Before I get in to the story of our Allure Of The Seas cruise,
I want to start things off by introducing myself...
I'm Jim Zimmerlin (everyone calls me Jim Zim) and I always cruise with my wife, Kellyn. (Pronunciation tip: it rhymes with Helen.) We're from Grover Beach, California... a little beach town on the California coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. We've been cruising since 1996, and by early 2017 had done 39 cruises with five of the big cruise lines. Our November 2014 cruise on Allure Of The Seas was our very first with Royal Caribbean, and we saw so many things that set Royal Caribbean apart from the other cruise lines that we started doing a lot more Royal Caribbean cruises after that.
I can't honestly say that our first cruise on Allure of the Seas was perfect... we had some issues with the food (more about that, later)... but there was enough great stuff about Allure Of The Seas to compensate for the not-so-great. So, we decided to cruise on her again in January of 2017... mainly to experience the incredible full-length Broadway-style production of Mama Mia on the stage.
I'm going to start out by showing you pictures from our 2017 Allure of the Seas cruise... and then once we get through all those, we'll just go straight in to the story I wrote back in 2014 about our cruise on what was at that time the largest cruise ship in the world. That honor now goes to her sister ship, Harmony of the Seas... who we will be sailing on in the Spring of 2017.
My favorite neighborhood on Allure Of The Seas may just be Central Park. There's so much greenery there! You find yourself thinking that it just doesn't look like any other cruise ship you've been on.
It's almost hard to believe, when you look at that photo, that you're looking at a cruise ship. Central Park is just so beautiful. And peaceful. It's hard for me to resist taking photos when I'm there.
This is one of my favorite little bars on the ship, because it's just such a beautiful spot...
Just before the sun sets, the lights start popping on in Central Park, and the conditions for a photo are even better than normal... with soft natural light coming in from above. It's an interesting sight. And when you see a photo like this, you know immediately you're looking at one of the Royal Caribbean ships... because no other cruise line's ships look anything like this.
If you've never been on one of Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class ships... you really should do it at least once. Maybe Harmony of the Seas instead of Allure, though! Harmony's got some nice enhancements that Allure doesn't have. (More on that, in a minute.)
For those that have not sailed on one of these ships... you might be wondering exactly what that white thing is that runs down the middle of Central Park. It looks a little like a tent with white supports . Perhaps if I show it to you from underneath, it will make more sense. It's basically just a big skylight for the Royal Promenade, which is located directly below Central Park.
In this photo of the Royal Promenade, look in the upper left corner of the photo and you'll see the big skylight from underneath. It adds some nice natural light to the Royal Promenade. By the way, for those who have not sailed on one of these ships, the Royal Promenade is basically just a big shopping mall that runs down the center of the ship. And that Times-Square-style electric sign above the sign that says "on air"... those are pop song lyrics on the sign. They do karaoke inside the lounge behind the sign.
One more picture of Central Park before we move on to other areas of the ship...
In the evenings, they often do classical music performances in that area of Central Park. I always enjoy relaxing out there with the warmth of the Caribbean coming down from the open roof above, and listening to some nice music.
Another area I really like on Allure of the Seas is the adults-only area at the front of the ship, known as the Solarium. Normally, the front of a cruise ship is a very windy spot, but the designers of this ship did a smart thing and added a bunch of glass panels to deflect the wind. So, even when the ship is sailing at full speed, it's usually pretty nice in the Solarium.
However, as you can see in the photos, they didn't FULLY enclose the area under the glass. So, if it's a little cool outside, it can be too cool in the Solarium. I think they were thinking that if they fully enclosed it in glass, it would tend to get too hot in there... like the inside of a car with the windows rolled up on a day in August.
They actually came up with a much more clever design for the Solarium on their next generation of ships... the Quantum class... such as Anthem of the Seas, which we sailed on last March. On Anthem Of The Seas, the Solarium is FULLY enclosed in glass... so that even on the coldest, windiest days, it's not cold inside the Solarium. And on a hot day, the glass can be opened up to let heat flow out the top. Also, there's a pretty good heating and cooling system to keep it nice in there. So, that was a nice improvement on their newest class of ships. If you'd like to see a little video tour of the Solarium on Anthem of the Seas, watch this video I made about it. I do actually more highly recommend Anthem of the Seas over Allure of the Seas... if you're only going to cruise on one.
Now let's talk about the Boardwalk neighborhood on Allure of the Seas, which is located at the far back end of the ship. The dominant feature of the Boardwalk neighborhood is the big aqua theater where they put on a one-of-a-kind show involving water, fountains, high-dives, aerial acrobatics, and more. I wish they didn't ban photography and videography at the shows at the aqua theater... because a video or even a still photo would do a much better job of painting a picture of the aqua theater than I can do with words! It's unique, and really something to see.
Another popular feature in the Boardwalk neighborhood is the merry-go-round, or "carousel" to use the more formal term. Of course, kids love it, but you see plenty of adults on it, too. Here's Kellyn riding one of the cheetahs...
Speaking of the merry-go-round... I do have to commend Royal Caribbean for resisting the urge to charge passengers to ride this. It's free... ride it as often as you'd like. Thanks, Royal Caribbean, for not selling tickets.
There's also a Mexican restaurant in the Boardwalk neighborhood. When we did our first cruise on Allure, in 2014, the Mexican restaurant was "Rita's Cantina"... and we really liked the menu, plus they made having a meal there a very festive experience. Recently, they changed out the restaurant and the menu. It's now "Sabor", a slightly more upscale experience with a totally different menu and without the festivities during the meal. I have to be honest and say that I think this was a step down from Rita's Cantina!
Our waiter at Sabor snapped this photo of us just after he delivered a bowl of tortilla soup...
Royal Caribbean must have been having trouble getting people to book the cabins that face in to the Boardwalk neighborhood... because they started offering a special incentive. People that book a Boardwalk-view balcony cabin now get a free soda package for the entire cruise, plus a free meal at Johnny Rockets burger joint.
We almost always stay in a ocean-facing balcony cabin when we cruise, so a balcony cabin that doesn't have an ocean view wouldn't ordinarily be one we would choose. But the special incentives were enough to induce me to try a Boardwalk-facing cabin this time around.
Here's a photo of our Boardwalk-facing balcony stateroom, which was cabin number 12309. You can see it's a little weird to look out your big picture window and look straight across to other balconies, rather than having a view of the ocean.
I'd also have to say that the balcony cabins on this class of ship are nowhere near as nice as the ones on Royal Caribbean's Quantum-class ships like Anthem of the Seas. In this next photo of our cabin on Allure Of The Seas, notice the closet next to the blue couch. That's a fairly small closet for two people to share... and you can only access one half of the closet at any one time... so if you're both getting dressed at the same time, there's no way you can both get in to your side of the closet at once.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, than a video must be worth a whole lot more. Take a look at this video I created which gives you a better look inside our cabin, and which also shows you a few highlights around Allure Of The Seas:
The cabin design on Anthem of the Seas is much better. There are two separate closets at opposite ends of the room from each other. So it's easy for both people to get dressed at the same time. Another thing they did on Anthem of the Seas was to put electrical outlets on both sides of the bed. On Allure of the Seas, the only electrical outlets are at the desk. Having outlets on both sides of the bed, plus USB charging connections, makes it really easy to charge your cell phone or other electronic device at night and still be able to reach it... for example, to turn off the alarm on your phone when it wakes you in the morning. (Like you're going to set an alarm on vacation!!!) Yes, you might actually set an alarm on a day when you have an early shore excursion. Or maybe you want to take a nap, but not miss your dinner reservation.
I actually put together a little video tour of our cabin on Anthem Of The Seas, which does a good job of showing some of the nice little upgrades they did to the cabins on that class of ship... things you don't get on Allure of the Seas. You can watch the video here.
Here's a photo of a towel drying out on our balcony... not generally the type of photo I would share! But there's a point. I made a small breakthrough on this cruise! See those clips holding the towel on to the chair? That's not the breakthrough... I figured that out a long time ago. It ensures that no matter how hard the wind blows, your towel doesn't blow away. By the way, you can buy those clips at WalMart. The breakthrough was that I've come up with another use for them.
For a long time now, I've had a problem with the curtains in cruise ship cabins. I haven't been able to get them to fully block out the light coming in the window, so I end up getting woken up by the light at sunrise, even if I really could have used some more sleep. I was amazed when I sailed on Anthem Of The Seas last year to see how ingeniously they had engineered the curtains on that ship... they used two tracks, so that the curtains coming from the left side could overlap in the middle with the curtains coming from the right side. That was a really smart design that I've never seen on any other cruise ship, and it does a great job of truly blacking out the room.
Well, it turns out that those clips from WalMart are the solution to the problem on ships like Allure of the Seas that only use a single track for the curtains. To prevent the light from bleeding through the middle of the curtains in your cruise ship cabin, just take one of those clips and clip the two sides of the curtain where they meet in the middle. It creates a nice tight seal with no light coming through. So, that was a nice trick I figured out on my 38th cruise. By cruise #60, I'll really have mastered this cruising thing!
I mentioned at the very beginning of this story that the main reason for doing this cruise on Allure Of The Seas was because the ship has the full-length Broadway version of the show Mama Mia. I was a DJ in the 1970s and 1980s and those Abba songs are in my blood. Loved the movie, so I wanted to see the stage show.
In the end it didn't matter that we had bad weather for five out of seven days of this cruise... that I didn't like the food in the buffet any more this time than I did the first time I sailed on Allure Of The Seas in 2014... or that after sailing on Anthem Of The Seas last year, the Allure seemed to be a bit of a step down. It just didn't matter, because I came to see Mama Mia, and Mama Mia did not disappoint. There are certain things that Royal Caribbean really does well, and big WOW stage shows are one of them. Even Kellyn enjoyed Mama Mia, and she only went along because of me.
There was a pleasant surprise when our ship visited Cozumel. For the last year or so they've been working on some big improvements to the onshore facilities at the dock in Cozumel that Royal Caribbean uses. It turns out that the work is complete and the new-and-improved section is open for business. It's a huge improvement over what they had before at the Royal Caribbean dock there in Cozumel. They've set up some much nicer areas for meeting up with shore excursions, and there are some nice shops and restaurants there now... even the newest addition to Jimmy Buffet's chain of Margaritaville restaurants. Just make a right as you come off the pier, and you'll be in Margaritaville.
There's also a new security building that speeds up the security process before boarding the ship. Instead of using the ship's metal detectors and x-ray machines as you enter the ship at the end of the day in Cozumel, you now do all that in the new security building before you even get to the pier.
Something I've come to like about Cozumel over the years is that you can purchase antibiotics over the counter in Mexican pharmacies. Quite a few times over my history of cruising, I've finished a cruise with a sinus infection that has to be treated with antibiotics. Usually I have to suffer through the end of the cruise, suffer through the flight home, go to an urgent care facility to get a prescription for antibiotics, and then to a pharmacy to fill the prescription. If the ship visits Cozumel towards the end of the cruise, it's a lot easier. There's a pharmacy right there at the port, and they sell antibiotics over the counter. On our Allure Of The Seas cruise I had indeed managed to pick up a sinus infection by the time the ship got to Cozumel, and it only cost me $40 at the Mexican pharmacy to get exactly what I needed to clear it up. By the time the cruise ended in Fort Lauderdale, the antibiotics had already started to kick in and I was feeling hugely better.
In spite of having a sinus infection, I managed to have fun in Cozumel. We took a shore excursion to Playa Mia, and I had fun shooting video of people playing on the water toys there:
The Cruise Director on this particular cruise was a real pro... Tim Connor. One of the things that sets a good CD apart from a bad one is their speaking voice. Cruise Directors have to make a lot of announcements over the public address system, so it helps to be able to read out loud clearly and to have a nice voice. It's painful when you're cruising with a CD that doesn't have those skills! Tim's got this lovely speaking voice with a British accent... very easy on the ears. And I think the ladies would probably say easy on the eyes, too.
