There are two main theaters onboard -- the indoor Amber Theater and outdoor AquaTheater.
The three-deck, 1,380-seat Amber Theater (Deck 4) offers multiple stagings of "Mamma Mia," the Broadway musical featuring music by ABBA (this replaces "Chicago"), and "Blue Planet," a Cirque du Soleil-style song-and-dance production in which the stage turns into a giant aquarium one second and a writhing human tree the next. In addition, there's always a rotating "Headliners" show; one week it could be a tribute to Motown, another a tribute to the Beatles.
* May require additional fees
The AquaTheater (Deck 6, aft), with its 2,000 water nozzles, hydraulics-laden pool and detachable rope ladders, is the most ambitious performance space ever built at sea. The main event, "OceanAria," features acrobats who like to high-dive from the pair of 60-foot platforms, flip around on trampolines and twist each other into pretzels -- all while telling a tale of ancient sea people. It's a popular show, and it's usually standing room only (unless you're staying in an AquaTheater suite). Be warned: The front three rows are in the "splash zone"!
"OceanAria," "Blue Planet," "Mamma Mia" and the comedy shows in Comedy Live (see below) require advance reservations; passengers' scanable SeaPass cards serve as the tickets. Cruisers can prebook evening shows from 90 days until four days before the sail date, but only a certain number of spaces can be prebooked online; the remaining "tickets" are for passengers who want to book once onboard via their cabin TVs or at the on-ship "box office." Reservations are free and do not include seating assignments -- though suite passengers get preferred seating. Doors open 45 minutes before showtime, and reservations vanish 35 minutes later, as ours did for the first "sold out" showing of OceanAria. That said, come T-minus 10, standbys flood in because the majority of passengers with reservations don't show up. (The activities director told us that the number of no-shows typically hovers around 75 percent.)
Reservation or not, get there early for the best seats, especially if you're sailing during high season. Also know this: The first staging of each show is usually the most crowded. If you're turned away, you'll invariably get into the next one. Each of the major shows is performed two to four times per weeklong sailing. Note, too, that inclement weather means OceanAria could be canceled, as it was on our cruise.
Adjacent to the Amber Theater on Deck 4 is the Entertainment Zone. It's home to Studio B, which includes an ice rink for ice skating during the day and evening ice shows (see below). It also hosts cooking demos during the day.
Dance classes take place in the middle of the Royal Promenade on Deck 5, led by a member of the Entertainment Team. You'll also find alcohol tastings and port shopping talks, during which staff try to send passengers to stores that have paid to be mentioned in said talks.
The On Air Club on the Royal Promenade is a multipurpose venue that hosts various daytime activities, such as towel folding, napkin folding and bingo. Daytime trivia takes place in the Schooner Bar (Deck 6).
On the Boardwalk, you'll find the carousel, a free old-time circus-style ride aimed at kids (though we saw plenty of adults having a go). Pool games (such as belly flop contests and "Who's the World's Sexiest Man?" competitions) are held throughout the cruise in the AquaTheater. For a calmer way to pass the time, head to the Workshop on Deck 14 for scrapbooking sessions and other crafting activities.
You'll also find two money-grabbing video arcades: one on the way into Adventure Ocean (Deck 14) and one at the other end of the ship on Deck 15, which forms part of the teen area. Beware: The $1.25-per-game fee soon adds up.
The two main onboard destinations for evening fun are the Entertainment Zone (Deck 4) and Royal Promenade (Deck 5).
On Deck 4, Studio B's evening ice shows include the confusing "Ice Games," a head-scratching Monopoly-themed show that screams for more passenger participation -- but has almost none. Showtimes are at 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Studio B also holds one Glow Party per sailing.
Other venues in the Entertainment Zone include the adults-only Comedy Live, which features X-rated comedians drawn from where the ship is sailing (English and Spanish in the Med; American in the Caribbean). Reservations are required. Shows are at 7:30 p.m., 9:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.
