Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Allure wrap up!

So here we are, finally at the end of this marathon trip report! I wanted to just sort of wrap it up with some final thoughts on our experience overall....

If you've followed along in my past blog reviews, you can probably tell that we don't really have any particular loyalty to one particular cruise line. We tend to sail based on itinerary or go when there's a promotion that works best for our family. We ended up on the Allure because way back was "the" ship to want to be on! After we sailed on the Epic, we really wanted to try another big ship and see what we thought. And then suddenly this great deal came up and we were booked! I kept saying that we weren't sailing for the itinerary, it was all about the ship. I honestly had no interest in the ports - Jamaica, I felt we could take it or leave it. Labadee - in the past we haven't really been beach type of cruisers, so sure, maybe it would be fine, maybe...but Cozumel - I do love Cozumel! So the ship was our focus! 

Then in the meantime, the kids and I sailed on the Norwegian, Breakaway and wow, we LOVED it! We had such a great time! We loved that ship! And I started to wonder if the Allure would live up to that ship? The Breakaway had the ropes course and the slides and the entertainment was great! The dining options were fantastic! We sailed to Bermuda, which blew me away! How could the Allure compare? 

So, the time was getting near and I was scrambling to come up with things to do in each port...finally I got to surprise the kids with the big trip announcement at Christmas and they could be in on the planning and it all started to be real!

And then it was time to sail! Walking on board we were totally wowed by the size alone! Sure, you do feel like you're inside a shopping mall - but it's one pretty amazing ship! We weren't thrilled with the buffet at all though. We went there for lunch that first day and were totally underwhelmed. Same with breakfast the next morning and I think we tried the buffet maybe one more time. Of all of the food venues, this was our least favorite. And probably of all of the ships we've sailed on, the buffet here was also our least favorite. But, not to worry because we never went hungry! There were so many other places we could eat! Places to eat at no charge for breakfast or lunch. We had no problem.

The pools - with 5000+ people on board, sure, there were not many open chairs, but I honestly don't think it ever felt over crowded. I think the whole pool area with the multiple pools and the pool decks was a great layout. The size of the pools even, for a cruise ship- great! We're not big fans of sea days but on this ship, we never felt like there was a lack of things to do. Be it time at the pool or our scavenger hunts or ice skating or who knows what!

Yet, that being said, on the flip side, the nightly entertainment felt lacking to me. Sure, there was always that "one" big show - but other than that, it often felt like there wasn't always something going on. I'm used to more Comedy shows that aren't always 18+, or for example, on the Breakaway the jazz or dueling pianos, or there's almost always some type of entertainment in their atrium. Here, if you weren't at a show, or in a bar - then what? Well, we walked around aimlessly. Not always a bad thing - but we did feel something was missing a bit.

And that brings me to something else - the teen club. Alex has always loved the teen clubs since he's been old enough to be a part of them. So, at least 4, maybe 5 cruises. Megan has liked the older kid clubs at times, and even on our last cruise - on Celebrity with only 12 teens on board the cruise they enjoyed the teen club. Here on the Allure, they went to the meet & greet night, tried to fit in. Then the next day showed up for what they thought would be scheduled activities. Those activities never happened. Same thing next time they showed up. So, they eventually just stopped going. They didn't want to go to just sit around in a closed in room with a bunch of kids they didn't know "hanging" out - when they could be outside, even if it meant being with their parents. If there would have been the games, or scavenger hunts, or activities going on, they definitely would have participated. But there wasn't. That probably was the biggest disappointment for the kids. On a typical cruise, after dinner, the kids, especially Alex - would go to the teen club and come back to the cabin at curfew - he would make new friends and have a blast. Megan may or may not - she likes the shows so it depends on what would be going on on what she'd do. But this cruise - Alex often just went back to the cabin and watched tv because each time he went to the teen club at night - they were just sitting around talking. 

The ports.....this was probably the most pleasant surprise for me. Labadee - we loved. I can't express just how much we enjoyed this day! I honestly would probably take a cruise just specifically to visit Labadee again! I'm not sure that I would get another cabana, but it was as close to a perfect beach day as one could have had. If only the wave runners wouldn't have been cancelled because of high winds!

Jamaica - Keith and I have been to Jamaica a few times in the past and it's never been one of my "must go back to with the kids" vacations. It's just ok to me. Not great, not bad, just ok. But our day at the Blue Hole and river tubing was so unique! Being in such a small group made it so nice and not doing something like Dunn's River Falls, which Keith and I have done before and really found not really all that enjoyable because of the crowds....made this trip so memorable!

Cozumel - well, one word - Manatees! What an experience! I just love Mexico, especially the Riviera Maya and Cozumel areas. No complaints about our day there. Loved Chankanaab and hope to return!

We had a really great cabin steward and had no complaints about either of our cabins. The service on the Allure was very complaints there at all.

