It's always good to start by introducing our group, so you can judge in comparison. There were eight of us: 2 gay male couples in their 50's, a family of 3 (mom, dad, and their 6-year-old daughter), and a 50-year-old male ... Read More
It's always good to start by introducing our group, so you can judge in comparison. There were eight of us: 2 gay male couples in their 50's, a family of 3 (mom, dad, and their 6-year-old daughter), and a 50-year-old male traveling on his own. I am part of one of the couples, and navigate in a manual wheelchair. We have had different prior cruise experiences, so I will speak only for myself: this is my partner's and my fourth cruise: we were on the Oceania Regatta twice and MSC Poesia once.
We arrived in FLL a couple of days prior to avoid any connection problems and enjoy a relaxing day either at the beach or in town. Our airline damaged my wheelchair on the trip down and we had to arrange with them to get it repaired before the cruise began, so that extra day was very useful. (For what it's worth, American Airlines and the company they worked with did a fine job.)
Embarkation looked overwhelming, but all the stories about RCCL's "well-oiled machine" held true. We did not use any special "accessible" lines and still got through the entire process very quickly. From the time we were getting bags out of the car to the time we were aboard ship, we took just over an hour. And this was with the party broken up into different queues as our cabins were on different decks.
We had an accessible room, 14251. This was a lovely cabin overlooking Central Park. We've read lots of complaints from those with interior-balcony cabins but were very pleased with ours. The noise that would be overwhelming with a Boardwalk-facing room wasn't an issue over Central Park. We were directly across (and only 1 floor below) from the kid's pool, so we had a lot of associated noise during the day; from dinner-time on, though, it was a quiet and relaxing place to hang out and watch folks in the park 6 floors below.
The room was fully accessible and 1.5 times the size of a regular cabin. The rest of the party's rooms were ocean balcony and interior cabins. There were mixed reviews about cabin size, but a running joke throughout the ship was how some larger passengers could possibly squeeze into the Allure's tiny showers. (For what it's worth, the accessible cabin has standard wheel-in showers with a drop seat, so don't worry about that.) Bath amenities include soap and shampoo; if you ask, however, you can also get conditioner, body wash, and hand lotion.
The ship was jaw-droppingly impressive from the moment we stepped aboard. The Royal Promenade is a swank, 2-level shopping mall. Hard to believe you're on a cruise ship. It was chaos at check-in with long lines of folks making dinner reservations/packages and shore excursions. Avoid the confusion and set things up beforehand.
The Boardwalk was lovely but loud. There's a carousel at one end and the Aqua Theater at the other, so there's almost always something going on. (Keep this in mind if you are considering a Boardwalk interior balcony cabin.) Here's where you'll find Jonny Rocket's (free for breakfast, fee for lunch & dinner), a hot-dog haven, a delicious donut and ice cream shop, and Rita's Cantina along with several shops (a bit lower-end in comparison to those in the Royal Promenade). Central Park is very lovely and serene with the sound of crickets and birds (I'd read that the animals are real, but never saw any myself.) There are several restaurants there as well as the Britto shop, but it's mostly a quiet mid-ship garden.
I cannot recommend strongly enough that you make any and all reservations as soon as possible from home. We'd set up a 3-dinner package (first meal at Chops Steakhouse, reserved before you leave; two other dining experiences to be reserved once aboard), all shows, and beverage packages. We also reserved one of the Fiesta nights at Rita's Cantina. The 5-bottle wine package was a good deal for us -- a bottle was just enough for the 8 of us and we didn't need one each night. A few of us also took advantage of their soft-drink package. For around $50, you get all the soda you want throughout the cruise.
