The 225,282-ton Allure of the Seas was the world's largest cruise ship -- for six years -- before that title was stolen by sister Harmony of the Seas in May 2016. It can carry 5,492 passengers at double occupancy or 6,452 when every berth is full.
It has two famous near-twins, Oasis of the Seas and the aforementioned Harmony, with which it shares roughly 95 percent of its DNA -- including a novel neighbourhood concept that divides the ship into seven distinct spaces. It also shares inward-facing balcony cabins, arguably the biggest (and best) kids program at sea, an ice rink, a bar that rises between three decks, simulated surfing, rock climbing walls and an outdoor high-diving AquaTheater.
The ship is breathtaking, both in scale and ambition. Although it's vast, it never feels overwhelming because its public spaces are broken up into seven neighbourhoods. On Deck 4, you'll find Entertainment Place, complete with an indoor ice skating rink and various clubs and lounges. The Royal Promenade is the signature shopping area, the length of a football field, with a pair of enormous tented skylights to let the sunshine pour in. The outdoor Boardwalk neighbourhood was inspired by Coney Island, with family-friendly restaurants, shops, a carousel and the AquaTheater. The foliage-filled Central Park -- covered in some 12,000 plants, 60 of which are trees -- is a more upscale restaurant and retail hub. The fronts of decks 6 and 7 are given over to fitness and well-being in the Vitality at Sea Spa. Deck 14 is all about the kids in Adventure Ocean, and, at the back of the ship, right up on Deck 15, you have the Sports Area, complete with FlowRider surf simulators, a zipline, mini-golf, Ping-Pong and basketball courts.
The ambience and atmosphere in each area are so distinct, it's as if there are seven different ships on one.
Astonishingly, Allure of the Seas also rarely feels crowded. The only places where you get a sense of the sheer number of people onboard are in the Royal Promenade during parade times, on sea days round the pool deck, and prime food times in the Windjammer Cafe buffet restaurant. You can sit in Central Park under a tree, drink in hand, stars above you, (piped) birdsong all around, and feel almost alone -- despite being overlooked by hundreds of cabins.
The ship is ideal for first-timers, whether they're a family dipping their toes in the water for the first time, a group of friends looking for a fun-filled break or a couple celebrating a significant wedding anniversary.
Allure came out of a May 2015 refurbishment with a number of changes, including new dining options, shops, lounges, cabins and super-fast Wi-Fi. Some of the post-dry dock tweaks -- which include a breathtaking Suite Lounge and suites-only dining room, Coastal Kitchen -- also point to a move by Royal Caribbean making a significant play for the high-end cruisers who perhaps have previously been put off by Allure's sheer size.
A word of warning: Allure of the Seas is so flooded with bill-busting offerings -- ice cream, extra-charge Mexican food, build-your-own stuffed animals, Coach bags -- that it's easy to forget about the included offerings, many of which are exclusive to the Oasis Class. You can surf or zip-line, ride a carousel or tap along to some Broadway showtunes. The Lady Gaga dance class had to be more fun than filling up on Skittles and gummy worms from the for-fee candy store. In other words, Allure can be enjoyed for the price of the cruise fare alone. But with so many temptations, it sure isn't easy.
Daytime: Allure of the Seas maintains a casual onboard vibe and dress code during the day, with people dressing for the weather or for laying by the pool.
Evening: Weeklong cruises consist of two formal nights and five casual nights. On casual nights, expect a mix of jeans and slacks in the main dining rooms and nicer restaurants; elsewhere T-shirts and shorts are fine for both men and women. Many men choose to wear tuxedos for formal dining, though dark suits are much more common. Women are typically found in cocktail dresses or gowns.
Not permitted: Bare feet are not permitted at any time in any venue, and tank tops are not allowed in any of the restaurants, except the buffet, for dinner. Shorts are discouraged in the main dining room for dinner, but you'll see people in them anyway.
There are two main theatres 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.
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' scannable SeaPass cards serve as the tickets. Cruisers can pre-book 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 cancelled, 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 favourites are located in the Royal Promenade on Deck 5; the rest, you'll find in other neighbourhoods 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 favourite 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 neighbourhood.
