If you have never been on a cruise before, I highly recommend it! This was my third cruise (all with Royal Caribbean), and it is a different vacation that requires a little planning on the front end, but not continuous planning throughout the ship.
My husband and I have done a lot of different types of trips with our kids. It helps and sometimes does not help that I am a huge planner. When I talk about being a huge planner, I mean that I like to have a plan A, Plan B, and sometimes all the way to plan Z. I swear, I am a control freak when it comes to certain things, and planning is one of them.
Just to start with a few things before we get into the “meat” of our trip, we also had a few things we had to do before we got onto the ship.
- We had to find a place for our puppy, Roxy. We had used the Rover service during a weekend trip and we really liked it and the gal who watched our pup. She was in our neighborhood, and it was easy to do. However, since we were doing a three generation cruise (my parents and my husbands parents were accompanying us on our cruise), we felt better to have a dog sitting kennel service so that if there was a big issue with the sitter, there was a contingency plan for who would take care of our pup. Like I said, I’m a huge planner. We used Camp Bow Wow in Peoria and really liked it.
- You do need to schedule a pup interview before scheduling a drop off. Your dog will be checked to see if they can interact well with other dogs and how they do in the kennel for night time and meal time. We did a great job socializing our pup when she was younger, so she had no issues. You also need to make sure all shots are up to date.
- There are cameras in the socialized rooms and outside so you can check on your dog. I really liked this, especially because our dog is our first child.
- The staff was great and really loved on Roxy. She is an older dog who is used to getting lots of sleep and hanging out with people all day long, so she didn’t seem to be lonely!
- Parking-I LOVE Blue Sky Parking in Phoenix. The staff is really nice and helpful with three kids. They have a frequent parking card, often have Groupons, and they are quick with the pick up. Our driver on the way home was even wonderful enough to help a lady who was confused (and I don’t think spoke much English) who was using a different service. The driver called another service for the lady! Customer service is just excellent.
- Flights. Ahhhh, flying with three kids is no joke. Our cruise started on a Sunday, but we had to fly out on a Saturday. I like ample time for lay overs and I like to be seated mid plane if possible. So, our flights to the east coast are usually all day events with time change. We usually have about an hour and a half between flights, and so far-knock on wood-we have been good with making it to our flights. We love flying Delta.
- We also had to stay one night in a hotel before we went on the cruise. We love staying in Residence Inns because they offer Suite, 1 Bedroom and a living room, and 2 bedroom and a living room options. They often offer free breakfasts and some free dinners, plus a nice lobby area. This particular hotel said it had a “splash pad”, but it was actually a rock with a fountain. Hmmmm.
We looked at a few different cruise options and chose a Western Caribbean Cruise for our family. It was a cheaper cruise and offered a 7 day option and rooms that would fit the five of us, plus kids activities. We had been on the Oasis of the Seas in 2011 and had done the Eastern Caribbean Cruise previously.
Getting onto a cruise is almost like going on an airplane. You will show passports and you will go through security. Bags will be checked and things will be confiscated if they do not fit the guidelines. There are no pictures that can be taken during the security area. After you pass through security, you will do a check in where you confirm you have a credit card on file, get information about the cruise and take a picture. We were also given bracelets with the Muster Station (where to go in case of an emergency) for the kids. Adults do not need to wear the muster station bracelets.
You can bring a small carry on onto the ship, but your main pieces of luggage will be put in front of your stateroom later in the day. Carry something small with you, because you most likely will not be able to drop it off in your room until right before departure as the staterooms are being cleaned from the last sailing.
Muster station drills on RC ships have changed since we were on our first trip. We used to need to line up near our corresponding life boat with vests on. Now, groups meet in different indoor areas of the ship. All passengers are required to go to the Muster Station meeting.
Stateroom on Allure of the Seas:
Our room was tight, but we made it work. We had two large suitcases, each had a backpack, and one roll on suitcase that we fit the whole family’s clothes into. Yes, we are efficient packers. There was a lot of storage in the room, which may seem surprising. But, if you pack right, you’ll have a good amount of space. We did have a porthole, which the kids loved climbing into. I even sat in it.
