Friday, March 31, 2017

Royal Caribbean: Allure of the Seas

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Prior to this cruise we had cruised on the Disney Fantasy and its sister ship the Disney Dream. We loved them both and we were pretty nervous about going with another cruiseline because Disney customer service and cleanliness are second to none.

We had 7 people to pay for on this trip and additional family and friends that joined in the fun so we decided to try to be more careful with cost. For this spring break trip we spent almost half the amount on a Royal Caribbean cruise as we would have on a Disney cruise.

I have been pleasantly surprised. First, it is clean and the employees are friendly. The food has been good and even great in spots. (I would still easily rate Disney food higher). This is an enormous ship but it rarely feels crowded. I have always found empty seats and really enjoy the adult only "Solarium". There's a pool, hot tubs, bar and plenty of chairs to relax in. The sign says 16+ for the age but my mature 15 year olds walked in unquestioned. I assume had they been loud or obnoxious they would have asked to see their ID.

Who is this ship for?  I would suggest it to any group of adults, people with children can take kids to a kids club on board. We don't have anyone that age so we don't have first hand knowledge.  As far as teens go, I think mine have had a blast but it is definitely because we have such a large group. They are constantly grabbing each other for a soccer game, ziplining, rock climbing, putt putting and laying by the pools. They have gone to shows and comedy shows together. I cannot imagine this trip as an individual family with older teens. Kids 13 and younger would probably go to the kids club and make friends pretty easily. If you are planning to go with older kids I would take a friend or invite another family to join in the fun so your kids can hang out.  Unlike our European trip there is a ton of down time. In Europe my kids enjoyed each other and we were going on one tour or excursion after another with plenty to do. Here you make up your plans as you go and I am convinced my kids would have whined or been bored if they didn't have friends and grandparents along to spend time with them. Keep in mind they are without their precious electronics so boys, especially, would struggle with being still. Girls will go sunbathe and are more likely to hang with mom. You know your family best so you will know how they will do without constant activities. Again, it has been a blast but I am thrilled they have a lot of people in our group of 13 to hang out with!

There are sports (soccer, mini golf, ice skating, basketball, wave surfing, ziplining, rock climbing and more) all included with no cost. There are plenty of places to eat including 24 hour room service that is complimentary but you should have some $1's to tip and there's a 24 hour restaurant.   I have heard some complaints of people that generally do Carnival that they prefer the 24 hour buffet offered there. Disney and Royal Caribbean do not have that option.

I have talked to others onboard to ask comparisons between Royal and Carnival. An employee that works for the stores so she has been on other cruiselines told me that she would rank Carnival at the bottom on amenities and food, then Royal then Holland. Of course that is also the order of pricing! She feels there is A LOT more drinking on Carnival (maybe it's cheaper??) so people don't care what they are eating. I have also talked to a family that prefers Carnival but they love the sun and the pools. So, they don't have an interest in the rest of the activities on board and prefer the Carnival set up with buffets 24 hours a day right by the pool. With a young child they find that a lot easier to negotiate to keep everyone happy.

My teens love it, they have eaten a ridiculous amount of food including lots of desserts, ice cream and cheeseburgers. They have played almost every sport and taken breaks to see the beauty surrounding them and relax for an afternoon nap.

My mom is temporarily in a wheelchair and she has had to use the elevators the entire trip. Thank goodness Royal Caribbean outshines Disney on this one! Disney elevators were painfully slow and we would just walk the stairs. We have not had much trouble at all getting around even with a large group.

Disney has free movies in the room and free brand new movies showing every day in their theater onboard. Royal Caribbean charges $12/movie to watch rentals in your room. There is a broadway style show currently "Momma Mia" and Comedy shows as well as a casino (won't find that on Disney).  There are also dance clubs and aquashows.

Ports we visited on this trip:
  • Nassau, thanks?  Well, for any avid cruisers you know that a stop in Nassau seems to be the norm. I would not even get off the ship at this stop unless you plan an excursion to go to a beach or have never been to the Caribbean.  There is a straw market and a street of stores but it is all very touristy and the shop owners are very pushy which I don't like at all. They yell at you and talk to you even when you are trying to move on. My kids that have traveled a lot would rather stay onboard the empty ship. It is quick to get on and off so if you have never been it might be worth the experience to see it but you will never want to get off there again :-)
  • St Thomas: This is an American Territory so you can often use cell phones free. We decided to spend a day at the beach here and after some research decided on Magen's Bay. It was an $8/person open air trolley ride each way to and from the ship and an additional $5/person entry fee. It ended up being about $21/person for this trip and we were at the beach 11-4:30  We had people from 4-66 years old and had a great day. The further you walk down the beach you can find much less busy areas.The water is clear and the kids floated, laid out, went on some walking adventures and snorkeled with gear their grandpa brought.  A hamburger was $10/person and renting chairs was $8 each.  We brought towels from the ship and ate a huge breakfast before we left. We had our smuggled waters we brought and my mom had taken a big beach bag to breakfast to bring muffins and fruit and goldfish crackers. We were famished and burnt upon our return, it was a great day!
If we booked this as an excursion it was $49/person, we spent $21/person  Since we are a family of 7 that was nearly a $200 savings to do it ourselves. If you book your excursion with the cruiseline you are guaranteed a return to the ship and you can make plans in advance. We decided it wasn't far away and we returned earlier than necessary.
Items to bring:
    • beach bag to bring smuggled breakfast snacks including fruit, muffins (so bring ziplock bags on board) and boxes of cereal, bottled water
    • liquid sunscreen, reapply throughout the day and pay special attention to tops of feet.
    • a hat will save the top of your head, bring one that can be washed
    • snorkel equipment
    • towels from ship
    • charged phone for pictures
    • cash for driver and $5 entry fee ($21/person)