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 centre 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 travellers 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 colourful aqua park ruled by a giant, water-spraying octopus. Some 10 other multicoloured sculptures form his court, as well as a splash pool, a shallow pool and a lazy river pool. There is also a (free) frozen yoghurt 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 backwards. 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 the sea and sky.
The cavernous Royal Promenade is where you'll find Guest Services and, nearby (in the centre of the Royal Promenade, which makes for crowding), the Shore Excursions desk. The mall-style neighbourhood houses tax- and duty-free shops for liquor and jewellery 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, jewellery 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 meagre 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.
You won't be disappointed if you just choose to eat in the free restaurants: the quality, variety and service are exceptional, especially in the three main dining rooms.
Allure's three-deck Adagio Dining Room, which had seating for some 3,000 passengers, is no more. It's been redesigned and split into three venues -- Silk, The Grande and American Icon. But all feature exactly the same menu. Passengers can dine at 6 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. with the same group and waiters each night in either Silk or The Grande, or choose My Time Dining (open seating between 5:30 and 9:30 p.m.), which is in American Icon. Those opting for My Time Dining will need to prepay gratuities.
The cuisine in these venues is inventive (in as much as that's possible when you're serving 3,000-plus people), and it's varied enough for you not to get bored on a seven-night sailing. Expect starters such as bay scallop gratin, lobster bisque and chilled banana and rum soup alongside more traditional offerings like prawn cocktail and Caesar salad. Mains include a couple of meat dishes (beef tenderloin, roasted duck), seafood (shrimp ravioli, corvina fillet) and a couple of vegetarian options. "Classic" dishes are always available and include linguini, chicken breast, salmon, beef sliders and NY strip steak. Desserts are delicious (and irresistible): bittersweet chocolate souffle, double strawberry cheesecake, sky-high lemon pie and a couple of sugar-free options.
For the health-conscious, a "Vitality" menu promises to keep its three courses under 800 calories. There are also lactose- and gluten-free options available.
Royal Caribbean also offers for-fee premium steaks in the main dining rooms. A 9-ounce Chops Grille filet (the cut you'd get in the alternative restaurant of the same name) is offered nightly. It'll set you back back $16.95. If you opt for surf and turf (lobster tail and filet mignon), expect to pay $34.95.
American Icon (Deck 3): This restaurant features a lot of ersatz Americana, including a map of the USA made out of state license plates. It's open for breakfast and lunch to anyone; dinner is just for My Time Diners. Breakfast is buffet and a la carte; lunch is waiter service, and the menu changes daily. Dishes might include Caesar salad, chicken sliders or potato, leek and spinach gratin to start; harissa barramundi and char-grilled palm sugar chicken as a main and almond polenta cake and caramelized banana mille feuille for dessert. If you're in a rush, opt for the "Brasserie 30" menu, and you can finish eating in 30 minutes. In the evening, although this is a turn-up-when-you-want restaurant, it's highly recommended to make dinner reservations at peak times (7 p.m. onwards), or you'll end up milling around in the entranceway waiting for your name to be called.
Silk (Deck 4): As you can tell by the name, this will be the Asian-influenced restaurant, and the decor reflects it: red and gold, silk curtains, tassels and embroidered chairs. There are two dinner seatings, one at 6 p.m. and the other at 8:30 p.m.
The Grande (Deck 5): Royal's plan was for this to be the most formal of the three main restaurants, hence the dark wood, high-back chairs and lots of gold and mirrors. Like Silk, dinner is served in two seatings, one at 6:30 p.m. and the other at 9 p.m.
Cafe Promenade (Deck 5): A 24-hour spot in the Royal Promenade, the cafe serves up brownies, cookies, small sandwiches and coffee around the clock. The addictive ham and cheese mini-croissants are a staple; other sandwiches rotate and include roast beef with pickles on a poppy bun. The Cafe Promenade is also one of several spaces to grab free self-service Seattle's Best Coffee.
Sorrento's Pizzeria (Deck 5): A Royal Caribbean stalwart and popular haunt for teens and club-goers, Sorrento's offers free slices during lunch, dinner and late-night hours. In fact, it's almost never closed. You can select from an assemblage of ingredients (meats, cheeses, vegetables) to make your own personal pie, or opt for the premade varieties. While it's fine for a quick fix, New York City pizza this is not. It's more akin to Ellio's, with its spongy crust and sodium-laden cheese. Still, as the week went on, we became programmed to grab a slice whenever we passed by. Open 11:30 a.m. to 3 a.m.