Cruise Directors with British accents always improve the cruise for me. When I hear one speaking, I am always reminded of a time a few years ago when I was on a Carnival ship and the CD was a black guy that didn't read out loud very well, but who fancied himself as a bit of an entertainer whenever he made public service announcements. He would launch in to this shtick that would have been great if he had been on some urban hits radio station talking to 18 year olds... but he wasn't. He was on a cruise ship talking to 50 year olds about how to disembark the ship and find their shore excursions. We were docked in some port, next to a Princess ship. Our CD, let's call him DJ Jazzy Jamal, came on the public address system and did his super-black shtick about how to disembark and where to meet your shore excursion. With as many speakers as there are on a cruise ship, it could clearly be heard ashore, as well as on the ship docked next to us. Then the Cruise Director of the Princess ship got on his PA system and with his perfect speaking voice and the most lovely British accent proceeded to politely and eloquently deliver his message to his passengers. I was actually embarrassed to be cruising on Carnival that day.
Anyway, nothing to be embarrassed about when cruising with Tim Connor... he did a great job. I cornered him one day in the Royal Promenade so that I could ask a question. I don't even remember what the question was at this point, but I do remember very clearly that not only did Tim give me a perfectly reasonable answer to the question... but after answering the question, he didn't hurry away like he hated every minute of talking to me. He lingered. He asked me how my cruise was. He followed up with even more conversation. In short, he was just a real nice guy.
Now, with all those nice things said... I'm going to complain about Royal Caribbean for a minute or two!
I've cruised with Royal Caribbean a fair amount now... I'm platinum in their loyalty program... and there are some things that they do better than any other cruise line. Unfortunately, one of the things that they do better than any other cruise line is shamelessly nickel and dime their passengers. Shamelessly! I don't know how they aren't embarrassed by some of the horrible nickel and diming and the outrageous prices. Like $2.50 for a bag of popcorn. Carnival gives it away for free on their ships.
Then there's the prices of their drinks. Take a look at this drink that I got for Kellyn (it's a Caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil) and tell me how much you think a fair price for that drink would be. Keep in mind that it's served in a glass that is approximately four inches tall. In other words, it's a VERY small drink.
I actually think $6 would be a fair price for a small drink like that, but let's be generous and say $7. Keep in mind that it's a 7-day cruise, so you've got to price them so that people can afford to buy a few each day. And nobody drinks alone, so double the number that somebody's going to buy over a 7-day cruise. Anyway, I think $8 would be steep and $10 would be a rip-off for a tiny drink like that. Incredibly, that drink actually set me back $15.30... and I never bought another drink for the entire rest of the cruise, because that price insulted me so much.
Speaking of high prices... ever looked at the prices of suites on Royal Caribbean? Not worth it. The suite perks on Norwegian Cruise Line are way better, and the prices are, too.
While I'm ranting, I'm going to mention one other pet peeve of mine about Royal Caribbean. Royal Caribbean doesn't seem to think it's necessary to install a built-in freezer to serve ice cream from. I recently cruised on the Norwegian Pearl, an 11-year-old ship... and even that old ship had a freezer for serving ice cream from... just like a real ice cream shop would have. But on quite a few of the Royal Caribbean ships I've sailed on, they just put big tubs of ice cream on a counter and dish it out from there. It starts melting immediately. If you get there a half hour after they started serving, the ice cream is a slushy mess. Now on this particular ship they at least made an attempt... they put some ice cubes around the tubs of ice cream. But it's still inadequate. They need to install a real freezer. Not one single person in Royal Caribbean management ever got served a slushy melting serving of ice cream and figured this out?
OK, sorry about the rant there. I love cruising, and it frustrates me when I see an otherwise good cruise line do stupid stuff. Royal Caribbean could be so much better than that! They've obviously got some brilliant people designing their ships. But why didn't any of those brilliant people think of installing an ice cream server to serve ice cream from?
Now this next story isn't a rant. Stuff happens. This is the story of some stuff that happened to me and Kellyn on the way to our 2017 cruise on Allure of the Seas . And it's all the fault of an idiot by the name of Esteban Santiago, a former National Guardsman who legally carried a gun on a flight to Florida (thanks, National Rifle Association!) and proceeded to shoot up the Fort Lauderdale airport... killing five people, wounding six others, and causing a panic that injured 36 more.
We were ticketed on a flight to Fort Lauderdale that very same day. (In first class!) Luckily, timing was in our favor and the shooting incident happened while we were in the air from California to Houston, Texas. Our connecting flight that we were supposed to board in Houston ended up getting cancelled, because the Fort Lauderdale airport got completely shut down. So, we were stuck in Houston for the night.
A lot of people, who were trying to fly to Florida in order to board a cruise ship, got a lesson in vacation planning that day. Never, ever plan your flight to the cruise port for the very same day the cruise begins. You've got to leave some wiggle room in your schedule for unexpected delays. Flights can get delayed due to weather, mechanical problems, or soldiers that came back from serving in Iraq and were never OK again. (Thank you George W. Bush) An experienced cruiser will fly in to the port city at least one, if not two days before the cruise. That leaves plenty of time to improvise if the original travel plan gets messed up.
So, there we were stranded in Houston for the night. And we were unable to get our luggage. So many flights had been stranded in Houston that night that they had a gigantic mess with all the stranded luggage. They told us it would take hours to find ours, and we'd be better off to just go without luggage for the night, and our luggage would meet up with us on in Florida. Sure it will.
When some situation out of the airline's control messes up a flight and strands you somewhere overnight, the airline doesn't actually put you up in a hotel for free, but they refer you to a company that can reserve a very low-cost hotel room for you. The company suggested we stay at the "Sleep Inn" on McKay Drive. OK, sure... off we go to the Sleep Inn. It was dark when we got there, so I didn't actually see what was out the window of our hotel room. But lying in bed that night, I sure heard it. And the next morning, I snapped a picture of it...
Ironically, the Sleep Inn isn't such a great place to sleep. Especially if you want to sleep in. Because right next door is a dog boarding facility... and there were dogs barking all night long. And once the sun started coming up in the morning, they pretty much ALL decided to bark. So, no sleeping in at the Sleep Inn. We didn't complain about it, though, because we were just glad we hadn't been shot at the Fort Lauderdale airport the previous day! It's funny how a mass murder will get your priorities straight.
While we were enjoying the luxurious conditions at the Sleep Inn, United Airlines was working furiously to find a way to get all their stranded Fort Lauderdale passengers on to a flight to Fort Lauderdale. By the time the dogs woke us up with their sunrise bark, United had managed to book us on a flight scheduled for later that day. So, that was good news... but the thing that worried us the most was... would our luggage make it on the plane with us?
The bad news is that our luggage did NOT make it on to the flight we took from Houston to Fort Lauderdale. The good news is that it somehow made it on to an EARLIER flight... and when we walked off the plane and headed down to the luggage pickup area, all three of our suitcases were there waiting for us. They had beaten us to Florida.
We considered ourselves lucky. We had not been shot in the Fort Lauderdale airport, we didn't get downgraded to coach for our hastily-arranged flight to Florida after having first class tickets on the cancelled flight, we had not lost our luggage, and we had made it to the city where we'd be boarding a cruise ship the next day. That's a travel win right there, in spite of the barking dogs and the fact we didn't have our luggage during our stay in Houston.
The one other thing that got messed up in all this was our planned two-day pre-cruise stay at the fabulous Margaritaville resort in Hollywood, Florida. I had booked us in a great room with a balcony overlooking the beach... but I had been looking forward to having two nights and a full day to stay there. And I had planned to finally meet up with some Internet friends that I had gotten to know in cyberspace but had never had a face-to-face. Unfortunately, once the planned two-night stay at Margaritaville got trimmed down to one night (thank you, Esteban Santiago) all those plans went out the window. The room at Margaritaville was pretty cool, though. Wish we could have stayed longer! And the management at Margaritaville was very cool about fully refunding the cost of the first night of our planned two-night stay.
One other thing I have to mention, so you have the full picture of our 2017 cruise on Allure Of The Seas, is that the weather was bad for about five of the seven days. The ship had been scheduled to visit Labadee, Falmouth, and Cozumel. The weather was so bad and the seas so rough that they had to cancel the visit to Labadee. We were able to dock in Falmouth, but in retrospect Kellyn and I should have just stayed on the ship. We took a shore excursion to the beach and it was super-windy and not at all warm. Not a fun day at the beach. We had a blast in Cozumel, though.
Because the weather was so bad for this particular cruise... because we were pretty stressed when we got onboard due to the repercussions of the airport shooting in Ft Lauderdale... because we'd have to rate the buffet on Allure Of The Seas as one of the worst we've experienced... because they took out our favorite cruise ship Mexican restaurant and replaced it with one we don't like very much... because the price of alcoholic drinks on Royal Caribbean is so outrageously high... and because the cabins on Allure of the Seas seem so outdated compared to the great cabins on Royal Caribbean's newest generation of ships... we'd honestly have to say that our 2017 cruise on Allure of the Seas was one of the worst we've been on. We enjoyed the cruise and we had fun... but compared to the other 38 cruises we've done, this was definitely one of the bottom two on our list of favorites. If you're going to do a cruise on Royal Caribbean, may I suggest Anthem Of The Seas or Harmony Of The Seas instead?
So, that's the story of our 2017 cruise on Allure... but there's a LOT more to learn about the ship if you continue reading on. (And a lot more photos and videos to share.) Here's my full review of our 2014 cruise on Allure...
Introduction To My 2014 Review
This is going to be a long review, talking about a lot of details about what makes this ship so special. Before we get in to the nitty gritty details, how about an overview of what our cruise was like? If you'll watch this 3-minute video, I think you'll get a pretty good sense of how much fun we had on our cruise...
(click the triangle in the center, to start the video playing)
Unique Features on Allure Of The Seas
Allure Of The Seas is very different from all the other cruise ships we've been on. The folks that designed her had a lot of interesting ideas, most of which worked out really well. There is a LOT that the other cruise lines could learn from this ship!
There are several unique "neighborhoods" on the ship which are key to the overall onboard experience. I want to focus on the three that are the most unique: the Boardwalk, the Promenade, and Central Park. Let's start with Central Park...
Prior to our cruise, I had seen a million pictures and videos of Central Park and thought I understood it pretty well. But the pictures and videos don't fully do it justice. There is a fantastic feeling in Central Park that doesn't come through the computer screen. You have to be there to feel the warm Caribbean air and to smell the plants, trees, and flowers.
The normal vibe you get on most cruise ships is that you are standing within a big hunk of metal that was welded and pounded by ironworkers in a steelyard. Standing in Central Park, seeing all the greenery and smelling that smell the plants give off... plus feeling the warm Caribbean air rather than the artificial air conditioning of a cruise ship... there's just a wonderful feeling in the air that is unlike anything I've experienced on a cruise ship before. The vibe here is amazing, especially just before sunset when the lighting takes on a magical quality. I totally loved it.
Looking at the photos from Central Park, it just doesn't look like a scene from inside a cruise ship, does it? Also, to fully imagine the feeling of being there, just remember one thing when you're looking at those photos of Central Park: it's all open to the outside air. You can't really see it in those previous two pictures, but there's a huge opening above Central Park that let's in all the warm Caribbean air... and lots of light during the day. The surrounding cabins, towering five stories above Central Park, provides an excellent wind block, too.
Perhaps looking at it from above will help you see how there's no roof on it, which will make it easier to imagine the feel of the warm Caribbean air in this area, rather than the feel of air conditioning that you typically have in the public spaces of cruise ships. Here are two pictures that show how Central Park is totally open up on top, with the pool deck up above...
There is one little problem with this design, though. Up on the top deck is the "pool and sports zone" neighborhood... and during the day, they often have a reggae band playing music fairly loudly at poolside. All that music comes down from above, and totally ruins the peaceful vibe of Central Park when the band is playing. So, I found Central Park to be a wonderful place to hang out in the mornings, evenings, and night time hours when the reggae band wasn't playing at the pool... but in the middle of the day, the ambience was ruined by pool music spilling in to what is normally a quiet, peaceful area.
