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Allure 16-23 Sept - Eastern Caribbean - Not-at-all-live blog

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I am not long back from my first cruise with RCL with my girlfriend (referred to as ‘R’ throughout) and we had a great time.

On the run up to our cruise, I very much enjoyed reading some of the other members’ live blogs.  I wanted to give it a bash, but knew I would struggle with the commitment of blogging while we were away, especially without a laptop.  However, I decided to take some notes in my phone while I was away to allow me to write up a retrospective blog once we were home.

I will write up one day at a time – partly to recreate the feel of a live blog, but mostly just to give me the chance of writing up each day!  I will also try to provide a few photos from each day.  I tried to remember to take some food photos in true blogger style however that was not in my nature and I’m afraid I don’t think I remembered to take any ‘Windjammer recon’ photos.  I think whenever I was there I was too hungry to think about grabbing a camera rather than some cutlery and a plate!

Since I took some notes at the time of the cruise but am writing it up afterwards, apologies if there are some past/present tense mix-ups.

I also acknowledge that this is coming a decent while after the actual trip, however it did take me a bit of time to write up as it coincided with some busy time at work and a bit of further travel for me – specifically a trip to Bermuda to visit some friends.

I will start tomorrow with our day of travel.  For now, here is some background…

  • It was a 7 night cruise.  Itinerary: 2 days at sea, St Maarten, Puerto Rico, Labadee, day at sea.
  • It was both R’s and my first cruise with RCL.
  • We were in stateroom 12680, a Deck 12 balcony room, slightly aft.
  • We have no kids so no opinions on family activities/experiences.
  • We both had the drinks package as it was included in the deal we got.
  • We did not have any specialty dining package and didn’t feel the need at any point to partake.
  • We were on My Time Dining.

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Day 0 – Sept 15 – Travel Day

We awoke pretty early (4.45am) at our home in Scotland’s Central Belt.  We packed as much as possible the night before but as always there were a few items to finish off in the morning.   My parents were kind enough to take us to Edinburgh airport for the flight and the roads were not a problem at that time in the morning, especially not on a Sunday.  Eggs Benedict at the Wetherspoon’s pub in the airport is becoming a bit of a tradition for us at the start of holidays.  R departed slightly from tradition and went for Eggs Royale with smoked salmon (traitor!).  

Luckily we had no issues with our flights.  Even traveling out the day before embarkation, with two flights between home and Florida I was conscious that it wouldn’t take much disruption to cause problems.  We also did not have a long layover in London which added to the concern but ultimately worked well.

On the main flight I partook in some in-flight entertainment.  On a day time flight it always seems like a bit of a treat to sit down and watch three films in a row.  When else do you have the time?  Adding to the treat is the lower concern of the quality of the film because, well, what else are you going to do?  Watch the clouds?  Specifically I watched Tomb Raider, Paterno and Game Night.  All of which I thought were perfectly watchable for airplane films.

We took an Uber from Miami airport to where we were spending the night – Hampton Inn Downtown Ft. Lauderdale / Las Olas.  Getting an Uber involved obtaining some roaming data on my phone as it was not possible to arrange this pre-trip.  My mobile provider is somewhat unreliable but luckily experienced no issues with that.

We were on the earlier flight out to Miami and arrived at the hotel for around 5.30pm.  A novelty since we are used to spending all day traveling to the US, arriving at a hotel late in the evening and going straight to bed.  So once we arrived, we showered and headed out to Las Olas.  We both like Mexican, and I had already pre-researched what looked like a good option – Rocco’s Taqueria.  Fortunately, while I was in the shower, R did some research on the fly and found the same place.  “Let’s go here” she said as I exited the bathroom.  I probably had a confused look on my face while I tried to determine if I had already mentioned the place or not.

It was a walk of only just over a mile but it was pretty dang hot for a couple of Scottish milk bottles.  When we arrived it was a bit of a wait for a table so we grabbed a couple of margaritas until one freed up. It was a good sign since on our walk there were not many places which were doing a roaring trade at that time in the evening.  Funnily enough, I seem to remember the only other place that looked busy was another Mexican place (something Cantina from memory). 

We opted for some fresh guacamole made at the table and for main I had three different tacos (chicken, pork, steak).  R had fish tacos and we shared some fried jalapeños.  The tacos and guac were very good.  R also enjoyed her tacos however not being a fish fan, I did not sample.  The jalapenos we got on the side were good initially but a bit samey after a few.  Only so much ‘fried-ness’ you can handle especially as you start to get a bit more full.

On the walk back, we tried to get to a CVS to pick up some extra sunscreen but we came up the wrong street and overshot it.  I didn’t have any more roaming left at that point for an en route GoogleMaps check.  I ended up going back out to find it myself after we got back to the hotel and I checked the best route.  I have to admit, after dark, alone, in downtown Ft. Lauderdale it did not seem like the safest of walks – even for someone used to wandering Glasgow.  However when I arrived back to the hotel room, jubilant, with trophy sunscreen clutched in my hand, I was sure I would find my dutiful partner, her hand quivering over the 911 buttons of the telephone anxiously awaiting my retu… nope – she was asleep.

I joined her for some zzz’s of my own at the back of 9pm.  Understandably I was very tired after a long day. Officially we were up for about 21.5 hours after only 4 hours sleep night before and about half an hour, max, on the plane.  However with some tacos, and a couple of miles walked (unmurdered!), it seemed like a successful travel day.

 

Photo 1 - view from our hotel room
Photo 2 - a tortillia-chip view of the fresh guac
Photo 3 - trio of tacos
Photo 4 - fried jalapenos with avocado ranch

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Day 1 – Sept 16 – Embarkation Day

 

After a solid amount of sleep, we awoke around 6am.  Since I knew that with the jet lag and the early night we would wake early, my plan was to get up and go for a swim in the hotel pool.  However it was still very dark outside. Scotland be a cloudy, gloomy place so it is easy to forget that even though in Summer Scotland is light very early and until very late, lower latitudes are not so – even though they have more sunshine in general.  So we lazed about for a bit until it lightened up and then headed down to the pool once the sun had decided to show up.  The pool was pretty basic but crucially it was empty (people-wise, not water-wise) while I was there which was nice.  At that point, I was fairly sure that I wouldn’t have an empty pool on the cruise at any point.  Spoiler alert – I was wrong! 

