The Bottom Line
An incredible ship with just about every activity you can imagine. With the exception of Labadee, Haiti the ports of call are nothing spectacular, but you won't care as in this case the ship really is the trip. The largest cruise ship in the world, but with so much passenger space it never feels crowded. Highly recommended for families, younger couples, and anyone who wants an incomparable experience. Not recommended for anyone who wants a small ship experience, or who wants "classic cruising" with dressed up people and big bands.
Let me start off this review by admitting up front that I used to work as a Social Host onboard Carnival Cruise Lines back in 2001 - 2002. I worked on two ships, one sailing out of Port Canaveral for the Bahamas (3 and 4 day cruises) and one sailing out of New Orleans to Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel (7 day cruises). I have not been on a cruise since that time and knew that if I ever went back on a cruise ship it would have to be something pretty special. When I saw Oasis of the Seas come out of the docks I realized that the time had come. But I am always a bit leery about trying the absolute newest thing, so I held back for Allure of the Seas thinking that anything that was not quite right with Oasis they would fix / improve for Allure. I cannot tell you if this really has been the case (although I will mention a few of the differences that I did hear about). And to get to the punch line now: yes, it was worth the wait.
Because of other commitments I ended up flying into Fort Lauderdale the Thursday before my Sunday departure so I booked a room at the Hilton Marina to wait for the ship. My friend Chad, who was joining me on the trip, was flying in on Friday. The Hilton is basically directly across the street from Port Everglades (and only a $15 taxi fare from the airport) so it seemed very convenient. On Friday I saw a number of folks coming in from the west coast for cruises leaving Saturday (as it is impossible to get into the east coast prior to 4 pm unless you take a red-eye flight). Two ships were leaving on Saturday: Oasis of the Seas and Carnival Freedom (doing 6 and 8 day cruises). When I worked for Carnival, Freedom was one of the new "huge" ships coming out that we all wanted to work on. How small she looked sitting next to Oasis! We spent Friday and Saturday looking around Fort Lauderdale, basically a beach town. I really can't say that it was a place I would run to for a vacation, but it was pleasant enough for a couple of days. I would highly recommend the Water Taxi which, for $20/person (off/on privileges for the whole day) you can take a trip down to Hollywood, Florida or up the coast past the mega yachts and McMansions. The captains are friendly and chatty and the rides can give you a good feel for the area. One nice thing about our hotel was that our room overlooked the port so Saturday afternoon we got to watch Oasis and Freedom pull out.
I did not get up to see Allure pull in Sunday morning as she does so about 4:30 AM; by the time we woke up she was busily off-loading passengers and on-loading the next week's supplies. From the distance of our hotel room (about ½ mile away from where Allure berths) you could not tell any difference between her and Oasis (even though Allure is 5 cm longer than Oasis - more on that later). I figured that since the entrance to Port Everglades was across the street from my hotel (as well as a number of other hotels lining 17th street) we could just walk to the ship: that however is not the case: you need to take a cab ($7) as the Port Authority does not let people walk in (or so I was told).
We hailed a taxi and headed over for the ship at about 1 pm (even though RC states that boarding does not begin until 2). Getting out of the cab we were quickly greeted by a row of porters who grabbed our bags out of the cab and rolled them over to the baggage carts (I tipped our porter $5 for 3 bags). I had ordered bag tags from the Royal Caribbean website which had our names and cabin number on them, so I was confident our bags would end up in the right place. I had also printed out our boarding passes (but not the entire 25 page Welcome Aboard package that I was sent a few days before the trip) and presenting them to one of the RC staff, we were pointed toward check-in. I booked a D1 cabin (Deluxe Ocean View Balcony Stateroom) which was not a suite, so I cannot tell you how that separate check-in fared. We walked into the terminal (which I was told was built specifically for Oasis and Allure) and were surprised at how clean efficient it all appeared. Everyone was smiling and enthusiastic. We got to the counter and were cheerfully welcomed. Our passports were scanned, as was my credit card, and our Sail and Sign cards were presented to us. It was then a short walk to the escalators up to the ship's entrance ramp. I would estimate the time from getting out of the cab, checking-in, to going through security, to stepping on-board the ship to be about 12 minutes. If only airports worked this efficiently!