Boardwalk Dog House (Deck 6): Sink your teeth into an Austrian-style wunderdog (skinny wiener inserted into a hollowed-out roll), German brat with sauerkraut or five other hot dog varieties at this all-you-can-eat sausage station. Our one major gripe: No spicy mustard is available nearby. You have to navigate up 10 decks to the Windjammer to find some, which we suppose has the effect of working off the calories. Open 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Boardwalk Donut Shop (Deck 6): This venue isn't heavily advertised; we suspect that's because the doughnuts would be gone awfully quickly. It's not really a storefront, but rather a self-service glass case to which donuts are added every morning. Fee-free Seattle's Best coffee is also available there. Open 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Johnny Rockets (Deck 6): Johnny Rockets is complimentary for breakfast only. (There's a flat-rate $5.95 charge for lunch and dinner.) It features waffles, hash brown nachos, a couple of hot egg dishes and breakfast sandwiches. The food is forgettable, but the change in breakfast venue is refreshing. Although the breakfast is free, expect a receipt with space for gratuity. Open 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Vitality Spa Cafe (Deck 6): If you're looking for lighter options after a workout -- think fruit, yoghurt parfaits and sandwiches -- head to the Vitality Spa Cafe, located in the gym and spa complex. You can also order freshly squeezed juices and smoothies powered with protein boosters, but those come with an extra fee. Open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Park Cafe (Deck 8): This has proven to be one of the Oasis class's biggest dining hits. The casual Central Park restaurant serves hot panini and build-your-own bagels for breakfast, as well as custom-made salads and sandwiches throughout the day. The Kummelweck -- roast beef au jus -- has to be the most talked-about sandwich in cruising. Since the venue is a hit, it's not always easy to find tables (available both inside and outside) during peak hours. But with far fewer diners, it's a welcome and peaceful alternative to Windjammer. Open 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. for breakfast and 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. for lunch.
Solarium Bistro (Deck 15): Allure's breezy (and often steamy) indoor/outdoor solarium also features a buffet breakfast and lunch venue. At breakfast, choose from yoghurt, granola, oatmeal, fruit and breakfast meats (like the more healthful turkey sausage instead of the pork variety). Again, it's a welcome and civilized relief from Windjammer. Lunch features light fare, such as couscous, salads, fruit and yoghurt. Open 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. for breakfast and noon to 3 p.m. for lunch.
Wipeout Cafe (Deck 15): A mini-version of Allure's buffet offers fast food (burgers, fries and chicken) from breakfast to pre-dinner. The space, which is located on the sun deck near the sports zone area (FlowRiders, Ping-Pong, basketball court), is sometimes reserved for kids-only lunches. Open 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. for breakfast and 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for lunch.
Frozen Yogurt (Deck 15): Self-service stations dispensing frozen yoghurt are located near the kids pool area. Open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Windjammer Marketplace (Deck 16): The self-service buffet is compact, given the size of Allure, but that's because a plethora of other (better) casual venues are scattered throughout the ship. The food is pretty standard, nothing exciting or challenging, with a few more European options (think cold cuts and curries) during its Mediterranean sojourn. It's mobbed during peak meal times; window-side tables can be especially tough to snag. A nice touch is that, at busy times, waiters will seat you -- no doubt in a bid to minimize the number of people milling about looking for a table. The Windjammer features an "action station" setup, with separate spots to fill your tray with freshly made panini, pasta concoctions and stir-fries. Open 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. for breakfast, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for lunch and 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for dinner.
Coastal Kitchen (Deck 17): This restaurant is open exclusively to passengers booked in suites (Grand Suites and above). It takes up one side of the stunning circular space on Deck 17, which overlooks the main pool; Royal Caribbean fans will know it's where the Viking Crown Lounge used to be. The colour scheme at Coastal Kitchen is muted, with creams and browns, but the setting is unrivalled, with enormous double-height windows letting light flood in from every angle.