We took some dry clothes to the pool so that we could go straight to breakfast.  Again pretty basic but, as a Scotsman would say, ye cannae beat free!  The highlight was definitely the waffle maker allowing you to make fresh waffles which were superb.

Back up to room to shower and pack up before heading to port.  Again we got an Uber from the hotel and arrived at port around 11.15am – this was contrary to our set-sail pass instructing us to arrive from 2pm.  Check-in was quiet however one small issue was that US immigration in the airport had not stamped our passports which they had done on previous trips to the US and that the cruise staff feel like they should have done.  Luckily I had a copy of the ESTA printed which smoothed feathers.  However, I feel like therein lies a tip!  Even though it is meant to be wholly electronic, print a copy of your ESTA confirmation.  My father will be proud!

The holding area unfortunately was quite busy so we had to wait a while before boarding.  We did get boarded at about 12.30pm which is long before we would have been boarded if we had arrived at the port at 2pm.  Since this was our first time on a RCL ship, let alone an Oasis class ship, I can attest that it is very disorientating when you first get on.  You emerge on the Promenade and, with no directions on where to go next, stop dead.  All while the RCL veterans behind you file on with their tried and tested battle plans.

Contrary to some aforementioned veterans’ advice (and perfectly in line with others’) we headed straight to the Windjammer for some lunch.  There was a short queue but really not that bad seeing as it had been open a while and was peak lunchtime.  It was not the doomsday that some say will befall you if you dare enter the WJ on embarkation day.  Glibness aside, I will however take this opportunity to point out that when I state that something was quiet, in truth I never found out how full the ship was compared with capacity.  Being a September cruise outside of any school holidays of which I’m aware, it is entirely possible that the ship was generally much quieter that it could have been.

Getting back to the food, we both had a small plate each plus our first of many sweet items.  More importantly, I got my first beer of the cruise.  Upon exiting the WJ we were also able to sort our dinner times for the rest of the week.  I had booked My Time Dining times for some key dates (namely embarkation and two days we had shows) but the available times online for the other days were not very convenient – Either 5.30pm or after 8.30pm.  Arranging the other days on the ship however allowed us to secure 7.30pm for all other days which seemed much more reasonable.

Conveniently the rooms were open by the time we had finished all of that so went down to dump our backpacks and have a read of our first cruise compass.  First stop was the theatre for a welcome presentation with a raffle.  We both got a Mai Tai on the way – as you do.  No prizes at raffle even though we managed to sneak double tickets by arriving at the theatre and then leaving again to go and get the aforementioned Mai Tais.

We then took a wander through Central Park.  I attempted to get another cocktail on the way however I was not allowed since it was close to the time for the muster drill.  The fact that this was the only lack of freedom for the whole week did not make the knock-back any less irking.  After said muster drill we headed to spa for another raffle but no luck again – this would be a theme.  We both grabbed a peach margarita on the way.  I promise not to mention every single drink we had for the whole week however for some reason it seems obligatory on embarkation day!  While at the spa, they of course use the raffle to drum up interest for their various health offerings during the week.  As a gym staff member announced that since we were there we must have some interest in staying healthy, I slowly lowered my peach margarita from my lips.

We headed back to the room for a bit and I watched some NFL while I unpacked.  R opted for a nap over unpacking and, much to my chagrin, managed to avoid at least fully unpacking for the entire trip!  After we showered and dressed casually (and casually dressed), we headed down for our dinner in the main dining room.  We were given a nice table for two in a corner of the MDR.  Spoiler alert again – without asking, the host sat us in the same area each night we went to the MDR and in hindsight, I’m glad they did.  Before the trip, I was not bothered about having the same servers each night but the ones we were randomly allocated on Day 1 were very nice and it was good to go back to the same ones each night.  The ability to get a table for two however still certainly makes MTD the better option in my opinion though.  In my opinion, strangers do not make for a relaxing dining experience!

Back to the food, I had antipasti and a pork chop.  Both were very tasty although the pork chop had a lot of bone which made it tricky to cut.  R had crab cake and a fried fish platter (white fish, prawns and scallops) which she enjoyed but was not blown away. We shared a slice of key lime pie which I have to say was fantastic.  Other note was that I had a kind of wholemeal bread roll which had some seeds and cheese on top. This too was very good, and it got me thinking; you can tell a lot of a dining establishment by their bread.  If they don’t care about the quality of their bread, they probably won’t care about the quality of much else.

After dinner we headed up to the deck 14 sun deck to have a look outside while at sea.  Although we didn’t make it there for sail away, I was keen to check out this as it was one of Matt’s hidden tips for Allure.

After grabbing a couple of bottles of water (thanks free drinks package), it was back to the room for a relatively early night.

 

Photo 1 - R enjoying the balcony
Photo 2 - Antipasti and the top quality bread rolls
Photo 3 - The tremendous key lime pie

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Day 2 – Sept 17 – Day at sea

We were up pretty early again – 6.30am or so – still not quite off of UK time.  We both got up and headed to the gym for a bit of cycling to burn off that key lime pie from the night before.  After that we got changed and decided to check out the solarium.  The pool there wasn’t open by that point so we headed to the main pool which was just opening. We stayed in for only about 20 mins but it was great.  Nice and warm and completely empty except us – the small benefits of early nights and early starts.  R even jumped in for a bit which was testament to how warm it was.  I had not expected to see another empty pool this trip after the Ft. Lauderdale hotel but it seemed that even on a ship with up to 6,000 other people, we were some of the few who didn’t party hard on embarkation day.

After heading back to the room to dry off we headed for breakfast in the WJ around 8.30am. It was certainly busy enough but similar to yesterday, it wasn’t too bad.