Right as you enter (prior to passing the double-doors into the Royal Promenade) if you look left and right you'll be looking down the running track (more on that later too). Then past the doors we were greeted by several crew members who asked everyone to sanitize their hands via auto-Purell dispensers. Not surprisingly there is a big fear of the Norovirus (and other illnesses) and every time you enter the ship (as well at every eating establishment on the ship) you will be sanitizing your hands. Personally I was happy to oblige as I had no desire to get sick (and I didn't).
Allure of the Seas - Overall
It's hard to describe this ship. Sure there are some easy adjectives I could use: huge being the first to come to mind. But she is much more than that. Walking into the Royal Promenade feels like you entered a mall, perhaps like one you find in Las Vegas (a little ritzy, with stores that are probably out of your price range but seem appropriate because, hey, you're on vacation). Just walking through the promenade makes you marvel at the detail put into this ship. The tile work on the floor is amazing, as are little touches such as a statue of the couple stealing a kiss in an alley. A plaque on the wall by the pizzeria gives a few descriptions as to the design philosophy. Guest Services are located in this area, as is the Shore Excursion desk. Naturally there are always lines at both, but what RC has done to minimize this is to move as much as they can online. For example, prior to getting to the Guest Services desk you are met with a number of kiosks that allow you to check your account balance or even check in to your flight home. Similarly all bookings (shore excursions, restaurants, etc.) can be done from the TV in your room.
Just beyond each elevator lobby (there are two, each with 6 elevators - 3 glass and 3 interior) are large touch screens that allow you to see the current calendar as well as how full each restaurant is at the moment. The monitors also have interactive maps which will give you directions to any venue in the ship (including your cabin). The elevators were rarely crowded (except for shore days) and I must admit I really enjoyed going from Deck 5 to Deck 16 or 17 in a glass elevator and seeing everything from the Royal Promenade to Central Park. However unless you find it difficult to do so, I would recommend using the stairs as much as possible (located around the corners from the elevator lobbies). The staircases (there are 4 main ones) are beautiful and each landing has artwork. Even after 7 days at sea we were still finding art that we hadn't seen before. Much of the art is photographs, but there are a number of framed pieces as well.
Can you feel the ship move? The short answer is "yes." Even though Allure is the biggest cruise ship in the world she is still at the mercy of the seas. Now, truthfully most of the time she felt as solid as a rock. But on occasion she would shudder going through the waves. And sailing up from Cozumel (notoriously rough as you go through the channel that separates Cozumel from the mainland) she did rock gently. I saw a number of people with sea-sickness patches, but I cannot imagine they were necessary unless you are very vulnerable to mal-de-mer.
Does she feel crowded? Shockingly, no. Most of the time, in fact, she felt kind of empty and I was wondering where everyone was. I read that Allure and Oasis have more deck space per person than any other cruise ship and this makes sense. The only time it felt really busy was in the Windjammer Cafe (the main buffet) especially in the morning and on the Royal Promenade at night. But otherwise we never had difficulty finding a deck chair (even to the point of asking each other "do you want a deck chair on the left side or right side of the ship?") or a seat in a bar. The shows did seem to fill up (especially early in the week) and reservations, while not mandatory, are recommended (if you don't have reservations to a particular show you can always go "standby" and get let in 10-15 minutes prior to the show starting - we did this once, for Blue Planet, and didn't have any trouble getting a good seat - but it's dicey). On that subject, there is no assigned seating, so it's best to get to a show a bit early (they open the doors about 45 minutes prior to the start, but shows didn't seem to start filling up until about 25 minutes prior). There are no physical tickets for shows; rather your Sail and Sign card is scanned at the door to confirm your reservation - overall a nice and efficient system. I made all of our reservations on line about 6 weeks prior to sailing.
There are plenty of outdoor spaces, and lots and lots of pools and whirlpools. I'll discuss some of my favorite areas below. Since we were not traveling with any children I cannot comment on the kid/teen areas except to say the H2O zone (kid pools) looked like a lot of fun.
