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Allure of the Seas - Eastern Caribbean Cruise - departing Port Everglades on May 12th 2013.
Our plans were as follows:
1. Fly Manchester, UK to Sanford, FL 2 days before sailing.
2. Stay overnight in Orlando
3. Drive from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale the day before sailing.
4. Experience 7 days onboard Allure of the Seas visiting Nassau, St Thomas and St Maarten
5. Drive north to Kissimmee post cruise to spend 5 nights in a rented villa visiting the theme parks of Orlando.
As a great planner I like to reserve and, if possible, pay for as many things as I can before sailing (keeps that Sea Pass account solely for the necessities of life like Gin!)
Along with the travel plans, I pre-booked the Central Park dining package saving a considerable amount on booking Giovanni's Table, Chops Grille and 150 Central Park as separate items.
As we like Mexican food we decided to opt for Rita's Fiesta which costs $20 per person but includes food and 3 alcoholic drinks.
A 7 bottle 'Wine & Dine' package was a must for us, and again I like to pay in advance so I don't have a shock when I view my account on the TV!
As Allure now has the Freestyle Coca-Cola machines, we decided to purchase the soda package, paying in advance, and especially as we had the most sea days we'd ever had on a Caribbean cruise we knew we'd make it cost-effective, and it was.
We investigated the shore excursions and booked one for St Thomas (St John coastal cruise) and one for St Maarten (Made in Paradise), more of these later.
So with the speciality restaurants, wine and soda packages and shore excursions we'd already donated in excess of $600 to RCI, but at least it wouldn't make me have palpitations onboard!
We also booked tuxedos in advance, but as late as possible to give the diets a chance to work! We chose the combination package which gives the traditional black tie but a coloured vest and tie to ring the changes on one of the 2 formal nights. It costs $10 more at $99 per person, but you don't pay until onboard and we get 15% discount as diamond C&A members.
So having read and digested the most information I ever have done for a cruise, I knew planning and making reservations was almost mandatory for this sailing.
Therefore, once the entertainment bookings were open, this is when it gets interesting. Want to see Chicago, Ocean Aria, Blue Planet, Ice Games, Headliner show, Comedians etc? Then you need to plan and make your reservations in advance.
Juggling this with having to make reservations for Giovanni's Table for day 1 or day 2 (if you pre-book the Central Park dining package), working out that the formal nights on the Eastern itinerary are days 2 & 6, having booked Rita's Fiesta which is day 4, together with working out what times your shore excursions get you back to the ship, will mean you will be a project manager by the time you're done.
This is one of the downsides of sailing on this fantastic ship, there is almost too much to do in 7 days, so you need to plan. So I can understand for some people this can take away the spontaneity and relaxing aspect of a cruise. But if like us, you travel a long way to take this experience, you need to make the most of it.
As a result of this, we booked Ocean Aria, Chicago, Headliner show (which we didn't make), & Blue Planet.
We're not great fans of comedy clubs, so we didn't book anything for that. However, our friends went twice and said the show was excellent and there were lines every night when we went down to 'Entertainment Place' on deck 4, so if you're into comedy my tip is 'book early'.
Day 1 – Boarding day
I awoke again due to jet lag at some stupid hour (around 4:30 am!), so went to sit on the balcony of our Lago Mar resort to witness Carnival Freedom entering the channel with all her lights on illuminating the distinctive funnel. So, I stay on the balcony until Allure of the Seas makes her way slowly into Port Everglades. I can see camera flashes from people on their balconies on board and wonder if they are either of the groups of people we know onboard and especially one couple who we will meet up with once we disembark and are back in Kissimmee. Now, I'm really excited and can't wait for breakfast, check out, car rental return and check in at terminal 18.
Car rental drop off was painless and we headed off to terminal 18 where it looked like organised chaos (which is exactly what it is, organised). Now when approaching the terminal our shuttle driver noticed that passengers were still disembarking and explained that if all passengers had already left the ship, then the exit wall would be the colour blue as the doors when closed match the surrounding wall.
We left our bags with a porter (keeping a beady eye to make sure they did get loaded into a cage), tipped accordingly (I know many say you shouldn't have to, but I do, that's my choice) and we entered terminal 18. Wow, what a smooth check-in process, after security we headed for the Diamond line and there you go, we had our SeaPass cards in our hands. We stopped for the obligatory photo and went up the escalator and sat in the Diamond holding area. Approximately 15 - 20 mins after arriving at the terminal at 11:30 we were making our way onboard the largest cruise ship in the world!
Again as reported by so many, you can view all the available photos, you can watch the videos, you can watch the TV programs, but nothing and I mean nothing can prepare you for that first moment when you board on the Royal Promenade. Stunning! We head straight for Central Park and lunch at the famous Park Cafe, yum.
