Eastern Caribbean on the Allure of the Seas
2/5/12 to 2/12/12
Ports of Call: Fort Lauderdale, FL; Nassau, Bahamas; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; Philipsburg, St. Maarten
Due to the length of this review in had to be presented over two pages to reduce the page length. The link to Page 2 is at the top and bottom of the page.
Page 1 - Ship; Cabin; Neighborhoods; Restaurants/Snacks
Page 2 - Lounges/Bars; Shops; Miscellaneous Areas; Entertainment; Ports of Call
When the Oasis of the Seas first launched in December 2009, I couldn’t wait to try out this new class of ship. With my vacation time booked well in advance it took over two years to finally cruise on the second ship in Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class, the Allure of the Seas. It was well worth the wait. Allure is a special ship – an awesome ship!
To make this cruise even more special, we would be traveling with our good friends Bonnie and Ray, who would be celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. This was going to be a great cruise.
We arrived at Port Everglades around 11:00 AM. We decided to park our car at the Fort Lauderdale Park ‘N Fly ( http://www.pnf.com/FtLauderdale/FLL-Ft_Lauderdale-airport-parking-FLL1.aspx). It is the same lot that we use when we fly out of the Fort Lauderdale Airport, and is very convenient to either place of departure. It was very easy for our embarkation, since the van dropped us off right at the Allure terminal. Unfortunately, it took awhile to get to the Allure pier because there were stops for passengers at other ships and the van/bus traffic into the Allure terminal area is volume controlled, which can result in long waits. It probably seemed longer than it was due to our anticipation to board the Allure.
I must say that once we got into the terminal, the process was very fast. Royal Caribbean has set up a very efficient method for moving people to the ship. By 11:30 we were headed up the escalator toward the Allure. Our first destination was the Park Café for lunch. We had read about their wonderful roast beef sandwiches and chopped salads. We had also heard that the biggest plus was that most people didn’t know that it is open for lunch on the first day, so it wouldn’t be crowded like the buffet always is during embarkation. Wrong! The word is out and there was a long line, so we decided to head up to the buffet. It was a good decision since there was no line at that time and we quickly found a table. We had been very lucky because before we finished lunch, there was a long line waiting to get into the buffet; and they were being held back until tables were available. Had we arrived at the buffet much after noon, we probably would have had to wait, too.
After lunch, we went to the cabin to start our normal routine. Carol began setting up house and I grabbed my camera to start taking photos of the huge ship. Unlike most ships I had been on, this one was going to take several days to cover all the many venues.
After the 4:30 muster drill, we headed to deck 14 and walked down the port hallway toward the front of the ship to what is considered one of the Allure’s “secret places” to watch the sail away. It was a great location. We were right above the bridge on the wings that extend out past the ship. We used the mounted telescopes to check out the other ships and buildings at the port.
While waiting to depart, Carol recognized Andrew and Dawn standing right next to us. We had never met them, but had been talking to them on the Cruise Critic bulletin board roll call before our cruise. Andrew is a marine who just returned home after a two year tour. While he was still in Afghanistan, Dawn planned a two week back to back cruise on the Allure as a great homecoming for her soldier. We were very happy for them.
After we booked the Allure, we had watched the Port Everglades webcam regularly in anticipation of what was to come. After having watched all the smiling faces waving to the camera for weeks, it was finally our turn to wave at the webcam. It was definitely more enjoyable to be on the Allure side of the picture.
I had been a bit concerned about how a ship could deal with 6,000 passengers. I had heard from many previous passengers that loved the Oasis Class ships and had no complaints about crowds or long waits. I now understand a lot better why this class is so popular and that the ships sail full every week. Royal Caribbean has been quite innovative in streamlining many processes to handle larger numbers of passengers. For example, one simple thing that slows down disembarkation and embarkation while in a port is having to insert your key card into a machine each time so the ship knows if you are on board. With the Allure, you just pass your key card under a bar code scanner. It’s amazing how a simple change of the method, eliminates the many delays from people inserting their cards in the wrong way.
I was also very impressed with all the information that was available on touch screens around the ship. Near each elevator, we could see on the screen all the activities that were going on at that moment or we could see a deck plan or find out the wait time at a venue. We could also get directions back to our cabin or even find the nearest restroom. On a ship that size, the touch screens were very popular.
