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Old 04-28-2014, 07:05 PM   #1
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Disney sheep go rogue - an allure-ing trip report - with a dcl lessons learned perspe

Watch out cruising world, the Disney Sheep have gone rogue!!


March break 2014 found us 'jumping ship' from Disney to 'the largest cruise ship in the world', RCCLs Allure of the Seas! In some ways it surprised me how difficult a decision it was for our family to decide to cruise on a non-Disney ship, but given that we refer to ourselves as Disney Sheep, maybe I shouldn't have been surprised? Anyway, this review of an RCCL Oasis class ship will be made from a DCL perspective.

PREAMBLE. Over the last 10 years my kids have been growing as rapidly as DCL's cruise fares! Bottom line, four adult sized people don't fit very well in one cabin anymore, yet we really wanted to cruise for this vacation and honestly, it was hard to justify the cost of taking this trip with DCL to the same itinerary as we have travelled in the past on Disney, when RCCL offered a viable option.

Bottom line: The grass was greener and the Sheep have strayed. But the real question remains: Has Minnie Bo Peep lost her sheep to the 'allure' of the Royal seas?? We were about to find out.

BACKGROUND. The 'us' for this cruise includes me, DH, DD (16) and DS (15). Travel is our main 'vice' and we enjoy visiting different places. Ideally we choose cruises based on the itinerary. In fact our 'sheep-like' tendencies relate to the fact that we have taken 7 Disney cruises since 2004, and we often book our excursions through Disney, as well as our transfers to and from the port.



And when I say that we are Disney sheep, I should probably clarify that we have never actually been to Disney World. We did visit Disneyland twice when the kids were really little (we lived out west back then). And we have visited Orlando twice since the kids became teenagers, but those truly enjoyable visits were to Universal Studios - ooooh , the dark side - but yes, those trips were both in conjunction with Disney cruises.

CRUISING HISTORY. Our past cruising history includes:

1996 - Sept - Crown Princess - Alaska (Honeymoon, so no kids
2004 - Feb - Disney Magic - Eastern Caribbean (DD 6, DS 5 at this point)
2010 - July - Disney Magic - Northern European Capitals with Helsinki
2011 - March - Disney Wonder - Mexican Riviera
2011 - August - Disney Wonder - Alaska
2012 - March - Disney Dream - Bahamas
2013 - March - Disney Fantasy - Eastern Caribbean with San Juan
2013 - July - Disney Magic - Mediterranean w/ Greece & Turkey

In general though, our philosophy is that cruising is what you make of it. It really is. For our family we enjoy exploring new places, spending time hanging out together, watching shows, dressing up for dinner and relaxing. And although we really enjoy food, we are definitely not foodies, not sure if that is because the kids and I are Celiacs, but gourmet food tends to be wasted on me. Mealtimes on vacation however are prime times for enjoyable family conversations and interactions.

Our main goal while on vacations is what we would describe as actively relaxing - think 5K walks/runs around the deck followed by serious hot tubbing, swimming, kayaking, climbing monuments (think the lion statues in Trafalgar Square, the Tower of Pisa, the Mayan pyramid at Coba etc), or bike tours, all at a relaxed pace and reading marathons by the pool. We don't really drink or smoke or gamble or shop (well except for photos or cameras or electronic devices maybe - and as of this trip we can add globes, but I am getting ahead of myself .

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Old 04-28-2014, 07:13 PM   #2
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The Financial Conundrum

THE FINANCIAL CONUNDRUM. At this point, for the interests of comparison, I am going to be talking money, if you consider this crass, please skip ahead or look away!

If we look back to our March 2013 cruise on the Fantasy, we booked (one year in advance) a single category 4C deluxe family ocean view stateroom with verandah, (299 sq ft including balcony) for approx $6411. Not inexpensive, but with our teenagers in high school we are limited to our school's March break for travel, so we are used to travel to warm places costing us big bucks. And, I already pointed out that we are Disney sheep right? Although the itinerary didn't really excite us per se other than San Juan being new, with this March 2013 trip we have now sailed on all four Disney ships, a 'Grand slam' as it were.

Fast forward to August 2013, and at that point, to book a single cabin, same type as our previous trip for March break 2014, was roughly 7.8K - Yikes. That was a pretty substantial cost increase ($1,400).