Let me explain the details on this. You get both a "souvenir mug" and a notation on your Sea Pass card. Your card is used in restaurants and clubs to get "standard sodas" like Coke or Diet Coke. Your magnetized and coded mug, however, is used in special machines throughout the ship (adjacent to Sapporo's Pizza on deck 5, Windjammer Cafe on 16, and Wipeout Cafe on 15) to access over 100 different sodas: Coke, Coke Zero, Diet Coke, Sprite, Sprite Zero, Fanta, Fanta Zero, A&W Root Beer (or whatever Coke's brand of root beer is). And many of these also had an option of adding a flavor into the mix: Cherry Coke (or Cherry Coke Zero), Lime Coke (or Zero) -- this was a favorite. How about Orange Coke? Raspberry Coke? Cherry Sprite? Grape Fanta Zero? I got far more out of this package than I would have expected because I was sampling different sodas throughout the voyage. Don't like one? No problem. You can dump and refill it in about 10 minutes. Although they don't "allow" this option to be shared, I will confess that my significant other and I were both drinking from the same mug and nobody seemed to mind.
The food: good, but neither consistent nor great. The main dining room was lovely and the staff took excellent care of us. Our dinners there were very good. We were surprised (given previous reviews) that the free steak (prime rib the first night) was actually quite good. We enjoyed an assigned dinner time because it allowed our party to split up during the day but easily arrange for shared dinners at night. This also allowed us to have the same staff each night -- this is something I'd not considered before, but it is nice getting to know your table staff throughout the cruise. (Oceania has an open-table policy, so you don't get the same dining crew unless you specifically ask.) One looking-back regret is that between our 3-night, $50 for-fee-restaurant package and nights where entertainment made our 6PM dinner time cramped, we only got to use our assigned table/staff twice. For what it's worth, we were still able to use the room for dinner, but only as a no-reservation party when we came in around 8PM -- and the staff there was even friendlier than our regular table (though all were fine).
The main dining room for lunch was surprisingly good as well. A very good salad bar that is tossed for you, along with any entrees you might wish. We only had breakfast there on departure morning; it was good, but rushed, but expect that was because it -was- departure morning.
The buffets at the Windjammer Cafe were ok. Crowded. Unimpressive, for the most part, although we did agree their mashed potatoes were extraordinary. (I'm not sure that's what you want to be famous for, but I suggest giving them a try.) Avoid this place on boarding day; follow those in the know to the Park Cafe in Central Park and have a roast beef sandwich instead.
The Park Cafe had good food but bad attitude. Throughout the cruise various members of our party found the staff there rude and curt.
We often took advantage of the Solarium Cafe for breakfast and lunch. Lighter, healthier fare but without being Capital-H-Healthy. The exact opposite kind of food is found at the Wipeout Cafe: tacos, hamburger, hot-dogs. The tacos were yummy. We also often grabbed a slice of pizza at Sapporo's. Good NY-style pizza. The Boardwalk Dog House has seven different kinds of hot dogs to sample from different kinds of meat and different parts of the world. Makes you re-think your standard Oscar Meyer.
Among the for-fee eateries, we sampled 4. The Chops Steakhouse was delicious with very good service. It was my personal favorite. The Samba Brazilian Steakhouse was a carnivore's nirvana with 9 different cuts of meat brought to your table. I loved the filet until I had the sirloin. As opposed to reviews I read, there were only 9 cuts of meat and there was neither obtrusive music nor live dancing / dance instruction. It was quiet, low-key, and delicious. The salad bar was also quite yummy. The service was great. servers come by with large skewers upon which the meats were rotisserie-cooked; each piece is hand-carved at the table. My only complaint was the gluttony feeling I had as I left.
Giovanni's table offered al fresco dining in Central Park. It was very atmospheric, especially as the singer from the Schooner Bar (James Brown) was coincidentally scheduled to play a long set in the Park that evening. The food was uneven, though. My partner was very unhappy with the shrimp. The lasagna was amazing. A problem is that the pasta choices are served family style and it was difficult for everyone to be happy with just a few choices. So order more. It was a favorite for at least one of us.
And then there was the Fiesta at Rita's Cantina. I don't know how indicative of their dinner menu it was, but it was bad enough that it became a threat: "Be nice to me or I'll send you back to Rita's." "No, I'll be nice! I promise!" The food was worse than Mexican food you buy frozen in the grocery store. So basically we spent $20 for 3 good drinks. Not bad, I suppose, but still. The entertainment felt forced and was only saved by a guest at another table who was a fun drunk. Do yourself a favor and skip this.
