It's hard to know where to begin, so let me just start from the beginning. We are seasoned Cruisers, have been Cruising with various Cruise lines for the past 20 years. My first Cruise was as a child of 17 with my immediate family of 4. As we aged, spouses came along, then came grandkids. At present we are a group of 11. Myself, my husband and three children ages 12, 10 and 7, my sister and her husband and two babies ages 2 and 1. The head of the family of course being my Mom (60's) and Step father (70's).
I chose the Allure of the Seas absolutely on ship itself. It was the perfect fit for our families - something for everyone!
Embarkation was a breeze. It's amazing how this has evolved over the years. I remember lines hours and hours long or waits in "herding stations" waiting to be called by group number when it was time to board. No exaggeration, we pretty much walked on.
First impressions of the ship were grand in all shape and form. The promenade is beautiful!! We explored further with our next stop the Boardwalk. We went up from there stopping in Central Park then up to the Sports deck. WOW is the best adjective I can use! Breathtaking and amazing! The ship was clear, new and just eluded nothing but good times ahead.
Our room was on the Boardwalk. An absolutely perfect location. We had a block of 4 rooms side by side. My parents, my sister and her family, and my family with 2 rooms. I can't describe the pure joy I felt when we discovered our 2 rooms were adjoining - something we've never had in the past! We've always just connected by using the outside balcony. Something that obviously isn't conducive to a family with kids our ages. In the past it's always been my daughter and I sharing a room and my husband sharing with the boys. I'm so happy these new ships are finally realizing the importance of creating rooms that connect!!! Our rooms were beautiful.. new and impressive. A large washroom and a king size bed! My only complaint is the closet. Although the space was there (and lots of hangers! yippee!) I found the doors to the closet very hard to operate. The fact the couch was immediately in front added to the frustration. Of course in small quarters there are always compromises to be had. In the Allure, the closet lost out to the large washroom and king size bed. Fair enough!
One of my first measures of business on board was booking shows. I had tried for the past month to do so on the RCI website but had little luck and lots of frustration. The site is user unfriendly and has lots of wrinkles to iron out. I was able to book at few shows, but not the ones I wanted. Onboard at the Customer Service Desk I was told that all Ocean Aria and Chicago shows were totally sold out. Grrr... I find it rather hard to accept that only a small percentage of Cruisers are able to be seated at these shows. Perhaps it would make sense to add more shows to the agenda. My parents were extremely disappointed to have missed out.
Dining. This has to be one of my favourite topics of discussion amongst forums like Cruise Critic. Here's my two cents:
Windjammer - Although I'm not a fan of cafeteria/buffet style eating, I believe RCI has is nailed it with the Windjammer. Although repetitive, there is pretty much every option under the sun. Much appreciated in the drink selection and international food selections. We ate here most mornings and some lunches.
Adagio "my time" dining - This is where we ate 8 nights out of 9. We are a family that prefers to dine in a dining room, family style with table service. Our wait staff was fantastic. Very friendly and totally on the ball. They had milk out for the children, bar service for my brother in law who prefers beer, and multiple wine bottles on hand so were were never without. Very impressive. Food quality was good. Obviously much better than I am able to produce on a nightly basis for my family. I wouldn't say great, solely because no one meal blew me away. I like most dishes, but didn't care for a few as well. Not something I'll criticize since individual tastes vary. I will say that over the years we've noticed a decline in dining room meals. What was once the "place to be" is now simply a nightly option. Meal variety has been reduced, we think to entice Cruisers to try other dining options. Pay options that is. Fair enough, but still disappointing for those of us who like the simplicity of the traditional dining room.
Specialty dining - We did a little.. Izumi and Rita's Cantina for lunch, both of which we tremendously enjoyed. Kids and adults alike enjoyed it the same. Vintages for afternoon wine and tapas was also much enjoyed. This became my mom and sister and I's favourite spot for female bonding. We love wine, and tapas style of eating. My only complaint here is that service was mediocre at best. Not because the waiters weren't friendly, they were, they were simply over tabled. I only every saw 2 waiters at one time and the place was always packed. My husband and kids also indulged in Johnny Rockets and loved every last bite.
We wanted to try a specialty dinner option but had tremendous difficulty booking. Chops and the Italian restaurant were completely booked the entire Cruise! The only option that was available to us was the Samba Grill. This was definitely our worst dining experience of the Cruise. We arrived at 6pm, just as the doors opened. We were greeted politely and introduced to the way bbq operates. We all enjoyed our starter salad buffet as well as the soup course. Infact I'll go so far as to say the black bean soup was one of my most favourite meals of the Cruise. Not being huge eaters, the meats started to get very overwhelming. It seemed to never end! Now I realize a lot of Cruisers want large portions of food for their money, but we place equal value on service, dining experience and food quality. The food quality was there but service and dining experience lacked. Our night ended with a $550 bill. I think the thing that left the most sour note in our experience was that they charged us for 11 people. I have an easier time accepting the 2 year old as she did sit in a chair and eat dinner (although let's be real, maybe 5% of what was offered to her), but they also charged us for the baby. $25 for the baby to sit in her stroller and drink her bottle and eat a few cheerios. I'll also add the restaurant was at 50% capacity while we dined. Boo RCI! I thing charging a baby is in very poor taste. That marked the end of specialty dining for us.
Show and venues - The only parties in our group who went to any shows were my parents. It was hit or miss for them. They like some, some not so much. Remember of course they were unable to secure seating for Ocean Aria or Chicago. The rest of us caught a bit Ocean Aria as we walked the Boardwalk in the evenings. What we were able to see was fantastic.
Sports Deck - Absolutely phenomenal. We all used the Flowrider, the basketball court, ping pong, zip line and rock climbing. One of the best things the ship offered. My kids were in heaven!!! The kids activities were excellent for my younger 2. They loved Adventure ocean and the staff had to be some of the nicest people we're ever met. My only complaint was the programs offered for my son. At 12 he's in the 12 to 17 group. They say the organize by 12 to 14 and 15 to 17 but we never saw this happen. He's a social kid, but couldn't integrate into the teenage social circle. Oh well, he still managed to have a great time on his own and hanging out with us.
Bars and nightlife - We absolutely loved the piano bar! Henry Saxby was awesome.. this is where we spent most evenings. The staff was wonderful as well. David is by far the best server around ;-) We also frequented the Casino which we also enjoyed, as well as other bars around the ship. We so wanted to lover the British pub but couldn't stand the smoke. It's was VERY smokey and unbearable, especially if we had the kids with us.
We never stepped foot in any of the ships shops!
Ports of Call - We are a definite minority, but we much prefer the ship itself that where it stops. We love having the pool and sports deck to ourselves! We only got off in St.Thomas for a bit of shopping and then again in Labadee. We loved Haiti - a great beach day!! We didn't zip line or use the roller coaster but we enjoyed watching everyone else. This has to be the best Cruise ship private islands there is.
Fitness and Spa - I'm embarrassed to admit, but we never made our way to the gym. Instead at least half of our party used the running track instead. It was perfect! One of the best tracks we've seen. Being that is was exclusively dedicated to the track meant we didn't startle or scare any other Cruisers who may happen to be lounging on chairs or taking in the view. Bravo Allure! My sister was the only one that went to the spa. She had a massage and said it was absolutely wonderful.
What else.. i'm sure I'm forgetting a lot. Let me conclude that disembarkation was also a breeze. We choose to walk off on our own and had no trouble whatsoever. We loved our vacation, did not want it to end, and we will definitely book again on the Allure. Cruising is the best vacation for our extended family!