We had the pleasure of visiting the eastern Caribbean the week if December 11 on the Amazing Allure of the Seas. My wife and I and our two active boys, ages 8 and 9. I always wish for more family reviews on these sites, so this review will be family focused and I will try to give as much 'parent friendly' info as I can.
Pre-embarkation: we flew in the night before sailing and stayed at the Hilton Ft. lauderdale airport hotel. I would wholeheartedly recommend this hotel. It was reasonably priced, had good service and a nice pool. A free shuttle from the airport was only 5 minutes wait as well. Most importantly, however, upon returning the following Sunday, we were off the ship and back at the airport by 9:30 in the morning with a flight home not scheduled until 5:30pm! One quick call back to the Hilton and they graciously sent the shuttle for us (better planning would have had us taking a cab straight there from the ship...oops) and we spent the entire day lounging by the pool at the hotel. No charge. No hassle. Free shuttle both ways. Excellent lunch from the restaurant poolside. It truly turned what could have been a nearly unbearable day at the airport with the kids into a great last day of the vacation for all of us, and the kids slept the whole flight home. Thank you Hilton and Rebecca the front desk girl!
Embarkation: I'd read many reviews saying that this was the best embarkation process ever. Despite the 6,000 or so passengers who needed to get on our full sailing, I have to agree. 10 minutes after arriving we has our sea passes in hand and were walking on board, no problem.
Many of the restaurants were open and waiting to serve lunch (we boarded at about 1:30) and unlike other cruises we've been on, the cabin was ready and waiting from the minute we got on (as were all cabins the best I can tell). We took a quick tour of the main promenade, central park and the boardwalk and then went to the cabin. After dumping our carry on bag and checking out the cabin, we headed back to the Boardwalk for a hot dog from the hot dog joint there (can't remember the name). The hot dogs were good and varied (coney, polish, Italian, brats, etc). The boys would visit again a couple of times throughout the cruise (we had a boardwalk balcony cabin so it was pretty close).
After eating, we returned to the cabin to find our luggage already waiting (awesome) so the wife unpacked while I used the interactive tv to make some dinner and show reservations. We found the online booking to be frustrating/annoying before the cruise and feared that we'd waited too long and that many were all booked up. Turns out they keep a bunch of the slots open for booking on the ship. In 30 minutes or so I booked all of the shows and dinner in 3 of the specialty restaurants and filled out the waiver forms for the zip lines and other rides to boot. The interactive tv is really cool and we checked it several times each day for reminders of our calendar, messages, schedules, a running balance on all the loot we were spending, etc.
The tv had plenty of programming for the kids (lots of repetitive dream works movies) and just enough for the adults at bedtime. Movies for rent through the system for $12 were a bonus used only once.
We had a Boardwalk balcony on deck 12 port side. It was big enough with little extra space...but it is a cruise cabin after all. The bathroom was nice, but small (again, what you expect on a cruise). I am 6'4" and 240 pounds and the shower was ok for me, more than fine for the rest of the family. I will say here though, if you are quite overweight you may have trouble moving around in the bathroom, especially the shower and on the toilet. You may need larger accommodations.
The couch folded out into a nice double bed and there was also a single bed that came down from the ceiling (as opposed to the wall on other ships we've been on. The ceiling bed is much better and less obtrusive into the room when stored than the wall beds that make the room feel/seem smaller. Having both beds was much nicer than the kids sleeping together in one bed as they sleep better apart...and therefore mom and dad do too!
Storage was adequate, barely. But again, expected. Plenty of room under the bed to store the suitcases once unpacked, also very important to conserve space. There is a minibar too, which is nice in my book.
The balcony overlooking the Boardwalk was nice, but not very private. There are a hundred or so rooms you can look into across the way if the curtains aren't drawn tight. It was great to be able to see the shows at the aqua pool from the balcony and people watch. I'd read numerous comments that these rooms were very loud, but with the door sealed tight we couldn't hear anything and slept like the dead. We were above rita's (the Mexican food place which has a loud party 2 or 3 nights during the cruise) and were never bothered. However, the boardwalk is a bit of a canyon and it might be worse down lower (deck 12 is the highest) or across from rita's, rather than above.
A tip I'd read here that paid off in spades: at the very back of the ship on deck 12 (at the end of our cabin hallway) is a balcony that never gets used and is a great place to watch all of the shows at the aqua pool and just to hang out, I went there a bunch with the boys.
In a word, spectacular. Another word, humongous. For me/us, the best ever by a mile. So much to see, so much to do, so amazing. It's kind of like a Vegas casino at sea with the promenade, shops, park, boardwalk, etc. Picture the Venetian crossed with new York new York. The kids absolutely loved it. As most of the accessible food joints (read, the ones without a hostess at the front) were free, we sent the kids off on their own several times with their sea pass cards to get their own food/snacks...which they thought was very cool.
The very best thing in my mind, and what sets it apart from all other ships is the outdoor space. Usually on a cruise if you are going to be outdoors, you are on the pool/sports deck with all of the crowds, calypso music and pool food/bar service only. On this ship, almost all of the great restaurants/bars are in central park (especially) and the Boardwalk. It's awesome. You are outside, enjoying the beautiful weather with fine food/drink in a spectacular setting. Truly it's revolutionary and whatever other shortcomings/trade-offs you have to live with are worth it...at least for me (and my wife and kids' too).