In that previous picture, you can see those two white things in the middle of Central Park that look kind of like glass canopies of some kind. They're basically skylights, to let sunlight reach the Royal Promenade down below Central Park. In this next photo, you can get a little peek through the skylight to the Royal Promenade below...
The Royal Promenade, directly below Central Park, is a lot like an indoor shopping mall that you might have back at home. I'm sure you've seen pictures of it... it's another one of those iconic spots on Allure Of The Seas that you always see in every review of the ship. Here are four pictures I took that will help you visualize it...
I had seen many pictures of the "on air" facility with the electronic ticker signs... and never really knew what it was all about. The best guess I could come up with, before the cruise, was that it was some kind of TV studio like ABC has in Times Square for Good Morning America. I figured they did a cruise ship morning show from there, with a studio audience. And I never really got a clear enough look at the tickers to figure out what the content was... I always assumed it was a news feed, just like in Times Square. Nope! The ticker is displaying song lyrics... because the "on-air" lounge is a multi-purpose room that sometimes serves as a Karaoke lounge and at other times serves as a sports bar.
Inside the On-Air Lounge
I'm not sure that Royal Caribbean's decision to call this area the "Royal Promenade" was the best choice of terms. In cruise ship lingo, "promenade" usually refers to a narrow public walkway that circles around the exterior of a ship. I think it might have made more sense to simply call this area of the ship "the mall"... because it sure does have the feel of every indoor shopping mall I've ever been to.
One thing I didn't realize about the Royal Promenade until I saw it for myself is that it gets a lot of natural light during the day, due to those skylights in the ceiling that bring down light from Central Park. Also, the Royal Promenade is a lot longer than I realized. It's a very interesting twist on the atrium concept that Carnival uses in their ships. Where Carnival atriums go way high but are not particularly wide, the Royal Promenade on Allure Of The Seas is not particularly tall but it stretches about half the length of the ship. From the Royal Promenade, you have access to all the shops, the photo gallery, guest services, several bars, and several places to get snacks. They also have a lot of "happenings" here... from parades to musical performances to appearances from the Dreamworks characters. I enjoyed just strolling through every now and then... just to see what was going on.
One of the things that I got a kick out of seeing in the Royal Promenade was the frenzy that would happen when the shops would have a flash sale. They'd put a notice in the "Cruise Compass" newsletter (similar, but grander version of Carnival's "Fun Times" newsletter) that they were going to have a special sale... let's say, of $30 bracelets. And people (mostly women) would line up behind the barriers waiting for the sale to start. The energy and noise level in the room as all those bargain hunters waited for the sale to begin was just incredible! I shot a picture of the ladies waiting about ten minutes before one of the sales...
By the time the sale actually started, the crowd was even bigger... and the picture doesn't begin to capture the buzz in the room as the anticipation built up just before they took down the barriers and let the ladies storm the bracelet counter! It was funny to watch!
The other very unique "neighborhood" onboard Allure Of The Seas is The Boardwalk...
The central feature of The Boardwalk is the merry-go-round, or as some people call it, the carousel. Somehow I managed to spend an entire week on Allure Of The Seas, shooting over 500 pictures, without getting one single still picture of the merry go round! Unbelievable. I did shoot some video, though, in case you're interested. Warning: there's no real payoff to the video... nothing unique or unusual about the carousel... except the fact that it's on a cruise ship, and that is certainly something you don't find on other cruise lines! Funny thing is... you'd think that if just one cruise line in the world had merry-go-rounds, it would be the one named "Carnival"... but no!
As you walk towards the carousel from the Boardwalk entrance, there's a really cool display that shows you how a carousel horse is made. The following five pictures show how three blocks of wood become a carousel horse:
The Boardwalk is also home to several good casual restaurants:
Rita's Cantina (Mexican food), and Johnny Rockets (Burger joint)
As with the carousel, I failed to get even a single still photo of the outside of Rita's Cantina... but that's OK, as a video is much better in this particular case. Check out this video of all the fun we had at an event called "Rita's Fiesta"...
I'll tell you more about Rita's Fiesta, later... when I discuss all the food options onboard Allure Of The Seas.
The other big attraction in The Boardwalk neighborhood is the Aqua Theater, which is so much more than I realized. Before the cruise, I just thought they put on a little show with high dives and possibly some synchronized swimming. Sounded pretty boring to me! Now that I've experienced it, I realize there's so much more to it than that.
First off, the "Oceanaria Aqua Show" is a lot more than just some guys jumping off high dives in to a swimming pool. There are fountains and beautiful music and -- total surprise to me -- world class aerialists, like you would expect in a Cirque Du Soleil show, doing crazy stuff from wires overhead. There's even some amazing trampoline stunts. I enjoyed it a lot.
It was also cool to see all the things they could do with the pool. There's basically a plastic grating that can either sit down at the bottom of the pool when they want to dive in to it... or which can be raised up to provide a solid surface over the top of the pool, turning it in to a stage. In this next shot, you can see how the pool can become a stage by simply pushing a button and raising the blue grating to cover the water. This amphitheater, at the back of the ship, becomes a fantastic venue for all sorts of entertainment events. So, as you can see, there's a whole lot more to the Aqua Theater than you might first suspect.
The Aqua Theater is also equipped with a series of fountains, reminiscent of the fountains outside the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. At night, they do a Bellagio-style fountain show in the Aqua Theater, set to music.
A still picture doesn't do it justice, though.
This video clip of a portion of the fountain show shows it much better...
One of the events I enjoyed watching at the Aqua Theater
was the belly flop contest!
I've seen belly flop contests on cruises many times before... but never in such a perfect venue as the Aqua Theater. Sitting in the comfortable stadium seating with a perfect view of the pool made it so much more enjoyable than trying to crowd around the swimming pool on a Carnival ship. Well done, Royal Caribbean.
There was also a show in the Aqua Theater that featured the Dreamworks characters...
One other interesting thing you'll find in the Boardwalk neighborhood is a donut station...
and they're free!
There were six different varieties of donuts, plus coffee, orange juice, and hot water for tea. My wife was unhappy with the hot water for tea, though, as she said it reeked of coffee. They must have made it by running water through a coffee maker. I was unhappy with the donuts, and never went back after the first morning. I was hoping for donuts like you can get in any neighborhood donut shop at home. They were more like the donuts you find pre-made in the pastry section of a grocery store. Not worth the calories, in my opinion.
Another free snack that you'll sometimes find in the Boardwalk area is popcorn! They didn't have it very often, but when they did it was a nice treat. One lesson we learned the hard way, though: if the popcorn machine is behind the bar, and you have to ask one of the bartenders for it, it will cost you nearly $3 for a bag of it. But if the popcorn machine is out on a stand-alone table, away from the Boardwalk Bar... the popcorn's free!
As a photographer, I truly appreciated that the employee at the popcorn machine stopped and smiled for me when she saw me pointing the camera her way. That's a little thing, but it says something about the crew and their attitude that they want your photo to turn out nicely. She could have easily turned away when she saw the camera. The same exact thing happened later in the cruise when I had the opportunity to photograph the ship's Captain at quite a distance. He happened to notice that I was pointing my camera at him, and he immediately smiled for me. I appreciated that! You'll see that photo a little further down the page.
Now let's move up to the top decks, where we find the "pool and sports zone" neighborhood. I've been on cruise ships where they didn't seem to have enough swimming pools, Jacuzzis, and lounge chairs to accommodate all the passengers... so I worried that this might be a problem on the world's largest cruise ship. It really wasn't.
At the front of the ship, there's a relaxing area similar to the Serenity Retreat on a Carnival ship. It's called The Solarium, and it's for ages 18 and older. Here's a great idea that Carnival should steal: the Solarium has big glass panels that wrap up and around the area, blocking the wind... but it only partially covers the area, to promote air circulation so it doesn't get too hot there. On Carnival ships that have the Serenity Retreat at the front of the ship, it can get way too windy sometimes. The way Royal Caribbean has designed this is MUCH better.
Notice that they also integrate a lot of live green plants in this area... with the exception of the palm trees, which are (unfortunately) fake. There's also a water feature, which makes the comforting sound of a waterfall. It really gives this room a nice vibe, which you totally don't get in the photos. The live plants go along way towards softening the hard metallic vibe that most cruise ships have. I really liked it.
Take a look at this very brief video that I shot in the solarium. I think it might help you see what a neat little place the solarium is.
The Solarium features loungers with thick, comfortable cushions... again, very similar to what you'd find in the Serenity Retreat on a Carnival ship. The live plants in the area make it much nicer than the Carnival version, though... but the biggest thing that makes this better than the Carnival version is the fact that it is actually SERENE here. On a lot of Carnival Ships, the Serenity Retreat is located within earshot of the main pool area... where there is always loud music or other noise ruining the serene atmosphere of the Serenity Retreat. The Solarium on Allure Of The Seas is not located near any noisy stuff at all... so it's actually got all the serenity that Carnival's Serenity Retreat should have.
There's a small pool in the Solarium, just big enough and deep enough for a quick, cool dip.
If you want larger, deeper pools... head out to the main pool deck.
There are also two Jacuzzis in the Solarium.
Not very far from the two Jacuzzis in the Solarium, you'll also find the ship's best Jacuzzis...
one on the port side and one on the starboard side, just outside the Solarium entrance.
They hang over the edge of the ship, providing a spectacular view...
Speaking of the top decks of the ship,
there was one very odd thing I noticed up there!
Take a look at this thing on the roof with the red tip
and see if you can guess what it is...
Does that look like a missile launcher, or what?!?
I spent several days wondering what that thing was up on top of the ship, and then finally curiosity got the best of me and I stopped one of the employees and asked. It turns out that it is a crane. Those metal tubes can be extended out to form a boom arm and the whole thing can reach way over the side of the ship to bring things up from the dock, if needed.
Here's one other interesting thing I found up on the top decks...
Since this was my very first cruise with Royal Caribbean, I certainly didn't have a gold SeaPass... so I didn't go up the stairs to see what was up there. I assume it was some kind of V.I.P. sun deck. It really didn't look like a good place for a V.I.P. area, though... very exposed to the wind... since it was up high, and at the front of the ship.
At the very aft end of deck 16, you'll find one of the coolest things on the whole ship: the Flowriders. On Carnival cruises, I always enjoyed watching the kids wipe out on the Flowrider at Margaritaville on Grand Turk. But this was my first time seeing a Flowrider built on to an actual cruise ship. For me, it's all about seeing the wipeouts! I don't care how good they can surf... I just want to see them crash at the end. And they always do! A still picture wouldn't do it justice. Watch the video...
There's a nice arcade up on deck 15 but, unfortunately, there seemed to be some maintenance issues. We wanted to play air hockey, but never could get the machines to come to life. And it wasn't just me being an old fart who couldn't make the game work... we watched some other people try, too... and no one successfully got the air hockey tables going during any of our visits to the arcade that week.
On a big ship like Allure Of The Seas, it's easy to get a little lost. It took me several days until I really had the layout down. They have some neat electronic displays on the walls that will help you find what's going on and how to get there. I also liked these displays, located near all the elevators, which helped me visualize where things were:
Overall, I was impressed with the entertainment on Allure Of The Seas. It was definitely a step up from what we are used to on Carnival. They seem to spend a lot more money and put more effort in to the big production shows. Here's a photo from the Blue Planet show:
The sets were more impressive than what you'd see in a Carnival show, and the level of vocal talent seemed to be a step above, too. Plus, in addition to the singing and dancing that you always have in a cruise ship production show, they also had some amazing aerialists like you would expect to see in a Cirque Du Soleil show.
There were some amazing technical effects during the Blue Planet show! Before the show, they have a globe hanging over the stage with a moving video image on it that makes it look like you're looking at planet earth from space. I'm still not entirely sure how they did it! Some kind of holographic projection on to the globe? Take a look at this short video that some other passenger shot of it, to see what I'm talking about. It was NOT just a video screen, it was an actual three dimensional globe, hanging from a wire. Just like in a magic show, the best effects are the ones that you can't figure out how they were accomplished!
