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What’s Alluring About the World’s Largest Cruise Ship
Publication Date: June 29, 2014

Whats the allure of the worlds largest ship? In a word, entertainment. Of the four cruise lines Ive sailed with, no one does it better than Royal Caribbean.

The fare served up on the stages of Allure of the Seas is a refreshing departure from the usual shipboard shows and are worth the effort of scheduling your trip around them.

Allures full production of the musical Chicago was great fun, and the voices were strong and clear. How neat is that"a Broadway-quality show for free! And if you get to the theater super early, you can even get the best seats in the house.

Then there was Ocean Aria, a diving and acrobatic show thats so compelling you wont want to take your eyes away for a second. Adonis-like acrobat brothers wrap their bodies around each other in poses where you cant tell where one body ends and

the other begins. Divers from 90 ft. high fly into the air and amazingly, land gracefully and securely into the Allures tiny theater pool.

Inside the ship, on the ice rink, professional skaters"one a veteran of Disney on Ice"twirl, jump, spin and lift, while on a moving vessel, no less. The Monopoly theme lent itself well to playful and colorful sets and costumes.

The singers from Chicago re-emerged in Blue Planet, which had everything thrown in"acrobatics, singing and dancing"all in a celebration of nature. I wont give it all away, but it included a trampoline, large rings and a human tree.

This comes on top of onboard surfing, ice skating, zip-lining, rock climbing and miniature golf. And then there are the three neighborhoods; their personalities ebbing and flowing by the hour. Theres the Promenade, the hub of the ship and venue for parades, dance classes and the best people-watching; Boardwalk, where you can ride a full-size carousel over and over again for free or eat foot-high pink cotton candy for a cost; and Central Park, an oasis of real foliage and fake bird sounds.

Exciting, yes. But it does steal the show from the real leading lady"the mysterious, fascinating and ever-changing sea.

 

Not as Alluring

The Allures weak spot is the food. Some dinner dishes in the Main Dining Room were good (memorable was the shrimp on Italian-theme night), others were disappointing (Chicken Marsala was rendered as fried chicken with a nearly invisible sauce).

But what we noticed"and missed"was the absence of beef choices, particularly compared to competing cruise lines.

We found that among the free dining options, the Windjammer buffet was often the best choice. Not only did it have a wider variety (shrimp crackers, anyone?), but some standout spicy Asian choices. It was a nice break from the usually bland and unimaginative dining room dishes.

Aside from the food, the other area where the ship doesnt compare well to, say, the Caribbean Princess, is the staterooms. While okay on size, the Allures cabins offered less in the way of storage space. The closets are tight and night tables have open slots, which make them minimally useful.

Another downside is that the balcony chairs dont recline, which makes seaside napping a challenge (but nothing that a glass of wine cant cure!).

 

The Bottom Line

But, hey, you cant be good at everything.

This may seem heretical, given all that the Allure and Oasis have going for them, but I wouldnt recommend these ships for first-time cruisers. Because youll be permanently spoiled, and forever searching for the carousel and ice skating rink on every other ship.

My top tip: to really appreciate Chicago, stream or rent the movie version before your trip. And dont forget to reserve all your shows online well in advance of your cruise. You can gamble and try and get in once on board, but be forewarned"the lines for standby outside the shows were substantial.

For photos and more musing on Caribbean cruising, see musingaboutcruising.blogspot.com.

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Horrible Food. Unless you LOVE Denny's, then Pick Another Cruise Line
Publication Date: June 28, 2014

Just got back from taking the Norwegian Jewel for a week in Alaska. While the trip was great, the room was small but nice, the staff was nice and everything was clean and well done, the food was horrible. We did a cruise on Royal Caribbean about 6 months ago on a 7 day for the exact same price and the food in the complimentary dining room was STUNNING. I mean absolutely delicious. The Norwegian cruise food was one step up from cafeteria food, and the dining room was the same food as the buffet where on Royal Caribbean the complimentary dining room menu was an entirely different menu, obviously made to order by well trained chefs. On the Norwegian, it seemed like they sent someone to the buffet to get your meal. It was horribly disappointing. I will never never go on a Norwegian Cruise again. The food was the equivalent to Denny's, while the food on Royal Caribbean was equal to Emeril's or Manning's. Don't cruise on Norwegian.

And if you have any food intolerance or special needs, forget about it. They are not going to accommodate you. We

eat mostly gluten free, but not out of medical necessity. When we were on the Royal Caribbean, they were fastidious about making sure dietary needs were accommodated and provided fantastic and delicious alternatives. I doubt that anyone would have felt the slightest bit deprived being on a gluten free diet on the Royal Caribbean. If we had truly had a medical need to eat gluten free on the Norwegian Jewel, we would have probably been relegated to eating white rice, or ended up in the hospital. I don't think that you could possibly have figured out what was safe to eat and what was not.