We get to our cabin at 1 pm after a quick and short tour of the ship, on deck 11 (11664) a starboard side D7 category near the elevators. Everything we've pre-ordered is there (soda cups for the freestyle Coca-Cola machines, shore excursion tickets, tuxedos hanging in the closet, chocolate converted strawberries, details of the wine & dine package for which I already have a sticker on my SeaPass card, and details of the nightly Diamond cocktail hour which for this sailing will be held nightly in the Blaze nightclub on deck 4 from 5:30 - 8:30 pm). Our Diamond welcome back basket and beverages are also there on the vanity. Ruth our stateroom attendant introduces herself and then our bags arrive (that's prompt).
We head up to the Solarium to explore further after taking a few snaps of the Royal Promenade from the Diamond Club on deck 6 and partake of a margarita to settle the nerves, especially mine after I tried out the Zip Line over the Boardwalk for what would be the first time this week. There were no lines, so it had to be done!
At 4:30 pm head for muster drill which for us is in the Aqua Theatre, deck 6. Immediately after muster, we head back to deck 11, but this time head aft on the port side to the public deck for sail away. We have our Union Jack flag and I have my rainbow coloured boa to wave at the Port Cam to whom I have sent a 'Request a Wave' prior to sailing.
Our friends find us and introduce us to their friends who will be such amusing companions for the rest of the week. Once we sail out of the channel, Patrick and I return to the cabin and celebrate with our bottle of Veuve Clicquot and toast a great 7 days to come.
Just to finish embarkation day off, we checked out the menus on display for 150 Central Park and decided we'd like to try the first of the 2 menus available so made reservations for day 3, Chops we made for later in the week. We had Monday booked for Giovanni's Table, Tuesday for 150, and Wednesday for Rita's Fiesta.
Tonight we would try MTD in the Adagio dining room on deck 5, using our pre-booked time of 8:30 pm. So off we trot at around 7:30 pm to Blaze for our first meeting with the Diamond Concierge and our friends.
Dinner was good, albeit over a little quicker than I'd like, but nothing to do with bad service, but more IMHO to the need to turn MTD tables for diners waiting for a table in the holding area just outside the restaurant. This area is a great addition as it prevents a line extending down the Royal Promenade as has been witnessed on other ships.
After dinner we have reservations for Ocean Aria in the Aqua Theatre, get a beverage and turn up for the show which is certainly a unique feature on a cruise ship and not to be missed. Time for bed as it's been an exhilarating day, and time to be lulled to sleep by the ever so slight "motion in the ocean".
Day 2 - Nassau
I awake and slip into my routine of going for a stroll to collect tea for me (English Breakfast please) and coffee for Patrick. Now as I don't realise that the Park Cafe opens most days at 7:30 am, I head for Cafe Promenade on deck 5 but they don’t have paper cups to enable carry out. So off I go to the Diamond Lounge. Although there are paper cups with lids and sleeves in abundance, the speciality coffee maker only appears to provide black coffee of one type or another. That's OK as all other DL's on other ships have milk or creamer available, but not on Allure. Even though a large selection of teas are available (including English Breakfast thank goodness), no milk aargh! No staff are in attendance. So, OK I'll take empty cups, lids and sleeves and go back down the promenade and get drinks from Cafe Promenade. Result! RCI take note, mugs full of hot liquid are dangerous.
As we only had a short stay in Nassau (RCI changed the departure time and notified us months ago), we didn't plan anything today. After breakfast, I disembarked briefly to take photos of Disney Dream and Carnival Ecstasy, and Allure. Once back on board I explored the quiet ship and then we headed for lunch at Johnny Rockets. We take a nap and the dress for dinner at Giovanni's Table in formal attire.
After dinner, we change and head to the Amber Theatre for Chicago and then hunt out the Casino to donate some $$$ to RCI. The ventilation in the Casino is terrible and the venue is far too smoky. With not even sitting near a smoker, my clothes stink. Not good RCI.
Day 3 – At Sea
We make our way to the MDR for breakfast and end up joining our friends for a good catch up. After breakfast as I have a coupon giving me 15% discount off a Britto collectable we head to Central Park and the store there. I purchase "Royalty Cat" but didn't realise it is a numbered item and comes in such a big box (that'll be fun packing!).
After this, we retire to the public area on deck 11, aft, port side overlooking the Aqua Theatre and spend a couple of hours away from the crowds. So calm and relaxing up here. We take lunch at the Solarium Cafe which provides a great selection of more healthy options, so you don't have to feel too guilty all week! Back to deck 11, aft, but starboard side to relax, not! The start of the World's Sexiest Man competition shatters the peace and quiet, but you can't complain as that's the purpose of the Aqua Theatre during the day and you get a great view from up there.
