Here you’ll find our dispatches as our intrepid colleagues John and Dan explore Allure of the Seas, report on happenings and snap photos.
(11 p.m.) — A Cruise Ship Horticulturalist? Bonifacio was picking up and bagging dry leaves from the red-edged dracaena plants lining one of Central Park’s walkways. He studied plants in his native Philippines and honed his shrub work working for a horticulture company in the Middle East. A different climate indeed, and he’s now tackling the challenge of Caribbean humidity in cruise travel’s second-ever at-sea park. Of course, he’s just as surprised as we are that such a job exists.
(November 21, 9 p.m.) — Slice up the dance floor, then grab a slice. After some serious rug-cutting in Allure’s nightclub Blaze, many passengers wander upstairs to the Royal Promenade, Corona or cocktail in hand, for a slice at Sorrento’s. “I’m going to take it back to the room,” says one fading woman wielding a triangle-shaped pizza box. Most order a couple slices and grab a seat. Either way, you can opt for the pre-made varieties (cheese, pepperoni and two rotating specials) or pick ingredients like arugula, ham and mushrooms, and make your own. It’s more Ellio’s frozen sponge than Brooklyn’s wood-fired finest, but it does the trick for those night hawks who like a bit of social buzz with their early a.m. munchies. While Sorrento’s technically closes at 3 a.m., Mike, who works for the cruise director, told us he’s yet to see it people — or pizza — free.
No tickets required, so I just wandered into the balcony and grabbed a seat in the front row. That’s a mistake, future “Chicago”-ans: There’s a poorly placed safety rail there that’s exactly eye-height, so if you want to enjoy the dancing (and the show is a Bob Fosse masterpiece), you’re going to want to be up higher. Natch, I moved, but if the theater is crowded you’re going to want to keep that in mind. Bottom line: It’s a Broadway caliber breath-taker that’s probably too adult for younger ones but perfect for everyone else who wants a sophisticated night at the theater. A sophisticated night of theater at sea? Whudda thunk it?
In a week on Allure, they’ll go through…
*4,000 pounds of broccoli
*18,000 pounds of watermelon
*1,500 pounds of lobster tail
*7,000 pounds of lettuce
One more dining-related data point: Jahn, who is constantly walking the ship to survey his restaurant empire, once wore a pedometer on Oasis of the Seas, where he worked previously (also as executive chef). When all was said and one, he covered some 14 miles — in a day.
That is, until the Rising Tide bar began descending from the ceiling and the black-and-white antiheroes of the “Madagascar” flicks could be seen shaking their oversized booties. Two women next to me almost ran me over to get closer to them . . . and they were followed by their husbands. Soon, there were hundreds huddled together enjoying the show, if not exactly dancing. For 45 minutes or so, the ship staff tried their best to make people move it, move it. No prude here, but when the faux Village People started dirty dancing with some of the guests, I was ready for the big mirrored ball to stop spinning, but there’s no denying it was a fun time. And did I mention there were penguins?
Rita’s Cantina ($7.95 upcharge), ostensibly serving Mexican food, replaced Oasis’ Seafood Shack on the Boardwalk.
The 2,500 onboard this preview cruise were eager to taste test the new venue, and accordingly, the line stretched across the width of the Boardwalk. Pagers were handed out so we could wander while we waited, ultimately for about 45 minutes, for a table.
Two different waiters and 30 minutes after being seated, I was finally scooping guacamole onto chips, and digging into something called “Chichen Itza,” a chicken mole dish, and “quesadilla pie.” There was nothing pie-like about quesadilla pie — it was a standard tortilla triangle filled with cheese — and a cute name couldn’t save the food from being sodden with oil.
The chicken dish, which was a hair’s breadth above TV dinner quality, had me questioning the validity of Rita’s surcharge (which happily, I didn’t have to pay on this preview cruise). The guacamole fared the best. Well, that and the on-the-house tequila.
“It was really great earlier,” he told me, “but the ‘70s party is killing me. I’m not sure I’ll get them back when it’s over, but come back afterward and let’s see.” He told me he might just call it a night, but just in case, I popped back in at 12:15 a.m. to find a smallish crowd and Matt ready to spring into action. Wearing a sparkly hat and carrying a wand adorned with shiny ribbons, Matt starts the late-night version of his Adult Sing-Along, belting out oldies but goodies (“Margaritaville,” Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” — just about anything you know the words to) and dragging unsuspecting barhounds into the act.
