Couple in our mid-forties/fifties traveling alone, first Platinum cruise.
This was a last minute booking, within 30 days prior to sailing. I received a sale email saying guarantee balcony cabins on the Allure were sale priced. We were assigned a room on the Central Park & about 7 days before departure my husband said...ocean view? No. U-oh. So, my online TA & I scrambled frantically to switch to a Junior Suite. Done with a minimal amount of stress on my part.
Used Choice Air for the airfare & it was priced about $10pp less than booking direct with the airline. The better departure times were priced higher & while I was doing my price comparisons, the flights sold out. So what would have been a noon departure at an additional $30pp, turned into a 4pm departure for $210 pp, direct flight. It would have been worth it, but I wasn't fast enough.
I used another online last minute type booking engine to book a day prior hotel. Turned out to be the Hilton FLL Beach. It was a $25 cab ride from the airport. The huge queen room was AWESOME, especially for the discounted price we paid. Partial view of the ocean from our balcony. Grabbed a cab to the CVS pharmacy (not quite walkable), then had them drop us off at the Casablanca Cafe. FABULOUS food, about $100. We used the hotel shuttle at $5pp to get to the pier. A cab would probably have been the same amount & we were the only ones using the shuttle.
Really? There were benefits? Oh, yes...we had a coupon book for discounted items & used a few on things we probably wouldn't have purchased otherwise. And the casino coupons cost us about $700 extra, our choice. We were given priority boarding, but I think that was due to the Suite designation on our boarding passes. I didn't notice any other tangible benefits. We were directed to the Suite lounge, even though it was just a Junior Suite. That was probably a mistake, but we used it. I think the real benefits are reserved for Suite guests. And I won't argue with that as the prices for upper level suites are really steep! We paid an extra $1200 for an ocean view balcony, a tub, & extra square footage/storage space and that was just a mini-suite.
Boarding the ship:
I can't tell you when we arrived, or how long it took. I'd guess about 15 mins. We didn't have time to sit down & read more than a page before we were directed onto the ship. Fantastic.
GiNormous. I was looking for a description not used previously, so I had to make one up. I loved it.
The NEGATIVES for us felt few & relatively minor:
The casino...non-smoking side means the smoke isn't blown in your face by the people sitting next to you, but it still reeks & your clothes still smell when you leave. The play seemed to be average with dealers hitting Soft17 (not players favor), a few hand shuffled 6 deck shoes. However, the curse of the "lucky coins" was in full evidence. The luck was purely in the ship's favor. I think they had put a voodoo hex on things or something. Even if the entire table played perfect Basic Strategy, the dealers made their hands consistently. My husband swears they were cheating. Lol.
Not enough ocean views or MOTION to the ship. IMO, this is the only real negative... without our balcony, it didn't really feel like being on a ship. I did miss the occasional minor motion that tells you this is a ship. None. Nada. Zip.
Pre-cruise booking issues. We booked My Time Dining since we knew we would be utilizing the specialty restaurants & didn't want to inconvenience assigned dining partners. Because of this, we couldn't pre-reserve the specialty restaurants online ahead of time & had to do so on the ship. Or call (hold), which defeats the purpose of online convenience. And when booking on the ship, you needed to call the MTD & cancel your reservation each time you booked a specialty. The right hand didn't know what the left was up to. That was a Royal PIA. If I had to do it over, I would book specialty restaurants FIRST, THEN go back & try to see if I could reserve MTD. And if I wasn't sure, I'd wait & do it on the in room TV. You couldn't cancel or change a reservation for dining OR shows on the TV if you had already booked them online. THEN there were the pre-booking issues with the shows. I had tried to get us into all of them & the times were not the greatest, however I thought I had managed to get shows/dinner all arranged. A couple of days prior to departure I received notice that the Ice Show 3pm last day showing had been re-arranged to 7:30 first day, when we had the comedy show scheduled. Comedy was more important, so we went to that & they still had our res. It still showed both reserved on the TV. Last day, the 3pm showing of Ice Show was still showing on TV & did not say it was cancelled on the Cruise Compass...so we went. Our reservations had a DING/CX notice on the handheld scanners, but they let us in anyway. It appeared that they just didn't want US to show up, or they wanted our Comedy show reservations. I don't know. But, I didn't find the system user friendly in the least. My DH
also didn't care for having to SCHEDULE EVERYTHING on VACATION. I'm a scheduler, so I didn't mind so much (or wouldn't have if I had plenty of planning time), but I hope this isn't the wave of the future for cruising.
