Cruise? Don't Mind if I Do!
Updated: Oct 27, 2018
So many of you have asked me why I love cruising. Well mainly it's because I love the ability to travel to different destinations and only unpacking once. It is also the most cost effective vacation, and when you combine that with the vast amount of included entertainment and activities, there's just something for everyone.
I have just returned from a week long vacation on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas out of Port Everglades (Ft Lauderdale), FL with my husband, son, daughter, grandson, friend and godson. Although we've cruised many times, it was our first time cruising with Royal Caribbean. What a great experience, Allure is truly a beautiful ship and the crew aboard did everything possible to ensure we had a great time.
Allure is one of four Oasis class ships, the others being Oasis, Symphony and Harmony. These are the largest ships in the world, each able to carry a maximum of 6,780 passengers and 2,100 crew members. That is a lot of people! However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that rarely did the ship feel crowded due to all the space, activities, and different venues.
Embarkation was quick and painless, we were on on the ship in no time. We boarded about 12:30pm and a lovely crew member informed us that our rooms were ready. As soon as you step onboard, you are on the promenade deck which looks similar to a small, fancy mall. After all of the "ohhhs and ahhhs", we eventually made our way to our rooms on the 10th floor where we had an ocean view with large balcony room. You can also choose a balcony room in the Central Park area or on the Boardwalk. Boardwalk rooms are nice because you usually get a view of the aquatheater, you get to people watch as there is a lot of activity below, and best of all, you have a partial view of the ocean! Oasis class ships are the only ones that have these additional options (Central Park and Boardwalk rooms). Each of those rooms have balconies so you can sit out and enjoy the view. After checking out our room, we set out to explore our home away from home.
There are many restaurants on the ship, some included in your fare, others are extra. The Windjammer Cafe is a large restaurant that includes many, many, many options. However we headed for the Park Cafe located in the Central Park area which was a lot less crowded. There was quite a bit to choose from: salads, fruit cups, desserts, chips, hot and cold sandwiches, and drinks. The salad was fresh and delicious and we all had the roast beef sandwiches that are well known throughout the Royal Caribbean family. I must say I had many of those sandwiches over the course of a week, they were absolutely wonderful! And the coconut ranger cookies...delicious!
Prior to the cruise, I decided to purchase ultimate drink packages (unlimited beverages) and the photo package (all pictures aboard included). Many people ask if the packages were worth it. I will tell you that it is a personal choice, however, for my family, those were two of the best purchases we made as we fully used both. We ended up with 189 professional photos, all put on a flash drive and delivered to me the last night of the cruise. And those drinks, by the way, are definitely not watered down. In fact, after the drink is made, they put an extra dash to "top it off". By night 3, I was asking them to please not add that extra dash. Lol Another thing about the photo package, we had three rooms but I was the only one who bought the package. There were many photos of people in the other rooms that had photos by themselves in my package. The rule is that someone from the room of the person who purchased the package must be in all photos. Clearly this was not the case, which is not a bad thing. And I don't know if it always happens, but it worked out well for us.
Days 1, 2 and 3 we were at sea, so we spent our days and nights exploring the ship and enjoying the many activities to include ziplining, rock climbing, broadway shows (Mamma Mia was excellent), the Boardwalk (think of a fair), and much more. You are given a schedule of events everyday so there is never a shortage of things to do. And if you have children, Adventure Ocean is there to accommodate them. My 6 year old grandson enjoyed himself very much, just could not get enough. He went ice skating (yes, there's an ice skating rink on the ship!) for the first time. He really had a lot of fun which always makes us happy. He really enjoyed the kids club, Adventure Ocean, and that allowed his mom some much needed adult time.
A little more about the shows. I have been on other ships and the shows were hit or miss. There was sub par singing and acting. I've even walked out of shows because there was just other things I wanted to do with the time. This was definitely not the case on Allure. These were shows that I would not expect to find on a cruise ship. You could have found these performances on Broadway, yes, that good! Mamma Mia was a full theater production, intermission included. The singers and actors were excellent. There was also an ice skating show called Monopoly game (or something similar) which used characters from the board game. Spectacular! My grandson, who is easily bored, was riveted. That says a lot! There was also Blue Planet which is a very well put together show about, what else, our planet! There was a living tree that was amazingly done. The aquatheater show was equally impressive, there was some diving and acrobatics along with other elements to the show that made it very impressive. We saw the Dreamworks parade with characters from different movies. Shrek and Fiona were in attendance along with many others. There was also a character breakfast that we attended which was very nice. There is a headliner show which can vary from sailing to sailing. Our sailing hosted an a Capella group which my daughter said was amazing. We also attended the late night comedy show where there were two comedians performing. Both were very funny and we thoroughly enjoyed it. There was literally something happening every night, so we were always trying to get the most out of the schedule. If this is your first time going on Allure, I would highly recommend checking out the shows.