Here's another cool effect from the Blue Planet show. I snapped this photo during a point in the show when they made the stage look like a giant aquarium. It was really cool!
The fish were projected on to a screen surrounding the stage, and it made the stage look just like an aquarium. With blue lighting, everything on stage looked like it was underwater. Using aerial wires, the actors were able to appear to be swimming. It was really cool!
If you have a somewhat raunchy sense of humor, keep an eye on the Cruise Compass newsletter for a late-night event listed as "The Adult Quest Game Show" in Studio B. It's barely publicized at all... just a tiny little listing in the Cruise Compass... but the word-of-mouth on this event is huge and the room ends up getting completely packed.
I first learned about Quest on a Carnival Cruise. A fellow passenger asked me if I had ever seen it, and when I said no, he told me that I absolutely HAD to go check it out at least one time. It was such raunchy fun that I've started watching for it on every cruise now, and I was surprised to see that Royal Caribbean has it, too.
It's basically an audience participation game show with an adult theme. They break the audience in to teams based on what section of the room you're sitting in, and then the various teams compete in a series of challenges. The challenges start off fairly tame, and they get a little raunchier with each challenge, finally culminating in the dudes-dressed-as-skanky-ladies challenge you see in the picture.
To me, it was laugh-out-loud funny... but I have a raunchy sense of humor. If you're easily offended, this is not for you!
Describing Quest with words just doesn't do it justice.
I think this video will do a much better job...
(Do NOT watch the video if you're easily offended!!!)
The Allure Of The Seas version of Quest was better than Carnival's version... simply because the multipurpose "Studio B" complex is absolutely PERFECT for this event. There's room for a lot more people than Carnival can comfortably seat, and the sight lines are excellent so that you won't miss a bit of the action.
By the way, that "Studio B" facility really impressed me! What a great venue. It was so well designed... better than any entertainment venue I've seen on Carnival... and totally versatile. During our week onboard, it worked perfectly as a comfortable location for the mandatory safety briefing, the Glow Party, Quest, and it even converts to an ice skating and roller skating rink!
Here's a photo of the Glow Party in Studio B,
with the center stage converted in to a dance floor:
I really enjoy watching a live musical performance. It's something I always look forward to on cruise ships. It seems like this is an area that Carnival has cut back on over the years, so I was thankful to find a lot of live music on Allure Of The Seas.
The best musical show I saw during the entire week was the headliner show featuring entertainer Kenny James. If you're of a certain age, you may remember Kenny from the TV show "Star Search"... the 1980s equivalent of "American Idol". In 1985, Kenny won a $100,000 prize on the show after thirteen consecutive wins in the male vocalist category. These days, he works a little in Las Vegas and a lot on cruise ships... and he put on one heck of a great show.
At a certain point in the show, Kenny announces that the bass player in the band is actually his son, Trevor.
On Carnival, they always proceed shows by announcing a made-up fact that "international copyright laws" prohibit guests from photography and videography during the shows. I like that Royal Caribbean makes no such claims and allowed me to shoot photos and videos during Kenny James' show. During the Blue Planet show, they did announce a ban on flash photography and videography, but at least they did allow still photography.
There's a beautiful lounge called the Viking Crown Lounge way up at the top of the ship on deck 17. Here's a photo:
When I saw the Viking Crown Lounge on the deck plans, I assumed it was some kind of perk for the people who were staying in suites... as the only other thing up on deck 17 is all the suites. So, I was surprised to learn that it actually has nothing to do with the suites and that it's just a beautiful venue that overlooks the pool deck and which features some nice musical performances on most nights. There's a female musical duo called "Those Girlz" that perform here quite a few nights... and they were very good. We also caught a nice instrumental performance in the Viking Crown Lounge by a duo called "The Entourage Strings"... and I got one of their songs on video so you could hear a little sample:
If you enjoyed that, check out one more video of the Entourage Strings performing... this time in Central Park:
Another one of Allure's musical venues that has a pretty cool view is Dazzles Lounge. It's a two-story lounge on decks 8 and 9, with big floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the Boardwalk. Most nights, there's a Filipino cover band that plays there... and they're very good... especially their energetic female vocalist. I didn't manage to get any good video of them performing, but I did get some video in Dazzles Lounge of a performance by the Allure Orchestra. Take a look:
They've got a couple of beautiful chandeliers in Dazzles lounge!
They reminded me a lot of the big chandelier on Norwegian Getaway.
One other musical video clip I'd like to share with you is a much more informal performance by the Allure Orchestra. One day out on the Boardwalk, they did a performance of marching band music. I really enjoyed their performance of Stars & Stripes Forever:
Finally, if you're in to jazz music, be sure to visit the "Jazz on 4" lounge which is the - surprise! - lounge located on deck 4 where they perform live jazz.
One of the things I always truly enjoy during a cruise is having the opportunity to see several good stand-up comedy acts. At home, in my real life, I'm a total homebody and would never go out to a comedy show. But on a cruise, it's one of the things I really enjoy. One of the things I always appreciated about my Carnival cruises was Carnival's emphasis on comedy and the way they would have four different comedians perform during a 7-day cruise. I was curious to see how Royal Caribbean would approach comedy.
Comedian Rick Corso in a performance in the Comedy Live lounge on Allure Of The Seas
Now that I've cruised on the four largest North American cruise lines, it's been really interesting to see the different approaches that they use when it comes to comedy.
Carnival seems to be the most in to comedy. They have dedicated comedy clubs on all of their ships, with numerous comedy shows almost every night... and they're the only line that gives you performances by FOUR different comedians during a 7-day cruise. Princess doesn't have comedy clubs at all... they just have the comedians perform in their main theater. On Norwegian Getaway, they used a hybrid approach... with some shows in a dedicated comedy club and others in their main theater.
So, that brings us to Royal Caribbean. I would have thought, since Allure Of The Seas is the largest cruise ship in the world and carries thousands more passengers than the average size cruise ship, that they would have a huge comedy club to handle the demand. I was surprised to see that they actually had just about the smallest comedy club I've seen on any cruise ship I've been on. At the very end of the week they did do one comedy show in the big Amber Theater... but all the rest of the week, they just had a couple of shows a night in their very small "Comedy Live" lounge on deck 4. Reservations for these shows quickly booked up early in the week. So, if you'd like to see the comedians perform on Allure Of The Seas, be sure to make your comedy club reservations before the cruise or VERY EARLY in the week. And that brings me to this little public service announcement...
If most of your previous cruises have been with Carnival or Princess, there's one aspect of cruising on Allure Of The Seas that you should be prepared to deal with: the reservations.
Advance reservations are required for a lot of the shows and for many of the restaurants. Because of this need to reserve so many things in advance, you'll find that you'll need to plot out your entire week in advance on a piece of paper and commit to a plan. This is just a fact of life on Allure Of The Seas. (It was the same way on Norwegian Getaway, too.) My advice is that you research all the dining and entertainment options several weeks before your cruise and make some advance reservations before you even get aboard. It's a different style of cruising than the figure-it-out-as-we-go plan which works quite well on Carnival and Princess... so be prepared and plan out your week. Otherwise, you might not get to experience all the shows and restaurants.
Restaurants & Food
Up until now, this has been a very positive review of our experiences onboard Allure Of The seas... but this is where we hit the one little rough spot!
We had a lot of fun on Allure Of The Seas and overall we really enjoyed it. However, food was a problem for us. Most of the restaurants that required an extra fee... such as Rita's Cantina, Chops Grille, and Giovannis... were very enjoyable. But the restaurants that were included with no extra fee... such as the buffet, the Adagio dining room, and the Solarium bistro... had a LOT of room for improvement. Also, we had a disappointing experience in the Samba Grill, which is a Brazilian steakhouse. And we never could find one single restaurant during the entire week that could provide what I consider a decent breakfast... and that's my favorite meal of the day. So, out of all 27 cruises we've been on... considering only the food aspect, this was probably one of our two least favorite cruises. But everything other than food was great!
Let's go through the onboard restaurants in more detail. I'll start with the ones we liked a lot...
Giovanni's Table is the Italian restaurant onboard. It is located in Central Park, and you can either eat your meal inside the restaurant, or outside... on the tables you see in this photo.
It was kind of ironic that out of all the restaurants onboard, this turned out to be one of our favorites... as I always had a very different reaction to the Italian restaurants on our 20+ Carnival cruises. I just never once had a meal that I truly enjoyed at Carnival's Italian restaurant! I like Italian food... so on cruise after cruise I would try Carnival's Italian restaurant, and I never once had a truly great meal there! Every time I would say to myself "you must have just ordered the wrong thing from the menu"... and on the next cruise, I would try again and order something different. But I never found anything I really liked! And it always struck me as odd that on the dinner menu of Carnival's Italian restaurant, they didn't even offer Lasagna. That's my standard meal when trying out any Italian restaurant I haven't ever been to before. But it's not even on the menu in Carnival's "La Cucina" Italian restaurant. So, when I saw lasagna on the menu at Giovanni's Table, I suspected I was in for a better experience with Royal Caribbean. Besides, Carnival had set the bar pretty low in this area... so the odds seemed to be in my favor.
So, yes, I did have the lasagna at Giovanni's Table, and I thought it was quite good. The only thing that irked me a little was that the portion they served was not particularly large. Lasagna that good... I would have liked more! After I finished my lasagna, the waiter came by to see how we were doing... and I mentioned to him that I had REALLY enjoyed the lasagna. And then he did something that amazed and delighted me... he asked if I would like him to bring me a second serving! Now that's my kind of restaurant.
This really surprised me... because Giovanni's Table is one of those extra-fee restaurants where you pay an extra charge just to eat there. Our lunch at Giovanni's set us back $15 per person. At dinner time, it's $20 per person. Imagine what would happen if you went to the steakhouse and had a great filet mignon, but you felt it was a little too small... what would their reaction be if you asked for a second one for free? So, I was pleasantly surprised when they so readily offered to bring me a second serving at Giovanni's... and it took a nice lunch out at the Italian restaurant and made it a great one.
We also had a good meal in Chop's Grille... the onboard steakhouse. It's located on the opposite side of Central Park from Giovanni's Table, and also offers plenty of indoor seating as well as a few seats outside in Central Park. There's a $30 per person charge to eat at Chops Grille.
As if paying $60 per couple on top of our cruise fare was not enough... I had read that Royal Caribbean offered a few very special items at Chop's Grille that would incur an additional $19 charge. One of them was a very special dry-aged Porterhouse steak, that had been aged for nearly four weeks to enhance the flavor, tenderness and aroma. Curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to order one... but I figured that for that price, it had better be one of the best steaks, ever!
The lighting inside Chops Grille is kept very low to create an intimate, romantic dining experience... so I wasn't able to get a great picture of it... but here's my $49 Porterhouse Steak meal...
To be honest... I don't think I'll order that again, during our next cruise with Royal Caribbean. Sure, it was a good steak, and I enjoyed eating it... but it wasn't even close to being the best steak I've ever had, which is what I expect to get when paying $49 for a steak. All the stuff that came with the meal was fine, and it really was one of the best meals we had onboard... but still not as good as I would hope for when paying a $19 upcharge on top of a $30 upcharge!
Another for-fee restaurant that we really enjoyed was Rita's Cantina. (You get that the name is a play-on-words, based on Margarita, right?) I talked a little about Rita's earlier, but now it's time to elaborate... because this was not only one of the more delicious experiences we had onboard, it was also one of the most fun!
You can go to Rita's Cantina and just have a normal meal like you would expect at a Mexican restaurant... but you might want to consider doing what we did, which is to attend a special dinner event called "Rita's Fiesta". You don't get to order off the menu... they have a set menu for Rita's Fiesta that is the same for everyone who attends. But it's pretty good! It all starts with chips and salsa and drinks. Then they bring out a big plate full of appetizers. And then, just around the time the alcohol has started to hit you, this happens:
After the dancing is all over, everyone comes back in to the restaurant and they bring out the main course... which was a delicious serving of Fajitas.