Also, several other points. They have a staff member standing in the buffet entrance to make sure that you disinfect your hands. He sings a little 'washy washy' song to the tune of a children's song... over and over and over and over and over again. I wanted to punch him every time I walked by. Horribly annoying.

Also, they keep the hot tubs at 95 degrees F. This is fine in the Caribbean, but too cold when it's 50 degrees with 20 mile an hour winds. The hot tubs would have been a perfect place to be in foul weather, but not on this ship.

Last but not least, my honey got vomiting and diarrhea. While I'm not blaming the ship since we both ate all the same things and I did not get sick, what I am complaining about was the way it was handled. I'm an ER and ICU nurse, so I know what I'm talking about, and cruise ships are NOTORIOUS for outbreaks of infectious diarrhea. So, I go to medical just to let them know and see if they wanted to test him for infectious diarrhea or quiz him about what food he ate, etc. in order to contain what could have been a budding outbreak. They could have not been less interested. The ONLY way they wanted to know about his illness is if he were to pay $150 to be treated. Well, he didn't need treatment, so they didn't have any interest in him. This was extremely concerning to me and, by itself was reason not to go back.

Their lack of interest in preventing an outbreak was equivalent to their lack of care with the food. Don't EVER cruise Norwegian.

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Great Ship
Publication Date: June 22, 2014

We took the Ryndam on a 14 day cruise of the Baltic hitting St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, Tallinn, Rostock, Copenhagen, and Aarhus, the typical ports. First let me briefly mention the ports. St. Petersburg was overwhelming. We took a two day tour as you can't go out on your own without a visa, which we didn't want to do. Good choice. I would never go out into St. Petersburg on my own, not because of safety but because it is so large and there is so much to see. We were exhausted after the two day tour but it was worth every penny. The other ports are fantastic and don't need any hype. We were surprised by Estonia as it was a delightful place and the historic area was a photographers delight. Let me add that we have been on almost 20 cruises and rank this overall as one of our best and favorite. It was nice not stopping in third world countries. In fact the quality of life is much higher in most of the countries we visited than it is in the United States, but the prices are

much higher also. Bottom line, we bought very little to bring home. Overall though, you just can't beat these ports. As a seasoned cruiser I want to focus this review on the Ryndam. We loved the ship.

When we arrived at Dover I was surprised by how small the Ryndam was. Our last three cruises have been on ships that are in the 130,000 ton range and the Ryndam is less than half that size. That is what made it so great. We walked down one deck to our dining room. We walked down one deck to the balcony of the theatre. We walked up two decks to the buffet and the pool. Everything else was in that 3-4 deck span. With only about 1200 passengers we never felt crowded, anywhere. Even in the buffet at peak times we could always find a place to sit. The passengers on the ship were mostly Americans, Canadians, Brits, and Aussies. There are nationalities that I don't like cruising with because they are pushy and rude. This combination was great. If there were open seats at your table people would just join you, a very friendly group. Holland American caters to an older crowd. I'm 69 and felt I was below the mean age. Maybe that is why the passengers were so relaxed and friendly. Back to the ship.

The food was very good and we had a nice variety. The hamburgers were they best we have ever had. They take your order and give you a buzzer so you can get it when it is done. They are smashed on the griddle and are just fantastic. They don't sit in a pile in a pan for a couple hours. The dining room menu was quite good and it seemed the portions were a little smaller which is perfect for a bunch of seniors. You can always order an extra meal which I did when I had the lamb chops. The service was as good as it gets, ship wide. The Captain lives in the Seattle area and was highly visible. His explanations of what was happening were clear and understandable. In Stockholm we anchored in the harbor and during the afternoon there was a brief microburst type storm that started pushing the ship harder than the anchors and side thrusters could handle which required a tug boat. He clearly explained the situation and we moved to a dock about 1/4 mile from where we were anchored. He also shared that this was the first time he had sailed these waters so it was a new adventure. We shared that adventure and had 100% confidence in his ability.

There were two other couples at our dinner table and they both booked another cruise on the Ryndam with the on-ship salesperson. We were told the ship would be in service only one more season and then would be retired. Running the smaller ship with older technology was not cost effective. My wife and I are looking at where we can squeeze in another cruise on the Ryndam before she leaves service.

So, what are the negatives? Small ship, so the entertainment cast isn't large so don't expect extravagant major productions. However, the individual acts they brought on were very good and well appreciated. hey do three shows most nights so the shows are only 45 minutes long, but that was OK with everyone. That's about all I can say negative. I hope they don't let it get to worn out by the end of its run, but right now I would rank it in our top three favorite ships.

If you want a great cruise experience, take the Ryndam, anywhere it goes. Glitz? No. Excitement and energy? LOL. Lavish entertainment? No. Non-stop excitement? NO. It was just a relaxing, uncrowded cruise with a great staff. Try and sale this ship before she goes. This type of cruise experience is being lost to the mega ships. Experience it before it is gone.

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