This was to be a day for exploring so we started off by heading downstairs and checked out the arcade for a bit including a quick game of air hockey – one of our favourite competitive exploits.  We then headed to a table tennis tournament at 10am.  I consider myself as decent at table tennis.  I can certainly beat the average person who does not play regularly however R’s badminton skills means she usually beats me pretty handily.  I got beaten in my first game by someone who could only be described as the Queen of Spin.  She started all meekly, overhitting a couple of early shots and apologising while smiling coyly.  It wasn’t long before she was hitting shots from below the table when you couldn’t see the ball anymore and the ball would loop over with an unpredictable swerve.  I can’t remember the final score but it was probably something like 21-12.  However, it seemed luck was on my side - I got a reprieve and got to play again due to odd numbers and… I got beaten again.  This time it was to a guy who was pretty good – although he also started off a bit rocky.  I got most of my points early and then went on a losing run of about 10 points.  I think I did slightly worse in that one – maybe 21-11.  R narrowly lost her second match but got a silver medal for 2nd best female.

Next R wanted to have a go at the rock climbing wall so we headed to the Boardwalk.  She had her eye on the wall ahead of the cruise since it is a bit of a novelty having one so accessible.  I watched while she had a couple shots, doing well on the second go.  We messed around a bit with one of the cornhole games on the Boardwalk before walking over to Johnny Rockets.  We had no intention of paying for a burger but I had read on the blog that milkshakes were now included in the drinks package, although I wasn’t sure if this was only if you were already paying for a burger.  We were happy to find that they were free at any time and we enjoyed a chocolate milkshake.  It is good to find small areas where they add to the value rather than chip away at it as most companies like to do these days.

Being a sea day, we decided that there would need to be at least some laying by/in a pool.  We headed back to the stateroom to change in to our pool gear and then on to the Solarium.  Being childless we had decided that even though the Solarium pool is a little small that it would be the place for us.  With no kids running around and a bit of heat and UV protection from the glass overhead it definitely seemed like the best option.  We had a chilled out afternoon on the loungers and in the solarium pool with many drinks.  Being a sea day, it was definitely busy but not too bad (you see a pattern here).  No problem getting a lounger although the pool was a little like human soup at times but it was all good.  I’ve never been a particularly heavy drinker of frozen drinks even on holiday but with the heat (and the drinks package) I was certainly enjoying them.  A Miami Vice was one of my favourites.

After a few hours there we headed back to room as we had an early dinner at 5.30pm due to a show later on. It was the first formal night so we changed in to our finery and headed down for dinner.  Only had two courses and we were early so it was very quick – in and out in under an hour.  I had French onion soup and beef tenderloin.  I have to say the beef was fantastic.  I’ve had plenty of fillet steak in my time but this was some of the most tender I’ve had and perfectly medium.  R had lobster bisque and duck a l’orange.

We headed back to stateroom and changed out of formal gear after what felt like no time at all since we had put it on!  We then headed up to the windjammer to check out the desserts.  This had been our plan since the desserts on the MDR menu did not seem all that interesting.  It was our lucky day – they had the same key lime pie as the MDR from yesterday so I was very happy.

After that we headed to the Aqua Theatre for the Ocean Aria show which we had previously booked.  It was very good.  I thought that it would have been impressive enough if it had been in a Vegas hotel so it was unbelievable that it was at the back of a cruise ship. We headed back up to the room after the show.  Another early start and no naps meant that we were pretty tired.  Another spoiler – there was never any evening activity noted in the cruise compass that we thought sounded unmissable so mostly we stuck to the early night/early start pattern for most of the trip.

 

Photo 1 - A crackin' Kraken Colada in the Solarium.
Photo 2 - All these activities but R is already climbing the walls!
Photo 3 - The very warm french onion soup.
Photo 4 - The very good beef tenderloin.
Photo 5 - Waiting for Ocean Aria to begin.

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1 hour ago, BermudaDice said:

wasn’t long before she was hitting shots from below the table when you couldn’t see the ball anymore and the ball would loop over with an unpredictable swerve.  I can’t remember the final score but it was probably something like 21-12.  However, it seemed luck was on my side - I got a reprieve and got to play again due to odd numbers and… I got beaten again.  This time it was to a guy who was pretty good – although he also started off a bit rocky. 

obvious sand baggers....

🤣🤣🤣

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1 hour ago, BermudaDice said:

We were happy to find that they were free at any time and we enjoyed a chocolate milkshake.  It is good to find small areas where they add to the value rather than chip away at it as most companies like to do these days.

This is great news.  I know for sure that they originally required you to purchase food in order to get your "free" milk shake so I guess it was just too hard to enforce that rule.  YIPPEE !!  A rare "win".

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Day 3 – Sept 18 – Day at sea

Once again, R was up early and raring to go.  She headed to the spa at 7am for a stretch and abs class while I had a more sedate start to the day and headed up to the pool at 8am. Similar to yesterday, I went for a quick swim, however unlike yesterday there were a couple of intruders in my pool!  Once R appeared from her class she thought the main pool would be a bit too chilly for her so we took the opportunity to try out one of the cantilevered hot tubs.

After a quick stop at the room to change we headed out to hunt for some breakfast.  Since it was a day at sea and we had time for a more laid back breakfast we tried the a la carte option in the MDR.  I had eggs benedict with some bacon and corned beef hash on the side and R had a smoked salmon omelette. We both had some pancakes on the side.  Overall we thought it was good.  Obviously the choice is smaller than a buffet but the upside is the much fresher food. Bacon was perfectly crisp and pancakes were not soggy.  Also the syrup in little tubs was much better than the syrup vat they had in the WJ.

After breakfast we headed up to Boardwalk.  We played some shuffleboard for 15 mins before a cornhole competition started which we had spied in the Cruise Compass.  R didn’t play but I did pretty well – got to the final round but flamed out the last hurdle. Finished with 200 points and third place had 320. A guy won with 500 points and was clearly very good at it – not just lucky.  He consistently aimed at and hit the smaller targets.

