Stephanie Miller-Murphy is the owner of Travel With Stephanie, and helps clients in Mandeville, Covington, and New Orleans, LA plan their perfect luxury vacation.
December 29, 2013 – January 5, 2014
“Something about cruising on the largest ship in the world was “Alluring” to me!”
I had the pleasure of spending the week of New Years on Royal Caribbean’s beautiful Allure of the Seas. This amazing ship is currently the largest cruise ship in the world followed by its sister ship Oasis of the Seas which is identical in every way except two inches shorter. I vacationed with my husband, brother and sister-in-law along with my two nieces, a tween and a teen. The dynamics of multi-family, multi-generational travel can be tricky in general. I must say that the Allure of the Seas covered every age, every interest and every expectation all of us had! This ship blew us away with the entertainment options, activities and ohhhh the food!
I booked our cabins four months in advance. My husband and I had a Superior Balcony Cabin and my brother had two Ocean View cabins next door to each other. This worked really well for them with a teen, a tween and two adults. The cabins were nicely appointed and very functional with great storage including a spot for our luggage under the beds. The closets had ample space to hang our clothes and utilize the four shelves in the closet as drawers.
I found the Royal Caribbean online Pre-Cruise Planner to be extremely user friendly for all of our planning. We pre-paid our gratuities in order to take advantage of “My Time Dining” and were able to make our dinner reservations at a time that was most convenient for us based on our excursions and show times. We easily booked all of our excursions, spa appointments, and show and dinner reservations well in advance of our sailing allowing us to focus on fun throughout the week. I recommend my clients make all of their excursion reservations well in advance of their sailing and only book official Royal Caribbean excursions. The lines at the Excursion Desk onboard the ship can have hour-long waits at times. Reservations for shows are best made well in advance to ensure your choice of favorite shows at the most convenient times. Each guest is allowed to make one reservation for each show per sailing. Ten minutes prior to show time the staff will allow guests without reservations to come into the shows, based on available seating. Sign your waivers for rock climbing, zip line and flow riders in advance of your sailing to prevent having to wait in long lines to sign waivers once onboard.
The check- in process was very smooth and the staff extremely friendly. It took us a total of 20 minutes to arrive at the port, go through security, get a picture taken and board the ship. This process is down to a real science. Make sure you pack your toiletries, medicines and even a swimsuit in your carry-on luggage as it can take a few hours for your larger luggage to be delivered to your cabin. Once onboard the ship we were able to go directly to our cabins to drop off our carry-on luggage. We immediately went out to explore the ship and see the sights. I recommend you take a good hour or two upon embarking the ship to take a walking tour to get a general idea of the lay out. This ship is huge with several different “neighborhoods” and lots of potential favorite spots.
I do not recommend boarding the ship hungry as there are limited options for the first few hours of sail day. On Allure of the Seas you can find complimentary lunch in Windjammer Café and Park Central but be prepared for a crowd. For a real treat spend a few extra dollars and go to Vintages, the ships wine and tapas bar. Vintages is located in the Central Park neighborhood and you can sit outside and enjoy the open-air and people watch while enjoying a nice glass of wine with delicious tapas and no crowds.
Leaving the port in Fort Lauderdale includes lots of fanfare. Find your spot early on deck 15 or deck 16 prior to departure. If you prefer a more secluded viewing spot there are “secret balconies” in the aft of the ship on decks 11 and 12 with good seating. Bring your own beverage as there is no service in these areas. Deck 5 in the aft of the ship also has a row of comfy Adirondack chairs that would make for a great secluded viewing area.
Once we were out in open water we returned to our cabins to unpack our checked luggage that had arrived to our cabins and following this we went to dinner in the Dining Room. We had “My Time Dining” and different dinner times each evening. The dining room has three levels and we were assigned level five. One of the few flaws that I discovered on Allure of the Seas was level three in the dining room. The entrance to the dining room on this level is directly across the hall from the smoking section of the casino. I suggest you ask for a reassignment to a different floor of the dining room if you are in any way sensitive to smoke. As you can see we were happy to finally be on vacation!
Immediately following dinner we headed to the Boardwalk neighborhood and the Aqua Theater for our first show of the cruise, Aria. This show was amazing and comparable to a Cirque performance. Get to the show 30 minutes early to get the best seats and view. If you have a reservation and have not checked in 10 minutes prior to show time the staff will give your spot away. WORD OF WARNING – You will get wet if you sit in the first 5 rows of the Aqua Theater!
The next morning brought a full day of cruising at sea. I took an early morning stretch class in the fitness center. The fitness center is very large and fully functional. I never had a problem the entire week getting on a treadmill although I prefer the outdoor walking track on deck 5 which circles the entire ship. There is ample equipment of all types.
The spa is impressive. I had a massage and a facial while on the ship and both services were top-notch. The nail and hair salon is very nice and has ample appointments available for most services. If you would like a hair appointment for one or both of the formal evenings while you are sailing you need to make those appointments the first day or you will not get in.
