Traveling with my wife on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas transatlantic crossing of April 19 - May 1, 2015 was our 11th cruise in eight years, on four different lines. Having done one cruise each on Norwegian and Celebrity, our remaining experience is about evenly split between Princess and Royal Caribbean. This was our second Atlantic crossing, having done the trip with the Royal Princess just about a year ago.
Over the years I have read plenty of Cruise Critic reviews and never having read anything that varied too far from my own experience, frankly I never felt the need to throw in my two cents. The reason for speaking up now is because of the extremely uneven nature of this trip on the Allure. I’m not sure I would have thought too much more about it but it came to mind that if a friend asked if I could recommend it, quite honestly, I could not.
Before I get too far into what was wrong in our minds, I do want to give a shout out to our room steward, Sheldon. He was absolutely terrific, best one we ever had. We’re of the opinion that a steward can’t ruin a cruise but they can sure made a lackluster one better and to be honest, Sheldon was about the best thing on the Allure.
Second, my wife had a flare up of a known medical issue and we paid visit to the ship’s doctor one day. The situation was ‘fixed’ in a brisk, business-like manner and it wasn’t even insanely expensive. Kudos to RC on that one.
I am going to make a conjecture right up front about why this cruise was so uneven, take it as you will. My understanding is the Allure has been banging around the Caribbean since its launch. Having cruised extensively in the Caribbean my observation is that the passengers come in all ages, shapes and sizes and there are usually large numbers of children, and frequently, the kids are pretty young.
Now, on a one-way transatlantic crossing during the American school year, what aren’t you going to see? Very many children; there weren’t none, but they were certainly few and far between and I think most of them were actually not American kids. Which means that the average age of the cruisers is pretty high; I’m in my early 60s and these two transatlantic crossings are two occasions when I didn’t raise the average age when I entered a room full of people.
This situation seems to have escaped Royal Caribbean — the entertainment was to a great extent aimed at kids. Nothing against kids, we have grown children, but we also don’t go in for kids entertainment anymore. The stage show Chicago was good (my wife really liked it) and the Cirque du Soliel-ish Ocean Aria show was very good; it was also Chicago’s last performance aboard Allure. There were two comics aboard and they were, to our surprise, really good. The issue is that other than these three shows, the bulk of everything else seemed to be aimed at kids in the 8 to 12 year old range. Average age of audience, 65-ish, show created with 5th graders in mind, not a match made in heaven.
Four quick points before I get to the biggest issue in our minds. First, the drink prices on the Allure are just too high. It has always seemed to us that drink prices on cruises were probably pretty close to what you’d pay in a place at home and were priced such that you wouldn’t shy away from buying an adult libation because of price — not so on this ship. Many of them are $12 and that’s flat just too much. I did buy a beer one day and realized it was the same price as the grossly overpriced beers I didn’t buy at the stadium all the years I had NFL season tickets. Whether pricing something amounts to ‘gouging’ or not is a matter of opinion but in this case, IMHO it’s gouging, sports fans.
Second, I realize cruise lines seem to have decided that they want to herd you into a drink package but I’ll be honest, being neither a raging alcoholic nor having a hollow leg, I couldn’t come anywhere close to recovering the expense of a drinks package. I have to wonder if the grossly overpriced libations on Royal Caribbean aren’t a means to push you even harder into a package — if so, it’s not working, at least for us. A big thumbs down to the cruise industry for this alleged innovation. (I leave it to you whether they encourage binge drinking …)
Third, the in-room TV is a joke. It’s a cable package one might have gotten in 1988. There are no consistently presented channels; that is to say, you might find the same loop of Food Network shows running on a couple of different channels over and over again. During the middle days o the cruise CNN was reduced to being ‘the CNN podcast,’ whatever that is. Contrast this with our experience a year ago on Princess where we had a selection of no-charge first run movies and live news and sports channels through the entire Atlantic crossing.
Fourth, we had a category D-1 balcony cabin on the forward ‘hump.’ (Note— grab one of those if you find yourself on this ship because a balcony ‘on the hump’ is at least twice as deep as any other balcony in a comparable class suite.) The sofa in the room is a joke. It would be fine for a five foot tall ten year old but it’s way too shallow to be comfortable. It wouldn’t matter but over a 12 day cruise, you’re going to want to sit on that couch on occasion.