There was a quartet of drunks behind me near the bar, one of whom shouted “Freebird!” Right. Now shut up. Matt ignored them, but ultimately won them over – not only did they move closer to Matt’s piano, but they were among the first to jump and kick their heels to “New York, New York.” When I left about an hour later, the place was mobbed, and Matt was frown-free.
(8 p.m.) — Ship-geek (and we’re right with you on that) photo of the day-week-month-year: the two most innovative passenger vessels ever conceived meet up off the coast of Florida.
It’s a hair-on-neck raising moment for us.
(7:14 p.m.) — Open up … and say “eeeewww.” OK, it wasn’t that bad, but color my experience at the Spa Café, just outside the Vitality Spa, disappointing. Somehow, I’ve forgotten to eat much on the ship (go figure). So, eager to try something different I headed to Deck 6 to sample a juice concoction and some healthy-ish chow.
Let’s just credit it to opening weekend jitters, but the staff seemed disoriented and not all that aware of the healthful concoctions on the menu. After fumbling around for about 5 minutes assembling the apples, grapes and lemon comprising my selection, it took another 10 minutes to actually blend it all together.
It all involved a lot of chopping behind the counter, and the actual juicification process wasn’t helped when the device fell apart. The cost? $6. I think the manpower alone was worth more than that, but the end product was warm and not particularly appetizing. I used it to wash down a soggy, sloppy turkey wrap, confident at least that I wasn’t adding too many calories into my day. Plus it got me to the spa, and those treatments sure looked tantalizing. More about that later.
(4:45 p.m.) — There’s nearly a full moon shining on Allure of the Seas as it takes its first spin with guests into the Atlantic (I shot this photo last night), but the high winds are making it a bit tough to enjoy it on the top decks.
Here’s the fanciful kids’ pool illuminated at night – and if you look really closely you can see whitecaps. The breeze is expected to continue on the brisk side throughout Saturday, though it hasn’t impacted any activities.
(3:56 p.m.) — Toilet paper controversy. In Allure’s $16,000-per-person (peak season or so they say), 1,524-square-foot Royal Loft Suite, you’d think you’d get something a little more pillowy than “Heavenly Choice” double-layer in the heads.
That’s the same offered to those of us in standard accommodations. If they can include a grand piano on the first floor, a huge whirlpool on the balcony and big flat-screens in every room, they can certainly afford to replace the sand paper with Cottenelle. With aloe. And vitamin E. “If that’s going to be the deal breaker,” said the spokesman on hand with a chuckle, “We’ll arrange something.”
(3:10 p.m.) — The Boardwalk Dog House, another new venue (no surcharge), has been thronged over the past two days, with folks waiting for 15-plus minutes to sink their teeth into the Austrian-style wunderdog (skinny wiener inserted into a hollowed out roll) or a German brat with sauerkraut.
There’s a smiling hot dog character wearing a Hawaiian shirt (pictured in the background) — staff didn’t know if he had an official name — who looked ready to take on the world. In contrast, the 20 people craving tubed meat wore their hunger on their sleeves.
If there’s a line like this on Allure’s first not-full sailing, what’s it going to be like when there are 6,000 people onboard? We’ll predict chaos though Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. Chairman and CEO Richard Fain addressed the issue during a press briefing today. He said they’d figure something out. Too much queuing is unacceptable.
Speaking of lines, Rita’s Cantina had the same problem. Stay tuned for our review of that new-to-Royal Caribbean eatery.
(2:45 p.m.) — Zip-line. “How was it?” the zip-line safety guy asked as he unhooked the harness of a passenger who’d just zipped. “It should have been about three miles longer,” answered the zipper. Safety guy chortled, and a reference to a more exhilarating zip in Costa Rica followed.
“My heart was pounding a little when I stepped on the platform,” said another rider. “But it was pretty slow.” One woman was more fearful of getting stuck in the middle than the height. Still, no speed no worries. The views are one-of-a-kind — remember, you’re floating above a Coney Island-styled boardwalk in the middle of the ocean — and it seems a thrilling enough way to spend 30 seconds on a sunny day.