We liked our Cruise Director - Ken Rush. He was a constant presence throughout the ship, appearing at the end of many shows and MC'ing a number of deck and evening activities (like the Belly Flop Contest and '80's party). He had previously worked on Oasis, so was clearly comfortable around this size ship (which he said he liked "just a bit" better than Oasis). On that note, Allure and Oasis really are twin ships (same plans) but Allure is 5 cm longer. The difference is apparently due to inconsistencies in welding thickness (which must be minor, but over 1200 feet adds up). Mr. Rush also hosted a TV program every morning to let you know what was going on and to answer questions (the show was repeated throughout the morning) - the ship's captain had a program each evening.
- Ocean Aria - this is the water show held at the back of the ship. It's basically a mini Cirque du Soleil show (similar to O or Le Reve in Vegas). Having seen a number of Cirque shows (as well as Le Reve) it's hard not to think of this show as a slight step-down. However, like everything else on the ship, once you remember that it's occurring at sea, and you aren't paying anything extra for it, it's pretty impressive. There are diving acts, a trampoline act (the best part of the show) and trapeze work all over a pool which can go from 0 feet to 14 feet in depth. I can't say I loved it, but I'm very glad I saw it, and would definitely recommend it.
- Chicago - even though the Cruise Director kept referring to this as "the actual Broadway show" it is really a 90-minute version. Basically they have kept all the songs and eliminated as much of the talking as possible. There is still some language and situations that make it inappropriate for younger children (under 13). On the one hand, if you really want to understand what is going on (and the motivations for the characters) see the movie first. On the other hand, if you are just looking for an evening's entertainment of good singing and dancing, don't worry about it and just see the show. No, you won't think you've just seen a real Broadway show, but everyone in the cast is good - and a few of the members are great.
- Ice Games - this is one of two ice skating shows (the other is "How to Train Your Dragon" - which does not require reservations). The basic premise is that you are playing a game of Alluropoly (Monopoly on the Allure) and each roll takes you to a different part of the ship - and there is skating that reflects that area. It's a cute concept. The skating was good, but I was more impressed with the costumes (there were a ton of costume changes). Again, a fun evening's entertainment.
- Blue Planet - this show is more like a traditional cruise ship show - a lot of singing and dancing with no real plot. The idea is that you are visiting areas around the globe - from the desert to under water. Some of the effects are good, some great (I loved the underwater bit). The cast is the same as Chicago - which must be nice for them to do two totally different shows. One caution about this show: if you can, try to sit in the center of the theater. One of the acts is done on trampolines and is only visible if you are sitting in the center (to compensate during that one act, two projection screens appear so you can watch the routine that way - but who wants to go to the theater to watch tv?)
- Comedy Club - We went to the comedy club on the Friday of the cruise. There are two comedians. I enjoyed them both. Again, this is not for kids (these shows are really rated R).
- 3D Movies - one thing that Allure has (that Oasis doesn't have - at least not yet) is the ability to show 3D movies. Every afternoon there is a single showing of a DreamWorks film in the main theater. These are digital 3D movies in 7.1 Dolby Surround Sound. The glasses appear to be active (like you have on the new 3D TVs) rather than the passive polarized types in most movie theaters (there is a warning that the glasses will not work in any other theater). The sound and 3D were both great. We saw Shrek 4 and Kung Fu Panda 2 (the latter of which was in theaters at the time). Neither of the movies we saw was crowded. In addition to the movies, there is a DreamWorks parade (the same parade is done twice during the cruise) and character meet-and-greets throughout the cruise. The characters were on the same level as Disney, and the parade was pretty impressive too.