Coming now to our main gripe about this cruise, I grossly over summarize by saying that during a long cruise with no port days, a cruise line has to rely on two things to keep passengers happy — entertainment and food. Allure of the Seas bombed hard as regards the food.
I don’t have the delusion that I’m going to a four-star restaurant to eat a meal when I’m on a cruise. But realistically it should be as good as what I’d get going out to a restaurant at home; after all, the subtle sell job cruise lines give you is that the ships are floating resort hotels. Resort hotels have good to excellent food— the Allure does not. And this is not a complaint about the service I should stress.
The Allure has a lot of specialty restaurants, some coming with an extra charge, some not. The no charge options are open really weird hours and some of them aren’t even open at what most of us would consider mealtimes! My wife and I came to the conclusion that these weird hours of operation are to get you into the dining room or the for-charge specialty restaurants, except at breakfast time.
Here’s a place where the Allure falls down. It has a Mexican specialty restaurant that is modestly priced and was really good when we ate in it. It was also closed to some special event that you had to reserve a seat for in advance — for a restaurant which reputedly doesn’t take reservations. No matter, Royal Caribbean is tearing it out and replacing it with something else.
There’s a Johnny Rockets (which makes a good, no-extra charge breakfast in the morning) that makes a good burger. But I can get a good burger at home and when I’m traveling my appetite doesn’t particularly get homesick.
We ate in the higher-priced steak house restaurant, Chops, one evening and it was quite good. Excellent service, fine food well prepared. It was appropriately priced and if on a future cruise where there was a Chops, I’d be disposed to eating in it again.
So where does the food service go south? The buffet on Allure is terrible, repeat, terrible. I’d actually characterize it as shockingly bad. It’s incredibly small for a ship that can carry 6,000 passengers. The selections are poor. For instance, the ‘salad bar’ is a few chopped vegetables and a tub of shredded lettuce. The things I ate there I wouldn’t eat again and in fact, after the first couple of times, we didn’t eat there again.
So what’s the big deal, go to the dining room. Ah, but having gone to the senior prom more than 40 years ago I don’t do dress up these days, so there were three formal nights on this cruise where, not dragging suits and ties and dresses to Europe, we had to go with other options. Which is where the oddball hours turned into an aggravation. As a disgruntled guest said to me outside the Mexican place one formal evening, ‘They sure make it hard to get fed on this thing.’
And here’s the really big issue with the dining room. At lunch time, the food was good and the service was attentive. Allure’s lunchtime dining room has a fine salad bar and several hot items on a buffet which were uniformly tasty. They have the same menu every day if you’re not in the mood to serve yourself at lunch time and it has plenty of options and those I had were good. I had several genuinely good things in the dining room at lunch time.
We only ate dinner in the dining room in the evening twice. That’s a reflection as much on the menu as on the fact that we’re not much for standing around in a line to get seated for dinner as it is on the fact that three formal nights kept us out of the restaurant. One night we were going to go to the dining room but elected to go to Chops instead. The second night we went to the dining room my dinner was inedible. I had ordered something that Allure called saltimbocca, one of my favorites, which was not only not saltimbocca as you would know it, but had also been cooked into a hard, flavorless, unappetizing lump. It was supposed to be served on a bed of polenta. Technically I suppose it was polenta, but it, was, again, an indistinguishable lump. Terrible with a capital T. To be honest, I’m not one much for complaining in restaurants, but I did this time; I always feel bad for waiters on cruise ships because I feel like they’re bound to get chewed out if the guests complain but this time was so lousy I felt compelled to speak up.
So to sum up — don’t take the Allure for the food or the entertainment. At least in this instance, you’d be bound to be disappointed.
Ordinary cabin, outstanding steward! Terrible couch, just awful.
It's a compact town with plenty to see ranging from a Roman amphitheater to an old Moorish palace and has a truly lovely cathedral, and of course, it's Picasso's hometown so if you're interested in him you would find several interesting stops. The locals were pleasant and the prices of goods and services seemed appropriate.
Ft. Lauderdale's an excellent port to catch a cruise from; the airport is nearby, there are convenient stores, restaurants and hotels to the port. A number of the hotels have 'cruise packages' where you can prepay for a pickup and delivery at the cruise port.