Around the Ship, Allure of the Seas:
The Adventure Ocean area for kids 6months-11 years is on deck 14 Forward. There are a lot of great programs, and they offer care during the day (included) and optional after hours care for an extra fee. We let our kiddos go in most days to spend a few hours and they even often ate dinner with the other kids in the Windjammer, which is the buffet dining room. There are separate rooms for different age groups. There is also an area for parents to hang out with their kids-the “Play” room, as well as a craft room and science room for the kids, plus a nursery, room for 3-5 year olds, a room for 6-8 year olds and 9-11 year olds. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the 3-5 year olds room, but it was ample spaced with a little slide, lots of areas to play, a television and a bathroom. The baby room (6m-3 years) also had a nursery area with cribs. We had used the room when our oldest was on our previous cruise.
And, there is the Sun Deck, which is not always open, on level 14. If it is open, you can sneak onto that and look into the Adventure Ocean rooms to check on your kids. It is VERY windy if the ship is moving, so hold on to your hats. There is no seating on the Sun Deck. It would pretty much get blown away.
We did a family science event which was cute, but short. The event was about 20 minutes, but the kids learned a bit. The Kids area also had a small arcade and a small theater that fit about 40 people, and had family friend movies about once a day.
The staff was very nice and helped us out when Dimples wasn’t feeling like he really wanted to be there. However, a small coaxing of “ice cream” made Dimples more inclined to play. You are able to call at any time to see if your child is ok, and if there was a big issue, they would call you over the loudspeaker of the ship, or leave a message on your room phone. For the littler kids (6m-3 years) they loan out a little cell phone that works only on the ship, if available.
On the 15th deck, aft (back of ship) are ping pong tables, a larger arcade and the teen areas. There is a teen dance club and teen lounge for those 12-17 only. Both are staffed with RC crew, but just to make sure everyone is appropriate. The sports court (doubles as basketball, soccer, volleyball court) as well as the mini golf course, flow rider and zip line are all also located back here.
There are actually 3 Arcades on the ship: 1 is located in the kids Adventure Ocean, The large one is located on Deck 15 by the kids areas, and there is another one located by the Carousel on the boardwalk. You need to purchase cards in order to use these. You can get a $10, $20, $50 or $100 card, and each game costs at least $1.50. Eek.
The Rock wall is near the Aqua Theater off of the Boardwalk on deck 6. You need to climb a small flight of stairs to access it. We only saw one of the rock walls open while we were at sea. Munchie climbed up the very tall wall in about 5 minutes. He totally shredded the lady who was trying to climb up behind him! It is about 43 Feet high!
There is also a carousel on the ship! Yes, that is right, a full carousel. My kids really liked going on it, and it was free. Parents cannot ride on the animals, but can stand by the child or ride on the bench. It makes me dizzy, so I opted for pictures. I took a few other pictures of how tall the ship is. It really is an amazing ship.
On deck six is also the Aqua Theater. I caught a few kid friendly shows. One was very similar to a Cirque du Soleil production-except they were wet and diving from high altitudes. Totally amazing to be wet and doing all the tricks they were doing. A few of the shows were cancelled because of rough seas and wind, so that is just something to note.
On Deck 6 was also a kids climber!
The Boardwalk also featured two restaurants (they are not included with your fare), free donuts in the morning and free hotdogs around lunchtime. There is also an ice cream shop and a cupcake shop, along with a candy store and a souvenir shop (all extra$$).
Entertainment on Allure of the Seas:
There is the main theater that is three decks high that has Broadway productions , along with multiple clubs (dance clubs, music clubs and a comedy club), an ice skating rink, a spa and really so much more. The boys did ice skating at sea and we also saw an ice production.
A few things changed for Royal Caribbean since we were last on it and some of it I didn’t like. With the entertainment, almost everything had to have reserve tickets. And, when you book they want you to start reserving things. Well, I didn’t know if there were other things that we would want to do on the ship, so we didn’t reserve anything. Maybe that is my fault, but a lot of times I just kind of want to play things by ear. If we have to have a set up schedule, then I feel like I’m rushing and that is just not vacation. So, a few times we missed out on a few things because we didn’t have reservations. There is a line for “no reservations” and the staff opens up the seats if people don’t show up. So, you can wait in line to see if perhaps you can get in to see a show. A few shows were first come, first served so you really need to get in line for those early otherwise there will be no seats. Honestly, I felt like the waiting for shows or deciding if we should reserve a show was a stressful part of the vacation. I guess it was a total FOMO (Fear of Missing Out thing).