Fajitas, at Rita's
While we were at Rita's, we got chatting with the VERY friendly bartender, Ethel Ronas, who gave us some fantastic advice about what to do when the ship visited Labadee, Haiti. More about that, a little later... but I just want to give a big shout-out to Ethel, who hugely improved our cruise with the advice she gave us.
Ethel Ronas, the super-friendly bartender at Rita's Cantina
When in Rome...
(that's me under the sombrero, in Rita's Cantina)
While we're talking about the specialty restaurants on Allure Of The Seas... Royal Caribbean offers a special deal where they'll give you a 20% discount on the specialty restaurant fees if you eat in at least three specialty restaurants during the week. We did end up eating in three different specialty restaurants during the week, and I was delighted to discover that they AUTOMATICALLY and retroactively gave us the 20% discount without us ever having to ask for it. Well done, Royal Caribbean... and thank you.
The Park Cafe, in Central Park, was one of the better no-extra-charge dining options. The people on Cruise Critic all raved about the roast beef sandwiches at the Park Cafe, so I was sure to try one. Good sandwich, indeed... but I wish they offered French fries with it instead of just bags of chips.
I don't want to dwell a whole lot on the negative part of our dining experiences on Allure Of The Seas, but I do have to acknowledge that the majority of the no-extra-charge meals we had onboard left a lot of room for improvement. I was hoping to be delightfully surprised with better-than-Carnival food like I experienced on the Sapphire Princess and Coral Princess earlier this year... but I just wasn't.
I started to suspect that we might be in for food trouble the day before the cruise, when we ran in to some friendly people on the beach in Fort Lauderdale. We were watching the cruise ships head out to sea, the day before we were scheduled to board Allure Of the Seas. We got in to a nice conversation with another couple there on the beach... and they told us that they were staying in Ft Lauderdale for a few days after just finishing a cruise on Allure's sister ship, Oasis Of The Seas. That perked our ears up, for sure... and we started asking them all about how they had enjoyed Oasis and Royal Caribbean. In talking to them, we discovered that we had a LOT in common! They, too, were from Southern California... and they, too, had cruised a LOT with Carnival and were branching out a little and trying Royal Caribbean. They said they liked their cruise on Oasis Of The Seas a lot... but that they had been disappointed in the food. They said they had not enjoyed the food as much on Oasis as they usually do on Carnival. It wasn't that it was horribly bad, it was just that they enjoyed the food on Carnival more.
We definitely came to agree with them as our week on Allure Of The Seas progressed. As I mentioned, there was a lot of good food in the restaurants that charge an additional fee... but the food in the no-extra-charge restaurants wasn't quite what we were hoping for. On Carnival, I always started every day with a great breakfast in the buffet... featuring a made-to-order omelet. On Allure Of The Seas, you can't get an omelet made for you in the buffet. To get a made-to-order omelet, you have to either go to the WipeOut Cafe, Johnny Rockets, or to the Adagio dining room. During the week, I tried all three of those options... and none of them offered a perfect breakfast like I could get every morning in the Carnival Buffet.
Breakfast at Johnny Rockets
The breakfast potatoes at Johnny Rockets were OK, but the omelet wasn't very good and neither was the toast. In the picture, look closely at the cheese oozing out of the side of the omelet. It looks like they just dropped a slice of some kind of processed cheese in to the middle of the omelet. Whatever kind of cheese it was... it didn't work for me. I much prefer they way they make a ham & cheese omelet to order on Carnival.
Breakfast at the WipeOut Cafe
I liked the omelet at the WipeOut Cafe much better, and liked all the other stuff I was able to get (buffet style) along with it... with the exception of the potatoes. The potatoes just struck me as a sign of laziness in the kitchen... that they didn't want to do the work involved in making some real hash browns or some real country-style potatoes... they wanted to put in the least effort possible, so they just deep fried some potato patties, McDonald's style. It strikes me as tacky, and those potatoes were simply too crunchy and not tasty. If they just could have put more effort in to the potatoes... it would have made all the difference, and put them on par with the great breakfasts I always enjoy on Carnival.
I forgot to take my camera with me the one day we tried breakfast in the Adagio dining room. Again, the omelet was fine... but they committed the breakfast sin of serving a big omelet with a microscopic-sized serving of hash browns. The hash browns were actually not at all bad, but the serving size was literally 2/3rds the size of the tiny patty you saw in the picture from the WipeOut cafe. Because it's served in a formal sit-down restaurant setting with a real waiter, it's not really practical to ask for more once you've run out of potatoes, because by the time it would arrive, it would be way too late. To add insult to injury, our waiter in the Adagaio dining room seemed just a little grumpy. Personally, I'd rather eat buffet style at that hour of the day so that I don't have to talk to anyone until I'm a little more fully awake... but if I have to talk to someone, he better be cheery and delightful... not a little grumpy.
So, none of the breakfasts we had on Allure Of The Seas measured up to the very satisfactory breakfast buffet that we've come to expect from our Carnival cruises.
Lunch wasn't much better. Carnival's got a fantastic burger restaurant called Guy's Burger Joint, and I eat there almost every day when I cruise with Carnival. Not only is it the best burger on land or on sea, but there's no additional fee for it. On Allure Of The Seas, you can get a fairly decent burger lunch at Johnny Rockets... but it will set you back an additional $5 for the burger and another $5 if you want a shake with it. I'd be OK with that if it was a great burger, but it wasn't. It was OK, but not great. The Guy Fieri burgers on Carnival really are great, and then on top of that it doesn't cost you a dime extra... so you gotta score a big win for Carnival on that one.
Lunch at Johnny Rockets
I enjoyed the fact that they have milk shakes at Johnny Rockets
and I proudly displayed a strawberry mustache to celebrate it!
Regarding dinner, we enjoyed the dinners we had in the specialty restaurants such as Chops Grille and Rita's Cantina, but the dinners we had in the Windjammer buffet were only just OK. The worst one I had was a turkey dinner. We were cruising the week before Thanksgiving, and I was definitely in the mood for turkey the night I saw them offering it at the buffet. I should have passed!
My wife and I have been married for 33 years, and in that time she has progressed from not really knowing how to cook at all to being a truly great cook. I don't know if she'd ever be able to stand the pressure of being on a show liked "Chopped" on The Food Network, but let's just say that over the years she has learned what I like to eat and figured out how to make it really well! Out of all the things she cooks, Thanksgiving dinner is probably her best, most-perfect meal. So, it was probably a stupid mistake to try the Windjammer buffet version of Thanksgiving dinner... since my wife's version sets the bar so high!
Speaking of meals where the bar was set high and the Allure Of The Seas
didn't come close to reaching it...
Two months before this cruise, we sailed on what was at that time the newest cruise ship in the world... The Norwegian Getaway. The most spectacular meal we had on the Norwegian Getaway was in their Brazilian steakhouse. It was the first time I had ever been in a Brazilian steakhouse, and it simply knocked my socks off! So, I was very excited when I found out that Allure Of The Seas had a Brazilian steakhouse, too. Unfortunately, the Royal Caribbean version was not in NCL's league.
On the Norwegian Getaway, the Brazilian steakhouse was designed from the beginning to be a Brazilian steakhouse, and that's the only thing that the restaurant is used for. On Allure Of The Seas, what is the Solarium during the day becomes the Samba Grill (the Brazilian restaurant) at night. They throw some tablecloths over the tables, dim the lighting, and call it good. But it's still just really the solarium. So, in terms of ambience and a wow! experience... it's just not there. That would still be OK if the food was outrageously good like it was in the Brazilian steakhouse on Norwegian Getaway... but it just wasn't. Where the Norwegian Getaway's Brazilian steakhouse scored a "10" on food taste and quality with me, the Allure Of The Seas' version would have been lucky to score a "5" at most. The meat just wasn't all that tasty or prepared particularly skillfully... and I truly disliked the choices they made as far as what to serve along with it. I loved everything about the Brazilian steakhouse on Norwegian Getaway... in retrospect I wish I had not gone to the Samba Grill on Allure Of The Seas.
One free item that I did really enjoy on Allure Of The Seas were the white chocolate chip cookies. I was a little worried about the cranberries that were mixed in with the white chocolate chips, but you could hardly tell the cranberries were there.
The white chocolate chip cookies were available in the buffet at lunch and dinner times. If I recall correctly, they had regular chocolate chip cookies one day, and then white chocolate chip cookies the next day... rotating every other day for the entire cruise.
Speaking of free desserts, Royal Caribbean has soft-serve frozen yogurt machines available for the guests to use, just like Carnival does... but they don't offer soft-serve ice cream, only frozen yogurt. But where Carnival always offers vanilla and rotates chocolate and strawberry every other day... Royal Caribbean had multiple machines that, between them, offered all three flavors every day.
On Carnival, the soft-serve ice cream machines are impossible to miss... there are several of them, all in very visible, high-traffic areas of the Lido deck. On Allure Of The Seas, they're much more hidden! We didn't even realize they had any on the first day. On the second day, we saw some people up by the pool who were eating soft-serve cones... but it still took quite a while to figure out where the machines were. They're set back, inside a closet that can be closed when the machines are out-of-service... up by the children's pool area, underneath that crane that looks like a missile launcher! I think there's also one in the WipeOut Cafe. I think the soft-serve yogurt machines also only operate for a few hours in the afternoons... unlike Carnival's, which are going 24/7.
Our 1st Port Of Call: Labadee, Haiti
Allure Of The Seas docked in Labadee, Haiti
Since Labadee is Royal Caribbean's private development on Haiti, and I had never been on a Royal Caribbean cruise before, I really didn't know what to expect. My only real opinion about Labadee prior to our cruise was that it seemed like Royal Caribbean offered a whole lot of over-priced activities... such as a bobsled ride for $25, a 5-minute zip-line ride for $100, or a $225 beach cabana rental. My plan for my very first visit to Labadee was simply to explore the area a bit and see if I could find a nice (free) beach to hang out on... and then, hopefully, whenever I made it back to Labadee for a second visit... I would know exactly what to do there.
As luck would have it, a day or two before our visit to Labadee, we met Ethel... the very friendly bartender from Rita's Cantina... and she totally clued us in on what to do in Labadee. Ethel told us that there are several beaches in Labadee, but that the one with the best sand and the most gentle water conditions is Columbus Cove... and because it's the farthest away from the dock, it's the least crowded. She also said not to worry about the fact that it's the farthest from the ship... because there's a free tram that will take us there and get us back. She sounded like she knew what she was talking about... so it was a no-brainer for us to follow her advice completely. Wow, did she ever know what she was talking about! It was fantastic advice.
We had a wonderful day at Columbus Cove! Ethel's advice was right on target. The beach was un-crowded, the tram ride was quick and simple, there were loungers to use for free, and plenty of shade under the palm trees so that we didn't have to worry about getting sunburned. Also, Royal Caribbean provided a free buffet lunch with jerked pork and chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs, salad, desserts, and more.
I liked the way they displayed the fruit at the buffet, so I snapped a picture of it:
It sure was a beautiful day in the Caribbean... and adding to the tropical ambience was a local band that played music for all of us tourists on the beach. I caught one song on video, so you could get a taste of it. Imagine this music playing softly in the background as you swim in the warm Caribbean water. It was paradise!
This picture gives you a slightly different view of Columbus Cove:
In the distance, you can see the aqua park on the left and the water slide in the center
This is Adrenaline Beach.
On top of the hill, you can see the starting point for the big zip-line.
Looking in the other direction on Adrenaline Beach
Here's a map of Labadee
If you click on the map, a more detailed copy will open up in a new browser tab
After a wonderful day on Labadee, our cruise was really off to a great start! As we sailed away from Labadee and on to Jamaica, here's a nice shot I got of the sun setting over Haiti...
Our 2nd Port Of Call: Falmouth, Jamaica
When we're in the Caribbean, we're all about spending time in the water and soaking up some sun... either at a beach, or at least in a nice warm swimming pool somewhere. All of our shore excursions usually have some component of beach time... we're not the type of tourists that go on shopping excursions or take a tour of historical sites. We're all about the sun, the water, and the FUN!
