Allure of the Seas held many firsts for us- first, she was the "Biggest" cruise ship we've ever been on. Second, this was our first ever "back-to-back" (b2b) cruise where we actually got to enjoy two seven day cruises in consecutive weeks! Third, because of the back-to-back cruise, this was our longest cruise ever at 14 days! Fourth, since between our first and second weeks of cruising we were only off of the ship for about 20 minutes (technical stuff with customs... more on this later) this was the shortest time we ever had between cruises!!!
This cruise actually came about in a roundabout way. First it was meant to be a cruise for eight people including our friends, Steve and Kim, and my father James and our family friend, Gene and my sister and brother in law, Patty and Mac plus Diane and I. We all decided we wanted a cruise longer than the typical week long cruise. So we all settled on the brand-spanking new, Anthem of the Seas and a 12 night cruise on her from Bayonne (where Anthem is home-ported year round) to the Caribbean and back for April '16. Anthem is just a 90 minute ride for us, so we loved the idea. Also this ship held many great promises of new and unique innovations. Unfortunately, Anthem (and her slightly older sister Quantum; Anthem is a Quantum class ship) had been seeing extremely devastating approval ratings (dipping as low as 46% approval on Cruise Critic, at one point) and further, I'd spoken to co-workers who's opinions I trust, that cruised on Anthem, and the news was the same: gorgeous ship with bad to non-existent service and bland to bad food. Last August, about eight months out, I threw the towel in and suggested to our group that we switch to another ship. We all settled on the back-to-back cruise aboard Allure of the Seas! We had an outstanding time on our Oasis cruise back in 2010, and I remembered saying that one week wasn't enough time to do everything the ship had in options... so it seemed a natural to do two weeks aboard. Further, Allure does the Western Caribbean in one week and alternates with the Eastern Caribbean in the next... so in any back-to-back cruise, you get both sides of the Caribbean! Win-win! About a month out from our cruise, my Dad suffered a fall injuring his knee and this meant that he and Gene and my sister Patty and her husband, Mac had to withdraw from our cruise (attention: yet another example of why Cruise Insurance is a must have!). This left only Steve and Kim and Diane and I and an enormous ship to explore.
[Update 2019: Anthem of the Seas has actually turned around her customer satisfaction ratings and is now a pretty well-reviewed ship! Alas, she's leaving Bayonne this year for a new assignment. In her place, Oasis of the Seas arrives in 2020 at Bayonne, along with Adventure of the Seas (see our Adventure review here: http://pndcruisereviews.com/cruise/Adventure%2018/Adventure%2018.htm ) already home ported there! Woo-hoo! On a sadder note, my father's health continued to deteriorate and we lost him in August 2016, just a few weeks shy of his 90th birthday. Dad loved sailing on cruise ships and got quite a few in during his final years. We miss him so much!]
Pre Cruise stay in Ft. Lauderdale: We flew from Philly to Ft. Lauderdale the day before on April 30th and spent the night at the gorgeous (and our new favorite place to stay in Ft. Lauderdale) Lago Mar Resort. (Note: not to be confused with Trump's Mar-a-Lago!) This hotel has an amazing location on the Ft. Lauderdale beach and near the Stranahan River where you can watch the cruise ships set sail out to sea. (All cruise fanatics should do this when in Ft. Lauderdale... no better views of cruise ships can be seen than sitting there up close and personal on the massive rocks along the Stranahan and Atlantic Ocean strip!) The staff was very accommodating in all aspects. The rooms are big, the views are wonderful and the pools and restaurants are excellent. They use a room key purchase system here - no cash - so it felt like being on a cruise ship already. We ate an excellent lunch at their restaurant and had some drinks... then Kim and Diane and I lounged around the pools (Steve napped in the room) and the beach and watched cruise ships sail out (including the Oasis of the Seas... a preview of our Allure cruise the next day!). We were exhausted after being up at 3am for our Philly to Charlotte, NC to Ft. Lauderdale flights, so by dinner, we weren't up for going out to dinner. The Lago Mar staff recommended an excellent pizza place that delivers to Lago Mar (by coincidence called Vito's!!! Same as our favorite pizza place back home!) and we ate two pizzas and some garlic dough balls and then we all crashed by about 12 midnight. The Lago Mar concierge arranged transportation for us over to the port on Sunday, May 1st with an 11am pickup. There was little traffic and we arrived at the pier about 11:15am.
Presenting Allure: Allure of the Seas came in 2010, one year after the delivery and huge success of the Oasis of the Seas. Allure had the title of "World's Biggest Cruise Ship" since she debuted back in 2010 (the same year we cruised Oasis) only because she is ever so slightly larger (by 2" according to some accounts... you'd never notice) then her sister, Oasis of the Seas. (Interestingly though, Allure lost her title of the "World's Biggest" cruise ship to her brand spanking new Oasis-class sister, Harmony of the Seas, during the second week of our back-to-back voyage when Royal Caribbean took possession of Harmony from the ship builder. Harmony is apparently significantly more massive then Oasis and Allure, but I'm guessing that side-by-side they'd look about the same. I'm hoping we can sail on Harmony sometime. She looks impressive!) As with all things Oasis class, everything aboard is just massive, huge, gigantic, breathtaking... you get the picture. There's so much to do on Allure that at two weeks, we felt we saw and did most of the things we wanted to do... so I'd definitely recommend a b2b cruise if your budget can handle it. (and in fact, there were many things we did miss doing... never quite made it up to miniature golf... or the zip line... although Diane and I did this on Oasis... or the rock climbing wall... or the surf simulators... yup, need another week!)
