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*ALLURE*d on the Seas - September 5-12, 2021 LIVEish


AshleyDillo
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Since I had such a fun time live blogging my Thanksgiving Oasis cruise in 2019, I figured I would give it a shot this time around as well.  If you want to check out my live blog style... *insert shameless plug below*

 

 

This time around I am cruising with my mother and my brother. My father is staying at home because the only family vacations we ever take are cruises and he's over it. Instead he will stay at home and continue living his retirement life which consists of tagging me in memes on Facebook, complaining about Medicare and buying camping equipment for camping trips he never ends up actually taking.

My brother @CGTLH is also a frequenter of this blog. You may be familiar with some of his own live blogging which consists mostly of Windjammer reconnaissance.  I won't make any commitments on his behalf to bring you the exclusive Windjammer content you are all craving, but the job should be 33% easier since they aren't offering dinner service on this sailing.

The cruise was booked by my mother who has a goal to spend all of our inheritance, so gosh darnit we're going to at least get something out of it.   She has not figured out that Royal Caribbean Blog has a messageboard section, so next time any of you see her on a RCLBlog Group Cruise (https://www.royalcaribbeanblog.com/events) please don't let her in on this secret.  

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How this particular cruise was chosen...well, September is my mother's birthday and she decided to treat herself (and us) so that's why this particular time of year was picked.  It was also chosen to convince me to sail as it's over Labor Day which is a work holiday for me.  Always a bonus when I can take a full week cruise but not have to use a full week of leave time. 

We actually booked this before the pandemic so this is an original booking that was never canceled or Lift & Shifted.  We watched all the sailings before this one on the calendar drop off from cancelations and finally the restart was announced and we were excited to see that Allure was going to be the first Oasis class to begin sailing again.  We also felt fortunate that our cruise made the cut.  Allure went back out on her first sailing on August 8, so there's only been a few rounds before us.  

We've been following the whiplash protocols and requirements and fortunately we keep up with cruise news enough to stay on top of it.  Current protocols are everyone over the age of 12 has to be vaccinated because we are visiting CocoCay and St. Thomas.  The USVI first announced the rule and then the Bahamas followed.  This cruise also visits St. Maarten, rounding out the third port stop, so we have 3 sea days to enjoy the ship.

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OBLIGATORY PROTOCOL COMPLAINING

As for planning, the biggest headache we had after finding out that the cruise was part of the great #royalcomeback was following all the protocol changes. Most didn't affect us as we're all vaccinated, but the big one was when they started requiring a negative COVID test result to board the ship.  It was fun scrambling around to figure out where to get tested.  I did a land trip to Aruba at the end of January, so I was familiar with having to get a test to travel but it was still stressful to plan out.  Obviously we didn't want to pay for the tests, so we were relying on CVS and Walgreens.  We were worried about test availability in our area since we do live in Florida and this is a college town so testing appointments go fast.  There is a free public testing site at one of the college stadiums, but I considered that a last resort because even with an appointment you have to wait in line, outside..in Florida.  I'm gonna NOPE on that one.  CVS around here only allows you to schedule 2 weeks out for PCR and only same-day of for antigen testing.  Walgreens only lets you schedule a few days in advance.  Both options are self-administered through a drive-thru so you get to do the nose swab driving and can decide how deep you go.

We researched nearly everywhere in our city and along our route for different contingency plans -- the just in case they run out of test supplies last minute, or the test results come back inconclusive and any other scenario a paranoid mind can come up.  As cases picked up in the local area, our county opened up more local testing sites so I felt a bit more as ease that they weren't going to run out of antigen tests in the city on us.  I was still tempted to order some of the at-home test kits as a last minute backup, though.

I had my calendar set to notify me at the 2-week out mark so I could make a CVS PCR appointment for three days before the cruise.  Cruise leaves on Sunday (day 0)...counting backwards... Saturday (day 1), Friday (day 2), Thursday (day 3).  Felt much better having that appointment secured.  There was also one CVS a 30-minute drive away that had antigen testing available, so I grabbed an appointment for that one on Friday.  I figured if I couldn't land an antigen at a closer location when the bookings opened up I at least had that one to fall back on.  When the date got closer, the rapid testing appointments opened up so I was able to grab those; one on Thursday and a backup for Friday. 

Fortunately everything went fine.  I was able to schedule an ID-NOW NAAT test for Thursday before sailing at Walgreens. I had my results 25 minutes after taking the test, so fast than the 24 hour turnaround they state on the website. My brother was not as lucky.  He tested later that afternoon at a different location and when he got his result notification email about 3 hours later, the Walgreens website was down.  Talk about nerve-wracking.  It didn't end up coming back up until sometime later in the evening.  I can't imagine being someone taking that test the day before their cruise and expecting fast results only to have a tech failure be the issue.  

However, I'm not going to disclose what our test results were..hippopotamus laws and all.  

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OBLIGATORY PRE-CRUISE POST

We drove down Saturday, the day before the cruise as we always do.  It's about a 5-hour drive for us depending on which way my mother insists that I drive.  She doesn't like to drive on interstates so it's always a battle between taking back roads to appease her or taking the fastest route via the interstates and turnpike.  I don't know what it really matters when you are going to spend the whole ride with your eyes closed, asleep, but she has many more decades on me so she must be right.  We ended up having the typical debate between taking the turnpike or driving through Jacksonville and made a last minute decision to take the toll-free route (same ETA).  Bonus was that we got to pass by Buc-ees, which meant a mandatory stop.  If you have never been to a Buc-ees before, it's basically everything that is so wrong with America, but yet so right, all wrapped up in 54,000 square feet and 104 gas pumps. It's basically the Walmart of convenience stores. We had plans to get a late lunch, but of course we had to pre-game with a Rueben, fudge and beef jerky. I know it's sacrilegious, but we did not leave with any Beaver Nuggets this go around.