I think the Allure has such a unique feel, with the Boardwalk and Central Park - it's definitely a ship that I'm so glad to have sailed! I'm eyeing the Harmony of the Seas, taking the best of the Allure but adding slides and more!  This vacation ranks up there with the best of the best!  Thanks for reading along!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ft Lauderdale, after our cruise! 2/15/15

Here we are....docked and ready to leave the Allure. Not my favorite picture, but we're on our balcony, and saying hello Ft. Lauderdale, bye bye Allure!  

Now, when we booked the cruise, you may get the impression from me that I love to vacation right? So for whatever reason, I decided to book a flight home at 9:20 PM! Sure, extend that vacation as long as possible! We get an extra day in Ft. Lauderdale without having to pay for a hotel for another night! Fantastic! But what in the world were we going to do in Ft. Lauderdale??? No beach, we didn't want sandy clothes, wet bathing suits and all that mess if we had to get on a plane later that night! 

We could do a Segway Tour! That sounds fun! But Megan had her doubts...would she run off the sidewalk, crashing into traffic and cause a major accident in Ft. Lauderdale? Seriously...this is her issue. 

We couldn't use the luggage express because our flight was too hotels in the area worked for a day was looking grim. 

So, we decided we'd rent a car and go to the Everglades! Now, Megan was petrified! In 4th grade she had a teacher that showed them some movie about snakes - pythons in particular and how they could get loose and kill people. Well, apparently when people got tired of their pythons, they let them loose in the Everglades. I suppose? And so, she was picturing the Everglades OVERRUN with giant pythons suffocating and eating people left and right! Now, she's been to Florida many times. I'm pretty sure she's been through the Everglades before! But she insisted NO WAY would she go to the Everglades! Well....guess what...she was going! 

Anyway....since we were renting the car, for some reason, I thought we'd just check the luggage off and let Royal Caribbean take care of it. So we had our assigned time to disembark. Of the entire trip, the was the only time I had a complaint. It was the most disorganized mess ever!

First our number was called....we go to the Main Dining Room area to wait. 

I can't even tell you how long we waited, but given the fact that our number was called to go there, we should have had a pretty short wait. Well, we probably waited at least an hour there. Finally we asked if we could just leave. They told us we could, but our luggage may not be ready. Really?

So then we walk down to the customs area...the line to even get to the luggage, another 40 minutes or so. Then there was our luggage, right in our section. Then line to go through customs...oh, another 40 minutes! It probably took 3 hours to get off the ship and out the door. Never again....we will do self disembark and walk off before the masses! We've done that on our past cruises and never had to wait like that!

Now, you'd think we were home free right? No.....we're renting a car! So, I picked National I think. They have a bus that comes into the port to pick you up. No organization whatsoever in the line. Someone needed to be there to let people know that they could NOT just go up to the front of the line and think they could walk right onto the bus! What is a line? I don't get that. So, we waited probably another 40 minutes for the bus!

It was then that I thought my 9:20 flight might not have been all that late in the long run! We may barely make it! 

We finally got our car and were on the road to our Everglades adventure! Whew.......

After looking through all of the different Everglade Airboat tours we could do, we decided to go to Billie Swamp Safari. It may have been one of the farthest ones, but we did have quite a bit of time...well, we should have anyway! But we figured they had a lot there and got good reviews. So, why not! Off we went out into the Seminole Indian Reservation.....I'd say it was probably after 2:30 by the time we got to the Indian Reservation

On the way there were some areas of the everglades that were on fire, and we saw a helicopter dropping water to try to put the fires out, and there were some firetrucks on the ground as well. 

And we finally arrived! We scheduled both the air boat ride and the Swamp Buggy Ride.....

And are they finally starting to look tired? Or is it Megan's fear of pythons and Alex's total annoyance at her fear of pythons showing in this picture? You be the judge of this one? Here we're waiting for our ride on the airboat!

Not sure what that face is by Alex, but we're on board! And it was a really fun ride! Even Megan finally realized she probably wasn't going to die by the end!

During part of the ride we'd go fast and the water would spray, and it was like being in a movie! And then we'd go slow and look for wildlife, including alligators....and then we went into the more jungley area (yes, I made that word up) and our guide told us about the park area and the wildlife there and we spent about 5 minutes just sitting there looking around, asking questions. It was very cool!

Little turtle here on a log!

It was really beautiful there

Another airboat coming up behind us!

There is also a Florida Panther, which they say has the largest enclosure in South Florida....

They have a reptile show and bird show as well, but since we got there so late, we didn't do those things. We walked around a bit until our time for the buggy tour. They also have these cabins that I suppose people camp in. Some looked like they may have been in use, others looked like they haven't been used for years. It's hard to tell though with cabins! The ones by the swamp looked more recently used! They're listed on the website with pricing though!