There is a section of the spa called the Thermal Suite. There are four heated loungers, two steam rooms, a dry sauna and two rain showers in this area. It is co-ed and swim suits must be worn. It is an additional charge to use during your cruise and only a limited number of Thermal Spa packages are sold to prevent over crowding. My husband and I took advantage of this package and spent a bit of time every day in the Thermal Suite. We never found it too crowded and enjoyed the solitude.
On the first full day at sea we spent a bit of time in the Solarium. This is an adults-only section of the ship on Deck 14 and Deck 15 in the forward section of the ship. There is a small pool, several large hot tubs, ample lounge chairs and comfy patio-type furniture. The Solarium restaurant offers healthier choices than most other places on the ship. It even turns into the Samba Brazilian restaurant in the evening.
Our first Port of Call was Labadee, Haiti. Labadee is a port located on the northern coast of Haiti surrounded by beautiful mountain slopes and exotic foliage. It is a private resort leased exclusively to Royal Caribbean through 2050. Through this venture Royal Caribbean has contributed the largest proportion of tourist revenue to Haiti since 1986, employing 300 locals and allowing another 200 to sell their wares on the premises.
A major highlight and adrenaline rush is soaring down the Dragon’s Breath Flight Line; the world’s longest over water zip line. Another, more private and more calming experience is to rent your own overwater cabana for the day. Each luxury cabana rental includes 2 floating beach mats, lunch buffet, water cooler with 6 bottles of water and attentive service of a personal attendant.
Our second Port of Call was Montego Bay, Jamaica. Jamaica is one of my top stops when cruising the Caribbean as there is so much to do for all activity levels and interests. The guys decided on a combo excursion that included a ride on Bobsled Jamaica followed by a climb up Dunns River Falls.
Bobsled Jamaica is a must for all rollercoaster enthusiasts and adventure seekers. The ride features a gravity-driven plunge of 2780 feet with many twists and turns as you make your way through the tropical forest. You control the speed of your descent with an in-sled handbrake, allowing for either a leisurely ride or thrilling dive to the bottom of the mountain.
Dunns River Falls are beautiful waterfalls located in Ocho Rios that are like a giant natural staircase going up 600 feet to the top. Several small lagoons are interspersed among the vertical sections of the falls. Climbing the waterfalls is quite vigorous and is often (and highly recommended) performed with the help of tour guides from the park. It takes about 1.5 hours to climb with short breaks for photographs and video recordings taken by the guides. The climb is usually taken as a hand-holding human chain led by the guide.
We girls chose a combination Dolphin Swim Encounter/Dunns River Falls excursion. Our first stop was Dolphin Cove in Ocho Rios. This property, located on a natural cove surrounded by 5 acres of lush tropical rain forest is impressive. We were divided into groups of 16 and into the water we went. We swam with, petted, kissed and even rode the dolphins. It was truly one of the most fun experiences I have ever had.
After our swim with the dolphins and a delicious lunch served by the locals we took some time to walk the grounds and get to know some of the “locals”.
Our fourth day on the cruise was another full day at sea. We started the first half of our day with a Behind the Scenes All Access Tour. This All Access Tour included a tour of the ship’s bridge, galley, backstage to the main theater, the engine control room, crew quarters and much more. The tours are 3.5 hours and cost $150 per passenger. Photography is restricted in some areas on the tour but many great photo opportunities are available. The galley is particularly impressive.
We took advantage of some of the onboard activities on the ship including zip lining and flow riding.
Our fifth day was our final Port of Call in Cozumel, Mexico. We chose a very unique excursion here. We headed to Xplor Park outside of Playa de Carmen. This excursion requires a ferry ride to Play de Carmen. I do not recommend this for those that are prone to sea sickness. Once in Playa de Carmen we caught a bus and drove 30 minutes to get to the park. This park was very overcrowded and we had to wait 45 minutes on the bus before we were allowed to enter the park. The park itself is impressive but due to the crowds and long lines we were not able to take advantage of all of the activities. This is one of the more expensive excursion options offered at this port. With the cost of this excursion, the travel time to get to the park and the crowds I do not recommend this excursion to my cruise clients. A visit to Xplor Park would be better suited for clients on vacation in the Cancun, Riviera Maya Region that have a full day without the time restraints and travel time involved with cruising.
Our final day was a full day at sea. This is the day that we checked off all of the things on our “to do” list that we had not yet experienced. This included the ship’s rock climbing wall. This is my husband David on his way up the wall.
If you have purchased one of the ships photo packages make sure you arrive at the photo shop first thing on this last sail day to avoid the crowds. This is also a good time to stop by the reception area and ask to review your onboard charges. This is one of our favorites from New Year’s Eve.
I look back fondly at our week at sea and recommend the Allure of the Seas for all age groups. I think this is the perfect ship for multigenerational families and groups as we learned first-hand on our special voyage.