I am a recently retired unmarried Federal employee in my early 60s to celebrate my retirement and recent move to a bigger home. I wanted to take a cruise during the post-Turkey Day period just before the holiday season drove ... Read More
I am a recently retired unmarried Federal employee in my early 60s to celebrate my retirement and recent move to a bigger home. I wanted to take a cruise during the post-Turkey Day period just before the holiday season drove fares through the ceiling. Other reasons for choosing this ship included:
o It had the Solarium, the Samba Grill (inside the Solarium Bistro), the familiar Royal Promenade, and some speciality restaurants I had not patronized before, like Izumi and Samba Grill.
o I chose the ship because it had the balcony cabins overlooking Boardwalk; and
o I chose the ship because it visited familiar ports: St. Maarten, San Juan, and Labadee.
I decided to do a two-night pre-cruise hotel stay at the JW Marriott hotel in Downtown Miami, along with a Viator Miami City and Boat tour aboard a double-deck bus. In addition to this tour was a planned steakhouse experience at StripSteak by Michael Mina at the Fountainbleau Hillton. The staff at the JW Marriott were very good at their jobs and eager to please their guests. One thing that bothered me was that somehow the charging things to one's room account did not get communicated to Drake's Bar in the Lobby: I had to use cash to pay for my beer. Another thing was that I thought the breakfast was included in the hotel package--apparently not, because the cost of the buffet was over 30 buck per day. My room looked on several condos, the pool (which I couldn't use because of limited time and the awful weather on Sat., 12/15/18), and other buildings in the area.
As previously mentioned, I did the Viator Miami City and Boat Tour, for which I had to take a 30 buck taxi ride to Miami Beach to get to the tour operator. I took my walker along w/me to help walk the streets w/o falling and/or getting leg cramps (two thing to avoid on a walking tour). The tour guide and the bus driver were very accommodating to mobility-challenged folks--even if I'm ambulatory most of the time. I climbed the steps to the top deck of the bus and enjoyed a birds-eye view of the sights of Miami. The tour included a boat ride around Biscayne Bay, and I wanted to see celebrity homes. The boat departed in the downpour that came after exiting the bus at Bayfront Marketplace. The tour operator had an arrangement with a restaurant there to feed its members quickly and efficiently so that by the time diners had finished their meal, they could go aboard the vessel. I just wish the tour operator had mentioned this little thing at the outset so that if people wanted, they could choose their own venue in the mall. Anyway, I boarded the boat and climbed to the top deck under the awning to better enjoy the sights. The tour lasted 90 minutes and the pretty lady guide kept up the pace of her narration with an occasional "Woo Hoo". Following the tour, I found my way back to the bus stop and prepared to re-board the bus for the trip back to the origin. Then I took another 30 buck taxi ride back to the hotel to get ready for my steak dinner at StripSteak by Michael Mina. Readers note: Any restaurants operated by celebrity chefs like this guy is going to be expensive, so be prepared for sticker shock when the bill comes.
The next day was Embarkation Day to board the Allure of the Seas. Apparently, I was the only one boarding the ship from the Marriott so I had the minivan all to myself to ride to PortMiami for Terminal A for Allure. The embarkation and check-in process went pretty quickly, but I wish the Welcome Letter had mentioned that the key cards will not be given to guests until they boarded the ship and they were handed over by the room stewards. I had to pose that question to the terminal staff about why the key cards were not handed over at check-in. Anyway, I used my walker to climb the ramp to board the ship, and then went to visit Central Park to visit Park Cafe for their roast beef sandwich. Delish! Fortunately, there were many tables available at that time. Then I went to Deck 14, where my cabin was located, and waited until the cabins were available--at 1 PM, so that I could enter and drop off my carryon stuff. A few minutes later, the room steward-Nita--came by to give me the key card and introduce himself.
I had the late sitting in the Grand Dining Room on Deck 4, table #428, with no other table mates. I decided to clip this troublesome situation in the bud ASAP by asking for a bigger, shared table. Did I get a bigger table? Yes, but was it occupied by other folks? No. It was also located in the Silk Dining Room on Deck 5, and there I suffered the humiliation of being the only diner at a table that seated 6 people. Food and service was great though. I also liked the decor of the MDRs, regardless of where I dined. To avoid that the humiliating feeling of dining alone, I had previously booked three specialty restaurants: Izumi on Deck 4, adjacent to the Grand DR; Chops Grille in Central Park on Deck 8, and Samba Grill on Deck 15. All meals were great, especially the ones at Izumi and Samba Grill. I ate lunch either in the buffet, the Solarium Bistro, at the Boardwalk Dog House, a free uncrowded breakfast at Johnny Rockets (no waffles, though), and Johnny Rockets for burgers. As previously mentioned, I patronized the Park Cafe for those yummy roast beef sandwiches. Too bad I didn't return for more of them during my cruise! I had several room service breakfasts. Two were complimentary (the Continental) and the other one was a la carte American, which carried some prices.