However, the food does not rise to the occasion. It's meant to be California-meets-Mediterranean, but it just doesn't work. Grilled garlic prawns (generally hard to get wrong) were served tepid. Slices of seared tuna were lovely, but the sole highlight in the meal. The lamb was undercooked (too chewy), and the fatoush salad was deeply uninspiring.
Outstanding service somewhat made up for a lacklustre meal. Diners expect excellent service, but this was a cut above, going beyond attentiveness and courteousness to what makes a waiter great: knowledge, engagement and passion.
Room Service: In-room dining is available around the clock and is free most of the day (though we tip a couple of bucks per delivery). A late-night service charge of $3.95 per order is assessed between midnight and 5 a.m. Egg dishes are available in the morning, along with the usual Continental fare (croissants, coffee, cereal). Throughout the day and into the evening, passengers can choose from pizza, hot and cold sandwiches, and salads.
There are enough options for passengers to sample a different venue every meal for a week. True, you can certainly stick to the classics, but you can also branch out with hibachi, head to a Mexican beach bar, sample tapas, get dressed up for an upscale tasting venue or settle down for family-style Italian. Generally speaking, the cheaper, more casual options are on The Boardwalk; the upscale ones are in Central Park. We found the quality of the cuisine high (and prices to match), with correspondingly excellent service.
In the high-end restaurants in Central Park, reservations are essential (except for Vintages).
Izumi (Deck 4); a la carte pricing; hibachi $25 to $30: Izumi has been moved from the back of the Windjammer on Deck 16 to a lovely spot at the side of Silk (the middle deck of the former three-tier dining room) and has had two hibachi stations installed. The space is wonderful. It feels like a proper speciality restaurant, and there are huge portholes allowing for lots of light. You have a choice of sitting at the sushi bar, at a table or at one of the hibachi stations. If you want to just eat sushi and sashimi, no reservation is necessary, but you'll want to reserve a spot for the hibachi. Regardless, the food is sublime. Edamame beans, miso soup and vegetable fried rice or brown rice are free; sushi starts at $4, and for hibachi, you get one protein for $25 or two for $30. Open 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Starbucks (Deck 5); a la carte: This kiosk offers all the ubiquitous company's standard hot drinks for slightly more than you'd pay on land, and diehards can even use their Starbucks cards. The selection of edibles is, however, abbreviated. You'll find red velvet pie, croissants and other sweets (from $2) but not the full menu of savoury sandwiches typically available on land. Open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Johnny Rockets (Deck 6); $5.95: The cover charge at this old-timey burger joint on The Boardwalk gets you a burger and fries and onion rings; drinks like shakes and malts are extra. (Breakfast is complimentary. See above.) Johnny Rockets is open 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. for (free) breakfast and 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. for (fee) lunch.
Sabor (Deck 6); a la carte: Sabor Taqueria replaces the original Rita's Cantina with another Mexican joint. It's a casual, relaxed setup with wooden benches and alfresco seating in gaudy colours. The food is a mix of tacos, quesadillas and yucca fries with some more interesting dishes, such as mole short rib and pan-seared red snapper. There is also a wide variety of tequilas on offer. Open 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Cups and Scoops (Deck 6); a la carte: This candy shop sells icing-topped confections baked on the premises, as well as ice cream and milkshakes in a wide selection of flavours. Regular cupcakes are $2.50 each; minis are $1.25. (Buy a dozen standard cupcakes, and you'll save a few bucks.) Cupcake-decorating classes, a popular parent-kid bonding activity, carry an additional fee; it's $22 for adults and $15 for kids.
Outside, you'll find a cotton candy truck selling blue or red confections for $4.50.