One area where I had read that there were delays was at the elevators. There were times when there were delays; but not any more than on any other cruise ship we have been on. One thing that I thought was pure genius was to have a “Gangway” button in the elevator. By having that, you don’t have to remember which deck to disembark from. You just push the button and it takes you to the correct deck for that port.
When we booked this cruise, we wanted to experience a Central Park veranda cabin, since this is the only class of ship that has that type of cabin. Unfortunately, since we booked this cruise less than 3 months before sail date, we could only get a Central Park Guarantee cabin. That meant that we wouldn’t know which cabin we had until right before the cruise. We were a little nervous about doing it that way because we usually research and handpick the location of our cabin. We had never accepted an upgrade or changed a cabin we had chosen. However, we were satisfied when we learned we had been upgraded to an accessible suite, cabin 14651, which was 50% larger than the standard veranda cabins. We were also pleased to find that the bed was very comfortable.
The accessible cabin had a very large bathroom. It was really a treat to have a bathroom that we could both access at the same time if we wanted to.
Although there was plenty of closet space, the safe inside the closet was smaller than what we are used to. It would not have held a laptop, but an iPad would probably fit okay. One thing that Carol found aggravating was that the safe had no handle of any kind. It was supposed to pop open when the code was entered. Ours did not, and since there was no handle, we ended up putting a string around the door so we could pull it open after entering our code.
There were many electrical connections in the room. I don’t know if that was because it was a handicap accessible room or if all cabins have them, but it was certainly handy.
One of the features on the Allure that the Oasis doesn’t have is the iPhone dock/charging station. It was really handy since Carol and I were both able to charge our iPhones at the same time. The sound of the radio was also good.
With the cabin being 50% larger than the standard veranda cabin, the balcony was also much larger. It was really nice, but we found that we didn’t spend much time out there due to the weather being too warm and that the noise from the pool deck band was too loud. Our cabin was the 2nd from the right in this picture, just under the Kid's Zone.
I’m glad we tried out the Central Park veranda cabin, because the view into the park was nice, particularly at night, and it is a unique experience; but we much prefer an ocean view veranda so we can see the ocean. We found that since the Allure was so stable and there weren’t many areas where we could actually see the ocean most of the time, we felt more like we were in a resort hotel rather than on a ship. A very nice resort, but having an ocean view balcony cabin probably would have made a big difference.
We were very impressed with our cabin steward, Ferry, from Indonesia. He was very attentive to our every need and just a nice guy. Carol was so pleased with Ferry that she gave him a “Wow” Card, which is a way that Royal Caribbean has set up to recognize exceptional performance.
The Allure has what they call seven neighborhoods. They are Central Park, the Boardwalk, the Royal Promenade, Entertainment Place, Pool & Sports Zone, Vitality at Sea and Youth Zone. We are big fans of the Royal Promenades on Royal Caribbean’s Voyager and Freedom Class ships. The Allure has greatly expanded and improved the concept. Since I tend to spend most of my time out of the cabin trying to find interesting/fun things to do and photograph on a ship, I found that the neighborhoods provided me with a never ending source of enjoyment.
Central Park –
This is by far the most unique place on the ship to me. We were fortunate to have a tour of Central Park with the horticulturist who is in charge of both Oasis Class ships, Tom Brownlee. He explained how all of the plants are in custom made plant boxes. I believe he said that there were 2,100 individual boxes that had to be put together like a jigsaw puzzle, since they were each a different size or shape used to form the unique area. The drip type watering system can also be seen in the photo. Tom also pointed out the crane on the top of the ship. It is used to bring in and take out large plants as well as other large items that need to be brought onto the ship.
Tom told us that when the concept of having live plants onboard a ship was first presented, there were no handbooks in publication to guide him. There still aren’t, so it has been a learning process of experimenting with different plant species to see which ones do well at sea. He explained how regulations in different countries have made his job challenging. He has to have approval from the government agencies in each port before they can put in new types of plants. For example, he had a lovely area of bamboo on the Oasis; but had to take it out because it was considered an invasive species. Since regulations have never been designed for a ship, regulators hadn’t considered that it wouldn’t be invasive on a ship, since it can’t invade another area. Tom also explained how he is the only department on the ship with an unlimited budget to deal with the various issues associated with Central Park plants. We found it interesting that in addition to the sounds of the song birds that can be heard, they also have the sound of a hawk which is used to chase real birds out of Central Park. They don’t want them nesting there.