(1:03 p.m.) — The DreamWorks Express. So what does Jeffrey Katzenberg, head honcho at DreamWorks have to say about his new relationship with RCL? Well, it’s better than his relationship with what he calls “the other D company.” (That’s Disney for those who haven’t been keeping up — Katzenberg ended his reign there on a rocky note.)
The megamind behind hits like the “Shrek” franchise, “Kung Fu Panda” and, uh, the current blockbuster “Megamind” spoke during a “media immersion” session about the entertainment side of Allure. Not surprising, Katzenberg is more than happy with the results of the union and its output, saying, “There has never been better work than what you’ve seen today.”
He was referring to the DreamWorks parade that rocked the Royal Promenade at 10:30 this morning, and, well, I have to agree. With more than 90 performers — including dudes on stilts, costumed daredevils on bikes and all the DreamWorks characters you have sitting on shelves in your DVD collection — it was an all-encompassing smile machine (and choreographed so well you would have sworn it’s been done a thousand times before).
A few observations for those of you on an Allure trip coming up:
1. Get there early — when this ship is packed with kids, it’s going to be a madhouse.
2. Try to stand by the Sorrento’s pizzeria or across from it. That’s the hub of the activity where everyone meets and starts performing.
3. Head up to a balcony for better pictures — there’s so much stuff going on you’ll be woefully at odds at where to point and shoot.
One final observation: The final song played was “If They Could See Me Now,” which more than one wit observed was Carnival’s theme song for a spell. Hmm….
(12:47 p.m.) — The Shopping Mall. I just finished making my rounds of the shops on Allure, and here’s what I came away with: Man, I hate to shop. That said, there are lots of choices onboard, most of which make me glad my wife isn’t along for this sojourn. From $12 -per-pound-candy on the Boardwalk to a ridiculously chichi $7,500 Fendi watch at Regalia Fine Jewelry (who buys this stuff?).
And I don’t want to hear the “But it’s duty-free!” argument; the ship has got potential consumers in its crosshairs from every angle.
Have to admit: I came this close to buying a “Captain Salty and Pepper” animated bear whose parrot sings “Hot, Hot, Hot: ($29.95, in the ship’s swag store on the Royal Promenade), but common sense beat out fatigue.
I may be going back to Willow for the two-for-$20 natural gemstone bracelets for the aforementioned spouse (don’t tell her, please), and, surprisingly enough, I’d return to the first Guess on the seven seas if I trusted my taste in handbags.
Then again, I suppose I could trust Judy Raju, who runs the Royal Promenade store for the chain. She wasn’t too busy when I strolled in and gladly led me on an unflinching tour of the mod boutique. When I asked “What’s your favorite bag here?” she marched me over to a $120 number that she then proudly modeled for me.
Judy, who was last on the Oasis of the Seas, has been jumping from one ship to another since 2006 and loves the life. I got the sense she wishes more people were actually buying than browsing, but she’s confident her inventory – which changes every month – will catch on. And that extends to my own buying weakness: As I left the store, she gave me a warm handshake and said, “Don’t forget – we close at 11”.
(7:20 a.m.) — Celebrity Sightings, Part 2. I’ve got this confirmed several ways: Adam Sandler is on board, as is Katie Holmes, Suri and Connor Cruise.
Because it was Tom and Katie’s anniversary (today?), there was a feeling that Tom was going to jump aboard for the inaugural run. But he’s not on the ship. Neither is Kathie Lee or Hoda, from yesterday’s Today taping. Both got off in Ft. Lauderdale before Allure sailed.
(12:09 a.m.) — The new ice show. Allure of the Seas, like all Freedom class ships (not to mention Oasis) has an ice rink of course and a new show debuted tonight. This photo from the “How to Train Your Dragon” ice show may look like it’s sheathed in smoke from the casino, but it’s actually just an overabundance of fog effects that come at the end of the ambitious if flawed production, which debuted Friday night.
My quick take: I had no idea what was going on half the time (no, I haven’t seen the film) and the effects are cheesy (a big inflatable dragon was more farcical than fearful), but kids who are familiar with the DreamWorks blockbuster will no doubt get a kick out of it. I just wished all that fine skating was put to better use, though we’ve been told that things are still shaking out. At least It was just 25 minutes.
(11:35 p.m.) — Johnny Rockets. Alvaro, a waiter at JR’s old-timey-styled burger joint, has worked on many Royal Caribbean ships. His stint on Allure is his third eight-months-long contract working as a JR server.
