Cruises

1.  Avalon Tranquility (River Cruise in Europe)

2.  Celebrity Cruise on the “Galaxy” (Mediterranean)

3.  Ship Inspections on “Oasis of the Seas” and “Allure of the Seas”

4.  Brenda’s Cruise on Royal Caribbean’s “Allure of the Seas”

AVALON WATERWAYS – “TRANQUILITY”

TOUR WNT 1010

CENTRAL EUROPEAN EXPERIENCE

PRAGUE TO PARIS OCT 9-21, 2008

October 9-10  Smooth flights Nashville-Detroit-Amsterdam-Prague.  We were met by a representative from Globus at the airport who was very friendly and helpful.  The airport terminal where we arrived was not crowded at all…..wonderfully low key!  We had purchased transfers through Globus, and were taken to our hotel on a huge luxury bus that we had all to ourselves.  I know this is not the norm, but we certainly felt special!  The Hilton Prague was gorgeous, and check in was a breeze.  The hotel is within easy walking distance to Old Town and close to restaurants & shopping.  We attended a welcome meeting that evening, then walked to a nearby Italian restaurant with eight new friends for dinner.  The meal was exceptionally good and very reasonably priced.  We were warned to watch out for scam artists, but our experience was all positive in Prague and we never felt unsafe.

October 11- We took the included bus tour to the Prague Castle & Cathedral which was absolutely beautiful!  We were on our own in the afternoon, where we enjoyed exploring Old Town, climbing the tower on the Charles Bridge, observing the famous Astronomical Clock, people watching from outdoor cafes with Cappuccino in the morning and beer in the afternoon, and admiring the interesting architecture!  The evening was spent attending one of the optional tours, a Folklore Dancing & Dinner show.  This was fun and we were glad that we went. Brenda_RiverCruise

October 12-  The highlight of our short stay in Prague was the optional “Secrets of Prague” tour that we took Sunday morning.  It was early before the streets were crowded with tourists, and our guide was a riot.  She told us stories and pointed out little out of the way places that most tourists miss.  It was worth getting up early to take this tour!  We then boarded buses for the 4-hour trip to Nuremburg, Germany where we boarded the Avalon Tranquility.  What a beautiful ship!  Our cabin with the French balcony was great, with plenty of room for all of our stuff.

October 13- Monday  Bamburg, Germany

We were delayed getting to Bamburg because of river traffic during the night, and waiting to get into the locks. We were still able to take the walking tour of Bamberg which was very impressive.  Beautiful architecture, a sister city to Prague, and one of the few German villages that was not destroyed during WWII.  We were told that we must taste the “Smoke Beer” or we cannot really say we have been to Bamberg.  It was unique and not as bad as I thought it would be.   We were required to return to the ship by 1PM for lunch and continued cruising up the river.  The scenery was pretty with fall colors, rolling hillsides, & vineyards.

October 14 Tuesday  Wurtzburg, Germany

We did not leave the ship to visit this town until 2PM.  We toured a beautiful Baroque palace which was quite impressive, and then we had about an hour of free time before having to return to the bus.

October 15 Wednesday  Miltenberg, Germany

It was only a 5-minute walk from the ship to the center of this charming Bavarian village built into the side of red sandstone cliffs/mountains.  Very scenic!  We had a walking tour, then a little free time before returning to the ship by noon.

October 16 Thursday   Ruedesheim, Germany

We had an early wake up call so we would have time to explore Ruidesheim.  Small choo-choo trains picked us up at the ship, and drove us up to Siegfried’s Museum of Mechanical Musical Instruments “Mechanisches Musikkabinett” which is located in a 15th century castle.  We were able to see and hear a variety of self playing instruments which was great fun and a highlight of the trip! Back onboard by noon.  We cruised the Rhine River Gorge which was beautiful, but it was rainy, cold, and foggy.  We bundled up and sat up on top anyway but it was not too much fun.  It is a shame because every other day the weather has been picture perfect but today when we really want to sit outside and enjoy the scenery, it is raining!

This evening we docked in Coblenz, Germany and were able to get off and explore on our own until 10:45 PM.  However, this town lacked the charm of previous villages that we have visited and we did not see much of interest.  Also, it ended up pouring down rain so we returned to the ship in time for dinner.