Specialty (i.e. extra cost) Restaurants
- 150 Central Park - this is the top of the line restaurant. It costs an additional $40/person to dine here (although I only paid $35 - I'm not sure if this was because I booked online or because prices went up between the time I booked and the time I ate). It is a 6-course fixed menu. The restaurant itself is very elegant and seemed most suited for a dress-up evening. You can do a wine-pairing for an additional $75/person. There is also a 150-bottle wine list (thus the name of the restaurant) with wines ranging from about $50/bottle to $7800/bottle (yep, just under eight thousand dollars - almost double what I spent on the cruise). I would not recommend this restaurant to children under 13, or to teens at all (unless they are really into food). I would also not recommend it to anyone who prefers comfort cooking to more gourmet fare. But if you like well thought out, well presented dishes it's definitely worth the expense. The service here, by the way, was the best of anywhere on the ship. If you go be sure to sample all the different sea salts with the bread and butter. Some of them are amazing. As an aside, we went to this restaurant on the formal night (which were the first and second at sea days), but we saw very few people in tuxes/gowns. Many were dressed up, and just as many were wandering around the ship in evening casual (or less formal) clothes.
- Chops Grille- It's the steakhouse. The interior is rich woods and big chairs. There are a number of cuts of meat on the menu, including an 18-oz t-bone. I had a NY strip steak that was fantastic. Chad had the filet mignon which was also very good. With each steak they bring out a number of sauces and you can try as many as you like. You can also order as many side dishes as you want. We had the mushrooms, onion rings and steamed asparagus. I liked them all - but 3 sides for the two of us were too much. Of course that didn't stop us from ordering dessert (how can you not when it's all included?) My friend had the crème brûlEe (served flambE style) while I had their version of a mud pie (which was really more of a chocolate mousse cake). Both were great.
- Giovanni's - Not surprisingly this is the Italian restaurant on board. Even though it is the most "common" of the restaurants we ate at, I found the service and the food to be among the best. I especially enjoyed the antipasti plate which included freshly carved prosciutto (served for 2 people). For main courses we both had basic pasta dishes because, well truthfully it was near the end of the cruise and couldn't imagine eating much more. Still we managed dessert. Mine was better - a chocolate cannoli - you'll see them in a case just as you enter the restaurant.
Other specialty restaurants we did not eat at included Rita's Cantina (Mexican), a Brazilian steak house, the ice cream parlor (where you can get anything from an ice cream cone to a 5-scoop sundae), the hot dog stand (serving hot dogs and sausages) and Johnny Rockets (which I've eaten at on land, so didn't feel compelled to eat at sea - it is also serves a complimentary breakfast). I guess I should include Starbucks here (the only Starbucks at sea - so they claim). I didn't go there as I'm not a big coffee drinker. That said, what little coffee I did drink on the ship I didn't like - so maybe Starbucks would have been the preferred route.
- Windjammer Cafe - This is the main buffet on the ship. Like many of the new buffets (such as in Vegas) it serves a variety of foods, from Asian to Italian to American. We ate there once for breakfast and once for lunch, but considering how busy it was it seemed to be the most popular place on the ship. I found all the food good and if it weren't for the crowds (and the myriad of other options) I would have gladly eaten there more often.
- Main Dining Room - I'm not going to go into much detail here - it felt like a standard cruise ship dining room. The service and variety of the menus was good. There didn't seem to be anything catchy (waiters getting dressed up or special decorations). Overall it's fine, but again - there are so many other choices...
- The Park Cafe - this turned out to be one of my favorite spots to grab a meal (breakfast or lunch). For breakfast they have a "make your own bagel bar" (although the servers do all the food handling) which included a variety of cream cheeses and a number of toppings (including smoked salmon!). For lunch it turned into a "make your own salad." There was also an omelet station (for breakfast) and a Panini station for lunch. On top of that you had the option of eating out in Central Park which was very pleasant. Finally, it was one of two places that you could get free drinks other than just water (they also served iced tea, lemonade and kiwi-strawberry flavored water). This was my go-to place for a drink after a run in the morning.
- Promenade Cafe - located on the Royal Promenade (next to Guest Services) this 24-hour cafe offered sandwiches and snacks. There was always a quick moving line - mostly for the cookies and other desserts offered there. It was a great option for an afternoon (or late night) pick-me-up when you didn't want pizza.
- Sorrento's - the pizza restaurant. Along with single slices they had a "make your own" pizza option (with about 6 choices for toppings) which I really enjoyed (basically they crust is pre-made and they reheat it with your toppings). It takes about 10 minutes for one of these mini-pizzas, but it was a nice change.