The park area is quite lovely and relaxing with some of the more exclusive shops and the best restaurants on the ship located there, like Chops, 150 Central Park, Coach, etc. I will discuss the venues later in the review. Tom explained that cabins above the park are supposed to represent the high rise buildings along the real Central Park. The two crystal canopies stand out amongst the plant life. In addition to providing natural light down into the Royal Promenade, which is below on deck five, one of the canopies is the entrance to Rising Tide Bar. The bar actually moves up and down between the two neighborhoods of Central Park and the Promenade.
The canopies provided for a lovely light display during the evening hours along with other unique lights above the park.
The Boardwalk -
I had seen lots of photos of the Boardwalk from the numerous on-line albums. It looked like it would be very nice, but I had not expected to be as impressed with the neighborhood as I was when I actually got to experience it. From the moment I walked in, I knew that it was going to be my favorite part of the ship. I could just tell that I was entering an area that really did feel like a boardwalk on land. Displayed in the entranceway are a woodcarver’s carousel horses in various stages of construction. As I noticed the sea gulls flying above, I started to walk faster so I could see what was ahead. Carol and I were thrilled to see the real carousel. We have a thing for carousels that started on our honeymoon. Throughout the cruise we saw children and adults of all ages enjoying the ride.
Various carnival type shops and restaurants lined the boardwalk. Unlike the more formal type restaurants and shops in the Central Park, the ones along the boardwalk are fun, casual places like Johnny Rockets, Rita’s Cantina, the Dog House, Ice Cream Parlor, Candy Beach, etc.
It is particularly pretty at night when the multi colored lights reflect out onto the boardwalk.
The Boardwalk is a great place to just sit around and take in the fun atmosphere. You can watch people climb the two rock walls or even someone zip-lining above you.
There are various forms of entertainment going on all the time. The kids and adults enjoyed seeing the different DreamWorks characters that made appearances at various times during the day all around the ship. The characters also appeared in Central Park, where Carol and Bonnie had to get up close and personal with them. Carol's philosophy is that if you take a picture with fat animals, you'll look smaller!
I particularly got a kick out of the Johnny Rocket’s waiters and waitresses that came out and started dancing to a Donna Summer song. They were really enjoying themselves. Then the Rita’s Cantina staff from across the boardwalk came out to show off their stuff to a Caribbean tune. It just seemed that if I sat down for a few minutes on the boardwalk, some type of entertainment would start up somewhere. It was the most fun area for me.
At the back of the ship, at the end of the Boardwalk was the Aquatheater. It is another feature that is unique to the Oasis Class ships. The theater is used for the Oceanaria water show. They were doing maintenance on the pool early in the week. It allowed me to see the three separate areas of the pool that go up and down during the production, allowing the performers to walk on the stage and the divers to dive into the pool. During a backstage tour we took, we found out that there are 3 traffic lights mounted on the boardwalk that tell the divers when the stage has been completely retracted and it is safe for them to dive into the water.
The view from Aquatheater was breathtaking. It is so unlike any other view from any other ship at sea.
The Royal Promenade –
We had previously enjoyed the Royal Promenades on the Voyager and Freedom Class ships, so the idea of a main street at sea was not new to us. However, with the Allure being 50% wider than the Freedom, the Allure took promenades to an entirely different level. At each end of the Royal Promenade are lobbies that are open all the way up to the 18th deck. The view up or down is very impressive. The front lobby had a rectangular geometric pattern.
I just loved the aft lobby which is decorated with a piece of artwork called “Dream of Utopia”. It is composed of 36 different dresses made from wire frames and beads. Since our cabin was close to the aft elevator, we would pass by these lovely dresses regularly. They were pretty from every angle.
The Royal Promenade itself is huge and a beehive of activity. With all the venues, there was something going on at all hours.
During the day there were numerous activities including flash mob dance training and also Lady Gaga dance classes.
The Promenade was particularly pretty at night with the multi colored lights up in the crystal canopies.
