Allure of the Seas – Status Check
Written by: David Beers
I just returned from a seven-night cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas. Although I knew what to expect from having taken Oasis of the Seas, I was still excited as I approached the pier and could barely wait to get onboard. For any ship to evoke such emotions in an experienced cruiser like me is a tribute to the brilliant Oasis concept first unveiled 18 months ago.
Sister ship Allure has been in service for about nine months now, which means all the kinks should be worked out, especially with the experience Royal Caribbean has in operating Oasis. I expected this cruise to run like a Swiss watch.
Just like my Oasis of the Seas cruise, the pier operation was crisp and efficient; we were processed in less than ten minutes. How can they do it so quickly? Enough space and staff for dozens of check-in desks and several employees stationed all along the way to keep guests moving. Plus the terminal is huge which means no crowding or traffic jams. Sometimes the answer to a problem really is to just throw more people at it, provided you have a good methodology. It was apparent to me that everyone was extremely well-trained and able react quickly. They were also unfailingly courteous and upbeat.
So what does Allure of the Seas offer? Is it a ship that really is a destination of its own? Can someone become bored on a ship with so many things to do, places to eat, and shows to attend?
Much has been said about Royal Caribbean raising the bar on the shows they offer aboard Allure and Oasis. We attended four big shows and were quite pleased by them.
DreamWorks was on full display with costumed characters like Shrek roaming the ship, special breakfasts for the kids, 3-D movies, and shows at the AquaTheater. I noted that none of it was intrusive and unless you were really looking for it, you might not even notice the DreamWorks activities. The 3-D movies were not heavily promoted and many didn’t even realize they were being shown. I did hear the 3-D glasses were popular souvenirs, evidenced by notices in the Cruise Compass for movie goers to please drop glasses in designated containers when exiting the theater.
“Chicago, the Musical” is one of the featured showtime productions. I am not a fan of the show but the talent and production were excellent. I had the opportunity to meet the entertainers and was not surprised to learn some had been in the Broadway and touring troupes of the show. They had to audition for both Royal Caribbean and the producers of Chicago in order to maintain the Broadway production standards on the ship and then they all had to sign 11 month contracts. Something that many passengers were not expecting is the length of the show. At 90 minutes it is much longer than a typical cruise ship revue (about 50 minutes) and I noticed people leaving after an hour as well as lots of fidgeting in nearby seats.
OceanAria is the main show in the AquaTheater and we enjoyed it. There isn’t much of a theme except for the comedy relief character who starts the show and periodically reappears. It is primarily a display of amazing acrobatic strength in and around the main pool, plus diving. The underwater platforms in the AquaTheaters have known problems which can leave shows shortened or cancelled all together. Happily, we had no such issues and saw the full program. The high dives were just as breathtaking as those I saw on Oasis in 2009. As you might expect, many of these performers have Olympic-level backgrounds in gymnastics and diving. One acrobat told us he had done extensive training at a circus acrobatic school.
The ice show we saw was called “Ice Games.” They also presented How to Train Your Dragon, another part of the DreamWorks affiliation. Ice Games draws on famous video and board games for the theme. As with the water show, the physical and artistic talent of the skaters is more important than a story line. You’d think that after 12 years – the first ice shows were done on Voyager of the Seas in 1999 – that Royal Caribbean ice shows would have lost their luster and become less popular with repeat cruisers, but our show was packed and it wasn’t all first time cruisers – even at 5pm on a beautiful sea day! It was quite thrilling and well done. I never get tired of seeing skaters doing jumps and spins on those smaller than Olympic-sized ice rinks. They are remarkable; and as with every ice show I’ve attended, several standing ovations were delivered.
Saving the best for last, if you sail Allure of the Seas do not miss Blue Planet. It was absolutely wonderful, with acrobatics, dancing, beautiful singing and great production values. As the title implies, this show has a new-age theme and includes popular songs that flow along seamlessly. The audience was enthralled. We recognized many of the same performers from Chicago and OceanAria. During my Q &A with the performers I learned that Blue Planet combines members of the other shows although one performer jokingly claimed he was not aware that was in his contract until he was already at sea on his first cruise. They put this show together with just 9 days of rehearsal and many of the performers said they liked it as much as the main shows they were hired to perform.