Chops Grille (Deck 8); $39: This dinner-only steakhouse is another Royal Caribbean favourite. On Allure, Chops Grille is in Central Park. The charge includes all the appetizers you can consume and your choice of porterhouse, filet, veal chop, halibut, etc. (Note: The menu does change, so there may be some variation in meat, fish and fowl.) Sides -- including baked potatoes, asparagus and onion rings -- accompany the cuts. Hungry for more meat? For those who really want to splurge, you can pay an additional $18 or $19, depending on the cut, for dry-aged steaks, or $21 for Maine lobster. Open 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Vintages (Deck 8); a la carte: The ship's wine and tapas bar is a lovely place to while away a warm evening, with cosy inside seating and a few alfresco tables. It never seemed to get crowded, and no reservations are necessary. The tapas, which focus on Spanish cuisine -- think chorizo, octopus salad, Manchego cheese and olives -- cost between $2 and $4 apiece, but they soon add up. They are also not the best we've had -- greasy and, in some cases, undercooked. There are also sugary options if you're so inclined. If you're sharing, consider ordering a "tapas sampler." These combine various tapas and are very cost-effective. Wines are available in two- and five-ounce servings, as well as by the bottle. A few wine flights on the menu -- three two-ounce glasses -- offer modest savings. Open 5 p.m. to midnight.
Giovanni's Table (Deck 8); $10 for lunch, $25 for dinner: Allure's Italian venue offers a trattoria-style ambience and a traditional menu of antipasti, pizzas, pastas and grilled meats. The restaurant aims for a casual, family-style feel. Giovanni's is open for lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m. and dinner from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
150 Central Park (Deck 8); $40: Allure's showcase venue offers two six-course tasting menus per cruise. (Both menus change seasonally.) Since dishes are fluid, it's hard to know exactly what you're going to get, but that creative component is part of the appeal. (The six exotic table salts, including one that tastes like a hard-boiled egg, are a constant.) We had bison tenderloin, cucumber caviar and a phenomenal Asian-style Dover sole. Each of the six courses is served with a vivid explanation by the eager waiter, and the chef wanders the room to discuss how she just smoked potato gnocchi using sawdust (true story). The cover charge at 150 Central Park is pricey, but we feel it was worth it. A wine pairing option for $75 couples each of the six courses with a compatible two-ounce pour. This option represents a small savings, as the restaurant's wine list offers only a few (pricey) wines by the glass. Open 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Chef's Table (Deck 11); $85: The chef's table concept, introduced to mainstream cruisers by Princess, has expanded to almost every line. Allure of the Seas' version is a five-course meal available for just 14 passengers on every night of the cruise. The event starts with Champagne in the library and a meet-and-greet with the sommelier and fellow diners. The dinner party then relocates to the Diamond Lounge, where you'll find a long table and expansive views over the Boardwalk, AquaTheater and horizon. Each of the five courses is paired with wine, and passengers get a detailed explanation of wine (by the sommelier) and food (by one of Allure's top chefs) before each is served. The event begins at 8:30 p.m.
Samba Grill (Deck 15); $30: By night, the adults-only Solarium is transformed into the Samba Grill, a Brazilian-style churrascaria that's a love letter to the carnivore. For $30, gauchos bring you all-you-can-eat sirloin, bacon-wrapped chicken, filet, lamb, sausage and pork. Each table comes with a lighting system to indicate dining preferences. Green means "more meat." Red means "I'm full, but I might change my mind." One issue with the Samba Grill: On humid Caribbean evenings, the A/C-free Solarium can be sweltering, and that, coupled with the smell of the nearby pool, can be slightly off-putting to some diners.
Allure of the Seas has more than 20 cabin categories, including "inward-facing" balconies, accommodations with a view of the sky and either Central Park's greenery or the Boardwalk's machinery (carousel, AquaTheater). There are also all manner of upscale abodes, including two-story Loft Suites and AquaTheater Suites, show-stopping rooms that feature mammoth wraparound balconies overlooking the ship's outdoor amphitheatre. For disabled passengers, there are three accessible suites (including one Loft Suite with an elevator), 32 balconies, two oceanviews and eight insides.
The 2015 refit saw the addition of 46 rooms -- some created by slicing up larger rooms. For example, the vast Presidential Suite, which was on Deck 12, has been converted into two Family Suites.
Despite the variety of categories, most of Allure's accommodations are distinguished solely by location. In other words, the innards of more than 2,000 of the ship's 2,700-odd cabins look remarkably alike. (There are, of course, modest size variations, and along the corridors, the bed and couch alternately trade positions between door and balcony.)
All standard cabins have two twin beds that convert to queens, small sitting areas and interactive flat-screen TVs, on which passengers can book shore tours, order room service, make dining and entertainment reservations, and check onboard bills. A handful of national U.S. networks like CNN and Fox News are featured, and for the kids, there's the Cartoon Network.