We headed up towards Central Park but stopped in at a US TV visual trivia quiz which we were considering going to but chose the cornhole competition instead.  I was annoyed because as we watched the end of the quiz and the answers it was clear if I’d gone I would have scored 16 out of 18.  However it turned out that it wouldn’t have mattered.  A guy who clearly watches far too much television (not bitter at all) won with 18 out of 18.   It made me realise that on a ship with up to 6,000 people, and less than 100 showing up to any given trivia event, for any given topic there is likely going to be someone more knowledgeable that you.

Once we got up to Central Park we stopped off at the Park Café so that R could get an iced coffee.  I, on the other hand, got started with my first cocktail of the day. We spotted that there was a Harry Potter trivia event later (I probably hadn’t thought of my own philosophy on specific-topic trivia at this stage).  We used to be pretty good on Harry Potter knowledge but it has been a fair time since reading one of the books or seeing a film.  So we decided to use our quiet moment in Central Park to do some quick HP facts research.  

From there we decided to jump up to the WJ for a quick lunch.  It was nearing 1pm and I had seen a slot tournament in the cruise compass so we quickly ran down to that.  By the time we got there folks had already started and it seemed we were too late to join in but it turned out there were multiple rounds so I signed up.  It was a frenzied event of smashing the ‘bet’ button over and over again and popping balloons that randomly came up on the screen.  Some people (those that were doing well, obviously) were getting super in to it with one lady giddily hooting and tooting as it came closer to the end of the 3 minute time allocation.  While waiting we got chatting to a lady who said she had won it all on the last cruise she was on and therefore won a free cruise to take in the future.  She gave me a couple of pointers but, to be honest, they were pretty obvious and ones that I had already worked out given the simple nature of the task – tap as quickly as you can, keep your other hand near the screen for popping balloons, switch hands when the tapping hand got tired.

My round arrived and I played the perfect strategy. Unfortunately in my qualifying round I only came 6th out of 12, highlighting that despite strategy it was really down to the luck of what the computer algorithm gave you.  I didn’t mention that to free-cruise lady though.  I would have probably got some nail polish to the face, or violently flicked with a SeaPass card.

Afterwards I made a small voluntary contribution to the casino fund and R headed up to see the start of the World’s sexiest man competition.  We both agreed to meet at On Air for the HP trivia which started in half an hour or so.  When that rolled around it was pretty busy but I managed to find a table with one seat.  R arrived one question in which was clutch since she somehow managed to remember the specific number where the Dursley’s lived on Privet Drive - number 4.  From then on we did very well.  We got a couple points which were aided by our earlier research, and a couple of guesses.  Well educated, but guesses none the less.  The first of those two questions being, how many muggles saw Ron and Harry in the flying car - we guessed ‘7’ simply because we didn’t feel the number was big and 7 was a number that permeated the series.  The second was a bonus question that no one was expected to know and everyone expected to guess – how many times over the last 2 films did Harry’s scar slightly change position in continuity errors.  Although it seemed unlikely we guessed ‘7’ again.  The most hard earned answer was to the question “For how many years was Sirius Black imprisoned?”. A fine detail of which neither of us retained but with some sleuth-like deduction – he was arrested for being involved with Harry’s parents murders when Harry was 1; Harry turned 11 in the first book; Sirius escaped in the 3rd book when harry was 13 – we arrived at the answer of 12 which turned out to be correct.  Somehow we had managed to get 17/18 which was a score only matched by others, making us the proud new owners of two Royal Caribbean highlighters (!!).

After the trivia we headed back to our room to get our pool gear.  We headed to the Solarium and after that it was a carbon copy of yesterday afternoon - swimming, cocktails, lounging, reading.  I had a Miami Vice and a Kraken Colada again since they were so good yesterday.

We headed back to the room a little after 6pm to get showered and ready for dinner – we were back in the MDR again for Caribbean dress night.  Just lucky I brought my one and only Caribbean-y shirt!  Although maybe not so lucky for R who had to be seen with me wearing it.  For dinner both R and I had Asian pork tacos to start.  For main I had chicken cordon bleu and R had garlic shrimp.  With a piece of breaded chicken and French fries, it looked like I had ordered from the kids menu but, what can I say, it was tasty.  Again for dessert we decided to go to the WJ but the choice was disappointing tonight (no more key lime pie.  Sad face).

After dinner we took a stroll towards the back of the ship since we hadn’t been that way much so far.  There was a kid’s flow rider session taking place so we watched them for a bit. Some were very good. Others… not so much.  After watching some of them pick up some brand new bruises, we watched a bit of the Ocean Aria show from the top deck.  It was interesting seeing it from this perspective especially watching the scuba divers do their part which goes unnoticed by the audience.

Once again we headed back to the room relatively early.  The problem with early starts and no naps is the early to bed part. 

 

Photo 1 - MDR breakfast.
Photo 2 - Pushing buttons to win a free cruise.  What a world.
Photo 3 - Sweet chilli asian pork tacos.
Photo 4 - The kids menu... I mean the chicken cordon blue.
Photo 5 - Flowrider-eye view of Ocean Aria.

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Day 4 – Sept 19 – St. Maarten

It was our first port day so we had another early start.  We returned to the WJ for breakfast and went ready to go straight to the gangway after we had finished.

Once we were off the ship and headed straight for the meeting spot for our tour.  On the recommendation of @KLA we had booked Tour 1 offered by Bernard Tours.  Today our tour guide was ‘Action’ Jackson.

The tour started off on the Dutch side and had a couple of quick stops for pictures.  As others have reported there is still sadly a lot of hurricane damage on the island.  Also, due to many of the tourism-related functions (i.e. airport, cruise port, many hotels) being on the Dutch side, this side has received much more support than the French side.

There was another stop to feed and take pictures of some iguanas which was cool.  The set up is that there is a stall selling some snacks (for humans) and they have a mat where the iguanas hang out waiting to be fed.  They’re not chained up or even in an enclosure.  The guys will give you a stick with a leaf attached to the end and the iguanas will come up and munch the leaf allowing you to get some photos.  There’s then a tip jar if you have opted to feed them and take photos.