Jazz on 4 is the jazz lounge, where you can listen to live jazz most nights. It's a small room decked out like a speakeasy with big red comfy sofas, leather armchairs and fluorescent lighting above a small, raised stage.
Just beyond these venues, you'll find the casino, one of cruising's largest. As in many ships now, it's the only place you can smoke indoors. The casino offers 450 slot machines; extensive table games, including Blackjack, roulette, craps and Caribbean Stud Poker; a bar and lounge area; and a poker room. Texas Hold'em tournaments are offered daily.
The Royal Promenade is where evening parades takes place. Make sure you bring your camera. Karaoke takes place most nights in the On Air Club.
Once a cruise, the Solarium on Deck 16 turns into Club 20, a kind of pop-up disco with a DJ, aimed at the younger passengers.
You'll also find music from individual artists or small bands dotted around the ship. Head to Central Park for jazz guitar most nights and the Schooner Bar for piano music.
The ship features an exhausting array of bars and lounges. Whether it's being right at the heart of the action in the Rising Tide Bar (which floats between decks), sipping a late-night cocktail in the Trellis Bar while the sound of crickets is piped through the speakers and the lights twinkle around you in Central Park, or watching the would-be surfers wipe out at the Wipe Out Bar -- perfectly positioned between the ship's surf simulators -- there's bound to be a watering hole that suits your mood or style.
The majority of Royal Caribbean favorites are located in the Royal Promenade on Deck 5; the rest, you'll find in other neighborhoods like Central Park.
Blaze (Deck 4): The ship's dedicated nightclub welcomes a variety of dancers. Early evenings, it's given over to a family disco; other nights it's reserved for teens. Check your Cruise Compass before heading out. Open until late.
Bow & Stern (Deck 5): This English-style pub, designed with dark woods and nautically themed pictures, has a few beers on draught, including Newcastle and Murphy's.
Rising Tide Bar (Deck 5): You can't really miss this venue, as it's right in the middle of the Royal Promenade, behind the Morgan car. You're very much on display as the bar rises between floors to Deck 8 and back. Note that "boarding" is on Deck 5 only.
Champagne Bar (Deck 5): The crystal-and-satin-curtain-filled bar serves just Champagne and martinis. Check your Cruise Compass for word of 2-for-1 cocktail specials.
Boleros Lounge (Deck 5): This nominally Latin-themed lounge is dark, with plush seating and themed decor. It makes a good spot for pre- or post-dinner cocktails. There's a dance floor, but it's rarely used.
On-Air Club (Deck 5): This multipurpose venue is where you'll find televised sporting events, karaoke, bingo and various quizzes.
Schooner Bar (Deck 6): A bit hidden on the second deck of the Royal Promenade, this bar is known for its slightly naughty piano sing-alongs.
Dazzles (Deck 8 and 9): Dazzles has a regular party band, but even during theme parties like '70s night the nightclub never gets all that crowded. Isolation is to blame. Without a cluster of adjacent alternative restaurants, bars and cafes to attract passengers, Dazzles is a bit of an island. But the picture-window backdrop, with unadulterated views down the Boardwalk, won't disappoint anyone who ventures there.
Trellis Bar (Deck 8): One of our favorite spots, right in the middle of Central Park, this is an open-air bar with limited seating, but it never seems to get crowded. There's a relaxed vibe, as with all the venues in this neighborhood.
The Diamond Lounge (Deck 11): This lounge is reserved for passengers at the Diamond level of Royal Caribbean's loyalty program, and it has been moved from Deck 6 to 11, occupying the space formerly used by the Suite Lounge. It has wonderful views over the Boardwalk toward the aft of the ship. It's open 24 hours a day (by key card access) and has a self-service coffee machine. Additionally, complimentary waiter-served pre-dinner drinks are available from around 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. each night, along with a selection of appetizers. It's on two levels, but the upper level is reserved for the Chef's Table.