I forgot to mention that our friend had advised us that she had booked another Liberty sailing onboard the previous day, a 7 night Mediterranean sailing out of Barcelona. She persuaded us to see the Loyalty Ambassador and book onboard as the 7 nighter Mediterranean takes in my birthday. Reeling from having booked yet another cruise, I needed sustenance before dinner at 150 Central Park and so we take the appropriate medicine in the Viking Crown before an excellent dinner.
Day 3 – St Thomas
Land beckons today at our 2nd port stop of Crown Bay in St Thomas. No need to go for the morning hunt for coffee as we've ordered room service breakfast as we have a shore excursion today. We ordered for 8:00 - 8:30 and received a call at 7:50 to say that the server was outside, now that's prompt service.
Once breakfast was over we make ourselves ready for a day ashore. The special 'gangway' button on the elevator may only be a minor thing, but it helps remove any indecision of how to disembark. We are directed down the escalator and off the ship into the blistering heat that is St Thomas and head for the area where lots of people are milling around awaiting their tour to start.
A great day was had on St John following a short crossing, and we visited the famous Trunk Bay to spend some time on the beach.
Upon return, we purchase 2 really colourful, inexpensive shirts for the 'Colourful Caribbean' suggested dress code for the evening, especially as we are heading to Rita's Fiesta. Bolstered by a Mojito at Boleros (one of my favourite beverages on RCI) then we headed off to Blaze to meet with our friends and attend the Diamond event.
At 8:30 pm we head to the Boardwalk on deck 6 for Rita's Fiesta not quite sure what to expect. On arrival, we are presented with sombreros (which are a tad small) and wristbands which have 3 tabs attached and are used for each alcoholic beverage included in the cover charge. We are seated at a table of 10 of which 4 people are off our Cruise Critic roll call. It turns into a fun event with appetizers, entrees and dessert served by the staff intermingled with activities which included group dancing on the Boardwalk and a mandatory limbo dance to get back to the table. The Margarita's were long and strong!
Day 4 – St Maarten
Another day, another port. Now we arrived in Philipsburg, St Maarten and were to spend the day on a shore excursion "Made in Paradise" with our friends. So after another great MDR breakfast with the group, we met up on the dock for our tour guide. This was a 3 stop excursion, a rum 'factory', a perfume factory, and a cooking demonstration at a beach restaurant.
It was blistering hot for us northerners and the first stop did not offer any shade unless you could grab a spot under the makeshift tented area next to the 'factory' which is actually a small shack at the side of the road. Next stop was the perfume factory Tijon at Grand Case where for answering one of the questions I was given a small bottle of massage oil.
I purchased 2 versions from the 'pour homme' collection, simply called 2.0 and 3.0. As this is on the French side of the island, the prices are in Euro, but the store will take USD at a rate of $1 = 1€. Anyway, then we set off to our cooking demo, which was IMHO just OK. No refreshments provided.
That evening we were all dining in Chops Grille and I consider this one of the best meals we had all week, not only the food but the service and of course tablemates.
Day 5 – At Sea
Today starts the first of our 2 final days at sea as we head back towards Fort Lauderdale. I now take it upon myself to do some more early morning exploration of this vast ship and find myself down on deck 5 and on the jogging track! What? How did I manage that, me exercise? What the heck is that?
Anyway, I'm intrigued having seen photos of this track and am pleased to find that there are 2 tracks, 1 for runners and 1 more suited to people like me, walkers (although I can walk pretty fast I'm told, especially when heading to a bar, restaurant or shop)! Once we get ready for breakfast we decide to try Johnny Rockets and so head off for the Boardwalk on deck 6. Now, I was a little sceptical of breakfast here, but it was excellent, with decent sized glasses of orange juice, not the thimble-sized mouthfuls provided in the MDR. Also, it's really nice to sit outside enjoying the first meal of the day.
The rest of the day passes with more exploring.
Oh yes, this is the only day we both entered the Windjammer for lunch. Now as mentioned by many this can be a zoo, and often there are staff controlling lines of people waiting to enter, and these lines extend into the elevator lobby, and there are wait staff taking people to free tables. However, it's all about timing and when we arrived at 12:30 or so the place was practically empty and there were lots of free tables, so just time it right.
Tonight was 2nd formal and lobster night apparently so we dress suitably and head for dinner. The service was far too fast, and so we were in and out within 45 minutes. Not a relaxing dinner at all. Tonight was also the 70's show on the Royal Promenade and Blue Planet in the theatre, which was good.
Day 6 – At Sea
Another relaxing day at sea starts with breakfast at Johnny Rockets again followed by pool time, lunch at Johnny Rockets and more pool time. I visit to Guest Services to enquire about the baggage tag number we had been given for departure as we had been given number 10 which if I remember correctly enables us to depart at around 7:15 or so. Now, again you can complete the departure questionnaire via the interactive facilities on your in-room TV, which is another great development IMHO. I had advised that we didn't need an early departure as we didn't have a flight to catch. However, I think because we are Diamond level RCI seem to always give us the option to leave early, as this has happened on other ships.