October 17  Friday  Cochem, Germany

Walking tour this morning, followed by a tour of the Castle.  All afternoon was free time in Cochem!  We loved this little village surrounded by mountains & vineyards with the beautiful Reichsburg Castle, baroque

Town Hall, Marketplace Square with fountain, & outdoor cafes. Ruedesheim Coffee is wonderful on a cool morning!!

October 18 Saturday  Bernkastel, Germany

We loved this charming Bavarian village with the half timbered houses, beautiful vineyards, and castle.  Enjoyed the wine tasting experience focusing on the Moselle Valley Reislings.  The Gala Dinner back on the ship was fun, with Baked Alaskas & sparklers.

October 19 Sunday  Trier to Paris

We took a walking tour of Trier this morning, but it was very cold & foggy.  It was a neat town but we did not have much free time before we had to board the buses to head to Metz, France.  Roman ruins & impressive architecture were highlights, along with German Brats from a street vendor.  Everyone should try a brat while in Germany!  The sun came out about 11 and it was a beautiful day after that.  The bus ride was interesting, as we travelled across Luxemburg and were told interesting info by our guide.  Metz appeared to be a neat town…..no time to explore but what we saw looked pretty.  We boarded the high speed train for Paris, which was very nice.

Paris-  We checked into Le Meridian Montparnasse.  It is an old, large hotel that some in our group had complaints about.  Our room was fine….this was just the feedback that I heard from others.  We walked to a great brasserie that was recommended by the Concierge and enjoyed a fun evening in Paris with about 10 others from our group.

October 20  Monday  Paris

We began our day with a 3-hour city tour of Paris via motor coach.  We did get a good overview of the city but there were only two stops.  I was disappointed not to be able to get out and see the sights better, and take pictures.  The key would be to be able to spend extra time after the tour but we were unable to do this.  We want to go back!!  After the city tour we found a crepery so we could taste crepes & cider…..yum!!!!  In the afternoon, we took the optional walking tour of the Artist’s Quarter of Montmartre.  It was a beautiful day and the walk was most enjoyable.  Great views of the city from atop this hill and Sacre Coeur Church was gorgeous.  Monday evening was spent at Moulin Rouge for the dinner show.  The food was good, and the Las Vegas style show was spectacular.  We enjoyed the evening.

October 21  Tuesday  Home!

We departed at 10:30 AM for the airport.  The traffic in Paris was unbelievable!!!  I will tell my clients to allow a minimum of 1 hour to get to CDG.  The airport was very clean and well organized with helpful & friendly agents to point you to the proper locations.  The flight home was smooth……very interesting when we passed over Iceland & Greenland!

Random Notes on Avalon Waterways:

  • Our tour director, Barbara, was very interesting.  Her talk about growing up in Hungary was a highlight of the week.
  • The food was consistently good for every meal.
  • I loved the 24-hour coffee bar offering both decaf & regular fresh brewed coffee.
  • We enjoyed the nightly music & dancing.
  • The ship itself was beautiful!!  We loved the intimate atmosphere and with only 126 passengers, we were able to meet most of them.  It was great to settle into our cabin and not have to repack for a week, as opposed to a bus tour where you have to check in & out of hotels.

CELEBRITY CRUISE ON THE “GALAXY”

“BEST OF THE MED” – 10 NIGHTS

SEPTEMBER 15-25, 2006

FLIGHTS-  Departed Nashville on time, to Detroit, where we had a 4-hour layover, before catching our flight to Amsterdam.  It ended up being great, however, because there was a spa on our concourse!  I enjoyed a 60-minute massage to gear up for the long flight over the “pond”.  Wonderful!  Of course, much of that relaxation evaporated while we sat on the runway for 1 ½ hours in Detroit due to a weather delay! (See, these things happen to travel agents, too!) Since there was only an hour connect time in Amsterdam before our flight to Rome, I was sure we would miss our flight.  However, there ended up being about 30 people on this flight who were connecting to Rome, so they held the plane for us.  KLM took good care of us by meeting us at the gate and leading us through the airport and Passport Control, and then on to our plane.  This would have been tough to accomplish on our own, even if we had landed on time!