The Windjammer is a madhouse. I never did find the ketchup. But, the one day we ate there, the food was good/hot/plentiful choices. If there had been seating, we might have eaten there more than once.
Park Cafe- I tried to order a breakfast panini & was told all they had were the pre-made breakfast sandwiches. I didn't argue.
Other specialty restaurants... meh. I didn't think they were worth the extra fee over the MDR food. Johnny Rockets free breakfast, not good. Chops.. I can't even remember what I had there. Izumi/Rita's didn't try.
Mini golf: Plastic light weight balls just didn't mimic the real thing. Skip it. Wasted space.
I would really like bread warm enough to melt butter. Sigh.
Something for everyone... translates to:
Not EVERYTHING HAS to be family oriented. CHICAGO was for adults & as an adult, I enjoyed it. Just as there are areas that are kid friendly with appropriate entertainment, so too are there adult only things available.
I loved the multiple choices available on the ship regarding the available entertainment that I could choose what suited my personal interests. Way to go RCCL. Two+Two thumbs up. ;)
We didn't feel like there were as many passengers as we knew there were. The only lines at elevators were after a show & pretty much the same as previous experiences on smaller ships. The only crowds were discovered were on the Promenade & in the Windjammer. We avoided the pool area, except on the port day of Jamaica...and there were a lot of people who didn't get off the ship.
The shows were very entertaining & above average. Oceanairia was the best, Comedy 2nd, Chicago 3rd, Blue Planet 4th, How to Tame a Dragon Ice show 5th. The guest entertainers in the Ice Games show were up there with Oceanairia, but the rest of the show was skip-able. Worth seeing if there is nothing else you'd rather do, basically. Oh, the headliner. Didn't care for it. 50's music started out good, with a theme/show to the music & one of the singers was really good.. But overall, off key/sharp more often than not. We left early.
Our Cabin. I think this turned the trip from ordinary into really nice. We had a guarantee & were assigned a room on Deck 6, midship, hump balcony, port side. I was a little concerned that since there were no passenger cabins below, that we might have some noise. If your room were over the Theater, I'm SURE you'd hear noise late at night from the 3-D late night movies! But, it turned out to be in the PERFECT location. We were on the same deck as the Aquatheater/Boardwalk area, same end & it was really quick to get around. Just down 2 floors to dining room. We didn't see much of the OTHER end of the ship & had to make it a point to go see the serenity area. Never made it to the Viking Crown Lounge. We only had to go up 2 floors to get to the specialty dining/Central Park area.
150 Park Central. This was MY favorite meal on the ship. The Chef (Molly?) had similar tastes to mine. I loved the restaurant decorations, our server was friendly & adapted to my sense of humor. (Not up tight nose in the air condescending.) And the food was phenomenal. I had the wine pairing & shared with my DH since I don't drink often (annually, not worth the calories) & he doesn't care for most wines. Basically, he just had a sip of each. It was probably still too much wine, but the pairings were great. The amount of food for me was perfect, maybe still a bit much. I don't think most men would really care for it, but it is definitely a chic thing! We ate on the venison night, which we have at home on a regular basis. They wanted to serve it more rare than we like, but after convincing them we know what we like, it was served as requested. Medium Well. And was FABULOUS. Each item was explained & it was a tasting menu. Everything was better than it sounded on the menu. Obviously, it exceeded my expectations. I could eat like that every day! Except for the wine.
Main Dining Room. The food we had in the MDR was also very good. Desserts were just average, but everything was tasty & I didn't leave hungry. Compared to our last years cruise on Carnival, it was exceptional. I have decided that the newest ships have the best food allocated to them, regardless of cruise line. The lobster we had was HUGE. I had grown used to the 2 tiny tails that resembled shrimp, but this tail was probably 4 times the size of current lobster dinners & cooked appropriately. No sand, not half raw. Our first set of servers were okay but inattentive & the table location was wonderful. Our second set of servers table location not so great, high traffic, close to exit/serving area...but the service was excellent. I think someone had a fit (we saw them the first night, well HIM, she was trying not to crawl under the tables in embarrassment, poor thing) not wanting to sit where we were finally seated & the squeaky wheel gets the lubrication. Go with the flow. I bet THEIR servers spit in the soup! LOL. Kidding. Melissa/Maria used the crumb scraper!