One of the popular attractions and photo stops on the Promenade is the 1936 Mercedes Benz 540K replica. It is a most impressive automobile.
It is adjacent to the Rising Tide Bar that comes down from Central Park. While the bar is up at the Park level, a water light show goes on underneath it on the Promenade deck. It is very entertaining and quite lovely.
The promenade was also the sight of the Farewell DreamWorks “Move It Move It Parade”, hosted by Captain Zini and Cruise Director Ken Rush on the last full day of the cruise. They had some other parades during the week, but we didn’t get to see them due to so many other things going on.
Entertainment Place –
This is also quite a unique, special neighborhood for a ship. Other than the Aquatheater, all of the major entertainment venues are all in one area. It is conveniently located just under the Royal Promenade. You would think that locating everything together would lead to a huge congestion problem with 6,000 passengers all trying to see shows or utilize the area within a set time period, but it all went smoothly.
The Comedy Live Club is an intimate lounge for the comedy shows. From the outside, the decor makes it look like you are entering one of London’s Tube subway systems. On the ceiling inside the club is a London Tube map. Any minute I expected to hear a loud speaker telling me to “Mind the gap!”
Jazz on 4 is also an intimate venue for jazz performers. Since I am not that into jazz, I only visited the club to get photos; but the music sounded very good.
The Amber Theater is a state of the art theater and like the Allure itself, the largest on a cruise ship. Because the theater isn’t located at the very front of the ship, the stage can be wider and deeper than traditional ship theaters. The theater also had current 3-D movies showing on several days. One thing that was really appreciated was that there is plenty of leg room between the rows of seats. That really made the seats very comfortable. Needless to say, the sound system and lighting during the shows was incredible.
One day we were invited to a backstage tour of the theater. Our host was Desmond Charles, who was the Stage Manager. He was a long-time Royal Caribbean employee who was very knowledgeable and humorous at the same time. He introduced us to some of the performers from the wonderful shows that we had seen during the cruise. They answered questions and were just a pleasure to spend time with. They are very hard working, talented people.
After the Q&A Desmond took us back stage, where many of the props were stored. He explained the challenges with the large props they used, and how it was critical to keep them anchored so they don’t cause damage if they were to break free.
Also in Entertainment Place is Studio B. It is an ice rink where the ice shows are performed. It is also used for guest ice skating at certain times during the week.
On the other side of Studio B, is Casino Royale. It is a huge casino, as would be expected for the largest ship in the world. Even though we don’t gamble, we had to pass through it frequently to either get to the Amber Theater or the Adiago Dining Room, since our table was on Deck 4.
Pool & Sports Zone –
The Pool & Sports Zone has so many water activities. The Beach Pool and Main Pool are across from each other.
On the other end of the deck is the Sports Pool, where there were regular water volleyball tournaments.
There were two cute statues near the Sports Pool.
Next to the Sports Pool was the bandstand where Calypso music played regularly. This is also an important place, because two soft serve ice cream machines are right beside the bandstand.
Across from the Sports Pool was the H2O Zone, which is a water park for kids. With all the brightly colored rides and objects, it was a magnet for the children. It did look like a lot of fun.
The two Flow Riders had a constant flow of guests wanting to try out the waves. It was also entertaining to just sit in the stands and watch people try to ride the boards.
Next to the Flow Riders was where guests could try their hand at the Zip Line. I have zip lined over jungles before and really enjoyed it. Although doing it on a ship did seem like a lot of work to get suited up for such a short ride, everyone that I saw doing it was having a ball.
The Allure Dunes Mini Golf Course was very popular also. Carol and I didn’t get to play it; but Bonnie and Ray played it several times and enjoyed it. Well, at least Bonnie enjoyed it -- she beat Ray every time. There is also a kid’s golf section.
There were some very nice ping pong tables in the Sports Zone. There were two separate areas with three tables each. There was a full size basketball/volleyball court.
The prettiest area of the Pool & Sports Zone is the two-story adults only Solarium. It is such a gorgeous area. There is a very quiet pool and two large whirlpools.
Vitality at Sea –
As would be expected, the Allure has a world class Vitality at Sea Spa. Unfortunately I couldn’t get into the main spa area, only some of the common areas. These areas looked very nice; but they were only a small part of the two story spa area.