There was another quick 20 minute stop at Orient Beach however we mostly used this as a toilet stop at the beach bar there and a chance to take in some views.  The weather had been a bit cloudy so far at that point but the sun was starting to come out making the water come to life with those Caribbean blues.

The next stop was in Marigot on the French side and we had an hour to self explore.  R and I hiked up the steps to check out Fort Louis.  There are a decent number of steps up to the fort and it was very hot but luckily it was nice and breezy once we got up there.  It was good to see a sight that was not officially on the tour and I’m glad we did that rather than spend the whole time looking round the market. There are some very good views from up there.

Once we came down we got a fresh coconut at one of the stalls and browsed other stalls where I picked up a spare pair of sunglasses.  Up to this point I had thought that I had left my good sunglasses at home and although I had a cheap pair of aviators with me as well, I prefer a wayfarer style when just walking around, hence the purchase.  Another spoiler coming, it turned out my good sunglasses were in R’s suitcase which she of course never fully unpacked so we only discovered them later in the cruise – grr! : )

The next stop was the famous Maho beach.  Luckily our visit coincided with a couple of jet plane arrivals which was very cool to see.  When selecting this tour I knew that this was one of the stops, but I wasn’t sure how likely it would see some landings.  I got a couple of videos however after waiting around for the biggest one of the day that would have best video, in my haste, somehow I managed to put my phone on to timelapse mode instead of normal video.  Therefore instead of a 1 minute video with sound, I had a 3 second silent video with an airplane going at the speed of light.

After Maho beach the stops were complete and we headed back towards the ship.  We browsed the stores briefly at the pier and I picked up a St. Maarten Christmas tree decoration – another vacation tradition.

Overall it was a very good whistle-stop tour of St. Maarten/Martin.  It is impossible to overlook the remaining damage and the continuing recovery but it is good that cruisers are still coming in their droves.  It sounds like the hotels are just starting to re-open so hopefully longer term vacations will resume soon, but from what I saw the island is still perfectly set up for cruisers.

Once back on the ship we headed straight for the WJ since we were both very hungry.  I then headed to the Solarium while R stayed in the room to chill for a while.  It was quieter at the Solarium presumably because we had been in port and it was later on in the afternoon by then.

Once back at the room we slowly got ready for dinner.  I suggested that we try to go down early tonight and get a drink before dinner rather than last minute scrambles to make it on time.  Somewhat surprisingly we did manage to do that.  We visited the champagne bar where I had a Bellini and R had a chocolate martini.  It struck us that casually having a cocktail before strolling along to a nice meal really was out of the norm for us and we enjoyed it.

We were once again in the MDR once again and Joel and Kadek seemed excited to find out how we had enjoyed our first port day.  I had a pepper soup and chicken Parmesan.  R had ceviche and jerk pork. We headed back to the room after that after a quick stop off at the jogging track to do one lap before bed.  Tomorrow is another early start in San Juan so it was early to bed once again. 


(Looks like order of photos got reversed below for some reason)

Photo 1 - Some hungry iguanas.
Photo 2 - Looking up to Fort Louis.
Photo 3 - Fort Louis pano.
Photo 4 - A gloomy tricolor.
Photo 5 - Duck!
Photo 6 - Green pepper soup appetizer.
Photo 7 - Entrees.

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[I've now worked out how to insert photos in to the body of the post rather than have them all at the end, so I will do that to break up the text a bit]

Day 5 – Sept 20 – San Juan

Another early start, this one pretty dang early due to the arrival time of 7am in San Juan.  Since when was vacationing so tiring?  Back up to the WJ for breakfast due to the convenience for a quick breakfast.

Our plan for San Juan was to self explore and mostly visit the forts.  We were planning on trying to hit both forts in the one day before all-aboard at 1.30pm.  We were off ship before 8am but knew that the forts didn’t open until 9am.  So first we headed towards the cemetery next to El Morro since it looked like a sight to be seen and I imagined it wouldn’t have opening times – it didn’t.

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Due to the time we decided we would attempt San Cristobal first as we figured by the time we walked there it should be bang on opening time.   We Followed a path from the cemetery and when we came round a corner we saw the view of a mix of colourful buildings which I was sure I recognised from the video for the Despactio song.  We hadn’t planned on it and I had no idea that it had been filmed so close to Old San Juan.

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We walked through the La Perla area before cutting up on to the main street.  We got to San Cristóbal about 15 minutes before it was to open so we took a seat while we waited with others doing the same.  Right at 9am a park ranger came down to open up... or so we thought.  Turns out San Cristóbal wasn’t going to open today so everyone is turned away.  It was certainly annoying but it was just lucky that we had gone to San Cristobal first rather than rush round El Morro to then go and get turned away later in the day.

So we turned and headed back the way we came back towards El Morro. We spent a good couple of hours looking around El Morro and I found the history of it all very interesting.  In hindsight it was good that San Cristobal was closed as it meant that we saw pretty much all of El Morro rather than trying to rush round both.

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After leaving El Morro we tried to find our way down to the pathway below the wall.  We managed to meet the path at the main city gate which was convenient since that was the main reason I wanted to walk the pathway.  We followed the path round until it came to an end and then we cut up the hill to search out Barrachina.  We knew it was very tourist-y but seeing as it was our first time in San Juan it seemed only appropriate to enjoy a couple of Pina Coladas at the birthplace of the Pina Colada.  They were certainly welcome after a hot day wandering the city.

We headed back to the ship a good hour before all aboard but felt like we had got a lot done in that short time.  Similar to yesterday we headed straight up to the WJ for some lunch and then I headed to the Solarium pool.  Another Pina Colada for me at the Solarium bar while we sailed past the once-daunting El Morro fort.  I wonder what an old Spanish soldier garrisoned there would think if they saw Allure of the Seas sail past!

