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Allure 15Sep2013 (Eastern) Trip Report - Photos, Kids, Excursions, & Compasses


srvdmy4usn
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Hey there everyone, my name is Andy, and I would like to say welcome to my first ever Trip Report/Review on Cruise Critic.

 

When it came time to book my family's dream vacation I turned to Cruise Critic for research. I found many different reviews written in many different styles and I found all of them to be helpful. Although they are all different, each one had something to offer; a straight to the point synopsis of do’s and don'ts; in depth breakdowns of every waking hour; pre-cruise; post-cruise; etc. Like many other reviews written, this one is to help “pay it forward’ to the community and offer one more point of view. I plan to discuss a variety of topics from planning strategies to debarkation. There are some really amazing reviews out there and this being my first attempt I am sure it will not compare, but I will strive to make it informative, as well as a balanced mix of personal opinion and unbiased observation. One thing I have really noticed about reviews in this forum is the difficulty to read once they are flooded with comments. I would like to make this easy to read and easily accessible should one wish to reference it at another time. To accomplish this, I plan to host the trip report in its entirety (without comments) on a separate site once completed, making it easy to read in a more fluid capacity.

 

As most trip reports begin I suppose an introduction is in order. My name is Andy. I am 33 years of age and live in Arizona. I have 2 children of my own, Kayla age 8 and Lance age 7; I also have 3 “sudo” children with my girlfriend of 6 years Mariah, age 30 something. Her children are Breanna age 14, Kassidy age 11, and Tyler age 9. Together we are just short of forming our own Brady Bunch and practically need a small school bus for transportation (this comes into play later on). My first cruise was when I was 13, it was a family vacation that created memories for a lifetime. It was one of my favorite vacations of all time and what really struck my love for cruising. I have sailed 7 times total, 5 on Royal Caribbean and 2 on Carnival; and if you count my time in the US Navy I have spent several years at sea.

 

I will tell you upfront, this vacation was truly amazing. For all the details you will just have to keep reading!

 

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(From left to right, back to front: Vicki, Andy, Mariah, Breanna, Kayla, Lance, Tyler, & Kassidy)

 

Up Next: Planning a cruise for 8 people...even with 497 days will there be enough time?!?!

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Over the years Mariah and I have taken several vacations, 2 of them being cruises. We have also taken our children on vacations, but planning and affording a vacation for 7 of us has been a challenge. Because of this, we would break the vacations up; taking my kids or hers. The last vacation we went on with Mariah's children was a Caribbean cruise on Carnival. They loved it so much they convinced my kids they needed to go on a cruise next time. This developed the conversation just about 2 years ago, but not much more than that. Fast forward a few months to May of 2012. An innocent conversation about taking all 5 of our kids on a vacation together, and that it could be a lot of fun, somehow turned into “we should take a cruise on the worlds largest cruise ship”! That being said, remember that traveling with 5 kids can also be a giant stress inducing pain in the aft. See how I did that, slid in a fancy little nautical 1 liner right there! We kicked the idea around for what seemed like months, but in reality I think we pulled the trigger within just a few short days.

 

Enter my Mother, Vicki, just 60 years young. There were a few reasons for bringing my Mom into our plans. Firstly, and most important, she has a fantastic relationship with the kids and they really enjoy her company so it would be a memory for them to travel with their Grandmother, as well as memories for her to travel with her Grandchildren. My Mom is one of those “fun” parents, she has never turned down an opportunity to live life to its fullest and for that we all love her. In fact, just last year she joined us on a 5 day backpacking trip in the Yosemite Wilderness, including a trek up the summit of the famous Half Dome, but I digress. There were also some minor logistical reasons for asking her to join us on the cruise as well. When cruising with Minors there has to be an adult in each cabin. Although there are some ways around this technicality, a simple solution was to have an extra adult. We have made it very clear to my mom that she is not coming along to be our baby sitter, but I would be lying if I didn't admit having her come along increases the chances of Mariah and I maybe getting a few minutes of adult time!

 

Because we knew the ship we wanted to go on the only two immediate decisions to be made were Eastern or Western, and then of course the dates. Although I had been through Nassau 3 times already, both St. Thomas and St. Maarten were on my list of places I wanted to go, so that is settled, Eastern it is. As for dates, this gets extremely complicated for us. Both my children and Mariah’s children spend time with their other parent so schedules are very structured. We also need to keep in mind this is now a vacation for 8 people and the difference between choosing 1 week or the other can be costly. Based on dates available, cost, and schedule options we were set on the 15th of September 2013, 497 days from the time of booking! The major downside to choosing this date is the kids will miss a week of school. They are all exceptional students, and very responsible children, we decide it will be manageable and the deposit was paid!