ROME, ITALY-  We were met at the airport, by our driver, through Bob’s Limo:  www.romelimousines.com Even though we were over an hour late, he was waiting for us,  which we very much appreciated.   He pointed out some of the sites on the way to our hotel in Rome.  www.lancelothotel.com The tiny hotel was lovely, and located conveniently near the Colosseum and the Forum.  We were able to check in and freshen up a bit, before heading out to start exploring.  There was a long line to get into the Colosseum, so we paid a guide to take us to the front of the line (only about $10 extra to do this, and it was well worth it!)   After our tour, we wandered around the Forum, but it  started raining, and we had left both umbrellas and raincoats back in our room.  We purchased one umbrella from a street vendor, but ended up walking back towards the hote, to change into dry clothes.  Our hotel had a cozy little lounge area where you could buy drinks and visit with other tourists.  They also serve dinner, but we opted to venture back out into the pouring rain to walk to a restaurant that was recommended by the front desk clerk…..wonderful homemade pasta!     GALAXY 015

We totally splurged for our one day in Rome, and hired a driver, through Bob’s Limos again, to take care of us all day, ending at the cruise ship terminal, in Civitavecchia, which is about 90 minutes away from Rome.  He picked us up, at our hotel, at 8AM, and took us on a whirlwind tour of Rome.  He hooked us up with a guide to see Vatican City, which we had not made plans for in advance.  Again, it was well worth the extra cost to avoid the LONG line to get in, and to hit the highlights, in a short amount of time.   (Note: We received a tip, from friends we met on the cruise, that you can also avoid the lines by going into the Vatican Museum first…..no line for this; just walk in.  Then, when you leave, you go out the back  door marked “groups only”. This will put you right in St Peter’s Bascilica.)  Another highlight of the day was an “Italian Experience” lunch at La Barca, which was also recommended by our limo driver.  Many courses of wonderful food……and our waiters were so much fun.  It was truly an experience we will never forget.   Of course, we visited all of the major tourist attractions in Rome, but there is so much more that we would like to see.  Guess that means a return trip!  Advice I learned from this day:  always take rain gear, even if the day begins with sunshine.   Watch out for pick-pocketers, especially around main tourist venues.  Rome is a very walkable city, but it is easy to get lost.  Make sure you have good maps!  Also, watch out for the traffic and the scooters!…..they do not stop for pedestrians!  Double-decker bus tours looked like fun, and were recommended by others we met on the cruise.

GALAXY 054 After our day in Rome, our driver took us to the port at Civitavecchia at about 4:00.  There were no lines at check in, so we were escorted to our cabin quickly.  However, the luggage did not make it to our cabin until 10PM.  Note:  Our cabin on the starboard side of the ship turned out to be the best for views as we arrived into each port.

NAPLES, ITALY-  I had arranged to share a limo tour of the Amalfi Coast with two other couples who I had met on CruiseCritic.com. If you decide to do this, be sure to take their contact information with you!  This worked out great for us, and we enjoyed the small group size and the new friends we met.  The advantages to a limo tour over a bus in this area, are numerous.  Our limo was able to get into places that the buses could not.  For example, we spent a couple of hours in the beautiful village of Positano, which could only be viewed from a distance by the passengers on bus tours.  The one disadvantage with our tour, however, was that our driver did not share any information about the areas we were seeing.  His role was as just a driver, rather than a guide.  Be sure you are clear on what you are getting if you decide to do this on your own.  Also, I would not book with a company that had not been recommended by other posts on CruiseCritic.com, or a comparable web site.

We had a wonderful day, even though it began and ended with torrential rain.  Beautiful sunshine was appreciated in Sorrento & Positano, which were both charming.  We ate lunch down by the water in Positano, at La Cambusa, a café that was recommended by our limo driver.

In the afternoon, we visited Pompeii, but made the mistake of not purchasing the audio tour.  It would have been much more interesting if we had known what we were seeing.  Our driver allowed 2 hours for our visit here, which was much too long, in my opinion.  An hour would have been plenty.  I would rather have had more time in Positano.  Of course, another reason that we were ready to leave Pompeii early was that it absolutely poured down rain, and none of us had brought our umbrellas.  You would think we would have learned that lesson by now!!   We were drenched and freezing by the time we met our driver to return to the ship!   GALAXY 318