Food on Allure of the Seas
Oh goodness there is a lot of food on the ship! Between Windjammer Marketplace (the buffet), Main Dining Rooms, Wipeout Cafe, Park Cafe, Cafe Promenade, Boardwalk restaurants, and the additional cost restaurants, there is plenty of places to find food on board. Windjammer, Main Dining, Wipeout, Park Cafe, Cafe Promenade, the Hot Dog place and Donut area on Boardwalk and the Soft Serve Ice cream stations by the pool are all included. There are many “additional” cost restaurants on board as well. We went to Izumi, the Sushi and Hibachi restaurant twice. We did not go to any of the other restaurants on board but had gone to Giovanni’s on our previous sailing. My inlaws and parents tried Sabor, but found out that it was an additional $35 per person for basically another buffet. So, they passed on that. My inlaws also went to 150 Park and felt like they were rushed through their meal and for the upcharge, wasn’t all that worth it.
The main dining room left quite a lot to be desired this trip, and I was pretty saddened by the quality and amount of food given and the lack of attentiveness by the staff. I drink a lot of water during my meals, and in the past, have had someone constantly refilling my water. Unfortunately, at most of the venues on board, I had to ask multiple times for water to be met with a sigh of inconvenience. The meal portions were very small. I’m not a huge eater (and would have probably eaten less if my water had been filled), but a few times I had to ask for more food. The staff was attentive to my dietary needs the first night, but after that, they seemed unconcerned. I was always confused by our dining time. On our card it said 5:30, but the dining room didn’t open until 6. They also said I had to reserve a time, so I called and they said the time wasn’t available. Instead, we just went up and asked if we could be seated. Some nights it felt like the staff was trying to get us in and out as fast as possible, and other times they barely paid attention to us and our dinner took about 2 hours. I couldn’t really understand that either.
Windjammer was our main place to eat. In the past, they had a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. This sailing it seemed like there was a lot less focus on that, which was kind of sad for me. There were plenty of options and fish at every meal, which I took advantage of. We often went to Windjammer the nights after we had dinner in the Main Dining room if we were still hungry. They also serve Ice Cream at night in Windjammer, so we would bring the kids.
Bars are plentiful on the ship. My husband and I like the Schooner Bar because of the trivia, but also went to the Pub in Royal Promenade as well as the Rising Tide bar that goes up and down a few levels. Unfortunately, the service was rarely good at the bars. There were a few good bartenders, but the rest seemed upset if you didn’t tip over the already included 18%. 18% is a lot for drinks that are 3x the price, and when I had to ask multiple times to get water, I wasn’t inclined to tip. One time, I even went over to Cafe Promenade, grabbed some water and brought it back on the Rising Tide bar. The bartender said to me “Oh yea, I forgot your water.” Sigh.
Munchie, my husband and Inlaws did do a Sushi Class and they said it was very cool!
Voom is the wifi packages onboard. My husband and I both paid for Wifi and the reception was good. We didn’t stream video, but checked emails. Great for the self employed person. The price was a bit much, but who doesn’t want to be checking what is going on at home? And with our pup!
Stops on our cruise:
We stopped in Labadee, Haiti, Falmouth, Jamaica, and Cozumel, Mexico.
Labadee, Haiti is a little peninsula which Royal Caribbean owns. It has some beautiful beaches and some interesting features. We didn’t do any excursions, so we just headed for the beach. One side of the peninsula faces the open ocean and the water is rough, and there are signs for no swimming. We were recommended the lagoon which was truly beautiful. I suggest grabbing towels from the staff of the boat as you exit the boat. I didn’t want to carry them and thought perhaps that there would be another location giving out towels near the beach. I was wrong. Just remember to bring back the towel, as there is a $25 per not returned towel charge. Steep!
All the food on Labadee is included in your ship fare, and it all comes from the ship, as does the water and alcohol. You can use your seapass (the card given out for you to pay and get into your room), for the bars. There is a “marketplace” full of local vendors from Haiti that are allowed to sell their goods as you walk to the beach. We chose to walk about 5-7 minutes (although the signs say 10-15), but there is a golf cart shuttle that will bring you to all the stops as well. There are some sidewalks, but getting to the good lagoon beach is not wheelchair friendly as there is deep sand.