  •  St. Maarten: We decided to look through the local shops and wander the port since we had been in the sun the previous day. There is a $7/person roundtrip water taxi to take you directly to the market area. We opted to walk the mile instead. This is where the kids were able to pick up $1 sodas which made sense compared to the $60 drink cards on ship! The shops ranged from island shops with tshirts, sundresses, hats and bags at cheap prices for cheaply made products to much nicer and more expensive duty free shopping.  The walk was fine even with a stroller and wheelchair however it did get very hot. My husband enjoyed the walk as the local vendors were all selling bottles of beer for $2 each with local beers. Upon arriving at the other side we realized the water taxi was taking people not only to the shops but a large beach area. This is very easily accessible without paying for an excursion and you can see the ship the whole time.

Allure of the Seas is divided into different areas which we really enjoyed exploring. There is Central Park where live plants grow and sounds of crickets and birds are piped in at night. This was a really nice place to stop after dinner and listen to live music or stroll through. Park Cafe is the complimentary restaurant on this floor with excellent made to order salads and carved roast beef sandwiches.

There is also a Boardwalk with a delicious complimentary hot dog/sausage dog restaurant with Johnny Rockets for an additional fee.

Finally, there is the Promenade that has a pizza restaurant called Sorrento's that is complimentary and you can choose from the pizzas premade and available or make one to order.

Cruising is a neat experience for kids because they meet people from all over the world working on the ship and traveling. Our room attendant, Jose, is from Guatemala so we immediately loved him since two of our boys are also from Guatemala!

Disney has tea, lemonade, coffee and soda included. Royal charges for a weekly soda cup and it is $60-70/person. We didn't buy the soda cups because we can get by on tea and water. I noticed two things. First, there aren't that many soda fountains, I would be annoyed if I spent that much then was not able to get enough refills. Next, they say you cannot bring on bottled water or soda. We brought on a case of water in a suitcase with no problem. I figure if they take it we would be out $4.  It was worth the risk. Next, we saw people walking on to the ship carrying cases of soda unquestioned! Completely visible red cream if I was a soda addict I would definitely give that a shot!  One of the teens with us bought soda for $1/can in Saint Maarten right off the ship and carried it back in inside of a backpack and it was not taken.

Alcohol cannot be brought on board.  They will take it! Alcohol onboard ranges from $8-12/glass or bottle of beer.

  • Make or buy door magnets to make your door more recognizable.
  • Internet is about $90 in advance for one device. We did that for our business. I was pleased to realize you can login to your computer and later your phone using only one code. You can only be logged into one device at a time.
  • Call your cell carrier to see what the international plan covers. My Sprint plans allows international calling in some countries at a discount and free texting and data.
  • Bring clip magnets to hang your itineraries and room documents on any surface, you are inside a ship so every wall is magnetic.
  • Keeping track of where everyone is can be a hassle. We have $2 dry erase boards on every door to communicate throughout the day. 
  • Storage is limited because the rooms truly are small don't be excessive in packing
  • bring books and magazines if you enjoy reading
  • obviously you will need more sunscreen than normal as you will be in and out of water and it is very tropical, we don't feel the spray sunscreens can compete with the Caribbean sun so I would suggest higher than normal SPF levels and liquid sunscreen.
  • In all dining rooms remember you can truly order anything you want. My teen boys have ordered two appetizers and two entrees most nights.  
  • When booking your vacation you choose Main (around 6 pm) Late (8pm) or Any Time dining. There are two dining rooms if you are placed in Main or Late but the Any Time diners go to American Icon for dinner any time you want. You can make reservations in advance if you have a specific time between 5:30-9:30 you would like to dine but we have really enjoyed the flexibility to just show up and be seated in a standby line whenever we would like each day. I am a planner so this surprises me but it has been very nice to be plan free.
  • Food at dinner is the same in the three dining rooms. Women mostly wear sundresses and the men wear khaki pants or nice khaki shorts with polos.  Two nights of the week are formal nights, many men wear jackets or long sleeve button up shirts with ties. My crew is pretty informal and no one seems disturbed at our dark pants and polo shirts with nicer dresses but certainly not cocktail dresses for us girls.
  • The fourth option at dinner is Windjammers Buffet, My boys love it because they can stuff themselves silly. But I don't think the food is nearly as good as in the restaurants.
  • For breakfast there are options all over the ship and the fresh fruit is great. 
  • Lunch is also spread out with the daily buffets in Windjammers and a smaller buffet in the solarium for guests 16+, bagels and sandwiches in Park Cafe are very good and donuts on the boardwalk. 
  • There are quite a few places to pay an upcharge for finer dining or Ben and Jerry's ice cream or candy by the ounce. We didn't bother with any of that. Our teens certainly value quantity over quality!