Embarkation: Once we arrived at Port Everglades, we got through dropping off the luggage at the curb and going through security very quickly. We'd been sent text messages a few days in advance from Royal Caribbean that Allure was going through a random Coast Guard inspection and that the boarding would begin at around 12:30pm (you can usually get aboard ships around 11am)... but since we needed to check out of Lago Mar by 11am, we four decided to go over to the pier early. As I described in the Oasis review, and as we experienced with our Celebrity Equinox cruise last year, the check in at Royal Caribbean's pier is extremely efficient. We moved quickly through this and then up to a holding area where we were sent to a Diamond Plus holding area (our Crown and Anchor - C&A - status after a bazillion cruises!); Steve and Kim were allowed to join us in that area even though they were still Emerald in C&A (although they'd be graduating to Diamond in week 2!). At 12:30pm, all of the back-to-back (b2b) cruisers from the previous cruise were allowed to board first, then the Suite and Pinnacle C&A (the highest level of loyalty in C&A) were allowed to board then the Diamond Plus and then the Diamond members. Finally the rest of the C&A members and then at about the same time, they started calling all of the rest of the ship's guests aboard.
With our SeaPass cards in hand (this is your "money" aboard, your room key, your get on- get off the ship card, etc card), the four of us ventured into the connecting tubes (think of how you board a plane but much more immense) that rose and rose while switch backing until we entered (you had a choice of TWO entry points) the Allure on the port side forward at the Royal Promenade looking directly at the Rising Tide Bar! I kept concentrating on seeing Kim and Steve's reaction since this was their first experience with an Oasis class ship, but instead, I got caught up in how immense and beautiful this ship truly is all over again!
Our Cabin: during week one (May 1 - May 8) was at the extreme aft on starboard, a Boardwalk balcony on deck 11, cabin 11727. (Steve and Kim were next to us in 11725) This cabin was roomy but with poor storage opportunities... especially when you consider that we had packed enough clothes for our two week back to back cruise. Still, we managed to squeeze everything into the spaces there. (Royal Caribbean should take note of the fantastic clothing storage in sister cruise line Celebrity's Solstice class cabins) This cabin being all the way aft (only the adjacent 11729 is further aft of the Boardwalk balconies on deck 11) is a long haul from the aft elevator shaft. Seriously, you really get a lot of exercise! It is conveniently close (once you get to the elevators) to the Diamond Lounge (for all you Diamond and Diamond Plus members of Crown and Anchor) which we enjoyed immensely. Our cabin's bathroom had ample space for such a small size. The shower head had two settings, one for normal spray and another for concentrated burst and the water pressure was very high for a cruise ship (and hot water was always ready). When the bathroom lights were shut off they actually went into a low power night light mode. Our cabin steward, Yerri (like Jerry with a "y" at the start) was funny and he always made an effort to be present in the hallway to laugh about things with us (I think he thought I was a little crazy... and, well, I am... so he really enjoyed talking to me... he was always effusive and fun.) One thing we worried about was what the noise level would be like coming up from the hustle bustle of the Boardwalk five decks below... but our fears were put to rest when we found that closing the balcony sliding door and locking it created a soundproofing seal that blocked about 90% of the noise! Also, the Boardwalk kind of winds down around midnight, so it becomes pretty quiet anyway by about the time you want to sleep.
Our Cabin: during week two (May 8 - May 15) was more midship in a Central Park balcony on deck 11, cabin 11647 just above the massive roof of the Rising Tide Bar which made the view less exciting than our Balcony cabin during week one... on the other hand, we had about 6" more space (yes, this is a big deal) between the two seater loveseat and the closet than we had in 11727, so this made it possible to put the annoying "coffee table" off to the side of the loveseat between the closet and loveseat... instantly more room! (To this day, I fail to understand the usefulness of even a small coffee table in standard balcony cabins... they are just in the way.) Otherwise this cabin was identical to 11727, right down to our bed being next to the sliding door! (Interestingly, Kim and Steve had their sofa/loveseat near the sliding door both weeks... luck of the draw I suppose). I think if we'd been away from the view of the huge roof of the Rising Tide Bar, the views of Central Park might have been better. But there was one other annoyance about cabin 11647... the noise from the pool deck three decks above was overpowering early in the morning and straight through the day. Unlike the sound-proofing door in 11727, this door being locked shut made only a slight difference in sound dampening. This was disappointing on days you felt like sleeping in a little later. I'm not sure if this is the case with all of the Central Park balconies (and if you are reading this, and you were in a rather silent Central Park balcony... please drop me a note including your cabin number if you remember it, and I'll post an addendum here). We did like that this cabin was a much shorter walk to the aft elevator shaft than the marathon walk to 11727, and was therefore an even faster route to our beloved Diamond Lounge! Our cabin steward, Genaro, was not as effusive as Yerri but he did always have a smile and he said on day one to let him know what we needed and he'd get it for us. Once asked, the items were always there! We were directly across from one of the generously appointed "Owner's Suites"... and on our disembarkation day (in laymen's terms, the day you get off the boat for good) we were informed that those guests left, so we snuck a peek. All I can say is, OMG! What a gorgeous "apartment" that is! Someday... (well, it's nice to dream!)