Giovanni's had the best BREAD on the ship, it was warm enough to melt butter. But, of course...you had olive oil/vinegar instead of butter.
The Cruise Compass screen. Not everything was on it, but you didn't have to carry around the paper copy & it would remind you where everything was. Loved it.
3D movies. I'm fond of 3D movies anyway, but I watched some I wouldn't have paid for back home. Even the animated ones had more adults than kids watching. The glasses weren't so great, but that could have been my Lasek eyesight. Sitting centrally helped somewhat.
Dreamworks character meetings... for the kids(?) & the kid in me ENJOYED IT! We only ran across one & didn't seek them out, but I liked that if you did, you could use your own camera. Nice touch for families on a budget.
Captain Zini. He seemed to genuinely care about his crew/ship & it came across in the question/answer session at the Aqua theater & I'd say it probably shows in the service levels provided by the crew. Everyone was friendly. No rudeness.
Cruise Director/Quest. My first time to view Quest. I think he did an outstanding job making things interesting. I could see that it might be a bit less interesting without a 'director'.
We went to Nachi Cocum for the 3rd time. It wasn't as nice as last time. The beach area has either eroded or we went a different time of year & the tide was high. I don't know. And the food wasn't as good as it used to be. It is still worth the $50 per person fee for the chairs/palapa/food/beverages, just not the value it once was. The main draw for us is the peace & quiet with the limited number of people there. Unfortunately, we were later arriving & seated by the dock area with radio. It may be time to do something else or try Mr. Sancho's.
Stayed on the ship. Looked at the port area from the deck. We've been to Jamaica several times & there ARE still things we want to do. BUT, we don't want to spend hours in a bus twisting & turning all over the countryside to do them. We will save our Jamaica excursions for other cruise line trips that dock at Montego Bay or Ocho Rios.
Labadee has certainly changed a great deal since I was first there in the 90's! We spent the day at the beach area where the float rentals are. It didn't look like you could take the mats to other beaches. Water shoes were NOT needed at that beach. Nellie's Beach. We skipped the BBQ & went back on the ship when we were ready to eat. We had intended to do the Dragon Coaster, but were told that the electricity was out on the island & maybe later.
FORT LAUDERDALE EXTENDED STAY CITY PASS
35PP, This was booked because we couldn't get a decent flight out last minute. I priced the luggage valet/taxi/water taxi option & decided this was a good option. As usual, there is typically confusion on the instructions & actual experiences, so here are ours.
Carryon Bags could have been left out (locked) overnite for the cruise staff to unload. We picked up bags, thru customs, went outside to drop bags. Bags2go store these at airport. They didn't have our names on the list w/tags preprinted. Don't know why. I'm sure I gave airline info online at time of booking shore excursion.
Also there is hand luggage space at the cruise meeting center. Showers/change rooms are nearby, according to the City People. Saw cabana rentals, bikes, fountain for kids to play in. Restrooms at cruise center AND downstairs AND periodically down broadwalk.
Trolleys leave every half hour at Johnson Center (abt 3 blks from cruise cnterr) The center had chips n ice water. Not really hang out place to read before airport, conference room type chairs & tables.
We ended up riding the trolley around town to 2 of the 3 routes just to spend time. Had brunch on the Broadwalk. Walked up & down to see what was there. If we were to do again, we might just bring a backpack with swimsuits/towels & hang at the beach.
I loved the ship & would cruise it again. However, after I do the math... our honeymoon cruise on Crystal Serenity was less expensive, if you include the casino losses & shipboard expenses on the Allure. Totally different product, but equivalent stateroom. If you include the blackjack winnings on the Serenity...it was about $1000 less. I enjoyed the Allure more. I point this out because sometimes when you look at the total package, what looks affordable may or may not be when you add in all the extra expenses. Usually, we spend about $2000 on our total vacation, shipboard expenses included. The stateroom expense on this ship is the most significant expense & with the size of the ship & ocean view opportunities lacking, to feel like a cruise, I need an ocean view. The Allure/Oasis class really isn't an economical option in the future. We will stick with the Galveston & New Orleans departures for the next couple of years. It was worth the experience, I'd do it again if money no were object. But, let's face it...in today's economy, there are very few people who don't have to think about tomorrow.