 

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OBLIGATORY PRE-CRUISE HOTEL

After our Buc-ees detour it was onto Cape Canaveral.  We got near our exit to our original planned lunch destination and decided to check and see if we could check into the hotel yet. Again, another last minute at the exit decision led us to the hotel. My mother booked the new Hampton Inn and Suites near the port. (https://www.hilton.com/en/hotels/mlbcvhx-hampton-suites-cape-canaveral-cruise-port/). Hampton hotels are pretty cookie cutter and this one was no different.  This one was brand new and it's actually a shared building with a Home2 suites hotel. The premise was nice and there's a pool shared between the two hotels that has a nice beach entry and a fire pit.

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They do offer a park and cruise rate, but it's only a little bit more to just park at the port and not deal with the inconvenience of relying on a hotel shuttle. They do have a hotel shuttle for $8 per person that goes to the port. The times for Royal Caribbean and Carnival were posted as 11:15am and Disney at 1:15pm. 

The hotel address is Astronaut Boulevard and has some relevant theming.

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After unloading our stuff into the room we headed off to the Cocoa Village to get some barbecue from Crydermans.  It's one of my favorite places in the area and since they're only open Tues-Sat and only until 6:30pm or they run out of food, I'm always glad when the timing works out that I can eat there. It's a little pricey, but their brisket is pretty darn good for not being in Texas.

After that it was a quick stop at Dollar Tree to pick up something that we needed, since it's way cheaper to get it at Dollar Tree than Publix..and $15 later off we were in the car again headed back towards the hotel. Of course we still had to stop at Publix anyways for something else we forgot. Ironically, the bill at Publix was $1.
 

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I got up in excitement at 5am and was able to catch the ship cruising by out of the hotel window.  There are trees obscuring the view of Terminal 1 but the room we are in (554 in case anyone wants a good one to pick at this hotel) has probably one of the best views you will get here.  

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Since this hotel is a two hotel in one combo, there are two breakfast locations.  

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Guests can visit either side.  Both sides had the standard fruit/coffee/juice/bread/cereal offerings but the Home2 side had grab and go breakfast sandwiches to microwave and the Hampton side had some hot breakfast offerings.

I would definitely stay at this hotel again. Location is great, the hotel is clean and new and there is a shuttle available for a fee and you can park and cruise if you're looking for that option.

Of course 11:15am is too late to wait for a shuttle, so at 10:50am we left the hotel in our car and headed to the terminal.

 

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Check in was a blur..no long waits or lines. They weren't checking times for the genpop and everything was flowing through quickly. You have to show your vaccine card and test results to get through the door into the air conditioning. The next step is the wellness check where they check your vaccination card and test results again and ask all the health questions. If you completed it in the app they jusy verify none of your answers have changed and then they give you the lovely rubber bracelet.

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Next up was security scanning of bags. Laptops have to come out. TSA Precheck doesn't apply here.  After that it was up the escalator to the next round of paperwork roulette. Here is where we finally met our Royal Genie for the week, Alan R!  He waited patiently while we got our passports scanned and and then walked us over to where we finally got signed into the ship (vaccination and test papers again).

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One of the perks of sailing Star Class is the room is ready when you board. We were walked back all the way after to 8730.  This is a 2-bedroom aquatheater ship at the very back of the ship.

We have sailed in this same room on Symphony, so we have points of comparison. I like the 2nd bedroom much, much better on Symphony better. There was way more storage space in the second bedroom. That's probably my only complaint.

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1 hour ago, AshleyDillo said:

And at 11:03am I had dropped off my mother and brother with the luggage at front and parked the car in the near-empty parking garage ($136 for the week).

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Time to add another photo to the mix, different view of the entrance to the terminal.

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For everyone else you went to the left to enter the queue. Once inside no separate lines for the wellness check/security screening (suite/CAS status, or so it seemed).

 

Not sure if the mobile test unit is available for all sailings or depends on the mood of the provider. They were setup over by the pick-up area across the way.

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No idea of cost.

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For those not familiar with Star Class, it basically is as close to an all-inclusive experience on a cruise ship as you can get. Star Class includes the drink package, dining package, internet package, laundry service and a Royal Genie.

The Royal Genie is assigned to several Star Class cabins on board and for those passengers they serve as a butler/concierge. They make up your dining and show schedule for the entire cruise and work with you during and prior to sailing to accommodate any special requests you might have.

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And what else does a Royal Genie do for you?

 

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Someome hates flavor..but she's the one paying the tab.

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My brother handled the pre-cruise correspondence with Alan. There were at least 30 back and forth emails to set things up and get preferences. I let him handle the details and coordinate everything.

One of the things he set up on our agenda was lunch at Giovannis table.  They do the QR codes for menu access but have the paper ones also if needed.

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Pre-dinner sushi delivery! 

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One of the benefits in Star Class is room service from specialty dining. You have to arrange it through the Genie to make the magic happen but it's a nice alternative to sitting through a full three course meal.

But never fear..I stated this was pre-dinner.

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