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First-time cruise recap/review


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I got so much great advice and information from these message boards that I wanted to make sure I came back and posted a recap/review of our cruise. I'm hoping this might help some other first-timers in the future. 

Sorry if I jump around to different topics! It's been tough getting my brain going again since the cruise! 

Cruise: 12/22 to 12/29 Allure of the Seas Eastern Caribbean 

Staterooms: We had 5 of us in 2 staterooms. I can't imagine trying to get more than 3 people in a stateroom. The magnet hooks and shoe-organizers were awesome for keeping things organized. I think I'm going to take an over-the-door shoe organizer on every vacation from now on!

Dining: 

  • We chose My Time Dining when we booked. As a first-timer, one thing I didn't realize about cruising was how much you get to know the crew members, and that the same crew members will be working at the same place at the same time (usually) every day. With my-time dining, though, we sat at a different table each night (even if we requested the same waiter), sometimes on a different floor, etc.  So my advice for first-timers: Choose set-time dining, not My Time
  • There are lots of threads on here about dress for formal and casual nights. On the first few nights we tried to stick to these pretty closely. By the last night though, "casual" in the MDR meant shorts and a shirt without writing on it. Yes, there are white tablecloths and fancy menus, but when the tables are crammed together and the dining room is so noisy you can't even have a conversation, the "nice restaurant" vibe goes out the porthole. 
  • We did Izumi Hibachi for dinner one night. We've been to other hibachi restaurants on land, and so I know my family would enjoy it, but the chefs on Allure were really great, some of the funniest I've ever encountered, and they didn't rush us through the meal, either. The food itself was great, too. My steak was cooked perfectly and my kids wouldn't stop talking about the garlic-butter flavor of the fried rice. The only downside was that we did Izumi on lobster tail night, but I didn't realize we had missed it until the end of the cruise. Oh, well. 

Entertainment:  Wow! I expected "pretty good" (like the shows you might see at an amusement park) but the entertainment on Allure was top-notch. The aqua theater and ice shows were well done, but Mamma Mia was simply awesome. They did such a good job with it and we enjoyed it so much more than expected. It was as good as any Broadway cast I've seen. Don't miss it! 

We also enjoyed the live music more than expected, particularly Hugh Little and the High-C's Horns. We caught their big band show, the Earth/Wind/Fire & Stevie Wonder show and part of the Dixieland Jazz show (which was just the horns). The other bands were good, too, but I often found myself thinking "turn it down!" during the Promenade shows. Guess I'm getting too old! 

#1 hit with my kids: Vitality Cafe + Refreshment Plan = unlimited smoothies. I really enjoyed the juices there myself. 

Casino: I promised to provide a poker report. 

Poker cash game: The host in the casino said they had 2/5 cash games that started up around 9:30ish every night. $100-$500 buy-in.  I never ended up playing. 

On the 3 sea days they held a "poker tournament" at 3pm. I wasn't able to play this until the last sea day. The entry fee is $100 (1000 chips) + $50 add-on (1000 chips). You can "re-buy" for $75 (750 chips) during the first 4 levels. You could get several re-buys at a time and it wasn't clear if you had to bust out before re-buying. The blinds start at 25/50 and go up (usually doubling) every 10 minutesThis makes for a ridiculous tournament with very little skill involved. Between the slow, uninterested dealer/floorperson and the slow players (the guy next to me had to think about every starting hand for at least 10 seconds, and another guy never knew when it was his turn) it made this game agonizing. Some levels we only got 4 hands played. 

There were 11 people signed up, so they started two tables with 6 and 5 players. But when players got knocked out they didn't combine the tables, they just played to a winner on each table. The "final tournament" was at 5:30 on the last sea-day. You would bring whatever chips you had from the first round, so the winner from that 5-person table would be at a disadvantage compared to someone who might have played at a full table. The prize was a free cruise for 2 on Oasis in late November to play in the Royal Something-or-other championship tournament, where you would again take whatever chips you had won in the satellite. No cash prizes for poker tournaments (until the grand championship) on Royal I guess. 

They said we could take a break after level 4 but then they were in a hurry to start up play again. With blinds being high already, they nearly folded a guy on the big-blind for most of his stack... luckily they saw him coming and waited... ended up he had QQ to win.

When it was time to chip-up they didn't have enough black chips to get rid of all the 25s on the table. So after losing an all-in I ended up with a single 25 chip when blinds were like 800/1600.

Anyways, I don't think I'll play poker on RCCL again unless they change things up a bit. 

Craps: On day 3 I went looking around 8pm to see if the poker game was running. It wasn't, but they had opened the craps table on the non-smoking side ($5 min), and nobody was playing. I ended up playing for a while and others joined in, too. Down a little, then up a lot, then ended up about $20 ahead in the end. The dealers were pretty good and they got into it more when we started placing dealer bets. 

I never saw the craps tables go over $5 mins. Yeah, it's single-odds (2x for $25 bet, morex for $50 bet). It was a pleasant surprise and I was sorry I didn't have a chance to play craps more when the non-smoking table was open. 

Machines:  My wife loves the quarter-pushers, but the machine was broken (permanently?) on the non-smoking side and she doesn't handle smoke well, so no play there. Hopefully they fix that machine during the "amplification". 

To be continued... (this is taking longer than I expected to write!) 

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On our last cruise, per advise given here, we went straight to the My Time dining room when we got on the ship. The host told us to "go pick out a table",. He then marked that table number on our dinner reservations. We had that table every night, no waiting to be seated.