Every cabin also has an iPod dock with speaker, but these are largely redundant due to the ever-changing size of iPhone sockets; they're incompatible with an iPhone 5 or above. There are also not enough electrical outlets (three U.S., one U.K.), and all are confined to an area underneath the vanity.
Plenty of shelves, cabinets, cubbies and bins will keep at least two passengers happy. Carry-ons fit comfortably under the bed, but anything larger might prove a tight squeeze. You have approximately a foot between floor and bed frame.
Bathrooms feature showers enclosed in clear glass (no clingy shower curtains for the world's largest cruise ship) with shampoo dispensers and foot rests for leg-shaving. Hair dryers, located under the desks in the main cabin areas, are somewhat chintzy, so you might want to BYO.
While cabin setup is standardized, location is vital. Cabin reviews are a would-be Allurean's best friend. For instance, passengers looking to read quietly on a Central Park balcony during a sunny sea day may find themselves being assaulted from above by the pool band.
Interior: The majority of Allure's inside cabins are 172 square feet, but there are also 53 category Q cabins with just 149 square feet of space. There are Promenade-facing interiors with large bay windows overlooking the indoor thoroughfare; these rooms are 193 square feet.
Oceanview: Windowed cabins vary in size. Central Park-view cabins are 199 square feet, while Oceanviews are 179 square feet. You'll find the Boardwalk-view cabins on Deck 7; they're 187 square feet.
Balcony: Standard balcony cabins in every category -- Central Park, Boardwalk, traditional verandas with ocean views -- are typically 182 square feet with 50- or 52-square-foot verandahs. Bulges, port and starboard, along the ship's superstructure create a number of standard accommodations with more generously endowed balconies (80 to 82 square feet). Regardless of size, each outdoor space is furnished with a table and pair of chairs made of metal and mesh.
Minisuite: Junior Suites are 287 square feet; the additional space is taken up with a sitting area with a table and sofa. These rooms come with 80-square-foot balconies. In addition, bathrooms in these accommodations feature tubs instead of showers. Junior Suites get limited perks including dinner in Coastal Kitchen and bathroom amenities from L'Occitane.
Suite: There are seven suite categories (not including Junior Suites), all of which have access to the new super-duper Suite Lounge and Coastal Kitchen, which have replaced the Viking Crown Lounge on Deck 17. In addition to a concierge, suite passengers receive a number of perks, including a nightly cocktail "hour" with free drinks from 5 to 8:30 p.m.; priority check-in; reserved prime seating in the main theater; access to full breakfast, lunch and dinner menus for in-cabin dining; luxury bathrobes and complimentary pressing for formal nights; access to a private sun deck with loungers and cabanas; an exclusive reception with senior officers; and free dining in the Suites-only Coastal Kitchen.
The smallest suites are the 30 Grand Suites at 371 square feet with 105-square-foot balconies. They feature marble entries, large bathrooms with tubs and two sinks, and a living area with tables and sofas.
The two-bedroom AquaTheater Suites (on Decks 8, 9 and 10) are large (820, 720 and 659 square feet, respectively), with two separate rooms, a vanity with a chair in each bedroom, living area with double convertible sofa, dining room, marble entranceway, entertainment centre and two bathrooms, one with a tub. But what really stand out are the location and dimensions of the enormous balconies, which are almost as large as the cabins themselves. The balconies give new meaning to the word "wraparound," allowing 180-degree vistas of the Boardwalk, the AquaTheater, rock climbing wall and open ocean, with space for stools, tables, chairs and loungers. Note the balconies also decrease in size by deck, starting at a vast 803 square feet on Deck 8, then shrinking to 716 square feet on Deck 9 and 648 square feet on Deck 10.
These six suites have proven to be so popular (despite the exposed setting -- rock climbers literally pass by your cabin) that Royal Caribbean decided to add six new ones in the 2015 refurb. It's worth noting, should you wish to book one, that the six new ones (on decks 11, 12 and 14) are classified as aft-facing Grand Suites. Presumably, this is because they are significantly smaller than the true AquaTheater Suites on decks 8, 9 and 10 and do not have two bedrooms.