In Jamaica, we chose the "Rose Hall All Inclusive Beach Day" excursion. You board a bus and head over to the Hilton Rose Hall resort... where you get to spend the day enjoying their private beach, lazy river, and swimming pool... and because it's an all-inclusive resort, you have full access to their restaurants and bars at no additional charge. It's a nice way to spend the day!
We rode inner tubes around their lazy river... which was real nice... did a little swimming at their private beach... which was actually not as nice as it looks in this photo...
... we enjoyed a very nice lunch at one of their restaurants... and then settled in at this beautiful swimming pool and enjoyed a few cocktails...
I totally enjoyed our day here. The icing on the cake was when one of the young ladies at the pool decided to do some sun bathing... and she must not have been an American, because she did her sunbathing topless. I showed tremendous restraint by keeping my camera in the camera bag until she was done. But I definitely enjoyed the view!
Our 3rd Port Of Call: Cozumel, Mexico
Kellyn and I have been to Cozumel many times, and it's one of our favorite ports of call. As many times as we've been there, I've still barely scratched the surface of all the things to see and do there. If you don't have fun in Cozumel, it's probably your own darned fault!
Cruise ships always pull in to Cozumel in the early morning hours, and it seems like every time we get there, there's a beautiful sunrise. Here's what it looked like from our balcony...
I also shot a time-lapse video of the view as the ship arrived in Cozumel:
If you're wondering how I create those time-lapse videos...
It's actually pretty simple. They're created with my Android phone, using an App called Framelapse Pro. The trick to making it work is to mount the phone securely on something so that it is stable during the entire time you shoot. All you need is this neat little gadget from Amazon.com which makes it easy to clamp your cell phone to something secure, like the railing of a cruise ship... and you're all set to go.
Here's a photo that shows what the little gadget looks like in action... it's my cell phone clamped to the railing of our balcony as the ship arrived in Cozumel:
While we were in Cozumel, we had lunch at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant located right off the cruise ship pier. It was actually one of the best meals we had during the entire week! Here's the little "Mexican Kitchen" where we had a nice lunch:
The Navigator of the Seas was docked along side us in Cozumel:
Here's one last shot of Allure Of The Seas,
just before we got back onboard for the voyage back to Ft Lauderdale:
Before the cruise, I had read about some new technology that O3B Networks had developed to improve the speed of Internet access in places that usually have trouble getting an Internet connection at all... like cruise ships in the middle of the Caribbean. The buzz in all the press releases indicated that this would provide a hugely better Internet connection for ships at sea. Royal Caribbean made a big deal about the fact that they would be incorporating this new technology in their new flagship, the Quantum Of The Seas... but I got REALLY excited when I also found out that they would be adding this new technology to Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, too.
To really appreciate this story, you also need to know about a competing technology developed by MTN communications and incorporated with much fanfare on Norwegian Cruise Line's flagship, Norwegian Getaway. I read all the hype about the hybrid system that MTN developed... using a satellite system for Internet at sea, and switching to a wireless connection to a land-based tower when the ship was within sight of an island with a MTN tower. It sounded interesting. But when I actually got onboard Norwegian Getaway and tried it, it was a BIG disappointment. Yes, it was BLAZING fast when the ship was within sight of a MTN tower... but that was a very small percentage of the time! And that was mostly when the ship was docked, I was off on a shore excursion, and completely un-interested in accessing the network. When I really wanted good Internet access... when the ship was out at sea... the satellite connection was just as crappy as it's been on every other cruise ship I had ever been on. So, that system was all hype and really didn't offer me much that was useful.
But the technology developed by O3B Networks and integrated on to the three newest Royal Caribbean ships had a lot more promise. Everyone was saying that it was going to provide a true high-speed Internet connection during the entire cruise.... even when the ship was far out to sea. I was eager to try it!
Having an always-on Internet connection during a cruise is important to me, as is being able to upload and download large files (such as YouTube videos) in minutes rather than hours... so I signed up for the highest-speed Internet option they offer. It's called the "Premium Plus" Internet plan, and Royal Caribbean describes it this way:
"With download speeds never before seen at sea, this package lets you do it all - from streaming movies, to live video calls, downloading large files and more. With Premium Plus the sky is the limit"
So, how fast is it? Not just in words, but in objective, quantifiable terms. To determine that, all we need is a little web site called Speedtest.net... which can very quickly perform a few tests to measure how good your connection to the Internet is.
I ran the speed tests multiple times, just about every day of our cruise, and the results were very consistent. With the Premium Plus plan, I consistently got a ping time of about 185 milliseconds, a download speed of about 4 Mbps, and an upload speed of about .9 Mbps. That's the fastest Internet connection I've ever experienced (at sea) in 27 cruises.
Those numbers may not sound very fast compared to what you might be used to on land (I get 60 Mbps downloads at home with my cable modem) but it actually feels pretty snappy using it in your cabin... and it's not at all frustrating and un-reliable like most at-sea Internet connections have been on my previous cruises. The bottom line: it works, very consistently, and it seems fast as you use it.
For those of you who are not familiar with upload/download speeds and ping times:
The ping test measures how "responsive" the connection is. Basically, it measures how long after you click on something does the server at the other end find out that you clicked on it. Smaller numbers are better. The smaller the number in the ping test, the quicker things happen as you click on things. At home I get a ping time of about 10 ms, which is BLAZING fast... cable modems are really good at that. But a ping time at sea of under 200 ms is a very respectable time and it results in a very good experience as you surf the Internet. It feels like things happen quickly, when you expect them to.
The download test is also very important, especially if you are dealing with very data-intensive tasks like viewing videos or even sites with pictures. For example, on the web page you're viewing right now, with over 50 still photos and a whole bunch of video, too... we're talking about a big chunk of bandwidth just to view this page. Just getting all the pictures to load on to your screen can take a long time if you don't have a good Internet connection with snappy download speeds. When evaluating the speed test results, the larger the number in the download speed test, the better.
Two years ago, I did a Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Magic when Carnival was testing some new high-speed Internet equipment that MTN communications had developed. At the time, it was the fastest Internet connection I had ever experienced at sea, and it was a real joy to use. It worked well, and provided a good user experience. The download speed was about 2 Mbps, and the upload speed was about .5 Mbps... in other words, about half of what I got on Allure Of The Seas thanks to O3B Networks. Hopefully, that helps you put it all in perspective.
Of the three things tested on an Internet speed test, upload speed is really the least important. It most noticeably comes in to play when you are sending pictures (for example, in an email to family or friends) or if you are uploading a video to YouTube. I shot a nice time-lapse video of our departure from Fort Lauderdale on the first day of the cruise, and immediately uploaded it to YouTube. The upload literally just took a few minutes... thanks to the good connection we had onboard with the O3B network. Uploading a video was simple, and worked well. I've tried it on other cruises, and it was just so slow and flaky that I had to wait until I got home to do it.
Before I go any further, this would probably be a good time to show you that time-lapse video I shot of our sailaway from Ft Lauderdale, which I immediately uploaded to YouTube right from the ship rather than waiting until I got home after the cruise:
Now let's talk about the specific options they offer when you sign up for Internet service on the Allure Of The Seas. (And presumably, also on Oasis and Quantum.)
There are three main levels of service available, based on the speed and quality of the connection: The "Basic" plan, the "Premium" plan, and the "Premium Plus" plan... which is the fastest, and that's the one I used during my 7-day cruise.
I have to assume that the "basic" plan is similar in speed and quality to that which is offered on most other cruise ships. In other words, slow. I really can't find any information on how much faster the "premium" plan is supposed to be.
With each of the three plans you can buy access for one hour, 24 hours, or for the entire length of the cruise. It is NOT like the way you buy Internet access on other cruise lines. For example, on Carnival you can buy 120 minutes of Internet access time and you can use it for 5 minutes, log out, and still have 115 minutes left that you can use any time during the rest of the cruise.
With this new system on Allure Of The Seas, you are buying consecutive minutes. In other words, if I buy one hour of Internet access it starts now and ends in an hour. I can't just use five minutes now and log out and use the other 55 minutes on some other day.
Also, if you buy any of the three plans for the duration of the entire voyage, you have a choice of whether you want it to be able to work on just one device at a time, or a more expensive option that would let you use it on two devices at one time. This might be a good option for couples who both need to access the Internet from different devices at the same time.
So, those are all the options. Now let's look at the pricing, because that's where the rubber meets the road, right? If they were to price it a $5 for the whole voyage, everybody would buy it and the network would get clogged up and perform poorly. On the other hand, if they priced it at $1000 for the whole voyage, no one would buy it... and then what would be the point?!?
I happen to think that they have chosen to price it WAY too high. That's just my opinion.
I mentioned my cruise on the Carnival Magic two years ago where Carnival was testing a new high-speed Internet system which provided a 2 Mbps download speed and an always-on connection for the entire length of the cruise. Carnival priced that at $99... and that seemed like a fair price to me.
For the one-device-at-a-time plan on Allure Of The Seas, the fastest option ("Premium Plus", which gives a 4 Mbps download speed) for the entire 7-day cruise sells for a whopping $280.
The "premium" plan, which is the middle speed plan (although I don't know exactly how slow or fast it really is), is priced at $160 for one device at a time during the entire 7-day cruise.
The "basic" plan, which is the slowest option, goes for $150 for the 7-day, one device at a time version.
Here is the pricing for ALL of the versions of the three plans:
Premium Plus Voyage Plan - 2 Devices $350
Premium Plus Voyage Plan - 1 Device $280
Premium Plus Daily Plan $70 Session expires 24 hours from the time of purchase.
Premium Plus hourly plan $35
Premium Vogage Plan - 2 devices - $210
Premium Voyage Plan - 1 device - $160
Premium daily plan - $40
Premium hourly plan - $20
Basic Vogage Plan - 2 devices - $200
Basic Voyage Plan - 1 device - $150
Basic daily plan $35
Basic hourly plan $18
Let's see how this compares to what they currently offer on Carnival.
According to Carnival.com, the current fleetwide pricing for Internet service is:
• 480 minutes for $159
• 240 minutes for $89
• 120 minutes for $59
• 45 minutes for $29
• Pay As You Go: $0.75/minute
Again, keep in mind that with Carnival (and Princess, and some others) you can log in, use the connection for a few minutes, log off, and then save the rest of the minutes to be used at some later time. With the new system on Allure Of The Seas (and presumably on Oasis and Quantum) if you buy an hour of access time, it works for one hour beginning right now and 60 minutes later you've run out of time and you can't save up unused minutes. So, this is a bit of an apples to oranges comparison... and one or the other may be better for you depending on how you plan to use the Internet during your cruise.
The Cruise Director
Jerome Sueur, Cruise Director of the Allure Of The Seas
Jerome did a fine job as CD. He certainly wasn't my all time favorite Cruise Director... that would definitely be Jaime Deitsch of the Carnival Sunshine. She set the bar so high that no Cruise Director will ever be able to reach it! But Jerome did his job well and I can definitely see why they would put him in charge of the entertainment department on the world's largest cruise ship. He's a pro.
I'm looking forward to checking out the Cruise Director when we sail on Royal Caribbean's newest ship, Quantum Of The Seas, next year. I would assume that Royal Caribbean would put the best CD in the fleet on their new flagship. It will be interesting to see what he brings to the table. It will also be interesting to see who Carnival assigns to their new ship in 2016. Let's see if they think as highly of Jaime Deitsch as I do!
Tore Grimstad, Captain of the Allure Of the Seas
You don't get to be Captain of the largest cruise ship in the world unless you've really impressed the management of the cruise line. So, you know that this guy must have the total respect of Royal Caribbean management. He's not the most famous Captain in the company... that would probably be Bill Wright (who's no longer with Royal Caribbean) or possibly Captain Johnny Faevelen, who is Allure's Captain when Captain Tore is on vacation... and who makes a bit of an impression when he rides a little motorbike around the ship.
