My wife and I decided to come to Florida for a few weeks and decided on a cruise for 7 days from Miami / Ft L so the Allure leaving the day after we arrived was too good an opportunity to miss. We had previously cruised twice with Princess. We went for the Loft Suite on the 17/18 Floor, as whilst they were expensive - £5000 ($8000) for 7 days, I expected the facilities and service would be excellent as they had been with the Suites on Princess.
My first negative experience happened before we had even boarded when on departing our taxi we were approached by a uniformed RC 'porter' who moved our bags 4 yards into a luggage container and then he directly asked for a gratuity and 'he would make sure our bags reach our room'. I was then in line for about five minutes and he moved away and never even looked at our bags again. Considering my wife and I had managed to get our bags 3000 miles and had two flights and two hotels without any bother, we could have managed the last 4 yards. I'll come back to gratuities later.
I would love to say everything was great from then on but it wasn't. We had long queues to board the ship and it was disorganised with the staff arguing amongst themselves as to who should board first, so we just moved away from our group (which had been the only one standing for 10 minutes) and joined another who were already boarding. As we boarded 5 minutes later our original group were still watching everyone else get on the ship.
When we checked in we were told someone would take us to the Suite, however no one on board seemed to know anything about that so we made our own way to the Suite. The Loft Suites are very spacious and are set out with a lounge, dining area and shower / wc over one floor and the bed and main bathroom upstairs. Very modern and minimalist but comfortable.
I then checked for the Services for the Suites - there were none it appeared. On Princess you got free Wi-Fi, clothes pressing, water and fruit every day. Not on RC. The Wi-Fi in particular is very expensive on Allure - 65 cents a minute!! You could opt to take a package which reduced it to 50 cents a minute if you signed up for 150 minutes.
There were a couple of bottles of water in the mini bar which we used on day one and this was replenished on day two with a charge and also a gratuity on the Invoice. (Princess provided bottles of water) From then on everything we did on the ship involved a gratuity - if not requested outright it was certainly expected and all the bills had space for the gratuity. Now, on booking our cruise in the UK we had been 'obliged' to pay for gratuities in advance - about £70.00 each. We were told we would get vouchers at the end of the cruise to give to the staff that had looked after us.
On the first day we went to the 'normal' dining room and had a long queue for breakfast. I was then surprised to be charged for orange juice (plus gratuity) as this had been freely available on Princess. It later transpired that it is free on some of the other breakfast rooms but seemed to be chargeable in the main dining room. We also thought the food was only lukewarm and the service wasn't very good.
Due to our indifferent experience with the 'main' dining room (Adagio) we didn't eat there again either at breakfast, lunch or dinner and used only the 'speciality' restaurants. I have to say that these were very good especially the Chops Restaurant and 150 Central Park. The service and food was excellent at all these places and the gratuities reflected that.
The Spa - beware!!! We used the Spa for treatments for each day that we were at sea but we also paid for the 'open use' of the Spa - the steam room and sauna are not free and you have to pay $180 per couple. My advice would be not to do this as we tried to gain access on three occasions and were told it was full and to come back later. When we bought this package they said they would sell this to only a limited number of people but either they didn't or we were unlucky with our timing. We had one 15 minute session for $180 - no refunds were available - this was made quite clear on the booking form so I wonder if this is a regular problem.
Another thing to watch out for is that when you have had a Spa treatment they attempt to 'trade up' to the expensive treatment products they had been using. My wife was recommended a seaweed bath salt (no price was mentioned by the Assistant) which she agreed to without asking the price - when it came it was 30 small sachets of bath salts for $550 (yes, five hundred and fifty) which the Assistant said would last for 15 weeks if she only used two a week. There was of course space for a gratuity on the bill just in case you thought this wasn't quite enough to pay.
Entertainment - The only one we did was the Comedy Club and both comedians were very funny and I would suggest it is a show not to be missed. It's on twice nightly most nights and I think three times on one night (can't remember which night). Other guests told me the Chicago show was very good as well.
The ship was full and at times it felt very full - this is big ship but it has a lot of people on it and if you don't like lots of people, crowded dining rooms, crowded pools, crowded lifts stopping at every floor etc - don't go on the Allure.
Anyway with our week almost done I received the vouchers for our pre paid gratuities and found that they had already been pre-allocated to four members of staff. One was our Stateroom attendant which was fine and three were for our waiter at the Adagio and the Assistant Waiter and another member of the Adagio team. I pointed out to Guest Services that we had not used the Adagio Restaurant expect for one breakfast and it was a 'sit anywhere' situation and that I had no idea who these three people were and that they had never served us or had any idea who we were - I suggested that the entire amount go to the Stateroom attendant. This was not possible so the Adagio Team are now the recipients of a good portion of my pre paid gratuities - ludicrous!!!
I was really excited about the cruise on the Allure of the Seas and was hoping that RC would match or even exceed the service from Princess but, whilst the ship is undoubtedly fabulous, the service is not and our next cruise will be with Princess. My description of the Cruise when discussing it in the future, will be the 'The Gratuity Cruise'. Sorry RC not impressed at all.