Pool Bars (Decks 15 and 16): Allure has four pool bars: the Pool Bar and Sand Bar on Deck 15 and the Mast Bar and Sail Bar on Deck 16. All serve soft drinks, wine, beer and cocktails all day.
Wipeout Bar (Deck 16): Situated between Allure's two FlowRider simulators in the Sports Zone at the back of Deck 16, the Wipeout Bar is a great place to watch people trying out the surfing machine and for gorgeous views over the back of the ship.
The Suite Lounge (Deck 17): The space formerly occupied by the Viking Crown Lounge is now split into the Suite Lounge (for suite passengers only) and Coastal Kitchen (see Dining). Royal Caribbean has done a good job converting this space, with a self-service buffet area at the back, well-spaced chairs and tables dotted about, and a long, low bar in the center connecting to Coastal Kitchen. It's light, bright and roomy -- and open 24/7, meaning you could, in theory, spend all your non-sleeping time there.
Suite Bar (Deck 17): Located on the Suite Sun Deck at the front of the ship, this bar is only open to suite passengers.
Allure's three main pools are located on Deck 15, divided into several distinct pool areas: Main, Beach and Sports, as well as an H2O Zone water play area for kids. The majority of travelers without kids stick to the aft end of the ship in the Main Pool and the Beach Pool, though both pools are open to all ages.
The Main Pool has tiered, arena-style seating on one side, which means you'll usually be able to find somewhere to sit even on a busy sea day -- unless you're eager to snag a lounger poolside.
Across from the Main Pool is the faux-rock-lined Beach Pool, which features a sloped entry, allowing passengers to sit with loungers partially submerged. Candy-cane umbrellas and a pair of Romero Britto's pop-art sculptures (fish and beach balls) round out the decor.
Note that the smoking area is all along this (port) side of the ship, as well as on Deck 16.
The Sports Pool is the staging point for things like water aerobics and pool volleyball, but it's also popular with families.
Kids will beeline for the H20 Zone, a colorful aqua park ruled by a giant, water-spraying octopus. Some 10 other multicolored sculptures form his court, as well as a splash pool, a shallow pool and a lazy river pool. There is also a (free) frozen yogurt dispenser there. Swim diapers are only allowed in the splash pool; kids must be toilet trained to use the other H20 Zone pools.
The 16-and-older glass-covered Solarium -- which features a thalassotherapy pool, lots of cushioned chaises, a bistro and bar -- is located at the very front of decks 15 and 16. It's a welcome break from the craziness of the main pool deck and can be quite relaxing. However, despite its (nearly) adults-only vibe, the space can be packed during sea days, so it's less monastery-like than expected. Conversely, when the masses are in port, the Solarium becomes a truly peaceful spot.
Allure has two huge hot tubs, one on either side of the ship, adjacent to the Solarium. These are almost always full and don't close until 10 p.m. A third, smaller tub is located by the Sports Pool, and another covered one can be found in the H2O Zone.
Allure of the Seas is packed with outdoor pursuits, and Allure's passengers are an active sort. Two 43-foot-high rock climbing walls flank the AquaTheater, and a zip-line sends passengers flying over the Boardwalk from one side of the ship to the other. Allure's pair of surf simulators (one dedicated to stand-up surfing, the other to boogie-boarding) are yet another Royal Caribbean exclusive. Surfers should know that they'll be surrounded by a small peanut gallery in bleacher seats, and the eager onlookers will cackle with glee when the jet stream flips you backward. All three options are available at no extra cost -- after you've signed a waiver. (Ice skating in Studio B also falls in this waiver category.) However, if you'd like private surf lessons or want to book the facility for a group, you'll be paying big bucks ($345 per hour for a private lesson).
Located near the FlowRiders is a basketball court, which hosts a neverending stream of pickup games, a mini-golf course ("Allure Dunes") and a glass-enclosed Ping-Pong area where blaming the wind is no longer a valid excuse.