MYKONOS, GREECE-   (on our own)    Since we were scheduled to remain in this port until late, we slept in and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before taking the tender ashore at about 10 a.m..  (You do not have to get a “tender boarding ticket” if you wait until around 9:30; after that time, you just go straight to the gangplank, and we did not have to wait in line at all.)  Your tender arrives in Hora, which is a beautiful village of white houses with blue wooden doors & windows, brightly colored balconies, and fuchsia-colored bougainvilleas growing on the white walls.    The landscape is barren and the sun is hot, so don’t forget your sunscreen & a hat!  It does cool down considerably after sundown, so I wished that I had brought a jacket when we had dinner at one of the lovely little outdoor cafes.  The windmills make for a good photo op, as does Little Venice, which is also a great place to watch the sunset.  We ran into the famous mascot, a huge white pelican named Petros…..another great photo op.  He was wandering around the harbor area and did not seem to mind the crowd of tourists, who followed him everywhere.  We did not go to the beaches, but others in our group did, and had a great time.  Others rented mopeds to explore the island, but be careful if you decide to do this.  We did talk to some passengers with new bandages & casts that were the result of moped accidents!  (About that travel insurance. . . . . ) You can also get to the beaches via taxi or city bus.

GALAXY 229SANTORINI, GREECE-  (on our own)   As you approach this tiny island, it looks like the mountains are topped with snow.  However, as you get closer, you realize that the “snow” is actually the white buildings of the villages, which seem to tumble down the mountain tops.  We again waited for the morning rush to pass, so tendered over to the island about 10 a.m.  You  have the choice to either ride up the mountain on a cable car or a donkey, or you can walk the switchbacks & 600 steps.  Unfortunately, there were 6 other cruise ships in port on the same day as we were.  The lines for both the donkeys & gondola were extremely long……2-3 hour waits!!  I was determined to see this port, however, since I had heard so much about it.  We decided to hike!  We were told to stay to the left in the “donkey line” & walk past where people were getting on the donkeys.  It was there that we discovered we would be walking on the same path as the donkeys, all the way to the top.  Not only were we having to watch where we were stepping and contend with the heat & odor, but we nearly got run down by the donkeys running up and down the hill beside us……this was dangerous!  Anyway, we were wondering what to do, when one of the men herding the donkeys asked us if we wanted a donkey.  Of course I said YES, and paid the guy 5 Euros for a much-appreciated ride up.  I felt bad for all those folks standing in line…..but felt fortunate to be given this opportunity.  Riding the donkey was a memorable experience….. pretty fun!  But again, we saw other cruise ship passengers with new bandages that night that were the result of accidents on the donkeys!  They brush you against other donkeys, and the wall, if you are not careful.

We arrived on top of the mountain, in Fira, which was lovely.  However, I had read that the town of Oia,  (pronounced ee-ya) was even more picturesque.    So we headed straight to the bus station for the 20-minute ride to Oia.  (Walk through the village, until you see traffic, then turn right.  Bus station is on the left a few blocks down…..look for the sign & parking lot, with public restrooms.)  Cost is 1 Euro…..be sure to get on the bus, marked “Oia” on the front.    GALAXY 230

Oia was beautiful beyond words!  Imagine a gorgeous sunny day, and you are perched on top of a mountain, with the blue Mediterranean stretched out before you.  When you see the pictures of Greece, with the white buildings, and the blue domed churches, the photographer was probably on Santorini.  We found a wonderful little café, built into the side of a cliff, where we had lunch.  The view was absolutely breathtaking from our table!  I could have sat there all afternoon, just soaking in the scenery, and been happy!   But the food was really good, too……we had two traditional  dishes, cheese pie & Greek salad.   There is a well-marked trail that you can hike back to Fira that we considered taking.  In the end, however, we decided to be lazy, and take the bus back.  We then had enough time to explore Fira, and watch the sunset from a café there.  We waited until about 6:30 to return to the ship, and had no line at all for the gondola.  Our tablemates all returned to the ship when they saw how long the lines were to get up the mountain.  I am so sorry that they missed this wonderful port, and feel fortunate that we were able to experience it.