And, adding in that not only had we felt really cramped in an inside cabin on the Magic during our summer Med cruise since the teenagers are both taller than me now and do not fit into the bunk beds, we really wanted two cabins, so we checked out the cost of an interior cabin plus a 5A balcony cabin as an option, and as of Aug 13, I could have booked both for March 2014 for approx $8243. Only slightly more expensive than for one cabin, but still, an increase over the previous year's already substantial cost by approx $1,800. Heck, it was roughly as much as we had paid for our 12 night Med cruise! Clearly we were going for broke here!

Ok, deep breath. It was time to explore other options.

Being Disney Sheep, my next reflex was to check out the Disney Wonder. Two cabins (balcony plus interior) would cost approx $4384, a much better financial ballpark, but that was only a 5 night cruise and it did not include Castaway Cay. Nor would a side trip to Universal be a convenient option to add on and extend the trip. Hmmm. Paying as much as we were for airfare, a 5 night cruise wasn't exactly what we were looking for at this juncture.

By this point in the planning process even DH was getting squirmy since we did not have a good plan yet, and based on our personal past experience, airfare normally just increases the longer we wait once the school year starts! Tossing the net a little wider I checked out the cost of two cabins on the NCL Epic and the cost (in August '13 for March '14) was approx $5266 - for a 7 night cruise. Definitely better than 8K, but the 'flock' were clearly nervous and would take some convincing if we were to cruise other than DCL.

At this point I decided to get a little more serious about exploring other options and started reading all of the reviews I could find, including 'Shrek takes on Mickey' here on the Disboards and decided to check out the Oasis class ships on RCCL. The itinerary for the Allure included 3 ports we had not visited before, which was a good start. Further, the wide range of activities on board could definitely suit our 'relaxed active' approach to vacation.

Cost wise, a Boardwalk view stateroom (187 sq ft) for the kids and a superior ocean view stateroom with balcony (182 sq ft plus 53 sq ft balcony) for me & DH ended up costing us $4945. And RCCL included a $100 OBC. And although based on the results of my research DH and I were willing to 'stray from the flock', the kids were a little harder to convince. In the end, the surprising selling feature for DS was the fact that just by chance, one of his friends/classmates was also booked on this cruise! Now that is something that has never happened to us on a Disney ship.

And to be fair, on a Disney cruise we would not have to pay for pop whereas on the Allure four soda packages cost approx $200 CDN, so for the purposes of trying to compare apples with apples, (or at least fruit with fruit) we will add the pop in to the basic cruise cost, making the starting cost of this cruise approx $5145 or roughly $3100 less than what I could have booked 2 similar styled cabins (or roughly $2600 less for one cabin) on the Disney Fantasy for a 7 night Caribbean cruise for the same time period.

So, just based on number crunching, financially 'jumping ship' from Disney to RCCL made sense, but here's where cruisers might be cruisers, but sheep are nervous!
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Old 04-28-2014, 07:52 PM   #3
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Great start! Can't wait to read more. And, crass or no, I appreciate the financial break down as I don't have the luxury of not caring!
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Old 04-29-2014, 02:32 AM   #4
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Can't wait to hear about your experience
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Old 04-29-2014, 03:09 AM   #5
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Great start, and we, too, are considering jumping pastures...
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Old 04-29-2014, 06:46 AM   #6
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Great start! Can't wait to read more. And, crass or no, I appreciate the financial break down as I don't have the luxury of not caring!
Many thanks for reading along - I just need to get my 'teenaged tech team' to help me with photobucket and I can start adding pictures .
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Old 04-29-2014, 06:53 AM   #7
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Pre-Trip Planning Requirements

Once we finally took the decision and booked the Allure, I swung into full obsessive compulsive mode and researched any reviews I could find related to the Oasis class ships and Allure in particular. Other than Shrek takes on Mickey, by googling, I found reviews of the Allure by Middle Aged Drama Queen, Gambee and FamilyGoBoston, all of which were comprehensive and included Cruise Compasses (similar to the Cruise Navigator on DCL).

One main difference between DCL and RCCL on the Oasis class ships anyway, is that you have to reserve your shows, such as Chicago, Ocean Aria, Blue Planet and Ice Games, in advance, whereas on Disney you simply go to the show that is opposite your mealtime. Although the Disney method is easier, I actually enjoyed all of the planning and the research . If you don't have reservations on the Allure, you can also just line up in the standby line or book on board -the first cruise day usually gives you the most choice - so pre-planning is not absolutely essential, it just makes things a lot easier.

The RCCL site includes a schedule for your cruise called 'Showtimes at a Glance', which allowed me to plot all of the options on a week long calendar and colour code it with highlighters! Yes my husband just shakes his head when he sees me with my 'paper and pens and rulers oh my', but I am a visual person and this method just makes it way too easy for me to track.