I did go through the well equipped Vitality at Sea Fitness Center.
Youth Zone -
The Allure has a very large and active program for young passengers. They call it Adventure Ocean. Most of the area is off limits to adults, so I wasn’t able to take any photos of it.
Restaurants/Snacks (LINK to menus and food)
Adiago Dining Room –
One of the challenges of a cruise on the Allure of the Seas is to decide where to eat, as is apparent from the number of venues I have listed below. As much as we would have liked to try more of the restaurants, we just really enjoyed the Adiago Dining Room so much that we passed on the other restaurants for dinner on all but one night. I normally like to point out areas of the menu that are better than the others; but everything was prepared well and tasted great. That is except for the lobster; which we usually find disappointing on cruises. As a result, we don't normally order it; but tried it because the other meals had been so good. We were very impressed with the main dining room. Menus and photos of some of the meals are available at this LINK.
Adding to the pleasure of the dinner menus were our waiter, Bragian, from Chile and Assistant Waiter Antonio, from the Philippines. In charge of our wait staff was Head Waiter Manuel, the only head waiter from Italy on the ship.
I have to note that this was the first ocean cruise I have ever been on that didn’t have Baked Alaska for the last dinner. Thank goodness!! Since it isn’t one of my favorite desserts, I was very pleased that they didn’t waste the time for the parade to bring out the flaming Baked Alaska.
We also like to go to the main dining room for breakfast when we can. It has a nicer feel than going to the buffet. We only went one time and it was very crowded. This was the first time we ever had to wait in a pretty long line to go to a dining room for breakfast. One new thing that I thought was interesting was the introduction of a limited buffet area within the main dining room. I assume it was designed to take the load off of the main buffet upstairs; but it did add to the number of people in the main dining room instead.
Windjammer Marketplace –
We did eat several lunches and breakfasts in the Windjammer Marketplace Buffet. The buffet food was good. I was really impressed with the variety of food, particularly the international foods. With almost half of the ship comprised of passengers from 58 different countries, an international food selection made a lot of sense. I was particularly fond of the various selections made with curry.
Park Café –
The one time we ate there, we really enjoyed it. The pick your own ingredient salads were a major plus for this venue. Everything was very fresh and after eating a lot of the heavier food in the main dining room and buffet, it was a great alternative. Unfortunately, because everyone is ordering their own custom made salad, the line goes very slowly. This can be a problem, since there was a line of people during most meal times.
Everyone raves about the roast beef sandwiches. We thought they were good; but it was just roast beef on a roll, which would also be available on the buffet. Of course, if you have the time, it is nice to be able to get a meal there and eat in the lovely Central Park.
Giovanni’s Table (LINK to menus and food) –
We wanted to try Giovanni’s Table Italian restaurant; and since we didn’t want to miss a dinner in the main dining room, we went for lunch one day. The cheerful atmosphere of the restaurant and friendly waiters made the meal at Giovanni’s an enjoyable experience. The lunch menu was more limited than the dinner selection, of course, but there were more than enough choices. The appetizer selection was really nice. I had to take a photo of the meat slicer that our waiter used to cut the delicious prosciutto.
The high point of the meal was the lasagna appetizer. It was some of the best lasagna we have ever had anywhere. It would have been a great main course. It was so good that the main course seemed a letdown. Then we got to the dessert tray. It was all good; but the tiramisu was awesome. The lasagna and the tiramisu made the $15 charge more than worth it.
Chops Grille –
We have always enjoyed Chops Grille on other Royal Caribbean ships; but weren’t able to visit it this time.
150 Central Park (LINK to menus and food) –
The only night we went to dinner at a different restaurant was on the one night we didn’t have an evening show scheduled. We went to the fanciest restaurant on the ship, 150 Central Park, to celebrate Bonnie and Ray’s 25th wedding anniversary.
I wanted them to have a special night and this restaurant seemed like the right place to do it. The whole concept is innovative. There is a set menu which gives each person three appetizers and a soup (no choices). For the main course there are only two choices to pick from. There is also a set dessert followed by a cheese course. It was a beautiful restaurant and the service was superb.
We could tell that this was going to be a different kind of restaurant when they brought out the bread. Our waiter also brought out a container with six different kinds of salt from different parts of the world to add to our unsalted butter. It was a fun and unique thing to experiment with the various salts.