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After chilling out for a bit in our room we headed back down to the Champagne bar again before dinner for some martinis.  Since we enjoyed the novelty of drinks before dinner yesterday, it seemed only right to do so again.  Dinner again was in the MDR.  I had duck terrine and lasagne which was excellent.  R had potato soup and beef stroganoff.

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We again headed up to windjammer for dessert however.  As good as all the desserts were they never quite made it back to Key Lime Pie standard.  Finally it was back to the room for some Thursday Night Football and then bed after a long day. 

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Day 6 – Sept 21 – Labadee

[not many photos from today since I didn't really have my phone out much on Labadee]

We had a bit of a lie in which was a treat since we didn’t dock in Labadee until 9.30am.  R however was up a bit earlier than I was so she headed to the gym for a bit.  I on the other hand was banking on the stairs continuing to provide my daily workout.

Once we gathered our things we headed to the WJ for breakfast.  We had a snorkelling excursion booked for 10am so we got off the ship and headed straight for the meeting spot.  The excursion involved going out on a boat for about 15 minutes to a reef.  They then provided all the equipment for you to get in the water.  The group then followed a guide along the edges of the reef where he would point out various things he spotted.  It was a bit manic at times with people not looking where they were going and either swimming right in front of you or swimming up behind you and in to your fins.  I also had to tap a lady to point out that she was about to swim headfirst in to a jellyfish – you’re welcome!  After a while I just hung back to avoid the crush.  The snorkelling was good and more fun than just swimming about off a beach.  On the way back they provided some rum punch that wasn’t very strong.

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Once we got back it was about 11.45am so we headed straight to the lunch buffet.  We weren’t too hungry after breakfast but our waiter had given us the tip that it was best to go when it first came out rather than get the old stuff later on.

We had a second excursion, kayaking, at 3pm leaving from Columbus Cove so we headed round that way to the beach there.  We got a couple of drinks and I went in the water while R lounged.  She did come in later on though and we threw a ball about in the water. The water was nice however it seems there were quite a lot of jellyfish around.  I didn’t see any myself at the beach but everyone was talking about them and I overheard a guy talking about something being closed because of them.  We did notice that no one was on the water park inflatables so perhaps it was that.  Either that or no one paid to use them but that seemed unlikely with up to 6,000 passengers.

Next we met our guide for the kayaking.  It turned out that only the two of us had booked the 3pm kayaking trip so we were essentially getting a private tour!  It involved kayaking out a fair distance to just off the coast of the proper Labadie town where the guide was from.  He said that that way we could see some of real Haiti.   We then sat in our kayaks in the water just off the coast while he gave some commentary.  He talked about life in the town and how much things had improved since the arrival of RCL.  Before RCL he said the town was made up of 700 people and now it is 6,000.  Now they have running water, electricity for 15 hours a day, 2 elementary schools and a small hospital.  He said that RCL employs at least one person from every household in Labadie.  It was good to hear him talk quite genuinely about the positive impact that RCL’s arrival has had on the town.  I guess the impact on Haiti as a whole would be relatively small but for this one small town the impact has been huge.

Once we were back I had to down a bottle of water.  It certainly wasn’t a leisurely paddle around.  I don’t know how the tour would have differed with more people, but as it was it was a fairly strenuous paddle across to the town.  We started to wandered back towards the ship.  I wanted to get a Christmas tree decoration so we went through the markets.  R went on ahead since she didn’t really fancy the haggling.  I’m not a big fan of it myself but mostly because I’m a bit of a softy when it comes to these local markets.  I get my Christmas tree decoration but to be honest it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.  When I asked someone if they had Christmas tree decorations he was of course like “oh, yes, yes” and led me to someone else’s stall.  What they had wasn’t too great and they didn’t even say ‘Labadee’ or ‘Haiti’ on them.  Of course being a softy I didn’t want to look at what they had then say no and leave.  When I asked if they had any that had ‘Labadee’ or ‘Haiti’ on them they were of course like “oh, yes, yes”.  He then left and promptly came back with a Sharpie.  Apparently they could make it so that they had any words I wanted on them!  Anyway, so now we have a pretty ‘rough and ready’ Christmas tree decoration with a story behind it and ‘Labadee’ written on it in Sharpie!

I managed to escape the market with only buying one other item (a wooden shot glass I didn’t need - big softy).  From there it was back to the ship to get all the salt showered off.

We headed down to the promenade for a bit and R got an iced coffee while I had a cocktail.  We decided to have dinner in the WJ tonight.  Firstly it was Indian night in the WJ which is up our street, and secondly it was the second formal night in the MDR which is not so much up our street.  We don’t mind it and make the effort when we go but our preference would always be casual.  So we headed up and it was very good. Very nice butter chicken and a made-to-order stir fry section.

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We headed down to the theatre after dinner.  We had the Blue Planet show booked for 10pm but the way the week has been going so far I knew that there was no way R would have been up for a show starting that late.  So we headed down to be on standby for the 8pm show and we got in no problem.  It was good and the trampoline acrobatics especially were impressive but the singing and dancing was a little traditional.  A bit too Eurovision maybe for our tastes!

After the show we walked through the casino.  R saw that twinkle in my eye when I passed the craps table so she said she was going back to the room.  I hung about and watched for a bit before deciding ‘what the heck’ and playing for a while.  I don’t go to casinos often although there are plenty casinos back home if I was so inclined but not many have craps so that is generally the game I go for when I’m in Vegas or elsewhere.  Unfortunately, when I say I played for ‘a while’ that is probably being a bit generous – it didn’t go well.  I burned through my own budgeted allocation pretty dang quick not helped by a bad mojo croupier who I must have offended somehow since she spoke to me like I was a disobedient child.  In hindsight I should have taken a note of her name but in the moment I forgot I was on a customer service oriented cruise and not a cut throat casino.  Not wanting to chase my losses, I called it a night.  After burning through the cash and muttering about the nameless croupier on my way up the stairs, I headed back to the room. 