Royal Caribbean has not gone down the route of charging a premium for a private sun deck (a la Princess, P&O Cruises and Celebrity), so you'll find a full access, no-fee sun deck all around Deck 16, overlooking the main pool deck.
Suite passengers have it good. Flash a gold key card, and you can climb up to a reserved top-ship deck on Deck 17, where the crowds thin and the decibel level fades. There's a bar, plenty of padded loungers and views of sea and sky.
The cavernous Royal Promenade is where you'll find Guest Services and, nearby (in the center of the Royal Promenade, which makes for crowding), the Shore Excursions desk. The mall-style neighborhood houses tax- and duty-free shops for liquor and jewelry purchases and a number of additional retail options. Notable among the shops is the first flagship Guess store at sea, which sells the company's designer handbags, watches, shoes, jewelry and sunglasses. Other stores include Prince & Green (which features brands like Kenneth Cole for women and Marc Jacobs for men) and the first Kate Spade New York on a cruise ship, which offers high-end handbags.
Looking down on the Royal Promenade is Focus, the onboard photo gallery, and Next Cruise, for future cruise sales.
More shops on the Boardwalk include Pets at Sea (a for-fee build-your-own-stuffed-animal shop), a kids clothing store, a candy shop and Zoltar, the enigmatic fortune teller, trapped behind glass. He charges a dollar per prognostication. In Central Park, passengers will find the second Coach store at sea (Oasis had the first), the Parkside Art Gallery (note: Allure has no art auctions) and adjacent photo shop.
Allure has a hard-to-find Internet room with a half dozen computers and a printer located amid cabins on Deck 8, but it's empty most of the time.
The 2015 refit saw the installation of super-fast Wi-Fi throughout the ship for a $15-per-day, per-device charge (with 50 percent off a second device). The Wi-Fi is always on, it's fast, you can pull down huge files and stream movies, and it's reasonably priced.
There's a library, approximately the size of four standard cabins, on Deck 11. Expect a meager selection of books. On Deck 14, you'll find the Seven Hearts Card Room, for cards, games, daily trivia and Sudoku.
The ship, surprisingly (and highly inconveniently) lacks self-service laundry facilities. Expect to pay $30 for a two-day "wash and fold" full (trash-size) sack of mixed garments. (We took to finding on-shore launderettes to keep down the ever-mounting laundry bills.)
Lost? Look for the "wayfinders" located throughout the ship. These touch-screen digital signs can enlighten you as to where you are and in which direction you need to go to make that cocktail-mixing class on time.
Allure's Vitality at Sea Spa on decks 5 and 6 is large, with 29 treatment rooms. The only downside is it features only a modicum of natural light. This is something of a disappointment for spa- and gym-lovers used to getting primped or pooped in the top-ship real estate that's typically afforded to cruise-ship spas.
There's still a lot on offer, including rooms for couples' mud treatments and couples' massages, a Medispa offering Botox, a large beauty salon and a teens-only treatment area.
It's not cheap, and generally speaking you'll find better value treatments onshore, but do look out for daily offers (especially on port days), such as discounted treatments, add-on treatments, two-for-one offers and taster treatments. Port day treatments between 8 a.m. and noon are also discounted, and you'll get 10, 20 and 30 percent off if you book multiple treatments throughout the cruise.
The lead-in price for a 50-minute Swedish massage will set you back $107 (plus the auto-gratuity of 18 percent), while for a couples massage you're looking at north of $242. Facials start at $71, plus there are various waxing, acupuncture and cosmetic treatments such as teeth whitening. Grooming treatments for men start at $32 for an express shave and $70 for a deep cleanse shave. There is also a salon with hair and nail treatments, with prices starting at $29 for a wash and condition.
The YSpa menu offers specially designed treatments for teens, including the Acne Attack facial, Beach Babe deep conditioning hair treatment and Sole Mate pedicure. These range from $29 for a Magical Manicure to $195 for a Mother/Daughter Paradise Massage.