The last two gigs were on Liberty of the Seas, Oasis’ smaller fleetmate. After two-plus years doling out oil-saturated beef, he doesn’t really enjoy cheeseburgers as much as he used to — and being from Lima, he’s more a ceviche man anyway. His culinary favorite onboard so far? He was able to snag a table for two recently at the swanky 150 Central Park, to which he took his casino worker girlfriend for a romantic dinner.
If you need a Johnny Rockets fix onboard, spring for the $4.95 per person surcharge and order four 1/3 pound “originals,” the fry/onion combo plate and a slice of apple pie, as Alvaro says one teenager did awhile back. (“He was a big teen.”) That was the most he’s seen anyone eat. The $4.95 is good for all the beef you want, so why not? For me, it was just one, with a few fries dipped in ketchup shaped like a smiley face.
(11:10 p.m.) — Celebrity sightings? The Adam Sandler flick “Jack and Jill” is filming throughout Allure this weekend, and there’ s no avoiding it.
There’s been no word if Sandler himself is among the passengers – Dan and I haven’t seen him. I’ve been stepping over wires, hitting roadblocks when “closed set” signs blocked the way, dodging burly guys carrying cameras and been asked to “step out of the frame” – -and we’ve only been onboard for a few hours.
Passengers are being used as extras, however – I watched as about a half-dozen were positioned for a scene on Rising Tide, the bar-cum-elevator that goes up and down in the Royal Promenade. We’ll be reporting back if the Big Man himself actually makes an appearance, or if someone wises up and decides to use one of us in a shot.
(10:46 p.m.) — Who Sleeps? Our cabin, 10306, near the stern, is a standard balcony with a view of the ocean rather than of plants, trees, shrubs and a Guess store (Central Park balcony) or a carousel and hot dog venue (Boardwalk balcony), but I don’t expect we’ll spend much time out on the balcony, soaking up the sea, or inside channel surfing for that matter.
Still, there are a few touches of note. The iPod dock, new to Allure, is an essential inclusion since everyone has an iSomething at this point.
(6:05 p.m.) — You have to hand it to Royal Caribbean . . . it’s all in the details, and this ship is teeming with ‘em. My first venture onto the Boardwalk was a bit overwhelming, what with the carousel, the funky carnival mirrors that stretch your body every which way, and the Johnny Rockets crawling with passengers jonesing for chain hamburgers.
But it was the Zoltar machine that made stop in my tracks. You know Zoltar – he’s the mechanical fortunre teller that turned a child into Tom Hanks in the movie “Big” after the kid stuck a quarter into the machine. I don’t want to be young again, but I did think it’d be cool if Zoltar would tell me my fortune. On Allure, Zoltar Is a buck . . . and right now, a bust. I swiped my keycard and nothing happened. A woman and her husband passing by, obviously as familiar with the movie as I am, urged me to “go around back and unplug it!”
No dice — and no plug. But that does remind me that I want to return before I hit the casino. Couldn’t hurt, right?
(5:45 p.m.) — When a brand new ship pulls out of port with passengers for the very first time, it’s a choke-making moment. Here, crew members pull in the flags that are draped above the ship as the sun sets. And we set off from Ft. Lauderdale’s Port Everglades.
And passengers on the top deck look on as Holland America Line’s Westerdam jockeys for position as we head into the Atlantic.
(5:20 p.m.) — I was typing away in Allure’s media center when Royal Caribbean PR man Harrison Liu told me and a fellow writer that there was something we had to see. Didn’t want to miss it, Liu said. We followed him up to the AquaTheater, where two giant displays were broadcasting “Oprah.”
It was Oprah’s yearly favorite things episode, during which she gives away a bunch of prizes to a wailing, clothes-renting audience of 298 women and 2 (shell-shocked) men. There was a woman who was hugging other audience members. Her face was covered with their tears.
Then someone on the TV set brought out a giant jack-in-the-box and proceeded cranking. Out came an inflatable ship, wait, what, it’s … Allure of the Seas! Oprah was giving away free cruises on Allure to up to 300 people. They’d each get a cruise certificate good for for a year, said Liu (plus taxes would be covered). The screams from Oprah’s TV audience drowned out the more modest approval shown by those gathered at the AquaTheater. The woman with other people’s tears all over her face must have gone into shock.