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Day 7 – Sept 22 – Sea day

The last day of the cruise.  Again R got up a bit earlier and went to the gym.  Some impressive willpower on the last day of our trip!  I stayed in bed for a little longer and then headed to the main pool for a quick pre-breakfast swim – it seems this has quickly become a sea day ritual.  I lazed in the pool for a bit until R showed up.  She stuck her feet in for 10 minutes but then we got packed up and headed back to the room to get dried off for breakfast.

We once again opted for the WJ for breakfast, plus it turned out to be quite a large breakfast as they also had a chocolate delight stand set up with various chocolate items. I had some mousse from there which was good but very sweet.

Since it was our last day we wanted to try and tick things off that we hadn’t got round to doing so far.  First on that list was some bingo.  It happened to be the win-a-cruise version so that worked out quite well.  Unfortunately, not only were we unsuccessful, but we didn’t even get within one number of a full house at any point.  We only bought the lowest number of sheets possible so we didn’t have much of a chance compared to some people who were buying a ton of sheets.  The guy who ran the bingo said that someone had bought 45 sheets and that seemed to be confirmed by people who had to shout for him to slow down even though the pace between numbers was already quite slow.  I can’t imagine the feeling of winning a free cruise on your last day on a current cruise.  It would be an even sweeter feeling if, like us, it was your first time and you didn’t buy many sheets.  By the law of averages I guess that must have happened for someone at some point – sadly not for us this time.

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We went to see if we could play some shuffleboard but it was closed for Aqua Theatre rehearsals.  We opted at that point to go to the Solarium.  It was another hot day so we both alternated between being in the pool and reading on some loungers.  I like to spend most of my time in the pool and R is the opposite but she did very kindly bring me a couple of cocktails to the pool.  I know that the bar staff would take orders and bring you drinks to the pool but not only did that involve having your Seapass card in the pool, mostly it just seemed a bit too indulgent for my tastes so sit in a pool while someone fetched you a drink!

We headed back to the room to get showered and changed for the evening.  We opted for the WJ again tonight since the MDR menu didn’t look spectacular.  I however went down to the MDR just after it opened to find our waiters to thank them.  As ridiculous as it sounds, they were so friendly during the week and since we were also at the WJ last night I wanted to make sure they knew that we hadn’t abandoned the MDR because of the service.  I know what you’re thinking - big softie!

While down on the lower decks, before we headed up to the WJ, we ticked something else off of our list that we hadn’t done yet - Sorrentos pizza.  I had read from a few posts that the pizza was awful and, being quite a pizza fan, I was keen to see how RCL managed to mess up dough, sauce and cheese.  I’m not sure if they have upped their game or I just have lower standards than some, but I thought the pizza was perfectly good.  Sure, it wasn’t gourmet Neapolitan pizza but it was as perfectly adequate in my eyes.

After our snack we headed to the WJ.  Unfortunately I wasn’t so impressed by the food tonight.  It was meant to be a wings/butchers night.  The wings were ok and so was some other stuff but they also had a seafood section that smelled really strongly.  Even R who loves seafood steered clear of that.

After dinner we headed out to the Flowriders and caught the end of some really good folk do their thing which was impressive to see.  The main reason we went out was to play mini golf – another item on the list – but there were no putters available.  We headed down to the boardwalk to play the game of shuffleboard that we had failed to play earlier.  I trailed R right to the end and then won it by one point with the last puck.  Pretty smug.

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We dropped by the windjammer briefly so that R could get a cup of tea before heading back out and finding that the mini golf was much quieter.  R beat me to make up for the crushing shuffleboard loss, but I wasn’t really taking it all that seriously… honest!

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We headed black to the stateroom at that point.  Sadly it was about that time so R did a bit of packing.  I had already got a lot of things ready for packing.  We had opted for the express departure so since we didn’t have to put our cases out tonight, my plan was to get everything ready to go but actually pack in the morning. 

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Day 8 – Sept 23 – Disembark day (a sad day - so sad I didn't take a single photo)

We were up at about 6am to get ready and pack.  We headed to the WJ for our final breakfast – sad times.  Back to the room to pick up our cases and then off we got. Overall I was very impressed with how they got thousands of people off the ship pretty seamlessly.

Once we got out of the terminal we ordered an Uber.  I was a little concerned at the prospect as it was a little manic but it all worked out fine.  It was helped by the fact that we were randomly allocated an Uber Lux even though we ordered the normal UberX.  It was a white Jaguar so pretty easy to spot when it arrived since it stood out from the mass of other cars.

Our flight was leaving Miami at 5pm and at this point it was about 9am.  We had thought previously about what to do in the interim.  One option was to kill the time doing one of RCLs excursions which is basically a bus tour which then takes you to the airport.  We wouldn’t have got much from that as it would really have just been a way to do an elongated airport transfer.  I had a better idea.  When we come to the States, especially Florida or Vegas, we like to hit an outlet mall and do a bunch of clothes shopping.  Neither of us particularly enjoy clothes shopping so at least for the past few years it has been a way to do a year’s worth of clothes shopping in one day and then not have to do anything else for the rest of the year.  So I had searched for outlet malls.  At first I saw the Sawmills one in Ft Lauderdale but the problem there would have been that we would need to get from there to Miami airport which is a long enough drive to encounter unexpected problems on our way to the flight.  So I looked for ones near Miami airport and found Dolphin Mall - a mere 10-15 mins drive from the airport.  That seemed like a great option.  The only downside was that since it was a Sunday it didn’t open until 11am so we knew we’d have to wait about. The upside, I imagine they do a fair amount of business from people either coming from or going to the airport so the website noted that they have lockers for luggage storage - ideal.

So that’s where our Uber headed.  We had no issues getting there and the Uber dropped us off at the main entrance.  We found some seats outside in the shade so we camped out and read as we had maybe 80 minutes until the shops opened up.  With about 15 mins or so to go we headed inside to find the lockers.  We found the closest ones we managed to get our two suitcases and all other carry on things in to two of the big suitcase sized lockers.  They were $5 each for the full day.  The smaller ones which we didn’t use were $3 each.  They are automated and seemed to be the exact same make as the ones at rides in the Universal Studios parks except without fingerprint scanners.  There weren’t a whole lot of lockers but I think there were multiple locations throughout the mall.  One thing I found strange was that later when we removed our things from the lockers there wasn’t an option to release the locker.  You pay for all day and they’re meant to be multi entry access so I think the two lockers would then be out of action for the rest of the day even though we’d left – unless they have another way of determining that the contents have been cleared out.