Our cabins over the two weeks were on the same deck, so it was an easy slide forward down the hall. What was really cool was the fact that while we were in port for a short time between cruises (for paper work, customs etc- all painless) our clothing and luggage was transported from our closet in the first cabin to the exact same locations in the second closet... very magically and super efficiently! Bravo, Allure!!!
The Ship: Entering the Allure Royal Promenade we were instantly hit by memories of our cruise on Oasis six years before. But there are some differences... no more Cupcake Cupboard on Allure (there are smaller cupcakes similar to those found at the Cupcake Cupboard found in Cups and Scoops on the Allure boardwalk), no more Diamond Lounge on the Promenade (this has now been reassigned to the former Concierge Lounge on deck 11).
The Dining Experiences: There are so many places to eat on Allure, and the majority of them are magnificent. But after embarkation day (or maybe even then), skip the Windjammer Buffet. (see below)
The Windjammer Marketplace (deck 16) in reading my review of Oasis back in 2010, I saw that I wrote that the meals there were very good. Unfortunately, with the exception of a two lunches at the Allure Windjammer (especially on embarkation day where I think they try a little harder) the one breakfast and the one dinner experience we had here was deplorable. As Diane said, "I've never had such awful food on a cruise" as we had in the one dinner we had to eat here one night during week one. (long story short: cut myself shaving and a tiny cut took too long to clot to make our dining schedule in the Main Dining Room, so we decided- unfortunately- to eat dinner in the Windjammer). Service was, as in all places on Allure, magnificent. No complaints there at all. But the food was just awful. Do yourself a favor and always eat breakfast or lunch in the American Icon Grill on deck 3. It's free, delicious and fast! Don't waste your cruise dollars eating the swill in the Windjammer unless it's embarkation day and you are one of the first aboard. Another BIG problem (but a problem with most ship buffets) is that Allure's Windjammer dining room seating is too small to accommodate all the people trying to eat there. There's a lot of pushing and shoving. Sorry, but the Windjammer on Allure is not pleasant at all.
American Icon Dining Room (deck 3) For a while, Royal Caribbean was set to roll out the Dynamic Dining concept to it's Oasis class ships; this was the same concept that failed miserably on and debuted on the Quantum and Anthem. And so, they turned the "Main Dining Room" into three different restaurants (American Icon, The Grand and Silk) with new themes and entries. But then the problems on the Quantum class with "Dynamic Dining" made Royal's execs rethink or at least put this roll out on hold. [Update 2019: As far as I know, the concept has been abandoned across the fleet] So, with the exception of those opting for open seating, the three levels of the former Allure Main Dining Room are now three levels with different facades but all essentially the same Main Dining Room with the same menu and the traditional 6pm early and 8:30pm late seating. As is our custom, we were in the late seating and in the American Icon level. Our food was consistently excellent (OMG- those lamb chops!!!) and our waiter Yatendra and his assistant, Pabra, were amazingly efficient and fun! It seemed like old style WOW service here. Oddly, I don't remember a single Head Waiter visiting our table, although there was the occasional higher up person that lent a hand on busy nights. I was tremendously happy with this table location and it's service and the meals. All of our week one meals were here. For week two, we skipped the Main Dining Room and ate only in specialty restaurants (we had a five night specialty dining package for this week that we purchased online pre-cruise plus a sixth free night our TA arranged and we paid for another night, so we didn't even see our Main Dining Room table in week two. More on these locations below.) Again, I can't stress enough that the American Icon breakfasts (OMG- that incredible french toast!!!) and lunches are the best for free food aboard (ok, the Park Cafe has excellent roast beef sandwiches, but how many of these can you eat???, and the freebie food on the Royal Promenade is available as well). Steer clear of the awful Windjammer!
Special note about our week two specialty dining package: for a fee that saves you a ton of money, you choose (as soon as you board, if possible) a restaurant and a time and a date for dinners at Samba Grill, 150 Central Park, Chops Grill, or Giovanni's Table. You could eat at any combination or each... for instance, if you prefer, you could eat two nights at Chops and three nights at 150 Central Park or you could eat every night at Giovanni's Table or whatever. It's all based on availability and time slot. We were back aboard quickly for week two due to our back to back status so we were able to score each restaurant at least once and sometimes twice at the times and dates we wanted. Our travel agent also arranged a free specialty night for us... so that had us at six out of seven nights in specialty restaurants and then we opted to eat at Izumi's Hibachi grill on the first night of our second week.