Since the 'main' or early seating for dinner was already unavailable, we chose the option for My Time Dining (MTD) which allowed us to book our mealtimes around the shows we wanted to see, and activities at the Teen Club, and yet essentially still have dinner around 6 pm give or take 30 minutes every night.

It turned out for our cruise that we could reserve our dining and entertainment options about 5 months in advance, however I had heard that the usual time that reservations open up is about 3 months in advance.

Realistically, our RCCL trip required more advance planning than our previous Disney cruises with respect to entertainment and dining, but that is mostly due to the greater number of options available on RCCL. And for someone like me who finds that planning a vacation is half the fun, this was pretty much not an issue.

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Old 04-29-2014, 06:59 AM   #8
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Travel to Florida

Although we live closer to the Ottawa airport, the Montreal airport and the Syracuse airport are also options for us. In the end I created a(nother) chart that compared airfare, mileage, gas, hotels and parking, and for this trip the Montreal airport turned out to be the most reasonable cost wise/time effective for us. Especially since we were able to park for free for the whole trip at the Holiday Inn Express after we stayed there overnight. We were informed upon check in that a hot continental (?) breakfast was included in the hotel cost, as was the shuttle to and from the airport, both before and after our trip.

During breakfast at the Montreal hotel DS asked: So when do we board the floating West Edmonton Mall?
DD replied: Its not a floating West Ed Mall, the mall has an ice rink.
DS definitely enjoyed replying with: And that would be different from the Allure how?

Everything went smoothly with the flight, and we arrived in FLL late Saturday afternoon and caught the hotel shuttle to the Hampton Inn Airport North. This hotel was not cheap, costing over $300 for a one night stay for a standard two queen side bed room, but even attempting to book 6 months ahead for this time period we found that most hotels were already booked up. By comparison, staying at the Hyatt in Orlando had only cost us roughly $200 in March 13, however, we then had to add on Disney transfers to the port, so again, cost wise FLL was actually cheaper for us than Orlando. The hotel itself in FLL was fine as a place to sleep for one night, but it was definitely not a resort.

After booking the shuttle to the cruise port for the morning, we headed out for a quick walk to the strip mall right next door, enjoying the warm weather and lack of snow banks . We were happy to discover a Wendy's restaurant where we enjoyed salads for supper, and then hit the Dunkin Donuts for tea and coffee. There was a grocery store, a liquor store and a Dollar store as well as a department store and a shoe store, so if you needed to pick up something, this hotel location provided options.

We were not impressed by the pool nor by the warning signs everywhere recommending security/safety precautions, but the hotel served our needs. We were informed that anyone booking the hotel after 1 Jan 14 would be required to pay $5 per person for the shuttle to the cruise port.
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Old 04-29-2014, 07:30 AM   #9
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Can't wait to hear about your experience
Many thanks for reading along.
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Old 04-29-2014, 07:34 AM   #10
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Great start, and we, too, are considering jumping pastures...
Many thanks for reading along. I really was surprised at how much of a challenge it was for us to shift our mindset to a cruise line other than Disney (which we truly enjoy), but I found that reading about other families experiences helped us with jumping that first fence.
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Old 04-29-2014, 07:17 PM   #11
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I'm also enjoying your report. We've only taken one cruise ever (Dream last year) and we are doing the same one again this year. I'm almost afraid to try another cruise line, so I am very interested in your take on this. Thanks.
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Old 04-29-2014, 08:33 PM   #12
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Embarkation Day/Check in Process

EMBARKATION DAY

Overall we slept well, and the breakfast provided by the hotel was ok, not fine dining, but plentiful and edible, both of which were good things. We had signed up for the 10:30 am shuttle to the port - unfortunately for us, our body clocks were telling us that it was only 9:30 am since daylight savings came into effect over night , but we had no real issues getting up and out on time.

Although it did not take us a long time to drive to the port, somehow the process of loading up the shuttle bus, including the trailer for luggage, did take a while. We definitely arrived at the port by 11:30 am and our shuttle drove up right next to the porter, so after we tipped the shuttle driver, we got to tip the porter who stood right there, directly between us and the luggage cart to make sure that we knew to keep our swim suits and our personal medications in our possession. But overall we can't argue with the process since our luggage found its way efficiently to our cabins by early to mid afternoon .

CHECK IN PROCESS

Entering the cruise terminal and proceeding through the orderly lines went smoothly. We did have to line up briefly with the rest of the 'first timers' in a Deck 7 queue. Side note: When we were walking out of our home upon beginning the trip, the zipper on the backpack DH was carrying broke and he ended up having to use the closest one on hand - a Castaway Club backpack. In the RCCL lineup, the kids enjoyed giggling over the irony of the situation .