All of the portions at 150 Central Park were very small, and they all had an unusual combination of ingredients. It was quite an interesting meal. The menu is shown in the Menu section of the review; but for example, the soup was a Parsnip Veloute. It was a parsnip soup with a buckwheat waffle, whipped buttermilk, maple and American paddlefish caviar. It sounded very strange, especially when our waiter said that we should put the caviar in the soup. Since the soup had a slightly sweet flavor, it didn’t sound good. To our surprise it was an awesome combination and the soup was probably the best of the pre-main course treats.
150 Central Park has two menus, one for each half of the week. The first of the week menu sounded better to me than the one we had, since our main course was the choice between duck breast and short ribs. All of us got the duck breast because it sounded so interesting with a Root Beer sauce, and we had been eating so much beef on the previous nights. When it arrived, we couldn’t believe how small the portion was. It was rectangular shaped, about 3x1x1 inches and looked more like an appetizer than a main course. I guess it was just as well, because it was not particularly good. Whenever we have had duck in the past, the skin was crispy. This one was very soft, which meant it had a thick layer of fat on a very small piece of duck meat. It was very disappointing.
The meal finished three hours after it started with a desert and a cheese plate. Since there were so many courses, the portion size worked out OK. The restaurant was very special and the service was great, but it wasn’t worth the extra $40 plus tip per person that is charged to eat there. For their 50th anniversary, we will go somewhere else.
Although Vintages is primarily a wine bar, it is considered a restaurant because they serve tapas; which are more of a snack to me.
Sorrento’s Pizza –
I love pizza and was quite surprised that I only dropped into Sorrento’s one time during the week. There were just too many other things to do and places to try. The pizza was OK. Not great, but it satisfied the pizza craving adequately, and it is open until 3:00 A.M.
Café Promenade –
Carol stopped by this cafe several times to grab a morning cup of coffee and pastry when she didn't want a full breakfast. It has a nice selection of small sandwiches during the day and is open 24 hrs.
Starbucks Coffee –
Johnny Rockets –
Most people didn’t realize that Johnny Rockets had a no charge breakfast, so I took advantage of it regularly. A real plus was that they prepared your order individually, so everything was hot and fresh, unlike the buffet where we found the egg dishes to be cold and rather tasteless. In addition, their hamburgers, onion rings and milk shakes are such a nice change of pace from the standard restaurants, that we didn’t mind the small charge. With the location being in the heart of the Boardwalk, it was also a prime people watching location.
During the week we stopped at Johnny's to utilize one of the two for one milk shake coupons we had received. They do have some great milk shakes.
Rita’s Cantina –
Since we love Mexican food, we would have liked to try Rita’s, but just didn’t have the time.
Boardwalk Donut Shop –
This really isn’t a donut shop, it's just a self-serve place to get your own donuts. They have a very limited selection of pretty bland donuts. I actually threw one in a trash can after taking just one bite. I don’t ever remember doing that before. Speaking of trash cans, it was very difficult to find a normal trash can on the Allure. Most of them were designated for plastics, paper or aluminum for recycling purposes. I appreciate recycling; but there weren’t a lot of places to just throw out trash, like bad donuts.
Boardwalk Dog House –
I liked the Dog House. I thought that I would visit it more frequently, but as previously said, there are just too many places to stuff yourself on this ship. The hot dog/sausage selection was very good and they had all the toppings you could ask for to put on them. It was also very easy to get something to eat there, since I rarely saw a line.
Ice Cream Parlor –
The Cupcake Cupboard –
Solarium Bistro/Samba Grill –
With the Allure having so many venues, I had been very careful to get photos of all of them. Somehow I totally missed the Solarium Bistro which turns into the Samba Grill at night. I guess I will have to sail on the Allure again to get a photo of it.
Wipe Out Café –
This restaurant had a surprisingly good selection of fun foods, pizza, nachos, chili, hamburgers, ice cream, etc. The only thing I tried was a small taste of the chili one afternoon and it was quite good.
This is the Asian specialty restaurant. It has a very good reputation for being good; but it wasn't on our agenda for the week.
Vitality Café -
This restaurant is near the spa and has a healthier menu selection.
Click Button to Continue to Page 2 of the Review