MESSINA, SICILY-  (Ship Tour “Taormina On Your Own”)    We were able to dock in Messina rather than tender, which was nice.   Our excursion did not include a tour…we were just transferred to Taormina and  had time to explore.  Ice cream was invented here, so of course there were lots of shops selling ice cream….Yum!  The village was founded in 358 B.C., and is located high on a mountain overlooking the sea and Mt. Etna.  We enjoyed a special impromptu treat as we wandered around the Greco-Roman outdoor theatre.  One of the young men from our group sang to us from the stage.  His voice, and the acoustics, were amazing, and it was a definite highlight of the day!  Some of our friends took the ferry over to Capri, and did not recommend that tour.  They said many people were sick as a result of rough seas.  A word of advice here:  I wear my Sea-Bands…..which I swear by….on shore excursions, as well as on the ship.  I usually only wear them the first couple of days on the ship, until I get my “sea legs”, but they are also great when you are in the back of the bus traveling on winding roads, or on ferries, etc..  I am not prone to car sickness, but those roads or ferries in choppy water can make anyone feel a bit off kilter.  I think the Sea-Bands help, and other agents here at Travel Escapes heartily agree with me and swear by them as well!

VILLEFRANCHE, FRANCE-  (SHIP TOUR:  GRANDE CORNICHE, MONACO, & EZE)       We had to wait over an hour, in the theatre, for our tender ticket to be called.  Then we were guided to our awaiting motor coach.  Our guide for this tour was fun, with her enthusiastic “Oo La Las” and delightful French accent, although she spoke English very well.  Since it was Sunday and there was no traffic, she had the bus driver take us through Nice, which was a nice bonus we had not expected.  She did this because she knew  the shops in Eze would not be open if we arrived as scheduled.  Our first stop, Eze, was a walled village perched right on top of a mountain.  The very narrow, steep, winding streets form a maze that really makes no sense.  This labyrinth was designed to confuse invaders, and was a common practice in villages dating from the Middle Ages.  After a few minutes to shop in Eze, we reboarded the bus to take the scenic drive along the Grand Corniche, which is the highest road on the mountain, with beautiful views of the sea.  We also drove on the Middle Corniche & Lower Corniche.  For a short distance, we were actually on the same route as the Grand Prix Race, and were able to see the “Car Markers” & “Starting Line”.

The entire drive was scenic, but it was especially impressive as we rounded a curve, and had a bird’s eye view of Monaco.  We first visited the “Rock of Monaco”, which is the historic City Center.  Highlights included the Changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace, the Cathedral, and Prince Albert’s Oceanography Institute.   From here, we reboarded the bus for the short drive to Monte Carlo.  We had a wonderful lunch outside at Café du Paris, located right next to the Grand Casino.  The tour of the Casino was interesting…….gorgeous architecture!!  (There is a dress code to get inside, but it is not enforced during the day…..be sure to check on this beforehand, however.)    We enjoyed walking around outside the Casino, as well, to see the fancy sports cars, yachts, and the “most expensive shopping street in the world”!

Some of our friends booked a private tour in this port, which they highly recommended.  It was a guided tour, which included basically the same stops as we had, plus more….and, it was only eight people, booked through Revelation Tours:

http://www.revelation-tours.com/

Other friends said they enjoyed a wonderful lunch in VilleFranche…..fresh baguette sandwich with a special mayonnaise (traditional) & homemade crepes for dessert.

LIVORNO, ITALY-  (Ship Tour- “A Taste of Florence”)  It was recommended that you book one of the ship’s tours here, because it is 1 ½ hours to Florence, and you really do not have much time in this port.  Better to make Celebrity responsible for getting you back on time!  We did not stop in Pisa on this tour, but did see the Leaning Tower in the distance as we drove by.  Our guide was entertaining & knowledgeable on the bus ride……the time flew by.  Upon arrival into Florence, we were escorted on a two-hour walking tour of the city, which was well worth our time.  Architecture is my passion, so this was heaven for me!  After the tour, we had three hours to have lunch and explore on our own.  There were 2-3 hour waits to get into all of the museums, so that was not an option, but there was still so much to explore we could not begin to see everything!  I would love to return in the off-season, (mid-October throughMay), when it is not as crowded.  What a gorgeous place!   A note about shopping for leather goods in  Florence:  I was told that the quality is better in town, rather than at the leather factory, which is a stop for many of the bus tours.  You should negotiate on the price for leather & for gold jewelry.  Expect to get a 30%-40% discount off of the regular price.  GALAXY 447

Others from our group had been to Florence before, so they took the ship’s tour to Cinque Terre, which they highly recommended as well.  On my “To Do” list: return to Italy, hike the Five Cities of Cinque Terre, and explore Tuscany!