While DCL processes all first time cruisers in one line up, the RCCL system is by deck assignment. I found both the DCL and RCCL check in processes to be efficient and given the larger number of passengers on the Allure (one third more as compared to the Fantasy/Dream process), that is pretty impressive.

We were next directed along a queue that lead through a cruise photo op and then on to an upper level of the terminal where a really large seating area was divided by Crown & Anchor status (think Castaway Club equivalent). As first time cruisers we were directed to fill in a row of seats in an orderly first come first served fashion, whereas with Disney, you sit where you want or wait in a character line to meet Capt Mickey or First Mate Minnie (usually available).


Once boarding began, those C&A members with the most cruising nights with RCCL to their credit boarded first, and when they finally made it to we first timers, we were directed to board in an orderly fashion by seat row.

I was amused by the 'Wrong Way' signs on the deck five jogging/walking track that we passed as we boarded and couldn't help but wonder if it was somehow 'Disney' trying to give us a message!! Bwah ha ha!


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Old 04-29-2014, 08:40 PM   #13
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First Impressions / The Rest of the First Day

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Walking on to the ship through the Promenade can be a little overwhelming - and although there are signs starting in the cruise terminal that identify options for places to go for lunch etc, this is definitely not the Disney personalized welcome we had been used to receiving.



Realistically though, we were up for a new adventure, and although it felt different we were too busy just trying to take everything in and enjoy it for what it was, a different and new experience. In some ways it definitely did feel a little like visiting the best of the 'themed' areas of the West Edmonton Mall - which is essentially a resort within a mall! But overall, everything about the Royal Promenade is designed to impress -and it does that Royally .



Walking past the Cupcake Cupboard, we popped in to book a cupcake decorating class for me and DD as soon as we confirmed that we could get gluten free cupcakes. And that is when I found out that somehow when DH completed check in at the terminal and gave the teenagers charging privileges, my charging privileges got cancelled!! Right, that wasn't going to work. In the interests of marital harmony we rapidly headed to Guest Services to amend this oversight . Fortunately the (relatively small compared to later in the day) line at GS moved fast, and we realized later that we had made a very good choice in not waiting as the line at Guest Services seemed to grow exponentially as the afternoon progressed - but then that is similar to our DCL experiences as well .

And since we were already at Guest Services, we took the opportunity to get two spare room keys, one for the kids to keep in their room in order for them to get into our cabin and another key for us to get into their cabin. There was no charge for this.

In almost no time we continued on exploring the promenade and headed for the Boardwalk. After a brief recce, we climbed the stairs to deck 7 to check out our cabins and look for our soda cups (which did not show up until very very late evening and only after numerous inquiries). And at this point we managed to get lost for the first time since if you are on the port side on deck 7, you can't get to the starboard side without backtracking (think being on the tip of one side of an H and having to get to the tip of the other side of the H), we dropped off our backpacks and then headed up to the Windjammer for lunch.

The Windjammer was busy but again, comparable to Cabanas on Disney on embarkation day. And on the first day, a staff member at WJ escorted you in and found you a table. There were sufficient food choices available that we all found something to eat without too much trouble. And the thing about the Allure, is that there are other options for places to have lunch - we just stuck with Windjammer since it was 'in our comfort zone' since we are used to the buffet on Disney ships.

After filling our bellies, we were happy to set off to explore the ship. Perhaps happy is not exactly the correct word here - my normally very easy going DH seemed to be on a mission to see the whole of deck 15 and to see it now! Is there such a thing as Commando cruise ship exploration? We did pause long enough to check out the teen club.


As usual, DD was willing to give it a chance while DS was not as enthusiastic. In the end we agreed that both kids would go to the Teen Club meet and Greet at 8 pm and after that they could take it or leave it as they wanted to individually.

Continuing our exploration, the kids found their friends from home in the hot tub and at this juncture we separated, the kids to get their swimsuits and then hang out on the pool deck. Since both of our kids are qualified lifeguards, we were quite comfortable with them spending time at the pools and hot tubs without us. DH and I checked out the Solarium and finished our tour of the pool deck before heading to Central Park and then back to our cabin. Since our luggage had already been delivered, DH began the unpacking process and I started making calls to try to find our soda glasses (hmpfh).