I liked the fact that Captain Tore flashed a nice smile for me when we saw me pointing my big 400mm Canon lens at him from across the Aqua theater during a Q&A session. That's a pro public-relations move right there.
Our Cabin Steward
After 27 cruises, we've had many very competent cabin stewards, or "stateroom stewards" as Royal Caribbean calls them. We were delightfully surprised to have the best of them all on Allure Of The Seas. It was especially refreshing because on our previous cruise just two months earlier, we had one of the worst we've ever had! Anyway, our guy on Allure Of The Seas was great:
Most cabin stewards do 90% of the same things as the best and the worst do. It's that 10% where the difference is made. Here's what made the difference with Novel, that set him above all the rest. First off, his English skills were excellent. He's originally from Panama, so I'm sure English was not his native language, but he spoke English perfectly with only just a slight Latin accent. Being able to clearly understand your stateroom steward when he speaks to you is a very good thing!
More importantly, he paid attention to our schedule and got his work done when we weren't around. If he saw us leaving the cabin at 7:15 AM, for example, he dropped what he was doing and cleaned our cabin right that minute. Sometimes we'd leave our cabin in the morning for a quick breakfast, and be back in 20 minutes. He'd already have the cabin serviced by the time we got back. He didn't just get lucky and catch us leaving once or twice... he was always keeping an eye out, even when he was cleaning someone else's cabin. If we'd walk down the hall and see him inside someone else's cabin, he always had an eye out on the hallway... and he'd see us leaving. By the time we got back, our cabin had been cleaned.
This was very much in contrast to the cabin steward we had on Norwegian Getaway two months earlier. He had a particular method of cleaning the cabins he was assigned to. He would do them, one at a time, in order, starting at one end of the hallway and working his way down towards the other end. It didn't matter if he saw you leave... he was going to get to your cabin when he got to it... in the same order every time. Very linear thinking! Novel's method is much better for the passengers.
The one other thing I'll point out about Novel is that he was just a nice pleasant guy that was enjoyable to talk to. In fact, I noticed this about many of the employees we dealt with on Allure Of The Seas: they were really friendly, had good attitudes, and seemed happy. It's not always that way on cruise ships! It was a very nice thing to see.
The Secret Sun Deck
I want to point you to an interesting part of the ship that you might not discover on your own. It's called the sun deck, and you'll find it on deck 14 forward, with access only from the port (left) side of the ship. It doesn't appear on the deck plans, so I bet most people never discover it.
The sun deck sits right above the ship's bridge, with a panoramic view of everything in front of and all around the ship. Basically, it's the same view the Captain and the navigational crew have, without looking through glass and without a roof overhead. Basically, if you visit the Solarium on deck 15 and you find yourself thinking "I wish I didn't have all these windows getting in the way of the view"... you want to be out on the sun deck. It's right in front of the Solarium, just one deck below. This is where you want to go to get the best views of what's in front of the ship.
It gets really windy up on the sun deck when the ship is underway... so, out of safety considerations, the doors that lead to the sun deck will very likely be locked on sea days. When the ship is in port, leaving port, or possibly even when the ship is entering port... you'll probably find the doors to the sun deck un-locked.
Here's Kellyn enjoying the view from the Sun Deck...
To get to the sun deck, take the forward elevators (or stairs) to deck 14 and then look for these blue signs that point the way to the front of the ship on the PORT side. You can only access the sun deck from the port side hallway, not from the starboard side. Take the passenger hallway all the way to the front of the ship on the port side, just as if you were trying to get to the most forward cabin on deck 14, port side. Just past the most forward cabin, you'll see a doorway leading to the sun deck.
As I mentioned, it gets really windy up on the sun deck when the ship is in motion... and the wind makes a loud whistling sound through the edges of the doorway. I bet in the middle of the night, the sound of whistling wind through that doorway gets really annoying in the first few cabins near that doorway. For this reason, it's probably a good idea to avoid booking cabins 14138, 14140, 14142, and 14144.
We stayed in cabin 7220, which is a category D5 cabin. The official terminology for this type of cabin is "Superior Ocean View Stateroom with Balcony"... but basically that's a fancy way of describing a standard balcony cabin similar to the vast majority of cabins on most cruise ships.
On Allure Of The Seas, because of the unique layout of the ship, it is possible to have a balcony cabin without an ocean view... since some balcony cabins face in to the center of the ship rather than out to the ocean. Those would be "Boardwalk View" staterooms or "Central Park View" staterooms. I'm really glad that we didn't choose one of those, as not only do they have privacy issues, but noise issues, too. The balconies on the Central Park view staterooms seemed to have the most serious noise problems... as the noise from the poolside reggae band comes down from the pool deck and disturbs the peacefulness of Central Park and the overlooking balconies.
Here's a look at our cabin:
Our cabin had the couch by the balcony and the bed by the bathroom. But some of Allure's balcony cabins are the opposite of this arrangement... with the bed by the balcony and the couch by the bathroom. It wouldn't surprise me if every other balcony cabin is reversed... as this might offer some small noise reduction benefits. Click here to see a diagram of the cabin layout in that reverse configuration. Personally, I'm glad we got the configuration with the couch and desk by the balcony... as someone sitting at the desk creates a bit of a traffic block in the reverse configuration.
The room was a good size for the two of us. It seemed roughly equivalent in size to balcony cabins we've had on other cruise lines. The one area where it was just a little deficient was in closet space. In the photo above, you can see the one and only closet... next to the bed. We're used to more closet space than that on Carnival. Sharing that one closet felt a little cramped to us, but we were able to make it work.
I liked the desk area. It was perfect for me and my laptop computer. I especially liked the 3-outlet power port that was built in to the desktop, and the fact that there was an additional available power outlet under the desk... for a total of four available outlets. That's three more than you'll find on most Carnival ships. Out of the 27 cruises we've been on, this was the very first time I didn't need the 6-outlet power strip I brought with me.
Notice the iPod/iPhone dock on the right side of the desk. Kellyn used this to charge her iPhone, which meant she didn't have to tie up one of the available power outlets. I'm not an Apple aficionado, so I could be wrong on this, but I think I read somewhere that the new generation of iPods and iPhones use a different type of power connector and therefore would NOT be compatible with the iPod/iPhone docks on Allure Of The Seas. Luckily for us, Kellyn still uses the previous generation of iPhone.
A funny thing happened to me while I was sitting at that desk one morning! I was working on the computer, editing some photos I had taken, and I had the balcony door open to let the warm Caribbean air in to the room. As you've seen in the photos, the desk is right next to the sliding door to the patio... so with the door open, I was just a foot or two from the patio. As I was sitting at the desk working on the computer, all of a sudden I heard the unmistakable sound of a woman having an orgasm! Based on the volume and the clarity with which I heard it, I have to assume that the person who made those sounds was out on one of the other cabin balconies very nearby. If not directly to our left or right, perhaps one floor above or below us. So, welcome to "the balcony club"... whoever you were! Partitions on the balconies block any of your neighbors from seeing you on your balcony... which gives a bit of a false sense of privacy out there. Balcony partitions don't stop the sounds from being heard by your neighbors!
One thing to mention about the television in the cabin...
There's an interactive menu system built in to the TV so that you can make reservations for shore excursions, restaurants, and shows. This is the quickest and most convenient way of making reservations. The bad news is that if you try to use the TV's interactive features from the TV's remote control, you will be frustrated with a VERY clunky interface that performs poorly and is a pain to use. The very good news, however, is that each cabin also comes equipped with a wireless keyboard that works with the TV's interactive menu system. It actually works really well... far better than trying to use the TV's remote control. So, when using the interactive system to make reservations... definitely ditch the remote control and pick up the wireless keyboard instead. It took me about a full day to finally figure this out.
The bathroom is fine, and the shower actually has a circular sliding glass door rather than the cheap plastic shower curtains they use on Carnival. I just wish the shower had about six more inches of room to it... I sometimes bumped my elbows in to the glass door. But compared to the tiny showers on Princess, this was a definite upgrade. The nicest bathroom and shower we ever had on a cruise was on Norwegian Getaway... but that was in a much more expensive suite, so it's not a fair comparison. I'm sure I will think of that Norwegian Getaway suite bathroom on every cruise I ever go on for the rest of my life!
Here's the cabin at night, with the curtains closed and the bed turned down for bedtime.
One thing this cabin had going for it was a generous-sized balcony. It was quite a bit deeper than a standard balcony on Carnival and HUGELY larger than the tiny balcony we had on the Norwegian Getaway.
If you've ever been in an "extended balcony" cabin on Carnival's Spirit-class ships... you'll know what I mean when I say that this balcony was right around that size.
By the way, there's one very goofy design quirk about Allure Of The Seas that you should be aware of if booking a cabin on deck 7. Beware! Deck 7 is the only deck on the entire ship where it's impossible to get from the starboard side of the ship to the port side of the ship through the aft elevator lobby area.
In order to not block the view of the Boardwalk sign on deck 6, they chose not to connect the port and starboard sides of the ship at the aft elevators on deck 7. It's really odd! You can stand at the port side aft elevators on deck 7 and look across to the starboard side elevators... but there's no connecting walkway between them. On every other floor they connect... but not on deck 7!
Jim, You IDIOT!
We have an acronym that we use with increasing frequency in my family. It's "JYI"... and it stands for "Jim, you idiot!" It seems that the older I get, the more frequently the JYI moments are occurring.
During our first few cruises, it was probably normal that I made a few rookie cruise mistakes. For example, on one of our first cruises, I somehow managed to forget to pack any socks! Luckily, I discovered it on embarkation day and was able to run to a Target store and buy some the morning of the cruise. That's only a mildly stupid mistake... I was just learning at that point... and after that I started using a very detailed packing checklist when preparing for a cruise.
But now, with as many cruises as we've been on, it's just plain embarrassing when I have one of those JYI moments. And on this cruise, I had way more than just one!
Earlier this year, on a B2B cruise on Carnival Glory, I managed to snap my prescription sunglass frames in two... which forced me to wear (for the entire duration of the cruise) the only other pair of prescription glasses I had with me: a pair of aviator-style sunglasses. I'm sure I looked a little weird wearing sunglasses in to the restaurants and shows for the rest of the week! After that, I started packing a backup pair of prescription sunglasses with me on cruises... and it was a good thing I started doing that, because this time I managed to break both my regular prescription glasses AND my prescription sunglasses. Jim, you idiot, that was an expensive mistake!
But I'm proud of myself for being prepared enough that I still had a backup pair even after breaking TWO pairs of glasses!
That was just the beginning of the JYI moments, though! Last year, on the Carnival Sunshine, I dropped a $1500 camera lens on to the floor of my cabin... and thought for sure I had shattered the lens when I saw bits of broken glass on the floor near the lens. It turned out that I only broke a $50 filter that had been mounted on to the front of the lens... and the lens itself was undamaged. You'd think that would have been enough of a wake up call to make me more careful with my lenses. Nope! This time, in Labadee, I managed to drop a $600 camera lens on to a cement patio... in plain view of a crowd of people, too! It's one thing to have a a JYI moment privately... much worse to do so in front of a crowd. Jim, you idiot! But once again, I got very lucky and only broke a $20 lens hood mounted on the front of the lens... and managed not to damage the lens itself at all.
Because we had an always-on high-speed Internet connection during the week, I was able to pay close attention to the weather all along our route. A few days before we were scheduled to be in Cozumel, I got a little freaked out by a big weather disturbance in that area... and I became so convinced that the weather was going to be bad when we got to Cozumel that I went to the shore excursion desk and cancelled a really nice excursion we had planned. Of course, when the ship finally did get to Cozumel, the weather had totally cleared and I had unnecessarily cancelled a great shore excursion over fears of bad weather that had no basis in fact. Jim, you idiot!