A disappointing thermal suite with just four ceramic beds and an assortment of rooms -- including herbal steam, saunas and rainforest showers -- is in the middle of the spa. Day passes are $30 per person, per day; weeklong passes are $99 per person, per week (plus 18 percent gratuity) or $179 per couple.
Allure's gym is similarly hurt by the absence of natural light (there are at least portholes), but what it lacks by way of floor-to-ceiling windows, it makes up for in ellipticals, Stairmasters, treadmills, free weights, a Kinesis wall and private training rooms. It's a fantastically well-stocked and well-used fitness space.
There are numerous classes available, including yoga ($12 for 45 minutes), Body Sculpt Boot Camp ($120), Pilates ($12 for 45 minutes) and personalized training ($85 for 60 minutes).
You'll find the most diverting running track at sea on Deck 5. The two lanes make nearly a full circuit of the 1,187-foot-long ship, and just 2.4 laps equal a mile. It's more than just about size: The many attention-grabbing sights will make you forget that your legs and brain feel like pudding, or that you'd rather be eating pudding. As you round the stern, the retreating wake slides into view, and the relative motion of ship and sea creates a speed-boost sensation. Look out for the gusts of A/C that blast intermittently from the automatic doors along the track.
While Disney certainly competes when it comes to catering to the under-10s, no other line beguiles all children like Royal Caribbean, and Allure is among the best in the fleet for children's programming.
The epicenter of the youth program is the 29,000-square-foot Adventure Ocean, an expansive Deck 14 complex split into age-appropriate spaces and rooms dedicated to science experiments (make snow in the Caribbean), theater instruction, arts and crafts, and a stay-and-play baby and toddler room.
Free drop-off camp programming is available for kids ages 3 and older. All the Adventure Ocean venues are open from a half hour before the ship arrives in port (as early as 6:30 a.m.) to 10 p.m. without a break. In other words, you can leave your kids onboard, and the youth staff will take them for lunch at noon and then an early dinner at a dedicated kids' space in the Windjammer Cafe, serving kid favorites, such as chicken nuggets, burgers, hot dogs and fries.
On sea days, it's a slightly different setup (perhaps forcing parents to spend time with their wee ones), with the club opening at 9 a.m. and closing at noon for lunch. It reopens from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and then again from 7 p.m. through to 10 p.m. You can opt to leave your child in the club from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., when youth staff will take the kids to a dedicated area in the Windjammer Cafe for a 6 p.m. kids dinner and then back to the club. There's no added fee for this, but know that the program does not operate every evening.
From 10:15 p.m. to 2 a.m., Adventure Ocean turns into a Late Night Party Zone for children between ages 3 and 11. It costs $7 per hour, per child. Themes might include "trash the room" (which sounds fun) or a glow theme night.
Parents need to register themselves and their kids at the beginning of the cruise and must sign kids in and out each time they visit the club. Kids are each issued a brightly colored wristband, which indicates muster station and must be worn at all times.
The quality of the kids' program onboard is second to none, with an exhausting range of age-appropriate activities taking place throughout the day and evening. These might include activities based on arts and science, as well as scavenger hunts, dress-up games, quizzes and sports for the older kids (see below for details). All ages will also go on supervised shipwide scavenger hunts.
There's a strong emphasis on "family" (i.e. not necessarily dropping your kids off all day), and you'll find lots of family-focused events in the Kids Daily Planner, which might include movies, art, dressing up and even participating in science experiments. There is also a talent show at the end of every cruise that parents are encouraged to attend, as well as an early evening family disco most evenings.
Royal Caribbean has recently become "autism friendly," and this extends to its kids programs. Allure offers toys that can be borrowed for in-cabin use, movies, games and activities that are suitable for kids with autism.