Guest Relations advised that I don't need to change the tags, and we can depart when we like as our bags will still be located in the terminal in the designated areas identified by tag number. We kept putting off the packing event but it had to be done! We put our bags in the hallway as left for cocktails and kept a small carry on behind for last minute packing of toiletries and this evening clothes.
Later we dressed for dinner and went for a final glass of wine in Vintages after saying farewell to our friends in Blaze at the Diamond event, and expressing our gratitude to 2 of the servers who had looked after us so well all week by the use of an envelope containing a gratuity in the time honoured tradition, because from day 2 onwards they knew our poison and delivered them with a smile.
Tonight we had reservations for Samba Grill, but not until 9 pm.
Upon arriving at Samba Grill we were seated quickly and the process of the coloured lights on the table explained. White means we will help ourselves to salad from the salad bar, Green means the servers will come and carve meat at the table, which they will repeat bringing a different choice each time until you turn the light Red. You could then turn it Green again and once again the servers would appear, or like us we decided to go back to White, which means the servers now know you want dessert.
So, we change it to White, or so we think. We didn't notice that it wasn't White, Green or Red but a slight Yellow/Orange colour! The server turns up with more meat, totally confused and the head waiter knows exactly what has happened. The device needs to be recharged! Anyway, although I shouldn't have it having eaten so much meat, I gave in when I see dessert. Why worry now? I haven't all week, one more won't hurt!
Day 7 – Fort Lauderdale
Oh well, all good things must come to an end, why? Do many things not done during the 7 days, although I did forget to mention that I did ride the Zipline again on the final sea day. After waking, I checked the final SeaPass account (the paper version had been delivered and in the slot on the outside of the door). We packed our things from the previous night in a small carry on roller case, went for breakfast to the MDR, noticing that the low tag numbers were already showing on the electronic displays in the elevator lobby.
After breakfast, we returned to the cabin to perform a final check to ensure nothing was being left behind. We decided as we are not US citizens and have read the reports of reduced staffing at the immigration desks due to budget changes, that we would make our way ashore. Finally, we managed to get into an elevator to take us to deck 5, where I nipped across to Guest Services to deposit my feedback survey and then joined a very short line to exit to the ship. Once in the terminal, we were presented with a sea of baggage! However, it was all neatly laid out in rows with the tag number indicated by a small sign. Having retrieved our bags and negotiated our way out of the line of luggage, we joined the line that wound back and forth and would lead us to immigration.
This line moved constantly, so very soon we were providing the agent directing people to various desks the info that we were non-US citizens and were directed to a desk further down the hall. No worries, the immigration agent just glanced at our passports and waved us through. No question, no submitting of hand or fingerprints and that was it, the most painless re-entry into the US we've ever experienced after a cruise, thank you Homeland Security, it is appreciated.
Once outside the terminal we followed the signs for car rental shuttles and a very helpful agent asked for the car rental company, gestured to a shuttle waiting on the approach road to move, and directed us to wait at a specific bay, and that was it, we were aboard and off to Hertz. Again the easiest pick up ever. So, was all the planning, organisation, additional costs (speciality restaurants etc) worth it?
In a word YES!
Was 7 days enough time to take advantage of all she has to offer, NO!
What did we not do?
- Take a ride on the Rising Tide Bar
- Experience many of the venues in Entertainment Place, Blaze, Comedy Live, Jazz On 4.
- Missed the Headliner show, many activities in the Aqua Theatre. Try all the bars, we missed - Champagne Bar, Bow & Stern, On Air Club, Mast Bar, Sky Bar, Sand Bar, Trellis Bar in Central Park.
- Try out snacks at Sorrentos, Cafe Promenade, Wipe Out Café, and Boardwalk Dog House.
Would we sail on her or her sister again, YES!
- Technology advances on the in-room TV, digital way finders screens, unlimited Wi-Fi (for a fee), self-service kiosks.
- Central Park
- Variety of speciality restaurants and the quality
- Johnny Rockets for breakfast
- Balcony furniture - so much more comfortable than other ships
- Bathroom design, larger shower cubicle.
- Staff, all so friendly if not always providing prompt service!
- Ease of embarkation, disembarkation especially at ports of call.
- Ships design in general, especially the Solarium
- Entertainment options and activities, so much to do, so little time!
- Freestyle Coca-Cola machines
- My Time Dining - far too rushed to enable staff to 'turn tables'.
- Bar service, even when venue not busy
- In room safe far too small
But that's it really.
These are incredible ships and have to be tried at least once; this explains why prices are still at a premium.