The four new suites aren't small though, ranging in interior size from 421 square feet (Deck 14) to 466 square feet (Deck 11). The suites each feature two rooms: a bedroom (with a large king-size bed, lots of wardrobe space and a bathroom with a tub) and a living room (with a large sofa that converts to a bed, a coffee table and double sliding doors that lead to the balcony). Deck 11 balconies are 470 square feet, and Deck 12 balconies 362 square feet. They're slim, but they wrap right round. However, the two suites on Deck 14 have 136-square-foot balconies that do not wrap around.
(Anyone very familiar with this ship may have worked out that the addition of six new suites at the back of the ship means the loss of six "secret" balconies. Accessed only by unmarked doors, these gave passengers a birds-eye view to the AquaTheater for free. They are now gone.)
Ten 556-square-foot Owner's Suites (which are on various floors, in the centre of the ship) each feature marble entries, large bathrooms with tubs and two sinks, as well as a living area with tables and sofas. The balconies are 243 square feet each.
The Loft Suites are two-deck accommodations that have been lauded for their layout and criticized for their garish, multicoloured design. Crown Loft Suites measure 545 square feet with 114-square-foot balconies and feature living spaces downstairs with pullout sofas and bathrooms, and master bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs, each with a shower large enough for two (his-and-hers shower heads), fog-free mirrors and limestone mosaic tile accents. The Sky Loft Suites add some extra space. They clock in at 722 square feet with 410-square-foot dine-on balconies and extra showers in the downstairs bathrooms.
The Royal Loft Suite is the most opulent accommodation onboard. At 1,524 square feet with an 843-square-foot balcony, it's the size of a modest home. When you enter the cabin on the main level, you'll find a Baby Grand piano, a dining area with a dry bar for entertaining, a bath with a shower, a living room sofa that converts into a double bed and a wraparound balcony with a dining area and private whirlpool. Upstairs, there's a master bedroom and a massive bathroom with a tub, shower, two sinks and a bidet.
The refit saw the building of two new one-level Royal Suites on either side of the Suite Lounge -- where the Pinnacle Lounge and Pinnacle Chapel used to be -- overlooking the main pool deck. Royal has pulled back from the garish colours that characterized the Loft Suites and replaced them with grownup slates, dark greys, browns and black marble in the bathrooms; there's also a distinct absence of shiny chrome.
While these suites are on one level (as opposed to the loft suites), Royal Caribbean has opted to give them a double-height ceiling. The suites are entered via a marble entranceway and have everything you would expect to find in a five-star hotel suite: huge dining/living room with L-shaped sofa, entertainment centre with vast flat-screen TV, wet bar, special refrigerator to keep wine cool, and a master bedroom with a vast king bed and a couple of chaise lounges in the corners. The bathroom is accessed via a flight of steps and is completely open -- no separate door. There is a standalone shower room, toilet and wardrobe.
Suite 1701 (on the port side) is bigger at 1,075 square feet with a 161-square-foot balcony; Suite 1758 is 914 square feet with the same size balcony.
Family: Allure also has several categories of family-friendly cabins, including insides (260 square feet), oceanviews (271 square feet) and balconies (271 square feet with 82-square-foot balconies). Each offers sleeping for up to six via two Pullman beds, a convertible sofa bed and two twins that can be turned into a queen. A number of these rooms also feature bunk beds, tucked away in what can't really be classified as a room. It's more of a space that's divided from the main room by a curtain and just has room for the bed. It's a neat arrangement -- ideal for smaller kids -- and adds a degree of privacy for adults. There are 260 family insides but only eight outsides and seven balconies, so book well ahead if you're looking to rope a family balcony.
The six Royal Family Suites, which get all the suite perks detailed above, are generously sized at 575 square feet. Each has two bedrooms and can accommodate up to eight people. Other features include: a vanity with a chair in each bedroom, two Pullman beds, living area with double convertible sofa, marble entry, entertainment centre and two bathrooms, including a master bathroom with a bathtub. The balcony is 246 square feet and comes with a table and chairs. Note that the Royal Family Suites on Deck 12 are 589 square feet with a balcony of either 237 square feet or 246 square feet. They also have hot tubs. Two new Royal Family Suites were added, post-refit.