We did see some alligators while on the airboat, but not close enough to see with the camera, so they do have some in an enclosure!

And then it was time for our Swamp Buggy Tour! 

This would be a Swamp Buggy! So, instead of going through the water, we go over land! And yes, quite a few deep puddles!

Our view as we drive through the swampy jungle! It was quite a bumpy ride!

Some orange trees!

They had a little display of a Seminole Village set up!

How cute is this?

This guy was pretty cute wandering around!

After our buggy tour, we got changed into our "at home winter long pants, YUCK" in the bathroom....

and took one last vacation selfie.....

it was time to head back to reality...

We left and back to the airport we went. We made it back in plenty of time. Ate dinner at the airport and felt the timing was just fine. Our flight home was uneventful, as we all hope it should be!

So that about sums up our last day! I will come back with another post on our thoughts about the Allure....I know I pretty much covered most of it during the actual trip report, but I do have some final thoughts to share!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Our last night on the Allure of the Seas! 2/14/15

After our day out on deck doing everything we didn't do all week, it was time to head back in to get ready for dinner. But on the way, we wanted to stop for a quick picture

Dinner tonight was at Giovanni's Table, the Italian restaurant. Before dinner, we took a bit of a walk around the ship, just taking some pictures. 

As the sun was setting tonight the sky was a really unique color, and everything around had this pretty cool hue....

The picture is blurry...but just look at the sky and the horizon! It's all so flat!

And now it's dinner time! 5:30 reservations at Giovanni's Table. So, we made it through the entire week with our pre-set dinner reservations. It was such a challenge to decide before the cruise what time we'd want to eat every night! I know people who do the traditional dining do this all the time, but we never do this! As you see, we like the speciality dining, and we knew we'd have to make reservations in advance, and then lining them up with the port times and show times - wow - that was a challenge! Not to mention that by the time I did go to make the reservations, a lot of times were already blocked out! But, here it is, our last night and we did it! Every time worked out. Did I like every time, no, not all of them. But they were ok...I like a much later meal when we don't have plans afterwards...but Keith likes an early meal - so for him, that's fine! But tonight, an early dinner - ok, because we have the dreaded packing to finish up.... so sad!

Anyway, here's Megan at dinner! Mostly the picture is supposed to show what the restaurant looks like! It was cute. 

We liked our meal. I remember that. Right now, I have pretty much no memory of what any of us ordered though! Sorry! But it was good, the service was good, and I think it was one of our favorites!

During our meal, Alex - from Madagascar that is, came by outside in Central Park. We the kids and I went out after we ordered our food and before it came to get some pictures! We're a bit crazy like that I guess!

One of my favorites! Alex and Alex!

This is Alex's no more paparazzi picture.....

A few more pictures around Central Park before we said goodbye!  This is them standing right on that circle, right smack in the center of the ship...

This is the bottom of the Rising Tide bar! We never did have a drink while taking a ride....another trip I suppose!

150 Central Park....Keith and I thought about going here one night for dinner. But we stuck with our original choices. Again, another time!

A quick walk by the Cupcake Cupboard

I'm trying to figure out when I packed....obviously I did! So, what I can come up with is that after dinner we went back to the cabins and I started packing. I kicked everyone out because I have my way of packing to make unpacking and laundry easy and there comes a point where helping is just well, NOT helping anymore! So they went to the "Selection of Fountains" show at the Aqua Theater. Peace and quiet for me to do a quick finish of packing! By the time they got back, I was about done. Usually we carry off our own luggage, but for some reason I thought it made sense to put the luggage out and pick it up with the 2 million other bags at the port. So, I got everything packed, kept out our clothes for disembarking, and then the kids and I went to the Family Comedy show at 10:30! 

On the way....

A quick trip to the Boardwalk

We haven't had ice cream yet from the Ice Cream Parlor! Time for a stop!

We were seeing a comedy show, so of course we went to the Comedy Club right? Well, we were there, and we were waiting....only turns out, the Family show was in the regular theater! Ok, no problem - but we did get some pictures of the whole area down by the comedy area!

Studio B where the Ice Skating/Ice Shows are

The comedy show was good. Nice family humor, and the Amber Theater was full. It was a good ending to the cruise. Afterwards, the kids and I walked around and Megan went CRAZY with the art filters on my, here you go!  Just a couple of probably about 20 pictures that she took!

It must have been fairly late since most of the pictures have no one else in them!

And then when I got back to my cabin, I had this....see, Keith is sound asleep in half the bed, but he'd slide the towel art over and keep it nice and arranged so I could take a picture.

Sadly that pretty much wraps up the Allure part of the trip! I have a full day in Ft. Lauderdale though that I'll share. And coming up are some final thoughts about the cruise, the ports, and the ship.