 

For any newcomers to cruising that find themselves booked as far out as we were; remember that planning when you are nearly 500 days out is somewhat limited, it is more research at this point. Most airlines do not have flight schedules released, hotels don’t have listed availability, etc. Cruise Critic became a small addiction for a while to fill that gap. I read every review, trip report, searched every image; in some ways, I felt as if I had already been on the Allure before.

 

Several months later Vicki was chatting about our travel plans while eating lunch with one of her girlfriends. The waitress overheard her and introduced herself as a travel agent (TA). Eventually they discussed the option to transfer our reservation to her and she would return the favor by giving us some on board credit (OBC) as well as some additional incentives in the form of gifts, specialty dining, etc. Initially it sounded like a no brainer, but I have never used a TA before, I am generally the vacation planner and the thought up letting someone else do the planning for me was odd, but we gave it a shot. This process became quite the hassle. Royal Caribbean has a policy against transferring to outside agents after 60 days from booking. The TA was awesome (because of Cruise Critic policy I am not able to name the TA, however if you follow along with my report, once completed it will be hosted on a 3rd party site where I can discuss the TA mentioned). She was able to put a hold on our current cabins, cancel our reservation, re-book the held rooms, and include our OBC for booking through her. Shortly after this was done a military discount became an avilible for my cabin, this was a nice little bonus in our vacation budget, and our TA quickly applied the discount.

 

I am a techy nerd (no, not Star Trecky), I pretend to be an IT professional for my day job so I have some decent computer skills. However, some of the tools available today allow very novice users to create things like powerful spreadsheets for free. My personal favorite is Google Docs. You can create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. all very similar to the popular Microsoft Office products. Google Drive is free and what is really great is everything is online, this gives you access to your files from any internet connected computer. A great tool for the planning type who may want to update a file while at work, on their phone, or at home. I created several documents and shared them between myself, Mariah, and my Mom. The best example of where this can become very handy is when creating a budget. Because my Mom will be paying for only a portion of the cabin she is staying in I, created a spreadsheet that calculates all the dollar amounts for us. We also used her credit card to make any vacation purchase so we could consolidate reward point earnings and get some free hotel stays. This spreadsheet tracked payments made, expenses added, estimated expenses while on the ship, etc. Although this may look complex to the non techy readers, I encourage you to give it a try, it is really very simple. Below is a screen shot of one of the sheets I created.

AllureExpenses_zps21c263bc.jpg

 

Because my Mom works in the airline industry we did not have to worry about purchasing airfare, but this brings into play another obstacle. It is always a good idea when traveling across the country for a cruise to arrive the day prior, allowing a buffer for any unexpected delays in travel. However, if you ever find yourself flying standby, it is critical that you add an additional day. Because of this, we planned to fly out of Phoenix on Friday the 13th, 2 days before embarkation. My Mom had saved up hotel reward points for Hyatt properties. There are several feasible options in the Fort Lauderdale area, we choose the Hyatt Place Hotel on 18th Avenue (more on this later).

 

Now that the critical planning items have been taken care of we began planning for all the extra fun stuff. Excursions, onboard shows, character breakfast, etc. It was a long slow processes of ticking the days off the calendar until all of these options became available, but one by one everything was done.

 

Taking advantage of the tools available is a no brainer in my opinion. I see so many posts about booking shows, choosing dinner reservations, booking massages, etc. I know that the Royal Caribbean site can be cumbersome and far from user friendly, but I highly recommend spending a few minutes learning it. If you were not already aware, you can pre-book all of your show reservations, dinner times, shore excursions, and many other things. Although the Allure is the biggest ship in the world and offers more entertainment venues than any other ship in the fleet, there are still a select number of seats in each theater, and a limited number of shows per cruise. Even if you are one who likes to travel without a plan and just enjoy the moments as they come, I suggest you book tentative show reservations at the very least. This will save you from waiting in lines. Below is an example of show times for the Eastern Itinerary. These of course are subject to change, but it can give you a pretty good idea of what to expect. The highlighted selections were our plan for reservations, we were able to reserve every show we wanted with no issues!

PossibleShowTimes_zps885cb135.jpg

 

Sometimes searching for that obscure question you cant find the answer to is really difficult. A great resource is your sailings Roll Call. We had a very active board with several members that had previously sailed on the Allure. They were happy to answer peoples questions, and really helped several people with pre-cruise planning. As a group. we also had planned a Sail Away Party, Cabin Crawl, & Slot Pull but I will discuss those in more detail later.