150 Central Park (Fee-based, Central Park) is still the defacto not-to-be-missed specialty restaurant aboard. Much of what I said in my Oasis review is still true at Allure's 150 Central Park: "This is a tasting menu restaurant. Yes, it's definitely worth the price, and yes, you will leave full! There's a wine pairing for an additional fee if you are so inclined! The ambience is relaxed and wonderful, and the courses are amazing. Don't miss 150 Central Park!" Just as we did on Oasis, Diane and I had a date night dinner here (it's the perfect "date night" place) for just the two of us on May 9th. The food was slightly different in presentation than it was back in 2010 on Oasis, but every bit as delicious. This is a place for those not afraid to experiment with different tastes, and I'm still shocked that I love the halibut served here. Each plate is expertly explained as to it's ingredients along with funny little asides (and we had an excellent server, but I regret I've forgotten his name) and the atmosphere is elegant. An awesome experience, not to be missed.
Chops Grill (Fee-based, Central Park) Using our five night specialty dining package, we ate here for two of the nights (Kim and Steve opted for a third night instead of 150 Central Park). Both nights, the food was superb. On our first night here, we ate outside albeit glass enclosed against the elements and perhaps stuff coming over the side from the pool deck 6 decks above! I loved the outside Central Park dining at night... such an amazing thing to enjoy while at sea... even better than eating at a restaurant outdoors back on land where there's invariably car noises and car exhaust. I had the onion soup and tiger shrimp cocktail and the large filet mignon on the first night and the NY strip steak (again the large portion) on the second night. Both steaks were perfect! Chops on Allure is definitely worth a night out (or two)!
Giovanni's Table (Fee-based, Central Park) I'm happy to say that we enjoyed Giovanni's as much on Allure as we did on Oasis. The staff here was wonderful. They always made a fuss, and one of the chefs came out and talked to us one night. We ate two lunches here (one was paid for by Royal Caribbean as a "Thank you" for being on a back-to-back cruise... very classy!) and a dinner. I think out of all of the restaurants aboard, Giovanni's Table had the BEST filet mignon! (That's including Chops Grill... but I loved the filet there as well) I highly recommend the lasagna as well (perfect at lunch time)! We love Giovanni's table.
Izumi Hibachi (Fee-based, deck ) this venue is actually two restaurants: an ala carte priced sushi bar and/or a traditional hibachi grill restaurant with two fee based dinners. Since we had planned out all of week two's six dinners thru our packages, we decided to make the seventh night (actually on the first night of week 2, May 8th) a night at the hibachi grill. I love hibachi grills like Benihana back home, and I've been suggesting they do this on a cruise ship for years. I guess Royal Caribbean listened. For our dinner at the hibachi (there are three grills with seating for eight around them and all were full that night), we chose the $40 option which gave you "two proteins (meats), hibachi rice, vegetables, and ginger sauce salad". I chose filet and shrimp. The chef was very engaging and very funny performing the antics you usually see at Benihana and the like on land... but perhaps more so. (his turning the scrambled eggs for the fried rice into a walking serpent was hilarious!) The food was very good (especially the shrimp) but the rice wasn't as flavorful as I'm used to at hibachi grill oriented restaurants back home. But I'd do it all again... a fun and different place for Royal Caribbean to offer!
Solarium Bistro (Free, deck 15) The same as it was on Oasis, the Solarium Bistro is located in the adults-only Solarium all the way forward. This bistro serves breakfast and lunch free of charge in a buffet arrangement, and becomes Samba Grill (a Brazilian steakhouse) at night (more on that below). The offerings here are no longer health oriented as they were on Oasis. Again, this is an excellent alternative to the awful Windjammer buffet... but it's a small location so seats fill up quickly here. If you have a lounger in the Solarium, it might be better to take your food rather than searching for a table here.
Samba Grill (fee based, Solarium at night, deck 15) At night, the Solarium Bistro converts to a wonderful though dimly lit Brazilian Steakhouse where various meat selections are brought to your table and sliced in front of you from large skewers... you grab the meat slices with tiny tongs. But first you start with some appetizers and salads from a mini buffet. We enjoyed our dinners the first night although some of the meats, especially the filet mignon, was a bit salty. (Diane and Kim and Steve actually liked this place more than I did) Still we liked it enough on our first visit here (which was paid for via the five specialty night dinner package) that we decided to have dinner here on our final night aboard (paid for by our travel agent- another free dinner!) Unfortunately some inedible chicken and a rather creepy chef made the second visit here a terrible last supper aboard Allure. Brazilian Steakhouses back home, like Rodizio's or Fogo de Chao, are far superior to Samba Grill in offerings (and far far more expensive, too) so I'm not sure if I'd try Samba again or not. But I applaud Royal Caribbean for offering up another unique venue. Like Izumi Hibachi, some tweaking could make this a great spot for dinner!
Sabor (Fee-Based at the Boardwalk) replaces the Seafood Shack on Oasis (and apparently replaced Rita's Cantina formerly at this location on Allure). This is a wonderful Mexican restaurant adjacent to the Aqua Theater and across the boardwalk from Johnny Rockets. We had delicious quesadillas and table side prepared guacamole (amazing!) for lunch here twice over the two weeks aboard. The staff here is super friendly and very accommodating. Loved it... I heartily recommend at least one lunch here. Note, this is a fee based restaurant... but it's cheaper than any Mexican restaurant back home. It was always crowded here on at sea days.