The entertainment was surprisingly good. Chicago (a slightly abridged version) was well-performed. OceanAria was breathtaking. Blue Planet was beautiful but (for some of us) boring. The trampolining was impressive in both Blue Planet and OceanAira. The ice shows were ok, but nothing amazing (although the considerations of doing a jump or spin on a moving ship are impressive to begin with). The Comedy show was a lot of fun. We weren't big on the casino, sorry.
What was impressive is that there were so many things going on at once. Sure, there are multiple showtimes for most venues, but I got the impression I could take the cruise all over again and not need to repeat any of the experiences I had this time.
Again, RESERVE YOUR ENTERTAINMENT, either on-line or via your travel agent!! There were long lines for folks who hadn't reserved ahead of time and were waiting for available seats. Some of us tried booking the comedy show just a couple of weeks prior to sailing and it was already sold out. Also be aware that although you are reserving a seat at a show, you are NOT reserving a specific seat. You will want to arrive a little early if you want your choice of seating. Wheelchair seating is back-of-the-house, although we did see somebody enter the Amber Theatre from the front of the house side door (3rd floor) and transfer to a front-row seat. Not sure how that was arranged.
We did also take advantage of non-reservation fun like rock climbing walls (far harder than they look) and the zip-line (far easier than it looks). And, disabled folks will want to know that although I couldn't go rock-climbing, I -did- meet the mobility requirements for the zip-line. (You have to be able to stand on your own.) The guys there were very accommodating.
The gay couples also took advantage of RCCL's standing "Friends of Dorothy" meeting policy: Champagne Bar @ 5PM. It was a good opportunity to make new friends and compare notes on the fun things we'd enjoyed. We all found the staff to be very gay-friendly. To be more precise, everyone was gay-not-caring. Straight couples, gay couples, didn't matter to staff or (as far as we noticed) fellow passengers.
There are several swimming pools. There's a kid's pool, a noisy, colorful, fun place for toddlers through (I'm guessing here) 2nd or 3rd graders. There's a "beach pool" which offers no sand, but is a zero-edge pool (no steps, just a gradual incline). This is useful for those in appropriate chairs or devices. There's a "regular" pool, and an adults-only pool in the solarium (where we hung out, as our group's sole child was happily enjoying her days with the Explorer Club). We were surprised to find that the Explorer's Club does not have any scheduled pool visits, so plan accordingly if you have a kid.
There are also whirlpools available throughout the ship. Passenger favorites are those cantilevered near the front of the ship, but we found the TV's there distracting and preferred those in the Solarium. Be aware that all whirlpools are raised and there are no lifts for those who cannot climb in on their own.
Our main concern was with the crowds, in spite of what we'd read. No surprise that the ship felt far more crowded on at-sea days. Since we'd done this itinerary on another ship in the past, we felt very comfortable using port days to explore the Allure on a less chaotic pace. While at sea, it was useful to stake out a claim on lounge chairs early in the day. But understand that reserving chairs is frowned upon. The one point where we did feel inconvenienced was waiting for elevators. We'd often have to let one go by because it was too crowded. You'll want to use the stairs whenever possible.
As said, we did not take this cruise for its itinerary. We didn't leave the ship in Nassau. In St. Thomas, we just walked around on our own for a bit. In St. Maarten, several of the group took an excursion riding a bus and then a bench-bus to the highest point of the island, from which everyone walked down with a guide. Surprisingly, there were few vantage points from which to see the island as the path was very lushly-grown. It was a good workout for those who went.
Ee aware that although the "well oiled machine" does its best to get you back in port quickly, there are roughly 6000 going through customs at once. RCCL has special disembarkation plans for those traveling in a wheelchair; we didn't take advantage of this since I don't need assistance to get around in the chair. (They also said they could need up to an hour of extra time for setting this up.) But even without that time-sucker, leaving takes a lot of time. We were pulled out of line so we could use the elevators at the Port in Fort Lauderdale, so that saved us some time -- and it still took over an hour to get through customs.
And be aware that because of all those people leaving at the same time, Fort Lauderdale airport can be a nightmare as well. It was practically standing-room only at our American Airlines terminal. (We had an 11:55 flight to ORD.) So be patient and allow yourself plenty of time. Read Less