Entertainment and Activities:
I attended two shows while aboard Allure: "Mamma Mia" in the Amber Theater on the first formal night and the midnight show at the Comedy Live on the 2nd formal night. Readers: If you have a broad behind like I do, your butt will take a beating for sitting in narrow seats for 2.5 hours to watch Mamma Mia. After this show, my butt was in considerable pain. Fortunately, the seats at the Comedy Live show were more accommodating. One other thing about this venue: the decor featured a map of the London Underground on the ceiling w/various stops named for previously booked comics along w/the known ones, e.g., Green Park, Hyde Park, Marble Arch, etc. If you wanted popcorn, it was available for a small fee for a box. I bought a box after the Mamma Mia show. I liked the music, which had a nice beat, and some of the costumes were sexy on the female performers. I wasn't familiar w/ABBA's songs, but that didn't detract for the beat. The comics were great, too.
My primary entertainment came from visiting the Casino Royale. I did pretty well on one of the penny slots. Regarding bar service, it could be improved upon by speeding up the travel time between ordering a beverage like a Coke Zero and its arrival 5-10 minutes later. Why exactly a soft drink order takes 10 minutes to fill when the bar is in plain sight is beyond me.
My cabin, 14297, was on Deck 14 overlooking Boardwalk. It was a wheelchair accessible cabin I booked because I needed space to stash my walker and walk around w/o bumping into furniture. The bathroom was nice and big, with a walk-in shower and a pull down seat.
The balcony was nice and big, too, but I have to caution readers that they have to be careful about stepping outside: there's this device that flips down to complete the ramp to the balcony, and if you're not careful, you can easily hurt your foot by stepping on the thing when it's flipped up. The TV had OK channels, mostly dedicated to RCCL shows and a few network shows. I had two phones: one in the cabin and other in the bathroom! Another cautionary note to readers: if you're looking for outlets to charge your late model iPhones, you'll be disappointed because the charging docks in the clock had the old type of charging cable port: they were wide, not the new Lightning cables for the newer models of iPhones and iMacs. There were many outlets for plugging in your devices, but they weren't USB outlets.
The ports visited were St. Maarten, San Juan, and Labadee, Haiti. In St. Maarten, I had the Royal Family Food Tour, which included stops to sample Dutch cheeses, a BBQ lunch, and gelato making and tasting. For San Juan, I had booked a 1-hour chopper ride of the city, but the day before, I had been notified by the Shore Excursion desk that the tour had been cancelled for "operational reasons". Fortunately, I was refunded my $. For Labadee, I had booked the Luxury Yacht Experience, but I wasn't feeling too well for taking that trip, and notified the Shore Excursion Desk. They refunded my money too. I didn't feel as though I was missing anything by not going ashore, and stayed aboard to relax at the main pools instead. I did the same for the previously day, but at the Solarium instead.
The disembarkation went OK, until I got to the warehouse or hangar-sized room for the luggage claim. I couldn't find my bag under the numbered sign, and I flagged down a porter who found in another section of the cavernous space; it was there because the el-cheapo tickets had somehow fallen off. RCCL, please explain to me why you can build Terminal A with lots of bells and whistles to deal w/embarkation, but somehow did not take enough moolah from your construction project to install a luggage carousel. I suggest that you consider doing so because you have such a facility in another terminal down the pier. Another issue that bothered me was the disorganized means of finding one's coach for going to the airport. This should have been part of the planning for the Terminal A project, and here you barely passed muster. The trip to MIA was uneventful until you get to the queue for checking in at American Airline: it was a long queue!
Service aboard Allure was great, especially in the specialty restaurants. The chef at my hibachi table in Izumi was very funny and he was entertaining, too, along w/his work colleagues. Ditto for Nita's cleaning of my cabin. I gave him extra $ for a great job there. Ditto for the dining service in the Silk DR: I may have dined alone, but the service made me feel like Bruce Wayne at a big unoccupied table attended only by Alfred. I'm sure readers will ask, why not take the rest of the family? Why not eat only at the buffets or choose Anytime Dining? Answers: a: I had no immediate family--I'm a solo cruiser. Most of my extended family are not cruise people: they're hikers, campers, travel by the seat-of-the pants folks; b. Buffets do not offer controlled portions: you only get that in the MDRs or on the specialty venues; c. i tried Anytime Dining on Oasis three years ago, and it was a disaster: the first two dinners I had shared tables, the third and fourth dinners I dined alone at shared tables. Never again! I escaped this fate by dining at specialty venues and at the buffet so that I could watch the Aqua Theater show from my balcony.
Bottom line: Would I go again on Allure? Yes, but w/a group to avoid the humiliation of dining alone at big tables. Would I book the same hotel? Maybe, but I might choose the Courtyard by Marriott instead because of its proximity to the People Mover train. Would I choose the same cabin type? Yes, but in the Central Park neighborhood to get the serenity of this area. I also might choose a hotel in Miami Beach or closer to the Bayfront Marketplace, even if wasn't on the list of selected RCCL hotels for their cruises. Read Less