Sorrento's and Cafe Promenade (Royal Promenade) I always enjoy the late-night (but served all day) pizza at Sorrento's and there are generally good little bites at Cafe Promenade as well. Nothing "OMG" great at these locations, but still probably better than the Windjammer in many cases. Just great places in a great location for a quick snack!
24 Hour Room Service (your cabin) Ok, so not a restaurant, but a service. For most of the day, this is a free service except in the wee hours of the morning (midnight to 5am?) where there is a surcharge. Of course, there's always a tip to be paid and rightly so. If you have a balcony on any cruise ship, you should always take at least one meal from room service on it. We pried ourselves away from the daily routine of breakfast in The American Icon restaurant (that French toast- I so miss it!) and had a breakfast on the balcony during our second week. What's really cool about Allure is that now you can do room service ordering on your TV... and the menus there are much more clear and concise! (I'll never forget on a cruise years ago when we put our breakfast order on one of those cabin door knob hangers and ended up with FOUR plates of bacon!!! lol) Not only was our order perfect, but we asked for delivery to be done in the 7:30am to 8am window and they called at 7:25am to say breakfast was on the way, and we no sooner hung up when there was a knock on the door with our breakfast ready and still hot! Excellent service!
Allure has many many other locations to snack or indulge your appetite between meals... there's Johnny Rockets (with excellent malted shakes but only so-so burgers... all for a fee) and the aforementioned Sabor. There's also a hotdog stand (free) and free Boardwalk donuts in the mornings and a candy shop (which had much less candy selections than Oasis back in '06). Vintages on Central Park does Tapas and Wine pairings (fee based)... we never got around to trying this. And there's still those delicious, though smaller, cupcakes and ice cream (fee) at Cups and Scoops.
The Allure Nightclubs and Bars and Casino: All of the ship's bars and night clubs are spectacular, but we spent more nights at the Blaze disco then any other place aboard. The DJ there had the perfect mix of old and new hits to keep the dance floor filled. Dazzle's is also still a cool spot, but not as lively as it was on Oasis. Another great "club" was the upper deck of the Solarium which converted to a great night spot to dance and drink. The Schooner Bar is still the best piano bar afloat and the other bars along the Royal Promenade each have their own unique flair and entertainment. (Sometimes the other passengers are entertaining just in their reverie!) The staff at the Champaign/Martini Bar were very cordial and made some outstanding drinks as well. The Casino Bar closed somewhat early (1am?!?) which surprised me as most onboard casino bars close around 3am to keep the gamblers reasonably liquored up. The Allure casino had just about every game you can think of back home in AC or Vegas. We made a few minor deposits here. The roulette wheel dealers still stop the wheel between spins (sacrilege!!!) and spin it in the opposite direction.
The Rising Tide Bar (floating from the Royal Promenade to Central Park and back) I never get tired of this Oasis class specific bar... whether I'm drinking there or just watching it rise and set, it's still one of the coolest bars ever.
Dazzles (decks 8 and 9) Looks like an old fashioned Saturday Night Fever nightclub with it's small but lit up dance floor! The club is on two levels and has a two-story window overlooking the Boardwalk. Fun place!
Blaze (deck 4) Darkly lit, lots of blinking lights, loud excellent music, fantastic DJ, huge bar... what more could you want?!?
Schooner Bar (deck 6) located
The Allure Pools and Solarium: The same pools and themes we saw aboard Oasis... tons of seating but often some of the more popular spots to sit (the beach pool and Solarium for instance) fell prey to pool chair hogs. (pool chair hogs are pure scum)
Solarium this is the adults only spot all the way forward on deck 15. Diane and I (often joined by Kim and Steve) spent most of our two weeks of pool time here. Excellent location. We especially loved the donut shaped pool and the hot tubs here. Excellent views over the bow! One note: the Solarium is supposed to be a place of relaxation (hence no kids) and not a place to get rowdy and loud. Passengers should respect this space.
The Beach Pool this pool was probably the most popular aboard because of the beach umbrellas and the feeling of being on a beach. But be advised you need to get up pretty early (7am) to get a lounger here. This place was where we witnessed pool chair hogging at their worst... people would come down around 8 am and throw towels and books on chairs and they'd be empty all day till the creeps would show up for them around noon. Royal Caribbean really needs to crack down on this. Celebrity figured it all out years ago by employing real "Pool Butlers" who clear out abandoned chairs after 30 minutes.
Unique to Allure: Zipline... Dazzles...Central Park...Boardwalk... Comedy Club... Rising Tide Bar... Merry Go Round... yes, all the same things unique to the Oasis are found here on Allure as well. There are newer restaurants (and more restaurants) than we experienced on Oasis six years ago, and that was very refreshing!
The Spa Experience: Just like we saw on Oasis, the Allure gym is clean and well planned but it has very few windows which makes it sort of dull as well. I did use the facilities here far more than on Oasis. (actually, I don't think I used the gym on Oasis at all) The Vitality Spa people are nice, but since experiencing Hand & Stone pricing on massages back home, we don't do onboard massages anymore. One huge disappointment at this spa is that use of the steam room and sauna is not free as it is on most other cruise ships. Also, the heated tile beds are in a lousy location with no sea views at all... you look at a wall. While this whole spa looked nice, it also looked empty due, I suspect, to exorbitant pricing.