Shortly before 4 pm the kids returned to change quickly in time for the mandatory 4:30 pm Lifeboat drill and as a family we headed for the Adagio dining room on deck 5 as our designated station. It seemed to be a bit of a cluster going on as we were not immediately allowed to enter the dining room, but had to amass in the stairwells. Eventually we were allowed to proceed into the dining room, having our SeaPass cards scanned as we entered. We watched an instructional video on the big screen TVs (that they normally use to display a slideshow of Britto art as we found out at supper) and then we were released.

Similar to on DCL, this is the point where you feel the magnitude of all of the passengers on board - and it very much feels like you are salmon swimming up stream! Luckily, we had already agreed that we wanted to check out the Sail Away party in the Aqua theatre, so we kind of zigged when just about everyone else zagged as the Aqua Theatre was only a deck away. Personally this is one area where I prefer the DCL method, as I would have preferred to be out on the open deck for the muster drill rather than inside the dining room.

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Old 04-29-2014, 08:57 PM   #14
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I'm also enjoying your report. We've only taken one cruise ever (Dream last year) and we are doing the same one again this year. I'm almost afraid to try another cruise line, so I am very interested in your take on this. Thanks.
Thanks for reading along. Honestly, I had so many questions before our trip that I hope I can at least help pass some of the info I have learned along to others so that people can make their own informed decisions as to whether they think RCCL might be a good fit for them, or whether DCL is their best choice.
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Old 04-29-2014, 09:08 PM   #15
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Sail Away Party and the Rest of the Rest of Day One



Sail Away party - heading into the Aqua Theatre, an outdoor theatre, that usually has a pool in it, we scored ourselves some seats in one of the comfy seat rows (I.e. the cloth lounge chair structure styled seats, that alternate with rows of bench type seating). DD commented that this was really a 'Junior Cruiser' event based on info picked up from discussions she had with other teens - and she was right. I was a little taken aback to notice wait staff selling drinks, as I thought: Really? Selling alcohol with all of these kids around? But realistically, they also sell alcohol on DCL during the Sail Away party, especially the drink of the day.



In very short order, some very perky entertainment staff arrived and attempted some flag drill. Ok, I am not an expert, but I do believe that the staff were a little 'flag challenged', however they made up for any 'drill deficiencies' with lots of energy. After that King Julien from Madagascar arrived, right before those darn penguins tried to take over the ship (we saw them with the Captain in a video on the big screens)! After that there was more dancing and more characters. By that time, the level of 'cheese' had gotten to us (similar to Disney, but we are used to the type of cheese usually dished out by the Mouse) and we had moved out of the seats and up on to the deck 7 balcony to 'admire' the show from afar. Bottom line, just like on DCL, the little kids really enjoyed themselves, and the parents were happy that their kids were happy. And those who enjoyed a drink of the day probably enjoyed it a whole lot too .







Lesson learned: Although we enjoyed ourselves, if we do another RCCL Sail away, we will probably leave the 'Jr Cruiser' event to the Jr cruisers, and head up to the pool deck to enjoy it from there. As well, we found out later that Focus photographers were out and about taking photos on the pool deck, which may be a consideration for those buying the photo DVD package.



It was easy enough to head back to our room since we were already on deck 7, and it did not take us a long time to get cleaned up for our first dinner on board, which definitely had its challenges! Next up we wandered along the Royal Promenade and took advantage of a couple of photo opportunities since I was interested in purchasing the all inclusive photo DVD package if it turned out to be worth my while. I was pleased that our kids were willing to cooperate. The photo ops had line ups, but nothing outrageous relatively speaking.

At this point after asking several different people all day long, we finally received a couple of soda cups from a nice bar tender in the Champagne bar. Although overall we were happy with the soda package, in future we would NOT purchase it in advance but purchase it in the Windjammer or on the Royal Promenade on the day we arrive (see Dining entry for Soda package details). LESSON LEARNED.

About this time, both kids headed off to checkout the teen meet and greet at the Teen Club. DS apparently just put in a short appearance and headed back to his cabin to read, while DD stayed out until 1 am!! Wow, Ms GoodyTwo Shoes was pushing the boundaries while Mr BoundaryPusher was staying in reading?? Perhaps the Allure was so big it had its own gravitational system, since the world appeared to be flipping upside down with our kids!

Meanwhile, DH and I headed to Cafe Promenade - where the tea was lukewarm at best. Hmpfh. We then headed for the hot tub in the mostly but not quite deserted adult only area, the Solarium, to soak our cares away. Actually it turned out to be not quite as hot as we would have liked, but it was still quite nice to spend the evening relaxing under the stars in the hot (ok really warm) tub w/ my honey.

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