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With the introduction of the new Allure of the Seas, Royal Caribbean has created a class of cruise ships that has passengers paying more to be entertained, instead of a focusing on a true seafaring experience. Of course, it is a cruise (not a fishing boat), but are the extra frills worth shelling out hundreds more than other cruise ships? After all, staterooms are packed like sardines and you’ll have to share the ship with 5,000 other passengers. Despite the close living quarters, the Allure of the Seas can impress even the most die-hard cynic, but the Allure’s true value depends on your own definition of “vacation,” and how well you take advantage of what’s included.
With a starting price tag of around $800 per person for interior cabins on a seven-night Caribbean cruise (before taxes), the Allure of the Seas (and sister ship Oasis) are in the same pricing bracket as smaller, more upscale cruise lines. The advantage of choosing one of Royal Caribbean's giants is the plethora of options available to passengers, and while most choices are bundled in the cruise fare, others (primarily specialty restaurants) are additional. With 37 different types of staterooms and suites, more than 22 dining options (yes, there’s a Starbucks), and an endless array of entertainment, it’s easy to see why passengers are digging deeper into their pockets and paying the higher rates.
During my time aboard the Allure’s two-night preview sailing, I was able to catch a sneak peak of the water show at the Aqua Theater, the signature open-air venue on the back of the ship. Even though I saw just 15 minutes of this "preview" performance, I was in awe. These were bona fide divers, combined with theatrics, lighting effects, and a spectacular fountain show. It might not be as highly acclaimed as “O” by Cirque du Soleil, but it’s on the back of a ship! There are even suites with private wrap-around balconies overlooking the action. Unless you have several thousand dollars to spend for the birds-eye-view, head to the theater early and grab a free seat in front.
The main event on the ship is the Broadway musical, "Chicago" (which wasn’t available on our preview cruise), but the evening offers so much more: from karaoke, comedy shows, and ice skating shows to clubs, lounges, and street parties – all of which are highlighted in your Cruise Compass, the daily activity schedule that is delivered to your stateroom. Daytime events include dance classes, poker tournaments, trivia, yoga, and aerobics – and that’s in addition to the zip line, rock climbing walls, ice skating shows, and surf simulators – all of which are free to cruisers. (Make reservations early, the space fills quickly!) Carry the compass with you, save the sun bathing for the beach, and you’ll never have a dull moment on board. Interactive touch-screen kiosks are found at each elevator which also give you the inside scoop on what’s going on and where, as well as which restaurants have the most availability.
With so many dining venues on board, I was surprised that the main galley services the entire ship, including the Adagio dining room which seats 2,900 on three separate floors – each with a kitchen of its own. Everything is transferred from the galley along the main artery which runs the length of the vessel, dubbed I95 (after the ever-crowded highway that connects Fort Lauderdale and Miami). Each item is made to order by the 228 cooks on board and then delivered to your table by one of 1,070 food service workers.
The Samba Grill is one of the many “specialty” dining options that add to the entertainment factor on board, and is available for a $25 additional charge to passengers. In the evenings, the Solarium Bistro, which serves healthy, vegetarian-friendly cuisine, is transformed into just the opposite: a Brazilian Steakhouse complete with Samba dancers and endless samplings of sirloin and filet mignon sliced right at your table. As long as the light box on your table is green, they will keep serving. Don’t forget to switch it to red when you are ready for dessert!
The ports of call the Allure calls on aren’t exactly “off the path.” Depending on itinerary, the ship sails to Nassau, St. Thomas, Cozumel, and others that are overflowing with cruise passengers. Needless to say, the price tag you’ll be paying is not for an “authentic” travel experience, but an amusement park ride that drops you off in the unavoidable gift shop. If the vacation you are looking for is just a break from the day to day and a chance to be thoroughly amused, then the additional cost is well worth the money. The ship itself is the adventure, so make the most of what is offered during your time on board.