CIVITAVECCHIA, ITALY-  According to Celebrity, the ship was not scheduled to dock in port until 7AM.  However, they did say that you could book your flight as early as 10 a.m..  Our flight was at 10:20 a.m., so I was a bit concerned that we would miss the plane.  According to advice I received from previous passengers on CruiseCritic.com, I was hoping to get off the ship early.  This worked out fine, as we arrived in port at 4 a.m., and we were cleared to leave any time after 5:30.  We got off before 7, collected our luggage, and met our driver from Bob’s Limo about 7:15.  We made good time to the airport, but were met with huge long lines to get checked bags through security.  We asked around, though, and ended up not having to stand in those lines at all…..although, others from the ship did.  I am not sure what the deal was there…..we were able to check right in with KLM, and they took our luggage at the counter.  Security was not bad, either.  At any rate, seeing what some had to go through made me glad that we arrived early!

A note about VAT Tax refunds:  If you spend over $150 in one store transaction, you are entitled to receive a tax refund.  This is sometimes a bit more of a hassle than they make it out to be.  You will receive a form from the store, which must be stamped in the Customs office at the airport, in the country where you purchased the item.  You must show the sales receipt and the item that was purchased, so be sure to keep this in your carry-on bag!  After you receive this stamp, you can go to a bank, in the last EU country before departing for the USA, to get your refund.  We had the form stamped in Italy, but had to ask several people before we found the Customs Office.  There were no signs, and the office was tucked in a corner…..we even had to go through security again on a different concourse in order to get there!  We could have mailed this form in, from the United States, after it was stamped, but then it would have taken two to three months to process the refund.  Since we had time in Amsterdam, we were able to receive the refund at a bank in the airport there. My advice is to go to an information booth and ask directions, for both ticket check-in and VAT info.  This may save you time in the long run!

Our return flights were right on time…..no problem.  What  a wonderful trip!!   –Brenda Wagers

SHIP INSPECTIONS, JUNE 2011

ROYAL CARIBBEAN’S “OASIS OF THE SEAS” AND

“ALLURE OF THE SEAS”

Recently I had the opportunity to be one of 80 travel agents from the Eastern U.S. participating in training, a trade show, and ship inspections sponsored by Royal Caribbean Cruise Line.  I was really excited to get the chance to see the two largest ships in the world (Allure is the largest by 3.0 cm!) and see if the ships really lived up to all the hype, and I was definitely not disappointed.  I had actually somewhat prepared myself that I would be impressed and awed of course, but would personally think they were a bit TOO large to sail on for my taste, and I am pleased to say that I was wrong!   IMG_0080

First we toured the Oasis, but the Allure has all of the same features and venues.  Your first thought when you pull up to the pier is, “Wow, that’s a big ship.”  Then, when you see her next to other ships in port, and those ships are very large ships and she is dwarfing them, you realize that was a VERY big understatement.  But on my tour it also became very apparent that these aren’t just overgrown versions of any average cruise ship; they are a total departure in terms of innovation and design.  The designers at RCCL were encouraged to kind of “go wild” with this one and that they did—there is grass growing in the area called Central Park with live trees and a full-size merry-go-round in the area called Boardwalk.  The ship is divided into “neighborhoods”, Central Park and Boardwalk being two of them, with the Promenade and Entertainment Place also making it easy to find your way around the ship.   And if you do get lost, there are interactive touch screens scattered around the ship called “Wayfinders” that allow you to get directions from where you are to where you want to go, look over the activities that are going on around the ship at that moment or for the entire day, and even check and see which dining venues are the most crowded at any given time.  It’s genius!   IMG_0065

The decor on the Oasis is beautiful.  Contemporary without being cold, and even though some music venues are a little more “lively” in their decor than others, everything flows seamlessly.  And speaking of venues, there is something for everyone—disco, jazz, comedy, classic rock, soothing piano, karaoke, and of course the casino!   And probably some I’ve forgotten!   One of my favorites was the Champagne Bar, identical on both ships, which had an elegant old Hollywood vibe and furnishings.  Combine all of these choices with the rock climbing wall, two Flowrider surfing simulators, basketball court, putt-putt golf, awesome pool complex, large spa, ziplining on a cruise ship (!), ice skating rink with personal skate times and ice shows daily, AND a diving and water acrobatics show in a one-of-a-kind aquatheater that also shows movies, and you can see that there is something for everyone and for all ages!