Royal Caribbean splits its Adventure Ocean program into the following age groups:
Aquanauts (3-5 years): Aquanauts get a fun, bright open space, complete with a slide and tunnel. The emphasis is on creativity and game playing, and Royal Caribbean has partnerships with Crayola and Fisher-Price, which means there are plenty of very colorful toys, games and supplies. A typical day might include dressing up as a pirate (or princess), Kung Fu Panda training school, puppetry, an animal "zoofari" or a space adventure. You can also request a mobile phone with a speed-dial to the room, should you want to check up on your little one. All Aquanauts must be fully toilet trained (there is a "no diaper" policy), so if you have a young 3-year-old he or she might be better off in Royal Tots.
Explorers (6-8 years): The Explorers get more of a sports-based program of activities, as well as time-controlled access to gaming equipment, such as Nintendo Wiis. Again, lots of natural light fills the room, and the main area is given over to soccer or boys vs. girls games. The program might include SpeedBall, learning circus skills, taking part in a talent show, and arts and crafts.
Voyagers (9-11 years): Voyagers will take part in role-play type games like Secret Agent, as well as science-based activities such as volcano building. They also play sports, both inside and out of Adventure Ocean. With parental consent, Voyagers get to sign themselves in and out of the program.
Adventure Ocean also features a science lab and a theater, which screens daily movies and plays host to the end-of-cruise talent show.
The Royal Babies & Tots Nursery is open to kids ages 6 months to 3 years. Inside, there are two rooms -- one a large, soft play area and the other a quiet room for napping with eight cribs. It's staffed by trained professionals and offers specially designed programs for babies and toddlers.
The drop-off nursery is bookable onboard only. The fee is $6 per child, per hour, between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. and $8 per child, per hour, between 6 p.m. and midnight.
There is also a large stay-and-play room, stuffed full of soft toys and games for the tiny ones. There, parents can play with their little ones for free.
Also in the area is one of Allure's two arcades, which features the typical array of enticements, including first-person shooters and grab-teddy-with-a-claw games. Options are, as expected, overpriced. For instance, it's $1.25 to play Skeeball.
If you're traveling with an infant, you can pre-order Huggies diapers, wipes, cream and Gerber organic baby food to be delivered right to your stateroom. Allure also has four strollers onboard that it lends out to families, free of charge.
Teens are classified as 12 to 17 years old, but note that on busy sailings the youth staff will split them into two groups -- 12- to 14-year-olds and 15- to 17-year-olds -- with different programs offered for each. The tween group is likely to have a slightly more structured program of activities, including rock climbing competitions, dodgeball and Dance Dance Revolution, as well as BBQs and movie nights, open mic nights, talent shows and Scratch DJ Academy. The older age group has a looser set of suggested activities, which might include theme nights, pool parties and teen dinners, as well as karaoke, Wii and basketball competitions.
Teens get their own area on Deck 15 aft, next to the sports court. It consists of three rooms: The Living Room, a hangout area; Fuel, a teens-only disco; and a video arcade.
The Living Room is really just a chill out/relaxation spot (with a big sign stating: "Teens Only. No Adults."). Fear not, worried parents: There is always a youth staff member inside to keep an eye on things. However, the staff remain more of a background presence, organizing competitions and making sure that nothing untoward takes place in the disco. Fuel consists of a DJ booth and a dance floor. The teen center is open each night until 2 a.m., and teens can come and go as they please.
The video arcade consists of the usual array of violent shoot-'em-ups and car chases, as well as Guitar Hero. It's $1.25 per game.
Royal has recognized that 18- to 20-year-olds (too old for teen clubs, too cool to hang out with boring old adults) may appreciate some age-specific activities. This is particularly useful on itineraries (such as Caribbean cruises) when they are unable to consume alcohol onboard. Activities might include a meet-and-greet in Blaze on the first night, volleyball in the Sports Pool, a Nintendo Wii competition, a Flow Rider session, karaoke and a Glow Party. Events are announced in the daily Cruise Compass newsletter.