Central park is primarily for adults and is the home to the Italian food restaurant, the tapas joint, the steakhouse and the fine dining spot. It is terrifically romantic and beautiful to spend time in. My wife and I ended up there every single night while the boys enjoyed kids club (more on that later).
Boardwalk is more kid oriented and has Johnny Rockets, Rita's, the candy shop, the ice cream parlor, the hot dog vendor and the donut shop. The kids love it and the kids are there rather than central park, which is good for the kids and the adults.
The pool/sports deck is very well done. In addition to the pools and basketball court, it has the mini golf, flow riders, zip lines, ping pong, etc. We did just about everything and it was all great. The boys really enjoyed the zip line and my youngest was just big enough to ride (52" and 75# I think).
The Solarium area at the front of the sports deck is for over 16 only and was very nice. With a small pool, a couple of hot tubs, a more luxurious feel, no kids and nicer furnishings and lounge chairs than the main pool deck, we spent a good bit of non-kid daytime there. The breakfast and lunch buffets are more health oriented and better than the windjammer or the wipeout cafe too (kids are welcome for breakfast and lunch).
The biggest surprise for me was that this was the least crowded feeling cruise I've ever been on by a longshot. Most passengers I talked with felt exactly the same. You would never know there were six thousand people on this ship. The lines were short or nonexistent. There were lounge chairs available, no problem, on sea days at peak times. Lots of them. Never seen that before and our cruise was week before Christmas and completely sold out.
Now, the yang to the yin of this great big boat is that you will walk great distances, no way around it. This was fine for us, but clearly not as fine for some of the older/elderly, injured/disabled or seriously overweight passengers. If you have really young children, bring a collapsing (or full size) stroller. There were lots of them on board and if you have small kids you will want it/use it. The entertainment decks are 4, 5, 6, and 8. So, if you are fit/healthy taking the stairs from one to the next is not a big deal. However, about 94% of the passengers ignored the stairs completely by my estimation, which did start to crowd the 24 elevators.
My two favorite words in the English language are kids club. Seriously, if you've never cruised with your kids and are wondering about it, so long as your kids aren't completely shy/attached to you they will love kids club...and you will love it twice as much as they do. When we were on board (I.e.not in port and off the ship) my kids wanted to be in kids club all the time. They love it, the kids club counselors are super great and they have so many fun things to do they never got bored.
It's open from early morning (not sure when exactly as we never got there before 10) until 1am. You do have to pay $6 per hour per kid after 10pm and additional $ to leave them in for lunch and dinner if you choose. We never left them in for meals as we always ate together, but left them past 10pm most nights. As soon as dinner was over, we'd drop them off at kids club for 3 or 4 hours and have quality adult time. That is more quality time and more 'date nights' than we get to spend without the kids in a typical year. Everybody wins!
Kids club is what makes cruising the best family vacation there is...take advantage of it.
Many reviewers have said, and I agree, that the shows on the allure are way better than other cruises. Oceanaria and blue planet were great and the kids loved them too. The headliner (vox audio) was excellent too. We missed Chicago but heard great things about that too.
Ok, this one is a mixed bag. On a ship this big with this many people, something has to give right? Yep. While you expect the windjammer buffet to be so so (it was) I expected more from the main dining room than I got. Both my wife and I think it was the worst main dining room food of any of the cruises we'd been on. I guess if you are serving more than 5000 at dinner you can't really do much more than high end cafeteria. The service was mostly good though. The kids were happy with anything, so no big deal there.
The specialty restaurants seem to be the ticket. Giovannis Italian was excellent. As was the tapas joint (vintages). We didn't do Chops steakhouse or central park 150, but heard both were excellent. Didnt do or hear about sambas or Izumi...sorry. As for Rita's Mexican, just say no. Can you really make nachos and fajitas almost inedible? Yep. Salads at the park view cafe were good and ended up being lunch several days. Park view also had great grilled cheese paninis for the kids. The cupcake place was excellent but holy cow sweet and rich. Pass on the donuts (clearly not made on board fresh). Ice cream place is excellent. Johnny rockets is the burger option on board and great for breakfast too. Hot dog stand also good.
Bahamas: We did some shopping in the main town right off the boat and then walked to the nearby beach. Kind of low end but it was convenient, close and easy. While my wife and I would have preferred a nicer setting, a beach is a beach for the kids and they had fun. The bar/shack actually made excellent drinks and split fresh coconuts to serve them in.
St Thomas: we hit black beards castle, which was well worth the money. The kids took a dip in the pool there while we sipped some boat drinks after touring the whole place. After (around noon) we caught a cab to magens bay, which is a beautiful and large beach. We heard that coki beach and sapphire beach were great too.
St Maarten: we rented a small boat for the day from turtle cove rentals. They provided us with free snorkeling gear and fishing poles, which was nice. However, the map they provided was inadequate to really identify any good spots to stop and snorkel and trolling for fish was fun for the kids but a source of frustration for dad (tangled lines, setting lures, etc). Still, it was kind of cool to cruise around the entire harbor and we stopped in Marigot on the French side for lunch and shopping. That was a really quaint little town that we enjoyed quite a bit. The boys liked the boat a lot more than mom!
Just as easy as embarkation...very well done for all those people.
I hope this helps somewhat. I hope the negative stuff doesn't stick out. Just want to point out some things we would avoid next time and set your expectations. Cruising is the best family vacation out there in my opinion...and a terrific value too. The Allure is the best ship we've ever been on by far and I'd go on it or its sister ship the Oasis in a heartbeat.