the main theater serving as a 3D theater and the Aqua Theater serving for movies under the stars. Kung Fu Panda 2 was pretty good in the theater, with a reasonable screen size and decent sound. The setup in the Aqua Theater is strange, though. You can't really move the chairs, and they're all focused on the stage, but the screens are on the far wings of the stage, so you have to sit at an awkward angle to watch. Then, the sound is coming from the middle of the stage, so it's all messed up. My wife and I enjoyed having an evening out and the movie served as a nice background for it.
Adventure Ocean was fantastic for the kids. My oldest was in the Explorers program, and the folks there seemed to do an awesome job at keeping the kids occupied. They are basically in a giant room with a great forward view. There is a restroom that is only accessible from the interior of the room and a strict check in/out procedure. My kid made a bunch of friends there who would then show up in other places around the ship, making her feel like part of the community. For my youngest, kids under 3 go into the nursery and there is a charge ($8 per hour). Also, be advised that there are time limits (3 hours at a time, 21 hours for the week). The nursery is another big room, but separated into crib area and play area. The staff were awesome! At one point, my child was having a difficult afternoon, and I spied one of the caretakers holding her in the reception space, letting my kid tap on the computer while she addressed another couple. Later that afternoon, they put her in a stroller and had her watch a movie on the TV.
When you drop off the nursery kids, the staff asks if they need to put them down for a nap or whether to feed them. They have snacks on hand but will feed the child anything you give them. They take care of diapers or potty runs to the in-room lav, and play with the children. While I mention the TV, it's just one of the many activities that there are in the room, and I generally only see them using it when a child is being fussy. They generally ask that you make reservations since they can only watch so many children at a time. In our experience, reservations are really only necessary later in the cruise. On the second formal night, the reservations were gone pretty quickly.
Here are a few notes for parents with really young children. First, register your child early and get the complimentary DECT phone. This way, it's easy for the nursery to get a hold of you in the event that they need you. Even if you have no interest in using the nursery, you can get the phone. We rented a second one at Guest Services, and then used them to keep in touch with each other around the ship. Second, go to the nursery on the first night and check out a pack of toys. They have age-appropriate bags of toys that my youngest loved. I think that she thought it was really special. Third, there is a play room in the middle of AO for parents to take their young children and play with them. It has gyms, and slides, and chairs with books, and play mats, and just about anything else you can imagine.
As for the Dreamworks Experience, there has been a lot of discussion on the CC boards about it. I would say that you would probably barely notice the Dreamworks Experience unless you really went looking for it. But, for kids, the characters probably seem to be everywhere. In my world, I thought that it was a good balance.
There are exceptions. There are two parades on the Allure, and they are both heavily invested with Dreamworks characters. Those currently include characters from Shrek (Shrek, Fiona, and Puss-n-Boots), Madagascar (Alex, Gloria, King Julian, Maurice, and the Penguins), Kung-Fu Panda (Po), and How to Train Your Dragon (A Grunkle, various actors dressed as the main characters). The Sail Away show on Day 1 in the Aqua Theater includes the Shrek characters and there is a HTTYD ice show that was pretty good. Beyond that, you may catch characters walking around from time to time, hit the Dreamworks Breakfast (more on that in the next post), catch the Dreamworks channel on the TV, catch a Dreamworks movie, or see an occasional themed artwork, but that's the end of the Dreamworks branding.
A couple notes, though. Lines can form at the Meet-n-Greets, and the handlers will close the line quickly. Also, a lot of folks talk about how great the Schooner Bar is for watching the parade. With kids, it left some room for improvement. The girls had a great time, but the bar has very obscured views of the parade and you can't even see the elevated stages. I would suggest just camping out some space on the floor, centered on the Cupcake Cupboard, and having the kids sit down in a line. Otherwise, if you would like to have an elevated view, go early and grab a standing spot in the picture gallery or at the top of the spiral staircase leading from it to the casino.
As for the Dreamworks Breakfast, we couldn't have asked for a worse dining experience on a ship! The chocolate breakfast was really poor and service was horrible. I think that our waiter had four tables, and every single one of them was in bad shape. One didn't even get food until the rest of us were leaving (and a man at that table was very vocal about it). When we didn't get everything that we asked for, there was no one around to talk to. I actually walked across the dining room when I caught sight of our headwaiter to express my dissatisfaction (after the family had already left). After asking why I hadn't sought help during the meal, he gave us a reservation for the next day's breakfast as an attempt to make it better. Nice, but we didn't show for it.
Disembarkation from Allure is just as easy as embarking. We didn't experience any real lines and were off the ship in a very timely manner. Luggage retrieval is very well organized and getting a taxi was easy, though a bit chaotic.