We ate dinner in the main dining room four times and had excellent service. While I enjoyed the beef and seafood entrees, the desserts were not as especially flavorful as they looked. I ordered a calzone entree and it was utterly tasteless and told my wife a frozen pizza would be a big improvement. Still, the service was good and the staff was very gracious.
I was quite excited about our dinner at Samba Grill, the Brazilian Churrascaria that replaces the Solarium Bistro on Oasis. I love churrascaria and I expected it to be packed each night. But we always got a table, and we were even called one morning with an offer to dine there that evening for half price (regularly $25 dinner, $15 lunch). Like the traditional Brazilian method, salads and appetizers are buffet style while bowls of vegetables such as corn-on-the-cob and fried plantain are delivered to the table. The main attraction is the variety of spit skewered meats like lamb, chicken, beef and pork delivered to your table almost non-stop if you fail to click your table light from green to red. Trust me, they do not skimp and all the meat is delicious. This is definitely not a meal for light eaters or vegans. Just know that the venue itself is something like glassed-in greenhouse and I suggest you wear light clothing.
Lunch at Giovanni’s Table was excellent and may be my favorite eatery on the ship. I loved the antipasti platter and the fried seafood appetizer. Toss in a steak with gorgonzola butter, a plate of pasta and then a dreamy tiramisu and espresso, and you have a memorable meal. This is another big win for Royal Caribbean and I see they are now putting Giovanni’s Table on some of their older ships as well.
The Boardwalk Dog Haus is another popular venue that it is also part of the Royal Enhancement upgrades for older ships. There never were more than a few people in line and quite often you could walk right up and order. It was a good fast lunch or snack, and the special baguettes they use for most of the sausages are delicious.
The nearby carousel was popular early in the cruise but it seemed to be less so towards the end. Rita’s Cantina struck me as noisy and cramped, and although our waitress said it serves ‘authentic’ Mexican food the menu is typical Tex-Mex. Our cover charge included three courses but they have four courses on the menu. So you either skip one course or pay extra for it. Our booth was roomier than the narrow tables in the center but not by much. Still, it is a fun place to choose from several different margaritas to accompany a plate of nachos.
Probably the most popular place for no extra charge dining was the Park Cafe. This is the deli patterned on “Tavern on the Green” and it was always packed for its excellent sandwiches.
Thoughts on the Ship and Cruise
As the largest cruise ship in the world the Allure can be intimidating at first. People can get confused or even lost. But by day four the ship seemed smaller and most people no longer needed the touch-enabled navigation screens located by the elevators – which are excellent tools by the way. You can access the Cruise Compass, check on restaurant table availability and read menus; all in several languages. Our cruise had many non-English speaking passengers, which speaks well for Oasis and Allure’s ability to attract people from all over the world.
We had the full spectrum of ages aboard our sailing – from babes in arms to senior citizens like 85-year old Manny whose family was aboard for his birthday cruise. All were obviously having the times of their lives. It would be easy to say the primary reason was all the activities, shows, sports attractions like the zip line and flowriders or the myriad bars and lounges, but in my mind it still comes down to the crew. They can make or break a cruise.
Allure has an exceptional crew, and the key is that they all seem to enjoy and have fun with their jobs. There was Captain Johnnie tooling around on his motorcycle posing for pictures on the Boardwalk and cruise director Ken Rush shaving his head for charity, but all of the 2000+ crewmembers I saw were always smiling, helpful, quick to laugh and simply put – just fun people to be around.
So what about that Swiss watch expectation I had at the beginning of the cruise? In the end I can say my expectations were not only met but exceeded on this wonderful cruise. Allure really is a well-oiled machine where everything runs as well as I could ever expect. When we wanted to relax we could find a place for it. When we wanted excitement it was there. Every night was filled with great music and marvelous shows. Food was plentiful, varied, and tasty. We had the quintessential family cruise and a memorable vacation. What more can a cruise ship offer?
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