(4:30 p.m.) — Walk-A-Million-Miles-On-Allure — Update. At 1:55, just 40 minutes after I came onboard, I hit my first mile wandering the ship. I’d been to my room, Central Park and the Promenade (check out our Allure of the Seas Mileage Contest on Facebook and submit your prediction — you could win Allure of the Seas swag).
(4:10 p.m.) — Cupcake Conspiracy? When booze and food are free, why are cupcakes a la carte? During the Allure preview cruises — referred to within the industry as “shakedown” sailing — the bars are opened up and the surcharges in the specialty restaurants waved. It’s one big floating party of journalists, travel agents and those associated with Royal Caribbean.
There are a few exceptions. Most importantly, we must pay for the cake. Like its sister ship, Allure has a “Cupcake Cupboard” selling cupcakes baked on the premises for $2.50 each. I’m not really pained by the discovery that I can’t stuff 11 red velvets in my mouth without paying dearly — just a little curious: Why charge for cupcakes when everything else is free?
As my colleague asked, so we can go to Johnny Rockets and order seven St. Louis burgers with bacon and fried onions, and yet we have to pay for an innocent iced confection? Does the brain trust at Royal Caribbean have some secret data suggesting that journalists, travel agents and industry folk are sugar fiends, junkies seeking inject choco-frosting at any cost? Will sales in cupcakes cover the losses accrued from free martinis?
The real reason, according to staff, is that the cupcakes are handmade and so take a long time to create. If they were free, the ship would quickly run out. If the Starbucks was free, which it is not, there’d be too much energy coursing through the vessel and it would spontaneously combust.
(3:10 p.m.) — Christmas. Sure, there are more than 2,500 gawkers wandering around the decks of Allure of the Seas this weekend, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t need a little Christmas. Right this very minute.
In my first pass through the ship, I wasn’t surprised to see that the vessel wasn’t teeming with holiday décor (I’m a Vegas vet, and in my few visits there over the holidays, I’m always struck by how the twinkling lights of Christmas are overwhelmed by the glaring glitter of everything else). But then I passed this scene, and despite the 75-degree temperatures and sunny skies, it did my heart good to see the tinsel going up.
Sure, the oversized ornaments were popping off the garland and rolling around the deck (someone nearly took a spill when he stepped on the errant holiday cheer, and, yes, it was me), but no matter: It’s a welcome nod to the season.
(2:33 p.m.) — First Starbucks at Sea. Really? A modest buzz has surrounded Allure’s Starbucks, which Royal Caribbean claims is the first of its kind at sea. There was even a “first pour at sea” event earlier today, during which Allure’s captain, Hernan Zini, adorned in Starbucks apron, smiled, took a sip and got some foam on his lip.
Superlatives — biggest casino, most magicians, freshest bananas — are nothing new in an inudstry jockeying for your cruise dollars, but is Royal Caribbean’s first-ever-Starbucks-at-sea claim true? Not exactly. The Africa Mercy, a peripatetic floating hospital vessel with beds for 78 patients, actually has a a little Starbucks Cafe that was donated by the coffee retailer. The ship entered service in 2007.
One of Cruise Critic’s Facebook fans served up the fact a few weeks ago….
(2:05 p.m.) — First impression: As so many have already said, despite its size, Allure doesn’t feel enormous. Now, you are reminded of it size when you hustle from your cabin (ours is Deck 10, aft) to Central Park and end up with a little forehead sheen. But Royal Caribbean has segmented the ship so well that no one space feels overwhelming.
Just as importantly, each space has a very unified theme. The line’s going for leafy elegance with Central Park, so the top for-fee restaurant (with a dress code), a wine bar, an art gallery and a cafe that feels like an Au Bon Pain fit here.
With Allure, being in Central Park still feels entirely removed from the rest of the world, but the singularity of purpose emerges and you “get” the leafy elegance the line is going for. It’s almost more effect as means to transporting the holidaymaker.
The Boardwalk is similarly cohesive, with an old-timey burger joint, a hot dog shop, carousel and candy shop. Contrast that to Carnival’s architectural style, as executed by legendary ship architect Joe Farcus. Farcus blends as many themes, colors and fabrics into a single ship — a Chinoise casino with a Parisian theater with an art deco nightclub with giant guitar sculptures — that the Fantasy land you’ve entered is revealed wherever you look without much focus (or a focus that’s harder to determine).