- Wipe-out Cafe - A small place serving basics (hamburgers, salads, etc.) during the day. We only went there once - to get frozen yogurt (which we later found was also served on the pool deck mid-ship).
I booked a Category D1 - Deluxe Outside Stateroom with Balcony. The balcony on the D1 stateroom is 80 sq. ft, about 50% larger than most of the outside balconies (except suites). The room itself was small, but didn't feel tiny, with a couch, desk, and twin beds (convertible to a king). The bathroom was fine - you certainly weren't going to put more than one person in the shower, and a large person might feel a bit cramped, but I had no problems. The bathroom was stocked with standard travel sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion; we brought our own so I can't speak to the quality of the toiletries. My only minor complaint of the room was that the balcony had just two chairs and a small table on it - not really inviting if you want to stretch out. Sitting on the balcony you cannot see any other balcony (unless you lean over the railing) as all balconies are separated by opaque glass (maybe Plexiglas) walls. You also did not feel much of a breeze - so eating a meal out there was not a problem. There is a door in each glass wall, so you can go from one balcony to the next if you like; these doors can also be locked by the stateroom attendant (we never had ours unlocked).
I had considered the inside balcony cabins (overlooking either Central Park or the Boardwalk) but I'm glad I did not go that route. While both areas are pretty (and the Boardwalk balconies can see the Ocean Aria show) you get no privacy as anyone can look up (or down) on you. I very rarely saw anyone sitting on these inside balconies, but I did see a lot of clothes drying on chairs.
One thing that must be mentioned is the TV in the room - not for the TV itself (a standard 26" or so flat screen) but for the interactive features. You could make show or restaurant reservations via the TV, as well as book shore excursions (but I would still recommend doing that prior to the cruise via the RC website). You could also check the capacity at restaurants at any time. You could also see the status of your bill. On our sailing the "where is the ship now" feature was not working, but should be fixed shortly.
Other favorite areas
- Solarium - This is where we spent most of our time outdoors (other than on our balcony). It's on decks 15 and 16 at the front of the ship and consists of a lot of lounge chairs, two whirlpools and a pool. What made it special for us was that you must be 16 or older to be in the Solarium and thus it was a relatively quiet outdoor respite. The pool was usually busy (but not overly crowded except on a few occasions) but the two whirlpools were never packed. Like everywhere else on the ship there was a constant stream of waiters offering bar service. There is a towel service area in the Solarium (you must check out and check in beach towels with your Sail and Sign card - failure to return one will get you a $20 charge on your bill). If you have kids (or just like crowds) you are stuck in the main pool area which was generally crowded and noisy (but some people really enjoy that). There are also a couple of designated smoking areas near the main pools.
- Sun Deck - This seemingly hidden area is about as far forward as you can go on the ship. You can see it if you are standing in the Solarium. To get there you need to go all the way forward on the deck 14 port corridor (the starboard corridor leads to a dead-end). It was a great place to watch the ship pull out of port, or just to get some alone time, as not many people could figure out how to get there.
- Viking Crown Lounge - Our favorite bar on the ship (and a standard on all RC ships). Not only was it never crowded, most of the time it felt pretty empty. They had martini specials every night which we took advantage of, as well as live music in the evenings. I really enjoyed listening to the music, with a drink in my hand, and watching the ocean go by. It felt like old world cruising. It also had the best bar snacks we found - a type of trail mix.
- Rising Tide Bar - OK, what does it say about the size of ship that it has a bar in an elevator (alright, the bar IS an elevator). It's a small bar, and occasionally crowded, but it was a fun experience, and if you go relatively early in the evening it's not hard to find a seat.
- Running Track - Located on deck 5, and accessible either from the stairwells or through the Spa/Gym (which we didn't use, but looked very nice). The track is almost ½ mile long (12 laps = 5 miles). It is rubberized with clear mile and kilometer markings. There are also a number of humorous signs posted along the route, which made it fun. The track is outside (although interior to the life boats and blocked in the front by the gym) but gets very little breeze - which is a good thing as I didn't need 20 knots of wind on me while trying to run. There are two paths, one for runners and one for walkers. I normally went in the mornings and never found it crowded.