Entertainment on Allure: Mama Mia is NOT to be missed. Even if you aren't a big fan of ABBA music (which the whole show is set to), you will love this excellent Broadway play. All of the other shows aboard were magnificent aboard with the exception of one of the guest singers in week one (I can't remember his name, but he was just bad in our opinion. We actually got up and left during his singing act which is something we never do!
Our Itinerary: This being a B2B cruise, we had two different itineraries. The first was the classic (for Royal Caribbean) western Caribbean and the second week was the classic eastern Caribbean itineraries.
Week 1 Itinerary - Western Caribbean: (Labadee, Haiti - Falmouth, Jamaica - Cozumel, Mexico - plus 3 "At Sea" days scattered here and there about the itinerary)
Labadee, Haiti: As I've covered on many a Royal Caribbean cruise, this is Royal Caribbean's little slice of Heaven on the northern coast of Haiti. This place has grown from a sleepy little beach and BBQ location in the early days to a full fledged resort in it's own right. There are MANY beach locations to choose from, many activities to try and lots of booze flowing at many bar locations. There's also the somewhat dismal BBQ here... burgers, hot dogs, salads, tiny ribs, etc. You probably wouldn't eat here except that the only other food is back on the ship and it's a hike back. Still, the beaches are gorgeous and there is ample transportation about. This trip, we went for the first time over to the Columbus Cove beach which is directly across the bay from the ship offering excellent views. You do need to run the gauntlet of locals trying to sell you stuff, but they do stay in specific vendor areas and they don't bother you on the beach. There are ample seats available. We had an excellent beach day here with Kim and Steve!
Falmouth, Jamaica although we've been to many spots on Jamaica, this was our first time to Falmouth. As I recall, Royal Caribbean poured a lot of money into developing this really nice shopping and restaurant port. It's definitely a "made for tourists" location, but they really could use a bit more variety... a drug store for instance. We tried jerk chicken at a little restaurant here, but Steve (who has had jerk chicken in "real" Jamaica) pronounced it not typical or authentic. So I guess we'll have to look for something away from the tourist area next time. We still had a great time walking about here and Steve was happy to score some Harley Davidson chips from the HD store here! The Allure is the BIGGEST structure in the area (as it usually is at most of the Caribbean ports) and it was odd to see the view from our balcony that morning when we arrived: looked like we were in someone's backyard! (well, yes... you always are in someone's backyard so to speak...)
Cozumel, Mexico this was the most exciting port for Diane and I as we had scheduled a Royal Caribbean excursion to the Mayan ruins at Chichen Izta. Now, this should NOT be confused with the typical trip to the Mayan ruins at Tulum... that's only a short bus ride (after the ferry over to Playa Del Carman) south. The Chichen Itza ruins are located far across the Yucatan peninsula. The journey was an all day affair, leaving around 8am and returning around 6pm. First you boarded a ferry (a short walk from Allure) at the port in Cozumel that took you for a 45 minute ride over to the coast (Cozumel is an island off of Mexico) at Playa Del Carmen... a very beautiful beach location, by the way! Next we boarded some incredibly comfortable, air conditioned buses for the 2.5 hour trip across the Yucatan to Chichen Itza. The bus tour was fully narrated and very interesting. The road was very modern and free of bumps or pot holes (well done, Mexico!) and the travel time flew by (there was a restroom at the back of the bus). Upon arrival at Chichen Itza, we were given radio headsets (reminded me of our Med cruise on Serenade of the Seas and the port stops there) so the tour guide could keep our group together and give us some history of Chichen Itza. Upon entering the complex, there are restrooms and restaurants and stores and they make time for you before entering the park itself. Once in the park, you pass many tables with souvenir hawkers... they are polite, but don't believe the, "Senor, just one dollar" bologna. It's all trinkets costing way more than a buck. Past this you enter the amazing grounds of Chichen Itza and you immediately see the enormous pyramid that this location is famous for... and the "stadium" and many many other amazing structures. After the tour, which lasted about 45 minutes, you were free to walk about the grounds for another 1.5 hours. I was told we only saw about 1/5th of the total area, but we did a LOT of walking, so we felt like we saw all we wanted to see! The bus ride back was quiet and again, it flew by as most of us napped. We caught one of the last ferries back to Cozumel and we walked over to Allure and got back aboard shortly before the ship pulled away from Cozumel. (No worries, the ship does wait for guests on Royal Caribbean based tours) I highly recommend this excursion. It was amazing!!! Try to see all you can in this life... because you only go around once!
Week 2 Itinerary - Eastern Caribbean: ( Nassau, Bahamas - St. Thomas - St. Martin - plus 3 "At Sea" days scattered here and there about the itinerary)
Nassau, Bahamas is a very tiny island in the multitude of Bahamian islands, but it's also the biggest stop for cruise ships. This little jewel is best known these days for the iconic Atlantis Resort. (A nice place to visit, but not a place we'd go back to unless we were actually staying there.) The cruise port here can pack in a ton of ships side by side, but on our short stop here on Monday, May 9th, we saw only one other major ship in port. We've been here on so many occasions (we even had a vacation here back before our cruising days and before Atlantis was built way back in the late 80s) that we didn't even bother getting off of Allure. (Allure actually has so much more to do, anyway) We were only at this port till about 1pm. Still, if you've never been to Nassau, I highly recommend getting off the ship and strolling about. It's a great place with friendly people! (I can't really recommend excursions to Atlantis... if you aren't staying there, the staff can be somewhat surly to you, in our experience. Even on paid visits there from the ship.)