But the worst JYI moment of all happened on our shore excursion in Jamaica. Just before boarding the bus for the trip back to the ship, I somehow managed to trip on a cement stairway while wearing flip flops... and the impact of my big toe on to that cement step was enough to completely shear off a big chunk of skin on the end of the toe. It was a bloody mess, and even now that I'm home and my toe has healed... you can see where a chunk is missing at the end of that toe. Luckily, I was able to bandage it up for the bus ride back to the ship... and then I was able to buy a box of band aids in one of the stores in the Allure's Promenade... and that's all I needed to hobble through the rest of the cruise.
There was one other incident... not really a JYI situation, just a stroke of bad luck. Somewhere along the line, I managed to pick up some kind of intestinal virus. I was so very lucky in that it did not affect the cruise itself... my first symptoms didn't occur until the day AFTER our flight home. That really could have been a nasty flight home if I had picked up that virus a day or two earlier! I'll spare you the gory details... let's just say that I don't believe it was the dreaded "Norovirus" as I never vomited... but it sure did a number on my digestive system. Very bad luck... made worse by the fact that I absolutely had to work at my "real job" the following week. The person that does my job when I'm on vacation was herself on vacation the week I got back home. So, I had to work with a nasty stomach virus that week... and that was certainly one of the worst work weeks I've had in 22 years with the company!
When our cruise was over and Allure Of The Seas tied up at the dock in Ft Lauderdale, I got a kick out of seeing who we were docked next to...
That's the Carnival Freedom, and she's the next ship we'll be cruising on. It was a nice surprise to see her, and I'm looking forward to having a whole lot of Guy Fieri burgers on her a couple of months from now!
Finally, let me just mention that embarkation from Allure Of The Seas was the best we've ever experienced... which is a bit surprising, given that there were 6000 passengers to disembark. They've got a really nice system, and we were off the ship in minutes. Of course, we were doing self-disembarkation where we hauled all of our own luggage off the ship without any assistance. But that's definitely the way to go if you have good mobility and haven't packed more than you can handle on your own. We had an 11:30 flight out of FLL which we made with hours to spare. We could have easily made it to a 10 AM flight, if we had needed to.
Odds & Ends
Now I'm just going to throw in a few random photos and observations that didn't seem to fit in anywhere else.
I was disappointed to see that there is no deck 13 on Allure Of The Seas. Superstition rears her ugly head again! Out of all the cruises we've been on, Norwegian Getaway was the only ship that didn't skip from deck 12 to deck 14. When I saw that, I thought it was pretty cool... because, really, I don't like the idea of 14th century superstitions dictating 21st century designs. But I'm pleased to report that Royal Caribbean has finally come out of the dark ages and has included a deck 13 on their newest ship, the Quantum Of The Seas.
Throughout the ship, you'll find some interesting artwork and art objects on display. One of the more unusual ones is this stereoscope... which looks a little bit like a robot, doesn't it?
What you do is look through the two round holes like you were using a pair of binoculars. You'll see a 3D image of the beautiful Walt Disney concert hall in Los Angeles. Seems like something you'd see on Disney cruise line, not Royal Caribbean, doesn't it?
Now I'm sure that you know that the Allure Of The Seas is one HUGE cruise ship... but have you ever thought about what happens when a huge cruise ship goes through a narrow harbor entrance? It causes some crazy waves! Take a look at this video I shot of the waves created by Allure Of The Seas as we sailed out of Ft Lauderdale:
Here's something I had never seen on a cruise ship before...
On the floor of the elevators, there's a little sign which alerts you to what day of the week it is!
I think that's a great idea, as during a 7-day vacation it is very easy to lose track of what day it is... since you're not in your normal routine. I'm curious... do they change these signs exactly at midnight... or wait until about 3 AM when everybody's asleep... or what? I never did find out the answer to that one.
After over 20 enjoyable cruises on Carnival, I do have to say that they could really learn a lesson from Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines on how to design a public restroom. The public restrooms on Carnival are tiny, cramped, and not at all stylish. They are utilitarian, and just have no class or pizzazz to them at all. The stalls are so uncomfortably tight that you wonder if some of the morbidly obese passengers you see on the ship could even fit in them. I really liked that the public restrooms on Allure Of The Seas were spacious and beautifully decorated. Well done, Royal Caribbean... and thank you.
One of the public restrooms on Allure Of The Seas
Here's one last video for you... something I shot on the very first day of the cruise, as we were sailing out of Ft Lauderdale. From our balcony, I enjoyed looking at all the million-dollar homes facing the harbor... so I shot some video of them as we sailed by:
This next picture is somewhat random! Central Park is very beautiful, especially at night. I was hanging around Central Park on formal night, and an attractive redhead in a black cocktail dress walked up to one of the bars all alone. The lighting was so interesting and the woman dressed so nice... I just had to snap a picture:
For those that like to get their exercise while cruising...
here's a picture of the jogging track, which goes all the way around deck 5:
If you need a band-aid during your cruise but you don't want to buy a full box of them in the gift shop, head down to the medical center on deck 5, where you'll find this little vending machine:
Be sure to bring at least two quarters!
Before The Cruise...
We live in California, so an important part of any Caribbean cruise is getting to Florida! Sometimes we fly United Airlines out of the little regional airport near our house... we've also flown on Southwest and American out of LAX... but this time we decided to try Virgin America. I really liked it... primarily because of the video entertainment system built in to each of the seats. A 5-hour cross country flight is a lot more enjoyable if there's good entertainment! The entertainment system on Virgin America is definitely the best we've experienced.
I also really liked the attitude and spirit of the Virgin America staff. It's casual and a little irreverent, not unlike that of the Southwest Airlines folks. I liked it. You can get a taste of what I'm talking about by viewing one of their safety videos:
Another very important aspect of any Caribbean cruise, at least for those of us who live a long distance from Florida, is choosing a good hotel to stay in before the cruise. You'd be an absolute idiot to try to fly in the morning of the cruise and go directly from the airport to the cruise ship. I say that because I was an absolute idiot on my first Caribbean cruise! I'm older and wiser now.
There are several problems with trying to fly in the morning of the cruise...
Most importantly, what if there is a flight delay or -- God forbid -- a flight cancellation?!? You absolutely do not want to miss getting on that cruise ship... so why risk it? Just fly in a day or two in advance, and enjoy some time in Florida. That way, you have some time to scramble and make other arrangements if there is an equipment delay or a weather delay to your flight. The other factor is relaxation versus stress. Why begin your cruise all tired and stressed from the ordeal that is modern day air travel? Give yourself at least one night... if not a full day or two... to relax between your flight and your cruise.
Plus... consider this: how often do you get to Florida? Probably not real often. It's one of the most beautiful and exciting places in the world. Enjoy it a little before your cruise.
For this particular vacation, we decided to spend a couple of days at the Lago Mar Resort prior to our cruise. It's a beautiful resort, right on the beach in Fort Lauderdale... with a fantastic view of the cruise ships as they enter and exit the harbor.
I shot that photo (of the Caribbean Princess approaching the Ft Lauderdale harbor) right from the patio of our beachfront room at the Lago Mar resort. It's just one of many great pictures I got prior to our cruise. Click here to see more pictures I shot of the Lago Mar, the cruise ships entering and exiting the harbor, and to read all about what makes the Lago Mar so special.
Why Cruise In November?
November is one of our favorite times of the year for cruising in the Caribbean. It's one of the least-expensive times of the year to cruise, but you're really not giving up much to get that low price. Prices are just low because demand is low. Most people that want to travel in November want to do so over Thanksgiving. Pick any time in November other than Thanksgiving week... and you'll find some of the lowest prices of the year.
Another benefit of cruising in November is that there are a lot less children cruising than during the summer and during holidays. We're in our 50's and we've raised our children already... we like peace and quiet now! Most parents won't take their kids out of school for a vacation during November... so you don't tend to see very many children on a November cruise, outside of Thanksgiving week.
The weather also tends to be quite good in the Caribbean during November. The threat of a hurricane is very low at this time of year... and I've found that the weather in general is quite nice in the Caribbean at this time of the year. One good resource for keeping an eye on the weather in the Caribbean is a little web page I put together featuring the latest satellite weather photos from all the places I tend to visit in the world, including the Caribbean. You might find that page useful when trying to visualize what the weather is at your home or at your travel destination. Another excellent site, especially if you'll be in the Caribbean from June through November, is the National Hurricane Center's web site.
If you're researching the idea of taking a cruise on the Allure Of The Seas,
here are a few documents you might want to download:
Allure Of The Seas Deck Plans
Cruise Compass (Daily Newsletter) Day 1
Cruise Compass - Day 2
Cruise Compass - Day 3
Cruise Compass - Day 4
Cruise Compass - Day 5
Cruise Compass - Day 6
Cruise Compass - Day 7
Allure Of The Seas Fun Facts
Full List Of Shore Excursions
Packing List & To-Do List
Here's my official packing list.
Perhaps this will help you think of things to pack for your cruise.
On a few of the unusual items, I'll provide a link to the exact version I recommend at Amazon.com
Airline boarding pass
Cruise boarding pass
If driving, printed directions to the hotel & cruise terminal
Wallet (I actually forgot this on one cruise!)
Waterproof beach shoes
Underwear & socks (incredibly, I actually forgot to bring socks on one cruise)
One dressy outfit
Toothbrush & toothpaste
Travel-size Kleenex for the airplane
Lawry's seasoning salt
Laptop computer or tablet computer, including charger
Digital SLR Camera
Camera tripod, or selfie-stick
Wireless indoor/outdoor thermometer
6-outlet power strip
Cell phone & charger
My pre-cruise to-do list:
Stop newspaper and mail delivery
Book shore excursions
Send an email to family members with my travel plans & itinerary
Turn off water to the house to prevent the chance of a pipe break
Turn down (or turn off) the water heater to save energy
Make sure garden sprinklers are on
Make sure house is locked and alarm system is active
On the last day at work:
Update voice mail message to indicate my return date
Update out-of-office email message, and turn it on
Make sure my temporary replacement has an updated desk guide
Put a sign at my desk indicating my return date
What Camera Do I Use?
Whenever I post these cruise reviews, I always get questions about what camera I used to take the photos. I actually bring two cameras with me on a cruise, plus my cell phone.
One is just a fairly inexpensive waterproof camera, so I can shoot pictures and videos while snorkeling. The one I use is an Olympus TG-830. However, that's a slightly older model now... and if you're in the market for one, you should get the new version which is the Olympus TG-850.
For everything except the underwater stuff, the camera I use is a Canon EOS-70D digital SLR camera. That's probably too much camera for most people... so if you're in the market for a very high quality digital SLR camera, the one I actually recommend for most people is the Canon Digital Rebel T5i. If you get one, make sure you get the T5i with the 135mm lens, not the cheap version with the 55mm lens.
I also like to have a Canon EF-S 10-18mm lens with me when I'm on a cruise ship. This is a wide angle lens, which is extremely useful when trying to shoot in small spaces (for example, my cabin tour video) or when shooting something very large (like a cruise ship, when you're standing on the pier next to it.)
I also bring along a tripod with me, to allow me to shoot long-exposure shots in low-light situations. It's also handy to have for shooting "selfies". I've got a tripod that is just the right size to fit inside my big suitcase but which is heavy duty enough to be stable. It also has a fluid head, which is something that's very important to look for in a tripod if you intend to use it when shooting video.
Every now and then I see something photo-worthy when I don't have either of my camera's with me. When that happens, I'll shoot with my cell phone, as a last resort. If you noticed a couple of horrible looking photos on this page, which seemed to lack the quality of the other photos, you were probably looking at a cell phone photo.
One important technique that I use, since I'm looking to getting the highest quality photos possible, is to shoot in RAW format rather than JPG. This preserves the photos with the highest possible quality, and gives me the greatest ability to tweak them after shooting them. However, it does require a lot of extra work. Any photos which I want to share (via email, Facebook, or on this web site, for example) have to be converted from RAW to JPG. This takes some time and effort, but it's worth it to me in order to get the best end results. Just about all the photos you see on this page have been tweaked to some extent to give them the best finished look. For most photos, I do some sharpening and color correction. On some photos, I have to do even more tweaking than that to get them to look just right.
The Cruise Ships We've Been On
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