 

Up Next: Travel Day 1 & Moonlight Puking :eek:

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Why do I keep counting 8 of you in the picture? and you said a vacation for the 7 of you.:confused:

 

Can't wait for more of your review.

 

You must be referencing where I spoke of the cost of the vacation. My Mom paid her own way so that is where the 7 came from :D

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Nearly 500 days have went by and it was finally time. The excitement, unbearable! All that is left to do was toss the 4am alarm clock across the room, but instead I slothed my way to the shower, put some clothes on, and wake the kids up. You can always tell it is vacation time for kids, they somehow manage to pop out of bed with excitement, just think if they did that on school days!

 

If you recall in the introduction I mentioned needing a school bus to get us around, this is the first time where it came into play. Another benefit of my Mom’s job in the airline industry is free parking, but we needed two vehicles. I had arranged for my sister (who lives right by the airport) to hop in one of our vehicles on our way to the airport and then drive it back to her house. This way we are only parking one vehicle, and not paying for parking. Everything from here went extremely smooth, and really could not have asked for it to work out any better.

 

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We jumped on the brand new Air Tram from the parking lot to the terminal, checked our luggage, and made it on both the first flight as well as our connecting flight out of St. Louis. We even managed to sit next to each other on both flights (When traveling standby with 8 people it is nothing short of a miracle to make it on the same flight, let alone sitting anywhere near each other. Spoiler - The flight back home, not as smooth!). Following a flawless, but uneventful day flying we again had just about the best luck possible; our luggage arrived with just 4 minutes to spare to catch the next shuttle from FLL to our Hotel, and once in the hotel our rooms were ready and the keys were waiting for us.

 

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The Hyatt Place Airport & Cruise Port Hotel, Southwest 18th Avenue, Dania Beach, FL - This hotel was fantastic. I highly recommend this hotel as a place to stay for pre or post cruise in Ft Lauderdale. The facility is modern, clean, appears to be new and in great condition. The Staff were incredible. If you remember, we had booked using points, because of this there are some strange "Hyatt Policies" that dictated what rooms were available. The corporate office had told us we would need to change rooms from night 1 to night 2. The front desk happily ignored this rule and kept us in the same rooms. On the second day our keys were reset, the front desk had new keys waiting for us with coupons for 2 free drinks at the bar to apologize for any inconvenience. The hotel also offers free breakfast; this always makes me laugh. Stale bagels, packaged muffins, and "orange juice" do not constitute as breakfast in my opinion. Well not to worry, the Hyatt Place agrees! The breakfast selection was unbelievable. A huge selection of hot and cold options; yogurt, oatmeal with several toppings (ie. brown sugar, cinnamon, raisins, etc.), sausage, potatoes, eggs, waffles, pancakes, doughnuts, muffins, toast, cereals. It is buffet style, but for a hotels "Free Breakfast" the food was fantastic. They also offer the free shuttle to and from the airport as well as a free shuttle to and from the shopping mall area that is a mile or so down the street. There is an option to take the shuttle to the cruise port, although we did not use it, I am sure the service for that was also fantastic. Overall I would give this place a 5 star review. I will post pictures of the room following this post.

 

After tossing all of our bags in the room we were off on foot to find some food. We ended up walking about a half of a mile south of the hotel to a fifties style diner called Moonlight Diner. To put it nicely, this was the end of our good fortune. As I said before, I will try to offer a balanced review of both personal opinion and unbiased observations. I understand reviewing food is purely subjective, but I would find it very hard to believe anyone disagreeing with this. The food was sub-par at best. Not only were the flavors bland, but everything had the appearance of being microwaved. To take it one step further, Lance later became ill to his stomach and spent the night praying to the porcelain gods. He showed no signs of any other illness, and we had all eaten the same food up to the point of the diner, he was the only one to order pancakes and bacon. It appears he had a mild case of food poisoning.

 

In the effort to avoid massive amounts of jet lag we headed back to the hotel, then kids played go fish and then we hit the sack pretty early.

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Up Next: Travel Day 2 - Kissing Alligators & Waving Off The Oasis

Edited by srvdmy4usn
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What shows did you see and did your kids go to all of the shows with you?

 

We saw just about all of the "main" ones:

 

Ocean Aria - Kids LOVED IT!

 

Chicago - No Kids

 

Comedy (Adults Only Policy) - No Kids

 

Headliner was Mo5aic - No Kids the first time, it was so good we saw it twice and brought the kids.

 

Ice Games - Kids LOVED IT!

 

Blue Planet - Kids were not that impressed

 

I will cover more details of each show later on in the review. If you have any other questions just let me know.

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