On Day 4, we made our first port stop in St Martin. I'd previously booked a private excursion for a beach and snorkel day with Soualiga Destinations Boat Tours. There were about 15 of us on this beautiful spotless speed boat, and Capt Radick and Lanie were wonderful and informative guides. They both showed exceptional professionalism while being personable and accessible. Every now and then, Capt Radick would show us how powerful those three 300hp engines were and we'd go flying across the waves, very thrilling. We had an excellent day which included stops at 4 different beaches including Maho Beach where the planes take off and land 30 ft above your head. We got to visit both the Dutch and French sides of the island. I had a delicious drink on Pinel Island and got to feed some lizards. Some of them are huge and I was a little afraid but they are quite friendly and gently eat from your hand. Food and drink was included. The island is beautiful, the water is absolutely gorgeous, however you can still see some of the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, hotels are still rebuilding, and there are still sunken boats and yachts everywhere. But other than that reminder, we had a really great day and would not hesitate to book with Capt Bob again.
Day 5 took us to Puerto Rico. It was a short port day as we had to reboard the ship at 1:30 so we took an air conditioned bus around the city then walked around in Old San Juan. The tours are a great way to see the city, and get a narrative from a local resident. Again, you could see the ongoing clean up from the devastation of the hurricanes. We ended the day with some shopping from some local artisans before walking back to the port area. I want to say here that the people we met along the way were so friendly. We felt welcomed but not harassed which made it a pleasure to shop here.
Day 6 was all about Labadee, Haiti, which is a private Royal Caribbean island. There are several different beaches around the island, we chose to hang out at Columbus Cove. The island is an extension of the ship so food and drinks are provided. We grabbed beach loungers, found some shade and enjoyed swimming, lunch and drinks. There are many souvenir shops as well. The vendors are extremely persistent so you should know what you're prepared to spend and stick with that and you'll be alright. And don't feel obligated to shop with the first person you see. There are many, many vendors, you may get a better deal by shopping around. We had a great view of the ship while we hung out in the water and on the beach. All too soon, it was time to board again. Something I'd like to mention: it was extremely easy getting on and off the ship. With so many cruisers, you would think it'd take forever. But I was pleasantly surprised by how swiftly this process was, if you were wondering. :)
As I mentioned, there are a lot of different venues for meals. Every night during our cruise, we chose to dress up and go to dinner in the dining room. We had some great meals there, and we really enjoyed the wait staff who went above and beyond to make our experience memorable. Broiled lobster night was my favorite. The best thing is, you can have as much of anything you want on the menu so we had several lobsters, thank you very much! However, there are many specialty restaurants as well with a variety of food choices: steakhouses, italian, brazilian, sushi, even Johnny Rockets! My daughter ate at Johnny Rockets and said it was delicious.
Our last day on the ship was a sea day so we rotated between packing our bags and walking around the ship. Debarkation was quick and painless. You can choose to have your bags carried off for you or do this yourself. We took ours off ourselves so as soon as we got ready to go, we were able to exit. I have been on many cruises, but this was the quickest trip through customs we've ever had.
A few words about gratuities. Most of the items you purchase on board have an 18% gratuity attached so you are not required to tip more. There is also a daily charge of $14.50 added to your stateroom account daily for each person in the room. This money is divided between all of the crew members. You can go to guest services and change this amount (more or less) at any time. We like to give a bit more to those who went above and beyond to make our vacation extra special. This usually includes the wait staff in the dining room, the steward who kept our room pristine, and a few bartenders. Envelopes are provided and all of the stewards have them on their cart if you want to directly give them or any of the crew members a few extra dollars.
Overall, I must say that our trip aboard Allure of the Seas was amazing. Even though I'd done some research, I was still blown away by how beautiful she is and the sheer number of activities there are. There are many places to sit back and enjoy the view, the music, the people, the vibe, the atmosphere, etc, etc. I hope you'll have an opportunity to share your own stories about this gorgeous girl. Til then, keep traveling!