With cruise ships getting bigger and bigger these days, many travelers wonder what that experience is truly like. I had this same question and frankly some hesitation about sailing on a mega ship for years as I love to cruise on small intimate vessels between 250 and 1000 passengers.
However, in early January, I found a killer rate for a balcony cabin at $750 per person (normally these run for $1100 or more) and took the plunge by boarding Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class vessel Allure of the Seas for a 7-night exploration in Fort Lauderdale. This review will take you through my week aboard.
As you can see from the picture I took in San Juan, the sheer size of the Allure of the Seas trumps everything in its sight. Note the smallest vessel on the picture, Holland America Line’s Eurodam (2nd from the left) is itself not that small with 2104 passenger capacity. However, the Allure holds 3 times as many with 6488 passengers on my particular sailing.
It was a busy Sunday at Port Everglades with 7 vessels in port. I was concerned at first that boarding would be a major effort. However, I can attest to the fact that I have never boarded a ship faster. We went from curb side to cabin in 20 minutes – Absolutely amazing. The entire experience reminded me of how Lufthansa boards 500 passengers on an Airbus 380 in 45 minutes while it takes as long or longer to get 120 passengers on a Boeing 737. The lesson here is that “size matters” as it permits the use of better access infrastructure which Royal Caribbean purpose built at this port.
Similarly upon return, the ship crew is well versed in guiding guests to the gangway and off to customs. We did the return journey in about 35 minutes from cabin to curb.
Amenities & Activities
One of the biggest advantages of a ship of this size is the space available for entertainment and activities. Guests will notice right away that they are on a Mega ship the moment they step on board. Large public spaces abound with expansive lounges, theaters and innovative activities to choose from. My favorites were the Show lounge where I saw Mamma Mia and Blue Planet as well as the Aqua Theatre with the fantastic “Oceanaria” show. From a dining perspective, there are plenty of options as well, albeit several had long wait lines. My personal tip is the Park Café on Central Park with fresh salads, sandwiches and paninis. Favorite meal on board – Captain’s table which was a fantastic small, group experience with a $95 charge per person. It is well worth the cost as it includes the 5 course gourmet meal and accompanying wine pairing.
With over 220,000 Gross Register Tons, this class of Mega-ships provides a smooth cruise experience even for folks worried about seasickness. The ship just doesn’t move, even with decent waves, the motion is not noticeable.
Service and attention to detail by the crew was on par with smaller vessels and there is plenty of staff to serve large number of guests aboard. Our stateroom a Category D2 Balcony on Deck 12, facing the ocean was very well laid out, had plenty of power outlets and the beds were very comfortable. We toured a couple of Mini-suites which is the category I would pick on a future cruise.
Not a dull moment aboard either. With flow riders (surf simulators), zip line, rock wall, ice rink, shows, games, movies, and so much more, there is always something happening aboard and the week just flew by. I used the walking/running track on deck 3 daily and I found it to be the perfect hide-away to enjoy ocean views on the handful of deck chairs in the very aft of the vessel. Go check it out.
To illustrate the biggest challenge, see the picture above. Finding deck chairs on sea days was a frustrating experience to say the least. There just are not enough spaces on deck for 6000+ people to lounge. I have noticed the same issue on NCL’s Epic, Breakaway and Getaway where, to make matters even worse, the forward portion of the ship is taken up by the Haven – a Private Suites Club. Another area of improvement for Royal Caribbean is the main dining room where during dinner service, noise levels are astronomical. While the food was fine and the service attentive, don’t plan on a romantic dinner date or long conversations. You would have to upgrade to Chops or Café 150 to have a tranquil dinner experience. Mind you that these specialty dining venues cost from $35 per person and up – money well spent a couple of times during the voyage.
- Ask your travel advisor to book your show tickets in advance and know that you can see any show again on a stand-by basis. (Line up begins about 1 hour prior to the show).
- Upgrade to Balcony or higher category for enjoyment and higher floors. The lower levels are prone to noise from the 4 story boardwalk and all the activities going on.
- Consider some of the “upgrade” restaurants and book them in advance (especially the Chef’s table)
- This type of mega-ship is ideally suited for multi-gen family gatherings and for cruisers that want to experience the “latest & greatest”
- Ask your travel advisor to plan custom shore-excursions (not booked with the cruise line) as a means to get away from the crowds and get personalized service – often at lower per person costs than the ship excursions
After a week aboard, I was sad and at the same time glad to leave the vessel. I am satisfied that I took the time to experience a Mega Ship with all its technical marvels, full-length Broadway shows and all the world-class entertainment. Yet, my personal preference remain smaller, more intimate vessels of the 200 to 1100 category. Peace and tranquility with plenty of personal space are more in line with my expectations than sharing lobbies, elevators and public spaces with crowds usually seen at malls. It is a personal choice of course, and I heard many guests on board that were totally enamored with Allure and its sister ships.