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Posted (edited)

Okay, back with the rest of my recap/review.... 

CocoCay: 
Summary: CocoCay is a beautiful island with a lot to do.... if the weather is nice.   

Our day on CocoCay was low-70's, windy, and pretty cloudy all day. With the wind and no sun, it was a little too cold to be comfortable/relaxed in the water (both beach and pool). 
We reserved a Chill Island Cabana and I was hoping to be able to spend a lot of time snorkeling and relaxing in the sun. Well, we found out the snorkel area was closed due to the high winds, and that we wouldn't have been able to see anything anyways. We heard often that day, "we can't control the weather". 

The day before it had apparently rained the entire day, so at least we weren't dealing with that. Anyways, my suggestion for Phase II of CocoCay would be create some activites/events that people can enjoy even if the weather is not cooperating. 

Aside from the weather, the cabana wasn't as great as it was made out to be. We were in #14, on the 2nd row. We could see the water, but 1/2 of our view was the neighboring cabanas. They were close enough together that we heard the baby crying in the cabana 2 away, and the lady with the persistent, phlegmy cough in the next one over. 

Walking around on the island... depending on where you were going, you were either walking on a sandy, asphalt surface (with enough rocks that I wanted my sandals) or soft sand, where you really didn't want sandals and it can be tough to walk long distances. The sand all around the Chill Island Cabanas was this soft sand. I think it would help a bunch (for both guest and the cabana attendants) to build a wooden boardwalk at ground level behind those cabanas.   

Overall, the beach didn't live up to my expectations. I think in the future if we wanted a cabana (which would have been quite nice on a hot day) we might choose the Oasis pool or water park, but only if we can get a good deal. 

We saw photos before our cruise of a "press button for service" that was in each cabana, but those were nowhere to be found when we were there. It would have been helpful, as we could never find our cabin attendant when we actually wanted anything. 

Another FYI, the "lock box" in each cabana is a nice deterrent, but the secret code is based on the cabana number, and anyone in any of the surrounding cabanas would be able to figure out your cabana's code on the first try...

Sorry if I sound kind of negative about CocoCay, but based on reviews I had high expectations, and the reality was not so great. My family was clearly bored and aside from being able to get some different snacks on the island, we weren't impressed at all. 

Okay, what have a not covered? 
Loved trying different frozen drinks on the ship but was a little disappointed I could never find anyone who could make a banana daquiri. I was able to get a BBC, so they must have had some kind of banana flavoring. 

"Is Allure Crowded?" Everyone asked us this. My answer is "no". I've been to Disney World during Christmas week, and the NC State Fair on a Saturday night, and the crowds on Allure were never anything like that, even though the ship must have been fully booked for the Holiday Cruise. There were some crowded times and areas, particularly the My Time Dining room on the first formal night, and the pool deck on the sea days. But it was never hard to find somewhere uncrowded or even nearly empty! 
 

The App:

It had some frustrations, but overall I loved the app, my wife did too. Being able to sit at breakfast and flag activities we were interested in was super easy. The chat feature worked pretty well, although kids under 13 can't "chat" , so to get around that he had to sign on as one of the other family members, which worked well enough. The only annoying thing was the internet plan... we purchased for one device and just took over the connection when needed. The problem is that you had to sign back in to the wifi under the "use wifi for free" or else you wouldn't be getting messages. 

The Surf & Stream quality was really spotty. If I actually needed to use it for anything besides glancing at email it would have gotten frustrating. 


What was my favorite part of the cruise? 
If I had to name a specific activity, meal, or show I would have to say it was Mamma Mia! (Believe me, it surprises me that I'm saying that, but it was just that good)
In general, I really enjoyed this vacation because I truly could stop planning anything once I got on that ship. I'm the planner in the family, and even when we take family trips elsewhere, I spend time every day trying to figure out where we should eat, or what activities we should do the next day, and when the amusement park opens, and how to get there, and how to buy tickets. On the cruise I didn't have to deal with any of that! We walked wherever we wanted to go, and it was easy to find out options for meals, snacks and activities without barely lifting a finger. 

Would I do it again?

Yes, but probably not during a Holiday cruise. It was fun, but they cranked the prices for everything up so high that it really goes past what we choose to spend on a typical vacation. I'm pretty sure we'll be back before too long, though, and probably on Royal Caribbean again. 

Once again, thanks all for all the tips and advice. I hope this helps someone else have a great cruise as well!

flamtap

Edited by flamtapgt
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6 hours ago, Pooch said:

On our last cruise, per advise given here, we went straight to the My Time dining room when we got on the ship. The host told us to "go pick out a table",. He then marked that table number on our dinner reservations. We had that table every night, no waiting to be seated.

After the first night, we asked for the same waiter. 

It looks like they do an early seating in the American Icon Grill at 5:30, and then they begin filling My Time Dining as tables empty. Our reservations most nights were for 6:30 or 6:45, and the table must not have been available when we got there. One night we were seated at a different table in that room, and 2 other nights we arrived early (6:15ish) and were taken to tables in the 4th or 5th deck dining rooms that hadn't been occupied that evening. 

So yeah, for first-timers I'd recommend using fixed-time dining (and observing how the My Time works) and then decide what works best for you on later cruises. 

Something I forgot to mention is the Windjammer.  I was impressed with the windjammer food in general. If you go when it's not too crowded you can find some real treats. I really enjoyed the Indian food one day for lunch. 

flamtap

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