Anyway, we got a map and planned our attack.  We had a very successful shopping trip including purchases in Nike, American Eagle, Converse, Ralph Lauren and Levi – all American outlet mall classics!  At about 2.45pm we headed back to the lockers to clear out.  I had packed an extra duffle bag on the way here so we threw our purchases in there and I would just carry that on our flight.  One final Uber to the airport and that was our trip over.

We got a double whammy of frustrating news when we got to the airport. Out flight to London was delayed by 1.5 hours and our connecting flight up to Edinburgh had been cancelled and we’d been put on another one about 2.5 hours later than the first.  I knew we were likely to make most of the initial flight’s delay back and since we already had a decent layover in London, the extra 2.5 hours was not welcome – especially after a red-eye flight with little to no sleep.

A Taco Bell before security served as our farewell to fine American cuisine.  I then a beer after security while waiting on the plane, suitably shocked when they asked to be paid for the beer.  There was NFL playing at the bar so it wasn’t too painful a wait.

With the jet stream providing a tail wind the flight was only about 7.5 hours and as expected most of the delay was made back.  I watched one film while dinner was served - The Commuter – another perfect plane film.  Pretty silly and mindless with no great scenery that would be missed through the low definition screens.  Then as usual with a red-eye flight there was the usual struggle to get some sleep.  Once in London we settled in to our layover and read/tried not to pass out with fatigue.  One more short flight and we were back in Scotland – one week older, a little less milk-bottle coloured and livers slightly more pickled. 

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To wrap up, and in true @Matt blog style, I’ve noted some of my random thoughts below:

  • Despite our efforts on our last sea day, we did not manage to tick everything off of our lists.  A few things we had already decided that we wouldn’t try.  We didn’t feel the need to spend extra on any specialty dining and we decided prior to the cruise that we would give Mama Mia and the ice shows a miss.  Most of the things I had planned to try but didn’t get round to revolved around food (and coincidentally, the Boardwalk).  Specifically we did not get round to trying the boardwalk donuts, the complimentary hot dogs, Sabor guacamole, or a Kummelweck.
     
  • I’ve read that they make Oasis class ships easy to find your way around and I have to say I agree.  The neighbourhoods mean there are only a few locations to memorise and then everything else falls in to place.  Similarly I’ve read that the ship is designed to not feel crowded.  Again I would say they succeeded.  Admittedly I don’t know how full the ship was but finding a table at the WJ was only ever a minor inconvenience and we never struggled for a lounger even on sea days.  We only ever tended to be in the Solarium however while walking through the rest of the pool deck there were always loungers to be seen, even if they weren’t right by the pool.
     
  • I find it interesting that on one of the largest ships in the world with however many thousand people you still seem to always run in to the same certain people.  Like the pudgy kid who walked around like he owned the place with his vest top and flat bill cap looking like the stereotypical school bully, the girl with long braids dyed bright red, and the loved up couple who couldn’t keep their hands off each other and liked to sit in pools with their legs wrapped round each other.  Even though I understand that it’s just a form of confirmation bias – I initially noticed those people and therefore continue to spot them – I still find it interesting. 
     
  • We both did enjoy having the drinks package however if we had to pay for it I doubt it would make sense. R doesn’t drink a whole lot.  For me even on sea days and really packing in the cocktails, I likely barely would have broken even.  I guess we will just always have to keep a look out for the deals where they include the package!
     
  • We were in stateroom number 12680 which was aft.  I did put in a bit of thought when selecting a stateroom but since I had never been on an RCL ship let alone Allure specifically, I mostly just based it on checking what was on the decks above and below to avoid noise.  In hindsight the room choice was perfect.  Being aft it was at the right end of the ship for the WJ, Boardwalk and MDR.  The only place we went to often which was forward was the Solarium.  Also, 680 was only a few rooms along from the stairwell which meant no long walks along the corridor to/from the stairs. Being up on Deck 12 was also particularly good for quick stairs access to the WJ and pool deck.
     
  • Speaking of the stairs, we made sure to almost always take them wherever we were going.  Aside from a very small number of exceptions the only time we took the elevators was after we got back from a day in port and we had to get from the gangway to Deck 12 after a long hot day.  R was good for regularly going to the gym on sea days, but for me the stairs were the key exercise throughout the week.  Unfortunately, despite the regular stair use including up to 10 decks at once, when I returned to work the stairs up to the fourth floor seemed no easier that they were before I left.

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40 minutes ago, BermudaDice said:
  • I’ve read that they make Oasis class ships easy to find your way around and I have to say I agree.  The neighbourhoods mean there are only a few locations to memorise and then everything else falls in to place.  Similarly I’ve read that the ship is designed to not feel crowded.  Again I would say they succeeded.  Admittedly I don’t know how full the ship was but finding a table at the WJ was only ever a minor inconvenience and we never struggled for a lounger even on sea days.  We only ever tended to be in the Solarium however while walking through the rest of the pool deck there were always loungers to be seen, even if they weren’t right by the pool.
     
  • I find it interesting that on one of the largest ships in the world with however many thousand people you still seem to always run in to the same certain people.  Like the pudgy kid who walked around like he owned the place with his vest top and flat bill cap looking like the stereotypical school bully, the girl with long braids dyed bright red, and the loved up couple who couldn’t keep their hands off each other and liked to sit in pools with their legs wrapped round each other.  Even though I understand that it’s just a form of confirmation bias – I initially noticed those people and therefore continue to spot them – I still find it interesting. 

Completely agree on both of these points.  That was our same experience.  Three different restaurants the first three nights and we saw several of the same people in each (to include the MDR).  And while finding a "prime" lounger might have been difficult, finding a lounger was not an issue at all.

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