If you like to cruise and are comparing ships and companies, Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas should end up at or near the top of your list. After scores of cruises, my September 2011 Allure cruise tops my list.
The check in process was smooth. I got to the pier shortly after 11 am and was going to sit and wait for my travel companions. But Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale is built to move people...quickly and efficiently. There was scant seating and no lines at security or check in; so before I knew it, I was walking up the ramp to the ship. I was on board in less than 30 minutes.
Understandably the cabins weren't going to be ready until 1 pm, but that gave me time to explore the awesome ship and have some lunch. And during the entire cruise, there were two lines I ever saw on the ship (a feat for such a massive ship)...the first was for the lunch buffet at the Windjammer on boarding day. But it didn't last long. Luggage was delivered promptly, too. RCCL made the boarding process seamless and deserves a solid "A" for embarkation.
The Allure is a beautiful as it is massive. And the ship and staff handle the masses with style, grace and class. And very surprisingly, I never felt the squeeze or the least bit crowded. The neighborhood concept of the ship works much better than expected. Central Park, the Boardwalk, Royal Promenade, Entertainment Zone all have something for everyone and are somehow both bustling and relaxing. I remember cruising on the original "Love Boat", thinking that was pretty cool. Who would have thought cruise ships would have 2 story shopping malls, skating rinks, a full size carousel, an aqua theater and a real park? Very cool. Ship architecture and design merits an "A+".
As with any cruise, dining is a BIG part of the cruise experience and there are many dining options, but many come with a fee. There are several new, complimentary dining options including the healthier Solarium buffet the sandwich and salad bar in central park. The complimentary buffets were well stocked and had a huge variety and were seldom overcrowded. The dining room was very tastefully decorated with gorgeous china and comfortable yet elegant tables and seating. The food ranged from good to excellent. The service was impeccable. Bar and wine service seems to have changed with the wait staff charged with that task rather than dedicated bar servers. It seemed to work well. Twice my food was not really hot and some of the desserts were underwhelming; so I'd give the complimentary dining an "A-".
The "specialty" or for-a-fee restaurants were numerous ranging in price for $3 for the Mexican cantina to the very pricy "chef's table" where a daily feast was prepared for 12. While these can quickly add to your final cruise bill, they can be well worth the splurge. One of our favorites was the tapas at the Vintages wine bar for a lighter lunch. Delicious, authentic little plates of the highest quality meats, seafood, and other antipasti-type dishes (between $2 and $3.50) that we all shared in a quiet, uber-comfortable bar. It was so nice, we did it thrice!
My only minor disappointment with the cruise was the cabin. It was more crowded than most with not really enough storage for two. There was ample hanging space but a dearth of shelving and drawers. Some cabin layouts have the bed practically in the closet which made access to both difficult and cumbersome. And I had to turn somewhat sideways to walk between the foot of beds and the wall. All rooms have a docking station/speakers for an ipod/iphone, but it was lacking a simple input jack for other music players. There's a refrigerator in every cabin, but it's stocked with mini-bar items. And even though we had them remove these items, there was an annoying mini-bar attendant rapping at the door every day, invariably at nap time. The interactive TV was very handy. My only wish was that I had discovered this a bit earlier in the cruise. There wasn't much you couldn't do with it to manage your time, dining, money and entertainment on and off the ship. The cabin gets a "B-".
And speaking of entertainment on board: it's top notch. From Broadway, ice and production shows to disco parties, kids' parades, and water shows, prepare to be entertained. Royal Caribbean has spent good money on entertainment. It shows, and it was worth their investment. Most shows are shown at three times during the cruise at varying days and times. You can see all of them. And on a ship with over 6000 guests, you'd think they'd be overcrowded. They weren't. Most shows however, require a reservation that can be done online, before the cruise or through the interactive TV. If you don't have a reservation, you'll need to queue (which caused the second line) until 10 minutes before the show and then take the left over seats. Everyone seems to get seats...even those without reservations. Entertainment gets a standing ovation and an "A".
While I'm not a sun bunny, one thing I noticed on the ship was there were plenty of deck chairs for everyone. The annoying and selfish "reserving" of seats happened in many entertainment venues, but it didn't seem necessary for a deck chair. And the adult-only Solarium was a welcome, quiet respite. On sea days, the pools were jam-packed. The ship could use more or bigger pools. The sports areas were fun and lively, but not overcrowded. And the frozen yogurt stations were popular with kids and adults alike. The open decks get an "A-".
The gym on the Allure is amazing and well attended but never overcrowded. Lots of aerobic and weight machines as well as free weights and classes. If staying in shape (or burning calories) is important on a cruise, you'll love it. I was disappointed that there is NO complimentary wet or dry sauna. There is an expensive Thermal suite, but it was small...and not even complimentary if you book a spa treatment. The spa area is vast and luxurious, but most services seem rather expensive.
And the entire staff on board was very helpful and friendly. Human resources should be complimented for a job well done.
As technically advanced as the ship is, the internet is VERY slow and VERY expensive ($.65 per minute). If airplanes have fast, reasonable internet, why can't cruise ships?
On some ships, the disembarkation can be a frustrating, hurry-and-wait process. Not on the Allure! I wanted to get an early flight home; so I set my alarm for 6:30 and used the carry-it-all-off-yourself check out. I was up showered, off the ship, through customs, in a cab to the airport and seated in my airplane seat, coffee in had at 7:25. Now that's efficiency. Disembarkation gets an "A+".
So start your diet and book an unforgettable trip on the Allure of the Seas. It's truly alluring.