St. Thomas is our second favorite island in the Caribbean. We love Magen's Bay and even though we always say, "we'll try a different beach next time" we always end up at Magen's. The trip over in an open caravan is the best way to get there, and set out on your own rather than booking an excursion. But always remember to be back at least an hour before the ship departs. (Give your self even more time as traffic can be nasty sometimes.) It's about a 20 minute ride to Magen's from Allure's pier... and there are many many many taxis, vans, caravans available. (Don't let them herd you into a closed van where you can be packed in like sardines and wait forever as they attempt to fill the van. Go for the open air caravans instead.) About the only time I'd recommend not going to Magen's Bay is if I were to take the Royal Caribbean excursion to St. John's and Trunk Bay. Trunk Bay is the prettiest beach we've ever been to, but the travel time by ferry and bus only gives you about 1.5 to 2 hours on this beach. Also, ONLY do this as a Royal Caribbean excursion. My only complaint about this stop is that the Oasis class ships (like Allure) can't dock at the traditional Charlotte Amalie port at the Havensight Mall. This location is where all other cruise ships dock and has so much more fun stuff to do after a day at Magen's Bay. We missed taking the Skyride up to Paradise Point and having our favorite Bailey's Bushwackers at the top! (Yeah, you can take a cab from the Allure pier over to the Skyride, but generally you are kind of tired of cabs and riding around the island after a beach day. At the other pier everything is within walking distance...) I guess that port won't ever be able to handle behemoths like Allure, but it sure would be nice if there was a free shuttle over to Havensight. (Maybe there is and we just missed it)
St. Martin is the BEST island in the Caribbean, and the best beaches are on the French side at Orient Bay (St. Martin is actually two countries on one island; the southern half is St. Maarten and is Dutch, while the northern side is St. Martin and is French. Allure docks on the Dutch side). No cruise port is as well thought out (in my opinion) as St. Maarten's... it's a simple walk off the ship to shops and rum tastings and an easy walk to a curving taxi station with signs overhead indicating where you should stand for whichever beach or city or tourist location you want to go to. In moments, you are in a van and on your way because the driver knows where you want to go! (Yes, everyone speaks English.) Our favorite beach is Kakao Beach (NOT Cocoa or Coco beach which is a lousy location- make sure the driver knows you want to be at a beach location in the center of Orient Bay.) Note: one end of Orient Bay is a nudist retreat... you are welcome to cross over onto the beach there, but you will be expected to take off your bathing suit! The rest of Orient Bay is French in outlook, so clothing is optional... so you will see many topless women and a few totally nude people here as well, but they are usually the exception to the rule. Alas, it was rainy and dismal on May 12th at St. Martin so we had to skip our beloved and favorite beach stop. Instead, we basically roamed the shops at the port and made the best of it. (Hey, I ran into an Eagles fan!!! What are the chances of that in St. Maarten?!?) Then it was back onto a deserted ship (some brave souls actually went on excursions anyway) and the Solarium all to our selves!
"At Sea Days" Of course, both weeks had our favorite days on a cruise, the days at sea! They were filled with lots of relaxing by the pool, extravagant eating and drinking, and lots of fun! Days at sea are the best, because you really make the cruise your own vacation day with no need to get up and go!
The Debarkation Process: A new and exciting offer we've begun to use since our Celebrity Equinox cruise last year is the Luggage Valet service offered aboard. It's not available for all flights (there are details dropped off during the week to your stateroom) but if your flight qualifies, for a nominal fee ($20/person, I think) plus baggage fees charged by the airlines (if needed), you put your luggage out before you go to bed the last night of your cruise and it is whisked away and taken to the airport and loaded to your plane(s) and you don't see it again till you get to your final airport destination! Further, there's no overweight luggage charge! Since everyone else getting off the ship is called off by when their luggage group is announced, and since your luggage is already on it's way to the airport, you can leave the ship as soon as it's possible to do so! No waiting whatsoever for your luggage color/number... whatever. You can walk past all the people searching for their luggage in the pier building, walk into the Customs line, then get to a cab for the ten minute ride over to the airport. This is so much faster and so much better an experience for so little cost. I'm surprised that everyone doesn't do it. As for Allure's ability to disembark it's guests? It's truly amazing how Allure's crew moves 6000 guests on and off the ship so effortlessly. It's a very smooth process... the people working at the pier are to be commended as well!