The Marketplace vendors-They will try to get your attention. All were polite but a bit pushy, however I understand this is a cultural thing as well. Some of the items were very interesting. I was actually looking to buy a towel and asked one of the vendors for assistance. Well, that turned into a bit of an interesting experience. One vendor said another vendor would bring me one. Well, no, if I wanted to buy one I wanted to pick it out myself. That seemed to be a little confusing. I then had bracelets and necklaces put on me, even though I said no thank you. You may think that they are offering them to you for free, but it is a different sales tactic. I ended up saying no thank you and taking off to another little shop that had scarves. It was the best I could find, but I really feel like towels would be a great thing for them to sell. The shop gave me a bag that had a name emblazoned on it, which I rolled up and hid under my shirt. Why did I do this? Because the name on the bag would attract people to know that I had bought something and therefore they would call out to me more. As a gal that loves Amazon shopping because I don’t need to haggle or talk with anyone, this shopping experience is definitely different than shopping in America. My husband and I have traveled to many places, so this was not a shock to us. However, it may be a shock to those who aren’t used to these type of Vendor Markets.
We did a little bit of shopping in Falmouth. Getting back on the boat you needed to go through security again. There were some excursions, but there was also a plaza that had vendors and shops, so we just walked around. The vendors were more laid back. It was quite humid and my kiddos got a little overheated so we didn’t say on shore for long. One of the waiters at the Schooner bar, who was from Jamaica, advised us not to get in any cabs in either Jamaica or Mexico. We followed that advice!
Our Oldest wanted to get off in Mexico as did my mom, so we accompanied my mom to the port. My inlaws were on a trip to the ruins, however, as my father-in-law so eloquently put it “the trip was ruined”.
As for my inlaws ordeal. They had to take a ferry to the main part of Mexico to go to the ruins. Unfortunately, the sea was extremely rough and my mother in law did not do well with motion sickness. The staff of the ferry gave everyone on the ship “barf bags” and it seemed like it was a known thing that the ferry caused people who weren’t even prone to motion sickness to get sick. Well, who wants to be puking on an excursion. My inlaws turned around and headed back to Allure instead of going on the rest of their trip (which would be a 4 hour bus ride and the ferry again).
My mom, hubby, kids and I just walked around the port in Mexico. My mom expressed interest in going in a cab to some shop she heard about, but my hubby and I said it was a no go. HA, yes, we pulled that card! So, we walked around the port which had some shopping. Some vendors were easy going, others were pushy. You could get a lot of cheap T-shirts if you found some of the vendors.7 shirts for $20! There were a lot of jewelry stores, and other knick knacks. We just checked it out and walked around. It was a grey day and pretty cloudy and windy, so we headed back to the ship.
Honestly, we had better cruises. I was kind of saddened by how tired the staff looked, that everything had an additional cost and that gratuities were already included and prepaid, but you were expected to tip on top of that. While I understand that people from different countries go on the ships and may not be accustomed to the “tipping” practices that Americans obide by, I felt that this was a bit presumptuous that I would want to tip everyone the same amount. Our room attendant was sweet and caring, as were a few bartenders. Other staff acted like we were a bother and they couldn’t wait for us to leave where we were. That made me sad, as we had had amazing trips on Royal Caribbean before. The children’s staff was very sweet and accommodating, but they too looked tired. The stops were ok, but we really went for the ship so we weren’t overall disappointed with the stops. I was very happy about Haiti, as that was the stop I was most concerned with.
I also did not like that we didn’t get our SeaPass cards at check in. Instead, one SeaPass card was left on our stateroom door, and the rest of them were inside the stateroom. I asked the person we checked in with how safe and secure was that, and they kind of laughed. It isn’t at all-and since our credit card was attached to the Sea Pass, that didn’t make me happy.
Our luggage was not dropped off to our room. It was actually further down the hallway. Luckily we kept going back looking for it and only had a few bags. A few days into the cruise, we received a message that people still hadn’t gotten their luggage. Yikes!
I love cruising, but we are probably going to try another cruiseline other than Royal Caribbean. For the price, I feel like we could have gotten more from a different cruise line.