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And speaking of all ages, the ships have the largest children’s program area afloat, with children divided into age groups for appropriate activities, and there is even a science lab!  The program is also differing from that of other cruise lines, in that on these two ships (and a few others soon), babies from ages six months up to two years will now also be able to participate in the nursery/children’s program onboard.  The counselors are all college graduates in a related field like child development or education and are required to have 2-3 years of child care experience as well.  And you might just see characters from several Dreamworks movies strolling the decks from time to time!  These ships are ideal for a family reunion cruise!  IMG_0247

The layout of the Allure’s decks is identical to the Oasis.  The decor on the Allure is very similar, but also a bit different, with more jewel tones and surprising touches here and there.  There are definitely several pieces of “quirky” art work scattered about that draw the eye and even amuse.  One of my favorites was a large artificial tree sculpture with hummingbirds made from crystals—stunning!  If I had to define it, the feel of this ship is maybe a little more “festive”, but it’s impossible to decide which one was my favorite.    IMG_0240

Lastly, I know what you’re thinking—the big question.  Does it feel crowded?  We were onboard when 5400 passengers were being welcomed aboard, getting lunch, and exploring the ship, and we departed each day at about the time the ships were at full capacity and the short answer would be “No.”  I was so surprised at how spacious each ship still felt.  The designers did a good job making it easy to navigate the public spaces, designing a ship where the flow primarily goes up and down instead of the traditional forward to aft, and on port days there are 4 or 5 exits from which to disembark the ship instead of the traditional single exit where everybody bottlenecks to leave the ship.  They did think of everything and everything is amazing!  And I was thrilled that my earlier assumptions were proven wrong–I can’t wait to get an opportunity to sail on one of these beautiful ships!      ~~~Tina Messamore

BRENDA’S CRUISE ON THE

“ALLURE OF THE SEAS”

Western Caribbean Itinerary – November 6, 2011

At the time of our cruise, ‘the Allure of the Seas’ was the newest and largest cruise ship in the world.  Although I have been on 8 past cruises, this was to be my first experience on one of the new ‘mega ships’ as well as my first sail with Royal Caribbean.  I was admittedly a bit apprehensive and was convinced that I would not enjoy being on a ship with 6300 passengers!  But after Tina came back from touring the ship and told me how incredible it was, I had to try it out!  The itinerary included stops in Jamaica, Cozumel, and Haiti with 3 full days at sea.  In other words, the appeal of this cruise is primarily about the ship rather than the ports of call. The ports are great, but the ship IS a destination.

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First let me say that this ship is phenomenal!!  Royal Caribbean has done a fantastic job of addressing issues encountered on other ships.  Amazingly enough, we never stood in a line for anything the entire week!  I could not believe how ‘uncrowded’ the ship felt even though it was at full capacity.  It of course is appealing to families with over-the-top amenities for kids of all ages.  However, my question was whether we would find the cruise appealing since we really had no interest in the ice skating, rock climbing, zip line, surfing, basketball courts, etc.  Would it really be worth the premium price Royal Caribbean charges to sail on this ship?  The answer in my opinion is a resounding YES!  Following is a day by day synopsis of what we enjoyed:

  1. 1. Check-in was a breeze when we arrived about noon but our room was not available yet.  Therefore we set out to explore the ship.  Loved the deck monitors placed throughout ship where you could check activities and restaurant seating availability live.  We noticed that Rosie’s Cantina had open seats so we made our way there for lunch.  There was a very nominal charge for eating at this restaurant but the food & margaritas were great!  After lunch we played a round of miniature golf on the top deck and enjoyed watching the people on the Flowrider & Zip Line.  We also toured the Spa and made appointments for services there.   The sail-away from Ft Lauderdale was fun with lots of locals lining up to wave and call out greetings to us.  We loved enjoying this from our balcony stateroom!!  I had made reservations for dinner at another of the Specialty Restaurants: Giovanni’s Table.   We had a table outside in Central Park which is a beautiful area in the center of the ship.  You are protected somewhat from the wind but still have open air to the sky.  Full moon, breeze through the trees, dim lighting and few people around……very romantic way to begin the cruise!  Plus the food and service were fabulous!!  After dinner we had reservations for OceanAria which was a cool water acrobatics show.
  2. 2. Day at Sea-  We started the day with a yoga class in a beautiful setting outside but in the shade with a gorgeous view of the Caribbean in front of us.   Later that morning we enjoyed the  “Move it Move it” parade featuring many of the Dreamworks characters. We also took a Zumba class later in the day in the Royal Promenade so of course lots of people joined in….great fun and a good work out as well.    The show we had reserved for today was ‘Ice Games’.  The talent and the costumes for this show were both impressive and the show was totally entertaining.  This was also ‘Formal Night’ in the dining room, so complimentary champagne & entertainment was available in the Royal Promenade before dinner as well as multiple opportunities for photos.   Excellent dinner tonight in the Main Dining Room!     IMG_3937
  3. 3. Labadee, Haiti-  This is Royal Caribbean’s picture-perfect private island.  We started our day with yoga on the beach, then enjoyed shopping, beach activities, etc.  We returned to the ship late afternoon and relaxed in the giant cantilevered hot tub that was located in the Solarium.  It was a perfect place to watch the sunset and the sail-away!  Evening entertainment included great music & dancing,  as well as a fun late night ‘Love and Marriage Show’ which is like the Newlywed Game.
  4. Falmouth, Jamaica-  Once again we began our day with yoga!  We then chose to take a cab to Sandals Montego Bay so I could do a site inspection there.  We just spent the day at Sandals since we had already visited Jamaica a number of times.  We did have our cab driver stop on the way back to the ship so we could get a “Juicy Patty”……I always have to get one when I visit Jamaica and you should too!  Then we wandered around the shops inside the gates of the cruise port before reboarding the ship.  Evening entertainment included an awesome production of the Broadway hit “Chicago”    IMG_4006
  5. 5. Day at Sea-   Yoga, Zumba, Flash Mob Class, Lady GaGa Dance Class, relaxing in the hot tub and in the ‘adults only’ Solarium, as well as great food, drinks and people watching made up our day.  It was a 2nd Formal Night in the dining room….quite yummy lobster & prime rib!  Our show for tonight featured the group “Mosaic” that some of you may remember from ‘America’s Got Talent’.  They were incredible!
  6. 6. Cozumel-  I had booked a private snorkeling tour through a company that I had found online so we took a cab to the Marina (5 minutes from the ship) only to discover that the Harbormaster had closed the Marina due to high winds that day.  All snorkel/dive trips were cancelled.  Our guide ‘Rosie’ did arrive to meet us……think it would have been a fun trip but of course we have no control over the weather.  We waited on a cab to take us into town for shopping.  We grew tired of that quickly so ended up renting a 1998 VW Convertible that was all rusty, had a stick shift, and barely ran but it was only $35 and we had a ball exploring the island in it!  We went to Paradise Beach, Mr Sancho’s Beach, and several scenic overlooks before ending up at Coconuts for lunch.  It was a crazy unique bar……too fun!!  Back onboard the ship we enjoyed the sail-away party with salsa music on the top deck, dinner at another specialty restaurant ‘Chops Steak House’, and a 70’s Party in the Promenade that was a blast.
  7. 7. Day at Sea-  We had a little bit of sun but more rain & clouds today.  We had a relaxing day beginning with yoga then spent some time in the Solarium and Hot Tub.  We also packed, watched football, and enjoyed our balcony.  Show reservations for this evening even topped two already impressive previous nights’ entertainment!  The Blue Planet was just spectacular and I cannot remember when I have laughed as hard as I did at the Comedy Club later that night.  What a fun way to end the cruise!!    IMG_4123
  8. 8. Disembarkation was a breeze as well.  We collected our luggage, went through customs, and grabbed a cab to the airport without delay.  Amazing!

Please call me when you are ready to plan your next cruise!  I do have some good ‘insider tips’ I would like to share.  One such bit of information is to notice the artwork on the ship.  Once we realized how many interesting pieces of art there were tucked away here and there, we started looking for things.  I am sure the majority of the passengers never noticed, but it was a bit like a treasure hunt for me :-)  ~~~Brenda Wagers