Things Royal Caribbean should do to improve Allure: First and foremost, Royal Caribbean must improve the food quality and selection at the Windjammer buffet! The food in the buffet of their sister cruise line, Celebrity, is spectacular... there's no reason why it should be so despicably awful in the Windjammer, especially so at breakfast and dinner. As I stated above, I had a shaving accident one night before dinner that sent me briefly to the Med Center (an outstanding facility by the way) on deck 2 (3?) and it made us late for dinner one night on week one (our waiter said later that we should have still come in late, that he would have been happy to serve us). We decided (reluctantly) that we'd go to the Windjammer. The food was "spit it out" awful... truly. The "burger" (wrapped nicely in wax paper) tasted absolutely awful. Other items were unidentifiable. Again, though, the service was very friendly (as it was everywhere) at the Windjammer. I know that there's serious bean-counting when it comes to food budgets... but time and again, I heard people say that they'd pay more in their cruise ticket for better quality food in the Windjammer. (Some felt this way about the Main Dining Room as well, from what I've read, but all four of us had excellent meals there, and Yatendra and Praba were fantastic as our waiter and assistant in week one.) A cruise is always about food quality more than quantity.
Another place for improvement is bar service. While all the bartenders were friendly as were the waiters, there's just not enough of them. Also, I found some drinks to be rather flavorless... my Pina Colada had no flavor at one pool location.
Speaking of the pool area, Royal Caribbean, STOP making us sign in and out those terrible and disgusting pool towels. You'd have to be nuts to want to steal one of these decrepit, often stained (but very clean) towels. You employ someone to stand there all day signing in and out these towels (this person could be a bartender instead... a revenue earner!!!) as if the towels are high-end pima or Egyptian cotton luxury textiles. Celebrity has the towels out in nice neat rolls on each chair waiting for you each day.
Allure also needs to adjust it's policy with regards to pool chair "hogs". It was actually criminal how people would get up before dawn, lay out a row of towels, and then go back to bed (or whatever) not showing up until well after 12pm to actually use these chairs. Celebrity has a pool butler at their pools who keeps track (some better than others) of who is actually using their chair and who has just decided to hog a chair they might decide to use later. (If you are a pool chair hog, you are the lowest common denominator piece of scum there is... sort of like the person who sits reading a book in the -awful- buffet while families are looking for a place to sit and eat) I think Royal needs to institute a Pool Butler program ala Celebrity who's job is to remove personal belongings abandoned pool side for more than 45 minutes. (Royal Caribbean states that they do this, but that's baloney)
One more place for improvement: drinks packages. I was literally talked out of a drinks package pre-cruise because Royal's customer service refused to honor the 20% special price advertised on their website. It said 20% off, but then they tack on a "service charge" that they say is there to cover tips of 18% effectively making your 20% off special 2% off! They try to tack on this "service charge" at the last minute at checkout online. They did admit that their wording for the special was poor and needed correcting, but they refused to honor it as written. Poor customer service. But in the long run, they did us a BIG favor as we discovered that by not going with the "Premium" drinks package (and the "Ultimate" package truly must be for morons, if you read the fine print) we saved a TON of money as our bar bill at the end of week one was no where near the price of the drinks packages. But, as has been pointed out by others, drinks package values are in the eye of the beholder. Some can drink from the moment they roll off the bed, drink all day by the pool, drink all through dinner, drink all the way through the show, and stumble back to their cabin to start all over again in a few hours. I'm not judging... I'd hang out with that person! Personally, I like the direction cruise lines seem to be moving in of late (like Celebrity) that allow you to choose a perk for signing up like a "drinks package" or free internet or free tips or an on-board credit. I think the industry should just raise the price of the cruises and make the experience all-inclusive. For those that don't drink alcohol, it should be noted that "drinks" packages are NOT all about alcoholic beverages... they include sodas, coffees, alcohol free bar drinks, etc. So it's not an attack on those opposed to alcohol at all. Also, I doubt the $400 one can spend on a drinks package would amount to a cruise price increase of $400/person... it might not even impact it by half that amount.
But if raising the price of your cruise ticket $200-$400/person would mean a truly great dining experience at the Windjammer, and more bartenders at the bars, and no more towel trade in- sign out nonsense, and a truly all-inclusive experience, wouldn't you gladly pay for that? Sign me up!
Why Allure of the Seas should be your next cruise choice: Because, like her sister, Oasis (and now Harmony, too [Update 2019: and Symphony]), there's so much to do aboard this ship. The island stops almost seem a nuisance! Spending two weeks aboard in a b2b cruise allowed me to feel like I'd experienced most of what she had to offer. But I still missed out playing miniature golf, trying the surf rider, doing the zipline (thank God I got to do this on the Oasis) and a drink at Bolero's (and probably a few other bars)! Seriously, I said it before and it's still true, the BEST way to enjoy an Oasis class ship is a b2b cruise. (I know of some souls who did b2b2b... God bless 'em!)
One Last Look: As we always attempt to do, we wanted to get a photo of our cruise ship from our airplane while departing from Ft. Lauderdale's airport (hint, you want to be on the port side of the plane... or the left side facing forward... to get shots of Port Everglades)... unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of the plane. But fortunately, Kim and Steve were on the correct side of the plane, so I asked Kim to get some shots of Allure when she saw it. She got two excellent pictures (one below) which I cropped and cleaned up with Photoscape. Excellent shot, Kim!
~Cruise Review Menu~
All photography on this page (unless otherwise noted) done by Paul and Diane McCullough using an Apple iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus and a Canon SD980 IS camera. Pictures edited using Photoscape.