Ports of Call
- Labadee®, Haiti - This was by far our favorite port on the trip. Yes, you are in Haiti, but you would never know it as this is a private beach resort just for RC (note the registered name). Truthfully it feels a bit Disneyesque, complete with an alligator mascot. But the beaches and water are beautiful. There is some "local" shopping in the compound which will require cash, but otherwise everything is included or can be purchased with your Sail and Sign card. The lunch that was provided was good and plentiful, but only served for a couple of hours, so don't miss out on that. Bars, of course, are open the whole time. The specialty drink there is the Labadoosee, which is basically a fruit smoothie that can be served hard or soft. I found it very tasty (and it comes in souvenir cup). There is an amazing looking zip line (which we did not do) and a mountain coaster (not really a roller coaster, more like a bobsled, but on a track) which we did do, and was a blast. It's an extra expense (about $20 per car, which can hold one or two people - up to 360 lb total), but was a lot of fun and gave you some great views of the area. Overall, my only disappointment was that this was our first port, rather than our last, as the other two were not nearly as fun. One other note, if you are upset by the idea of having fun in Haiti, a country which continues to suffer, RC is working hard to publicize what they are bringing to that country (including building a school as well as paying docking fees).
Embarking and disembarking here (and at the other two ports) was easy and fast. There was practically no wait in either direction. At each port you do have to go through metal detectors and a bag check, as well as a mandatory Purell station.
- Falmouth, Jamaica - I've been to Jamaica a number of times, so I cannot say I was too excited to go back. The island is very pretty, and if you have never been there I would certainly recommend doing one of the inland tours or a water event. The port at Falmouth is currently (as of June 2011) being built by the city and RC, and I must say it is the nicest port I have ever been to in Jamaica, perhaps because it is controlled; the port has a number of buildings for shopping, tours, etc. without having to go out into the real town of Falmouth (which looked fine if unexciting - and I would not have hesitated to walk around). Falmouth is about 6 miles from Montego Bay where there are a number of resorts, restaurants and bars. We did the Mountain River Rafting tour, which was pleasant, but nothing spectacular.
- Cozumel, Mexico - like Jamaica, I've been to Cozumel many, many times. We had thought about heading to the beach (a $15 taxi ride away, or $29/person if you book a tour) but decided instead to just walk from the pier (the International Pier) to downtown (about 3 miles) to do some window shopping. Avoiding the beach worked out ok as we got hit by a downpour in the middle of the afternoon. By the time we got back to the ship we were soaked through (but, naturally, it was sunny then). It was actually nice being on the ship when most people were off on land - everything (except the stores and the casino) was open, but it felt pretty empty.
Return to Fort Lauderdale
We got back into Fort Lauderdale about 4:30 AM. The earliest you can leave the ship is about 6:30 AM (if you want to carry you own bags). For everyone else, you are given a number (1 - 78). At about 7:30 AM they start releasing the first few numbers, and continue every 15 minutes or so. There are no loudspeaker announcements - instead screens throughout the ship show which numbers are eligible to depart. We were in no rush, so had selected a late (after 8:30 AM) departure and were given #75. We were released at about 10 AM. It took about 20 minutes to get our bags and get through customs. Out of the terminal if you want to get to the airport there appeared to be three possibilities: a RC shuttle (at $20/person), private shuttles (at $10/person) or taxies. We took a taxi which cost $15 (including a tip).
Would I go again?
Well, yes and no. I would absolutely go on this ship again, if she went somewhere other than the Caribbean; but I have no interest going back to these islands again. But I was impressed with Royal Caribbean overall, and would definitely return to sail on one of their ships. My desire is to do a Northern European cruise (such as one that goes to Russia). I like being at sea and would be happy to do a longer cruise. If you have any suggestions for me, please let me know.
Obviously I am relatively detail oriented person. I hope you found this review helpful. If you want more information in an area that I discussed (or overlooked) please drop me a line.